Monday, November 22, 2010

A look back at Kellogg Courses: Fall 2009

The thanksgiving break gave me some time to reflect on the Kellogg courses that I have taken so far, and what I have learned from them. So I decided to do a rundown of the courses I took, specifically relevant to anyone applying to Kellogg or anyone at Kellogg deciding between courses. These are Fall 2009 courses; will analyze other quarters in subsequent blog posts.

Fall 2009

Leadership in Organizations (MORS-470): This is a compulsory, pre-term course that students take with their sections. The main lessons taught in the course are related to decision-making, persuading and motivating people, making change happen, culture and negotiation. This course discussed several topics from some of my favorite books on leadership. Since one does not get to choose the professor for the course, I was glad I got Professor Galinsky for the course. He has done extensive research on several topics taught on the course, and manages class dynamics very well to make for a very entertaining class environment.

The only problem with this course, and with other MORS courses in general is that it takes a while to change one's own habits to incorporate everything learned in the class. Some of the lessons can be applied immediately. As an example, I used some of the things I learned around how to structure where people sit to build the right kind of environment, in last year's MIT Sales competition.However the other lessons are still in the book/coursepack, waiting to be applied. If only changing habits was easy. Still, lot of Kellogg Alumni have told me that they remember and use lessons from MORS courses more so than any other course.

Business Strategy (MGMT-431): This course serves as an introductory course to Business Strategy, again compulsory for all Kellogg students. You take this course with your section; in my case, I took it with my MMM section. The format is one lecture and one case per week. The course teaches basics of Business Strategy, including competitive strategy, competitive advantage, industry analysis, horizontal and vertical integration, and game theory. In essence, it teaches one to apply basic strategy framework to solve problems.

One interesting part of the course was a final project in which we were allowed to choose any company interested in launching electric cars, and analyze and critique one part of their strategy. My team and I analyzed the launch of the Chevy Volt, and came up with several interesting hypothesis. In the event, we made the argument why Chevy Volt should not accept the initial suggestions we had; the professor was OK with that sort of positioning, as long as we defended it well.

Again, I got lucky in the fact that we got Professor Busse as our teacher. She was by far one of the most prepared and enthusiastic professors I have come across. Her slides and examples were amazing, and helped me tremendously in preparing for consulting interviews. I referred to the slide that I put together for the finals of this course often during the interview.

Marketing Management (MKTG-430): This course is an introduction to marketing concepts such as 4Cs, 3Ps, STP etc. One of the biggest misconceptions that people with a non-marketing background like me have that marketing was all about advertising and PR. Instead, the course teaches marketing from a strategic perspective; how do you determine which markets to enter based on your competitive advantages, how to segment and select the right targets for your products, how to price products etc.

My professor for the course was Professor Hennessy, who in my opinion, is one of the best marketing professors in the world. She combines years of experience as a senior marketing executive, practical experience in consulting with clients such as Microsoft and Target, and her awesome sense of humor to create a very engaging environment in the classroom. I hardly ever looked at the clock in her class; the hour and a half went by so fast. She also invests a lot in helping students; her last class is always a guide on how to market yourself in recruiting.

One of the questions that I often get is what course should a first year student take in the fall if he/she is recruiting for consulting - Marketing, or Finance? I strongly recommend Marketing; several cases tend to have a big marketing component, from New Market Entry, New Product Launch, Profitability analysis etc.

Accounting For Decision Making (ACCT-430-0): Accounting. You always need it. It's almost never fun. That being said, I did get a great teacher, Professor Sridharan. He is very patient and teaches the concepts several times, which is very helpful for someone coming from a non-accounting background like me. He is also very nice, and I felt bad if I was ever behind in class because of that!

I have not covered two half-credit courses that I took in the first quarter; Analytical Methods for Operations, and Design. Both of them are MMM specific and have changed substantially even in one year.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Business School Perceptions

Recently, I came across a link to a NPR show 'On Point' which hosted Dean Blount (Kellogg), Dean Noria (HBS) and Dean Lyons (Berkeley Haas). The show addressed questions such as what Business schools can do to help reboot the American economy.

The show was fascinating - the big question was why do 60% of students go into Finance or Consulting (myself included)? And are these students doing nothing but the same financial engineering, and over-priced consulting 'value add' that doesn't get the economy itself? I have some counter-arguments:

1. While you might not like finance and consulting, they are essential parts of the economy. Financial services are needed for smoothly functioning capital markets, access to capital for entrepreneurs, loans etc. Yes, there are a lot of people making loads of money for what seems like little value-add, but the simple answer is, these services are essential. Should compensation for bankers go down in the long run? Perhaps they should - or perhaps compensation for successfully building businesses should go up to match that. What about consulting? The fact is that it is an essential, and often, immensely valuable service for large companies. Consultants help these companies complement their existing talent pool, bring in expertise from outside the company, and a much needed outsider's perspective. Are there wasted projects? Of course there are. But there is waste everywhere - manufacturing, startups etc.

2. Second, one must look through not just where B School grads go immediately after school, but also, what they do later in life. So many ex-consultants and bankers end up as key executives in large companies, or as Entrepreneurs and investors in Startups. These professions are great in helping people 'polishing' several skills. Do they teach people how to launch and build companies? No, but they can complement existing skills that people come in with.

While the show itself was interesting, what was more interesting was the comments that people left on the website. Take a look at some of them.

"My impression of the kids coming out of business schools today is that the business they are taught is not how to make a good product, how to sell it, or provied good business service but instead are being taught how to weed every little percentile out of their customers which doesn’t provide good business.

No one is interested in manufacturing or making anything – just passing that piece of paper or bundle of mortgages and credit card debt around and around like magical chairs until the last person holding gets burnt.

"I don’t have much respect or confidence for our business school graduates today."

"Many of our finest insightful and innovative economists have commented that business education is more of a problem for our economy than an advantage. (ex:Tom Hudson,Nouriel Roubini, Ravi Batra) Ann’s remarks about financialization describe their critique well. Why are we wasting so many education dollars on business degrees that turn our talented students into brainwashed predators in service to oligarchic interests? People who needed some accounting and management training used to attend inexpensive business academies, and leave their ethics intact. I was dismayed recently when exposed to the financially and ponzi oriented business propoganda being spouted at, of all places, the YMCA. Father and sons slave-catchers was about the limit, I’d thought. The lottery mentality (as taught MBAs) is driving us all crazy and keeping us from desperately needed real work."

"So, 5% of HBS is “solving important problems” — but the other 95% are figuring out how to swindle America: Goldman Sachs et al Cabal (see Baseline Scenario and other blogs), A.C. Nielson on-line data “scrapers” and J&J, Merck and pharma-cons. C’mon, Tom, ask some pointed questions and force the HBS Dean and GS “education leader” to get off their talking points. This is not informative at all."

You get the point. But this made me think: is this what the 'rest' of America thinks of B Schools? Or is there a self-selection bias on who leaves comments on this blog? Ah, I wonder...