Monday, December 25, 2006

A Merry Christmas, and a Happy Year 2007

Christmas break is so welcome. Since 2 thirds of Fonty intake is going to Singapore for at least P3, people got burned out packing things, emptying room, taking flights, and still to come moving in Singapore. Of these 2 thirds, about half are celebrating end of year in Asia, the other half going back to families. It felt great after so much time so far away. For Xmas dinner, I was lucky enough to have this bottle of wine (pic) -a family tradition each year. Just what life should be: sweet, yet grandiose, immensely rich, yet generous and easy. I wholeheartedly recommend this fabulous wine, and this particular vintage.

Before I can really relax, I still have my professional assignments to complete (see previous post). First one down: I have recommended to change the current Manager, interviewed and turned down the applicant, and provided guidelines/profile/deadlines for recruitment of a new Manager.
Next up, I have set up a meeting with the acquisition target's board. I'm not sure how much you can do within one week, but at least want to end up with a clear schedule of next steps (due diligence, financial analysis, etc.).

Two questions I am consistently being asked: what INSEAD MBA is like, and what I will do afterwards. To me, it is so obvious. The MBA is invaluable (strengths building, network etc.) and I am getting ready to tackle BIG challenges to come, whatever they may be.
I guess most people believe that MBAs lead to Corporate positions, and can not envisage them as a path to entrepreneurship. I'll have more answers in P3, when the entrepreneurship path will start in earnest, but to me there's no question that INSEAD will be a major block of my entrepreneurial skills.

P3 is going to be crazy too. So many people have expressed interest in visiting me over. I have taken maximum credits, and will start courses for which I have applied to INSEAD.
My blogger anonymity will be tested too, as some electives are not very crowded... I'll need to be astute on this!

For now, let's enjoy the remaining days of this fabulous year.
To all my friends around the world, to all INSEADers, to my beloved section, my cherished House mates, to my family and you all, dear guests, I wish you health, good fortune, and happiness in 2007. May it be a wonderful year to accomplish your dreams!

Happy New Year.

PS: Just after I posted this message I was approached by a company I had known before going to INSEAD, whose family management is aging with no possibilities of succession. This is another INSEAD strength: brand recognition. The owners would like me to consider entering the firm's capital in exchange of taking over management. Another thing to reflect about during my "break". Pros: it seems a good business, quite big, involving China, Japan, India, Australia etc. Cons: labour and capital-intensive, in a very unionized environment... Instantly some electives flashed in my mind: Negotiations, Realising Entrepreneurial Potential (ie. How to take over existing businesses), Power and Politics, Corporate Governance. In addition, I should consider joining some of the industry-related clubs at INSEAD...
I'm not getting overexcited either -as there's no free lunch in life, however cool that may sound, would be at the expense of super intensive work and intense stress... Hum, I have 6 months to decide on this one too...

Girls by the way, I'm single, and becoming eligible... Please send your emails ;-) You must accept that I won't be very available for the next 5 years though :-(

Click here for the INSEAD Greetings Card animation:

Click here to learn about WPF:

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Do what I say, not what I do...

Exams are over! Finally, P2 is over...

The last 2 days were tiring. Corporate Finance Policy was very long, although, as some pointed out -I fear for the curve :-( -not as tough as expected. Many people wanted an extra day to fully grasp the intuition. I was part of them. In the end, CFP was very insightful in terms of mechanics and intuition. I'm convinced that since we all seem to grasp it during review time, a mid-term part exam would be ideal, just like in Prices and Markets.
Strategy was long too (22 pages on Plasting Molding, Machinery etc.) but I guess I managed it well.
The last one -a group case on Leading Organizations- was funny. It was about how a successful business got into trouble of reorganisation, evolving from continuous growth to sudden recession. The new manager changed the structure, not realising that the whole fit then needed adjustment in Culture and Incentives. From entrepreneurial, family-like, it became functionally siloed, corporate-like. Incentives became misaligned.

As we were recommending the Innovation-based, entrepreneurial spirited, participative, non-siloed firm, I was bemused by the fact that what we recommended for the Firm, we did not apply to ourselves as a group. In a way, just like in the case, from a well performing group in LPG, someone decided to change the structure, and misalignment started to crack all over the place...

Indeed my team decided to go for a silo approach: 3 or 4 sub-teams on a different aspect, Power Politics, Culture, Strategic Design. No shared culture, no common incentives -or short-term gross margin (grade) vs. long-term project goal (network), silo approach structure, change of structure without changing the whole system fit: in the case, the end result did not look very good...
Taking this approach, we did as best as could be, but you can only do so much with this much... I'm so past the point of bickering with some group mates that I let it go. I'd be surprised if we make it better than the poor managers of the case though.

Anyway, it's all over. Now the real fun can begin!

Well, in reality, the real fun of P3 and its electives, different groups, different networks, different environments, will start after another case of Do What I Say, Not What I Do.
Before enjoying a long-needed break, I will undertake 2 real-life INSEAD assignments. So long about keeping slack.
The company which sponsors my MBA has asked me to conduct a last-round selection of a manager, and an evaluation report of a business target. Of course, I had to accept. For the least, because I wanted to try concepts, and was eager to put into practice what has been at best intuition. On the first task, OB will help. The new twist is my conviction that while skills are essentials, cultural fit will matter a lot. I am seeing the company in a "fit" systematic way, whereby its current edge could be due to its people (I can't believe I'm saying this though), but more in the light of their adhesion to core values, matched by a very flat and informal structure, and some sketches of incentives, which could be reinforced (I can't believe I'm writing this too).
On the second task, FMV and what I got from Financial Accounting will help: cash flows will be scrutinized, rate of return will include some form of cost of capital, accounts will be anatomised. While the bottom line is simple -cash is king- I will need to justify the INSEAD investment with thorough, insightul analyses.

Oh, I should not forget that whatever happens, INSEAD brings me positional and personal power too. :-)

To know more about Power and Politics in Organizations:

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Friday, December 15, 2006

End of Class... A brief summary of P1/P2

Some MBA participant drew this picture. It is about 3 of the star Professors of P1 and P2: Enrico, Igor, and Pascal.
He claimed these were the Big 3, although I would definitely add Accounting Jake, OB Michael and Tom, and Finance Theo.
These Professors have made a lasting impression on me. They were fun, brilliant, insightful, and interactive. They are recognised among their peers, and still consult many top firms. This is what star Professors are about...
P1/P2 is a special phase at INSEAD. It's made up entirely of Core Courses, ie. you must follow them. They are built around practices: Accounting, Finance, Organisation Behaviour/Leadership, Decision Making/Marketing, Strategy/POM. INSEAD has clear leading expertise in the fields of OB, Finance, and Accounting.
P1/P2 is also when you bond with your Section. You have 4 sections in which you spend most of your classes. Funnily, anyone you ask finds his section to be the best one. It's a bit different atmosphere when you swap sections... Of course, I was blessed to be in my favourite section, because it is mine... But also because it was homogenous, with talents evenly spread. Of course, some people shone, some were funny, some quiet. But all were respectful and pertinent.
Brits in particular consistently set high standards of excellence and "to-the-point"ness, in addition to being humorous. Americans consistently asked questions that some people didn't dare to ask. Asians consistently did not disrupt classes with useless comments. Indians consistently shared hands-on experience. In brief, just the perfect people in the perfect section. Great fun, great laughs.
In my case, I found P1/P2 amazing, and slightly daunting. Not that it was particularly insuperable. Just so rich, so intertwined. I really needed some time and step back to see the whole picture, how courses related, talked to one another. Some people find me crazy... In any case, I was too insensitive to fully participate in OB, and too numbers-allergic to participate at all in Finance, Accounting... But enjoyment surely was there.
Specifically, in P2 some cases sent me through the roof. I just loved Leading Organization's Air France Cases A and B, about Power and Politics. MAC's W.Chipset's Case about target-reaching was pretty interesting too. Or the Marketing Case on Bangladeshi Condoms, POM's Laurence and Ralph Newsboy Case (which I discovered 2 days ago during exam review), and Strategy's EasyGroup and Cirque du Soleil.
Ok, 3 exams down, 3 to go. Including my nightmare: Corporate Finance Policy. This guy, the blond in picture, has the look of an angel, but will be the most vile person at INSEAD come Monday, as he promised us hell for the exam.
Next post, I promise some random Sections pics, and P1/P2 pics.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Left tail Crew member

It's a couple of hours before exams. I started to review Process Operations Management this afternoon. Too bad, it's the first exam tomorrow...
I'm finding the subject very interesting. Strange. Was I asleep in class? Too bad again, in a 10 hours I will not hear about POM for a while.
At least I get first hand experience of POM's greatest takeaway: KEEP SLACK. I didn't, well, I'm in a deep mess now...

Last thing about POM. We ended P2 with a great session on Humanitarian Aid. As 2 people in the section (E4 by the way, I can tell it now that it's over) came from the Red Cross, we had a hands-on approach to logistics. Their bottlenecks were base-camp material when launching projects... A matter of slack too. Great subject, in which INSEAD is at the forefront, as they provide their expertise for several relief agencies.

Since P1 students are starting to come on campus, my 2 cents on how to better make the most of P1 and P2:
1. Keep Slack, you'll always need it for something unexpected
2. Work regularly, capacity (ie. knowledge) lost in bottlenecks (ie. revision time) is lost forever!

There's no second chance, well, unless you fail and retake.

Wish me luck for tomorrow...

(BTW, pic up is Newton's apple tree in Cambridge: Apple, pomme, POM, revelations. Ha ha. Pic down is the infamous Newsboy announcing Library break for last minute POM review. Yesterday at 12.45...)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The Magic Formula for Happiness revealed

Today and tomorrow, we're having our last P2 classes before exams, Christmas Break, and P3.
I'm dangerously sliding towards Left-Tail territory this period, after a brave P1, because there's just too much happening round here.
There are other reasons as well. First, less quantitative courses than in P1. And in the toughest of them, ie. Corporate Finance Policy, Professor Pascal has already warned us that it's going to be soooo hard that nobody will fail. Same for MAC Professor Igor. Obviously, they haven't done OB at INSEAD, otherwise they would know it's not that stimulating.
Talking about OB, today was our last session of Leading Organisation. God, this course was a lot of fun. Throughout the whole period, and definitely this session was the icing on the cake.

Obviously Tom has not done any CFP too, otherwise he never would have suggested that we should all have straight A's too. It's ok to be on a Z-curve. It's ok to be on the left of it too, I think. He felt so sorry that he'd have to give out one 1.0 for one 4.0. He joked about attributing it according to the Resistance to Change distribution of people (2.5% Innovators, 12.5% Naturals, 35% Silent Majority, 35% Cynicals, 15% Resistors).
We had an interesting case about Social Responsibility, whereby the class had to take sides (physically speaking) on a tough subject: Would you, as a Health Care company, finance a project in Africa, knowing you'd save lives, but at an enormous cost. The class divided between 75% yes, and 25% no. I do think there was a kind of a set-up though... Anyway, some were very passionate about Saving Lives, others very passionate about Being a responsible Company to shareholders. Funny enough, the divide seemed to have been along Value Creation, ie. whether the Company would actually create value or not (NPV etc.), until one participant argued that it's not even about Value, it's about saving lives. One researcher interestingly claimed that people were a bit naive to think that research was done for the good of Mankind. From Tom's look of stunned disbelief, I think she is a candidate for the 1.0 grade. I do know where I stand, and it is all what matters in this exercise. Not about Right or Wrong (because even in this case, despite all the set-up, it's not even clear), but about siding in line with your values.

The great closure of the class was Tom's recipe for MBA Happiness.
Ok, it's not a magic formula, but an honest reminder of life's true values.
Happiness equation is: Love somebody x Get an engaging work x Have Dreams.
It's a fair equation, I guess.
Today also is the National Weeks Bid Day. Regions are competing to get most votes, and win the right to select their calendar slot for next semester. The wide range of strategies is quite revealing. Arabs, Balkans bombard us with mass mails. They'd sell anything: super gorgeous belly dancers, camels, bazaars... Italians had a mysterious PhD-level teaser strategy, which they changed for a promise to bring Carla Bruni on Campus (yeah, right!). Israelis give away plenty of gifts at the Cafet. Brits play on their humourous mail campaign. Brits lured Desis, Italians ally with French, Israeli with Arabs, Latina with the Americans... It's UN live over here!
I've selected some pics of the bids.
BTW, as I "steal" pics from the shared drive, if anyone objects to being shown, send me an email.
Ok I really need this last push for Exams.
To know more about OB Cumulative Adoption Curve and Attitude Flows:


Saturday, December 09, 2006

In praise of Desi Week 2006

It's official. Desi Week 2006 can officially claim the Crown of best National Week of P1 and P2 (despite their penalty points from not being organised in time).

The whole week was absolut entertainement and fun. Exhuberant of colours, the Desi Week fulfilled the National Week core objectives: to gather people from a same region behind a project (for their own networking sake too), and to show other participants their best, genuine, today's sides.

Girls wore sarees, guys wore long loose shirts all week long.

We had the Basket competition. In traditional India, men gather to form a human pyramid and grab a basket put for them by girls of the neighbourhood.

At INSEAD, well, heavy guys were at the bottom and light girls at the top.

Later on, we still had the across sections competition, this time on traditional dances.

Yesterday, the Indian dinner gathered more than 200 people. Amazing. MBA participant's partners had prepared food from 9AM onwards. It was succulent. Probably not the best way to get ready for an Indian Bollywood party after that, but definetly awesome.

Incidentally, we closed the academic week with a remarkable Marketing case study on Social Marketing in Developing Countries. The case was about birth control using both condoms (targeted to males) and pills (targeted to females) in Bangladesh. We had such a great time in our section, with precious insights from Indian girls, guys, sharing their actual hands-on experiences on the issues at stake.

I guess this is what makes the School tick. I wish it had ticked a bit earlier, because case studies have become enriching experiences. The good news is, a lot of people will go to Singapore in P3.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Desi Week, Bollywood Party, Cabaret, Singapore, and Exams

Ok, I have 10 minutes to talk about all these...

Currently, it's the Desi Week (Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh I think, and the diaspora). Very well organised, plenty of colours, of textiles everywhere. Beer in class (yes!). Girls in saree. Desi girls are super: smiling, bright, nice, assertive. Guys are cool as well: industrious, assertive, smart. A great bunch of people. Just one thing though: either Indian prices are not what they used to be, or Indians are very streetwise businessmen.
While all National Weeks went for marginal cost pricing, DW chose the hefty premium route. €15 for the tshirt, €20 for the Dinner (normal prices are 10 both)... No wonder India is becoming an economic giant! Tonight was the awesome Bollywood Dance Competition, and Friday is the big Bollywood Night. Pics to come. BTW, the music is absolutely awesome!
Anyway, the Desi Week, just like all of the National Weeks so far, is an absolut triumph.

Monday is Cabaret. It should be fun. INSEAD participants doing their own show.

I hope it will make up for the slight disappointment of the Winter Ball. Although well organised, in the grandiose Malesherbes Chateau, the Ball was more of a big INSEAD regular party with a seated dinner, than a proper ball. Same DJ's as other parties, no ballroom dancing. After all, Balls should be like Prom nights, to which you go with your other half, and dance ballroom dances at first, and then normal modern music...

Singapore is becoming a nightmare for all of us. I hope it's worth, otherwise there will be a revolution. P3 swaps are impossible to arrange for Julys, as nobody wants to stay in Fonty in winter. The exodus has prices skyrocket for everything, when there is still availability. Airplanes: full. Unless you take Air Zimbabwe with 10 stops. Flats: full. Unless you take executive full service top end flats or flats the opposite side of the island. Ok, it's not that bad, but only just. I'll be flying Emirates with a stop-over in Dubai to meet friends on the way back. How cool is this? BTW, hint for you: Qatar Airways and Emirates are the cheapest flights. One stop on the way, no detour, if you fly from Europe of course.

Anyway, I'm done with this nightmare. I've chosen the cool option. Guys, I'll live in Paradise for 2 months... Pics to follow.

Too good this hassle was settled for before exams. Now exams preparation. Less pressure than in P2, that's the problem... I'm a bit too casual these days, unfocused, since too many things to consider.

Last thing: we had our last group meeting, group assignment, group work today. Over. I'll keep the good memories with me. There were some tough times, no doubt about it. We glued the best we could, it was pretty good. I honestly don't think we could have done better; in this respect I'm proud of us all mates. So different, if not extremes, yet we made it without injuries, just bruises, and most of the time with honest appreciation of each other.

To know more about Chateau de Malesherbes (super hotel, wedding and events place):

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Monday, December 04, 2006

A case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde - the INSEAD "2S" contribution

I used to love this picture on the left. It's called "Bonaparte crossing the Grand St-Bernard pass". Now it gives me the freak...
Today we had the renowned Napoléon INSEAD Case, by Professor Ludo Van der Heyden. I've already mentioned it in an early post (Archives July). The history of the case is interesting. Last year, a July Student -high ranked officer from the French Army graduate from ESM St-Cyr- complained to Ludo about the lack of ceremonies organised in France to commemorate Austerlitz bicentennial year. As you should know, Austerlitz is one of the greatest military victory of all times, held on Dec. 2, 1805. French Cadet School St-Cyr, a Napoleonic heritage, refers to it as the "2S": 2 for the day, and S because December is their 3rd month of class in the calendar year (Austerlitz has 10 letters, like ten months). So, this INSEAD participant asked Ludo about holding a case study on Napoleon in class. Ludo prepared the case, and it has become such a classic that INSEAD decided to do the case every year on Dec. 2, our 2S in a sense.
What takeaways then? Well, this picture represents the beginning of the fall of the Great Empire. From a superlative General (read manager, team leader), he turned as a dictator into cronyism (read crooked CEO), at the very moment of this picture. Napoleon, because his Board had not been able to fire him, was in the end taken care of by the market forces (read close Generals and European Coalition).
The picture, shown at Rueil Malmaison Chateau, painted by JL David, commemorates Napoleon first personal defeat, his first warning signal of decay, at Marengo. While History books record it as another major victory, Napoleon was soundly losing when General Desaix came to his rescue. Desaix died, and Napoleon, after promising National funerals in Paris, decided otherwise and buried him as far as possible (at Col Grand St-Bernard, in France/Switzerland), and had himself instead painted in glory.
Decay has many reasons: imperial overstretch, unsustainable competitive advantage, and unfair process. Napoleon, in his Emperor part, did not recognise his team of incredibly talented Generals (Desaix, Lannes, Davoux etc.) and kept all the glory to himself, while not even listening to others.
Today, we also received the bidding results fro P3 Electives. I am very disappointed not to have gotten the "Building Business in China" which I wanted badly. Also disappointed that courses I bet like a madman did not actually needed high bidding because INSEAD added sessions to face demand... I don't think the whole process was very fair in this regard, but let's not whine and rejoice in the fact that School reacts positively to demand; at least I have a lot of points for P4 and P5. By the way, the bidding system works like this: you allocate part of all your 200 point credit to electives you really want. You get debited by the bid price of the last accepted participant. I've decided to bid all my points in every round. But, while in theory I was risking losing 150+ points on the electives chosen, with INSEAD adding sessions, I only ended up paying 50+ points, which is ridiculous. If Dean Fatas does the same trick again in P4, and I don't get Building Business in India, I'll go on a Waterloo campaign ;-)
It is somehow dangerous too because next intakes will look at the incredibly low cutting price of the star class of P3 Negotiations, and bid small, and get f***ed up because maybe adding additional sessions won't be possible.
So my advice on bidding -even though the strategy did not work fully in my case- is, bid all your points every round. At least, to end on a positive note, I got all my full credit electives.
Again, here's the ESM St-Cyr article about the case:

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Reflecting back on our growth so far

To prepare grounds for resolution time, which is coming faster than you realise, I'll make the most of this event-free week-end to reflect on a mid-point assessment of the MBA experience.

A good anchor was yesterday's Winter Ball, with P5 s celebrating their departure, and us analysing our experiences so far.

At one table, the talk was about how fast everything has been, and how neglectful of the human network we have been. Always posponing events, dinners, parties... You end up now 2 weeks away from the end of P2, with some people you will not see before P5 (if they go to Wharton and Singapore, or if you go to Singapore in P3 and they go in P4). Too late.

At one table, the talk was about how changed each of us felt and our entourage noticed. For one couple, the change, I guess was obvious. He is graduating from Wharton in June, she from INSEAD in July. They have just been confirmed by Goldman Sachs and Lehmann Brothers in London. Wow... Super NPV couple (super nice too). Of more interest were inner changes. She claimed to have gained self-confidence, by being able to analyse complex situations, and by knowing the value of the INSEAD Brand name. He claimed that the network was the source of strengths, and lauded his school's efforts to try so hard to put a class of best people who would grow from one another. What is true for Wharton, is true for INSEAD as well. When we discussed about comparing the 2 experiences, he liked the Wharton power, 800 people in one year, 1600 contacts over the MBA. He enjoyed the numerous clubs and the possibility of "cliquing" with same interest-people. What he liked about INSEAD was the community atmosphere, the fact that everybody knew quasi everyone, and that people seemed a bit more active on the social scene. I guess that at Wharton, the structure of networking is more established that over here, where we need to put a lot of efforts to build our informal network system.

In my particular example, inner strengths -from new hard skills to enhanced soft skills- and the realisation that you are a the top, with all its duties and rewards, have been the two most striking examples of change. I could add the ability to drink a lot more beer and wine, but that is not valued in the market ;-)

We also discussed about the strange P2.

Funnily enough, it was difficult to find agreements on the value of Professors. The Wharton husband did recognise the quality of classes he had attended -and that was not because his wife was there... There was one consensus though: Igor the Magnificent. Our Managerial Accounting Prof is the star of this period, no doubt about it. Super fast, super clear, super interesting, super funny, of a potentially super not funny course. It seems like everybody loves Managerial Accounting at INSEAD.

Then we all agreed on Finance 2 star Pascal. A great guy, a great course. A few did raise some interesting issues, mainly that his pace is so fast that we don't always get it in class.
Latest quote: "If it's Dutch, it must be cheap", on the main characteristic of Dutch auction.

As to Thomas, from Leading Organisation (OB2), some argued that he was too American -which to me is not such a valid point; nothing wrong with being American, even more so in being too American. And again he makes such an interesting subject of potentially fluffy stuff. I like his class a lot. He might look cheesy and smiling, but he definitely is not PC-obsessed.

The big debate was on Marketing and Operations Management. Some people complained about the weak closure of Miguel's classes. I think that he should be credited for providing us with a compelling, clear, decisive marketing framework, and for conveying the message that marketing is about numbers/hard analyses too, not just ads and glamour.

On POM, everybody seems to agree that the guy, after all, is funny. We laugh a lot from his idiosyncrasy. Some people argue the contents is not deep enough, or high level enough. I think that the class must be worked in conjunction with tutorials, which are more hands-on, to be fully appreciated. Examples of his humour (on a case study about Zara): "It's the fashion industry, it's not good to be out of fashion", or "If it's possible to do something stupid, then someone will do it", on how TQM processes often are very procedural.

On Strategy, we all concurred to say that Dominique knows his stuff perfectly, and that his classes are enjoyable. I raised the point that his concepts are not always cutting edge, but maybe nothing new and compelling has emerged from strategy in the past 20 years (apart from our dear Blue Ocean).
I liked some of his quotes "Even Blue Ocean is more sophisticated than this" on EasyGroup diversification strategy, which tried to replicate the core EasyJet model in various industries.

Ok. I'm using too much of my time on this blog. Got to go back to Finance and case studies.

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