Brought to You by the Letters M-B-A

My daughter is obsessed with YouTube snippets of Sesame Street –every night she makes either my husband or me watch at least a few of them before we tuck her into bed.  And by a few, I mean as many as she can sucker us into letting her watch before we once again say, “This is the last one; then bed” and truly enforce it regardless of her squeals for more Elmo.

Elmo, the object of my daughter's affection.

Having seen most of the universe of these Sesame Street snippets, I am realizing that not only are they starting the process of teaching my daughter core concepts, but they are helping reinforce some important adult versions that, at times, you forget on the path to getting your MBA.

The three Sesame Street snippets that are brought to me this past week by the letters MBA are Healthy, Stubborn, and Balance.

In the Healthy snippet, celeb Ellen Pompeo and Elmo remind me that “taking good care of yourself” is important and show me that there are “lots of good ways” to do it, including eating fruits and vegetables as well as getting proper rest.  Ruh-roh.  In the last week, I’ve officially eaten out of the vending machine for my meals twice (which incidentally, violates general healthy eating habits as well as one of my New Year’s resolutions), and I’ve stayed up till 2-3am doing schoolwork 3 out of the last 4 nights (which merely violates the laws of good sense).  As I slipped a banana into my bag this morning as a snack, Elmo would be tickled to know that I silently thanked him for the reminder.

I'm pretty sure even Oscar would have preferred competitive pricing.

One of my all-time fave Sesame St. characters, Oscar, also has been teaching my daughter about being “stubborn.”  With all of our group presentations of late, I have needed some remedial consideration of the word “stubborn” as well.  I literally stopped making a point in a meeting with one of my groups this past week, when I realized that I was embodying the definition of “stubborn.”

Apparently, being “stubborn” happens when “you only want to do what you want to do, and you don’t care what anyone else says and you won’t change your mind.”  My presentation group was in the middle of discussing a pricing strategy:  premium or competitive pricing.  All of my other group members were advocating for competitive, and I was trying to hold out for premium.  I realized after a while, that I only wanted to do what I wanted to do and I had no intention of changing my mind.  Then Oscar and his grimy trashcan popped into my head.  Ugh.  I get it.  And yes, competitive pricing can make sense now that I think about.  Oscar 1, Stubborn Maria Teresa 0.

What manner of monster are you, madame?

The last (and probably not least) Sesame Street snippet that has caught my attention is celeb Emma Stone and Abby Cadabby’s word of the day:  Balance.  Emma tells me that balance means when something “doesn’t fall over because it has equal weight on both sides.”  My daughter the other day kept putting two of her picture books on her head – imitating Emma’s attempt at balance —and thinking it was hysterical when they kept falling off of her head.  It took three of her attempts at “balance” before I even realized what she was doing.

Incidentally, it is usually when things start “falling off” my head before I realize how imbalanced I am between schoolwork and home life.  While Abby Cadabby is trying to teach my daughter the literal application of balance, she is surreptitiously reminding me that when I so narrowly focus on the one side of the weight that is school, that you can very easily tip over when it isn’t balanced with the other side of home and family.  Thanks, Abby.  I haven’t fully figured out what manner of monster your character is as of yet, but I appreciate the reminder of the importance of balance.

So, although I am learning and exponentially growing in truly sophisticated and complex ways in my MBA program, taking the time to sit down and watch some good ole Sesame Street may reinforce some foundational blocks that are key to my ability to add more fancy blocks.

Now, if we can just get the Count to teach me about the Weighted Average Cost of Capital, I think I’d be set.

I'm positive that the Count would have been a strong Finance or Accounting member to pair up with for group work.


Quotes to Live By

The semester is flying by. It seems like we just got back from winter break, but we are well past halfway done with the school year…the home stretch so to speak. The sheer amount of responsibility that we as MBA students have acquired can, at times, be mind numbing. So it is easy to lose sight of what has been driving us all year.

Dean Ward spoke to our class a couple of days ago and spoke of a quote by Albert Einstein that I found rather interesting: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” As students and budding professionals, we are groomed to place a high value on thing such as GPA, salary, etc. While those things hold importance, there is so much more to the game. Things that are difficult to measure often play a huge role in our experience. The relationships and connections we make are so valuable not just to our academic and professional careers, but our development as people. The MBA program has brought that fact into laser focus.

“If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell them. People never get the flowers while they can still smell them.” Ahhhh yes, the infamous Kanye West, the self proclaimed “voice of a generation,” is responsible for this one.

While I can’t cosign everything that Mr. Yeezy says, I am particularly fond of this gem. I think people who genuinely show there appreciation for others is rare nowadays. Typically, most feedback is negative. If you are doing a good job, you normally don’t hear about it. Things as trivial as simple compliments can go a long way and it is really easy to underestimate the impact they have on people. Attitude, whether it is positive or negative, is extremely contagious. Try to spread the good and limit the bad.

Finally, ““It is never too late to be what you might have been.” This quote, by novelist George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) is especially powerful. I think as we get bogged down with projects, exams, internship searches, and everything else that is thrust upon our plates, doubt about our futures can start to creep in.

I know there have been several occasions where I have questioned whether I would be able to accomplish everything that I set out to do at the beginning of the academic year. But, I know that the only real obstacle standing between me and the place I want to be is myself. My efforts will determine where I go, not my circumstances. That has helped me tremendously. Hopefully I can keep this focus not just for the remainder of the MBA program, but for the rest of my life.

Frequent Flyer: Working on the Road

Cramped airline seats, small hotel rooms, and spotty internet – as I find myself on yet another plane on my way to yet another work trip, I begin to worry about the week ahead of me but also about what I’m missing back at school.  Balancing business school and traveling for a full time job is certainly challenging.   In the past year and half, I have completed 27 credit hours and have clocked in over 30,000 frequent flyer miles.   Here are some tips to balance school while on the road for work.

Pre-Trip Checklist

  • Check the Syllabus:  Take a look at what your classes are covering while you’re gone and the week after you return.  You will be exhausted and will not want to play catch up the moment you return.
  • Talk to your Professors:  Kogod professors understand.  A simple heads up before you leave can make all the difference, especially with that class participation credit.  I try to send my professors an email as soon as my trip is confirmed then send a reminder the week of my class.
  • Coordinate Group Project Work:  Don’t forget to let your team members know you’ll be away.  Also ask them to share their class notes with you.

Dedicating a few undistracted in-flight hours can catch you up on schoolwork pretty quickly.  Unless you are in seat 37E and 36E is reclined in front of you while 37D has fallen fast asleep.  Aim to get work done on the plane but prepare to be unsuccessful.  Getting your schoolwork done before your job responsibilities begin will bring down your stress level once you arrive.  Once I land, I find myself so focused on work that schoolwork becomes challenging.

Road Checklist

  • Charge your laptop before boarding:  While more and more airlines are providing in-seat outlets, conserving power on your laptop can make the difference between a productive flight and watching a bad movie.  Many airlines provide in-flight internet but I prefer to avoid the distractions of Facebook and Gmail.
  • Print out reading materials in advance:  While you may not be able to solve complex financial problems, you can read that upcoming case assignment while you enjoy your complimentary peanuts or a taxi ride to your hotel.
  • Large hotel room desks can be your best friend:  Create your own workspace and position your laptop, work files, text book, binder, and notes as you would at home.
  • Get out and see something new:  Working on the road can be draining.  While it’s easy to order room service and watch TV, I make it a point to leave my hotel room at least one evening.  Whether it’s eating at a local restaurant or taking a walk around the block, try to actually enjoy a bit of the city you’re visiting.

Final Word of Advance: Do it before you go
My best piece of advice for working on the road is to try not to work on the road.  Once you leave the office/campus, you never know what you will encounter.  As long as you plan in advance you can save your stress for that work project and feel confident that school is under control.

Bon voyage!

Jersey Shore and a Part-Timer’s Guide to Free Time

Jersey Shore Stereotype.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve somehow been able to keep a pretty balanced lifestyle. Sure, I’m consumed with an inordinate amount of reading and class work, but I’m still finding it possible to fit in some fun time for myself and my fiancé, Ashley. Here, I will give some recommendations to current and future part-time students on how you can still fully apply yourself to the MBA and still feel like you’ve got a life through the lens of one of this generation’s highest quality TV shows, “The Jersey Shore.”

STEP 1: Don’t live your life in front of the TV. Before I started school, my regular work day went something like this: get up, work 9-hours, gym, eat dinner, television. TV time would last from 8:00 till I went to bed. That’s three hours a night! With my newly acquired MBA math skills, that’s about 15 hours a week…an eternity for a part-time MBA student. The cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” teaches us that you should never waste a second (granted, all their seconds are spent getting wasted, but that’s neither here nor there). The point is that I’ve drastically cut down the amount of television I actually watch and instead use this time to get some work done. When the weekend comes, I’m set up nicely to enjoy it.

Wise Man.

Step 2: Work on the weekends…but do it early in the day. In the words of Pauly D, “Sometimes you gotta put sleep aside, bro…and get your GTL on.” I couldn’t agree more, especially since GTL stands for “Go Tackle Learning.” I strongly recommend taking advantage of your weekend mornings. Usually, I head to Starbucks on Saturdays at around 8:00am. It’s cliché, but I’m productive there. I setup my computer, get out my highlighter and get to work. I’ll usually hang around there until early afternoon, and then meet Ashley for lunch. All books are forced close by 4pm, at which time I call it quits and commit the rest of the day to quality relaxation time (i.e. movies, dinner, etc.).

I have the rest of my life to be tired, but let’s be honest…most of us are only tired right after we wake up. This weekend, get the motor running early; open your eyes, throw a little cold water on your face, and faster than you can say “yeah buddy,” you’re ready to go for the day. Think of what else you’d be doing if you weren’t working during this time. If “sleeping” is your answer, you might want to make an adjustment.


Step 3: Do your best to stay ahead of your course work. Getting ahead is a one-time effort. Once you’re ahead, staying there is easy. We can all take a lesson from “The Situation” in this respect. His hair doesn’t magically spike itself. Rather, there is a concerted effort on his part to diligently prepare.

As an MBA student, preparation is critical to a sane lifestyle. I recommend “staying ahead” by doing your weekly reading assignment BEFORE your class lecture on the subject. It might take a little extra effort to get ahead, but doing so gives you the slack you need to enjoy some free time. A perfect example is the last minute trip I took a few weeks ago. I felt a lot better about making the trip because I was ahead on my class work. Of course, now I’m “on-time” and will need to work to get back ahead of schedule, but at least I’m not behind schedule.

Feel free to share any tips you have on giving yourself some extra free time…or on how to create the perfect blow-back. Keep those fists pumping and be sure to give yourself some free time to enjoy.

I Do? MBA Husbands & Wives

I do?

I met my husband on a blind date on Valentine’s Day years ago. After years of sharing long dinners over bottles of wine, having fiery debates over politics (I almost stopped dating him after he told me his position on healthcare, but it was after all, only our second date), sharing numerous stories about our childhoods and life before meeting, and discussing our values and dreams for our future, we decided to get married.

Conversely, it took exactly 7 minutes into a slide presentation before I decided that I wanted to “marry” my MBA wife.

Basically, my now-MBA wife was giving a presentation for our case competition during our MBA Orientation week (a presentation I only went to because they were our competition, go figure), and I liked her presentation style so much that I decided that although I didn’t know her at the moment, I certainly was going to get to know her.

She made such complex sales figures sound so simple. She commanded the room. She answered the judges’ questions with authority. Keep in mind, this is before we even had officially started school. How did she do it? I didn’t know, but this is one of the reasons I was in business school; so, I fully intended on finding out.

I approached her soon after and made a study date with her, and well, the rest is history. Like many relationships, she tolerates my shortcomings and amplifies my strengths; and I’d like to think I help balance her MBA life as well. We keep each other honest about the subjects one of us does not excel at or particularly like that the other might have some skill in (read, she forces me to study Accounting and I force her to work on our Information Technology projects). We share information, we strategize together, and we make sure the other is never far behind in the ever deadline driven world of MBA work. We’re partners.

We’re also not the only ones. There are tons of MBA couples throughout our entire class and the second year class ahead of us. Some women with other women; some men with men. Some women with men. Some threesomes. You get the picture. No… not that picture, but you get it.

Having an MBA spouse is one of the critical aspects to surviving –to making it through the up to 2 am with homework or studying nights, to remembering the deadline for applying to that internship opportunity that you completely forgot about with the other five things that was due that day, or even the more fun parts such as remembering that there is a theme party this Friday night and you really have to work on your costume in between that Accounting final, International Business paper due, and IT project deadline.

MBA spouses make life better and help you succeed, and because they help support you, you just might make it through the next two years to actually graduate with your sanity, your wits, your MBA degree, and most importantly, all of your other relationships intact as well.

Chile and Argentina: 1 Week, 2 Countries, 13 Company Visits

Winter break:  a time to relax with family and friends, hit the slopes (well, maybe in past years), put on a cozy sweater, and go to class?  Well considering class was held in South America, I didn’t mind going to class over break.  I had the pleasure of traveling to Chile and Argentina with 18 classmates as part of Kogod’s International Dimensions in Management course.  To say I learned a lot is an understatement.  I have about one year left in the part-time program but I feel comfortable enough to say that this will be my most memorable experience at Kogod.

Before traveling, our class met about six times throughout the semester.  We spent our time briefing each other on the economic, social, and political climate of the area.   We also learned first hand from representatives from both the Chilean and Argentine Embassies.  Our last class was held at Divino Restaurant, an authentic restaurant recommended by our new friends at the Argentine Embassy.  This was the perfect bon voyage, or buen viaje, to the experience to come.

I stepped off the plane and was immediately surprised by the modern city around me.  New construction, glittering office towers, and wide tree lined streets are visible as far as the eye can see.  Santiago’s thriving business district was not my typical vision of a Latin American country.   Fast-forward to Mendoza.  At the foot of the Andes, this town thrives on wine and the quintessential Argentine way of life.    Over one week, we traveled to two different countries, visited 13 companies and met with 18 different contacts, spanning over 10 different industries.

While a detailed journal of the week could fill an entire blog, I have listed by top eight experiences of the trip, both academic and personal, below:

8.  Start-Up Chile:  Immigrant entrepreneurs are said to have started about half of the businesses created in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005.  Chile hopes to emulate this success by sponsoring Start-Up Chile, a government-sponsored program designed to attract foreign, high-potential entrepreneurs to the country.  The mission, “They arrive.  They work.  They connect.  The leave and Chile stays connected.”   Start-Up Chile gives these entrepreneurs $40,000, a 12-month working visa, and access to the most prominent social and capital networks in the country.  We spent an afternoon at the Start-Up offices, interacting with the selected entrepreneurs and began to think of all the business opportunities available in this emerging market.  As so many of us were inspired, it’s very possible to see a Kogod Alumni involved in this program shortly!

7.  Copper, Copper, Copper:  Chile was made famous when 33 miners were rescued after 69 days trapped underground.  At that time, I knew nothing about the significance of mining to the region.   While studying the Chilean economy we found that copper makes up 55% of the economy and certainly is big business.  The first visit on our trip was to the corporate headquarters of Los Pelambres, a private firm operating the world’s 5th largest copper mine.    We learned everything from the engineering process, to the company’s social responsibility efforts in the local communities, to the importance of this industry to the national economy.

6.  Knowledge of Wine: To both Chileans and Argentines, wine is more than a beverage; it is a way of life.  Argentina’s annual wine consumption is equal to 40 liters per person.  (That’s a lot of Malbec!)  It didn’t matter where we were: on a company visit or out to dinner, the locals gave us both tasting lessons and their personal recommendations.  I improved not only my Spanish vocabulary but also my wine vocabulary during this trip!

5.  Business of Wine:  A region so dependent on wine must develop a solid infrastructure to market, distribute, and export this commodity.  Through various visits, we not only learned about wine but everything else that goes into the wine business.  For example, a transportation company has to worry about refrigerating cargo in order to obtain the perfect temperature for its client’s bottles.   Regional labor figures go up and down around the annual harvest.    Wineries need to focus on PR and distributor networks in international markets.  With all this at stake, we certainly found a lot of MBAs in rural Argentina!

4. Extending our Network in Valparaiso: A few of us arrived early and spent some time on the coast (it was summer in the southern hemisphere, after all).  While the beach was disappointing (the only cloudy days of our trip), we were lucky enough to find another gem on the coast: Valparaiso.  Cultural influences left over from this old major shipping port have made this city an artistic gem.  While buying unique artwork, and a statement necklace made of copper for myself, we made a connection with a local artist eager to get our opinion on his pieces as he plans to begin shipping to the US market.  While we were all impressed with his talent, we also realized that his company needed a business plan.  We continue to speak with him and hope to help him bring products to the US market shortly!

3.  My First Latin American Presentation:  As a part-time student with a full-time job, I was lucky enough to arrange a work meeting in conjunction with our trip.  The added bonus: an extra week in Santiago.  I presented my company’s research to 20 Chilean participants.  While I was the teacher, I had to rely on the class to explain concepts that didn’t clearly translate.  This was my first exposure to the warmth of the Chilean people.  They treated me to a traditional Chilean meal of conger and Pisco and an unforgettable, yet resume worthy, experience I will never forget!

2. Cross-Border Differences:  We left Santiago, with its bustling economy and 45-hour workweek, and traveled across the Andes to Mendoza, a laid-back town that closes for three hours every afternoon for siesta.   While we tend to lump these countries together, the business climate and ways of operating are significantly different.  One of the most interesting presentations of the trip for me was a conversation with David English, an American consultant who helps foreign businesses navigate the red-tape associated with the Argentine business climate.  This was such an interesting concept to me, especially after visiting Start-Up Chile earlier in the week.

1. Sharing Mate with my Classmates:  Mate is a traditional Argentine drink made of dried leaves of yerba infused in hot water.  Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow gourd.  This is a drink of friendship and those who share it are bonded together.  Friends sit in a circle.  Each person takes a sip and passes it along to the next person until the mate is finished.  We had the pleasure of participating in this ritual during our time in Mendoza.  Our guide, Martin, had us over his house for a traditional backyard bbq.  We not only ate famous Argentine steak but also bonded over the mate ritual.  This perfect evening embodied the experience of Argentina and our trip.

While I put the finishing touches on my research paper (yes, there is a research component to this experience), I continue to reflect on the business environment, the culture, and the relationships I’ve made throughout this course.  I would encourage anyone who is thinking about this course to do it as I am certain that it will be my top experience at Kogod.

Networking: Real vs. Fake

Okay, if you’re like me, you came into Kogod hearing the word “networking” coming for all corners of the building. There are formal definitions out there that essentially define networking as the harvesting of people who, when combined together, will somehow benefit you. That sounded like a great idea to me…so I figured I’d try networking.

How did I first start networking? Why, I created a LinkedIn profile of course! Once I learned the ins and outs of the online networking platform, I quickly began building what became a second Facebook account. Within a couple weeks, I had over 100 connections, almost all of which were personal friends, scientists, golf club attendants, a farmer, or a combination of these. What a network! I was clearly really good at this (or at least clicking a mouse button) and I didn’t have any doubt that I was going to land my dream job.

Recently, I decided that I will be concentrating in finance. I love the material and know it’s something that I will do well with. I started thinking about where I would want to go, what company I’d like to work for, what actual positions were out there; and I came up with a pretty good list. Then I had a nice little reality check.

I was talking to my beautiful fiance about where we would want to go, and where a good place to work might be, and she kindly chimed in with, “Do you even know anyone in finance?”

Uhhhhhhhhhh. Well I have a network on LinkedIn, so I must know someone, right? WRONG. I looked through my account and the only finance connections I had were the Facebook equivalent of people that you “friend” after one too many chocolate milks on a Thursday night at college. That’s when I realized that networking is so much more than just knowing people…but I still didn’t actually know how to network. So I took a new approach.

For my first move, I went to the KCCD and talked with Jen Murphy about my aspirations and my utter lack of a useful network. She put me at ease and then sent me in the direction of some people that are currently affiliated with finance at Kogod. I reached out to them using a more personal approach (ahem…email) and set up some in-person meetings. At these meetings, I have been focusing more on learning about the finance industry and what I’m interested in rather than trying to find a new job.

To lay the ground work for more meetings, I’m making it a point to create another connection at the conclusion of the meeting (a big thanks to Julie Jones for pointing out this critical step). After the meeting, I’m also trying to follow up (in another email) with the person I met, and the person who put us in contact. By the way, my version of a follow up is more or less a simple “thank you” letter with just a little bit of relevant substance.

Even with people I know, this networking thing is somewhat nerve wracking. But, only a few weeks into my new networking style, I can already say things are getting easier. I’ve sort of bashed LinkedIn here, but it does serve a great purpose both for you and the people who know you. Its major drawback, in my opinion, is that LinkedIn can mistakenly portray networking as being easy. It’s not. I’m learning that it takes real, physical interaction beyond being connected to someone “on the 1st” tier through a website. LinkedIn definitely makes networking more accessible, but it sure doesn’t make the process any simpler; nor does it make the people you know any more or less relevant.

I’m glad that I’ve started this “real” process of networking now. I’ve still got another year and a half to really put this thing into motion. And, if my stint with finance fails…at least I know I can reach out to my connection in the farming industry.