Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer Musings

First off, a huge apology is in order. I've been neglecting my blogging duties and have terribly missed writing over the summer. No excuses on my part and I'm hoping to make up for my blogging absence in the next months as the second year MBA promise of more time for leisurely activities finds me.

Now that the dog days are almost over, allow me to backtrack a little bit and muse on the have beens.

Having been absent from the workforce scene for over a year now, I found myself awkward and a little lost in the maze called corporate America. As I started my MBA internship and slowly assimilated myself back to the reality of corporate life, I kissed goodbye to my sheltered student life at Darden. Goodbye 10am classes, Hello 5:30am wake up call. Adios afternoon snacks/naps, Hola endless back-to-back meetings. Being at work again made me reminisce my student life. I remember feeling so "work-sick" when I was a few months into school. I missed the surprises of daily work challenges, working with different people from different functions of the company, and best of all, I missed the monthly paycheck. I never thought I'd say this but being back on the payroll again made me miss student life! I did enjoy the paycheck and seeing my bank balance have credit transactions instead of just debits. And I did like interacting with people outside of my MBA circle but boy, whoever said student life is the best sure knew what he was talking about.

I spent my summer internship in a big retail company in Chicago, IL. After spending five years working in the finance function, I opted for a general management position and I wasn't disappointed. My role called for a good balance among very diverse disciplines--marketing, finance, sales, project management, and team management included. I wish I'd paid more attention to my Decision Analysis class when we discussed regressions and other statistical tools because I found myself working with a 50-million member database mining for useful and relevant marketing/sales insights. I had to rummage through my school notes and cases we discussed in class to remind myself how to interpret t-stats. The retail industry itself was highly challenging especially in an economy where consumer spending could do a lot more than just improve. We were faced with intense competition by other retail giants and internal calls for more budget savings, process efficiency, and increased productivity. So, it's safe to say that there were no dull moments.

Now, the hardest part of every internship is the very limited time-frame. I was working on a big project with a 12-week timeline. Take the one week of orientation and I was down to 11 weeks. When one has to orient herself with a new industry, get to know who's who in the corporate ladder, and actually implement the recommendations, 11 weeks is all too short. So yes, suffice it to say that my summer back at work was very challenging.

Never Under-estimate the Power of LO
At Darden, we have this course called Leading Organizations (LO). This course is taught in the first term of all first years and aims to develop the softer side of leadership skills. At first, I found the course to be too touchy-feely. We were talking about how to manage people's feelings; how to deal with a very diverse team where people had different cultures, values, and business practices. At times, there were role-playing sessions where students with pretend to be the characters in the cases and simulate actual conversations (or even confrontations) in the work place dealing with conflicts and issues. In my mind, I felt that these things could not actually be taught and eventually learned. I thought that these were things that were more innate and natural to human beings. And I was arrogant enough to believe that after working for five years in the corporate world, I most probably have encountered most kinds of people and hence know how to deal with anyone. I have to say, I couldn't have been more wrong. And it was a hard lesson learned.

After being sheltered in the MBA cocoon for almost a year, I got accustomed to being around people who were the same mold as I was--mostly Type A individuals, highly-driven, assertive and ambitious--your typical MBA student. Sadly, I forgot that outside this sheltered world of mine, more than one type of person exists. I forgot that people will not think exactly the same way I do nor will they share the same passions that I have. Not that I have more to offer, just that we each have different perspectives and different priorities and it takes more than a fancy spreadsheet model or your confidence and assertiveness to get people to believe in you and see things your way. In fact, I realize that sometimes you don't need for people to see things your way. People will use different lenses in looking at the same thing and so long as you arrive at the same conclusion, there's the pat in the back. The rest, as they say, is all in a day's work.

So yes, don't ever under-estimate the power of LO. Don't think that just because this class will not equip you with regression techniques and Excel shortcuts, it won't prepare you for when you go back to the real world. You will need more than quantitative prowess to achieve results. More than that, you will need to lead people to the right direction and find creative means to do this. Realize that you won't be leading a herd. One sheep won't be the same as the one beside it. It will be something closer to leading a whole zoo. Some will jump at your command, others will crawl, and others still could sting you. So, never forget the power of LO. It's a jungle out there!

Kindle the Way
They say that the suburbs is for people with families. So I thought I'd live single life to the fullest and live close to downtown Chicago. People did warn me about the horrendous commute but I thought I'd brave it. Alas, I'm not as brave as I thought I was! My commute from downtown Chicago to the suburbs where my office was was almost tolerable, at best. It was a 1.25-hour commute one way via train and bus. That meant waking up at an ungodly hour and reaching home when the sun was almost setting. That also meant that my two-month old Kindle (e-book reader) was going to be rightfully depreciated! So, I successfully finished six long books over the summer with most of the reading done over my long commute. I actually found myself looking forward to my commutes to get back to the exciting reading!At this rate, I could be a spokesperson for Amazon!

Give me back my rice!
Over the summer, I was living with three roommates, all of whom were American. I was very lucky that all four of us got along well and maximized what Chicago bars and restaurants had to offer. Most of our co-interns also shared the same passion for food and good bars so we explored much of Chicago cuisine and bar scenes. I only had one complaint: I felt rice-deprived! Asian that I was, I'm used to eating rice at least 2-3x a week. However, my American roommates always wanted to go to these American brunch places where the staple in the menu was sandwiches--in every concoction you can think of but one with rice! So one Friday, when we were supposed to have our regular brunch time (usually at different brunch places), I actually bailed out on them and ordered in some cheap Chinese food! Ah, you know how they cook it in that sweet, spicy, greasy way and with lots of rice? Oh. So. Good!

Death by Butts and Guts
Another thing about my roommates is that they were very health-conscious. Not that I live a very unhealthy lifestyle and I do love my carbs but they took gymming to a different level! We all enrolled at a Wicker Park gym and even got a special group discount for the summer. I'm used to working out 3-4x a week but they all worked out almost every day! Some days I'd be too tired from work and from the long commute that I'd go straight to the couch, turn the TV on and watch Suits or Sex and the City re-runs. When my roommate comes home, he'd see me on the couch and say "See Yumi, that's how you start getting a fat a**!" Told ya they take working out seriously! I obviously would feel guilty afterwards for not working out so every Friday afternoon, I would drag myself to this intense workout class called "Butts and Gutts." The class is appropriately named as it focuses on toning the buttocks and abs. It was a very intense one-hour class where the strict and uptight instructor would shout commands like "Clench those butts girls!" I'm guessing I burned more than 1000 calories each workout. So everytime my roommate would catch my lying on the couch and eating while watching television, I'd defend myself by saying that I had enough pre-paid butts and gutts workout to last me for three days! Of course, I also had enough muscle aches and pains to last me for six!

So there, that I think pretty much sums up my summer experiences. Back in good old college town Charlottesville now makes me miss the windy city very much. I miss the very diverse bars and restaurants. I miss the fact that you can hail a cab from the street way past midnight. I miss that you can ride the bus or train to practically anywhere in Chicago. Most of all, I miss my new friends--my roommates and co-interns who all made my summer memorable! But going back to Charlottesville made me realize something. When I came back to my apartment, opened my room and sat on my bed, I actually said to myself, "It's good to be home." So yes, this is home. As far as it is from my real home in the Philippines and as different as it is, it has become my home for the past year now and will be in the next year. And believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to staying here, with its country beauty--limited dining options and no cabs beyond 12 midnight and all!