Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh, So THAT'S What Personal Reading Is Like

With all my free time in the evenings this summer, I've begun reading a stack of books-- books I picked because they looked interesting. Many have been sitting on shelves for months while I toiled away at classwork-- being able to dive into them now on my own time seems like a gift.

I'm reading Alan Greenspan's book, The Age of Turbulence, and really enjoying it. Mostly, I'm amazed at my ability to devour whole chapters without my mind wandering-- normally I find it difficult to remain focused on reading no matter the subject. After digesting two Accounting textbooks and one Statistics textbook, maybe Greenspan seems like a sweet dessert, though I do also have to wonder about my sanity when I find books on economics and finance to be this compelling (clearly, my MBA work has already altered my consciousness).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Little Things

Now that I'm getting more and more distance between myself and school, certain things are starting to re-emerge. Things I'd forgotten, that were nonetheless really important. Things, for example, like having evenings free. I mean, free to do with them whatever you want: sure, you can keep working if that's what you want to do, but if you don't want to keep working, you can do whatever you like. I just didn't have that option during the last two semesters, and I'm only now realizing how much not having the option affected me.

I've been sitting on a complimentary one-month XBOX Live subscription for almost six months-- I finally activated it last night and it was great to be polishing my gaming skills against others playing my favorite game, Burnout Revenge. In school, I just didn't have the option of doing something like that. All I could see was an endless, barren field of homework assignments, tests, and wireless clickers (you know what I mean, classmates).

Of course, that's what programs like this are all about: putting much of your life on hold for a concentrated period of time so you can work like a rabid ferret in the pursuit of a lofty goal. Then, if you don't go ballistic and hurt someone, and as long as you keep your grades up, they give you your degree and you can re-enter decent society. I'm getting a glimpse of that now, and boy it sure feels nice. In fact, I think I'll crack open a bottle of wine with dinner tonight and not give a second thought to the prospect of getting overly sleepy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coming Back to Life

Well, I survived both of my finals on Friday. Eight hours of much harder work than I expected, but at the same time, all of us were pretty much ready to be done with the semester so we all had an attitude of "bring it on, whatever happens will happen." There was a great feeling of relief as we all staggered from the classroom and across the road to the Corner Bar for a celebratory drink-- it occurred to me that I hadn't felt this feeling since college way back in 1991. There is something to be said about conquering your classes and living to tell the tale.

So, now it's Sunday night. We've had a busy weekend so I'm only now getting time to unwind and let the enormity of being done really sink in. I went to see a chiropractor on Saturday who said the tension in my neck was similar to that of a person who'd been in a car accident-- chalk that up to my first year of graduate studies!

It is strange, not having books to crack open, problems to work, or case studies to dissect. And it will be odd this coming Tuesday night, when our team won't be having its weekly team call at 8pm. My wife was complaining that I'd dropped out of the family in recent weeks-- tonight she just commented that it seemed like I was unemployed and just sitting around. It's going to take awhile to re-adjust to not having class, homework, and pressure coming from school, and only now am I really understanding the toll all the work has taken on me. As they say in the program literature, this year truly was "harder than I think, but easier than I fear."

Most importantly, the box of books I ordered from Amazon has arrived-- my summer reading list! When was the last time I actually had the ability to read for pleasure? What does that even really mean, anyway? I'm going to find out! I figure I've honed my brain into a super reading and knowledge-absorbing machine, so why not make use of it? It's just going to be so nice not having to read anything related to finance, statistics, strategy, accounting, or operations for the next four months.

I'm sure I'll continue updating this blog during the summer, but likely on a less frequent basis. For now, it's time to go to bed before midnight-- for a change!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Getting Closer....

After an 8-hour marathon session yesterday, I was able to complete the take-home portion of my Finance final exam. All told, I spent close to 15 hours on that thing! Insane, but toward the end (just as I was losing consciousness) it all actually started making sense to me, which I suppose is the point of crazy deathmarch exams like this.

Now it is almost 10pm on the night before the other finals still ahead of me (two more parts to Finance and one 2-hour portion of Strategy). I'm studying a little tonight (mainly just reviewing materials), but overall not much. Both tests are open book, and they're the kind of tests where open book won't really help you if you don't know the material. So I'm just at the point where I assume I know what I'm going to know by the time I start the exams, so why not just call it a night and get some decent sleep? That's where I'm headed in about 30 minutes.

Hard to believe it's almost over-- my first year of graduate school. It's been an amazing, crazy, exhausting ride. I'll have more to say about it tomorrow after walking out of that Strategy exam, but for now it's another quick run through some cases, and then off to dreamland.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Small Progress

Some progress last night on the take-home Finance exam: another section completed. That makes two of five sections done, with four more working nights left until Friday when the exam is due (and when the other two portions of the exam will play out in class).

I just don't consider myself a math person (even after loving statistics and management accounting), so there are certain core elements of this work (things like the time value of money and net present value of bonds) for which I have inbuilt resistance. Plus I really don't like word problems, so when I see all these things in a single place on an exam, I tense up. Getting beyond the tension and seeing through to the solution is one of my biggest challenges-- I had good results last night and I'm hoping to get back at it tonight. We have a busy week of evening activities for Lindsey's school so I want to get as much of this out of the way as possible, as quickly as possible.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Now, This is Hard

So here I sit, alone and at home, working on the take-home portion of my final for Finance. And there are 63 other people scattered around Minnesota likely doing the same: suffering in silence. Because this is a hard exam! Man, is it hard. Our professor took the approach all semester of gently walking us through the material, making sure we understood everything, and WHAM! then he drops this bomb on us yesterday and says "good luck, see ya Friday."

The take-home portion of the test (in itself just one of three parts to the final) is 11 typed pages long with scores of questions, charts, and exhibits. It was written for someone who, unlike myself, really understands Finance, so I'm sweating pretty mightily. I've been putting it off and putting it off all day-- now I need to give at least 90 minutes to it and I'm trying to give two hours each day between now and Friday. I figure if I can't finish this thing in 12 hours, forget it!

Wish me well.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Class is over, and we're just six hours away from the official end of the first year. Class has wrapped up and I now have the take-home portion of my Finance exam. Now the long week of solitary suffering begins!

We got our new groups at lunch. I've had a great group this year, but against our wishes the admin staff has continued their new practice of breaking up our First Year groups and creating new groups for next year. Of course everyone was nervous at lunch when the new assignments were distributed-- I was surprised by how nervous I was. We've had some pretty long nights as a group this year, and we've formed some "norms" that we all expect to carry forward into our new groups-- of course the new groups will eventually form their own norms and practices but it's hard to imagine what those will be now. We also have two new people joining the program next year (an anomaly for a cohort program like ours), and one of them is in our group. We met him today and he seems extremely professional and energetic-- probably the same way we all seemed back in August on that first day of class! Now, we all just want to go home and begin the mad rush to next weekend when our exams will be over.

Last Day!

Here we are, the last day of class in the first year of the MBA program. One week from now, we will truly be done-- just two exams sitting between now and the dog days of summer. I actually went to bed last night at 9pm-- a rare event since starting the program. It feels nice actually being somewhat well-rested in class this morning. Strategy is coming up after lunch, but now we're still mired in Finance learning about WACC, FCF's, hurdle rates, and risk. Just a little further....

Friday, May 2, 2008

Are We Done Yet?

We have one more week left in this first year of graduate school, and judging from the looks on people's faces this morning, we're all ready to be done. Commitment levels have waned, and people are having a hard time completing the remaining reading and assignments for the two final exams we have on May 9.

It's also hard to believe we've come through this first year. Looking back, this has been one of the best decisions I've made-- I have no regrets except for maybe the sleep I've sacrificed. I've come to view myself as a student again, I've gained insight that has already changed the way I think and look at business and my career, and I've regained confidence in my ability to digest and absorb immense amounts of information and to stretch my limits. Getting exposed to the rigor of academic research and writing has also been interesting-- being in the business world for 16 years has exposed me to a lower bar than I was used to in college and it was nice to have a mental tune-up this year.

Now I just need to keep up the rigor over the summer! What will I do without our weekly Tuesday night team call? What will I do every other Friday and Saturday? I think my wife is more than a little worried about what I'm going to do with all my spare time. I have a stack of books ready to read, and I am very much looking forward to seeing my family on nights and weekends again.