Thursday, 18 December 2008

INSEAD Singapore Review P2

Thinking back this was a strange 8 weeks. I was disappointed with the academic experience – see below – but in terms of getting to know both the section in Singapore and bonding I suspect I will never have as much fun.

The positive side was the group dynamics in both your personal group and the sections as a whole. We got up to loads of things other than the studying, parting and travelling. We played “lyric” bingo in class where I heard (but do not expect to hear again) someone drawing an analogy in a Process Operations Management (POM) class between a bottleneck and their own personal needs - “…so can you describe this as something where I touch my self rather than….” However, the real genius was that the professor did not fully appreciate what was going on and began to use this analogy (managing to score some bingo hits himself) to make various points. Other episodes were walking in to an 8:30 am class all dressed in nightwear (for example some people only had a robe on, others half shaved while someone brushed their teeth as the lecturer walked in); having a glass of vodka each at 10am and storming the other sections amphi.

The climax was in a Leading Organisations lecture on cultural diversity where we managed to make the professor wonder if he had entered a parallel universe in which INSEAD students were the exact opposite of what they are meant to be. The Dutch attacked the Germans for their lack of cultural awareness; our US classmates got it big style but managed to respond by offending various countries (viva Freedom Fries); an American accented Indian managed to launch the ultimate put down to a Brit of Indian origin; a Brit commented that they could not believe they were being lectured on colonialism and cultural integration by a white South African; a black South African in turn piled in to defend his country man from the Brit. By this stage the lecture was watching on in horror as he tried to prevent this train wreck. There then followed a walk out by a Lebanese classmate before the professor was asked what date it was. He responded “April 1st” and smiled as he realised he had been. I have rarely laughed as much as I did in that class and thanks to Fabrizio for taking it so well. What that class proved was how close we had become as a group as the outline of an idea (discussed pre-class between 5-10 people) was taken up organically by the whole section and where everyone trusted their classmates/friends enough to make outrageous comments that no one would take offence at because they knew the person saying it did not mean it.

Unfortunately, the courses themselves were the least enjoyable of my time at INSEAD. In order of enjoyment:

1) LO – Professor Castellucci was a top guy who really tired to get us to understand the skills we will and do need as well as accelerate their development now.

2) CFP – the legendary Professor Pierre Hillion. The guy is a finance guru who can simplify the most complex concepts. After a period with him you realise the whole world is just a set of Options – in fact everything is an option. He also has the best French English accent in the world – all the native speakers spent the first lecture wondering what a “stack” was (perhaps a new financial instrument we had never heard of) only for it to later dawn on us that Pierre was talking about “Stocks”.

3) Strategy – Professor Constantini – an Englishman who according to my Italian friends speaks Italian with a Rome accent. The Prof was ex-Mckinsey and really knew his stuff. Perhaps an acquired taste for some I thought he was great.

4) Managerial accounting – Professor Jake Cohen (now Dean of the MBA). Certainly a prof who knew his stuff but one I did not gel with. Although he made the subject real world I did not appreciate his style or arrogance – but to be fair, others loved him.

5) Marketing – Professor Klein was trying a revamped syllabus with us that involved an about to be published book – “Momentum”. Unfortunately despite her best efforts the course did not work and a lot of us felt disappointed in the quality of the course and that we could have got far more out of the course were there better material.

6) POM – Professor Girotra was a star who had clearly done his best to make the course more interesting and valuable. However, for various reasons the course did not work, particularly in my case, and it was difficult to bring the lessons into the real world that many of us plan to inhabit post INSEAD. Having said that understanding a bottleneck is certainly a useful concept to have in my armoury.

The worst part of P2 was the end as a lot of people decided to head off to Fonty. Suddenly, these brilliant people who in 4 months you had become so close to were heading off and you may not see them again in 2008. I think this is where the strength of INSEAD i.e. its intensity and pressure, becomes a liability in that if you had another period together then perhaps you could truly explore the full boundaries of friendships and become a far more effective network as well as a close set of friends. Either way it gave a very good example of what P5 would be like…

The Return of the Jedi

In terms of my plan to blog more regularly, well as they say “the best laid plans of mice and men….”

So having ignored my blog, and the occasional pang of guilt that accompanied any thought of blogging, I promised myself that I would update the blog to reflect what happened in P2 to P5 and in between. This is a herculean task but it is my own fault.

Here goes…….

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Sound of Silence

It has been a while but I'm back.

The reason for the hiatus is simple - work overload and (more honestly) other priorities. The blog is/was important to me, but I found that whenever I made a to do list in my head the blog was put off for another hour/day/week and this became 4 months. Doesn't time fly when you are having fun?

So the plan is to write a few entries over the next few days reviewing P2 and P3 and general comments about the experience so far.

First things first - Congrats to the July '08 class on graduating.

Secondly, good luck to all the potential Dec '09 applicants, that are/will be having their fun interviews. Previous posts have covered this, but the key is can you convince the interviewer that you will add to the class and would they want to be sitting next to you in a lecture / class / group etc.. Simple advice is be yourself, although the caveat is to avoid venting controversial views and avoid charged political or religious issues. Why be yourself? Its simple, the alumni are, in my opinion, looking for fit, pure and simple, and even if you "fool"them and get in you are likely to not enjoy nor get the real benefits of INSEAD. Better to be honest and see where it takes you. But hey, your smart enough to know to do what works best for you.

Thirdly, to the July '09 enjoy the last few weeks doing whatever you are doing and get ready to have a blast.

Well, that is enough pontificating (see WW, I've still got it).

One final goodbye. To the bloggers of July'08 Res, Necro, D.T.L.F - thank you and may all you wish for come true.


PS By the way DTLF - apologies for not including you in the list of most favoured INSEAD bloggers - its more I always viewed you as less an INSEAD blogger and more a commentator on the weirdness in all of us. Not sure that will make you feel better. Anyway, best of luck and I look forward to seeing you on the switch side.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

INSEAD Singapore - Review of P1

" 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

(Marianne Williamson, author, from A Return To Love, 1992. Ack C Wilson and J Cooke.). Also attributed to Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech in 1994.

Being pretty mellow after an interesting day, a good meal, excellent company and decent conversation, I thought that a missive to my dear reader would top the day off nicely.

As the more astute of you will have noticed – yes you at the back - I like to delude myself that people read this blog when researching INSEAD. To be perfectly honest, if you want a much better understanding of an INSEAD MBA, you should use the link to Necromonger – it is about the best MBA blog you will ever read – or the fine blogs of alumni, Halloman and Zanot.

Having said that, while not in the league of Necromonger (by the way Necro, how is Fonty?), one likes to feel that one is, in one’s own humble way, contributing to the development of the business leaders of the future (BLOF). So, after that outpouring of pomposity (I just wanted to see if I could copy WW’s style), I thought that I would review P1.

The academic experience has been challenging, to say the least. The volume of information thrown at you and that they expect you to process, evaluate and respond to is phenomenal. There is plenty of pre-reading for each lecture, lots of cold calling, multiple assignments (including group assignments) and exams. Each professor brings their own unique style, and its down to personal preference as to whether one prefers one style or another. Also it takes time to adapt – for example it took me a while to “get” our P&M tutor (in case you are reading this - Aloha Brett, hope Hobbit land is fun), but once I adapted, his were some of the best lectures. Others you appreciate straight away, particularly when they demonstrate the value of UDJ by winning money and then donating to the champagne fund, analysing the distribution of M&Ms or even that fifteen sided dice have uses, step forward Ilia.

The thing the professors do well is demonstrate the relevance of what they are saying to what you are likely to be doing in the future. While you may not do the full algebraic calculation of “Cournot” equilibrium or a full regression analysis, understanding the concepts makes you a far smarter observer of business and user of data. My feeling from P1 is that they are trying to make you “think smarter” while simultaneously attempting to make you observe your own behaviours as well as the behaviours of others, all from a different perspective. I would put P&M, UDJ, Fin. Accounting as more of the former (i.e. think smarter), and LPG more in the latter (think you, me and relationships). Financial Markets and Valuation is just a boot camp to bring everyone up to speed.

Obviously, the benefit of each subject depends on the background of the individual. However, a totally biased and non-random sample indicates that most people have 2 subjects that they have got a lot out of. Personally, all have benefited me to some extent, whether adding a new perspective, reminding me of something I should know, or making me aware of my own propensity for cognitive dissonance (i.e. be a fool). For me LPG was a case of preaching to the converted, but even then the professor’s skill in linking the subject to our experience at INSEAD caused some serious re-evaluation of personal priorities.

It says a lot about the calibre of my classmates that everyone seems to take this in their stride. My classmates are a collection of incredibly gifted people (and WW). Whether, giving a brilliant analysis of financial performance, summarised with a snappy soundbite leading to a round of applause from the class, to a heated debate as to whether there is ever justification for bribery, you are constantly learning. Add to that their phenomenal ability (and I mean absolutely bona fide genius abilities) to organise parties, bars of the week, job treks, summits, speakers and international trips and you have an idea of the people.

As examples, in the week prior to exams i.e. when you are working flat out : a) for the last P&M lecture everyone managed to get hold of “Aloha” Hawaiian shirts and attended the lecture in these shirts. Brett, the professor, was, pre-lecture, walking around the campus shaking his head in amazement. Of course this was only the beginning, as the first section hired an Obi Wan Kenobi Jedi outfit for Brett– including lightsaber - and made him dress up to do the lecture as the Jedi master. There then followed the “Microwars” video see, which was put together in 24 hours by a few of my classmates. Absolute genius – nice one Lili and Alex! The other section followed this by, en masse half way through the lecture, dancing a coordinated traditional Hawaiian dance, with accompanying music;

b) Furthermore, in the follow up UDJ lecture, the professor found himself receiving a presentation on an analysis of the qualities INSEAD students regard as being the key to a professor’s success. The presentation starred Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Ilia, and included a phone call to Ilia from Angelina. The fact that both professors enjoyed the “set-ups” and requested copies says a lot about the INSEAD spirit.

If that sounds intense, well it is.

I recently read the posts by Le blog de Hog and Res I(p)sa about the INSEAD experience. Given my P1, their view on the intensity of the course, and the lack of time was pretty interesting. To be fair, I did share much of Le Blog’s viewpoint for a while. I thought that the course was too intense and there was not enough time to explore areas in depth and that we sacrificed quality for quantity. However, I have changed my view on this – although the caveat is that I have started in the Singapore campus with a smaller number of classmates than you do in Fonty.

I think that INSEAD forces you to make tough choices and really reflects what you are about to face in the real world. You are forced to realise that you cannot do everything and you have to prioritise, make hard decisions and make mistakes. Do I wish I had more time? Yes. Do I want to spend more time with my classmates and on some courses? Yes. BUT, the reality is that I am being pushed very hard (perhaps to the extremes of my ability – a bit of a concern as P1 is meant to be the warm up for P2) and am, for the first time in a long time, being forced out of my comfort zone to really develop as an individual, both personally and professionally. In approximately 10 months we are covering 80-90% of what most MBAs cover in 2 years. So, as a rhetorical question, which MBA school do you think pushes you harder, makes you develop faster and perhaps makes you more likely to fulfil you potential?

The motto “work hard play hard” is often misapplied, but in this case it is true. If you are not ready to be pushed to the extreme of your abilities, endure a brutal academic experience, explore your personal and professional goals, all while meeting a host of gifted people (classmates, alumni and faculty) and partying like mad, then INSEAD is not for you.

For me, while there have been some “very very bad” days, where I thought INSEAD may be a big mistake, the reality is that, on reflection, I am, in a partially masochistic way, enjoying this experience. Of course you would expect me to recommend the school, but I hope that the above gives you a flavour of why I am glad I chose this school.

If this is not for you, well there are some superb schools out there and I hope you get in and enjoy your choice.

You’ll note the two quotes at the beginning of the entry and at the end. They are personal favourites - I hope they help.

And there endeth the sermon.

The Guy In The Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father or Mother or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please,
never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.

©Dale Wimbrow, 1934.

ps WW: Is that game or 15:40?

The end of P1

Amazingly, P1 is already over. The last 8 weeks have passed so rapidly that it has been like being in the centre of a whirlwind.

The last week was exams - Monday to Wednesday i.e. 3 days for those of you who cannot count (aka Worldly Whys (WW)), 5 papers, 15.75 hours of exams and definitive proof that I will not be troubling the Dean when it comes to his “happy list”. On the other hand, the Dean may be calling me to discuss how I can improve in P2, much like the conversation he will no doubt be having with WW.

Anyway, to give you a flavour of how intense it is, according to our stats professor we have, in 7 weeks, covered the first year of a Phd students course. Or, according to a classmate, we have covered his entire microeconomics syllabus for the first two years of his Economics degree.

Wednesday evening was spent at the Double 00 bar, with most of us flying out to either Vietnam or Cambodia the next day although a few have gone to Thailand, Hong Kong, China etc… I’m not sure where WW has disappeared to, although given that he/she has already been kicked out/rejected by so many countries (see first WW fist blog entry), another deportation should not be an issue.

After this mammoth holiday break of 4 days (including weekend), P2 kicks off on Monday. So having retaliated to the unprovoked blog aggression of my classmate WW (really, we’re all one happy family), I’m back off to hit the tourist trail…

ps WW: That’s 15 30.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

4 week summary, Consulting here I come

Its clear from the BCG presentations and general consulting overload since beginning INSEAD (we've had, at last count, "personal" letters, cds, sponsored parties (kudos to Bain), corkscrew (wine bottle) openers of the expensive kind and books....) that the "famous" consultancy firms value brevity.

So on that basis (and with one-off overdose of bullet points) here is a KPI of P1 (not fully in context, but hey it’s my blog).


  • FMV (aka finance): Our professor is the former dean of INSEAD (he has the garden on the campus roof named after him), who is very knowledgeable and pretty funny. He likes shouting, boy does he like shouting, but he makes the subject more interesting and watching him move across the amphi waving his arms is not unlike watching John Travolta showing his moves in Saturday Night Fever.

  • P&M (aka Microeconomics): We have a surfer dude professor from Hawaii. He has a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, shorts, flip flops, the words "Awesome and Aloominum" and Tiger beer. But he knows his stuff and whilst I am not sure I totally get it, the real life element is refreshing. Just in case you are wondering, he is clearly incredibly clever and was smart enough to leave HBS, Stanford, Kellogg et al and head off for a quality of life in Hawaii most of us can only dream of.......I hate him.

  • UDJ (aka Statistics) : Imagine the stereotypical smooth Russian from a cold war movie or the sports stars of the USSR and you have our stats professor, including a brilliant accent. However, this man is a bona fide genius because he makes a 1.5 hour lecture fly by and actually makes statistics fun (yes I do hold my head in shame at that confession). The use of articles, M&Ms and cold calling has been inspired.

  • Financial Accounting : To be fair, this is less about the mechanics of accounting (although we have covered this) but more about understanding the accounts enough to decipher what the hell a company's management team are up to and how well the company is doing. I'm not the biggest fan of this professor - but he knows his stuff, can be amusing and cold calls mercilessly.

  • LPG (aka knowing me, knowing you as ABBA would say). This is mix of trying to understand yourself, while trying to understand your impact on others and trying to understand them. The professor varies from boring to insightful and the whole range in between.

Week 2 and 3

  • Lots of career counselling, finance presentation, getting to know each other (i.e. parties and barbecues) and our professors. Oh and we are travelling like mad each weekend - Malaysia and Thailand with the P1/P2 break looking like a choice of Cambodia or Vietnam. Oh and the potential IBers are working around the clock on their CVs and covering letters as European IB internships deadlines are now.

Week 3

  • This was Iberia week and it was good. The amphi storming was funny with the bull fighter scoring extra points for smoothness and clever use of socks. The party was excellent, t-shirts were cool and the drinks flowing - these national weeks are going to be a lot of fun.

Week 4

  • Mid-term tests - now my view on these is that you do a bit of work and then walk in and do the test. However, it seems that the professors do not see it that way - oh dear.......

  • Interviews for the IBers are coming in - mostly video conference call interviews with London staff -oh the joys of the 21st Century. To be fair the poor buggers and bugerrettes are being really stretched and to some extent the famous "INSEAD community spirit" has kicked in with non IBers stepping in to help out. As one man, who could be described as a larger than life human happiness machine says "two teams, one dream." (copyright NH-L)

Week 5

  • 3 day week due to Chinese New Year. Most people just used the break as an opportunity to travel or just relax in Singapore. (I refer you to my fellow bloggers Phathu and Wordly for more details).

Week 6

  • Workload is reaching insane levels with pre reading being an interesting concept that is ignored. Assignments are coming from all directions and then there is the P&M game. I will not tell you more but it’s interesting to bring the theory to life, as well as prove some of my classmates really need the P2 class in strategy.

  • But still time to arrange valentine’s night poker and invite our P&M prof. A lesson to be learnt is that if your prof attends poker, then make sure you have done the pre reading for the next morning in case he cold calls anyone (perhaps anyone who he played poker with?)

I am back in the saddle, but let's see how long this lasts....

Sunday, 3 February 2008

INSEAD Singapore

13 January 2008

(See three posts below for explanation for the strange chronology)

So week 1 of my life at INSEAD is over.

First impressions? Well, for once the hype may well be justified. So, as any good potential MBA graduate should do (other than a top power point presentation or excel wizardry), I will comment on various elements of the INSEAD experience.


My classmates are, as expected, as diverse a bunch of people one is ever likely to meet. We have backgrounds ranging from the traditional (Consulting and Investment banking), to the different (Entrepreneurs and NGOs) to the way out there (a monk).

The best thing is that everyone seems to be friendly, witty and quite happy to laugh at themselves. A promising beginning.

Also the P3s (i.e. those that joined in August 2007) have been remarkably friendly and have really made an effort to make us welcome.


The campus is superb. It has been open about seven years and the design has created a modern, open and comfortable facility that has a very warm/positive ambience. All the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful (except, perhaps, the IT staff - although they may suffer because of the ridiculously high standard set by the other groups). Oh and the canteen is inexpensive, tasty and provides a variety of dishes.

The location is good with an MRT (metro/subway/train/underground station - choose your language) station a 15 minute walk from campus and a 15 minute taxi ride to central Singapore. Also the two main residences of choice for INSEAD students (more details later) are a 10 minute walk from the campus.

We also got given a very nice personalised gift from INSEAD - a small, but very nice gesture.


This has been an induction week, so while full of lectures, its been mostly about informng us about the next 12months and helping s to adjust to Singapore an INSEAD.

We did have a one day case study described as an "Intro to General Management" which was utterly brilliant. It encapsulated everything I hope that the INSEAD MBA is going to be about. A fantastic professor guiding us through a complex case, challenging us, drawing out a wide range of class experiences and then beginning to teach us how to approach and deal with problems. Just a very good day at school.

One interesting angle is that there was a quite focus on "Ethics" and the challenges we will face when we graduate. The professor raised some testing issues and elicited a debate that was surprising in the wide range and vehemence of views expressed. People are always aware that there are large personal and cultural differences between us as classmates, but this debate brought home the magnitude of those differences. Also, perhaps most troublingly, it made you look at yourself and wonder how much you will compromise your personal ethics in the future.


I shall devote a whole post (well its more likely to be a eulogy based on how I am feeling at the moment) to describing Singapore. As an indicator, the climate is lovely (well sure beats a North America and European winter), the place is green, safe, efficient and welcoming.


There is no shortage of opportunities to do things at INSEAD. Whether its professionally driven, social (the social scene here is mental - parties, bars and travelling) or personal, this year is going to be packed.

My Fonty classmates have gone through an almost identical week - the only difference being that we are all walking around in shorts, t-shirts and sandals in a tropical climate, while they are in sub-zero temperatures in the French countryside. It’s a tough life……

Wish you were here......

"If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi