Sunday, March 27, 2011

Once a runner ...

[In keeping with the running theme about running, today's title is inspired by one of my favorite books on running - "Once a Runner".]

The highlight of the past session was the talk by the SVP and CIO of the SF Giants, Bill Schlough who's also a Wharton alum. Despite being the busiest session in the year so far, the talk was well attended and appreciated. Friday night gave a chance for classmates to mingle with the families of the rest of the class at a dinner at Thirsty Bear Restaurant. As expected, nothing can dampen the spirits (both the spiritual and bacchanalian kind) of Whartonites. Sleepless nights spent partying or working on assignments (or both) followed by full days of lectures and cases whizzed past and before one knew it, the three-day weekend was over.

This weekend was an occasion to get to know Senthil from OPIM 632 better. I haven’t heard anyone mention Silvia Plath and William Feller in the same breath – he does seem to have an interesting breath of taste in books. A quick summary of sustainability and carbon footprint considerations in the supply chain was fascinating as well – brought out several facts that I had not heard of before. The other interesting class related event of course was the MKTG 621 final – was interesting to take a closed book, no-cheat-sheet test after a long time. The class itself was one of my favorites so far in the program and it will be missed. We got exposed to marketing strategy discussions with Prof. Patti Williams through the Medicines and Aqualisa case - was interesting to learn formally what we were trying to wing our way through in SABRE so far. Many of us stayed up late on one of the nights, debating over cost of capital, corporate capital structures, asset, debt and equity betas and a whole bunch of other things as the night progressed, for the Teletech case in Finance.

This term underscored more than anything else my feeling of being a participant in a race that I probably qualified for by mistake, like the other academic sojourns of mine where I've felt equally out of place in the midst of a sea of talent. I have friends that recounted the experience of running the Western States 100 to me, and at some level the WEMBA program itself can be abstracted to that race. Only those that have the endurance and will to qualify for it would even consider applying. Once you’re in the race, your vitals are checked at every aid-station to ensure that you have what it takes to reach the next one. 

It’s been an honor so far to witness the races run by my fellow classmates, even as I huff and puff along from one aid-station to the next, willing one leg in front of the next. The effortless cadence of the elite runners to whom this is just another race to be done perfectly, the flair and gregariousness of the social runners, cheering on the slower ones and chitchatting with the aid-station staff, the methodical approach of the personal-record hunters as they watch their time and vitals at every step, the tired visages of the few having a bad day as they trudge towards their next stop, unsure whether to call it a day and race another day or not. As the year almost draws to a close, it’s been amazing to look back and see the hills and valleys we’ve conquered so far in our quest for that elusive belt buckle that the finishers get to keep.

The nostalgia stems also from hearing back from applicants who I had interacted with during the admissions process – their happiness at getting in brought back pleasant memories from last year, and my exchanges with my own mentors who helped me through the process –Miri (class 34), Ashish (class 31), Laura (class 31) and Venk (class 27). Congratulations to all the newly minted members to the WEMBA family and wish you all the very best! 

To continue with the running analogy in this context, the Anbessa song comes to mind – we’ve done our part keeping the WEMBA flag flying high in the first year, and now it’s your turn to get into your stride and power ahead of us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Term 1-3 speed-round update from Joanne

Okay. It's been awhile, I know. Sorry for the blog-silence (and thanks to Anand for carrying the blogging torch!). We're rounding out our first year (completion of Term 3) and I'll give you the quick update from my side.

Term 1 I studied a lot, maybe close to 25-30 hours per week. The content was interesting, yes, but also there was a part of me that wanted to prove that I'm smart enough to be there. I guess everyone (well, me at least) thought just maybe I was the admissions mistake. I wanted to "keep up" in regards to test scores, etc. What I gave up was time with my husband and friends. I found that there is such a thing as too much studying. Still managed to squeeze in my first triathlon (yay!), which was a super fun activity to do with my husband and cousins.
Term 2 Cut back significantly on the studying, down to about 10 hours a week or so. In hindsight, this was an overcorrection from the first term. Grades went down (which is okay) but maybe flirted with disaster a bit. On the bright side I was able to spend more time with Tim (husband) and Fuzz (dog). Still managed to stay out of the lowest 10% (number of "LT"s are tracked by the school) but probably just barely. I'm sure my poor showing in statistics will come back to haunt me in electives. Alas, my mother's statistics-gift (her Masters) was not transferred to me.
Term 3 (mid-way through) brought more interesting professors (in a good way) and butt-loads of classes. I've ramped up the studying again somewhere between where I was Term 1 and 2. Classes, which started in Term 1 as full-term classes, are now half term (most of them) that overlap at an alarming rate. They still remain interesting and engaging (operations/supply chain optimization, marketing, finance) and I find myself furiously scribbling notes for my startup (you know, business principles I never knew I was supposed to do when starting a venture - oops, better late than never).
Because I thought I was hot-stuff, I also allowed myself to get drafted into the Global Consulting Practicum course this term (yes, all those words have been selected carefully). GCP partners a Wharton team with a team from an international business school, in our case Instituto de Empreza in Madrid, to create a US market entry strategy. I'll have to reflect/write more on it when it's done. So far, it's had it's ups and downs. Adding this to the workload has definitely taught me my limits.

Life/Career Update!
Well, thanks to everyone for listening to my rants last year about entrepreneurship and my corporate job. :) With the blog-radio silence, trust me, I saved you from months of my agonizing over whether or not to leave my job and pursue the startup full time. Ultimately, it was the wise words of our backyard landscaper that led me stop the on-the-fence BS which was causing my suffering, and just make a decision already. So I did. 
On January 6th, I said farewell to my gray cubicle and hello to full-time startup life. 
I. absolutely. love. my. career. now. (yes, all the periods are necessary)
Things I love about it: creativity, variety in work, and the feeling that I'm building something fantastic. I realize that I belong in this world and am enjoying every minute of it. 

Wharton has been a huge supporter of our startup - from the professors, to my fellow classmates, and the awesome staff. Coming from a non-business background, the benefits from learning all the business fundamentals has helped me tremendously and I'm truly grateful for all the amazing things in my life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Discovering limits ...

A lot of data that get sent across the web gets sent using a protocol called TCP. How does one send data as efficiently as possible across a channel whose capacity one doesn't know? TCP does this by increasing the window size of data sent for every acknowledgement it receives for receipt of data. It does this until it starts to see packets lost, at which point it throttles down to the bandwidth that it just observed and tries to maintain that data rate for transmission, fluctuating around that mean value using the same mechanism.

What's the place for a networking lesson on a Wharton blog, you ask? The Wharton Executive MBA program topped rankings yet again recently. One of the reasons of this other than the usual that you hear, is how the program manages to extend your capacity for work, slowly but surely. It doesn't sound like a lot of fun while you are in the middle of it facing time crunches, but looking back at some of the busier sessions, it has been amazing to see the amount of work that got done between sessions with minimal time and additional commitments.

Which brings me to the TCP analogy. This session promises to be one where most of the class will hit our capacity ceiling. And as if they knew it, the load for the session after the one this weekend seems to be lighter too, as if to give us a breather. In the upcoming session, we have Bell's MKTG 621 final, in MKTG 622 we have a Medicines case assignment due to be submitted, SABRE decisions due, and an Aqualisa case due to be read for discussion. In OPIM 632 we have an assignment due, and three (yes you read that right) cases to be read for in class discussion. In FNCE 601 we have a Teletech case on cost of capital and hurdle rates due, and in WHCP 614 there is a lot of reading that needs to get reflected into a five-minute presentation on communicating change.

Now one thing I know for sure - this too shall pass. But during the time that it hasn't, it has been a scramble trying to identify all the different things that need to get done, and re-prioritizing them based on urgency or learning team conference call coordination. Last session itself was an exercise in juggling tasks and this one promises to do one better on that.

What else happened last session? Two of my classmates, along with two from class 35 represented Wharton at the Hult Case Challenge and just missed getting selected to the next round. We're proud of you anyway, Chris and Brian! Five of us represented Wharton at the CFA Institute Global Investment Research Challenge Western Regional Finals (that's a mouthful!) last weekend, and won. We now move on to Omaha to represent Wharton at the Americas finals. A big shout-out to Arif and Tao, the two classmates that were instrumental in making this happen!

As an earlier post alluded to, a few of us 36ers, a couple of Harvard alums, Prof. Smetters and Dr. Harvey Rubin from the Penn School of Medicine started a nonprofit recently called Energize the Chain to eradicate vaccine preventable diseases in the developing world through an innovative use of cell phone towers for off-grid power for vaccine storage. We have submitted grant proposals to Gates Foundation as well as USAID. The reason it gets a mention on my blog today is that one of our team members, Alice,  at Harvey Mudd, got one-on-one time with Mr. Gates himself to present the idea and hear his feedback - way to go Alice! We are hoping that exciting things come out of this project and hope to launch a project in India and/or Kenya soon. Couple of our team members are in Kenya right now attending a GSMA conference to learn more.

Stay tuned for how this three-day marathon session pans out. I expect sleepless nights, caffeine-filled days and a lot of fun!