Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stanford Business, Entry 14: Nike, PACCAR, Boeing, Amazon and Costco: Our Northwest Study Trip

Keeping up with our breakneck pace, we had our first out-of-town study trip last week, followed by the Stanford Thanksgiving break. I think I like the Stanford thanksgiving break a lot better than I liked the MIT break during my undergrad days; at Stanford, we got the whole week off.

This was (no doubt) so that we could catch up on the work for our final projects, since there's only one week of class left in the Quarter before... (drumroll)... Final Exams.

Of course we all studied very hard during this break (Well, honestly, most people started their vacation last weekend and took the whole week off; now we're struggling to get caught up on everything by Monday morning).

In the case of the Sloans, we left for Portland the week before Thanksgiving (for our international readers, Thanksgiving is a very big holiday in the US, and occurs on the last Thursday of November). On Wednesday morning, we got up very early (pre-dawn), flew up to Portland, Oregon, where we visited the headquarters of Nike.

On Thursday, we rode in a bus from Portland to Seattle and visited PACCAR (originally stood for the Pacific Car and Foundry Company), and then on Friday we visited three companies in the Seattle area: Boeing,, and finally Costco. Many of us spent the weekend in Seattle, our first real break since the term started.

Study trips like this are, in my opinion, one of the more fun aspects of business school. OK well maybe it's not exactly fun to get up before dawn, get dressed up in business suits, and spend the whole day listening to corporate executives talk about how great their businesses are.

But relatively speaking, it's much more fun than being in a classroom talking about these same things. On the positive side, we (usually) get to meet with high level executives of (usually) well-known companies, they give us a schpeal about Leadership, with copious amounts of company history thrown in for color, and we (usually) ask them lots of (usually) intelligent questions. And that beats studying about the derivation of the Black-Scholes option pricing formula any day!

So here’s my brain-dump from what I recall of our Northwest Study Trip:

The Cult-ure of Nike

We were welcomed to Nike headquarters near Portland by a number of executives, including the head of Nike HR, a woman in charge of retail aspects of Niketown, and a guy named Nelson, who was one of the first employees of Nike when it started back in the 70’s. His official title is now something like “Keeper of the Nike Culture”; kind of a cool title – what it seems to involve, as far as I can tell, is displaying knick-knacks that he has collected along the way, and telling stories about Nike’s history, which he did with great aplomb and fanfare.

Nelson shared with us that you could understand Nike by looking at the primary personalities around which the company was built - Phil Knight (who was CEO for a long time, not to mention a Stanford business school alum; also a multi-billioinare who donated enough money to Stanford that the new GSB campus will be called the Knight Management Center); a very famous mid-distance runner in the 1970’s named Steve PreFontaine (known to the initiated simply as Pre), and Bill Bowerman, who was a legendary track and field coach for both Knight and Pre at the University of Oregon.

Does this history matter? Well from what I could tell, these stories reflect the culture of Nike quite well to this day; and of the companies we visited, Nike had the most in your face culture: Everyone at Nike seemed to be 1) passionate about sports, and 2) passionate about the history and culture of Nike, and 3) very, very competitive, as if business was sport.

I love Nike’s products and they’ve certainly developed one of the top consumer brands of the last 30 years, but the visit was a bit strange for me. It kind of felt like I was going on a guided tour of a Scientology shrine. I felt, I don’t know how else to put it, like I was one of the un-initiated.

But it’s probably because 1) I’m not a sports fanatic, and 2) Before our visit, I had no idea who Pre was, 3) I didn’t know that Coach Bowerman was a legend in the running world, and 4) I knew that the new Stanford Business School campus was named Knight, who must've been a very rich guy for Stanford to name a campus after him, but that was about it.

We also had the former head of Nike Golf give us a presentation about leadership. Speaking of Golf, did I mention the meeting was in the Tiger Woods shrine, er, i mean, building? This building is basically a memorial to Tiger's career, including some of his trophies, memorabilia, and a timeline showing everything Tiger has done in his career. For golf fans, this building must be like dying and going to heaven.

Many of the Nike buildings are named after famous athletes. At the moment I can’t remember any of them, except for Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan (probably the last Nike product that I know by name was the Air Jordan when it was introduced in 1984, and I was on junior high school basketball team).

Nike even had an athletes walk of fame – kind of like the Hollywood Stars. I could hear my colleague’s sounds of recognition as they saw the name of their favorite 70’s or 80’s football or baseball or basketball player.

It felt like a trip into the “Cult of Nike”; I don’t mean that Nike is a cult in a bad sense; the most effective organizations with the most passionate members usually have this kind of quality to them.

Another thing I noticed about Nike culture: I found them to be brutally honest. Maybe too much so, which I kind of appreciated.

For example, why did they start the non-profit Nike foundation? Honstely, because they were getting a lot of heat over bad working conditions in their off-shore factories. Why did they want us to go the Nike store? To spend lots of money on their products so their profits will go up. Why were they being so nice to us? Because they hoped we might want to work for Nike someday. What is Nike's biggest weakness today as a company? That they're a bunch of old white guys with very little diversity. Actually it was kind of refereshing to get such direct answers.

Of course, being ignorant about sports didn’t stop me (or my classmates) from spending at the famed Nike Store. I usually buy a pair of sneakers once every five years; I bought two pairs that day!

PACCAR: The Lexus of Heavy Duty Trucks

On Thursday, we visited PACCAR outside of Seattle. According to Wikipedia, they are the third largest manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks in the world. I hadn’t heard of them before the Sloan program (one of our classmates is from PACCAR), though I had heard of their truck brands – Kenworth and Peterbilt in the US and DAF in Europe. There’s a famous gun-battle scene in the movie Heat, which was one of my favorite movies of the 90’s.

Although I grew up in Detroit, I'd never been to an automotive assembly line, so this was fun for me to see. In fact, between Nike, PACCAR, and Boeing, it was fun to see companies that made actual things.

This might seem like a trivial point, but I was discussing this with another software guy in our class, and he remarked that we weren’t used to building actual physical objects – our products are usually just bits and bytes on a computer.

At PACCAR, we had a former Sloan and (currently EVP of something), give us a talk about the company and its history. Inevitably, the question about why GM and the other US car companies were doing so poorly and why PACCAR wasn’t in danger came up. The answer was interesting – having to do with being hamstrung by unions, quality of products, and providing what customers wanted.

Of course, the world wide recession was affecting them too – demand for trucks was down considerably, their plant was running at less than maximum capacity.

The first thing that struck many of us about the assembly line was that it was spotless; as one of our colleagues from Japan told us, just like Japanese assembly lines, you could eat food off of the floor (No not literally!).

The second thing was how automated the whole process was – PACCAR was a poster-child for efficiency. Each piece of the assembly had it's own barcoding and in some cases RFID so they could track exactly where the parts or the assembled trucks were.

In fact, PACCAR is one of the few companies that Toyota allows to use one of its internal suppliers, notably the Lexus supplier for interiors, PACCAR trucks are known as the high end of trucks, often called the “Lexus of Trucks”.

When we sat inside the cab of one of their finished trucks, I could see why. As the owner of three Lexus vehicles (the only car I’d ever owned before buying a Honda hybrid a few years ago), I can confirm that the interior looked and felt kind of like I was sitting in a Lexus!

The Bigness of Boeing

On Friday we visited Boeing – this was fun. One of the EVP’s (also a Stanford Sloan alum) gave us a talk about Boeing’s line of aircraft, including the new model of the 747 (which is being used for freight primarily) and the new 787 dreamliner, of which lots of airlines have ordered, but which is behind schedule.

Of course the conversation naturally turned to Airbus and Boeing’s recent rivalry – the A380 (the very large plane that Airbus released recently) vs. the 787 dreamliner. Airbus’s plane is bigger. Does that matter? On any visit to Boeing, the conversation inevitably turns toward size.

We saw brand new 747’s being produced on the assembly line and all I can say is that they are BIG. We visited the BIGGEST building in the world. It’s so big that it has it's own fire-station, birds live in rafters, and Boeing employees hunt the birds now and then to clear them out. The building can house something like 70 football fields. The engines of the Boeing 767 are so big that it’s the same size as the fuselage (i.e. the body) of the 737 (which is the airplane that airlines like southwest use for point to point flights).

How does Boeing feel about Airbus plane being bigger than theirs? Boeing makes the point that they tried to go out to sell a larger plane, but came back with a different set of customer requirements - more fuel efficient planes. Boeing says that the two new planes are not really direct competitors – the A380 was meant for a hub and spoke model, where large numbers of passengers are going from hub to hub. The 787 dreamliner, a much more fuel efficient plane, is meant for point-to-point travel and so Boeing will sell alot more of them.

Like PACCAR, Boeing seems to be affected by the recession. Unlike PACCAR, they seem to have a very large union workforce. Unlike PACCAR, you can’t order a plane from Boeing before 2015, because all of the planes coming off the assembly line are already accounted for by “firm orders” from airlines around the world. Why would the recession affect them if planes are full until 2015? Don't know but they were certainly of the opinion that the recession would be bad for them.

We then drove by Boeing’s own little airport, which is just outside this building. When the planes are built, they are then flown off to the ordering airlines right from Boeing field. Oops...did I say "little" airport? I stand corrected. The Palo Alto airport is a little airport. Compared to this, the Boeing field is freaking huge.

Kindlin at Amazon

We then shuttled off to, to meet a GSB Alum who is in charge of corporate development. For me personally this was a fun visit, because of the internet angle (the lobby with articles from the nineties was like a trip down memory lane back to the dot com boom). It was also fun because as writer, I’m all into books. One of the things he spent a lot of time talking about was the Amazon kindle e-book reader.

The Kindle has been under development for a while – as it seems have many other non-successful ebook platforms. This one, though was endorsed by Oprah, who gave away kindles to all the members of her studio audience recently. And, just like that, Amazon sold out of all of it’s kindles.

With over 200,000 books available on it, this might be the ebook reader that actually works. What makes this one different? The Power of Oprah.


We ended our visit with a trip to Costco. The CFO it turns out is also a Stanford GSB Alum, and he came prepared with lots of slides about Costco’s past and future performance.

Speaking of cults, Costco is fascinating not because of the cult-like nature of employees, but because of the attitude of customers. It turns out I was the only US resident in the audience who’d never been inside a Costco. I remember last year, when I was part of a California company that was being acquired by EMC (which is a Massachusetts company). During the HR question and answer session (in California), the only question that the employees seemed to care about, really care about, even in this age of inflated health care prices, was whether the new company was still going to pay for employee’s Costco membership cards!

When I moved to California about a year ago, I happened to be going to a store which shared a parking lot with a Costco on the weekends. It was a madhouse… with kids and entire families jumping with excitement as if they were going to Disneyworld! There was an electricity there. Think of a 21st century version of the Brady Bunch dressing up in their sunday best to go to Sears.

We learned a lot about the history of Costco; about the founding of the company; they did close to $100 million in their very first year. They’re the third largest retailer in the industry (after Walmart and Target, I believe). The founders are still around, and the culture is very no-frills, keep costs low kind of culture.

The bottom line: Costco sells a lot of stuff at very low, wholesale prices. In fact, the CFO showed us all manner of pics and figures of the amount of various products they sell, ranging from hot dogs to diamond rings.

One dynamic that he mentioned was that Dads who spend time with their kids on weekends and aren’t sure what to do, take the kids to Costco. The kids pig out on the sugary sweets and greasy food (well he didn’t say that exactly but he did say that Costco wasn’t into healthy food) while the Dad shops, the perfect win-win situation.

Unlike PACCAR and Boeing, though, Costco doesn’t seem to be suffering from the downturn. Even more people are looking for ways to save money. In fact, he said that many "premium" brands who would not even talk to Costco in the past are now approaching Costco to get rid of excess inventory. Soon we may all be dancing in the Costco parking lots looking forward to seeing Mickey Mouse!

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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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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Stanford Business, Entry 12: Midterms, Negotiations, and Sarah Palin

I’ve missed a week (or maybe two) in the blog because of two crazy busy weeks, which concluded this last weekend with our midterm exams and Halloween parties both on and off campus. Here are my top observations about the last two weeks:

Taking tests was both easier and harder than I thought it would be.

Our midterms were our first real academic challenge since we arrived at the Stanford Graduate School of Business program two months ago. This is no small point, given that many of us in the Sloan program have been out of school for more than 10 years (!).

I think it’s safe to say that many in our class were stressed out about the Finance exam. and preparing feverishly over the past week (when we had time to study, which was cut dramatically short by our Negotiations class – see point below).

While a few of our classmates worked in finance before (so the class is pretty easy for them), for many of us, the concepts are completely new. Some of us didn’t even know what selling stock short was a few short weeks ago. I can confess that I didn’t really grasp the differences between NPV, IRR, despite being exposed to both concepts in my career. And I have to confess that I knew very little about the CAPM (Capital Asset Pricing Model) or market-efficient portfolios when I arrived on campus just a few weeks ago. Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure that I buy into the CAPM or market efficient portfolios even now, but I hope like hell I got the questions right on the exam!

Conversely, many of our classmates did not seem so stressed out over our Economics exam. This was a surprise to me, since I find Econ to be a little bit subjective and was probably more stressed out over it than I was about finance.

Not surprisingly, no one seemed to be stressed out over our OB exam, which was either a 3-hour take-home exam or a final paper.

So, what’s it like to take an exam at Stanford GSB?

Since Stanford is one of the few Universities with a formal honor code, teachers don’t proctor exams in the classroom. No TA’s either. Just us chickens, er I mean students.
Our teacher, Professor F., after handing out the exam, wrote his office phone number on the board, told us to call him if we had any questions, and left for the day.

Really. There was no one monitoring the exam, and we are expected to keep our own time, not do anything that’s not allowed, and hand in the exam in to the appropriate location before the deadline has passed.

This means that there isn’t that much difference between an in-class exam and a take-home exam, especially since they’re both completely open book and open notes. The in-class exams had time limits of 1.5 hours, and the take home exam (which we had a whole week to complete) had an honor-code-bound time limit of 3 hours.

Oddly enough, this honor code thing probably made us more conscious about making sure we didn’t do anything wrong than a more traditional exam type of environment.

So how did I do? I don’t know – we haven’t gotten the results yet… so I’m rushing to get this blog entry up before we get the results.

Cramming in an extra class is both a good and a bad idea.

The one thing that complicated our exam schedule (OK it wasn’t the only thing, but the biggest thing) was that during the week before our midterms, we had an extra class. Not just an extra hour or two, but 15 hours of a normal ten session elective class, Negotiations, every night from 5 to 8 pm.

What was it like? We would show up to class and immediately get instructions on the negotiation exercise for the day. Before the lecture, We’d usually go out and conduct a fictional negotiation.
We’d work hard to try to get the best deal in the negotiations that we could (sometimes not reaching any agreement whatsoever), and then head back to the classroom where the teacher put up our scores in front of the whole group, so we could make fun of those of us who didn’t do so well. Haha, no just kidding about that last part. Actually the negotiations where one party didn’t do well were the ones where we learned the most.

In one week we did: a two-party negotiation where one person was trying to buy a plant from the other party and had to agree on a price; a three party-negotiation where each of us represented a company and we needed to figure out which two of the three were going to work together, or if all three were going to work together (this one was a bit of a mindbender, if you do the math, it naturally leads to all kinds of Machiavellian behavior); a multi-division group negotiation (where each of us was on a three-person team that had to negotiate with another three-person team – this one proved to be the most difficult believe it or not); and finally a six-party negotiation with representatives from six different organizations (this one kind of reminded me of the six-party talks between the US and North Korea, with everyone trying to get their little piece of the pie – it was about as successful too).

As I said in my last entry about OB, for some of my engineering friends, it might seem that we’re just playing parlor games . And OK, I have to admit, these exercises are a bit contrived, but the experience of going through them is, in my opinion, probably going to stay with us longer than the derivation of the CAPM from our class.

All Hallow’s Eve

It was Friday, and Exam week had come to an end. The students were dressing up as ghosts and ghouls and vampires. This is Halloween. This is Halloween. Halloween, Halloween! (honor code note, src: Tim Burton’s the Night Before Christmas).

Actually I was so tired of both negotiations and exams that I went to three Halloween parties this weekend – a Graduate Student Halloween Party on Friday (which was in Rains, a Stanford Graduate Dorm), a Sloan Fellow’s party on Saturday (which was for our class and partners, held at one of our colleague’s house in Palo Alto), and the MBA Halloween party (which was at a local nightclub in Palo Alto). This is the benefit of being on campus – honestly I don’t think I’ve even been to three Halloween parties over the past three years, let alone in one weekend.

For many of our international friends, this whole Halloween thing was a bit of a spectacle. Why were we dressing up in funny costumes? Why were we putting in so much effort to dress up in funny costumes? Did they have to wear costumes to come to a Halloween Party or could they go in normal clothes? If Halloween is supposed to be scary, why were there people walking around dressed as politicians?

Of the three parties that I went to, the Sloan Halloween party was by far the most fun. Which is funny because we definitely had the highest average age of the three parties. We had classmates dressed as everything from Arab Oil Sheiks to the Grim Reaper and the Incredible Hulk (actually we had two Hulks at our Sloan party alone, growling at each other every chance they got).

But what was the most popular costume on campus this Halloween? Without a doubt, it was Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin.

While I did see one Hillary, one Bill Clinton, one Barack Obama, and one John McCain. I counted at least 10 Sarah Palin’s. Most of them were dressed up in suits, with hair adorned like the veep candidate and matching glasses to boot. If that wasn’t enough, one of them was dressed in a bikini swimsuit with a beauty-contestant sash. And once I ran into two Sarah Palin’s travelling together who looked slightly different –one was Sarah when she was Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and the other was after her national makeover. Now that was scary.

Return to Normalcy

Even scarier? On Sunday night, I found myself suddenly without anything to do. No more exams. My take-home paper was done. My take-home exam was done. There were no more Halloween parties. No GSB events or Sloan activities to attend. No required Leadership workshops, prep sessions, or Seminars to dress up for. No last minute study group meetings for assignments due on Monday morning.

Wow. After two months of non-stop activity, I suddenly found myself not knowing what to do with myself. I tried hard to remember what it was like to be a normal person again.

Then I recalled that we had lots of reading to do for this upcoming week, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Since the OB class was over, we also had a new Strategy class that started at 8 am and there was no way I was going to make that unless I got some sleep this week. Somehow the large amount of reading (which I hadn’t done yet) and upcoming assignments (which I hadn’t started yet) hanging over my head had become comforting.

I found that a little bit disturbing. Instead of doing any reading that night, I rented a science fiction movie and watched it guilt-free.

SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: the opinions and experiences recounted in these blog entries about my year at Stanford Business School for the Sloan Program are my own personal observations and ranting. This blog is not endorsed by either the Stanford GSB and definately not by any of my fellow Fellows

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