Sunday, November 16, 2008

Stanford Sloan at GSB: Entry 13: More Exams, Leaders vs. Managers, Intel, and MBA Clubs

Sloans starting to come out of our shell?

After midterms ended, I thought we’d have a little bit of a break from studying and exams. We might even have a chance to come out of our “shell” at the GSB – the "shell" being our rather large classroom on the fourth floor where the Sloans have classes every single day, with the same 57 people , sitting in the same seats (did I say everyday? I meant everyday except Wednesday).

The MBA’s also had midterms the same week we did. For MBA1’s (first year MBA’s), it marked the end of their EAP (Exclusive Academic Period, during which time they were supposed to focus only on academics). As far as I can tell the only two things that changed after the EAP were that the GSB clubs formally started recruiting new members, and a bunch of the MBA1’s (70 or so I think) took a mass trip to Las Vegas for the weekend.

As for our class, the Sloan program calendar has been so jam-packed with classes, seminars, talks, BBL’s (brown bag lunches) and Sloan social events, that we haven’t really had a lot of time to spend with the MBA’s or PhD students that we coinhabit the school with, nor have we had the time to attend many of the very large volume of events at the GSB.

During mid-term week (on Wednesday, just before our finance exam) the GSB had its “club” day, where all of the student-run clubs had tables. There were a ton of them – everything from the epicurean club (yes, this club is all about food), the wine tasting club, the entrepreneur club, the VC club, the private equity club, the real estate club, the family business club, the china club, the greater china business club, even the "you-name it" club (!). These clubs sponsor events, so many in fact, that there’s no way to go to all the ones you’re interested in. I think I signed up for about 10 clubs, of which I’ve only gotten around to attending events and paying dues for 5 of them thus far. Which brings me to an inevitable fact about business school (at least at Stanford): Overload. Not necessarily classes, but "other events'.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Steve Ballmer visited and spoke during lunch hour. Over the last few weeks, we had similar talks from Paul Otellini (the CEO of intel, more on this when I talk about our second strategy class in this blog), and the head of Saudi Aramco, which is the largest oil producing company in the world ("Political rhetoric is a short term game; the oil business is a long term game"). We also had (to mention only a few from the last 7-10 days) a trip to a VC firm, a talk by the head of a middle-eastern private equity fund, various company recruiting events, a visit by the head of some big bank from Latin America, a Women in Management alumni lunch, An Evening with Pixar shorts (an event I really wanted to attend but couldn’t because of our strategy study group project), a Latin Club Fiesta, and many, many, many more events.

In the Sloan program during this same time, we had a former CIA case agent turned Stanford professor speak to us last week about the CIA, and a woman who is in charge of helping non-profits and other organizations raise capital for their funds (I had to miss this too because of our Strategy project) give us a talk about leadership.

And all of that was just what was being offered at the GSB. There are a ton of other interesting events being held on the Stanford campus. On Friday, after taking our final exam for modeling (more on this later) I learned that there was a talk being given by Mohammad Younus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who started the micro-finance craze. I wanted to go, even tried to get in, but the auditorium was full and we couldn’t get in. As I walked away from the auditorium disappointed, I learned there was an open-source conference going on the same day. But that would mean missing the finance review session and study group meeting that afternoon… choices, choices.

Now I’m beginning to wonder if a year at Stanford’s Business School is really enough to take advantage of all that’s offered here? By the time we get our bearings straight (which might be sometime in the winter quarter), it’ll be time to start thinking about what we’re going to do after the program since it ends in July.

More Exams and Grades.

We got our results from our finance and economics midterms, two exams that I and many of my fellow classmates were pretty worried about. Turns out I did pretty well on both so my worry might have been misplaced.

In both cases, we were given our graded exams back along with the numerical results. This seemed like a reasonable approach - we could see what we did right, what questions we got wrong, and where we might have some complaints about how the grading was done.

The third exam we took was our Organizational Behavior exam. Honestly I wasn’t really worried about this exam, because this seemed like a pretty easy exam (it was a take-home), it involved doing a lot of reading and writing (both of which I enjoy and tend to do OK with), it was a relatively subjective content ( a lot of the class, including the class assigned reading, was about how to influence people), and it involved a class that I had enjoyed and participated in quite a bit (50% of our grade was based on class participation and 50% was based on the final exam). Well it turns out that my score on this exam ended up being very poor: well below average!

But what was really strange about this wasn't just the grade, it was that we didn't get back the actual graded exams! So unlike finance or economics (where we could see exactly which questions we got right vs. wrong), I really have no idea if this was a fair score or not on the exam, given my answers. To get a copy of our exam back, we have to jump through a few hoops -including emailing the professor and meeting with him.

This strikes me as an extremely odd tactic (though perhaps effective in its own way). It reminds me of companies that offer rebates on their products. Of course, they know that a very large percentage of people who buy the product will never actually take the time to fill out and send the rebates back in, so it ends up being a mmick that works.

Was not returning our exams also just a time-saving gimmick by the professor? How many students would actually go ahead and email the professor asking for their exams back? Perhaps about as many as send in rebates?

Our OB class itself (which was a half-semester class) included lots of techniques for influencing people. I'm starting to wonder if these techniques, some of which are effective the very first time they’re used, are effective more than once?

For example, one technique we learned about was to individuate people when you’re asking them to action.

A perfect example of this technique was demonstrated to us by the professor when we had a survey to fill out for the class. Many of us hadn’t filled out the survey online, so the professor sent us individual emails the night before class; the emails implied (though didn’t explicitly say) that we were the only one who hadn’t filled out the survey and that it was due by “class-time”.

You can imagine that if you get an email from your professor implying that you’re the only one who hasn’t filled out a survey, that needs to be filled out by “class time” the next day, then you’re going to fill it out immediately. I promptly did this, thinking it was due in the morning, even staying up late and pushing aside a few other things to make sure it got done.

Well it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who got the “personalized email”, and moreover, the survey wasn’t needed in class the next day (turns out it was due by “class” the following week!).

Which brings us back to the question of whether this kind of technique leads to a temporary effectiveness followed by a "never cry wolf"-like situation in the future? If I got another seemingly personalized email from the same professor about getting something done by a certain time, would I start to wonder whether 1) the email was really just a mass email meant to look like a personalized email, and 2) whether I really needed to get it done by the time indicated, 3) what other influence or manipulation techniques the professor was trying to use on me? At the very least, i'm asking to see a copy of my exam!

Speaking of exams, we also had our first two-part final exam last week, for our spreadsheet modeling and statistics class. This is a pretty core class at the GSB. The first part was a take-home exam that involved creating financial models in Excel. The second portion was a 3 hour in class exam. This was our first three-hour exam, and it was grueling in its own right. Almost no-one finished early; and most were still working on it when the three hour mark came around, so I think we can all agree that it was a pretty difficult exam, given the time constraints. Standard deviations, regressions, random sampling, the central limit theorem, auto-correlation, linear programming and linear optimization, along with various statistical techniques were all tested on this exam. How did I do? I couldn’t tell you – I’ll have to wait to see when (or if!) we get our graded exams back.

Strategy Redux and Leadership vs. Management.

After midterms, we started another strategy class which lasts only for the second half of the semester. This class is at 8 am on Tuesday’s and Thursdays. Those of you reading this blog will know that I’m not much of a morning person. Despite my general start-up rule of never attending meetings that start before 10 am, I actually find this class to be pretty interesting and worth getting up for (Not to mention that some of my classmates have decided to take it upon themselves to be self-appointed policemen/women to monitor the tardiness/skipping tendencies of errant class members like me; LOL yes I haven't heard the term "tardy" since elementary school either... but I digress...back to Strategy...)

As for Strategy, the professor, Professor B. did a long term study on Intel and wrote a book about the decisions that Intel had to make along the way. There’s a famous story/quote about Andy Grove (who was the second CEO of Intel after Gordon Moore, a Silicon Valley legend) cited by our professor and by Paul Otellini (the current CEO of Intel) when he did his talk here at the GSB recently.

Intel had started out in the memory business (DRAM) and was pretty successful at it in the beginning; along the way they stumbled into inventing the microprocessor which was a smaller niche business opportunity at first, but was growing rapidly. By the early to mid 1980’s Intel’s market share in DRAM had fallen to 3% of the market, while Intel was quickly becoming the micro-processor company (with sales of the IBM PC soaring).

Some on the team didn’t want to abandon the products on which the company had started and become successful (DRAM). Others clearly thought they should focus the company on microprocessors.

Andy Grove asked a now famous question to Gordon Moore and to other team members: If a new management team came in, and took a fresh look at this business, what would they do? Inevitably the answer was that the new management team would drop the old business (DRAM) and focus on the new fast-growing business (microprocessors).

Grove then suggested that instead of bringing in a new team, the existing team go out the revolving door and come back in and make that decision, which they eventually did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Being a technology guy, I find case studies like Intel (the largest and most successful microprocessor company) and Electronic Arts (one of the largest video game companies in the world) to be terribly interesting. But for some of my colleagues, who have no interest in high tech, this class doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal.

We also had several sessions over the last two weeks with Stanford GSB’s Dean, Bob Joss, who is retiring next year, about leadership. He spoke a lot about the differences between leadership vs. management. It’s getting late now and I won’t have time to go into everything he talked about, but one thing he said that I liked and I think might even summarize a lot of what we discussed regarding managers vs. leaders:

“Managers are assigned subordinates. Leaders start with no followers; they have to recruit them.”

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Blogger The Bearded Lady said...

your blog makes the experience sound so real, it's appreciated. I actually decided to apply for next year after reading your comments - what to expect, the type of learning, etc...
I'll be coming to a class on Dec 4th so might see you there!

8:09 PM  

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