Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh My God

Just days ago I was writing about how incredibly prepared I felt. Now, before I've even had one single class, the first feeling of "Oh My God -- what have I gotten myself into" has already crept into my mind.

Today I went on a full-day recruiting event from one of the bulge bracket (i.e. top) Wall Street investment banks. We were taken up to the 27th floor of their office building in downtown Chicago where senior executives of the firm were put in front of us to tell us how delighted they were to speak to us and why their firm is truly one of the best to work for. Fortunately it wasn't all sales pitch and they had some interesting (and way over our heads) explanations of what investment bankers actually do, how the different divisions work, and what historic current events are currently taking place in the financial markets.

During lunch and dinner (on the 57th floor with spectacular views over the Chicago skyline at night) we were put into groups with junior investment bankers who we could ask more forward questions and who would be able to give more forward answers. Invariably, the one topic that kept popping up was "lifestyle issues", the euphemism for not seeing your friends and family because you work seven days a week. The responses were basically different spins on the truth most of us already knew: during the first years you have to be prepared to make big sacrifices, but if you last long enough to make Managing Director (which in the i-banking world is higher than VP or SVP), you will be able to "leverage the resources that are available to you", i.e. let others do the grunt work. Moreover, you'll actually have time to spend the extraordinary sums of money you are making.

The associates (which is the level you start at after your MBA) defended their career choices by saying that workweeks are not always 120 hours and can get "as low as 60-70 hours", and that "if you work until midnight on Friday and are prepared to work long hours on Sunday, you can actually have the full Saturday off, if you plan well." And, unlike consultants, who are on the road 4 days per week, bankers mostly get to sleep in their own bed, albeit for short nights.

No shattering new insights if you had read up on i-banking like I had, but the kicker for the day for me personally was that you truly get an idea of the competitive nature of recruiting. There are limited spots available, and the lengths you have to go through to secure one are daunting.

There were tips on how to behave at recruiting events, how you should and shouldn't network, how one screw-up in approaching recruiters can easily destroy your shot at a summer position, and even how and when to send thank-you notes after recruiting events. One associate recommended flying to New York and trying to set up 30-minute meetings with bankers in order to build your network. He laughed: "I know it sounds crazy, but I've seen people who do it and they were generally successful." If you want to work in Sales & Trading it's even more difficult because this division doesn't recruit on campus and you have to reach out on your own to find recruiting opportunities.

On the bus ride back to Evanston, I sat next to fellow Kellogg students to discuss the day. I sat next to an Israeli guy who had been an intelligence officer in the Israeli army, then had done real estate investing in Eastern Europe, and another guy who had been setting up divisions at various service companies and was looking to break into a competitive hedge fund. Another guy had been run the armed forces training academy in the country of Georgia. It's great to study business with people of such impressive backgrounds -- until you start competing with them for a job.

The bank tried its best to convince us that career switchers have a perfectly good shot at landing a job, but among the career switchers there were many with a finance background, which I don't have, and according to the bankers that means you'll have to work extra hard to get up to speed. In the last 6-12 months I had been reading up on financial markets and thought I had a pretty good rough understanding of how the banking industry worked and what forces were at play in the current downturn in the credit markets. Today, however, I learned that I know nothing.

So in short -- not only is it going to be tough to get considered for a job at a bulge bracket bank, I'm also going to have extremely qualified Kellogg students competing against me for the same positions.

In a way I have known this all along, but seeing it with your own eyes has a way of letting reality kick in, nice and hard.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bring it on!

Flight into Chicago - check.
Getting through immigration - check.
Finding apartment - check.
Spending spree at IKEA / Wal-Mart - check.
Making apartment livable - check.
Tell utilities, bank, Kellogg I'm here - check.
Getting some rest - check.

I'm as ready as I can be. Let the games begin.

In one week, most incoming students are going on KWEST trips to various exotic places, and I'm going to Argentina, for a bit of skiing, ranching, salsa and steak eating. Hmm...

Before that, I've been invited to a pre-recruiting event from one of the major investment banks. Again, I am humbled to even be considered, but I guess that 1) I should get used to it, and 2) an invitation to a recruiting event is far from a job offer.

Another blogger (forgive me, I forgot who it was) likened the recruiting events to the b-school MBA fairs. At these outreach events the prestigious b-schools and employers are all warm and cuddly, trying to convince you that you should really join their family, but once you actually try to get in you have to jump through a thousand hoops to even be considered.

But I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Whenever I start to worry about how I will stand up against my fellow Kelloggians and whether I will come out on top in the 'fight' for the most prestigious jobs, I remind myself of the most heard response from current students at Day at Kellogg to job-related concerns from incoming students. "Don't worry," they said. "Everyone gets a job."

Perhaps it's not something I should be worrying about before b-school has even started, but I do hope they're right.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sales & Trading

I just found a nice "banking vs consulting" resource that I wanted to share: Angel Angie is an LBS MBA student who switched from consulting to Sales & Trading. She posted a consulting week-in-the-life (one that is actually insightful for a change), and two posts (here and here) on her new S&T life, which she seems pretty happy about.

S&T surely has its appeal. Work far less hours, for essentially the same pay as i-bankers in corporate finance. Downside is that, compared to corp fin i-banking, S&T gives less mobility if you want to break out of finance again one day (so I've been told), and, from a personal perspective, Kellogg is hardly a feeder school for S&T jobs.

Today I've registered for Finance as a core course for my first semester. That will help for i-banking interviews. If I decide to do them, of course.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The conundrum continues

I wrote to my Kellogg alum interviewer about my consulting / i-banking dilemma. He strongly advised me not to go into i-banking, unless I didn't really want a life or didn't like my girlfriend too much. Moreover, "you don't really learn anything useful besides selling and of course Excel and Powerpoint".

He has a point. None of the i-banking books I read refute this, and I vividly remember asking an i-banking couple at Kellogg how much of "Monkey Business" is true. Their response: All of it.

Yes, the pay and coolness factor are luring, but --

1. Compensation in the first three years in consulting is actually pretty competitive with banking. Bonuses can tip the scale toward banking but these are subject to economic conditions, industry performance (which, as far as I understand, is under serious pressure in the post-Glass-Steagall era), and stellar individual performance. I'm sure I can survive at Goldman Stanley, but as a non-Finance hire I think I have to assume I will not be the top 1% performer.

Even if you were to assume generous bonuses, compensation per hour seems to be higher in consulting than in i-banking.

2. Kellogg is not a Finance school. At DAK, Kellogg students spun this as an advantage, because 'competition between students is less intense than for example at Columbia or Wharton', but I'm not sure I'm buying this. Yes, the bulge bracket firms allocate spots between the top-7 schools and competition for these spots is less at Kellogg than at other schools, but on the other hand Kellogg gets fewer spots than the other schools. Moreover, if this were really true, people would come to Kellogg because it would be easier to get into i-banking, and they don't.

3. I doubt if I can physically handle 100+ hour workweeks for months straight.

4. I do care about my girlfriend.

So, right now my cards are on consulting. Friends warn me for the incredibly hard work at the top consultants but, compared to i-banking, the 60-70 hours per week for consulting are actually light-weight.

Hidden door number three

My Kellogg interviewer works in an industry that is currently steaming hot: private equity. If you get in and do well in PE, compensation can make a Goldman Sachs MD look like a bum.

But there are other compelling reasons to consider PE. An investment bank has to do deals. A PE firm has to do good deals. I can certainly imagine that if your own money is at stake, your standard for what constitutes a sensible acquisition goes up a notch. And once the investment is made, you have to actually realize those synergies that looked so good on paper. In other words, becoming a good B.S. artist will not get you very far.

Of course, there are also plenty of downsides to a PE career. Positions are incredibly tough to obtain, especially for people without a finance background. Few if any PE firms recruit on campus, and the leading PE firms seem to consider only top performers at Harvard and Stanford. But, to quote Aleksey Vayner, "impossible is nothing", and through relentless networking it is possible to land a job.

But what worries me perhaps more than anything is the possible end of the current PE bubble. Influential publications like the Economist keep warning that the end of the private equity boom may be near. Rising interest rates are making acquisitions more expensive and debt-laden companies more vulnerable, regulators are trying to reign in these greedy asset strippers and bring an end to tax advantages, and successful PE firms are piling up cash with only so many deals in the market. In the 1980s it took one massive deal to go sour for the LBO craze to end. Who will be the RJR Nabisco of the 21st century?

I'm hardly qualified to judge, but I do know that I don't want to bet on job prospects in an overhyped industry. In the late 90s, the top i-banks and consultants had difficulty recruiting at the top business schools because everyone wanted to go into high-tech. Are PE firms the dot-coms of this decade?

I don't know. If someone does know, please tell me.

Meanwhile, I guess my conundrum continues...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Let the recruiting begin!

Have you ever heard that an MBA is really a two year recruiting event? Well, better make that two years and two months.

I just got invited by McKinsey for a summer event. Such an invitation would have been unimaginable six months ago, so I guess the MBA is starting to pay off already, and I haven't even started yet!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Consulting versus i-banking

Now that I am a Kellogg student, I have the privilege of choosing between a career in consulting and investment banking. It feels a bit like deciding between becoming a pop star or an astronaut, but when it comes to making a decision, it's not so easy.
The problem is that if you want to go into banking, you pretty much have to make up your mind before you come to business school. Unfortunately, you can't browse the shop for two years, try some stuff on, and buy what looks nice. Companies are looking for passion and commitment, so you'd better take the right classes, attend the right recruiting events and join the right clubs.

On their "Investment Banking and Capital Markets" career path website, Kellogg's Finance department puts it like this: "Students who are interested in pursuing a career in these competitive areas must plan their academic program from the moment they begin classes at Kellogg, in order to be prepared for crucial summer-internship interviews that take place in the winter."
In other words, if you want to become a banker, your job hunt starts pretty much when you arrive at Kellogg.

Fortunately, I'm not the first person deciding between banking and consulting, and Kellogg's consulting and i-banking clubs have created a great resource about differences and similarities between the two career paths. Take a look here. [Update: site is limited to Kellogg students. Sorry. I'm trying to make some of it public.]

Here's a short personal analysis.

In i-banking, the corporate finance side (advising companies on M&A and on issuing stock/debt) appeals to me for the high-level advice you are giving to high-level people, but the infamous workweeks that can easily go up to 110 hours per week are truly intimidating. I don't shy away from hard work, but if you realize that this translates to 15 hours per day for 7 days straight, only to start a new workweek the next day, images of delirious insomnia a la Fight Club start to pop up.

Then you've got Sales & Trading, which has the same outrageous pay, but condenses the 100+ hour workweeks into extremely intense 7-5 workdays. S&T does not get you into boardrooms, but does make you an expert in global capital markets, which is fascinating enough. I-bankers look down on traders as neanderthals, but traders think i-bankers are idiots for sacrificing any form of social life for essentially the same pay. They have a point. I could live with less boardroom exposure, but the big downside to S&T seems to be that these skills are less transferable to outside the banking industry.

Then, on the other side of the spectrum, you've got consulting, which has less extreme hours (late nights instead of all-nighters and generally free weekends), but heavy travel. The work is sometimes described as 'advising company leaders on challenging strategic questions', and sometimes as 'being locked up in a poorly lit room in Bumblefuck, Idaho, crafting endless Powerpoint presentations that tell clients what they wanted to hear in the first place.'

But once you start scratching the glamorous surface of consulting and worry about the underlying dirt, you'd have to do the same for i-banking. Liar's Poker and Monkey Business both do an excellent job in showing that for every Porsche and cocktail party there's a year of verbal abuse and endless nights of mind-numbingly boring work.

So, after a couple of months of reading up, I still have no idea.

Any career counselor would probably tell me to ignore the preconceptions and go for what really excites me, but the problem is that both fields genuinely interest me. Sure, the prestige and pay are nice, but between M&A advice, trading stocks on Wall Street, and advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy, I honestly couldn't tell you what I'd enjoy more. It both sounds, well... kind of fun.
I'm still exhilerated about having this problem of privilege, but even those problems need solving.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Two years ago, Jack Welch told MBA students to concentrate on networking while in school, as 'everything else you need to know, you can learn on the job'. A controversial report from Stanford GSB's Jeffrey Pfeffer found that an MBA has no economic advantage unless from a top-ranked program, and that, with similar curricula across schools, business school is as much about networking and recruiting as it is about education.

Despite having attended numerous management conferences, industry conferences, business dinners, etc. in my career to date, I never really stopped to think about my networking skills. I have no problem making small-talk with table partners, and sure, I have squeezed myself into a huddle around the occasional CxO to get a bit of face time. At a recent management conference, I noticed how a colleague and close friend of mine mostly avoided me and was always engaged with others. Later he confided that he always diligently prepares for these conferences and pretty much knows in advance who he is going to speak to, and what he is going to talk about. At that point, I realized my networking skills sucked.

In the past weeks I have been browsing Kellogg's club websites, and on the investment banking club website, I found a Powerpoint presentation with tips on how to handle company recruiting events. Among the tips were "Don't just stand in a corner talking to other Kellogg students", and "Meet at least two new people at every event". Apparently, I'm not the only MBA student whose networking skills need a bit of work.

I recently picked up a book called Never Eat Alone, and half-way through I can already say it is one of those books I should have read a lot earlier. Networking is not a subject taught in class, and not a skill you're born with (unless your name is Clinton, perhaps). Reading this book has convinced me that it is something you have to learn, and many people would probably be well-advised to learn -- especially students who want to get some value out of their top-10 MBA.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How NOT to get an i-banking job

This is one of those things you have to see to believe.

Aleksey Vayner, an ambitious Yale undergrad, sent his resume to UBS to apply for an i-banking job and included a link to a video interview with the Master himself.

His narcissism didn't get him an invite from UBS, but he did manage to immortalize himself on Wall Street and in mainstream media. A number of websites can't seem to get enough of him -- more here, here, here and here. Heck, you could probably spend a day just Googling Aleksey.

Perhaps he and Tim Shields should start a company.

Investment bankers are known not to shy away from a bit of self-love, but at least they had the decency to give this guy what he deserves.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Day at Kellogg (2/2)

--- Continued from part one ---

Besides the classes, there was a session to illustrate Kellogg's emphasis on teamwork, also known as the egg-dropping challenge.
Groups of five were given an egg and some materials that had to prevent the egg from breaking as it would be dropped from 12 feet.

My group fiddled around with some ideas and then put something together in the last two minutes which balanced the egg in the center of the box without touching the sides, using pieces of tape. Our egg was one of the few that didn't break, and because we had used the least material we had the highest score in our section. Yay. Some closing remarks were rushed in to emphasize that this was what teamwork at Kellogg was all about.

I'm sure the whole thing was as much about having fun and interacting with fellow students as it was about teaching us what teamwork was, and in that sense it was successful. On the other hand I must also confess that dropping eggs never appeared in my fantasies about business school. Yes it was fun, but not exactly what you would expect from people who want to wear business suits and be taken seriously for the rest of their lives.

I got the feeling that the informality and casualness of this exercise (and similar moments during DAK) gave us a good flavor of how things are done at Kellogg. Yes, students are serious about academics and their career, yet they see no reason to get all uptight and formal about it.

Apparently, there's no reason why you can't become a serious Globally Responsible And Innovative Leader, and throw a couple of parties at the same time. I can't help but wonder whether students at Harvard are also asked to drop eggs. Either way would be as much an argument for it as against it, since yes, you want to have a serious education, but you also want to let loose once in a while.

To me it doesn't make a whole lot of difference, because I've only got one admit ticket, and I think I could easily fit in at pretty much any b-school. In ten years time, I don't believe that school culture is going to be incredibly relevant for your career. Still, it was interesting to listen how Kellogg's informal culture was analyzed, defended, praised, and questioned by current and prospective students at DAK. My personal conclusion was (and I cannot vouch for its accuracy) is that Kellogg is about as informal as you can make a business school.

Another interesting thing was the career sessions with professors and students. I attended the Finance and Consulting sessions.

The Finance sessions had the obvious remarks that Kellogg really was a great place to become a banker, despite not having the reputation. The faculty had enough industry experience to claim Street credibility, and academically speaking, Kellogg is only second to Chicago GSB in number of awards from the Journal of Finance, and thus ahead of traditional finance schools like Wharton and Columbia. Additionally, since banking is a less popular career path at Kellogg than at other schools it's easier to land one of the offers that the top banks distribute between top schools. All these points had merit, but, bottom-line, Kellogg still has something to be defensive about, and some other schools don't. My overriding feeling, however, is that the general b-school top-10 truth also applies here -- the difference between a top-10 school and a top-30 school is significant, but within the top-10 there's really not that much difference. Goldman hires at the top-10 -- it doesn't hire at no. 30.

The Consulting sessions sounded much less defensive and surprisingly relaxed. Basically, if you want to break (or return) into consulting, you have nothing to worry about. 30%+ of the class becomes a consultant, and Kellogg is among the top-3 in terms of job offers from the top-5 firms. (Do you want that in a 2-by-2 matrix?) Every year, plenty of poets make the leap to McKinsey. You'll practice case interviews until you can do them backwards, in Polish, standing on your left hand.

Career opportunities -- check.

Saturday afternoon I decided to skip a couple of sessions to catch a break, walk around campus, and digest my first impressions. The weather had cleared up and it was a great day, making the campus, lakeshore and Chicago skyline stunningly pretty. I sat down on a rock by the lake, looked over Lake Michigan and thought, Wow -- it is not going to be difficult to endure this place for two years.

I got back in time for photographs and drinks, before we headed to downtown Chicago in traditional school buses (which was probably mundane for the Americans, but a Hollywood experience for me.) A closing ceremony with buffet diner had been organized in the Mid-Day Club on the 56th floor of the Chase building. Spectacular views, good food and drinks, and nice socializing with future classmates.

To top it off, a slick video presentation was shown to congratulate us on surviving DAK and to exploit our screen vanity. (It worked on me. Here's the video. I'm in it. Twice.)

Sunday morning I had a couple of hours to look at housing before my flight back to Amsterdam. McManus, which is cheap and set up around the needs of Kellogg students, was a big disappointment. Dorm-like, sterile, cramped, dark, smelly, you name it. If you're prepared to lower your standards for two years then it's a cheap and incredibly convenient place to stay, but I decided that I would take the extra cost and hassle. I saw some other buildings, which ranged from cheap and dorm-like (if you can call $900 for a studio cheap), to expensive and jaw-dropping beautiful. Despite the "sign now, only one unit left" pitches, I decided to just take some information with me and do the rest of the hunting at home.

An hour later my fellow Dutch admit and I were at O'Hare and found that the Exit-Row Gods had looked favorably on us. I felt tears of happiness. An exit row seat and 20 mg of Temazepam would allow me to actually sleep on the plane so I could join my buddies on Queen's Day the next morning in Amsterdam. (Ah.. The canals, a boat, some wine, and thousands of people having a great time. What more do you need...)

Overall, DAK was a great experience. Very well organized (by students, of course), great people, promising academics, and easy to feel at home at.

Not that I needed to be sold.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Day at Kellogg (1/2)

As I was procrastinating to update my blog, I got some comments asking for my promised DAK post. Thanks for that. It's good to know someone actually reads this stuff.

In my defense, I've been rather busy since returning from DAK, as I've rented out my apartment and had to rush-move back in with my parents. I can now save some money and I don't have to sell my place when leaving for Kellogg, and all I have to do is keep mentally sane during these last four months. So far things have been uneventful and, dare I say, pleasant, but of course it has only been two weeks.

Alright, Day at Kellogg. It was great.
I suspect that DAK was bigger for me than for the average attendee. Not only would this be my first visit to Kellogg, but also my first real-life view of an American university of any kind. I had nothing but Hollywood and glossy b-school brochures to develop an image in my mind of what a university campus would look and feel like.
My taxi ride from O'Hare to Evanston took me through some not-so-impressive suburbs of Chicago, but an early stroll through Evanston the next morning proved that Evanston, at the shore of Lake Michigan, is actually quite a pretty town. I walked along Sheridan Road, alongside the Northwestern University campus, saw the NU arch, and some nice buildings. Not bad.

Then, all of a sudden, I stood face to face with the Jacobs building.
While the building is not exactly impressive in itself, standing in front of it was definitely a big moment.

For years I had dreamed of attending a top US business school, with no idea how attainable this dream would be. For years I had challenged friends and family who were skeptical of the merit of a top-10 business school or my ability to get in one. After tons of school research, months of self-imposed rest deprivation for the GMAT, frustrating moments of writer's block on essays, I had become an expert on b-school admissions, yet even after the euphoria of the acceptance e-mail, b-school had somehow still remained a bit.... intangible.

Until now.

This is it. I made it. I actually made it!

As I regained my composure and walked in, I was welcomed by first-year students, got my welcome pack with complimentary Kellogg t-shirt, and was directed down to the atrium for breakfast and to meet the people in my 'DAK section'. After a nice talk with a fellow admit and his 'JV' (Kellogg speak for accompanying partner, who can join Kellogg's Joint Venture club and are invited to many events) I got tapped on the shoulder by the one other Dutch admit, whom I had met a couple of weeks earlier.

We later headed into the "OLC Forum" (a theater-like room for speeches etc.) for a welcome speech from the Admissions Director, which included a traditional 5-10 minute segment listing remarkable accomplishments of admitted students. "One of you... [insert remarkable experience here]". Too many things to remember, but the point was well made -- this was an impressive group of people.

We then had more speeches on academics, student diversity, Kellogg values, etc. but as the school was sold on us I felt a bit like the converted being preached to. I was already committed to enrolling. The real meat for me was the career sessions and mini-classes.

The first mini-class for our section was Statistics, by professor Scott McKeon. This guy definitely lived up to his top reputation at Kellogg, as he was nothing short of fascinating. This probably sounds unbelievable, and I was equally skeptical when our section leader said that 'stats had been his favorite class', but now I understand why. He led us through a number of interesting experiments, including a bizarre one that appeared to undermine the basic truism of a 50/50 chance when flipping a fair coin.

It was also pointed out that students' favorable opinions of him have contributed to his career at Kellogg, as Teacher/Course Evaluations (TCEs) are a key aspect of performance evaluations. I'm sure other b-schools also place emphasis on student input, but I can imagine that this is disproportionally so at Kellogg. I thought it was a nice real-life example of Kellogg's 'student-run' culture.

The second class for our section was Innovation by Andrew Razeghi, who was also amazing. He was one of those guys who can tell a story in such a way that you can't wait for the next word to come out of his mouth. When I saw the course title "Creating an Innovation Mindset" I was expecting some fluffy talk about the importance of 'fostering creativity in the corporate culture', similar to the drivel that pervades popular business literature, but instead Razeghi took us back down to earth and debunked the myth of the first-mover advantage, and demonstrated that success is easy, but sustainable relevance is nearly impossible. I realized that I shouldn't judge classes by its name and that I've probably got a tough time ahead making choices between a great number of absolutely top-notch classes.

The third mini-class was on teamwork and negotiation and was, much to my surprise, disappointing. Compared to one of my all-time favorite books, Secrets of Power Negotation, the negotiation bit was fluffy, and the teamwork element consisted mostly of a couple of poorly driven points about the importance of listening in teams and the average lifespan of teams. 12 months, 24 months, who cares. For a moment I thought that the fact that our section leader introduced the professor by the wrong name (she may have been substituting, I don't remember) and the fact that she looked like a first-year student, were both signs that this was not coming out of Kellogg's top-5 bucket, but then she stressed that her class was one of the most popular at Kellogg. I didn't really know what to think of it, but then again I wasn't going to let one class spoil my enthusiasm.

OK, enough for today, I'll post the rest separately.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One day until DAK II

It's finally here.. Tomorrow I'm leaving for Day at Kellogg (DAK) for Round 2 admits.

I must confess that for the first time I'm starting to feel butterflies. It somehow feels like the first day in high school again. Will they like me? Will I like them? Will I fit in with the cool kids?
I've never liked the awkwardness of new crowds, and part of me just wants to get it over with.

Part of my worry is the possibility that I will find Kellogg to be a bit too much of a party school for my liking. I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on nightlife in various places, and in their report on DAK, Brit-chick and Majalo both attested to the atmosphere at Kellogg being a bit 'cult-like' and 'a bit undergraduate', which I'm not sure is going to be my cup of tea. I like a party now and then, but that's not why I'm going to Kellogg, and I don't want to end up explaining all the time why I'm the only one who is not going to stick around in the bar until the sun comes up.

I may be wrong, of course, and there's only one way to find out...

As a side note, I fly back into Amsterdam early Monday morning, which happens to be Queen's Day here in Holland. This is a traditional excuse for dressing up in orange, going to events with millions of other people and having too much to drink. I've made plans to spend the day on a friend's boat on the canals of Amsterdam, which I'm sure is going to be very nice, yet I'm not sure if I'll have any energy left after DAK and a night flight in coach (not pleasant if you're 6'6" like me), but we'll see what happens.

I'll post my DAK experiences when I get back, and maybe I'll even have some Queen's Day pictures to share..!

Reality kicks in

My employer has now formally told me they will not provide any financial sponsorship, nor will they guarantee I can come back in two years. To top it off they included a friendly reminder to make sure I didn't forget to resign in time. I would, however, leave with their "best wishes" and a "glowing testimony for my great work over recent years". Wow, thanks...!

I understand their reasoning, however, flawed as I think it is. They see this as shelling out $100k+ to have someone gone for two years and return with ridiculous career growth and compensation demands. It's one that goes into the 'too difficult' box. Our president last year told me that "we're just not an MBA employer", which to me sounded like "there's a limit to how good we want our management to be."

It's all good and fine, because there is in reality a very big chance I will get lured into the Siren calls of the big i-banks and consulting firms. It's just disappointing to see that the company that you have worked your butt off for, and almost feels like family, doesn't hesitate a second to cut you loose for being too ambitious.

I am, however, not phased by this too much. I knew this day was coming.

Another side of the reality that is only now starting to kick in is that the deposit that magically makes its way into my bank account each month, that has always so nicely offsetted the numerous debit transactions on my bank statement, is going to disappear for good. I will soon be formally unemployed, which is a strange feeling. The only inflow of funds I will have for the time to come will be nothing more than debt, with a capital D. I hate debt. Maybe in time it will start to feel like free money and I will struggle to worry about spending money that is not yet mine, but right now, it still feels weird.

Monday, April 16, 2007

First Kellogg experiences

It's now been a couple of weeks since Kellogg has given me the nod, and the feeling of blind ecstacy is slowly turning into a more modest state of happiness. It's still a great feeling to know that a year's worth of obsession with the GMAT and essays has actually paid off.

Preparing my matriculation has already given me some Kellogg experiences to report on. The "wow"s have been mostly positive, but also some negative. I'll first get the negative observations out of the way.

To secure your position in class, you have to advance $1000 on your tuition. The accepted payment methods are check and money order. In Holland, and I suspect in many other places around the world, checks have been abandoned a long time ago. And neither I nor my bank know what a money order is. I asked Kellogg whether I could pay through bank transfer, credit card, or maybe PayPal or Western Union, but alas, impossible. Other students ended up sending signed checks through the mail, and I have now bought traveler's checks and will hand-deliver them at Day at Kellogg. My interviewer had already warned me that rules and procedures tend to be a bit US-centric, but this just seemed a bit backward to me. All b-schools nowadays say they are 'global', but I hope that this doesn't mean "US... Oh, and everything abroad".

Something else that hasn't impressed me is the various Kellogg websites. The student web-mail looks like Hotmail version 0.1 beta. There is no Sent folder -- if you want to retain your sent messages "you can include your own e-mail address on the Cc: field". Puh-lease. It's not a big deal (you can download your mail into Outlook Express) but impressive, no. Some of the other pages deep down in the Kellogg website look like they were designed in the 1980s. I generally prefer substance over form, but for a school that is known for its marketing prowess I expect a bit more than Times New Roman 12pt and awkwardly proportioned images. Again, no biggie, but I had expected a bit more.

The positive impressions are fortunately the things that really matter. And the biggest 'wow'-factor must be the recruiting side.

As I'm contemplating becoming an I-banker (no points for originality, I know), scavenging the club websites has been very rewarding. Presentations from students who have summered at Goldman, Merrill, BoA, Citigroup, CSFB, Deutsche, reporting on the up- and downsides of banking, how to be a career switcher, compensation statistics, lifestyle issues, how to land an offer, etc. Complete primers on the i-banking world (how does the industry *really* work), 70-page interviewing guides, etc. etc. Truly very impressive. Kellogg has excellent statistics on offer percentages and compensation compared to other top schools. I think this is important, because you can talk about school 'fit' all you want, but at the end of the day it's the job you can get after b-school that really matters.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


All good advice on writing b-school essays includes a mention of the word 'introspection'. It means thinking about what you want to do when you grow up. Why is it necessary? Because admission committees are not impressed with people who want to get their MBA at this-and-that school because it 'seems like a fun thing to do'.

If you are like me, you didn't know what your life goal was. I still don't. And paradoxically, Mr and Mrs Adcom, my life goal kind of depends on whether I will be accepted to your top-10 school. If I get rejected everywhere, maybe my ambition to become CEO of GE one day isn't so realistic after all. But I don't know that yet, now do I?

The problem with all this introspection is that your life plan needs to --
1) necessitate an MBA,
2) necessitate an MBA from school XYZ,
3) be not too far divorced from what you have done with your life so far.

If it doesn't meet these criteria, you'll have explaining to do. If your life goal doesn't require an MBA specifically from Harvard, then what business do you have applying there? If you're a poet with an i-banking dream, what have you done so far to achieve that? Is this your first step?

As a result, most candidates stop dreaming about becoming an astronaut and start thinking about a goal that is not too far from reality, but above all is saleable to a business school. Pick a story and start living it. Write about it passionately in your essays, and speak about it passionately in your interviews.

Stanford's Derrick Bolton, like many admission directors, tells us that b-school applications should not be a marketing exercise, but an accounting exercise. Don't try to be someone other than yourself, we want to hear your 'true voice'. I can understand how b-schools don't want people bullshitting them, but I find it hard to believe that naked truths increase chance of admission. What matters to me most? Sex, money, and watching Seinfeld reruns. How's that for 'focused interests'?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter about being rejected at Stanford, nor do I think the adcom world is evil. I just think b-school essays, like job interviews, like first dates, need a good amount of marketing to be successful. And that's OK. I just don't buy any adcom drivel that denies this.

Imagine meeting a successful H/S/W/K applicant at a birthday party. Ask him/her why he/she *really* wanted to go to b-school. Do you think they would recite their essays? How many times do you think the words "money" and "fun" would come up? Have they been 100% sincere in their applications? No. Did they pull off a successful marketing exercise? Yes.

Once you're in, nobody cares what your story was anymore. Most schools pride themselves on the 'transformational' nature of their MBA program, yet don't like it when candidates acknowledge this and conclude that formulating a post-MBA goal before b-school is mostly pointless.

Let's face it. Unless you've diligently walked the Lemming March that Robert Reid talks about in his book on HBS Year 1, you probably do not have your life plan figured out and are applying to expensive 2-year full-time MBA programs so that you can take full advantage of recruiting and networking, which will facilitate a career change -- in whatever direction.

I don't want to rub it in to any applicants reading this, but I am very happy about having passed that 'life story' hurdle, and can now daydream about all the new opportunities that will be coming my way. My "Why MBA", "Why school", "Short/Long-term Goals" stories were all nicely developed, but in reality I knew that this story was going to be just one of many possibilities.

And that is why this post is titled 'Daydreaming'.

Now that I'm in a top-10 school, I can (no -- need to) daydream about career paths that two months ago I thought may be well out of my reach given enough ding letters. I have since been flirting with the idea of becoming an i-banker. Why? Well, for the same reason a dog licks his balls -- because he can. It's nice to be reading up on career paths, average workweeks, and compensation averages at the top i-banking firms, because hey, I might just be interviewing with them for a summer position within a year...!

And no, that's not what I wrote in my essays.

Friday, March 30, 2007

I-bankers get all the girls

Who said 100-hour i-banking workweeks are killing for your social life, or for meeting the girl of your dreams?

This speed dating event matches people according to natural selection: wealth (men) and beauty (women).

And here's an i-banker-gone-PE who actually went there.

Also check out the video interview with the guy who came up with this stuff.

The mindset of a consultant

As I'm considering to go into consulting after my MBA, I'm finding humorous stuff about what happens to a person once he/she becomes a consultant.

Here is how you will view relationships:

And here's a funny presentation from Bain about optimizing your Thanksgiving dinner planning: link.

And here's some gems of wisdom posted by the Kellogg consulting club: link

And if that's not enough, you can go here if you'd like to sound like a consultant.

An ode to Tim Shields

Any MBA blog would be incomplete without a reference to Tim Shields, a Stanford MBA who wrote an article in the Stanford Reporter about his internship experience at Salomon Brothers, only to find it sent around Wall Street who suddenly weren't so thrilled anymore about hiring him.


Angry Young Summer Associate
by Tim Shields, MBA2

Well, summer is over and by all relevant measures it was a smashing success; after all, in addition to getting to spend 110 hours a week next to Iris, my job provided me with a whole new crop of people toward whom I could direct my rage and bitterness. The 38 members of my Investment Banking Summer Associate class represented a wide range of personality types, from the merely obnoxious to the moderately narcissistic to the overwhelmingly repugnant. What amazed me most of all was how these differences invariably broke down along school lines. I had always been of the impression that all MBA students were more or less the same, allocated in some random fashion (a.k.a. the admissions process) to the various schools. I was wrong. I was very wrong. The differences between people from school X versus school Y are enormous, and I write this column to provide you with a useful glimpse of the person you might have been if Marie's dart had landed just a tad to the right.

Without Further Adieu:

These people were frightening. Like caged tigers long deprived of fresh kill, they descended upon Wall Street seeking to satiate their unquenchable thirst for discounted cash flows, coverage ratios, and, of course, 'the Big Deal.' They were boorish and dull, and interacting with them was like being locked in a room with a Bloomberg machine, except that the Bloomberg screen has two dimensions. Their armor was not impenetrable, however, and I loved tugging at their Achilles' heel. It annoyed them to no end when I referred to them as 'the Penn people.' They also have this complex about their status in the b-school hierarchy, desperately trying to convince themselves that everyone buys into Business Week's assessment of their school. When one of the Wharton people expressed to me his disappointment at the number of fellow summer associates who were not from Stanford, Harvard, or Wharton, thus presumably reflecting poorly on the Bank's recruiting efforts and relative prestige, I concurred, noting that 'at Goldman they hire nearly exclusively from Stanford and HBS, which explains its sterling reputation.' His subsequent wince was one of the highlights of my summer.

Sort of Wharton-lite, Columbia MBAs were finance semi-gurus with a little less attitude. Having successfully climbed over the backs of their classmates in order to obtain one of the precious few slots allocated by Wall Street firms to the hundreds of eager Columbia MBAs, it was always great fun to tell them how by comparison it was so remarkably easy to obtain an investment banking job from Stanford. 'My background? I worked in a food pantry in Appalachia for a couple of years after obtaining my peace studies degree from a junior college in Arkansas. I also failed my finance and accounting core classes in business school, so I was really surprised when I had eleven banking offers for the summer. Do you think that would have happened if I had gone to Columbia?' Yeah, I loved doing that. If I was in a truly nasty mood, I would follow up with a discussion hypothesizing on the quality of life differences between Palo Alto and Harlem. As you might guess, I wasn't too popular among the Columbia crowd.

Believe it or not, I actually like the Kellogg people. Not the sharpest ginsu knives in the set, they were as out of place on Wall Street as you might expect from people who'd spent the prior year intensely debating the merits of Dave Thomas appearing in person in the Wendy's commercials. Still, they were all pretty cool and laid back and into having a good time. I thought they would have fit in quite well here at Stanford; in fact, if you took the average Stanford MBA, subtracted 50 IQ points and added a penchant for sub-zero weather (probably related to the lost IQ points), you would have a Kellogg MBA.

I think I found Waldo. Every stereotype you have ever heard about MIT is true. These guys were such incredible weenies, brilliantly managing to combine both the brainpower and social grace of an HP19B-II. Every time one of them came anywhere near me I did my best to convey a look which said quite plainly: 'go away - now.' I was generally unsuccessful, as they would not budge until they had finished telling me how they had been working until 5am every day this week on such and such a glamorous and sexy project, and that they had worked on a project similar to the one I was assigned to 'when they first started.' Moments before going postal, I could usually get them to leave me alone by making a comment to the effect of 'it must be a bummer constantly having to remind people that the school you go to in Boston is not Harvard.'

Speaking of Harvard, I've got to hand it to the HBS people. Their ability to mask their general incompetence with sheer arrogance impressed me. Floating through the summer like Cinderella at the ball, they expected you to accept their jargon-laced drivel with the same attitude that Moses and his stone tablets received on Sinai. Universally despised, they were oblivious to the disdain they inspired among their summer classmates. I suspect they would have been indifferent, though, associates being several levels below anyone they considered worthy of their attention.

There were also a few stragglers from other random schools. To quickly summarize, Darden and Chicago people get a thumbs-up; NYU and Yale a thumbs-down. There were also a few ranch-hands from Canadian schools who I thought should have been raising cattle or growing wheat or doing whatever it is they do in Canada, but probably not investment banking, eh.

In reflecting upon my summer experience, then, I am now angrier at Stanford than I have ever been in the past, which as many of you realize must mean I am simply brimming with unabated wrath. Why am I so upset with the GSB? It's obvious had I chosen to pursue my graduate education elsewhere, I would never have the problem I do here-'What am I going to write about for the next issue?'

Top 10 Quotes Overheard at 7 World Trade Center

10. 'You might want to reconsider that. It would be like stamping 'shoot me I'm stupid' on your forehead.'

Analyst, Media, on my telling him that I was going to ask an Associate for help in understanding a financial model.

9. 'You don't want this job. You really don't want this job. You get sucked in by the money and then find yourself trapped and miserable like I am. Don't be me.' Vice President, Energy, in a 4am confessional.

8. 'I love Wharton. All we do is eat, sleep, and breathe corporate finance. I've heard Stanford is different.' Fellow Summer associate, discussing the differences between the b-schools.

7. 'I rented a townhouse on Beacon Hill. I leased a Ferrari. I only ate in the best restaurants. I took trips around the world.' Vice President, Mergers & Acquisitions, describing to enthralled summer charges how he managed to spend $125 thousand during his second year at Harvard Business School.

6. 'I love that story.' Diane Sasseville, MBA2, commenting on my 'we lost the deal' experience.

5. 'Joining Salomon Brothers is effectively like selling a 24-hour call option on your life.' Recruiter.

4. 'Salomon Brothers is just not a culture where anyone says 'please' or 'thank you' or 'good job'. Managing Director, Technology

3. 'I hope your summer here has convinced you that Salomon Brothers is your first choice for full-time employment.' Managing Director, Paper & Forest Products, in a goodbye message to me.

2. 'We have absolutely no reason to believe that we are a buyout target, nor that we will be in the near future.' Deryck Maughan, Salomon Brothers' CEO, August 18, 1997, easing the concerns of the Investment Banking unit.

[ed note: On Sept. 24, 1997, Salomon announced it was going to be acquired by Travelers Group for $9 billion]

1. 'Uniformly horrible.' Director of Energy, offering his impression of the Stanford Summer Associates.


Read more about the consequences he faced here

A two-year recruiting exercise

I don't know whether I read this in Robert Reid's book on his HBS experience, or in Snapshots from Hell (both of which I heartedly recommend), but I'm starting to think of the MBA less as a noble intellectual pursuit and more as a two-year recruiting exercise.

Just as the top schools are competitive, so are the top jobs. And if these books have any truth to them, I think I'm in for another set of Darwinian selection processes that make b-school adcoms look like wimps.

Every prospective i-banker knows about Goldman Sachs, every prospective consultant knows about McKinsey, and I'm not going to be the only one who thinks that working for the most prestigious firm in the field would be 'kinda cool'. And this time, I'm going to be competing with people at Kellogg and all the other top schools -- people who made that first cut of getting into b-school. People with unparalleled determination, intellect, ambition, and credentials.

Once you start in the fall, I hear it only takes a few weeks before your focus is steered towards jobs. Wanna get into Goldman? Better show some focus and determination in the classes you take and the extracurriculars you do. Better show up on all the recruiting events. Are you still not sure whether you want to be an i-banker when you grow up? Better figure it out quickly if you want a good job.

I've decided to brush up on my i-banking knowledge before b-school. I've been thinking of getting CFA Level 1 before b-school (how is that for focus and determination, Mr Goldman?), but the first chance to sit for the exam is December 2007, right in the middle of Kellogg. Doesn't seem like a good idea...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kellogg admit!

It's been a while... but I am happy to report that I will be enrolling at Kellogg this fall...!

I ended up being invited to interview for Wharton, which I thought went OK, but Wharton didn't like me enough after all.

HBS was less exciting. In a slight variation of another blogger's post, I got the notorious admission decision which felt something like this:

Dear MBA Dutchie

Seriously, F*** off.

Love, Harvard.

Oh well, I guess my 'three most substantial accomplishments' were not so substantial after all, and I guess I won't risk developing the arrogance or sense of entitlement that is sometimes reported on HBS students.

But I don't want to sound bitter. I still think HBS is the no. 1 name in MBA world, and they probably deserve it even if they were the ones teaching Jeff Skilling how to ruin run a company.

(As a future Kellogg student, I really should stop quoting Enron since Andy Fastow is a Kellogg graduate, and he was an even bigger rat than Skilling and Lay combined. These are the guys who are really responsible for the 'ethical dilemma' essay.)

I'm officially still waiting on the Stanford decision, just because they can officially still invite me to interview (one week before the decision deadline) and can officially still admit me. Right. Seriously, what's the point in holding all these decisions to the final day? Kudos to Kellogg in that respect.

The pecking order seems well established in my admission decisions: Harvard and Stanford couldn't even be bothered with an interview, I had Wharton think about me for a moment, and Kellogg thought 'ah what the hell'.

But one out of four is good enough. And when thinking about how great it would be to go to Harvard or Stanford, it is easy to forget that I achieved my goal of getting into a top-10 school, which many people around me thought would be 'kind of a stretch'. And it is easy to forget the merits of Kellogg, which looks like a fantastic b-school the closer I get to them.

So I guess I'll be spending the rest of my life explaining to MBA-illiterate friends and family that, no, they do not teach you anything about cereal, but yes, the name does originate from a very wealthy and generous heir of the folks who invented the cereal.

I guess that's not such a bad life verdict.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Kellogg interview

After clicking the nerve-wrecking Submit button on my H/S/W/K applications, I was hoping for a sigh of relief, but it didn't come. I remember this feeling from completing the GMAT, ending a long and painful process only to find yourself worrying about a new one.

Right now my new worry is my Kellogg interview on Monday.

I guess the nice thing about these interviews is that you pretty much know what you're going to be asked. Walk me through your resume, Why MBA, Why this school, long-term goals, short-term goals, extracurriculars, tell me about a leadership experience, teamwork experience, biggest failure, biggest success, strengths, weaknesses, etc. etc.

My interview prep strategy is simple. I write out bullet-point responses, and test them on my bathroom mirror alter-ego, while timing and recording my response so I can check if I sound boring or overly scripted. It seems effective, but I'll let the schools be the ultimate judge of that.

When the Kellogg interview is done, the true waiting begins. Kellogg will follow with a decision, and hopefully I'll get some more interview invites.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Wanted: a 'true voice'

Man, I am getting really frustrated with the Stanford essays. This is my last application, which I'm not unhappy about because they say your last application is your best, and I really really really want to go to Stanford.

I never expected this process to be so arduous. You need to write in an upbeat fashion, but because Stanford is especially sensitive about hearing your true voice, you cannot spin your experiences too much around the admission criteria. Yet if I remain utterly humble, how on earth am I going to be competitive? Reading sample Stanford essays of successful past applicants sometimes just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry.

In my HBS, Wharton and Kellogg essays I have certainly tried to squeeze every last drop of leadership out of my experiences (and I'll tell you how effective that was when the decisions are in...), but with Stanford I am really trying to 'be myself', whatever that is.

Since I find it hard to convince myself that I have done 'ordinary things extraordinarily well', my only hope of Stanford admission is to tell my true story, lay bare my soul, and hope they will like me for my background and ambitions and will consider me to add 'breadth of perspective to class'.

You never know....

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

You gotta love 'em

Ah, the French...

The French have a way of being protective about certain entitlements, however unsustainable they might be. This time it was not labor protection or their 35-minute -- sorry 35-hour -- workweek.

No, this time they found an even bigger cause and fought against progress in general, protesting against the new year. Father time proved merciless and killed 2007 anyway. But that didn't silence the protestors, who after a moment of disappointment regained their ever-positive spirit and changed their tune. "No to 2008!!"

Seriously, how do they come up with that stuff...

The power of procrastination

Here I am, on HBS deadline day, creating a blog like I've got nothing better to do.

I need a break, I need some distance from my essays, and ...

OK, let me give you a bit more on who I am. I'm a simple guy from Holland, 27 years of age, 5 years of experience in the corporate world, 760 GMAT, with a dream to get an MBA from a top US business school.

Why an MBA? Because I believe it gives you knowledge that can be valuable to excel in business. I don't believe an MBA (or anything else for that matter) is a guarantee to success, but it sure wouldn't hurt. That, and it opens doors like nothing else.

Why a top US b-school? Because I believe the US is still of primary importance in the global business world, underlined by the fact that that's where the top b-schools are. Globalization is sure to bring an end to America's dominance some day, but right now that's still the way things are.

I'm applying to the following schools, in order of preference:
1. Stanford - strongest links to Silicon Valley (I have an IT background), most selective school to get into, and unbeatable weather
2. HBS - this should perhaps be number 1, simply because it's HBS. I don't care whether they are ivory tower, whether the administration is unresponsive, whether the faculty stinks -- nothing says MBA like Harvard, period.
3. Wharton - strongest global brand after Harvard/Stanford
4. Kellogg - top-ranked by most publications (what's up with the Financial Times??), student-run, and just seems like a friendly place

I have no idea what my chances are. On the plus side, I've got a strong leadership resume, rapid career progression, strong international experience, my GMAT score is up to snuff, and last but not least, my Dutch nationality could make me a diversity admit. On the down side, I've got no community service or extracurriculars to speak of, my undergrad grades do not show excellence, and while I've done some interesting stuff, I haven't cured cancer or solved world hunger, which seems to be the caliber that these schools look for.

I'm working with an admission consultant (you know, the ones with the wiki) and I think they're fantastic, and no, I do not feel they give people an unfair advantage. This competitive admissions stuff is just so alien to me and, I imagine, to many other people who do not live in a country filled with prestige-driven private universities. The consultants do charge an arm and a leg, but hey, what's $300 per hour (rush rate) if it helps you earn $250k+ three years after graduation...

We'll see whether it's money wasted, but if I get dinged by all these schools, at least I can say I tried and spared no effort or money in my pursuit..

Alright, there you have it, I started a blog.

Now back to my HBS essays. Those damned essays...