Archive for July, 2012

Summer Trip Pt. 2: Bulgaria

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

After the Western Balkans, an intermediate stop in my itinerary was Bulgaria, before going on to Turkey. After an overnight bus journey (with my name printed in cyrillic letters on it!) from Ohrid, I arrived in Sofia, where I stayed for four nights, with a day trip to the Rila Monastery, which is a two hours drive from Sofia in the mountains.

Sofia itself proved to be nice, even though on the first two days (admittedly, a weekend) it seemed as though the city was fast asleep. The city has some nice buildings and churches to offer, which mostly date from after the late 19th century, when Sofia became Bulgaria’s capital (even though the city had existed for much longer, it was only a small town by then). However, there are also some very old buildings such as the church St. Sofia, which gave the city its name.

Rila Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site, which is beautifully and secludedly located in the middle of the mountains. It is beautifully restored and has a quite unique appearance, with lots of black-and-white or red-and-white striped arches and walls, and beautiful mural paintings (some of which look like ancient comics).

Today, I left Bulgaria by plane for Turkey, and I have just arrived in Selçuc. I will remain in Turkey, first along the coast, and later in the middle of the country, for the rest of my summer trip (until end-August).

Some pictures follow.

P3 Academics

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

In P3 (May/June), for the first time I had the chance to pick and choose elective classes. Two classes, namely International Political Analysis and Macroeconomics, were mandatory, but for the remaining classes I had quite some choice. The INSEAD curriculum comprises at least 23.5 credits, 13 of with are covered by mandatory core classes, and 10.5 of which are freely selectable from the broad range of electives, which come as either full-credit or half-credit classes. In P3, I selected a total of 4.0 credits in electives, and in retrospect I picked classes that meant quite a lot of work load, more than in P1 or P2. However, this was also due to the fact that I found most of my classes very interesting and engaging and thus liked to put in some extra effort – but it meant that I had very little spare time, especially after factoring in the social activities which are not really mandatory, but nevertheless an important part of the MBA.

Here is my short wrapup and opinion on the classes I had in P3:

  • Macroeconomics in the Global Economy (MGE, core class) I never had a macroeconomics class before, but I still had often wondered how many of the figures that are ubiquitous in newspaper and other articles such as GDP, growth, interest rates, inflation etc. are related and what the mechanics behind those numbers are. Especially in today’s economy, with recession looming in many of the developed countries and the Eurozone crisis being fundamentally driven by many strongly macroeconomic factors and interdependencies, I found it really interesting to learn about the theories and what solutions to the current state of global economy they provide and more importantly, which they don’t. Professor Daniel Traca steered the course along a very structured approach and in a clear pyramid manner, distilling the most essential insights but providing more details for anyone interested – he only sometimes struggled to find the appropriate pace.
  • International Political Analysis (IPA, core class) IPA focused both on general non-market strategies that firms need to employ to do business (i.e., the impact that the political environment has on companies and vice versa) as well as the international political and institutional system and its relevance for global trade and business (e.g., the World Trade Organization and bilateral Free Trade Agreements). Professor Vinod Aggarwal, visiting professor from Berkeley, might be one of the most controversial profs I have so far encountered. His classes were no doubt entertaining, but his deliberately politically incorrect ways, a very strong emphasis on his own viewpoints, and a focus on discussion more than structure made it difficult for some students to like him.
  • Applied Corporate Finance (ACF, elective) ACF, taught by finance profs Pierre Hillion and Denis Gromb, takes the concepts taught theoretically in FMV (P1) and CFP (P2) and applies them to case studies. Workload-wise, this course was one of the heaviest I have taken so far, with six group case-writeups due over the course of the eight weeks, but it was very well worth the effort: It is quite different to learn about things like the cost of capital, the valuation of projects, or optimal capital structures in theory, and to find a practical answer to the questions posed by a real business situation, where even the most basic parameters are questionable. Both profs did an excellent job at both steering the classroom discussion, highlighting the most important insights, and providing evidence for the practical relevance of the often technical concepts of finance.
  • Negotiations (elective) Negotiations, taught by professor Horatio Falcao, is one of the most famous and desired classes on the INSEAD Singapore campus, one of the few which actually require bidding a substantial amount of bidding points to secure a class. It is based heavily on out-of-classroom negotiation case studies, in which two or four students get together (after a hopefully thorough preparation on each side) to negotiate, and then reflect on the process individually and in the classroom. While I think that the class content is very relevant for day-to-day management work, and that some of the concepts can certainly be valuable, the value of the negotiation exercises was sometimes a bit diminished by the fact that all participating students had learned the same concepts in class and the negotiations therefore went down a bit more smoothly than you would expect in a real-life situation – especially when there might be tensions and reservations pre-existing between the negoation parties, and not a sense of friendship and comradery as between INSEAD students. One out-of-class negotiation that was conducted with actors instead of fellow students, I therefore found particularly valuable, but also challenging to the point of frustration.
  • New Business Ventures (NBV, elective) NBV was, unfortunately, the most disappointing of my classes. It is intended as a class giving the most important guidelines for founding and growing new companies. However, in terms of what I actually took away from the class, I found it to be not very rewarding, which might partly be due to the fact that I already had multiple entrepreneurship classes in my Master’s as part of my minor. In addition, in my view professor Hongwei Xu was not fully able to convey all of the passion for entrepreneurship he has into the classroom, and so many of the discussions lacked in energy. In addition, the class had a very heavy workload, with a 20-page group report plus venture presentation, an entrepreneurship interview, a simulation assignment and multiple individual case questions. The most rewarding part of the class was the group project, but if my sole intention of taking the class had been working on a potential business idea with other students, I might as well have taken Entrepreneurial Field Studies (EFS) instead, without 16 full class sessions. On the plus side, the many guest speakers we had over the course of the class were mostly very intersting and insightful.
  • Market Driving Strategies (MDS, elective) The MDS class is a very compact class, revolving around a full weekend running the simulation program Markstrat, which was developed by two INSEAD professors and is used at business schools across the world. Markstrat is a game-like simulation (but based on theoretic principles) in which teams of 4-5 students run a manufacturing company over the course of 9 simulated years, making decisions as to which products to produce and how to advertise and sell them. 5 teams of students competed against each other, which meant that each team not only had to keep a close eye on the customers and its own performance, but also anticipate actions of competitors and act accordingly. The class was a very interesting and fruitful experience, and professor Ziv Carmon did a very good job at both introducting the simulation and providing valuable tips during the course of the simulation without distorting the actual outcomes.

Looking back at my experience in P3, I have learned a few things for how I will pick my electives for P4 and P5: Firstly, I will attend more classes than I actually want to attend for the first few sessions in order to get a feeling for whether I like the class or not. Secondly, I will pay closer attention to the previous promotions’ evaluations of the classes. Lastly, I will read the syllabus carefully before making my final choice to understand how much work is involved in each of the classes – while I expected the high workload of some of the classes (like ACF) I was taken more by surprise by some of the others.

INSEAD Cabaret

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

On 15 June, the INSEAD Singapore campus saw the summer incarnation of the student-organized INSEAD cabaret (the Fontainebleau campus had theirs a few days earlier). The INSEAD cabaret is another long-standing INSEAD tradition, and the one in the summer is primarily staffed by the leaving July promotion – my promotion will have their bigger event towards the end of the year (some of the events in fact featured students from my promotion, but the by far larger amount of people on stage were from the July promotion).

The event took place in the theatre of the shopping and business complex Fusionopolis, which is next door to the INSEAD Singapore campus and provided a worthy and glamorous environment for the cabaret. Some of the highlights of the program (from my point of view) included the impersonation of accounting professors Benjamin Segal and Jake Cohen, the July promotion’s theatrical review of their INSEAD timeline, and the Rugby club’s fun performance.

Some videos of the event have been posted on YouTube, links are provided below.

Phantom of the Opera Duet by Corrine and Francisco
Bhangra Sandwich
Francois Guillet Solo Guitar Performance
P5 Girls Dance
The Real Neil
Ze Undefeated Rugby Club
Professors Act
Mens’ Ballet
This is INSEAD P5 Act
Rhythms of the World
The Band: Part 1 Part 2
Insead In Da Club Video

National Week Bidding Day

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

On 11 May, INSEAD students across both campuses held the National Week bidding day for September to December. In the two periods over these four months, four National Weeks are going to be held – and given that there are obviously many more nationalities of students present than there is space for national weeks every year, the spots for national weeks are tightly contested. Each year, two bidding days are conducted (one for the first six months of the year and one for the last four) and prospective national week candidate teams prepare a booth with exhibits and food, a 10-minute presentation, and fun activities to advertise why they should be the ones to host a national week. Then, all students can cast their votes, and the national weeks that get the most votes across both campuses will then be scheduled.

For this bidding day, the competing teams were Comrades (Russia and other former Soviet Republics), Africa, Japan, Desi (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), Lebanon, and GPS (Greece, Portugal, Spain). Those nationalities that already had their national week in January to June were barred from participating in the bidding day.

The actual bidding day was one of the most fun days at INSEAD so far, a full display of INSEAD diversity. The teams had set up booths in the school’s foyer, and students dressed in traditional regional attire handed out delicious food. The presentation of all the proposals then took place in the main auditorium, and most teams had prepared videos, played traditional music and showed some kind of performance. Highlights of the presentations were clearly the Desi bollywood dance, the comrades flag-waving, uniformed entrance, and the Africans’ bonfire story (told by one of the students who was dressed up as a hunter – another one was the hunted game, a zebra). After the presentation, everyone headed out to the school’s courtyard for national drinks from GPS wine to Comrade vodka shots.

In the end, the winning teams were Lebanon, Japan, Africa, and Desi – I am looking forward to experiencing these national weeks in my last two periods (and taking part in the national week bidding for next year’s Heart of Europe week!)

Summer Trip Pt. 1: Western Balkans

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

While I haven’t covered everything from P3 yet in blog posts, I want to give at least an update on my current travels before it takes me another few weeks until I can find some time to blog again… P3 ended on 28 June, and after exams I flew to France first since I am going to spend P4 after the summer break there, and I wanted to drop some of my luggage there so that I don’t have to travel with all my stuff over the whole summer.

My summer trip then started in the Western Balkans (i.e., former Yugoslavia). The first place I visited was Zagreb, which proved to be a much nicer city than I had imagined. The location at a cultural crossroads are quite visible in Zagreb, with local food with influences from Hungary (in fiery Gulash soups), Turkey (in Kebabs and other grilled meat) and Italy (in pasta and seafood dishes). Zagreb has a really nice, hilly old town with some nice churches and old buildings.

From Zagreb, I moved to Zadar on the Adriatic coast. Zadar is touristy, but not one of the main tourist drags. It has a quite charming old town and some unusual attractions such as a “sea organ”, which powered by the movement of the waves creates sounds using pipes in the pavement of the promenade along the coast. Also, I used the chance to go for my first swim in the Adriatic for the summer.

The next stop was Split, which is one of the really touristy spots along the Croatian coast. However, the city is really charming even with lots of tourists. The old town is centered around and in the former palace of Roman emperor Diocletian, which is spectacularly located along the coast behind Split’s harbor. Not much of the original palace remains to this day, but what especially in the middle ages the inhabitants of the city built inside the walls of the palace is a dazzling array of little alleyways, with cafés and restaurants at every corner, and it is real fun to just get lost in the maze for a while and discover ever new places.

From Split, I took a brief 2-day detour to Bosnia-Herzegovina, namely to Sarajevo. While it took a good eight hours bus ride to get there and back, it was certainly worth it. Not only is the city beautifully located within a valley and surrounded by forest-clad mountains, but also is the changeful history of the city very visible everywhere. From the old Turkish quarter, which seamlessly gives way to late 18th-century Austrian architecture, to the bridge where the assassination of Austrian prince Franz Ferdinand triggered the first World War, the city is rich in evidence to its importance as a multicultural center at the boundary of Europe and the East. The more recent history, namely the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces, is even more present: Many houses are riddled by bullet holes, and in some places you can still see the so-called “Sarajevo Roses” – places where artillery shells hit the pavement, killing people and leaving a whole in the ground have been filled with red-colored concrete. Another stunning experience was visiting the Tunnel Museum, which shows how the Bosnians transported supplies and weapons into the city under siege through an 800m tunnel below the airport, which was controlled by UN troops and thus neutral in the conflict. Today’s Sarajevo is again a friendly and rather multicultural place, even though some of the atrocities of the recent past can of course not be easily forgotten and thus some distance is still present between the different ethnic groups.

After Sarajevo, the next stop back in Croatia was Dubrovnik, which is the second major tourist city on the coast. Even though its old town, which is surrounded by impressive city walls (which are accessible by foot) is certainly beautiful, the amount of tourists, especially large tour groups from cruise ships, make walking through the city rather painful. The city is definitely a must-visit in the area, but should (in my opinion) also be left again as quickly as possible.

The next destination, however, was really one of the highlights of the trip so far: Korcula island off the Croatian Adriatic coast between Split and Dubrovnik was really wonderful. Korcula has a nice little old town, which with its city fortifications and narrow steep streets is a bit like a mini Dubrovnik, but much sleepier. There are certainly some tourists there, but the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed. Also, because the island is a good 50 kilometers long, the visitors spread out much more and it feels less busy. The scenery on Korcula is amazing: The island is forested and extremely hilly (the highest hills are more than 500m high), and the surrounding Adriatic sea is amazingly clear, blue to green and generated lots of moments of pure astonishement. The island is too big and hilly (and the weather was too hot) to go to all interesting places by bike, but a rented scooter did the job instead and it was certainly fun to ride it around the island, jump into the amazing water from small jetties and pebbly beaches where no one else was anywhere near…

The next stop (after another night in Dubrovnik) was Kotor in Montenegro. Kotor is located at a quite beautiful bay of the Adriatic, but after having seen the waters around Korcula, the bay unfortunately couldn’t impress me that much anymore. Kotor’s old town is a really nice place, and while it is a bit smaller than the ones of Split and Dubrovnik, it has certainly a similar appeal. Most impressive about Kotor are the fortifications (walls and towers) which climb up the steep mountain behind the old town. You can climb them (1400 steps over 1200m), but given that it was constantly around 35°C, I did not dare to undertake that. An interesting excursion from Kotor took me to Budva on the Adriatic coast – which seems to be a focal point mainly for rich Russians who either park their yacht in the marina or flock into the huge hotel blocks and on the pebbly beaches… certainly an interesting sight, but surely not my kind of vacation.

The last stop in former Yugoslavia and also one of the nicest ones was Ohrid in Macedonia, which took a long and cumbersome overnight bus journey with two border crossings (one into Kosovo and one into Macedonia) to get to. Ohrid is both the name of a town and the lake, which is located at 700m above sea level and therefore was refreshingly cooler than the coast (still around 30°C though). The lake is really beautiful, surrounded by mountains, and also the town itself, with a fortress overlooking the old town. A very nice day trip took me on a boat cruise across the lake to the monastery of St. Naum, which is really pleasently located at the lakeside. In addition to all the scenic beauty, however, Macedonia was definitely one of the highlights because of the friendliness and hospitality of the people. Not only the guest house owner, but also many people I encountered, went out of their ways to help, which really made a difference.

Some pictures follow.

National Weeks in P2 and P3

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

While each of the national weeks in P2 and P3 would certainly have deserved their own blog post, I have no pictures from those weeks and therefore I am going to keep everything together in one post.

In P2, there was only one national week, because it was the main recruiting period for the previous (July 2012) promotion: Israel Week (16-20 April). The INSEAD students, both organizers and participants, did the best to make it a non-political celebration of culture and of friendship across borders – even though that was certainly not easy for everyone at every time. I, however, had a blast at the Israeli national week activities, especially the dinner, which was certainly one of the more memorable nights at INSEAD, starting out with delicious food and later dancing on the tables at the dinner place, later moving on to INSEAD students’ favorite rooftop bar 1-Altitude and ending with drinks at (and in) the Heritage View pool until way past 3am… but I still made it to class next morning at 8:30am to make sure that future national weeks would still be allowed to hold dinners…

To balance the lack of national weeks in P2, P3 had three of them. The first one was Latin Week, which covered all of the Latin American countries. Since many of those are culutrally prone to partying in general, that of course made sure that we had a good time during the week, including a legendary national week party at Movida in St. James Powerstation (a Singaporean event location with multiple clubs and bars). This party was probably the best national week party so far, with a designated area for INSEAD students in an otherwise public club and an amazing live band with lots of energy performing latin and non-latin pop classics, which was certainly a change from the 20-odd dancefloor songs that are played over and over again at most of the clubs in Singapore.

The second national week in P3 was Italian week. Unfortunately for me, I had to miss the Italian week dinner, because I was sick – and I am sure the food at the Italian restaurant Limoncello was awesome. The party, which took place at Powerhouse (another club at St. James Powerstation) was another extremely crazy event – there were so many vouchers for free drinks around that at one point I was walking through the club with two one-liter pitchers of long drinks… which I didn’t both drink myself, but distributed to other people 😉

The last national week for P3 was Dragon week, which basically covers Chinese culture and was organized by all the people with Chinese heritage and some others with a strong connection to China (such as my former group mate Caroline and her boyfriend who spent multiple years working in China). In Singapore, obviously, we are in contact with Chinese culture on an almost daily basis, but it was still very nice to get to know more about the culture and have a nice dinner with traditional Chinese food with all students together. Also, the national week party was the first one which was in a club that was less Expat-dominated than the other clubs that I have seen in Singapore… which was certainly also an interesting experience.

Excursion to Delhi

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Because P3 academics were in contrast to P1 and P2 rather challenging and time-consuming, I did not travel as much during P3 – the one trip I took, however, was further than my other ones so far – I went to Delhi for a long weekend (flights to India are surprisingly cheap from Singapore, potentially at least partly due to the large number of Indians living and working there). In and around Delhi, I of course visited the Taj Mahal and some of the local sights in Delhi such as the Lodhi Gardens, and experienced the incredible busy-ness and crowdedness, and the extreme contrasts of a large Indian city. However, the time for me to visit Delhi was clearly not optimal: Due to the extremely high temperatures (>45°C), the insides of air-conditioned buildings were sometimes preferable to walking around outside.

A few pictures follow – however I was rather lazy with spending extra energy on taking pictures because it was just too hot.

P2-P3 Break: Hong Kong

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

In the break between P2 and P3, I went on a short weekend trip to Hong Kong. Back in 2010, Hong Kong was the first city I ever visited in the Far East (and in Asia in general if you don’t count Istanbul) – and I was kind of curious to see how I would relate the city to the many other Asian cities I had seen in the meantime, from run-down and chaotic places like Yangon and Phnom Penh to shiny and luxurious Singapore.

My impressions on this second visit to Hong Kong were overwhelmingly positive: While the city is certainly not as “Asian” as many of the other cities I have visited but clearly a global business center, it is much more authentic, lively and buzzing with activity then air-conditioned and neat Singapore. In terms of the people, the shops, the culture, and the life, everything seemed more “real” than in the air-conditioned gigantic malls of Singapore. Also, the night life in Lang Kwai Fong was more street-centered and refreshingly different from the high-priced clubs that INSEAD people in Singapore frequent. Some of the things I visited in Hong Kong included Victoria Peak (which was unfortunately shrouded in mist so the views were not that great, but walking on the hill top was nevertheless nice), countless temples, many markets, the Aviarium, and the supposedly cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world – for plenty of Dim Sum, we payed around 12 € for 2 people (and I had some local delicacies like chicken feet).

Some pictures follow.


P2 Academics

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Just to give a quick overview of what I am learning inside the classroom, I will summarize what classes I took in P2 (academic period 2, which was in March and April). P2 was still all core classes, i.e., all classes where compulsory and there was no discretion as to what classes I took. In contrast to P1, which was pretty much centered around basic tools such as statistics, accounting, or microeconomics, P2 was much more “applied” in the sense that we worked almost exclusively with case studies in most classes (i.e., more or less the “business school way” of learning). Here is a quick wrapup of the classes and my opinion about them:

  • Strategy – While the readings for this class can mostly be considered “classics” and some of them were really interesting and insightful, the class itself fell somewhat short of my expectations. This was probably mostly due to the fact that we had more of a (sometimes unstructured) classroom discussion of what happened (or was about to happen) in the case, and less of a discussion of the concepts and frameworks covered in the readings. I would have liked professor Neil Jones to stress this “re-usable” aspect of strategy frameworks and tools a bit more in order to make the class contents more applicable in real life business situations.
  • Corporate Financial Policy (CFP) CFP is the second core finance class, after FMV in P1. While FMV focused more on valuation of projects and companies’ stocks and bonds, CFP dealt with valuation of options as well as with capital structure and recapitalizations. While all of this sounds very technical and rather dry, most of it is extremely important (especially in today’s heavily finance-skewed markets) and the two professors Pierre Hillion (who also taught FMV and is hands down one of my favorite profs at INSEAD for its ability of getting the message through and making sure that what he intends to cover in class is in fact thoroughly covered) and Theo Vermaelen (who with his very sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek way made classes very enjoyable despite the dry topic) made this a very good and useful course.
  • Process and Operations Management (POM) POM is the core operations class, and revolves around (manufacturing and service) processes, what they are driven by, and how they can be optimized. Interestingly for me, some of the concepts (e.g., queuing theory) are closely related to stuff that I already studied in my Computer Science classes, only that they were related to how (web or application) servers process queries in networks. The class was taught by the very young professor Dana Popescu, and you could sometimes tell that she lacked some of the experience of the other profs in handling a large classroom with more than 60 students. However the covered content and the provided material was overall quite useful.
  • Marketing Management Of course, no business program can live without the inevitable marketing class, which always runs the risk of being more about bullshitting and looking at pretty/funny advertisements than actual concepts and reusable tools. I learned that lesson the hard way in undergrad (in my business minor) in a very entertaining but also incredibly useless marketing class (necessary preparation for the final exam was learning 300 slides by heart). However, Professor Monica Wadhwa managed to give quite some structure to the course contents and provide useful tools, so I actually enjoyed what I learned (to the extent that a person with a more rational/structured as opposed to a creative approach like me can enjoy a marketing class). The only thing I missed to some extent was drawing more connections between marketing and strategy, since in my view these two are strongly interlinked (marketing can provide a competitive advantage, and on the other hand all marketing activities need to be closely aligned with the overall corporate strategy to be meaningful).
  • Organisational Behaviour 2 The second part of the “soft skill” class focused less on the individual and more on organizations: Organizational design, politics in organizations, organizational culture, and lastly change management. Both in terms of the contents and concepts covered and in terms of the teaching style of professor Henrik Bresman, this was easily one of the best classes so far in my MBA. Interestingly, especially in terms of business ethics and what might delineate “right” from “wrong” business behavior, I think I have taken away more from this class than from the mandatory 4-session business ethics class.
  • Managerial Accounting (MA) The second accounting class, which in contrast to Financial Accounting (FA) in P1 focuses more on the internal analysis, budgeting and control of a company. In contrast to FA, the discussion in MA revolved around case discussions, which very often highlighted problems in the control systems of a company and potential solutions, that we then in class tied to specific MA concepts and methods. Especially since I had seen some of the problems and approaches to solve them in practice before, I could relate to the usefulness of the course contents, and I think professor Jake Cohen also did a good job in highlighting the practical relevance. I only sometimes wished for a bit of a “bigger picture” of how the individual pieces of the puzzle that we covered fit together.

Long Time, No Post

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

This is INSEAD: Time passes by so quickly that you don’t realize how quickly a couple of months pass without a blog post… So now here I am, 60% through the academic content of my MBA and way more than half way through the whole year, and I’ve got a lot of stuff to catch up on in terms of blog bosts: Since my last post, P2 has ended and P3 has passed by, and I am already almost half way into my 2-month summer break. After the summer, I will spend P4 (September/October) on the INSEAD Fontainebleau campus in France, and then finish my MBA with P5 back in Singapore. I will try to at least briefly summarize in a few blog posts over the coming days everything that happened since my last blog post (back in April!).

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