2. The starting Point- Reality
8. A new Outlook
9. Where do I go from here?
Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it, Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)
I graduated on July 7 2005 from the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium, ranked 1st in Belgium, 5th in Europe and 12th in the World according to the Economist Intelligence Unit ranking of b-schools. It has been exactly 3 months, as of today, and I am currently unemployed. In exactly a month I shall turn 31 years of age, it is stressful.
A little bit of history is important to understand where I am coming from and where I was planning to go hence the steps that I have taken in my life. This may read like a resume, as this is the only structured format to use when trying to explain in as little words a lot about oneself.
Born-7.11.1974, Madras, India
From 1974 to 1992, I had a great time being a child, passing through adolescence, learning to mature and going to school.
1992, Senior Secondary high school-Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, New Delhi, India
1997, Indian Law Society College, Bachelor of Science of Law and Bachelor of Law, BSL, LLB, Pune University , Pune, India
1997-1998- worked for a corporate law firm specializing in arbitration in New Delhi India
1999, Duke Law School, Duke University, Master of Law, LLM, North Carolina, USA
1999-2000, worked, for a German corporate law firm, specializing in mergers and acquisition and Indian German bilateral trade and business agreements,
2000-2004, joined, a start up Software Company in Germany, specializing in business development and mergers and acquisitions
2004-2005, set up my own, niche boutique-consulting firm in Stuttgart, specializing in maturing Indian and European business relations through legal and business strategy advice
2005, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, Master of Business Administration, MBA, Leuven, Belgium
I also studied in many summer school programs that included visits to beautiful countries like Spain, where I did a strategy course at EADE business school in 2005. France where I was the given the chance to take part in strategy session on value innovation at CEDEP, associated with INSEAD at Fontainebleau in 2004. Hong Kong, I did a summer program on international law at the Hong Kong law school in 1998 and Israel where I learnt to do manual labor as a volunteer on a kibbutz in 1995.
I believe that I have finally matured into an adult after my MBA as in these 30 years I have learned a lot, seen a lot, honed my instincts and understand my value better. The MBA has allowed to carefully making the transition, from being a corporate lawyer to becoming a businessperson who understands business with all its underlying challenges in all functionality. Not to say that I don’t know anything about everything but I know something about a little and a lot more about other functionalities like strategy and finance to make a difference to an organization. I also know what I want to do since I started the MBA and today when I am unemployed.
My working experience started out as a lawyer in a leading law firm in India with a great mentor who guided me in the finer skills of arbitration and negotiations and in choosing my law school finally lead me to work in Germany for another leading law firm. Probably my immaturity, learning curiosity and entrepreneurial risk taking appetite led me to join a software company afterwards, to work in a multi cultural German environment in the good old days of the internet bubble and to live through the bubble bursting in 2001. Survival would be one of my strengths along with determination and process orientation that have helped me in overcoming barriers that I have faced in my career and in my life.
Overcoming obstacles through sheer determination to persevere when everything seems lost could also be the reasons why I have never looked away from a gift-horse holding opportunities. Could be a Trojan horse! To be also read as my weakness along with arrogance in trying to know everything. Taking one-step at a time but thinking of the next step in the near future and planning exit strategies probably were my triggers to setting up my own consulting business prior to completing my MBA.
The MBA itself is a machine, before I even entered the program I brainwashed myself into believing how I was going to understand the big picture better. Something like the advertisement from DHL where a woman leads this young man to a photocopying machine and gives him a huge stack of paper to photocopy and he looks at her with consternation saying “but I am an MBA I have to be running this company”. Two of my engineer friends took me back to school and taught me math hour after hour, day after day. You have to be lucky, quick with numbers, fast with estimations and good at guessing if you truly would like to sound intelligent let alone be intelligent, is what I believe makes a difference at the end of the day, maybe personality also helps.
How did I choose my MBA program?
In my opinion, B-schools are businesses that have a responsibility to their customers (students), their employees and the objective to create stakeholder value, which includes society at large. Students play an important role in enhancing this value by working efficiently with the management of the school and learning how to add real and intrinsic worth to themselves, the school and society.
Students arrive at business school searching for knowledge, better career choices and diverse international understanding of cultures and businesses. At the same time, obtaining good value for money.
This translates into class composition (smaller the class size the more interactive it is), students to professor ratios (you do want your professors to have time for you), a good alumni network (networking is nearly everything!), partnerships (corporate and foundation partners of the school: possible future employers), great career services (you want the guarantee that these people care for you). All of this for the right present value as this is your investment today for a pretty uncertain future.
In return, the schools expect that you meet the cut off (GMAT), are entrepreneurially minded (confident, determined, self confident, self aware, ready to accept challenges and have vision), adaptable to change (flexibility in times of adversity), have a good IQ, CQ (cultural intelligence) and EQ, have superior social skills (empathy, good listener) and ready to learn and work with diverse cultures and in various roles.
When B-schools and students share the same goals, real value is created by the close nexus between the schools success and your success. Schools spend quality time in honing soft skills in future managers, teaching them the art of leadership, respecting fellow international students, working in diverse cultural groups, understanding international business, and creating a sense of empathy, trust and fellowship between the students and professors.
Another way in which value is created is when schools develop strong partnerships with leading companies and institutions so that students get to work at and solve real problems. This gives the school credibility and the student the security and confidence prior to starting their post MBA career.
I think that a value innovator school is one that can differentiate itself in terms of providing a positive experience and at the same time maintain low costs. This is the real value proposition that a student is looking for – a MBA program as good as the best, only at a lower price!
So I turn to school pricing. Is this the real value of a MBA or is this the value of international brand recognition? If you had to discount the brand name then what is the value of your MBA?
I found that a good school distinguishes itself by being innovative and creating a market within an existing saturated market by making the competition irrelevant. This can be achieved by lowering their cost entry barriers due to their credibility with their partners and other organizations that shall pay the difference.
My decision to choose Vlerick over INSEAD or Rotterdam was based on making comparisons between the schools offerings, pricing of program, its position and history, the class composition, sex ratio, teaching methods, specialisation courses, in company placement programs, faculty and lastly alumni. I visited the three schools, met with last years students, compared prospectus and came to my conclusion that for what I wanted from my MBA, Vlerick had the best offering. It can also be argued that maybe that is the reason why I am still unemployed but that is a what if scenario.
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Well, the MBA was suppose to be the door to opportunity and also getting the opportunity to use my present knowledge along with the knowledge that I earned at B school along with my 50 class mates from 25 different countries. It has allowed me to make many new interesting friends who have shared their experiences and we have had a great time in a new country while learning everything about management of business.
The last motivating factor of doing an MBA is the amount of money one is paid for the crazy hours one has to put in being a successful manager / leader.
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Source: "The Wall Street Journal Guide to the Top Business Schools, 2006" (Random House Reference).
That is only the average starting salaries, based on experience it can go up or down. This salary is representative of the top ten schools according to another ranking.
Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game, Donald Trump (1946 - )
So looking at my life today, I made a list and it looked like this when looking at the top ten most important things, all of which equally weighted, in my life as of now. Ranking them on a scale of ten where ten was the highest:
1) Money-4, spent it all on the MBA and other long term investments
2) Love-8, probably because my girlfriend is awesome and I am happy
3) Sex-8, as above
4) Work-4, keep myself busy but no truly positive cash flow
5) House-2 don’t own one if you don’t include family owned property
6) Family-8, my parents, my brother and my dogs are always there with their support and positive criticism
7) Health-6, fitness is important if one has to focus especially if you are unemployed
8) Popular-6, not a rock star but have friends
9) Interesting-8, done a lot of interesting things, have a lot of things to do to keep myself busy
10) Life- 6, average of all of the above, overall outlook in life is good but it could be better and become 7 or an 8
My total score would then be a humble 60 out of 100. Looking at the starting MBA salaries, looking at my age, looking at my education and looking at my overall development, until this day..
Things have to change overall and the starting point was to write about it and do it.
When in doubt, tell the truth, Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it, Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)
July 7th 2005, started out as a cold rainy day in Leuven, Belgium, we were graduating and there was to be a big party and dinner afterwards for our class of 50 MBA graduates. Twenty-five countries were represented and a lot of different opinions and ideas on how to get jobs that are suppose to be handed out equitably to all people based on their qualifications and experience. Some of us had found jobs, some of us had gone back to old jobs, some of us were taking vacations to unwind from a grueling but awesome fun filled education trip and some of us were wondering worriedly what if we had missed the job train already and had no place for solace as we were out of b-school. I probably fall into the last category of people and knew that I had interviews, the skills and the determination to succeed but had still not found any job even if I had started my interviews early in the beginning of the year.
It was a great ceremony filled with speeches about how we had made a difference, and were going to change the free world in our own way and were MBA’s finally. No long hours studying, no sleepless nights wondering about projects and group work, no papers left to deliver, yesterday. Time was in our hands, it is a crazy feeling to all of a sudden, have a lot of time on your hands knowing that if you enjoy it then you probably will, feel guilty that you did not use your time wisely and hence you are unemployed. On the other hand, if you spend it wisely searching for jobs and missing the beautiful summer and still do not have a job then you feel guilty that you did not spend your time wisely enjoying yourself.
A b-school friend from Australia had said, if you have to go and drink a beer then go and drink it, as that is time well spent. Maybe he is right, but I think it is how you look at the picture, who you are, where you come from and lastly most simple and self-explanatory point do you have the money to do it at all.
I had a long list of interviews which I had to prepare and was very self confident that I would succeed in one of them or I would enjoy the experience of getting interviewed by some of the world best strategy consulting firms, leading niche industry players, multinational conglomerates and IT companies. My job opportunity pipeline was full and I am ready to start this adventure. As I live in Germany, I had to move back to Germany and had to plan that accordingly with my interviews. Apartment in Leuven had to given back and was rented until September. Question to answer was should I sublet it or just leave it and go back to Germany. I decided that for the initial round for interviews I would stay in Belgium, then move back to Germany in August, and use my apartment in Belgium as a stopover apartment.
The first few days after graduation my girlfriend and I went around Belgium sightseeing. Liege, Antwerp, Brussels, Ostend, a whirlwind of a tour spending a day in each location enjoying the world famous mussels and oysters and other Belgian delicacies that include the 160 different types of beer before heading back to Leuven. She went back to Stuttgart and I started preparing for my interviews during the day and meeting my classmates that were still in Leuven in the evenings to discuss our individual progress. How does one use the time in a day successfully without sleeping it away.
Planned Daily Routine
1. Wake up at 7.45
2. Go jogging for 30 minutes
3. work out for 30 minutes
4. Have breakfast at 9
5. Read newspapers and look at the financial markets performance from 9.00 to 10.30
6. Start applying for jobs at 10.30
7. Lunch break at 12.30
8. Start studying various companies (annual reports) from 2.00 to 5.00
9. Read a book and go for dinner at 7
10. Evenings meet friends or prepare for interviews by practicing case studies, and estimation
11. Write a page about anything which basically meant about what I am going through
12. Go to sleep between 1 or 2
I managed to wake up every day at 7.45 but the jogging was cancelled due to Belgian weather, the work out took place sporadically everything else took place subject to meetings with my friends and other more pressing engagements like sleeping, traveling back and forth between Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium, going for interviews and washing clothes.
Reality is that I am unemployed after my MBA even if I just graduated. The trick to the MBA is too getting employment while completing your MBA. I tried that and some how kept missing the train. I think that there are many reasons as to why I did not get the jobs during my MBA:
1. Analytical skills not as high as expected
2. No working permit for the EU
3. Too honest and outspoken
4. No proven skill set in that particular industry
At least I still had time to work on some of these points like points one and three as the other two points were beyond my locus of control. It is all about practice, the more interviews you get the more practice you have in telling the same story better.
For example, why did you leave your last job?
a. The company was downsizing and my position was terminated. b. My last employer was a total idiot and the company was not doing so well. c. I really did not care for any of the politics at the old company. d. I had reached the peak of my learning curve and could not contribute any more to the growth.
All of the above are fine as long as you can make it come across positively without any spite. Well, it would also greatly depend on who is interviewing you. I always tried to find out everything about my interviewer before I went in to an interview. All the above answers could be used in an interview depending on the tone of the interview the relationship that you have built with your interviewer. Perhaps for answer number b, this would be too honest.
I remember my first interview with a strategy-consulting firm, very classy. I was still in the MBA program and hence was in Belgium on my way to an exchange program with another B-school in Barcelona, Spain. The interview was scheduled in Germany, in German over a period of two days. All the participants arrived Friday evening, invited to dinner with some partners, then the next day at eight the first round of interviews started lasting until twelve. Then there was a lunch break after which a decision was made as to who made the second round after which was the final round of interviews ending at seven in the evening. I arrived from Barcelona, Spain, tired, exited, nervous, and ready to impress, impress, impress. I met participants from a variety of B-schools including IMD, LBS, HEC and even one from the Chicago business school. We were all MBA students searching for jobs. First round of interviews was general, intelligence testing, second round was case studies, and the final round was presentations and working in groups. I made it through the first round and came to the second round where I was presented with two different cases dealing with logistic issues. I was ill prepared and never made it out of that interview.
Later on I realized that my preparation was not complete as I knew the complete story of the firm, its financials, its customers, its competition, its business model but I had not prepared myself well enough for the case studies that were presented.
I learnt a lot from this very first strategy-consulting interview. It made me want to go back and ask for a second chance but I realized that it is a real world out there and few of those other MBA students were better prepared to answer the questions asked. How can I perform better than someone else can, when I do not know what the other person is asked?
Came back to B-school and went straight back to the grind, competing to see who gets the maximum interviews its quantity that counts not quality, hah, its quality and not quantity. Whatever, it is getting a job that counts at the end of the day and not which method is better. Interviews, studying in groups, talking to ones peers about processes and also some of the others who were consultants themselves or had worked in HR to get better ideas is all very exhilarating and makes the MBA a great experience.
It is July, schools over and the month is still and moving slowly day for day, hour for hour, second for second. My computer and I are inseparable, looking at my computer the whole time waiting for interviews to come through job offers to be made. Once in a while, a friend calls saying, hey, I got it made and I am filled with awe and admiration for them. I ask them what they did, how they approached the companies and what was asked in their interviews, how long did it take from offer to signing. I tell myself, if they can do it so can I and go back to the grind.
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