Sunday, July 30, 2006

Farewell Parties Part 2

On Thursday I had the Farewell cocktail party with my employees. To cut a long story short, 4 years ago I launched a family business in which I recruited 20+ co-workers.
I emphasized my speech on how the past 4 years' transformation accounted for my INSEAD project, and how I expected all of them to undergo the same introspection. After all, many of them, prior to working for me, were either unemployed or very, I mean very, unskilled. I stressed that thanks to the firm, they had a new life, new friends, new ambitions. I wanted them to understand that ambition is cool, but has to be related to their past, not to what other people have in a firm that is 30 years older and 10 times bigger. I think they got the message, but am not so sure for how long...

Anyway, it's good to have such a sense of self-realization, self-fulfillment, sometimes.
The employees got together to buy me a very nice pen. The link to my present location is that the pen has a pearl on its cap, which I found interesting. I was moved by this gesture.
I got the feeling that the pen is going to be the fashionable gift. My parents - I understand - will offer me one. My accountant wanted to offer me one, before my employees cut the grass under her feet.

Next big farewell party: Friday before departure. I shall keep you posted.



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Farewell Parties Part 1

Yesterday I had my first of many farewell gatherings. It was held at my aunt's.
Interestingly, nobody knew of INSEAD, either in Fonty or Singapore, though my aunt travels a lot due to her business in Singapore.

Of particular interest were the wines, two of which I definitely recommend.
First, we celebrated with Dom Perignon champagne (I can't recall which vintage).

Then we had a St-Julien Clos du Marquis 1996 (Parker 90/100), which was absolutely astounding. I think it was both elegant but not precious. In French you could say "racé", which somehow means elegant but in a masculine way. For the experts, the Clos du Marquis is the 2nd wine of Château Léoville Las Cases, but is just as good as any 1st wine.
To finish, we had the one bottle too many: the Haut-Médoc Puy Castéra 1995 Cru Bourgeois. It was good, although coming after the St-Julien was bound to be a hard task.

To conclude: excellent evening, and although nobody knew INSEAD, every one was very impressed, and I was the proud recipient of honours and praise.
Next gathering, on Thursday, for my co-workers.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Going Public...

I am about to make my blog known to all my friends and family. So please behave in your comments and keep quiet about when I am not the cool and nice guy my family thinks I am!

On the good side: this blog has been referenced in ClearAdmit, the treasure vault for MBA Applicants, under Student Blogs / INSEAD 07.

On the fun side, a good friend of mine - Sandrine - recently sent me this link (in French):

It's a fake business consultant site - although the fakeness can be hard to spot, sometimes. I really enjoy the Tip section "Tous les winners".

Sandrine's parties are always a lot of fun and the atmosphere is like INSEAD: like-minded bright people from diverse background (with a penchant for b-schools), themed parties (last one: How to make a gyoza workshop - I skipped the How to cook them part), and animated with lots of intellectual and funny subjects. On the pic, is what a gyoza party looks like. You need a lot of people to roll the dumplings, and it's more difficult than it seems.

Extract from Les Clefs du Succès:

Management matricio-statégique (Anne-Lise Durine)
On m'a parlé de cette méthode révolutionnaire pour parvenir à une relation équilibrée winneuse-loser avec mes collaborateurs. Cela permettrait entre autres de faire des licenciements massifs sans contestation. La connaissez vous ? Pouvez vous me donner votre avis ? C'est urgent car je dois faire une charrette de 256 parasites qui freinent le développement durable de nos filiales...

Réponse : Aaaah...La fameuse win-lose (WL) relationship...C'est fascinant, hein, quand on pense à toutes les perspectives qu'elle ouvre businessly speaking .Alors of course, son grand intérêt, c'est que même WL prime même sur WW, mais en même temps, WL = [(WL)²]½ = [(LW)²]½ = LW

Et là pour le coup, Lose-Win inf. à Lose-Lose, ce qui est pire que tout! Donc je dirais WL, ok, mais à prendre avec des pincettes tant que les chercheurs n'en savent pas plus."

I'm afraid the fun side would be lost in translation...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Our House...

"Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy cause of you and our la, la, la…"

You know the song from Crosby et al? Well I have the feeling that this house will be in Fonty in August. The list of roomies has come out and the result is: 3 girls and 4 blokes. Girls are from Japan, Greece, and Russia (ok, my previous post about Russian Mc Kinsead is outdated then); and blokes from Spain, Slovakia, and Panama (the fourth bloke being me of course).
Interesting things about my cohort:
1. none of the girls have indicated "cooking" as their interests, whilst 2 blokes have
2. combined spoken languages: French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, German, and Czech/Slovak
3. all room mates have included some sports as their interests
4. average age 29

By the way I received yesterday a very interesting article about INSEAD. It was sent to me by a very good friend of mine who graduated from ESM St-Cyr (the French equivalent of Sandhurst and Westpoint); he found that in the Cyr alumni newsletter. The angle of approach is to inform about INSEAD through its teaching methods, and how that compares to more traditional methods. It is written by an MBA06, also alumnus from ESM St-Cyr. Interestingly, INSEAD is not so well known in France by the general public (my friend didn't know of it, and he is no dumb guy), while very famous in the b-school world.

The article goes like this (in French):

Summary of the article:
INSEAD strategy teacher uses Napoleon in a case study. He wants to show how the Emperor's rise and fall applies to current business issues. He uses different turnaround points, from the rise of the General to the fall of the Emperor, to foster discussions about prime-mover advantage, teamwork, and overstretch. This examplifies the learning method at INSEAD, and how it differs from more traditional teaching methods in France.

Thanks Vincent for this article.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

3 weeks to go... Pressure is mounting up!

I hate these moments of wrapping-up.
In the to-do list:
1. organise farewell drink with co-workers
2. organise farewell cocktail for friends
3. attend farewell dinner with family
4. revise 3 books out of 4 in the pre-reading list
5. still some work to do, I mustn't forget, organise pass-over to my replacement
6. and make sure that I leave for INSEAD having taken care of all pending dossiers in my work.

Today, I received 2 emails from INSEAD. They looked like this:

Email 1

Dear xxxx,I wish to congratulate you on your admission to INSEAD.In order to prepare your arrival on the campus for the Business Foundation Programme, which starts on sunday, August 13th, 2006, I will need you to update your profile by uploading your picture on the Netvestibule

Email 2

Interested in a career in Finance?
Given that some of the banks and “other Finance” companies may be recruiting from your class in October (some of them only come on campus once a year), MBA Career Services is organizing a Finance Training during the first weeks of the programme, to help prepare for a career in this area. This training will be animated by professionals from the Finance sector (Bankers, Alumni, Headhunters, etc …).

Wow that really reminded me that time is flying and that I will soon be sitting exam before even having read the pre-reading books!
I wondered whether I should attend the Finance training. Not that I'm deeply interested in Finance, but in the spirit of making the most of INSEAD opportunities (expected or unexpected ones), maybe I should see what it is about.

Well, signs are not in my favour. Before going to INSEAD, you have to take a professional test run by Career Services. You are required to answer several questions using your instinct rather than your logic.
The test results look like this:

Your business-related interests are described by eight sets of essential activities that are carried out in business, regardless of industry or functional title ("marketing," "sales," "finance," etc.) We call these activities core business interests.

Core Business Interests Test Date: July 7, 2006 Gender: Male

47 Average
Application of Technology: High scorers are intrigued by the inner workings of things and like finding better ways to use technology to solve business problems. They enjoy work that involves planning and analyzing production and operations systems and redesigning business processes.

40 Low
Quantitative Analysis: High scorers gravitate toward and excel at "running the numbers" to figure out business solutions. They might also enjoy building computer models to determine optimal production scheduling, perform accounting procedures, or tackle other similar problems.

42 Low
Theory Development and Conceptual Thinking: High scorers enjoy thinking and talking about ideas and exploring the "why" (rather than the "how") of strategy. They may be drawn to an academic career. They may also find satisfaction in building models to explain industry competition, market trends, and other business-related information.

65 Very High
Personal High
Creative Production: High scorers like brainstorming or inventing unconventional solutions. They're most energized by the early stages of projects, and they enjoy making something out of nothing -- whether it's a product or process. They thrive on newness.

53 Average
Counseling and Mentoring: High scorers want to help employees, peers, or clients grow and improve. They may also be drawn to organizations that provide products or services that they see as having high social value. They derive satisfaction from helping others succeed, and they value feeling needed.

65 Very High
Personal High
Managing People and Relationships: High scorers enjoy working with and through people on a day-to-day basis to accomplish the organization's goals, whether it's building a product, making a sale, or winning a new customer. They may gravitate toward line-management positions or sales careers.

67 Very High
Personal High
Enterprise Control: High scorers value opportunities to run an organization, department, or team. They enjoy having ultimate decision-making authority and making things happen. They also find great satisfaction in determining the direction taken by a work team, business unit, company, division, or entire organization.

55 Very High
Personal High
Influence Through Language and Ideas: High scorers enjoy persuading, negotiating, and presenting. They feel most fulfilled when they're writing or speaking. They're passionate about effective communication, and they enjoy thinking about the best way to address and persuade listeners or readers.

63 Very High
Personal High
Entrepreneurial Attributes: High scorers have interests that differentiate entrepreneurs from other business professionals. Prefer unstructured work environments. May be interested in entrepreneurship as such at some point.

Scale Value and Range: measures your interest in each core business interest: 50 is an average result; 55 or more is high and 60 or more very high; 45 or less is low and 40 or less very low.
Personal High: shows which of the eight core business interests you're most interested in, compared to your other interests (but not compared to anyone else).
General Business Interest Inventory: Your General Business Interest Index score is Very High.
Omitted Items: Omitted questions are within normal limits and your results are usable.
Response Style: Your results are usable and your responses were within the normal range.
Inconsistent Items: Your score indicates a high level of consistency.

I don't know if this test is supposed to remain confidential, if so, someone tell me, I will take it out.
I think the test was pretty accurate in singling out my striking traits and the not-so thrilling ones. I don't know yet what will be done of all this, but I shall share it with everyone in due time.

The test does tell that Finance is not so good for me though, as is Consulting (in which I made my previous employer very happy, still).


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Useful resources to get a feel of INSEAD

I only targeted one-year MBAs, and some other programmes, as my goals were very precise. Top tier one-year programmes are quite rare on the market: IMD in Lausanne, Kellogg in Chicago (I believe they have a fast track), and INSEAD. For half a year more, you have LBS as well.
I looked at schools' curricula and chose INSEAD for its particular fit to my main areas of interest: family businesses and entrepreneurship. Over the years INSEAD has created a strong and recognised expertise in Family enterprise -governance, ownership structure, inheritance maximisation. That really made the difference.
Further, I discarded IMD on other factors: having already spent some time in Lausanne in my previous life, I had a feel of IMD teachers, and their main emphasis is on General Management.

Some nice resources on preparing for INSEAD application include: Business Week Forum on B-schools, chat transcripts at The Business Week forum is addictive, beware! Whilst you will find the usual troll, or the fake student who will praise his school to draw you in (notoriously bad tactics in Europe), you can meet genuinely friendly applicants who can help you out. BW has the other advantage of sharing the stress during results deadlines; you get to know if results have come out or not. Also, you can get really interesting / inspiring blogs of MBA applicants and students at

At this point, I would like to share a very inspiring graduation speech. I do not know if it is allowed, since the text was shared on INSEAD's intranet, but it only is good publicity...

"Mes chers amis,
Mis queridos amigos,
A chairde mo chroi (that’s Irish),
Meine sehr gute Freunde…Etc etc
Dear Friends
I remember thinking before the MBA began that this year would doubtless involve such changes in me that I could not possibly foresee how or where I would be at year’s end.
Long before last January, I began to feel a buzz about what lay in wait: I logged onto Net Vestibule, the Internet message board for prospective INSEAD students, and in that moment, months before my first class, I became part of this community of friends that lasts a lifetime.

Within days I had discovered several people whom I have now come to consider lifelong friends, all of us sharing interests, the desire to get to know each other, and the desire to participate in this life-changing adventure. Life became a flurry of postings to the message board, checking when and where the next INSEAD get-together would be. I couldn’t believe that here was a community of hundreds of people with whom I immediately felt such empathy, we all looked forward to meeting each other and helping each other find our feet. And thus we stepped on the dizzying carousel of the INSEAD MBA.

I went back to school but this time with money in my pocket and no acne. Through this internet community, I held parties for future classmates in my Madrid flat; I took the cheap flights to London and Paris where not only did I play the same game we all played, trying to recognize each other in Montmartre cafes and London nightclubs from the little passport-sized photos that in most cases resembled reality from our Internet profile; I also became involved something which became a yearlong passion of mine, and formed one of the most enduring memories of the year, and my lifetime: we had the first practice sessions on a cold November night, in a dingy London studio of what would become the greatest rock and roll band ever to come out of Fontainebleau…
Slowly, the Spirit of INSEAD was revealed to us: this school is a meeting of like spirits. Spirits of fun, bravery, freedom, adventure, creativity, intellectual curiosity, indeed mischief in no small measure. Though we missed our families, our common outlook on life meant we became our own extended family. And I already have 6 brothers and sisters. But I got room for about 400 more. Indeed coming to Fontainebleau I thought would be like a return to my roots, as I am a farm boy, my own village is the size of Villecerf, but back in County Cork I didn’t share my day with people from 50 different countries. And then came the radical shift to Asia. So ended those 6 months negotiating the dark wooded roads of Fontainebleau, following any one of the 7 different official PowerPoint maps to Tavers, each twice as difficult to follow in pitch darkness while avoiding deer and wild boars, to where hundreds of students gathered in fancy dress for another legendary party.
But what Singapore lacked in castles, forests, dinners, and free coffee, it made up for in modernity, Asian cuisine, freedom to travel and the ability to take a dip in the pool, 24 hours a day, 365 days in the year. Singapore’s entrepreneurial campus showed me it is catching up fast, and in many ways setting the pace for its elder sibling campus in Fontainebleau. Perhaps the strongest indications of maturity and building a personal character has been seeing how it is building its own traditions including this year alone its wildly successful first-ever cabaret, and the now legendary DASH, but also the ever-strengthening relationships with local entrepreneurs, financiers and hi-tech inventors. Singapore’s campus and faculty are tightly wired to the city and Asian business, making a campus switch not only desirable, but I believe essential to the full INSEAD experience.
But inkling that I might have had of the above, there was nothing to prepare me for all that makes INSEAD special beyond the academic curriculum. Nothing in the INSEAD website or welcome packs to hint at the lavish Indian summer wedding in Bombay, the visits to the Himalayas and New Dehli, finally seeing the temples of Angkor Wat. Nor indeed, dressing in a cravat and beret representing INSEAD’s rugby team as a French gentleman abroad, savouring the cultural delights of various European capitals, singing the Marseillaise in throaty gusto at least 20 times per tour with classmates from Nigeria, Italy, America, Brazil… countless nations it seemed (including, of course, France!). And all for one and one for all. This extraordinary diversity and unity of cultures and nations has been the keystone of my INSEAD experience, what has set the course apart from all its competitors. It is a place people come to, to learn about the world and its people, and not merely tack on additional I-Banking know-how (though they are likely to do so) or get their heads around organizational behaviour and process management. It has not only been the possibility to educate myself in the forest of Fontainebleau while opening my mind to the potential of life in Asia. Not just to learn about entrepreneurship and looking forward to creating wealth of my own. It was that amidst such extraordinary diversity, no restrictions of political correctness stifled the individual expressions of the nations who came together in the forest of “Fonty” and the tropics of Singapore. National weeks hosted by diverse cultures gladly hyped their stereotypes to disarm us, and then charm us with what lay behind the common perceptions. Hence behind the Portuguese unwilling to move out from their mothers, the Australians dividing their time between the beach and the sheep farm, the Latinos constantly dancing and singing, the Indians dressing in fantastic colours while performing hopping dances, the Italians driving sleek sports cars and studying their reflections, we discovered more existed to unite us in our diversity than divide us in our differences. More parts of other people’s cultures existed to charm and attract us than exclude or mystify us. So the Indians wore Italian soccer shirts, the Germans put on Khurtas and saris (doing the hopping dance), the Irish donned a British school shirt and tie, and the Chinese painted stars and stripes on their faces.We will emerge from this year with barriers to cultural awareness broken down enabling us to repeat this attitude no matter where we go, with whomever we interact, and in our own way by being leaders wherever we are, in whatever we do. It is not utopian to state that we will bring the world closer together and help people realize that underneath the turbans, Stetsons and skullcaps, think the same minds, beat the same hearts and live the same lives.
I truly believe we have experienced something few others of any age or society can experience and that is a year of immersion in pure humanity. Our learnings that sustain and differentiate us will be less about corporate financial structure and more about our openness and generosity, less about number crunching and more about personal maturity. I will miss this environment where I know when I walk into a room everyone is from a different country, grew up speaking a different language, and has a different story to tell. I can’t look forward anymore to the next Funk’n’Bleau practice session, unless it’s for the 5 year reunion. I can’t assume that I will go to the cafeteria and play table football with a Brit and a Brazilian, have lunch with a Chinese and a Korean, go for coffee with a South African and Spaniard, and then get cracking on the Corp Finance paper with two Japanese and a Yank.

Now, as the year ends, I see City bankers exploring exciting new opportunities in management buy-ins of furniture factories in Spain, actresses and journalists trying to catch the eye of the banks and consultancies, one time IT consultants angling for a shot at the media. I see now that for me the INSEAD MBA was a swirl of humanity centered on a point of transformation, with career transformation synonymous with personal transformation.

And now, although this is an international school, it is hosted in France, and I would like to honour our hosts avec quelques mots en francais:
Je vous souhaite tout l’amour et la chance que vous méritez
Vous serez mes amis du coeur jusqu’à la fin de ma vie
Vous êtes vraiment
Vous êtes vraiment(sings)
Vous êtes vraiment phénomenal-al-al-al…"

Ok for the copyright, I can only assume it is from an Irishman who graduated in D04.
This pretty much summarises everything I look for at INSEAD, and congrats to that graduate, he beats every speech/brochure/event from AdCom.


One month to go before the start!

Well, that is because I have intended to attend the pre-course programme at INSEAD that is called Business Foundations.

Waiting to leave to Fontainebleau and start the programme, I am reading the textbooks required: 2 in Accounting, 1 in Finance, and 1 in Microeconomics. The Business Foundations course is aimed at future students with little management experience -such as engineers- or, as is my case, future students out of the academic world for a long time. Indeed, having browsed through them, I realised that a lot of materials have been covered in my previous life, but that I am giving them a new life thanks to the long work experience and hands-on examples. This really sums up what I expect from INSEAD: a new vision, very practical and intense, on business issues (my business in particular) that will inspire me to new territories and, with a narrower view, help me on pressing, short-term business issues in the family business.

I log in every day to the INSEAD intranet, called NetVestibule. It is quite refreshing to see future fellow students. It is close to voyeurism as well ;-) knowing each other experience prior to INSEAD. You really get a hell of a diversity. Obviously in terms of nationalities, headed by the Indians, the French, and the North Americans. But also in terms of work experience, although one cannot help to notice the abundance of Management Consultants (the usual suspects: Mc Kinsey, BCG, Booz, and Bain -a lot of McKinsey). Some are quite young, a fact which potentially annoys me, given that I chose INSEAD for the maturity of its student body. On the other hand, MC students are high flyers, and very bright people. At least, MC will bring structure to group works.

Things on my mind before leaving:
1. Finding a gym
2. Finding a good winestore close to home
3. Finding a bike
4. Finding a ride from Paris to Fonty on August 12.

On the gym, I have enquired and it seems that the one at INSEAD is expensive, inconvenient (in terms of opening hours), and not so well equipped. I am considering alternatives, Fonty being a sports-friendly city: a chain sports club, or the sports club. I will enquire in September, but it seems that the club at EIS (French Elite sport school) could be a good option. After all, EIS is where many French Olympic champions train. And it could be nice to venture out of the INSEAD bubble from time to time.

On the winestore, because INSEAD is renowned for its social life. I will share a house with several students, and I hope we will all agree to organise regular dinners with fellow students. And what better than wine can open up people and make then cheerful? I have never lived with room mates before, I sincerely hope they will be civilised and fun, a good mix of seriousness, cheerfulness, fun and active. We shall see... For now, I know of a Japanese, a Greek, a Russian in the house. Stereotypes come back to me: Japanese=geeky as in Nô, Greek=noisy as in sirtaki, Russian="cheerful" as in vodka... Impressive CVs though, and one is from McKinsey, of course...

I am hoping that my landlady has accepted one French, one Briton, one African or South-American, and one American - that would make up an interesting mix, wouldn't that?

For a city map of Fonty (INSEAD is located on top left handside):

For info about sports clubs in Fonty:

Friday, July 07, 2006

About this blog...

Hi Everyone.
I am a 30 something male, single.
I am about to start an MBA programme at INSEAD, a top-tier business school located in Fontainebleau, France.
Hoping that this would be a defining moment in my life, and an interesting subject anyway to all applicants, INSEAD-curious people, or my friends and family, I have decided to start this blog and write every week about life at INSEAD.
For a start, I will try to remain anonymous, but questions are most welcome about anything you want to know on MBAs and INSEAD.

So this is my first post.
I applied to INSEAD in October, got interviewed in February, and was accepted in April. Granted, these dates do not correspond to any of the school's set deadlines, but admittedly my profile is rather original too.
In retrospect, I believe that two elements of the application dossier are key: essays and the GMAT score. Essays, because INSEAD really goes deep to strike the right balance in its recruitment, ie. they would want to know in depth to evaluate what you can bring to the classroom that is not yet available or in insufficient quantity/quality. And GMAT, because INSEAD being a top-10 B-School, they need to maintain an average of 700+.
Talking about the GMAT, I do believe that the test, whilst definitely not correlated to professional success, is a good assessment on your intellectual skills. That it is correlated to MBA success does not astonish me. And I am comfortably writing on the GMAT knowing that it took me 3 attempts to get into the INSEAD 80% range of 660-750.

What drove me to apply to the INSEAD MBA?
After studies in Management, I worked in Consulting before taking charge of a family new venture in Retail. I spent 4 years in a remote country (my native land), setting up a supermarket. Launching the business included recruiting 20+ employees in as diverse areas as Butchery, Sales, Logistics, Secretary; supervising IT infrastructure and advertising, negotiating with Suppliers... Developping the business was just as tough, especially on the industrial relations side.
After 4 years I realised that I needed a break to reflect on achievements and think about the future. In future, I meant that of the family business and my own of course. INSEAD seemed to be the perfect match. Its MBA combined recognised expertise in Family businesses (notably governance, ownership structures, inheritance issues, entrepreneurship), and the perfect place to enhance one's soft skills of leadership, inner strengths, self-confidence.

Thus, whilst at first I never considered applying for an MBA, in October, all became crystal clear. It was as if my body and mind needed that!
At this point, I must thank all those who encouraged me and convinced me that it was the right dream to pursue, especially when I was on the verge of giving up (because of that bloody GMAT). Theses people will recognise themselves, but I will name my father as one of my strongest fans!