Monthly Archives: March 2014

Now you are admitted. What should you do?

Being admitted to HBS, you may now be flooded with congratulatory emails from the admission office, colleagues, friends and family. Through these contacts and conversations, the realization hits – you are going to HBS! Happy, happy and happy!

Although you still have five months until you actually start your life at HBS, time flies while you are sifting through the copious quantities of pre-matriculation paperwork. Before you leave for Boston, what should you do? How should you spend your remaining time?

My advice -

1. Be humble

Regardless of how you think or feel, people around you may view you in a different light. You are not an applicant any more. You are already an HBS MBA candidate. As you know, people have a certain image of HBS students (and MBA students in general) and it’s not always positive.

Although it is certainly not your intention, people may perceive your behavior as haughty and despicable. It’s not your fault, but people do have pre-conceived perceptions. At HBS, you are repeatedly taught how to increase your self-awareness and avoid misleading behavior as a leader.

Your application process would not be successful without the support of the people around you. Appreciate that support and do not assume an air of superiority. Your every action shapes a public image of a Harvard MBA. Don’t be arrogant. Be humble.

2. Set your goals

After starting your life at HBS, you will become incredibly busy. I promise. HBS intentionally throws tremendous opportunities at you – recruiting events, social events, big name conferences, club activities, leadership activities, etc. – and you have to carefully weigh each of these demands on your time. You cannot do everything.

If you start this hectic life without setting (and following) goals, you will be torn in multiple directions and lose control. To avoid this, I strongly recommend that you set specific and quantitative goals for the two years. Do this prior to arrival at HBS. “Develop a strong network with my section mates” is not sufficient. The goals should be like “Acquire three potential CFOs for my company who have management experience of more than five years in the healthcare industry”.

When you set well-defined goals, you will be able to prioritize the opportunities showered upon you enabling you to decide which to take and which to discard. Depending on the goals, your time allocation at HBS will be totally different. It can be diverse, but the typical four are similar to the following:

Time Allocation

3. Don’t study

You may be worried about your lack of experience in technical subjects, such as accounting, finance, and economics. But, don’t study! HBS provides a great pre-MBA program and you can study 20 hours a day once the first semester starts. Rather than waste your time on studying, spend this precious time for traveling, drinking, and networking!


Dear HBS applicants

Yesterday the HBS admission board released its decision on the second round of applications. Meanwhile, I have been receiving a multitude of email from this year’s applicants scattered all over the world. The bulk was from admitted students who shared with me their defining moments and their excitement. As well, I also received a few from rejected applicants informing me of the sad news and their aspiration to other opportunities.

Here is my message to HBS applicants, both admitted and rejected:

To those admitted:

Congratulations! Your herculean effort on the application process – GMAT, essays, and interviews- have paid off! You can now relax, stop worrying about test scores, forget about checking other applicants’ status on MBA forums, and best of all – no more anxiously awaiting email from the admission board.

Being admitted to HBS not only speaks to your intellect, but also demonstrates your potential to be a leader who makes a difference in the world – literally! The coming two years will be incredibly interesting, exciting, challenging and tough. It will be one of the most transitional experiences in your life.

You did a great job. Enjoy this moment before a wave of paperwork in the pre-admission process floods you!


To those rejected:

If you are applying to multiple schools, put HBS out of your mind for the time being and focus on your secondary choices. You don’t have to be admitted by multiple schools, no one can attend more than one school, correct?  There are a plethora of outstanding business schools that offer different ‘cultures’ – no school fits everyone. Also, of course, no one fits every school. You just need to find the best-fit school for you and your aspirations.

If you desperately want to study at HBS and are not looking at any other schools, I strongly recommend that you re-apply next year. The acceptance rate on reapplication to HBS is not as low as people generally believe. It’s tougher than the first shot, but I personally know successful re-applicants. You may need to improve your test scores and/or change your strategy, but it’s worth trying.

Harvard Business School

Decision day always has a major impact on an applicants’ life regardless of the result. Although it is actually almost fifteen months ago, it seems like yesterday that I received the decision that has set me on the path I now travel.

Spring break

Half of the second semester has passed. Escaping from the still freezing climes of Boston, I’m now enjoying the long-awaited spring break in Miami. Only a three hour flight – it’s a totally different world; white beaches, blue skies and warm ocean waters.


As this is the only long vacation this semester, most HBS students are now traveling all over the world. Popular destinations are South America, Africa, and South East Asia, but since I’m planning to travel to these areas during summer break, I chose a closer destination.

When spring break ends, only eight weeks remain in my first year. I feel somewhat reluctant to go back to Boston – not only because I’m enjoying a cold mojito in Miami Beach, but also I feel sad that time at HBS flies by so quickly.

Anyway, fun time passes regardless of what I feel, and we have midterms awaiting us upon our return. The flight back is going to be my study time for my macroeconomics exam. Hmm, I want to stay one more week…

Have you faced an ethical dilemma?

As HBS utilizes the case method, heated debates are commonplace in our classrooms. In most cases, however, as we learn analytical frameworks and concepts, divergent opinions start to converge and it’s not uncommon that we reach some manner of consensus by the end of the class.

However, there is one class in which we seldom reach a consensus – Leadership & Corporate Accountability (LCA). This class deals with various kinds of ethical dilemmas, which we may encounter in ‘the real world”. Sometimes it’s about business, and sometimes it concerns our personal lives. Although we examine various frameworks, we rarely reach a consensus because the decision-making ultimately depends on each student’s “moral compass”. Consequently, the class ends in discord.

Here is an abridged example of an LCA case:

You are a first year junior trader at an investment bank. Your supervisor, a senior associate, is a very skillful trader on your team. She is known for her aggressiveness and hotheadedness, but her track record is spotless.
One day, she and you pitched a big forward exchange deal to one of your company’s old clients, and the client showed interest in the deal. During the pitch, your supervisor exaggerated the complexity of the deal and challenging market conditions, and requested an unusually high transaction fee. Lacking the knowledge in forward exchange deals, the client believed her and you, and almost agreed on the deal.
After you came back to your office, you got a phone call from the client, saying “Is that fee level usual? Can you send us any data to validate that fee?” You talked about it to the supervisor, and she gave you other product’s historical fee data, which was very misleading to your client. In an irritated tone, she said, “Don’t ask me any questions. Just send it right now.”
You think, if you send the data to the client, not only will it deceive them, but it may also run contrary to your company’s core value, “client first”. But if you don’t send it, not only will your team potentially lose a huge profit opportunity, but your supervisor may get pissed off,” devalue” you, and you may lose your job in the first year.
In this situation, what would you do?

It seems that there is no one right answer, and we were actually totally split on this case. But the purpose of this class is to build our own foursquare moral compass by repeatedly tackling difficult dilemmas. These are our professor’s words – “When you become a CEO, every single issue that comes to you is gray. Nothing is black or white.”

Ethical Dilemma

You can buy the case here.


FIELD 3: Starting a new business

Following our global immersion experience in developing countries, we are now in the final stage of the FIELD program. Our mission this time is to form teams of 6-7 and create and launch a new business. We are given free rein and the business idea is totally up to us, except for a couple of prohibited businesses: alcohol, gambling, etc. – anything that could conceivably end up as a TV crime drama.

Each team is allocated an initial budget of $5,000, a bank account, and some intangible resources – HBS alumni advisors as well as legal support. Fully leveraging our FIELD 1 and FIELD 2 experiences, we are to develop a business plan with the view of getting to market in late April.

drawing businss concept

Of course, not all business plans will come to fruition. All teams will present their business plans to the other teams, faculty and outside investors, with the result that only a limited number of teams will actually get to market.  So even if HBS students come up with 150 business ideas, most of them will never see the light of day.

However, the top business plans will survive the process – resulting in a launch and funds supplied by real outside investors. In fact, previous years’ top teams are still growing their businesses with munificent injected money, and have professional advisory board member from well-known companies, such as Disney.

Of further interest in this exercise -  each team has its own ticker symbol, and is traded on a virtual financial market. Students also have their own investment funds (starting with $100,000) and invest in other section’s business plans. Based on the stock’s performance, additional funds (actual money) are given to top performing teams.

FIELD 3 Stock Price

Now, some teams are already launching their products’ beta version while others are still struggling to develop a viable business plan. But according to previous years’ trends, well-started teams don’t necessarily result in good performance, and vice versa. Our team is in the middle of our section. At this point, it’s still anybody’s guess which team will win when the dust settles…