Monday, November 27, 2006

Week Eight - After the lull...

... comes the storm... is there an "always" after that? I think there should be...

Week six - the comfort zone week - had barely graduated to week seven when things got windy... in order to leave enough time for the Accounting WAC on Friday, 24 November, my learning team decided to shift gears... good decision. We also had to submit our Strategic Marketing Success report on Thursday, 23 November. Meanwhile, we had to visit an Italian restaurant in London on Wednesday for our Operations Management study. And it was on Monday that we could tie it all up and decide on the team's schedule.

We also received our grades for the two reports we had submitted earlier... nothing too great or disastrous to write about, I would rather term it as a wake up call.

So, on Wednesday evening, Pietro, Seni, Sachin and yours truly made the trip to Chelsea to the Italian restaurant - Made in Italy - good place, great milieu, truly absolutely wonderful mozzarella, and the best pizza I have ever had. Take my word for it, you will want to go there, again and again. We spent some time understanding the operations, clicked some pictures and spent the rest of the evening having a great time.

Our Strategic Marketing Success report is on consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. Background work had been done during the A T Kearney competition, the report was prepared, finetuned and submitted on Thursday. We get to present it to our teachers and fellow students next week.

On Friday morning, we got our Accounting WAC - 1500 words, assessed, due by 1400 hrs on Saturday. After the initial "its easy yaar," we soon found out that what appears at first glance is not necessarily the complete picture... so we hunkered down, got into team and stream dumps to get ourselves organised and by bed time (!) on Friday had cracked it. The only thing remaining was writing it... first, getting the report up to 1500 words, then adding everything else that you have not yet covered, then editing it down to 1500, and lastly, going through it to ensure you did not edit out something vital. Oh! Did I mention the Executive Summary? One page, A4. And you need to sell the report in the executive summary...

Easy? ya right! We were at it continuously for 26 hours before finally agreeing that any marginal increase in report quality would not be justified by the marginal time spent... if that is greek or latin or some other obscure language to you, management students call it the practical application of the law of diminishing returns... don't ask.

Then, time to hit the bed... rather, flop on it. Another marathon effort, this time 16 hours of maintaining a horizontal I-dont-care state. And then comes the interesting bit... LBS - London Business School - comes to Cranfield every year for a round of Rugby and Football on Burns night - named after the Scottish poet Robert Burns. I aim to wear the Cranfield rugby shirt and get covered with mud on that day, hopefully defeating LBS in the process. And as with everything else, practice makes perfect. So it was rugby practice Sunday afternoon, followed by cricket in the evening...

To end this post with some really great news - the Cranfield team for A T Kearney global prize won the European competition on Saturday and will now represent Europe against University of Chicago Graduate School of Business who are the North American winners. Its now within reach - the global prize... all the best guys!!!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Week Seven - In the comfort zone

I just spent the last week feeling good - in the groove of things... With morning team meetings, afternoon classes, evenings with friends and house mates. No time when you feel out of time, rushed. I like this, it feels as if I have been doing this all the time - not really, but close.

We ofcourse had our classes, plus there was a session on managing stress on 15th November. But the one feeling I carry out of this week is that of comfort. Being at ease with the lectures, the lecturers, your fellow students and everyone in general. Not that I wasn't comfortable earlier. It is just that this week seemed so - for lack of a better word - comfortable.

Enough on the comfort theme. Cerebration - the NUS Global Business Challenge is on and I have registered with Pietro Ponte and Philip Woodland. We are the Consilium. We expect to get the case studies next week and submit the Executive Summary of our brilliant business plan by 8th December. Not a problem - just that our term end exams start on 11 December. So we effectively have to submit it much before.

This ofcourse clashes with the L'Oreal e-strat challenge. Emma Marlow, Sachin Shetty and yours truly make up the Tres team. Round 1 of this challenge ends on 5th December. Again - the decisions will have to be taken effectively much before the deadline.

Welcome to the real world! And, to relate with the comfort theme above - I like this :)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A T Kearney Global Prize

The A T Kearney Global Prize has taken up so much of my time and efforts, I thought it deserved a separate post.

I have given you some details earlier. A T Kearney (if you don't know who they are, you probably are not an MBA student or engaged in a business activity - none of which is a bad thing, mind you) has for the 10th year running organised the Global Prize - a simulated consulting engagement run as a competition. This year, the participants are Cranfield School of Management, Judge Business School, London Business School, Manchester Business School and Rotterdam School of management from Europe. The North American Contestants are University of Chicago, Columbia, Kellogg, University of Michigan, Sloan, Wharton and Carnegie Mellon.

One team from each will compete for the European Final or American Final as the case may be and the European and American winners will face off for the Global Prize. The representative team for each school is chosen through competition between the teams from that school. In our case, I registered in a team of four, apart from myself, the other team members were Amit Kapoor, Adrian deCourcey and Pietro Ponte. We called ourselves the Cinnamon Club - we thought if we win the finals, we would go and celebrate at that acclaimed restaurant.

The first round was simulated interviews. We posed as A T Kearney consultants and went to interview the client - real life A T Kearney consultants who were enjoying being on the other side of the table, giving the consultants a hard time :) The teams were evaluated on preparation and client handling skills. We (The Cinnamon Club) bonded as a team prior to this stage. There was lots of enthusiasm, dissection of the case, points for asking questions - in short, we enjoyed this. Each one wanted to win, and we did our best to structure our questions and ensure that we did not loose control of time. The interviews themselves were great. We were focussed and managed to be professional and keep to time, despite the best efforts of one particular interviewee :)

The second round was written submission. Based on data gathered from the interviews, each team was supposed to submit its recommended strategy. This we did in due course, as per schedule. The fun part was putting together the strategy. I am surprised really with the short time we took to agree what it should be. The salient features, the timing et all. Amit worked really hard on the presentation. Adrian and Pietro were their usual selves, dedicated and willing to put their best efforts.

Based on the strategy submitted and the performance of the team in the interviews, three teams were short listed. The Cinnamon Club was one of those. We now had to present our strategies in front of the judges - A T Kearney people and our faculty. Competing for the honour of representing Cranfield at the later stages of the competition, we started looking at ways to improve. Mind you, this is all simultaneously with everything else in the week, the WAC, the sessions and the L'Oreal networking event. It was tough, but fun. In our pursuit to win, there were a few heated interactions - minor but nevertheless there. All of us put in so much that at the end of it, all we could do was crash onto the bed. We practised three times, I think, before friends who very generously provided their time, as well as very useful feedback. We progressed from four individuals presenting to one team presenting. Then, after all the revisions and all the practice, it was time to present the strategy.

Ours was the first team to start. It was only us and the judges, no spectators allowed, so the only version you will hear about our presentation is ours. :) The judges were three Cranfield alumni who are now working with A T Kearney, and one Cranfield faculty, John Glen. I would of course want to say that we gave the best presentation ever. But we did give our best. Then, after it was over, we played some pool.

The results were announced, we were runners-up. I still think our strategy is the best :) for this case, but where we could have improved is more numbers and certain soft skills. This improvement bit is feedback received from A T Kearney, by the way.

That was the end of the road for us as far as the A T Kearney Global Prize is concerned. We tried our best, so did our other Cranfield teams. We, The Cinnamon Club, wish the winning team all the best in their journey to the global prize. I am sure they want to win the global prize as bad as we wanted to. We learnt many things, about ourselves, about applying our knowledge, and about consulting processes. Thank you, A T Kearney, for this wonderful opportunity.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Week Six - What happened to the 7 days?

Whoosh! Did you see that go past? The days, I mean... What a week it has been...

This was supposed to be a week for catching up... but in this place, catching up time means a fraction less of teaching and a mountain of other stuff... Monday, we had our very first WAC (What A Chick! - no, Written Assessment of Case report!!) where you get just over 24 hours to understand a case, prepare a report and submit it. By the way, 1500 words only, and it is assessed... so you better do it well. So, when we did get the case study on Monday morning, we got into a learning team meeting, then a stream meeting (aka stream dump), then went our individual ways to come up with a structure of determining compensation to a decent sized company's CEO - and we did come up with some formulae... lets see what the professor thinks, I am sure the CEO would hate us :) On second thoughts, after reading all those reports, I am sure the professor will start hating us too...

Then, after submitting the WAC on tuesday afternoon, all we could really do was try to play - cricket and football... no more comments.

Wednesday was when Careers decided to take us through the *********** ... dont count the asterixes, just substitute what you want. Howmuchever I crib about getting up and making the treck to the School of Management at 8.00 a.m. when there is a thick layer of frozen dew on cars along the way and the ground is literally white - no, not snow, not yet, just frozen dew - the treck is always worth it. Our careers people are - from the bottom of my heart - very good. This is not to butter them, I am sure they don't know this page even exists... They really are. The tips we get are very relevant to me, and I thought I had it all covered :)

After Wednesday, well, Thursday, isnt it? Thursday morning was also more sessions, the afternoon and evening was a networking session at L'Oreal London. Great company, great attendees - Cranfield alumni and students. A good evening spent well. On the way back, in the coach, a few of us got together for some antakshari... if you know what that means, you will know how much we enjoy it, if you dont, well, forget it.

And thus we come to Friday, 10 November, the day we had the local finals of A T Kearney Global prize... remember I told you my team was one of the finalists? We did well, but failed to win - we were the runner ups. I will quote John Glen (the last 5 words to avoid any charges of Kaavya Viswanathan-ising) "Everyone’s efforts reflected great credit on the school and certainly impressed our alums within ATK (the judges)." The winning team, Arturo, Babi, Johnny and Ricardo have all my wishes, they are now the Cranfield team for the European finals, I hope they go all the way and win the global prize. I am sure they will, too.

The first scrum - a rugby term for my desi yaar dosts- and my team got past the first hurdle but stopped at the second. There I go, mixing up sports... what to do? Control nahi hota... Whats up next? L'Oreal and NUS... watch this space for more... Oh, by the way, after the ATK local finals, we plan to spend the prize money well - in The Cinnamon Club...

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Week Five - Sure feels good

Guess what? More of Spanish, Marketing, Accounting, Economics, OBPPD, Statistics, Ops Mgmt... plus sessions on Self Presentation, plus submission of an assessed report - 1500 words please - on how you see yourself and others, plus an Ops Mgmt simulation, and - best for last - more competition.

The two sessions on Self Presentation by Stephen Carver were the best I have attended till now. Believe me you, that fellow is fantastic.

The assessment was due on Thursday 2 Nov, having learnt about Ops strategies and having independently researched ages ago and consequently misunderstood Just In Time systems, I left it to the last possible moment - with the result that I had to RUSH. Well, the job had to be done and was done.

The Ops Mgmt simulation - we were simulating a factory, we had to design our own process, manufacture the product and deliver to order schedule. I am proud to say that my learning team - Green Stream Learning Team 1 - Green 1 for short, consisting of Emma Marlow, Sachin Shetty, Seni Saliu, Pietro Ponte, Philip Woodland and yours truly, led by Pietro for this show, set the pace. The simulation was in two phases, on the result of phase 1, Green 1 were adjudged the best team. The results of phase 2 and overall results will come out soon...

More competition, or should I say, more opportunities to pit yourself against some of the smartest individuals on the planet currently studying in a b-school. It sure does make for a great adrenalin high, doesnt it? NUS b-school Singapore hosts a business competition, open to MBA students, in which I plan to take part. The focus of this competition is international expansion - or so it seems.

That is the bit of competition to come, here is a bit about a competition that is on - A T Kearney. Of the teams that registered for the competition form Cranfield, three are chosen for presenting their strategy reviews and recommendations. My team, The Cinnamon Club - is one of the three! We are feeling good about this, after all, every team participating wants to win the honour of representing Cranfield at the later stages of the competition. The local final is next week - Friday 10 Nov, will keep you posted.

Week Four - Formals and Diwali

This is the week where I changed into a business dress twice - once for the year book photo, the second time for the A T Kearney competition. The year book has all the students' bios in a standard form. So on Tuesday 24 Oct, we all dressed up in formal business dresses and went to the TV studio on campus for getting our pictures clicked.

The A T Kearney - well, I registered for the competition, with Amit Kapoor, Adrian de Courcey and Pietro Ponte. We call ourselves The Cinnamon Club - when we win the competition, we will go to this acclaimed restaurant in London and treat ourselves. So as part of the competition, we had to interview real life A T Kearney consultants, who were posing as executives of the fictional (!) telecommunications company we are supposed to be consulting, as consultants from A T Kearney! It was a great experience, really, the interview, and we hope to move to the next phase of this competition, which is a local final for selecting which team represents Cranfield in the European finals.

This week was also Diwali - my first away from home. What do I write? Just that I don't want to spend any other Diwali away from home - ever.

Week Three - You get to compete as well

Monday 16 Oct was the day A T Kearney came to Cranfield for introducing us to the A T Kearney 2006 Global Prize - a simulated consulting competition in which only selected European [Cranfield, Judge, LBS, RSM and Manchester] and North American [Chicago, Columbia, Kellogg, Michigan, Sloan, Wharton and Carnegie Mellon] b-schools participate.

Then on Tuesday L'Oreal came to Cranfield for introducing us to the L'Oreal e-strat challenge - they bill it the ultimate business game.

On Thursday, we had presentations on Report writing and Plagiarism. Cranfield takes any copying and misrepresentation seriously, and this was to reinforce the message. Not that they suspect us, they were just telling us about the systems they have in place.

All this in addition to the regular classes, learning team meetings, and 3 day cycles. Plus, I have started Spanish classes - one every week. Wow, it feels good to be back in the rush of things.

Week Two - Hit the ground running

What a start to the first week of learning! With three lectures a day and the rest of the day devoted to self study and learning team, the schedule was already tight. What hit us the first day (Monday 09 Oct 2006) was a tripple whammy... Strategic Decision Science aka Statistics (huh?) Accounting (profits should be written as a liability?? wtf???) Economics of Organisations and Strategy (do I know what he is talking about?). The other subjects being taught to us this term are Marketing, Operations Management, and Organisational Behaviour and Personal and Professional Development and Project Management - the examination for which will be next term.

The saving grace - the people who teach us know and expect these reactions, they know what they are talking about and know how to make it interesting. So despite the reactions above, I understand most of it, the part I don't is for understanding during tutorials on fridays.

Cranfield is known and respected as one of the best European and Global schools of management - check out Financial Times or Economist Intelligence Unit or any other for the rankings - and this is partly due to the excellent people they have for imparting knowledge and their superb support systems. The knowledge imparted is also carefully suited to actual business needs. The biggest part is ofcourse due to the talented, determined and capable people they select as students :-) Any recruiter reading this? I am talking about me!!! :-)

The first week also had a study tour briefing - Cranfield takes its MBA students to one of more than half a dozen countries for a week long International Business Experience. We have to give our choices by November, we will know which group we are in and where our group is going by the end of November.

Week One - 'O' Week: The perfect begining

Week one of the year - Orientation week. A truly great effort by our orienteers, from the start of day one to the last day's afternoon. We were introduced to the School of Management in a truly organised way. From case packs and WACs, to learning teams, three day cycles and co-curricular opportunities, it was good work, good fun too. We had our inter-stream sports, where my stream Green came from third (there are three streams - Green, Red, Blue - so third is last) to joint first, courtesy a great team effort in Tug o' War.

The highlight of 'O' week was definitely the cabaret - with Green again performing spectacularly! What Green stream did - the almost full monty - will form part of Cranfield's legend.

Sleeping in a new bed

Waiting in Mumbai international airport's departure lounge on a cold rainy morning, thinking about what I am leaving behind, about why I am going where I am going. It hadn't really registered when I was doing the good bye rounds, now, alone, looking out at rain falling on tarmac, the one thing I want desperately is to be back home, sipping tea, eating breakfast.

Amit Kapoor, a fellow student at Cranfield School of Management is taking the same flight out of Mumbai into Heathrow, we sit together, talk of this and that.

Pilots affording their passengers a smooth take off have become a thing one reads sometimes in novels. Long after you have waved goodbye to your bags, went through security checks where trained guards frisk you, you enter the aeroplane, walk into the sitting area actually, find your seat, stow away the cabin bag, the fasten your seatbelts sign lights up. The pilot speaks to you, the aircraft crew fuss about. The aircraft gathers speed, seemes poised to take off, a bump, possibly we are half airborne, another bigger bump, you can almost feel the wheels trying to tear themselves away from the ground, the aeroplane tilts back, reminds you of riding a horse, you give the reins a sharp tug
and dig your heels, the horse rears up, another bump, you feel yourselves lifting, and there you are, sitting in a flying aluminium tube, no longer with any contact with the ground, and the tube is turning, you lean to one side, there is a pop in your ears, more tilting, more pops, and with another bump, you are no longer leaning back, finally. Looking out, my last view of Mumbai and India is a brown sea and a city that looks like a jumble. Flying over Asia and Western Europe, the aircraft crosses many unknown places which have their populations firmly on the ground, while you hurtle towards unseen places through unsniffed air at speeds you have never had the opportunity of travelling at when you were nearer to the ground.

For a few hours, I slept, had something to eat, tried to read the magazines provided, tried to look at the Friends episode, slept again, sipped some water, talked to Amit, looked out of the small windows at a gray sky or green and brown lands or tiny cones of mountains which, had I been down there, would have tempted me into climbing up to their peaks and there goes the fasten your seatbelts sign again. Looking out, my first glimpse of England is a green land, with wide open spaces. And I thought England with the centuries of industrial revolution would be more densely populated. That is a recurring theme, the vast open green spaces, but I am getting a bit ahead of the plot.

Amit and I walk to the immigration counter, where, as we look healthy and fit but have travelled out of a far away land, we are asked if we have a chest X-ray. Ofcourse, we don't, so we are sent to the nurse station where they do take a chest X-ray, stamp some card, which we show to the nice man at another counter, and he doesnt smile but tells us to walk through. Simple. Tell me, if someone did have Tuberculosis, wouldnt that person carry someone elses chest X-ray? We walk towards our bags, fetch them and try to find out where we have to go. Finally, the signs! We walk through a maze at the end of which, there is a customs desk where we can be asked to open our bags. Guess what? There is a desk, but no one at it! How I rue the decision not to carry that bag of spices.

More waiting, this time for the driver from Cranfield University. Actually, we are waiting because we got through the process early. Peter arrives on time, we take our bags and drive through the dark night and big roads and vehicles which I had earlier seen only on the internet, then through more open spaces and we turn into Cranfield university, more empty spaces and we are turning into the driveway of Mitchell hall.

We collect our keys, Amit is staying at Mitchell hall, I am at 5 The Drive. It is night, I dont feel like unpacking, just the right time to lie on the bed and say a silent good night to family and friends and everyone of the 1.2 billion people back home in India. God bless and all that, today, 30 September 2006 is my first night out of India.

The background

Life takes us through many journeys, the Full Time MBA at Cranfield University is one of mine. It started some time in 2005, while I was working with Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd, when I decided to take the GMAT. I prepared for the exam all of two months I think, juggling with the job, and got a good enough score to apply to some of the best European b-schools. Why Europe? Well, for starters, the courses are of smaller duration than in the USA, so they don't cost as much. Secondly, for some reason, you get more real diversity of students and experience in Europe than USA. Of the five places I was offered admissions from, Cranfield was not the highest ranked by FT or Economist Intelligence Unit. I chose Cranfield for the things you don't see in the overall rankings - the career progression, the post MBA salaries, the focus on overall development of the student.

I am attempting to put into words what I will go through the next year, with the hope that I will be able to look back at these posts and smile. It is also a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. At the same time, it is sort of paying forward to all the Cranfield alumni who helped me with my querries - and they were numerous. I hope my blog will help someone who faces the enviable stress of choosing between Cranfield School of Management and some other b-school.

I haven't had the discipline to write daily, now I am writing for the past four weeks, with posts broken down by week. Hopefully, I will be able to write every weekend henceforth.