Posts Tagged ‘INSEAD’

Summer Holiday Pt. 3: Cape Town (30 Dec – 2 Jan)

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

After coming back from Zanzibar, we spent one night in Johannesburg to rest, re-pack, and wash all our dirty clothes from Kilimanjaro. Then, we flew down to Cape Town to spend New Year’s Eve there, since a bunch of friends from INSEAD were also going to be around, flying in from Europe and the US. We had booked the accommodation only on very short notice, and were lucky to still get a spare room at the same B&B that we stayed at on our first visit to Cape Town, Upperbloem in the Bo-Kap.

On the night of our arrival, we went out to Franschoek for dinner – our friends had been on a wine tour all day so we met them there out in the wine lands. It was awesome to see all of them again and catch up with what was happening – most of them we hadn’t seen since graduation over a year ago.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, we didn’t do very much – the only thing that was on our list was to visit the cheese shop in Cape Town that we had read about in numerous articles. We both really like the South African artisanal cheeses, and in any article on the internet about South African cheeses, this cheese shop was mentioned. Getting there, however, we were quite disappointed – the selection wasn’t huge and the person behind the counter was the most unmotivated salesperson I have ever encountered. She wouldn’t tell us anything more about the cheeses than we could read on the labels ourselves. After this experience, I am so glad that our cheese shop here in Johannesburg, Cheese Gourmet in Linden, seems to be so much better!

In the evening, we went with all our INSEAD friends to Madame Zingara, which basically is a circus / variety theater show over dinner. It was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed spending New Year’s with our classmates like this – unlike last year, where we slept through New Year’s in Yangon because we had an early flight the next day.

The next day, after having slept off our hangover, we headed out to Kirstenbosch Gardens, which is said to be one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in the world. We walked through the park there, which contains around 9000 of the 22000 plant species found in South Africa, and is really very well set up. After having had lunch there as well, we headed out to Llandudno beach were a few of our friends were spending the day sunbathing. In the evening, the rest of the group showed up as well, and we had a very nice sunset picnic on the beach – a very nice finish to our visit in Cape Town, since the next morning we had to leave again for Johannesburg, where we had a few more days to spare before having to go back to work.

November Holiday Pt. 2: USA (7 – 14 November)

Monday, December 9th, 2013

After coming back from Kruger Park, we said goodbye to my brother who was traveling onward in South Africa, and then had about a day to prepare for the rest of the trip. On Thursday 7 November, we flew out to Austin via Atlanta, to attend a wedding of two INSEAD classmates. Especially the first leg of this flight was extremely long with more than 16 hours on the plane – but everything worked out like a charm.

The wedding was beautiful, and we were so happy to be part of this and also get to see a couple of INSEADers from Europe and the Americas (and even though we had the longest journey there, some others flew in from Europe just for the weekend, which is pretty insane). Austin itself was nice, even though J was disappointed that it wasn’t Texan enough… Maybe next time we should go to Dallas 🙂

The next stop on our trip was San Francisco. I had never been there before, and was quite amazed by the city. Not only can you tell that this is the technology capital of the world (paradise for a geek like me :)), but also the amount of city life that is going on, with shops and bars and culture just at every corner felt very refreshing in comparison to Johannesburg – which is very nice to live in, but for the most part at least in those areas that we spend most of our time in is just very suburban.

In SF, we met up with a bunch of INSEAD classmates (for a board game night at Yammer, which was a lot of fun) and some other friends. Also, in addition to just walking through different neighborhoods and taking in the vibe of the city, we rented bicycles one day and cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then took the ferry back, passing Alcatraz on the way. Despite being very touristy, this day trip was very nice, and the bridge is indeed quite an impressive sight.

Some pictures follow.


Graduation Day

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Today was officially the last day of my MBA. The ten months (net) of the program have been intense – in terms of learning, socializing, traveling, partying, and so many other ways. The MBA finished with a ceremony at the University Cultural Centre of the National University of Singapore (the INSEAD campus doesn’t have a big enough room to hold all people plus guests). Over 260 of the 510 students attended – the rest will be graduating in Fontainebleau in two days. In addition to speeches by an alumn, the INSEAD dean and the deputy dean of degree programs, the ceremony consisted mainly of awarding every student their diploma. The ceremony was followed by a cocktail reception on campus.

I did get a bid melancholic during the ceremony. It really seems like yesterday that the program was opened with similar speeches by similar people – and it also seems like yesterday that I was still working, looking forward to this year of doing my MBA, and now it is over. But then again: New challenges, new experiences, new adventures lie ahead!

Tonight will be one last party, even though some of the class have already left. We are flying out tomorrow to Kuala Lumpur. Even though we will shortly return to Singapore around Christmas, this day today definitely marks the end of the MBA for me.

Pictures will follow when I have them.

Grad Trip to Sri Lanka (12 – 17 December)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Two days after the last class of the MBA, we left for Grad Trip. Traditionally, every INSEAD promotion goes for one last trip before graduating. My promotion went to Sri Lanka, and more than 300 of the 500-odd students of the promotion actually came (which is really impressive especially since Sri Lanka is not exactly around the corner from Fontainebleau).

The two of us went to spent two nights in Galle Fort first, before joining the others in the beach resort town of Beruwala. Galle Fort is an old fort, built mainly by the Dutch from the 17th century onwards, and used to administrate their colonies. It is quite well preserved and has been classified as UNESCO world heritage. Especially in contrast to the bustling Sri Lankan city outside the Fort gates, the insides of it are very peaceful and quiet. It is quite nice to walk around the outer ramparts, which are surrounded by the Indian ocean, and that sport a (British-built) lighthouse on their outermost tip. In addition to the many gem stores (that we did not really visit other than to go to our guesthouse, which was run by a gem store owner), there were also lots of nice restaurants with really good food.

After two nights in Galle we went up  by train to Beruwala, where most of the other students had already convened. We did not stay at the hotel where most of the other students were, but next doors in a different hotel (where funnily enough most of the couples stayed). However, we joined the others at their hotel to hang out, talk, and party every day. It was quite an interesting experience: never before have I been on a trip with that many people – and even regular INSEAD parties never had that many participants.

In the end, it was a bit sad to say goodbye to some people who are graduating only in Fontainebleau and who I will not see again very soon. For those that are graduating in Singapore, this moment of saying goodbyes will come tomorrow after the graduation ceremony…

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)…

Monsoon Ball (10 November)

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

On 10 November, we had the Monsoon Ball here in Singapore. INSEAD has two gala balls a year, the Summer Ball in Fontainebleau and the Monsoon Ball in Singapore. At these events, lots of alumni come back to reunite, and there is also always a big group of current students attending. The dress code for the ball was black tie, so I wore for the first time in my life a (rented) tuxedo. The ball was held at the National Museum of Singapore, which provides ample space for events like this (not between the exhibits themselves, but in separate rooms) and was a really nice location for the ball.

At the ball, our band from cabaret had its second gig – with two more rehearsals we managed to practice five more songs so that we could play for a good 40 minutes. All in all, the night was awesome: we had a great show (great stage, great light show, and more than anything, a great audience), and dancing with friends in this unusual environment and attire was also good fun. Plus, there was awesome food (fried cheese on a stick! what else could you want in life…).

Some pictures follow.

INSEAD Cabaret II (7 November)

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

On 7 November, it was time for our last cabaret. In P3, I had already witnessed the last cabaret which was mainly organized by the then-leaving 12J promotion, and this time around it was my promotion that was preparing to leave INSEAD. A very strange feeling if you think about it.

I was involved in the cabaret in two ways: Firstly, I was part of the band that concluded the evening with playing four songs. Secondly, since I was at Fusionopolis Theatre where the cabaret was held on the day of the event anyway to set up my equipment (and I didn’t have any classes or anything yet), I ended up helping with setup and organization of the whole event (which in the end meant that I didn’t have to pay for my ticket, sweet!)

As for the band part, I was very glad that I had brought my bass guitar with me for P4 and P5, since I had missed playing it a lot in P1-P3. With a few quite talented musicians (mostly from my promotion plus a keyboarder from the next promotion), we met twice before the cabaret for multiple hours and arranged four (cover) songs. It was great fun playing again, making music in a group, and being on stage.

Of course, the other performances were great as well. There were the classics like the men’s ballet, the rugby club’s performances, and the obvious candidates like Bhangra dance. But there were lots of really creative and great performances as well, and just naming a few of them wouldn’t do any justice to the others. Obviously, a lot of the performances of my promotion had something to do with looking back at the year, and preparing to leave all of this behind – it made me somewhat melancholic. Even though after a year the thought of going back to work is not as distant anymore as it was in the beginning (and I am still glad that I went for a one-year MBA program as opposed to a two-year one), I am now starting to realize that in a few weeks this intense experience will come to a close, and many of the people that I spent so much time with I will not see again for quite some time, and most certainly not all of them together at the same time again…

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.

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