Yesterday we made our final presentation for our startup project. After four months of working to add value to our client company, we are enthusiastic about its prospects so had no trouble presenting it positively to our jury of VCs and entrepreneurs. They asked tough questions which made for a challenging, valuable experience.

To celebrate, one of my startup group members, Mathias (French), and I attended a performance of Bizet's Carmen last night. Perhaps we should have been working on our papers or studying for exams, but relaxing with a wonderful performance and some wine (My first in three weeks!!!) was just what the doctor ordered.

We have this morning free too, as the final startup groups make their presentations. Martin (Czech), Martin's wife (Czech), and Tomas (Slovakian), and I are seizing the opportunity to play some beach volleyball. Again, maybe we should be working but the weather is beautiful and I can't pass up the opportunity to get in touch with my Eastern European side.


May 28th

As many of my readers know, May 28th has been a poignant day for me for 18 years now. It was on this day in 1990 that my father lost his 11-year fight against cancer. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, but not a day goes by either that I'm not thankful for the time we had together.

He was a remarkable man, born in Lucera, Italy during WWII to my Arabic grandfather and Nonna italiana. He then grew up with four wonderful sisters in a modest little house in Hot Springs, Arkansas--just a few doors down from Bill Clinton, incidentally. I don't think his parents ever really understood his ambition as he established a promising career in optical physics and moved around the country, but they loved him and supported him all the way until the end.

In the wake of Dad's death, I discovered exactly how blessed I was. I have a strong, wonderful mother who was more than up to the challenge of playing the roles of both of my parents. I have an extended family who has always been and will always be there for me. And I have devoted friends who accept me unconditionally. Through no fault of my own, I have more than anyone could ask for and for that I am extremely grateful.

So on a day that I always devote to pensiveness and reflection, here's to you, Dr. Guido Hassin. I miss you. We all miss you. But we're all better off for having known you.


The Irrationalities of Negotiation

Today we conducted another acquisition simulation, for Finance this time. Our last simulation, for Strategy, was computerized and was built around realizing synergies between the two organizations and generating buy-in from stakeholders on both sides (and external). Today's simulation was a negotiation between Nestle and Rowntree, a UK-based chocolatier. Our 12 study groups were divided up evenly, half representing the acquiror and half the acquiree.

Last night we submitted our position to a neutral party: which operational/organizational issues were important for us, who we thought had the most bargaining leverage, what our target price was, and what our walk-away price was. The objective was to propose a win-win deal in which both sides ceded some points and came out better in the long run. My group represented Rowntree.

This morning we met with our paired Nestle group and got down to business. We both agreed that we were working toward the same goal and the meeting began very congenially. We compromised and came to agreements on layoffs, organizational structure, branding, and distribution with no problem. However, once the discussion turned to price, the attitudes of both sides soured.

It has been impressive to me how consistently, in every negotiation we have done, no matter how genuine the desire for collaboration is, irrationality and defensiveness play strong roles. Someone will invariably say something inflammatory. This causes the other group to put up its defenses and soon the two groups are "at war" with each other. In this case it came down to the last minute for us. We were bickering over a gap of 25 pence per share. The price was well above my group's walk-away price and below the other group's walk-away price. We had agreed on every other aspect of the deal. In short, rationally everyone in the room was prepared to accept the terms on the table but no one's ego wanted to give up that final 25 pence--or even meet in the middle.

At the last second, as we were being called into class and it looked like no deal would happen. I offered my hand to the other group's chief negotiator and accepted their terms. I had no authority to do so, but my group went along with it because rationally they knew it was the smart choice. I couldn't believe how emotions had almost killed a good deal over 25 pence!

The real learning came in class during the debrief. Only half of our groups had reached agreements despite every single one of them having entered negotiations with enough common ground (as illustrated by the positions they submitted last night) to do a deal. One group failed to close based on a difference of 10 pence even though all their other terms were in place--and I thought our 25-pence difference seemed trivial!

The exercise and the debrief were valuable. If there is one thing we have learned at IMD it is that human beings behave irrationally, especially when under stress. Human beings lead and represent organizations (companies, departments, even countries), giving these organizations a sort of collective irrationality. Slowly but surely we are learning to anticipate and identify irrational behavior in ourselves and in others, enabling us to detach from strong situations and make rational decisions. Here at IMD we have the opportunity to test out such skills in a consequence-free environment such that we are more prepared to do the right thing when billions of dollars, the future of an organization, or even human lives are on the line. Real world, real learning.


Beach Volleyball in the Rain

After an incredibly productive several days of work for deskNET, my group's startup client, I was chomping at the bit to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. Most of the class gathered in the auditorium to watch The Constant Gardener, one of 10 movies we must see in preparation for our Discovery Trip to Kenya. Having already seen it, I snuck off with Tomas, the Super Slovakian, to get some volleyball in while it was still light out.

At almost exactly the moment that we played our first point, it began to rain, just a sprinkle at first. Then it came down a little harder. And then harder. By the time we finished our second game, it was pouring. But hey, we were already there so we might as well play. Our opponents had the same attitude so, while the rest of the courts cleared, we managed to squeeze in four games before Tomas had to leave. Sure the conditions were suboptimal, but it was still a blast.

On an unrelated note, I've finally returned to my journey through American pop music and have now made it to 1993. It takes me back to my 8th grade graduation dance at Lake Braddock and the beginning of my freshman year at TJ--great memories!


US Immigration

Today's IPE class featured discussion of Europe's immigration policies and challenges. In much of the discussion, the US (along with Australia and Canada) was held up as an example of "good" immigration culture. Perhaps I've become so bogged down by the US media, where immigration is always a hot topic and our policies are always portrayed as needing to be "fixed," but it was interesting to hear the perspective of 80+ students from other countries. Apparently the US isn't doing such a bad job.

One thing this course has driven home to me is that I took so many things for granted growing up in the US. Many, many other places in the world enjoy so much less wealth, freedom, and . . . hope than we do; I feel very fortunate to have, through no fault of my own, had the opportunities I have had. As my Romanian-American classmate points out, perhaps I'm still riding high on the excellent representation of the US brought to us by yesterday's visit from Warren Buffett. Either way, I'm proud to be an American and God bless America!


The Oracle of Omaha

When I first heard that Buffett would be coming to IMD, I was ecstatic. When I learned that it was Warren Buffett, not Jimmy, I was disappointed but still pretty excited. We prepared and analyzed a case involving Berkshire Hathaway's first international acquisition, Iscar, and were joined by Buffett and Icsar's CEO, Eitan Wertheimer. Although we only had an hour with them, they covered a lot of ground ranging from investment strategy to operations policies. However, as is usually the case when we have the case protagonists in class, most of our questions were about softer issues: leadership, culture, and values.

Buffett impressed me as being very . . . real. His personal presentation was exactly in line with the writing style of his letters to shareholders and books: simple, modest, and sprinkled with stories from his entire career. His ability to remember elaborate details from decades ago is amazing. It was also great to have a prominent American here representing good values and responsibility. Moreover, I felt very much at home as he described his love of American football and steak.

Perhaps most important, however, is that I let the Oracle know that I had a prediction of my own: the Rice Owls will win the College World Series of Baseball in his hometown of Omaha this year. I will send him a Rice baseball cap so that he can show his support in June!


MBA Rankings

The Financial Times, which traditionally gives IMD's MBA the lowest ranking (#14 in the world and #4 in Europe this year) of any publication, just ranked IMD as the #1 school in the world for executive education, tying it with Harvard Business School. The FT also ranked IMD #1 in the world last year in its "ranking of rankings," which considers the MBA, executive MBA, and other executive education programs. Although I would love to see the MBA ranked higher, my kudos still go out to all of my professors who contributed to the high executive ranking.

Rankings should obviously be taken with a heaping spoonful of salt. However, as a quantitative person, I like knowing how my organization is measuring up against others in specific evaluation criteria. The key is to understand those criteria instead of just taking the ranking at face value. The FT ranking, for example, surveys MBA alumni and asks them questions such as from which schools they are most likely to recruit new MBA graduates, possibly biasing the ranking toward larger schools.

As the rest of the major publications announce their rankings this year, I will keep everyone updated.

Alternative Energy

An anonymous reader posted a comment on one of my previous blog entries asking, "Are there opportunities for MBAs in alternative energy?" My analysis indicates that there are. There is a tremendous amount of investment in alternative energy right now, and investment implies the need for finance, entrepreneurship, and management skills. Alternative energy is also dependent on major deals and partnerships so deal brokering skills are important. R&D and innovation management are also key for many alternative energy companies.

Vestas Wind Energy recruits at IMD and I had the opportunity to bump into their CTO on-campus. We discussed how large alternative energy companies look for leaders to help them solve their major technological challenges, an issue near and dear to my heart, as well. So yes, anonymous reader, I believe that there are many many opportunities for MBAs in the world of alternative energy.


Final MBAT Thoughts

Although I complained a great deal about HEC's disorganization, the weekend was still a blast. Not to be a total geek, but it felt a lot to me like Harry Potter's Triwizard tournament. There were schools from all over Europe and participants from all over the world. Each school had its own colors and culture, and everywhere you went many languages were being spoken.

I am proud to have coached/captained both of IMD's medal-winning teams. I wish I could take credit for the success but the real credit is due to my teammates, who overcame long odds, no time for practice, and the temptation to blow off the tournament to frolic in Paris. Many of them stepped up on a moment's notice, without any preparation at all, and helped us win through sheer determination. Those who weren't playing helped through their cheering and support.

Now we are back in Lausanne and the work has piled up. We have a big Strategy project due this week and many more deliverables next week, but the memory of the MBAT is still fresh in our minds. Although my voice is hoarse, my arm and side rope-burned, and my middle finger numb (not sure what I did to it during the tug of war), I am honored to have represented IMD alongside such capable classmates. Now, back to the "real" world!


MBAT Day 3

Today didn't start out any better than yesterday. Our indoor volleyball team, which had never played together before, was quickly eliminated by Oxford. There was no time to dwell on it, however, as our beach volleyball pairs match, also against Oxford, started immediately afterward. My partner, Mario, was still swimming at the time so his alternate, Martin, joined me on the court.

Martin and I had never played together but he did an excellent job of playing good, consistent volleyball. In contrast to the previous day's 4s, the ref today was calling tight beach rules. Considering Martin's inexperience with these rules and the large court size (still configured for 4s), we decided on a basic, consistent, let-them-make-the-mistakes strategy. It worked; we won very decisively and advanced to the next round. It wasn't always pretty volleyball but it got the job done.

In the meantime, basketball won its first game of the day (despite our captain's early ejection) and some of our swimmers were winning their heats so things were looking up. Martin's and my next beach volleyball game was against IE. In this game we gelled more as a team and were able to play a little more aggressively. Martin continued to play very well and gave me some dime sets that I was able to put away hard. 20-30 IMD supporters came out for the game and cheered us on, which felt really great. I'm used to playing with maybe a few cheerleaders on the side; having 20-30 yelling for us made a real difference!

We won another game after lunch (where the food was, again, terrible) to make it into the final three. Naturally HEC was disorganized and no one could tell us exactly when these semifinals would be. Plus, what kind of tournament format has a final three instead of final four?! I didn't have time to stick around and argue as it was almost time for the Tug of War to begin.

Tug teams were composed of five men and three women. Most of our men and all of our women had never tugged before. Furthermore we were significantly undersized relative to the other teams--that's what happens when you're the smallest school in the tourney! Still, I had tried over the preceding month to research best practices (Do yourself a favor and read the training section at the Scottish Tug of War Association's website; you won't be disappointed.) and teach them to our team during short breaks between classes. IMD's maintenance staff was kind enough to provide some rope for practice.

However, due to injuries and some of our tuggers taking off to spend the day in Paris, four of our starting team had to be replaced at the last minute. This lightened up our team even more and added the challenge of teaching our technique to half the team in just a few minutes. Many thanks to Lucy, Aoife, Bevan, and Sergei for stepping up.

So here it was, the moment I had been waiting for. Could we win with heart and technique instead of size? I sure believed we could but now it was time to find out. I sprinted across campus to the tug pitch where, surprise surprise, things were disorganized and running behind. Our first tug was against Cambridge and started half an hour late. The extra preparation time didn't help them as we won very quickly. There's nothing quite like pulling with every muscle in your body while your oponent, just a few feet from you and trying desperately to resist, is drawn closer and closer to the mid-line until . . . you've won! What a rush!

I was told by the organizers that our next tug would be in 30 minutes, which would give me just enough time to tug then sprint back to beach volleyball for the semis. Unfortunately 30 minutes came and went and we were still no nearer to our next tug so I had to leave.

In the beach volleyball semifinals against ESADE, Mario was available so he played with me instead of Martin. We never quite got it together and lost 16-14 in a very even match. While it was a disappointment to be sure, Mario, Martin, and I were happy with taking home IMD's first medals of the tournament, even if they were bronze.

Word came from our fans that IMD had won its second tug (against Oxford) and that its third would be starting soon. Many thanks to Matt for captaining in my absence and to Joonwon for pulling in my stead. Many thanks as well to Mathieu, who gave me a ride back to the tug pitch, saving me 10 minutes and arriving just in time for me to tug against HEC. There may have been some latent frustration released against our hosts but, whatever the motivation, we beat them to advance to the finals against SDA Bocconi.

The final match against our hotel-mates was a real battle. They easily outweighed us and their technique was good to boot. Moreover, their captain could have been my [evil] twin. We dug our heels in and tugged our hearts out. In the end, it wasn't enough. After what seemed like an eternity of stalemate, we began to lose traction and slide toward the midline. I worked feverishly to stop the movement but my shoes slipped too and I, as IMD's frontman, was pulled over the midline. So ended IMD's cinderella story and my long-time unbeaten streak in tug of war. My hat is off to Bocconi and Mike, their captain, as a worthy adversary. Still, we took silver, our second medal of the tournament, and proved that it wasn't the size of the team in the fight, but the size of the fight in the team that mattered.

With sports competition behind us, it was then time to celebrate with the closing BBQ on the lake. As a Texan, I was interested to see what the French called a "BBQ." We went back to the hotel to clean up and then returned to campus. On our way we encountered a Manchester University student whose car had slid off the road into a ditch. Fortunately it was a Fiat 500 so we got out and helped him lift it up out of the ditch and back onto the road. While we didn't get a medal for it, helping out a peer in need was probably the most rewarding feeling of the weekend.

The "BBQ" was, sure enough, just a cookout, but I wasn't complaining. It was a lot better than their cafeteria food and it was fun to wind down with all the other schools. In true HEC fashion they ran out of beer an hour into the event. "But don't worry," they told us, "there is still plenty of wine." The fermented grape juice they were referring to was in giant boxes and was terrible. Here we were in Paris, France, and they expected us to drink box wine. Au contraire, mon frere!

Pictures of beach volleyball, tug of war, and Fiat rescue are in my facebook album.


MBAT Day 2

The MBAT is off to a not-so-great start for IMD. It began this morning when our men's soccer team finished its first game against host HEC with a 0-0 tie. Within the first minutes Chilean Jani, one of our best players, was out with a pulled hamstring. Czech Martin and Portuguese Pedro were also injured, although they were able to continue playing. As the day wore on, things didn't improve; we tied Oxford 0-0 and lost to Cambridge 3-0. Consequently we did not advance in the tournament and won't play again tomorrow. As most of you know, I'm no great fan of soccer, but I am a fan of my classmates who have been training hard for this tournament and I feel for their disappointment.

Our basketball team didn't fare any better. Our captain, Ziad, who played professional basketball in Lebanon, was stuck on a lost shuttle bus for two hours and missed our game. While I suspect that the busdriver "got lost" due to a major payoff from RSM, our opponent, the more probable explanation is yet another failure of HEC organization.

In Ultimate Frisbee we did a little better, besting our first opponent with a last-second goal scored by Canadian Ian, the team captain. This goal came at a heavy cost, though, as the assist came from German Daniel, who severley sprained his ankle on the play. He was obviously missed in the next game, which we lost 13-0.

I only played in one sport today, coed beach volleyball 4s. My American ringer and I had both played beach 4s a great deal, but French Olivier and Belarussian Sergei were new to the format. We got off to a very slow start against IESE but finally settled down some. Unfortunately it was too little too late. We lost the first game 15-11 only to realize that that was the ONLY game. Despite the schedule explicitly stating that we would play best-of-three, the rules had been changed at the last minute to mandate single games to 15 with rally scoring. I argued that, if we were going to have a single-elimination tournament with single games and rally scoring, we should at least play to 21 or more. Alas, the decision had already been made. They only had one sand court so were taking drastic measures to speed up the tournament. Bravo, HEC.

It was a rough start to the games but we live to fight another day. After a 90-minute wait for a shuttle bus we headed back to the hotel and drank wine, ate pizza, played ping pong, and relaxed all evening. I'm not going to lie; I play to win and was disappointed in our performance (including my own) today. However, it's hard to dwell on that too much when drinking great wine with great people in great weather. Tomorrow is indoor volleyball, beach volleyball pairs, and . . . TUG OF WAR!

Pictures from today have now been added to my facebook album.


MBAT Day 1

I missed morning class today and hopped on an early train to Paris to meet up with the ringer I imported for the MBAT coed volleyball events. My adventure began around 7:30 AM at the train station, where the official refused to sell me a ticket for the 8:03 TGV to Paris. According to him there was a 7:03 train which I had already missed and a 9:03 train but nothing in between. This was perplexing since the online schedule indicated that there was an 8:03 train. Even more perplexing was the fact that an 8:03 TGV was showing as on-time on the Departures board. Weird.

After exhausting my French vacabulary arguing with him about the existence of such a train, I finally gave in and bought a ticket for the 9:03. I did NOT want to waste an hour of Paris time hanging around the station so I decided to check out the platform where the phantom 8:03 would allegedly arrive. Sure enough, it came right on time. I was a little nervous about hopping on board. After all, my ticket was for a different train and, hey, this wasn't Vietnam; there were rules here. What would happen if there weren't any seats for me? Or the conductor didn't accept my ticket? Would he throw me off the moving train?

I decided to be WILD AND CRAZY and climbed aboard, taking the assigned seat I would have had on the 9:03. So much for my worries about competition for seats; there wasn't another soul on board. Perhaps this actually was a ghost train . . . Oh well, no matter; it got me into Paris on-time and the scenery on the way up was lovely. Fields of bright yellow (flowering canola) abounded on both sides and the weather was beautiful.

After a four-hour trip I arrived at Paris's Gare de Lyon. Now it was time to find IMD's hotel, which was supposed to be just South of the main city. Two hours later (partially due to Paris's slow, late trains and partially due to the fact that the hotel was WAY out in BFE), I checked in. It turned out to be perfect timing, though, as my ringer was just arriving at the same time. The rest of IMD wouldn't be arriving for another 4-5 hours so we passed the time with a leisurely lunch/wine tasting out on the veranda by the pool. SDA Bocconi and Cranfield were at our hotel as well so we met some of their students while we waited on my classmates.

Several vans of IMD students finally arrived and we were ready to head to HEC (our host school/campus) for the official opening ceremonies. Or were we? We waited for the shuttle bus, which was supposed to come to our hotel every hour, for over two hours, finally arriving just after the ceremonies ended. Great logistical planning; strike one, HEC.

Our students, led by Trinbagian Paul Holmes, had lit a torch in Lausanne with the Olympic flame at the World Olympics Headquarters and transported it all the way to HEC and now did not have a chance to share it with the rest of the participants. Oh well, it was the thought that counted. Except that apparently at the ceremonies HEC people brought their own torch and told everyone they had lit it in Lausanne and transported it themselves. They were taking credit for our moves while we were standing around waiting on their poorly organized bus system! Strike two, HEC.

Oh well, no problem, at least they were about to serve us dinner. Unfortunately, dinner was terrible. It was served in a cafeteria that would make even the worst elementary school lunch line look good. The highlight of dinner was the HEC representative telling us we had three options: Chinese, Italian, and Middle Eastern. The sign on the "Middle Eastern" section was clearly labeled "Morocco," not exactly in the Middle East. The other highlight was finally receiving our schedules for sporting events that were less than 12 hours away. Strike three, HEC.

At least we are here, though. It is great to be here with my volleyball ringer and classmates, unburdened by schoolwork. The Bocconi kids are great too and the weather is expected to stay beautiful so I think it's going to be one heck of a weekend. Pictures of the first day are in my facebook album.


Today was another great day!

Arturo correctly identified T2 as the "best movie ever" in Finance this morning. I can't think of a better way to learn about real options. Strategy was very interesting this afternoon as well. We covered strategies for multi-business corporate entities: how many businesses can a conglomerate reasonably manage and which ones should it keep/grow/divest? These are issues I never considered in the software startup world! I love this school.

On another note, my train for Paris leaves in 8 hours--vive la france!


Integrative Exercise v2.0 is OVER!

Today was a great day. It marked the end of our final integrative exercise. So as not to ruin any surprises for next year's class, my following description will be deliberately vague.

Friday evening after class we received our first assignment, a case study of a company evaluating acquisition candidates. We were told that the exercise would last all weekend and that, at the end of the exercise on Monday, the two most successful teams would have an opportunity to present to the CFO of the company that was the subject of the case. Our first deliverable was due Saturday morning: a presentation on which target to acquire and why. My study group met immediately and set out our goals. We agreed on two: 1. to be selected to present to the CFO and 2. to achieve goal #1 without killing ourselves.

We got down to work, analyzed our options, made our choice, and built our story. Most of us headed home by midnight but a few troopers stayed behind to beautify the slides. Even they were happy and done by 1 AM, a major success considering most of us had pulled multiple 5AM nights (with 8 AM returns) during the last integrative exercise. There were many groups still working when we left, so we felt like we were on track to meet at least goal #2.

Four other groups were chosen to present their picks and, judging by their presentations, we felt pretty good about what we had submitted. We were then given much more detailed information about one of the companies (which happened to be our pick) and told to come back at the end of the day with a valuation for it. We worked hard all day but never seemed to get it together. By the time our deadline came around we were still feverishly plugging numbers into the spreadsheet.

Naturally this time we were chosen to present. My hat is off to my groupmate, Daniel, who presented for us, never having seen the slides before. It reminded me of my ad hoc presentation back in Februrary but he was a trooper and did as well as could have been expected--better even! Still, we clearly had a lot of room for improvement.

We were then given more information about the acquisition target and issued our final assignment: to present an investment recommendation to the protagonist company's Board of Directors. Several groups took Saturday night off in order to recharge for a full day of work on Sunday. In line with goal #2 and our poor performance during the second phase, we went to work Saturday night to get a head start. When we returned on Sunday we were far enough along that we were one of the first groups to leave (~11 PM) even having taken a two-hour break to lunch, shop, or--in my case--lift.

As we neared completion I became more and more hopeful that I would be the one to present on behalf of my group. Fourth quarter with the game on the line has always been when I have been at my best and this was probably one of the best ways I could contribute to my group's efforts. "Give me the ball, Coach; I won't let you down!"

My group gave me the ball and I didn't let them down. I felt very comfortable with the presentation but I stayed behind to run through it a few times just to make sure I would nail it when it counted. Come Monday morning we were ready for our presentation before faculty judges. Everyone in the group had contributed a great deal to the research, analysis, and format of the presentation. Furthermore, due to our accomplishment of goal #2, we were all well rested and in good spirits.

It would be presumptuous for me to declare that I nailed the presentation but, suffice to say, it went very well. My group performed excellently during the Q&A portion as well; as we left the lecture hall we all gave each other hugs for a team effort with which we were very satisfied. Now all that remained was accomplishment of goal #1, presentation to the CFO!

We heard rumors that we had been selected before lunch but it wasn't until after lunch that we received the official news. The messenger was none other than Matt, another American classmate, who would be presenting to the CFO on behalf of his group as well. Matt and I interviewed for IMD together so I was thrilled that we would have the opportunity to present back-to-back again.

The presentations (which were in front of the rest of the class in addition to the CFO) went well. Matt's group had produced results very similar to ours but they had come to the opposite conclusion, which made for interesting discussion. The piece de resistance of my group's presentation was my flashing my Texas-sized belt buckle to prove credibility since the acquisition target was based in Houston. The CFO (and one of his colleagues) was a great addition, probing us about our analysis, assumptions, and conclusions. He then stuck around to share cocktails with us as we shook off the weariness of the exercise and embraced the glorious weather.

It was a great exercise and most of us agreed that we had learned a lot and really (in hindsight!) enjoyed the process. Amazingly many of us were almost sad that this was our last integrative exercise. Credit goes to Stewart Hamilton and Alicia Micklethwait (and the subject company's Finance staff) for creating the case and organizing the exercise.

For our group it was more than just a great exercise; it was a great triumph in which we achieved our goals as a team. Each groupmate owned his/her role and made very valuable contributions. I am thankful to be in such a solid team and proud to have helped out.

Of course, before the wine bottles were even empty it was back to business as usual. It was time to plan out our assignments for the rest of the week. Still, I am high on the exercise and most of us will be in Paris in 72 hours for the MBAT so good luck dampening my spirits!


May Day

"First of May, first of May
F%#&ing outdoors starts today."
--James Taylor

Although it snowed briefly yesterday, the weather is still beautiful and I stick to my contention that Spring has arrived in Lausanne. People are coughing and sneezing a great deal in class so once again I am trying to remain physically and mentally fit to ward off any virus that may be going around. The last thing I want is to let my team down during this weekend's integrative exercise because I am sick.

Today in Accounting we studied cases of rogue traders who were able to cause the collapse of healthy, established banks by incurring huge losses unchecked. In each case there was a combination of factors (ethics, controls, ignorance, bureaucracy, communication, etc.) that contributed to the crisis, in each case the industry claimed it had learned its lessons after the fact, and in each case there was another, almost identical event relatively shortly thereafter.

What interested me most about this discussion was that this was not the first time we discussed cases about management ignoring blatant warning signs due to group dynamics, misaligned incentives, and individual psychologies. For example, in our Organizational Leadership class (the continuance of LPO, taught by Australian professor Ben Bryant) we studied the case of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident and the management decisions that led to it.

Irrational human behavior is something that has not changed and probably will not change. The key challenge is preventing it from translating into irrational organizational behavior. How can a leader address that? Culture change? Control mechanisms? Moreover, how can one address it while not causing drastic consequences, e.g., stifling innovation with too much control? Clearly there is no universal answer but we are learning more each day about how at least to identify such situations, their symptoms, and their causes.

And speaking of irrational organizational behavior, IPE is about to start. Today's topics: China-US trade relations and the Chinese Olympics. Heated debate, here I come!