2008-06-29

The Poorest of the Poor

Wow, today was intense. We began with a trip into the heart of Korogocha, one of Africa’s largest (~400k people, but no one really knows how many) slums. As we bussed in, many had to close their windows as the stench was revolting. We caused quite a spectacle traveling along the narrow, make-shift streets as we passed shanty after shanty. Many kids climbed onto the back of the bus and hitched a ride. Outsiders don’t often visit the slums, where crime and disease are rampant.

Korogocha is located next to Nairobi’s only landfill. A major industry within the slum is for kids to rifle through dumped trash, finding used goods than can be sold for a few shillings on the “street.” We passed such a “market” and it was amazing how many odds and ends had been collected and categorized: combs, mirrors (broken), sunglasses, toothbrushes . . . I suddenly felt extremely guilty for everything I had ever thrown away. Much of the trash in the landfill is burned, emitting fumes that penetrate Korogocha and cause respiratory illness in its inhabitants.

We finally arrived at our destination: St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a heavily fortified compound in the middle of the slum. The moment we stepped down from the bus, all of the churchgoing children came to greet us; we were instant celebrities. I think Roberto (Mexican) and Steffen (Danish) were the most popular. While the rest of us were listening to Father Daniel tell us about the history of the mission, they were chasing the kids around, instigating giggles and squeals of glee. At one point Roberto practically incited a riot; he had all the kids shouting in unison, “MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO!”

Church service began at 10:30 AM. We spread out and sat with local churchgoers. As is my way, I made my way to the front and center. After a few minutes, others arrived and informed me that this was the choir’s section. They invited me to stay but I assured them that they did NOT want that! I made my way back a few rows and sat between two nice men who helped me adhere to the local customs throughout the service.

The “church” was an amphitheater with cement stadium-style seating plus a few benches in the middle. The service was in Swahili but the men around me translated some of the important parts for me. It was the day of saints Peter and Paul, so the homily was about Peter and the rock and was pretty easily understood regardless of the language. At one point my classmate, Martin (Czech), was invited up to lift a heavy rock as part of an interactive demonstration. He elicited wild applause from the audience.

The service was something akin to the Pentecostal service I attended once in Washington DC. There was lots of singing, clapping, dancing/swaying, handholding, smiling, and laughing. At one point we all held hands and cast the darkness out of our lives with emphatic chanting, gesturing, and dancing. Each time I thought I had the hang of it, the steps changed. Fortunately the men on either side of me where gracious and patient and helped me figure it out.

At one point I was about to sit back down when the man to my left pointed out that a boy behind me had urinated on the ground and I was about to sit in it—thanks for the heads-up! And toward the end of the service the wind changed such that the smell of the fetid, baking landfill next door came over; it was nauseating. But the smiles continued and spirits were high; it was inspiring.

The service ended at 12:30 and we had a few minutes to explore the church compound on our own. I had heard about their sports programs so I went immediately to their gym. It could hardly be called a gym; it was a shack with a bunch of broken down equipment haphazardly scattered around. Those who used it had no instruction and just kind of did what others, who had in turn learned from others before them, did. It was almost definitely suboptimal and probably unsafe, but the dedication was inspiring. Here were people living on less than $1 per day and they were still making time to lift weights and train for sport. Rocky would have been so proud. I wish we had stayed longer; I gladly would have organized a training session.

Our lunch was set up intentionally to show the stark contrast within the city. We dined at the Safari Club, a country club just a few minutes drive away from the slum. It had a swimming pool with waterfalls and slide, elegant cuisine, and a fitness center that was everything St. Peter’s gym wasn’t: pristine equipment, LCD TVs, clean water . . . Lunch was pretty quiet. Even the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Sidney (French) was barely audible.

After lunch we returned to Korogocha, this time heading to another fortified compound: the orphanage of Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity. No one knew quite what to expect here; I, for one, didn’t even know what the order did. Its mission is to reach out to "the poorest of the poor," and that is exactly what these sisters did. They had four main charges there: rescue orphaned babies and give them a place to live, take care of mentally and physically disabled children who are unwanted by their families, take care of mentally and physically disabled adults who are unwanted by their families, and take care of HIV-positive children/adults.

This appointment wasn’t like any other. We didn’t meet with any administrators or attend any presentation. We just split up, walked around, and met with the occupants. My group’s first visit was to the disabled children. Some of them stared listlessly at an unseen horizon; some spoke unintelligibly; some showed off by playing with toys . Most of them wanted to hold hands, share their stuffed animals, or just chit chat and laugh and squeal. The listless children had flies crawling all over them. No matter how feverishly the flies were shooed away, they invariably came right back. It was heart breaking.

When it was time for us to move on, the children didn’t want to let go. Our next stop was with the disabled adults. They were sitting around the perimeter of a room finishing lunch. We walked around the circle and introduced ourselves to each. One spoke really excellent English. I remarked to her that she spoke much better English than Elvis (Chinese), who was just to my left. This invoked raucous laughter from many others and one woman almost choked on her food.

Our final visit was with the orphaned babies and children. The children were ecstatic to see us. Each and every one of them wanted to be picked up and held. This posed a problem since they outnumbered us 2-to-1! But it was a lot of fun throwing one kid up into the air, putting him down and grabbing another, chasing one around the room, lending sunglasses to kids who heads were way too small for them, and just generally playing with and holding them.

On the ride back to the hotel it was hard to get charged up for our closing dinner. After a full day with the poorest of the poor it was time for reflection, not celebration. These people were amazing. Despite everything they had going against them there was no shortage of will for and celebration of life. They understood the hand they had been dealt, accepted it, and made the best of it. They smiled and laughed and hoped for something better. May God bless them, Father Daniel, and the good sisters.

Closing dinner was nice, at a churrascaria called Carnivore. I vowed to eat exclusively crocodile and ostrich and, for the most part, I kept my promise. I didn’t have much of an appetite, though. We watched part of the EuroCup finals between Germany and Spain, but I caught the first bus back to the hotel and called it an early night.

The dichotomy of Kenya is strong. We have met with wildly successful entrepreneurs and we have played with those rejected and forgotten by even the poorest of society. Perhaps I am na├»ve in thinking Kenya is exceptional; perhaps such disparity exists everywhere. Regardless, this trip has opened my eyes very pointedly to the fact that it exists and strengthened my commitment to responsibility in leadership. Perhaps I alone can’t save the environment, the endangered animals, and the poor everywhere around the world. But I suspect that if we ALL accept the mantle of responsibility in our professional lives, we can make great strides to those ends. Sorry I don't have anything eloquent or rousing to say tonight, but I am drained. Good night.

2008-06-28

Project Day

Today was a lot of fun. We had the day to ourselves, ostensibly to work on our projects. However, many of us also took the opportunity to explore Kenya on our own a little. Some went on safari, some went shopping, and some (as I did) went to the Nairobi National Museum. Because my mother is a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, I grew up in museums and it is always a pleasure to explore another one. This museum wasn’t terribly Nairobi-specific; it was more focused on generic natural history. However, it did have two great exhibits I wouldn’t have seen elsewhere: one on traditional tribal life and one on cave/rock art in Africa.

Before my museum trip I went for a run. This was my first time running in the middle of the day instead of early in the morning or late at night. There were many more cars on the road and the air was harder to breathe. When I returned to the hotel I blew my nose and what came out was black. Boo, pollution!

After the museum I spent time interviewing local entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced and lessons learned when starting up businesses in Kenya. I also interviewed many would-be entrepreneurs, who provided valuable insights into what they perceive as barriers to entrepreneurship. The principal obstacles seem to be access to capital (Very few banks are willing to lend to unproven entrepreneurs and the rates from those that do are daunting. There is also no network of Angels or VCs.), family culture (Those who acquire money are expected to share it with their extended families, not invest it in starting businesses.), and gender environment (Much of Kenya’s diaspora returns to start up businesses, but not women. Kenyan women who leave the country and work in more gender-neutral places tend not to return.). The biggest obstacle by far, though, seems to be lack of business knowledge. When would-be entrepreneurs talk about wanting partners, they are more interested in someone who can start/run a business than someone who has capital to provide.

I finished the day by hosting a dinner for Nairobi-based Rice alumni. We had eight people altogether with professional backgrounds as diverse as hotel management, tea exporting, and dentistry. This is what I love about the Rice network; I can drop into a random place on another continent and still find several nice, intelligent, interesting, accomplished people with whom to share stories, ideas, discussions, and drinks. Before I knew it, our dinner had passed the five-hour mark and it was time for those with children to head home. Thank you to all my new Kenyan Rice friends; it was an exceptional—and welcome—diversion from my IMD program!

2008-06-27

Wildlife Day

Today was awesome. We left the camp early in the morning and trekked back to Nairobi for meetings at the “offices” (which are more like a zoo) of the Kenya Wildlife Service. We met with the KWS director, the head of KWS’s Rangers (which are paramilitary poacher fighters), and the founder of the Save the Elephants NGO, all fascinating.

We then visited the on-site orphanage for abandoned animals: lions, hyenas, leopards, and all kinds of birds. The ostrich reached over its fence and stole the book of a hapless child. As it tried to eat the book, one of the keepers ran in to take it away from him. The ostrich did NOT like this and attacked the keeper, who had to flee the pen. He then ran around the outside of the pen. As the ostrich followed him, still trying to peck at him, another keeper snuck in and removed the book. That's teamwork!

This was the second ostrich incident we witnessed. While visiting geothermal energy plants on Thursday we saw an ostrich in a field next to the road. He was standing by himself and kind of “dancing.” We pulled forward and then it became clear why he was dancing: there was a female ostrich about 100 meters away. As we watched, he then ran to her and, voila’, we witnessed ostrich sex. Even though it lasted less than two minutes, most of us were inspired by the wacky moves and “doing the ostrich” is sure to happen the next time we are on the dance floor.

The best part of the orphanage was the cheetah pen. The keepers let us in to play with the big cats and they were so fun—just like housecats, except that they can run 70 mph and rip your head off. They were very sweet, though, and purred loudly while we scratched under their chins. I completely forgot that I am allergic to cats until I started sneezing while baiting one cheetah with her chew toy.

The afternoon featured a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. We met with Dame Daphne Sheldrick about the work they do, and then played with the elephants themselves. I almost fell over during my first elephant contact. I reached out to say hello to a baby (~600 lbs), who responded by reaching out a muddy, funky-feeling trunk to probe my neck. While there was nothing threatening about it, it was a very unfamiliar feeling that caused me to take a step back—on uneven, rocky terrain. Once I regained my composure, I greeted the elephant as we had been instructed to do, by blowing into its trunk. At that point it lost interest in me—was it my breath?

My favorite part of the trip so far, though, occurred before we even met the elephants, just as we were entering the orphanage. There was a rhino scratching her neck on a stone by the entrance. This was my first time so close to a rhino--maybe 15 feet away. I was struck by how dinosaur-like she was, like a creature from another time.

Assuming she was “part of the show” we stopped to take pictures. She noticed us, stopped scratching and began trotting over toward us, at which point the elephant keepers yelled at us to run. WHOA! Wild rhino charging after us!!!! It was like the running of the bulls but without a fence to climb over for safety!

She didn’t seem malicious; I think she just wanted to say hi or to play so I was torn between going with the class and holding my ground to say hi. Still, a wild rhino could kill a human pretty easily by playing so I listened to the keepers and followed the rest of the class. The keepers corralled the rhino, who it turns out visits daily to pay her respects to a rhino orphan who resides there. Being “chased” by a rhino was a real rush, though. She was so huge and powerful—what a great fullback she would have made!

Pictures are in my facebook album.

Full Day in Naivasha

Thursday began with a jog around the premises and along the local roads with Bevan (Kiwi) and Rich (American). “Around the premises” accidentally included “through the latrine runoff area.” This required deft maneuvering to avoid stepping in human waste. I'm not sure I succeeded.

Running along the roads was an experience too. All the children on their ways to school were pretty fascinated with us but the cattle and goats we had to keep dodging didn’t pay us much heed. Between the high-emissions vehicles on the road and the high altitude (almost one mile above sea level), I found myself much more winded than I should have been for our pace.

Thursday's program featured a full day of exploration of Lake Naivasha’s industry and ecosystem. We began the day by meeting with the VP of Finance and Administration of Homegrown Ltd, a huge floriculture company specializing in roses, exporting hundreds of millions each year. A few things struck me about our morning with Homegrown.

First, Lake Naivasha, the source of water for the entire local flower industry, is changing. It is drying up and its water is becoming more polluted. While this is partially due to natural cycles, it is mostly attributed to man. Homegrown and other florists in the Lake Naivasha Growers Group surprised me with their recognition of culpability and their proactivity in addressing the issue despite no government requirement to do so. For example, they have planted local shrubs along the banks to slow runoff and filter the water that enters the lake.

Second, Homegrown is committed to reducing its environmental impact through elimination of chemical-based pesticides. However, the need to reduce rose-eating pests remains. To strike this balance, Homegrown founded another company, DuduTech (“Dudu” means “insect” in Swahili.), which develops “pesticides” by using naturally occurring insects that prey on the pests. This includes predatory insects, parasitic bugs, and a host of other approaches that all have the same objective: neutralize the pests without introducing chemicals into the environment. Cool stuff.

Finally, however, I don’t see how the model for this industry is sustainable at all. In a country (nay, on a continent) where poverty is rampant, thousands of prime agricultural hectares are being used for flowers instead of food crops. The flowers (and small amount of food crops that actually are produced) are exported immediately (Time from harvest to European retailer shelves is 48 hours.) which incurs huge environmental costs for refrigeration and transportation. Local labor is employed (and treated very fairly, it seems), but the vast majority of profit is captured by the company owners, which are largely foreign. I can’t blame the owners for their choices because the economics clearly support them, but there has to be a better way. Local companies using the land for production of locally distributed food would result in Europeans not having roses for their dining tables but millions fewer hungry Africans.

Lunch was held at a beautiful lakeside conservation center where Sykes monkeys threw feces at Max (Russian), narrowly missing me. After lunch we visited a geothermal plant and learned about Kenya’s plans to increase its use of this cheap, renewable source of energy to meet rising demand. This reminded me of 7th-grade science class, in which we were divided into energy groups. Each group represented a specific energy source and was tasked with making a music video to teach the rest of the class about it. One group had geothermal and set its song to “Su-su-sudio” by Genesis: “Ge-ge-geotherm.” My group had oil and we set our video to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy (For My Shirt):” “I’m Too Sexy (For My Oil).” We called ourselves Nerds With Attitudes and, obviously, we were. Good times.

We closed the day with a walking safari on Crescent Island. This was pretty amazing. The animals, though wild, are used to the presence of humans so you can get much closer to them without scaring them than in other wild areas. We saw and walked among wildebeest , zebra, gazelle, impala, and giraffe. The giraffe were my favorite; they ran so gracefully! We also saw hippos, but did NOT walk among them as that would be a sure way to be trampled.

The shoes I wore were on their last legs and I have already ordered a replacement pair. It’s a good thing too, since I don’t think there was a single square foot on the entire island that didn’t feature a helpful serving of animal poop. That was the main obstacle to really running wild with the animals. And so my day concluded just as it had begun: running through poop!

Pictures are in my facebook album.

Back From the Land of Hippos

We have returned from Lake Naivasha, which was an experience, to say the least. We arrived on Wednesday at Crayfish Camp, which would be our home for the next two days. Crayfish Camp was just that: a camp! We showed up with laptop cases and rollerbags only to find, to the shock and dismay of most of us, that our “rooms” were actually small tents around a bonfire area. Each tent barely had enough room for luggage, not to mention sleeping area for two! There were communal, outdoor toilets and showers and there was, naturally, no Internet. If our Nairobi hotel was “basic,” this was something far, far beyond. You could see the jaws drop of several students as they immediately began scrambling to find some alternative accommodations out of their own pockets.

Many of the rest of us understood that the situation was what it was and we were determined to make the best of it. I haven’t been camping since Boy Scouts campouts in high school. Before that I have many fond memories of camping out in a tent with my mom in our back yard, telling ghost stories and bonding. Although I would have rather gone camping under different circumstances (I’m not sure my business casual wardrobe was terribly appropriate, for example!), I was still encouraged that this experience would be fun. My tentmate, Yan Dongao, had a similarly positive attitude and we got along in our cramped space just fine. Besides, there were several dogs to play with at the campsite and we were very close to a major hippo area so I was excited about the prospect of making contact.

2008-06-24

I Thought Kenya Would Be Hot!

My Czech classmate and I began today with a 6 AM swim in the hotel pool. It’s winter here (Southern hemisphere) and Nairobi is about 1400 meters above sea level, so it’s actually quite chilly with highs only around 65 degrees F. The air this morning was quite cool and the water even cooler so the swim was invigorating to say the least. There probably isn't much point in me continuing to brush my teeth with bottled water either, given the amount of pool water I swallowed!

We then spent the morning with Kenya’s largest retailer, Nakumatt, which is planning for expansion into the rest of East Africa. The afternoon was finance-focused with the Chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange (also an IMD alum!) and the CEO of Safaricom, which just completed the most successful IPO in Kenya’s history.

In the evening we mingled and networked with other IMD alumni in the area. Many of my classmates headed out to a local club. I, on the other hand, am turning in early as I will be getting up early for a run before we depart for our two days in Lake Naivasha.

2008-06-23

Case Studies and Beer in Kenya

Today began with something we thought we had left behind in our past: a case study! It was about two local entrepreneurs; the discussion was lead by the Dean of Nairobi’s Strathmore Business School and one of the protagonists came to provide his personal account.

In the afternoon we met with the general management of East Africa Brewing Ltd, a beer/spirits company so large that it contributes almost 50% of the Kenyan government’s revenue in taxes every year! The management team—all locally educated—was incredibly sharp; we grilled them about their strategy, finance, and operations but they answered beautifully.

This meeting also included tours of both the glass bottle manufacturing plant and the brewery. Now I know why Guinness tastes different here; it is brewed here with local ingredients and the recipe is adjusted for local tastes. That’s too bad but at least I can say that I drank Kenyan beer without having to resort to the very light Tusker (also brewed by EABL) that seems to be the national icon.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

2008-06-22

Povera Italia

Today’s theme was entrepreneurship, which naturally kept me very interested. We met with all kinds of Kenyan entrepreneurs, from locals pulling themselves up out of poverty to ex-pats riding the wave of growth to battered women establishing financial independence to members of the Diaspora making their prodigal returns. It was interesting to see how different Kenya’s entrepreneurial environment is than that of the US, but it was equally interesting to see how so many Kenyans found ways to succeed anyway.

We were given dinner off tonight so, after a run in a downtown park, a few of us followed a tip to a local restaurant for some Kenyan cuisine. After walking through some very sketchy areas, we found the place, which was definitely not much more than a hole in the wall—just what we were looking for. This hole in the wall happened to serve Guinness (which somehow tastes different here) and was showing the Italy-Spain soccer match. The chicken Zaire was very good, as was the conversation.

We returned to the hotel to watch the end of the soccer match. Although Italy lost, it was still a worthwhile viewing experience as I had the opportunity to teach everyone about real football and how it was ever so superior to soccer. I’m not sure they were convinced so I may just have to keep spreading the good word.

2008-06-21

First Full Day in Nairobi

Today was a busy Saturday, packed with meetings with the Swiss ambassador to Kenya, the executive director of Climate Network Africa, and the Deputy Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Kenya's Diaspora. We were also due to meet with the Prime Minister, Minister of Trade, and former Minister of Finance, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to the death and funeral of another minister.

Each of the meetings was very interesting, although I didn’t like the one with Climate Network Africa. The presenter was full of climate change blame for the US/Europe, didn’t offer any constructive solutions, and demanded reparations for the damage that would surely come to the African environment. I found this unproductive for several reasons.

First, her supporting data were misleading. She drew facts and figures from several years ago, when the US and Europe were way ahead of everyone in carbon emissions. Don’t get me wrong; the US and Europe are still way ahead, but the gap is closing a little and the trends, which show developing nations like China overtaking them in the future, reveal that the problem must be addressed globally, not just in a few countries. She also used exclusively per capita carbon emissions statistics, which are irrelevant. The environment doesn’t care how many people are producing the emissions; it just cares that they are being produced! By her logic, the US could become a better global citizen just by increasing its fertility rate instead of reducing its emissions!

Second, she was all problem and no solution. Yes, we all know that the industrialized countries have been the greatest emitters, but it is unproductive to rehash this over and over and over again. Yes, we screwed up. No, we didn’t know the consequences industrialization would have until recently but yes, we accept responsibility for it. Now let’s stop playing the blame game and all work together to find a solution!

Finally, her antagonistic “The West is evil” presentation isn’t likely to motivate any action. I’ve blogged before about how a large organization exhibits a collective subconscious that behaves in a very irrational, human way. Attacking developed countries is likely to induce defensiveness, not action. A collaborative approach would be much more constructive.

Her presentation did motivate me, however, to think about a topic I often ponder: what IS the solution? Specifically, she motivated me to think about it in an African context. Africa has huge, open spaces with significant sun exposure so one idea might be to develop solar and wind farms there. In addition to generating renewable energy, this would create jobs on a continent that has major population growth and poverty. In fact, Africa could become a hotbed of renewable energy generation, producing even more than its current (No pun intended!) needs and exporting the surplus around the world.

The problem with such a plan is two-fold. First, these renewable energy technologies are expensive and the political climate in Africa is somewhat volatile. Investing in such projects is therefore risky. Furthermore, to export power—or even to distribute it around such a huge continent—would require major advances in transmission technology. Current power lines are very lossy, losing a significant percentage of the power transmitted over them over long distances. This is especially important for centralized solar and wind, which A. are usually located far away from power consumers (in areas with the least obstruction of their power sources) and B. are bursty—we can’t control when the sun will shine or the wind will blow. More efficient transmission (and storage, for that matter) technology would allow areas that need power, regardless of weather conditions there, to draw energy from areas where the sun is shining or wind is blowing around the world. This problem of energy transmission and storage is the main theme addressed by the vision of Nobel laureate (and Rice professor!) Dr. Richard Smalley. His proposed solution naturally uses nanotechnology, his principal area of research.

As I am no great nanotechnologist, this leads me to the fundamental question that drove me to IMD and that still drives me today: what can business leaders do to address this energy/environment challenge? We can certainly enforce responsible energy usage within our companies but that won’t be enough. It will barely make a dent in consumption and won’t address any other social issues. To effect more profound change, business leaders will need to invest (either by starting up new ventures or by launching initiatives within their own companies) in R&D of renewable technologies (reducing renewable production costs and increasing efficiency), R&D of energy transmission and storage technologies, and development of renewable operations in places like Africa.

These are just my initial ideas. What ideas do you have? How can business leaders change the world for the better? The answer to this question will significantly impact my thinking about how to shape my career post-IMD.

2008-06-20

I'm in Kenya!

The day began ealier than usual; we all met at IMD at 4:45 AM to take a bus to the airport. Air travel was smooth and, before we knew it, we landed in Nairobi. To avoid evening traffic, which is abysmal, we had two meetings there at the airport. The first, with Swiss International Air - Kenya was about the challenges of doing business in Kenya. The second, with Kenya's Airport Authority, was about achieving their strategy of becoming the dominant East African network of airports.

As we arrived at our hotel, our anxiety levels rose. The rooms are basic, to say the least, but that's probably healthy for a bunch of coddled MBA students. :-) As we sat down for dinner, our apprehensions eased; the food was delicious (and plentiful!) and the hotel staff was incredibly gracious. If any anxiety was left at all, the gin and tonic forced it out. Yes, I do believe G&Ts will be my drink of choice here. Even though our altitude is high enough for mosquitos not to be much a risk, a little quinine won't hurt!

Pictures so far are on facebook.


I will close with a valuable piece of advice I learned from Lisa, our expedition organizer: Don't come between a hippo and the water! We may see hippos during our camping trip at Lake Navasha--I'm so excited!

2008-06-18

1997

As my chronological journey through American popular music has taken me through 1997, the year I graduated from high school, I have stirred up many memories of my first semester at Rice University.

This was the year that Puff Daddy (Sean "Puffy" Combs, etc.) came up with the formula of old pop hit + increased base line + spoken/rapped lyrics == contemporary hit. Master P also entered the scene that year. On the Rice football team, we had a Master P of our own; that was the nickname of Michael Perry, halfback. Master P was one of our three thousand-yard rushers that season, along with Chad Nelson, quarterback, and Benji Wood, who started ahead of me at fullback.

It was a heck of a first semester. Football was awesome. I will never forget running out of the tunnel to the thunderous applause of 55,000 fans at our season opener against Air Force. Or our first away game against Tulane at the Superdome in New Orleans. Or barely losing to the University of Texas and Heisman winner Ricky Williams. John Heisman, for whom the trophy is named, actually used to coach at Rice.

The semester was about more than football, of course. It was also about romance, roadtrips (San Antonio, Dallas, and New Orleans), making lifelong friends, hard courses, and no sleep. Although it wasn't really about partying for me, I could still hear the songs of 1997 through the walls while I was trying to study or sleep and the memories they incite are great ones.

Sigh

Just when it seemed that we were back in the CWS tournament, up 5-0 in the top of the 7th with our ace closer on the mound, it all came crashing down. 1 run in the bottom of the 7th, another in the 8th, and then four in the 9th to lose to LSU. Oh well, as the old saying goes, "I may not have been at the College World Series this year . . . but neither was the University of Texas!"

Now it's time to look ahead to better times--and Rice football begins in just over two months!

2008-06-17

Queen and Careers

Yesterday morning we had a Leadership class focused on careers and the characteristics that drive/motivate us. Based on a survey, we were divided into five groups, those who were looking for freedom, balance, security, interesting challenge, and advancement/accomplishment. Of course most of us were motivated by several of these, but we broke into groups based upon our highest scores. We then put together presentations about what we need from our supervisors, companies, and families, as well as which socio-economic factors might affect the value of our careers for each type.



It surprised me that my highest score was in freedom, not in accomplishment. Accomplishment was a very close second, followed by balance as a close third. Interesting challenge was a distant fourth and security was hardly represented at all. As our freedom group sat down to work, we felt "free" to turn on some music: Queen's "I Want To Break Free." At the same time the accomplishment group was listening to "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie. During Q&A after the accomplishment group's presentation, someone asked if they related to the Queen song "I Want It All (and I Want It Now)." The answer was yes, and lord knows I can relate.



While I am disappointed that the other groups didn't independently come up with Queen anthems, I am glad to have had three Queen songs stuck in my head all day. Slightly less insipiring is "Looking For Freedom" by David Hasselhoff, which we played at the beginning of our presentation to get the class clapping. The music video featured scenes from Knight Rider--how can you beat that?

2008-06-15

Rice Not Representin'

Ouch. Rice's debut game in this year's College World Series was abysmal: a 17-5 loss to Fresno State. We went through seven pitchers and gave up three home runs. Only late in the game did we mount any offense at all and, by then, it was too little too late. Oh well, as one announcer put it, perhaps Rice was trying to get all of its bad play out of the way in the opening game--this way we'll play top-notch baseball all the way through the finals. I hope that's the case!

It was a good weekend for Bulldogs as Georgia upset the #1 Miami Hurricanes. I'm sure my brother, who played baseball at Trinity University and is finishing his PhD in marine biology at the University of Miami, is hurting now as much as I am. For both of our sakes I wish both the 'Canes and the Owls good luck in their losers bracket games this Monday and Tuesday respectively. Go Rice!

2008-06-14

Mock Interviews

Yesterday we received our final grades for the "Building Blocks" (academic) portion of our year here at IMD. I did very well overall, but I am most proud of the improvment I deomonstrated in the areas where I came in with the least background. As I have written before, I certainly don't know it all--if I did, what would be the point in sacrificing $200k+ for an MBA? The best that I can do is identify my areas for greatest improvement (and those of greatest interest) and work hard to develop them. Although grading is only one, imperfect way of measuring competency, it indicates that I have improved significantly in my weaker areas and exceled in those that I think are critical for my future career. This gives me confidence not only in my skills today but also in my ability to improve and grow constantly throughout the rest of my life, which will be crucial for my effectiveness over time.

Today we continued in the Career Services vein by practicing our interviewing and networking skills with IMD alumni. We were given the opportunity for one of three types of interviews: industry, consulting, or finance. I chose industry and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The feedback I received from my interviewer was very helpful (The areas for improvement, such as- making better use of silence--diplomatically put, are all areas I can improve with practice and preparation.) and the entire session was videotaped, so I will have the chance to review my performance next week.

The day finished with a party on the restaurant patio. There I met many other interesting, successful, diverse alumni and had a great time to boot. Several of our professors came too and it was fun to "party" with them now that grades were out of the way.

2008-06-13

Luxury Disillusionment

Today was the official start of on-campus recruiting. Several companies made presentations throughout the day about who they were, what they did, what positions they offered, and why we should work for them.

Most of the companies participating in on-campus recruiting this year are outside of my target industries (technology, energy, space exploration, sports, and wine--very focused, I know!) so I will spend the majority of my job search pursuing opportunities off-campus. However, I was intrigued by two luxury brand conglomerates that presented today, one because it owned several wine brands and one because we studied one if its major acquisitions in Strategy.

I was curious to find out if these companies were really just about luxury and image or if they had more . . . "substance" to them. Did they offer anything of value to society or did they really just exist to fulfill the desires of the upper class? I asked the presenters questions about environmental and social responsibility but was disappointed in the responses. I'm sure their PR departments have good arguments but the fact that their recruiters didn't know them indicated something about the cultures of these two companies. More pointedly it indicated that they weren't places where I wanted to begin the next phase of my career and mission to change the world for the better.

I think this is the real benefit of on-campus company presentations: not helping you decide which companies DO interest you, rather learning enough about industries you don't know well to decide firmly that they do NOT interest you. That is helpful to the students and to the recruiting companies.

2008-06-11

Simulation

Today we finished a three-day business simulation. Each study group represented a company bringing new products into a new, international market. In a turn-based, simulated universe, we competed against each other to position our products, make marketing decisions, optimize our supply chains, and work within the constraints of international regulatory uncertainty.

My team did not finish in the top 3. We made a key supply chain planning error in Q3 and another blunder in Q5. The key learning comes not from the errors we made but from the group dynamics and processes that allowed them to occur. As many of you know, I am extremely achievement-oriented so not winning doesn't sit well with me. However, this year has been a lesson in embracing failure for the associated opportunities to learn. It is better to learn these lessons in a simulated universe than in a real one, where profits, jobs, or even human lives might be on the line.

2008-06-08

Africa

Another day with no homework, another day of watching movies about Africa. This time I watched Shooting Dogs and Hotel Rwanda, both about the genocide of Tutsi Rwandans in 1994. It's amazing the hurt sub-Saharan Africa has endured, and not just by the evil white oppressors, but by their own countrymen. I suppose that's part of the issue; the countries are arbitrary boundaries that cramp warring tribes together. Whenever one tribe is in power, it commits atrocities against the others. When the others are in power, they want revenge. The tit-for-tat cycle continues indefinitely and I have no idea how it could be broken. Our Discovery Expedition to Kenya in two weeks will be very interesting and I look forward to it.

In more upbeat news, Rice earned its spot in this year's College World Series with a win over Texas A&M tonight. Go Rice!

Movie Night (and Day)

What a day, yesterday. I didn't leave my apartment at all but not because I was studying. I spent most of the day watching movies, one of my favorite pastimes.

In preparation for our Discovery Expedition to Kenya I watched two assigned films: Darwin's Nightmare and The Last King of Scotland. Darwin's Nightmare is a documentary about the fishing industry in Tanzania, where foreigners smuggle arms in and export fish out while the locals starve. Not pleasant.

No less pleasant were some of the scenes in The Last King of Scotland, in which Forest Whitaker brilliantly plays brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The plot was very similar to that of Playing God, which I regard as one of the worst movies ever made. The two movies have another connection: Playing God stars David Duchovny while The Last King of Scotland stars his x-files costar Gillian Anderson. Gillian wins this round; hers was a good movie and I'm glad I finally saw it.

To lighten things up I also watched Dan in Real Life. There wasn't much to this romantic comedy, but it was a refreshing way to wrap up the movie day. Then it was on to more important things, like watching Rice beat Texas A&M 9 - 6. Another victory today will secure the Owls' third consecutive trip to the CWS. I wish I could be there for the games, but, since I can't, thank goodness for the Internet!

2008-06-07

Mid-90s

Although I leaned on Mozart for my exams, I still had a chance to continue my chronological exploration of American popular music last week. I've made my way through 1996 now, almost through the end of high school for me. Ace of Base, Coolio, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, The Cranberries, Snoop and Dre, TLC, Blues Traveler, Hootie and the Blowfish, Alanis Morisette, and the Notorious B.I.G. entered the scene in a big way. Some stuck around and some were gone almost as soon as they had arrived. Then there were some timeless artists who just kept on churning out hits: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and Eric Clapton to name a few.

In high school I was still living in my classic-rock-oriented world and was only peripherally aware of most of this music. Actually that's not entirely true. I was most definitely aware of the #1 song of 1996: Macarena! What a high point for American music and dance.

Recovery

"My head hurts, my feet stink, and I don't love Jesus" -Jimmy Buffett

That's about how I feel right now after last night's festa Brasiliera, organized and hosted by our four Brazilian students. We had dinner at a churrascaria and then moved next door to the adjoining club. I only stayed out until 2 or so (Many of my classmates saw the sun come up, I'm sure.) but I packed a lot of festa into that time. I'm not sure how many caipirinhas I had but, well, it was obviously enough. :-) What a blast, though; I needed that release after the exams!

Now what am I going to do today? Work out, sure, but after that? I don'thave anything to study for and Rice baseball doesn't start its domination of the Aggies until 9 PM (Lausanne time) tonight. Without anyone telling me what to do, I'm almost at a loss--what a great problem to have!

2008-06-05

First Dip in the Lake

Strategy went well today and, to celebrate, Mario (Brazilian), Martin (Czech), Tomas (Slovakian), and I forewent studying for tomorrow's IPE exam to play some beach volleyball. The weather, ~55 degrees F and drizzling rain, was hardly ideal, but we didn't let that stop us. We played for about two hours straight and all of the games were really close. It wasn't the best volleyball any of us had played but, by the end, it felt great.

Instead of using the showers by the courts, Martin insisted on taking a dip in the lake. In that I'm pretty sure the shower water is just lake water anyway, why not? I followed him in and Tomas and Mario weren't far behind. The water wasn't too cold . . . for a lake fed by glacial runoff! So it was pretty bracing to say the least. It was very clear and we could see the bottom as far out as we went (not very far). We only stayed in for maybe five minutes but, for those five minutes, there was no exam to study for, no job search, no pressure at all. We were just four boys splashing around in the water; it's a memory of my IMD experience I will definitely take with me.

Now it's back to the "real" world, however. Most of the other students don't seem to be studying for the IPE exam claiming that there is nothing to study. I think there is plenty to study and will be spending tomorrow morning pouring over our semester's worth of presentations on the issues faced by every region of the world. Tomorrow's exam should be less about regurgitating facts and more about analyzing global issues to make sound policy recommendations. Still, it can't hurt to have the facts fresh in my mind!

2008-06-04

Strategery

Finance went well today. I and Gong Ping, my Chinese classmate, finished first so we spent some time playing ping pong before studying for tomorrow's Strategy exam. He is much more accomplished than I at ping pong (He's been playing since he was 3!) so he coached me on my forehand smashes. It was very helpful and I appreciate his willingness to work with me instead of just beating me mercilessly. The spirit of collaboration at IMD extends all way to recreational sports!

Now I am wading through 100+ pages of a Strategy case (plus supporting materials) in preparation for tomorrow's Strategy exam. The case, unfortunately, was written at Harvard Business School. We have noticed all year that HBS cases tend to be much, much longer than IMD cases, requiring much more time to read and much more focus to distill out the relevant details. No wonder it takes American programs two years to finish an MBA!

2008-06-03

Stewart Hamilton is a Bad, Bad Man

Our Accounting professor led us to believe for the past several weeks that today's Accounting exam would not require us to put together balance sheets or profit & loss statements for corporations with numerous, complex transactions, which we had to do in the Mod I Accounting exam. Consequently, no one studied balance sheets or profit & loss statements for this exam.

You can imagine our shock and dismay when we opened up today's Accounting exam booklet to find a problem that A. required us to produce a balance sheet and profit & loss statement B. featured some of the most complex transactions we have seen all year, and C. was worth 25% of the total exam grade! Oh Stewart, you codger; just as we thought you were softening up, it turns out that you were just lulling us into a false sense of security. Even his assistant was in on the gag; a few weeks ago she held a review session, dressed in provocative attire (trying to distract us from the danger that lay ahead!), and told us that the only document we would need to assemble on the exam was a cashflow statement. No wonder so many students failed the exam last year!

When I first saw the problem, I was mortified. I hadn't studied that material and the problem setup was daunting. My MP3 player had just switched to Mozart's Requiem in D--how fitting. I decided to skip it and come back to it at the end, lest it bog me down and affect the rest of my exam. The other problems were challenging but I felt confident in my answers. As the clock continued to tick, all I had left standing in the way of being done with Accounting forever was this one Devil problem.

I couldn't remember exactly the methodology I was supposed to use to work through it so I just reasoned my way along. And, after some time . . . it was my most successful solution for such a problem all year. My balance sheet balanced on the first go-round and the P&L fit right in. That helped quell the anger I was initially feeling toward Stewart. Plus, I suppose you can't blame an Accounting professor for putting something so fundamental to Accounting on his final exam. Perhaps it was an intentional lesson on planning for the unexpected.

The victory over the unexpected challenge was a good note on which to end my Accounting "career." Next up: Finance. Arturo claims that the exam is exclusively about options but, now that we've been stung by Stewart, we're all refreshing ourselves on capital structure, discounted cashflow forecasts, and CAPM. We'll just see if our other professors are in on it too!

2008-06-02

Bring on the Exams!

This weekend was pleasant and relaxing. I took care of many chores, wrote some papers, and, most importantly, played some beach volleyball. On Saturday our play was cut short by a scary storm that rolled in out of nowhere: very low, very dark clouds, high winds, and lots of lightning. No problem, though; we ran and took refuge in a nearby sailing club, where we had drinks and waited out the storm. The sunset after the storm was brilliant; pictures are in my facebook album. Sunday there weren't many people at the courts, which was no problem for me and Tomas. We were able to play for about two hours straight before returning to our studies.

On another, extremely positive note, the mighty Rice Owls baseball team defeated Sam Houston State, St. John's, and UT (the most gratifying) to advance to the Super Regional tournament of the College World Series. To see what a blast we had at last year's Super Regional and why I miss Rice baseball so much, check out my album. Looking at those pictures again brings a smile to my face.

We have today off to prepare for our four days of exams: Accounting, Finance, Strategy, and IPE. Today will mostly focus on Accounting preparation with some Finance mixed in as well. Strategy will be a case-based exam so not much preparation is possible until Wednesday evening, when we receive the case. The IPE exam will involve taking and defending a stance on a major world issue, citing evidence from disparate regions. It is open book/notes/Internet so, again, there isn't much preparation I can do in advance.

The weather looks great today--not bad for beach volleyball! No, bad Bryan! Focus, focus . . .