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Questions...

Posted by Don on 12 February 2009

Hi all,
some time ago I posted a story about me reading a prayer at a temple in Shanghai - someone who wants to attend LBS. This person then read my blog and we were put in touch. He sent me an email with a couple of very good questions so I thought I would share them - including my (obviously very subjective) answers.

Q: I've been reading your previous post on the MBA blog. Are you of a typical profile in LBS? Manager at Accenture? Options, derivatives ... did you learn those in MBA or did you already know all these prior to joining LBS?
A: The background of the people at LBS is very mixed - and that is the great thing as everyone brings new ideas to the table and approaches problems from different angles. You learn from your classmates but also from people in other programs. I certainly learned a lot here during the MBA, including options and derivatives (I knew a bit beforehand). Especially the finance courses are very thorough.

Q: I worry about my fit at LBS.  What kind of students do you think LBS is looking for?
A: They look for a mixed background. I think there is no 'typical' student. Don't worry at all about your background - we have people from finance, consulting, and industry, speech therapists, F1 drivers, people from the armed forces. Again - I think the mix of people and the different approaches to solving problems is one of the very great benefits of this particular school.

Q: And if there's a single most important question that I'd like you to answer, this will be the one:
What do you think are the traits of a successful student in LBS? IQ, EQ, Networking? What do you think?
A: Networking. The learning aspect is important and you will be able to pick up a lot, but networking and meeting people is the most important thing you can do during your time here. This includes alumni who are really willing to help you out.

Q: In your opinion, what do you think of the academic workload in LBS? Do you really have time to "network"? Do you really have much time for extracurricular activities?
A: It depends on how much time you give it. There are some students who read every single reading. You never see them at networking events or at the pub. Then there are others who mainly socialize and party. Others mainly network with alumni and professionals. I consider the MBA as a toolbox - you construct the program that best fits your needs, especially with the flexibility that the LBS MBA offers. So yes, there is time for extracurricular activities and for networking and both are really important. Meeting new people over a beer or doing sports is, in my opinion, more important than reading all optional readings.

Q: What will you be losing out if you are to complete the course in 15 months (other then sleep, of course). What's the typical hours like in LBS? I recall studying till the wee hours of the night during my undergraduate days. Is LBS going to be a repeat of that?
A: It is a lot of work but definitely can be done in 15 months. You loose out in terms of less choice of courses you might want to take.

Q: What kind of culture is LBS like? Is the atmosphere more collaborative, or competitive? Do people focus more on teamwork or individual contributions? I understand that such characteristics is highly dependent of the individual but if you are viewing LBS as an outsider, what is your feel?
A: I find that most people work well in teams. Even if your study group does not become the best of friends most still find a way to work together productively. So teamwork, also in clubs, works well usually.

Q: LBS has a very good reputation in the consulting industry which I'm keen on. I come with business development background and I have no prior contact in the consulting industry. Is that any big disadvantage?
A: Not at all. Actually the people are very diverse and especially consulting firms value different backgrounds.

Q: And I hope you do not mind asking you some pointed personal questions:
Do you have any regrets joining LBS? Why or why not?
A: The only regret I have is the lack of time - there are so many things to do! Especially in the second year the courses are a lot more interesting, there are many club activities and trips to join! And there is London to explore!

Q: After graduation, what do you think is the ONE THING that you feel you've taken away from LBS which you CANNOT take away from anywhere else? You can form a network of friends anywhere; you can learn the academics anywhere; you can live in London anytime... but what is the ONE THING that you feel you have taken away from LBS which you cannot take away from anywhere else?
A: The opportunity to work together with very smart people from very different ways of life.

Take care,
Don

Why I like this school ...

Posted by Don on 26 January 2009

Not only because since today we are the (joint) number 1 bschool according to the latest FT MBA Ranking (rankings are all relative) but the amount of connections you get. Today we had an alumn speaking in the internet marketing class who leads EMEA for google. His presentation was very interesting, to the point and informative. Great takeaways about not only the company but using AdWords and AdSense.

Then there are plenty of interesting postings on the portal - imagine an active online community posting valuable information for all kinds of areas of interest (finance, consulting, industry). This includes research from Goldman and Dt. Bank, market research fom BCG and Bain, oil and gas exploration reports and a lot more.

Oh yes, and there are funny postings. I especially liked this one:

A friend of mine has moved to the UK and is seeking modelling work (female)....please drop me a line if you have any useful contacts / information  regrading agencies in the London area.

PS: The world really is small. Remember the person I mentioned in the beginning of January in the article "Lucky"? He read my blog and asked to be put in touch with me. Online communities really do work.

Take care,

Don

Diversity

Posted by Don on 18 January 2009

Much has been written and said about the diversity of the people here at LBS - and it is true! I have mentioned the various professional backgrounds before - regardless of what career you are targeting - chances are that more than one person will have experience in this field.
Now we have a lot of exchange students here as well. This makes for an interesting, fresh mix. The evening classes also include more people who do a part-time degree while working, which further enhances classroom discussion (most of the time ;-)
Added to that - the additional benefits from an international student body are that in almost every city (certainly every country) there are people you know and could stay with. A number of us have already started doing trips to visit their friends in other countries.
For a long time I had wanted to do martial arts again - mainly for enhancing my flexibility. A new first-year student had sent out mails regarding training together. Turns out he is a Kung-Fu instructor. We did a 2-hour session - I am still hurting but it was great!
Diverse backgrounds work in many ways.
Take care,
Don

New term

Posted by Don on 14 January 2009

Hi all,
the new term has started. There were a lot of courses that really interested me, but I decided to focus on doing only a few courses but doing them well. The danger is always to overload yourself and then feeling stressed. So this term I am focusing on fixed income instruments and the management of bond portfolios as well as internet marketing. All 3 courses are looking really good - the bond portfolio managment course even includes dinner (!).
Interview invitations have started rolling in for the first-year students so we are busy doing mock interviews. It will definitely be a stressful interviewing season - the more preparation the better.
It is great to seeing many familiar faces - soon, very soon it will already be over ...
Take care,
Don

Lucky

Posted by Don on 04 January 2009

Hi all,

a very happy new year 2009, first of all.

I want to begin this new year with an observation I made yesterday. It reminded me how lucky and fortunate we, studying at London Business School, really are, despite the occasional bout of frustration.

I visited a Confucian temple in Shanghai yesterday. It was very beautiful, laid out with a rock garden around a little lake, a pagoda and the oldest library in Shanghai. Next to the main hall there are several trees onto which people can hang their prayers and wishes. Most of them are in Chinese but one, half in Chinese half in English, caught my attention. It read that the person was hoping and praying to be able to be admitted into the MBA program of London Business School in 2009.

It reminded me how much a lot of people are longing for what we are doing.

Take care, and have a wonderful and fantastic start.
Don

Reflections

Posted by Don on 29 December 2008

Now that the winter term is over a moment of reflection is in order…

What a year 2008 has been! What started as a subprime mortgage crisis developed into the seizing up of credit markets and a drying up of liquidity. During the summer commodities rallied, people in Asia suddenly could not afford food and gasoline prices reached new highs. At this time people were still talking about decoupling, and the mood in Asia was certainly better than in the rest of the world, but the financial crisis seemed to be under control. Short-lived rallies in equity and especially credit markets seemed to be proof. Then, in September, the worst happened when over a weekend Merrill and Lehman disappeared, and Fannie, Freddy and AIG needed to be bailed out. Credit Default Spreads went through the roof again and for several weeks we had intraday volatility of 20%-40% - in companies such as Goldman, Morgan and Citibank! (which later needed to be bailed out as well). Now we are waiting to see whether GM and Ford will be alive much longer and how painful the recession will be. Meanwhile funding has nearly dried up – Venture Capital and Private Equity companies are struggling to raise funds. Those with money right now are slowly starting the bargain hunt. The hedge fund industry is experiencing its biggest shakeout – not surprising for an industry that has promised “absolute returns” but is uniformly down.

On the positive side, we have seen history in the making. On the negative side, the job markets are in turmoil. Many alumni have lost their jobs and those of us looking for jobs, either for an internship or for a full-time opportunity are having a very tough time. Anyone with a job offer should consider him-/herself very fortunate right now. An example can be the full-time recruiting event of BCG: a whopping 250 people attended (including finance interested MBAs and MIF students). In the end, no one got an offer from the London, Frankfurt or Zurich office.

Still, the mood remains upbeat for most people – there are still opportunities around and there are still several terms to go.

Some observations from the last term:

- Options and Futures is a fantastic course. The best so far, actually.

- Financing the entrepreneurial business was also great. - I expected more from negotiations/bargaining and managing entertainment and experience. Could have been great courses but the delivery was not up to expectations (maybe professor dependent).

- New venture development was slightly strange – certainly a great course but why did we have to read about 60 pages per week in addition to writing a business plan? I thought the reason of the course was to develop a business plan!

- Elective courses are on average better than core classes with more preparation and work to be done. - 09ers do not own the Windsor, the Quad or Sundowners anymore. The 2010 class does.

- During class discussion you can now easily identify exchange and part-time students

- 2nd internship, 4 classes, 2YP and getting fit again is a challenge ;-)

- LBS really is a very international place: people are literally all over the world for the break, visiting friends and family. Before xmas I was cooking for some friends and we were 6 people from 4 countries, going to 5 different countries afterwards. Really international. Already I know several LBS alumni in Hong Kong where I will be going after school. Fantastic!

All of you – take care and have a great start into 2009! For anyone interested – we put together a list of books for those of you who want to go into finance. Have a look at www.mba2finance.com – we will be working on it …

Take care,

cu don

London-Paris in 12 hours

Posted by Don on 27 November 2008

A few weeks ago I did an amazing trip ... well, sort of ...

So I had once more a trip laid out to Paris to attend a family dinner (of my girlfriend). This is a very efficient affair – leave the office at 3pm on Friday, take the Eurostar at 4.30 and arrive in Paris at 7pm. So far so good.

Just a minor detail: On Thursday a truck loaded with some highly inflammable liquid decided to overturn in the tunnel and start burning. So the whole day Friday (and only Friday, calculate the odds of that – exactly the day I wanted to travel!!!) the Eurostar did not run. Of course all flights were either full or cost the equivalent of a ticket to Thailand (return!). But my very understanding and helpful colleagues of my second internship quickly came to the rescue: train and ferry. Calculating the time via Dover/Calais however was not something I looked forward to. There is however a speedferry directly to Boulogne and maybe there might be a train directly to Paris from there. The internet showed that the 2.20 pm ferry was already full but after I called them I got a seat (“we added some additional capacity” - what does that mean for a ferry???).

 So having arrived at work at 8 am I left a mere 2 hours later to head out to the train station. I managed to mix up King’s Cross and Charing Cross and missed a train but still got to Dover in time. A taxi quickly brought me to the foot passenger pick-up spot. About 20 people were waiting already to enter a 10 seater bus (with luggage!) and to be driven 50 meters! (For ‘security reasons’ we were not allowed to simply walk on. I think they are not really happy about non-car-driving passengers).

After waiting an hour we finally boarded the ferry and left an hour late. The trip was smooth and nice - the de-boarding took another hour. As there were no cabs in sight we (a small group of 6 people who met on the ferry) walked to the train station where we scrambled to get a seat on the last TGV to Paris.

At least the weather was nice and the English and French countryside is a pleasant sight. Door to door the trip ended up being just over 12 hours - which is the same time it takes from Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok to London ... :-)

Internship 1

Posted by Don on 27 November 2008

Now, with some months between my first internship and now I wanted to share some impressions:

And so it started, the long awaited internship experience. We all met on the first day for the usual brainwashing of how great the bank is – and later headed out to Lama island for some team building activities. First impression – wow, everyone is so young! Especially the Asian analysts!

The activities on the island were nice – just the sun and humidity made for an exhausting experience. The final dinner at the beach on Lantau island however created a very chilled out atmosphere to meet people.

The rest of the week was spent on training which was delivered by an external training company and was very good. We even had to do an exam at the end of the week. The training was rounded up by 2 hours of intensive Bloomberg training which was very very good.

Second week Monday morning we finally started. Me and two analysts were picked up by the desk head of the Equity Derivatives Trading desk. He introduced us to everyone – I got to sit with the Hong Kong Equities Options desk first. I felt quite comfortable – hey, I have a Eurex Trader Licence and use to teach options 10 years ago. I quickly realized however that I know absolutely nothing about options – not on the level these guys trade at. So I sat, watched and filled page after page with things I picked up – and more with questions. The guys were very helpful and supportive – but also asked little quizzes (Black-Scholes by heart anyone? Does correlation increase or decrease in falling markets? Why?). I managed to also sit with a lot of other desks, e.g. Derivative Sales, Complex Equity, Exotics, Warrants, Cash Equity, Program Trading, Delta 1, Synthetic Equity and so on. In parallel the training company started a FX simulation and in teams of 2 we had to manage a portfolio of $10mn. We could change the allocation into EUR, YEN, CAD and AUD – but obviously had to back up our choices (and should make money). My partner and me spent a lot of time in the beginning agreeing on an approach and which type of research we would be reading (there is a ton of available research – and we were both very busy at our desks).

My desk had given me a few small projects – so I quickly taught myself Visual Basic for Excel (especially automating Bloomberg tasks out of Excel) and created several tools for the guys to save them some time.

Tip:

-          make sure the guys on your desk are happy. Bringing them coffee/lunch/whatever is an easy way to make them happy. One guy complained that he felt like a secretary doing that – unsurprisingly he did not get an offer. It is not about getting lunch – but about the attitude. What are you willing to do to get this job? At Accenture I was a manager and had 25 people working for me – here I was getting lunch. But I wanted to get this job – and compared to calculating the non-linear shift of the volatility surface and the impact on the vega P/L (my project), getting lunch was easy.

-          Create tools to make life easy for the people who decide your fate.

-          Connect to the people, and connect to all.

-          Identify the MDs and make sure you spoke to all of them before you leave.

-          Handing over business cards leaves a professional impression.

Finally we had to say good-bye to the 56th floor and the view and head over to Singapore. My 4th time there but my first time working. Being in Singapore somehow always feels like a vacation – on the weekend you never wear more than shorts and T-Shirt.

A word about the accommodation: serviced apartment in Hong Kong. Not big but very nice and sufficient – I did not spend much time there anyhow. The view however was fantastic – the skyline of Hong Kong is very unique sight.

The view was not as good in Singapore – but the apartment mind-blowing. Two entry doors leading to a square-layout designer flat in Zen style. Elements of stone, wood, glass and steel were used as walls and the floor. Two Loewe flat screens and two Bose sound-systems, to a huge relaxing bed and a shower and bathtub only separated by glass from the bed (“the idea is to watch”) made for a extremely relaxing time (when we had time to be in the apartment!). The second desk had a very different type of work – I worked on multiple presentations at the same time, listened in to client calls and did write-ups of research calls. I got exposure not only to Debt but also FX as well as commodities. At the same time we were running, in teams of two, an FX portfolio which we needed to do our final presentation on. So the last days were crazy with finishing up on desk projects, continuing to meet people and putting together a presentation on why we traded the way we did and what we learned.

After the internship I went for a nice sunny relaxing vacation in Indonesia – scuba diving of the coast of Manado. It was there, on the balcony of our bungalow, that the bank called to tell me that I had an offer! What fantastic news after a day of diving and seeing sharks! Especially so as the conversion rates were significantly lower than last year – something that was confirmed when I returned to London.

Yours,

Don

Tips for milkround

Posted by Don on 27 November 2008

Time flies … soon the next Hong Kong finance career trek will leave for Asia and xmas is already upon us. So I was thinking back to last year and the milkround which will soon come up for the first years:

It is a marathon and you need to be prepared for it. It can be frustrating which you need to be prepared for mentally and spiritually. Oh – and those people who are quite arrogant and dis-respectful during the recruiting? Yes, what goes around (usually) comes around. With one or two exceptions those who got on everyone's nerves by interrupting ongoing conversations and by "hijacking" the conversation did not turn out very successful. The experience is frustrating – but my advice is observe and move on. Don't waste time or energy.

Even if you are not successful initially – do not despair! Keep on working and keep your spirits high! Two stories for that:

One friend of mine was not successful in interviews (although smart and knowledgeable). He continued to look and landed a great internship as a fund of funds manager. Another one kept on looking and found a great job in derivatives trading. Still another friend suffered the same fate but got word that a hedge fund had previously hired people from London Business School. He looked the up – and realized this guy was a buddy from the Rugby club he had played with on every game and tour. A few emails later he had an interview and thereafter the internship!

Don't let anyone tell you "it is impossible". I vividly remember the former executive team of the private equity club announcing that nobody without prior "strong experience" in a PE firm would be able to get an internship in this area. A good friend of mine did not really pay attention to this but rather worked his network and got an invitation. He studied valuation and models with a stream mate and – landed the internship. Impossible is nothing – and USE YOUR NETWORK.

For me not everything went perfectly – but I went to sales-trading in Hong Kong and Singapore at one of the strongest players in Asia. I also secured a second internship at a hedge fund in London.

Yours,

Don

Joy

Posted by Don on 05 March 2008

Another reason for getting into a top business school presented itself tonight. I had first heard about Nassim Taleb when the head of the FX trading desk of Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong advised me to read his books. Ever since then I have realized not only how intelligent but also how famous this author and options trader is.

Tonight he gave a lecture at school (Mr. Taleb is a visiting professor at London Business School) and it was of course fully booked. But experience has shown that usually there is always a way. So 5 of us patiently waited and hoped that some people would not come. And it happened and we went in. It was definitely a very interesting lecture – for once a professor who discards modern portfolio theory as useless in real-life markets.

Once more – my two main reasons (apart from facilitating the career switch into finance) for doing the MBA are the network of people you build and the speakers on campus. Two weeks ago the CEO of Boucheron, THE French luxury company was on campus to present his career. He is an alum and we talked to him afterwards. This is unique and no way I would have ever had a leisurely chat with this guy – were it not for this environment.

Take care,

Don

Frustration

Posted by Don on 05 March 2008

The milkround is coming to an end, at least for the people interested in finance and consulting. All the big players have made their offers and successful applicants have made their choices. Most of us will be staying in Europe while some (including me :-) will be heading to Asia.

The interviewing process was an emotional rollercoaster and the choice of the companies of who to invite or forward to the next round was not always very transparent - to put it in euphemistic terms. But this is a tough market right now and everyone who has an offer is happy. Those of you who don't - keep it up and come and ask for help and support!

This term has generated additional frustration: some professors manage to consistently exceed the expectations of 99% of all students - unfortunately to the negative. Additionally it is unclear why during the term of interviewing suddenly attendance is taken in class. If the school is unable to organize recruitment in a way that students do not have to miss classes they have paid for and want to attend, the school should at least not punish them for not being there (we are punished anyway by having to read up later and not making any class contributions). One professor has announced to grade down everyone who has not attended his class for 4 times. So students who have more interviews, thus are more successful in the recruiting process and help the school by increasing the placement at top companies are punished for being successful. Nobody has so far been able to explain this paradox to me - including the professor who complained (via email!) about - high-school type behaviour - of students.

Anyhow, some classes are very good and spring break is coming soon! And the Rugby tour to Duke!

All the best,

Don

Short break

Posted by Don on 05 March 2008

During the past weekend some nice events took place. First of all of course the annual London Business School Rugby tournament. The Rugby club really runs this school – those of us who participated took an early sitting in the Finance exam (yuk 7.15 is too early for Modigliani/Miller) and then took a coach to pitches near Heathrow. The London Business School male teams A and B faced Harvard A and B as well as INSEAD while the female team faced Wharton, Columbia and two more teams. The wind was chilling but at least it was not raining.

I played in the B team in the second row scrum. I still don’t really understand much of what is going on so my strategy was to hit anyone really hard who was not wearing my colour. That sort of worked – and I learned that it is beneficial not to have your hand on the ground (people can step on it) and not to fall down (people step on you). But it was great! The girls even won the tournament!

The next weekend my girlfriend and me flew to Munich and went skiing in St. Anton am Arlbergand in Obertauern – both among my favourite skiing areas. The snow was really good and even off-piste skiing and mogul slopes were great. The Sunday we spent in a beergarden in Munich at leisurely 22 degrees before flying back to London.

Last week the rugby team played the alumni - and the students left no doubt on who was better! A great dinner and drinks evening / night followed - all very classical in black tie / suit / dress outfit.

Next up is the Lisbon trip organized by the Portugal trip. There are multiple things happening every weekend – the challenge is to choose which one to take!

Enjoy,

Don

No. 2

Posted by Don on 03 February 2008

Hi all,

In the midst of milkround we were surprised by the new FT ranking. London Business School climbed 3 spots and is now number 2 worldwide, just behind Wharton. That means that at least on paper our school is now ranked ahead of Stanford, Harvard and Columbia.

While everyone can think of the ratings what they want – the international mix of students and faculty at London Business School is unrivalled. Additionally you can – within a 25 minute subway ride – meet with alumni at all big investment banks and consulting companies. This alumni network is extremely strong and supportive. Together these factors create a powerful and efficient platform for every student - it's up to us to use this platform. 

Don

Weekends - spent happy or frustrated

Posted by Don on 03 February 2008

Hi all,

These past two weekends must have been among the toughest for those students interested in finance / consulting. Friday a week ago the first shortlists came out – and quite a few hopeful students found themselves without an invitation to interviews. During the past week classes were constantly short of people – interview preparation and interviews themselves took priority. Throughout the week more shortlists came in – and the first round interviews took place. The resulting atmosphere was an interesting study in psychology – people showed all signs of frustration and panic. People who had not used the previous months to network or had not prepared during the Christmas break suddenly realized that 3 vault guides, 2 brainteaser books and the daily FT and WSJ are just too much to read. Additionally the choice of the banks – and some consulting companies – sometimes seemed rather random: strong candidates only received 1-2 invitations for interview, while others who had not been shining previously received 5-6 invitations. However, in striking difference to last year, the markets had a strong effect on the number of interview invitations extended. Finally – you get to know your friends well. As well as those people who suddenly exhibit a strong interest in – only themselves. You learn who really helps out in a give- and take- fashion and who only takes. Oh yes, my personal favourite: the people who walk around telling recruiters of their great achievements in a certain field when it is quite obvious to fellow students from the same field that they did nothing of the kind. Careful – what goes around, comes around.

So, some tips:

-          Start preparing early!

-          Try to get a head start, either by attending a trek or by getting your application in early. You will interview before everyone else (ok, you need to have your act together earlier) which gives you (in case you are successful) a strong psychological advantage: while the rest scramble for interviews, you already have an offer on the table (if things go well).

-          Have friends who apply for the same as you – helps balance the workload. Don’t see each other as competition, help each other out. Chances are you will need someone else’s help somewhere down the line.

-          Have friends who apply for something totally different. Helps get the pressure out.

-          DON’T PANIC! The most important advice.

-          Don’t question why xyz got more interviews or was forwarded to second round when you were not. Those thoughts do not help. Focus on yourself.

-          There are no easy interviews. Talk of “this guy is easier in interviews than that guy” are absolute non-sense. People who talk like that forget that each interview has its own dynamic and it is up to the interviewee to steer the interview.

This week continues with second round interviews and – offers!

Regards,

Scuba-Don

Applications

Posted by Don on 18 January 2008

Hi all,

Quick word on applications: you need TIME!!! I had done the process once before for the Hong Kong applications but again it took ages. The banks all have differently working application systems and want to know an astonishing amount of information! Be ready to provide high school grades!

Term has started again and we are on the way learning about entrepreneurial opportunities, organisational behaviour, marketing, risk analysis and, of course, finance. So this term is less number-heavy and more fluffy – but we have the interviews to prepare for. Anyhow – for the finance and consulting applicants it will all be over after February, one way or another. It remains to be seen how much the current economic developments, read recession, in the US will affect the summer internship hiring.

All the best to all of you,

Wherever you are,

Scuba-D