Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Black November's Ray of Light

I've been hearing all about "Black November." As an ignorant international student here at Darden, I thought it pertained to the weather change--the creeping winter evidenced by the sun setting at 5pm and the harsh, chilly air forcing you to stay indoors. And then, I heard about "Black Friday." Back home in the Philippines, this was a holy day for us Catholics, observing the death of Christ. Apparently, this is the biggest sale event of the year here in America. As an American friend says, "this goes to show what our two countries worship."

Finally, I learned what "Black November" meant in the Darden dictionary. Black November is that most dreaded time for first year MBA students. It's when recruitment efforts are intensified as resume drops become due and interview invitations are anxiously awaited, and this on top of an already very rigorous coursework. Obviously, the dreary winter doesn't help ease things ups. So yes, it can't get any blacker than that.

Today, I woke up to rain pounding on my window and an ominously dark sky. I wanted to curl up in bed, warm and dry under my comforter. But of course, there were cases to do and a Marketing simulation class activity to tackle.

About four hours into class, I saw an email notification pop in my screen. The subject noted the name of the company I had interviewed almost a month back at the NSHMBA MBA fair in Chicago. I had been anxiously waiting for word from this company since I knew some final results had already been out. Realizing it was an email, I figured it was a letter of rejection. I'm sure they'd at least give me a call if they were offering me the internship position, I thought. An hour later, I finally forced myself to come to terms with reality. And so, imagine my surprise to see a congratulatory email with an internship offer! I was beyond astonished! I read and re-read the letter at least thrice and triple-checked my name in each page. I just couldn't believe it. Whether it was the power of prayer, talent, or sheer luck, at that very moment, I was just relieved.

Thinking back now, I realize that relief isn't the first emotion I would have expected from myself after reading my very first offer letter. It should have been happiness or joy, right? But see, "relief" is defined as "the feeling that comes when something burdensome is removed." And that was exactly what happened to me. That fear of not having an internship, that fear of not finding a company who will sponsor international students, that fear of finding myself regretting leaving a perfectly great job to venture out and gamble in the MBA realm--these were all lifted somehow. This was my "relief"... my ray of light in the otherwise cold and dreary Black November.

Almost 12 hours after all the excitement, the dust has settled somewhat and I hate to say this but I'm faced with new fears. My letter had said, "Yumiko, we are looking forward to you joining our program. I am sure you will make an important contribution to the success of our company."

Slight panic begins to set. How much value can I add to this 10-12 week internship? Will I be able to apply all these fancy MBA tools that I learned in the actual workplace? Can I prove myself worthy of a full-time job offer? ...And many other crazy thoughts.

Perhaps I should leave these thoughts for another day and enjoy this brief moment of relief (or even joy). After all, it's not often that you wake up to a cold, ominous dark sky and and end up feeling that warmth of sunshine.

To my fellow First Years, here's to your own rays of light in this challenging but temporary Black November. This too shall pass.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The trouble with Cold weather, Stockings, and a Lost car

I've lived in a tropical country all my life. This meant enjoying 95 degree F (35 degree C) weather almost 10 months in a year and frequent beach getaways. I've been bracing myself for the notorious US East coast cold fall/winter weather and suffice it to say that I didn't prepare enough.

A few weeks ago, Charlottesville weather started to get more chilly. Mornings were cold at about 55 F (13 C) and nights hit a low 36 F (2 C). My teeth are literally chattering in this temperature. So my wardrobe changed overnight from nice and cool t-shirts and summer dresses into turtle necks, long-sleeved shirts, scarfs, and warm coats. This gets trickier with recruitment week and company briefing days.

I've been so busy and stressed out lately juggling between schoolwork and recruitment activities that I haven't actually thought of my personal girly woes. Two incidents these past days reminded me there's more trouble in life than finding the best mutual fund to invest in or how to approach a case interview.

A few days ago, I found myself without a clean set of pant suit for a company briefing. So I decided to wear a business casual dress instead. Now, I knew this would be a welcome invitation to hypothermia for me (what with the start of winter sneaking in). But I checked the weather forecast that day and it was relatively sunny. To be on the safe side, I decided to put on stockings/hose, those lace top thigh high ones. It wasn't much protection from the cold but it was better than bare. So at 7:50am, in the chilly morning air, my roommate and I walked through the unpaved road from our apartment to school. Three minutes into the walk, I felt my left hose start to run down. I tried hoisting it up back in place subtly. It didn't help that some classmates were walking behind us. I knew I should have gotten the pantyhose one but those somehow cuts your air supply. I was tempted to rush back to the apartment and take it off but that would make me late for class (the $5 penalty wasn't appealing to me either). So, every few seconds my roommate stood directly behind me to give me a bit of privacy to pull my stocking up. At that very moment, I wished my thighs were two inches bigger. Totally embarrassing. I won't even go to the details of how I managed to hold my stocking and cross the busy two-lane street and the parking lot to school. The memory of it will haunt me for a long time.

I cursed the cold weather then. Little did I know I'll be cursing it again not 24 hours after my stocking incident.

Last night, I planned on going out and taking the car. I didn't find our car in the parking lot so I figured my roommate used it. She got home later than me so I wasn't able to ask her about it. The next morning, as I was preparing breakfast, I casually asked her if she took the car last night. The conversation went along these lines:

Me: Did you use the car last night?
Roommate: No, I didn't.
Me: But it's not outside in the parking lot.
(Me rushing outside in the cold without a jacket to look for our car. I checked both ends of the parking lot to no avail.)
(Me with numb fingers rushing back inside the apartment.)
Me: It's really not there!
(Me thinking about the car insurance coverage if it included theft or misplacement...)
Roommate: Wait, wait... I think I used it two days ago when I went to the gym. I'm not sure if I drove or walked home..
(Her thinking about her crazy busy day two days back and how hectic it was that she forgot how she got home.)

So we rushed our breakfast and left at 7:30am to look for our car in the school gym's parking lot. If that panic wasn't enough to wake us up, the cold winter air sure did! That plus the lawn sprinklers that just had to turn on when we crossed the lawn. Thankfully, we found the car parked outside the gym with two parking tickets on the windshield. At least it wasn't towed.

So there, two days in a row my morning caffeine fix came in the form of loose stockings, a lost car, and a damned too cold weather for me. I'm scared to think what mishaps the real winter will bring.

Special thanks to my roommate Astrid for having my back and for making mornings a little crazier than usual. Never gets dull at 127.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Dates (a.k.a Interviews)

Please refer to my last entry for the contextual explanation of recruitment and the dating game.

My first taste of the recruitment dating game came all too soon a few days ago.

Last Thursday night, I found myself rushing through my Economics final exam. The four-hour online exam opened at 5pm and I had a 6am flight from Washington Dulles to Chicago. That meant two hours of studying/cramming from 5-7pm, exam time from 7-11pm, rushed packing from 11pm-12mn (why does it take 20mins to iron one button-down corporate top?! I miss you Mom!), and onto the 2.5-hour drive to Dulles international airport.

A couple of us international students were on our journey to our first-ever off-grounds job fair. The National Society of Hispanic MBA's (NSHMBA) was hosting the annual conference and career expo at Chicago for three days. There were over 60 recruiting companies from across different industries, with internship and full-time job opportunities for MBA students from all over the US.

I stood there at the fair's entrance, taking in the huge rectangular expanse filled with colorful company booths, stern and smiling recruiters reading resumes, and nervous MBA students milling about. I breathed in the air of hope for an internship job, the fear from hundreds of competition walking around in the same suit as I was, almost indistinguishable from each other. Suffice it to say, it was like opening that not-too-thick but not-too-thin envelope from a college you applied to. You kind of think it's not a rejection letter because there seems to be more than one thank-you-for-your-interest sheet there but it's not thick enough to include your dormitory options. So you open it and hope for the best.

I had already plotted my route across the labyrinth of company booths. I prioritized the companies whom I know was open to hiring and sponsoring international students (sadly, the slow economic growth is still unkind to us who need work visa sponsorship). Picture this: a big circular booth decorated with the company's colors, logo, mission statement, etc., 4-5 small tables spread out, manned by 1-2 company reps, segmented by corporate function. I fall in line under finance and wait to have my chance to speak to the rep and pray that he will find me and my resume worthy of an interview. I finally get my turn, introduce myself as a first year Darden student interested in finance internship opportunities. I talk a little about why I'm interested in the company and the position while holding my resume in front of me, ready to run it through him if he asks me to. Sometimes they do and at the times that they don't, I volunteer to walk them through it anyway. I only have my voice and effort to lose. It takes me about one minute to give the highlights of my resume and achievements, choosing those that are relevant to the company and the position, while they listen intently and ask a question or two. After which, they pause and appear to be taking it all in (while I pray harder). They scribble some notes in my resume and tell me they'll call me within the day if they want to schedule an interview with me within the two-day conference. I do this full spiel for about five companies. My half spiels (meaning I did not even get to my resume part) were delivered to the many other companies that unfortunately did not hire internationals or those that did not have corporate finance vacancies.

At 2:45pm, I received my first interview invite call from a top high-tech company. They wanted to interview me at 3:00pm. I couldn't have been more thrilled and nervous at the same time. I had 5 mins. to check myself in the mirror and tame my bladder, 5 mins. to use my iPhone for a half-baked company research and 5 mins. to run across the big hall, down the long flight of stairs, and to the interview hall.

Friday, 3:00pm (Interview with High-tech company)
I find myself sitting inside a 5x10 ft. closed booth for my interview. My interviewer is a finance representative with a very pleasant smile and demeanor that immediately put me at ease. She asks me about myself, what achievements I'm most proud of, which ones were most challenging, etc. Most questions were behavioral and situational questions. There were few technical questions which I think I managed to address reasonably. I try my best to relate my experiences to their internship program. She also went on to tell me about the company culture, their big emphasis on corporate social responsibility (which I'm very happy and excited to hear about) and what to expect from the internship. Turns out they were piloting an international rotational MBA internship program. I am thrilled at this possibility. What better way to learn than from a top high-tech firm's global environment?

At the conclusion of the interview she tells me that I have a strong resume and a good fit to their program. She said that she was endorsing me to the next process which was the internship interview. I didn't expect to get immediate feedback but hey, I'm not complaining.

Happy but dead tired, I trudge back to our hotel at approximately 5pm and exhaustion from the difficult exam, jet lag, and the arduous job hunting experience almost put me into a coma. I make sure my phone's ringer is on just in case I get lucky and get other interview invites. The stars were with me as I get three more interview invites from a US bank, a US airline company and a US retail company. All three were top of my list of companies to work for. I offer a thank you prayer as I start reading up on the companies.

Saturday, 11:30am (interview with Airline company)

Before I bore you with the details of my interview with the airline company, let me backtrack a little to my first impromptu interview with the same airline company.

The day before my scheduled interview, I had gone to their booth to chat with the finance representatives. The rep takes a look at my resume and tells me that she had actually seen my resume already (from the NSHMBA resume book) and that she had wanted to call me for a screening interview but since I submitted late, they didn't have enough time. I asked if she had time now and if they had open interview slots for the next two days. She endorses me to another guy who takes my resume and reads up. I volunteer to walk him through it highlighting my relevant experiences and achievements. He catches me by surprise by asking how I could convert my experiences in the consumer goods industry into the challenges that the airline industry was facing. He asks me technical questions on promotional and advertising schemes, its impact to the P&L and how this will translate to the airline business. What kind of promotions would I recommend? What will be the financial impact to the business? I try my best to wake my dead brain up and scavenge through my five years of corporate experience to pick those that were relevant to the airline business. I mean how different can shampoos and airplanes get, right? He also shared how corporate finance worked in the airline business and the challenges they faced. This was my first peek on what it was like working in finance for an airline business. And it's pretty damn interesting. At the back of my head, I curse myself for not researching more. I certainly didn't want to spoil my chance at this great opportunity. Too late now. This pseudo interview goes on for about 20 minutes. From my peripheral vision, I could see the queue behind me getting longer and longer while the other MBA students listened intently to our discussion. I realize how embarrassing this was for me. I was probably not making any sense at all. The rep finally concludes our discussion, scribbles some notes at the back of my resume (what I would have given to see that) and tell me that they'll review my credentials and they'll give me a call. I get the sad feeling that they won't.

Fast forward to Saturday, 11:30am (actual interview with airline company)
It's that small interview booth again. If I wasn't so nervous, the claustrophobic in me would have made a dash to the door. Instead, I sit poised and smiling. I expected the regular first questions of 'tell me about yourself' or 'walk me through your resume,' or even 'tell me about a time when you...' Instead, she asked me a number of technical questions including the formula for working capital, different depreciation methods, etc. She then presented me with four mini cases. She came up with fictional business scenarios involving new markets, geographic expansions, new line introductions, pricing simulations, competitive movements, etc. She then asked me to assess the situation and provide my recommendations. I was totally unprepared for this. I have never done case interview preparations because I was naive enough to think these case interviews were only for the Consulting industry. Boy, oh boy. Note to self: sign up for the case interview workshop. I try my best to bat the curve balls. But I'm pretty sure I made quite a lot of strike outs.

Saturday, 2:15pm (interview with Bank)
At this point, I was feeling sad and forlorn. I felt very de-motivated by my last interview. I prayed hard this one wouldn't be as bad. And I think it wasn't. This was perhaps my most relaxed and conversational interview. The VP who interviewed me had such a kind and welcoming demeanor. It was more like a conversation than an interview. I told him about myself, my interest in the banking business, and my experiences while he told me about the internship program, the bank's culture, the people, and the highlights of his experiences. Before I knew it, 30 mins. was up and I went away feeling relieved that I didn't appear to bomb the interview but confused as well because I didn't know how to assess it.

Saturday, 3:00pm (interview with Retail company part 1)

I only had about 10 mins. to collect and ready myself for the next interview. I was particularly excited about this one after hearing about the good reputation of their leadership program. My first interviewer was a young woman who was from the leadership program herself. She informed me that I will be having a back-to-back interview with another manager after she interviewed me. She also told me that the second interview will be the final interview. They will be making their decision based on my two interviews today. Whoa. Talk about unnerving. I didn't see that one coming. I felt my heartbeat race a lot faster. She probably heard the thump thump. Not good.

For the whole of 30 mins., she probably asked me all combinations of situational and behavioral questions--situation when I took a risk and failed, time when I dealt with conflict, time when I had a big argument, etc. I had to poke my brain hard to remember relevant experiences. She scribbled a lot in her interview questionnaire form which was about 4 pages long. This got me even more nervous. At the end of the interview, I had major brain drain. One down, one more to go.

Saturday, 3:30pm (interview with Retail company part 2)

I didn't imagine I could get more unnerved than I already was. After one bad interview, a confusing one and a mentally draining one, I was ready to wipe my brain to a clean state. Tabula rasa. But there I was, sitting in front of a stern-looking interviewer, sharing more situational and behavioral experiences and he didn't seem to have any reaction whatsoever to anything that I said. I tried very hard to connect with him to no avail. So yes, the last and final stretch (for the day at least) was unnerving at best.

A long 30 minutes later, I take a deep breath, exhale slowly and let my mind go blank for a precious moment. There was so much emotion inside me--exhaustion, sadness, relief, happiness, excitement, anxiety... I couldn't even pick the first one to prioritize. I settled on savoring the day's conclusion. That day was probably one of the longest days in my career. I realize I never had that many interviews for company recruitment. I stayed with only one company in my five years of work experience after all.

With all the job hunting and interview frenzy, I couldn't even pause to admire and take in the beauty of the city. So, I end the day with a nice dinner, good white wine, and a lazy, chilly walk at Chicago's Navy Pier. I think I deserved that.

Sitting in my room back in Charlottesville now, I re-live my first interviews by writing this blog entry. I smile, cringe, and wince at those crazy moments I had. All those emotions I had during and after the interviews are pretty much pacified now. All but one--anxiety. For when the interviews end, the waiting game begins.

I will probably hear more bad news than I am willing to bear now. But I still feel grateful to have been given the chance to interview. Perhaps I can take those first interviews as practice, as a warm-up to what will hopefully be many more along my way.

I remember a big mistake that I made in my job, only three months after I joined the company. It cost my company a few hundred thousands. I remember that feeling of stupidity, fear, and just utmost contempt at myself. My first boss, looked at the fear and regret in my eyes, smiled at me and said, "Just charge it to experience."

I never made the same mistake again. It was a small price to pay for what is more valuable--experience. But when you are an international MBA student who has invested a whole lot of money in your education, toiled long and hard on the unbelievably demanding school work, and fought your way for that rare spot of an interview at a company that actually hired non-US citizens, when someone says "just charge it to experience," you know that that experience is actually a very steep price to pay.

Friday, October 15, 2010

That (scary) thing called ‘Recruitment’

This is an amateur first year's take on what MBA Recruitment is all about. I'm hoping to create an updated blog entry for when I actually do know what the heck I'm talking about.

It’s only been three months since I’ve been out of the work force, two months since I started business school and yet, here I am losing sleep over every other MBA student's biggest source of anxiety--recruitment (aka the job hunt).

Darden devotes one week after final exams to recruitment events--company briefings, office hours (a small group of students interact with recruiters and company executives), and networking events. Darden does a good job in pushing (and scaring) students to start the job hunt early lest you don't get your dream job and ideal company. So like a scared mouse, I've been running to quite a number of company briefings and networking events in the past month including General Motors, 3M, Amazon, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, etc.

So what exactly is this scary thing called Recruitment and how does it work?

Getting to Know You.
As in all relationships, everything starts with getting to know the person, in this case the company. A company briefing in business school is perhaps the first step of recruitment for both the company and the students. This is a student's first peek of the company's culture, its personality and its people. To encourage better networking, most of the company representatives are Darden alumni. Darden students who interned in the companies are also invited to speak about their internship experiences. At the end of it, students ask some questions and the presenters address these. The student then does his/her own introspection, gauge his/her level of interest after hearing what the company is all about and decide if he/she wants to pursue a possible internship opportunity or full-time job at the company.

Up Close and Personal.
If a student finds these initial qualities appealing, then it's time to get up close and personal. This happens in a number of ways. Some of which are:
a. Pitt dive: After a company briefing, some students approach the presenters to ask more questions and network with the recruiters. This is usually challenging to do as the recruiter-student ratio is usually 7:1 or even 10:1. So a student's talk time is very limited hence he/she has to make each word count (scrap 'count,' replace with 'memorable'). This way, the recruiter will remember you when you write that thank you note after the briefing and pitt dive.
b. Office Hours: These are similar to pitt dives but is usually held in smaller settings. This is a good indicator of a student's interest in the firm. The recruiter-student ratio is also more favorable at say 5:1. So students get to ask more specific questions and get more detailed responses.
c. Networking socials: This applies mostly for the Banking and Consulting industries. From what I've seen, it seems like bankers like to network in bars a lot. Yes, that's networking and socializing under the influence of booze. I haven't figured out yet how that formula works because I'm not sure how well the recruiters will remember the students after five drinks but hey, I'm no expert. Consulting networking socials also include sponsoring tailgate events (the pre football game party).

The Date(s).
So you've met the company, you've gone up close and personal through pitt dives and other networking opportunities. It's now time to move on to the date, that is, the interview. If you're lucky, you'll get a second or third date (interviews). For now, I have very limited experience in this matter so I'll reserve my thoughts on this for when I get more first-hand experience in the dating game.

I do.
Those two word say it all. If the company likes you, you'll receive an internship offer. You'll get the details of the offer probably including scope, roles and responsibilities, compensation and relocation packages. Hmm... Pretty much like your standard pre-nuptial agreement.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adios Term 1!

Ah.. I miss this. I miss sitting down in my room and using my laptop for anything else but spreadsheets and Crystal ball models. I've been MIA from the blogging scene lately since I devoted the past two weeks for final exam preparations which comprised of re-doing cases and spreadsheets from scratch, creating review notes and attending our section reviews. More time spent in school and burning the midnight oil, less time exercising, eating and sleeping.. and yet, the exams were still a (forecasting) surprise for me. Another one of Darden's bootcamp treats I guess.

After 5 short weeks, Term 1 has officially ended. In another 4-5 weeks, our 2nd set of final exams will have me stressfully juggling between acadmemics and recruitment demands.

Silver linings:
(1) I'm learning new perspectives, new approaches, new tools and new models that I think I can actually use when I go back to the workforce. Our Decision Analysis (DA) class taught us regression and statistical models that were very similar to the Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) that my company used to pay an arm and a leg for before. The MMM was always an uncomprehensible black box to me, needing an uber analyst's IQ to execute. But learning the tools and methods taught in class, I think I just might take a crack at being a not-so-uber analyst.
(2) I'm getting my money's worth. Some people say that an MBA is mostly networking and party time. Not at Darden. Definitely not. I wish they'd let us squeeze in more time for networking and parties. Hint: A 50-50 split is not bad at all.

So with Term 1 over and Term 2 already tapping us in the shoulder, we are moving on to a bit of Recruitment preparations--company briefings and networking events. Both are very new to me but will be surprising and exciting I'm sure.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Random Friday Thoughts

So I'm sitting here in my room on a Friday before movie night.. There's a football game going on now which was supposed to be my first American football experience but I was smart enough to log it in my Saturday schedule. Hopefully there's another one soon. There's a lot going on in my head right now. I can't really structure my thoughts clearly hence the apt title "Random Friday Thoughts."

Another Darden week went by leaving me breathless (once again). It's only been three weeks but with the unbelievably fast pace that we're going, it feels like it's been months too many! Classes this week have definitely been harder. Last week, we were learning about price-volume-profit scenarios in our Decision Analysis class. It was pretty simple for me since these things are exactly what I was doing in my job. Then suddenly we move forward to learning how to simulate scenarios using the Crystal Ball program. We're combining concepts of analyzing uncertainty, probability distributions, NPV simulations into spreadsheet modelling, Crystal ball and tornado sensitivities! We've tackled real-life cases about Oracle softwares, Overhaul engine services, Natural-resource explorations, and Cogeneration plants! I made a clear mental note to myself never to get into these crazily complex businesses. I was re-introduced to long-ago math concepts of normal/uniform/triangular/gamma distributions. All in four very short days. Talk about intense. Seriously. It felt like going from first gear to fifth gear. It's a miracle the engine is still purring.

On the bright side, I'm still enjoying the learning experience very much. It's amazing and amusing how the case method actually plays out well even in quantitative classes. There are some times though that I'm sitting there confused and frustrated that I want a time-out and in dire need of a shift to lecture mode. But I'm keeping my faith in the process. Let's see how long I can keep up. Two years less three weeks is a pretty long time!


Friday, August 27, 2010



Due to network problems, this is a late publish, supposedly for Thursday. I guess Friday wanted the "F" back, and rightfully so as it's obviously a Friday now.
Happy weekend everyone!

Okay. So those last two letters aren't exactly the conventional "F" that fits in your weekend welcome banner. But with my life at Darden now, it fits aptly. I don't think I've ever looked forward to Thursdays as I do now--with arms wide open.

For the past week, I've started my new routine as an MBA student. It's one that I sort of expected I guess but the extremity of it still caught me offguard. It goes something like this:

6:40 Wake up, get ready for school and eat breakfast
7:40 Walk to school
8:00 First Class
9:30 First Coffee (A Darden tradition where students meet at PepsiCo forum for coffee or tea and chat informally)
10:00 Second Class
11:45 Third Class (I'm so hungry this time that I nibble some crackers in class)
13:10 Lunch (I usually pack some lunch and eat at the cafeteria or if I'm not too hungry, I rush home and make a decent meal)
14:00 Read/Study/Prepare for the next day's cases. We have three cases to discuss everyday, with usually two spreadsheets to prepare. Cases vary from being 2-page or 20-page long or even one thick annual report. The tricky part is studying the note discussions/lectures as well since you need this for case context.
I like studying in school, away from the temptations of my soft bed but oftentimes the school AC is too cold for me. So some days I study at home and (un-intentionally) catch some ZZZs.
19:00 I meet with my Learning Team in school. Learning teams are groups of 5-6 students from different sections and diverse backgrounds. Your LT is your support group. Each one has a specific strength (whether Finance, Marketing, Operations, or Accounting) to provide good insights for the team to better analyze the class cases.
21:00 We get lucky sometimes and end within an hour and a half or two. I have a bit of time to spare so I hit the running track, gym or the tennis court. I need to keep the blood circulating amidst the schoolwork frenzy. The other night, I was running in the treadmill while reading the thick reading for our Leading Organizations (LO) class. I realize how insane it is but time is always of the essence these days.
22:00 I go back to my apartment, eat (if I'm hungry), catch up with some emails, review the next day's cases, finish the lengthy LO readings, type out the LO homework and sometimes do the Career Management assessments.
00:00 I finally hit the sack utterly exhausted.

The next day, the sun rises and the cycle starts all over again...until Thursday. See, we get Fridays free. Darden has taken last year's student feedback and this year implemented a 'no-classes on Friday' curriculum. Fridays are reserved for recruitment events such as company briefings, recruitment socials, interviews, etc. Since recruitment season is a few weeks away for now, we are temporarily savoring the freedom.

Right now, I sense that all this sounds insanely impossible to keep up with and just damn tiring. But I also know that it's mostly because the routine is new and the transition from work life to student life is no easy feat. So, I'll give it more time and wait for myself to get the hang of things.

Meanwhile, let me enjoy this beautiful night called Thursday night. And just like any true Dardenite, I'll be heading off to TNDC. Thursday Night Drinking Club is a Darden tradition where Darden students go to a bar and celebrate the survival of one hellish week. It's really just a roomful of tired students drinking beer and talking about everything but the schoolwork and cases. But to us, it's that lucid interval where we catch a short glimpse of our lives before MBA.

Cheers Darden 2012!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First Cases


For the past days, I've started hitting the books again. Or more specifically, I've started studying and analyzing cases. See, the Darden School of Business is one of the few business schools (including Harvard Business School and Ivey) that utilize 100% case study method. Instead of sitting through lectures where professors lead the class discussions, Darden students engage with each other in a collaborative setting through case analysis and discussions. The way I see it, the professors are class mediators, stimulating the discussions and steering it towards the right course or direction. The bigger class role relies on the students and their inputs towards the case discussions.

We have had around five live cases already in the past four days and I'm feeling a bit dazed. Two months of unemployment right before school started and five years from undergraduate school have made my brain rusty. But I'm liking it so far. We've discussed cases on Target, Samsung, British Petroleum (BP), etc., touching on the most recent corporate issues and concerns. The best part was actually seeing and interviewing the CEOs or representatives of these top companies after our case discussions. It was amazing hearing them answer our pressing questions on their corporate dealings and actually hearing first-hand their future plans. It was the closest thing to picking their brains and I'm not complaining.

They said that the success of case studies and case discussions rely heavily on the students' preparedness and level of participation. So far, I'm enjoying my class discussions and the richness and diversity of our inputs. Coming from an Accounting/business background, it's very refreshing to hear ideas and points of view from lawyers, pilots, doctors, bankers, consultants, athletes, etc. You're seeing more than just the other side of the coin. It's more like seeing the other five sides of a cube really. And I'm trying to do my end of the deal by speaking up and adding a thing or two to our discussions. Hopefully, those made some sense to my classmates.

A famous Darden professor, Peter Rodriguez, told us in his welcome remarks for International students that in a case study environment, you must not be afraid to "open your kimono." Don't be afraid to share what you know and how you think. Open your kimono. Just let it hang there.

Well, that last line might be more applicable to guys. But hey, we're only 30% of the population anyway.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"This is America."

A few days back, some of us Darden International students went for a first-time road trip out of Charlottesville. What better place than the nation's capital, right? So we went to Washington DC for some R&R and of course, to better immerse ourselves in the country's rich history.

We walked, talked, toured, took photos, walked some more, ate Asian food (that we miss so badly), and walked a whole lot more. Our feet could have died a premature death but we did cover pretty much everything touristy in DC--the wide array of museums (and there were lots of them! Good thing it was free), the US Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington monument and the charming Georgetown.

We were taking a lot of photos at the foot of the Washington monument when someone suggested to do crazy poses to add flavor to our all-too-touristy photos. I'm not one to experiment on poses and obviously I felt shy with the many people watching and waiting for their turn to shoot photos so I declined. She said, "This is America! No one cares." I just had to throw my head back and laugh. Hard. She's right, you know. This is America. Land of the free. One of the oldest (continuous) democracies in the world. As students/tourists in this country, I guess we at least get a free pass at unrestricted freedom.

Too bad I missed my chance. Well, the next two years should present more opportunities.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Darden Firsts

What's the best part about a new place, a new school or a new home? Firsts.

Many firsts will come my way in the next few weeks as I immerse myself in the Darden and Charlottesville community. My first encounter with some of my future classmates came last night when a bunch of us Darden incoming first year students decided to meet up for a pre-Darden get-together. Thanks to Facebook, the turnout was pretty good! Around 15 of us met at Basil restaurant at The Corner near downtown Charlottesville for dinner and drinks. International diversity was quite well represented with people coming from Brazil, Colombia, Nepal, India, Dubai, Taiwan, Philippines (yours truly) and of course, the US (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Hawaii). Conversation was rich and interesting, with people getting to know each other and starting new bonds. Everyone had very interesting backgrounds and stories to tell--from engineers and consultants to journalists. I was the only boring accountant around!

We went to our first bar experience at Charlottesville where I had my first 'power hour'--a shot game where everyone is supposed to drink one shot of beer every time the music changed. I figured it won't be too difficult since songs changed every four or five minutes. Surprise, surprise: the bar played 1-2 minute edited songs! So yes, I bailed on that challenge. I don't like beer anyway.

After a few hours, we went to a different bar with better cocktails (those I can take). We played this strange game of shooting small sacks of sand into a hole, a long distance away. I guess it's supposed to test how good you can aim with a few bottles of alcohol in your bloodstream. I won twice :)

The rest of the night was spent exchanging stories over drinks and dancing. It's quite easy to be comfortable with people you find many commonalities with--whether a career objective, a job history, a dream vacation, or a point of view. I guess there's really truth to what all Admissions officers advised us about choosing schools--it's all about fit. When the night was over, it felt like we weren't strangers at all.

Tomorrow we're scheduled for some barbecue cookout at someone's place. Another first I'm looking forward to.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hello Darden, Hello Charlottesville!

This entry is long, detailed and feels like a 'Dear Diary' piece. So, caveat emptor.

After 22 hours of a cramped, long and arduous journey across the Pacific, I finally made it to Charlottesville yesterday. That trip is something I won't be volunteering for anytime soon. What with the very long immigration queue, stringent customs check and delayed flights. My sleep aid failed to work once again and I was alone with my sad-turned-anxious thoughts.

And so my first glimpse and feel of Charlottesville's abundant greenery and quaint charm was a warm warm welcome. The school grounds was a beautiful sight--extending many miles beyond my human eyesight--with students leisurely walking around the campus, enjoying what is left of summer. I get that scholarly feel and can't help but feel excited to be studying again after five years! The weather was warm, about 32 degrees C or 90 degrees F (I have to get used to measuring the temperature in F). Still nothing I'm not used to back in Manila.

I met my roommate and we bond easily. So happy about that! She was brave enough to rent a U-haul van by herself to fetch our furniture from a second year's apartment and move in to ours. Boy, am I lucky! We still haven't finished unpacking and fixing everything yet but we're slowly getting there. Yesterday ended with a nice dinner with one of the second years who very kindly helped us move in and offered free 'orientation.' Goes to show that Darden's tight-knit community and welcoming culture make two international students feel not so far from home.

Today was quite productive. We luckily stumbled upon the ID office when we were lost looking for the International Students Office. So we got our UVA IDs (weird seeing my face in that piece of plastic, looking like well, a student). We do get discounts from shops, restaurants, bookstores and even mobile carriers--student perks. The rest of the day was spent driving across different shops to cater to our different and urgent needs. So after spending 13 hours out of our apartment, we've ticked the following boxes: University ID, signed I-20 with ISO, AT&T contract, new bank account, new internet connection, home furnishings, and two all-American meals (we have to take our 'before' photos ASAP before the calories start pouring in).

Hmm.. not bad for a second day. There's still tons I need to take care of before I can sit down and truly enjoy Charlottesville but I'm savoring the joy of this novelty amidst the frenzy. I even filled my own gas tank for the first time!

Monday, July 19, 2010

When "Soon" becomes "Too soon"

I've been MIA with blogging lately. This has been due to the fact that I am one week away from leaving Manila/Philippines hence the endless preparations I had to tend to--packing (I sincerely hate this part), pre-MBA requirements/preparations including quite a number of books to read, health requirements to accomplish, Visa acquisition, and my favorite part, getting together with friends for farewell lunches/dinners and simple hang out sessions that I've come to truly value. I realize now how much I've taken their company for granted. And how much I will miss each one of them.

So, enough with my excuse for being MIA.

Here I am now, taking a short break from my crazy packing session. I have 1 1/2 bags (of 2) full and still there's so much that I want to bring. How do you let go of your favorite jacket, already a size too small but has nostalgic value? How can you leave that cute (heavy) mug that a dear friend gave you for Christmas? How do you part with the countless CDs your friend gave you as music compilations? Or even your oldest pajamas that your brother got you for your birthday? You hate parting with these simple things not because they have monetary value but perhaps because when you know that you'll be away for long, you want to hold on to things that will remind you of the people you are leaving behind. You want to hold on to those memories that will pretty soon be compressed in your brain, to make way for the new ones you will be making, albeit with new faces.

So yes, right now I feel that "soon" has become "too soon."

I remember my life a year ago. More specifically, my life during my MBA application preparation. I practically didn't have a life anymore beyond GMAT books, MBA school researches, essay-writing, interview preparations and school information sessions. My weekdays were spent hard at work at the office, including stealing even brief lunch minutes of reviewing my GMAT notes. After work, I ate a rushed dinner and hit the books until 12mn-1am. After the GMAT hurdle, I still didn't get my usual 6-7 hours of sleep since I would set my alarm at ungodly dawn hours to check my email for updates from the schools, whether for interview invitations or the dreaded rejection mail. Thanks to the 12-hour difference with US time, I never got a moment of peace.

I remember that period of anxiety and agony. Most of all, I clearly remember the feeling of wanting so much so so badly. I wanted my dream of pursuing my MBA and 'soon' just couldn't get to me fast enough.

And like what people say, "be careful what you wish for." It's ironic that right now, I want more time here at home. I want more time with my family and friends, doing the most mundane of things--lazy Sundays watching TV, fighting over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, playing guitar hero marathons, catching the latest movie and hanging out in the coffee shop after. Things you never thought you'll miss terribly.

I realize that yes, you can want something so badly and you can pour over all your blood, sweat and tears to get it. And you just might, like I did. You took all the steps--the first baby steps, the trot, the run, the leaps and bounds. But when it's time to take that last jump, that final leap to seal the deal, courage no longer seems enough.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The familiars in Golf

I always thought that golf was a stupid sport (no offense meant to any afficionados). I thought it was a rich man's sport. A very expensive game of chasing a small ball into a small hole across vast lands. It didn't have the competitive heat of basketball or soccer. It didn't have the team spirit of volleyball. It didn't even have the attractive outfits of tennis! To my naive mind then, it was a 'Daddy's 'sport.

But recently, I've taken golf lessons in the hopes of penetrating the so-called language of business. They say that most business deals are made in the golf course. And I definitely want in on that. So, in preparation for business school and the various networking and social events I will have to tend to very soon, I'm learning the sport and believe it or not, loving it!

I realize that golf is very much formulaic as with many things in life. Grip. Backswing. Drive. Follow-through. Hold. (or something like that). I thought that it would be easy. Just five or so simple moves. But it isn't easy at all. Apparently, golf is not just about a stupid ball into a stupid hole. Precision and consistency are key. A wrong grip, a wrong club angle, or an inaccurate twist of the shoulder can make or break your hit.

So in that sense, golf is like many other things. Formulaic but difficult. Like our jobs. People teach us the basics. In Marketing, it's: insight, concept, product, execution (forgive me, my Marketing is rusty). In Sales, it's: product, selling story, customer service (or something similar). In my job in Management Accounting, it's: numbers, analysis vs forecast, analysis vs historical data, recommendations.

But when you do the actual job, you just don't do steps 1, 2 and 3. Sometimes it's 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3 and many other combinations. Like golf, you have to mind your basics but you also have to make everything else make sense. And move in harmony. When you're there and you're actually doing it, you don't just repeat the steps--you feel the ground on your feet, gauge your target, hold your grip and control the energy you exert. In the bigger scheme of things, the basics will have to come naturally. As in our jobs. And in our lives.

Sigh. If only life were as easy as 'lather, rinse, repeat.'

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Notice of Departure

Today I received an email with the subject "Notice of Departure." It's not the first time that I've received an email such as this. I have had subordinates leaving the company hence the routing of the notice of departure with the necessary clearance forms. But this time around, the 'departing employee' is yours truly.

The big bold letters, the formality of the text, the finality of the words... It hit me. I will be leaving my company very soon. After five years, four business units, 11 brands, eight different positions/roles, countless financial reports and commentaries, my Unilever journey will come to an end.

I remember my first months with Unilever, fresh off college. I remember staying many nights at the office until 1am, cursing my work, pulling my hair off and vowing to tender my resignation the very next morning. But I had decided on giving it another chance. I told myself that these are just birth pains, that I would eventually get the hang of things. Thankfully, I did. I also remember the arduous new templates the Global guys or new bosses would ask me to accomplish in record-breaking time. I remember promising myself that my resume would be in the hands of headhunters by the end of the day. But it never did. Because I never quit.

Somehow, I always found a reason or reasons to stay--my company's noble vision, my supportive bosses, my talented subordinates, my brilliant colleagues and my challenging yet fulfilling job. Someone wise once told me that the day you find yourself forcing yourself to go to work, will be the day you should consider leaving your job. I've had many of those days. But I've had more days of being at the office, talking to my colleagues, brainstorming and challenging each other, coming up with product and consumer/customer solutions. And completely forgetting why I had a difficult time getting up in the morning. I loved my job and I guess no other reason except my commitment to further my education, expand my global network, learn from the world's best professors and students and all in all experience that quantum leap would have made me leave my job.

Notice of Departure. Yes, it hit me. Hard. And it felt like one big, painful, final thud.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


So I've been scavenging my room in preparation for some heavy packing ahead and I came across my old CD collection of files from my undergraduate days. I curiously checked the contents and found my old thesis, term papers, book reviews, etc. But my best find from the loot is a compilation of some of my write-ups in my days as writer and editor of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University.

I had great fun re-reading my pieces and feeling nostalgic about the good old days. So I thought I'd publish some of my previous write-ups in my blog. It would be interesting to see how much I've changed as a writer and as a person. I've always been a strong advocate for progress. So, here's to hoping I've progressed as an individual through my thoughts, introspections, world views and other mundane and not so mundane take on things.

I will be marking all my historical write-ups as [archives].

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer's Last Hurrah

I'm not fond of swimming. Maybe because I don't know how to swim or perhaps because I nearly drowned twice when I was a kid. But I do love the sun, the sand and the beach. The combination, coupled with good company simply makes summer contagiously fun!
So I went to the beach with friends last week. Boracay (fondly called 'Bora') is a famous beach in the Philippines hailed for its pristine waters, powdery white sands and abundant night life to boot. And boy, did I have a lot of fun! The heat on my skin, warm sand on my feet and laughter all around reminded me of my carefree childhood. Living within a mile of the beach guaranteed me at least five summer beach outings every year. But the older I got, the fewer my beach getaways became. Seems like age always finds creative ways of pulling us farther from life's simple thrills. And so, this rare beach moment and the fact that this is my last summer home before I leave for my MBA in the US made the experience all the more priceless.

Looked like Fall...

Felt like paradise...

Especially with the fantastic view...

Picturesque times of day...

Unique enterntainment...

Good food...

And great company...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Business trip

Tomorrow, I'm flying to Vietnam for a business trip--probably my last overseas business trip before I leave the company in about a month's time. Sad thought actually.

I'm not a fan of the long, uncomfortable plane rides, lonely nights at hotels, fully-packed meeting days, and coming home to a desk of high-piled paperwork to sign and a full inbox. But what I will miss is the diverse minds, personalities and culture that come together in multi-country meetings. It's amazing how most of us come from the same continent, work for the same company, abide the same principles and yet offer each other totally different perspectives of a common theme. That's one of the perks of a multi-country, cross-culture organization. Someone somewhere has had the same challenge you're facing now. Very rarely will you feel alone in your dilemmas or market battles. If you're lucky, your solution might even just be as easy as 'copy-paste.' Plus the language translation, of course. In my company's words, that's 'sharing best practices.'

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Darden and AIM partnership

I was perusing the Darden website and blogs and came across some very interesting news. Good news actually. The Darden School of Business has just signed a partnership with one of the top Asian MBA schools and incidentally is located in my country--the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

I'm happy to hear that Darden is establishing strong relations with Asian schools and expanding their reach and connection to the Asian market and its upcoming leaders in business.

Darden Announces Partnership with the Asian Institute of Management
April 28, 2010

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business announces the signing of a partnership with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), located in Manila, Philippines.
Mr. Edilberto C. de Jesus, president of AIM, traveled to Darden for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two schools.
“AIM is well known to us as a leader in graduate management in Asia,” said Darden’s Dean Bob Bruner, “and we are kindred spirits in the way we create classroom experiences.”
Like Darden, AIM uses the case method as a primary mode of learning in its programs. AIM was founded in Makati City in 1968 with a grant from the Ford Foundation; its case method curriculum was developed with an advisory group from Harvard University.
“AIM and Darden share roots,” said de Jesus, “and we look to learn from the experience of Darden as the field of graduate management education evolves.”
The two schools will engage in joint faculty research, joint case writing, exchange programs for graduate students, collaborative executive education programs and scholars from both schools will be invited to participate in conferences and lectures.
“From AIM, we at Darden seek to deepen our perspective on the Philippines and East Asia,” said Bruner. “The Philippines have enjoyed remarkable growth, which stretches the creativity of business leaders, and more mature economies like the United States can learn from this.”
Founded in 1954, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business improves society by developing principled leaders in the world of practical affairs.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

10 years A-counting

I had dinner with an old friend last night. We caught up with each other's lives over salad and crabs. I updated her with my MBA plans and mentioned that I decided not to enroll in an Accounting pre-MBA course available for incoming students at Darden. As one of my closest friends during our BS Accountancy undergrad years, she said "You shouldn't! You've been doing Accounting for 10 years!" Instinctively and defensively, I started to say, "Of course not!" and then I realized that I spent almost five years in college studying Accounting plus another five years in corporate finance doing Management Accounting. So yes, my love/hate affair with Accounting has been going on for 10 years.

I never thought I'd end up in my career now. I wasn't the most enthusiastic Accounting student during college. In fact, I hated doing debit/credit journal entries and much more memorizing Auditing principles. The one subject that I liked was Management Accounting--a more niche market in the world of Accounting. Lucky for me, I ended up in what to me is the lesser (Accounting) evil.

I still clearly remember how I landed my job now. When I was first offered a spot in the Management Trainee program in my company HR asked me what function I wanted to pursue and I automatically said "Marketing." Ah, the enticing and sexy world of Marketing. Who wouldn't be lured in its glamour? Some Sales managers tried to sell me the perks of the sales job--the free car, gas allowance, meal allowance, incidentals allowance, etc. But I figured I wasn't patient enough to be in Sales. A Finance manager tried to convince me to choose Finance. The promise of a free calculator and Excel training weren't enough to sway me. So Marketing it was. I spent a good nine months as Assistant Brand Manager. Yes, it was fun, exciting and sexy. But the type A in me was looking for the method amidst the chaos. I yearned for something more concrete than "instinct" and "gut feel."

I moved on to my Finance (Management Accounting) stint and that's where the ball hit home. Corny and disappointing as it felt to me then, I was home. The best part was I felt that I got the best of both worlds as a finance business partner for Marketing. I satiated my need for order and method by doing Management Accounting work. But at the same time, I pursued my inclination for Marketing by being the business partner for Marketers. Essentially, I was the translator of Marketing's plans into viable business cases. For me to be an effective business partner, I had to speak Marketing and Sales language. So I was still actively participating in idea and insights generation but at the same time reminding my team of the financial implications of our decisions. So yes, it was the best of both worlds.

What made me stay and love my job? It wasn't the perks or the power and authority a finance manager holds. It's not an obsession with numbers. But the story behind the numbers. When people look at the small black and white Excel columns filled with seemingly senseless numbers, they probably see the number glare--the low or high sales growth, the so-so profitability, the high overheads, blah, blah. No argument there, b.o.r.i.n.g. What I do see is the story behind those seemingly senseless numbers. A growth figure is not conclusively high or low. It's the perspective and context of it. It might look low but you have to ask, "What happened in the past year?" "Was there a big sales upsurge not present this year hence an incomparable sales offtake?" If sales growth is so high, it doesn't automatically mean that the company is doing just great. "What is the market growth?" "Is the company growing alongside the market and competitors?" You get the message.

So to me, numbers are not just numbers. They have (believe it or not), very interesting stories behind them. I even came across an abnormally high sales month and no one knew the reason why. All other factors were normal except the unusually cold weather. So, my financial commentary read, "High sales is attributed to cold weather." Shoot me.

You know how painters feel when they see a blank canvass or what architects see when they see a barren piece of land? Painters see their masterpieces while architects see skyscrapers. I, on the other hand, look at plain old boring numbers and investigate the stories behind them. Sometimes I feel like a storyteller or a writer. It does make the work more interesting.

So that's me after 10 years of Accounting. Will there be 10 years more to add to this? Or five? Or none? I don't know. Let's see how the numbers add up. For now, it's 10 years and (a) counting...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why blog?

The last time I opened Microsoft Word to write an article was probably two years ago. Hmm… Let me add a qualifier to that: This does not include the monthly financial commentaries I write on the company’s topline and bottomline results. But come to think of it, those monthly writing exercises actually helped delay the formation of cobwebs in my right brain. Right. Those just appeased the regional and global controllers that we were spending their money right.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’m happy to be typing away trying to engage any readers out there.

So, how do I plan to engage you or what do I plan to blog about?

Short answer: my MBA adventure at the Darden (University of Virginia) School of Business

Long (checklist) answer:
-my (expected difficult) transition from a five-year stint in the corporate world to the world of MBA
-the ins and outs of the Darden MBA
-the changes I will go through and embrace
-the homesickness I know I will feel (big lump in throat)
-the diverse people I will meet and become friends with
-the cultures I will learn about and experience
-the travels I plan to take
-my musings and reflections on school, career, and life in general
-the lessons I will learn and mistakes I will learn from
-any other escapades as a Pinay MBA student in the US
-and any other relatively mundane adventures

Why am I writing?

Short (beauty pageant-like) answer: Because they say that this will be the best two years in my life

Long (-er) answer: Because they say that this will be the best two years in my life and I’ll be damned if I won’t have lucid memories of it by the time I’m sixty.

Hello (Blog) World!

1. noun – (a contraction of the term “web log”) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, description of events, or other materials such as graphics or video.
2. verb – to maintain or add content to a blog

*source: Wikipedia

So essentially, a blog is a modern-day diary with one difference—it’s for the whole world to see.

For those who know me, my sudden interest in blogging will come as a surprise. Not that I don’t like writing. Once upon a time, I spent the longer part of my days in a cramped and crowded room, full of editors, photographers, layout/graphics artists and student journalists-turned-layout-models. I poured hours and days into writing, editing and laying out the school paper. Sleep was a rare commodity and barely beating the deadline was the norm. But I loved every minute of it. It made my B.S. Accountancy undergraduate experience almost bearable.

So no, writing is not my issue about blogging, it’s the intimacy and openness of it. It’s like giving anyone who has access to the worldwide web a license to pick your brain and take a peek at your mind’s content. I pondered on it and realized, why not? If there’s something in there that could actually benefit another human being or even lend someone else an “aha” moment, then peek away!

So here I am, the virgin blogger ready to share her next big adventure!