I cannot believe that the first quarter is already over! It has been quick and intense… so intense, that I have not managed to keep updating the blog on a monthly basis. (I will fix this over the next few weeks, when I will get some well deserved rest!). Thankfully, these first four months have also been rewarding intellectually and emotionally. After lots of work and some challenges, I feel very optimistic about the rest of the MBA, including the internship search which will start in January.
Here is a picture which summarizes all that my classmates and I had to go through academically, and a post with some reflections on all the courses I just finished.
My classmates and I have now completed the required Management Perspectives, the mandatory set of courses which all students have to take in the first quarter. 18 units in my pocket, 87 to go! The second and third quarters (Management Foundations) offer some flexibility in the choice of classes, as long as your required course load hits a certain number of units. Here is the official description for all the courses I took, below are some quick thoughts of mine. I had already discussed Managing Groups and Teams in a previous post.
- Organizational Behavior. An interesting class about various psychological biases of human beings, as individuals and as part of groups, which affect the way an organization works. Examples are making decisions, judging people, mediating… and several other topics.The course also explored various ways to anticipate and circumvent these biases. My work experience has taught me the importance of understanding these “mental shortcuts”, both when leading people and when being led, so I truly enjoyed this course and I will make extensive use of what I learnt in the years to come. The professor was also extremely good and engaging, and she made great use of some funny experiential learning exercises.
- Strategic Leadership. This was the most intense course for me, but I feel that I got the most out of it. Each class was a balanced mix of theoretical frameworks and case discussions. In very broad terms, the course covered the identification of a strategy given the industry where a firm operates, the alignment of the organization with the strategy, and various leadership challenges in dealing with complex corporate structures and change of competitive conditions. Quickly learning these frameworks and adapting them to a specific case study in preparation for each class was a lot of work. In any case, I found most of the cases very interesting, especially when they covered industries that I did not know at all. The professor was an absolute rock star, and classes were as intimidating as entertaining!
- Managerial Skills. A quick seminar of four lectures, with class participation only and no exam, about some of the most crucial skills a senior manager must hone – e.g. hiring employees or managing crisis situations. I liked the practical nature of the course, the focus on small-medium enterprises (where the impact of some of these decisions is larger), the role plays in class, and the fact that the professor was a renowned entrepreneur in his late fifties, with lots of wisdom to share.
- Leadership Labs. This experiential course is so unique that it would require a long post on its own, but I’ll keep it short. In a nutshell, each of us was assigned to a squad of 5-6 students, led by a second year student who was selected for the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows program. The squad met every week for 2 hours, and went through role plays and reflection about group dynamics. On the side, we worked on a project for Strategic Leadership, which prompted for more reflection on how we operated as a team. The core of the sessions was helping each other to work towards personal leadership goals, and gave one another continuous feedback on the impact we have on others. The course culminated with the Executive Challenge, which is a big event with hundreds of alumni coming to campus. On the day we had to work with another person in our squad on a challenging role play, and we were judged by high-profile alumni. All other squad members would observe us and gave us feedback. We would then rotate the pairs. I enjoyed the whole experience, and learnt valuable lessons on team dynamics, and my strengths/weaknesses as a leader. I also had the chance to admire leadership features in my squad mates that I would like to incorporate in my style. However, leadership is an ongoing process which requires continuous learning, so I feel that this was just a good introduction and not a conclusive course per se.
- Ethics and Management. It is admirable that Stanford offers a class about ethics in business at very beginning of the MBA. The content was interesting, ranging from the way people should make decisions, according to various ethical frameworks, to the way people do make ethical choices in reality, with another long list of psychological biases. If anything, it was a bit too theoretical at times (I never thought I would study Kant ever again in my life!), but we also covered some interesting real-life ethical situations from various industries. I realized that, although there is never a single simple answer to a moral dilemma, the frameworks that we studied will prove useful years down the line for tough decisions.
- Smart Pricing & Market Design (advanced option for Optimization and Simulation Modeling). Great course which covered various economic topics, ranging from pricing strategies to auctions. It was very practical, with only a light touch on economic theory, and an extensive use of Excel and Solver. The first part of the material directly related to some of my previous experience years ago as a Commercial Analyst at Universal Music, so I thoroughly enjoyed rethinking some of the issues that I faced back then under the perspective of the course. Also, we had some amazing guest speakers from Facebook and Uber, and the 2012 Nobel Prize for Economics. Wow!
- Financial Accounting (accelerated option). My favorite course of the quarter. I had studied accounting before, so I assumed that the lectures would be a repetition of concepts that I already knew. I was totally wrong! The course took the interesting approach of analyzing accounting issues from the perspective of a user of financial statements. We explored various gray areas of accounting policies, and learnt tools for reading into the incentives that companies have to adopt one policy rather another. On top of this, the professor was excellent: he managed to turn some potentially boring topics (e.g. pension accounting…) into entertaining lectures. Kudos to him!
Of course, the first quarter was much more than the academics. Forming deep bonds with several classmates was by far the most rewarding part of the experience. There are so many ways and occasions for meaningful interactions – through LeadLabs, class projects, study groups, coffee chats, small group dinners, PlayStation breaks once a week with FIFA ’16, going for groceries together, etc. etc. However, the most magic event and my absolute favorite thing at the GSB is TALK, a true tradition of the program, which deserves to be the topic for the next post.
I also had time for reflection on my next career steps, and during the break I will finalize my choices for the internship search strategy, both via On-Campus Recruiting (i.e. several companies coming to campus for interviews in January) and a more networking-based approach. Overall, I am very happy with my Stanford experience so far and I am excited about what lies ahead in the next 18 months.