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.