Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (El Presidente)

I know this will interest many of you.
It seems that Private Equity is the hot subject at MBAs and in the Corporate World. To me, coming from a not-so sophisticated country, it was all new.
Today I had a meeting with a potential investor in our REP project (remember, the Secret Project that I still need to uncover to you later on). Now I'm touching PE from as close as can be. It seems to be a tough but rewarding entrepreneurial option too.

But better read from El Presidente (copied pasted from Comments he put in previous post) who I understand lives in London and used to be the Annie Smith of a past intake (Annie is our Council President). That may give some ideas for the late job seekers.
Thanks for your contributions, guys.

"TIP: Hunt down all INSEAD VC's and tell them that if they place you in a portfolio company, you will remove risk and increase reward. Serious - best way into an entrepreneurial company is through VC introductions. How can company say no to the ones who hand out the pesos. Worked for me...

Major Corporation (MC) paid my way at INSEAD, so I did several years at MC in return. Left MC to run an electronics company, where I left because ethics turned out to be quite shady. Then....got involved with VC friends, who placed me into the company I still run today. I just sold 15% of company to strategic investor to fund next round of expansion. That's it. The entrepreneur's life is rough on the marriage, but very rewarding and satisfying - you are actually building something, rather than at MC's where you fight for real or imagined credit for something already built. But be cautious, understand that if you are not increasing value, VC's will dump you in a nano-second. Live by the sword, die by the sword! "

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The not-nice post

People say I'm too nice. I don't think so. And I'll prove it right now: Dragon Week has just taken the prize of worst amphi storming of the year (Humour and Dance choregraphy categories). Just a notch ahead of Heart of Europe in these categories. Maybe it was their first one of the week but the scenario was hum and the dance was painful. It was hurting because I like them and care for them, so I was living an inner torture watching it.

Ok overall I think most people didn't notice too much and were happy with the result.

My point is, the National Weeks are so good at capturing the clichés on regions, that's what I love them.

On the other hand, Dragon Week produced the best tshirt -by far- of the year and tomorrow's dinner will sure be a hit. Similarly, their idea for the Friday party -on a peniche in Paris- to recreate the 1930s Shanghai is just brilliant. I just hope they won't dance again...

Now who says I'm too nice?

Now some not-nice comments I've heard (not shared by your reporter).

"The so-what course", on Family Firms in Fonty, from a tough PE guy, because whatever takeaway was not deep/hard stuff for him. In defence of Prof. Carlock, the course IS amazing, but we had it in a format of 16 student-class over there in Singapore P3, as opposed to 60 over here. I guess you can dig the "so what" key points when there are less people..

"We had cat food on a piece of bread; people would be happy if you just feed them", a very angry alumn partner for the limited quantity/quality of canapés before the Ball. He argued, rightly, that it should be an investment, ie. School should pay a lot to please the alumni, and hope to get back later.

"Maybe you're right, but I don't know what you're saying", tough guy Kevin Kaiser on a muddy comment from a student.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Summer Ball revealed

So there it was. The World's infamous Summer Ball. I'm saying "World" because people really flocked from all over the world to the Fontainebleau Chateau. Not just our intake. People who left 5 and 10 years ago.
I chatted with one Israeli who had graduated 10 years ago, and he revealed that in intake his fellow alumni travelled from places as fas as Australia. Indeed the Ball was a resounding success. Despite the rain, the fireworks welcomed us with Mozart's Requiem in the background, after a Brazilian Capoeira for alumni guys and Samba for alumni girls had warmed the crowd.
In the Colonnades Room inside the Chateau the Insanes (the rock group from 10 years ago) were just as good as the Commitments in their rock and folk style.
In other rooms, music was ok. My personal fav of the moment "Relax, take it easy" was not playing, though. I guess the Summer Ball is primarily for Alumni, to have them keep in touch with School and remind them to give back. So we got Depeche Mode instead, which was still ok...

Girls were absolutely stunning in their evening gowns. And patient too. I sympathised with them because, with so many drinks (champagne à volonté), I had to pee quite often. Their queue was pretty bad (see pic)...

In the end, after breakfast was served and dawn made its way, some people made use of space and tables. And we got a funny rendition of Village People dancing, I guess because that group was "in" 10 years ago, and that because Insead traditionally accepts Students from the top 3 military Schools in France, some alumni came in with their real uniforms so they looked like Village People dancers...

In our July07 intake, I can safely claim that our hymns were more Bob Sinclar's "Love Generation" and "World Hold on". Two songs that captured beautifully our spirits.
In summary: a spectacular Ball for us to remember our great year, see how we'll look like in 5 and 10 years, feel how the School's esprit de corps is still amazingly strong after time. And for the Alumni, a great opportunity to meet again, and feel that whatever they give back is worth it (come on, a Ball in the Chateau for the first time ever!)
Seriously, it was perfect, and I honestly have never been as proud as that night to be part of Insead. That says a lot.

Bob Sinclar's Love Generation
Mika Relax (Take it easy):

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

D-Day for Ze Summer Ball

Tonight is the night for lots of people. Most of all, it's the 5 year Reunion for July02. The 5 year Reunion is a major milestone post-INSEAD. After that span of time, you're supposed to have achieved wonders. On Summer Ball and Reunion Week-end, you've got to show it: wife, husband, children, big business, and School donations. I think it's a great INSEAD tradition. I was on campus yesterday for the INSEAD Private Equity Conference, and could see the hundreds of alumni who would make the trip to Fonty this week-end. It must be that they loved it, the people, and the life. And that they did pretty well...
This week-end also is the 10 year Reunion. Just as many alumni attending. Incredible.

For us, the Summer Ball is like our Graduation Gala. There's graduation trip coming, graduation party, everything is a pretext for celebrating the end. I just hope it's going to be better than the Winter Ball. It will take place at the Chateau of Fontainebleau, the first time ever the Chateau has opened its doors for such an event (presumably INSEAD is becoming ze major patron of the Town). The only problem is price: 160 euros... It put off too many students to my liking.

On the IPEC event. Great job. The must-see of Europe's Private Equity and VC. Sitting closeby to me was one of the first investors of Skype. Every of his words were scrutinized. He was bullish in e-commerce in Europe (and France), and in Russia and Eastern Europe in general.
While I was noticing that he was selecting CVs from INSEAD's Private Equity Book, my neighbour asked me whether his was on the list... This is how respected the man is...

Ok, must go to tuxedo renting place.

The one I went to:
www.deux-oursons.com (106 Bd Grenelle, Métro Motte-Picquet Grennelle)
It's cheap (70 euros for 4 days) and good quality...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lessons of Power and Politics 3: the right Networking is the one that Hurts

I'm starting to feel unfocused and overstretched. Too many parties, big ones coming are Summer Ball and Montmelian Summer Party (anyone has a military uniform to lend? Alternatively I may go in evening dress for fun...), Tavers Bunny party tonight, house dinners etc.
There's also the time pressure of the end. I think the right approach, at this point of the programme, is focus: some people you care about, some people you're indifferent about.
I'm also realising the opportunities opening up after INSEAD. To explore them takes lots of time and energy, and again, maybe I should focus more. It's just thrilling to enjoy that feeling of choosing. These opportunities have come to me at total random through personal network and INSEAD event. All of them have been made possible, or enabled, by the INSEAD brand, or clout. I think I've changed too. The MBA has been an extremely fast self-maturing process.
There was a great PP session yesterday. It was about Networking. The English word encapsulates very well the meaning: to create a spider web, a net, that will catch opportunities...
The most interesting part of the lecture was the pain idea. If, when you network, it's not painful, then you're not doing the right network. The point was, if the person you're connecting with is lots of fun, you're likely to expand your network in depth, adding a same-value same network to yours, whilst you should go for the breadth, because it's the most difficult one to get. Breadth is painful (networking with people you don't like a priori, or with different sets of values), in that regards when it's painful, it's good...
Prof. Alvarez also had an interesting theory about our tribal heritage in being cliquish.
Now a word about Kevin Kaiser. We're still enjoying tremendously his classes. The last one I attended was about Vivendi JM Messier's shot at Universal. Kevin's main point was that any managerial decision based on share price or attempting to influence share prices are bad, because, after a long explanation which lost me "you don't know what you know, you don't know what you don't know, you don't know what they know, you don't know what they don't know" (they being Capital Markets), therefore you'd be making decisions on shaky grounds...
I think this class, like Karen Cool's in P4, should be mandatory to MBAs...
Among his quotes -there are so many...
"If you get 1 out of 10 in Case Analysis, just relax, it just means that you've missed all the issues of the Case. Don't worry, you'll get a good elective grade, an MBA from a decent School. It just means that you've missed all the points..." commenting on his tough grading.
"That's a very good question. It's just not relevant..." replying to a Student's question which apparently was off subject.
"14 euros for a coke? In canadian dollars that's 500 something" on teasing one student's willigness to pay for a Coke, on defining Value ("Value is Happiness").
There were plenty of other funnier comments, but it's so many by the minute with Kevin that I can't read my crappy "fast-mode" writing anymore. And as said, too many things going on here, and that was 1 week ago. Sorry readers!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lessons of Power and Politics 2: Killing Sharks

Today I went to PP (Power and Politics) with Prof. Alvarez. I'm enjoying it much more than classes for which I'm registered. In fact, I've missed 2 courses of Corporate Financial Report and Analysis (interesting for those really into it), but wouldn't miss PP and CRFD...
As was the case with Fernando, people either love it or hate it. I love both of them.

Today's class particularly was insightful. It was on killing sharks in Corporate world. Prof. Alvarez is making it very practical, and as close as MBAs reality of post-INSEAD.

Not to steal the course's thunder, I'll be brief. There are 3 broad tactics post-INSEAD in the Corporate world: Survive and Adapt at first, then Create your Platform to build Power and Influence, and Be Competitive and Create strategic Partnerships (for the sake of learning and protection).
That latter point was studied in depth. The case was about a likeable manager not able to manage up, but quite at ease managing down. Comes the shark, brown-nosing the Boss during a crucial Seminar, and finally getting the promotion promised to the manager.

Funnily, lots of people in class were biased towards the manager, because we're nice, but the bottom line was: she was incompetent in politics, whether nice or not, skilled or not, and what matters is the Boss. At one point, the shark showed vulnerability by putting forward fluffy numbers. Though the manager could have crucified him, she chose not to, because it was not her style.
There was the critical mistake. "When you're dealing with a shark, don't postpone the fighting" claimed the Prof. He added that naive people invite aggression, and that was deserved. Using the analogy of a National Geographic documentary, he claimed that naive or weak people should be used as targets, or simply as exercise, to assure your own authority.

That was a bit chilling, I must say. But the truth is, he is 100% correct. Because we are judged by 2 elements: Task, and Fit/Style. Task is a given, Fit is more difficult to get. Hence people with attitude often win.
I first was relieved that, not going back to the Corporate world, I may be spared of this tedious game, but on second thoughts, Politics is everywhere...

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Monday, May 21, 2007

A little bit of Spirituality

I'm getting lazy. Just found out that my final report for BBI was late by 2 days. Was supposed to do it on Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday morning, then night. It's Monday 1.45AM I'm halfway through.
The reason is, I needed to rest. Thursday was bank holiday in France, and most people did the "bridge" on Friday (to get 4 days off). My fellow INSEADs are shocked by the number of bank holidays in France. I think it's not that bad.
I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed my Ascension week-end.
I went to visit friends in rural France. After months at INSEAD, knowing how much I'm in tune with the people there, and how we all share very deep values, to come back to a French France was somehow odd. I mean, you can hardly get more French than that family, which I love very much by the way. It was just funny to have this ethnologist attitude: what typical French people do, think... For me, so far from my family, to spend some days in one was really cool.

It made me wondered how this INSEAD world, which is about to end, is so different from the reality. How perfect it is, how much I will miss it: being at the leading edge of business, meeting razor sharp people (profs and students alike), having this feeling that anything is either possible or "easy" (no arrogance here). How much I will miss them all too, these funny people with whom you could relate/connect so easily.

Anyway, for your record, typical French bourgeoisie, on an Ascension week-end: go to the countryside in their second home, go to mass, go to visit parents, stay in the garden, eat well, visit local interesting places (where I was: monasteries, Merlin forest, local museums), watch Pop Idol, watch French news, and play with children... No wine drinking, that was I, as a typical INSEAD ;-)

What was much harder was to get back to Fonty for Saturday 8.30 simulation in B2B marketing...


Saturday, May 19, 2007

... Revealing my non-PC side

I've just received this message from the last post of India that I had written.

Stop being a white supremacist making comments about a society much richer, business-wise and culture-wise, than any place you have lived in based on 5 days of "enlightenment". You guys (the whites) have screwed this country over for 150 years and expect the difficulties that you indebted us with to disappear in 5 years of IT revolution?"

Hum. That's an interesting comment, thanks for reacting to the post.
I'm sorry to have come across as a white supremacist, because I'm actually not white, and coming from a colonized country as well.

There are things though that I must defend myself against.
First, I'm not sure the whites have screwed India. They have done many bad things, but also many good things. There's a big chance that India also works out well thanks to the British legal and educational system. Now I don't get the value of whining about what the whites have done badly. It was 60 years ago, the new generation has to move on and concentrate on the amazing opportunities. It's very convenient -also in business- to emphasise past errors for current performance.

Second, I don't think I've claimed that India is so much cooler than any places I've been to. On the contrary, for how much I loved India, I could not live there, because it is physically demanding. There are lots of business opportunities, that's for sure -I fully recognise that. So?
Also, one point where I could defend myself is about the perception of Indian businessmen. I have just claimed that Asians at large have different values. They don't like to show off, and assertiveness is sometimes regarded as arrogance. And sadly, MBAs like assertiveness. That was just my argument for explaining why some fellows were not impressed by some people I had found awesome...

And finally, my point of view is personal, I have never claimed any particular legitimacy in what I'm writing, except for the fact that it is genuinely/candidly what I think. Now it's great that some people would just not agree, but I'm taking particular care to warn that this blog is about perceptions, and that the reality is up to all of you to figure out. And while 5 days are sure light, we have met a good representation of Indian business today, with top people and top organisations. It's also MBA skills to get a quick and as reliable opinion of a market, maybe through its strengths and weaknesses, and decide what you could/would do in the face of these... Nothing's perfect, but your stance must be coherent with your system...

But thanks again for raising the debate. Cheers.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Of expected unexpected opportunities

Today I had an interesting experience.
A think-tank on French Enterprise and Entrepreneurship came to School, to collect perceptions of INSEAD students who have lived abroad and worked in French companies on some key questions:
- How do we see French Companies?
- How do we define our Dream Companies?
- What would make us work or start a company in France?

Of course, answers will be compiled in the think-tank, and of course that will be used to give orientations for the French Government. Indeed, this has been a recurring message: France is losing its entrepreneurial spirit, young Frenchmen are leaving the country to grab opportunities elsewhere.

I think the interviewer found it funny it when I suggested that I would not mind launching businesses in France because of the differentiation INSEAD has brought in terms of entrepreneurial skills, that entrepreneurship was some sort of niche (a niche?! wow great French oddity)... We then discussed about the Dream company, that whilst I was speaking about High growth, audacious, entrepreneurial, people-minded, most of ESSEC B-School students he had met spoke about Social Responsibility, Social Entrepreneurship... Generational gap or the Talk of Experience?

To finish, and that sums up a lot of INSEAD MBA opportunities, we exchanged on our similar experiences, and found out we could do business together... We agreed to meet in Paris and discuss further on the opportunity.

Lessons learnt: you never know what opportunity will show up. So meet as many people as you can, and go to as many events...


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The painful lesson of Empathy

Ouch! I received a knock-out punch by Fernando in PIM. But that will be a good lesson...

Remember my Rogerian interview? How I wanted to shake the interviewee into getting a job and forgetting about the ideal world of MBA (his was LBS's)?
Well, I guess Fernando Batholomei concurred with that conclusions.

On his sore comments from the interview, taken from my Final Report:

"How French!"
"My God!"
"What a language!"
"Such a complex and pretentious way of expressing oneself"
"Such Bullshit"
"I wonder how you were feeling when listening to all of this!"
"Does he believe in his own BS?"
"He loves to hear himself speak so brilliantly"
"I am curious to read how you analysed this crap"

Now that is so typical of Fernando...
I guess on the analysis we sort of agreed, though he said it was "so-so", but the conclusion was "It was very difficult to be Rogerian in handling the stuff he threw at you!" which reassured me -at least- on my abilities to listen to even the darkest, obscurest, sophisticated speeches.

The big lesson was: Don't empathize too much. You can listen, but still keep your critical reasoning.
Now I'm starting to believe that Fernando, for his personal reasons, does not like to be liked. He shot the widest array of grades 1 in INSEAD memory. I guess it's also a message that we should not feel like we're some sort of psychiatrists...
Still it's a very tough way to handle the message.

It's still a tremendous class...

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Grades going loco for Semana Latina

I'm not someone who cares about grades. I've said that all year long and it still holds true. I do care about the principle though, ie. some sort of feedback of your own involvement. Thus I have expectations on some grades. Today we got P4 grades out. I was a bit dumbfounded. On the one hand, I got 3 out of 4 in Real Estate, which stressed participation and a final report. I attended 1 session and a half out of 8, and worked very lightly on the final report (sorry team). On the other hand I spent nights and nights on PIM, for which I sat in all classes, and got 2/4. Since the grade was on attendance and quality of report, my reports must have been terrible crap. Now that pains me, because I'm usually quite ok in OB...

No complaints in Negotiations, I knew I was good at it ;-)

Now the good stuff: Semana Latina has just started. We're having a very intensive National Week Festival these days, British Irish just finished, Semana Latina on, and Dragon Week next week.

Tonight was the traditional quiz. Did you know that Chile ranked 20th in the World as the least corrupt countries? Better than the US or France...

Now my quiz question: What is the name of the Olympic Gold medallist who was anchoring the Semana Latina Quiz (on the picture in white blazer)? Discipline and Year will give bonus points...

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Is INSEAD an Intellectual Capital factory for the UK?

Well, someone even said a "Slave Factory" to London... Facts are, 40% of the intake will go to London, or so. Lured by big money, INSEAD network, and a cool city, in a way a smooth de-INSEAD transition.

Many friends are getting their offers now. It's cool. The big disappointment was Google London, which dinged all 25 INSEADs, apparently pretty unceremoniously.

As British Week is coming to an end, I can't help to emphasize the quality of the British intake at INSEAD. I might have said that already, but they, on average start with a 0.5 point advantage on the Z-Curve. You can explain it whichever way you want, the bottom line is, they are damn good. My explanation (on top of Oxbridge contentration, language ease, tradition of finance etc.) is simple: their delightful accent. They can say the stupidest BS, I will find it cool. They are just charming. Take girls. People would be barbarians to even want to harm in the slightest manner these cute little things with such exquisite manners... I'm under a spell...

Every thing has a dark side. That was unleashed in the Naughty Schoolgirls and Schoolboys party, closing the amazing British Week. Dean Fatas might not like the pictures...

Of interest too, behind the big London double-decker is the tent where our Graduation will take place. Have a look at Hallonman's logoff to have a rough idea of our thoughts on it.


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Thursday, May 10, 2007

When Restructuring and Distress can be fun

Maybe it's the British Week that unfolds superbly, maybe it's meeting up Fonty people again that stayed here in P3 then went to Wharton in P4, but I'm in a much better mood.

Part of this feelgood factor comes from Jake Cohen's class. As you know by now, I like Jake a lot. He reconciled me with Accounting and Financial analysis. He's so insightful and clear. Like today, the class was about the new role of CFO post Sarbanes-Oxley Act (the Enron Worldcom act putting personal liability on CFOs). With anybody else I would have died of boredom. With Jake it becomes interesting. That must be his American confidence, and a certain humility to go down to the level of participants.

Lots of this feelgood factor comes from Kevin Kaiser's class on Creating Value in Corporate Restructuring. As you can imagine, Corporate Restructuring and Financial Distress CRFD has one big enemy: Management. Kevin spent the first 2 sessions defining the economic ecosystem in big countries: Entrepreneurs (have ideas no money), Investors (have money no ideas), Banks (don't lend money anymore but retail packages), Capital Markets (inhuman bunch), and Managers (lack cash lack ideas, aka the Scumbags). Of course it's provocative, but very different. Kevin stressed his point by giving the example of RJR Nabisco, for which Management was ready to buyout double the share value, acknowledging outrageous agency costs.

Among the funny quotes:

"I have a friend, he's Romanian. But he's really cool. He's doing a PhD in biochemistry. I think he's done by now...", Kevin telling us stories...

"Ok, that's quite an IF, to say Banks are smart", Kevin, replying to a Student saying "If Banks are smart blabla"

"It's only stupid when you do it when you get paid", Kevin, on us using WACC not really understanding its intuition. He simplified it as OCC (opportunity cost of capital), for which even a simple less than 5 words definition was difficult to us.

On Sarbanes Oxley Act (Sox, or sucks...)


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lessons of Power and Politics 1: Knowing where you're coming from

I was not in the mood to attending classes. After skipping a couple -under the lamest excuses to myself (it's cold, need to do the laundry, need to clean up P4 stuff on my desk)- I found the extra motivation to reach School.

Four classes today (including 2 audits). God that was great. I'll write tomorrow about the BIG Star of P5 Kevin Kaiser, because his class was just, hum, just... I just cannot find the right word. A mix of fantastic, amazing, funny, fun, insightful. I know some will think my ability to discriminate is low (totally untrue), but this must be one of INSEAD gems. But, for tomorrow, because there's just too much to write about and it's midnight.

First, I started the day with Power and Politics. There must be something in Spain about OB, because Prof. Alvarez comes from Spain, and the class is something like OB4. It was a bit of a slow start. Like PIM, but Fernando had the advantage of being really funny.
Basically, using a Michael Lewis case about elbowing your way up in the corporate world, the Prof. separated people in two categories: the High Self-Monitored and the Low Self-Monitored. The Highs value prestige and mobility, and adapt very quickly. They are good at learning, imitating, and on the dark side, lying, cheating. The Lows value work autonomy and own job definition. They do not like to micro-manage, look for Fit. They are true to themselves and the others, but on the dark side, they are not charmers or entertainers.
There are two ways to interpret: 1/people have a natural tendency for either category, and 2/people may evolve towards Low with time.

To validate his point, Prof. Alvarez made a test. I got 6. The cut-off for High was 11. Ok, I'm a Low, then... Surprisingly, I found the fit pretty good. I mean, presumably Highs are very good in Corporate world, and Lows in entrepreneurship. Prof. Alvarez suggested one other option, that Lows be kicked out the class and take a crash course with you-know-who on "Customer Service, My best practice", which had everyone laughing out loud.

To know more about Michael Lewis's "Liar's Poker"

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Misconceptions about India

This is going to be the last post on BBI.
I had a chat with friends yesterday about the whole Indian experience, and how I was so excited about it, and that some years younger I would have gone there and take big chances. They were skeptical, and one sent me that video today:


In a nutshell it's about the low-cost business model of pizza delivery...
This is such a misconception about today's India. Offshore, while still very strong and potent, is not the future. The future of Indian business is local demand.

Maybe that point was not salient enough.

I'm still a bit high. Going back to classes in P5 is really tough...


Monday, May 07, 2007

Last lane

P5 starts today. It's the shortest term. It's the last moment to bond, the last moment to connect, the last moment to enjoy the INSEAD experience. It should be better than P4, because there are few classes, the weather should be awesome, and people should be in the mood to socialise. Some students still have to find a job, but I hope they'll realise it's ok to find a job after INSEAD. It'll probably come across as selfish or insensitive, but priorities should be to nurture the network.

Courses I'll be attending/auditing: Power and Politics, Financial Distress, Financial Analysis, B2B Marketing, Business Plan Workshop. That should be fun.
I'll try to push for Your First Hundred Days. It's a course specific to INSEAD, designed by Entrepreneurship specialist Patrick Turner, about the first crucial moments in your company. It's so specific (with lots of legends around it), that I may not get in. I guess YFHD concept is derived from Milton Friedman's theory for Statesmen that the momentum, the flavour, the success of a leadership term is created within the first hundred days. It is within that moment that tough reforms must be held.

The good news is, for those who cannot get into the course, Sarkozy has just been elected President, and he promised he'll push for his reforms within his first 100 days. Thus, we all could witness live what a First 100 Days looks like. That's what I like about Sarkozy, and a good lesson of leadership for all; I suspect his team is very professional, very managerial in synthesizing Lessons Learnt from other countries, and leading theories in Strategy and Management.
- Strategy: to choke the extreme right, then expand to the centre. Tactics: leadership in ideas, in pace, in communication. Tough right policies and surprisingly cutting-edge social policies for France (like positive discrimination).
- Management: although he probably was not 100% sure of winning, he had a true faith, and the interesting fact is, this is the first time that a post-election is so clear. Why? He was crystal clear in his positions before (at the risk of shocking some) and prepared his first 100 days long ago! Sure, it does help that he got a clear mandate (both in 53-47 and huge turnout) ie. people either cannot say "I didn't know" or must abide by the majority.

My point of course, is not about the contents of Sarkozy's policies, it's about the whole vision and dynamics of his ambition. It is very relevant, say in a case where you would takeover a distressed company (a France in crisis): employees, suppliers, clients would be willing to make some efforts to change, so implement that in your first 100 days, in the momentum period.

Ok enough of politics. To answer an email about India, yes it requires more than 5 days to know India, although I believe 5 days are enough to get a very strong intuition of business there (Can I go there? Where are the opportunities? Where are the barriers?), especially since now is a time when business is getting its structure, mostly shaped by the guest speakers we have met.


PS: If it's not Milton, then it must be Thomas Friedman. Anyway you got the point, one of the big chaps of American theorists.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Indian Trip Day 5: Hope and courage

Last day of BBI. Time for conclusions.

1. It takes a lot of courage to come to India, for non-Indians: despite all the real economic opportunities, life is not that easy. Even super cool Bombay is not for the faint-hearted (front-page of recent news: local government is offering 5 Rupees per rat killed -you need to show evidence with the body, but if too smashed, just the rat tail will do...)

2. Opportunities are enormous though, in all sectors, and in unimaginable scales. At 1% billionaires and 25% middle-class, you get in raw numbers 12 million super rich and 300 million bourgeois... The entrepreneurs met, all spoke about expansion plans of "11 cinema multiplexes from 4 next year", "50 Schools built next year"...

3. The space is there, for MBAs with adequate skills. It's less competitive in terms of "brightness" compared to the West, but just as much in terms of "go-getterness".

4. The hit-and-run strategy sort of recalls the 90s bubble, but Indian economics is pretty sound.

5. The Indian businessmen are very diverse, but 2 categories emerge: the ones educated abroad, who typically are MBA types (so similar to us), and the ones educated in India, who are very different and need to be understood deeper than from their face-value.

BBI was absolute fun. It's just incredible how powerful it is in getting a very clear sneak preview of the opportunities and challenges, in introducing us to super top people -as a networking base in India, in giving us new ideas and insight in entrepreneurship, and finally in helping us to know better some INSEAD students.

Michael Lawless and Aparna Dogra just made a fantastic job. As Michael concluded, BBI exists thanks to the Singapore campus, and INSEAD's commitment in Asia (as the only World's top 10 permanent campus B-School).

Today, in brief, we met 3 internet entrepreneurs (with the usual mix of Indian from US and Indian Indian), and the Indian Indian came across very well. We also visited the Number One Call Center in India, with the CEO and the CIO...
I can still perceive some biases for the Communicators in the BBI group. It's fine to me. My bias is too long-term maybe, in the legacy of a business, as opposed to a quick hit-and-run strategy.

Tonight to celebrate we went to Privé, which is supposed to be the top club in Bombay. It gives me the occasion to finish on what was not so cool over here. Customer service is very limited -and too often the number of people is taken as a proxy of quality of service. It's just so wrong, but since the trend is leaning to fast improvement, there's hope. Misery is still very visible, but apparently the Indian Nation is improving as a whole. Finally, though food is excellent, I've had my quota of Indian cuisine for the next couple of years. Your own physical abilities to bear the Indian regime could be a non negligible barrier.

BBI: an unforgettable trip, with India's premier business people, and some of INSEAD's top students...

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Indian Trip Day 4: making a Ton out of it

BBI is coming to an end. It's a difficult thing to organise; people are all getting a bit tired. It's nice that speakers are varied.

Today we had a panel of 3 famous entrepreneurs: one young female heir, one Bollywood films distributor, and one bookshop entrepreneur. Again, what speaks to me was the variety of profiles. Some participants found the Indian Indian a bit unassuming, most loved the Bollywood distributor. I think the comparison is a bit unfair. First, it is subjective: funnily, none of the speakers introduce themselves with numbers (revenues for instance), which leaves appreciation to what is visible. In that case, of course girls were melting for the schmaltzy savvy assertive producer. Second, and foremost, obviously we could relate more easily to the MBA-educated film producer (as someone commented, we speak the same language...)

The Indian heiress presented several interesting aspects: women in Indian business, Family issues and succession in Indian firms. It may be a cultural misunderstanding again (although she was fairly of the American Indian type), but I'm always hum-hum about dramatization, although I understand women in Business always have to prove more...

The afternoon session was amazing: we visited the Indian Adwords, courtesy of Mahesh (the big Guru of Advertising over here), and he showed us a demo of his business model. Very insightful. Product was cool, speakers were great, but more importantly, we got a feel of a real start-up: visiting the office, sensing the culture (Silicon Valley type)... The window is open for 5 years or so, according to the speaker, and he sure is making the most of it.

To finish with, we met some alumns in an INSEAD Bar. Was great, but turnout was lower than expected. Good news is, it seems post-INSEAD trauma is very well handled by most.

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India Trip Day 3: Meeting the Indian Entrepreneur(s)

Yesterday we were introduced to the 2 Business Indians (to oversimplify): the one educated and trained inside the country, who launched a business primarily focused on local demand, and the ones educated and trained abroad, coming back to seize opportunities -in our panel they were investors, but lots of them are entrepreneurs too.

The Indian Indian one, on the surface, could appear unassuming. Very modest, yet very accomplished, Satya did not fit our MBA-moulded impressions of the A-class player. That's one major takeaway of BBI: change your mindset when judging people who never had gone out of India. As Satya is a super A+ player, I'm not sure about how he would have fared in front of Western VCs when he was trying to launch his education business.

The investors on the other hand had plenty of savviness. Outgoing, sharp, they definitely were as successful as Satya, and more in line with our internal models.

It's nice to see both worlds. And be aware that Asian conceptions/representations of drive, potential, success, can be totally different. In a way, we learnt more in Satya about Indian style and more with the others about substance.

Tonight, we're meeting 60+ alumni in Bombay. I love this city...

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

India Trip Day 2

Stomach problems, albeit on a lightish level, are spreading. That's the only thing up to our expectations so far. Cities have been worse for some, better for others, than expected. Bottom line is: never thought it'd be like that.

Yesterday in Bangalore we had guest speakers in Private Equity, Entrepreneurship (IT and Retail).
The big debate is clearly becoming one of whether India's miracle is based on labour arbitrage -ie. temporary- or not. What is clear is that lots of business models in the IT related sectors use both labour arbitrage AND India's vast source of top notch techies. Funny enough, although vast, the labour market still does match demand; it seems start-ups' most immediate, day-to-day, challenge is to retain people. (True, big companies like Infosys suck up lots of people too.)

Today, we are in Bombay. The city looks awesome.
More to come...

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The India trip Day 1

Day One has ended.
BBI has 2 clear advantages for me at this stage: 1/ for the serious about doing business over here (like starting one) the course is an immense network opportunity; 2/ for the rest (all but 4 or 5) it's a nice INSEAD trip to have a taste of India and feel that, after all India is not for them.

So far, the taste is a bit sweet'n'sour indeed. The country is crazy: amazing for the sheer scale of people, and knowledge, and energy; tiring by the heat, dust, and also (let's be open) by the physical demands deriving from the mix of spicy food, lack of hydration... Although it's not as bad as expected, our stomachs are a bit stretched...

We had 3 speakers yesterday: an INSEAD alumn praising the power of INSEAD network even in India, a German bloke ex-radio star, who showed all his oratory skills, and an Indian IT entrepreneur who made it form zero to $40M sales in 5 years.

Lessons of the day: Everything that you think of India, the reverse holds true. And India is changing at an incredible pace, creating opportunities not only in IT, not only driven by foreigners, but also in simple "Mom and Dad's shops to Modern Retail/Business" transformation driven by local demand.

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