2008-12-31

Fight For Rice, Rice Fight On

The mighty Rice Owls completed one of their best seasons in school history last night when they beat the Western Michigan Broncos 38-14 in the Texas Bowl. We tailgated all afternoon with beer, sausage, and cheese. Cox and I, undefeated Champions of the Universe in two-on-two ocean football, added to our accolades as all-time undefeated champions in Cornhole. We threw the football around (sunny, 70-degree F weather) and listened to country music--what could be more Texas?

The game itself was great. Other than one interception, Rice had no miscues. Jarrett Dillard extended his NCAA record with a TD catch, James Casey proved and reproved his dominance, and MVP Chase Clement (who was unfortunately injured and couldn't play during the New Orleans Bowl of 2006) scored five TDs--throwing for three, running for one, and even receiving a TD pass from Jarrett Dillard, which was the icing on the cake.

Congrats to the Rice football team and especially to this talented group of seniors. Now it's up to the next generation to build on this tradition of success and continue making it something we can all be proud of.

Rice, fight, never die
Blue, gray, in the sky
Stand, cheer, drink more beer
Go, go, gooooooooo Rice!

2008-12-20

Houston

It is great being back in H-town. I just went for an early morning run in 70-degree weather around Memorial Park. True, Memorial is not as scenic as Lac Leman, but it is a welcome change that there are many other people out there running too--many of whom are pushing strollers and pulling along (or being pulled along by!) friendly dogs.

After living for a year in a 22 square meter closet (about 240 square feet) with barely a kitchen and very few creature comforts, it feels so nice to sprawl out in my nice, spacious Houston townhome. Not to sound like too much of a materialistic American, but it feels wonderful to listen to my juke box and watch HD football on my plasma with surround sound. Plus, a Nintendo Wii has magically appeared at my house and it has proven to be a lot of fun.

While that is all well and good, it pales in comparison to the feeling of being around friends I haven't spent quality time with in a year.  Skaggs and I threw the football around on Wednesday. Cox and I went out bar hopping until 3 AM on Thursday. I'll see the volleyball crowd and former roommates tonight at a Christmas party. There is so much catching up to do and I'm really enjoying it. Next week will be even better as I spend time with my family in Hot Springs--can't wait!

Today is special for another reason: my brother, who just successfully defended his PhD dissertation, is now 30 years old--and I'm not far behind him! Happy birthday, Nick, and go Navy beat Wake!


2008-12-16

Real World, Real Learning

I authored today's IMD MBA Diary and, although the content may be familiar to my readers, I'm reposting here for you:

Today marked the end of my first week of work back in the real world. That’s right, exactly one week after spending the day learning about the importance of taking our time to say goodbye and transition at our own pace, I dove head first into my next career. Many of my classmates are taking weeks or months off to settle their affairs, rest, and reflect on the year that has just passed, which I think would be marvelous. My employer is a startup, however, and startups can’t afford the same timing luxuries as big businesses. I am the Product Manager and our product officially launched last week, therefore I am needed NOW!

The company is called Poken – www.doyoupoken.com – and was founded by Stephane Doutriaux, a 2007 IMD MBA Alumni. We produce a keychain that connects you with people online as you meet them in the real world. Our first generation offering is funky and cool, targeting the young and the young minded. Future offerings will include a professional version to replace the business card, a platform for third parties to include our technology in other objects, and many other features that we hope will bridge the gap between the physical and online worlds.

I admit that at some points during my IMD MBA I questioned how “real world” was our “real learning.” However, having spent only one week back in the real world now, I can’t believe how applicable so much of our learning is. I am no stranger to start-ups; in fact, my entire career has been in technology entrepreneurship. Accordingly, much of this Poken experience is not new to me: the frenetic pace, the unstructured role assignments, the need to roll up my sleeves and get things done, etc. However, I really feel like I am seeing everything in a different light—in many different lights, in fact.

My IMD MBA has armed me with many “lenses” through which to analyze and act. With manufacturing in China, HQ in Switzerland, and customers around the world, concepts from Production and Operations Management are very helpful. As we seriously plan our international rollout in response to demand in Spain, Holland, the UK, the US, and South America, my take-aways from Marketing are key. The challenge of capturing ideas from within and outside of the company, prioritizing them, and managing their implementation is addressed by Innovation and Product Design.

I could go on and on, but it is clear that the most impactful IMD course on my new position is the Leadership Stream. Managing a team of Swiss, French, Americans, and Bulgarians, some of whom are on-site, some of whom work remotely, each of whom has different background, skills, and interests, is a challenge to be sure. But I feel more prepared to address that challenge than I ever have before. I am more aware of my own feelings and the effects my actions have on others. I am more cognizant of the subtle intra- and inter-group dynamics all around me. And I am more open to feedback about my performance, ideas, and—well—everything.

I came to IMD to develop myself as a global leader and now I have a chance to put that development to the test. While it is ultimately up to me to succeed or fail, I must credit the IMD faculty, staff, and—most of all—students for helping me prepare for it. Although I don’t have months to sit back and reflect on the IMD experience; I find it popping into my head in the middle of work situations. “Ah, this reminds of that time in the integrative exercise,” “Oh, this might be a good opportunity to leverage that concept from Entrepreneurship,” “Hmm, I wonder what that professor/classmate/guest speaker would think of this...” and so on. We really did pack a LOT into a very short time. If my first week back to work is any indication, though, it really was real world, real learning.

2008-12-10

In Transition

Last night was wonderful. On a whim, Asier (Basque) organized a get-together for those of us still in town at a local brew-pub. We stayed for hours and hours laughing, hugging, and goodbying. I should have done more of this during the year but, as they say, better late than never.

I believe I am the only one in our class who has already started work. At least one classmate starts next week, then a few in January, most in February, and some in March. Would I have preferred to take time really to rest, reflect, and transition? Absolutely. However, Poken said they needed me NOW and, after three very full days, I must say I agree. We are indundated 24/7 with demand from customers and business partners in markets we are not yet serving so it is a real challenge to keep our ongoing operations moving forward while still planning for the future--the very immediate future.

I transitioned in another way too last night. Upon my return home from the brew-pub, I was so close to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that I just sat down and finished it. What a book. What a series! Jung contended that Grimm's fairy tales contained all common archetypes for transformation and development. In every generation it seems that there emerge stories and myths that serve the same purpose in a more updated way. I believe the Harry Potter series fills that need for this generation. I still need time to digest and mull over everything that happened but my feeling is that this series is one that I will re-read over and over again. Now I can't wait for the remaining movies to come out!

So here I am with lots of transition in my life, but the family and friends I love are constant. They are the rocks that anchor me and the stars by which I set my course. Thank you all!

Pictures from the graduation, ball, and my first days at Poken can be found in my facebook album.

2008-12-08

And I'm Off!

No time to rest, no time to reflect, today was my first day on the job. It was hectic, unstructured, and wonderfully exciting--everything life at a startup should be. I've been through all of this before yet I feel somehow . . . "displaced." The same stuff is happening that used to happen at R7 or at Antmachine but I feel like I am viewing it all through several lenses: marketing, strategy, HR, and--of course--group dynamics. As events unfold in front of me, neurons are firing relating them back to theories, models, and my own practical experience. This isn't to say that I have all the answers--just that I have a more structured, yet intuitive, approach to processing this professional sensory data than I used to. Thanks, IMD.

As I sat at lunch struggling to keep up with the Swiss French being spoken by our CEO and a potential business partner, I woefully remenisced about the good times at R7. We played a game in which we were awarded points for sneaking in undetected The Big Lebowski references during client meetings. Just as I had this thought and resigned myself to the fact that people here probably didn't "get" The Big Lebowski, "Hotel California" by The Gypsy Kings began over the restaurant's speakers. While many of my readers may have no idea what in God's holy name I am blathering about, those who know and love TBL will appreciate it. Eight-year-olds, Dude.

2008-12-07

New Job

I have accepted a position as Product Manager for Poken. The company is based here in Lausanne and has created a small, key-chain-like hardware product that connects people on online social networks (facebook, linkedin, etc.) after they have “connected” (touched their hardware devices together) in real life. The goal is to bring a physical, real-world interface to online social networking. The current marketing strategy is aimed at teens with the prospect of moving to professionals (replacing the business card) soon. The company has three ways to make money: 1. Sell the devices at a margin directly to the users, 2. Let major companies purchase the devices and give them away to users as branded “toys,” and 3. Online advertising at the website that users use to manage their connections. The company has $2M of funding and is launching the product in stores in Switzerland right now.

I will be the Product Manager (collecting information from the target audience, creating a coherent product development roadmap, and managing the software and hardware development teams to implement it) at first, evolving in 6 months to either a COO role or a general manager of North America as the product expands to markets outside of Europe.

As many of you know, I agonized over this decision because--as with most decisions--there are both pros and cons.

The good:

International – the position is based in Lausanne, will require travel around the world, and involves managing global operations (manufacturing in China, software developers in Switzerland and Romania, sales and marketing throughout Europe initially and soon elsewhere)

Hardware – this will be a chance for me to broaden my software-only experience to include hardware as well

Growth – The company has a lot of momentum (Evidence: Poken made the front page of digg.com this morning) and I will have the opportunity to participate in its growth

Challenge – Developing an innovation/development process and prioritization methodology that is responsive enough to market feedback that will come very quickly once the product is being used by thousands or millions of people is an exciting order

The bad:

Social Value – I came to IMD to prepare myself better to help change the world; I’m not sure this company really satisfies that criterion

Risk – Companies at this stage statistically usually fail and I would be accepting below-market-value compensation along with that risk--after a year of paying tuition and not earning a salary

Distance – This would keep me thousands of miles away from friends and family in the US. I would own all of the US business partner relationships, which should create many opportunities for travel, but I would still be based far away

After much soul searching I decided that this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. I should have a chance to practice a lot of what I have learned at IMD and gain experience in ways that will prepare me to contribute even more to addressing the global energy challenge. Will Poken make me feel like I am somehow making the world a better place for the needy kids I held in Kenya? No, not directly. But will I continue to keep them in mind as I work and network and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that will? Absolutely.

Thankyou to EVERYone who has supported me throughout my career search. It isn't over--it will be an ongoing process of course--but you have all helped me through a significant career milestone. I won't let you down and I'll prove that to you immediately--I start work tomorrow!

2008-12-05

TJ is #1 Again

For the second consecutive year my high school was selected by US News and World Report as the top public school in the country (article). This year two of my alma maters have been ranked #1 and I am, once again, humbled. It is a great honor to have been selected for such institutions and not a day goes by that I am not thankful to have had the opportunity. Now, at the cusp of my next stage in life, I hope to be able to live up to the high standards set by my peers. While I can't promise results, I can promise to do what I've done throughout my academic, professional, and athletic careers: my best.

2008-12-04

With Honours

Yesterday we graduated and celebrated. The festivities began with a graduation ceremony at Beau Rivage Palace along the lake. Our guest speaker was Mr. Eitan Wertheimer, whom we first met when he was here with Warren Buffett. After his, MBA Program Director Benoit's, and IMD President John Wells's remarks, our classmate, Bevan Mckenzie (New Zealand), stole the show with his own address. Two months ago we elected Bevan as our class speaker and he did not let us down. His talk was witty, inclusive, and moving.

At IMD students are eligible for two diploma awards. "With Honours" is an academic distinction given to the top 9 students as measured by cumulative GPA. These nine students walk and receive their diplomas first. "Distinction in Leadership" is given to the top leaders in the class as measured by feedback from their groupmates throughout the year. I was honored (No superfluous "u" for me!) to receive both awards yesterday.

Yes it was great to walk among the first degree recipients, but what really made the experience special was being grouped with my favorite peers: Bevan, Daniel (with whom I shared two groups), Matt (with whom I interviewed for IMD last fall), and Lucy (about whom I blogged in the spring). I really admire these classmates of mine and being counted among them is a real thrill. I worked hard all year to achieve that status and I blogged several times about the failures I encountered along the way. Those failures, however, made attainment of these final successes all the sweeter.

After the ceremony and reception, we broke for the afternoon and returned to Beau Rivage in black tie for the graduation ball. It was a lovely affair and, although the DJ left much to be desired, dinner was excellent and it was a great way to say goodbye. Now it's time to start packing up and thinking about what will come next!

2008-12-02

Delinquent Blogger

I'm sorry to all my readers for taking so long to post an update. The last week has been very hectic for me between finishing school, career search, and preparing for the post-IMD tansition. Let me bring you up to speed in a few areas:

Classes
Last week we finished our second and final week of electives. Global Strategy changed somewhat as we moved to professor (and IMD President) John Wells, who focused on the need for strategic agility for long-term success. IAGD continued to be emotionally draining but we touched on some really significant--if painful--issues in group dynamics. Managing Change was replaced with Managing Information, taught by Don Marchand, who drove home the importance of focusing on people and information, not just on technology.

Electives really brought it all together for me. The classes presented many similar initiatives through different lenses. For example, to remain strategically agile (Global Strategy), it is critical to foster information sharing within your organization. Information sharing is facilitated by incentives and systems (Managing Information). Changing incentives and deploying information systems require major change management (Managing Change) initiatives. For change management initiatives to succeed, it is helpful to know what is really going on within your senior leadership team (IAGD).

Thanksgiving
The electives were excellent and really helped me finish on the right note. Another factor contributing to my happiness was a long, belated Thanksgiving dinner at my professor's house in Lutry. Corey was our faculty sponsor for the ICP and invited the whole team (+ guests) to his house overlooking the lake. He cooked for us, shared wine from his awesome cellar, and facilitated 6+ hours of merrymaking as the sun slowly set over the mountains. Best of all, we also got to play with his 2-year-old dog, who was most excited to to have visitors. She left so much black hai on my clothes that I was reminded of the infinite supply of white hair once provided by Ivan the Terrible, Nick's Samoyed. I will miss Corey and my ICP team a great deal but this was an excellent way to begin the process of saying goodbye.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

Harry Potter
Another reason that dinner at Corey's place was so nice was that I have a strong, positive association with Thanksgiving. I usually spend it with my relatives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which I really missed this year. It is always wonderful to see them, catch up, and get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. When I'm in Hot Springs, I'm so relaxed that I actually pull myself away from my computer and go to the movie theater.

In fact, it was in Hot Springs that I first saw Harry Potter and became hooked. Speaking of which, I finished the Half-Blood Prince and I am now making my way through the final book, the Deathly Hallows. IMD and Lausanne will always stand out to me not only as the place where I did my MBA, met life-long friends, etc., but also as the place where I [finally] read all the Harry Potter books.

Career Search
While I still have several opportunities in the pipeline, my only firm offer is with Poken here in Lausanne. It is a great opportunity with a company that has lots of potential. In that it is a start up, there is none of this "take your time, find yourself, and start in March" nonsense; if I accept with them I will start Dec. 8th!!! So, in addition to my other preparations right now, I am also soul searching and advancing my other opportunities to see, by the end of this week, if this is what I really want to do.

Graduation
Graduation is upon us! Our committee has put together a black-tie ball following our ceremony at Beau Rivage Palace, to which I am really looking forward. After that it's goodbye, which obviously encompasses some very mixed emotions: jubilation at finishing, excitement about next steps, and sadness at leaving a great year behind. This was the subject of an entire day of classes yesterday: how to say goodbye and move on in a healthy way. We'll see if I can put into practice tomorrow.

2008-11-26

Winning the War on Cancer

Great news! For the first time since declaring war in cancer in 1971, we are winning! So reports the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. My heartfelt congratulations and thanks go out to the myriad scientists, doctors, experimental patients, and others who have helped advance the art. Now is not the time to relent and pat ourselves on the back, though. Let's capitalize on the momentum and keep pushing!

2008-11-22

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

I woke up this morning to a COLD apartment. I was so focused that I just threw on some warm clothes and immediately settled into job hunting activities. It wasn't until I received an email a couple of hours later that concluded with "Enjoy the snow!" that I pulled my nose up out of my computer and looked out the window. Sure enough, big flakes were falling and a light blanket was forming.

I made my way through the snow up to Poken's offices for a design session with the CTO and, by the time we finished, it was sunny and the snow was melting. Oh well, it was pretty while it lasted (see my facebook album) and now it's dry enough that I can go for a run. Tonight a few of us are going to get together to watch some American football, including my bowl-bound Rice Owls!

2008-11-17

More Rankings

Business Week released its 2008 MBA rankings this week. They categorize schools as either US or ouside the US. IMD clearly falls into the latter category and was ranked #7, disappointingly down from #4 in 2006. Only one major ranking (the Wall Street Journal) remains this year. The WSJ ranked IMD #1 in the world last year; I hope we can keep our crown!

2008-11-16

The Crying Game

Wow, this week was really intense. Electives were fantastic and collective anxiety about the future was at an all-time high. One elective, Managing Change, is already finished; we had it every single day this week. It took all of our theory and forced us to think more concretely about the actual tactics to use for effecting change in different situations.

Maury continued to challenge us with "name that tune/artist" at the beginning of each class. After successfully identifying Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D (but not successfully identifying the violinist--I guessed Itzhak Perlman but it was actually Jascha Heifetz), I was on a roll. The next day was an easy one with Paul Simon, although I didn't recognize the song. Yesterday opened with jazzy/bluesy guitar renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "Stairway to Heaven." It sounded like several guitarists playing simultaneously but the fret tapping sound indicated to me that it might, in fact, be only one person playing melody, harmony, rhythm chords, and walking base line on the same instrument. The only guitar virtuoso capable of such a feat that I knew of was Stanley Jordan, to whom I was exposed in 8th grade during my study of classical and contemporary guitar. Sure enough, Maury confirmed that it was he. So it was a good week for me in terms of music identification--now my final Managing Change paper will illustrate whether or not I learned about more than just music!

The Introduction to Advanced Group Dynamics elective is half finished now and has been a real emotional roller coaster. I am bound by confidentiality not to relay too much of what has happened there, but I can share that at least 20% of our class has broken into tears so far. Some of this comes from the open, honest sharing of feelings within our groups but much of it is channeled from outside emotions, especially regarding family life and the uncertainty of the future. Heavy stuff--and now I need to write a paper about it.

2008-11-13

Electives and Beethoven

The first week of electives is halfway done and what a ride it has been. We are definitely back in "class" mode: reading cases late into the night, showing up on time to class, and throwing ourselves back into heated discussions. Well, some of us are, at least. Some, on the other hand, are checked out, arriving at class late and unprepared; I feel like only a subset of us have successfully re-engaged.

I try not to be resentful of the "slackers" but it slips out sometimes with snide remarks. Perhaps I'm the stupid one, clinging religiously to school rules and assignments while I neglect my career search. However, my intention in coming to IMD was to learn, not to "get a job." I'll be OK with continuing my career search into 2009 if it means I can focus more on the few weeks of learning opportunities we have left here.

And speaking of which, our classes have been really excellent so far. Global Strategy is taught by IMD newcomer Cyril Bouquet who will later be joined by IMD president John Wells. We have visited some interesting topics so far: how to choose the right internationalization strategy and how to build the best cross-border consensus in international M&A.

Managing Change has also been great. The first half of this course was taught by Anand Narasimhan, who used many movie clips to help illustrate techniques for creating a sense of urgency, building a guiding team, and defining an inspiring vision. Old favorite Maury Peiperl (whom we first met in Leading People in Organizations) is back now to finish up the course and focus on implementation. 

He began today's class, as he did in LPO, with a musical piece that he was able to tie into today's class objectives. I recognized it as I walked in as Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D--such a tour de force and one of my favorite classical musical works of all time.

A performance by Leonidas Kavakos with the Houston Symphony Orchestra first impressed upon me the incredible difference between classical music on CD and in the concert hall. The intensity of the piece was communicated not just by the sound waves coming from the 1692 "Falmouth" Stradivarius he plays, but also his body movements, breathing, and facial expressions. It was amazing.

Perhaps someday we too will be virtuosi of business--I'm working on it!

2008-11-10

Back in Lausanne

My few days in NoVA were absolutely wonderful. The leaves were vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow and the weather was a sunny 60+ degrees F. In addition to interviewing with a great company, I took some time to eat the types of food we don't really have in Switzerland (BBQ and lots of things with jalapenos!). Best of all, though, I spent some time with friends and loved ones, which was an excellent shot in the arm before this last home stretch.

Pictures of my time in the DC area are in my facebook album.

Today marked the start of electives. My lineup was Global Strategy in the morning and Managing Change in the afternoon. It was interesting to be back in class again, in groups of 20-40 instead of 4-5. It felt familiar--almost nostalgic--as we moved from reporting to executives to participating in case discussion.

Today I also received the worst grade I have received on any assignment all year on a paper I wrote for our Leadership stream a few weeks ago. In fact, it may be enough to knock me out of contention for a Distinction in Leadership at graduation. Although my first reaction to it was defensive, I have now poured carefully over the feedback and I recognize that my grader has made some excellent suggestions. Here, nearly at the end of a very intense year, I have learned a great deal but I still have so much more to learn. I will always have more to learn. Recognizing that, doing my best, and still seeking to learn and improve future performance will always be part of my professional life and my experience here at IMD has helped me practice it.

2008-11-06

Positive Energy

Yesterday I spent all day interviewing with Positive Energy, a startup software company that helps residential energy users consume less electricity, natural gas, and other forms of energy. It's one of the few opportunities I've found that would really marry my passions for addressing the global energy challenge and innovating game-changing software.

Before the interviews even started, I had a good omen: The major tenant of the building where PE is located is Sparta, Inc., where my father spent much of his professional career designing LASER-based optical guidance systems. I haven't thought about Sparta in a long time and seeing its familiar logo (slightly adapted from when he worked there in the 80s) warmed my heart.

The interviews themselves went well. I had discussions with the CEO, VP of Product (to whom I would report), program/process manager, product managers for different products, and lead software engineer. The software engineer had his chocolate lab with him and he joined us for the interview, which I considered to be another great omen. Furthermore, PE's offices are within walking distance of the original Red Hot & Blue, one of my favorite BBQ joints of all time, even though now it's been overcommercialized and franchised around the country. The VP of Product took me out to lunch there, which further fostered the "good" feeling I have about this company.

The questions that came my way were very diverse: experiential, design thought exercises, brain teasers, and other funky, "out there" conversation catalysts. My impression after a very full day is that A. the company is really trying to hit it out of the park and significantly affect energy demand, B. the team is smart/high-end, and C. it seems like a good fit where my participation could create value for both the company and for myself.

Hopefully they will see things the same way. Even if they don't, however, I'm glad to know that such companies exist. As I've blogged before, I think the "solution" to the global energy challenge has to be one that also makes good business sense, otherwise it just won't be sustainable.

And speaking of the global energy challenge, Gore et al have already offered up a public "challenge" to the Obama administration: US carbon neutrality in 10 years! I love it! Nearly impossible, worthwhile challenges have always inspired me and I view the energy challenge as very synonymous with the space race of the 60s. "Why reduce energy consumption, streamline transmission, and produce energy from renewable sources? . . . Why does Rice play Texas? . . . We choose to achieve a carbon-neutral energy infrastructure within a decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!" The stakes are higher in this challenge and I am committed to doing what I can to help ensure victory.

Obama!

Washington DC is on fire. This town is ablaze with excitement after Obama's victory last night. I was too jet lagged to stay awake for all the returns but he was ahead when I nodded off. Mom woke me up just after midnight for his victory speech, which was inspiring. 

I like John McCain (although I liked him a lot more before he changed positions for this election) and I respect the hell out of his endurance as a POW. Palin kind of freaked me out, though, and I really think Obama sends the best signal worldwide about a change in stance for the US. I'm happy for the Obama victory and I hope he can live up ot the great expectations we all have for him.

I also hope that he will deliver on campaign promises about energy reform, which should benefit Positive Energy, where I am about to interview for a Senior Product Manager position!

2008-11-03

Final ICP Presentation

Today we woke up early, hopped on a train to Zurich, and delivered our final presentation to our ICP client. Despite having only one week to prepare (due to scheduling constraints), the presentation went well and the client seemed exceedingly pleased. They took us out for a nice, long lunch on a hilltop overlooking Zurich and the atmosphere was very pleasant. One of our client stakeholders is a member of their Board of Directors and may invite us to make the presentation to their entire Board in December.

This project was, for lack of an eloquent descriptor, awesome. Four students from four different continents helped a global chemical manufacturer optimize its supply chain. Despite none of us having chemical industry experience or supply chain experience, we were able to identify and help realize over CHF 200m of value.

The best part of the project was that it soon became evident that the client's challenges weren't specific to supply chain; their real problem was change management. Our "solutions," helping them implement corporate initiatives in a globally decentralized organization with greater success, aren't particular to supply chain or the chemical manufacturing industry. The learning we took from this project can be applied across industries and functions and I'm sure it will be very valuable throughout each of our careers. Real world, real learning.

Similarly, I appreciated the opportunity to work with a small, very diverse group for an extended, multi-phase project with several deliverables. It was critically important to use each person's skillset in the most appropriate way, manage different individual priorities, and address both intra- and inter-group dynamics. I won't claim that we did everything perfectly but I do believe that we learned a great deal and improved a lot throughout the project. Again: real world, real learning.

Now, with the ICP behind me (sort of--there are still several wrap-up to-do items), I'm flying to Washington DC tomorrow for a final interview with Positive Energy. I'm excited to arrive just about the time that presidential election returns start rolling in. Go Obama, go Skelly, and no on Prop 8!

2008-11-02

Halloween

Happy Halloween (a little belated) to all! As many of you know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love putting a lot of effort into an inventive costume and having fun with others who have done the same.

This year my costume creativity was limited a little by lack of time (Our final ICP presentation is tomorrow!) and costume resources. In Houston I knew all the party supply and costume shops I could visit for specific costume elements. In Lausanne, though, I just haven't familiarized myself that well with the costume supply infrastructure yet.

So this year I resolved to make a costume given the constraint of using exclusively materials I already owned. This limited me significantly since I really don't have much in the closet I call an apartment. As I perused my wardrobe, however, I was inspired by my cold weather running gear: black and bright blue spandex. Hmm, I could probably do something with that. I ran a Google image search on "black blue spandex" to see which characters might employ similar outfits but I didn't find much. My best option turned out to be Nightwing, the superhero that evolved from Robin, Batman's sidekick.

I had no emotional bond to Nightwing, however, so I wasn't too keen on it. Looking at pictures of him on wikipedia, though, reminded me of another character to whom I did have a strong bond: Subzero of Mortal Kombat fame. Nick and I used to spend hours and hours playing Mortal Kombat on his Sega Genesis. My favorite character from the game was Raiden, but unfortunately my running clothes didn't look at all like his outfit.

So I went as Subzero, covering my face and head such that only my eyes were revealed. The Halloween party itself was pretty tame. The organizers did a great job of converting the IMD "dungeons" (where we spent most of our lives during the first part of the year) into  real dungeons. People got into it and it was fun to guess who was behind the costumes. My face covering forced me to drink through a straw all night, which made taking shots interesting, but I managed.

Still, I turned in by midnight--not exactly my Halloween party experience of yore! It's good that I did, though, as I was able to wake up early today, rehearse my ICP presentation, go for a run, and finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite of the books so far. Tonight I'll head to bed early again as we have an early train to catch to our client's headquarters in Zurich and I'd like to run through the presentation one more time before we leave.

2008-10-30

Electives

This weekend I finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, my favorite (so far) of the movies. It was a great read and I'm really enjoying the extra depth that the books provide--both of the plot and of the character development. Although it may sound blasphemous, I find that there are some scenes the movies actually portray "better" than the books, especially in Prisoner of Azkaban. Director Alfonso Cuarón really elaborated cinematographically on some of the J.K. Rowling's ideas to good effect.

One element that I enjoyed about Prisoner of Azkaban is that it is the first year that the students choose electives. They no longer all take the same courses and can now specialize in the subjects that interest them. In less than two weeks we will begin electives here at IMD as well. Only instead of "Divination" and "Care of Magical Creatures" our options are more like "Advanced Group Dynamics" and "Managing Change." They aren't quite as exotic sounding, but I'm still looking forward to them.

Following is a list of our available electives. The ones I will be taking are in bold:

Course 1:
Introduction to Advanced Group Dynamics - Jack Wood (our Leadership professor)
Economic Dilemma - Economic Opportunities - Ralf Boschek (our Industry/Company Analysis & Economics professor)

Course 2:
Entrepreneurship - A Longer View - Joachim Schwass
Business History - Lessons from the Past - Stewart Hamilton (our Accounting professor)
Global Corporate Strategy - James Henderson (our Strategy professor), Cyril Bouquet

Course 3:
Managing Change - Maury Peiperl (our Leading People in Organizations professor), Anand Narasimhan
Special Topics in Private Equity and Venture Capital - Benoit Leleux (our Entrepreneurship professor)
Turnarounds: Tools for Recovering Corporate Wealth - Jean-Frederic Mognetti

Course 4:
Advanced Supply Chain - Corey Billington (our Production and Operations Management professor)
Advanced Finance - Didier Cossin
Managing Information, People, and IT Capabilities for Business Value - Don Marchand

For most of the course blocks I was torn between two or more courses. Like Hermione Granger in Prisoner of Azkaban, I really wanted a way to take all of them. However, lacking a time turner, I've had to resort to more mundane methods to bone up on each subject. For example, in Course 4, I've been able to learn a great deal of the Advanced Supply Chain content during the ICP because Corey is our faculty advisor. For the other courses I may just procure the required readings and get to them when I can.

Regardless, there is still an ICP to finish before I can start really thinking about electives.

2008-10-29

Phase IV

We have now entered the final phase of our ICP. This is where the rubber really hits the road and we focus on how to implement all of the grandiose recommendations we have made. For scheduling reasons with the client, our final presentation will be this Monday so we really only have half the allocated time to reach all of our goals. No worries, though; I'm sure we'll come through.

On top of this, we're operating a man down as Daniel's son is being born as I write. I hope all goes well with the birth so we'll have something even more important than the completion of the ICP to celebrate next week!

Last night I took a break from ICP, pre-reading for electives, and my career search in order to join 30 of my classmates at a dinner celebrating Randy's birthday. It was a lot of fun just sitting, eating, conversing, joking around, speculating about the future, and sharing good times. I probably haven't done enough of this socializing this year and it felt good to spend time with my friends as opposed to my colleagues.

2008-10-26

Lausanne Marathon

Today I ran the most I have ever run in the same day, just under 9 miles. It wasn't all at once, though, because it came while running "bandit" for my classmates as they finished the Lausanne Marathon and Half Marathon. This means that I waited for them a few miles before the finish line and ran alongside them to help motivate them through the final and most difficult leg.

I first ran bandit for Katie Ban in last year's Houston Half Marathon. It was a good time and seemed to be appreciated so I offered it up to my running classmates this year. They enthusiastically accepted the offer and I managed to recruit a co-bandit in Mathias, my French teammate from my startup group.

We jogged out first to meet Max, our Russian teammate also from the startup group, about three miles from the finish of the marathon (in front of the Olympic museum). He was hurting so we tried to distract him with jokes and urged him on. He finished just under his target time of 4 hours.

Then we doubled back and met up with Sergei, my Belarussian teammate from the first building block, about two miles from the finish of the half marathon (also in front of the Olympic museum). He was in strong form so we just paced him and tried to spur him on at the end. He finished well under his target time of 2 hours.

We then turned around to go back for Alex, my Chinese teammate also from the first building block, who had expected to come in far behind Sergei. Before I could make my way through the throng, however, Alex had arrived, just over 2 hours, and apparently hadn't needed any additional motivation.

Even if our participation didn't make one iota of difference, it felt good to support our friends. We've all been through a lot together so supporting each other in our various endeavors comes naturally. I expect it will continue long after graduation in December.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

2008-10-25

Google Interview

Yesterday morning I boarded the 8:20 AM train to Zurich. I've done this a few times before to go visit our ICP client. This time, however, I was going to interview with Google for a Product Manager position.

I arrived in Zurich around 10:30 and used the Google Maps Walking Directions feature from my mobile phone to find my way to the Google office. The office was fun and kind of over-the-top but not quite as much so as I expected. Perhaps my expectations had been artificially inflated by all the press this office received (at least here in Switzerland) when it opened back in January. Still, it was pretty cool: lots of game rooms, snack rooms, coffee bars, a fitness center, an aquarium-lined power nap room, all kinds of funky meeting rooms (with Star Wars-based names) and developer areas. I tested out the fire pole that you can take from one floor to another but didn't have a chance to use the slide into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was awesome, definitely IMD-level, and it serves three meals a day. I don't have to tell you how much I would take advantage of that benefit!

I had five interviews during the day, four with product managers and one with a software engineer. They were all very different, some focusing on product design, some on software technology challenges, some on strategy and management, and some on analytical brain teasers. Most of my interviewers were from different countries, they all seemed very sharp, and, best of all, I never really felt like I was being interviewed. Instead we had very engaging discussions about interesting and challenging problems. There was no "right answer" to any of the questions I was asked all day, just mutually participatory discussions, many of which left me feeling really excited. It really felt like the discussions Alex (or others) and I would frequently have about the future of products, technologies, and consumer behaviors. Sometimes those discussions would be about near-term ideas and sometimes they were a little more science fiction-y. Google seems like one of the few organizations with so much talent/resources/users that it can take real steps toward making the sci fi ideas reality.

At the end of the interviews I was informed that I had accessed the secret bonus round and would have two more interviews with Product Management Directors. Although I characterized Italians as lazy to one of them who turned out to be Italian himself (despite having a very German-sounding name!), I thoroughly enjoyed those discussions as well.

I stumbled a few times throughout the day. For example, some of my interviewers challenged me about my stated objective of helping to change the world of energy and how on earth working at Google would accomplish that. My responses weren't terribly eloquent or convincing there; shame on me for not preparing better.

Still, after seven interviews, I finished the day at 7 PM feeling very positive. These really felt like "my kind of people." In my experience there's a certain kind of magic that comes from a great team. Someone starts a discussion with an idea, others critique it, react to it, and add their own ideas. The level of frenetic excitement rises until everyone decides that the idea has to be pursued and then they all get down to business. This was the type of entropy I felt in my discussions all day, which was a very positive sign.

In many ways, yesterday was like my IMD interview day. I came in not really knowing what to expect. The day was set up to simulate some of the daily challenges encountered by the position for which I was interviewing. I had great, enlightening discussions with a bunch of really smart, diverse people. I left still thinking about the discussions and generating new ideas that I wished I had brought up during the interviews but feeling energized, able to visualize myself contributing to and benefiting from such an environment, and hoping they felt the same way. Oh, right, and I had an awesome lunch! So, we shall see!

After the interviews I met up with a friend of mine in Zurich for dinner (overlooking the city at night--beautiful!) and drinks at a cigar bar by the train station. Zurich seems like a really nice town that has the amenities that come with a major urban area (very international airport and accomplished arts, for example) without many of the drawbacks (high crime, for example). It's certainly not a cheap place to live but it also has one of the highest quality of life rankings in the world. Again, we shall see!

Pictures are in my facebook album.

2008-10-24

Buffett and Google

My train for Zurich departs in 1.5 hours and I'm as ready as I'll ever be for a full day of interviews at Google. Guess who just performed at Google HQ yesterday? If that's not an omen, I don't know what is!

2008-10-23

Solar-powered Clothing

Tuesday marked the end of Phase III of our ICP. The presentation went well and it felt great to move on to our fourth and final phase. Before that begins next week, however, we had the rest of this week off for recruiting activities.

I didn't waste any time and less than one hour after our presentation I was at the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL. At the invitation of Carole Grätzel (Rice PhD in Physical Chemistry) and her husband, Michael, I toured the lab and learned all about Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells (DSC).

It is absolutely amazing what they are doing; I watched in awe as they showed elementary school children how to power a fan by shining a lamp onto layers of raspberry puree and pencil shavings. This simple process is at the heart of DSC and its implications are tremendous:

1.It doesn't use silicon so is impervious to price fluctuations and raw material shortages due to the semiconductor industry.
2. The photovoltaic medium is essentially an "ink" that can be "printed" on many different materials. This means that no longer are solar cells relegated to big, ugly, heavy panels. Instead they can be integrated into the windows of your house (transparently), the body of your car, or the fabric of your clothing.
3. The fabrication process is cheap and can leverage the skill/scale of major printers.
4. The cells perform well in diffuse light so you don't need huge arrays in areas with massive illumination; they work in the rest of the world.

Can you imagine the possibilities? Mobile, wireless power wherever you go. Self-powered houses, office buildings, and vehicles. Cars sitting in parking lots all day becoming net energy suppliers. That's all still out there a bit but it's not as far off as you might think. One of the companies that licences the lab's patents is G24 Innovations and they are already proving the concept. Very exciting! This is the type of game-changing technology I want to be part of.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

2008-10-21

GE O&G

I feel good about the GE O&G interviews yesterday. The people I met with were smart, motivated and were working on intersting, impactful challenges. The company clearly has the potential for major impact on the world's energy supply and carbon footprint. Furthermore it is part of a corporation that also is doing more and more work in wind, water, and solar, as Alex commented on my last post.

The real question here will be fit. How does an entrepreneurial software executive work within the context of a huge, bureaucratic heavy industry company? How does he A. create value and B. not go insane? The answer is non-obvious but after yesterday's discussions I am optimistic. The best matches for my skills and experience seem to be in:

product management - managing the interface between engineering, marketing, and strategy to make sure the company is building products that serve customer needs and support the company's direction

strategic marketing - helping a company that is used to clients coming to it to place orders modernize and be more proactive about market segmentation and accordingly segmented sales processes

sales operations management - working with the globally distributed sales force to create processes and systems to support them for greater communication and efficiency

We shall see; they should be in touch within a week or so with feedback. If nothing else, I finished Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets on the trip, so on to The Prisoner of Azkaban!

2008-10-19

Bella Firenze

I'm checked in at my hotel in Florence. If this if four stars--as advertised at hotels.com--then my middle name isn't Guido! Oh well, no worries; it's a fine place to hang my hat and lay my head for a night. It's not far from the airport or from GE O&G HQ, far northwest of il centro. Needless to say, this isn't exactly the Florence I remember from when I lived here as a student! It looks like there should be time after my interviews tomorrow, however, for a quick trip into town before my late evening flight back to Geneva. Gelato? Bistecca alla Fiorentina? Chianti? All of the above? Only time will tell!

I'm off to dream golden dreams of how I will help GE change the world of energy--then hopefully convey said dreams to them tomorrow!

2008-10-18

Running in Cold Weather

I just went for a run along the lake and, for the first time since the early spring, it was cold enough to necessitate that I wear my long-sleeve, UnderArmour Cold Gear. The cold air felt good in my lungs and the crunching sound of fallen leaves beneath my feet was so loud that I had to turn up the volume of my MP3 player. Although I'm definitely a warm weather person, running in the cold always reminds me of late-season football practice in Virginia and brings back some great nostalgia.

The Career Search Progresses

It was another productive week for my career search. My plans with GE Energy were solidified and I will fly to Florence tomorrow evening for interviews on Monday. I'm not really sure which position(s) they have in mind; I think it's more of a "let's get to know you and then, if we like you, we'll see where we have a good fit for your skills, experience, and interests." My network has been helpful with GE Energy: a Rice alum in their Houston office helped me understand their product/solution offering, one of my interviewers is an IMD alum, and two of my current classmates have worked at GE and helped me prepare for questions I am likely to receive.

I had my third (if you include my first "fit" interview with a recruiter) phone interview with Google this week and it went well. This one was less about my experience and more about how I think. I had to design another product and work through a few brain teasers. On Thursday I received the news that I had "passed" and an invitation to interview onsite at their Zurich office. According to one of my contacts in Google (whom I know through the Rice alumni network) the economic slowdown has raised the "hiring bar" and making it to the onsite interview is even harder than it used to be so I am particularly honored to have made it this far. The interview should be next week.

The founder/CEO of Poken (IMD alum) and I met again and I remain very enthusiastic about the company. They have big, world changing ideas, cool opportunities for a product manager/COO, and a fun corporate culture. The CEO is becoming overstretched between product management, business development, investor relations, etc. and is looking for someone to share the load. Given that my background is in managing innovative teams of software engineers and working with the marketing and strategy interfaces to ensure that the product vision is headed in the right direction, the role would be a great fit.

I also had a first interview yesterday with Positive Energy, a Washington DC-based startup that builds software to help residential power customers consume less energy. They just closed a major funding round, already have some customers, and have a smart team in place. The VP of Product has a marketing background and is looking for someone to manage the more technical side of their software product. Even though the company is only 20 people strong right now they have a couple of TJ alumni on board so, once again, this really drives home the importance of the network.

This last opportunity came may way through CleanTechies, a cool new site for techies looking to help the environment. I'm doing some side blogging there about how technology can be used to help address the global energy challenge.

So, things are moving along with a few very appealing opportunities and I'm continuing to add more to the pipeline. I'm long overdue for a Board update so will write one soon and post it here.

2008-10-17

Reading

Throughout this year at IMD I've done something that I used to love to do but haven't done in a long time: read books! I used to be quite the bookworm but, somewhere along the way, I guess I decided that I just didn't have time for reading. During this year of intense study, however, I've turned back to reading as a great, portable, convenient way to balance out my life.

There hasn't been too much time for reading this year (Sleep usually wins out in the prioritization battle.) but I've managed to finish a few books outside of the many books, articles, and cases required for classes and projects:

Harry Potter e La Pietra Filosofale, the first Harry Potter book in Italian
The His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), an epic fantasy/sci-fi series inspired by the work of John Milton
Three Cups of Tea, the tale of one man's quest to change the world by building schools in rural Pakistan

In the interest of full disclosure, I listen to some of the books in audio form so that I can multitask during my cardio, but I don't think that's cheating--it's just being efficient! Next up on my list:

The rest of the Harry Potter books in anticipation of the movie release (November)
The Catcher in the Rye, which somehow I've made it almost 30 years without reading
Tolkien's major works in chronological order (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
Myriad business-related books and articles I've accumulated over the year but haven't yet had the chance to read

Any other recommendations?

2008-10-12

Happy Rice Day!

Happy Rice Day to all! To commemorate the occasion I had dinner last night with 12 Rice alumni/friends in the area. We sat around fondue pots in the private room of a local restaurant exchanging stories for hours. As in Kenya everyone was amazed at how many Rice connections there were in the area and, as in Kenya, some of the people discovered they lived less than a mile apart.

I had a productive weekend working on our ICP, my career search, and catching up on reading. The weather was gorgeous so I even got some beach volleyball in. It wasn't exactly warm but it felt great to be out in the sun and the sand.

2008-10-09

Some Good News

Monday I interviewed with Google for their Product Manager position. It sounds really cool--basically an internal entrepreneur/general manager with all the capital and smart people you could want to help make great ideas a reality. The people I know who are or have been Google PMs are really smart so I'm honored even to be considered.

My performance in the interview was OK. I suggested some product innovations Google might consider and was quickly shown that Google had already invented or acquired many of them. Oops--someone needs to do his homework better next time. I thought the open-ended question, though, in which I was asked to design a product, went well. In fact, if Google doesn't hire me, I may consider starting up a company to develop that product!

By the end of the interview I felt energized and excited, which is a great sign for me; I felt the same way after the IMD interview and I think it is indicative of a good fit. I don't know if my interviewer was as energized by my ideas as I was but he was at least satisfied enough to move me on to the next round, which will be another, similar interview with another Google PM. This was just a first interview in a process renowned for many interviews (up to 16!) but it still felt great to receive the thumbs-up today from the recruiter.

It's not the only good news I received this week, either. Yesterday I was asked to come to Florence for a second interview with GE Oil & Gas, which is making great strides at reducing the carbon footprint of oil & gas production. Furthermore, GE's renewable energy companies are taking off so they might be an option further down the road.

Monday I talked with a delightful alum from eSolar (Again, many thanks are due the most sophsticated woman at IMD for forging the connection.) and another with Planet Capital. Tuesday, I spoke with a good friend of one of my ICP teammates who has launched CleanTechies.com, where I will soon begin blogging about the use of ICT in sustainable energy. Wednesday I chatted with the Oerlikon Solar and E.ON Renewables. Today I met with another alum, the founder/CEO of Poken, a hardware/software service which will revolutionize the world of social networking. Finally my career search feels like it's really in gear!

Several of my classmates have either accepted job offers or received offers that they will accept. These mostly come from companies that did on-campus recruiting, in which I didn't participate much. Still, it's hard not to feel at least a little time pressure when others are starting to make plans for their living arrangements already! This is what I planned, though, to take my time through the recruiting process, to make sure I explore my options, and to make sure I make the best decision for me and my future employer--not one based on early deadlines or unexplored alternatives.

The distractions of the career search have an impact on our ICPs as well. It is becoming more and more rare to find all four of our group members in the room at the same time because each of us frequently steps out for career-related calls. In the meantime, our project has taken a major turn. It has evolved from a supply chain project to a change management project. The subject matter is still supply chain, but the obstacle between our client and the $100m+ they can add to their bottom line with supply chain improvements isn't analysis; it is implementation. That is now our focus: how can they conduct sweeping change in a way that works for all the varied (and often opposed) stakeholders involved? We are all very excited about it because it affords us the opportunity to learn and practice skills that transcend industry, function, and geography. But it isn't easy--real world, real learning!

2008-10-06

Number One

You may remember my January post about IMD's MBA program being ranked #14 in the world by the Financial Times. Last week we were ranked #1 in the world by The Economist. This ranking should be taken with the same grain[s] of salt as the Financial Times but, still, it feels good.



It is humbling to play a small part in such a great honor and I credit our faculty, staff, and accomplished alumni for this feat. I'll do my best to go out into the world and live up to it!

2008-10-04

Geneva

Mom and I headed into Geneva today to tour around the old town. I can't believe I've been here for nine months and never been into Geneva except for the airport and train station! It's a pretty town, albeit clearly more of a tourist trap than Lausanne. Pictures are in my facebook album.



As it remained cold all day, we took advantage of the opportunity for some fondue upon our return to Lausanne. In between touring and dining I spent the day preparing for my Monday interview with Google. I familiarized myself with their product suite , business strategy, and corporate history. It's only fair that I bone up on them; after all, given that this blog site is owned by Google, they should know plenty about me!

Cold!

It reached a low in the 30s last night! Don't they know it's only October here?! It's no problem, as I really need to be staying inside to work on my Leadership paper and career search anyway, but still, wow, I'm not used to this.

Mom is in town, which is a real joy. Wednesday evening she arrived, we had dinner at Le Pinocchio, and got her situated at her hotel. Thursday she toured around Lausanne and then I took her out for her birthday dinner at Beau-Rivage Palace, mmmmmm! Yesterday she went to some museums, met me at IMD for lunch, and then we made lasagne (Thanks, Lee!) for an ICP team dinner hosted by Felipe and his partner, Laura, both Colombian. It was fun to get [slightly] out of the IMD bubble and just relax and have a good time with my teammates and their partners.

I'm embarrassed to say that, after 48 hours here, my mother knows more about Lausanne than I do. I really need to get out more; this year will be over before I know it and, if I miss out on all that Lausanne has to offer, shame on me. In the meantime, Mom and I might head into Geneva today, depending on the weather. I'll be happy whatever we decide to do so long as I get to spend some time with her.

2008-09-29

Rice Football

And speaking of football, my Redskins weren't the only team to do well this weekend. Saturday after the Association of Rice Alumni board meeting, I had the pleasure to attend a Rice football game against the University of North Texas.

My Owls didn't disappoint me in a record-setting, 77-20 demolition of the Mean Green. With four TD receptions in the first half alone, Jarrett Dillard tied the NCAA record for career TD receptions (50). He and QB Chase Clement broke the NCAA record for TDs between a QB-WR pair (40).

It was a beautiful day too--great football weather. I can't believe it's been 11 years since I stepped onto the field in Rice Stadium as a player. My freshman roommate and I took some time the day before to throw the ball around, run some patterns, and get some sprint exercise. While it was a lot of fun, the subsequent soreness in my hamstrings reinforced that I am not in the same shape I was in back during my playing days--go figure!

Over a decade later, though, the lessons I learned on the field are still paying off: teamwork, leadership, discipline, integrity, and a relentless thirst for victory even in the face of the most daunting of challenges . . . fortunately, the field of business doesn't require quite so much exertion from my hamstrings!

NFC East

The mighty Washington Redskins beat division rival Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium AGAIN yesterday. I missed most of the game while I was flying back to Switzerland, but I did see part of it during my layover in Newark. Hail to the Redskins!

Moreover, hail to the NFC East! With the Giants (3-0 and defending Super Bowl champs), Redskins (3-1), Cowboys (3-1), and Eagles (2-2), is there really any division that can compare?

2008-09-25

BBQ, Blues, and Football

Yesterday was very productive. I met with a former US Deputy Secretary of Energy to discuss which companies had the most potential for global impact. He was very helpful and provided several interesting leads, especially around companies that specialize in the IT side of the energy world.

Then the evening was wonderful. I sat around with 10 of my best friends in Houston, dining on Goode Company BBQ, and talking about everything ranging from politics to Ayn Rand to football. One player was conspicuously absent but he was the topic of conversation frequently enough that he was at least represented in spirit.

Through a miracle of chance, my brother is in town this week so he joined us for dinner and will crash at my house. The opportunity to see him--and my nephew, his son--was the icing on the cake. This is a great trip.

2008-09-23

Texas Burgers

Now that the beach volleyball season is essentially over in Lausanne, it feels good to be back in a place where it is still going strong. Tonight I played coed 4s at Third Coast Volleyball, my old stomping ground. It was good to see a number of familiar faces and to get in a couple of hours of play.

Afterward we picked up buffalo burgers at Bubba's Texas Burger Shack, a local legend. A couple of days after listening to Buffett perform Cheeseburger in Paradise, this was just what I needed. Huge buffalo meat patties, fresh wheat buns, gooey cheddar cheese, smoked jalapenos, and grilled onions, oh how I missed thee . . .

Yesterday I had Cajun (Treebeard's) for lunch and tomorrow I will have BBQ (Goode Co.) for dinner. If I can add some Tex Mex to the mix, I will feel complete from a culinary perspective.

There is still no Internet at home, which is making my career pursuits harder than anticipated.

2008-09-22

Houston After Ike

After sustaining days of hurricane-force winds and torrential rains, Houston has held up pretty well. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the Texas gulf coast, much of which may have been dealt a fatal blow. In Houston there is still debris all over the streets--mostly fallen trees/limbs, but also a significant amount of glass from shattered windows and material from signs and buildings. Many traffic lights are still without power and that is causing serious traffic congestion.

Still, the city stood up well to a direct hit and for many it's almost back to business as usual. We have power at my house, although unfortunately still no Internet. The Rice alumni office is letting me camp out with them during the daytime so I can check in online every once in awhile. One thing that has NOT changed about Houston is the heat (90 degrees F today) and humidity (70% today) so I'm thankful that we at least have A/C at home.

It's fun driving a car again for the first time in 9 months. Directing the 270 horses in my convertible feels somehow very . . . empowering. It's a nice feeling of control after 9 months of feeling more reactive to everything the professors throw at us--not to mention the complete ignorance of where my career search will lead!

I had lunch today with Vanessa Kellogg, a Rice alum at Horizon Wind Energy, to discuss the particulars of the wind generation industry. She was very, very helpful so I think the least I can do is plug her book on wind energy: Wind the World Over. Talking with people like Vanessa renews my faith that we WILL find a solution (or solutionS) to the world's energy woes.

Meanwhile it feels good to be back. As I look out the alumni office window onto the grounds of Rice's Lovett Hall and main academic quad, I'm pleased to see that the old live oaks survived the storm well and that the campus is as beautiful as ever. I feel at peace and I feel at home. Now I need to stop feeling so peaceful and get my career search into gear!

2008-09-21

Back in the USA!

I just spent 10.5 hours on the flight from Paris to Houston. Continental, which has always had a great product, has upgraded its 777s with power plugs at each seat—very helpful for laptop-minded travelers such as myself. However, I really didn’t take advantage of the new feature as I was distracted by the entertainment system, which had been upgraded as well.

With a selection of 300+ movies to start, stop, pause, and fast forward as I please, I had the chance to catch up on American movies that had been released while I was abroad. I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Iron Man, Leatherheads, and, running out of new movies I wanted to see, Rear Window. It made for a very pleasant flight and now it’s good to be back in the US of A for the first time since early January!

2008-09-20

Paris

Today was another lovely day walking around Paris. Yesterday we spent time in the Luxembourg gardens and Pantheon. Today we wandered around the Latin Quarter. We capped it off with dinner at our favorite restaurant, Aux Charpentiers, where we stuffed ourselves full of great food and wine. What a pleasant reprieve from my career search!

2008-09-19

Jimmy Buffett in Paris

I cut my week of interviews one day short and hopped on an EARLY morning train to Paris today. The weather here is cool and clear and the ground is covered with fallen leaves. I met up with another Buffett fan, who found us a charming little hotel in the St. Germain area. We spent the day leisurely strolling around Paris, eating at little cafes, and preparing for tonight’s Jimmy Buffett concert.

Fortified by a bottle of Bordeaux, we walked about an hour to the concert venue, which was in a sketchy neighborhood in the 5eme arrondisement. We finally found New Morning Jazz Café about a half hour before the show started. I was worried about arriving so late as it was open seating and I thought we might be stuck in the back.

That turned out not be a problem, however, as the venue was very, very small, and the concert was limited to about 200 attendees. As I walked in and sized up the place, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This is one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Sure enough, we found a spot around 20 feet from the stage and began the usual pre-Buffett meeting/greeting of other Parrotheads. As with any Buffett concert, most of the fans weren’t local. We met people from all over Europe, North America, and Australia. Also as with any Buffett concert, there were fans ranging from 6 years old to 60 with the entire spectrum of ages in between represented.

The concert itself was a blast. Jimmy played for over two hours with no break. The set list was excellent and the environment was intimate; the entire audience was singing along and spirits were high. The bar wasn’t prepared to deal with the lush factor of Buffett fans as they ran out of wine halfway through the show and beer shortly after that. No worries, though, we still had a blast between Buffett’s singing, joke telling, and French speaking.

After three encores we all spilled out onto the Paris streets. Even in the small crowd I bumped into a friend of mine from Rice—small world! The long walk back to the hotel in the fresh night air was a nice way to cap off a very, very different Buffett concert experience. If he comes back I will try to make it again next year –and with a larger group that won’t feel shy about tailgating in a random alleyway in a sketchy Paris neighborhood!

Photos and Videos

2008-09-18

Interview Failure

Today ended four days full of interview preparation and interviews themselves. On Tuesday and Thursday I had my two “big company” interviews with Shell and British Telecom respectively. They were both very structured, including cases, and really more “assessments” than interviews. Insomuch as I wasn’t invited for the next round by either company, I failed both assessments.

As someone who is very performance-oriented, I took both failures pretty hard. Although I recognize that it is the job of these recruiters to assess fit—not just worthiness—and hence it is better to know that the fit isn’t there earlier in the process rather than later, it is still hard not to feel . . . rejected. I had many peers with whom to commiserate as each company took just a few applicants to the next level.

This year has taught me a great deal about failure. My prior attitude was one of avoiding failure at all costs. I was obsessed with winning each and every battle I undertook—perhaps to the point of avoiding some battles that offered low likelihood of success. But there is much to learn from failure and these cases are no exception. Both Shell and BT have offered to share feedback from the interviews with us next week. This will help me understand why there wasn’t a fit so I can focus my career search better. Furthermore, I look forward to learning the strong and weak points of how I came across so I can build them into subsequent interviews with companies for which there is a better fit.

Speaking of which, I also talked with three product managers at Google this week and that position sounds like an excellent fit with both my skills and experience. The recruiting process is daunting, with up to 16 interview and some of them very technical, but then so is the process for attaining most positions worth having!

2008-09-17

Blues, BBQ, Football, and Cool Weather

I have fond memories of this time of year in Virginia. As the weather would cool and it would feel more like autumn, I would be consumed by the excitement of heading back to school and . . . the football season! The weekend ritual was wonderful:

Friday night: high school football under the friday night lights!
Saturday morning: drag myself out of bed, tend wounds from the previous night, and watch game films with the rest of the team at school
Saturday afternoon: chores and homework
Saturday night: date or night out with the guys
Sunday: excursion to the orginal Red Hot & Blue BBQ in Roslyn with Mom and Nick, listening to great blues in the car

Those were great times! And, although I'm missing out on the football and BBQ here in Lausanne, the weather is definitely cool and I have Buddy Guy playing in the background as I work on my career search. Life is good!

Yesterday was my interview with Shell, although it was less of an interview and more of an assessment. They're less gung ho about renewables than I would have hoped, but I think there may still be a fit. I'll find out this evening whether or not I've been invited to the second round, which will be a much more intense group assessment.

Today I'm talking with Google, practicing for Thursday's case interview with British Telecom, and discussing opportunities in Italy with IMD's corporate development staff. And probably playing some ping pong too!

2008-09-15

Interviews

Day 1 of interviews is over and it went pretty well. Before I left my apartment in the morning I was listening to Bob Dylan's discography. The superb quality of his decades of poetry is the subject of another entire post, but this morning I just had him on for background music. When it came to All Along the Watchtower, I was inspired to swap out Dylan for the Jimi Hendrix rendition.

Oh yeah, that was just what I needed to start the morning off right. It took me back to middle school days, working out with my brother Nick, when we had just discovered a different kind of poetry--the electric kind that came out of Jimi's guitar. It put an extra spring in my step, as did the crisp, clear autumn weather en route to campus.

My scheduled interview with the MTS group, an Italian heating system manufacturer that is going green, went well and there could be a fit there. I met GE Energy at the career fair and they were interested enough in my profile to schedule an ad hoc interview. It went well and we identified some positions where there could be a fit.

It was not all sunshine and rainbows, however. After talking with the Amazon rep, it seems that the position I had identified there was not a great match for me. They clearly thought likewise as they declined to interview me, encouraging me to email a CV and cover letter. Perhaps that's what they told everyone who wasn't a German speaker looking for supply chain positions (for which they definitely were interviewing), but I'm less enthused about the opportunity with them regardless.

Tomorrow I interview with Shell, hoping to learn about their commitment to sustainability and demonstrate to them my "capacity, achievement, and relationships ." Then it is time to focus on off-campus recruiting for a couple of days before my interview with British Telecom. Bring it on!

2008-09-14

Fall Has Arrived

It's 50 degrees F, it's raining, and leaves are strewn along the ground. Fall has definitively arrived and I think my days of beach volleyball here in Lausanne are numbered. Good thing I have a trip to Houston, where the beach volleyball season extends from March to December, coming up in a week!

Speaking of Houston, it seems that all of my friends there made it through Ike OK. The power is still out but everyone is safe.

Last week my ICP team presented our results from Phase II to our client in Zurich. Thanks largely to the efforts of Daniel, my German teammate who pulled triple duty as programmer/analyst, slide czar, and presenter, we turned out a quality product. Our client agreed that our project could help them add over CHF 100m to their bottom line! We are very excited about phases III and IV, which commence in two weeks.

First, however, we have a two-week deluge of recruiting activities. It begins tomorrow with a career fair at IMD then continues with multiple rounds of interviews over the next two weeks. I have an interview tomorrow with MTS Group, an Italian heating company that is concentrating heavily on solar thermal, and I hope to get interviews with GE Energy and Amazon at the fair. Tuesday I interview with Shell and Thursday with British Telecom. Should I succeed in the BT interview, there will be another on Friday, giving me just enough time to make it to Paris for the Jimmy Buffett concert. If Shell likes me, there will be another interview the following week--when I'm scheduled to be in Houston. I suppose we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it. I may also have an interview with Google this week but that is still to be confirmed.

This weekend I am spending my time researching the companies with which I have interviews and making sure I have a coherent story about the fit that I see with them. As much as I like to think of myself as a good ad hoc speaker, I'm definitely much better when I am prepared. In the meantime I'm also sitting on 10 companies to which I need to begin marketing myself and over 200 companies that I haven't yet vetted enough to know whether or not they are worth pursuit.

You'd think finding the right opportunity to help change the world wouldn't be this complicated!

2008-09-12

Rock You Like a Hurricane

To all my friends in Houston, stay safe over there! Ike is bearing down and they're saying it will be Category 3 at landfall, so I hope for the best for all of you. I hope your possessions remain intact, of course, but most of all I hope for your personal safety. To anyone who's evacuating, best of luck on the trip and I hope it goes more smoothly than the Rita evacuation.

2008-09-09

Rice's Game Changing Performance

Rice's last-second, come-from-behind win made the final cut for ESPN's Pontiac Game Changing Performance of the Week. Please visit the site and vote for Rice; with such a small alumni base, we need all the help we can get!

Deja Vu

Everytime I think I've left IMD's first half in my rearview mirror, it jumps back into my life. It is late at night, I'm here at school with my team, and--just to ensure that I really feel like it's Q1 2008 again--we all just trampled each other to get at sushi left over from an executive program dinner. But I wouldn't have it any other way; these are the memories I will take with me years afterward.

Our Phase II ICP presentation is 36 hours away and there is still a great deal of work to do. However, it is interesting work so staring at it all day everyday is not onerous. Time constraints bring the challenge of finding the right balance between sophisticated analysis and quality communication of results. Growing anxiety over careers adds another dimension as teammates (myself included!) are pulled in other directions. This isn't unexpected, though, and I'm sure we can address it--after all, we will face similar challenges in the "real " world.

2008-09-07

A Great Day for Football

Yesterday was a great day for football in my family. My mother's alma mater, TCU, destroyed SFA 67-7. Not to be outdone, my father's alma mater, Arkansas St, obliterated TSU 83-10. Meanwhile the University of Minnesota, where both my parents earned their PhDs, beat Bowling Green 42-17.

Rice's game against Memphis was much closer, but we still prevailed 42-35, scoring 29 fourth quarter points, capped off by a 69-yard interception return for TD with only 11 seconds remaining in the game. Go Owls!

Now if only my Redskins could pull their offense together . . .

2008-09-04

A Trace in the Sky

Monday evening I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit in on a session in an executive program for a major energy company. The speaker was Bertrand Piccard, who completed the first transglobal balloon trip. I had seen his balloon at the National Air & Space Museum, where my mother works, so I was intrigued to meet this adventurer.

His talk was very interesting. The first theme ws leadership of teams against difficult goals, a subject near and dear to my heart. The second theme was leadership and decision-making when you have little control over external factors. In a balloon, for example, you can change altitude but you have no steering control and you certainly can't control the weather. By recognizing that which you cannot control and focusing on what you can (adjusting altitude to take advantage of different wind directions and weather patterns), you will be maximally effective. The talk finished with a brilliant photo montage accompanied by "Let It Be."

Bertrand is now focusing on a new project: Solar Impulse, a 100% solar-powered plane to go around the world. I wish him great success, as such projects will inspire people. Many thanks to the most sophisticated woman at IMD, who was instrumental in helping me finnagle an invitation to the session.

2008-09-02

Condom Understanding

Yesterday was the first presentation to our ICP client, the definitive end of Phase I. ICPs usually follow a four phase format:

I: Industry Analysis - understand the client's industry and which factors are key to succeeding in it
II: Company Analysis - benchmark the client against those key success factors, identify gaps, and recommend initiatives to close them
III: Issue Analysis - take one of those initiatives and work it out in great detail to provide very specific recommendations on which actions the company should take
IV: Implementation - provide a plan for and participate in the implementation of change

Our project is a little different, however. The client arrived with a firm idea of which issues they wanted worked. Accordingly we combined the industry and company analyses into Phase I and used it as an objective validation of the specific issues on which the client wanted to focus. Our conclusions were that yes, supply chain mattered to this industry, yes, the client had significant room for improvement and, in fact, if they didn't address their supply chain strategy immediately, they would soon find themselves in a world of hurt.

Three of our client stakeholders--including one board member--came down to IMD. I was honored to be selected by my team to make this first presentation, key to setting the tone for the rest of the project. Our team worked long and hard to produce a quality deliverable and wanted to make sure that the presentation reflected that. Although I had to adapt my usual "jovial" style to the serious, Swiss-German audience, I think it went well. This should largely be credited to the team (including Corey, our faculty advisor), who offered me very helpful feedback during the several dry runs we went through.

There was one snafu, though, and it occurred at the very beginning. I was presenting with the display behind me and one of my teammates' laptops in front of me, controlling the powerpoint presentation. While presenting one of the first slides, a meeting reminder popped up on the laptop, obscuring much of the screen. It wasn't visible on the display behind me, however, so no one else knew about it. As I contemplated whether or not just to continue presenting that way, my mouth was on autopilot. I was supposed to say that our objective for the meeting was to build a "common platform of understanding" from which to launch the rest of the project. However, what came out was a "condom platform of understanding." Oops.

After that, though, it was pretty smooth sailing. We're glad to have Phase I behind us and today will immerse ourselves in Phase II: conceiving an optimization model for warehouse locations and transportation costs within Europe. Our next presentation is in 10 days--bring it on!

2008-08-30

Rice Football

The weather here has taken a decidedly cooler turn. I'm not sure if that's just temporary or if we're entering autumn. Such thoughts in August would be unheard of in Houston--and even in northern Virginia--but I suppose it is possible. Either way, the onset of cooler weather always means one thing to me: it's football season!

Although professional games don't begin until next weekend, this weekend marks the start of the season for the NCAA. My fighting Rice Owls won their season opener last night against conference rival SMU in very decisive fashion. I'm sorry I couldn't have been there as the home opener each year is always quite a spectacle.

I can't believe it's been over 10 years now since I last played football. Real football, I mean--none of this sissy flag variety. The grueling two-a-days in August heat causing players to drop like flies and require intraveinous water/electrolytes, the smell of freshly cut grass, the competition on the field for starting positions, the resultant camaraderie off the field, the crack of helmet on helmet and pads on pads, the roar of the crowd, etc, etc. The football field was a great place to learn about teamwork, leadership, strategy, discipline, performance in clutch situations, and how to accomplish goals despite daunting obstacles (UT!).

I will miss the football season here in Lausanne but at least I can follow my teams thanks to the Web. Go Rice! Hail to the Redskins! And, of course, Go TJHSST Colonials!

2008-08-27

ICP Client Visit in Zurich

Following is an IMD MBA Diary entry cowritten by my ICP teammate, Daniel, and me. This is Daniel's second time working with me (We were also in the same Mod II study group.) and he hasn't strangled me yet. Pictures of this trip are in my facebook album.

You know that something has changed when you take a train during a weekday. We have become so used to being stuck in Ouchy that it felt almost awkward not to sit in a classroom all day. There was a sense of adventure and excitement in the air when we (Bryan Hassin [USA], Mupwaya Mutakwa [Zambia], Felipe Restrepo [Colombia], Daniel Thull [Germany] and our professor Corey Billington [USA]) left Lausanne for the first work-meeting with our ICP client.

The expectations for our meeting were high. Over the last months there had been some communication glitches between our client, a global Chemical company code-named Pandora, and us and we were eager to get the project back on track. We used the two hour ride to Zurich in a very “swissy” train car to consult with Corey and come up with a project plan that will bring us closer to the “big win”. Had someone told us a year ago that we would be travelling first class to Zurich, talking about physical supply chain optimization and the tax-effect of principal structures, we probably would have told him to go see a doctor...

Avid diary readers might recall that we have recently seen the movie “An inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore. Although our project team had not discussed the issue openly, we did all our travel on public transportation and thus maybe helped to offset some of the carbon footprint of our colleagues who travel around the world.

The meeting with Pandora went very well. Although one of our stakeholders was out with a migraine (maybe that was due to the long list of information we were requesting from him) we were able to extract lots of useful information from them. Not least did we learn that emulsion polymers are colloidal dispersions of polymers in an aqueous medium. We expect that tidbit to be of critical importance in our future careers.

The Pandora buildings left quite an impression. Bland from the outside, they were sharp and very modern inside. Maybe a little TOO modern—the green bathroom was a bit much! Speaking of green, though, all of their buildings had green roofs. We thought this sustainability touch, coupled with the absence of a single environmental incident over their 100+-year corporate history, was surprising—and welcome—coming from a chemical manufacturer.

Lunch was a refreshing break as we spent an hour chatting up our client. The special of the day was “Fleischkäs”, which ostensibly means “meatloaf.” However, this was like no meatloaf we had ever seen. It was basically a huge hot dog, sliced into crosswise sections and served with gravy. It couldn’t compete with IMD’s lunches, but what do you expect in the cafeteria of the local water works?! Unfortunately Corey had a long conference call and couldn’t join us for lunch. He had to settle for a cheese sandwich plus a Twix – welcome to the consulting world!

Before hopping on the train to head back to Lausanne, our group relaxed by the river for about 45 minutes. We found a nice little café with outdoor seating and ordered a round of beer—except for B ryan. When told that they didn’t have any dark beer, he ordered Scotch whiskey instead. The “bourbon” on the menu came from Tennessee so he didn’t trust it—Americans! Despite the fact that he claimed to have had Macallan 12-year many times before, this was the first time that it was served A. in a champagne flute and B. accompanied by dark Lindt chocolate—a pairing that went quite well!

On the train ride home we abandoned project discussion to talk about careers. Corey was helpful in providing some of his wisdom accumulated throughout his years at IBM, HP, and Silicon Valley start-ups. His #1 piece of advice to us sounded obvious but he assured us that each year he saw students not follow it: avoid toxic companies/work environments. Avoid them like the plague. If you love what you do and are in a nurturing environment, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. You should feel your energy going up every day. If, however, you are in an exploitative, unethical, abusive, or otherwise “evil” company, your energy will go down and life will . . . suck.

This project falls into the former category. We are set to deliver millions of euros of value to our client, we have tremendous faculty support from Corey, and we are very positive as a team. Despite the fact that the solution to our client’s problem is non-obvious, our energy level for addressing it is increasing and we know that we will succeed. Now, in the meantime, we all need to work on finding similar environments for life after IMD!