Monday, August 30, 2010

Cohort B's Boathouse Bash

Last Friday, my cohort had a party at Bachelor's Boathouse on the Schulkyill River. One of my cohort mates' parents are members of the boathouse and allowed us to rent top floor of the boathouse for a party. The event was a potluck so I ordered samosas and pakoras from San Samosa (I have no idea how to make those things!). It was a warm, summer evening and a great night for a party. I'm pretty sure no other cohort had a party this cool. The view from the boathouse was nice, though not as nice as the Charles River of course. Ah, this takes me back to my crew days. Swanky parties on the river banks, I guess this is what b-schools is all about?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Learning Team Retreat

I just got back from the Learning Team Retreat in Iriquois Springs, New York. The point of the retreat was for first year MBA students to to meet their learning teams and build leadership and teamwork skills with them. I already knew my learning team because all healthcare MBA students in a cohort will be on the same learning team. Thus when I met my cohort 3 weeks ago, I knew who my learning team would be.

We left at 6:30am from campus on Saturday morning and returned at 7pm on Sunday night. The retreat consisted of a lot team building simulations, most of which I had done before. I'm fairly skeptical of the value that simulations provide, because they are so different from what we'll actually be doing as a learning team. I've also done them several times, so it's hard to get excited about yet another 'trust fall'. The camp itself was beautiful, although it rained on Sunday, which prevented us from going in the canoe (and possibly canoe tipping, which is the main reason to canoe).

The highlight of the weekend was the free time on Saturday night, which I spent playing dodge ball in a cohort competition. Cohort B, my cohort won the tournament, beating A, C, D, E, F, and G. Many of those cohorts joined forces to play us, since we had all our team playing but they each had half of their cohort playing. I did not get injured, thankfully, but many others did. Stretching and warming up are crucial - I can't stress that enough.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Competitive Strategy

My big win of the pre-term auction was Competitive Strategy, taught by Nicolaj Siggelkow (the professor who delivered our convocation address). It was a fascinating lecture on the nature of business competition. The 10 key factors currently affecting competition, according to Siggelkow, are:

1. Supply of natural resources
2. Speed of globalization
3. Trust in large corporations
4. Role of government
5. Consumption around the world
6. Growth of Asia
7. Speed of innovation
8. Future price stability
9. Aging population
10. Trust in models

We discussed a few interesting case studies. The first one was about the car industry and Toyota. Toyota has the most efficient manufacturing processes and Ford (or was it Chrysler) had tried everything to replicate Toyota's efficiency in their own plants. They failed, and eventually installed Toyota managers into one of their plants in exchange for helping Toyota sell into the American market. The lesson here was that it was the tactics used by the Japanese managers that did the trick.

The second case study though was Southwest. Southwest is incredibly successful through it's low cost, efficient model. Other airlines tried to copy Southwest by forming their own low cost subsidiary airlines, but were unsuccessful. The lesson from this case was that it's not 1 particular thing that creates a sustainable competitive advantage - it's about the system. And the system is harder to replicate.

Phillies vs. Giants

I bid 500 points on the Phillies game in the pre-term auction, thinking that the game would be expensive. The clearing price was only 10. The Giants won, 5-2. This was an important game since both teams are 2nd place in their division and are competing against each other for a wild card slot. But, few people from the Wharton crowd were focused on the game. Given that 35% of our class is international, many people didn't know how the game was played (just like kickball). Even I am not as passionate about Bay Area sports as I once was. Around 2004/5, I started losing interest (the demise of Barry Bonds and the departure of Steve Young). I eventually got bored and left the game in the 7th inning stretch. It's going to be a busy weekend with the Finance placement exam on Friday, another small group dinner on Friday night, and the learning team retreat on Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cohort Cup - Kickball!

Our first inter-cohort competition has ended - cohort kickball. What is kickball you might ask? That's a great question, given that half the people playing today didn't know the rules. But that's okay. Kickball is essentially 11-man baseball but instead of hitting a baseball with a bit you kick a red bouncy ball (the kind you used in foursquare when you were a kid).
Cohort B, my cohort, aka the Killer Bees did quite well. We were one of the last 3 teams when I went home due to injury (right quad and left calf). I must be getting older because I can't remember the last time I pulled a calf muscle. Need to stretch more.

Each of the 12 cohorts participated in an elimination style tournament. We beat Cohort A (our in-cluster rivals) and then C before losing to K. K played G but the game went into extra innings. When I left at7:45pm the game was still going on (the day started at 3pm). It was raining off and on all day.

The quote of the day, by Scott, my cohort-mate: "It's kind of sad that the best play in kickball is a slow roller to 3rd". True, because anything in the air is usually caught. Your best play is to bunt the ball to 3rd.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vision before Execution

Today I attended a seminar called 'Vision before Execution', taught by Eric Clemons. I won this class in the pre-term auction. The topic of the class was essentially 'Risk Management' and how to predict undesirable events in the future. This can be done by analyzing patterns - 'remembering the future'. The class was a nice contrast to my other, more quant heavy pre-term classes (finance, accounting, managerial economics, and statistics). To be honest, I don't totally understand what the seminar was about, but it was entertaining. Some analogies cited were:

1) What to do when you're driving 150mph and your breaks don't work (turn off engine)
2) What to do when you land at an airport and 750 people are in line at customer service (book a hotel for a week)
3) Predicting the quagmire in Iraq (when people are fighting for non-economic reasons, it's hard to win)

It was nice to use a different part of my brain (the philosophical / conceptual part) for a change. Professor Clemons went on many tangents, and spent quite a bit of time talking about Brewmaster's Guild. In addition to consulting for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense, Professor Clemons is a beer reviewer, works for Victory (a Philly brewery), and is an expert on barbeques.

The most important lesson from the lecture? Hop Devil by Victory is apparently a great beer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Like a Ton of Bricks

Among other things, surfing is about persistence, and that's a lesson I learned today. I went surfing in Ocean City, NJ with 3 other Wharton classmates and had a great time though it was the hardest surfing I've done.

We left Philly at 6:30am and were in the water at 8:30am. We had 3 - 5 feet waves with weak onshore winds. I bought a rash guard (a tight shirt to protect the chest from scrapes and rashes) but it wasn't that effective. I rode a 9 feet board for 1 hour of the 1.5 hours I was in the water. The waves were 'pitchy' meaning that they crested quickly and broke abruptly, near shore. Apparently, this is how all of the surfing is on the east coast. I've been surfing 8 times in Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Jaco (Costa Rica), Wakiki (Hawaii), Rabat (Morocco), and Oualidia (Morocco). All of the places I've surfed have had slower, rolling waves of a maximum of 2-3 feet.

Today's surfing was quite a bit harder. Wipe outs were more intense, which I wasn't prepared for. Getting pummelled by a wave was like being hit by a ton of bricks. Just swimming out 100 feet to the surfing spot was hard enough because one had to get through 4-5 strong waves. Several times I was knocked back to shore and had to start over. I was fairly defeated and demoralized about half way through the day. Today's session felt like white water rafting in Costa Rica back in 2003, when I rafted a choppy river just after it had rained and our raft flipped twice. I was shaken and didn't want to get back in the water for the rest of the trip, though I eventually did.

However, today I learned some new techniques for getting through waves out to the surf spot, which involved some combination of the following: ducking under the wave, leaning into the wave, jumping when the wave approached, turning sideways to let the water go past me, etc. After about an hour I got tired and switched to a classmate's body board. I wore fins, which made it harder to walk. However, with a body board, it's much easier to get through the waves because you can just swim through the waves and let the board come with you (it's attached to your bicep). The critical lesson I learned was that the force of the wave is highest right at the break point. So do your best to avoid hanging out in the spot where the wave breaks. Today, you would only get smacked around. But with waves that are over 6 feet, you could end up paralyzed or with a broken board. Not a good situation to be in.

While I barely got up on the board for about .5 seconds, today was an important day of learning. East coast surfing is tougher, and requires persistence to get through the waves and to recover from wipe outs. 3 feet waves feel like 10 feet waves, and wipe outs where your under water for 3 seconds feel like you're under water for 10 seconds: it feels worse than it looks. Mentally, I have to accept that almost every attempt to ride a wave is going to result in a wipe out, but when it happens I need to relax. In about 5 seconds (max), I'll be back up to the surface. I don't have great lung capacity but even I can hold my breath for about 30 seconds so there's no reason to panic. So I'm excited to get back to Ocean City for Round 2. The first time I was caught off guard, but next time I know what to expect. I plan to wear a wetsuit and bring a sizeable amount of determination to my surfing venture in Ocean City.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Marigold Kitchen

Yesterday I went to a 'Small Group Dinner' at Marigold, a Southern restaurant near campus at 45th and Larchwood. It was a high-end restaurant with pricey food, but the setting was fantastic (a house turned into a restaurant). We were seated in a private room upstairs. I've never had Southern food, and it was quite interesting. There were 10 of us at the dinner, and we were all from different cohorts. Conversation ranged from the conflict in Sudan to losing bets in drinking games to the Wharton Follies. For 10 people, we had 8 bottles of wine. How can you not have a great time with that ratio?

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The Wharton MBA Class of 2012 was treated to a lecture on the newest element discovered, 'Corporationium', delivered by Nicolaj Siggelkow. It was one of the sharpest and funniest speeches I've heard, and I guess the 4000 points or so that are need to win Professor Siggelkow's 'Competitive Strategy' class are well-deserved. After the speeches, the class gathered at the Penn Arts and Sciences Museum for a reception. The museum garden was just beautiful - it was the perfect setting for a reception. I enjoyed a nice, cold, lemonade with mint ice and cucumber. Very swanky. When will the royal treatment end? I hope never.

250 Words on Violin

I started learning violin from Smt. Anuradha Sridhar in 1989 when I was 8 years old. I was one of her first students. Before starting violin with Smt. Anuradha, I spent a few years playing Western Classical Violin and singing Carnatic music. Over the next 11 years, I immersed myself in Carnatic violin, and it soon became my primary activity outside of school. These 11 years were probably the most challenging in my life, because Anuradha demanded only the very best from us. During my time as Smt. Anuradha’s student, I played in several Thygaraja Aradhanas, a duet concert with Ravi Narsiman, and a solo concert in 1999 before I left for college.

My solo concert remains one of my proudest accomplishments. It was an affirmation of the philosophy of single-minded focus. That is, if you eliminate distractions, focus on one thing, and work hard, you can achieve something that few others will ever attempt. Reaching this goal at the young age of 17 did wonders for my self-confidence and has been the pillar upon which later successes were built. When up against another challenge – running the Boston marathon or getting through a difficult engineering class – I remember the primary lesson from my 11 years of violin. Namely, that success is not due to luck or magic, but results from passion and dedication. Thank you Smt. Anuradha for teaching me lessons that are as applicable to life as they are to music.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shot through the heart!

And you're too late! Darling you give love....a bad name. When that song comes on, you know it's a going to be a good night. And it was a great night on Monday when 76 of my healthcare classmates and I went to a random Chinese restaurant in Chinatown to eat a gigantic dinner and sing karaoke. Good times were had by all, fueled by Riesling wine and Tsingtao beer. I sang at every opportunity I could, and even did a duet with a classmate singing 'Zombie' by the Cranberries. The girls sang 'Uptown Girl' and the guys countered with Bonjovi's 'Shot through the heart' and Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. At one point, we were all doing the Thriller dance and forgot to sing. Even June got up on stage to sing. Ah, karaoke brings out the best in us. Did I mention that we were served 5x as much food as we could eat?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Wharton 'Sorting Hat'

Today I felt like I was in the world of Harry Potter, except my Hogwarts was Wharton. And England was Philadelphia. We finally received our cohort assignments shortly before introductory welcome speeches - I am in Cluster 1, Cohort B. My learning team will be comprised entirely of healthcare management majors, so I have some idea of who will be on my learning team. After the welcome speeches, we went to Koo plaza in Huntsman Hall for yet another meet and greet social. As usual I met more phenomenal people. My cohort has 4-5 ex military folks who have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm eager to learn more about their experiences. The more people I meet, the more I feel that I made the right decision to come to business school, and to Wharton in particular.

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