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 Benoît 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, Benoît 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. Benoît 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.

Life in Lausanne

It has been great living in Lausanne so far. Although IMD has kept me living in a bubble for most of my time here, my few ventures out have been very pleasant. Following is a brief survey of some aspects of this city that I have noticed.

The people are, generally, very nice. If I look like I’m not certain about where I’m going, someone will invariably stop and offer to help. The Swiss are very courteous to pedestrians. If I look like I’m even thinking of stepping into a crosswalk, cars coming from every direction will stop immediately. They’re all willing to work with my rusty, rusty French too, which is a plus.

Speaking of languages, I have found Lausanne to be very international. Walking down the street I can hear French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages that I can’t recognize being spoken. There is a great little pizzeria around the corner from my apartment called Le Pinnochio; so far it has proven to be the best non-IMD venue for practicing my Italian.

People on the streets seem very . . . European. There have definitely been several Euromullet sightings and females wearing tight pants with high boots seem to account for roughly 85% of the population. Smokers are everywhere (What did this continent do before the discovery of tobacco?!) but one rarely sees cigarette butts on the ground due to the rigorous Swiss attention to daily street/sidewalk cleaning.

Dogs aren’t very friendly to strangers, which is a shame. I see a golden retriever out for a walk and I want to go say hi, pet it, etc. but I get the impression that such just isn’t the way here. Anywhere dogs might be walked is lined with pooper scooper bag dispensers every few hundred feet and owners seem to take their clean-up responsibility seriously. The risk of stepping in something unpleasant is very low–this will be important when I’m late and running to campus for an interview!

Half bottles of wine are widely available in both wine shops and restaurants. I am told that this is in reaction to Switzerland’s tough drunk driving laws. Whether I drink a full bottle or just a half, there are multiple recycling bins on each block. Recycling here is much more segregated than I have experienced in the US: glass, aluminum, tin/steel, oil, paper, plastic, and organic waste all have their own labeled containers.

Laundry in my building is a real pain. One must reserve a seven-hour time slot (morning or afternoon) for the laundry room well in advance. As I spend 16-20 hours a day on-campus, this limits my options pretty significantly! When I do manage to match my schedule with an open slot, I face my next challenge: crazyeurolaundrysystem!

The washer itself isn’t that bad. To use it, though, I have to pay 3 Swiss Francs. To pay 3 Swiss Francs, I have to hold up an electronic key in just the right position by a noncommunicative metal box. To procure such a key and add money to my “account,” I have to track down the concierge (an apartment resident who acts as the on-site manager) during the few, late hours I am at home. So it’s a challenge, but not insurmountable.

The dryer, on the other hand, is something else. Instead of a “tumbler” dryer, as I’m accustomed to, the laundry room just has lines for hanging clothes after they have been washed. With an ambient temperature of ~40 degrees F and poor ventilation, this doesn’t get the job done very well. Not to worry, though, there is an elegant solution: a giant fan/dehumidfier. Essentially you just leave your clothes on the line, turn on the machine, leave the room, and return when your time slot is up. I’ve found this approach to yield semi-dry clothes with the stiffness of cardboard–just what I’m looking for in my underwear and bed linens! Perhaps I’m just a spoiled American. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong. If you have any helpful hints, please send them my way!

Food, glorious food!

We made it out of our study groups early tonight so I just treated myself to a snack before settling into readings for tomorrow. This snack was so good it inspired me to post a quick entry about the food here in Lausanne.

My morning nutrition is based on a fierce devotion to my staple in the US, cereal and milk. Satisfying this devotion isn’t easy over here; most supermarkets carry only a few types of cereal and I had to scour the city to find skim milk. When I finally discovered the hidden cache of skim, I was surprised to learn that it comes in . . . a box. Naturally I have no idea how to open this box elegantly; instead I have found that cutting a hole in the top is functional enough for me.

So my day begins with cereal and milk, followed by second breakfast at school. One of the best “quality of life” features is that it keeps a fully stocked fruit basket outside our main classroom. It may not seem like much but this bottomless supply of fresh, organic produce supplies nutritional value and much needed energy before, during, and after classes. Bananas are the most popular; students swoop in before class and snatch them up. Most aren’t consumed immediately so they become a kind of currency: “Can you help me balance these two accounts before class?” “That depends; how bad do you want your banana?”

Lunch is, nutritionally, the highlight of the day. There is a culinary institute just down the street and I suspect that IMD has worked out some arrangement with them. Every day the food at our restaurant is fresh, delicious, varied, and plentiful–oh, and included in the cost of tuition! I begin each lunch with the soup du jour, which, after two weeks, has only repeated once. Today was split pea; previously there has been pumpkin, butternut squash, tomato, vegetable, mushroom, carrot, and many others.

After soup, I move on to the main buffet. This includes several salads, organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts, fish, meats, starches, and vegetarian entrees. Sometimes the menu is themed; last week we had a Mexican day, for example. It was more “Swiss Mexican” than “Mexican” but it was delicious. Each buffet item has a label listing any meats in it and their countries of origin.

This course leaves me pretty stuffed, but the desserts look far too enticing to resist. Freshly made (I believe they’re freshly made. The possibility remains that IMD has an external supplier, but, if they do, oh what a supplier!) tarts, custards, pies, cakes, pastries, and more fresh fruit are one one table; nuts and cheeses are on another. I really can’t stress enough what a highlight lunch is for me each day; the quality, variety, and nutritional value really keep me going and the time with my classmates is an invaluable break. Despite all the work and so little sleep, I feel very healthy, which attribute significantly to IMD’s food.

I spend the evenings munching on more fruit while I’m at school (Once there was a catered late-night event in our building and the leftovers were offered to us; you’ve never seen mammals descend on their prey so voraciously!), then I usually have a final snack once I return home. I’ve been cooking up batches of whole-grain pasta (with tons of garlic, of course) for quick snacks but sometimes I will go for bread/crackers and nutella as well. My most common snack by far, though, is yogurt, which accounts for a major percentage of shelf space at my supermarket. The yogurts here are almost all organic and much creamier than the Dannon to which I was accustomed in the US. Best of all, they come in funky flavors: chocolate, coffee, exotic fruits and berries, aloe, and hazlenut, just to name a few.

Labeling on prepackaged food here is incredibly detailed. In addition to being provided in several different languages, it includes the country of origin and exact percentage by weight of each ingredient. For example, the hazlenut yogurt I just finished included 10% cane sugar from latin America and 4% hazlenuts from Spain. As far as I’m concerned, it contained 100% awesomeness.

On that note, I’m off to start on homework. I’ll try to write some “catch-up” posts about the first two weeks in the coming days. Au revoir!

First day of class

It was a week ago already that I posted about our first day of class and promised to write more soon. Adapting to this routine, coping with consistent lack of sleep, and not being accustomed to setting aside time for blogging have interfered with my intentions, but at long last, here I am.

Our first day was great. 90 students from 44 different countries converged and began getting to know each other. Our excitement was uncontainable; it seemed like every other sentence from our professors and administrators was met with a full round of applause. There are eight of us from the USA (although several of the Americans have dual citizenship), seven from China, seven from Russia, and then the rest of the students are from all over–from Azerbaijian to Zambia.

The opening day experience here was, in some ways, similar to the first day of O-Week at Rice. Upon my arrival, everyone from administrators to professors to security personnel knew my name and background. Many of the students too had been more diligent than I in researching the class profiles and knew all about where I came from and what I had done. The marketing isn’t just hype; this truly is a personalized, intimate program.

I think my blogging will come more frequently if I can keep my posts to small, discrete chunks. For that reason, and because I have to be up in four hours for an outdoor leadership training exercise high up in the Alps, I will bring this entry to a close. I hope this finds everyone well and I look forward to posting more soon!

And so it begins

It’s 2 AM and I’ve just arrived home after my first day of school. For the last five hours I have been locked in a room with an Italian, a Chinese, a Portuguese, a Czech, a Belarussian, and a French student trying to reach consensus on the best strategy for Boblbee, an innovative Swedish sports gear manufacturer.

When we left, there were still two groups working, meaning we were 9th of 12 total groups to finish. To me this indicates that there are probably some things we could do better/more efficiently. Of course, that is why we are here: to learn

In six hours I will present our analysis and recommendations to the class. Our group number is seven, so we are required to meet in study room #007. Naturally James Bond will play a strong thematic role in our powerpoint. In the mean time, I have two more cases and some papers to read before class so I will hold off on more updates for now.

Bienvenue en Suisse!

January 1st, 2008: The first day of the new year marked a major step in my life. I boarded a plane to Geneva and kicked off this grand adventure!

Or not. Due to a series of unfortunate events (nothing serious, though), I missed my flight. I fly frequently and am used to a timeliness policy that can best be described as “running down the jetway.” This has always worked out very well, even for international flights. Apparently, though, for international flights on which I will be checking several very heavy bags, I need to build in more buffer time. Good to know.

So, as I was saying, January 2nd, 2008: The second day of the new year marked a major step in my life. Several hundred dollars poorer, I boarded a plane to Zurich and kicked off this grand adventure!

Bryan’s Move to Lausanne v2.0 went much more smoothly. 3:10 to Yuma was showing on the flight to Newark and I received a First Class upgrade. The crew on the flight to Zurich was excellent and we arrived significantly ahead of schedule.

A three-hour train ride through some beautiful country and I was [at last!] at my apartment. Still a bit nervous for having signed a one-year lease sight unseen, I was relieved to find that it exceeded my expecations. The kitchen unit is straight out of the seventies, but the rest of the studio has just been renovated and is more than adequate. As soon as I have stored my luggage and cleaned up the apartment, I will post new pics. There is no sofa for guest visitors, but upon rearrangement of furniture, there is a big open are in the center of the room that will easily accommodate a double-sized air mattress.

Night 1 in the apartment was an . . . uneventful one. Naturally one of the first objectives on my move-in list was to set up my computers and their accessories. At ~8 PM, I blew the fuse in the apartment, which fortunately didn’t affect anyone else in the building. With no light I decided just to call it an early night (really early!) and wait for the landlord, who was already scheduled to come by at 9 AM. He replaced my fuse with a larger one and was very nice.

Since then, things have been going smoothly. Due to my tardy arrival, I canceled plans to join the ski trip and have been focused on getting settled, completing assignments, and trying local restaurants. So far I am very impressed with the nice people here and their patience with my rusty French. How can you not love a country with this national sport: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwingen???

I have wireless Internet access in my room now (thanks to a technician who spent most of his time cursing–I’m learning more French already!) and am starting to feel situated. I have stocked my small refrigerator with vanilla, chocolate, and ALOE yogurt. Now I am off for my next Swiss adventure: doing laundry in the basement. Let’s hope I don’t blow another fuse!

I have a Swiss bank account!

Unfortunately it doesn’t have any money in it yet and, when it does, it will all be allocated to tuition and living expenses, not to hidden savings. Still, it feels cool to have a Swiss bank account!

Along with the bank account I now have a Swiss visa and a place to live. My apartment is a modest, little efficiency located very close to IMD: See where. Following are some pictures sent to me by my soon-to-be landlord:


The view of the lake and mountains isn’t exactly as clear as advertised but it will still be refreshing each morning.

Tiny apartment!
The single room is small, but at least it is furnished. I am working on the landlord right now to add a pull-out sofa for guests. He is insistent that there is no room, but if we eliminate the TV stand (not pictured), as I don’t plan on watching any TV, I think we can squeeze it in.

Tiny apartment!
With this kitchenette I probably won’t be flexing my culinary muscles too much over the next year. Given the time commitments of the program, though, that may not have been an option anyway.

So this (or someplace very similar) is where I will be living for the next year. I depart on the 1st of January and, as soon as I’m situated, I will post pictures. In the mean time, I hope everyone is enjoying safe and happy holidays!