Oct 11, 2009

Passing exams

Q1 exams are at hand. It is an odd place to be in. After spending a quarter learning materials in teams of 5 or 6, sharing notes, discussing and asking questions together, we're now asked to ensure that we have individually mastered the material.

I suffered from a horrible flu over the weekend (bad timing) and must confess that I have little desire to study. Partly, it's that there is no text to study, our cases have prepared us along the way, and there is no books to read (although I should take a look at the tech notes again). More importantly, I find that at this time, I'm more pressed to think about what kind of career I should pursue, what function and industry might best suit me, and what that would mean for me personally and what kind of impact I can make in the world.

It would do me no good to pass the exams, but fail in life.


Sep 27, 2009

A Perspective on Career Management

"The Darden School of Business improves society by developing principled leaders for the world of practical affairs."

That is my school's mission statement. I came to Darden in the hopes of broadening my business skill set beyond my core competencies of auditing and control. Darden offered expert assistance in this endeavor: career development center replete with printed and on-line resources, a rich tapestry of alumni, career discovery forums, company briefings, and career counselors. As my classmates and I embarked on the search, we were told to "trust the process." In summary, that process consisted of gaining an understanding of what makes one tick or what makes one happy (so called life themes) and then finding a company that could best cater to those themes. In other words, it was a two fold process of self awareness followed by matching the needs of the corporate employer. We were shown an illustration in which a twain cookie represented on the one hand the corporate needs, and on the other, individual skills and needs. The idea was to find the other half and make the cookie whole. It was understood that one may not be able to match all of the desired life themes, but more the merrier.

As I reflected on what it was that I wanted to do, why it was I came to business school, and what sort of employment I might seek, those career management sessions and illustrations came back to mind: trust the process. It struck me that in a way, Darden's career management advice espoused a very selfish worldview. Does one become a principled leader and improve society by following a career path that makes her happy? Should she seek those jobs that best cater to her desires? It occurred to me that happy workers are more likely to be productive and excel in what they do. At the same time, I felt that sometimes improving society would require one to sacrifice one's own desires and happiness for the sake of others, to aspire to a nobler cause, to heed a greater calling. If we were asked to go to war to defend our country, shall we say no because it does not fit our opinions or because it's inconvenient? Is there not a time in our lives, when we are led to do something that may not best serve our individual purpose, but which might best serve those around us?

What, then? Does this mean that all corporate careers are selfish? Are we to work pro bono? No, I think it means that as we search for the right fit, we should be aware that there's more at stake than our individual ego. In the cookie illustration, it's not the corporate half of the cookie and our half. Rather, it's many pieces, some representing our community, another representing us, another our families and friends, and so forth. There is more at stake in my career than simply money for myself, happiness for myself, recognition for myself. There is a calling to put those those talents and gifts given to us to apply it toward a fulfilling and happy career in which we can also bring greater benefit and happiness to those around us, and if we are really lucky, then the world at large. Then, I think we shall have made progress in realizing Darden's mission statement.

Sep 20, 2009

Chronos and Kairos

Before Darden, I had made up my mind to to take things easy, to not be caught up in little things. I had in mind sipping a cool iced tea while floating down a gentle stream. Since my arrival, I have found (as I suspect many of my peers have) that it's very difficult to avoid being swept up by the strong currents of the myriad of academic and career challenges at Darden. I also found myself working hard to not measure myself against others, against their accomplishments. This generally reminded me to think about what my time means here, and how I needed to think bigger picture. Some time ago, I that the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Whereas we are all familiar with the progression of temporal time (chronos), kairos refers to a different perspective on time. Kairos means the right time, or due season, and cannot be measured unlike the time we generally think of. In religious setting, it can mean an appointed time. What I remembered was that I ought not to think about the weight of each passing hour of case load and career briefings, but to think about what my time at Darden means and how that fits into the bigger picture of what I want to do with my life and career.

Jul 26, 2009

Is church larger than the universe?

In the beginning, God created the . God created the church (church, the body of Christ) as a vehicle to save the world. Hence, God created the world and called it into Christ. In that sense, church is larger than the universe.

Jul 22, 2009

Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box

I am guessing that this book by the Arbinger Institute is the book that sparked the "think outside the box" jargon in the popular culture.

This book, too, took the narrative form similar to The Goal, though not in the more refined novel form. Instead, in short vignettes, the book talks about what it means to think inside and outside the box. Incidentally, thinking outside the box does not refer to thinking creatively, which is what I always thought it referred to.

Thinking inside the box refers to a selfish mode of thinking where we treat others as objects to serve us. In this mode, we become selfish and all actions and interactions are geared toward self-justification. The end result of this thought mode is that we become defensive of our own actions while at the same time become dismissive of others' efforts. Often, this state of things poisons our workplace relationships. The bottom line is that we can't achieve results together as an organization (similar to not being able to meet the Goal).

As I read the book, I was reminded of the times I was in the box in my interactions with others, both in and out of my work place. Moreover, I couldn't help but think that the thesis of the book is basically "don't be an asshole." In many ways, the book discovers nothing new. In the bible, Jesus talks about poisoning affects of hypocrisy, and he also demonstrates unfathomable sympathy and love for the suffering. I think one has only to read the gospels and get far more out about management and relationships than in reading about getting out of the box.

Jul 20, 2009

"The Goal" by Goldratt

I read The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. Of the Darden book list, this book was the sole required reading for the summer. It is an interesting book that takes a form of a novel. Its key precepts are not expounded, but rather unraveled using platonic dialogue between its protagonists Jonah and Alex Rogo.

Put simply, the book asserts that the goal of a company (implicitly for-profit one) is to make money. Isn't that a bit tautological? Anyway, the three measurements to achieve that goal are concepts called throughput, inventory, and operational expense. Throughout equates to sales, and you want to have more of them. Inventory and operational expenses are counterforces to sales, so you want to have less of them, but of course, you'll want enough of them to meet market demand so as to maximize throughput.

I found particularly interesting two things. One is a question about accounting concept. The other is a question about corporate life. First, based on the precepts asserted in the book, inventory is not desirable. It can be seen as a liability. Of course, in financial accounting is an asset. Where inventory declines, one debits expense and credits the inventory (asset). I find this very interesting. For example, Dell made its name by pioneering just in time inventory. Also, it's common knowledge that old inventory may become worthless. Both of these examples show that inventory is not generally desirable on the company's books. Hence, conceptually, much can be said to support the idea that it's a liability, rather than asset. (Same can be said about its place as an asset. It can be sold to generate throughput.)

The second challenging matter, that about corporate life, was the following. At the end of the book, Rogo asks himself what the role of a manager is. He asserts that a manager worth his salary should know the answers to the following:

1) What to change?
2) What to change to?
3) How to cause the change?

It's interesting to find the paramount place afforded to change. I suppose this is the reality. Those organization that fail to change, fail to live on.

Jul 9, 2009

Preparing for Round 1

How do you know if Darden is the place for you? Think about whether you'll be happy living and studying here. After all, it's two years of your life. You can learn much about Darden community's worldview and its mission from the school website. But, I'm reminded of a scene from Star Trek in which Spock sacrifices his individual welfare for the good of the ship. While Darden isn't asking for a personal sacrifice per se, it is a place that encourages its members to think beyond the individual ego to the collective ego, to look beyond individual accomplishments toward collaborative achievement.

MBA application can be a daunting process. For those who have made up their mind to take the plunge, start organizing now:

1. Create an application timeline - organization is your best friend.
2. Line up GMAT - take the sample test here before buying bunch of review books. Identify weak areas so that you can focus your time and energy.
3. Line up professional recommendations - thing to keep in mind is to try to unify your application. If possible, try to obtain recommendations that shed additional lights on your candidacy and at the same time bolsters your qualifications.
4. Draft your essays - just outline a few things, achievements, challenges, leadership, fit with case method, etc. You'll have time to refine and review later.
5. Network - make a list of alumni and school officials you might want to network with. I would wait until fall though; these people need their summer to rest.
6. Finances - while you've not gotten into the program, I would suggest you start saving and looking into scholarships as if you'd just been accepted. If you start lining up finances after admission, it could be too late. Assuming you don't earn a fellowship, the cost will be around $160K for 22-months. It's expensive.

If you're not quite at this stage, start brushing up now by consulting many online resources. There are many, free online websites dedicated to MBA program. Clearadmit is one among many.

Jul 8, 2009

Thinking outside the sphere

Before there was management-speak about thinking outside the box (long before), there was a time when greatest thinkers on the planet debated whether the world was geocentric or heliocentric. Keenest among these, Kepler inherited Martian orbit data from Tycho, thinking he'd soon unlock the secret to planetary motion. Instead, in Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris relates how Kepler struggled to find an answer for eight years. Ferris also relates Kepler's reflections on his own mistakes (Ch. 6): "My first mistake was having assumed that the orbit on which planets move is a circle. This mistake showed itself to be all the more baneful in that it had been supported by the authority of all the philosophers, and especially as it was quite acceptable metaphysically." Kepler is talking about the fact that it was something of an accepted wisdom, an axiom almost, that man was at the center of the universe. No one really seriously challenged the notion for almost two thousand years since Aristotle.

Kepler apparently tested seventy circular orbits against Tycho's Mars data. Then, he imagined himself on Mars, and realized that earth's orbit would trace the same trajectory across the sky. There it was: earth revolves around the sun.

I don't think it's necessary to conclude anything based on this story. It's just a neat reminder that for the most part, we have no idea what we are talking about, and it takes an enormous effort and insight to rid ourselves of our ignorance.

Jul 3, 2009

Big Picture: What is Wealth?

Now, Darden finally sent notice of loan awards. No grant, max Stafford loans, rest in Graduate PLUS loans. Oh well, at least I am grateful that I have access to loans to attend school. Better than nothing.

The biggest remaining financial hurdle is to sell my house. It's already consumed much effort (re-paint and re-carpet) and it promises yet more headaches as the market is very soft in North Carolina. Sure, it's far more robust relative to sub-prime markets elsewhere in the country, but it's still soft. The lesson to draw here are clearly to start early, very early. Also, I think you need a good agent, which mine is not. Be sure to shop aggressively and interview agents more thoroughly (and more than one) before signing.

Anyway, something else came to my mind. In particular, I thought about what it means to worry about the world, and realized there is a world apart from the world we now inhabit. I attended church last Sunday, and there were many old folks who are frail and whose days seem numbered. To the eyes, that church appears to be dying. Later that day, I came across an article about prevalence of plastic surgery in Asian countries. I'm sure there are many social forces at play, but my initial thought was that there is something morally wrong about it. I realized that using another set of eyes, the old folks who worshiped on Sunday were healthy, while a society that drives its youth to the knife for looks must be in the throes of a spiritual death. So, I must also watch out. If I don't be careful, I'll be just as lost in irrelevance instead of waiting on the Lord. It would be reactionary to simply state that plastic surgery is wrong; it isn't. At the same time, there is something not right about people who are forced to feel ugly due to some arbitrary conception of beauty, or for people who feel they must look a certain way on account of their peers, or just because they believe they must appear more comely to obtain a job, etc. Then again, that's no different from American female preoccupation with breasts size, and so forth. All of which reminds me that we really live in twisted times.

What then is wealth? Luke relates a story about Peter washing the nets by Sea of Galilee after a night of no catch. Jesus then tells him to cast his nets to the deep waters. Peter obeyed and caught so many fish that he beckoned James and John to come out to help him. Both boats were sinking, so rich was the catch. Once on shore, Peter confessed "I am a sinner." Why did he say that? Because, he realized that there is a world apart from that which he inhabited. Thereafter, it was no longer important to catch fish - though he caught many that day. Jesus took these men to make them fishers of men. World apart. Maybe it's another way of saying there is a bigger picture. For all the material wealth of this world, for all the worries about loans and this or that, there is something more important out there. I hope I'll have the humility to cast my net in the deep water when Jesus tells me to.

Jul 2, 2009

Gift of Music

There were two articles in today's WSJ. One by Rachel Silverman on A1 was regarding Jefferson's interest in ciphers - coded messages. I suppose many a statements (e.g. Caesar) have had need for such things and so the interest in cryptology for this former Secretary of State is not surprising.

The second article by Barrymore Laurence Scherer on D4 was titled "Thomas Jefferson, Musician." It prefaces Jefferson's renaissance man cultivation, then cites Jefferson's declaration that music was "passion of [his] soul." Incidentally, music played a role in his courtship of the young widow Martha Skelton.

(I'd once played my fiddle for a love interest, but not being Jefferson, the venture came to naught. But, I can attest to its effectiveness as she was quite smitten. The fault lay in my inability to capitalized on the good will from the performance.)

But, most touching of all was another article in D4 by Corinna Fonseca-Wollheim. The gist of it is that ordinary folks can commission new music; "Even Bach Needed Goldberg" as it was. In her article, she cites a touching anniversary gift made by a man in his old age through a commissioned violin sonata by Philip Glass. The connection was made through "Meet the Composer (MTC)," a non-profit that acts as a matchmaker. How wonderful, I thought, it would be if my Darden class would give a gift to the world at our graduation by commissioning a new piece. Jefferson would have approved.

Jun 28, 2009

If W. were still the president ...

Perhaps there is a place for violence in the world. If Bush were still the president, might we use our military might to make a few suffer, but liberate many more? WSJ 6/30/09 article describes the plight of general populace of Myanmar, while its military junta benefit from trade with Asia. What would happen if a bomber were to fly over the junta residence city of Naypyitaw and wipe it off the map overnight? Would the democratic elements rise up and elect Suu Kyi as its head? Would the country be delivered from misery and poverty?

It is inherently unfair what the junta is doing. They suppress democracy in order that they may rule and hold power. But, how can one group of human beings live in luxury knowing that they do so at the misery of another group? It is no different from the slave owners who exploited an underclass that they treated as sub-humans. It is a twisted way of thinking. In my mind, they should be educated on the sin of their ways, and if they do not repent and change their ways, they deserve to be exterminated.

There is a scene from Star Trek ... the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one. Is this such a scenario? Why can't we launch a few missiles and wipe off the junta? Send in commando teams to assassinate the rest of the military leadership? If doing so would launch the nation into disarray and chaos, how is that different from what exists today?

Then again, there is also the saying ... Love your neighbors as you love yourself. Do you love even though neighbors who are hypocrites and do not love their neighbors? Or do you ruthless put them out, and while the act of snuffing them out is no noble enterprise, the end result would be the liberation of a larger group. If not for this, why do we spend $600 billion a year in defense spending?

Jun 27, 2009

Darden FAQ - Smart phone options and compatibility

Question - Can I use iPhone or Blackberry with Darden email?

Answer - per Darden IT help desk Service Desk Technician:

Both are compatible. Blackberry requires a $99 license fee if you want
to sync more than calendar and contacts. The iPhone in general is the
easiest to use and can be hooked up to the wireless network. All
windows mobile phones will work, as well as anything that supports

Jun 26, 2009

Cost of Darden, Financing Darden

So, today, my co-workers graciously held a going-away happy hour for me at Solaris in Greensboro (pretty good by the way, but food portions are not that impressive). And as I wrap-up my life with E&Y, I'm trying to look ahead a month to school. One of the biggest things that stresses me out is the financing for school. In retrospect, I would have started applying to scholarships before applying to school. Also, in retrospect, I would have started saving far more aggressively. Finally, in retrospect, I think I would have shirked some of my work duties to enable the other two, as it was 24/7 work hours that prevented me from applying or researching financing resources satisfactorily.

Anyway, I recently updated my cost summary and my expected source of funds to finance the education. At some point, I had considered fancier options, like home equity loan or rolling over Roth 401k to cash out, but for various reasons, I decided to keep things simple. Cash, indeed, is king!

Cost summary:

Planned sources:

Jun 15, 2009

Why having goals is not sufficient: On 5 year anniversary

Recently, I marked my 5 year anniversary with the Firm. I'm not good at celebrating. It should have been a joyous occasion. Instead, it felt meaningless and empty. Still, I had lunch with a colleague with whom I had started work on the same day five years ago. That gave the anniversary a little purpose.

Five years here and I feel that I've learned little. Scratch that. I've learned quite a bit. What I've been unable to do is to market any of it. Today, I can no better go out into the Fortune 500 world and make something of myself than I could five years ago. At least outside of the accounting profession. Was it a waste?

No, but that's not the point. Don't look back. Just do something about it and move on.

I was driving back from Raleigh recently on westbound I-40. I had an epiphany. It's not enough having a goal. One thinks that by setting a goal, and working hard, that one can reach it and make something of oneself. I saw plainly before me that this is a fallacy. Just as I was blazing toward the sunset on the highway, I saw that there was an accident on the eastbound I-40; a big one. Traffic was backed up for miles upon miles. All four lanes full of smoldering cars, choking on each others' heat and exhaust and going nowhere. Wasting energy, burning fuel, frustrated, but not moving. Why were they on a highway? Because they had a goal. What was the goal? To get to the city. Fine example of pursuing a goal. And it's not enough to have a goal. How can one have a real vision that can overcome such obstacles? What can one do so that the path is more clear, more visible?

May 24, 2009

"Injure / Kill a Worker, $7500 + 15 Years"

Or the social commentary of Michigan's R5-18B road sign.

As my brother and I drove toward the Detroit Metro airport along South 39 toward Romulus (Not Rome, not Star Trek), we passed a road sign that read "Injure / Kill a Worker, $7500 + 15 Years". While the practical intent of the warning was clear, something about the sign rubbed us the wrong way. And I'm sure it would be apparent to most people that it's very odd to associate human life with monetary value (although this is often done at various levels in our society). And only $7,500?

While I guess the sign suggests many things about our social values, I think the bottom line is that its designers believed that a dollar sign would get people's attention and alter motorist behavior. Wasn't it enough for motorists to know that reckless driving and harming a fellow human being is wrong and unacceptable to our society?

May 4, 2009

How many MBAs does it take to run the world?

The answer is about 10,000 people. That, according to Peter Kiernan (Darden 79), a well known wall street executive and a New York philanthropist.

Kiernan made the remark in the context of pep talk to new admits to Darden over the weekend. His point was that a handful of leaders are catalysts for what happens in the world. Darden MBAs will be looked upon as leaders, and as such, we can expect to be either one of the 10,000, helping someone become one of the 10,000, or advising a member of the 10,000.

While I understand the nature of his remark about the opportunity before us, I couldn't avoid thinking how elitist that sentiment is. I supposed that as the chosen (which I gather may include other brilliant minds and MBAs from other top schools) run the world, they will iron their own shirts, look after their own children, mow the lawn, brew their own coffee, and pave the roads when the potholes get too large?

But, I think the lesson is that there is a need of leadership at various levels in our world. And getting an MBA, while not a guaranty, likely will help open up doors to leadership opportunities in the corporate world (though MBA schools generally do not limit the claim to the corporate world, which is a bit presumptuous - an MBA isn't like to turn out to be the next Isaac Newton).

May 3, 2009

Darden Days 2009

I returned yesterday from Darden Days 2009. In short, it was an amazing few days. I stayed with a student host, met with future classmates, faculty, and listened to school officials welcome our class. It was all fantastic fun and it was all amazing.

For me, the weekend also marked a clear dispelling of any remaining reservations I had about enrolling back in school. It was evident that I will be studying and working with some amazing people in the next two years that can not be priced. It was also evident that the next two years will be very fun and challenging, and will present the kind of break from the rut I experienced at my current employment. Strictly speaking from monetary perspective, it's also clear that the financial rewards of the MBA degree will far exceed the near term costs. Finally, I'm convinced that this is absolutely the right thing for me to do and will allow me to focus on my talents and skills that I will allow me to become a person of impact. To be that consequential person in the world, remaining in my current job simply would not do.

Apart from all that took place, points from two keynote addresses particularly come to mind.

1. Peter Kiernan - His speech was reassuring because he delivered it with such charisma and assurance. Basically, his gist was that coming to Darden is a good decision and is the right choice. Don't worry about the cost (I recalled the math that I performed a few days ago) - the degree will pay for itself. What the naysayers note about the program or MBA is hogwash. Don't listen to them. You're all special and great; you'll all have a chance to be great leaders. Welcome to the ranks.

2. Rob Bruner (Dean) - Dean Bruner's speech was more academic and philosophical. He started by painting a picture of 1907 - he co-wrote a book called "The Panic of 1907" - and compared the challenges of the day to those of today. Again, he was driving at the need for leadership. However, I think the real point of his speech was that we have an opportunity to become people of importance and of impact in the world. I liked that. His sentiments articulate what's on my mind. That is, in the end, going to Darden is not about the six figure salaries or even the networks, but rather what you'll do with those. Will you help an organization become great? Will you help address some of the corporate issues that challenge the world today? Will you make people's lives better? Will you matter in the world?

Apr 25, 2009

Price of Darden MBA

First a disclaimer. I computed costs of MBA initially to make sure it made financial sense, but once I became convinced of the value of MBA, then computing the actual financial cost became more of an academic exercise.

Computing the cost of MBA can be complicated if you look into the crystal ball of the future, of what could be and what might be missed on account of devoting 2 years of one's life to school. However, the short-term monetary costs are fairly straight-forward. There are two broad categories of financial costs: 1) tuition, fees & living expenses and 2) opportunity cost.

1) Tuition & fees:
Darden tuition and required fees for out-of-state students are $48,500 for 2009-2010. I'm going to assume an increase to $51,500 for 2010-2011. Darden MBA website suggests a 9-mo living expense of $20,500. If I project a 4% cost increase the following year, and use 22-mo expense over the course of the MBA program, then the cost of the school itself is approximately $150,000.

2) Opportunity cost:
This depends on the individual. For me, here's the deal. Our firm FY roughly corresponds to school year. For 2009-2010, I expect a base of around $64,000 and a promotion bonus of $6,500. For 2010-2011, I can expect a base of around $68,000, and probably no material bonus. The foregone wages are off-set by 2010 summer internship expected at around $18,000 for 12-weeks. The net cost is $120,500.

Darden 2009 - 2011 $ 150,000
Opportunity cost 120,500
$ 270,500

This is no small amount. Nevertheless, using a reasonable projection of post-MBA salary increases, I personally expect to re-coup the financial cost alone within 4-5 years. Apart from this, the value of MBA appears to be so much more that are not shown in these figures. In the end, such factors are intangibles, and you can certainly assign a value to it, but only time will tell how much it's truly worth.

Apr 19, 2009

On Kenan-Flagler

Kenan-Flagler just closed its class of 2011 Experience Weekend. I primarily attended Saturday events on April 18.

I have to say that I was impressed by what I saw and experienced. I was impressed with the involvement of the school's students, faculty, and staff. They strongly demonstrated their vision and values, and expressed what it might be like to be part of the "OneMBA" community. I felt especially good about the momentum of the program. For example, there was a renewed focus on leadership and opportunities through the Kenan Institute to enable that leadership for its students. Also, the school revised its consulting curriculum under Paul Friga (co-author of "The McKinsey Mind") and I believe its integrated and focused approach will show a huge dividend in years to come. In speaking with the current students, my overall conclusion is that Darden students are of higher caliber in terms of their intellect, their maturity, and in their career aspirations.

Per 2008 employment report by function (% reporting, mean base, bonus):

Consulting, 19% - $114,000, $22,500
General management (strictly), 4% - $89,000, $22,500

Per preliminary 2009 employment report shared during the weekend, these figures had changed:

Consulting, 17% - $109,000, $33,000
General management (strictly), 10% - $96,000, $19,000

Apr 17, 2009

On Ernst & Young Feedback Process

I met with my counselor for lunch ahead of FY2009 annual reviews, also known as the round table. Over lunch, we discussed my goals, my self review, and my performance feedbacks from various engagements as a preparation for the upcoming round table.

Since I have made up my mind to leave the firm, I didn't much care for the exercise, but still took care to update these reviews, because I wanted to end my career at Ernst & Young without shame or regret. Nevertheless, I feel that MBA application process was a much more meaningful and beneficial self discovery process than reflecting on my performance as an auditor over the past year. Even if I were to disregard MBA considerations, I still find that Ernst & Young 360 feedback is faulty to the point of uselessness. In my mind, that fault primarily is due to the lack of impact of the feedback.

The firm's feedback and review process results in assigning a numerical rating of an employee against his or her peers ranging from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). The rating is supposed to follow a forced curve and allegedly directly relates to one's annual salary increase. The range of the annual raises depends on the firm's performance. For instance, if the firm announced raises ranging from 3 - 12%, then those rated 5 are most likely to receive the double digit raise. I could care less for at least three reason (again, excluding MBA considerations):

1) I think the firm's raises will suck this year - many may not even receive a raise, and those who do will see only a modest increase. This assessment is based on economy in general, but also based on local market considerations. For example, our office has lost some accounts, and our other clients have pressured for lower fees. This has to translate to either a) layoffs or b) salary freezes. We'll see both.

2) Even if you receive a rating of 5, it doesn't guaranty that your raise will be commensurate. I can vouch for instances in which my % increase as a 4 was lower than a staff who received a 3. I think the actual raise is as much based on one's current base and how much the firm thinks it can get away with, etc.

3) Even if one were to receive a high raise, I feel like the entire game is pointless to the extent that you'll always be a little fish in a small pond. Out in the industry, or for those accountants jumping around, there is always more money to be made. For example, if you were to leave and work for a competitor, you could probably negotiate a 15%+ raise verus the 5% you're likely to get for staying. If you left for industry, you might get something like 30% raise.

Now, enter MBA (with respect to salary). My current base is $62,500. If I figure about a 5% raise (I expect to receive a rating of 5 or 4), then my base will increase to around $65,500. This would be considered generous this year. If I figure two subsequent annual raises of 10% per annum (highly unlikely - in fact, will not happen), then my base would be just shy of $80,000. Now, at the same time in the Fall following graduation, my base will be in excess of $100,000, working less hours and with more prestige and more enjoyable responsibilities. Hmmm ... tough call. So, there it is, a little fish in a small pond. Of course, salary isn't the reason I'm leaving, but it's yet another validation that there is no future for me at Ernst & Young.

Given these considerations, why would someone with the ability to jump ship stay on board? In fact, we find that those who can, do not stay. If Ernst & Young wants to become a great services firm it purports to be, then it must address this weakness.

Apr 5, 2009

To Darden or not to Darden

I've been agonizing since Darden admission notice as to whether I should enroll at Darden or at Kenan-Flagler.

I've continued to speak to various folks from different walks of life to help me make a better decision:
1) Current students and recent alumni at Darden and KF
2) Business people outside of the school community - including MBAs at other schools and current, successful businessmen without MBAs
3) Friends and family - for perspective ... just as a means of stepping outside of business world to overcome myopia.

I'll share the outcomes of these conversations separately.

The more I have talked to others, I became more convinced that in the end, I really need to talk to myself. Rather, listen to myself. At some point, additional information adds only a marginal value, and may have deleterious effect. To dispel confusion, and to renew my career direction, I felt I needed to find my own voice. Hence, I paused to reconsider my chief aspirations from enrolling: 1) to learn and challenge myself intellectually and vocationally, 2) to transition to a general management role and fill in gaps in my training necessary for that transition to leadership, and 3) to build and have a brand and network to serve as a tool or a framework of support throughout my career.

1) Learning - I'm leaning Darden on this count. I believe I will learn better through the case method, and 3 quarters of team learning at Darden appeals to me more than 2 quarters at Kenan Flagler.
2) General management career - This is comparable as I believe both schools would allow me to have a broad management education. That said, I believe the case method is more conducive to training a general manager. However, I also understand that managing is not an academic exercise, so I don't know that case method has any edge here. I am leaning Darden on this attribute as I believe this is a path more established at Darden. For example, by function Darden had greater % doing GM than KF.

Darden, class of 2008 - 21%
KF, class of 2008 - 13%
(I consolidated general management, operations, strategy/development, leadership rotation programs; I excluded marketing, though I imagine there is some overlap)

3) Brand and network - I think the two schools are very comparable here, and will matter especially little as my goal is general management. If consulting, I would go with Darden. If banking, I would go with KF. As it stands, I think there is no material difference. However, I will note that more Fortune 100 companies recruit at Darden than at KF.

Mar 25, 2009

Accepted to Darden Class of 2011

Darden posted its R2 decisions today. It appears that the list was prepared before 3/25, and notices were automatically set to go over night. I had a late day at work and was still up at midnight, so I ended up getting the notice from UVA before the morning. I got an email indicating that the status had changed. I logged onto the admissions website and noted that my status had changed to "Offer." I have to say that the news humbled me more than it excited me. I felt grateful and somewhat unworthy, especially as I considered whose spot I might have overtaken.

I think it must be something about the end of busy season or end of March, but I have the same feeling that I had about Kenan-Flagler. I'm happy, but I'm also overcome with feelings of humility and gratitude. It's weird, and awkward; earlier in the process, I envisioned running outside and jumping for joy, or celebrating with my family and friends. But, my actual response has been completely subdued and muted. My friend at work to whom I confided asked in jest - "Why are you holding out on me, man?"

But, for now, I'm back at work, getting deep into a FAS 142 analysis, and still concerned about not going over time budget. After today? I suppose things will be no different, but I will step back and begin to retrain my focus toward a new distant horizon. It is time to re-assess long term career goals and what I want to accomplish in life as an individual.

Mar 23, 2009

Accepted to Kenan-Flagler class of 2011

I checked my email and found a notice that my application status had been updated. As I navigated to Kenan-Flagler's admissions website, my heart pounded in double. The link took me to a letter - Kenan-Flagler welcomed me to the class of 2011! I am very excited, but I also feel very humbled by this grace. What am I that I'm given an opportunity like this? Do I deserve this privilege? Beyond my initial excitement, I admit to a certain guilt, knowing that another person's dream might have been deferred on my account. I also wonder if I shouldn't have persevered more, or encountered more adversity, in order to deserve a chance at an education like this. I'm grateful. Very grateful.