MBA hummmmm....

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A True blue entreprenuer.

Rajul Garg was on ISB campus today to give a talk on tech entreprenuership. He is a 98 batch pass out from IITD comp sc & started a company called Pine Labs in the 3rd yr of his graduation. He then cofounded a company called IndusLogic. Apart from the usual impressive growth stories, most insightful aspect about his talk was his to-the-point gyaan about starting up & taking a company through different phases. Am quoting some of his points:

# Entreprenuership is like hunting whereas a corporate career is like farming.
# Knowledge is a double edged sword. The more you know, the more are the chances of you becoming risk averse simply coz now you know so many things which could go wrong. Being ignorant is actually helpful in that context.
# Ability to be able focus on the immediate issues when you are small & not losing sight of the bigger scale picture.
# Kind of a fact - Cost of running a team of bright young software programmers in a startup kinda environment is roughly a lac Rs per engineer per month. & That doesnt include your marketing expenses.
# Utmost importance of having a local sales team. Sales people pay for themselves whereas engineers dont.

All immensely valuable nuggets of wisdom these. & Not many can be mentioned in such a lucid fashion from Case studies & text books. Value of actual work experience.

My bet is that he is a guy to watch out for in the Indian IT industry. & he is all of 27-28 yrs old. Younger than most people who were present today to attend his talk. He heads a 500 strong organisation. No wonder he got a round of standing ovation.
Attending this session was worth every second.

Elsewhere, life's been a little easy in past 2 days. Been watching many hollywood war classics.
The batch party tonite has kinda started. I can hear the music. Gotta dunk our CR Dipanjan today in the pool.

& yes, lest I forget, let me put one powerful dialogue in one of the movies I saw -

War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution,brings men into such swift & close collision in critical moments that man measures man.

Reminds me of Rajeshwar's trauma transformation funda. I guess, if you think enough, we are having a holiday when compared to those soldiers in the battlefield. That is real trauma. No wonder, movies which talk about life deeply show so much death.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Trauma transformation - Round III begins...

Term III started today. Supposedly, the busiest of them all. Most of us were coming from a long, relaxing break (5 days is pretty long by ISB standards).

Proceedings started off for our sec with the Operations class by Prof Sunil Chopra from Kellogg. He was able to generate a lot of interest. Dealt with very basic issues to start with. A character of all good profs I have seen here thus far.
Quote of the day from him - ' The whole point of coming to a business school is to develop your own model of how business works & when faced with practical business issues, run them through this model & systematically arrive at a conclusion'.
I hope the model development is underway for us. Should be atleast 25%+ complete by now. :-)

Class on Entreprenuership by Prof Venkat from Darden was next. Like strategy, I was sceptical of the purpose of the course to begin with. As in - can something like Entreprenuership be even discussed in a structured environment like that of a B School class, let alone be taught? In the strategy course last term, my initial discomfort about gave way to realisation that if nothing more, Strategy course atleast exposes me to workings of many different industries through cases. In Entreprenuership, must say, my doubts got removed to a large extent in the first class itself. Prof Venkat explaied that most of us in the society belong to a category of indviduals who are not entreprenuers in normal course of things but would become one if certain conditions exist. The fact that these conditions are totally different for different people is counter intitutive. We normally believe that free flow of information, capital, etc breeds entreprenuership best. True, but at an indvidual level, its the case of conditions matching the risk preferences. Quite insightful. He further told that people who are waiting in the wings are suffering from either of the 2 ills - ' Bias for analysis' or 'Bias for action'. First one is similar to the concept of analysis paralysis & latter one refers to people who are scared of clock ticking away; they hurry through things in the fear that somebody else would pip them to the post. Both the biases lead to sub optimal results.

Things like Entreprenuership, imo, are not easy to discuss in a class setting. Prof Venkat's effort seems to be in the direction of developing a state of mind where we can perceive & evaluate business opportunities in a objective, unemotional & free of personal biases way.

Infact, I cant help but observe this kind of common message by most profs till date here. More than the set of tools & frameworks which form the MBA course, its the way of thinking, approaching which needs to be developed. Prof Ziv Katalan said the same thing about managing uncertainty. Prof Raju spoke about being able to think through firm issues from various perspectives not just pure marketing. Prof Krishna Kumar exhorted us to develop an eye for understanding macro phenomena according to the basics not what the pink press says.Going back to term I, Prof Waterman spoke of interaction in multiple regression being akin to synergy in business environment. All seem to be saying similar things.

The quantitative models & frameworks either back an intitutive theory or provide reasons for a counter intitutive one. But there is no substitute for having a mindset to deal with business problems as they should be. A far more important thing to gain here than specific subject knowledge.

btw, did some nature photography here at ISB campus in the past few days. ISB campus looks prettier during monsoons. :-)
Here's the link:
Will add more albums from actual ISB life. I guess ISB deserves a photo blog.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wrapping up Term II.

End terms tomm. Has been an extremely busy month & a half. Sapped of all energy. Hope I improve on my grades & get better than -->

Monday, July 11, 2005

What is Risk ...

..., in financial terms? & How does it differ from 'uncertainty'? Is Risk always bad? How should companies measure & eliminate risk in their businesses? There are no easy answers to these questions. But for any firm whose fortunes are tied to a volatile quantity like price of crude or interest rates or foreign exchange rates, Risk calculation & mitigation are central to its activities.

Had my first real exposure to this concept today in a discussion of the Offshore Drilling Inc. case in Decision Models class. We were supposed to prepare a write up consisting of a few questions pertaining to the case. In the process, we did some Monte Carlo simulations & calculated some NPVs. Only to discover in the class that we had missed the crux of the case entirely. We got the numbers right but didn't realize why were those numbers important.

Prof Ziv Katalan was on fire today, literally. The way he exhorted the class to think about the options before the management of the company under consideration was quite insightful. The story was not only about numbers & statistics. He was able to let us appreciate the finer aspects of the case. He described the logic behind the way insurance companies behave. The case is about financial contracts between 3 companies & one volatile quantity - Crude Oil prices.
How should a small cash strapped company like ODI insure itself against the vagaries of Crude prices volatility? It can even exploit the opportunity to increase its cash flows. The idea of VaR (Value at Risk) & the concept that mu & sigma may not always be the best way to think about risk return tradeoffs.

Super insights & all packed into a single 2 hr session. People here are amazed at energy levels of Prof Katalan. Even in the 4th class for the day, a 5-7 PM session, he is so energetic & passionate. He really pushes the envelope far & forces students to think hard & develop intuition about concepts. Its easy to rule his way of teaching as ineffective (heard some people groaning after his classes) but, imho, one is forced to concentrate hard in his class. After setting the stage with basics, he zips through the remaining concepts. But I would take this mode of teaching anyday to a comfortable, easy to grasp session which misses the entire point. If you are'nt getting his point, you ain't trying hard enough.

btw, I read on some discussion group on the net that somebody has the impression that visiting faculty coming to ISB (most of whom are Indians) come here to have a 'holiday' rather than teach at ISB. My response to such comments would be - sit through one of their classes. These profs teach 4 sections, arnd 350 students for a total of 8 hours per day. & Still are able to bring so much commitment, energy & insights to each & every session. Don't think this would be an idea of most people's 'holiday'. Anyways.

btw, this is the last week of term II. End terms begin next Monday. This term was group work heavy. End Term exams carry only about 40-50% of weights for all subjects. Hope I improve my grade point average this term. Time to get back to prepare for another long day tomorrow.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ability to think small.

It is not always that you hear this advice in a business school class discussion. But when you put yourself in the shoes of a product manager who has an excellent new technology at his hand & the responsibility to launch it, its very easy to get carried away by all those fancy projections (with figures in 'K' s & 'Mn' s) .
But reality could be quite opposite. Prof. Raju, in another one of his brilliant case analysis, yesterday explained this with the example of ODI case. Why technology adoption cycles could be much slower than we might like them to be. & the crux of this understanding is getting down from big-picture, 10,000 feet numbers to an actual micro-level model of technology adoption cycle. Unless one thoroughly dissects the entire adoption cycle & understands the key pain-points, best products can be disasters when brought to market.
Another insightful concept introduced yesterday - 'Diffusion Innovation'. The key being the rate at which you want the new (essentially cost reduction) technology to diffuse into the market. & As a marketer, one might actually not want the new tech to spread very rapidly. Because then the comparitive advantage of early innovators is nearly nullified & there is no incentive in adopting it. So, one might think of not trying to overdo things initially. Hard to appreciate things unless one actually does the job of a product manager. Anyways.
Marketing -2 has been worth every second spent.I find the approach with which Prof. Raju analyses the case is (for the lack of a better word) orgasmic. Something which cannot be picked up as a tool. Can only be developed as a way of thinking through situations. Great value add.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Of Markstrat ville, Aikya, Commanding Heights, etc ...

These have been some words on the top of ISBian's minds in the last few days. I guess obsolescence comes pretty fast to things here.

Markstrat world .. although a lot of number plugging & guess work is a part of this simulation, there is a LOT of direct application of concepts being taught in Marketing - 2 directly in the Markstrat world. It would be very difficult to appreciate concepts like Semantic positioning of products, MDS, customer segment evolution, competitive actions, etc without a near real - life situation as modelled by Markstrat. If one studies the results of past periods carefully, there is a lot to be learnt about some of the most basic issues in Marketing, like - 'Why do some products sell & some dont?'
& I also like the way course is designed to run parallel with the 3 week simulation exercise.
Only wish that the simulation could have been somehow longer than 3 weeks.

'Aikya' .. is a concept here at ISB where prominent families of the city are invited to associate with students by adopting a study group each. The series kicked off yesterday. Mr. Shakti Sagar, country head of ADP India, & his family were kind enough to have lunch with our study group here. He has founded Indian operations of 3 MNCs in India. I guess, it is more of a networking opportunity.

'Commanding Heights' .. Kind of an epilogue to Global Economics midterm paper, this was screened in the audi for students on Saturday. Very well produced documentary film. Captures the essence of events which shaped the Economic landscape of the world for past one century very well. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, a movie is worth a million words. Not in 10 classes would we have learnt so much about the ups & downs of socialism/capitalism in world economies. Great idea by our 'Chicago Boy' - Prof Krishna Kumar.

With each passing day, as we get exposed to more n more tools & management concepts, my worry about retaining the ones we have already learnt increases. Prof Anjani Jain, in his last class, also expressed concern about the issue of extra-frenetic pace of academics in a 1-yr MBA. We hardly get time to step back & reflect upon the what we learnt 1 week or 1 month back. & I guess, we need to develop that ability fairly quickly, if we havent done so already. Different subjects give us various angles to business situations. Professors give us brilliant insights. But ultimately it is upto us to integrate those learnings & retain them in some form & substance which can be applied when we go to business world again.