Dec 15, 2008

Christmas Pot-pourri

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted. No, it doesn't mean I don't love you.

The reason for the silence is mostly that I've been submerged with work, and during my free time have prioritised living my life rather than writing about it. Which, I think you will concede, is a reasonable choice.

However, it is the holiday season and as such, time for some introspection and taking stock of the current state of affairs. Feeling rather scattered, however, I offer you a hodge-podge collection of my thoughts, only loosely organized into a three-part framework structure of my life.

The good...

1) I have a job. That counts as a "Good Thing". Especially in light of the current crisis, which has resulted in hundreds of highly-qualified, deserving MBAs finding themselves still unemployed, 6 months after graduation. I take this opportunity to call upon any alumni who might be reading these pages to make an extra special effort and show some solidarity in these trying times. Any of you who would be interested in receiving Res Ipsa's Zagat rating of top ten employable MBA J08s should feel free to get in touch...

2) I have a social life. Granted, I still occasionally have to cancel plans, and meeting friends for dinner during the week is a quasi impossibility but still, there's been tremendous progress since my last foray into the job market. And between family, pre-mid-life-crisis friends, INSEAD friends, and the far-away friends that I promise to finally get around to visiting, there's plenty to keep me busy.

The bad...

3) The general mood is crap. Let's face it, this is the ultimate anti-depressant-popping era. Markets are yo-yo-ing, jobs are disappearing, and us 30-somethings are stuck in the middle of this mess with all the normal difficult life stuff to deal with as well. Several of my friends have been having a really hard time of it lately, and the gloom seems to be spreading like chicken pox in a playground sandbox. Here's hoping that 2009 brings the smiles back.

4) Temperatures are sub-arctic. So this is not quite on the same level as, say, famine in Africa or the Middle East peace process, but it is nevertheless one of my chief concerns at the moment. Paris has turned into a polar-bear friendly environment in recent weeks and, to my utmost dismay, the client site I am working from is essentially unheated. Why an organisation would pay to bring in BM consultants but fail to invest in an efficient central heating system will remain one of the great mysteries of life...

The as yet undetermined...

5) I have no idea where my career will take me. Yes, I am happy that I have a job. Yes, there has been a noticeable lifestyle improvement. And yet. I just can't seem to shake this nagging feeling that this job is not for me. More worrying, there's a rather nasal little voice in my head that keeps suggesting that my perfect job is in fact... international litigator. Damn. What does that mean about what I should learn at BM? how long I should stay? where I should go from here?

6) I have no idea where my life will take me. This is a whole other kettle of fish, although intimately related to the point above. Until now, my life has pretty much boiled down to my career, so resolving one meant resolving the other. But having now reached the grand old age of... well, more than 30, should that still be the case? And if I should go out and conquer other of life's territories, what's the battle plan? And how do I ensure that I don't end up in a ditch somewhere minus a few limbs and with a large axe sticking out of my head? OK, perhaps I dramatize a bit, but you see my point. I thought I was making progress by seeking to apply BM problem-solving techniques to my personal life, but unfortunately I got no further than structuring the problem before the plan backfired. I should have known better...!

So there you have it. A snapshot of my brain's turmoils in 6 points and 3 parts. Stay tuned for updates in 2009...

Nov 9, 2008

Settling In

In terms of settling into my new apartment, I'm not doing a very good job. There are still a few (too many) boxes around, I'm still sans wardrobe, I'm still taking hours to find my stuff in the mornings, and there's still no food in my fridge.

But in terms of settling into my new Parisian life, I think I'm almost there. I really thought it would be harder, and lonelier, than it has been. While at INSEAD, everyone was talking about Dubai, London, Singapore, and I was worried I was going to get left behind. Instead, I now find myself in the "most happening" city in the INSEAD world! Whether it's because of the current job market, the fact that Paris is on the way to most places, or simply because people have finally realized this is the most beautiful city in the world (there's the chauvinist in me), France's capital has definitely become a hub of INSEAD activity. At least once or twice a week I find myself surrounded by former classmates having dinner, going dancing, celebrating housewarmings or making Charlie Chaplin films (don't ask). And of course there are the old friends, the ones who have stayed true despite the Fontainebleau hiatus during which I fell off the face of the earth, and who are now happily re-found.

So here I am with a busier social life than I have ever had, requiring the investment of significant physical and emotional energy. Don't get me wrong. Despite what some have said, this is not a continuation of INSEAD. Things today are very different; this is not just another "P". The people around me are not the same as a few months ago, or the ones I would necessarily have expected to be part of my new life. Some friends have been lost (or at least temporarily displaced) by the effect of geography, timing or life's unpredictable quirks, and others gained. Happily, there are also the two or three people I am so lucky to have kept close, and with whom I am now developing something perhaps more serious, and more "real" than what we might have had during those fickle INSEAD days.

A new career, a new apartment, a new city, new bonds, new feelings (not to mention a new, historical, US political landscape - go Obama!)... These first few months of my post-third-life-crisis life have been rife with upheaval, an ever-changing cartography I'm now slowly adapting to. Fortunately, some things never change. Like the fact that I can still ramble on for hours about absolutely nothing just for the pleasure of sending my thoughts into the ether. Like the fact that it's often a strong emotional reaction to someone close to me that gets me writing, and yet I never actually write about it (is that frustrating for you, I wonder?!) Like the fact that cigarettes, beer and melodramatic music (Pink Floyd, this time) always get the creative juices flowing.

It's good to know there are some things you can count on.

Oct 10, 2008

The perfect little consultant

Well, as you may have guessed from my silence since the last post (apologies to those of you who have been clamoring for news), things have livened up a bit at BM. Although my weekends have remained work-free (with the exception of one, outrageously extravagant and blessedly juvenile 4-day "office retreat") my weeks are now choc-full with problem-solving sessions, conference calls, meetings left right and center, and of course the artistic creation of Picasso-esque slides. In French: pages.

That's something else I've had to get used to. It's not enough to have to adapt to an entirely new way of working, new people, new types of problems, I also have to do this in French. Well, a language that pretends to be French, anyway. More like Franglais with a BM-twist. By next month I can guarantee that my family and friends will no longer be able to understand a word I'm saying.

So here I am, dutifully listening to my manager (who is younger than me), drawing pretty boxes and arrows and bubulles, and thinking back with longing of those days when I used to have a social life. And time to eat (the great mystery of why all BM female consultants are so thin having been resolved).

When I'm not attempting to force a business manual down my client's throat (and dodging the errant bullets from angry protesters outside the building), I am attempting to settle into my new apartment. I'm not complaining, the apartment is fabulous. Or will be, once the gigantic cardboard-box maze running through it finally gets cleared and my belongings become somewhat accessible. This morning witnessed the first breakfast, as I finally found cereal bowls and one spoon (why on earth there was a box containing a single, lonely spoon, I will never know).

So now that I've managed to ramble on incomprehensibly (not very consultant-like of me...) I will leave you to your fabulous lives and exercise my amazing powers of persuasion on my colleagues to see if they can be convinced that 2pm is not actually too early for lunch.

Sep 17, 2008

Tedium and Nostalgia

On my way to work this morning, my ipod stumbled upon "Relax" and I almost cried. This is not a good sign. I think I may be suffering from PTSD.

Perhaps the pangs of nostalgia would subside somewhat if things picked up a bit at BM. Unfortunately, I seem to be de trop on my current assignment (whatever it is), and my manager has yet to find any use for me other than going through a small library of background documents (all of which I've already finished reading; one of the side-effects of having been a lawyer is being able to digest mountains of information in a very short timespan). So, instead of being productively employed and thus suitably distracted from my INSEAD-driven thoughts, I am sitting at my sad little desk, staring at my sad little computer and (discreetly) blogging.

The silver lining (and there always is one) is that the lack of anything BM-related to do has left me plenty of time for flat-hunting, my current number 1 priority. I mean, it's nice to be living the teenage dream of having my mother coddle me while still being able to go out whenever I want, but all good things must come to an end. It is time for me to trade in home-cooked meals, clean laundry and a vastly oversized living space for a "room of my own", à la Virgina Woolf, where everything in the fridge will be past its due date, six-months old editions of ELLE will be littering the floor and two cats will be on the verge of murder-suicide. But the parties will be legendary (apologies to my future neighbours). It's not a done deal yet but I think I may have found the perfect bachelorette pad, in my favourite neighbourhood in Paris. Fingers crossed.

Sep 14, 2008

BM 007

In theory, I start proper work tomorrow. I say in theory because my manager at BM has yet to contact me to tell me what the heck I'm actually supposed to be doing, or even where I'm supposed to be. I'm taking an educated guess and hoping that somewhere in the Paris area is my general destination. Perhaps on my way to the office some woman will stop me and say "gee, there sure are a lot more people in red t-shirts than there used to be" and I'll say "well, red is the new black", at which point she'll hand me a briefcase with fingerprint-encrypted DVD instructions inside that self-destruct after 30 seconds. "Your mission, should you decide to accept it..."

Of course my "mission" is top secret. As is everything at BM. We are not allowed to tell strangers we work for BM. We are not allowed to disclose the name of our clients, or to tell people where we are travelling to in case they can deduce the identity of our client based on the destination. We are not to use the BM name to reserve a table in a restaurant, in the apparently quite likely event that enemy agents decide to sit next to us and spike our drinks and end up torturing us for information.

On the one hand, it's rather intoxicating to think that I'm a new, corporate James-Bond-type figure (in a dashing, fitted Hugo Boss pant suit and Jimmy Choos, of course). On the other hand, it's a massive conversation killer and basically guarantees that I will never get a date again. Imagine the scene: it's a crowded, no-longer-smoky bar, the margaritas appear, a tall, dark handsome stranger leans in and asks: "So, what do you do?" "I can't tell you." "Oh. Will you be in Paris next week?" "I can't tell you." "Right. Oh look. I think I see my friend over there. Nice meeting you. (Aside) Nut case."

Sep 7, 2008

Week 1 as a Nugget

There's only one person I know of who will understand the joke in the title, which just goes to show I have a very odd sense of humour, but hey, sometimes you need it, particularly when you turn your life topsy-turvy and go from law school to law firm to MBA to consulting firm and people start looking at you like you're nuts.

It's now official. I am a bona fide consultant at Big Massive Consulting Firm (BM). Well, sort of. So far, all I've done is spent one week learning how to use a telephone, how to fill in my expense reports, and how to locate the coffee machine while blindfolded and chased by a rabid dog at 5a.m. Next week, I get to replay INSEAD, and spend long hours learning how to work in a group, read and analyse a case, make a very lame powerpoint presentation and take abuse while smiling. And then I will be a bona fide consultant at BM. Assuming I get staffed on something (as opposed to "beached", which sounds nice if you're thinking pina coladas with umbrellas, but not so nice if you're thinking large, stranded whale).

So here I am, staring out the window at a grey, uninviting sky, thinking I really need to get a move on and pack my suitcase for training, and wincing as I recall that less than 10 days ago I was in the south of France, basking in sunshine and surrounded by some of my closest INSEAD friends. Just this past Friday I met a group of alumni, toutes promotions confondues, and was told by someone older and wiser than myself that I should be prepared for 6 months to one year of post-graduation depression. Oh goody. On a positive note, I was also told that no matter how cynical I might be, I was sure to keep some of my fellow MBA friends for life, a thought which cheered me up considerably.

My next plan of action (besides learning how to be a good little BM nugget) is therefore to go out there and find myself a flat (must at all costs avoid the Tanguy syndrome), and make sure it includes lots of spare mattresses, sleeping bags, closets to pass out in, so I can welcome all my friends, new and old, and turn it into a small but vital hub of cheerfulness when BM gets me down (and we all know it will).

Please say a little prayer for me to the gods of flathunting.

PS: As I was having dinner with my absolutely oldest friend last night (congrats on the engagement!) I realized that besides the occasional wedding recap, I spend very little time writing about those who have been near and dear for more than just ten months. This does not mean I do not love you, and I promise to remedy this grave injustice in the future. So to all of you who, while I have been frolicking in the forest being utterly irresponsible, have been busy working, changing jobs, running companies, buying flats, getting engaged/married/pregnant/small people, thanks for being patient and forgiving. I'm back.

Aug 20, 2008

Bubble Revisited

One of the drawbacks of INSEAD, particularly if you were a die-hard Fonty resident like myself, is that you could never escape the bubble. One of the advantages of INSEAD is that, once you graduate, you can always return to the bubble and even take it with you in a handy carry-on case whenever you wish.

And so it is that over the next few days, some favourite alumni of mine will magically materialize here, in the balmy south of France, from various corners of the globe, to eat, drink and be rowdy in true bubble style. Summer adventures will be told and retold, gossip poured over with glee, and more than a few ear-splitting renditions of Mika will be sung around the pool. I can't wait!

For those of you who are starting INSEAD now, or any other business school for that matter, this is what you have to look forward to. I envy you these next 10 months during which you will discover and build friendships that, come graduation, you'll wonder how you ever lived without. So, leave the stress of grading and exams behind you for a moment (I know from my keyword statistics that these are your principal concerns) and imagine all those people you do not yet have the pleasure of knowing but who you will be spending your next summer holiday getting happily tipsy with. Before jobs and other grown-up things pull a Jonah and the whale on you.

Aug 13, 2008

For the Glory

Once every four years I get the chance to indulge in one of my favourite activities, namely becoming a couch potato, regardless of the weather outside, to watch the Olympics. From judo to swimming to fencing to archery to kayaking to whatever else the television programmers decide to throw at me, I watch and enjoy it all. I can't help thinking that here are the real athletes. It's one thing to dedicate yourself to your sport, with all the training and risk of injury that implies, when you make millions in endorsements and become a world-wide star. But for the athletes at the Olympics, there is no money or fame on the line (with the possible rare exception of Michael Phelps-types). They all have other jobs to pay the bills, no one will recognize them in the street, and they will never peddle sodas, shoes, cereal or razors on national television. And still they train, sweat, and suffer just because they love their sport and that's what they do. It's a beautiful thing. And so, despite the paucity of medals on the French side so far, I remain glued to the screen to catch their 15 minutes of glory.

This is my last full day of indulgence however, as tomorrow I head south to witness (literally) another impressive display, namely one of my best friends getting married. Despite the massive writer's block which refuses to lift and threatens to cause me great embarrassment when it comes to the speech-making, I am happy to participate in another joyous event involving one of my close friends (all of whom have recently either gotten hitched or procreated, in a kind of avalanche of growing up which so far has passed me by).

Then it will be time for a final two weeks of holiday in the sun on the beautiful Côte d'Azur before C-Day, i.e. the day I launch my attempt at becoming a consultant.

Aug 6, 2008

Serious Politics

I love to talk politics. I could do it all day. Glossing over the fact that I am incredibly ill-informed by employing sly litigator tricks, I can go 15 rounds if need be (and provided I've had enough coffee) to support, defend, humanize, glorify my favourite candidate or - as is more usual - villify my least favourite one. I have spared you all of this, dear readers, as I have made the conscious decision that this blog is not the appropriate forum for an airing of my political opinions/whims-of-the-day.

But this was an opportunity I could not miss, a gem of political debate of the highest order, one that had me floored (as in, rolling around on the floor in laughter). I have newfound respect for Paris Hilton, or whichever clever little person saw the original ad and convinced her to do this. Enjoy.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Aug 4, 2008

Restoring Order

My attention has been drawn to the fact that I have committed a grave dereliction of duty by failing to post my summing-up of courses for both P4 and P5. I will therefore rectify the situation post haste. Apologies if my memory is not as fresh as it would have been had I posted in a more timely manner. Now, let me see, I know I took some classes having something to do with business at some point...


Negotiation Strategies - Ayse Onculer: The famous Negotiations prof at INSEAD is Horatio Falcao, who apparently is amazing. I didn't take his class (taught in Singapore) so I can't compare, but I was perfectly happy with Ayse's class. First, it reminded me how much I like arguing with people (no surprise there). It also showed me that if people are nice to me I'm a complete pushover (that was somewhat surprising; must learn to keep that in check). While the lecture part of the course was average, the exercises were occasionally stressful but usually good fun. Especially the mediation exercise, which felt like the good old days...

Industry and Competitive Analysis - Karel Cool: It's a toss-up between Markus Christen's class and this one as to which was my favourite out of the entire INSEAD year. The two profs have completely different styles (Mr Cool, despite his name, is a bit of a stickler for old-fashioned discipline, and unlike Markus would never be caught dead sharing a beer or two or three with his students) but both manage to fill their course with such passion, enthusiasm, relevance and content that even if these were the only two courses all year, the hefty tuition would be worth it. So, future students of the Business School for the World, I beg of you, please don't miss this class (and if you need any tips on Michelin, drop me a line).

Advanced Game Theory - Timothy van Zandt: I was very excited about taking this class. In an ultra-geeky way. I was so excited to take this class that I decided to forego Advanced Corporate Finance (which had a schedule conflict). This was probably a mistake. The exercises amused me (full of fun algebraic equations and things that poor, lowly, non-engineer me had a bit of a struggle with) but the lectures were painful and I'm not sure I took much from them. In fact, I think I probably learned more about (applicable) game theory... euh... theories, from Karel Cool.

Political Risk Assessment & Management - Michael Witt: P4 was all about blast from the past for me (enciting me to search high and low for interesting ways to get back to being a lawyer, which I ultimately failed to do). First, with Negotiations, and then with "PRAM", where I got to brainwash an entire assembly of fellow students that the most important thing to remember when investing abroad was to hire a good international arbitration lawyer and get that dispute resolution clause airtight. My work here is done, ladies and gentlemen. In all seriousness, this was a fun class and a much more interesting way to approach the interrelation between politics and business than what we got in the core.

Psychological Issues in Management - Fernando Bartolome: I think I've probably posted about this class on numerous occasions, as have some of my fellow bloggers, so by now you should know that a) Fernando is a rude, obnoxious, insufferable, pain-in-the-whatsit and b) this class is a must. Bring tissues.


Dynamic Pricing & Revenue Management - Ioana Popescu: I took this class because it was taught by my P1 Statistics prof and because the issue of pricing seemed interesting to me. While the lectures were at times slow, the questions raised provided plenty of food for thought, and I was lucky to have fantastic groupmembers who knew what they were doing and were kind enough to pretend that despite my shocking lack of Excel skills I actually added value to our various projects. Bless them.

Brand Management - Pierre Chandon: For those who enjoy marketing (like me), this is a great class, full of fun examples and very hands-on case studies. The professor is entertaining, his French accent comprehensible and his inclusive approach to teaching a delight. I will carry with me fond memories of hour-long, coffee-fueled debates with my groupmates about the best way to market Russian vodka to Americans and the fashion faux-pas of Diesel.

Environmental Management & Corporate Responsibility - David Vogel: My mother (or someone's mother, at any rate) once told me that if you don't have anything nice to say, it's best not to say anything at all. I did enjoy writing the final paper on L'Oréal and the organic cosmetics trend, though.

Global Strategy & Management - Subramian Rangan: Winner of the "best teacher" award (category: Electives/Fontainebleau), Prof. Rangan is a gem. He has no gimmicks, no loud, imposing voice, no "hey-I'm-one-of-the-kids" jokes, no snazzy slides. He's just a very, very good professor. Now why on earth is this course a mini? Dear new Dean of the MBA, please look into this matter at once.

Well, folks, that's it. I have now reviewed all of my classes at INSEAD. Some I have loved, some a little less so, but all taught me something and somehow managed to make an "ex-lawyer" out of me. And that's saying a lot. So it is armed with this bag of tricks that I face my future career as a consultant, due to begin in less that four weeks. Stay tuned.

Aug 2, 2008

Think you can navigate Fonty?!

Because it is charitable to help those less fortunate than ourselves (...), I post below an advertisement from one of my fellow alumni. If you're interested or want more info, please leave me a comment and I will transfer to the relevant person. Watch me play message board.

We will return to our regular programming in due course.

Imagine: It's some god-forsaken hour when you land at CDG. You head over to the Europcar/TT lot in Terminal 3 to pick up your sporty 13 horsepower Citroen and start winding your merry way down to Fontyland and all of its delights...
Only to find that you have absolutely no %#^$# idea where you're going, and that French roads signs aren't all-too-easy to follow, what with the jet lag and your lack of French and all.

Fear not, fellow INSEADers, I have the solution for you, in the form of a sleek, stylish, German-engineered piece of ingenuity known as the Navigon 3100 GPS system with all the fancy bells, whistles and doohickeys you could ever hope for.

  • 3.5" Color touch-screen LCD? Check.
  • Ability to switch from robotic male American voice to svelte Russian female voice? Check. Czech, too, if you want it.
  • Best suction dashboard mounting mechanism I've ever seen in a GPS? Check.
  • Scratch, stain, dust free unit that was gently and lovingly cared for throughout the year? Check. He even has a name. Fritz. Don't make fun of him; he's sensitive.
  • Car charger cable? Check.
  • Original packaging, CD, manuals, even the plastic baggies everything came in? Check.
  • This one's a zinger: warnings for all of those damn speed cameras on the roads scattered throughout Europe. Trust me; this alone will pay for the unit many times over. Check.
  • FULL EUROPE MAP! Many vendors charge an exorbitant amount for this option, but since I love you, I'll throw it in for free, along with the 2GB SD card that I bought to put these maps on. Check.

Bonus items:

  • Add-on cable that picks up traffic reports from high-tech French radio signals and re-routes you in real-time, avoiding the heinous Peripherique? Check. (Note: this item was not included in the original retail package and was procured through the aid of an Austrian classmate with "connections.' Thanks, Wolfie.)
  • Many of the big (and not-so-big) houses already mapped out in the GPS memory so you don't have to bumble around asking French villagers how to find Villecerf parties. Seriously, this is probably the best bullet point in the list.

If you're a tech nerd and want all the specs on this bad boy, just Google "Navigon 3100."

Now for the deal of the century part. I paid 240 Euros for this gem. I'm willing to let it go for 200. Yes; you read that correctly. For the low, low price of 200 Euros, all of this can be yours.

But wait, there's more! If you live in N. America, I'll ship it to you tomorrow and you can have it before you leave. If, however, you reside somewhere else in the world and are headed to Fontainebleau, I can deliver it to you during the first week of September for the price of a return-RER ticket from Paris. And a beer. Maybe lunch at the cafeteria, too. But no more than that.

Jul 21, 2008

Leaving L.A.

As announced, I had great plans to go to San Diego from L.A. and see the "far south" of California. But, on a whim, and reasoning that living it up was justified in case the earth was about to implode due to the upcoming creation of a giant black hole on the Franco-Swiss border, I went to Las Vegas instead. Driving up in style in a little sporty convertible (in real life, those things make your hair very messy), I then spent hours hiking up and down The Strip in million-degree weather (so THAT's where all the heat is!) before splashing out on a very nice late dinner back at the Palazzo and playing Roulette (I won $30, which made my night). The next day it was time to drive back to L.A. in time to catch Mozart at the Hollywood Bowl, a wonderful contrast to the sinful kitch of Vegas. My final day in California left some time for hanging out with friend and baby, strolling along Venice Beach and Rodeo Drive and catching a glimpse of the Hollywood Sign. I even dipped a toe in the Pacific. The Pacific is cold (well, not everywhere, obviously) and I'm looking forward to going back to the balmy Mediterranean in a few weeks!

So for now it's bye bye from Paris (the real one), where I will be doing very little besides an occasional catch-up with INSEAD before driving south for wedding, family and bubble madness.

Jul 20, 2008

'Til the Sun Comes Up on the Santa Monica Blvd

No, I have no fallen off the edge of the planet. Although I very nearly fell of the edge of a cliff. (j/k) After my brief foray into Yosemite I fancy myself a bit of hair-raising mountain road driving expert. I've calculated that altogether, I must have covered at least 400km of these hairpin turns and trust me, after hours of freeway driving in very hot weather followed by over 2hrs of those turns, it does take a massive exercise of willpower to not simply let yourself drive straight off into the void. Luckily, my willpower is strong, and I was able to enjoy a day's hiking among the peaks and forests of an unbelievably crowded but stunning park. Fortunately, if you're bold and go off the beaten path, you do manage to find some of the peace and quiet that goes so much better with hiking.

Then came the not-so-scenic, welcome to middle America, two-day drive south through central California back to LA (more specifically, Orange County) and civilization. My plans for the next few days here read like a laundry list from movie-famous sets. Already checked off are Laguna Beach (very pretty, despite the - you guessed it - fog; euphemistically coined "marine layer", apparently) and Santa Monica, where I enjoyed a fun night of beach-partying and art installations at a new "nuits-blanches"-like festival called Glow. Still to go, San Diego, Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theatre, and whatever else I can think of to wallow fully in silly-tourist-bliss. Including the mall.

Jul 16, 2008

On the Road Again

Very shortly, I will be packing up my increasingly full bags once more and heading away from the coast to Yosemite National Park. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of what I've seen so far in this "Golden State"...

Hearst Castle:

San Luis Obispo Mission:

Sea otter in Monterey:

Driving over the Golden Gate:

The Police!

Jul 14, 2008

Wine, Hills and the Police

After a nice visit to the Monterey Aquarium - the sea otters were fun, although as a whole the aquarium pales in comparison to the one in Sydney - I had a leisurely drive to Pebble Beach: the famous "17 mile drive". I appreciated the occasional breaks in the fog to let in the sunshine, and the sea looked beautiful, but this is first and foremost a golfer's paradise. My parents would have been in heaven, but I got bored. Then it was time for lunch in Carmel (cute but a bit too Disneyland-like for me) before the last stretch of road to San Francisco.

I didn't get much time to see San Francisco (but plenty of time to screech like a little girl while driving up and down those crazy hills) before my friends and I headed off to wine country in Sonoma (which meant driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, how cool is that!!!!!!) Sonoma was lovely, warm, sunny and quaint, and much wine was had by all. After a very relaxing weekend, we came back yesterday afternoon for a visit of the new house my friend and her husband just bought in the city (it seems everyone - but me - is growing up so fast...)

So now I have two days to explore San Francisco. Sadly, the beautiful, fogless blue skies of yesterday have disappeared to make way for - you guessed it - fog, but it's for the best, as hiking up those hills can be hot and tiring work! And tonight I'm in for a treat, as we have VIP tickets to the Police concert. I will try to provide a detailed update before Wednesday, when I will hug my friends goodbye and take to the road again in my white Chevy Cobalt, to take in the breathless views and yet more hiking (though slightly less urban this time) in Yosemite.

And for my family and friends back home, un très joyeux 14 juillet!

Jul 10, 2008

No Sur

As if the fog situation wasn't upsetting enough, I actually ended up being thwarted entirely in my effort to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Big Sur, by a large and unfortunately placed wildfire which meant the Highway was closed. I did manage to go up far enough to see Hearst Castle (a comical monstrosity, apparently intended to look "Mediterranean") as well as a colony of seals (or sea lions, I can't remember), before resigning myself to driving up the much less attractive (but sunny) Highway 101 to Monterey. Tomorrow, the plan is to take in the aquarium, Pebble Beach and Carmel before looping back up to San Francisco where friends await. Hopefully there are no fires there.

Jul 9, 2008

P6: Coastal meanderings

So, that's it, INSEAD is officially over. There were many tears (not all mine), which I guess is a good thing as it goes to show what a fabulous year we all had; the best year of our lives... so far (dixit Miss H). Anyways, I may come back in a later post to sum up the year, but for now it's time to move on... to California!

Indeed, a couple days after graduation I jetted off to LA to visit friends and this "golden state" which I had yet to experience. And now here I am, after having spent a day with friends and baby, and a day driving up my first leg of the coast, in San Luis Obispo. I left Orange County rather late in the morning, so as to avoid the traffic (which worked), stopped for a leg-stretch in Malibu (very disappointing as nothing to see: more on this problem later) and lunch on the wharf in Santa Barbara. The drive on Highway 154 right after lunch, through the mountains, was by far the best part of the day (I had actually intended to continue on Highway 1 but my rather flaky GPS decided otherwise). Unfortunately, I couldn't find a place to stop and take a picture of the magnificent view, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I coasted into SLO in the middle of the afternoon, leaving plenty of time for a wander through this picturesque town (with its 18th century mission) and a glass of wine (Californian, I'm afraid) on a garden patio. Tomorrow, the plan is to get back onto the Highway 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway) and take the scenic route up to Monterey. However, my expectations are rather low as to how scenic it will really be...

As someone recently explained to me, the French love to discourse on topics about which they actually know very little, so in that spirit, here are a few things I have discovered in my very short time in California, in no particular order:

- It is very very foggy on the coast. Once you get a mile or so inland, it's beautiful and sunny, but along the scenic coast line you can see diddly squat, making it less than scenic... A bit of a shame...

- It is also not as warm in California as I expected. While it's nice and warm in the sun during the day, evenings get quite cool and if stuck in the fog/wind/both, it can be positively chilly.

- There are more kinds of fast food here than elements on Mendeleev's table, which is not good for my waistline. Also, you can "drive thru" basically anything, including Starbucks. In my opinion, drive-through coffee is blasphemy, but maybe that's just me being all French and closed-minded.

- It is stupid not to be able to smoke on an outdoors patio, and amusing that the staff don't see the irony in asking you to "step outside" to indulge your dirty habit on the sidewalk (but without your glass of wine, of course, as alcohol cannot be consumed outside the premises).

- Driving an automatic is a very good thing 95% of the time. It is not such a good thing a) during the first five minutes when you realize (with a shock) that the car will move on its own without you putting your foot anywhere near the gas pedal and b) when driving up or down a mountain, where being able to shift gears would definitely make life easier.

Well, it is now 8pm here, and 5am at home, and I'm still not over my jet lag, so I think I'll pop the TV on and fall asleep over some commercials, before setting off on Leg 2 of my mini road-trip. I will try to keep you updated on my adventures; after all, it's like going back to my blogging roots as a travel blogger (for those of you that are curious about my first blogging experiment, if you ask me nicely or are very good at google search, you may just find it...) Picture are unlikely to make it online before I return, though.

Jun 24, 2008

Tic Toc

This is it. In a few moments I will be gulping down the remains of my morning caffeine fix and driving off to my last day of classes. Ever. A bittersweet moment if there ever was one. The past week has been, in true INSEAD fashion, hectic and emotional. Last Cabaret, last Friday evening drinking on the campus terrace, last group meetings, last assignments to finish writing, and even a last-minute interview (just in case). And in a few hours, my academic existence will truly come to an end.

But do not fear, gentle readers, I promise that over the next few weeks you will get a) final reviews of classes (P4 and P5 since I wasn't so diligent last period); b) news from the graduation trip in Turkey; and c) probably a few words about the graduation ceremony taking place next week, before I jet off to enjoy some California sunshine.

Until then, I'm going to go soak in final amphi-born pearls of wisdom.

Jun 11, 2008

Losing One's Spots and Other News

My map has lost its spots. Apparently, these things need to be archived once in a while and I have no choice in the matter. After having seen my little spots multiply and grow over the past year, this is quite upsetting. But, as with my INSEAD experience, I suppose change must happen, all good things come to and end, it's time to move forward and [insert other favourite cliché here...]

In other news (and because I haven't been very good at updating you all on my life recently):

- I finally accepted a job last week. It's in consulting. Gasp. For those of you that have actually stuck by me and been reading this blog for a while, you will remember that I argued on multiple occasions that consulting was not the right path for me, that I wouldn't get sucked in to the machine, that staying closer to my original field was a much better option, and that I would never get a consulting offer anyway. To you, I now say: "Oops." Let me explain. One, only idiots never change their mind (right?) Two, I found it impossible to find an interesting legal job that didn't involve going back to do exactly what I was doing before (which really was not the point). Three, peer pressure works.

In any event, taking this job means I get to stay in Paris for a while (but still travel - thus enabling me to satisfy my permanently antsy nature and visit various INSEAD and pre-INSEAD friends). It also means I actually get to apply some of the things I learnt at INSEAD in the real world, and possibly also finally figure out how Excel works without having to call on my mathematician friends. Plus, I received several assurances that I could still transition back to law later on, in a more exciting role. So, all in all, a good choice, at least for now.

Oh, and if you want to know which consulting firm was crazy enough to hire me, I won't tell you. Wouldn't want to ruin their brand image.

- The Montmelian Ball was amazing. More than amazing. The best party of this year at INSEAD according to many surveyed (well, a couple people at least). Surreal in the extreme, it also hit home the fact that this is all almost over, which put me in a bit of a funk the next day (not helped by the hangover and lack of sleep).

- Classes (to the extent we still have a few) end in two weeks, and then we're off to Turkey for the graduation trip until the actual graduation ceremony takes place before an assembly of jet-lagged relatives, bored staff and slightly shell-shocked students. To be honest, I oscillate between denial, anticipation, and heartache at the moment. There will never be another year like this one, where everything is extreme and intense, as well as short-lived. Who will I see next year? Who will still be my friends 5 years down the road? How much of what I have learned will I still remember come September? How will I handle living with less than a dozen people and not having 3 costume parties to go to per week? Am I still able to get up early, put a suit on, and concentrate on more-or-less mundane tasks for an entire day without taking a break at the bar to gossip and sample Peruvian pisco, Chinese dumplings, Desi dancing or Italian fashion?

- Speaking of classes, I should perhaps mention the electives I am taking this period: Global Strategy & Management (an excellent mini, really should be a full course), Environmental Management (ugh), Brand Management (lots of fun but clearly I should never be allowed into marketing), and Dynamic Pricing & Revenue Management (thank god for the mathematicians in my group). Not quite up to the amazing standards of the P4 electives, they're on the whole pretty interesting classes. Now if only I could still muster up the energy to do some work...

- Plans. I have some. Including non-career-related and therefore much more exciting vacation plans for the summer. July will find me in California, combining a long-awaited mini-road trip with visits to close friends. Then in August there's a wedding and a couple weeks in the South of France (where hopefully I will be able to meet up with a few INSEADers for the first of what will hopefully be many reunions). The big question is: what should I do with my blog when school ends? I've had so much fun writing it, I think I'd miss it if it disappeared. On the other hand, it won't have much to do with INSEAD anymore. Perhaps I could follow in the footsteps of "Anonymous Lawyer" and become "Anonymous Consultant"?

Jun 3, 2008

The Montmelian Ball is Coming!

The most surreal, extravagant, decadent, fabulous party of the year is coming to the INSEAD bubble this weekend, and I get to have the privilege of being a co-organiser this time around! That's right, this Saturday my new home is hosting the magical Midsummer Night's Dream ball...

May 25, 2008


I've been asked many times about why I choose to have a blog, why I would want to reveal myself to people who don't know me and have no reason to like me. Privacy has typically been categorized as a desirable thing, but is that still true in this age of Facebook and reality television (that being said, I have more than one friend who refuses to bow to Facebook pressure and who's private life thus remains strictly private)?
When asked about my motivations for blogging, I typically respond by saying that my purpose is educational only, and that my blog serves merely as a source of free information for prospective INSEAD students who are entitled to know more about the business school they might attend than what is printed in marketing material. But you and I both know that's only partly true. Some of my posts have nothing to do with INSEAD, and others reveal information that is unnecessary and trivial to a candidate's decision to attend this fine institution.
So why do I do it? Why this compulsive need to share (some of) my life with complete strangers? It can't just be the therapeutic act of writing, because good old paper-and-pen-lock-it-with-a-key diaries would do just as well. It can't just be to communicate with my friends scattered around the globe, because there's always free calls on skype to satsify that need.
So maybe I'm an over-sharer, compulsively addicted to rush that comes from reaching out and exposing a small window of vulnerability. Who knows. In any event, though I would argue I'm still very much "to the left of the plate", this article by blogger Emily Gould does raise some interesting questions.
In other news, this time directly related to INSEAD, a heartfelt congratulations goes out to the Summer Ball organising committee for putting on an extraordinary event last night. A veritable feast for the eyes and heart, this party contained more than its share of the "wow factor". Imagine this: the Fontainebleau chateau colourfully illuminated, fireworks, live bands, champagne on tap, a manic bongo-and-trumpet playing genius and hundreds of INSEADers, past and present, in tuxes and ball gowns. Simply magic. I promise to put up some pictures in my next post.
Til then, I wish you well, my anonymous and not-so-anonymous friends.

May 19, 2008

P is for Procrastination

For those (sadly too few) of us for whom recruitment season is over, P5 is a very different beast from what we've experienced over the past 8 months. A glorious mix of sunshine, parties, travelling and the occasional class, P5 is definitely not conducive to getting anything done. And I don't just mean case readings and project write-ups, but also car repairs, exercise, grocery shopping, finding shoes to match my ball gown, blog writing, etc... Thus proving the theory that the more free time you have, the less productive you become. At least the tan is coming along pretty well, and my liver's getting a good workout.

So, I imagine you're wondering what exactly I have been up to in the past three (four?) weeks since my last posting. Well, I've had a few interviews (leading to several more dings and a couple more job offers), I've experienced the madness of Queen's Day in Amsterdam, I've almost died when one of my front tires blew out on the A6 to Paris, and most recently I've enjoyed being maid-of-honour/Paris-tour-guide at my friend's wedding, complete with a very emotional ceremony, fabulous food, some nervous speech-giving by yours truly, staring at a TV-celebrity, being incredibly silly at the "Kid's Table" and showing off sunrise at Notre Dame to bleary-eyed Americans (photographic evidence below).

And yes, I have actually made it to a few classes as well, and continue to run from meeting to meeting to "help" me decide which job offer to accept.

All-in-all, a not-too-shabby start to P5!

Apr 26, 2008

What we need now is a Statistician

Those of you who have had the privilege of sitting in P1 UDJ will recognize the post title from that cinematic wonder of wonders... "The Statistician". Ah, memory lane. Or, more appropriately given the break-neck speed of everything that is INSEAD, memory 6-lane highway.

Now that P4 is over, and we're on our last break before the final stretch, it has come time for reminiscence, reflection and taking stock. So here are a few stats from my year so far at INSEAD.

Total number of courses taken (including upcoming P5): 25

Approximate number of hours spent in classroom: 352

Total number of companies applied to/contacted for jobs: close to 20

Total number of companies that agreed to interview me (including upcoming): 6

Offers received so far: 1 (phew!)

Places travelled to for fun with other INSEAD-ers (including already-scheduled upcoming trips): Champagne, Marrakech, Italy, Switzerland, Barcelona (twice), Amsterdam, Marseille

Places travelled to for much less fun interviews (including upcoming): Cardiff, Paris (I'm in Fontainebleau, Paris counts), Amsterdam, Baden (in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland)

Outfits worn to INSEAD parties: toga, schoolgirl, Tarantino movie character, "greed", favourite movie character, hooker, eighties, others that I have chosen to forget...

Number of cigarettes smoked: too many

Units of alcohol ingested: way too many

Number of times I've complained about INSEAD when really I was having a blast and should have counted my lucky stars: no comment.

So now there's two months to go. Two months with a few more interviews, a very light class load (in theory!), a very close friend's wedding, lots of weekend trips and many, many parties. Before we all end up crying on each others' shoulders, making plans for the next reunion, swearing eternal devotion and saying with a sob that yes, this was the best year of our lives.

But enough of this maudlin sentimentality, there's still a whole P to gear up for and first up, a week's worth of interviews and celebrating royalty in Amsterdam!

Apr 15, 2008

Deep Breath...

It's easy to get overwhelmed in all this madness. First, there are the scheduling issues, with interviews back to back and classes geting squeezed in somewhere in the middle, if at all. Then there's the even greater challenge of keeping focused on what you want and maintaining some sort of self-esteem and confidence when faced with mounting rejection and disparaging looks from people who believe the inability to calculate 23% of 2472 off the top of the head in less than 20 seconds amounts to some kind of mental disability.

Given all that, and to help you overcome the demise of DTLF's musical interludes, here are some lyrics from my favourite, irreverant, muppet-inspired musical: Avenue Q.

Why does everything have to be so hard?
- Maybe you'll never find your purpose. Lots of people don't.
But then, I don't know why I'm even alive!
- Well, who does, really?

Everyone's a little bit unsatisfied
Everyone goes 'round a little empty inside
Take a breath, look around
Swallow your pride
For now...

Nothing lasts, life goes on, full of surprises
You'll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes
You're going to have to make
A few compromises
For now...

But only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)

For now we're healthy
For now we're employed
For now we're happy
If not overjoyed
And we'll accept the things
We cannot avoid
For now...

But only for now! (For now)
Only for now! (For now)

Only for now!
For now there's life
Only for now!
For now there's love
Only for now!
For now there's work
For now there's happiness
But only for now!
For now discomfort
Only for now!
For now there's friendship!
Only for now! (For now)

Only for now
Is only for now
Your hair!
Is only for now
George Bush!
Is only for now

Don't stress,
Let life roll off your backs
Except for death and paying taxes
Everything in life
Is only for now

Each time you smile (Only for now)
It'll only last a while (Only for now)
Life may be scary (Only for now)
But it's only temporary

ba-dum, ba-dum...

Everything in life is only for now...

- Avenue Q

Apr 12, 2008

Picture Time

I realize it's been a while since I've provided photographic evidence (embarrassing or otherwise) of my time here at INSEAD, so I have come online today determined to right that wrong. Also, I haven't been feeling verbally prolific and it's about time for another post so... this is my lazy response to public demand.

First up, the lovely home I've made for myself in P4:

And the view from my window when I woke up on Monday and realized it had snowed properly for the first time this year. In April.

And then there are the photos from Barcelona, with the outrageous-and-still-undefeated INSEAD boys and girls rugby teams... spicing things up on the pitch and in Barcelona's finest culinary establishments.

In other news, recruitment season carries on, painfully for most of us. The eager anticipation has given way to interview and ding fatigue, and it is now with sad, resigned faces that we go off to meet our executioners - uh, I mean interviewers.

In answer to a question posted on these pages last week, no, the recruitment situation is not THAT bad. But it's not that good, either. Given the events of these past few months, banks are essentially not hiring, which means a lot of dashed hopes and increased competition for the remaining jobs. Consulting firms are out in force, but the offers have been few and far between so far. That being said, the "top 3" are still interviewing so we'll see what happens there.

In terms of industry jobs (i.e. everything that's not banking or consulting), we're not quite sure what the situation is. The big multinationals come present on campus, but in a few cases they seem to have very much limited their hiring (internships only, certain geographical areas only) as compared to previous years. The process is more opaque in this area than for consulting, so really it's hard to say whether finding a job in industry has become more difficult. So we keep our fingers crossed.

In my own little personal journey, I finally experienced the pain and suffering that is the consulting interview. Needless to say, it did not go well, which tends to confirm my impression that other avenues are probably better suited to me. The silver lining, however, is that I finally feel like I'm "part of the gang", having now also been subjected to mindless calculation exercises and out-of-left-field questions about industries I know nothing about, coupled with the "oh-my-gosh-have-you-ever-even-practiced-case-interviews" look of disbelief from the hardened interviewer (the answer to that is yes, by the way) and the ensuing feeling of confusion and despair when you walk out of a gruelling 1.5 hr session feeling like you did in 2nd grade when the teacher called on you and you didn't know the answer and everyone laughed.

Fortunately, there are friends, crepes, and plenty of bottles of cider to go around and make you feel better afterwards. And then there's always next week, with more interviews (including at least one that will not involve calculating percentages while standing on your head and solving a rubix cube).

Apr 2, 2008

Fling a Ding Ding

Ah, the highs and lows of the INSEAD life...

Last weekend about 200 of us found ourselves in Barcelona for the annual "Spring Fling", an MBA sports tournament organised by IESE. It was interesting comparing the INSEAD contingent to the other schools; sure, I'm biased, but I did get the definite impression that we were a) more diverse and b) more relaxed (many of us had never played our chosen sport before, but more than made up for it in team spirit and a sense of fun). We were also much more ready to party the night away (though we paid for it on the trip home!) In fact, the whole weekend felt very much like a gigantic INSEAD party that the other schools had the privilege to attend - and most of them didn't. Perhaps we're a little intimidating. All in all, a very good weekend was had by everyone involved, despite a few (mostly rugby-related) injuries.

And then we get back to P4. The age of dings. I won't explain here what a ding is, I think every other blogger has already done so. Needless to say it has resulted in more than a few long faces around campus as company after company reject INSEAD students who, until now, had been told that they were fabulous and the elite of global business community. I was lucky enough to get a ding to call my own yesterday, having missed out on the fun until now due to my not having actually applied to anything (my network-oriented job search is not so much ding-based as you'll-just-never-hear-from-us-again-based). Apparently, "the criteria that [Ding & Co] have put forward do not really correspond to [my] competencies". Ouch.

My friends and fellow comrades-in-arms, I leave you with these words by Arthur Conan Doyle:

"When such men, who are beyond hope and fear, begin in their dim minds to see the source of their woes, it may be an evil time for those who have wronged them. The weak man becomes strong when he has nothing, for then only can he feel the wild, mad thrill of despair."

Mar 25, 2008

Bling and Empathy

To all my French readers: ever wanted to know how our American friends perceive our very médiatisé, newly-wed leader? Here's an interesting editorial about Sarkozy and the reasons for his party's debacle in the latest municipal elections: "President Bling-Bling".

On a completely unrelated note, a big thank you goes out to the person who kindly subjected themself to my fumbling attempts at conducting a "Rogerian interview" for my final Psychological Issues in Management project. Aimed at learning how to improve our listening skills and develop empathy, this exercise has been one of the most challenging and moving experiences I've had at INSEAD, and one from which I've learned a tremendous deal. I'm sure it's not easy to be on the other side of the table, agreeing to open up to someone who will record you, analyse you and write a report about you, so thank you again. To the current and future INSEAD students who are considering taking Bartolome's class, try to get beyond the initial shock when faced with a man who appears rude, insensitive and at times downright insane. This class is definitely worth it.

Time for me now to rush off to negotiate teacher salaries and classroom sizes. Seriously.

Mar 23, 2008

Lessons learned

Springtime feels like it's finally around the corner. The sun shone all morning on our humble chateau easter egg hunt, the weather is starting to get (slightly) warmer, and the trees are quickly turning green. All of this is heartwarming, of course, though it also signals that the end of INSEAD is nigh. My first mini-elective of P4 is over next week, most job applications are in, and thoughts are already turning to grad trip and summer plans. As for me, I'm in denial. Always the best approach.

I read something today I wanted to share with my foreign friends, who I know have been struggling to adapt in France (though as I try to explain to them, Fonty life is not France). The NY Times' Paris correspondant has bestowed upon us a "Guide to the French" in 8 simple lessons. Apparently we're quite an easy folk to understand... So here goes (make of it what you will; the full article is quite entertaining):

1. Look in the Rear-View Mirror: The French are obsessed about (their) history, and to understand us you must understand where we come from (and why we care). Fair point.

2. An Interview is Sometimes Not an Interview: A journalist's views on freedom of the press in France when it comes to the President. Can't really judge this one, or how much it differs from the situation in other countries. Also not terribly clear to me how this "lesson" applies to anyone other than journalists.

3. The Customer is Always Wrong: My personal take on this? The customer is a person as much as the service provider is, and either may be wrong, or obnoxious, and will be treated accordingly. But that's just me.

4. Make Friends With a Good Butcher: Absolutely, unless you're a vegeterian. But even then there's the fromager, the poissonnier, the caviste and the man at the fruits and vegetables stand in your local marché that you should definitely bond with.

5. Kiss, But be Careful Whom You Hug: Kissing is a must. Hugging may be an invasion of personal space. Even my 5-yr-old cousins understand that.

6. Don't Wear Jogging Clothes to Buy a Pound of Butter: If you remember nothing else about the golden rules of living in France (especially living in Paris), remember this one. It was also listed as one of the most important lessons learned by Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull in her book Almost French (highly recommended reading for any INSEAD-er thinking of living in this beautiful country of mine after graduation, and entertaining for anyone else).

7. Feeling Sexy is a State of Mind, or: Buy Good Lingerie: Duh.

8. When it Comes to Politeness, There is No End to the Lessons: For a country so universally viewed as rude, France is a place where rules of politesse are extremely complex and very, very important. I have already sought, in vain, to convince my friends of this little-known fact, and will not try again here. You're just going to have to trust me (and the NY Times).

So there you go, the French explained in eight lessons. See, now that wasn't so hard, was it?!

Mar 19, 2008

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I've heard complaints that I am not posting enough. Honestly, I feel I haven't been doing that badly compared to some of my classmates, but point taken.

So here's a little snapshot of this week's impressions. Obviously, this post will be about job hunting, as P4 seems to leave little time to think about anything else. It's a shame, really, considering how interesting our classes are this period, that the only thing on our collective minds is comparing company presentations, perfecting interview techniques, and wondering how to wax poetic in cover letters for jobs we're not even sure we want. And yours truly is no exception.

I have decided to take a slightly different road from that of most of my classmates, however, and pursue jobs in a field not traditionally sought after post-MBA. This, of course, creates additional difficulty and stress in some ways, as career services is unlikely to be much help and most recruiters I approach give me that "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" look. I get the same look from my classmates, by the way, who mostly seem baffled that someone may not actually end up in consulting.

On the other hand, my story makes sense to me. More sense than a story I would have to tell consultants or marketing directors. And that simplifies things a great deal. It's much easier to sell a story you believe in. The trick is finding someone to sell the story to. And on that front I've found the INSEAD network and even on-campus-recruiting events to be extremely helpful. I know this has not been the case for some other "non-traditional" job seekers among my friends, so maybe I've been lucky, but alumni contacts and a couple pushy requests to get recruiters to put me in touch with the relevant people have so far met with success. Which means I already have interviews of the non-consulting sort to look forward to, as early as tomorrow! Fingers crossed.

Not wanting to be outdone by DTLF, here are some song lyrics of my own that seem particularly fitting in these times of P4 madness, soul-searching and soul-selling:

Could you let down your hair
And be transparent for a while
Just a little while
To see if you're human after all
Honesty is a hard attribute to find
When we all want to seem like
We've got it all figured out

Well let me be the first to say that I
Don't have a clue
I don't have all the answers
Ain't gonna pretend like I do

Just trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
The best that I know how

Well I haven't memorized
All of the cute things to say
But I'm working on it
Maybe I'll master this art form some day
If I quote all the lines
Off the top of my head
Will you believe
That I fully understand all these things I've read

I'm just trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
The best that I know how

Well I
Haven't got it all figured out quite yet but
Even if it takes my whole life
To get to where I need to be
And if I should fall
To the bottom of the end
I'll be one step back to you and

Trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
Oh I'm trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
  • "Trying" - Lifehouse

Mar 16, 2008

Finding Your Way Home

I've said it before and I haven't been the only one: INSEAD is a real roller-coaster ride of emotions. With so many new people to get to know, new concepts to grasp, new opportunities to explore, it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's also easy to lose yourself. Sometimes it's necessary to stake a step back, breathe deeply and re-evaluate. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Just because radical change is possible doesn't mean radical change is the best thing for you. Sometimes incremental steps, while holding on to who you are, is the way to move forward.

Oh dear, that all sounds so deep and meaningful. Apologies.

Back to the fun stuff. I'm in a new house this period, a nice little chateau of my own, and I'm loving it. I'm surrounded by friends (who are all mutually stressing and helping each other out in this "winner takes all" period), trees, and a variety of wild animals. Life couldn't be better. Classes are also really interesting this period, and I wish I had some more time to spend on them. As mentioned by fellow blogger DTLF, the Psychological Issues in Management class is particularly... mmm... original. Love him or hate him, Bartolome is definitely a professor with a difference, and the content of the course is satisfyingly thought-provoking.

It's a rainy Sunday evening, and there's an eerie calm around the house - with a strong undercurrent of tension as we all rush to complete job applications. I'm thinking it's about time for a nice shared dinner and a movie, though, to top off the weekend before we're back in suits for yet more career networking starting tomorrow.

Mar 5, 2008

To Everything There Is A Season...

... And now is the season for recruitment. It is finally here, the reason we all did this MBA in the first place, the nerve-racking, nail-biting, ding-dreading countdown is upon us. Of course (and I'm not the only one), I have no clear idea of what I should be applying for, never mind what I actually would want to get. I have not started writing motivation letters. I'm already bored of company presentations and mindless networking chats. In fact, I'm in half a mind to throw in the towel and go work as a short-order cook on a beach in Jamaica.

But hey, despite all that, I'm feeling surprisingly chipper.

First, because it turns out I won't have to write a eulogy for DTLF after all. After a worrying absence, my dear blogging lyricist appears to be back online. Which means I have something to read again other than HBS cases.

Second, after a rather trying P3, a lovely break in snowy sunny Switzerland has restored my happiness meter back to a healthy level. Nothing like outdoor exercise, glühwein and good friends to catch that silver lining again.

Third, I'm pretty excited about my P4 courses. I will be taking Negotiations Strategy (first class today was fun, despite being lied to by my counter-party; not an ethics class, clearly), Industry & Competitive Analysis, Psychological Issues in Management, Political Risk Assessment & Management and Advanced Game Theory.

Which reminds me: I owe you all a recap of P3 courses. So here's my best effort (it's funny how a week's break seems to wipe the mind clean):

Macroeconomics (Loic Sadoulet): Yet another controversial offering, with some people loving this class and others... not so much. I personally liked it, even though it took a while for things to click. Perhaps a bit more quantitative backing would have been good, but overall a useful, instructive course.

International Political Analysis (Douglas Weber): A bit of a disappointment, this one. It was one of the courses I was most looking forward to (having long hesitated whether to go into Poli-Sci back in my previous life) but unfortunately the prof struggled to make this class relevant to business students. The most interesting part of the course was the student-led presentations, made particularly engaging by the international diversity at INSEAD.

Corporate Entrepreneurship (Michelle Rogan): A good subject to have on the menu, this class focused on how to ensure you had the right entrepreneurial culture within a large company to maximize growth. The workload was disproportionately high compared to the actual substance, though, and by the end of the 16 sessions we were all experiencing CE-fatigue. Perhaps this would have done better as a mini-class.

Strategies for Product & Service Development (Jürgen Mihm): A really fun class, taught by a passionate professor. The project for this class (generating an idea for and prototyping a new product/service) is a great exercise, and has you using skills and neurons not usually called upon in other INSEAD classes.

Market Driving Strategies (Markus Christen): By far my favourite class at INSEAD so far. Markus is an amazing professor and also an amazing guy (big thanks goes out to him for helping us on our final L'Oreal project). The Markstrat game is intense, frustrating but ultimately lots of fun, and the lectures are also very instructive. This class reconciled a lot of people with marketing.

So, that's all from me for tonight, it's time to go drink and socialize with my new housemates (in my new house; more on that later). I will do my very best to post a bit more often this period, in between applications, interviews, classes and doubtless countless parties. It's a hard life, my friends, but someone has to do it.

Feb 12, 2008

Turning that frown...

There's been lots of whinging on the blogosphere lately, including from me. Certainly, it's a good thing (and one of the blogger's responsibilities) to give future students and applicants a balanced view of life as an MBA, and life at INSEAD in particular. The trouble is, it's a lot easier to complain and criticise than to express satisfaction and, as all those in "media" know, bitching excites the reader/viewer a lot more than does praise. So, here's to a little less frowning and a little more smiling.

On that note, I'd like to express my own point of view on the "10-month MBA", in response to a recent post by a fellow student. Here's my take on the "serious disadvantages" identified by my classmate. Then it's up to you, future INSEAD student, to make up your own mind:

- "Shallow courses": Sure, the furious pace leaves us less time to absorb the material. But the courses are by no means shallow. The professors do an outstanding job getting to the very core of the material, skipping the fluff, and using simulations and exercises to have us rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty right away. Also, to me the point of a generalist MBA is not to learn all the material, but to learn how to think, what frameworks to use, what questions to ask.
- "Shallow networks": This is all up to you. There are two ways of playing the network game at INSEAD. You can either meet as many people as you can, and make sure you have had some contact with anyone who may potentially be helpful to you in the future, or you can focus on the few people you really like and build strong relationships with those. It's go broad or go deep. Personally, I have chosen the latter option. One of the most enjoyable things this period has been the development of really close friendships here at INSEAD. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe it's a Fonty vs Singapore thing. Maybe it's a question of personality.
- "No time to spare career-wise": This I would tend to agree with. As I've already mentioned on these pages, it is difficult, with all the things going on at school, to really spend time thinking about what you want to do after INSEAD, researching the various options and perfecting cover letters, interview techniques, etc. I do know people who have managed to put the time in, though. As with everything here, it's all about prioritising.
- "No time to explore interests": Fair enough point if your interests are along the lines of learning Mandarin from scratch, becoming a professional rugby player, or running you business on the side. But if you want to dabble in a few things, be it sports, public speaking, travelling, or participating in a business competition like the L'Oreal game, then INSEAD is your oyster. Sure, you'll be running from one place to another and wishing you could sleep a couple extra hours, but the opportunities are there if you're willing to put in the effort.

Basically, here's my advice for those of you considering INSEAD. It's intense, crazy, and a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. But if you can learn to manage your time and your emotions, and establish your priorities, you're going to love the experience. I do.

On a totally unrelated note, check out the hilarious Ben Bernanke spoof video on Wim's blog!

Feb 10, 2008

White Spaces

At school, we are repeatedly exhorted to find the "white spaces", "blue oceans", "untapped customers" that are necessary to grow a business. What I wouldn't give for a white space of my own, where I might do some growing too. This period is the most challenging one for me, raising all sorts of questions: to what extent am I happy handing in sub-standard work in order to maintain my social life and catch a couple hours sleep now and then? What have the courses taught me about where my skills and preferences lie? How much of a radical change am I prepared to make in my life, career or otherwise? Rather than achieving any clarity on these issues, I get more confused the more people I speak to. And I just can't seem to find that little space in my schedule, or in my mind, to really sit down and think about it. Resorting to the ostrich method instead, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping something good happens.

It's not all gloom and doom, though. I am really enjoying the social environment at school these days. It's much more relaxed than in the first couple periods, and everyone is focusing their efforts not on ticking off lists of names of people they've met, but on building real, solid friendships. Integration with our friends from Singapore has also been fantastic, and we've even managed to build some bridges to the new December class as well.

In other news, our team is into the semi-finals round for the L'Oreal business game. That means that we now have to put together a business plan outlining our vision for our little company and its promising portfolio of brands. A fake company, and fake brands, of course, but after almost three months it really feels like our baby. Here's hoping our baby impresses the L'Oreal execs.

I feel like I should close this post with an apology. I know I have not done a very good job this period keeping my readership informed of the goings-on in my life. In fact, I've done a similarly poor job maintaining communication with my friends and family. All I can say is, I promise to do better. And to keep looking for those spaces.

Jan 27, 2008

Reality Check

My sincerest apologies to those readers who have stuck with me despite not having given proof of life for a month. Part of the reason is that for a substantial portion of this new term, life is something I have been barely clinging onto (damn INSEAD diseases...) But now I feel I may have a window of opportunity before the next round of flu hits to give you an update.

P3. Hard work. I know we say this every period, but it's true (when do the "easy" periods start?!) The focus is very different, though, now that most of our schedule is taken up by electives. Instead of studying for exams, we're investing our efforts in project-work, which is a nice change of pace but results in spending 50% of your time coordinating with 5 different groups who all have different schedules, preferences, and personality disorders. Sort of like when I was working, actually.

Speaking of work, the looming fear of (un)employment has begun its slow descent over the campus. And this is where I start to struggle. Before coming here, I saw INSEAD as a way of getting to where I wanted to go. Now I don't remember where that is anymore. I find myself living in a state of complete denial, personally and professionally, and am studiously ignoring the fact that, at some point, school will end and I will have choices to make. A life to lead. I mean a real one, that involves routine, commitments and taxes rather than friends, parties and bubble-seclusion. Somehow, as the year progresses, I find it more and more difficult to imagine life after school, or to make any kind of decision at all. The downside of too much choice? Banal 30-something angst? Or a necessary step?

"Nous avons une grande force, c'est de ne pas savoir exactement ce que nous voulons. De l'incertitude profonde des desseins naît une étonnante liberté de manoeuvre."
Jean Anouilh

PS: In case you were wondering, I had a brilliant holiday with the mini INSEAD crew in Sexten, Italy. Lovely snow, lovely glühwein, lovely people, I recommend it! Go Team Sexten!