(check)Mate

Doing an MBA entails giving up on a lot of things and making multiple sacrifices on  many levels. There’s the opportunity cost of doing an MBA, the strained relationships, the stress of the job-hunt, the lost hours of sleep, the insane studying, the loss of hair in trying to raise money for tuitions, etc. The list goes on for quite a bit.

Somewhere along the way, students make up for all these losses through the networking, the parties, the brand-name chip on the shoulder, the joining of an ultra-elite league, landing that PE job with Blackstone or that consulting gig with M/B/B. However, all these gains can never make up for the biggest loss of them all; old friends.

In the middle of this insane rat-race, I know a few MBAs who’ve forgotten their old friends. They’ve forgotten the days when as mates they climbed mountains together; as mates they consoled and comforted one another in times of bereavement; as mates they crashed together in motorbike accidents; as mates they cursed b-school apps together; as mates they consoled one another through broken relationships; as mates they saved each other’s relationship from self-destructing; as mates they called one another wherever they were in the world, just to say hi; as mates they would write e-mails to one another like a Skype conversation.

Whatever happened to those simpler times when there were no thoughts of an MBA or any other ego-bloating degree or activity in the mind? When will the realization dawn that an MBA will come and go? When will the understanding come that all that networking was, but, for a short while? When will that clarity shine through that b-school’s nothing but a bubble, and that after it bursts with a loud bang, it’s the old mates who will still be around? It is not unjustly said that MBAs lack heart and soul. When the shit does hit the fan, and realization finally dawns, it’s usually too late. Too much time would have passed and the hurt wounds of old mates would have become hard shields and they would have given up and moved on in life.

But, who am I to talk right? I’m just another MBA after all.

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Winnie the Pooh and Where’s the Honey?

I recently attended an alumni meeting organized by my undergrad University. It was the usual get-together at a nice hotel, with free-flowing champagne, presentations on the latest happenings in the college world to make the alumni swell with ear-aching pride, endlessly boring talks by professors on their cutting edge research, etc. etc. Blah!

At the end of it all, there was of course the customary lucky draw. Up for grabs was a bottle of questionable Scotch, an University-emblem engraved pen (ball-point!), and a sinister looking teddy-bear key-chain whose nudity was covered by the smallest University t-shirt I’ve ever seen. I dropped my business card with huge misgivings into the lucky-bowl. Lucky draws are just plain evil. They raise your hopes, only to dash them. Anyway, my misgivings were because I was afraid I would actually win one of these  prizes.

The bottle of Scotch went (to someone else), and so did the pen. Both times, my card came agonizingly close to being picked. I could literally see my card just managing to elude the fat pudgy fingers of the MC. Alas, when it came to the last prize, those fat bastards grabbed my card by the scruff of the neck, and delivered the verdict, swift and fast.

So, I’m stuck with this sinister looking teddy-bear key-chain, and as I was eye-balling it back, I noticed a small yellow cardboard flap pinned on its butt (that must hurt, but would be a great conversation piece); you know, those cards which explain the product. Here’s what mine said:

  1. The filling 100% new material
  2. The fabric conforms to flameproof requirements
  3. The eyes are of the safety lock-in type
  4. Handwash in warm soapy water. Short machine spin in pillowcase. Do not tumble dry.
  5. Due to small parts this key ring is not suitable for children under 36 months.

(the bold above is how it is on the butt-card) I was beyond grief that I would not be able to pluck its damn eyes out. What really got my hair in a tangle though was the fifth point. How on earth did this company that makes sinister looking teddy bears figure that out? I can only imagine that they handed a number of these bears out to a bunch of kids of various ages and waited to see who was the youngest who died due to strangulation by the eye-balling freak.

My whole gout with this episode is that as an alumni of a pretty prestigious University, the least they could have done was to give out more materially valuable gifts. Com’n, I paid a heck of a lot to study there, and funding it was not easy. To give me a teddy-bear whose eyes I can’t pluck out, and who kills 3-year olds with the switftness of a ninja just reeks of cheapness and an attitude of go-suck-an-egg. This coming after all those talks meant to make us swell with oozing pride just didn’t go down well. If I wanted a teddy bear, I can go onto the online shop of my University, pay ~$3 and order it myself. I don’t need Ms. Pudgy-fingers doing that for me.

This then led me to INSEAD. The majority of the scholarship decisions for INSEAD came out today. I’ve been talking to a few people from my class, especially those from need-based countries like Africa, India, China, etc., and the general consensus is that raising money for the tuition and living fees is proving to be far more arduous than ever imagined. The exchange rate and the salaries drawn are just not enough to pay even 25% of the tuition fees. Bank loans are almost impossible to come by, with most banks asking for 100% collateral. Heck, if students had 100% collateral, they wouldn’t be going to INSEAD. They would be living very comfortably in their own countries. Most of these folks are literally banking on winning a substantial scholarship to see them through this difficulty.

The average scholarship award given per student last year was something like EUR 12000; that’s 1/5th of the tuition fees. And, only 20% of the admits get scholarships. If you are from a low-cost location, and you are among the 20% who get a scholarship, that still leaves you trying to pay for the rest of the course.

This problem is not isolated to INSEAD. Similar stories are being heard in HBS, Booth, GSB, Columbia, etc. MIT is the only one who’s managed to find a lender for its international students. Top-10 b-schools really need to put their money where their mouth is. Firstly, they make us go through this insane admissions process, and then they put us through this shit of trying to find funding. How can anyone be stopped from studying due to a lack of funds? That’s almost criminal.

If they’re really such great schools, they should have the gumption to vouch for the quality of their students, and agree to underwrite the whole loan. What I’m being led to conclude is that the schools themselves don’t have any faith in the quality of their brand. But, they have the gall to act like snooty lords accepting and rejecting applicants as they like.

INSEAD has claimed it’s hard for them to act as co-signers due to multiple nationalities present at it’s school, and that banks are uncomfortable giving loans to students whose credit worthiness they’re not able to verify. Excuse me, but isn’t that diversity supposed to be great, boundary-breaking, uplifting, etc.? Isn’t this diversity the primary fabric of INSEAD? Doesn’t INSEAD pick the greatest and brightest from all the different nationalities? Aren’t we told that we are probably the best from these different nations? Isn’t our potential to be global business leaders one of the reasons why we were selected?

Then, why is there a difficulty in being able to underwrite student loans with a global bank like HSBC (for example)? Surely the top-10 schools can do better? This almost makes me feel proud of winning the crummy teddy-bear whose eyes I can’t pluck out, and whose filling is made of, by the looks of things, sterner stuff than b-schools.

Last (Second) Action Hero

I like Quentin Tarantino movies. The gore, the blood, the set-action sequences, the weird camera angles, the mad storyline, etc. There’s an earthy raw feel to his movies which is arresting. Part of the tension in Tarantino movies are the dialogues. They add to the whole experience.

I’ve always been a Superman fan. There’s something about a guy who can fly, have infinite strength, look good without a lock of hair out of place at supersonic speeds, be the ideal bastion of human ideals, always have adoring girls around, and of course wear his underwear outside (not too sure about the last one still). But, I love Superman. I grew up with him, and idolized Christopher Reeves. I have tied enough towels and scarves around my neck and stood in front a floor-fan (at full speed) in the hope I look as dashing with my cape flying about romantically. I have contemplated jumping out of my window many times, but somewhere at the back of my head, I always had a niggling doubt that if my experiment failed, it would lead to a classic Tarantino scene.

When Kill Bill came out, I rushed to the theaters to watch it. It was typical Tarantino. Mad storyline, mad set-action sequences, mad music and with madder anime thrown in. Brilliant! The culmination of the brilliance for me was in Vol. 2 when Bill explains to the The Bride about Superman. This is one of my all-time favorite dialogues. Sample this:

Bill: …..Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. …….

I salute Tarantino for coming up with such an observation. Tarantino verbalized my fascination with Superman. Batman and Spiderman never had the same appeal as Superman did, and I could never explain why. Now, I know what I felt intuitively all those years ago.

August 18th is D-Day; I’ve got to submit scholarship applications for INSEAD. Let it be known I’m yet to start on them and am instead writing this. The thought of writing more b-school essays is painful. I almost feel like I’m watching a Tarantino film. Can’t stop, yet can’t continue.

And, it doesn’t help that my alter-ego is Mr. Last Second. My super-powers are panicking under stress, procrastination, daring myself to wait longer before starting, substituting other tasks with current one and coming up with great excuses. I almost feel like I was born with these qualities and my actual “alter-ego” is OMJ.

Sigh, I’ve let you down Superman.

Flying Pigs and the Cheek of it All

I just got back from my 2-week break. I needed this holiday very badly. It had officially been 1.5 years since I had last taken any significant holiday. Coupled with a super-stressful job, having to write B-school applications did not exactly make my Sundays any rosier. So, this was a long overdue break.

I had decided before leaving for my break, that I would not answer any official mails. You see, I have this very dirty habit of sneaking a peek into my official inbox; this generally happens when I’m bored. Sending 1 mail when on holiday will result in approx. 12 replies. So, the maths isn’t in favor of a chilled-out holiday if you’re sending official mails.

This had also been a difficult year at work. I had the worst-possible boss (henceforth known as the asshole) the last 10 months. Huge hiring mistake on the part of my CEO. The asshole had neither managerial nor technical skills. What he did have in abundance was a keen understanding of the divide-and-rule policy. His daily work was to confuse, demoralize, denigrate, play racial politics and point fingers when upper management asked questions. I always call an asshole an asshole (fucker works equally well here). Needless to say this created enough love in him to start hating me with all his black heart. Unfortunately for him, my results were always at par with expectations. It used to drive him crazy and more time and juices were spent plotting and scheming on how to make me lose more hair than I had already lost the past 10 months.

This was a shitty position to be in and I was burnt out trying to block-out the negativity and defend myself from all these schemes while still delivering actual output. The 2-week break cleared up a lot of muck in my head and my heart. I decided that come Monday (3rd Aug), I will resign. Heck, why should I kill myself over a job when I can travel and enjoy my time before INSEAD? So, I flew back home late on Sunday night, composed my resignation letter and went to sleep intending to send it out the next day.

I headed to work the next morning all morose that I still have to look upon the asshole’s face. I step into my floor and see that his cabin (in case you didn’t know, assholes get cabins) is empty and the lights are off. Am thinking this is my lucky day, the asshole is on leave. Then, I sit down and my colleague beside me asks what I thought of the “good news”. My blank expression informs him succinctly that I know nothing of what’s happened. So, he jubilantly tells me that the asshole had been fired last Thursday with immediate effect!

I’m like WTF?! All my plans of resoundingly slamming my resignation in his stupid face were shattered. He did not allow me even the satisfaction of a vengeful resignation.

Anyway, the resignation’s been put off by a week now till my CEO’s back in town.

do i need to take an iron to insead

To the poor sod who reached me through this search phrase, I feel for your ironing needs man. It’s tough enough we pay so much money in tuition fees. What with the post-MBA job scene and all, to expect us to bring our own iron is just plain ridiculous!

Anyone out there willing to timeshare an iron? Since, we’re at it, what about the heater? I feel cold only in the summer.

An Exercise in Relaxation

I know I haven’t blogged in a while. Been on holiday :). I’m in Singapore at the moment. I figured going to INSEAD here will be a good idea. Plus, I have a few friends who’re already at INSEAD and are in Singapore. So, meeting up with them is also going to be informational and fun.

The tough part about being on holiday is that
a) I know I’ve got to get back to work in a short time,
b) it’s harder to digest I’m going back to work knowing I’m quitting, and
c) not having enough time to soak up as much fun as possible.

Anyway, I’ve decided to quit the day I get back into office. I don’t see any point in continuing my job when I’m so half-hearted about it. It ain’t fair to me or my employer.

I’ll post more after my INSEAD visit.

Dedicated to Our First Place

When you hear you’ve been admitted to a top-school or landed that dream promotion at work or gotten that huge pay hike, the feeling is surreal. Weirdly enough, waiting for such results becomes a huge part of our lives. When the goal is reached and the waiting is over, a void is left which was previously filled with anticipation and expectation. We start looking for new ways to fill that void; new worries, new (higher) expectations and that all too-familiar feeling of dreaded anticipation comes back to haunt us. I think this is a huge motivator for most people (subconsciously of course) and is what drives people to succeed further. The initial feeling of euphoria gives way to a cloudy surreal feeling while you wait for the actual realization of the dream and hard-work. There are moments when you can glimpse what’s headed your way.

One moment, for me, came over the weekend. I moved out of my place to save on the rent-money and to build up some savings before INSEAD. It was sad to leave. This was my and my wife’s first place after marriage. We had a lot of memories built up over a year-and-a-half. Friends always hung out at our place. Impromptu parties were always thrown with barely 15 minutes to arrange for food and drinks. Friends have fought with their better-halves (or parents) and come right home without notice to spend the night.Everyone who came in felt right at home. We spent all our creative juices in doing it up. We had a red-and-white theme for the living room. A chocolate brown theme for our bedroom. A peacock blue theme for the guest room. A soft-orange theme for the study room where I spent countless nights preparing for the GMAT and the applications. Each sofa-cushion in the living room was painstakingly and lovingly chosen. We scourged our city trying to find the right shades to match the crockery cabinet, the dining table, the entertainment unit, etc. We failed on most occasions; we were always a shade lighter or darker. But, that imperfection gave it a warmer look in the end. Audrey Hepburn graced our dining room with a throw-back to the 1950s in a quirky twist to our otherwise classical dining area. Guests loved it and more importantly we loved it.

Shifting out of our home brought me back from the surreal to the real. I got a glimpse of what’s up ahead. It came down more heavily than before, that very soon I’ll be uprooting my life for a completely different adventure. While its certainly exhilarating, its definitely scary. Any plunge into the unknown is.

I don’t know where I’ll be after INSEAD, but I never want to forget all the events that led up to it and the place where most of it happened. So, in a small way, thanks “home” for all the wonderful memories. We’ll miss you.