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!


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