Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow'd in C'ville - Darden postcards

Top to bottom: Courtyard outside Cafe '67, A wooden bench on Flagler stands as a reminder of the fall afternoons I have spent on it reading my cases, Flagler courtyard and the classrooms building
In this second instalment of pictures, we spent a day at Darden taking pictures. Darden on any given day is beautiful, but with snow, Darden transforms into a picture-taker's paradise. Winter break has ensured that the snow in most parts of the grounds in untouched and pristine. Superimposed with memories from last winter break spent at C'ville is the twinge of sadness that I won't be here next winter.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow'd in Charlottesville

With over twenty-five inches of snow in C'ville and the sister being here from sunny California, I had a great two days being snowed in at home in C'ville. We braved the snow to go on a walk around Ivy Gardens for a photo-shoot and came out with some good shots!

Friday, December 18, 2009

And yet another quarter whooshes by!

The end of SY Q2 came and went a week ago... and unbelievable as it is, I am done with three fourths of my MBA. Home stretch is here and so is the darn nostalgia... who invented goodbyes anyway?

This past quarter taught me some very important things about school - business or grad . I had a set of courses lined up in the beginning of the quarter; however, during add-drop I switched some and shuffled some to accommodate my recruiting efforts. Now I feel bad about having missed some good courses - yet I found some pretty unexpectedly interesting courses too, so it wasn't all bad! Big lesson here is to that you're paying to learn and you're going to be here just once. Recruiting will keep happening and the world cannot stop and wait while you find a job! So it's important to learn to balance the coursework as well as do what you need to in order to land a job. But then again, who is this advice for? The economy's looking up for the next batch at school and I hope that very few people in the coming batches will be stuck like us!

Some key takeaways from the quarter were that great ideas come with a cool group bonding at Panera, sustainability can be cool, Crystal Ball and I might just call a truce and agree to disagree, if you're too big to fail then you're too big to manage... oh and I have to recommend this fantastic book I read as part of a course I took this quarter. The book's called Strategic Intuition and is written by Columbia professor William Duggan.

Retrospection is a vile habit - so much wisdom and no undo button to let you do it all over!

Wine and women

Over last week - exam week - there were a few social events thrown into the evenings marking friends going to India on vacation or going away on exchange next quarter. one of them was a ladies night, another was a surprise party for a dear friend going on exchange and was held at the Root residence (THANK YOU JD and Roots!). And at both of these events that I attended, there was a cross-section of Darden women (and men - but they were playing a comic game of Guitar Hero).

And much later, after these enjoyable evenings, one of our exchange students from Italy pointed how she was inspired by the women she had met on those evenings and at Darden. At no other place had she met such independent minded women who knew what they wanted out of their lives... or at least knew how to figure out what they wanted out of their lives... they shared similar attitudes and thoughts towards life, relationships, career, food and wellness among a host of other things. And they inspired her to be like them - to stand up as women who had the courage to follow their dreams and desires. We are a minority, she said later, and we must stand together, for each other.

I thought about what she had said, and couldn't agree more. We are a minority and we are precious. The support we are capable of giving each other is phenomenal, and we give it so freely only to receive it in plenty. I will miss these women when we graduate, but I know that my life is richer just by knowing them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Playing catch up on Thanksgiving

So I know I have been quiet on the blog space these past few weeks, blame it on writer's block and celebrate the come back now!

I had a great Thanksgiving break in California with family and friends. It was great catching up with some friends from work and high school in the Bay Area - although we couldn't really have all the long deep conversations on all that we had missed out in each others' lives since we last met, it was enough to pick up the threads and move on to more current stuff. Or maybe no one ever really attempts to have those years' worth of conversations...

In the short time that I was there, I was able to fully appreciate the garage-to-fortress rise of the technology companies that give Silicon Valley its name. Highlights of my trip include walking along the Golden Gate, riding a Christmas train to Fremont with my young cousins and a tour of the YouTube office in San Bruno!

Another thing that I was really thankful to technology for was free wi-fi (Thanks Google!) in the airports! I had a three hour layover in Charlotte on my way back and used the internet fully to research a project and create a deck to present in class the following morning.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I used to spend a lot of time clicking through the Darden website as an applicant a couple years ago. I remember looking at pictures and trying to form impressions and associations in my mind. I would think about how they looked smart, in their suits and neat hairdo and flawless make up…and I would feel a little intimidated, I have to admit. I wondered if the journey I was embarking upon was something I would be able to fit in with, if I could be one of them and do it seamlessly.

Today I was clicking through the website again. I saw the international and domestic student contacts, the club pages and some student videos. And in those pictures, I saw my friends. At some pictures I just laughed, at the thought of a Halloween costume or a quip in the Cold Call Chronicle or the memory of a fun incident. At others, I looked with some pride, at their pre- and post- business school achievements. And then at some there were the fond memories of cramming in an LT room for every day of the first semester. There were some I just know as classmates and others that I know personally, know their trials and their triumphs, know their families… There is no intimidation now. Just pride and affection. And mild surprise at how quickly it all happened.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A little bit of Virginia

It was with some vengeance that I was completely unproductive this weekend. I went down to Maryland/DC for a day. It was a beautiful day, just a touch windy and was perfect to walk along the Potomac as we stopped by the Indian embassy for a friend to get her visa to India. I had never been to Georgetown before and so the rest of us spent some time exploring the area on foot – while the aforementioned friend stood in queue at the embassy and concluded that the process could do with some Kaizen.

I love the DC area and every time I visit, I am struck by just how pretty it is and that I’d be more than happy to be able to live there after school (sigh). We spent the rest of the day helping N shop for her wedding, which pretty much killed my feet! I also indulged in my favorite shopping activity of getting perfume samples – I know what my next perfume purchase is going to be! If I had to pick the best part of the whole trip it has got to be the dinner at Amma’s Kitchen in Vienna VA! It is an all veggie south Indian restaurant and the tam-brahm in me was delirious in the aroma of sambar and dosa!

I was exhausted by the time I returned to C’ville and promptly crashed! The next morning it was time for a drive/hike at the Shenandoah National Park. I had never been to the Skyline Drive before and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out some fall colors. I don’t remember fall from last year - probably because it was in the midst of Black November - so it seemed like a great excuse to further the cause of the unproductive weekend. After a scenic drive up to the national park, we found a trail we wanted to hike along and set out with good spirits and cameras for company. The colors were beautiful and the ground just a bit damp from the rains. Our hike was followed by a late lunch at the Downtown Mall and then back home.

When you think about it, there is a lot to do at Charlottesville. The first year of school doesn’t leave you with too much time to indulge in day long activities around town. I’ve figured out how this works though: The first year is meant for you to explore everything around the Corner and the Downtown Mall; and the second year is for rest of the countryside!

I expected to feel guilt ridden about taking the weekend off like this, but surprisingly, I don’t. I managed just enough will power to prepare for my classes today, but that’s about it. This break was long overdue.

View from the top
The lady bug that got pally with Sania

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Under a red umbrella

Yesterday was one very wet and grey day at Charlottesville. It was dull all day, not to mention a little cold too. By evening it started to rain in earnest. But that didn’t deter a bunch of us from driving down to the Paramount Theater at the downtown mall to watch Bryan Adams in an acoustic performance – think of MTV Unplugged.

I loved the unplugged performance more than I did his regular concert that I went to in Bangalore a few years ago. This was more intimate and really brought out his vocal talent, not to mention, his personality. He interspersed the songs with little tidbits of what inspired that particular song or some other memory revolving around the song. In some he improvised, in others he let the audience fill in for him. It seemed less like a performance and more like a conversation. And I was struck once again by how soulful some of his lyrics were, and was taken back to days of my “youth” when I would OD on his music.

And therefore when, after the performance, RJ and I decided we wanted to try to head backstage to get his autograph, the guys in our group didn’t protest too much. However, what we didn’t expect was to be standing outside, in the rain and cold for more than an hour, just waiting for BA to show up. We thought we wouldn’t miss him because we were standing right by his bus. It was us and maybe four or five others, crazy enough to brave the weather. I wish I could ask you to scroll down for a picture of BA’s autograph on the reverse side of my ticket, because I never did get that autograph. BA came out through a different door, got in a car and was driven off while we still waited there.

There’s a lesson in that. Everything’s an act. Here I was naïve enough to think he’d come out and sign my ticket. And why would he? We’re just a bunch of fans, he wouldn’t know us from the others he’s met or tickets he’s signed before. It doesn’t pay to glorify anyone, and I’m surprised I, of all the people, forgot that.

And then there are those that refuse to leave you standing in the rain, and insist on standing with you – even if they would never wait that long for anyone. Thanks to the ones that waited and special thanks to fellow blogger Sameer who waited patiently despite having an interview today.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keeping the flame alive

A few weeks ago, in my Leading Strategic Change class, the professor encouraged the class to think about what our individual strategy was to keep our flame alive. At the time I wrote it down as a “personal question” and over the following weeks, I found myself coming back to that question repeatedly.

Recruiting has been the cause for a lot of sleepless nights. And as I struggle to maintain my balance through the curve balls coming at me, I wonder what measures I’ve put in place to keep myself driven. I have been guilty of being too consumed by this boot camp I signed up for and although they warned us right at the beginning of school to hold on to our ties with the outside world, I know that I have allowed those ties to grow feeble. Sometimes I think it’s something we all have to learn – to see the big big picture, to realize that each of our many lives – work, social, personal, religion - is a microcosm and it’s temporary and so it doesn’t pay to fall too much in love with any one, without being conscious of the sum total.

As I struggle to define and make sense of everything present and before me, I search within for that part I can come home to when I want to retreat. And I ask myself where my flame is. In some sense I think a lot of us have begun to “check out” already and I am alarmed at the frequency with which I am thinking of “the future” - filled with uncertainty yet free to be what I want it to be, just waiting for me to give it shape. And I hope that when I find my flame, the way forward will be clear.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


What could get Emmett Street jam packed with cars, bumper-to-bumper? What could get a sea of people – more than that for a Cavs game- all walking towards Scott Stadium, dressed warmly for the chilly night ahead? What could get bschool nearly-30 somethings all aflutter and coming to class with rock-band tees? Bono and his roomies of course!!

U2 came to Charlottesville on Oct 1, Thursday as a stop on their 360 Degree Tour. I’ll get straight down to it – it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I grew up listening to these guys; all the way from their Joshua Tree and Zooropa days (remember Lemon?), my sister and I loaded up our iPods with all their albums and listened to them obsessively as went through our U2-crazy phases a few years ago. So this concert was special… each song in the set had a special memory attached and as Bono, charismatic as ever, went through the phenomenal sound and light show that this concert was, it felt like an emotional rollercoaster ride for me.

The show itself was a fantastic visual treat with the expanding-contracting 360 degree screen, light shows, dancing beams and video streams on the screen. Sunday Bloody Sunday opened with a moving tribute to the conflict in Iran. U2 came back for 2 encores, where Bono and The Edge played a semi-acoustic version of One in one and a power-packed rendition of Vertigo in another. Here’s U2’s set that from that night:

1. Breathe 2. Get On Your Boots 3. Mysterious Ways 4. Beautiful Day / The Hands That Built America (snippet) 5. No Line On The Horizon 6. Magnificent 7. Elevation 8. Your Blue Room 9. New Year's Day 10. I Still Havent Found What I'm Looking For 11. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of12. The Unforgettable Fire13. City Of Blinding Lights14. Vertigo15. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight16. Sunday Bloody Sunday17. MLK18. Walk Onencore(s):19. One / Amazing Grace (snippet)20. Where The Streets Have No Name21. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)22. With Or Without You23. Moment of Surrender
(HT- LT39 Mr and Mrs Younus)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SY Weekend Escapades

There’s a lot going on in the ville these past few weekends. And because I (and nearly all of my classmates) realize that our time in the ville is now limited (Q1 is nearly over, can you believe that?!), we’ve been trying to make the most of it.

Last weekend the UVA Symphony Orchestra from the McIntire School of Music at UVA performed at the amphitheater for the public – for free. Called the Symphony under the Stars, it began a little past 7pm and had an amazing line up of music. Highlights included selections from the West Side Story, Carmen, ET theme music etc. A bunch of us went that evening and sat on the grass for a sky deck view of the stage. The weather has been cool in the evenings these days and the setting was perfect. We walked past the Lawn apartments on our way, built by TommyJ to promote more interaction between students and their teachers at UVA, now home to selected students.

The day after, on Sunday, Nobel Prize Winner Professor Mohammed Yunus of Grameen Bank spoke at U-Hall, on the topic Solutions To Poverty. A bunch of us attended this one and it was well worth the time! Professor Yunus is an inspiring orator and his story of how he founded the Grameen Bank and his motivations were very interesting to hear. I made up for not taking my camera to the Symphony and took a bunch of fuzzy pictures.

Yesterday the Marketing Forum at Darden and I had a great afternoon listening to the big names of CPG talk about successful marketing campaigns. On grounds were DuPont, General Mills, J&J (and their fantastic Olympic campaign called “Thank you Mom”), Frito Lay and Heinz. And today is the India vs Pakistan cricket match and Darden’s South Asian Community is all ready for the madness. We’re screening the match live in one of the classrooms. For those who can’t bear to walk to school on this rainy morning, we’re watching the match on the projector in the home of a second year with parathas and beer. I’m wearing my Team India tee and blogging live from the venue. Cheers!

U-Hall; seen here is Prof. Yunus.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coffee Cup Creativity

The other day, I met with recruiters from a company that specializes in packaging solutions (in true consultant-esque anonymity) and we were talking about the various brands this company can boast of. There were a bunch of familiar names – I think I’ve spent way too many years of my life obsessing about the consumer packaged goods industry – and there were some interesting surprises.

The most interesting one, though, was that this company is famous for making cups for Starbucks! Of the eleventy million Starbucks coffees I’ve consumed in this lifetime, I never thought to look below the cup to see who actually made these cups… and of what. So it turns out that this company and its association with the Starbucks coffee cup is very famous in the sustainability circles because they actually use re-usable material in the manufacture of the paper for these cups. So for all the times that I might have felt bad about having “coffee for here” in a Styrofoam cup, the footprint was not as bad as I imagined… although not bad > not as bad, so technically I was still leaving a footprint…

So what’s even more interesting is this ubiquitous coffee cup can be the canvas for a brilliant bit of creativity. See what I mean
here. Meanwhile, here's a (made of plastic) beer glass/cup from my first Cold Call at Darden.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Proudly paperless

I was in an open house lunch meeting yesterday with Dean Carraway and the conversation meandered its way to the sustainability initiative the school has rolled out this year, specifically relating to our cases going online. Our class last year piloted this program by taking our finance course online, meaning that instead of course packets and course books, we could download all of our materials – cases, tech notes and exhibits – off the course website in PDF or Excel format. This year, it seems that nearly 90% of the first year course material has gone online, with Section D being the participants of the Kindle program. We talked about how it is relatively more complex to do the same exercise for the second year course materials given that there are 30 different courses and professors and therefore materials for the first quarter alone!!

I have taken four subjects this quarter and 2 of those subjects offer online options to download my cases. The fourth one, operations strategy, which could technically go online too, is currently distributed in book format, but the course website allows us to download select tech notes and cases and of course, the exhibits. While I appreciate the efforts of the school to get us to our paper-less targets soon, I understand the frustration of students who cannot read off of their computer screen because of the inability (or relative tediousness) to annotate and underline as they study. I opted for paper copies of my Valuations course materials simply because I found myself highlighting every other line of my tech notes and scribbling notes and diagrams on the margins, making the whole experience rather messy. However, I find it very useful to have online copies of the rest of my course since it literally takes the weight off my shoulders to carry my course packs around!

But the aspect that I like best about the course being online is that I have access to it for the rest of my life! I can carry my Darden education around in my head and in a hard drive too! I think of all the thick books on Mechanical Engineering lying at home in India and the amount of space they occupy, and I’m happy that I won’t be having any of that with my MBA course material. But what I’m feeling really good about is that as an institution and individuals, we’re doing our bit for the environment.
That calls for a pat on the back, don't you think?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

SY - the best kept secret

The class of 2009 waved the carrot of an easy year under our noses all of last year. We “trusted the process” and waited for our time in the sunshine. Then SY came. And the myth was just that - a myth!

It’s been a fortnight since school began and I’ve been crazy busy. I have 4 subjects this quarter and thanks to my brilliant class selection skills (with a little help from SN, D'09), I’ve made sure that my school day begins at 10AM throughout the week. Last quarter I had 8AM and 10AM classes early and late week respectively which completely ruined my sleep cycles. This quarter 10AM classes mean I get to sleep a little after midnight and wake up at a modest 7AM – anything earlier than 7AM is the middle of the night anyway! Just my kind of schedule! I also have my classes all week (as opposed to taking all my classes early or late week and leaving the other half of the week free). But that apart, every “break” between classes has been crammed with calendar appointments – some I set up with other people, some I make for myself as reminders for things to do. So that boxed lunch stretched out on the grass in Flagler Courtyard has been pretty distant so far.

Adding to the schedule has been the job search. We’ve also formally begun our on grounds pre-recruitment process – networking nights and info-sessions; it’s time once again for foot-suicide in high heels.

Crazy busy is good though. I'm enjoying my classes and all the non-class stuff I'm getting into. I’ve enjoyed catching up with classmates, hearing about the summer and the plans for this year. The summer seems to have been pretty eventful for most people. As for me, I’m still trying to find myself. And I’m having a more effort-filled go at it since I’ve returned. I’ve also begun to spend more time in the silences I talked about last time. I think I might finally be growing up. Eeks!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting used to the silence again

I got back to the Ville last night and this time too, like every time I come to America, I am struck by how quiet it is here. I wake up to silence, and sleep to it… no honking cars, door bells, telephone, idiot box. Just me and the gentle tap-tap of my finger tips on the keyboard. Yes I am also getting re-addicted to my best friend in the whole world, my laptop.

I walked into my new apt in C’ville last night – my home for the next year – and felt like I’d never left this place at all. At some point I know I felt like the summer was stretching endlessly, but in the last few days, I kept wishing time would slow down, that I could have the comfort of my home and the real world for a while longer. I am not ready to become adult again, to shoulder the responsibility of living by myself, thinking about my health and nutrition or thinking about grades and jobs… Not ready to take on my new role as support system for my sister on the west coast, not ready to lose sleep wondering if she’s managing fine and staying safe.

Things are going to be different this year, in a good way or bad, I don’t know. But that unknown that’s waiting around the corner, is not a welcome visitor today. Not just yet. That next great adventure of second year, I wish it would hold out for a while longer. I sit here watching helplessly as my calendar for the next week onwards steadily fills up. Watching and wishing I was back in May. But time, it waits for none, does it?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Freedom is...

...a word that we throw around to justify bad behavior, short skirts, hurtful words, jumping signals in the night…

Every year Independence Day becomes a time to reflect on the importance of where India is as a nation today. Having grown up in urban India, I have known freedom since I was old enough to yawn. Freedom meant that I could choose to wear the kind of clothes I wished, wear my hair short or long, black or red… It meant that I could play cricket with the boys as a 12 year old. It meant I could choose the books I wanted to read, the amount of religion I wanted to practice, the languages I chose to learn or not. Freedom meant that I could choose to study a branch of engineering as the only girl in that department, and no one stopped me. Freedom means that I can proudly go to a country on the other side of the world to get an advanced degree… because I want to… at which age, my mother had already had me. Freedom means that when I marry, it will be to a man of my choice, after my mind is ready to accept him as a partner. But this is not just me; this is every urban Indian man or woman.

Freedom is what I saw in rural India this summer. It was where a woman could walk around in her community, doing door-to-door sales, unaccompanied by any male member of the family. She could be an entrepreneur… and a mother… and a cook, homemaker, a wife, a daughter-in-law. And freedom meant that she could juggle all of these roles with WonderWoman-like dexterity. Freedom is where the son of a single mother from a small time town in rural Tamil Nadu could dream of getting an MBA degree from India’s premier business school… to achieve and then go on to start his own firm.

Freedom means that we no longer have the benefit of someone else’s wisdom, that we go on to make our own mistakes to learn from them. That we fall and get up and fall again. That we chart our own course, take our own risks, with no template that we have to follow, with no comfort of knowing how it all will end. Freedom is knowing that life comes full circle, but meanders in ways unique to each of us, to the choices we make, the heartbreaks we endure, the sacrifices we make, the successes we earn. Freedom is blooming where we’re planted. Freedom is, but only, a state of mind. Freedom is… everything we want it to be.

To India, Happy Independence Day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On technology

Bill Gates is in India to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Of course there was media frenzy, the result being that every English news channel had an ‘exclusive’ interview of the man himself! I watched a snippet of an interview on mute (don’t ask why, long story) while channel surfing and I was struck by just how old he was looking. I have this image in my head of Gates, with his owlish glasses and youthful looks, looking very much the college-dropout-tech-startup-cute-millionaire. I had to tell myself that that was many years ago and that technology as MSFT defined it has now been around for much of my lifetime.

I never thought of myself as the techie kinds when I was growing up. In high school, I always skived off the programming classes. After all, I’m the person that signed up for mechanical engineering only so that I’d have to do the bare minimum number of programming classes. But then I am also the person that went to work in a tech firm. Sigh. Anyway, I realized, however, that much as I hated programming, I had great respect for technology as such and what it could do for societies and businesses. I think I really found my “calling”, if I could call it that, in the internet and Web 2.0. I became a big tech buff, even though I remained in absolute dislike of social networking because of the lack of privacy (ha ha I’m a blogger).

And this brings me to the present. I’ve taken technology so much for granted that the first thing I did in India was to take an internet connection - even before I took a cell phone one! (So maybe I’m a little too addicted, so what?!) I spend a fair bit of time tracking tech news on Digits and WSJ and of course I obsessively follow all things Google. And therefore, imagine my surprise when I realized that not everyone with a hotshot MBA and working in a hotshot Day Zero Indian company is on the social-networking-site-for-professionals. I found that a lot of people my age did not feel the need to know so much about all the techie stuff out there – so not so much twitter or xobni for them. It came as a bit of a surprise to me when my enthusiasm for document versioning software (as a suggestion to implement in this office) was met with quizzical looks.

Anyway, I’ve long since made peace with the fact that their professional world probably does not hinge on technology as it does for those in some of their global offices. I remember talking to a recruiter from MSFT in the fall at school, and I asked him where he saw his product (a communications tool) go in India, where high speed internet is still a bit of a luxury. And he said that the problem is being solved by Google, who are aiming to get high speed internet into areas serviced mostly by dial ups and painfully slow broadbands. If high speed internet and wifi were to become commonplace in India, as it is in the US now, then will we see a new business opportunity here? For starters, I would be open to the idea of an information sharing portal a la craigslist. I’d love all big malls to have their own website so that I know what stores I can find there along with phone numbers and store timings. I could go on, but I’ll stop now. However, I’m super stoked that I can find Google maps directions for all Indian cities now. I just found directions to a new restaurant near work that I’m going lunch at tomorrow!

Internship - the last mile

I’m on the last week of my internship here. While work has gotten less exciting in the past three weeks (i.e. no traveling), it’s been information overload. I had one really slow week that frustrated the hell out of me – it’s hard enough to wake up in the morning, even harder to make it to work when it’s pouring outside – the least I expect is to be busy for the nine hours I’m at work. Instead, I had enough work for about an uninterrupted half day and then I’d wonder what I should be doing. Not that I minded it so much. You see, sitting in the middle of the action, you pick up stuff just from hearing and seeing. So although I didn’t get an opportunity to work with as many people as I would have liked to, I did get to learn a lot from observation (kind of like the way I learnt to cook!).

But that was just the one week. The one after that has been pretty busy. My final deliverable is a creative brief to an ad agency, one that encompasses a number of brands. After some analysis on the regions we are piloting this initiative (that I’m working on), we came up with a few brands that have the highest salience (how’s that for jargon?). I have spent the better part of last week meeting with the brand managers of these brands and studying brand materials I have obtained from them. While I have enjoyed meeting these people and learning about the brands and how they have been designing the campaigns that I see on outdoor overheads (OOH) and commercials (TVC), I wish they had time to talk to me about other stuff… like what keeps them here, what they like about their job, what their career graph has been etc. Basically the typical networking buzz except that I actually really WANT to know this about them. More than just an exposure to the workings of a typical CPG firm, I am using this internship to evaluate whether I want to return to India after Darden. Unfortunately, people here have been way too busy and I am constantly aware of the long hours they put in everyday, including Fridays.

On Saturday morning I return home for a few days before I have to leave for VA again. It feels like my ‘vacation’ is ending. It was great having free evenings with no cases to prep for the next day. I am actually reading – the newspapers, magazines, books… I have enjoyed walking around Nariman Point in the evenings after work, looking at headquarters of a lot of major corporations. It’s been a welcome change to be able to watch Sunday night movies on tv, with nothing to ‘study’ for Monday morning. But I’m ready for this to end because I really want to spend some time with the family, not just hurried weekends like I had over the past two months. In the meantime, I have this week to get through.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Retail therapy weekend

This past weekend, my good friend from my Infosys days, M and I decided to indulge in some much needed retail therapy. After a week of hard work, there’s nothing like swiping your credit card and getting on the train at the end of the day having more bags in your hand than you came with! We walked the vibrant and bustling Colaba Causeway for a few hours, including our brief but expensive sojourn at a CWC store there. One thing about M is she’s a big foodie – seriously, what do you expect from someone who’s got a whole drawer for food in her mobile unit at work?! And that is how we came to be in Café Leopold.

Café Leopold has been around for years by the look of it but was given a new lease of life after being the backdrop for many a scene in Gregory David Roberts’ wildly successful (in India at least) semi-autobiography, Shantaram. The book has been converted to a full length movie starring the delectably Johnny Depp as Roberts. On Saturday evening, the place was crowded and the tables placed so close together that if you pushed your chair a little too much to the back, you’d hit someone else’s chair. Dim lighting barely illuminated the sketches of the Mumbai skyline from years ago that hung on the walls… for a place that old, the crowd was that much younger! I felt totally comfortable and at home there… it is places like that that give this city its charm. Some drinks and food later, we were back outside on the sidewalk, to finish up our shopping.

I’ve realized that I really like that area of Bombay and not just because there is so much to shop there. I like how I can see the really old and almost crumbling building of the High Court and just behind that I can see the tower of the stock exchange, a symbol of India Shining (maybe not in recent times). Like most parts of the city, the old and the new seem to live together, two separate worlds yet steadfastly co-existing.

I had a lazy Sunday that I spent indoors watching one and a half Bollywood movies followed by a Harry Potter movie on HBO in the night. Monday came too soon.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

More reflections from rural India

Last week I returned from another 6 day trip through rural India. This time I went to markets in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The idea of going to these markets was to have more one on one conversation with rural customers and since I am fluent in Bengali and Tamil, these two regions seemed ideal.

I started off with WB, in an area that is about 3 hours drive from Kolkata city, where I was staying as a base. I was visiting Kolkata after many years so I was quite excited about this visit. The markets I went to were very poor with poor infrastructure from the main roads/highways to the interiors where the villages were located amidst paddy fields and the occasional betel leaf plantation. In all the markets I went to, I had to walk a good bit to reach the village since the car would not go in beyond a point. Here I found villagers needed a lot of counseling on basic healthcare. It was sad to see that these people were almost stuck in their way of life and could not hope for change for a number of reasons, primarily because of the hand to mouth existence. I came away realizing that the little kids I saw playing in the mud would grow up in that same atmosphere, without clean sanitation and drinking water, that there was no hoping that the village would change in a few years. I suppose I shouldn’t say this, but I felt that they needed clean facilities more than premium laundry detergent, but that’s just me.

Next I went to my home state, TN. My Tamil is not the best, since I’ve only ever spoken urban Tamil, so I was a little apprehensive. But what I saw in rural TN totally blew me away. I went to a few villages outside of Madurai, a bustling temple town south of Chennai and en route to Kanyakumari, India’s southernmost tip of land. Here the villages had excellent infrastructure and facilities. People were very aware of products, their benefits and of the tenets of basic healthcare, sanitation, and hygiene and overall healthy living. All homes had at least one television and cell phone, all in the same mud-brick houses with thatched roofs. All homes also had cable, which meant that my grandmother in Chennai and the Shakti Amma’s mother-in-law in rural Madurai watched the same soap every afternoon. I saw one house that had a complete LG home theater system – my apartment in C’ville does not have a tele! A number of village men were in the military and deployed in places as far away as Punjab. The biggest surprise however came from the products that sold in these villages. I went with the Shakti Amma from home to home in the village, as she sold Unilever products in the tiniest packaging I’ve ever seen. She sold Dove and Pears and all varieties of laundry detergent. She even sold fabric softener, how do you like that?! That morning, she sold 15 sachets of fabric softener in 4 homes. And none of these homes has a Laundromat. The fabric softener has a very soothing scent and so after soaking clothes in a bucket full of softener in water, the leftover water was used to sweep the floors of the house! Smartest thing I ever heard!

Having seen villages in 3 different zones of India – west, east and south – I am really confused about how I would describe rural India to an outsider. I’ve seen the poorest ones where I needed to advocate the benefits of using a toothbrush. And I’ve seen ones where they want me to explain the differences in the 3 different types of Kotex sanitary napkins available in the market. But this I know, there is a huge untapped market just waiting to devour all the aspirational consumer products that they are watching on the television commercials. No more low cost and rudimentary advertising for these people.

Some interesting articles from Outlook Business magazine on rural consumerism and how microfinance is helping:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The little birdie

Sania recently suggested that I should get on Twitter, given the amount of traveling I would be doing as part of my internship. Nor was she the first to suggest it. I dithered for long, unwilling to get on yet another social network platform and leaving another trail of footprints online. But I decided to give it a shot anyway and so now I’m tweeting – I swear I never expected to be using a verb like that!

It amazes me how much you can say in 140 characters. Or how little for that matter. It also amazes me how much you can do with a medium like that. For starters, I can follow friends who decide to tweet when they’re stuck in traffic in NYC. Or I could follow those that decide to backpack across Europe. I could have followed Brin but he stopped tweeting! Jokes apart, what has me totally amazed is how Twitter has catapulted to this super important status in the backdrop of the turmoil in Iran (here's what I'm talking about). There is a wealth of information from the ground that is being broadcasted on the net by ordinary citizens, where journalists are no longer permitted. As an ex-techie, my thoughts go immediately to information security – does this mean that corporations would have to install cell phone signal-jammers in the meeting room and disconnect the internet during confidential market-influencing discussions? What does that do to the rights and freedoms of people? As we innovate, we seem to push the boundaries of our laws and societies further, exposing all the loopholes.

It must be a sign of times that corporations are quick to get on the bandwagon. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, in the hope and anticipation that more eyeballs or ears would translate to more sales. And that is driving corporations to find ways to monetize the platform. Google’s revenue from sponsored links is the best case in point. It’s brilliant how companies that create products for people indirectly create platforms for other companies, an important feature of this ultra connected world that we live in.

Just like blogging and maybe even Facebook to some extent, Twitter seems to follow in the footsteps of satisfying the narcissist inside us. Judging by how many subscribers each of these media have, it seems like everyone who is anyone feels the need to have her voice heard. In all the white noise we’re generating, it is getting harder to sift out the voices of substance. Our willingness to embrace technology results in the cup overflowing and being just another source of information spam that despite our good sense, we feel the obsessive need to log in and check every day… while somewhere in the world, another college drop out is on his/her way to millionaire-hood and potentially a place in HBR’s next 30 page case!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mahayatra through Maharashtra

Tomorrow I leave for the first of a few trips as part of my internship (refer to map of Maharashtra state). I leave early morning for Aurangabad where I will spend the day observing Project Shakti in action in the villages around the city. The following day I will travel to Shirdi where once again I will get to observe Shakti Ammas as they go about their duties. And finally on Day 3, I will be in Nasik where I will get to interview some Shakti Ammas and understand what the missing links are.

I’m very excited about this trip not just because I’ve never travelled to these areas before, but also because of the sudden attention that rural India has been garnering in the media. I’m referring to two much emailed articles that came out in the WSJ and Mint newspapers today (Mint is a business newspaper that partners with WSJ). Rural India has been untouched by the recession and continues to consume and purchase more consumer products in the market than urban India. In fact, sales from rural India account for more than 50% of Unilever’s total sales in personal care products in India. Rural India has accounted for 50% of Vodafone’s new subscriptions for cell phone connections in the last year, and just today, the Indian prime minister has said that the economy will target for 9% growth rate, fuelled no doubt by the growing consumerism in the robust rural economy.

To know more about HUL’s Project Shakti, try this and this. This project has been successfully implemented in countries in Asia under Unilever Bangladesh (UBL) as Joyeeta and in Unilever Sri Lanka as Saubaghya.


Mahayatra: long journey

Amma: mother

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Turning the page

** Warning: Looooooong post ahead

First I must apologize for the extended period of silence. Things have been a little unwieldy since school gave in to summer. That’s right; I am officially done with first year. I have spent the better part of the last few days trying to come to terms with the feeling… I don’t know if I should be happy or sad… Honestly, I feel kind of numb. This year has been a little hard to digest. Typical of the Darden program, so much has been thrown at us this year and so fast, that sometimes I have trouble believing I actually went through the whole year and lived to tell about it!

I remember how it felt at orientation, oh 10 months ago. A sea of unfamiliar faces, everything was at once befuddling yet exciting. There was a sense of nervous expectation, a sort of go getter attitude. I walked in to Darden with dreams that were big for where I came from, yet seemingly modest given the type of school I had come to. The economy was just showing some signs of weariness, but the red alerts had not set in as yet. I may have been $60000 in debt but I felt like a million bucks!

And then the floodgates opened and suddenly it felt like sensory overload. Names gave way to faces, acquaintances became buddies and second years became inspirations to look up to. Suddenly Microsoft, McKinsey, AT Kearney, UTC, Danaher became more than just tickers on CNBC, they were for real and I was sharing glasses of wine with them or corresponding via email. In class, we were talking about real companies, real people, real problems. Excel became my new best friend, my alarm clock my worst foe. On Thursday mornings, it seemed like the night couldn’t come soon enough to go back to bed, and yet there I was letting my hair down at TNDC. Weekends left only a whooshing sound in their wake as they sped by and then there was the 100 case party where I sang till my voice went hoarse, forging new bonds even as I did so. Days merged into nights and days again, and I stopped to take it all in only during winter break, when time seemed to stretch on forever. Soon it was 2009 and with it came a slew of disappointments as the recession had spread its tentacles into our summer recruiting. The upbeat mood of the first semester gave way to more somber countenances in the second semester and expectations we reset and we scrambled to find employment for the summer. Even in the midst of all the self doubt and falling self confidence, I made time for the GBE to Brazil, the best forced vacation in all my life and one that I’m not likely to forget for years to come. Business school taught me to leave my worries behind as I went to explore a new country and was enriched by the experience.

I don’t really know where the last quarter of school went, but here we are. The year seems to have flown by and as I meet people who are joining business school this fall, even the recession seems to bounce off them and their optimism. But for me and my class at Darden, there is something about this recession that has bonded us together like no previous batch at school. We rallied around one another, lauding one person’s success with a bulge bracket investment bank just as we supported the other that got yet another I-regret-to-inform-you email. It was May and 20% of us were without direction for the summer, yet we threw farewell parties and danced our hearts out at the Bollywood, Japan and LASA parties. There were days when I was filled with hope that everything will be ok, yet there were days of despair. On the latter, I was never alone, finding support and encouragement in the success stories of others or just in having lunch together at Café 67. And yet, this much cursed recession forced us to expand our boundaries. People took risks, followed dreams and went where others would not look in a regular year. While someone went to Africa to do economic development another went to DC to work in sustainability. Someone found intellectually rewarding work in an 11 member VC firm while someone else found a window to showcase his Crystal Ball skills to a government firm. Some people traded their dream jobs for more satisfying start up experiences, while others just walked away from the rat race to start their own thing and thus give employment to another classmate through the Batten institute. As for me, I had a strange turn of events. I came to Mumbai to work with the firm that was my dream employer through most of undergrad and my days at Infosys, one I had lost hope in when I chose to pursue an MBA abroad. Not only was this opportunity at Unilever serendipitous, even more interesting is the nature of work I get to do. I am working with one of their most talked about CSR initiatives, the Project Shakti.

I have a ton of impressions from coming back to India after a year. A lot of time spent in commuting has given me enough fodder to ponder and reminisce. And while I miss Darden and its familiarity, I am discovering a different work culture at Unilever, and I constantly compare and evaluate. I also spam my friends’ inboxes with all the conversations I wish I could have with them! But as I go into week 2 of my internship, I look forward to being able to get back to writing about all that goes on in my head.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Q4 Exam Week

It’s exam week at school. Apparently for elective subjects, we get a week to take our exams – we just have to make sure we turn in our responses by 5pm on Friday. We can take the exams whenever we want, wherever we want. Of course the rules of five/four/four and half contiguous hours apply, but it’s total freedom! And while I personally like the structured exam taking approach where you turn up at an assigned hour every day and do it, I think this freedom is totally cool.

For all practical purposes, I am done with first year – just one paper and the ELA stand between me and the gaping void of nothingness that is going to be my summer. I have realized that while I crave the freedom of doing nothing, I also get very restless when I actually get to the doing-nothing phase. Which is why I don’t want school to end. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than ready for a vacation. But I don’t know what I will do with my time and without my friends. Unlike many of my classmates, I am not going to India for a vacation.

There was some buzz on Facebook today with news of Darden’s partnership with Amazon coming out. Read about it at Oren’s blog. I think this is a big step for Darden as it moves towards its sustainability goals. It was great having Q3 finance online and I’d love to see more of our course materials go online. Well Oren does a great job talking about this, so just read his post and I’ll say no more.

Last weekend was Darden Days, where admitted students are hosted on grounds to come check out their home for the next two years (or to check out if they want it to be their home). I missed my own Darden Days, so I was quite impressed by the arrangements they had made for the CO 2011.

I think the highlight of the event was the dinner the school hosted at King’s Valley Vineyard – which I missed! Pt Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka were performing at the Paramount that night and after a lot of debating, I decided to skip King’s Valley in favor of the concert – best decision I ever made!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A is for Awesome Weather

The weather in the Ville has been nothing short of brilliantly awesome this past weekend and spilling on to this week. While I chose not to go to the Foxfield Races, you can read all about the eagerly awaited annual rituals that took place this past weekend right here. Since I’m a spoilt bschool brat who can’t handle regular 2 days weekends anymore, I decided I needed to spend the weekend on my own terms (as opposed to the terms dictated by my calendar). So I chose to spend most of it at school, getting some work out of the way! This was also reunion weekend, so Darden alums and families were out and about the grounds. Whenever I would walk around the hallways to get my coffee, I would wonder if I’ll be back in school in five years’ time for my own reunion, what my life would look like, professionally and personally…

But I digress! This afternoon, Sania (who, by the way, does not think I'm crazy anymore), JD and I decided to catch some salad lunch together and sit outdoors to enjoy the weather. After we topped our lunch boxes from Abbott Dining, we headed out to Flagler Courtyard to sit on the grass under the tree. Great lunch and conversation later, Sania was sprawled out on the grass, just about ready to take a nap, her 2:45 class all but forgotten, JD had missed her ELA meeting and I had convinced myself that I did not care about the Marketing assignment that was screaming for my immediate attention! It was great to see students out and about, and to catch up with the girls.

But soon enough we had to move our lazy behinds off the grass and back into the student building to catch up with our schedules. Sigh, good weather or not, inside the student building, it’s life as usual! One week to go before finals and summer and I still don’t have an internship. Well, at least the weather’s in a good mood!

Monday, April 20, 2009

All about the people

There’s this adage that gets thrown at you ever so often: your network is a measure of your net worth. It’s a great little note to tuck away at the back of your head as you speed through business school and I guess life in general.

Last week we had to have an emergency phone call with our client for the Enterprise Leadership Audit (ELA) we’re doing for our OB (here it’s called Leading Organizations or LO) class. And we needed some help. Particularly, our client wanted to know what they would get out of our ELA since the project involved significant time investment from them. Our own LO professor was on leave that day and we did not know where to go. So we checked the faculty directory for the LO faculty closest to where we were standing and went to his office. Prof Quinn was not our professor, had never taught any of us, and he was just leaving for lunch. When he heard of our problem, he took a good twenty minutes to sit down and answer our questions. He made sure we did not leave until we were comfortable with what we needed to know. Needless to say our call was a success.

Last week, we had a session with some second year students on advice on electives for the second year. We got great and candid advice. We also got some very very practical advice. Some encouraged us to view the subjects as experiences, other made the case for ensuring we got all round knowledge – we were going to be in business school just once and we wanted to make sure we learnt all we could. For me the best advice came at the end – make sure there is time for recruiting because when you graduate you will value having a job more than you will value having an A in the most difficult course in Darden. At the farewell party the Indian FYs threw the Indian SYs, a lot of us FYs wished we had had more time to get to know the fun bunch that they were.

What can I say about this awesome support system I have in my section D friends that will possibly do them justice? All sections got together last week in their section classrooms to talk about how they can help those classmates that were still looking for internships. Although at first it was hard to raise my hand and ask for help, I’m glad I did it because I found so much support – not just hugs and we’re-all-here-for-yous but also contacts – I got a bunch of emails from classmates with contacts that I could send my resume to. For those that emailed me and are reading this: I will get back to you soon – I’ve been down with the flu all weekend and been pretty zoned out the whole time. But THANKYOU! Your support means a lot.

The best thing about this network from school is the extended network you get into by way of partners. I’ve met some fantastic partners – JFA’s wife is probably an honorary Darden student already and his super cute kid has probably already reserved his place in Darden’s class of 2035! I’ve been out of action this past weekend because of a nasty bout of flu and after a day of silence from sitting at home (that does not bode well with me), I had surprise visitors yesterday evening – AK and his fiancé, N, who had come over to make dinner for me, and Sania who came to add some much needed cheer! Gotta love the girlfriends!

To anyone who’s starting grad school this year: invest in the relationships, they make the ride so much fun.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ghost of TommyJ

One of the best things about being in a university as old and as rich in heritage as UVA is all the folklore that goes with the history. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the more famous landmarks of UVA like the Lawn or the Rotunda, but this morning in the UVA magazine email there was an interesting article about the residences in the Lawn area that are reserved for the exceptional members of the student body at UVA. There were some students that occupied the rooms that someone from their family had occupied years ago, others talked about opening their doors to curious tourists to talk about the history of the Lawn residences. Read that piece here.

One of the traditions that we were informed about in our first week at Darden was the “ghost” of Thomas Jefferson, the founding father of UVA and affectionately referred to as TommyJ or TJ, that roamed the grounds of the University. Apparently he had been spotted at Darden many times. In the last nine months, I’ve spent way more hours lounging in the Piano Room or Café 67 or the learning team rooms than I care to admit, but never had I spotted TommyJ until a couple of Thursdays ago. The ghost is not really a specter. He is a man (sorry to disappoint) who dresses up as TommyJ (and does a really good job of it if all the portraits of TommyJ do him any justice) and walks around the grounds. He seems to like visiting Darden on Thursdays when the lights dim down earlier in the evening as the school empties out after a Cold Call with people heading out to TNDC to begin their weekend.

The first time I spotted TommyJ, I was sitting in one of those oversized armchairs in the Piano Room and someone was tinkering with the grand piano, playing a tune I didn’t recognize but sounding good nevertheless. TommyJ walked down from the mailbox area, across PepsiCo, towards Saunders Hall and the entrance.

Jefferson lives among us and in every corner of this beautiful town. All the buildings here are designed in the same theme as Jefferson designed it so many years ago. Monticello, his home, is a huge tourist attraction. At Darden, we even have his statue over by the fountain on Flagler Courtyard, from where he observes the hustle and bustle in the student and faculty buildings.

I spotted TommyJ again last Thursday as a few of us were hanging out at the Piano Room after the Easter Cold Call. Secretly I was glad to discover he wasn’t a figment of my overworked imagination! I think it’s kind of comforting to know he walks around, watching over his University.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Building (more than just) Goodness in April

So it’s a Saturday and at 7:30AM when I should be fast asleep in bed, I was dressed in jeans, a bright blue BGiA tee and boots and was trudging up Massie Road towards JulyDream’s apartment. Not a dream this! I and 25 other Darden students were headed out to the house of Sally Burton for the annual BGiA or Building Goodness in April build day.

The BGIA is a voluntary foundation that partners with local contractors and students from Darden to help in community construction and restructuring projects. This year there were eleven projects in all – 2 parks and 9 houses. A few months earlier, house captains scoured the C’ville countryside to identify projects. A number of inspections later, they determined the scope of the operations for build day and identified the number of hands they would need, in addition to arranging for local contractors. The fund raising for this event took place a few months ago, with students auctioning anything from a self-affirming keg party to a homecooked Indian meal for four to a month of free coffee at Hot Cakes. Pre-build day evening, all volunteers met their teams to get on the same page for logistics and what exactly was expected of them the next day. We also got our BGiA tees and posed for pictures!

That evening, after the pre-build meeting, a few friends and I headed out for our backwards dinner – coffee and cake followed by dinner and then more coffee – and I turned in by midnight (my definition of an early night) in preparation for the work that awaited the next day.

On Build Day, we drove down to our site and began work at 8:30A. I started with helping rake the yard and collecting all the junk into the two large dumpsters we had – those were empty that morning but piled high by evening. Then we emptied the house of all furniture and artifacts, cleaned the outside and inside, installed windows, plumbing, bathroom fixtures, a porch, a deck and peeled off the paint on all surfaces. Then we proceeded to apply fresh paint and give the house some new fixtures. We also gave Ms. Burton a new bed! I also managed to paint over one of her chickens!

This was a humbling experience. Ms. Burton had been an analyst at Merrill back in her hey days and as we cleaned through the layers of grime and dust on what were once very expensive and tasteful furniture, we couldn’t help but wonder how she descended to the state of neglect that she was in currently. It depressed us even more to know that she had no family save for her chickens, dogs and horses. The irony of her previous occupation – something that at least 40% of my incoming class had aspired to do last summer when Wall Street still “existed” – was not lost on any of us.

We wrapped up operations by 8P and headed home for a much needed shower. Right after that we all converged at the Wild Wings Café for the after-party where we shared pictures and experiences over some Bud and Tostitos and brownies. It was definitely a day spent well…
Three cheers to PR, TW and MV, the house captains for our project, for the food, drinks, fun and for letting us help!

Here's a video:

The team and Sally on the newly built porch in front of her renovated house.

The BGiA team on pre-build day.

More pictures at JulyDream.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Q4 and missing Crystal Ball

We’ve just wrapped up week 1 of Q4 – just 7 weeks and we’re officially done with first year. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun!

In an atypical move for me, I’ve gone and taken a whole bunch of non-spreadsheet electives – at least I think they’re that way! I really wanted to do Valuations and Data Analysis, especially after how much I enjoyed Finance last quarter. But I decided to forego those two for this quarter (they are offered once more in second year) and opted for subjects that I thought would free up more time to invest in job search. So I currently have an interesting subject called the Consulting Process – we’re doing cases that were done by consulting firms and we even have a partner from Bain coming in to talk to us about a case they did that we’re studying about; I also have Marketing Intelligence – I am excited about this module they have on marketing through social network media; and I have Strategic Communication – which is all about communication of your corporate identity through means other than messaging –which includes communicating through your annual report!

These are electives and we have two common classes too – our first course on Ethics and our second course on Leadership. Both classes are super interesting, in that they seek to spark debates in the class about leadership and ethical issues, to bring out the grey nature of a lot of managerial decisions and actions.

So that brings me to the title of this post. I miss being busy. This sudden change of scenery is scary. My early week classes are regular 8AM classes while my late week classes begin only at 10AM. This week I woke up at 8AM for my late week classes. And I feel terrible about it! I feel like I’m wasting my life by not being busy. And the reason I freed myself up was to do job search. But even then I have time on my hands and it’s driving me crazy! I’m thinking of taking up reading or painting again, but I am too restless to do it. I hunted around all of today – the last day we can change our courses – for either Econ or Data Analysis to free up so that I could drop one of my subjects for something that would get me out of bed in a panic at least 2 days a week. But it seems like no one wants to let those go. I’m not even looking for Valuations – Yiorgos is one of the best professors Darden has and I can’t think of anyone who’d want to drop his class!

The weather in the ville is getting better – it seems to me that people have returned from Spring Break very refreshed, with a new and positive attitude. Almost 50% of my class is still without internship but we’re plodding away, getting creative with the search, tapping our resources. I worry about what I will do if I don’t get anything for the summer, but I am sleeping better these days that I have done in the last four months… I've got hope.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Soccer, Azul and the Beach – Brazil Diaries

Concluding part...

I thought it’s high time I wrapped up the Brazil diaries! So I’ll try to cram everything else from my week in Sao Paulo on to this one post.

One of the interesting exercises we had was on negotiation and this was on day 2 of classes at IBMEC. Although I didn’t really get much on negotiation from it, it was interesting in that it required us to go to a local grocery and produce market to buy a set of ingredients on a given (tight) budget. Language is such a big barrier in Brazil and that’s what made this exercise challenging for most of us – I had 3 Spanish speakers in my team, hence the “most of us”. Although our facilitator for this exercise claimed that the team with the woman had the most advantage, I can safely say that I had no hand in my team’s success – except perhaps photo-documenting it! But it was a fun exercise – we brought back all of our supplies to IBMEC and feasted on them for afternoon coffee!

Day 3 was probably the best day we Sao Paulo – actually it could be Day 4 too, I’m having trouble picking! On day 3, we visited the offices of Azul, founded by David Neeleman of Jet Blue fame. He has got to be the most down-to-earth CEO ever! He personally showed us around the facilities he had there, and spent time talking to us about what made the Brazilian market different and why Azul’s success was so hard to achieve. That evening, we got to watch Ronaldo take his team to victory in a football game: LIVE! The stadium was packed full and boy, do the Brazilians love their football or what! I’m no big football fanatic, but just that energy and the hype and the way the crowds went crazy every time Ronaldo’s shoe came in contact with the ball – I was jumping out of my seat in excitement! This was hands down the best experience ever!

On day 4, we went to the Embraer factory, which included a tour of the shop floor. It was exciting to see that stuff, especially since I had studied that during undergrad. And then there was the program in the evening. See here’s competition for that game. Symphony orchestra. Not just any orchestra, but Brazil’s best. We got tickets to go this orchestra where apart from watching a breathtaking performance, we also got to hob-nob with some of Sao Paulo’s Page 3 personalities. The performance itself was beautiful; I was captivated by the skill and verve in the music. The whole theater seemed to come alive to the tunes of Mozart and Beethoven and the stillness in the audience was in stark contrast to the spirited performance of the conductor. The person on the saxophone got four encores!

The next day we went on a day long trip to the beach, about 2 hours from Sao Paulo. While friends who went to Rio after this would write this one out, I had a lot of fun here. Since I’m not normally a beach person – I went with a big tube of sunscreen – when I say I had fun, you can tell I had fun! We had a good lunch at a beachside restaurant and soon the whole bunch was in the water. I had a long walk and great conversation with my professor as we walked along the water. The evening came too soon and we headed back to SP, playing card games on the bus to keep us awake.

We flew back to DC the next evening, and so spent the morning going shopping for famous Hawaiianas - actually we just needed an excuse to use the subway!

The week was over in a flash. I think I left a piece of me in Brazil. I loved being away from the Ville, away from email, job search, resume drops, exams, cases… it was the first time in months that I felt free and at peace. I look at pictures from that trip now and we all look so happy. I learnt so much about this country in that one week; in the classroom there was the technical knowledge – monetary and fiscal policies, sustainability… outside of it, I observed people and a different way of life and attitudes. It was exciting. For once, I wasn’t happy to be back in Darden, to the reality that awaited.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sustainability in the Amazon - Brazil Diaries

First part...

We had an eventful journey from Dulles to JFK to GRU, Sao Paulo, Brazil, which included having a Darden impromptu reunion over dinner at JFK, with the team going on GBE to Buenos Aires and the vegetarians in the group chomping on homemade masala bajji and medhu vadas (all in the waiting lounges at JFK), we finally arrived at Sao Paulo, Brazil – tired and sleepy. What hit us first was the humidity – it was like being back in Chennai! Actually all of Sao Paulo reminds me of India – including the bikes on the road. I am beginning to think they’re like some standard characteristics of emerging economies!

Day zero, the day we landed, was spent in taking a long shower and going on an afternoon tour of the handicrafts market in Embu, an hour’s drive from Sao Paulo. After walking around the place and getting a taste of Brazilian beer, we headed home, tired and hungry. The Darden contingent is being hosted by Sao Paulo’s premier business school IBMEC and they hosted us for dinner on Day zero evening at the swanky rooftop of a 41 floor restaurant. The view of Sao Paulo was breathtaking and we spent more time standing outside taking in the view than actually sitting on the table. But oh wait, we had enough time to down a few Caipirinhas the Brazilian national alcoholic drink (think Mojito with a little more sugar). Since I’m such a Mojito fan, I was all for this drink!

Day 1 morning we went to take our first day of classes at IBMEC. We had discourses on Private Equity in Brazil – an interesting insight into the Brazilian capital markets and the fiscal/monetary policies, Culture in Brazil – an engaging lecture by an American psychology professor and finally, the best class of the day, Sustainability in the Amazon.

The Amazon is 60% of Brazil by area and yet is fraught with social and ecological problems. Our professor was a knowledgeable woman from IBMEC who had spent many years studying and working at the Amazon region and was well versed with the culture and society of the Amazonians. She talked about the extreme poverty of the region and how the rainforest and its rich biodiversity has become a political hotspot in the country. She talked about how there has been rampant deforestation by mining and manmade fires and how a series of policies in the name of agrarian reforms put the rainforest on the road to destruction. After all this bad news, she took us through the case of Orsa Foundation, one of the few Brazilian companies that are working at sustainability projects in the region. It was heartening to hear about the work they had done and were continuing to do to ensure the natives learnt to live with the forest instead of being forced to destroy it for money.

After a Peruvian lunch at IBMEC – with fried bananas! – we headed off to Abril Group, Brazil’s second largest media house that had footprints in the ink and digital media. As someone from the technology industry with a keen passion and involvement with ink/internet media, I found this visit extremely engaging. Abril group was like a case straight out of strategy class – the new media wave was just washing over Brazil and abril group wanted in, but did not know how to adapt their existing business model to play in this new market, where the blurry lines included behemoths like Google, MSN search, Yahoo search in the playing field.

After a cocktail party at the mezzanine and a tour through the extremely lively-looking offices (complete with Portuguese sponge bob caricatures on the elevator doors), we headed home. Not one to call it a night so soon, a bunch of us headed off on foot to find a mall and a place to get some beers. A few buckets of beer and fantastic conversation later, we’re home and hitting the sack. Day1 and a number of road crossings later, Toso (my Japanese classmate) is still safe and sound – he needs watching when crossing the road!

Story so far - Muito Bon!

PS. It’s hard to get by if you don’t know Portuguese or Italian. But you learn soon enough because the Brazilians are amazingly friendly.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Exhausted but excited

Finals are finally over! Our last subject, management communications or MC, is a paper that we have to turn in by tomorrow. I had grandiose plans (of course what else?!) of writing that paper before finals week and turning it in as an early bird. Predictably that did not happen. So this evening, when I was exhausted from giving my neglected apartment some much needed attention, when I should have been and could have been relaxing and taking a nap or catching up with friends, I was laboring through that 4 page MC paper. And what a time to have writer’s block! That 4 page writing was my most agonizing writing yet! This was more agonizing than when I would go for those creative writing competitions where there was nothing creative because you had to write on a given topic – and I would rebel on the grounds that creativity could not be contained in boundaries (topics) and so I would not write with my usual enthusiasm.

Tonight was a section D reunion – one I’ve been waiting for – and I didn’t go. I was just too exhausted, I fell asleep fully dressed. I would have probably slept all night if the phone had not woke me up. I spoke on the phone for a very long time with an old friend today. I had not called him since I got here and I had not realized how much I’d missed out on in these months that I’ve been living inside the Darden bubble. I love this place, but every time I re-establish contact with the outside world that I lived in before I came here, I feel guilty about how I’ve cut myself off. I left one rat race behind only to join another one. I sometimes wonder why we, as people, do this to ourselves.

I haven’t packed or anything for Brazil… which is so unlike me. I’m a compulsive list maker and take a fair amount of time getting ready for a trip. This is why I’m sitting here, sleepy and exhausted, with the idea of writing out my list, but instead typing out a post. I am not even sure what our agenda in Sao Paulo looks like. I am just glad that I’m getting a break from here – these past few months have been exhausting, physically and mentally. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather be spending this coming week sitting at home in the ville and being a vegetable, I know that looking back, I’d kick myself for doing that.

Here’s to new experiences… after all, that’s what this life is for!

Friday, February 27, 2009

End of Q3, Start of Spring

This week saw the wrap up of Q3 of the first year. The quarter flew by faster than anyone expected and I guess before I know it, summer break will be here too but let’s not go there.

Once we got over the initial bewilderment of new sections and new faces, this quarter proved to be great fun. I learnt a ton, and actually started falling in love with a few subjects that I was absolutely petrified of earlier. Finance this quarter was great fun and I can’t wait for second year when I will hopefully get to take the Valuations elective – I envy the folks that are taking that elective next quarter because the professor is one of the best in Darden. Another subject that I kind of got my head around was DA – something I’d struggled with in Q1. Econ for this quarter was extremely informative and I wish I could have taken the elective next quarter but that’s choc full. All in all, we had a great couple of months and with finals next week, I only hope I will do justice to all that I learnt. We wrapped up classes with the social reps organizing lunch after the last class yesterday. And another great way to wrap up the quarter was the election of LP, my Section D and Section V superstar, as the DSA President and K-Mart as DSA VP and special congratulations to fellow blogger Jackie for NAWMBA President.

This quarter is also the last one where learning teams will meet. Next quarter onwards, because of electives, most learning teams choose not to meet. My own team chose not to meet this quarter, but we kept the support going for the most part through emails and exchanges of information. A couple of team based simulation exercises brought us together a few times this quarter and each time it’s been a ton of fun. Most LTs had LT corridor parties – all the teams in a particular corridor had beer + snacks parties. Tonight my team is
meeting for dinner at a new Thai place at Barracks and I am really looking forward to catching up with the gang.

With the end of this quarter I guess it’s also the end of winter in some ways – it’s 6pm and there’s still light out. With the fantastic weather we’ve been having over the last couple of days, I’m feeling strangely relaxed. I’m just hoping it doesn’t lead to complacence because there’s a lot of cramming I need to do over this weekend.

Same time next week I’ll be done with finals and packing up to go to Brazil on my GBE. I’m SO excited!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On being grown up

These past few weeks have required me to make a number of decisions on a whole range of things. There’s some on the personal side, some professional, some just plain “life” things. I hate how I get when I have to make these seemingly big choices; I just internalize and think about it until it consumes me and then suddenly I make up my mind and I’m back up again. And just when I think I could not have thought any more, I find myself revisiting the choices I’ve made only to discover there is room for more thought. I am not sure if I’m just more fickle than others – going by the track record I’m not so much, but I do tend to over analyze. It’s never a good thing I guess.

That’s the thing about being grown up. A lot of my choices and decisions have been one way streets with no room to change my mind later and with no one to look up to for advice. Some have been easy to make out of intuition and hard to back up with logic. Others have checked out fine by all sense and logic but then intuition plays spoil sport… a classic head vs heart war dance. Sometimes it’s not even so much of a choice as an attempt just to find out some options to choose from. And you know how they say life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans? There were some things that were creeping up on me that I had no idea about until I woke up one morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sigh. I have made my choices and there’s no going back now. I normally assure myself that I have done right by seeing how easily I move on after I’ve decided. In some cases in these past few weeks, I have moved on almost overnight – out with the old and in with the new. But some things have not been that easy, and there is that dull ache of regret. After a whole of quarter of making complex models to solve go/no-go issues with airlines, oil rigs and movie sequels, I discovered that unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), not all of life’s dilemmas can be represented on a decision tree with clear cut EMVs and probabilities where you just pick the best one and get on with it. If only it were that simple.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Joining the dots

Warning: Long post ahead.
Somewhere in the Darden website there is a page that talks about the integrated curriculum at the school. I thought it was pretty cool when I came across it the first time and I also remember talking about it in my interview. Once in school, there were many weeks when we would do cases in different subjects on the same firm – a lot of times these were narrow focus subjects (looking at the balance sheet or their marketing strategy) and I always thought it was kind of remarkable how the course directors designed our courses such that they came up that way. But this quarter it’s a little more than just remarkable.

Last week, we covered Brazil in more than one subject. So we learnt about it economics, then in finance, and tracing the country’s economic and financial history over the years for one case helped me understand some of the exchange rate discussions we touched upon in finance. And since I’m going to Brazil during spring break I hope that with all that I have learnt about it so far and the reading I am going to do before I get there, I can bridge the time gaps (between the cases and now) to hopefully understand the country better.

And while we’re on countries, I have to tell you, our macroecon class has taken on an interesting avatar this quarter. Every case we are doing is based on a country and in order to give us a background, often there are a couple of pages on the history. It helps us appreciate and understand the causes of the country’s economic picture at the point in time that the case talks about. A lot of times we are forced to acknowledge that not all solutions to a country’s eoconimic problems lie in monetary or fiscal policy and that the customs, politics and people are an important consideration. Sometimes it is none of those but a fallout of something that plagued a whole different continent, that the country in question is paying for. In a sense, each of these cases has felt like a mini capsule of history lesson from a more economic viewpoint. we have traversed South East Asia, Africa and Latin America so far while next week we’re spending a good deal of time on the flavor du jour, India and China. And in all our discussions, the recurrent undercurrent is the importance of ethics in all the decisions that we will be called upon to make once we re-enter the work force.

Similarly, we focused a lot on the airline industry this quarter – nearly every subject has had a case on the airline industry, by focusing on a single airline company and its dynamics with the other players in the industry. Knowing nothing about the airline industry before this, except from the perspective of a traveller, this case took us deep into the industry and a number of interesting view points and insider ideas came about during our class discussions. And in questioning why our course directors decided to give us such an indepth view into the industry, we found out something really important about researching and case writing – it’s all about finding the right amount of public yet correct data!

Another highlight of last week was the first blogger meeting that I could make it to. Sitting over there, chomping on pizza and sharing insights with a bunch of the coolest people in school (and the blogosphere, I think!), I really felt the power all of us carried with us, in our attempt at bridging information from inside Darden to the world outside. It was easy to see why we were all there – because we believe in the school, in the method and in our community and because we are so passionate about this system.

Changing gears a little bit here, I wanted to tell you something interesting about the case method – how class participation is graded here at Darden. In most first year courses, our participation counts for about 40% of our course grade and I would wonder how the points were allotted. So during one of our strategy classes, as we recapped the discussion we had on the previous day’s case on Google, our professor actually recapped the entire class in under 5 minutes, talking about the key insights that the class brought out including pointing out the students that made these insights. He remembered exactly how the discussion flowed and what we concluded and nicely summed it up with what we were supposed to have taken away from it. I guess the key to the case method system of learning is to be able to do just that in order to arrive at the take away and the lessons learnt from that particular class, to cut through the meandering flow that sometimes takes place in a particularly obtuse case.

In other words, in the case method, you have to step back every once in a while to tie it all back in, to join the dots, sit back and say aha, because what emerges is nothing short of a work of art!


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