Monday, December 20, 2010

How did I miss the class photo?

I have not posted for such a long time and I forgot my password on blogspot... Or, maybe I am just getting old with each term?

It is hard to post after Anand's philosophical writing, but I thought I would put down some simple words to end my 2nd term.

So, how did I miss the class photo? Simply put, I had too many things going on during the last day. Right after the Stats final, I run down to the 4th floor to finish up the PRiSM case, knowing that a career service appointment is coming up at 12pm and GCP team meeting at 1pm (which last for the rest of the afternoon). Most of my learning teammates joined me before noon with wine/beer in hand. Since classmates promised to call us before the photo session starts, we focused on the case. 

Even though the 4th floor study room is not at all where you want to be with a glass of wine, we were surprised that there is actually cell signal. We got the photo call, then hurried to the elevator. Elevator rose to the 5th floor but the door did not open. In a panic, we started pressing other floors and the elevator started going down slowly, a little faster than the snail. We can see a little light coming through whenever we passed a floor. Finally, we reached the first floor and attempted to break the door without any sign of success. So we started pressing the emergency button, calling classmates on cell phone... It was really warm inside the elevator, which made me more anxious... I cannot remember how we got out but I remember the relief I felt when the door opened and when I saw Larry's big smile. And the photo was done.

The silver lining is that we are moving to a new building next year so the new students probably will not encounter the elevator episode. But the lesson to myself is "do not end the semester with three hard deadlines in a row". While we did complete all the tasks on time,  I had no wine, no fun, not even a chance to say congrats or goodbye to my classmates. I wish I have learned the important lessons Anand learned - not to get bogged down in the homeworks and deadlines, but training your mind to cut down to the chase by distilling the situation down to its basics - which is to enjoy life and be happy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Penchant for parsimony

As Term 2 wraps up and we head towards the holidays, one lesson that stays in mind from the term is the importance of being concise and precise in what we say by getting to the heart of the issue quickly and efficiently. Abel called it "nuanced observations", Ziv called it "nuggets", while Waterman taught us that we should always be parsimonious in our choice of regression models. So a penchant for parsimony was indeed what we tried to develop in the last four months. Ittner distilled down complicated cost accounting scenarios to the basics of activity based costing and allocation bases. Abel taught us how to simplify interactions between international economies through the IS-LM, AD-AS models and the asset, goods and labor markets. Useem made us focus on leading people by "saying it so it sticks" and providing us with a leadership template that summarizes the essentials of how to lead effectively. Waterman, through the PRiSM credit risk modeling gave us a sneak-peek into getting comfortable with volumes of data and analyzing and finding a signal within noisy, discontinuous, real-world data. Finally, Ziv made us realize how complex the issue of insurance hedges against oil price shocks could be, and gave us a taste of how we could navigate those waters by just focusing on the essentials and simulating and analyzing different risk environments. In essence, Term 2, for me, was all about learning not to get bogged down in the details of the data or the business situation that you are in, but training your mind to cut down to the chase by distilling the situation down to its basics, getting a laser focus on the key issues that need to be addressed, and finding appropriate solutions for them.

This post, however, clearly does not attempt to do what its title suggests. There's a lot to talk about, given that we're done with Term 2. Just a year ago, we were all busy with our admissions essays, talking to alums and students, figuring out the best time to interview with John and Barbara, deciding on where else to apply, supporting friends who were going through the same process ... fond memories of a time apparently from the distant past. The year just flew by, and boy what a journey it has been. Many of us in our class had significant events happen in our lives. Shane got married on the week school started, soon to be followed by Chad and more recently by Tao. Chandra kicked off the class 36 baby series soon after we got our admissions calls, and we've had Sonny and Harshit adding to their families as well. Mohit is leading the pack among the liberated ones to have taken the decision to submit themselves to a lifelong overlordship by getting engaged. Congratulations to all of you and welcome to the new additions to the class 36 family!

The last session was over before it began. We had two finals, and a credit risk homework due in Waterman's class. It was a welcome change to sit in Ziv's exam and not have time pressure to complete the test. One had time to admire the surroundings, wonder what the answers might be to problems that one didn't have  a clue about, and in general ponder about existence and other matters of consequence. Waterman rounded up the term with a multiple choice final where one ended up with different answers for the same questions depending on how many trials one attempted on the problem. Now if only they converged to the right choice ...

We celebrated the end of the term with a toast - yes, beer and wine before noon! Here's a picture of the class looking relieved to be one-third done with our MBAs.

Well, not really. The term was not quite over for many of us. We had postponed completing our credit risk analysis project for Waterman (called PRiSM2) until the weekend, so many of us were in the building until late evening. Thank you Larry for staying past your usual 7 pm closing time just to accommodate us poor souls cranking out a report and predictions before the 9 pm deadline. We owe you big time!

As the year draws to a close, many of us are also beginning our journey towards the goals that we have set for ourselves post-MBA. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many classmates start their companies in the past few months - first steps towards what I'm sure will be great efforts and at least a few big successes. Kudos to you all! Thanks to the dedication of classmates like Satish and Abhishek, the class had several informational treks to companies in the Bay area, forging relationships with them and paving the path for future classes to benefit from these interactions. For those that intend to apply to Wharton, look forward to several key announcements coming up early next year, about the new campus, new career management services locally, and the laying of foundations for relationships with firms in cleantech, finance, consulting and other key Bay area industries. Doug has been hard at work in making a lot of this happen, assisted by folks like Eswar from class 35 and Satish and others from my class.

That's it for now. Happy Holidays everyone and hope all of you have a wonderful new year ahead!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Refueling ...

Many of you would be aware of the interesting problem of a truck traveling in the desert. The truck gets 10 mpg, and starts next to N 50 gallon gas drums. Its tank can hold 10 gallons and is empty, and it can only carry one 50-gallon drum. You're asked to figure out how far the truck can go in the desert.

Why is this interesting, apart from its mathematical challenge? As several of you heard, the Wharton full-time program has made an announcement opening up executive-education classes for free (a limited number every so many years) for its alums. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

What is less known, but more significant for WEMBA students, alums and applicants, is that WEMBA classes are open to alums to audit, subject to approval by the faculty. This is a really cool part of the program for those that feel that they need to refresh their knowledge on something they learnt several years ago, or for auditing a class that was not offered at the time they were in school.

Reaching one's destination often involves several constrained optimization problems. Those that plan ahead and stow away refueling and recharging material for use when needed often end up reaching farther along the path to their destinations than those that don't. In this journey, it is heartening to note that Wharton helps by stowing away some of those refueling materials for us along the way, to stop, refuel and charge ahead.

Just thought I should highlight this at a time when Wharton and the revamp of the fulltime curriculum is being discussed. One more reason to join the program!

1. You can read about the curriculum overhaul here.
2. The curriculum overhaul is going to reflect into the WEMBA program as well, probably starting 2012.
3. WEMBA class audits are free once you graduate from the program, East or West.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On apples, consumption, and giving back ...

Another weekend, another final. Term two comes to a close 11 days from now, bringing us a third of our way towards our destination. Last weekend we got done with our macroecon finals. As expected we had really interesting questions on the final, including Abel's trademark two-period apple consumption/allocation problem. Speaking with him over lunch, I learnt that multi-period consumption models are an area of research of his, which is probably the reason we get to consume apples at all his exams. Its pretty awesome how one "toy problem" (as Ziv calls these) can highlight so many aspects of real life macroeconomic issues such as tax rates, interest rates, binding borrowing constraints and social security. On being asked about his other areas of research, he tried to dumb down and explain one of the other topics he was working on - "optimal inattention to the stock market" which seemed quite fascinating as well. It would have been great if we got more time to interact with our faculty to learn about their areas of research and how that applies towards real-world problems. Zander from our class got a tshirt designed for Abel with apples in front and "Extreme Consumption Smoother" at the back, and we gifted it to him at the final  lecture - was pretty cool! As Kent mentioned to me tonight, Abel should be glad that we didn't give him the parting gift that we gave Kent - classrooms plastered with posters that deify all the "demons" that he made fun of in class.

The two-period consumption/allocation model serves as a good metaphor for the two years at Wharton for all of us as well. How we allocate our time across the two years - when to get burnt out, when to conserve energy, when to accumulate "brownie points" at home to use efficiently when needed, how to partition workload at work between the two years .. it is actually not a bad approximation, coming to think of it. Speaking of multi-period models, we had, in my view, one of the most interesting sessions in the program so far in Ziv's class over the weekend where we discussed a risk management case for hedging against oil price shocks through different insurance contracts. That was followed by a lightning drive-thru through PERT and CPM time-to-completion analysis and job completion times. It would have been interesting to have this as a full-credit class spread through the term so we got a better opportunity to internalize and learn more about these fascinating topics.

After that cerebral weekend in school, I ended the Saturday at a class 34 alum's house party with many class 34 students. Was great to see them again after the holiday party last year and their subsequent graduation. It was interesting to see that it was better attended this year - now that the class had graduated and had fewer opportunities to meet. It was also interesting to see how many of their careers had evolved in the past two years. Can't wait to see how the paths of class 36ers course-correct and accelerate over the next 16 months.

Though a good chunk of this post focused on academics, we're hardly all about classroom experiences. Here's a sneak peek at some of the cool stuff my rock-star classmates have been upto. After the gruelling weekend, some of them had international flights to catch, to travel to their first client meetings as part of the Global Consulting Practicum - one of the great experiences of the Wharton program for those that are interested. On top of the insane hours we need to put in into Term 3, these troopers like Monica have signed on to work with an international client, and students from an international MBA program to advise the firm on a consulting project. Hats off to them, and good luck!

Continuing the tradition of the earlier classes, class 36, under the leadership of Wendy are planning to extend and expand on the NonProfit Board Leadership Program in its West Coast incarnation. Call for applications has gone out and we will have training sessions coming up next term for the individuals who will join the Boards of different local nonprofits starting next June. Another project that's progressing pretty well with serious involvement from classmates like Chandan is Energize The Chain - an awesome project that aims to solve cold-chain issues in vaccine storage in developing nations by innovatively using cell towers. Its amazing to see folks devoting time towards giving back to the world around us through initiatives such as these even in the midst of their busy lives juggling work, home and school. Kudos to you!

Many of you might have read about Wharton's overhaul of its curriculum as announced earlier this week. Watch this space (or the official EMBA blog) for updates on the implications of this for the EMBA program. Thats it for the penultimate update for 2010! Roundup of term 2 and the year coming up in two weeks!