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.