Monday, December 28, 2009

Why You Shouldn't Be Scared of TurboFin(ance)

Before the start of my first quarter, I had already decided that I wanted to take TurboFinance (FINC-440).  My decision was based on a few course recommendations that I had received from Kellogg alums, my desire to challenge myself from the get-go, and the realization that the number of courses I wanted to take far exceeded the number that I could take during my two years on Planet MBA.

I discussed the decision to take TurboFin at length with some of my classmates (particularly those that were on Twitter) who were also wrestling with the decision, and it seemed that everyone had a logical argument in favor or against taking the course.  I stuck with my decision, in no small part due to my stubborn pride, which is constantly whispering in my ear that I can do well in anything as long as I bust my butt, and I am happy to report that I made the right call (for me at least).

TurboFin is definitely a challenging class, but if you are willing to dedicate the time to it, then I think it becomes very manageable; like a lot of other activities at Kellogg, it boils down to trade-offs and priorities.  For example, if you want to ease into your first quarter, get involved in a lot of clubs and activities early on, or else have no intention of taking advanced Finance courses or getting the major, then it may not be the best choice for you.  Without the right motivation, I imagine that it would be pretty difficult to devote the right amount of time to the class, especially when you are managing it within a chain of other classes and activities.

The class begins at breakneck speed before easing into a fast, yet manageable pace.  The first week, we covered 7 chapters in the text book (roughly 170 pages of reading); this was enough to convince some students to drop the course.  Fortunately, we were provided with excellent lecture notes that summarize each week's concepts in 10-14 pages and are a great substitute for the textbook.  Some students relied solely on the lecture notes and referenced the text book only when they needed additional information on a concept.  Personally, I tried to read everything because I needed to reinforce the concepts, which were entirely new to me, as much as possible.  I didn't do this during the second half of the course, and I think that was a key reason that I ended up with a B in the course, although I went into the final with a solid A.

After that first week, we only covered one or two chapters a week for the next three weeks.  We had weekly HW assignments, that varied in difficulty (2-4 hours a week), and were completed in groups.  Although some people would argue that you should stack up your group with people that have strong finance backgrounds, I don't think that is necessary for doing well. Only one person on my team had come from a finance background, and they were pretty heavily involved with recruiting throughout the quarter. We still successfully handled all of the HW assignments.

At first, I was doubtful about how beneficial working on teams would be in TurboFin, but it ended up being extremely valuable in the course.  We worked on the HW assignments individually, and then met to discuss our answers and draft the group copy that we would submit.  We normally spent 1-3 hours working on the HW as a group, and much of that time was spent talking about the right way to approach/answer a problem.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much this helped my understanding of the concepts and how well we worked together.

We wrapped up the Finance I content after four weeks, and we were then given a take-home open-notes open-book midterm.  We had one week to work on the midterm; I worked on it in small portions over the course of 4 days.  The midterm was easier than I expected, though I was still a bit nervous about it when I turned it in.  Fortunately, I was able to ace the midterm.

The second half of the course is more conceptual than the first half, covering Finance II topics including the Efficient Market Hypothesis, perfect and imperfect markets, and capital structure considerations, such as the tax benefits of debt financing.  After midterms were over, I made the mistake of relaxing too much during the next week.  I didn't realize that the second half of the course was structured similarly to the first half; i.e. the first week covered 5+ chapters before easing into one or two chapters a week.  In addition, I got involved with multiple competitions, including some that I had very little interest in (FOMO), and I quickly fell behind on the reading.  I wasn't able to catch up until the weekend before the final, but by then, the damage had been done.  A last minute cram session wasn't enough to do well on the final, which was timed (2 hours) in-class open-notes open book, and I came away with a B.  I am pretty sure that I came in just below the line for an A, which makes it sting a bit more for me.

In the end though, I'm really glad that I took TurboFin.  The course is very well designed, Professor Braun is fantastic, some of the material that we covered was eventually repeated in my Accounting and Managerial Decisions classes, and I was able to make room for another elective while positioning myself to get a Finance major.  Furthermore, I learned more from TurboFin than I did from any of the other classes that I took last quarter. Given that I was able to survive TurboFin, I am fairly certain that anyone else can as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Neighborhood Business Initiative Recap

Good luck to all of the 1st round Kellogg hopefuls!  It was around this time last year that they started releasing decisions, and it looks like they are doing the same this year based on the 2012 students that have already begun joining the Consulting Club.



Back in September, when my inbox was getting flooded with recruiting emails from all of the clubs at Kellogg, I applied for the Neighborhood Business Initiative (NBI), "an organization at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management that provides pro-bono consulting services to non-profits and socially-minded entrepreneurs."  Although I hadn't heard of the club before coming to Kellogg, I was drawn to it because of my interest in consulting and non-profit organizations.

The first thing that I had to do was decide if I wanted to be a "Team Lead" or "Consultant."  I thought about applying for the Team Lead role, but after some thought, I ultimately decided to go in as a Consultant.  At IBM, I had already been the Team Lead on several projects, so I didn't think that I would benefit as much from rehashing this experience.  After getting that out of the way, I selected a set of projects that I would like to work on from the 20 or so that were available.  The projects were labeled by function (Marketing, Strategy, etc), so I used that to narrow down the list and then selected based on the organization/project descriptions.

A few weeks later I was assigned to my first pick, and I learned who was on my team.  There were eight of us; a Team Lead, a 2nd-year mentor, and six consultants.  The majority of my teammates had some form of consulting experience under their belt, and I didn't realize what a great team I had been assigned to at the time.  We met immediately to meet each other, discuss logistics, and set expectations.  A few days later, we received our project proposal and met with our clients for the first time to discuss the project.

The client wanted the project to be much larger in scope than what we could handle in 10 weeks, so we had to scale it back, focusing on what we considered to be the most pressing issues.  We divided the work into 3 workstreams, Value Add, Pricing, and Sales Process, and assigned 2 consultants to each one.  I ended up on the Sales Process team, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

We spent the first 4 weeks or so gathering and analyzing data from the client and outside sources.  During this time, I was dedicating at most 2-3 hours a week on the NBI project because of all of the other items (group projects, papers, corporate meetings, HW, etc) that were demanding my attention.  When the midterms rolled around, I started to feel uneasy about the NBI project; we hadn't made much progress at all, and I was afraid that we wouldn't have any substantive recommendations to make at the end.

Just as I was starting to get concerned, everyone kicked it up a notch and started pouring more time into the project.  I met with my partner right after midterms, and we came up with a pretty comprehensive initial set of proposals for the selling process that we would then spend 3 weeks refining and modifying based on survey and interview data that we had collected.  From this point on, I was spending about 8-12 hours per week working on our proposals and the presentation.

In our team meetings, we starting presenting our ideas to each other, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the team was able to openly criticize ideas and have honest, constructive debate that led to a lot of improvements in our final set of proposals.  We spent 3 weeks alone discussing the pricing proposals and the merits of recommending a high-price low-volume vs low-price high-volume model.  This kind of debate was refreshing, because I was able to hear what each person's reasoning was for supporting a particular strategy, and that helped me consider the situation from viewpoints that I had previously overlooked.  We were still wrestling with this decision a week before we were scheduled to give our final presentations.

Our Powerpoint presentation quickly grew to a 70-page "book" that contained our findings and proposals, explanations of the models that were built to determine the value-add and pricing components, and the data that we had collected from the target audience.  A few days before the last meeting with the clients, we spent an additional three hours late at night refining the deck and proofing everything.  I was very impressed with how the presentation eventually turned out, and I felt confident that we had put together something valuable for the client.

The final presentation was scheduled to go for an hour on the Thursday before finals with about ten representatives from the client organization present, including its President.  I would be presenting for about seven minutes, and I was excited about the opportunity to practice public speaking one final time in the quarter.  We ended up spending two hours going through the presentation, discussing our proposals with the clients, and listening to them discuss the issues that we were raising with each other.  We were ecstatic with the final results and relieved to successfully conclude our NBI project (it can be stressful at times).

Back in Evanston, we met for celebratory dinner and drinks at Pete Miller's.  With all of the stress off our shoulders, we were able to relax, chat, and have a good time, recounting our experiences for the quarter, funny stories from our past, and portions of our presentation.

**UPDATE**
I forgot to mention that although I had a great experience with NBI, some of my classmates did not. It definitely seems that there are people that end up on both sides of the spectrum (great vs crummy) with their NBI experience.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Business Strategy is over

I took the Biz Strat final earlier today, so I'm officially done with my 2nd class at Kellogg. Although I've heard mixed reviews about this course from my classmates, I really enjoyed it, in part because it gave me a nice set of tools for performing a quick analysis of business issues, which are normally presented in articles on WSJ/NYT. Whereas before I'd read an article about a business situation and end at "Oh. That's interesting," now I'd probably try to put it in the context of added value, value creation, positioning, etc.

The other reason that I enjoyed the course was because of Professor Mazzeo, who is extremely animated and involved in his lectures. You can immediately tell from his classes and accessibility how interested he is in the topic and in teaching in general; for example, last night he was on campus answering questions in the Loud Study Room, and he has a Twitter account for highlighting interesting articles, which he would pull into our discussions from time to time.   He is also kind of a bad ass, periodically giving business insights in magazines, TV shows, and radio programs.

The course was organized around weekly modules of 2 classes, with one class for lecturing on the current topic and the other class for discussing a case that pertained to the topic.  My only criticism for the course was regarding the case discussions; I wish that there had been more debate amongst classmates on differing viewpoints for the cases.  We rarely had cases where people drew a line in the sand and rigorously debated 2 sides of an issue.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Blogging Classmates

A while back, I made the mistake of removing the active blogger list from the side column in an effort to clean up the site's design (I'm a minimalist). As a result, I stopped keeping up with their blogs, because I'm not tracking their updates any other way. That was a huge mistake, because they are all excellent writers, and they provide additional perspectives on the Kellogg life that are normally written umpteen times better than my own accounts.

I finally took the time to restore the list. If you haven't stopped by their blogs (on the right ----> ), I highly recommend it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Re: Leadership at Kellogg

Whew, it has been a long time since I've been able to sit down and type one of these up. The good news is that I have a lot of things I want to write about; the bad news is that if I don't find the time to do so soon, I'm likely to forget all of them.

I wrapped up my NBI project, which I am certain I'll write up a more detailed account on, last week with a 2-hour presentation at the organization's headquarters. My team put together a huge 70-slide deck containing our analysis, findings, recommendations, and supplemental data (simulations, survey data, etc). I also finished the last of my HW assignments, projects, and papers, so I now only have 4 finals left before I wrap up my first quarter at Kellogg! I'm in the middle of cramming for "Finals Frenzy," and it looks to be a difficult week, but that isn't the topic for this here post.

Instead, I wanted to quickly address a misconception that I've heard from a few applicants during the past couple of weeks on Leadership at Kellogg. Basically, there are a lot of opportunities to develop leadership skills here, but as far as I've seen, you will rarely, if ever, have formal authority over anyone (or a team). Instead, you will be working with groups of classmates that are all pretty much equally qualified to be the "leader." In these situations, you have to find a way to work together with your teammates to arrive at the best possible solution or successfully plan and execute something, and if you think that you have the right answer, it is up to you to convince the rest of the team. This is a lot harder than it seems, and I think it is representative of the situation you are likely to find yourself in most often throughout your career.

Not the most thrilling post, but finals are looming large and I have to get warmed up again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Relaxing

This week was pretty rough. Our Business Strategy group project, a 12-page paper analyzing BYD's U.S. EV strategy with the e6, is due tomorrow, so we spent a lot of time working on it. On top of that, my NBI team is gearing up to deliver our final presentation to the client in the first week of December. My KWEST team is hurriedly throwing together a proposal (as I type) that is due tomorrow for a trip next year with the incoming 1st-years, and of course, I still had my weekly HW assignments in all of my classes.

Now that everything is winding down a bit before Thanksgiving break, I managed to steal away an hour to relax with the guitar. Good times.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AT Kearney Survivor - Who was voted off the island?

When I last checked in, I mentioned that my team was gearing up for the 2nd round of the AT Kearney case competition. Well, we went to their global headquarters in downtown Chicago (a few blocks from Willis Tower) last Friday and handled our business. How did we do? Well, that's not important :). What is important, is that we had a lot of fun and gained some valuable feedback on our presentation.

For me, the most difficult part of the competition was the presentation. I'm perfectly fine crunching numbers, mock interviewing folks, and throwing together slides, but I've never found a way to migrate my one-on-one interpersonal skills into formal presentations. It doesn't help that in my past professional life, I rarely gave presentations or interacted with folks outside of my department.

One of my biggest regrets during my time at IBM is that I never tried to improve at public speaking. I went to one ToastMasters meeting, won their improv speech award at the meeting (I had to pretend I was giving a speech after winning an Olympic medal), and then never returned. Now that I've realized how important it is, I've made public speaking/presenting one of my main focus areas during my time at Kellogg, dropping 700 bid points on the Managerial Communications class, participating in the Public Speaking Club, and seeking out opportunities to practice whenever possible (such as introducing speakers at the Consulting Club events that I help plan). I think that it is going to be a great way to distinguish myself throughout my career, but I have no way of knowing if it will pay off. All I know is that I don't want to be like the speaker at the last Distinguished Speaker Series event at Kellogg, who read a prepared (by someone else) speech, rarely connecting with the audience, and steadily losing audience members throughout the sterile presentation.

Since I know that presenting isn't one of my strong points, I wanted to prepare as much as possible before the presentation. Ultimately, I decided to practice the speech in my Fortress of Solitude (apartment) over the course of 3 days, recording myself on iMovie and then watching for areas to improve. I showed my teammates one of the movies, and they got a kick out of it. Here is a portion from one that went well enough.



The day of the presentation I was pretty nervous, and then 3 minutes into it, one of the AT Kearney consultants interrupted my teammate to begin asking questions (and destroying one of our arguments). At that point, I knew that it wasn't going to be a formal presentation, and I couldn't have been happier. I ended up throwing out my canned stuff and just winging it, which I felt much more comfortable doing.

I was going to delete the videos of me practicing the speech, but then I decided to hold on to them to use as a baseline. I'm hoping that two years from now, I'll watch them and think to myself, "Wow. I can't believe how bad I used to be."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Can Has Recruiting Schwag!

I thought that I was doing a good job of controlling my extracurricular activities, but I am definitely over-committed this week. My team advanced to the local final round of the AT Kearney case competition, so we have to give a presentation at their Chicago office this Friday. In addition, I am in the middle of the first round of the MBA Odyssey competition, competing against 11 other Kellogg teams in a (seriously fun) simulation to see who will represent our school in New York. My NBI team is nearing the end of our project, and we'll have to make a presentation for it as well. On top of all of that, I have classes, HW, and a group paper to write for Business Strategy.

But none of that is really the point of this post. Instead, I was thinking of how great it is to get free recruiting schwag at school!



Going to Kellogg is wild, because since the beginning of October, there has been a steady stream of companies big and small coming through here for recruiting. The companies normally set up question-and-answer sessions in the Atrium to help students learn more about opportunities, give informational and recruiting presentations, hold coffee chats, and do whatever they can do to get out in front of students, build interest, and funnel some of us in their direction. It is easy to forget that all of these top companies are working just as hard to dazzle us as we are working to dazzle them.

If you don't have an idea of what you are interested in before hand, then it can definitely be exhausting to try and attend all of the events. Not only that, but you'll quickly have to make some tough decisions, because a lot of the events occur at the same time. If possible, I would definitely recommend spending the first couple of weeks looking over all of the materials offered by the career management center to try and determine what you might want to recruit for.

As part of the process, you can pick up a pretty good amount of free schwag as seen above. I don't know what kind of impact any of it ultimately has on company interest, but it's free, so I'm not complaining. This year the most popular items have been the BCG Umbrella, which we got in the middle of a particularly rainy couple of weeks, and a Bain & Company water bottle, which you see most students sporting in class.

I wonder what the experience is like at other schools and what kind of schwag they are getting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Drag TG - Jive Turkeys bring home 2nd!

Every Friday at Kellogg, one of the student organizations (or multiple) will host a TG (thank goodness its Friday) event in the atrium at Jacobs. The clubs provide beer, wine, and snackies, and it's a great way to unwind after a long week with all of your friends. The TG events are all pretty well attended, but none of them do as well as the annual Drag TG, hosted by the Gay+Lesbian Management Association. The picture below is from this year's Drag TG, which occurred on Friday, 10/23.



At this TG, each of the 1st-year (freshman) student sections puts together a musical act with the guys dressed up as girls and vice versa. At the risk of harping about how important diversity is at Kellogg, I thought this event was a great indication of just how fantastic the student body is here. Everyone got behind the event, supported the club, and had a great time. That doesn't mean that all of the guys were gun-ho about participating though. In my section, the Jive Turkeys, we have about 40-50 guys, and we were only able to get 3 to participate. Nonetheless, most of the section was out there giving their support to the team.

I'm all about having fun and acting the fool, so of course I jumped on the chance to participate. My team (3 guys and 2 girls) ended up performing the "exercise" routine from the Eric Prydz video "Call On Me." Fair warning if you look up the video; the content is a bit inappropriate, which is why I didn't link to it. The routine went off perfectly, and I feel safe saying that we brought down the house, though we only came away with 2nd place (and a free wine tasting for 10).

This was one of the top highlights of my experience at Kellogg so far. It was way too much fun performing in front of everyone and then hanging out in the atrium in full drag with our classmates. When you make it out to Kellogg, I highly recommend that you participate, especially if this is outside of your comfort zone, because you are going to have a lot of fun and grad school is all about stretching yourself. After we finished our performance, I had sectionmates coming up to me and telling me that they wished they had participated. Unfortunately for them, you can only do this once during your 1st year!

There are more than enough career-limiting pictures of all of us from the event, but I'll leave you all with one of mine.



The other person in the picture is my friend Lorena, who was on the winning section's team. She was also selected as one of this year's Businessweek MBA Journal writers, so make sure to check that out! Knowing her, the journals should be interesting :)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Businessweek's Kellogg Virtual Tour

Stumbled onto this virtual tour, which might be useful for prospectives, while checking to see if my friend/classmate's Businessweek MBA Life blog was up; still no sign of the first official post (following the introductory post).

http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/08/0811_northwestern_school_tour/1.htm

It's kind of cool looking through all of the slides and knowing where they were all taken.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shotgun Update

There is always a lot going on at Kellogg, and it can be difficult to find time to write up blog entries in the thick of it. Therefore, I'll have to rely on "shotgun" updates where I cover a lot of different topics pretty often I think. So here we go.

Midterms
I had my last midterm on Tuesday in DEC-433, Decision Making Under Uncertainty. It felt great wrapping up Midterm Madness and moving past the accompanying stress. Afterward, I went through about 2 days of burnout and was unable to focus or get much done for my classes. Fortunately, there was a lull in the workload this week due to midterms, so the burnout couldn't have come at a better time, and now I'm back to fighting form. It's funny, but even after making it through many difficult projects at IBM and building up a decent list of professional accomplishments, I was still stressing out about the midterms; so where my classmates, many of whom have much more impressive backgrounds. In theory, we shouldn't care about midterms, right?

I think I ended up with 3 strong performances and one that was below-average (accounting). Even after telling myself to not get fooled by how easy the accounting concepts and classes were, I still didn't spend much time preparing for the midterm. I'm certain that my grade is going to reflect my cavalier attitude. On the flip side, I managed to ace my TurboFin final, which felt great given how much time I've been devoting to that class. I'm definitely feeling a bit more relaxed going into the 2nd half of the course.


Consulting Club
I went to the Consulting Club's 2-hr presentation "Intro to Consulting," which provided a general overview of the recruiting process, case interview advice, and a case interview demonstration, on Wednesday. I was surprised by the turnout, which was not as high as I expected given how much people talk about finance and consulting being the mainstays of MBA recruiting; that said, there were still something like 60+ students at the presentation.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the presenters echo pretty much the same advice that I wrote up for case interviews in this post, such as using multiple sheets of paper, writing out the mental math, and not using canned frameworks (this last one was also repeated by the consulting recruiters that they surveyed). They also endorsed Case In Point, which is the book that I relied on heavily throughout the entire process. The book's author, Marc Cosentino, is hosting a few workshops at Kellogg in December, and I'm looking forward to attending those.


Course Bidding
We just wrapped up 1st-round course bidding today, so of course everyone was talking about their results today on Facebook and in class. The actual bidding process was fairly straightforward, although you wouldn't think so by the large number of presentations that they had on the subject; the difficult part was devising a strategy to get all of the classes that you wanted for as few bid points as possible.

This is where the rockstar professors have a huge impact, particularly on bidding inflation. The professors can really take your Kellogg experience to the next level, and students are fully aware of this, so the rockstar classes typically go for a substantial premium. The most expensive course that I know of was Negotiations with Professor Medvec, which went for 1452 points! Of the 2000 bid points that we get for the Winter and Spring quarter this year, some students spent as little as 2 points, and others pretty much exhausted the majority of their points. One of the biggest surprises, which left more than a few students upset, was that the 8:30am Marketing class with Prof Hennessey (rockstar) went for 400 bid points, and the same class/prof at 10:30 went for 1 bid point. Busicow said it well today when they mentioned that a lot of us outsmarted ourselves by thinking that the 10:30 class would be more expensive given the better time.

I spent 1200 points, got into four classes, and was waitlisted for one (Microeconomics). I'm pretty happy with my bidding results, though I'll have to bid for another Microecon class in the 2nd round, since it is a core course that isn't offered at Jacobs in the Spring quarter. I'd like to spend no more than 50 points for the class, though we'll see how it turns out.

At first, I planned on taking a lot of quant courses throughout my two years, but after numerous presentations and conversations, I've started valuing the soft skills courses a lot more. In response, I've decided to mix up the courses as much as possible, possibly favoring qualitative classes. I signed up for 2 Management & Organizations (MORS, which is all about soft skills) classes next quarter, including Management Communications, which is taught by Professor Van Camp, a rockstar, and cost me 700 points. Here is what my schedule is going to look like next quarter.
It will be interesting to see what the 5-course workload will be like next quarter. Although the tuition that we pay covers 4-5 courses per quarter, most students normally opt for 4, especially in the winter quarter when recruiting is in full swing. I'm hoping that I can pull off 5 courses in most of my quarters, but that will depend on my experience with this first one.

Monday, October 26, 2009

AT Kearney Case Competition

I'm almost at the end of the first stage of the AT Kearney Case competition, which lasts 10 days, and I've really enjoyed it so far. The timing couldn't have been worse though, since it fell right in the middle of Midterm Madness at Kellogg. Given how busy things have been as a direct result, I've probably dedicated between 6-8 hours the last 9 days to the case competition. Tomorrow, my team will submit our Powerpoint deck detailing our findings and recommendations to the ATK folks.

Last Friday, before handling my business in Drag TG (I may or may not go into details on this in a future post), my team went through the mock interview portion of the case competition. We had to interview 3 Kearney consultants who were role-playing as specific characters from the case. I was surprised at how much the interviews paralleled my experience with the the BCG case interviews. Although it was a bit different, given that we had already received the details and preliminary data for the case before hand versus getting it in the interview, the process of trying to analyze the problem was identical.

We started by asking the consultant questions based on our initial hypothesis and then had a discussion that eventually led him or her to give us some relevant piece of data. If we hadn't stated why we wanted that particular data, then the consultant would press us on this. Once we had the new piece of data, we spent a few minutes looking over it, stated our observations from the data, and then used that new insight to direct our next set of questions. This process repeated until we either collected all of their additional data or ran out of time. Fortunately, I was very comfortable with the set up, so I was able to do fairly well on the interview that I led.

I didn't realize it at the time, but this was a really ingenious way for AT Kearney to perform informal case interviews on us. At the time, I thought it was a little weird that they asked us for our names before each mock interview, given that they had our team name in their schedules. I later confirmed that they were evaluating us the whole time via my teammate, who says that she saw the consultant put a star next to my name at the end of the interview that I led.

So basically, if you are interested in going into consulting, then case competitions may be a really good low-pressure way to gain some case interview experience before the real deal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting Involved 2.0: Special Procrastination Edition

Midterms have officially begun in the Kellogg bubble. This momentous occasion was preceded by a temporary surge of students into the Quiet Study Room (QSR). The QSR is where students go when they want to work on something with minimal distractions. The Loud Study Room (LSR) is where you go if you don't mind stopping periodically to chat it up with classmates. One of my 2nd-year section leaders quipped that "the QSR is where the antisocials study." That said, I'm a regular in the QSR, and I'm pretty familiar with who the other regulars are at this point.

I have two midterms this week: Business Strategy (tomorrow) and TurboFinance (take-home). I've been working on the TurboFin midterm for a while now, and I'm procrastinating a bit before I switch gears to Biz Strat. I've run out of interesting websites and videos, so I've decided to write an update on the activities I am/was involved in.
Rugby
Unfortunately, this is out. I quit the team two weeks and over $200 after joining. It is hard to stay conditioned and go to practice/games regularly with how dynamic the schedule is. In addition, all of my group meetings kept overlapping with practice. I kept on waffling on this decision because of how much fun I was having, but in the end, I had to accept that rugby wasn't a priority for me during my time at Kellogg.

KSA Academic Rep
I ended up losing the election to my classmate and fellow Texan (preKellogg, not by birth), Ram. I was glad to see him win the position, because he is ridiculously well qualified for it. Ram has a PhD in engineering, and he used to be a professor at UT. My section couldn't ask for a better Academic rep.

As a side note to future Kellogg students, if you really want a position, be prepared to work for it, though sometimes that isn't necessary.

Neighborhood Business Initiative (NBI)
We are 3 weeks into our NBI project, which is fantastic. I was ecstatic when I found out what we were doing, but I soon realized that trying to handle all of it was way too ambitious for our timeframe. We've since reduced the project's scope and are now ramping up on the work. NBI requires a lot of outside time, so I've been stuggling a bit to do my due diligence on it.

Consulting Club 1st-Year Director
After wrestling with the decision for a while, I decided to apply for, and subsequently received one of the six 1st-year Director positions in the Consulting Club. I was afraid that by trying to help my classmates I'd actually be taking away an opportunity for one of them to network and obtain an internship with a consulting firm. In the end, I don't know if I made the right decision, but I intend to do everything possible to help out in order to justify the decision (for me at least). I'm attending the first leadership meeting for the club later today and then helping out at a BCG info session afterward.
Class Host
I'm the class host for my 1:30 DECS class on Tuesdays, but I still haven't had to take any prospectives to class. This class has actually been at the center of a storm here at Kellogg, as most students have been complaining about the disparity between the teaching materials and course difficulty that resulted from an overhaul of the course this year. The administration has been very receptive to the concerns that students are voicing, and we are already seeing changes to the curriculum in response.
I'm also doing some temporary events, like case competitions and Drag TG this Friday. Hopefully, I'll be able to put up a (potentially career-limiting) video of our performance at TG sometime in the future.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Brief Note on Hispanics at Kellogg

I'm attending a real estate financial modeling workshop hosted by the Real Estate club right now, and I thought I'd take a small portion of the lunch break to write something up on diversity at Kellogg, specifically with regards to Hispanics. Jeremy, a classmate in the JD-MBA program, has written up a couple of great posts that go into more detail on the subject than I plan to.

In my class of over 500, there are only 16 Hispanics (3%), which Kellogg defines as American born students of Spanish descent (the number goes up if you include Latinos, those born outside of the US). I was shocked by the number when it was first mentioned during CIM. Kellogg does a great job of putting together a diverse class, and I don't think the problem is any indication of a flaw in their process. Rather, I think that the problem has to do with a diminishing supply of Hispanic applicants as you move up into the top business school tiers.

Earlier this week, I was at a Bain & Company event in their Chicago office, and I had a chance to ask their North American Head of Diversity Recruiting about the topic. She also felt that the problem was related to supply, especially at the recruiting level, where you have a lot of companies that have identified diversity as an important strategic component vying for that small pool of resources.

On a related note, Kellogg has a Minority Preview Weekend coming up in about a month, and although registration is full, it is still possible to put yourself on the waitlist. I didn't attend last year, but based on Jeremy's blog post, it looks like a great way to learn about the school. They are even pulling out some of the ROCKSTAR professors to do mock classes for the attendants. I'm hoping to squeeze in Professor Rogers' Entrepreneurial Finance course this year.

Kellogg Preview: Minority Prospective Student Weekend – November 13-14, 2009
The admissions office along with the Africa Business Club (ABC), Black Management Association (BMA) and Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA) are excited to once again host this annual event. Over this two day event, participants will enjoy mock classes with Professor Harry Kraemer and Professor Steve Rogers and connect with an assigned KPW Buddy while interacting with students from the larger Kellogg community.
I'll be participating in a student panel on behalf of the Hispanic Business Student Association during the Preview Weekend; I'll be the one nervously fumbling with the microphone I'm sure. If you happen to be attending or are going to be on campus for anything, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'm more than happy to find some time to sit down, chat, and answer any questions that you might have.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Building Social Capital at Kellogg

I've been struggling to get a blog post out the past week. Although plenty of blog-worthy things have been going down, I just haven't been able to write anything that I thought was strong enough to warrant my clicking on "Publish Post." I'm gearing up for my first all-nighter tonight, so I figured I'd give it another shot.

The Leadership in Organization class that everyone takes during orientation ended about 4 weeks ago, but I wasn't completely done with it until yesterday. Our final group assignment was to select and interview a set of executives on Social Capital, e.g. networking, use the course concepts to analyze their strategies for networking, and then write a 10+ page paper on our findings.

Each of my teammates interviewed one or two executives, and then we selected two to serve as the basis of our analysis. After a very long week of writing, revising, reviewing, and repeating (the 4 Rs...sort of) my team submitted our paper a full 5 hours ahead of the deadline. Overall, I didn't think that the paper did much to enhance my understanding of the material, but the interviews were fantastic and well worth the hassle of writing the paper. I was able to speak candidly with two senior executives in the consulting industry, and I picked up some interesting information on networking at their level.

The paper also allowed me to formalize some of my random thoughts on networking while at Kellogg, and it provided some validation for the strategy that I've settled on during my time here. I've basically decided to focus on building my relationships via shared experiences with my classmates in activities that I'm interested in, such as case competitions, clubs, and group assignments. This is in line with our paper's theme and core recommendation, which was that there is no single "best" networking strategy for everyone, so students should focus on developing a strategy that compliments their strengths and personality.

At first, I thought that I would be seriously damaging my overall experience at Kellogg by forgoing the bar scene (namely the Keg), which is a major component to socializing up here. I was afraid that I might miss out on the opportunity to develop the strong friendships that all of the alums had mentioned as a highlight of their experience. Fortunately, I have learned that you really can make the experience into whatever you want while still having fun and meeting lots of great people. All of my classmates are fantastic, and I've really enjoyed working with all of my teams so far. My Leadership team is even talking about making custom MORS t-shirts (that's how we roll).

Just today, I spent 12 hours working with my team (see below) on the Booth IPO Case Challenge. Our team had 5 1st-year students with almost no prior finance experience; needless to say, we spent a lot of time on the Google looking up how to do valuations (and watching YouTube videos...some relevant...some not so much). Ultimately, we decided not to submit an entry after struggling to come up with a valuation that we could justify. Although we weren't able to put something together, we all learned quite a bit about valuing an IPO, and I'm glad that I signed up for it.




Dang. I still feel like this is a pretty weak post. Oh well, at least I'm not getting graded on this. Midterms start this week, so I should have something to say about that soon enough.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

MORS-430: The Swiss Army Knife of Kellogg Classes?

I occasionally (read rarely) get questions from folks that happen to stumble onto the blog. Personally, I love it! I choose to write about things that I think are interesting about grad school, but I know that you all may be seeking first-hand information about a completely different aspect of the Kellogg experience. I appreciate that, because until recently I was in the same boat, so I strive to respond to those questions within 24 hours with an honest answer from a slightly biased viewpoint (I am still a Kellogg student after all).

I normally won't put email questions or responses up on the blog, but I thought this last one was general enough to provide good info to anyone on the outside looking in. In addition, it touched on the value of soft skills, a topic that was mentioned by Robert Macdonald, the CEO of Proctor&Gamble (that my friends, is a namedrop), during a presentation on leadership today when he urged us to focus on building those skills in grad school.

The question was whether or not the compressed class that we take during orientation (MORS-430: Leadership in Organizations) is the most useful class at Kellogg. Obviously, I've only spent 3 weeks in a handful of classes at this point, so keep the following in perspective.
At Kellogg, there are good professors, not-so-good professors, and then ROCKSTAR professors. The rockstars are amazing and really make a difference in the classroom.

For the Leadership in Organizations course, it looks like they brought out their rockstars, and that really enhanced the entire experience. I had Professor Medvec, who is a renowned expert in Negotiations, which was a key component of the course. The course lasted 12 days, and every class was 3 hours long (2x as long as standard classes). During that time, we covered 5 primary topics: Decision Making, Managing Teams, Negotiation, Social Capital (personal networks), and Leading Change in Organizations. We used case discussions, simulations, movies, readings, and lectures to cover all of the material, which was interesting and in some cases eye-opening (particularly decision making biases and teamwork pitfalls). I still can't say if it will be the most useful course that I take during my two years here, but it was extremely important. The topics that we discussed seem to underpin a lot of major business interactions and are rather crucial to teamwork at Kellogg. In addition, several of the concepts have already been reinforced in our other classes. Overall, the class was a very fun and demanding way to begin grad school.
As I mentioned above, the class was a lot of fun and covered some really interesting topics. For example, during the Negotiations portion, we split off into teams of 3 and spent an hour negotiating with another team in the context of 2 companies trying to agree on the terms of a partnership. Each team was given unique information about their priorities going into the negotiations, and you received points at the end based on how many of your key items you ended up getting. We had already discussed some basic Negotiations strategies, including Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers (MESOs - Prof Medvec came up with this, and she swears by it), which we were expected to utilize. The best part of the exercise was afterward in class, when everyone wrote up their cumulative points on the board. Some teams that thought they had done fairly well actually got logrolled in the end, coming away with pretty bad deals.

After finishing the course, I became much more interested in the MORS (Management of Organizations) department, which specializes in soft skills topics, but I still don't know if I'll end up fitting anymore classes from their catalog into my schedule.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Scheduling or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Smartphone

Just a few weeks ago I was wondering what my schedule would look like when school started. I had a list (an ambitious list!) of things that I was hoping I could keep doing regularly even after the quarter began. I've already started crossing items off of that list.

It doesn't take long at Kellogg to fill up your calendar with a plethora of classes, meetings, and events. Classes are generally held for 1.5 hours twice a week in one of two configurations: Mon/Thurs or Tues/Friday. There are some classes that instead meet once a week for three hours or on the remaining days, but I haven't come across any of them yet. Club activities, school events, and company presentations occur on a daily basis, and they all pretty much fall in two timeslots: 12:15-1:15 and 5:15-6:15. Again, there are some events that last longer or fall outside of these timeslots, but they are the exceptions.

Any remaining time in your schedule is quickly absorbed by group meetings that occasionally run past their allotted time, regular day-to-day activities (like paying bills with loans, ordering business cards, or verifying that you have enough money in your bank account for that $2 cup of coffee and $2 muffin that get you going in the morning), socializing, homework, and additional responsibilities that come from leadership roles, competitions, etc.

Scheduled events can and probably will change from time to time, so it is worthwhile to have a way to manage your calendar on the go. For most students, this is accomplished via a laptop (Snow Leopard's built in Exchange support is amazing) and a smartphone. I've noticed that there are more iPhones than Type-A Personalities at Kellogg. If you are an incoming student, you should definitely consider picking up a smartphone or hiring a personal assistant. I hear that undergrads are a great source of cheap labor.

Here is what my calendar looked like both last week and this week; this was taken straight from iCal. Keep in mind, that I have a very small number of leadership roles at this point, and I still haven't finished adding everything to this week's calendar. Nonetheless, I think it should give you a good idea of what things are like for a typical student, and why it feels like a month has passed after every week.

Week 2


Week 3

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Involved

There are an unbelievably large number of opportunities to get involved during your time at Kellogg, including almost 90 clubs. The school prides itself on the high level of student involvement in all aspects of the program. The fact that Kellogg is a "student-run program" is repeated on a daily basis, sometimes more than once, via emails, presentations, and club fliers, which are posted all over the place, including the bathrooms (this is considered prime marketing real estate in Jacobs).

I think I'm starting to get the hang of 18-hour days packed with HW, classes, activities, and socializing. Now that I'm getting my groove back, Stella style, I've started branching out a bit into some of the Kellogg organizations.

Kellogg Rugby Football Club


I've joined the KRFC. I'm already spending a lot of time in the gym, so this is a bit of redundant from an exercise standpoint, but it has been a great experience so far. The other players are all great guys, and I couldn't ask for a better team. I'm surprised at how many "first-time" players have come out. Unfortunately, if things get hectic, this will be one of the first things I sacrifice.


Kellogg Admissions Class Host
I've volunteered to be a class host. Whenever a potential student comes to sit in on a class at Kellogg, they are ushered around by a class host. It's a low involvement activity; all I have to do is meet up with the visiting hopeful 15 minutes before one of my classes and then walk them there. I think it will be a good way to meet some future Kellogg students. I don't know how they assign hosts to visitors, but if you are coming to campus, don't be afraid to ask for me by name! I promise to show you a good time ^_^.


Neighborhood Business Initiative
This is the school's only volunteer consulting program, which places teams of student consultants on projects for a variety of non-profit organizations in the Chicago area. As a student, you can apply for either a Team Lead or Consultant role and select your 5 preferred projects, which are categorized by their primary function, such as Marketing or Strategy. I applied for the program, but I haven't heard back yet, so there is a chance I may not get selected. A few of my friends were selected for Team Lead roles though, so if I don't get selected, I'll live vicariously through them.

UPDATE: I just found out a couple of minutes after posting this that I got assigned to my first choice for NBI; I'm totally working with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!


Kellogg Student Association
Last night I was gearing up to go to sleep around 1 AM, when I received an email from the KSA President imploring folks in my section (Jive Turkeys) to consider applying for one of the available positions. I started mulling it over, and after some consideration, decided to run for the Academics Section Representative. The position is a 2-year commitment, and it involves working with Deans, professors, and faculty to assess the academic curriculum and lead initiatives to make improvements and address student needs. We had to submit a platform, so I spent 40 minutes writing one up and sent it out. I should know by the end of the week if I am elected; I still don't know if anyone else will run for it. Here is the platform I submitted:
Name: Orlando O’Neill
Position: Jive Turkey Academics Section Representative
Platform: We have all made significant personal, professional, and most importantly, financial sacrifices in order to attend Kellogg. In return, I believe that we are owed an academic experience of the highest caliber during our time here.

As the Academics Section Representative, I would work to ensure that we receive that experience by collaborating with the faculty and other representatives to:
  1. Institute a mid-course evaluation form designed to provide student feedback that can be utilized by the professors to address the immediate student concerns. For example, this feedback may include suggestions to discuss more international cases in a course.
  2. Create industry-specific 1st-year course suggestions that can provide Kellogg students with an additional advantage throughout the recruiting process and summer internship. For example, incoming students should be made aware if the material covered in a course like Financial Decisions was extremely beneficial to a majority of students that went into consulting internships.
  3. Gather student feedback to identify weaknesses in the curriculum and address those deficiencies, via new electives, presentations, or any other means possible.
To summarize, my platform is built around improving communication among students and faculty at Kellogg. In closing, gobble.
There is still one other club that I'd like to get involved in, but they still haven't started taking applications. In addition, I've also been attending events daily for some of the other clubs. Not only do they cover fantastic topics (for example, I've listened to a CEO/professor talk about General Management and a Volkswagon VP discuss leadership), but they also generally provide free food!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall 2009 Courses

Following Stephen's lead, here is my schedule for the Fall 2009 quarter at Kellogg.
And my orientation class.
The MORS class is just about over. We took the final this past Friday, but there is a still a group project that we need to submit in mid-October. The class covered 5 topics:
  1. Decision Making
  2. Managing groups/organizations
  3. Negotiation
  4. Social Capital (networking)
  5. Leading change
Fortunately, Prof. Medvec specializes in Negotiations, and she is a rockstar, so that part was amazing.

I'm still trying to find the right balance between classes, clubs, and socializing. At this point, I think I've been socializing as much as my married classmates (not much). I've started playing rugby again on Kellogg's team, and I figure that will be my primary social activity. It's not perfect yet, but my balance is slowly coming together. There is no doubt in my mind that classes are my priority though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ferris Was Totally Right

Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. --Ferris Bueller
The last couple of weeks at Kellogg have completely reinforced the strength in the words above. The final for my first class, Leadership in Organizations, is coming up this Friday. On Sunday, I'm meeting with my team to discuss the group project that we have to turn in for this first class...a month after it has ended. On top of that, I have a couple of assignments to go over this weekend for my classes that start next week. On Monday, the main Kellogg calendar explodes with activities, which are mainly scheduled around the same times (lunch or 5pm), forcing you to do some soul searching to select the ones you will attend. Even now, I can't believe it has been 8 days since my last blog post and 3 days since my last journal entry (personal reflection is awesome). It all seems like a crazy juggling act, and from what 2nd-year students have told me, the number of balls in the air are about to increase by...A LOT.

It is hard to imagine right now how people make it through the 2 years, and yet I know they do; heck, I've met people that have done it in person! I've been told that at some point, probably halfway into the first quarter, I'll start to figure out when a reading assignment is required versus "required", I'll stop trying to go to every single event at Kellogg, I'll forget what sleeping more than 6 hours was ever like, and I'll enter my groove. I'm hoping it comes sooner than later, but if it doesn't, I'll just have to remind myself to stop from time to time to look around.

With that said, I have to go. I'm trying to catch up on the required reading assignments, and then I have to look over the case for tomorrow's class.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CIM Update

Jive Turkeys are large and in charge! Gobble gobble!

The first week of CIM was insane. We had activities scheduled throughout the entire week from 8am to 12am (sometimes later depending on how long you stay out "networking") with our section, which is made up of anywhere between 60-80 classmates. The schedule doesn't leave much time to sleep, and that coupled with late nights, socializing, and germs being imported by KWEST from all over the world, leads to a phenomenon known as "CIM SARS", which refers to the fact that the majority of students will be sick by the end of the first week. I saw this gradually happening everyday, as a few coughs in the auditorium slowly expanded to a large chorus of coughing, lost voices, and runny noses.

Some of the CIM activities are primarily informative, such as listening to student panels on diversity, but other events are competitive and scored by a variety of judges across the eight sections. The scores are tallied and overall standings are maintained on a scoreboard in the main hall of the Kellogg building. At the end of the first two weeks, the top section is crowned the winner and given a much higher amount of money for social activities throughout the year.

I don't want to get into the details of the competitions that we had, because I think that would ruin the fun for incoming students, but I may change my mind. The CIM Executive Committee changes it every year, and I'm sure other people have already written up detailed accounts of the entire experience, so I may not be actually giving much away. That said, I'll always try to notify you in advance if I have included a CIM spoiler in my post.

My section, the Jive Turkeys, has a history of winning CIM (1st in 2006, 2nd in 2007, and 1st in 2008). Our section leaders, who were members of the 2008 (Class of 2010) section, let us know that they were counting on us to keep it going. Their enthusiasm towards winning got them branded as the "crazy" leaders by students in the other sections, but honestly, I think they are awesome! They are very outgoing, energetic, and fun, and they have been working diligently towards building up strong bonds in our section. This isn't to say that the entire experience has been rosy; the fact is, when you get so many accomplished individuals in a group with no clear leadership structure, personalities are going to clash. This was very evident during the planning for one of the big competitions. Modern Business Cow, who is in my section, can probably attest to this.

During the beginning of the week, the Jive Turkeys started out with solid performance, but we weren't able to make it into the top 3. Nonetheless, we were pretty motivated (in large part due to our section leaders' enthusiasm), and we managed to win the competition that is worth the most points, propelling us into 1st place overall. Now, we just have to hold off the other sections through 2 less-challenging competitions, and then victory will be ours!

Last Wednesday, I started my first class, Leadership in Organizations, which is a compressed class taken for 2.5 weeks during CIM. The class so far has been absolutely amazing, in large part due to the professor, who I've been told is one of the most highly sought-after professors for Negotiations. We've been covering general leadership topics, such as the decision-making biases that cause us to make flawed decisions and persuasion techniques. The discussions are dynamic and very informative, drawing upon the professor's experiences as a very successful consultant, as well as the classes various work experiences. I'm hoping the class is an indication of what I can expect throughout the rest of the program.

This week, the CIM schedule has become a bit more relaxed. Our activities now only run from 10am to 5pm everyday, with a large dosage of HW sprinkled in between.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cost per class

I should be working on the homework for my pre-term class, but I'm taking a moment to write this post rather than continue reading the remaining 46 of 52 pages of material.

I just wanted to highlight Stephen's post on the cost per class at Kellogg: $132.63. So every class that you miss is like giving away 4 or 5 blu-ray movies to someone. Yikes.

I thought it was interesting, and if you are cool, like me, you probably will too.

Now back to the reading and highlighting (with a pen cause I somehow managed to not include a highlighter in my $600 Walmart trip and subsequent Target trips...seriously).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

KWEST 2009 - Hong Kong Ritz and Macau Glitz

We just started our official 3-week orientation on Monday, and it has been as busy as expected; forget about getting much accomplished during the first week at least. I think it will slow down a bit once we start our compressed leadership class on Thursday.

I'm taking a break from the night activities to allow myself to recover from this cold that has been kicking my butt since I returned from Hong Kong. Instead, I am catching up on some personal items, such as this blog entry, and then looking over the case that we are discussing tomorrow.




I went on my KWEST trip to Hong Kong and Macau last Saturday with 17 classmates and 5 2nd-year students that served as our trip leaders. We left Saturday afternoon and arrived in Hong Kong on Monday morning to a very busy schedule for the day. The leaders said this was done on purpose to tire us out so that we could sleep that night, thereby adjusting to the new timezone. Judging by how many people slept soundly the first night, I'd say it worked.

The main highlights of the trip included:
  • Visiting Victoria Peak
  • Getting custom suits from Sam's Tailor
  • Visiting Stanley Market (tourist trap)
  • Taking a 5-hour trip on an "authentic" junk barge
  • Sightseeing in Macau (the sites we visited were all within walking distance of each other)
  • Having tea in a little tea shop
  • Eating at fantastic Chinese and Portuguese restaurants
  • Meeting and engaging with my classmates
Although I didn't list any nighttime outings above, we did go out to a few clubs in Hong Kong and Macau. The clubs were a lot of fun, especially for those of us dancing, but they were also extremely expensive. Beers (Carlsberg) started at around $10 if you were lucky, so it was easy to spend a lot of money very quickly. In Macau, I eventually (call me naive) learned that prostitution is pervasive throughout all clubs and hotels, including the Venetian, which is where we stayed.

The KWEST trip was fantastic, and I have to give full credit to the leaders for putting it together, but it didn't completely live up to my (much hyped) expectations. In part, I shared DG's experience, in that I wasn't able to engage very well with everyone on the trip. I am hopeful that the group will maintain a strong connection now that we are back in Evanston, but I can't say with certainty that it will.

The KWEST trip and the first couple of days of CIM helped me realize that although everyone is extremely friendly, and we all share a common link through Kellogg, it doesn't mean I'll be close friends with all of my classmates. The activities that we go through in KWEST and CIM definitely help you form connections with a large number of classmates, but they do not guarantee strong bonds. I think those will be formed over the next two years, and much like in the past, I probably won't have any control over who I naturally gravitate to and vice versa.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed, and I'm ready to go. I'm leaving on my KWEST trip tomorrow. I'll be traveling to Hong Kong and Macau for 7 days with 19 classmates or so and 5 2nd-year students/trip leaders.

The KWEST trip, which is done annually with each incoming class, is one of the most highly-recommended parts of the Kellogg experience. I think that student participation is > 80%. There are close to 40 trips that go to various destinations around the world, and according to everyone I've spoken to, you form your closest friendships during KWEST. Needless to say, I'm very excited.

I'll have a day to rest after I get back, and then I begin the 3-week orientation, which contains a flurry of activities from sun-up to sun-down and a 2-week course on leadership. It is supposed to be an exhausting experience that you share with the 60-70 classmates that are in your section. I recently found out I am in the Jive Turkey section...dig it.

I probably won't get to post anything during KWEST, but I'll try to squeeze in an update during the orientation. Until then, practice kindness :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Heart of Life


Remember how in that last post, I said that I would occasionally post things that have nothing to do with business school. Well this is one of those posts.

I've finally finished all of my personal To-Do items related to the move, like moving my 401K into a rollover IRA and reinvesting, readjusting my insurance to reflect my lack of a car and new rental property, etc.

Now that I've taken care of those items, I am settling into a nice groove and slowly making my apartment feel like home (albeit an empty, empty home). For example, I made dinner the past couple of nights. It was a slightly modified version of what I've been eating weekly for the past 3 or so years in Austin: rice and salmon. Fortunately, I have no qualms with eating the same meal on a weekly or even daily basis, per my usual work lunch.

I've also taken a few leisurely strolls through Evanston and the campus, opting to take a new route whenever possible to get to familiar places in hopes of discovering a new bit of treasure in the sand.

In my apartment, I've been reading, social networking, listening to music, and playing guitar. Although I am still a far ways off from my old peak guitar-playing skill level, I am seeing incremental improvements every time I pick up the guitar. Today, I noticed that I was playing a bit more fluidly than the last time I recorded myself. I also noticed that like most of the guitar players I enjoy listening to, I can't stop myself from making stupid faces when I play. I don't understand why I pucker my lips, but nonetheless, I do.

BTW, the song is called "Heart of Life", and it's by John Mayer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One week down, some large number to go....

First of, for any of you detail-oriented folks, you may have noticed that I changed the layout of my side column again. I've added a new widget, "Kellogg at a Glance", that displays a random "Kellogg" picture from my Flickr account. Given that a picture is worth 1000 words, every time you reload the blog, it will be like I've just posted a new 1000-word account of my time at Kellogg. I rock!

In addition to the pictures, I've also moved the Kellogg content to the top of the column. This is a result of my desire to position my blog for 2 audiences: 1) my friends and family (who may not even read it!) and 2) anyone interested in obtaining a glimpse of the Kellogg program. Although I write primarily for my friends and family, I recall how useful it was to find Kellogg blogs when I was deciding between schools. If a blog had actually been maintained the entire 2 years, that was like finding 3 peanuts in a 2-peanut shell; you know what I mean. I apologize in advance if you fall into the latter category, and I post something that you have no interest in. I know what it's like to be in your position, and I wish you the best of luck with the application/decision/grad school process.

Now, for the juicy gossip! I've been in Evanston for over a week now, and during that time I've managed to get settled in, take care of most of my To-Do list, and walk as much as a professional walker might through Evanston, the Northwestern Campus, which has a minimal amount of campus maps (to confuse people no doubt), and Chicago.

For anyone considering ridding themselves of most earthly positions for the trip up to Kellogg, be warned; a car is extremely useful, if not essential, initially after arriving. Fortunately, I had my parents and their SUV available for my trips to Wal-Mart (dropping $600 in the process), Target (around $400), and IKEA ($400), which is a solid 45 minutes away from Evanston. If it weren't for their SUV, I don't know how I would have managed as well. Once you have acquired all of your requisite items and furniture, I don't think you'll need a car very often at all. The El and inter-campus bus are very convenient, and there are a lot of stores within walking distance.

Another pitfall for us non-car students, is that the only grocery store within walking distance, Whole Foods, is expensive. If you restrict yourself to items on sale, then it will probably cost around the same as a "regular" grocery store. I've tried to circumvent this problem by stocking up on items from Target that I use often. Hence, my Kashi Tower.


After I was all settled, I visited Chicago to do the tourist thing with the parentals. I highly recommend taking some time out to visit, because it is a beautiful city, and they have some great attractions, such as the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. You may be tempted to also visit Navy Pier, but unless you are going there for fireworks or some other big show/festival, I would avoid it. It was very disappointing; classic example of a tourist trap. Sears (now Willis) Tower is a must see. They recently installed glass enclosures on the side of the building at the sky deck that offer a thrilling view of the city. It took me a moment to step out all the way to the edge.


I've also managed to spend some time with my fellow classmates, via large organized events (screaming at bars) and more personal events (chatting at coffee shops). As expected, everyone I've met has been very amiable and interesting. Yesterday, I had a 6-hour chat with fellow bloggers Stephen, who recently unmasked himself, and the Modern Business Cow. I'm looking forward to more of these relaxed interactions throughout the next couple of years.

That's it for now! I hope that all of you with Kellogg aspirations will one day find yourself seated in the Kellogg chair. It. Is. Nice.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Observations from the frontline

  • Davis Street seems very popular with the Evanston crowd. It is also a great way of cutting across the "Kellogg" portion of Evanston to campus. Along the way you'll find the Post Office, an "El" train stop, a bicycle shop, a skateboard shop, Red Mango (yogurt shop that was full of students at 9:30p), 7-11 that is open 24 hours, a liquor store, Ace Hardware, Jamba Juice, and more. The Davis and Orrington/Sherman cross section is particularly eventful.
  • There are lots of Asian (dim sum, noodle houses, sushi, stir fry, etc) restaurants in the area
  • If your mom likes flowers and plant-life in general, then she will enjoy the Northwestern campus
  • Evanston is a great walking/cycling city. They have bike lanes all over the place, and I haven't seen any cars parked in the lanes. I'm curious to see how many cyclists there will be come winter
  • Walmart and Target are far away. Ikea is even farther away (40 minutes to get there). I don't plan on going to any very often after this week, unless I can bum a ride from a classmate
  • The LA Fitness on Sherman is very upscale. All of the equipment looks fairly new and in pristine condition. The basketball courts are large, and the class room in the back has a nice view. The towel service wasn't as nice as I was hoping for; the towel only covered 80% of me when wrapped around the waist (I exposed my leg), and it felt like sandpaper. The provided towels aren't recommended for showering.
  • The pool at LA Fitness is great. It has 4 lanes and is 25 yards long. The pool is designed with wave guards on the sides to keep the water from getting choppy.
  • The hot tub at LA Fitness is not hot. It's more like a warm tub.
  • Some of the people (that I'm assuming are students) look like they are 14. I know I look young, but wow...
  • My 1-BR apartment is much larger than I was expecting. Given the spartan amount of furniture I have, a studio would have definitely worked. Nonetheless, I really like the location and the apt so far.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I've Arrived!

16_Jump_for_joy

We (the parentals and I) set out for Evanston on Saturday at 6AM. After 19 hours of driving (1200) miles, we arrived at Evanston on 1AM Sunday. I think my dad remembered the last time they rode with me in their car in Austin, when I almost wrecked it; I only drove for 3 of the 19 hours. The rest of the time, I accompanied my mom in cheerleading my dad's driving prowess.

The apartment office is closed on Sundays, so we stayed at a local hotel yesterday and today. We spent most of today walking around Evanston and the Northwestern campus. When we arrived at the Kellogg building, which was locked, my mom snapped the "jumping-for-joy" pic you see above; check out the air I got. Tomorrow morning, I'll officially move in to my apartment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Free time shmee time

I posted the video above for 2 reasons: first off, my new laptop has a built in webcam, and I wanted to play with it (you can expect more videos in the future); second, it sort of ties in to this post. I would have played with Garageband instead, but my little MAudio USB box that I use for recording instruments is safely packed away.

I am heading out for Evanston tomorrow morning, and I should arrive by Sunday night. I am extremely anxious for school to get underway so that I can finally determine how much, if any, free time I can expect to have during the semester. I've had a few friends express interest in coming out to visit, but I've been hesitant to make any commitments due to the big question of free time. On top of that, there are a number of hobbies/things that I'd like to continue doing throughout grad school, but again, I don't know if I'll have the time.
  • Playing Guitar - This is one of my favorite ways of relaxing. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to maintain a regular practice schedule, so I've seen myself touch the skill level of "average" only to then lose a lot of ground due to extended breaks. When I first started working at IBM, I was devoting a substantial amount of time every day to practicing, and I made some significant progress. I'm hoping that I can practice regularly when school starts.
  • Exercising - I've never really had a problem making time to exercise, whether by weightlifting, jogging, boxing, yogaing, swimming, etc, so I anticipate that I'll be able to keep up with it. I may end up switching from swimming to something else, since I don't know how eager I'll be to jump in the pool when the weather gets chilly.
  • Reading - I love reading as much as possible, and I'm sure that my classes will oblige me.
  • Writing - This covers the blog, my personal journal, emails, poems, etc. I wrote a lot more back in undergrad, especially when I was bored in class, and I think my imagination was all the more fertile for it.
Those are the "Han Solo" activities that I am going to try and fit in. Of course, I also want to do all of the school and social activities that you would expect from a student going to a school renowned for "soft" skills.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My last week in Austin...

...was fun and exhausting. I spent every night during the last week of July with my friends at various events and venues, hoping to get in one last memory with each of them before leaving. (I apologize in advance for writing about personal things, but this blog is also for my friends and family :) ).

On Monday, I met up with my girlfriend and a few friends for dinner, and then the GF and I went to watch 500 Days of Summer, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Tuesday night, we met up at my friend's house for our final movie night; we saw The Fall, which has some breathtaking cinematagrophy, and looked amazing in blu-ray on his large 120Hz HDTV. On Wednesday, I met up with some friends at a sports bar downtown for a birthday (I'm 27 now!) and farewell event. Afterwards, we went to watch a softball game that was surprisingly fun (thanks in large part to us heckling our friends). Thursday night, I played Bang with my friends (whose 8-week-old baby is adorable) for the last time. I never realized how much fun a card game could be given the right company, and I now have a copy courtesy of said friends. This was also the first time I've tried cake balls, and I will resist making a dirty joke about my friend's delicious balls. Finally, on Friday I went downtown with my girlfriend and close friend from college and had a few drinks; waking up the next morning was difficult, but worth it for a Don Juan taco from Juan in a Million.

My last full day in Austin was on Saturday. After eating that 1lb taco, we went to play pool volleyball with everyone right down the street from the IBM building where I spent many long days and nights. It was a fantastic way to make the most of a less-than-100-degree day. That night, we relaxed at my friend's house celebrating their dog's birthday, watching boy-band videos (not by my choice!) and funny youtube clips, and chatting it up. As 1 am rolled around, we gathered our things and left. It was a simple last goodbye, but then I asked my GF to turn around to do one last thing at their place. This time, I was almost moved to tears after seeing my GF and friend start crying. The next morning I set off for Houston to spend a week with my parents before driving up to Evanston.

The excitement has been building amongst the online 2011 Kellogg community as we wrap up loose ends, plan our trips out to Evanston, and prepare for the indoctrination to Kellogg life via the KWEST trip and then CIM.

I, for one, can't wait to slip on my Kellogg snuggie and dance around on the streets of Evanston under the stars hoping to catch one as it falls. I imagine that the next two years are going to be amazing (I want to still be telling stories about my time at Kellogg when I'm old and have lost bladder control), but I have to admit that leaving Austin has been bittersweet at best, and quite sad at worst. I left behind a group of friends that I cared about a lot; the kind of folks that you can drop your guard around without hesitation and leave you feeling refreshed after an encounter, as if you just jumped into a cool lake.

Monday, July 27, 2009

State of Mind

I need to write my "farewell" email to send out to the large number of IBMers that have helped me during my time with the company; I've decided to warm up with a blog post. There has been a lot going on the last couple of weeks as the countdown to Kellogg reaches 0, but I won't bother with every little minutiae. Instead, I want to focus on something that I've been thinking about the last couple of days.

One of the reasons that I'm excited about grad school is that I believe I am now mature enough to fully appreciate and capitalize on my time in school. When I first started my undergrad 9 years ago, I was entranced by the thought of going out, enjoying myself, and making college as memorable as possible (or at least as comparable as possible to the college "party" movies that I had seen). Although I never lost site of the coursework or why I was actually in Austin, it generally took a 2nd seat to having a good time. I busted my butt and was able to graduate with distinction, but I still think I could have structured the experience better to improve my development. But alas, hindsight is 20/20.

After I graduated, I started dutifully working at IBM, and within 5 months, I purchased my first house. That one-two combination was incredibly effective at helping me transition into a more-adult mindset. At work, I was developing my abilities and identifying skills that were either missing or required improvement. I enjoyed watching how my coworkers and I handled different situations, making secret little notes in my mind about behaviors that I liked (and wanted to emulate) or disliked. I gained a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as I progressed, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. It was at work that I started thinking about my future, and what I wanted out of life.

The house was a beast of burden outside of work. I probably jumped into home ownership sooner than I should have, but I don't regret it. Besides the work required to maintain the house, I had to begin tracking my finances more closely. Before then, I was reckless with my spending, believing that I deserved to be after all of those years of student living. Once I started looking at my finances, my interest in investing that started in high school (I doubled my money investing in videogame companies before losing it all by listening to anonymous email tips like a bonehead) and disappeared in college (my money was all invested in ramen and tuna) returned. I spent a lot of time reading up on various business topics, until I realized that I was more interested in business than in engineering at that point.

Going into the MBA, I am extremely grateful for the 5 years separating my undergrad and grad experiences. I realize the significance that the next two years will have on the rest of my life, and I intend to devote myself to it completely. Most blokes are going to be playing at 10, but I'm going to 11.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's here...the home stretch!

I have 11 days of work left; four days until I move out of the house and become a nomad for the rest of my time in Austin; twenty three days until I head up to Evanston with my parents (can't wait to explore the area with them); and a little over a month until I go on my KWEST trip with 20+ classmates. Needless to say, I feel like I am fast approaching the beginning of the two years that will mark the start of the next chapter of my life.

The Kellogg Fall quarter class selection form (hardly a form; it had 4 choices and a submit button) went live a few days ago. I had to choose between Finance I, TurboFinance (combines FinI and FinII), Microeconomic Analysis, and Marketing Management. The other three classes I'll be taking are assigned by Kellogg and common to everyone.

Throughout the past week, there has been an ongoing discussion amongst incoming students on Twitter and an MBA Forum on whether to take FinI or TurboFinance. The decision seems to rest on whether you want a deeper understanding of Finance (take FinI and then FinII, since then you devote more time to it) or the ability to take an extra elective and cover the topics in FinI/II (take TurboFinance).

I was leaning towards TurboFinance, but I was curious to find out what the workload was like. I sent an email to my Kellogg buddy, who was able to get feedback from two of his classmates that took the class. They reported that the workload is 2x as much as FinI because you get less time to complete each assignment, but that it was manageable as part of a 4-course schedule (given you work a bit harder). That was enough to sell me on it, as I'm looking to take a lot of electives to gain a wide breadth of knowledge at Kellogg; I figure that I'll gain a deeper understanding in the areas that are most applicable to my career by actually applying those skills on the job afterwards. I'll definitely blog periodically on what TurboFinance is like as I go through the quarter.

Speaking of blogging, I have committed to keeping this blog updated regularly throughout my time at Kellogg. I figure that I'll have enough free time to do it since I won't have to worry about recruiting during the first year. Now that I've stated that commitment publicly, I'll look like a real jacka** if I don't follow through, and I don't want that. Consider that my motivation!