Sorebrek's Musings and Ramblings

In search of the holy grail of an MBA (class of 2008 hopeful), this space will hopefully chronicle the search and my other quixotic pursuits.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Movie Night

Motorcycle Diaries has to be one of the best films to have come out this year. It is the story of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (famous South-American revolutionary) and his friend Alberto Granado embarking on the trip of their life, on a end-of-life motorcycle. What starts out as a college road-trip, changes both friends, not so much because of any particular event or events, but more so due to the impact of the journey itself. The defining moment is when the asthmatic Che swims across the river that separates the ill from the healthy in the leper colony at San Pablo. Life's experience, not planning makes for great leadership.
I was sitting there and obsessing about all the things I would have had to do if I were to make that trip myself, and about an hour later I realized that I would never have made the trip. It is simply not in me. I may have been able to plan the trip for someone else, but my restless, nit-picky mind would not allow me to complete packing, much less go on the trip. It is saddening and at the same time it is also a new thing that you learn about yourself. A couple of years back I would've deluded myself into thinking that I could've done it, and blamed lack of opportunity for my inaction.
The rain, the river and the boat-trip on the Amazon from Lima to San Pablo, brought back two dear memories: the last boat-trip in Love In The Time Of Cholera and Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, the improbable tale of an obsessive opera fan wanting to build an opera hall in the middle of the Amazon. At some unfathomable level, these are all tales of man transcending time and hopelessness in pursuit of the big trip.
Along more existential lines, while Che and buddy almost covered the whole of South America on a beat-up motorcycle, on foot and hitch-hiking, yours truly had trouble getting to the movie theater. While taking a turn, the car skidded on the wet road and did a 180 degree turn before deciding to settle down on the median. No external damage from where I can see, but I can hear squeaky noises while driving; come Monday and a few zeros will wither and fall off my bank-balance. Oh well, that will be then. Meanwhile I will spend the rest of the weekend obsessing about it :-)

Monday, October 18, 2004

@ Kellogg

Back after a long hiatus. Been busy with personal stuff and taking some time off from work. Managed to squeeze in a couple of B-school visits while in Chicago, where the famous weather is slowly unraveling its charms. About visiting Kellogg:

The Kellogg school is on Northwestern University's Evanston campus. Actually, they do have a downtown campus, but that facility houses the TMP (part-time) program. You can get to the Evanston campus by taking the "el" train (purple line) from pretty much anywhere in Chicago. The campus itself is to the far north of the train system, so plan for an hour or more of travel time if you need to get there from the downtown area.

The good thing about visiting Kellogg is that you could pretty much drop in whenever you happen to be in Chicago (with a few exceptions; see their visit page). The not so good part is that the attention to detail and the sense of welcome present at dedicated events run by other schools is missing. My itinerary consisted of sitting in on a class, taking the student-lead campus tour and attending the information session (wasn't so keen on this one since I had already been to one in San Fran).

The first thing that strikes you when you walk up to the campus from the train station is how so unimposing the Donald Jacobs center is. The full-time MBA operates out of the Anderson Hall in the Donald Jacobs center. Apparently there is another facility which houses the Executive MBA program, but I couldn't cover that one. Very ordinary looking early-80s architecture; vinyl and cheap mosaic abounds. I don't know if it is all the expectation built up over the weeks, but the whole building thing didn't do it for me. Once inside, the rest of the facilities seemed to be pretty much along the same lines. Not much bright lighting except for the atrium-like area that doubled up as a cafeteria and congregation space. I went up to the second floor to the Admissions office to pick up a class schedule. I was greeted by a rather bored-looking gentleman. Now I must say this or I will lose all interest in blogging: This was clearly the most unhelpful part of the visit. An alien in this country, my antennae twitch at the slightest notion of someone trying to say things between the lines (or words as in this case). Over time I have learnt to figure out the undertones of an uhuh (american for yes) by listening for the length, timber and accompanying body language. So there are are uhuhs and uhuhs; ranging from the innocuous to the get-out-of-my-face ones. Well Mr. CornRows, your uhuhs were not entirely lost on me, but I think I managed to let it not get to me. I scrounged around on the counter and found class and event schedules. Turned out that I was a little too late for the 8:30 AM classes, but too early for the 10:30 AM ones. I knew the class schedules from the website, so it was really me not planning for enough time to get to the campus. Anyway, I decided to kill some time by exploring the rest of the building. A display case with books authored/co-authored by faculty took the prime spot next to the fabled Kellogg stained glass window. Several recognizable names including Philip Kotler, Dipak Jain and Mohan Sawhney.

I ran into an applicant from Switzerland, a civil engineer, hoping to graduate with a real-estate concentration. We settled down in the atrium with coffee and discussed the whole admission thing. He was being interviewed the next day at Kellogg and this was the last leg in his two-week school-visit road trip. I discovered later on that there were about a dozen other visitors that day, most of whom I would run into again at the Chicago GSB Fall Preview the next day.

Considering that Kellogg has this stellar reputation of the best marketing school, we decided to sit in on a marketing class, Marketing Management, taught by Prof. Alexander Chernev. There were five other prospective applicants who were in the same class. The professor asked us to introduce ourselves. Most students seemed genuinely happy to see prospective students; some more than the others. This was a first-level, core class of about 65 people. We learnt later that the elective classes are much smaller in size, about 25 to 30 in number. The material taught was pretty straightforward. The prof illustrated some marketing principles using the failure of New Coke as a case study. Participation from the class was mixed. Some students were scrolling through the case right in the class. Others were more enthusiastic; some others had a hard time putting their hands down. However, I noticed that about 60% or more of the class did not really participate. Perhaps this is one of the first few classes of the Class of 2006, but somehow it didn't add up. Overall a good class; great presentation aids and moderately participative. I wish the case study sparked some debate. I thought the topic was fairly contentious and I was hoping for some discord to bring in fresh perspective. After the class ended, noticing that not many stayed around to talk to the prof, I took the opportunity to chat with him briefly. I wondered if any of the electives offered covered marketing technology to enterprises since it differed from retail marketing. I was told that the fundamental principles were the same and I would be better off looking at the course catalog to see if such an elective is offered. Yet to do that. One of the current students sitting next to me was extremely helpful and patient. She even offered me and another prospective student her calling card and offered any help over e-mail. I was impressed to say the least.

The tour followed. I think there were about ten of us prospective students lead by a first-year student. We were taken around the building and shown the study rooms and the computer room. Looked like any other school, nothing to write home about really. The student was very forthcoming and helpful and stopped every now and then to explain various aspects of the admission process and answer questions from us. He sounded very enthusiastic about the GIM (Global Initiatives in Management) program, an elective with some class work followed by two-week research trip abroad. The class president, a very friendly and outgoing guy stopped by and chatted with us for a while.

I grabbed some lunch from the cafeteria since I decided to stay around for the information session at 2PM. Students were sitting around in groups eating lunch and discussing course-work; the legendary Kellogg teamwork in action! At the info session, learnt nothing new besides what I already knew from the San Fran info session and the website. The adcom, a Kellogg alumni herself, took time to courteously and patiently respond to even the most outlandish of questions. [Update: just remembered - Kellogg has a 360 degree feedback system, where your peers evaluate you on several criteria (no, not anonymously) and the evaluation s count towards your grades. Also, Kellogg has a grade non-disclosure policy, which I think is student-initiated.]

I left with the impression that there is more to Kellogg than meets the eye. I decided that I will not be hung up on the facilities. The students were definitely friendly and seemed to be at ease with their groups/cohorts. The adcomms were helpful and accessible too. I would undoubtedly be thrilled beyond words if I did get accepted, no question. However I wish Kellogg had put together a formal event for prospective students a la Chicago GSB, which by the way has by far surpassed all my expectations. But more on that tomorrow. If not a formal event, at least more attention to detail and emphasis on the impalpable strengths of the Kellogg program would have been nice. Oh, and Kellogg, please lose Mr. Spite or replace him with a sign saying "Schedules to your left" or something to that effect.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The 2004 BW Rankings are out!

News as it happens :-) Just got this off the BW chat forums as it is being announced. Will post more on this later, but for now, here are the top-10 US schools:

10 Dartmouth's Tuck school
8 Columbia Business School
7 Cornell University's Johnson school
6 University of Michigan's Ross school
5 Harvard Business School
4 Stanford GSB
3 Wharton, University of Pennsylvania
2 Chicago GSB
1 Kellogg, Northwestern University

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The W Reception

Here is the skinny on the Wharton reception in San Fran:

After I did a few rounds of the block and finally decided to plunk down the $5 for parking, it was a short walk to 101 Howard St. The thing that struck me as amazing was that Wharton had professional, block-cut signage at the reception. Later on I realized that this was where the Wharton West Exec MBA classes were held; so much for my skills of deduction. Walking into the reception area, I found the usual MBA reception groupies, this time huddled together five to six each at several tables scattered around the reception area. Food and drinks were plentiful; no holding back in this department. After about 15 minutes past the scheduled time, we were herded into circular class-room that could fit about 70. Latecomers lined the walls; all in all about 100 people including the alumni. The adcomm wasted no time diving into the presentation. No fireworks there. I am fairly confident I can put a three-digit number to the times she has done this before. In fact I had ran into this very same adcomm at the World MBA tour. Now what is the word I am looking for in trying to describe her? 'Edgy' comes to mind, which is probably unfair; but you get the idea. The usual 'Why MBA', 'Why Wharton' litany was followed by what Wharton stood for:
  • Honesty & Integrity (I didn't exactly fall off my chair hearing that one)
  • Leading with Integrity (this will go on until Enronitis is supplanted by something more newsworthy)
  • Culture of Learning (I would expect nothing less for the gazillion dollahs that students have to come up with)
  • Global Environment (Wharton and a thousand other schools)
  • Leadership (yes, the Harvard patent on that one expired a long time ago)
  • Collaborative Community (note the evolution of the hackneyed word teamwork)
So what should a W aspirant do to walk the hallways of Huntsman Hall?
  • Self-assessment (by the time I am done with the essays next year, I would probably be so self-aware that I might as well give up all material possessions and head up to camp Dalai Lama and spend the rest of my days contemplating the hopelessness of human condition)
  • Research the program
  • Allow sufficient preparation time (I think this one is under-rated, but even the most disciplined of applicants seem to be struggling with this one)
  • Plan ahead financially and set life-style expectations (a.k.a case study by day, drunken debauchery until the wee hours and sleep deprivation)
The best part of the whole evening was the alumni. There were 16 in all; the highest alumni-to-attendee ratio I have seen so far at any B-school reception. Couple of old-timers too. By the time they got to the last one, they didn't have enough time for introductions, much less questions. But questions there were; some good, some bad, some toe-curlers. Diverse bunch of alumni - real estate, wine retailing, one tech entrepreneur, one CFO ... While the alums talked about their Wharton experience, I noticed clear stage-fright in quite a few of them. Nowhere close to the great communicators that the Harvard kids were. But all-in-all they seem to have done well for themselves relative to what they were doing before they went to W. For those of you who got this far, it is obvious that I am tiring of this reception thing to the point of being downright cynical and obnoxious about it. Don't get me wrong: Wharton is a great school. It is probably me and my black dog. I passed up the Tuck reception for brain-dead TV this evening. I intend to give a wide berth to the UCLA Anderson one tomorrow. I would've liked to go to the Columbia one in Menlo Park on Friday, but I have a schedule clash. So it is curtains as far as receptions are concerned. I will be at the Chicago GSB Fall Preview on campus (10/15 & 16). I will also be dropping in to say hello at the Kellogg campus on 10/14. Until then ...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Wharton Reception at SF

Headed to the Wharton reception in San Fran this evening (7 to 9). Anyone else attending? Would love to meet up. Drop me a comment. Here's the event link:

The event seems to be full, but based on my past experience, they always have a few buffer seats; so you might want to consider gate-crashing.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Trying Really Hard To Like Seth Stevenson

Check out this article on Slate describing Seth Stevenson's effort and my e-mail addressed to him:

Ref: Your article:

When you mentioned the piles of garbage, homeless people, the urine stench and the panhandlers, for a moment I thought you were referring to the Tenderloin district in San Francisco. Well, not quite - the drug-peddlers were missing from the picture; but hey, Lord Ativan must've compensated for that. Anyway, when I get a little home-sick (me having taken the hi-tech route to the Silicon Valley from India), I hang out in the Tenderloin to soak in the ambience. In fact, I do better, I volunteer at soup kitchens for the homeless to absolve myself of the brown-man's guilt. Oh, I do actually cut checks, rather big ones for my favorite charities for the homeless in structured and figured-out America. Where do you get off (your high horse) Hunter Thompson?

In taking exception to Stevenson's myopic piece on India, I am also quite convinced that he would try hard to like any other country without the minimal effort required in understanding what makes a country tick. Case in point is his misanthropic views of other tourists. Having said that, I admire his gumption for opening his mouth to voice his albeit misplaced views in a world of politically correct travel writers and their readers. My beef with his rhetoric is that while he has nothing but pure disdain for the common tourist, he himself never rose above their ilk to reveal another dimension to the country that thrives amidst its chaos. Furthermore, he harbors a thinly-veiled disgust towards those visitors on a spiritual quest. Why so? Stevenson's balck and white world is limited to his immediate perception; everything beyond his comprehension cannot be of any worth. His other gaffe is his failure to recognize the parallels between the inner cities of his figured-out and structured backyard. Besides over-the-counter Ativan, his cultural takeaways are as shallow as his faculties of observation.