At HEC Paris, mvlti svnt vocati, pavci vero electi!

Friday, April 27, 2007

A bit more on Visions of Leadership

What a week it has been! After my last blog, we have had quite an exhaustive set of practical, interactive and educational sessions on leadership values, crisis management, and a brilliant lecture on whether managers can be trained to become leaders given by the Dean. In-between, we had a dose of career planning advice from alumni members who ahd come in specially to listen to our career plans and help us polish them. OK, this was a fairly straightforward process in my case as I already have something lined up but I really did enjoy listening to my classmates discuss their career aspirations and how things are shaping up in this process or evolving oneself. To given you an idea of the discussions we had, leaders who came this week included Jack Stahl, former CEO of Revlon, Daniel Bernard, the man who turned Carrefour around, Paul Hermelin, the CEO of Cap Gemini, and Christian Streiff, Chairman of PSA Peugeot Citro├źn's managing board. We also had an interactive discussion-cum-training on Crises Communication from ACYAN, on Leadership Transition by The Turning Point and on Leadership in general from a few McKinsey consultants. There were, as in every learning process, one or two sessions which I felt could have been done better but, in the greater scheme of things, they were insignificant and I am really pleased with the week. And, yes, we do get credits from attending the sessions. In fact, we ahd to sit for an hour-long exam this afternoon to answer questions on key skills of leaders, especially one who is turning a company around, and how we would manage as middle managers. So, am I ready to be a leader? Well, that depends...one cannot learn leadership overnight but one can certainly prepare to become one with guidance, experience and training. Leadership is a question of context, when, where and what.

During the week, I also visited the venue where we will be hosting the grand party of the MBAT - the MBA Tournament that HEC Paris organises annually. The place is called Cap 15 and it a great venue for the party right by Eiffel Tower so, if you have not registered for MBAT, please do so...if not for the games, for the grand party at least! And, I will personally welcome you!

In the meantime, my son has got chickenpox so we have cancelled all our plans for the weekend. I think he got it from the nursery but one can't be sure. Nonetheless, we are being careful and disinfecting the spots so that they don't get any bacterial infections. And, we have cut his nails pretty short to stop him from scratching and hurting himself. I guess this brings me to the end of my blog for this week...au revoir et bon nuit!

Views from Cap 15's Pyramid Glass Lounge at the top



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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Truly a Leadership Day...and that too an enjoyable one!

As I mentioned before, this week, which is the first week of Core 2, is all about leadership and all the activities come under the umbrella of 'Visions of Leadership'. So, yesterday we were split into multiple groups working on three separate 'live' cases. These cases, handed to us before we went away on holiday, comprised of a brief synopsis of the target company plus a lot of reports from various analysts. Our role yesterday was to synthesise the information and give recommendations for 'the way forward' for the companies. And, today, we had the CEOs of these companies come in and talk to us about their own strategies and we were given an opportunity to see how well we matched the actual course of progress. My group and I got the Kingfisher case - Kingfisher, as you may know, is the parent company of DIY stores like B&Q in the UK and Castorama in France. Having already undertaken a property development project in the UK and currently pursuing one in France, I really did enjoy learning about these companies.

The day kicked off with the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, Patricia Russo, giving us an insight into what leadership is about with her own experience of running this giant cross-cultural merger. Her answer to a question about being a woman and a CEO was most striking. She answered, "I am a CEO who happened to be a woman" and not the other way round. Her message for us was to communicate as clearly as possible and to set optimistically demanding targets. The CEO of Kingfisher, the Irish mediator in an Anglo-French guerre, Gerry Murphy, also spent more than an hour talking to us about his vision for the company and answering many of our questions. I found him to be a really down-to-earth Irish bloke who is passionate about his retail business. His key advice for us was to focus on a career in an industry that is close to our heart. Finally, the day came to a close following a presentation by Alain Juppe, the former French prime minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, who explained to us what leadership, especially in a political field, means. Now, note that he has a rather colourful past which made it all the more interesting to hear him speak and answer questions on leadership, leading people, and on a wide range of topics such as trust, ethics, and transparency. This reminds me of an article on Jaques Chirac, which discusses how he has managed to survive at the helm of French politics for so long and it seems to boil down to one thing at the end - being a nice guy!

So, here are some things key to being a strong leader, which I have digested from the three different talks we had today:

Vision
Communication
People
Driven
Learner

And, yes, leaders can be made not just made...any comments?

Alain Juppe at HEC Paris

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Monday, April 23, 2007

SopCast

When we moved from England to France, we sold our treasured 'big' flatscreen with home cinema and have not had the pleasure of owning a TV in France. But, a friend recommended SopCast and it has been a useful source of entertainment from time to time. Check it out!

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Back from Londres, sans hiccup!

I am back from London and that TdS card that I had to fight for on Tuesday really did come in handy. I had a good long discussion with my new bosses exploring potential projects and, having signed a confidentiality agreement recently, I was also told of some cool new projects in the brew - I can't wait to be involved in some of them, honestly! We still have not decided whether I should be based in or around London or go straight to California for the summer. It also looks like I will be traveling to Geneva for a few days before the summer to attend a brainstorming session. All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip and on the way out, I even had the charming company of an INSEAD alumnus who was taking her daughter to see her grandparents in England and she offered some interesting advice on managing one's career and family.

The trip also gave me an opportunity to catch up with a few of my former colleagues and my former boss - they were in London attending a business conference so I went to see them for a drink-cum-chat at the conference hotel. Interestingly, this was a conference that I was helping to organise before I left the company for my MBA studies. In a way, I am pleased that I have not burnt any bridges with my previous company while I continue to forge a stronger link with the new company. After seeing my ex-colleagues, I went over to the Barbican Centre where a couple of my friends were waiting for me to watch a show together. It was a good show and we really enjoyed it but we felt that the subtitling of the acts could have been done a bit better (as the linked article suggests, this has already been given a lot of thought). Following a few delays when Jane, the GPS guide, decided to mislead us on a few occasions, we hit China town just after midnight for dinner...

Next week, we start Core 2 and the first week is all about leadership before we start courses in business economics, management accounting, organisational behaviour, etc. in the following weeks. As for next week, we were given a thick handout, a business case, to read and prepare our answers for Monday. So, as you can see, there is no such thing as a proper break during an MBA; we have homework even during a rest period!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What a break...what an experience I am having!

I did tell you spring break was coming soon but I just had not expected it to come and go (going!) so quickly! Last Friday, we had our last exam for the term, in Statistics, and when it finished at mid-day, one could see the relief on a lot of faces - we had just finished Core 1, the toughest phase as we are told! Hurray! The exam was definitely not set to be finished in two hours and, except for a few, nobody finished all the questions. Luckily, the last two questions, which most of us missed, were only worth 3 points. And so we promised not to talk about it again and hit the K-fet, the place where we get cheap beer and pizzas on campus. We spent the afternoon drinking and consuming tonnes of snacks and pizza slices though I restricted myself to just a pint or two as I was driving to see the property we were buying later on in the evening. I will come to this later but once I had dropped off my son and left the car with my wife, I took the metro to meet up with a classmate from New Zealand and hit the bars of Paris. A fellow classmate had organised an 'end-of-semester' dinner and so there we went. Fast forward four hours and I find myself drunkenly dancing on a bench of a stage in Cafe Oz, where fellow batchmates from the September intake had also arrived to celebrate somebody's B'Day. It was a great night out, a great way to say goodbye to Core 1, and welcome the break.

On Saturday, some old amis of my wife came over for lunch and, as always, I had time for a nap between formage and coffee! ;-) After a seemingly endless run of delightful courses, we decided to go for a walk and discover a new place in Jouy. Hidden away in the forest, not too far from our house, we found a lake and a children's play area and so the evening was spent loitering on the edges of the lake. About this time, for some unknown reason, I decided to give Ubuntu (Oo-bun-too), a free Linux based Operating System, a go and spent the Sunday installing it on my laptop. On Wikipedia, Ubuntu is defined as, "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity" or "I am what I am because of what we all are". Such a great thought! But guess what, while I was busy learning the steps of making Ubuntu recognise the Wanadoo wireless network we have, our neighbour, an alumnus of the HEC MBA program, came over to say someone had entered their property and stolen his laptop! I mean, where did all these 'universal bond' and "I am what I am because of what we all are" go? Pretty ironical, I thought! Alongwith the laptop, he has lost hundreds of photos of his new born daughter, who is currently in Brazil with her mum - and I can really relate to him in terms of how I would feel if I lost all of my son's early-stage photos.

On Lundi, a former industry colleague of mine from the UK, came over for lunch (she came to run the Paris marathon!) and, as she has been adventurous enough to start a B&B chain beginning in Morocco in Africa, I also invited a Moroccan classmate of mine and a Canadian friend with heritage in Sierra Leone. So, over a bottle of champagne and plenty of pizza slices in the green and pleasant settings of our house (imagine birds chirping in the background), we talked about life, work, challenges, and generally just chilled out. Later on in the afternoon, after my friends had left, I headed for the estate agent where we finally signed the papers needed to buy an apartment! So, we are now the proud owners of a biggish apartment that needs new wiring, a new bathroom, a new kitchen, new wallpapers, and the good old wooden floor needs a good scrub! God bless us for being so confident that we can turn this property around! To keep things moving, I have drawn the first floorplan of the apartment and it looks great! On paper, at least! The strength is in being able to imagine that this will come true someday and keep going. A good friend recently asked me how I manage to cope with all of life's hurdles and still stay so cheerful. My answer was that, every morning, I promise myself I will be happy. As they say, "those who wish to sing always find a song". Metaphorically speaking, of course, as singing is not one of my skills! :-)

And today...well, what can I say. I finally found out what French bureaucracy means. Last week or about 10 days ago, we were told that I should either be able to renew my Titre de Sejour (TdS) application receipt or have my TdS today. And, I need this to be able to leave France (for London tomorrow) and come back. But, when I got to the Prefecture, I was told that they had run out of tickets for the day and I was there well before they opened! A colleague from HEC had also arrived for his work permit and went back home very disappointed and with some very flowery words describing the system. Anyway, returning to my situation, I explained in whatever French I know that I was told I could collect my TdS and I need it to go to London tomorrow but they refused to heed. I asked for an extension and that too they refused. I was just banging my head against a big wall of human flesh! I kept trying and eventually the guards came and the cops (actually they came for someone else but had me worried for a sec) and even sought the help of my wife via phone. Nothing worked and, frustrated, I came back home. You see, one cannot leave France with the receipt of the first Carte de Sejour application, and enter back (a lot of posts on the web say this is possible but I believe this is meant mostly for citizens from countries with which France has an agreement for short-term visa-free travel; an Indian friend is having to apply for another short-term visa to be able to return). After I got home, I continued pestering the prefecture and haggled, very gently and nicely (if there is such a thing), seeking an explanation for why I was told it could be done/collected and why I could not this morning. Finally, I spoke to a gentleman who understood my situation (I explained that I can't miss my company meeting), checked the system thoroughly and said the computer system said the TdS was ready but it was not physically available in the Prefecture - voila! Great, but that does not solve my problem...donc I requested him for a letter so that I could use it to re-enter France on Thursday. He agreed but still insisted it was up to the immigration officers to decide whether to let me in or not - I said fine and we agreed to rendezvous in the afternoon at the Prefecture for me to collect the letter. I get there and, guess what, the lady at the counter recognises my name in one shot and says my TdS is ready! I mean, WHAT! I am really happy that it is ready but WHAT! She said they could not find it this morning! Ahem...nevermind, I now have my TdS and I am happily going to London tomorrow and should hopefully be allowed back into the country. You will know in the next blog! What an experience!

Amongst all these, if you have been visiting my blog regularly, you ask what happened to the potty training part. Well, I am trying but the boy thinks the potty is some kind of toy that he can play with in the bath. He just doesn't realise that it is for kaka and not a toy. I guess he is still growing up and, someday, I will succeed...or so, I hope.

The Forest


The saddle shaped mini-lake


The floor plan

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Andy Blitz Goes To Hyderabad

A friend sent this and you've got to watch it. Call it globalisation, call it outsourcing, call it BPO, call it just plain business sense but looks like it is here to stay!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Strategy, Spring Break, and Potty Training!

What is strategy? So asked Monsieur Porter. Is it about winning? Is it about staying alive in a cut-throat business environment? Is it about knowing where to go next? Is it about finding out where the next big step should be? Is it China? Is it India? Is it about out-performing your business competitors? Or, is it about sustaining a competitive advantage over other similar businesses by being different? You judge! But, these are some of the things that I have been pondering over for the last few days and why not? Afterall, I have an exam on Strategy tomorrow! But, the subject has been of great interest to me perhaps because my analytical mind likes analysing, obviously, business cases and understanding what businesses do really well, where their key stenghts are and what they should do next in terms of both business and corporate strategies. Of course, there is the usual industry analyses including the Five Forces of Porter (supplier power, buyer power, internal rivalry, substitutes, and potential entrants), followed by an analyses of the firm's strategy and competitive advantage (is what it does differently giving it a competitive advantage?). Is it gaining advantage from being able to offer a great price differentiation or is it offering something unique that has great value? It is value versus cost. So, here we are, three beautiful days in the country coming to an end with a study of business and corporate strategies. Personally, we have also been making some strategic moves; having spoken to the financial advisor, we are now pretty sure of owning a property soon. If we do move away from France, it will be an investment as we expect to see some economic growth in France (after a zero growth in Q3 of 2006, it can't go any worse, can it?)! There is change, perhaps political change, in the wind. And, we also need somewhere to live!

Next week is spring break and I was looking forward to a week of potty training my son (yes, such is the exciting life of a dad but, trust me, it is for good!) but it now appears that I will have to take a short break, during the break, and travel to London to meet my new boss, discuss my internship projects and lay the groundwork for what we are going to work on. This will help me in hitting the ground running when I start in July. And, I am also going to use the opportunity to go and explore some of the places where I may stay for the summer. There are three options; stay with a friend, rent short-term, or stay hassle-free in one of the university residences which are generally open to outsiders during the summer. I am not too keen to bother my friends (not for two months!), and renting short-term in an ideal location is not going to be easy so I am thinking of getting a studio or a room in one of the student residences. Most students will be gone so it should be fairly quiet and these residences are quite central and cost much less than renting. I also expect to be home in Paris most weekends. So, we shall see. Now, where's that website on how to potty train a child in three days...

Changing the subject completely, the weather has been really lovely recently and I do feel that spring has arrived. Flowers are blooming all around, days are brighter, and there are more hours of daylight to do better things than sit in front of a computer and blog! :-) I hope you like the pictures below.

Spring has arrived!



The number of windmills dotting the French countryside has definitely shot up in the last five years or so. Expand the picture to see what I mean.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Eight Days Four Exams!

Soon, I will be a year older, and before I know it, I will be hitting thirty (gladly, not this year!). But then, who has time to think about birthdays these days. It was only yesterday that I gave my French exam and we already have four exams coming up in the next eight days on Accounting, Supply Chain, Strategy, and Statistics. And, then a well-deserved break before the grinding of Core 2 begins.

We have also been viewing a lot of properties and have been thinking about repeating what we did in England - to buy a property that needs work and renovate it. We feel fairly confident that, using the practical knowledge and skills we gained from the last property development project, we will be able to finish it swiftly this time around. This would also help us make some money when we do sell the property which would help us climb the property ladder even more! BTW, you don't need an MBA to think like this. Every kid in England, where the housing market is booming, has the same idea! However, it is not an easy task especially when one has a child. And, what sort of a balancing act would it be between this and my MBA? The future's not ours, to see Que Sera, Sera...

Right, that's ten minutes gone, I better go and clarify my doubts on consolidation and consolidation reserve calculation.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

India Week Party Video

A friend just sent a link to a video from the India Week Night we had the other day. Enjoy!

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Three Big Oil Companies & One Diversified Industrial Giant!

How ironical or coincidental is it that I am currently listening to C. K. Prahalad's Podcast on Democratising Commerce and, at the same time, analysing the commercial success of some of the world's biggest capitalist organisations; three big oil companies plus GE. Did you know that "80% of humanity or 5bn people have been below the radar screen of organised business" and the challenge for the 21st century is to get them involved in capitalism that is fair, socially equitable and profitable? What can you, as an enterpreneur, do to reach this market? Think about it and give me a shout! :-)

Taking advantage of my newly acquired skills in analysing financial statements, I tried analysing three big oil companies plus GE (as a reference to see if my values are the same as those discussed in class) and the results can be seen in the picture below.


If you are an expert in this subject, think of this as an amateur experimenting, and I take no responsibility if anyone decides to quote the values I have calculated. Moreover, financial analyses can be carried out in a variety of ways and I have just picked some ratios for my own simple study. If you do think there is a gross mistake in this or have a question, please leave a comment. For your reference, I got the data for these caluclations from Thomson. So, what can we interpret from these numbers? Firstly, just looking at the current and quick ratios, one might think that the companies are doing just fine except for GE. A ratio of below 1, as we are told, is an uncomfortable position for business but if one calculates GE's values taking into account their long term receivables (LTR), the values change to around 2. The oil companies also have a significantly higher percentage of current assets compared to GE but much lower Days Inventories. A higher Days Inventory value may be associated with a lack of demand but can we really compare GE to the oil companies as they represent different industries? Tell me. But, within the oil industry, the three companies have similar values. It is also interesting to note that GE has a longer days payable than days receivable, opposite to the trend for the oil companies. But, adding LTR, the numbers are 120 days and >2 years so the trend is reversed. The book leverage value for GE is higher than those of the oil companies but in each case, the market values the assets of the companies more than the book values. It is worth remembering that a highly leveraged company may be putting itself at risk of bankruptcy as it may not be able to back its debts and liabilities. The long-term solvency ratios for GE are also much higher than that of the oil companies. Lower values are better but, I am not sure if the differences within the oil companies are majorly significant. All the oil companies also better cover their interest expenses by earnings from operations and give higher return on assets and equity. A higher return on assets, I am told, signifies that a business is well opreated, managed better and is an overall sign of being a good business as this is the ability of a company to use its assets to create profits. But, let's not forget GE's gross margin, which beats those of the oil companies, may be except for XOM, by a mile. The same could be said of the operating and net margins.

To conclude, let me once again emphasise that this is my own personal experiment, for my own NPV gain, and should not be taken at face value. Please do your own research, if you are investigating these companies. Overall, these are all very profitable and successful companies - just look at their market capitalisation - but I have found some interesting differences and similarities. I hope, so have you! :-)

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