SIB – China Video Trip Report

I’ve been asked by several students and potential applicants what international seminars are all about.

Answer: They are an opportunity to have the time of your life!

Allow the SIB-China guys to demonstrate in a fun musical format!

I admit, I’m addicted! I’ve watched the video about 10 times so far and the song has been playing in a loop in the background all morning. The fun is multiplied if you know the guys in the video.

Video Highlights (you won’t know what I’m talking about unless you watch the video):

  • Prof. Schultz’s intro
  • Running man on Great Wall of China
  • Screwing the light bulb
  • Mike Han’s and Andrew Chau’s wicked dance moves
  • The Haas ladies. Such good sports!


PS: SIB stands for seminar in international business, an experiential learning course that allows Haas students to learn about international business focused on a certain country. Haas conducts multiple SIBs throughout the year spanning countries around the world.


Graduation Day 2011

What an incredible feeling! Commencement came and went last Sunday (May 15, 2011) and Berkeley’s air filled with the stir of the Class of 2011 grads, abounding in the streets. What we expected to be a dreary and wet (read: miserable) day outside at the Greek Theatre (outside) Auditorium (pictured right) instead turned into a fairly beautiful one. As usual, the festivities were emcee’d by Dean Lyons (pictured left)

My fellow classmates and I shared a laugh, while we took snapshots together, reminiscing over the past three years and celebrating our latest triumph: to become graduate MBAs of our beloved Haas School of Business. So many of us crossed the stage with our little ones (self-included!) in our arms or by our sides. Our Part-Time program offered so many Haas Babies, that it practically brimmed with nostalgia (and wonder of how we and our spouses made it).
There were great speeches by a few selected students, and our commencement address was given by Barbara Desoer, President of Home Loans for Bank of America (and fellow Haas MBA Alum). There were many memorable remarks, but two in particular remain vivid in my brain that I wanted to share to our readers:
  • Single-Tasking. So many of us get too caught up in multitasking that we lose our focus and end up doing a poor job all around. It’s time to remember what’s important and attack it fervently with all our hearts — to single-task instead for a change. To this, I can definitely relate, having gotten caught up in meetings, while typing emails, IMing and texting. It all can get a little ridiculous.
  • Wisdom from Maya Angelou: Ms. Desoer also quoted Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That sentiment just aims us in the right direction: to think about and take action for people — that becomes the greatest gift, and the most memorable. Not money, glory, power or anything else.
For a full transcript of her speech, click here.
After the reception, many of us gathered at the Campanile Esplanade (pictured below) for some refreshments and then off to our many celebratory dinners/parties. An end to one part of our lives, but really just another first step in our journey to go beyond ourselves and be students always.
With any luck, I’ll be able to squeeze in another good-bye post. Until then, Happy Summer’ing and many blessings.
– TL

Two down – One to go

Last weekend marked the completion of my second year. Super delighted that I’m getting a six-week break before Summer starts. The break will also give me an opportunity to catch up on my blogging. So many stories to tell and such little time, at least until now.

The lack of activity on the blog tells me others were equally busy but now that Summer’s here – no more excuses.

Congratulations to the first-years for surviving what is considered to be the toughest year in the program. More importantly, congratulations to the third-years especially our very own Tim and Div for graduating from the program. The commencement ceremony was on Sunday, 5/15. What an achievement! I hope we get to hear from them a couple of times before they sign off.

Improvisational Leadership

Going to keep this post short, as I just wanted to get a shout out and say, “Happy Close-to-the-end-of-the-school-year” to all. Where are my fellow bloggers at? I’m sure they’re wrapping up a lot of loose ends on final projects and finals themselves. As for us third years, we’re getting ready to graduate!

I wrapped up my second 1-unit class to round off my MBA with a class called Improvisational Leadership. Definitely an interactive class with lots of self-reflection and exercises to get one’s motor running on how to engage and stay dynamic within our own ever-changing environments. I really love tying things up with a soft-skills class to round off the quantitative and strategic-focused courses. Some people really are innately great at soft skills, but there are aspects that can definitely be learned and/or honed through practice, which I certainly appreciate.
Personally, I was comforted by the fact that some of the improvisational maxims in our readings lined right up with some of my list in the previous Top 10 blog. Particularly, “Make Mistakes!” (“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes” – #7 in my list).
In recent times, I have really had to expose myself to this and “let things go.” With the flurry of activities in my own work, there are so many things I have to let my team experience and figure out for themselves. It’s been a rough ride, but I think the lesson learned here is that as you move up in your career, there will be an endless array of “to do’s” — and we can’t just punch the card and try to get through that list. Building on routines sometimes is helpful, but we can’t let it get in the way of innovation or stagnation of other developments. So, theory in practice, as they say… Not that I don’t still try to stay vigilant, but the point remains that to extend ourselves means to let others get on the same page and aligned such that greater works can be done. Not just the work of a sole person which just won’t scale. More hippy talk from a Berkeley-ite?
Until the next time, I’m wishing all the students, prospective students and related Haas’ians well. Definitely will let you know how graduation goes. We’re all set and ready for May 15th! Happy Haas’ing, friends.
– TL

10 Things I Learned at Haas

While I await my last class sessions (starting in April), here are a few things I learned at Haas. These are not to be taken as a full overview of the program or a record of everything you’d get out of Haas. However, I thought a little fun, ever-changing list of thoughts to get your own motor thinking about the Haas MBA and work-life was appropriate… in no particular order:
10. Your priorities always shake out when you’re in a time-crunch (which you will undoubtedly be in, if you work full-time, go to school part-time and have a life like us EWMBA’ers). In those cases, it’s good to keep organized and you’ll find out what’s important to you.
9. Every person you meet has something you can learn from. Never forget that. Doesn’t matter if that person’s supervises you, reports to you, is a colleague, a friend, has a dispute with you, or is in an unrelated field or position. Just another reason why networking is so important. And by the way, if you’ve ever met or talked to me, thank you for touching my life– I mean it.
8. There’s a fine line between confidence and hubris. You don’t want to waver far from that line in either direction. Unconfident and no one will follow you. Over-confident and you’ll bring yourself and others down quickly when you flame out (assuming they believe in your confidence in the first place).
7. Never be afraid to make a mistake. Use your concerns to prepare properly; but when it comes down to it, if you hinder yourself with fear, it’s all for naught. Besides, the best lessons are learned from our failures, as they say.
6. Learn how to improvise. We can’t just follow a script. What would be the fun in that? Dynamic interpretation and response. Learn the dance and relish in it. Good to go with your gut. Unless your gut always takes the easy way out. 😉
5. Almost everything is negotiable. And, some rules are meant to be broken (but not the law). Just don’t use that as your excuse when you get pulled over for a speeding ticket (and hopefully nothing worse).
4. Put in the work. Sometimes, things are just practice, practice, practice. Even when you think you got it down, you’ll find you forgot something or learned something new. Even when you “command from high,” lead by example and it’s easier for others to fall in line.
3. Never forget about your family and friends and all the people who made your journey worthwhile. Appreciate them and take the time to make sure they know it. This relates to #9, but it isn’t just about learning (which is important), but also sharing in the experience and remembering people for what they are: people. Not just floaty numbers, assets or what not.

2. Don’t always be so serious. Dedicate time to enjoy things and remember to see the humor in it all. That doesn’t mean joke around all the time to the point that nothing gets done, and make everyone else do the work. But a positive attitude and uplifting personality is worth just as much, if not more, than organizing logistics to the letter. Excitement for the challenge is one of the biggest motivators for teams, and a tight-lipped scowl doesn’t convey excitement. 🙂

1. The list will always change. I’m sure this isn’t an all-inclusive list. I hope to add to it (or see my fellow bloggers’ thoughts and yours). I was going to make this a “Top 9 list” (just to be different) but then it just feels right that the last point for this list is: it never ends, it never stops, it lives and breathes on through eternity!
Sure, a lot of this is common sense or may have been known before my time at Cal, but they’ve been reinforced time and time again during my Haas journey. Also, I should reiterate that I’m the guiltiest of people in not always using what I learned above, but as they come up so often, it’s always nice to share the common threads, ponder on them and grow from it.
‘Til the next time — looking forward to it.
– TL

Are we there yet?

83 days to graduation.

This semester has been a bit of a contradiction so far. Senioritis has kicked in and I can’t wait for the term to be over and get to May 15th when the class of 2011 has its commencement! At the same time, weeks have just flown by despite my lighter load compared to prior semesters. I have 4 credits remaining, that’s two half-semester classes (with the final presentation for one of them coming up next week). I think the pace will relax in March with only one remaining class. Murphy’s Law dictates that my day job will start taking more cycles to compensate though 🙂

As a soon-to-be-graduating student, I often get asked questions about my time at Haas with the most common among them being “was it worth it”? This here is my brief take at tackling this. Get in touch with me for a more verbose version that will likely need a trip to the local watering hole. And for the record, these comments are mine only and not intended as a voice of a majority or a minority –

Was it worth it, in terms of “time”:
…away from family – NO. In my book not many things qualify for this though.
…away from fun – are you kiddin’? I now know of a lot more ways of having fun.
…away from those special projects – O-yeah, got involved in more “projects” than I would have done otherwise, courtesy all the new found avenues.
…away from what else I could have done – This is what I wanted to do.

Was it worth it, in terms of “money”:
…fees are slightly more than what a normal person spends on “hobbies” 🙂 . And I could probably show you lots of spreadsheets I worked out to quantify this but honestly this is not a black and white situation. I think of it as an investment for my future, the way I’d like to have it. Plans change though.
…some of my classmates have reaped immediate rewards while others, notably those starting their own entrepreneurial ventures, are set to do so in due time.

Was it worth in terms of the “learning”:
…ABSOLUTELY. Business school has exposed me to a lot that would have remained non-existent to me. It has given me the tools (and am not talking about academic stuff although that was darn interesting) that help me recognize value which was earlier not so apparent (and vice-versa). And relationships that I will carry with me the rest of my life.

This particular aspect actually needs more verbosity. There are a lot of people who see the MBA as secondary to real world experience. They are correct. And I admire them because they are self-aware. But most importantly, they are talking about themselves. “Learning” at school is a choice like any other in life. One can go through the motions and come out on the other side with only a degree. Hey, for some of us, that is all we are looking to get out of it.

So, would I recommend that you go for an MBA?
…The question doesn’t make sense. What you should ask instead is whether an MBA is the right thing for you at this stage (or ever) in your career.

If I got a chance for a do-over, will I do something differently while being in the program?
…Heck ya. That’s what MBA education has “reinforced”. If you get do-overs, always, always try ways to improve the experience!

Until next time.

It Depends

One of the most useful things I’ve learned in school is the helpful phrase “it depends.” Amazingly, there are remarkably few “right” answers, even in disciplines where you think there might be (finance, accounting, operations). Sure, there’s often a ‘right’ numerical answer, but often the way you get there or how you interpret it is up for debate.

This says to me why business school matters now – especially at Haas. One of our core values is “question the status quo” – something that I think everyone needs to do as we face the very difficult problems of the 21st century. So it’s reassuring that even in school we’re being taught to question our assumptions, to realize that you can interpret the same ‘facts’ differently. This is a creative approach to problem solving, and it’s an absolutely essential skill for leaders.
This quarter has been the most challenging yet (which is why you haven’t heard much from the first-years on the blog!) with intensive courses in finance, operations and leadership communications. And yes, there are some days where if you asked me if I were enjoying my year, I might say “it depends” – for example I’m writing this on a Friday night and then I’m going to go work on a finance problem set. Ah, student life!
But it’s heartening to know that the future leaders of America and beyond aren’t willing to settle for black and white, but know that we live in shades of gray, and our education at Haas reflects that.

Problem Finding, Problem Solving

“Does Not Compute! Does Not Compute!”
Sometimes, you have to wonder if everything is too “book-focused.” Clearly, we live in the real world and need practical understanding and activity to make things roll the way we do. Part of that may be the reason some of us are at Haas. If I may be so bold, I think we’ve already shown we have tried to step outside our boundaries and do whatever needs to be done (ethically) in order to keep our businesses successful.
My first course this semester (and second-to-last before graduating!) is called “Problem Finding, Problem Solving” (PFPS) and is meant to help push the envelope in that regard. It’s a part of the new BILD (Berkeley Innovative Leadership Development) curriculum.

What’s so special about BILD and PFPS? Notably, it’s being taught by illustrious faculty members, Sara Beckman and Clark Kellogg, who are attempting to bring a new tack to how we look at the business world. Most of our class sessions for PFPS are not in our fabled halls of Haas, but in Wurster Hall– UC Berkeley’s Architecture building.
That’s indeed fitting because the course is meant to teach us new ways of thinking: specifically, tools and methods on how to repeatedly diverge on building volume of ideas and converge them into something meaningful and productive. Sitting in the EA Design Lab is quite a change from our usual auditorium format, centered on the lecturer (Socratic teaching at its best).
The concepts in PFPS are simple, but the impact is enormous. We all agree that there are problems in our workplaces and the world that need to be addressed. Learning how to explore the issues through ethnographic interviews, gathering information from multiple viewpoints (mind maps, journey maps, etc.) and synthesizing it into relevancy are a part of the syllabus. These are truly skills that any Product Manager can use, but will also be important for any organizational leader.
We’re definitely excited to see new programs that stretch Haas and which attempt to uniquely build Haas graduates into becoming more than your every-MBA grad with an academic understanding of business. Instead, we’re pleased to get innovative, with hands-on and practical exploration through courses like PFPS.
I’m on a shorter schedule this semester — my last two units before graduating– I can hardly believe it! Stay tuned, as me and the fellow bloggers speak more about Spring Semester 2011. It’s time to start revving up my top 10 lists!
– Tim

That awesome weekend that was MPAR

MPAR was almost four weeks ago but I still have to write about it. Hands down the best weekend in the MBA program so far. To say we had fun would be an understatement.

For those who don’t already know, MPAR stands for Mid-Program Academic Retreat, a second year event set up at the mid-point of the three-year EWMBA program. This was an opportunity for the Class of 2012 to get together again for a weekend of fun, learning and networking at Seascape resort in Santa Cruz (the last time we met in a similar setting was during orientation). The learning part comes from having to compete against our fellow classmates in a strategic simulation during which we are expected to make a number of executive decisions for a company. The decisions impact how well our company does against others in our industry. We get to strategize and course-correct if necessary over a total of six rounds. The best run company at the end of Round 6 is the winner. The whole class was divided into eight industries and each industry consisted of six companies. Each company was made up of a team of 4-5 students randomly assigned at the beginning of the simulation. Competition was absolutely FIERCE! (Can you expect anything less when a bunch of MBAs are competing?) It was super-exciting to watch how we did after each round and adjust our strategy accordingly.

Friday, Jan 14th was when it all started. A day of information overload. We checked into the hotel, got an overview of the simulation and got to meet our assigned team members. We were briefed on all the decisions we were expected to make. As we tried to make sense of the tons of data provided to us we were also learning to work with our team members. Instantly we developed empathy for all the execs out there – how do they manage to parse through the enormous amount of data thrown their way and make informed decisions when the company’s future is at stake? On the first day we completed two rounds of simulation before breaking for dinner.

Even on a day filled with activity and over 200 of us running around, our incredible program office kept things running like clock-work. The EWMBA program office never ceases to wow me. If we ever wanted to watch org behavior at its finest, we don’t have to look far. Haas EWMBA program office is simply perfection!

After dinner, each cohort grouped together for an activity of their choice for team-bonding. My cohort (Axe) got together in one of the conference rooms to take a group picture after which folks started sharing the most memorable moments of their MBA life. What followed has been popularly dubbed as ‘The Axe Lovefest’ with the entire cohort sharing the most fun, memorable, cherished or even embarrassing moments of the past year and a half. We concluded by agreeing that – AXE ROCKS (Yea it does!).

And then the partying began. Prof. Shultz accurately predicted that morning that the class of 2012 was going to party like it was their last chance to act like undergrads. And party like undergrads we did!

Saturday morning 9AM sharp – everyone is back working on the simulation with their teams. Two more rounds of simulation amid lectures. The rounds got shorter as they progressed which meant we had to make our decisions a lot quicker as rounds went by. In the evening, we had dinner followed by bonfire on the beach.

Then some more partying.

Sunday morning 9AM sharp – everyone is back again with their teams for the final two rounds of the simulation. It was incredible to watch how diligently my fellow Haasies followed the ‘work hard party harder but then get back to work on time’ rule. The Industry winners were announced just before MPAR came to an end at noon. The icing on the cake was my team winning in our industry (yessss!).
It’s safe to say that by Sunday afternoon the whole class was horribly sleep deprived. However, no complaints. MPAR was awesome. An experience we will remember forever – right, Class?

My only regret – that it’s over.

Guest Blog: Time Management Guru

Sonny: Here’s a post from Jim Protsenko, a senior manager from Yahoo and ’12 EWMBA student with whom I share two things (at least!) in common. We were both in Axe cohort and we both commute long-distance for classes. A year or so ago, I posted my experiences on commuting from Seattle. Jim kindly volunteered to do the same and in this post he shares his perspective on commuting from LA every weekend. We have an increasing number of folks from cities outside the Bay area that apply to the Haas EWMBA program each year. Hope these posts helps answer some of your questions on how current students balance work, school and travel. Jim is also one of students profiled on the EWMBA website. You can read more sound-bites from him here.

“Are you serious?” is probably the most common reaction I hear from people when they discover I commute from Los Angeles to Berkeley on a weekly basis for classes. The pessimistic point of view on it is “it is a burden.” The optimistic, however, is a realization of how much one can get done while commuting:

If driving (think five hours):

– Reflecting, thinking through the important issues in your personal, professional and student lives, the things you normally neglect during your hectic day-to-day activities – 1 hour
– Catching up with friends and loved ones on the phone – 1.5 hours (3 calls 30 minutes each)
– Listening to your favorite radio station from around the country or world (make sure to get an iPhone and download iHeart Radio app) – 1.5 hours
– Listening to a ‘book on tape’ – 1 hour

If flying (think four hours, assuming arriving to an airport an hour before the flight):

– Studying (reading lecture notes, books, writing a paper)
– Working (catching up on emails, working on presentations, building models)
– Reading your favorite book, magazine or newspaper
– Unwinding, relaxing, sleeping

Either option will offer an opportunity to get some things done, so you’ll feel less guilty spending an extra hour or two with your family, friends or just relaxing on your own.

Budget-wise, I opt in for driving when my schedule becomes less predictable. Typically that happens during the Fall of the 2nd and 3rd years, when internship or full-time job recruiting heats up and one has to attend numerous on-campus events. I look at this option as a $150 expense, ignoring ‘asset depreciation’ and lodging (I stay with in-laws when in the Bay Area). Otherwise I try to fly. With advanced airfare and rental car bookings, I would typically be looking at ~ $300 per trip. While it costs more, physically it’s less taxing. It’s good to mix these a bit.

Although the time and money commitments associated with travel may seem considerable at times, I try have the right perspective, remembering that many of my fellow-students travel from places even more remote than L.A., such as San Diego, Seattle and Phoenix.

Eventually this becomes a routine and you get used to it. Soon you’ll start hearing from others: “I don’t know how you find time to get all this done.” At that point you’ll know you’ve just become a time management guru.