Stanford GSB, Entry 19: Rainy, Foamy, Fuzzy, and Right-Wingy: Profs, Secretaries, Do-gooders, and criminals
Wow it’s been a while since I’ve written. I guess I got so caught up in winter quarter stuff that I haven’t really been keeping the blog up to date – so there’s a lot to write about.
So what’s been going on? Well for one thing, we are almost completely finished with the winter term – only one week of classes is left!
It seems like it was just yesterday that I was taking my accounting and my finance midterms. How did I do? Well, the engineering background continues to pay off; since they were both based on solid concepts which can be taught (and learned), I did pretty well.
So what does the end of the winter quarter mean at the GSB?
For one thing, rain. So much for the illusion that attending Stanford means going to school in “Sunny California”! It’s been raining almost non-stop for the past month (or so it seems). Today the sun came out for a few minutes, which was nice.
Yes I know, California is suffering from a drought, California needs rain, so I shouldn’t be complaining, but couldn’t it rain, like every other day, instead of every single day?
It’s enough to make my thoughts turn to Southern California. Or maybe Arizona. Or maybe even Las Vegas. Ahh, to feel the sun shining on my face again…
Which reminds me - Vegas FOAM is next week. FOAM, for those of you following the blog will know is the Tuesday night partying done by the MBA’s (joined by an occasional Sloan or two), since we don’t “officially” have classes on Wednesdays at the GSB. It stands for Friends Of Arjay Miller (Arjay Miller Scholars are the ones who get good grades).
Usually, Tuesday night FOAMs are held at a local establishment, but next week everyone (well not everyone, but many) will be flying to Vegas after classes on Tuesday, spend the night partying there, and flying back on in time for the non-existent Wednesday classes, or at the very latest, in time for Thursday classes.
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The other two things that end of the term means are “Final Exams” and “Final Projects”.
The thing about group projects in Business School that I find odd (and perhaps a little bit scary), is that in our fuzzy classes, a very large percentage of our grade (in some cases up to 50%) is based on the final project.
This week, I had thee final project due for my entrepreneurship and VC class, taught by Professor G., a 30-plus veteran of the Venture Capital industry. In that class, we had to write a 20-page business plan); I think we wrote a pretty good one about using iPhones for building communities based on popular TV shows.
How do I know that it was good? I’ve written a plan or two before and it seemd OK.
On the other hand, we also had both a final project and a final exam for our Marketing class.
I can say that I honestly have no fracking idea what the professor was looking for in our final paper, and even worse, many classmates feel like the final exam is going to be a complete mystery. (Any science fiction-oriented readers will will recognize the Battlestar Galactica reference there – for the rest of you, never mind!).
Which brings me to the subject of fuzzy grading. Fuzzy can be a good thing, as in “warm and fuzzy”. More often than not, at least where the GSB is concerned, a fuzzy class is one where the grading is “arbitrary, capricious, and highly subjective”.
There’s a joke around the student body that in many GSB classes (at least the fuzzy ones), your grade is guaranteed to be accurate within 2 letter grades of what you actually get – up or down! (do the math – it basically means that grades in fuzzy classes are pretty meaningless). I have one classmate who got an H, the highest grade possible, for participation in a class where he felt he didn’t participate that much at all – go figure! Good thing Stanford has a policy of not disclosing grades for MBA’s!
Speaking of classes, especially here at Stanford, grades certainly aren’t everything. In fact, there are quite a few things set up to help local charities. A few weeks ago, we had the White Party, which held an auction for everything from Dinners with famous VC's to yaching with groups of MBA1 girls, with all the proceeds going to charities.
Several of my classmates set up a website for their Social Technology class, which aims to use the web as a vehicle for helping out needy causes.
The site, Education Dream Lab, will help educational projects raise money online using the power of Web 2.0 social networking technologies. (See http://educationdreamlab.org/blog/). For their first project, they are helping students at the Phoenix academy in East Palo Alto (which is generally thought of as being more economically needy area than Palo Alto) with a scholarship fund.
Way to go guys!
In the past few weeks, we’ve had a number of illustrious visitors and it’s always fun to give the outside world a glimpse of who we get to see.
This Monday, Colin Powell gave a talk on campus. It was a big event – tickets were sold out I think. (Due the rain, though, not everyone came; the seats weren't quite as full as you might expect for such a famous guy).
In person, Mr. Powell was pretty engaging and articulate, and even came across, dare I say, passionate. Which is pretty different from his TV persona.
He told quite a few funny stories. For example, he told us one about when he was National Security Advisor and took his then 21-year old son to buy his first car. As a negotiating tactic, he picked up his brick satellite phone (remember those?) and said things like “Yes, Mr. President, I’ll be right there, Mr. President”, even when the President wasn’t on the phone. Why? To show the car dealer he was ready to walk away and they’d better settle on a deal very fast!
Unfortunately, Powell, who came across very as very likable during this talk, avoided the tough questions – no students were allowed to ask questions. California in general and Stanford in particular is a pretty liberal place, and I couldn’t wait for someone to ask him about his “performance” at the UN convincing the nation to go into the military adventure in Iraq.
Speaking of Iraq, guess who also arrived on campus this week? In fact, her first day was the same day that Colin Powell gave his speech.
Who else but his successor as Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. She got her PhD here at Stanford, was a professor and a provost here (I have no idea what a provost is, so don’t ask), before she was recruited by one called “W.” to make the trek up to Washington.
Thus far, no speeches on campus from Condi (though she did give an interview to the Stanford Daily). Now that she's back on campus, I’d be happy to interview her for this blog! I’ll keep you posted.
Speaking of former Secretaries of State, we (the Sloan class) had a private audience with George Schultz, who was Reagan’s Secretary of State in the Eighties a few weeks ago. Speaking of eighties, Schultz is in his late 80’s (89 if I’m not mistaken), but was in very good form for our event.
He sat on a very old-fashioned chair in front of our class, spoke a little bit about wanting to rid the world of Nuclear Weapons, and then proceeded to answer every one of our questions. Come on Colin and Condi, if an 89 year old guy can take questions from students, so can you!
Schultz told us some stories of his days with Reagan, and meeting the leaders of foreign countries. One of the most memorable was about Deng Xiopeng of China.
“People in that part of the world, “ said Mr. Schultz, when asked his impressions of Deng, “sometimes get a reputation of beating around the bush and not being direct. Well let me tell you, Deng did NOT have that problem. He was probably the most blunt person I’ve ever met - He told you exactly what he was thinking without wasting any time.”
In other words, he wasn't Fuzzy at all!
One of our more entertaining speakers thus far came to our accounting class. Yes, you heard that right, I said accounting.
We had Sam Antar, the former CFO of Crazy Eddie’s, which was a well-known electronics retailer in the New York / New Jersey area which went public in the 1980’s. I had never heard of Crazy Eddie’s, but it turns out it was one of the hottest stocks when it IPO’ed, well before the dot com boom, climbing from 8 to 80 very quickly based on it rapid earngins growth.
The only problem was that it turned out to be one of the biggest securities frauds to hit Wall Street up to that time. Sam and his cousin Eddie, the company's founder, had been skimming money off the top, falsely reporting inflated earnings, laundering money, and doing all kinds of unsavory things to defraud investors and keep their stock climbing.
Sam is a convicted felon, and he explained some of the schemes they used in duping the IRS, his auditors (KPMG), and the public. He also explained how white collar crime was usually about making people comfortable so they overlooked the details - it was more about distraction than obstruction, he said.
With the recent Madoff scandal on everyone’s mind, this made for a very colorful presentation.
But do you know what the real crazy thing is? While Eddie went to prison and the Antar family had to pay like $90 million back to investors and to the government, Sam got off scott free – no civil or criminal penalties against the millions he’d made as the deceptive CFO of the now defunct electronics retailer.
Not just that, but he got to keep the $20 million or so he’d made from stock during that period, and now he’s giving talks at Stanford Business School!
Wow. Now that’s pretty crazy...