Iceland

This week is a week dedicated to recruiting for ECs and job interviews are underway. As I am not partaking of the recruiting opportunity, this is a vacation week for me. Off to Iceland! Taking a relatively short, direct flight of 5 hours, Iceland is one of the most popular short-trip destinations for HBS students.

Last year’s BGIE course totally changed the way I regard new countries. Pre-BGIE, my main concern was food and sightseeing. But now, as I look at a new country, I run it through the framework we learned in the course. During the class on Iceland, we discussed the country’s response to the financial crisis of 2008. At that time, the government had a huge external debt and current account deficit, the Icelandic Krona was highly depreciated, and the declining foreign reserve balance was sending up a red flag regarding the country’s economic stability. Should the country’s long-term sovereign bond rating be downgraded? Should they join the EU to escape from the crisis? We engaged in heated debates.

After 6 years, the situation has changed dramatically due to the rapid increase in exports, and it seems that serenity and stability has returned to the country.

Now, what I’m experiencing as a tourist is an expensive currency exchange coupled with high prices (especially foods and drinks). Umm, good for them, not necessarily good for me…

Yet, I’m enjoying my stay in Iceland immensely. There is a lot to see!

Blue Lagoon hot spring

Iceland_blue lagoon

Geyser

Iceland_geyzer

Allegedly the world’s best hot-dog store (Baejarins Beztu)

Iceland_hotdog


Do HBS students really get kicked out?

To all appearances, everyone seems to be enjoying second year. With new classes and new friends, the dynamic has changed substantially when compared to last year. However, something does seem amiss…  some of our first year section mates are unaccounted for. We search the online class cards, but to no avail.

Every year there are some students who leave HBS after first year. The reasons vary. Some start their own business during summer break, and as the business gains traction, they are reluctant to abandon their “baby”. They usually take a year’s leave of absence, with many not returning to HBS unless the business fails. This may be a rare occurrence these days, but in the heyday of the dotcom bubble in the late 90s many students took this route.

Others leave HBS for family reasons. For example, a friend of mine left to run the family business in his home country due to his father’s illness. This is very unfortunate – they also take a leave of absence, but circumstances may not allow them to return.

And, as many people may know, not a small number of people leave HBS due to unsatisfactory academic performance. At HBS, as I wrote in another post, we are graded on a curve, with the bottom 10% of each class automatically getting the lowest grade. Should a student receive a number of these low grades during first year, HBS’s Academic Performance Committee (APC) sends an alert to the student. Called “hitting the screen”, the APC discusses how to improve the students’ academic performance and offers several resources and options. But not all the students are eligible to utilize these opportunities, and at the end of the day, some students are required to leave the school. Yes, they are kicked out.

This may seem harsh but it does mirror the real world. And it is this pressure that is the source of healthy competition and a major incentive for studying at HBS. However, losing precious section mates is very sad…

Leaving


Designing EC

Well, we have finished the second week of our second year. For those who missed my previous post, second year at HBS is called Elective Curriculum (EC) and is exceedingly more flexible than first year’s Required Curriculum (RC). We are free to select 10 classes from a potential list of 150 courses. In effect, we design our own curriculum.

As a rule, there are three distinct paths that students follow.  Type A people select classes from various domains, such as strategy, finance, marketing, leadership, and form a well-balanced curriculum. People who pursue careers as general managers or business professionals (investment banking, consulting, and PE) tend to follow this route.

Type B people typically take multiple classes with a focus on a specialized discipline, such as healthcare, finance, and social entrepreneurship. These individuals may have found an affinity for a particular field through their summer internship, or may be people who attended HBS with a specific career in mind.

Type C people develop their curriculum giving the highest priority to work-life balance. They carefully scrutinize a syllabus, find classes with minimum workloads, and combine them with other classes of the same ilk – regardless of their career interests. They may very well have been burnt out by the intensive case method during first year. It should be noted however, that people who want to spend their time on startups also tend to go this way.

 

Me? I’m Type B. I decided to focus on healthcare and am taking the following classes:

  • Innovating in Health Care
  • Building Life Science Businesses
  • Entrepreneurship in Healthcare IT and services
  • Introduction to U.S. Healthcare Policy (Harvard Kennedy School)

Excited!

By the way – despite continuous practicing, I must sadly report my golf game does not seem to be improving…

EC


Second year has started

Today saw us start our second year. Campus was filled with stressed-out freshman RC students and familiar looking, calm EC students.  On the way to my classroom, I happened to run into some of my old section mates; we stopped and talked up a storm, comparing notes on our exciting summers, and of course we were almost late to our first class.

Campus

Contrary to the military-like discipline of first year, the second year at HBS is relatively flexible. In addition to HBS’s 150 elective courses, we are also able to cross register in classes of other graduate schools in the Cambridge area: Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, MIT Sloan School, etc. Crammed with fundamental general management skills in the first year, we can now pursue our own interests.

However, it’s not easy to pick only ten classes from the intriguing long list. Therefore this first week is designated as a “shopping period” in which we can attend various classes and add or drop classes. The ultimate window-shopping! Although we engage in a bidding process for spots in some of the more popular classes, most students are able to set a satisfactory curriculum during this period.

The importance of today seemed lost on most, as everyone looked “airy-fairy’. No doubt they still had memories of summer vacation dancing through their minds.


Back to Boston!

After spending a hundred days on summer vacation, I’m now back in Boston! Approximately 90% of HBS students do a summer internship, but as a part of the more fortunate remaining 10%, I was able to spend the summer having fun. Here are the highlights:

Trip

Although I have traveled the U.S, Europe, Latin America and East Asia previously, there remained a lot of countries I wanted to visit this summer. So this time I decided to travel to West Asia and Africa, visiting four countries – Thailand, India, Kenya and Egypt.

Bangkok, Thailand: a very sophisticated and exotic city. I loved Thai food and enjoyed visiting the stately temples.

Delhi, India: as I had studied India twice during our BGIE class, Delhi was one of my “must-visit” destinations. The world’s fastest growing country was super energetic, and the economic polarization of people’s lives was thought provoking.

Nairobi and Masai-Mara, Kenya: One of the best places I’ve ever visited! The Safari Drive through the Savanna was phenomenal. I’ll definitely return after retirement.

Cairo, Egypt: It was fortuitous that I could visit this city during Ramadan. People fast during the day and indulge in fantastic feasts at night.

 

Golf

This summer I finally started playing golf! For the past several years, I often felt the need to learn to play as a business tool, but I shied away due to the time required to practice, to say nothing of the time required to play a round. Deciding there is no time like the present – I bit the bullet – bought some clubs and have started to play.

I took lessons and went to the driving range and course dozens of times. However, my score is still in the stratosphere. Consequently, one of my goals in second year will be to hone my skills and improve my handicap. (Watch this blog for news on my progress – or lack thereof.)

Business development

Although I could have spent all the entire summer traveling and playing golf, I looked ahead to post graduation and invested not a small portion of my summer in business development.

The result of these labors? I’m now working with a university laboratory to develop a new wearable healthcare device. I plan to spend considerable time on this endeavor this year.

 

Anyway, the amazingly relaxing and exciting summer is near its end. I fully enjoyed the break and am looking forward to the start of the second year at HBS!


The Best Case

Having finished the brutally busy first year, I’m now weighing what we learned. Over the past nine months, we have gone through 270 cases in 10 classes, making the same difficult decisions the case protagonists had to make. It is my habit to write down 3-5 key takeaways after each class, and the document exceeds 50 pages. This will be my guiding light after graduation.

First Year Cases

Although there were a plethora of cases that I enjoyed, my favorite has to be “Erik Peterson”, a legendary case in our Leadership class. The case has been taught for more than two decades at HBS and was our first. Not only did this case teach me important lessons as a leader, but it also taught me the dynamics of the case method – the HBS way.

The case was actually an eye-opener and a bit of a rude awakening. The protagonist, a young HBS graduate, joins a medical device company, taking a key leadership position, and is ordered to implement an important strategy. The situation reflects, fairly accurately, what we can expect after graduation – vividly depicting a young over-achiever failing miserably in a complex organization. Knowing the case protagonist is similar in age to an HBS graduate, we couldn’t help but identify with him, feeling deep empathy and disappointment.

I won’t divulge further details here as future HBS students are expected to learn it in their class, however the case is available online and worth the read for any business professional. Recently I had a chance to talk with an HBS alum, Class of ’98, who whole-heartedly agreed -   “Erik Peterson” was the best case ever.

 


Lifetime analysis

Since arriving at HBS I have been tracking my use of time. It is essentially a wordless diary – just data input to an Excel spreadsheet. Requiring only 30 seconds a day, the tracking depicts my activities and their implicit priorities. I got into this regime when I was a consultant, after becoming familiar with a famous management consultant guru’s maxim:

“There are only three ways that you can change yourself. To change your living place, to change people you socialize with, and to change your time allocation. And the most useless way is to change your mindset.”

The following charts are the summary of my time allocation in the 1st and 2nd semesters at HBS.

Life Time Analysis

Seemingly there is no obvious difference between the two semesters. A large part of my life remains occupied with sleep, classes and study, and comprises about 70% of my life. Yet, compared with the 1st semester, the 2nd semester saw an increase in time spent on family, exercise and other activities, and a reduction in time spent on class and study (3% in total). Considering the fact that the 2nd semester has four months, the 3% amounts to 88 hours – not an insignificant amount of time.

Next year, the charts will look very different. At HBS, EC is typically far more flexible than RC and students spend more time outside of class. I will be investing a good portion of my time in my own business plan development.

 


Japan Trek

Last week, from May 23rd through 31st, 78 HBS students and their partners participated in HBS Japan Trek 2014. We visited four cities – Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hakone and Tokyo, and were treated to eight incredible, exciting and very busy days.

Started in the 1970s, Japan Trek is one of the most traditional and popular treks on offer at HBS. This intensive experience not only provides us an opportunity to learn about a new country but also introduces us to and gives us a feel for a new intersection network – Section Japan!

In just eight jam-packed days, we visited more than 30 sightseeing spots, enjoyed awesome authentic Japanese food, and drank hundreds of gallons of SAKE.

Although there are other treks offered at HBS, such as Morocco Trek, Israel Trek, and Tanzania Trek, Japan Trek is definitely the most valuable. Should you join us as at HBS, this is a not-to-be-missed event!

 

 


Summer Vacation!

First year is finished! Most students have left for summer vacation and the campus is nearly empty.

Me? I’m leaving Boston and heading to Japan!

Have a great summer everybody!

Airplane


Final Exams

Only two days left until the end of first year and we are in the middle of our final exams. As I have written earlier, grades at HBS are determined by a combination of class participation and the final exam, each comprising 50% of our grade. The final exam is a case study in which we are required to download and read a case, analyze it, write an essay of 1,500 to 2,000 words, and finally upload it – within four to five hours. Five hours may sound long, but in fact, the time just flies. Given the impact of the exam on our grade, it is hard not to feel strong pressure to perform well.

Final Exam

A good thing is, with a few exceptions, we can take the exam at any location we desire (as long as there is stable internet connection). Some people prefer the classroom, but many others take it at different locations – home, library, or even a café. A friend of mine related to me how last semester he took the exam at the airport while waiting for his flight – I can’t imagine how he could do it…

Anyway, the long-awaited summer vacation is just around the corner. I can’t wait!