Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stanford Business, Entry 15: The Last Class, Finals, and Clint Eastwood

We finished classes on Thursday of last week, and this week is Finals Week. It’s hard to believe that a third of the school year is already over, and very soon after we start back up in January, the program will be half over. I guess that’s both part of the upside and the downside of being in a one-year program: it goes very quickly.

The Last Day Of Class.
On the last day of class, we had Strategy (which was as short half-term class, which I enjoyed, unlike many of my classmates judging from their comments), Finance (which was perhaps too long of a class), and Economics.
I have to admit that I was sad to end our Economics class. We’ve had this class since the pre-term, and I think I’ve only missed it only once (when, for some odd reason, we had it at 8:30 am, rather than it’s usual 1:15 pm time slot). OK OK, if you read this blog, you’ll notice that at the beginning of the term, I wasn’t so hot on this class.

But it has grown on me, especially since we started discussing Macroeconomics. Given the events going on in the US and World economies, this class may have become (in my opinion) our most interesting class, and professor Flanagan seems adept at teaching us how to think about obscure concepts like the marginal product of labor, potential GDP, and the reserve requirements of the Fed, very clear. So much so that I think I’ll actually miss not having econ moving forward! Who would’ve thunk it?

Clint Eastwood rides onto campus.
On the evening after the last day of classes, many of the Sloans went to a local hockey game (the team was the San Jose sharks), organized by one of our classmates who’s a hockey aficionado. For many of our international students, this was their first time ever seeing hockey. I ended up not going because there was another event on campus that I found interesting: A showing Clint Eastwood’s film, Letters from Iwo Jima, followed by a discussion with Mr. Eastwood himself. I guess he doesn’t live that far away (Carmel) so it’s not too long of a trip, but this seemed like a pretty unique opportunity, not to be missed.

The movie itself was pretty dramatic– it was about the “defense” of Iwo Jima from the American invaders (and was a counterpart to Eastwood’s earlier movie, Flags of our Fathers). The movie was almost entirely in Japanese with English subtitles. Even though I speak some Japanese, I couldn’t understand a word and had to read the English.

Clint (may I call him Clint??) was introduced by a professor at Stanford who had written a book or two about history and the movies. This seemed like a good idea, but ended up being painful because the guy went on with a very lengthy introduction of Eastwood, while Clint sat there on stage, patiently waiting for his chance to well, say something.

This guy quoted lines from his Dirty Harry movies, and otherwise demonstrated his excellent knowledge of Clint Eastwood’s career. More than a few of us in the audience were thinking: “OK dude, so you’re a smart professor. Now shut it and let Clint Eastwood talk, which is why we came here tonight”.

In some ways, this event was a great example of what’s good and bad about academia. On the one hand, we had an Oscar winning director come to show his movie and discuss it with us. That doesn’t happen every day in the real world. On the other hand, we had a know-it-all professor who was trying to show how he “knew it all” and wanted to demonstrate his knowledge about the subject, when we, the audience, were primarily interested in the subject itself and not the professor’s take on it!
In his defense, the professor (I forget his name) did ask some good questions and eventually let Clint answer them, which was interesting. At the end of the discussion, the professor started to close down the event with: “Well, thank you Clint Eastwood for coming here to Stanford tonight.”

Clint smiled his one sided smile and asked, very calmly, in that soft but authoritative voice cut him off: “Well, don’t they have any questions?”and gestured at us, the audience. It was probably the defining moment of the night, and left the professor a little flummoxed. The good news is that we the people got to ask Clint questions; I asked him about the budget on Iwo Jima ($13 million) and how he funded it (He made a call to Warner’s and got his Japanese distributor to put up some money; the movie has brought in ) and advice of funding indie movies (find someone with money and pitch it to them; this last part wasn’t that helpful but technically accurate). It was definitely the highlight of last week for me.

Final Projects and Exams.
Early this week, we had two final projects due, and two final exams.
For our modeling class (another class that I’ll miss, particularly Professor Moore’s very vivid lectures), we had a final regression analysis project. My team’s project was an analysis of the variation of Linden Dollars (The virtual currency used in the online virtual world, Second Life) vs. US Dollar exchange rate, to see if it could be explained by a variety of other factors.

For our strategy class, each group had to do a “strategy audit” of a real company. The companies ranged from online travel to sports aircraft companies, and this was our first experience in reaching out to companies outside the b-school for a b-school project. Our team did a project on TCHO, a hip new chocolate company located in San Francisco (Yes, we did get free chocolate each time we visited them).

We had our first of two final exams on Monday: Economics. Even though I think I’ve gotten good at econ, this was a much tougher exam than I’d anticipated. The fact that it was Open Book didn’t help much; we’d spent much of macro talking about employment, inflation, and GDP, and almost no time talking about deflation, which ended up being a big part of the exam. Even some of my classmates who were econ majors in undergrad weren’t totally sure about their answers. Oops. Did I say I’d miss econ and I was sad that it was over? Let me reconsider that…

We now have only one more exam before the end of the term – Finance. This class has been a tough one for many of my classmates, particularly those who have never been exposed to financial or investing topics before. It must’ve also been a tough one to teach, because we have a variety of people ranging from finance experts (people who have traded options and worked for investment banks) to finance novices (who had no idea what a call or a put were before this class).

For me, I’m somewhere in the middle – I traded options for fun many years ago so know what they are (and might I add am pretty good at losing money trading options which is why I don’t do it anymore). But I’ve had very little exposure to the theory behind them. And I definately don’t buy the finance class’s conclusion that taking on debt can be a good thing for the company. Isn’t that what got GM and other automakers in trouble in the first place? Toyota (to the chagrin of many Japanese bankers, and I would add to many b-school finance professors) has zero debt, and no one is talking about them going out of business!

Speaking of finance, the test is coming up in less than 48 hours. I really should have been studying rather than watching the Humphrey Bogart double-feature at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto this evening. Oops. Too late to study now, will have to cram tomorrow for the test on Thursday.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to talk with you about your TCHO project. How can I contact you directly?

6:26 PM  
Anonymous zenentrepreneur said...

you can email rvirk at stanford dot edu

11:06 PM  

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