Category Archives: All things Darden
One of the distinct pleasures/horrors of marrying a person with whom you attended high school is that they are under no illusions regarding your past. My wife knows I did not spring from a lotus flower or donate every waking minute of my childhood to volunteering at a soup kitchen. The upside is that I never had to spend a lot of time worrying whether she would find out about all the distinctly immature things I did as a teen. Another upside is that she has saved things from our time dating in high school that I would have never thought to save (we did not date in college, so most of my documentation was lost to the ages).
A particular piece of relationship memorabilia is an email I have no recollection of ever composing; my wife’s hard copy of said email and the distinct writing style, along with the sentiment, suggests I am, in fact, the author. The email was a reply to a note in which she sent me some advice; I responded in kind with my own general life advice. Because honestly, what could an 18 year old not know? Most of it is not memorable, but two jumped out as amusing:
1. There are plenty of times when life does suck. Are you dead? If not, get over it.
2. You know that you want to, so everyone once in awhile you should act like an ass. People will envy you for it. This I cannot explain, but it is a fact.
You should write those down.
In the same container with this email was a list of Chef Geoff’s ”Steps to Being Great.” Chef Geoff is the eponymous owner of multiple DC area restaurants, the first of which employed my wife during college. He apparently gave his “Steps to Being Great” to all new employees – it is 110 items detailing his expectations, requirements, and desires from employees. Though it is clearly related to the restaurant industry, most of the takeaways are pretty universal, and I have enjoyed rereading the list when we happen to run across it at our house. I don’t know Chef Geoff, so I won’t post the document, though I will highlight a couple of points which I think are applicable for MBAs:
1. It IS your job.
2. If you step over something on the floor, you are not doing your job. Pick it up.
3. Don’t confuse effort with accomplishment.
4. If you pour salt on a grease spill you will only end up with salty grease or greasy salt. Clean it up.
Darden provides a lot of opportunities to listen to advice from all sorts of successful people. It isn’t free when you pay 100k for it, so I’ve been recording, evaluating, and internalizing the highlights. You want to keep the important advice around, so that when each particular piece of advice becomes immediately relevant you can call upon it. Because frankly, how else would my wife have survived?
In my senior year of undergrad I shared an apartment with three other guys. We had a common tv, attached to which was a VCR. On that VCR we watched the movie Zoolander approximately 20 times in a two month period. I still have a DVD copy of it somewhere around my house. It is an awesome film.
I mention that because I spent this past weekend with one of those roommates, and at one point we had a mini walk-off. I mention that because I can. It was a great time.
My friend was in town because he and I, during a visit last fall to his home in Raleigh, agreed to run a marathon toward the end of 2011 (like all great decisions, this not reached in a state of full sobriety). This past weekend was a test toward that goal – running and surviving a half marathon. I understand for people who are running enthusiasts (or runners, but dear God don’t open that term up for debate), a half marathon is an incidental event. I am not a running enthusiast, and therefore was not particularly enthusiastic. But it happened, and I survived, and I was not the last one to finish the race. So minor victories were achieved.
A few highlights of the run itself, however, were linked directly to school. The outgoing DSA president was dressed in a full bear costume to wave to runners, which was an oddly inspirational. About 100 yards from the finish line, a classmate from Section A yelled encouragement at the point at which I was realizing that the whole ordeal was about to be over, which was incredibly reaffirming. A friend with whom I interned over the summer was at the finish line with mimosas for her roommates, repaying a kindness over the summer when a group of us brought her mimosas at Grant Park in Chicago when she finished a half marathon. I saw a FY who lives a few doors away from me in our community before the race, at the start line, in the race, and after the finish line. And after we had started to recover and could get ourselves to a bar, we were joined by a number of friends to celebrate.
A corny “Darden is family story”? Yes, but I only have six weeks left to enjoy it.
My wife and I visited Darden together for the first time (minus my interview, which was a solo endeavor) over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2009. We celebrated that V-Day by purchasing way too much food at Whole Foods in Charlottesville and having a picnic in our hotel room while watching movies. Last year’s Valentine’s Day occurred, though I’m not entirely certain as to what we did. A quick review of my Outlook calendar has nothing on the date, though it appears I was likely prepping for Strategy, Global Econ, and Decision Analysis classes the next day. First Year was a busy time…
This year, however, I had the time, energy, and financial means to do a bit better for my wife. I even planned ahead, which is a bit atypical for me from a romantic perspective. This past weekend we took advantage of the close proximity to DC to do a few days in the city, during which we had a long and luxurious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and went to see the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. There isn’t any good reason for me to share this except that blogs are inherently narcissistic and I’d like my good work at being a husband to be read about and acknowledged by the random people that will see this posting. Hooray!
In other news, this week has included a homemade sushi dinner prepared by friends, watching the Duke-Virginia basketball game, Darden league bowling, and, if I recall correctly, some classes. Most importantly, however, is that this afternoon was marked by my first springtime cigar at Darden. Today was over sixty-five degrees and sunny, second years have no class tomorrow, and I had no pressing requirements that would prevent me from enjoying a hour of outdoor cigar smoking. Truly relaxing.
The time spent sitting in the sun afforded the opportunity to reflect on my current classes and their impact on my perspective on careers, making money, and business generally. I’d say they were deep thoughts, but I suspect they were either evident to others, should have been self-evident, or perhaps are not really complex; they make my brow furrow, so make of that what you will. I’m currently taking two classes which complement each other very well: Acquisition of Closely Held Enterprises and Small Enterprise Finance. In combination, they are a cradle to grave examination of small businesses and the management thereof. One of the repeated points is that small does not equal less profitable when it comes to business, especially in the middle market. Though most MBA candidates will join major corporations or large name-brand partnerships in finance and consulting, most MBAs also profess a desire to manage their own business at some point. If pressed, most of them would describe their “own business” in terms that would fit either a large organization or a sexy Silicon Valley start-up. There does not seem to be many MBAs investing a tremendous amount of energy trying to figure out how to grow a franchise business, buy a niche manufacturing firm, or start a company to compete with unaffiliated mom and pop businesses (in fairness, some are, but they represent a ridiculously small percentage of the overall MBA population).
To steal from the Discovery Channel, there are not many MBAs interested in businesses that execute the “dirty jobs” of industry. Banking, consulting, corporate finance, general management, marketing and the like are clean jobs (full disclosure – I’ve accepted a consulting position, and am extremely excited about it). There is a low likelihood you will have to fire a forklift driver or sweat making payroll in any of these positions, and you won’t have to backfill a sick employee by loading boxes on a dock in any of them. Before Darden I did fire forklift drivers and jump in on the dock to help load trucks in an emergency (except at the union sites – love you Teamsters!), and business school seemed like the way to move from the brute force end of business to the strategic end of things. To a large degree that expectation has been met, but the thing with the dirty jobs end of the economy is that for a good businessperson they can be incredibly rewarding, both financially and personally. Many of the dirty jobs truly represent the pinnacle of enterprise-wide general management.
I don’t need a dirty job right now. But I might want a dirty job in the future. The question is how long one can stay in a clean job before they are structurally incapable of transitioning to a dirty job (because of perceived risk, 401Ks, etc). It is an another compelling issue to add to the pile of gigantic life choices one can contemplate on a lazy Thursday afternoon.
The second semester of the second year of business school is a time for reinforcing friendships, thinking big thoughts about future business endeavors, spending ridiculous amounts of money on
GBEs vacations, and, apparently, getting involved in physical training regimes that are grossly inappropriate to our general level of fitness after 18 months of networking drinking beer.
I believe there are three primary motivators for this workout trend: 1) People at Darden abhor a time vacuum, 2) General recognition that on average people are heavier than when they began at Darden, and 3) Speakers in second year classes peppering their remarks with references to how they participate in triathlons (or other equally physical time-sinks). A perverse combination of unnecessary motivation, a lack of non-academic alternatives, and hyper-competitiveness is currently padding the bottom line of Charlottesville’s church of Crossfit, increasing the trade of second hand copies of P90X, driving up participation in “Navy SEAL Training”, and in my particular case, causing me to pay money now for the right to run on public roads in the Charlottesville half-marathon in April.
One of my least favorite activities in the entire world is running. It is a pointless pursuit which brings me no personal pleasure. It doesn’t clear my head, give me an endorphin rush, or make me feel healthy. It does make me feel like not running. So why run? I have five years of evidence accumulated during my time in the Army to suggest that I am in fact healthier (read: thinner) when I run on a regular basis. Additionally, a friend suggested the idea of running the Athens marathon later this year in order to cross marathon off the life to-do list, and since he went to HBS, it can’t not be a good idea. Thus, I signed up for the Charlottesville half marathon as a personal test case to see if I have either the desire or physical tolerance to train for a full marathon later this year.
After a three year post-Army hiatus from running (or most any physical activity, honestly) I have been taking baby training steps since late December. Sooner or later I’ll get back to real life and my time will be occupied with activities more interesting than running…or maybe I’ll keep running so I can come back to Darden and shame future generations of MBA candidates by telling them about how I simultaneously run a corporation and do yoga and run marathons. It isn’t likely, but it is good to keep your options open.
Spicy Szechuan Chex Mix. It is my wife’s favorite and virtually inaccessible snack food. It is sold exclusively at convenience stores, but rarely, if ever, will you find it there. She has exactly twice – once up the road from our apartment in Charlottesville, and once at a random gas station in central Illinois she visited when she was forced off the road during white out driving conditions. God is clearly tempting her with these, though I’m not entirely certain what the test actually is. In any case, they are a pain to get.
Enter Darden’s December job trek to Minneapolis, which included a stop at General Mills. A first year friend from school was to attend the trek, and I asked if she could ask someone at General Mills whether it is possible to just order the stuff (I’ve tried, haven’t found a way yet). My request was half joking, but my friend put the question to someone there, and not only did she return with two more bags of the mix for my wife, but also with a name for a contact to order more. Hallelujah.
In other news of extremely limited applicability or interest, Dean Bruner tweeted a link this morning related to officer attrition in the military (the Dean includes some interesting commentary and links in his Twitter feed, but I can never help but cringe when I see that he actually typed something was “G8″. Ugh). An interesting read, even if you were not in the military. Generally consistent with everything I saw/heard/felt about merit and promotions in the military. One significant caveat to the author’s very informal survey style is that military officers are like drivers – everyone thinks they are above average. Consequently, everyone thinks their friends are also above average. And when they and their friends get out, the is tantamount to quality leaving, while they people they don’t like (and are of lesser quality) stay in. Thus, if you ask individuals who got out whether quality officers stay in, they are inclined to say no, simply because it reinforces their choice. So while I think his statistical analysis is garbage (also, polling only West Pointers, who make up roughly 20% of the officer corps…and not the best 20%? Seriously!), it is certainly directionally correct, and a problem the military will not solve any time soon. Business school is a logical transition point for officers leaving the military, because of a belief that the corporate world is based all on merit (and rainbows and unicorns).
Best advice I received when I left the military: “What you hated about the military is actually what you hate about working…you’ll dislike the same things wherever you go.”
If you aren’t familiar with the underpants gnomes, take a moment to become educated with this video clip from South Park or this Wikipedia entry the video is derived. If you don’t inform yourself the rest of this post makes no sense.
The underpants gnomes were on my mind during class today. A guest speaker, who has achieved a level of success to which nearly every business school student aspires and who undoubtedly has earned more money than I should ever hope to earn, was presenting his vision for a national policy change, which if enacted, would lead to a dramatic shift in the fundamental way US based corporations conduct business. The line of reasoning was not illogical, but it was aspirational, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that, like the underpants gnomes, there was a giant hole in the middle of the plan. That is to say, step one could lead to step three, but it could also lead to a dozen different places, and there was little, if any, evidence that step three would actually materialize.
When step two relies on an assumed response rather than an intrinsically linked secondary action, you are probably entering the world of unintended consequences (see all other major government reforms). Interestingly, I’m not fundamentally opposed to the speaker’s suggested policy change, but I also don’t think it would create the corporate world which he envisions (it is important to note that perhaps I totally misunderstood the logic, which is always, always, a distinct possibility).
In business school, this fundamental problem rears its head time and again, though more frequently with regard to new ventures. But it’s application in the world of policy is not unique either (see here for a decidedly partisan application of the underpants gnome issue). All this to say, one of the better parts of second year is the increased number of guest speakers in class, most of which not only present interesting perspectives but a sharper point of view as well. Much of the first year is spent agreeing with each other in class, which, while polite, does not do much to enhance overall learning for me. I enjoy dissent and debate, and it is far more interesting to be exposed to divergent ideas, even if I don’t quite agree with the second step.
In 2010, a cause isn’t a cause until it has a color scheme and ribbon. AIDS, domestic abuse, and breast cancer have signature ribbons. I know this because I go to business school, and at business school, you wear ribbons.
The video is a joke, of course, but when a group sticks a purple ribbon calling attention to the unnecessary and horribly prevalent crime of domestic abuse in your mailbox, do you want to be the one not to wear the ribbon? I find it a bit annoying (ribbons generally, not purple ribbons), not because I don’t care, but because I don’t think there is a high correlation between true, active involvement and wearing a ribbon. Most people care about an issue when it is directly in their face, but the week after purple ribbon week might be white ribbon week or red ribbon week, or in this case…
Yellow ribbon week. Yellow ribbons were provided this week at Darden by the Darden Military Association (of which I am a part) in advance of Veterans Day and a fundraiser we have having for Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. I wore a yellow ribbon on Monday to help get things kicked off, and I was glad to see some others doing the same (yellow ribbons, FYI, do not have the same subscription rate as pink ribbons). But the yellow ribbons will soon be replaced by a ribbon of another cause because there are many things that deserve attention.
Thinking about the ribbons caused me to reflect on the business school experience more broadly. At school, everything gets thrown at you at once, and you are told it is all important. Marketing, finance, and operations could all have their own ribbons, because each demands attention and attempts to call students to action on their behalf. Clubs and activities function largely in the same way. You want to care about everything, you say you care about everything, but in the end, bandwidth is limited and there is only so much you can do if you want to make a real impact. Which is why I believe, despite not liking the ribbon phenomenon, the b-school cycle of fundraiser after fundraiser and cause after cause is exceedingly valuable. Our time here gives us two years to consider where we are going to focus our efforts in both the short and long term, and that should absolutely not be limited to professional choices. You can’t wear every ribbon on a rotating basis and expect to make much of a difference over the course of your life, but you can choose a ribbon or two (metaphorically of course) and align yourself now in such a way those issues or causes become areas in which you do make a real impact. And there is no way to know what is possible or what may call you to action without being exposed to the breadth of options.
Until then, while you are wearing the yellow ribbon on Veterans Day and reflecting upon the sacrifices made by the men and women who help make our nation great, take a few moments to learn more about the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation and consider making a donation of any size HERE.
When I think of Washington, D.C., this is what generally comes to mind:
It wasn’t always that way. I was a government major at Claremont McKenna College, interned for a think tank in DC, was in New Hampshire for the 2000 primaries, and invested a tremendous amount of emotional energy in following and caring about national politics. Out of undergrad, many of my friends took jobs in the administration and many more went to DC in other various capacities. I had just finished a 60 page thesis detailing why McCain-Feingold finance reform legislation would fail to reduce money or improve transparency in politics (spoiler alert: I was exceedingly correct), we were in a post-9/11 era in which the defense of the nation was paramount, and absolutely everything about politics seemed so damn important. I thought I would eventually land in DC. After all, is there no higher calling than public service in government? I was pretty sure there wasn’t.
Growing up does things to a person. It adds weight, aches, and perspective, though hopefully not in that order. The perspective I gained was that the best leaders are passionate about their people – they value them, respect them, and lead them with humility. The best leaders make personal sacrifices to progress activities and to achieve goals; when the sacrifice of others is necessary, the best leaders ask for it with sincerity and honesty. The best leaders also have perspective – their ability to lead is based on experience and innate skill, not simply the latter. I learned this from interacting with great and not-so-great leaders in the military and professional world.
When I look at DC, I do not see many leaders worth emulating. I don’t think they are passionate about people – people are voters, voters are organized into blocs, and blocs are groups to which appeals (frequently crass) may be made. One only needs to listen to some of our most senior leaders to know that they do not respect people or lead them with humility. When I compare them to the great and not-so-great leaders I have experienced first-hand, I find most fall on the unfavorable side of the spectrum.
It is with this frame of mind that I had the opportunity to go to a talk given by Larry Sabato this morning. It was an excellent opportunity to return to my nerd poli-sci/government roots, listen to interesting discussion on the 2010 elections and preparations for 2012 (752 days away, apparently!), and enjoy the benefits provided by the larger university system. Most importantly, it was a great primer to get back into full on nerd mode for the next few weeks in preparation of my Superbowl: Election Day.
Make sure you register to vote and make sure you actually vote. Preferably not for an incumbent!
A few weeks ago I was at a newer local restaurant having pizza and beer with my wife and some friends when I needed to use the restroom. In the restroom was a single urinal, which, as I read the label, I learned was a waterless urinal. As I used the waterless urinal, the only thing I could think was “I wonder what the payback period is on this thing?”
Today I had lunch at Abbott Dining Room, the formal dining area at Darden. I ate rather late, so there was a single community table left when my friend and I sat down with a third student, two professors, and the registrar. One of the professors launched into a story about a chance encounter with a business person who was visiting Charlottesville to help with the weekend launch of a new retail outlet; during the encounter the business person shared the company’s week one revenue goals for the outlet. The professor was more than skeptical of the revenue projection, which prompted a smartphone enabled mini-case at the lunch table to validate the business person’s targets. Market, prices, estimations of revenue per square foot, repeat customers, and revenue per customer were all discussed; nation-wide financials were quickly analyzed to estimate normal per store sales. It was unofficially determined that the revenue projections were likely 33% too high.
This is my life, and I find it rewarding.
Each learning team at Darden faces a garden area (above) that opens up to the much larger Flagler Courtyard. During the long LT hours of first year, I would frequently stare at the garden and think “I wish I were smoking a cigar out there right now”. As a second year student, I’ve been making those first year dreams a reality. Multiple times this year, including yesterday on a cloud-free 80 degree afternoon, I have indulged in the opportunity to sit outside, smoke a cigar, and enjoy the surroundings and tranquility of the Darden grounds. Smoking a cigar is either a social occasion or a time of reflection for me (and sometimes both). At Darden it is more reflective; a time to consider the future, flesh out ideas kicking around in my head, and draw and redraw personal goals. Smoking cigars is not for everyone, but reflective contemplation should be, especially now, when we are afforded the time (not you first years, get back to work). If you can contemplate over a cigar, all the better.
Picture from Darden’s official website. I assume some sort of rights are reserved, etc. I am too lazy to take a picture, despite the fact that I’m currently looking at a nearly identical view.