Posts Tagged ‘Classes’

P5 Academics

Monday, December 10th, 2012

P5… the last period. I had only two credits left to be covered, which inadvertently meant that I didn’t have any classes for the first few weeks of the period. When I then started classes, it was totally worth it – P5 was certainly one of the best periods in terms of academics. Here is what I took:

  • Your First Hundred Days (YFCD): YFCD, taught by Patrick Turner, would certainly deserve a blog post on its own, had I not signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement in order not to spoil the class for future promotions. But here is a short description at least: The class is a ten-day simulation of the first 100 days after taking over a company as the new management team (students operate in teams of five people). And simulation in this class does not mean making moves on a computer, but “playing” managing the company: writing emails to people, meeting clients and other stakeholders (roleplayed by alumni and the professor), and more than anything reacting to lots of unexpected events. This course is unlike any other experience at INSEAD, and it feels almost completely realistic (like work, but in a fun way). All in all, taking this class was certainly worthwhile.
  • Communication and Leadership (half credit): Communcation and Leadership, which is taught by Ian Woodward, is “another” communication class. However, especially in contrast to Art of Communication which I did in P4, it was based less on experimenting and more on scientific basis as well as on one or two specific points of improvement for everyone. I was really impressed with the insights I got into my own communication preferences, strengths, and improvement areas.
  • Advanced Applied Corporate Finance (AACF, half credit): My last period, my last class with Pierre Hillion. Except for P4 in Fontainebleau, I had classes with him every period, and he remains one of my favorite professors at INSEAD. AACF builds on the topics discussed in ACF, and focuses more on a qualitative discussion (i.e., advantages and disadvantages) of more exotic forms of corporate financing – my main takeaway: “if you as a company reduce your cost of capital, you are either taking hidden risks, or someone is getting screwed – and you better make sure it’s not you!”

That’s it! That is, academically speaking, all I learnt at INSEAD. It has been a valuable year, I must say. One of my goals coming here was broadening and deepening my fundamental knowledge about business and its dependencies, and I must say that this goal has been more than achieved. In some areas, I know have more and better tools at my disposal than before, in others it feels like I have learnt a completely new language, and in even other areas I know that I know nothing – because sometimes there are no general truths that always apply.

My Last Class

Monday, December 10th, 2012

That’s it – it’s done! This morning’s class of Advanced Applied Corporate Finance marked the end of the MBA program – at least academically speaking. All that’s left now is the grad trip (the majority of the MBA students are going on a trip to Sri Lanka together) and then graduation (on 19 December)…

P4 Academics

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I spent P4 in Fontainebleau, which certainly had a different atmosphere than Singapore. In terms of academics, P4 was the first period without core classes, so all my courses were purely elective and chosen by myself. I was a bit more careful in P4 than in P3 with picking my electives, and the end I was very happy with almost all of them. Here is my short take on my classes:

  • Strategies for Product and Service Development (SPSD) SPSD, taught by German prof Jürgen Mihm (who like me studied in Darmstadt, and worked in strategy consulting for some time) was a class focused on R&D and how to manage the development of new products and services. The class was one of the most unusual ones I have attended at INSEAD, and included a week-long period of workshops in which all students had to develop a prototype for a shopping “artifact” (bag, trolley, backpack, or the like). I found the class very hands-on and useful, especially for anyone who wants to go into R&D or product development eventually.
  • Management Decision Making (MDM) MDM is a class focused on both psychological and informational aspects of decision-making. Led by Enrico Diecidue, a flamboyant (in a good way) Italian, the class looks at biases that decision-makers face and how to overcome them by using sound statistics and models. The class was certainly very interesting and engaging. In some cases, however, going a bit deeper into remedies for the biases would have been even better.
  • Advanced Game Theory (AGT) AGT was the class I enjoyed the least in P4. The topic was very interesting, but the class was a bit too slow (not “advanced” enough, if you will). Partly, that must have been because the Singapore starters like me had covered more game theory in their Prices and Markets core class in P1 than the Fontainebleau starters, so the first few AGT sessions that professor Vlad Mares taught were necessary to catch up with what I already had covered. In total, the class was still interesting and I learnt some things about game theory that might be useful in my professional life – especially everything relating to auctions.
  • Beyond Markets (half credit) Beyond Markets was my first half credit course, meaning a course that has only eight as opposed to the usual 16 sessions. Beyond Markets was taught by Sven Feldmann and essentially an extension of the non-market strategies already touched upon in IPA in P3. The class was centered around different cases, which were all very interesting and led to intense discussions (and potentially an increasingly cynical view of politics among the participants).
  • Economics and Management in Developing Countries (EMDC, half credit) EMDC was – like my Macroeconomics course in P3 – taught by Daniel Traca. The course was a mix of discussing the specialties of macroeconomics in developing countries as well as bottom-up approaches to facilitating development (such as for example microfinance). I found the class very valuable, especially after having witnessed myself in Ghana how difficult development aid is and how there is no golden bullet that will magically fix everything.
  • The Art of Communication (half credit) The Art of Communication, taught by Steve Knight, was a weekend communication training. I personally did not find the course very valuable, since I am a halfway confident public speaker. However, for those people who really have difficulties speaking in front of other people, this class made a lot of sense.

In the upcoming P5 (the last period already!), I will only have two credits left to be covered.

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.

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.

The End of P1 (Period 1): Finals Coming Up!

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

In addition to all the travelling, partying and immersion in Asian culture, I am actually studying (this blog might not fully reflect that fact) 🙂 On Friday, we already had our last classes for P1 (Period 1). The INSEAD MBA is divided in five two-month periods, and the last two months passed by like a stroke of lightning. I can’t believe that I have already finished 20% of my MBA program… On the other hand, it seems as if I know everyone already for years, and the welcome week seems ages ago.

Anyway, final exams are coming up next week (five exams in three days), so I might as well briefly summarize which classes I had in P1:

  • Uncertainty, Data and Judgment is basically a statistics course, but probably the best one that you can imagine. In addition to the necessary maths, the professor Anil Gaba makes statistics tangible by betting against students (revealing fallacies such as overconfidence) or handing out M&Ms packs to all students to count the number of different colours in each pack.
  • Prices & Markets is a microeconomics class, covering all necessary basics from demand and supply curves over pricing in a monopoly and under perfect competition, to game theory and decisions under incomplete information. Professor Pushan Dutt has very tangible examples for the concepts, and his dry sense of humour resonated well with most of the class.
  • Financial Accounting – the class name speaks for itself. The most technical and sometimes a bitt dull class in the P1 curriculum, but obviously the necessary foundation to make sense out of financial statements and understand the economic and financial standing of companies. Professor Benjamin Segal makes the best out of this, stressing the relevance of understanding the underlying economics rather than blindly looking at numbers and ratios.
  • Financial Markets and Valuation revolves around project and company valuation, and financial market instruments such as stocks and bonds. For my section, the class was taught by professor Pierre Hillion, who is probably the favorite professor of almost the whole section due to his unique teaching style (check out the impersonation of him performed by a student at the INSEAD cabaret, it comes pretty close to his actual teaching and speaking style 🙂 )
  • Organisational Behaviour 1 is the “soft-skill” class, around teamwork, leadership, motivation, negotiation, and other things. It took me some time to get professor Allan Filipowicz‘s teaching style, but in a class in which we discussed the 1957 movie “12 Angry Men” and the various methods of persuasion and influence used in the movie, he managed to apply some of these techniques successfully on many of the students, and I started seeing the value of this course for myself. (You should check out the movie, it is available on YouTube and by the way rated top 6 movie of all time on IMDB)

So far, I loved almost every single session I attended, and I think the professors are all doing an outstanding job at bringing across their concepts, making their topics interesting and highlighting the relevance for the day-to-day work of management. I am already looking forward to what P2 will bring (but first I have to sit through these finals next week)…

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