Thursday, September 27, 2007

Applications, applications, applications...!

I wasn’t really planning on writing my next post on the application process, but since this is the application-frenzy season, I decided to pitch my take on the things that make an application successful. Being a member of the McCombs School of Business Admissions Committee (the MAC), I had the privilege (and sometimes the “privilege”), to read MANY applications of the class of 2009 candidates and see, firsthand, how significant is the difference between a well thought-out application and an application that would survive the first round of the screening process.

Most important of all is realizing that you are who you are. Sounds trivial but many applications come-across as less believable because the candidates went out of their way in order to try and impress their readers. This oftentimes results in a non-credible application that doesn’t survive the reviewing process. Creating endless lists of achievements and awards you have received ever since you were the first toddler who stayed dry for three straight hours doesn’t make you more impressive! Being honest, creative and authentic will go a longer way in making you appealing to any school. Think about it almost as if you were writing to a good friend who lives abroad about your desires and plans regarding your MBA experience. Don’t make an extreme effort to adjust your essays to what you think the school’s representatives will be looking for. Realize that in the top MBA programs the staff itself is diversified so doing that will not necessarily improve your chances; it may have the opposite effect.

Be in a good mood when you write your essays! Your mood affects your level of openness and creativity, and that will surely be reflected in your writing. If there’s a place that positively affects your mood, go there! Writing an essay doesn’t require a wireless connection, so writing on top of a hill outside of the city is perfectly possible and may add that necessary “edge” to your essays. To me, that helped a lot, together with a good playlist of “Ambience” and “Lounge” music, enabling me to “disconnect” and focus on writing.

Choose your advisers carefully. I strongly suggest that you let someone with relevant experience read your essays. It can be an MBA graduate, preferably from recent classes, or anyone else that you believe can provide some relevant insight. I am not a great believer in paying large amounts of money to all the available advising services. A lot of times, you end-up with a standardized essay that complies with all kinds of rules but neglects the emphasis on yourself. I prefer essays that are a little “ragged” to over-polished essays that smell of the dollars they were “bought” with. Where more “polishing” is relevant is your resume. This item needs to convey professionalism and effectiveness, while maximizing the “real estate” that one letter-size page provides. It is amazing how many times I thought that my resume was “done” and then found myself changing it again. A good practice is to give your resume to someone who hasn’t read it (and preferably isn’t familiar with your professional background), and then ask them to summarize their impression. You’d be amazed how that impression may be different from what you had intended to portray.

I hope I managed to add some insight to the Gazillion of application tips you have already read and heard. And remember….. you’re special..! It’s just a matter of articulating it, which is not always an easy task.

Good luck!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The entrepreneurial skill-set

No, no, no…! Don’t get scared…. This post is not aimed at trying to convince you to become an entrepreneur, nor is it aimed at convincing you to choose entrepreneurship as your MBA major. I am neither and, having served and worked in very large organizations, I do play with the idea of going down that path one day, but it is definitely not my focus during the second year of my MBA program. Having said that, I do think that entrepreneurship has a lot to offer and that every MBA candidate or student should consider taking a least one class from this department (even if your school of choice doesn’t have a strong entrepreneurship department as the one at McCombs).

Many of us perceive entrepreneurs to be “different”. They are those people who can’t see themselves in any corporate environment and seek the strange notions of “career independence” and ”being their own boss”. Besides the fact that more and more business people choose to become entrepreneurs these days, I would like to suggest that entrepreneurship shouldn’t only be considered as an MBA major, a way of life or a career choice. I strongly feel that it can be treated as a set of skills that you can acquire and use in any business environment you’re in. Therefore, taking a dip into the entrepreneurship world, while breezing through your MBA program, can be beneficial, interesting and fun. The main reasons are:

• Entrepreneurship usually examines, analyzes and promotes a business as a complete system, including all of its components (marketing, finance, operations, strategy, etc.). Therefore, an entrepreneurship class will give you the opportunity to understand how the entire mechanism interacts and to get a better perspective of the role of your expertise in promoting your company’s strategic goals.

• If, for example, you’re a finance major who’s looking to diversify your classes but can’t take a concentrated marketing class (the core course was more than enough for you, right?!), an entrepreneurship class offers a good mix of the different aspects of a business, without concentrating only on one.

• More and more business professionals need to be able to evaluate businesses as part of their daily activities; among the many examples I can think about: money managers need to evaluate companies in order to choose the right stocks for their clients, individual investors do the same for their own portfolios, M&A experts need to evaluate potential acquisitions, marketers constantly evaluate competition, VC’s can’t move an inch without mastering the ability of breaking-down a business, etc. The ability to understand a business model, to figure-out its strengths and weaknesses and to be able to evaluate its potential is hardly entrepreneurship-exclusive.

• The criticality level of making the right decisions in an entrepreneurial setting is usually high. In large corporations a wrong decision usually end-up to be a lower slope on the company’s earning’s graph, a lower stock prices or a lost opportunity. For an entrepreneur, a wrong decision may well be the end of the business, no less. Therefore, entrepreneurs must develop critical-thinking skills and an acute ability to analyze the challenges they’re facing and call the right shots, time after time. To me, these are skills that I’d like to have wherever I end-up as a businessman: a small start-up, a corporate-development division of a global company, etc.

• More and more companies are realizing that in many markets it is not enough to hire smart people. Especially in today’s competitive markets (in which many of us will find ourselves, sooner rather than later), it is no longer enough to know the “trade”. One needs to think differently, creatively and synthesize large quantities of complex information and be able to derive the right conclusions….quickly. All of that is what happens in a good entrepreneurship class. Mastering these skills will help set you apart.

If you’re convinced you should, at least, take another look at the list of courses your entrepreneurship department, let me offer this additional advice: Choose a very hands-on, case based class. If possible, chose a class that enables you to work with real entrepreneurs. At McCombs, due to the entrepreneurial spirit of the city if Austin (which is somewhat similar to the one in Israel), and to the strong connection that exists with the university’s technology incubator, we are privileged to be able to do just that. MBA students team-up with real-world entrepreneurs and help them develop the business plan for their product. It is an exciting way to apply what you’re learning and challenge yourself to face dilemmas from different aspects of a business – not just the analysis of its DCF or its 4 P’s.

Having said all that about entrepreneurial skills, I do have some criticism to express. We all know by now that in order to make something popular and widely accepted, it helps a lot to have a catchy name… Google, Skype, Jajah, Youtube and many more have invested much time and money in order to come-up with a name that will easily roll on our tongues. How come, then, that this unique, smart and self-motivated people are still stuck with “Entrepreneurship”…?!!!! It is long, cumbersome and almost no-one can really spell it without the help of a speller. Therefore, I hereby urge the entrepreneurs of the world to gather some of their famous creativity and ingenuity and come-up with a better, catchier name. Any ideas?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Should I ride "The Wave"?

Israelis call it “the wave”. It is the phenomenon created by thousands of adventure-seeking Israelis, usually after finishing their military obligations, who invade (in the touristic sense of the word…), such continents as South-America, looking to travel, party and conquer mountain tops and short-term romances. Since arrival to “the continent” is usually aligned with such events as the famous Carnival in Brazil, a “wave” of “Muchileros” (back-packers) is created. “Riding the wave” means that, during a trip lasting several months, you would meet the same people, again and again, all over the continent.

“Riding the wave” helps a lot. You meet Israeli all the time, receive great tips regarding where to go, where to stay, who’s who and what’s what. It makes the traveling experience in an un-known land much more comfortable and accessible. On the other hand, the wave´s resistance claims, with much logic, that you shouldn’t travel across the world and then look for people who came from the same place and the same culture - the same type of people you would probably live with during the rest of your life.

Then what should you do?! What does it have to do with your MBA experience?!
Since you’re an MBA hopeful, and therefore extremely smart (and if not, don’t tell anyone!), you’ve probably figured-it-out by now. Many MBA hopefuls apply to MBA program that are popular in their countries of origin. Even though it is an understandable process, aren’t we missing something? A very significant aspect of going abroad to get your MBA is the cultural exposure. We all think that and we all talk about it in our heavily-invested applications. But then, after being admitted, do we actually go-out and expose ourselves?! Watching many of my classmates during my first year and speaking to Israeli MBA’s, I would dare to say that many of us don’t. All of us arrive with all the intentions to “internationalize” ourselves to death. The problem is that once pressure hits, and we find ourselves drowning in assignments, deadlines and interviews, we need something to hang-on to, something that will make this experience more familiar, more easy to handle, less uncertain… get it? Many of us find ourselves mingling with our kind. All the pressure around is too much as it is and we don’t need to add cultural barriers and communication complexities to the mix. That’s why any MBA alumnus will tell you that, sure, in his/her class there were the Japanese group, the Mexican gang, the Indian colony and, in some schools, the Israeli band.

During my first year at McCombs, I didn’t have that choice. Not because I mindfully chose that, but rather because there aren’t any more Israeli students in our program. Reflecting on my first year while using the great tool called hindsight, I think I gained a lot from it. In a sense, it is like traveling alone: you are much more inclined and open to interact with other people. You don’t have your “band” to fall-back on. At times it is a little harder, but eventually it is very rewarding. Today, I think that my wife and I are enjoying a great group of good friends we’ve made during the last year. These friends are as culturally diverse as a UN council and it adds a lot of color and flavor to the our "MBA recipe" (believe me, the cooking that’s been going-on around here has been AMAZING….).

So, what’s the bottom line? Should you reject schools that enjoy a large number of students from your country of origin? DEFINITELY NOT!!! Then what? Well, mainly, don’t reject programs that don’t have that. Look at the diversity of your future class and ask yourself whether the mix that you see makes you intrigued and excited about being part of it. Don’t be afraid not to ride the wave; don’t be afraid to go for a quality program that’s not as common in your country of origin, whether you’re Israeli, Chinese or German. The people you’re going to meet are going to make this time very exciting and an MBA is an awesome opportunity to go beyond your own borders and be exposed to other cultures. Not by sitting with people from other countries in the classroom, but by really becoming friends with people who may have different perspectives regarding the world we live in, the music we listen to, the politics we take part in and, oh yeh, the businesses we’re all going to manage soon enough.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Did anyone say “the Panama Canal”…?!

While entertaining a few options for my summer internship, I received an invitation from Dell Inc. to be interviewed for a position in Latin America. “Why not?”, I thought; it won’t hurt to hear what they have to offer. ..

I landed in Panama on June 22nd. Since it was my first time here, my expectations were a mix of the known and the unknown. I chose to come here due to several reasons but I was far from being able to know how many of them would materialize.

Today, four days before I will pack my things and head-back to the “Music Capital of the World” I feel it was a good choice. The combination of working on an interesting, multi-national project, living in a Spanish-speaking country and getting to know the people and culture of Panama, has been more than I could have asked for as a summer experience. Add to that a trip to Amsterdam, an amazing home-visit in Israel and a trip to a friend’s wedding in Mexico, and this summer can be called nothing but GREAT.

Panama isn’t as famous as some of its neighbors (Costa-Rica, Colombia and Guatemala). Nevertheless, it has a lot to offer, both from a business and a touristic point-of-view. It is becoming a hub for Latin America and a gateway for American Businesses. Having a significant US influence, Panama is more easily accessible than other countries in the region.

The touristic destinations here are awesome: Bocas del Toro (a Caribbean paradise) , the Taboga Island , the Grand Island (Isla Grande), the San-Blas Islands (populated by indigenous Indians), the Pearl Islands, and, of course: The Canal. All of us have heard about it, but the amazing thing is that, until I actually went to see it, I wasn’t aware of how it works.

At Dell, my project is basically done and was a great opportunity to expose myself to some of the challenges facing a global company in developing a market. Dell’s site in Panama is one of its biggest in the world and serves countries from Canada in the north to Argentina in the south. My project was approved for implementation and it is going to be exciting to hear that I was able to contribute to an improvement of Dell’s operations in the region.

Working in a Spanish-speaking country has obviously enabled me to significantly improve my Spanish and bring it to an advanced level. I have taken-on the challenge of convincing my colleagues that I am “worthy” of being spoken to in Spanish and, once that was achieved, I was able to manage meetings, conference calls and even presentations in Spanish. Now I will have the challenge of continuing my Spanish education: reading, speaking with my Spanish-speaking classmates and with my Colombian side of the family.

My summer internship has been a great combination of working in a global company and being exposed to a new business market. It would be interesting to see when, down the line, will this knowledge come-in handy. Now, though, I should make sure that going home will not be a challenge in-and-of itself. Tropical storm “Dean” has upgraded itself to a Hurricane category and is expected to cross my path home. We were told that summer internship may turn-out to be challenging, but I don’t remember that natural disasters were mentioned…

Island of Bastimentos

Bocas del Toro

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why McCombs?... and why not.

That’s a good question. Let’s face it: many people face a psychological barrier when it comes to imagining themselves living is Texas. I can understand that. It is a little remote from the coastal business centers and may seem to lack the vicinity required to create an effective business network. Well, it is something to consider when creating your MBA-programs consideration set. In addition, the McCombs School of Business isn’t a top-ten or a top-five business school…..yet. In our day and age, when rating seems to be everything, if you’ve set-out to achieve a top-ranked degree, then you may need to wait a few years before you’ll be able to place McCombs in that category.

I believe those two factors play a significant role in people’s decision regarding their MBA-program preferences….and it should. In a very competitive world, one must pursue what is best for her/him. Nevertheless, I think that in today’s world, geographical distances play less of a role and school, businesses and future employers place more emphasis on a candidate’s skills, knowledge and personality than on the ranking of his/her school. Why? That would be hard to sum-up in a sentence but I think that part of it has to do with the fact that employers realize that the gaps among the top 20 MBA programs are shrinking and that a candidate’s probability of surviving and then of succeeding in a new career has a lot to do with his/hers personality and adaptability….and that’s where the McCombs advantage kick-in. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the atmosphere at McCombs lets students, and encourages them, to figure-out what they want to do. That, naturally, makes graduates more convinced that the professional path they’re pursuing is the right one for them. The laid-back and relaxed ambience contributes to people’s ability to let their personality play a role and to relate to each other at a more personal level. These factors, together with McCombs’ slow but steady rise, makes this program a strong and valid option for more and more people (it currently ranked as a top-twenty MBA program).

Watching my classmates go through the internship-seeking process had made me realize that if you’re capable and willing, being in Texas wouldn’t hinder your journey. My friends, including those who are international, have managed to find good internship positions, in a variety of leading companies (JP Morgan, AmEx, City-Group, Apple, Dell, Pepsico….) , in every field possible of business (finance, marketing, strategy….), and all over the US. The determinant factor has much to do with the people, not the location, and my classmates are getting ready to go-back to school after exciting summer experiences.

Getting married just before the start of my MBA program, my wife’s experience was, and still is, a very significant factor in our decision and our experience thus far. I can honestly say (and you may ask her directly….), that we couldn’t have hoped for a better adjusting period. She has found her place in Austin quickly and is now enjoying a whole new group of friends, while continuing her career development from Israel.

When you take all of this and add the school’s impressive investment in facilities, curriculum, new faculty and the awesome city of Austin (a real undiscovered jewel….even though it is starting to leak-out….), I believe that McCombs is a great choice (even though not for everyone), and I am very pleased with our choice to come to Austin.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why an MBA?

Panama-City, Panama

Many MBA programs include this question in their application. I think it is a good exercise for candidates to put down on paper why exactly they want to do that, considering the required investment of time and money involved in pursuing an MBA degree. Obviously, this is not the reason I am writing this post. I had already made my decision before I packed my life (together with my newly-wedded wife), and headed-out across the Atlantic and into the land of Tex-Mex food. This post is aimed not only at sharing the intensions I had before coming to Austin, but also to share my thoughts as of today, with the help of a great tool of wisdom called “hindsight”.

After serving for over 14 years in the Israeli Army (a service I enjoyed immensely and will hold dear forever), I decided that it’s time to move-on. Having served most of my years in the field of technology, I felt that I would like to stay connected to technology while moving to the business side of things. In addition, I felt the need to expose myself to the international aspects of business. I think that in today's world of business (and especially technology), being international is a must. I believe that my international MBA experience will enable me to be more prepared to deal with the challenges of business, leveraging my IT-consulting and project-management experience.

I also come from an internationally diverse family (Israel, The US, Colombia, France, Spain, and more), and have travelled extensively through-out the western hemisphere (Western Europe, US, Africa, Central America and South America), but have never lived as an independent adult outside of Israel. Making such a move promised to involve great challenges, but also leaving (at least temporarily), the country I love the most and the family and friends I have there and love dearly. I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. After months of deliberating the possibilities with my wife (then fiancé), and myself, we decided to go for it.

Looking back at my first year, including my summer internship in Panama, I can honestly say that the experience at McCombs has exceeded my expectations. The exposure to the different aspects of business administration and the international experience that goes along with it, have made my MBA year a very rewarding one. In general, I think that an international MBA program, such as the one at McCombs, enable you to shape your MBA experience to fit your personal goals and needs. What of the things I like about the program at McCombs is that it is strong in several areas of business (finance, marketing, entrepreneurship and IT), and the message from the faculty is very clear: you need to figure-out what you want to do and we will work with you to see to create the relevant opportunities. Sometimes, the opportunities are created by the students themselves, with the school providing the framework, the budget or necessary contacts.

Personally, I was able to take the time and experience different courses from different departments. I have taken course in strategy, marketing, finance and entrepreneurship, and found a strong relationship among them. This relationship is emphasized by our faculty that invest much thought in connecting disciplines instead of approaching them as isolated silos.

Outside the classroom, I was lucky to utilize the great PLUS program we have at McCombs. We formed a team that worked with the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise on generating what they called: “Untraditional sources of revenue”. It was a unique experience that involved creative thinking and identification of business opportunity for a leading sports organization. It was an example of an opportunity initiated by student and facilitated by the school.

I reached my summer internship opportunity through the school’s recruiting process. Dell Inc. approached me regarding a position in Central America and I was thrilled with the chance to work with a leading technology company outside the US and obtain the international experience, from both the business and the culture aspects of it.

I am looking forward to my second year, both on a professional level and on a social one. During our first year in Austin, my wife and I have acquired great friends and going back to school with is an exciting thing to do.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Why am I writing this MBA blog?

Panama-City, Panama

I am sitting in the Istmo Brew Pub in Panama-city, with a cold Samuel Adams, thinking: “Why am I sitting in the Istmo Brew Pub in Panama-city, with a cold Samuel Adams?” Well, the truth is that I’ve wanted to do it for quite a while now. Not necessarily in this great but small pub in the center of Panama’s vibrant capital, but I’ve had the urge to sit down and write about my MBA experience since the beginning of the second semester of my first year. But, as you know very well, the things that we want to do but don’t have to do oftentimes get postponed. My summer internship with Dell Inc. in Panama, a great experience in-and-of itself, has allowed me, among other things, the time to do some of those things that I wanted to do but never had the time (more on that in later posts).

OK, so now I have some time on my hands – why invest it in writing about my MBA? I have never written anything “public” in my life and it seems a little odd that the urge to write about this experience has popped-up from nowhere. Even though I don’t have a complete answer to my own question, I think I can say that this experience has been a unique one for me, but even more than that, it has been unique in general. Being the only Israeli MBA student in the McCombs School of Business (University of Texas at Austin) I feel that I can share my experiences and thoughts with all readers while contributing to the knowledge of Israeli MBA candidates about our program in Austin. Since the only Israeli candidate who was admitted to next year’s class has deferred until next year, it seems that my status will stay valid through-out my MBA studies.

Israel has always contributed a significant per-capita number of MBA students in US and European programs. Israelis, in general, are self-driven, entrepreneurial and business-oriented. In addition, many of us find it useful to travel the world and then go back to Israel after acquiring international experience and having a little time off our Israeli scene, which gets a little intense from time to time. Over the years, Israeli candidates have preferred the US coastal cities as their MBA destinations. It has to do with large Israeli communities in those cities, the perceived business opportunities that those cities offer and so forth. After going through my first year as an MBA student in Austin I feel that both the city of Austin and the MBA program at the University of Texas have A LOT to offer. This goes for everyone who’s looking for a great combination of a program with an entrepreneurial spirit that is strong in several areas of business administration, and a city that is everything one can look for: fun, open-minded, outdoors-oriented and includes both great business opportunities and a spirit for the arts (especially music), that makes it a great place to live in.

So, going-back to my own question, I feel that there is this undiscovered jewel, located in the heart of the largest state in the US and I would like to tell people about it. I hope you will enjoy reading about it….before trying-it-out for yourselves!