Accounting

If I had to choose one word to describe Accounting professor Stewart Hamilton, it would be “curmudgeonly.” He’s a crotchety old Scot who is very emphatic that we should not question the “why” of accounting practices; we should just accept them. He has already yelled at me in class because I applauded him. I can’t help it; his stodginess is hilarious.

So far our accounting education conjures up images of dusty old books and quill-written ledgers. As a software guy, that’s a little hard to stomach. IMD is very clear that we are not here to learn to be accountants. We are here to learn to be better general managers–the best general managers–so the intent of this course is to educate us just enough to be dangerous.

Our major takeaways from this course have been centered around how to analyze balance sheets, income statements and cashflow statements to support investment decisions. I’ve had plenty of exposure to these reports before in a software context so it’s interesting to see them applied to manufacturing, services organizations, etc. I’m also hoping to benefit from Stewart’s knowledge of fine Scotch whiskey.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Stewart: “You know you’re due it so you have to accrue it!” Imagine it with a thick Scottish accent.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Long night ahead of us

Our group’s ICA/E presentation on the electricity generation industry is due this week and we’re far from completion. We’ve just ordered pizzas to give us an energy boost (CHF 80–$70–for two pies!!!) and I think it’s going to be a long night.

At least we’re not the only ones. People are whistling in the hallways. One person starts then others join in. I whistled Daryl Hannah’s solo from Kill Bill on my way back from the bathroom and I had at least three others join in.

We’ve split off into subgroups for the time being and both of my partners are sick. I will be strong of mind and fend off their viruses! šŸ™‚

WalMart

ICA/E revolved around a WalMart case today. How did it grow to dominate its much larger rivals such as K-Mart? Why and how could it diversify to include Sam’s Club? Why and how could it diversify into other countries? At what price to the small, rural town comes WalMart’s strategy? The case was set in 1986. I always find these retroactive cases interesting because then we have the opportunity to see how things played out with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

What really made the discussion personal for me is that Ralf chose Janet as the name of a hypothetical WalMart customer in Arkansas. I have an Aunt Janet who lives in Arkansas and is probably a WalMart customer. Ralf usually chooses Frieda or Greta for hypotheitcal names so good on him for proposing an accurate Arkansan name!

Since much of today’s class was devoted to discussion instead of lecture, there weren’t too many Ralfisms. As always, though, there were a few:

  • Let’s bring it on, duuuuuude!
  • At this stage in your career it’s important that you show leadership . . . and hold hands.
  • Coffee breaks are so 70s anyway.
  • I’d rather eat myself instead of letting someone else eat me.

The soup du jour today was cauliflower. Off to Finance!

Marketing

What Ralf refers to as “tra la la” is actually quite interesting. Co-taught by Martin Koschat (Austrian) and DominiqueTurpin (French), this course is a case-driven exploration of the entire marketing function, from understanding a market to taking products and services to that market. So far we’ve studied DVD production machine manufacturers, discount airlines, sport watches, and Espresso machines. The watch maker came to our discussion and offered us goods in kind if we could help him re-position one of his brands.

Interesting take-aways so far:

  • Marketing is the art of differentiation.
  • 2/3 of all transactions are business-to-business, so most marketing is business-oriented.
  • Marketing permeates all aspects of a business and essentially gives the customer a “voice.”
  • “Excitement,” performance, and basic factors influence customer satisfaction and fulfillment in radically different ways.
  • Different customers value different factors; good marketers understand this differentiation and react to it.
  • The difference between “product” and “brand” is essentially emotion.
  • A brand reflects a company’s values, its product’s benefits, and its target’s commonalities.
  • Buyers can only process a few issues simultaneously so sometimes branding requires sacrifice of some positive qualities in order to focus on the few that are most important.
  • Mass media advertising isn’t cheap. In the US it costs about $.02 per customer reached and each customer must be reached at least three times before your message sinks in. It costs a lot more to reach more homogeneous, targeted audiences.

At R7 we always knew in the back of our minds that we “should do more marketing” but it’s impressive now to see just how much we neglected. Marketing should drive your business, not be an afterthought.

Good music

Before I moved over here I acquired the Billboard Top 100 hits for each year from 1950 until 2007. During the few hours a day I haven’t been in my study group I’ve been making my way through them chronologically, loading one year at a time onto my phone. Usually, as I load the songs, I skip over the ones I’m not fond of. A few days ago, as I was loading 1966, it dawned on me that there weren’t any songs in the top 100 I wasn’t fond of. Wilson Pickett, Yardbirds, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Beatles (twice), Bobby Fuller Four, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, Turtles . . . and those are just songs 91-100! It only gets better from there. 1966, what a year. My parents lived through it. What did I live through? Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Great.

It’s also interesting to me how much genre overlap there was in the 50s and the 60s. I grew up listening to radio stations that just played oldies. Then my tastes evolved to classic rock so I listened to stations that played just classic rock. In my mind I always envisioned there being some definite time when rock & roll definitively ended and what we now call classic rock definitively began. In fact, though, classic rock was making inroads into popular culture while rock & roll was still going strong. I’m in 1968 right now and here is Cream right alongside the Temptations, the Doors right alongside the Supremes. It seems obvious but I had no idea. Here’s to many more years of great music!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Welcome to the Year of the Mouse!

It has been a wonderful weekend of work, wine, and winter weather. When I woke up this morning to work on a Leadership paper, the crescent moon was bright over the snowy mountains, the stars were reflecting off the serene lake, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was positively surreal. Even if my camera could have captured it, no reproduction would have done it justice; it was like something you would see in a computer-generated 3D desktop wallpaper.

Ralf Boscheck

It’s funny that I chose to introduce our Industry and Company Analysis/Economics course in last night’s blog because our prof was in fine form during this morning’s class.

Some Boscheckisms:

  • Why are we going into such detail? BECAUSE IT’S GOOD FOR YOU!
  • You’re tired? Why? Because you’re only sleeping four hours a day? That’s just half of what you’re supposed to have. There, problem solved.
  • At IMD, many professors will call this element “people.” In economics we call it what it really is: “labor.”
  • Cartels rely on facilitating devices, such as long-term contracts or implicit agreements to get around the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a lot like marriage, actually.
  • Where did this great new technology come from? GERMANY, of course!
  • This is not some tra la la like marketing; there is only ONE right answer.
  • Why do you need a toilet break? I don’t need a toilet break, but that’s fine because I’m a hero.

This afternoon’s class is Marketing. Tra la la, here we come!

Industry and Company Analysis / Economics

Aside: the soup du jour at IMD’s restaurant was French onion today–delicious!

ICA/E is taught by Ralf Boscheck, a crazy (in a good way) German who throws chalk at students who ask inane questions. His first lecture was essentially the complete economic history of the world in four hours–step up to the fire hose and take a drink! He’s very, well, German, very focused on economics and not concerned with “tra la la,” as he puts it. “Tra la la” translates to “fluff” or “basically every other course being taught.” He frequently refers to schools of thought by the business schools that support them. E.g., “The Chicago folks would say that capital is never an entry barrier but if you’re at Harvard, you’d better not mention it because you’d be laughed off campus.”

Each group is currently working on a detailed industry analysis and company analysis for this class; my group was assigned electricity generation for our industry. Half the group has been burning the midnight oil doing industry research for the past two weeks. I am part of the second half, which will focus on a specific company in a specifc segment of that industry, analyzing its position and making recommendations. Our section gets under way next week.

The major take-aways so far from this course have been:

  • Substitutability: how easy it would be to substitute your company’s service, suppliers, distributers, customers, etc. affects the attractiveness of any market.
  • How to identify and define key success factors for companies in a given market segment
  • How to delineate a company’s assets, capabilities, and systems to analyze competitive advantage

Although I’m loving IMD’s focus on development of soft skills (one of its most significant differentiators from other programs), it is great to be paying attention to classic business hard skills as well. I’ve really never done this kind of analysis before and IMD provides tremendous support through digital access to millions of articles, books, reports, and other publications. Our Information Center is led by John Evans (Welsh) who, along with running a first class operation, is also an oenophile. Detailed data on the German renewable energry industry is great and all, but tips on places to buy wine around here would be for more valuable!

Leadership

A deep, personal approach to growth and development–it’s why I’m here. Nowhere has this IMD quality been more apparent than in our Leadership stream. Since day 1, professor Jack Wood has led us down a path of self and group analysis, inward reflection, and study of leadership. Although this course is exactly as described in the syllabus, it is easily the greatest surprise I have experienced at IMD so far.

When one thinks of “leadership,” one thinks of General Patton, Winston Churchill, Jack Welch, etc–impassioned people with the ability to inspire and motivate scores of others. Instead of “how to be impassioned” (which I’m not sure can be taught) or “how to motivate others” (covered in other courses), though, the focus of this course is learning about . . . yourself. Not your persona. Not the way you think you should behave. But the conscious and unconscious emotions you feel, what behaviors they induce in normal and in stressful situations, and the conscious and unconscious emotions those behaviors induce in others.

Sound pretty touchy feely? Well, it is. It’s really less of a course and more of a journey. It started months before the program when we were asked to read books and articles on emotional analysis. We were then charged with writing a 15-page Personal and Professional Identity Narrative before school began in January. The PPIN is an honest (and confidential) history of your life and relationships, from significant childhood experiences to your proudest accomplishments to your greatest regrets. It is an opportunity to throw it ALL out there on paper and coalesce it into a foundation for real analysis. Even with just the few tools (background readings) that we had been given at the time, I found writing the PPIN to be extremely beneficial in crystallizing my thoughts about where I had been, where I was, and where I wanted to go. We will revise our PPINs with the help of additional tools throughout the year; I can’t wait.

Since our arrival we have spent a lot of time in the Leadership stream. To summarize everything I’ve learned about leadership, group dynamics, and organizational behavior–not to mention about myself–even in just the three weeks we’ve been here will take several posts. However, here are a few interesting take-aways:

  • Foundations of transactional analysis and script analysis
  • Humans have rational and irrational sides, conscious and subconscious parts of our minds, overt and covert intentions in what we say and do; a very significant part of our behavior is driven by the irrational.
  • In groups, “rational” behavior (desire for structure, process, for example) is often just rationalization of irrational behavior.
  • Groups deciding by compromise tend to make efficient decisions; groups striving to reach consensus tend to make effective decisions.
  • Humans tend to think of situations in “threes:” there is usually a persecutor, a victim, and a rescuer. We externalize this model to everything from book/movie plots to how decisions are made in groups.

That will do for now. There are no text books in this course so I won’t ever really have a list of bullet point take-aways. I have already learned a tremendous amount about myself, however, and some of that will be the subject of future posts. This is my favorite class so far.

P.S. Apologies to all my grammar-sensitive readers for all the sentence fragments in this post. All of my posts are written in the wee hours of the morning so I make no claims boasts about style or eloquence.

Entrepreneurship

Most of my posts so far have been about extracurricular life. Perhaps this is because I spend so much of my time thinking about school so it is tempting to write about other subjects during my free time. This post, however, is devoted to one of our courses: entrepreneurship.

Our professor is BenoƮt Leleux, a high-energy Belgian who is also the Director of our MBA program. He came up through the US entrepreneurial scene of the 90s so has more than a few stories to tell.

Our first class with him (the first day of classes) centered on a business case about Boblbee, a startup (at the time of the case) manufacturer of an innovative, sporty, ergonomic, high-tech backpack. We had all been up until the wee hours of the morning (See my post: And so it begins) reviewing/analyzing the case, so we had great discussion in class with many different points of view. It was amazing to me not only how many students saw certain aspects of the case differently than I did, but also how many students identified issues that hadn’t even occurred to me. While the realization that apparently I don’t know everything is hard to swallow, it does validate my decision to come here!

Often after a business case discussion a professor will present “what really happened.” Did the company see the situation as we saw it? Did it pursue a course of action in line with our recommendations? How successful was it? For this case, BenoĆ®t took it to the next level by inviting the CEO of Boblbee to fly halfway around the world to debrief us himself. This was great as he spoke not just about business decisions but also about the psychological impact of the entire entrepreneurial roller coaster.

At the end of the session, he joined us for lunch and gave the entire class IMD-logo’ed Boblbee backpacks. As mentioned in a previous post, our class claps all the time, but the applause for this CEO was much louder than on any previous occasion.

We have had a few more Entrepreneurship classes since then and each has been very interesting. BenoĆ®t has done a great job keeping it lively and interesting–he even mentioned Predator once, which I know will make some readers of this blog very happy (AH!).

Following is a list of some interesting take-aways from this course so far. Some of them may seem pretty obvious but exploring them in depth was beneficial all the same:

  • Entrepreneurs have no common differentiators from the rest of the population; there is no entrepreneurial “profile.”
  • If anything, entrepreneurs are slightly more risk averse than the rest of the population.
  • Entrepreneurship is all about people. From VCs to clients to teammates, people drive the direction of a company or idea.
  • “Drive” pushes an entrepreneur along; “passion” pulls him toward a goal. Passionate entrepreneurs tend to be the most successful.
  • Companies require dramatically different leadership at different stages.
  • 60-70% of variables that control a startup’s destiny are uncontrollable; no matter how brilliant you are or how hard you work, you won’t be able to control those factors.
  • When you’re the darling of the VCs and everybody wants a piece of you, milk it; tomorrow you may be yesterday’s news.
  • Never refuse your own employees’ money. If they want to invest, it will align their goals with yours.
  • If data are available and readily show potential in a market, then competitors will enter that market, thus reducing your opportunity. An essential skill for entrepreneurs is the ability to gather information, see possibilities, and make linkages where others see only chaos.

Most of our discussion so far has focused on VC-based, high burn rate companies. As my entrepreneural background is with low-funded, organic growth companies, I hope to add value to class discussions with this different perspective.

We haven’t had too much non-case reading for this course (as compared to some of the others). Of what we have read, I would recommend The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar. He is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where noted Rice alum John Doerr is senior partner.