Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mind over matter ...

It feels good to be back home, a day after possibly the longest day we will have in the program. For most of us, yesterday began really early (for some the night before ended very late). We had classes from 9.30-12.30, 1.30-4.30, 4.45-6.45 and to top it all, a two-hour exam on leadership from 7.30-9.30 where we had to write essays on leadership related issues based on cases we had learnt. Did I mention that we had two homeworks assignments due as well?

 Hats off to fellow 36ers who survived the day and came out unscathed. Many of us went back and celebrated at the Wharton Pub at the end of it all. The day started with Bretton Woods and the Big Mac Index, gained momentum with Monte Carlo simulations and exotic option pricing, and led us into dinner with volatility smiles and Mahalanobis distances. If you didn't follow me through the end of that sentence, not to worry. I didn't either - now the lecture notes would have to rescue me. After all that, we got time to hurry and huddle together for a quick dinner and then take the test of our lives. I don't think I've written so much since my English exam in 12th grade, where I had to critique Pygmalion, Lord of the Flies and Macbeth over three hours. Since then, laptops arrived and the clickety-clack of the keyboard has replaced writing for most of us. Getting my fingers and shoulder used to writing for that long again was definitely an interesting experience. Studying for the test was a worthwhile exercise as well, tying together the different concepts we learnt in the leadership class.

In the middle of all this, several of my classmates were busy preparing to deliver their presentations for the International Study Tour choices. This year the top three contenders were Turkey, China and Brazil. The extent of research done by the teams and the quality of their presentations was just remarkable! These guys should work the tourism departments of those countries. Thank you guys for giving us a quick crash course on the business potential and party potential of all these countries. Whichever we end up picking, I'm sure that many of us would visit the other options as well in the future, so we will rely on your expertise and contacts to guide us then.

And just when I thought that class 36ers (yours truly included) had minds of steel that could conquer it all, today put things in perspective. Unfortunately, the day began with one of our faculty having a medical emergency and canceling his session in the morning. While we had a joint session for the other class in the morning, we waited to hear that he was well and was going to be taking time off to rest and recover while we figure out how to reschedule the class. But he had other ideas. He rushed out of the hospital at the first chance he got back to campus, so he could teach us what would be one of the most interesting topics we have covered in the class so far. Despite appearing to be tired, it was clear how excited he was to teach the same topic that he has probably taught to Wharton students for decades. The commitment, dedication, and pure mastery over the subject were just inspiring to watch and an experience to be part of. We all wish him the best of health and speedy recovery!

In journeys like this one, it is often the quality of the minds (like the one above) that you encounter that matter. The nuances of their commentary, the sophistication of their world view on their subject matter, their keen senses of humor - these are experiencies that will get etched in our memories forever. For that, I'm glad to be back in school, and to be back at a place like this where one sees the mind transcending physical limits and achieving what one would think was not possible.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The road less traveled ...

Thanks to the leadership and efforts of our Vice Dean, Doug Collom, Wharton San Francisco in conjunction with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati launched the first session of a series of workshops focused on entrepreneurship. This first episode of the Wharton Entrepreneurs Workshop got oversubscribed in a few hours after it was offered, which is a great indicator of how many among the Wharton community (students and alumni) are interested in starting companies, or are currently doing so. I was not surprised to have this validated at the event either. I met a few alums and current students who left their jobs a year ago and are in the early prototype stages of their startups that they bootstrapped so far.

Class 36ers were of course, the largest contingent, given that we're already in school and this felt like another lecture we could go to. The speaker today was Rob Coneybeer, co-founder and general partner at Shasta Ventures. The discussion was around what the focus should be while starting a company - how much of a focus on the product vs. team and other things. He had a few interesting observations to make and experiences and anecdotes to share. Can't wait for future episodes of this series. Doug is also trying to get these archived so that folks who could not make it can watch them offline.

Why is this the update for the week? When interviewing at Wharton I used to compare what resources are available here with the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs at Philly, and wonder how much of it we were missing here. Though we still probably aren't there at that level of operation, efforts like this are unique to our geography that no other region in the US could do as well. We are at an amazing confluence of technology, capital, talent and entrepreneurial bent, and programs like this are ideally positioned to leverage all of these and fashion the big successes of tomorrow.

So if you thought Wharton in SF and entreneurship did not gel well, think again. And keep watching this space for more updates on such programs. The road to entrepreneurial success is a long and lonely one, and events like this help solidify connections that go a long way towards making that journey quicker, livelier and more memorable.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pedal to the metal ...

Last week was probably the toughest so far in the program. Two midterms, one homework submission, one team-project simulation and a lot of required reading for OPIM that started last session. It felt great to survive that and forge ahead ... albeit from the frying pain into a rapidly forming fire. We were supposed to have a final in the leadership class as well this session, but we managed to get that postponed so that things were more manageable.

Having said that, some of the experiences were just surreal. It is not everyday that one has the opportunity to look at a headline news item on the Fed and their actions to get us out of the financial mess and hear one's Professor explain in class "Ben must have done that because ...". For those that think that this sounds like PR for Wharton, let me add that other top programs would rightfully have similar claims to make as well. My experience is at Wharton, hence the description. In Abel's class we also had a simulation where we got to run economies as a fiscal team or a monetary team and wreck them through our badly chosen interest rates and taxes. There were a select few that won the tournament of course, through judicious and prudent policies. But it was fun to wreck an economy nevertheless, something one might never get a chance to do again ...

Speaking of other programs, we had a get-together of MBA students and alums from the Berkeley-Columbia, UCLA and Wharton programs on Friday night at the Meridien. Was interesting to chat with students and alums from other programs and compare notes. Many of us class 36ers were spent after two days of exams and homeworks, so we might have sounded a bit brain-dead to the rest of you ... accept our apologies for that :).

It was also great to meet with prospective applicants who attended our sessions. Looking at their backgrounds and accomplishments, I think class 37 is going to be an amazing class .. just as ours ;). Its getting time for you guys to narrow down your choices in terms of programs, as well as what to put on your resumes and essays. If you haven't scheduled your interview at Wharton already, you might want to get on the phone and get started soon. John and Barbara are amazing people to talk to, and let us assure you that they don't bite, so come soon! If class 36 is in session, I do hope to meet with all of you while you're in as well.

The other highlight of the weekend was Ziv's OPIM opening session. It is kind of surprising, spooky and brilliant all at the same time when your Professor walks into the room knowing all your names and employers and looks at you at appropriate parts of the lecture to point out to you how it relates to your job, or asks for your input based on your direct background. The material seems heavy on math but the treatment in class was more to stimulate intuition and teach the correct thought process for making business decisions, so it would be interesting to see how these two paths converge as the course progresses.

It was also great to see so many spouses, partners and children show up for this session. We also had Doug speaking to us about his plans for WEMBA West in the months to come and details about the announcement about the new campus. Given all the activities that we had, there were no speakers scheduled this time, which was great as it gave us time to catch our breath during the hectic sessions.

Post-session, it felt great to see that, which was started by a couple of WEMBA West alums, got acquired by Amazon for a good chunk of Benjamins. Of course, as Waterman told us this time, "correlation is not causation". But hey, it feels good to think that it might be. Given the interest level and experience that my class has in entrepreneurship, I wouldn't be surprised if 5-7 years down the line it was one of their names that I find on a similar news article. On that note, its time to post this and call it a night ...