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Thursday, September 02, 2004

INSEAD Period 5 – The End!

Prior to coming to INSEAD I contemplated starting the program in January as opposed to September. When I asked those alumni who had started in September why I should sooner rather than later – they all resoundingly came up with one answer – P5. Hence, as I sat on the plane back from a fantastic field trip in China (more later) at the end of May, I wondered if Period 5 would really turn out to be as great as they had implied……

ACADEMICS

Period 5 is definitely meant to be the lightest in terms of workload and given that I had done a few extra courses in other periods I came into the period only officially needing 1.5 course credits to graduate. However, as usual I decided to take on some extra courses (to make full use of the learning experience – or so I thought) and ultimately enrolled in 3.5 classes – Negotiation Analysis, Managing Entrepreneurial Growth, Global Strategy and Management and China (B).

The last of these, China (B) was actually completed in the 10 day break we had between periods 4 and 5. A group of 12 students (from both the Fontainebleau and Singapore campuses) travelled to China under the guidance of Professor Steven White and visited a number of companies in three cities: Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing. In addition, we also met with students from 3 different MBA schools (one from each city) and engaged in both formal and informal discussions with them about issues such as intellectual property rights, privatisation and the property explosion that was taking place in the major cities. We also had some time to ourselves to visit some of the main sights including the Forbidden City in Beijing and the famous Great Wall. It was an amazing trip and for anyone interested, I do have a completely separate report on the trip which I am happy to circulate.

Negotiation Analysis has got to be the most famous course given at INSEAD as it is taught by a Belgian Professor Ingemar Dierrkcx. Professor Dierrkcx has been teaching this course for almost 20 years at INSEAD and as a result it has become a great common topic of discussion between alumni from different promotions whenever they meet. The course is quite unique as a large part of one’s grade is based on the outcomes that one secures in any of the negotiation exercises and also on the process that one adopts in order to secure each outcome. This process is always evaluated by the counterpart in any of the exercises so it makes little sense to try and lie your way to a better outcome as you will inevitably receive a poor process grade from your colleagues. Although the course had extremely high ratings, I personally did not feel that it lived up to such high an acclaim as Professor Dierrkcx seemed to throw in one too many anecdotes and would stray away from the main topic of discussion much too often. I wondered whether this was more due to the fact that this was the last time that he would be teaching the class given that he had finally decided to call it a day.

Global Strategy and Management was an excellent course. Professor Subramanium Rangan is definitely one of the stars at INSEAD – full of knowledge and experience yet so humble and soft spoken that he uses a microphone during his lectures. His totally novel approach to global strategy issues had most of us locked into concentration for every one of the 16 lectures and he always managed to keep every person in the class in the class involved in the discussion even if they had not read and prepared the specific case study that was being analysed (if you had not read the case you had to turn your name tag upside down so that he would know not to call on you for a case summary!). Managing Entrepreneurial growth was definitely the biggest let down. Although Professor Randel Carlock was extremely experienced as an entrepreneur and had managed to list his company on the Nasdaq in a very short space of time, his classes and lectures were extremely disorganized and you always walked out of class wondering what the real takeaways were meant to be! The guest entrepreneurs were definitely worth listening to and it would have been better to have more guest speakers as opposed to wandering aimlessly down several new exploratory paths in each class!

Finally, as I mentioned in my last update, there was still some work to be done in P5 for the Realising Entrepreneurial Potential elective I had signed up for in P4. Although my group did ultimately find a company in the Netherlands that we would consider buying, we found it hard work to perform an adequate analysis of the firm and its market in the short space of time that we had left. Still, we did visit the company in Holland (presenting ourselves as buy-out professionals) and managed to put together a strong acquisition memorandum which we subsequently presented to a group of private equity professionals at the end of the period. Unfortunately none of them agreed to pursue the acquisition but the entire experience was definitely worthwhile and the company visit alone was one of the memories I will always cherish from my year at INSEAD.

All in all, I definitely feel that I took on too much academic work in this last period. Although on hand one may argue that I got the most out of the academic side of INSEAD (I actually ended up paying extra fees as I did 0.5 credits over the maximum allowed), I definitely felt a big sense of burn-out halfway through period 5 and found it quite tough to motivate myself to complete all the coursework that I had signed up for. In hindsight I believe that I should have just done the required amount of courses ‘officially’ and at worst audited any other subjects which I felt were especially interesting (auditing basically implies that you attend the classes but do not submit any coursework – some professors such as Prof. Rangan explicitly forbid this but most of them are fine with it).

SOCIAL LIFE

Given that this would be the last period at INSEAD for everyone in my promotion there was a flood of social events throughout the 8 weeks. These included four national weeks: Latin-American, Italian, Iberian and Australia-New Zealand week, each of which were superbly organised and well attended by students from both promotions. The Latins organised a big carnival on the campus lawn complete with live music and traditional food. The highlight of the Italian week was the dinner hosted by one of the Insead alums who had returned to Fontainebleau to start a new chain of pizza restaurants. He had kindly allowed the Italian community at the school to make use of his country home for the dinner and after a delicious meal of antipasti and lasagne we finished the evening with an Italian sing-song and dance in the back garden – given the amount of noise we were making I am sure we must have woken up quite a few people in the neighbouring villages!

The Iberians managed to secure over EUR 20,000 in sponsorship for their week and as a result tried to stuff us with sangria, chorizos and Spanish ham from morning to night all through the week! Their main event was a large Foam Party in one of the most beautiful chateaus in the Fontainebleau forest – Vaux Le Penil. I guess the counts and countesses who had formerly inhabited the chateau must have been turning in their graves given the amount of foam and alcohol that was being pumped through the chateau during the event! The Aussies and Kiwis kept their week quite simple and suffered a little given that the Euro 2004 football championships had kicked off at the same time. However, the Summer Vibes party that was organised at Villecerf at the end of the week was once again very well organised and enjoyed by all. Although the organisers had struggled to get much financial sponsorship they had managed to secure a vast amount of New Zealand lamb and oysters all of which were consumed at great haste (after being barbequed) by the student crowd.

The Vibes party also introduced me to the Slip ‘N Slide event which apparently takes place at most outdoor festivities down under. A sheet of tarpaulin is laid out on the ground and covered with foam and water to make it as slippery as possible. The idea then is very simple…. You basically run as fast as you can and dive ‘belly’ first onto the tarpaulin so that you slide all the way till the end on the thin layer of foam! Given that I had no idea that this event would be taking place I ended up spending the rest of the night walking around the party in wet foamy jeans and progressively feeling more and more like a wet dog until I was finally spotted by one of the organisers who kindly offered me a dry pair of trousers! – another INSEAD memory I will find hard to forget!

Period 5 also saw the annual Summer Ball take place. Although INSEAD has both a winter and a summer ball, the latter is far bigger as it is held at the same time as the alumni reunion weekend. This often leads to close to 100 tickets being sold and the event is always well attended both by current and former students. This year the summer ball was held in the Chateau de Courances, the grandest chateaus in the vicinity of INSEAD. Guests arrived at the drive way leading into the chateau and were driven to the front door on traditional horse drawn carriages. Inside, we were all treated to champagne and canapés in the main building before being offered a number of different options to keep us entertained until breakfast was served the following morning. These included many different live bands playing anything from jazz to rock music and a number of different food stations serving anything from sushi to simple pasta. The highlight of the evening was definitely the laser and fireworks show which was held over the lake at the back of the chateau. I have been to many fireworks displays in my life but this one was definitely one of the most spectacular and well co-ordinated. All in all, everyone had an amazing time even though the food did run out very quickly and there only seemed to be vodka and gin to drink by 2am!

In addition to the national weeks and the summer ball there were the usual dinners and drinks parties almost every night especially towards the end of the period when everyone suddenly seemed to realise that the end of the year was fast approaching and wanted to make sure they hosted at least one event at their home! I remember quite well how one of the alums I met before coming to INSEAD told me that I would tire of the various parties quite quickly and long for more intimate evenings with a smaller group of friends. Until P5, I had still found it hard to understand his point, but in P5 I finally appreciated his message. As strange as it may sound to people on the outside, going to party after party in the various chateaus does in fact become quite repetitive after a while especially given that one seldom gets to actually talk to half the people at any of the parties and most events always seemed to become quite blurred after the first hour! In light of this, I definitely appreciated more and more the odd night I would spend in either Paris or Barbizon having dinner with a much smaller group of people and definitely wish that I had organised more of these evenings during the year.




THE HOUSE IN SAMOIS

After a hectic period of job searching and different priorities in period 4, period 5 definitely gave us all more time to enjoy the house and the village of Samois itself. Well, there was still some job searching to be done but at some stage we all seemed to realise how little time we really had left at INSEAD and our priorities definitely shifted back to the house. We held a number of dinners (including the first time I had ever cooked an Indian meal in my life!) and celebrated Antonio’s birthday in true style with several magnums of champagne and vast amounts of Italian pasta and antipasti from the local delicatessen. I will never forget the look on his face when we told him we were going to give him the bumps – I guess they must play some pretty bad jokes on you when its your birthday in Italy!

As the days became progressively longer and warmer, the house became even more special. S and B spent many afternoons playing cricket in the back garden and the BBQs became more and more frequent – we were so lucky that B’s South African background meant that he could not only stir up the meanest fire in the living room but that he could also light up the meanest BBQ from plain old wood in the shortest space of time. With the final few matches in the Premier League, the various rugby internationals and the start of Euro 2004, the house also became a sports mecca as we seemed to be the only house in our promotion to have SKY TV – at one point people just seemed to stroll in and out and you never knew who exactly was sitting in your living room! Maybe we were a bit too lax on the security front but at least we made a lot of new friends on the way!

When the summer ball arrived we had a really nice start to the evening with champagne in the garden and when the parents arrived for graduation, we finished the year off with a fun BBQ, even though most people had already left town for pastures new – thanks DAD! In the end, I could not have found a better place to live during my year in the forest nor could I have ended up with a better group of housemates. Being the last person to leave the house on July 5th was definitely one of the most emotional moments at INSEAD…. Yet, we had an amazing year there and definitely made full use of what the house had to offer. Maybe I could have spent more time playing cricket with S and B instead of locking myself in the library; maybe I could have taken more walks by the river Seine and really appreciated what the village had to offer; life is always full of maybes – I am just happy that I had the chance to experience what I did at Chateau Samois. Thanks to B, A, S and C for making life in the Chateau such an amazing experience – May the Legend of BAGS live on for a very very long time!

SPORTS/EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Period 5 was somewhat of a disappointment on the sports front as I tried hard to organise a football tour yet for some reason could not muster enough support amongst either of the two promotions. Coming into the period I had great visions of Kiev or Budapest as possible destinations but unlike the rugby team who actually had to turn away people from their tour as they simply could not handle the numbers, the interest in the football club was sadly non-existent. Some of this lack of enthusiasm definitely arose from the ‘selection policy’ that had been put in place by the current captains of the team from the day they were elected.

Whenever we would be scheduled to play a slightly more competitive match (for example against the alumni or at the MBA Olympics against other schools), the captains would decide who would be play and send out selective emails to those people thereby leaving all the others in the team to find out for themselves that they would not be playing. In addition, even though certain people had hardly attended any of the practices they would always seem to be selected for the important games over others who had been there on every Tuesday evening and every Sunday morning. I guess this policy would be fine if there was really such a large difference in skill between different members of the club but I assure you that there really wasn’t and after all…. when you are only together for 10months – do we really need to get so competitive and so selective? Unfortunately the selection policy did not even pay off as the team managed only a few wins and did not progress very far in the MBA Olympics. Congratulations to Al Foster and the rugby team for managing to create a much more jovial and less competitive atmosphere in the rugby club.

With a little more time on my hands in P5, I even managed to venture back into the gym a few times. However, sadly….I still never managed to set foot on the squash court – maybe I will finally get a chance during the alumni reunion weekend in 5 years time!


PEOPLE

With so little time left at INSEAD, people inevitable started to make choices on who they would spend time with and what they would focus more on – work or play. Given the huge assortment of electives, there were some people from my P1/P2 section, who I cannot even remember seeing in Period 5. In some ways it would have been nice to have one final summary or wrap-up session at the end of the period so that we could at least see everyone in the section before we all went our separate ways but then again, this wrap-up would probably still not have attained 100% attendance as some people were just way too keen to get on with their lives and move on with their new (or old) careers.

However, P5 still gave us all more time to spend with our fellow classmates than in any of the other periods. As the weather got nicer and warmer there were many afternoons and evenings spent sitting out on the lawn chatting about where we would be going after INSEAD or wondering what life had in store for us after INSEAD. Although I ended up spending most of my time with the Singapore group I mentioned in my P4 update, I still managed to get to know a few of the people from Fontainebleau a little better and met one or two new faces who were part of my promotion but whom I had hardly ever seen before!
With so little time left together, the focus in P5 definitely shifted from socialising with both promotions together to socialising solely with our own promotion. As much as I would have liked to get to know students from the January promotion better there simply just wasn’t enough time to do so and at some point you have to make some compromises!

Although I may have said this before, I will happily repeat myself. The international diversity of the student body at INSEAD is simply remarkable. Even in the electives, where the class size often drops to 20 or 30 students, you are still constantly surrounded by 10 to 15 different nationalities and this makes the class discussion so much more interesting and the overall learning experience far more real. Although I must admit that I did not realise the importance of this diversity when applying for business schools, I am extremely happy that I did end up at INSEAD as opposed to a US business school where the student body is definitely far more American. This was definitely proven by the spattering of Wharton students I met at INSEAD who had opted to come over for one period after graduating with their MBAs. Even though some of them were originally from countries outside of the US, most of them had spent a large part of their lives in the US and had developed quite strong American accents.



So that’s it – its over – 10months in the forest done and dusted and here I am – G.C.M.B.A or ‘The Uncle’ as my dear friend A called out when I walked on stage to accept my diploma. It really has been the most intense experience of my life and I have met so many great people and learned so many new things that I wonder if I will ever realise how much INSEAD has truly impacted my life. For now, I will depart for an extended vacation to Brazil and collect some thoughts for a more thought provoking summary of my year in the Fontainebleau forest. However, before I do that I must thank those people who encouraged me to do an MBA in the first place and who stood by me throughout the many ups and downs of my 10 months at INSEAD – my wonderful parents, my sister and her family and last but not least my girlfriend D – the 10 months would have been a lot harder without her continual and omnipresent support.
INSEAD Period 5 – The End!

Prior to coming to INSEAD I contemplated starting the program in January as opposed to September. When I asked those alumni who had started in September why I should sooner rather than later – they all resoundingly came up with one answer – P5. Hence, as I sat on the plane back from a fantastic field trip in China (more later) at the end of May, I wondered if Period 5 would really turn out to be as great as they had implied……

ACADEMICS

Period 5 is definitely meant to be the lightest in terms of workload and given that I had done a few extra courses in other periods I came into the period only officially needing 1.5 course credits to graduate. However, as usual I decided to take on some extra courses (to make full use of the learning experience – or so I thought) and ultimately enrolled in 3.5 classes – Negotiation Analysis, Managing Entrepreneurial Growth, Global Strategy and Management and China (B).

The last of these, China (B) was actually completed in the 10 day break we had between periods 4 and 5. A group of 12 students (from both the Fontainebleau and Singapore campuses) travelled to China under the guidance of Professor Steven White and visited a number of companies in three cities: Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing. In addition, we also met with students from 3 different MBA schools (one from each city) and engaged in both formal and informal discussions with them about issues such as intellectual property rights, privatisation and the property explosion that was taking place in the major cities. We also had some time to ourselves to visit some of the main sights including the Forbidden City in Beijing and the famous Great Wall. It was an amazing trip and for anyone interested, I do have a completely separate report on the trip which I am happy to circulate.

Negotiation Analysis has got to be the most famous course given at INSEAD as it is taught by a Belgian Professor Ingemar Dierrkcx. Professor Dierrkcx has been teaching this course for almost 20 years at INSEAD and as a result it has become a great common topic of discussion between alumni from different promotions whenever they meet. The course is quite unique as a large part of one’s grade is based on the outcomes that one secures in any of the negotiation exercises and also on the process that one adopts in order to secure each outcome. This process is always evaluated by the counterpart in any of the exercises so it makes little sense to try and lie your way to a better outcome as you will inevitably receive a poor process grade from your colleagues. Although the course had extremely high ratings, I personally did not feel that it lived up to such high an acclaim as Professor Dierrkcx seemed to throw in one too many anecdotes and would stray away from the main topic of discussion much too often. I wondered whether this was more due to the fact that this was the last time that he would be teaching the class given that he had finally decided to call it a day.

Global Strategy and Management was an excellent course. Professor Subramanium Rangan is definitely one of the stars at INSEAD – full of knowledge and experience yet so humble and soft spoken that he uses a microphone during his lectures. His totally novel approach to global strategy issues had most of us locked into concentration for every one of the 16 lectures and he always managed to keep every person in the class in the class involved in the discussion even if they had not read and prepared the specific case study that was being analysed (if you had not read the case you had to turn your name tag upside down so that he would know not to call on you for a case summary!). Managing Entrepreneurial growth was definitely the biggest let down. Although Professor Randel Carlock was extremely experienced as an entrepreneur and had managed to list his company on the Nasdaq in a very short space of time, his classes and lectures were extremely disorganized and you always walked out of class wondering what the real takeaways were meant to be! The guest entrepreneurs were definitely worth listening to and it would have been better to have more guest speakers as opposed to wandering aimlessly down several new exploratory paths in each class!

Finally, as I mentioned in my last update, there was still some work to be done in P5 for the Realising Entrepreneurial Potential elective I had signed up for in P4. Although my group did ultimately find a company in the Netherlands that we would consider buying, we found it hard work to perform an adequate analysis of the firm and its market in the short space of time that we had left. Still, we did visit the company in Holland (presenting ourselves as buy-out professionals) and managed to put together a strong acquisition memorandum which we subsequently presented to a group of private equity professionals at the end of the period. Unfortunately none of them agreed to pursue the acquisition but the entire experience was definitely worthwhile and the company visit alone was one of the memories I will always cherish from my year at INSEAD.

All in all, I definitely feel that I took on too much academic work in this last period. Although on hand one may argue that I got the most out of the academic side of INSEAD (I actually ended up paying extra fees as I did 0.5 credits over the maximum allowed), I definitely felt a big sense of burn-out halfway through period 5 and found it quite tough to motivate myself to complete all the coursework that I had signed up for. In hindsight I believe that I should have just done the required amount of courses ‘officially’ and at worst audited any other subjects which I felt were especially interesting (auditing basically implies that you attend the classes but do not submit any coursework – some professors such as Prof. Rangan explicitly forbid this but most of them are fine with it).

SOCIAL LIFE

Given that this would be the last period at INSEAD for everyone in my promotion there was a flood of social events throughout the 8 weeks. These included four national weeks: Latin-American, Italian, Iberian and Australia-New Zealand week, each of which were superbly organised and well attended by students from both promotions. The Latins organised a big carnival on the campus lawn complete with live music and traditional food. The highlight of the Italian week was the dinner hosted by one of the Insead alums who had returned to Fontainebleau to start a new chain of pizza restaurants. He had kindly allowed the Italian community at the school to make use of his country home for the dinner and after a delicious meal of antipasti and lasagne we finished the evening with an Italian sing-song and dance in the back garden – given the amount of noise we were making I am sure we must have woken up quite a few people in the neighbouring villages!

The Iberians managed to secure over EUR 20,000 in sponsorship for their week and as a result tried to stuff us with sangria, chorizos and Spanish ham from morning to night all through the week! Their main event was a large Foam Party in one of the most beautiful chateaus in the Fontainebleau forest – Vaux Le Penil. I guess the counts and countesses who had formerly inhabited the chateau must have been turning in their graves given the amount of foam and alcohol that was being pumped through the chateau during the event! The Aussies and Kiwis kept their week quite simple and suffered a little given that the Euro 2004 football championships had kicked off at the same time. However, the Summer Vibes party that was organised at Villecerf at the end of the week was once again very well organised and enjoyed by all. Although the organisers had struggled to get much financial sponsorship they had managed to secure a vast amount of New Zealand lamb and oysters all of which were consumed at great haste (after being barbequed) by the student crowd.

The Vibes party also introduced me to the Slip ‘N Slide event which apparently takes place at most outdoor festivities down under. A sheet of tarpaulin is laid out on the ground and covered with foam and water to make it as slippery as possible. The idea then is very simple…. You basically run as fast as you can and dive ‘belly’ first onto the tarpaulin so that you slide all the way till the end on the thin layer of foam! Given that I had no idea that this event would be taking place I ended up spending the rest of the night walking around the party in wet foamy jeans and progressively feeling more and more like a wet dog until I was finally spotted by one of the organisers who kindly offered me a dry pair of trousers! – another INSEAD memory I will find hard to forget!

Period 5 also saw the annual Summer Ball take place. Although INSEAD has both a winter and a summer ball, the latter is far bigger as it is held at the same time as the alumni reunion weekend. This often leads to close to 100 tickets being sold and the event is always well attended both by current and former students. This year the summer ball was held in the Chateau de Courances, the grandest chateaus in the vicinity of INSEAD. Guests arrived at the drive way leading into the chateau and were driven to the front door on traditional horse drawn carriages. Inside, we were all treated to champagne and canapés in the main building before being offered a number of different options to keep us entertained until breakfast was served the following morning. These included many different live bands playing anything from jazz to rock music and a number of different food stations serving anything from sushi to simple pasta. The highlight of the evening was definitely the laser and fireworks show which was held over the lake at the back of the chateau. I have been to many fireworks displays in my life but this one was definitely one of the most spectacular and well co-ordinated. All in all, everyone had an amazing time even though the food did run out very quickly and there only seemed to be vodka and gin to drink by 2am!

In addition to the national weeks and the summer ball there were the usual dinners and drinks parties almost every night especially towards the end of the period when everyone suddenly seemed to realise that the end of the year was fast approaching and wanted to make sure they hosted at least one event at their home! I remember quite well how one of the alums I met before coming to INSEAD told me that I would tire of the various parties quite quickly and long for more intimate evenings with a smaller group of friends. Until P5, I had still found it hard to understand his point, but in P5 I finally appreciated his message. As strange as it may sound to people on the outside, going to party after party in the various chateaus does in fact become quite repetitive after a while especially given that one seldom gets to actually talk to half the people at any of the parties and most events always seemed to become quite blurred after the first hour! In light of this, I definitely appreciated more and more the odd night I would spend in either Paris or Barbizon having dinner with a much smaller group of people and definitely wish that I had organised more of these evenings during the year.




THE HOUSE IN SAMOIS

After a hectic period of job searching and different priorities in period 4, period 5 definitely gave us all more time to enjoy the house and the village of Samois itself. Well, there was still some job searching to be done but at some stage we all seemed to realise how little time we really had left at INSEAD and our priorities definitely shifted back to the house. We held a number of dinners (including the first time I had ever cooked an Indian meal in my life!) and celebrated Antonio’s birthday in true style with several magnums of champagne and vast amounts of Italian pasta and antipasti from the local delicatessen. I will never forget the look on his face when we told him we were going to give him the bumps – I guess they must play some pretty bad jokes on you when its your birthday in Italy!

As the days became progressively longer and warmer, the house became even more special. S and B spent many afternoons playing cricket in the back garden and the BBQs became more and more frequent – we were so lucky that B’s South African background meant that he could not only stir up the meanest fire in the living room but that he could also light up the meanest BBQ from plain old wood in the shortest space of time. With the final few matches in the Premier League, the various rugby internationals and the start of Euro 2004, the house also became a sports mecca as we seemed to be the only house in our promotion to have SKY TV – at one point people just seemed to stroll in and out and you never knew who exactly was sitting in your living room! Maybe we were a bit too lax on the security front but at least we made a lot of new friends on the way!

When the summer ball arrived we had a really nice start to the evening with champagne in the garden and when the parents arrived for graduation, we finished the year off with a fun BBQ, even though most people had already left town for pastures new – thanks DAD! In the end, I could not have found a better place to live during my year in the forest nor could I have ended up with a better group of housemates. Being the last person to leave the house on July 5th was definitely one of the most emotional moments at INSEAD…. Yet, we had an amazing year there and definitely made full use of what the house had to offer. Maybe I could have spent more time playing cricket with S and B instead of locking myself in the library; maybe I could have taken more walks by the river Seine and really appreciated what the village had to offer; life is always full of maybes – I am just happy that I had the chance to experience what I did at Chateau Samois. Thanks to B, A, S and C for making life in the Chateau such an amazing experience – May the Legend of BAGS live on for a very very long time!

SPORTS/EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Period 5 was somewhat of a disappointment on the sports front as I tried hard to organise a football tour yet for some reason could not muster enough support amongst either of the two promotions. Coming into the period I had great visions of Kiev or Budapest as possible destinations but unlike the rugby team who actually had to turn away people from their tour as they simply could not handle the numbers, the interest in the football club was sadly non-existent. Some of this lack of enthusiasm definitely arose from the ‘selection policy’ that had been put in place by the current captains of the team from the day they were elected.

Whenever we would be scheduled to play a slightly more competitive match (for example against the alumni or at the MBA Olympics against other schools), the captains would decide who would be play and send out selective emails to those people thereby leaving all the others in the team to find out for themselves that they would not be playing. In addition, even though certain people had hardly attended any of the practices they would always seem to be selected for the important games over others who had been there on every Tuesday evening and every Sunday morning. I guess this policy would be fine if there was really such a large difference in skill between different members of the club but I assure you that there really wasn’t and after all…. when you are only together for 10months – do we really need to get so competitive and so selective? Unfortunately the selection policy did not even pay off as the team managed only a few wins and did not progress very far in the MBA Olympics. Congratulations to Al Foster and the rugby team for managing to create a much more jovial and less competitive atmosphere in the rugby club.

With a little more time on my hands in P5, I even managed to venture back into the gym a few times. However, sadly….I still never managed to set foot on the squash court – maybe I will finally get a chance during the alumni reunion weekend in 5 years time!


PEOPLE

With so little time left at INSEAD, people inevitable started to make choices on who they would spend time with and what they would focus more on – work or play. Given the huge assortment of electives, there were some people from my P1/P2 section, who I cannot even remember seeing in Period 5. In some ways it would have been nice to have one final summary or wrap-up session at the end of the period so that we could at least see everyone in the section before we all went our separate ways but then again, this wrap-up would probably still not have attained 100% attendance as some people were just way too keen to get on with their lives and move on with their new (or old) careers.

However, P5 still gave us all more time to spend with our fellow classmates than in any of the other periods. As the weather got nicer and warmer there were many afternoons and evenings spent sitting out on the lawn chatting about where we would be going after INSEAD or wondering what life had in store for us after INSEAD. Although I ended up spending most of my time with the Singapore group I mentioned in my P4 update, I still managed to get to know a few of the people from Fontainebleau a little better and met one or two new faces who were part of my promotion but whom I had hardly ever seen before!
With so little time left together, the focus in P5 definitely shifted from socialising with both promotions together to socialising solely with our own promotion. As much as I would have liked to get to know students from the January promotion better there simply just wasn’t enough time to do so and at some point you have to make some compromises!

Although I may have said this before, I will happily repeat myself. The international diversity of the student body at INSEAD is simply remarkable. Even in the electives, where the class size often drops to 20 or 30 students, you are still constantly surrounded by 10 to 15 different nationalities and this makes the class discussion so much more interesting and the overall learning experience far more real. Although I must admit that I did not realise the importance of this diversity when applying for business schools, I am extremely happy that I did end up at INSEAD as opposed to a US business school where the student body is definitely far more American. This was definitely proven by the spattering of Wharton students I met at INSEAD who had opted to come over for one period after graduating with their MBAs. Even though some of them were originally from countries outside of the US, most of them had spent a large part of their lives in the US and had developed quite strong American accents.



So that’s it – its over – 10months in the forest done and dusted and here I am – G.C.M.B.A or ‘The Uncle’ as my dear friend A called out when I walked on stage to accept my diploma. It really has been the most intense experience of my life and I have met so many great people and learned so many new things that I wonder if I will ever realise how much INSEAD has truly impacted my life. For now, I will depart for an extended vacation to Brazil and collect some thoughts for a more thought provoking summary of my year in the Fontainebleau forest. However, before I do that I must thank those people who encouraged me to do an MBA in the first place and who stood by me throughout the many ups and downs of my 10 months at INSEAD – my wonderful parents, my sister and her family and last but not least my girlfriend D – the 10 months would have been a lot harder without her continual and omnipresent support.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

INSEAD Period 4 – The Bandwagon Effect!



ACADEMICS

After a gruelling period 3, period 4 was definitely more relaxed and by far the most interesting of all periods (so far) on the academics front. With no core courses we were all left to ‘bid’ for whatever electives we really wanted to do. This reminds me that I have probably not explained the ‘bidding system’ at INSEAD. This system is used to allocate the various elective courses to the student body. With close to 300 students in the promotion, the demand for seats in some electives far exceeds supply. Hence, in order to ensure that the students who most desire a particular course actually enrol in that course, a bidding system is put in place. Each student is given 200 points and can use these as he or she pleases to bid for elective courses. Although many electives do not go to bidding (and some are even cancelled due to lack of interest), some often ‘settle’ for quite a high price.

In period 4 I was lucky enough to secure two of the most sought after electives – Industry and Competitive Analysis (ICA) and Psychological Issues in Management (PIM) – both of which settled for 43 and 62 points respectively. In addition, I also enrolled in Advanced Brand Management (ABM) and Realising Entrepreneurial Potential (REP). Each of these courses was extremely rewarding for very different reasons. In ICA, the professor was particularly well versed in the subject and had taught the course for many years at INSEAD and in the US. The course presented us with a totally different way of looking at corporate strategy and competitive advantage. PIM was basically a very direct and upfront psychology course whose main teachings focussed around the art of listening and differentiating what we believed other people meant to say from what they were actually saying. Many people and MBAs in particular are often quite happy and at home when giving advise. However, very few are actually able to take the time to listen to their colleagues, friends and/or family.

ABM and REP were also great courses. In ABM I spent a majority of the period working on developing a new branding strategy for the Champions League in Europe whereas in REP, our main objective was to establish a company and try and find a ‘real’ company to buy. While the thought of a group of overly keen INSEAD students beating the street trying to convince someone to sell them their company may sound somewhat far fetched to most of you, I assure you that a few groups taking this course have actually succeeded in finding a company to buy and raising money for this acquisition. Given the time required to establish a firm and complete any necessary paperwork, REP stretches over two periods with the main aim being to convince a panel of venture capitalists to buy into the acquisition at the end of period 5.

SOCIAL LIFE

With the return of a number of students (including our beloved housemates) from the exchange program to Singapore, expectations were definitely sky high as to what the social life would be like in P4. Unfortunately these expectations were not met for a number of reasons. Firstly, the large number of electives led to many students having quite different schedules from each other. Inevitably, this also led to people having quite different workloads and it became progressively harder to coordinate schedules. Secondly, the dreaded job search also seemed to force many people to relegate socializing further down their list of things to do on any given day. Yet, although the number of parties did suffer, the dinners still continued and we also had a national week – the African week in the middle of the period.

As expected, the African Week was extremely well organised especially given the lack of sponsorship money raised by the small number of African students. Each national week relies quite heavily on external funding to finance the various activities that they aim to organize and some nationalities definitely have a much easier job than others in this regard. Given the general lack of African students at INSEAD and the lack of Africa-based firms recruiting on campus, it was little surprise that the African students had such a hard time raising money. However, they still managed to put on a great show and the closing party on Friday night was as good as any other, if not better.

With the weather getting progressively warmer, a number of ski weekends were also organised in this period. Instead of going on a few short weekends, I decided to join one of the long weekend trips to the Trois Vallees ski area in the middle of the period. The trip was a lot of fun and a total of 20 of us ended up staying in two large chalets in the small village of Les Allues, close to Meribel. The skiing was excellent as the sun was out pretty much all day and we even managed to get some fresh snowfall for the last day. Although we were definitely quite lucky not to find too much traffic on the road, it still took us almost 5 hours to drive down to the mountains and 6 hours on the way back. However, the drive was definitely worth it and looking back I definitely regret not going down a few more times during Period 4.


THE HOUSE IN SAMOIS

With the return of Bjorn and Antonio from Singapore, I really expected the atmosphere in the house to reach new highs in this period. However, these expectations were once again not met for a number of reasons.

With different commitments and schedule, we all seemed to be in the house at different times of the day and at one stage I would even struggle to see the others for a few days on end. Although we tried to find common evenings when we were all free and available for a quick house dinner, this proved to be quite difficult and we only managed to have a handful of dinners together whether at home or in a restaurant in Fontainebleau. The number of dinners hosted at home also fell in period 4 which was a real shame given the small reputation Sanjoy and I had built up for the house, as a popular dinner spot, in period 3.

Bjorn also returned from Singapore (via South Africa) with his fiancée Candis, and this meant that he was kept quite busy making sure she settled into the ‘partner’ life at INSEAD. Given that the average age at INSEAD is almost 30, quite a few students do come to Fontainebleau with their partners and kids. As a result, there are a large number of activities and classes organised for the partners who sometimes end up being busier than the students! These activities include language lessons and cultural trips to other parts of France. It was definitely quite strange to have Candis staying in the house at the start of the period but over time we all became more accustomed to this. She made a big effort to help with the general running of the house and this definitely made all our lives easier during the period.

SPORTS/EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

With a little more time on my hands, I managed to return to the gym on a few occasions during period 4 and continued to play football every Tuesday evening and Sunday morning with the INSEAD team. The highlight of the period sports wise was definitely the football team tour to Madrid. Ultimately it was the most heavily attended tour ever as we managed to get 35 players to travel to Madrid. This meant that we had two full teams available even though the MBA School in Madrid (IMPRESA) only had one due to a number of their players being caught up in exams.

To give everyone enough playing time, and the Madrid players enough rest we decided to organise three matches and included a small match between both the INSEAD teams. Although a great time was had by all, the weather did disappoint us and at one point during the football we even found ourselves in the midst of a mini hail storm! However, we did not allow this to dampen our spirits and after sampling the local tapas and beer for two consecutive long nights, we returned to Fontainebleau on Sunday evening completely exhausted!

PS. I still have not set foot on the squash court!


PEOPLE

The arrival of the consulting bandwagon on campus at the start of period 4 definitely showed me a different side of a number of my fellow students on the program. INSEAD has always been a prime hunting ground for many consultancy firms and the recent pickup in the global economy seemed to create an even stronger incentive for these firms to over-sell themselves and their brand names to us. From the very beginning of the period each of us began to receive ‘personalised’ emails from companies such as BCG, Bain and McKinsey informing us of their recruiting schedule and inviting us to various lavish dinners and cocktails. Even if you weren’t in any way inclined to become a consultant it soon became virtually impossible to avoid the bandwagon effect and join the rest of the students who had signed up for a first round of interviews. After all, what did you really have to lose? (beyond maybe an hour of your precious INSEAD time).

Although I had never considered consulting as a possible career after INSEAD, I too jumped on the bandwagon when it stormed into INSEAD. The Dutch offices were particularly active in the recruitment drive and as a result I was invited to 4 different dinners in some of the nicest chateaus and restaurants around Fontainebleau. These dinners were usually preceded by presentations which were almost always very well attended. The first round interviews all took place on campus and if successful, candidates were then invited for second round interviews at whichever office they may have applied to. Although most people were quite jovial about the bandwagon at the start, a few definitely became more and more competitive as they proceeded to the second stage of interviews. I guess some of this competitiveness was understandable given the underlying need amongst all of us to get a job after INSEAD but I was definitely surprised at how competitive and selfish certain students became as they proceeded through the interview process.
As it happened, I was one of the many who did not get an offer of employment from any of the consultancy firms. While this was quite disappointing at the time, I guess it did add merit to the selection process adopted by any of the top tier firms given that I really had not thought of becoming a consultant after INSEAD. As some of you may know, the main element of the interview process for all consultancies is the case interview. In my case, this was also my weakest point which once again was no surprise given that I had never been exposed to such cases prior to INSEAD and had had very little time to practice my approach given how intense the INSEAD experience had been.

In general, period 4 was also not a great period as far as getting to know people was concerned. With different schedules, priorities and job search commitments people would inevitably be on campus at totally different times. Although this was extremely frustrating at the beginning especially with those friends who had been in Singapore in period 3, everyone learned to deal with the situation by scheduling lunches, dinners, coffee meetings etc etc via email! One positive side of the period for me was definitely the arrival of a new group of students from the Singapore campus. These people had started at the same time as me but had chosen to spend the first three periods at the Asian campus.

As I may have mentioned in an earlier account, I definitely feel that the students in Singapore bond together far more strongly than those in Fontainebleau mainly due to the smaller class sizes but also due to the fact that everyone in Singapore essentially lives in the same apartment complex. In addition, I definitely found them to be (on the whole) much warmer and easy going than the crowd in Fontainebleau and it was really great to meet more of them in this period.


All in all period 4 was definitely far more relaxing than the past 3 periods had been on the academic front. However, as with every period, there was once again a new challenge and a new element to add to the melting pot of intensity that always seemed to boil the minute one walked on campus. The amount of time taken up by the job search and the competitive pressures that surfaced due to this mission made the task of getting to know people much harder. However, with a little bit of effort (through the ski weekends and football tour) I was still able to continue building the friendships that will, I am sure, be the main takeaway from my 10 months in Fontainebleau.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

INSEAD Period 3 – Overdrive!


After two extremely gruelling periods I definitely arrived back in Fontainebleau after the Christmas break expecting the pace at INSEAD to slow down and to give me more time for social life and most important of all, the job search. Boy was I proven wrong! Period 3 proved to be even more gruelling than P2 or P1 and sitting here on the plane to Dubai. I feel absolutely exhausted and in dire need of a lazy week of sun and sand so that I may be in better shape to tackle the last two periods!

Academics:

In period 3, the emphasis shifts very much from the core courses which you are forced to take to the electives which you choose to study. There were 2.5 core courses (Macroeconomic Policy, International Political Analysis and the half course or ‘mini’ as it is referred to at INSEAD, on Information Systems Management. In addition, we were all given the option of taking anywhere between 2 and 4 elective courses and given that bad habits always die hard, I decided to sign up for the maximum workload of 4. In my case, these were ‘Internet and its Prospects’, ‘Corporate Renewal and Entrepreneurship’, ‘Consumer Behaviour’ and ‘Strategies for Asia-Pacific’.

While some of these many sounds more interesting to you than others, it was ultimately the quality of the teaching that differentiated one course from the other. In this respect, the course on ‘Corporate Renewal’ was by far the best. The professor was Morten Hansen, who had until this period been teaching on the MBA program at Harvard Business School. The highlight of the course was definitely the visit of David Breashears, the project leader on the IMAX Everest project that shot a movie about the ascent of the world’s highest peak a few years back. David Breashears’ talk and the ensuing discussion was excellent and his main lesson simple yet powerful ‘he who walks on familiar terrain walks very dangerously – always be willing to listen and learn from others so that you can prepare yourself for the unpredictable – there are many things in life and in business that can be predicted but there are equally many things that happen by chance or without any forewarning.

While we had spent periods 1 and 2 in our own specific sections, the electives allowed us to be in the classroom with many new faces as very few people ended up taking exactly the same combination of courses. Although only a few electives had exams as a part of their evaluation process, there was still a ton of reading to do for each class and a number of ‘papers’ to write throughout the period. In the case of ‘Corporate Renewal’ this often meant reading a 20 page case followed by 2 10 page articles as well. Although there was no official policing of whether you had done the readings, class participation was 50% of the overall grade and as Murphy’s Law would have it you would more than likely be ‘cold called’ on the days when you decided not to prepare for the class. Given the amount of reading and preparation to do prior to each class, I ended up leaving all my final papers till the last week and this forced me to write or complete a different report every night just so as to meet the specified deadlines - at least I know what an ‘all-nighter’ really feels like!

In the end, I definitely took too much on my plate and could have made my life a little easier by choosing even just one less elective. Whilst there is always a temptation to cram as much learning into the experience at INSEAD, I learned (the hard way) in period 3 that one always has to be cognisant of the point at which the sheer volume of material begins to detract from the amount of learning possible.

Social Life:

With the large amount of work I found myself heavily compromising on the social side of Period 3. With two of our housemates on exchange at the campus in Singapore, myself and S decided to entertain a bit more regularly at home and began the period with a series of ‘Indian Culinary Experience’ evenings every Monday night. We specifically invited people who we didn’t really know that well both in the September and the newly arrived January promotion. These dinners were great but a lot of hard work as given my poor cooking ability S ended up having to cook pretty much all the food for 15 people on his own! Hence, after 3 events we decided to save our efforts for Period 4, when the house would have two more cooks!

On the national week front there were two in Period 3. British and Irish week served up traditional tea and scones on Wednesday afternoon and culminated with a traditional ‘School Disco’ party at the Chateau Les Malesherbes. Apart from the fact that the chateau itself was a good half hour away from campus, the evening was very well organised and a lot of fun as every section was given a separate colour of school tie to wear and almost everyone decided to dress up in their old school gear. It was also good to see so many from the September promotion partying right till the end and it really felt like even though the workload had actually increased, people had just decided to focus on other things and make sure they got the most out of the INSEAD experience.

The second national week was the Chinese Week. Although I did not manage to attend the usual final party, the events during the week were once again well organised and the dim sum brunch on Wednesday was excellent! Aside from the two national weeks there were definitely fewer big parties as we had seen in the first two periods and I wondered whether this was truly the case or whether the new Januaries had simply decided not to invite us! A number of people did use the opportunity in period 3 to head down to Chamonix or Val D’Isere in the French Alps during the weekends but once again I just did not manage to find the time to join them – I hope to correct this in period 4. I did head to Paris a few more times than in periods 1 and 2 and managed to have some nice dinners with fellow Septembers in some really quaint restaurants.

The House in Samois:

As mentioned earlier the house in Samois lost two of its inhabitants for the entire duration of period 3 as A and B decided to make use of the opportunity to spend a period at the Singapore campus. Although I had also contemplated doing the exchange, I had already spent 3 years of my career in trading in Singapore and decided to try and make the most of the 10 months in France – after all, when else would I live so close to Paris again? Although we managed to host a number of exceptional dinner parties in Samois, we always missed our travelling housemates and I definitely look forward to having them back in P4.

Otherwise, the house itself continues to receive great praise and admiration from all those who visit it. So much so, that we have now decided to rename it to ‘Chateau Samois’. However stressful a day had been; however much work there was to do, it was also soothing to drive back to the ‘chateau’ and have a lazy nightcap by the fire.

Sports/Extra-Curricular Activities:

Although I managed to play football regularly for the first few weeks of period 3, I once again found myself skipping practice just so as to keep pace with the sheer workload that had I had to do. Furthermore, I was unable to attend the ‘Tour to Oxford’ which given the experiences in Barcelona would have been a really fun weekend away with the football team. I also missed out on the numerous weekend ski trips that had been organised and I definitely hope to head down to the French Alps a few times in P4.

Oh, and I still have not set foot on the squash court!




People:

Period 3 brought a number of new students to campus. Not only did we meet a few people from our promotion who had spent P1 and P2 in Singapore, but we also met a whole new batch of students in the new January promotion. Even though there was definitely big brother type feeling when we looked at this group, in truth we had only spent an additional 4 months in Fontainebleau. However, I guess in a 1 year program, even 4months is a large enough chunk to feel somewhat more ‘experienced’.

In both new groups I found a number of really interesting people with hugely diverse backgrounds and nationalities. I may have said this before, but INSEAD really gets the international aspect of its student body 100% right. Although there is definitely a majority of consultants and bankers in every promotion, there is no one dominant nationality and this really differentiates the school from many other MBA programs in the world.


It seems only yesterday that I began the MBA program at INSEAD. However, even though time has passed by so quickly I have enjoyed every minute of it. Even though I have often had to make huge compromises and sacrifices in terms of social life or sports and other activities, I continue to learn a phenomenal amount and still manage to meet some really amazing people from all four corners of the world. If there is anyone out there wondering if they should apply – all I can say is – take the plunge and you will never regret it!

Sunday, February 22, 2004

INSEAD Period 2 – The next chapter!


The Eurostar train pulls out of Paris and I begin my Christmas vacation after another hectic period at INSEAD. Whilst Period 1 was definitely intense, Period 2 surpassed the first period in terms of the sheer workload and material that was put on our plates.


Academics:

After experiencing the luxury of the back row in Period 1, I was placed in the second row for Period II but still managed to secure an aisle seat. Believe it or not this definitely made the classroom experience quite different. From being somewhat out of sight (and out of mind sometimes), I now found myself within an arms reach of the professor and being forced to concentrate at all times. After going through Financial Accounting, Statistics, Microeconomics, Organisational Behaviour, Finance I and Managerial Negotiation in period 1, I was now fed with Managerial Accounting, Process and Operations Management, Marketing, Strategy, Marketing, Finance II and Organizational Behaviour II in period 2. The professors were again generally of a very high standard aside from one who really had a tough time to motivate the class and add any additional value. The feedback system at INSEAD is quite lenient towards the faculty as it allows the students to rate a professor ‘unsatisfactory’ three times in a row before any serious action is taken. This effectively means that an incoming class can be taught by a professor who has been rated unsatisfactory by the students twice in a row – is it really worth paying EUR43,000 for such a professor? Fortunately, very few of the professors who are recruited by the school actually are this bad.

Although the number of courses remained the same, the workload definitely intensified. At times, we were asked to read and prepare two full case studies per day and it became very difficult to do full justice to either one of them, just because there simply wasn’t enough time. This made the entire learning process quite frustrating as I really felt that I was unable to focus on certain cases that really interested me and just had to keep pushing on to keep pace with the constant stream of material that was being pushed my way. I guess this is one of the downsides of attending a one year MBA program as in a 2 year course one most definitely has more time to explore topics in more depth – would this really make me a better general manager though ?

The group work also intensified in this period and whilst my group had been supremely efficient in period 1 we definitely encountered some difficulties in period 2. One of the members of the group seemed to become extremely disinterested in the group work and seldom attended any of the meetings that were scheduled. Although the rest of us tried to keep him involved on numerous occasions the sheer amount of work prevented us from really taking a concerted amount of time to sit down with him and really figure out what was wrong. Ultimately, I really felt that we completed most of the group work in a group of 4 as opposed to a group of 5 as we should have been doing. This was quite a shame as it basically detracted one fifth of the learning element that we were able to derive from the group. Even though we encountered such difficulties I still believe that the entire group work process is a key part of the INSEAD learning experience. It allows each student to learn from his or her peers (often in quite tense environments) and also forces all students to appreciate the challenges involved in trying to work in teams when the pressures of time and other activities hang over their heads.

Although I managed to do ok academically in period 1, I seriously doubt that my results in period 2 will be anywhere near the same level. The sheer weight of work definitely took its toll on me and I found myself unable to prepare as well as I would have liked for most of the exams. Managerial Accounting was particularly hard and as it stands now I have a distinct feeling that I may have to retake this course. Although this will prevent me from taking one extra course that may be more relevant to my career goals, it will probably force me to understand the concepts better which will probably be a good thing in the long run. As I mentioned the last time, INSEAD brings together some of the brightest and most intelligent students in the world, some of whom have already done business or economics first degrees at top schools around the world. Given that we are all graded against each other, this means that you really have to make sure you understand the concepts thoroughly (not just by memorising the theory as in some other schools) if you are to have any chance of competing on the same level as the top half of the class.

Of course, there is no outright reason why one should always feel the need to compete at the highest level especially if it means having to sacrifice too many other parts of the overall ‘experience’. This is one of my key lessons from period 2. I definitely feel that I could have spent more time really trying to understand some of the subjects a little deeper as opposed to trying to do all the readings for each and every course and trying to cover absolutely all the material that was given to us. In a 1 year MBA program you really have to make clear choices and not try and do everything – in fact, isn’t this the way we should proceed in life in general ? ……




Social Life:

The period was once again awash with various parties and national weeks. These included the India-Pakistan week, the German week and the Canadian Week. The India-Pakistan week was based on the theme of a ‘Wedding between Kama and Sutra’ and a number of different activities were organised under this theme, including a ‘Mehndi Night’, a ‘Bollywood Dance Competition’, a ‘Sari Tying Competition’ and a ‘Bhangra Performance’ from a troop based in Paris. The week went off very well especially given the fact that we only managed to secure sponsorship at the very last minute from American Express and Jet Airways. Without this money, it would have been virtually impossible to stage most of the events. The week concluded with a big party at the local ‘Troubadour’ club in Fontainebleau, where there was a dance competition (won by the ‘Bengali Beauties’) and once again enough free alcohol to drown the entire student population many times over.

The German week was also a great success and the highlight was definitely the ‘Oktoberfest’ evening where a traditional band had been flown in from Munich and a huge tent was set up in the grounds of one of the Chateau Bellefontaine to replicate the whole beer festival atmosphere. Beer was free once again as it the entire event was sponsored by Becks. The Canadian week was a much tamer affair as most of the September promotion was desperately trying to submit final pieces of coursework at this time, prior to the exams. In addition to the national weeks there were a number of chateau parties including the Dangerous Liaisons evening at Chateau De Montmelian and the BYOST party at Chateau Fleury. Although each of these parties was quite fun, I personally enjoyed the smaller dinners hosted by fellow students in their own houses much more. Although the ‘chateau’ setting is definitely unique and mind-blowingly beautiful, most of the parties tend to degenerate very quickly into big drunken festivities where you seldom get to speak to people beyond single syllable sentences!

The highlight of the entire period was definitely the ‘WinterBall’ where everyone donned their black ties and best ball gowns to dine and dance at the Chateau Les Combes (about half an hour south of campus). The event was superbly organised even though it rained all night long. The food was excellent and the entertainment didn’t seem to stop with various different rooms with different types of music. There was even a creperie to keep you well fed throughout the night and of course – enough beer and wine to drown the entire village! The Moroccan Room was particularly well done and the whole evening bodes well for the Summer Ball in June!

With the increasing workload, our house dropped the ball somewhat on the Period 1 tradition of weekly dinners. Although we still managed to host a number of evenings in Samois, we definitely plan to re-establish the tradition in Period 3! The only one issue we will have is that two of the inhabitants will be spending the next period on exchange in Singapore. This leaves us with just one cook (S) so we will probably have to source a culinary expert from outside – I shall report more in my next bulletin!

The House in Samois:

The house in Samois never ceases to amaze me. Although I seemed to spend most evenings towards the end of the period stuck in the library, it was always a huge delight to be able to drive back to the ‘country’ home nestled in the forest with wild boar and deer occasionally sticking their heads out along the way. The village is always extremely peaceful and the skies stunningly clear on most nights. Even though I do regret not submitting my name for the Singapore campus exchange in Period 3 I will definitely make sure I relish every minute of the country home as it will be tough to replicate the experience after INSEAD.

With the increasing number of commitments in Period 2 (social and academic) I definitely found myself spending less time just chatting by the fire with my housemates (as we had done on many an evening in Period 1). This was definitely something I regret. After all, what is really more important in life – grades or building new everlasting friendships? Still, whatever time we did have together in the house was always filled with great discussions and jokes and I continue to be grateful that I landed up in such an amazing house with 3 quite diverse, yet extremely genuine people. A special thanks to each one of them for always making sure there was something in the oven or on the stove no mater how late I came home!

Most students at INSEAD tend to secure their accommodation through the solitary housing agent on campus, known as ‘Executive Solutions’. This company has become known as ‘Expensive Solutions’ by most current and past students as they seem to overcharge for everything and provide very little or no service whatsoever. A good example of this was when we had some drainage problems in the house and had big holes in our driveway (due to loose earth). For some reason it seemed to take the entire period for ‘Expensive Solutions’ to fix either of these problems even though each one of us in the house kept sending emails to them mentioning the problem and numerous phone calls ere made to their office throughout the period. It is a little surprising that there is no alternative housing agent on campus as this may actually wake some people up at ‘Expensive Solutions’.

Sports/Extra-Curricular Activities:

Although I could not seem to find anytime to go to the gym in period 2 I continued to play football with the INSEAD team twice a week and was a member of the annual tour to Barcelona in November. This was definitely one of the best weekends so far at INSEAD. All in all, four different teams went to Barcelona; men’s football, men’s rugby, women’s rugby and men’s basketball. We were hosted by MBA students at the IESE business school and there was a big party on Saturday night at a local taverna for all the teams. The tour gave the Septembers a good chance to really get to know the Januaries and each of us was given a unique responsibility for the entire weekend. In my case, this was the role of ‘Beer Boy’ which very simply meant ensuring that every player’s beer mug was full of beer throughout the weekend – from morning to night!!

A further part of the tour were the annual traditions such as the ‘Court Session’ where player’s are punished for mistakes such as wearing the wrong uniform (the official tour uniform is white shirt + khakis + green beret + red scarf) or ‘talking to strangers’. In contrast to the men’s rugby team who always stay in youth hostels and are forbidden to wash (aside from after their game), the men’s football team tend to be a bit more civilized; staying in a decent hotel and showering as much as they wish! All in all, it was a great weekend although (as seems to be the case with most INSEAD events) an exorbitant amount of alcohol was consumed and we all left Barcelona with a severe lack of sleep and some very sore heads! Oh yeah – we drew both our games 2-2!

Unfortunately, I have as yet to make any use of the squash court on campus!


People:

The students at INSEAD continue to impress me to no end. The diversity of the student body is definitely much greater than you will find at any US school and the short duration of the program seems to really encourage people to try and make the most of the overall experience – both academically and socially speaking. Although we definitely have a fair number of really extraordinary people with quite unusual backgrounds I have also met a lot of people who may not necessarily have a long list of extraordinary experiences on their resume but are still some of the most interesting and talented individuals I have ever met.

Throughout my time at INSEAD so far I have also been amazed at the constant willingness of every one of the students to offer a helping hand on any academic issues. Although all of us are graded against each other on the ‘Z’ curve, people always seem ken to help and ensure that you understand what is being taught. When someone discovers a new article or a helpful learning tool, he or she is never shy to forward it on to the other members of the class. This is a real testament to the integrity of the student body at INSEAD.

All in all, period 2 has been an even more intense experience than period 1. In some ways, there was just too much material to really do justice to it all. Maybe it would have been better to push some of the courses into period 3 but then this would only prevent us from taking fewer electives thereby reducing the amount of time left for each of us to focus on our specific areas of interest. However it was definitely clear that there is a limit to what each of us can take and how much we can learn in a fixed amount of time – beyond this learning becomes somewhat superficial and material tends to flow through our heads in one fast stream. INSEAD should definitely respect this and make some modifications to its program for period 2 going forward.
INSEAD Period 1 – The beginning!


It is hard to believe that I have just finished period 1 at INSEAD. Time seems to have flown by so fast. However, it has definitely been a great experience so far and one of the most intense experiences I have ever been through.

Academics:

From day 1 at INSEAD the entire promotion of 300+ people gets divided into four sections of approximately 75 students each. This is somewhat of a shame as you basically end up doing your MBA with a quarter of the entire promotion as you only really get to hear views and opinions of the people in your section on any of the topics being discussed in class. However, it would be very tough to put the entire promotion in one lecture theatre together so I guess this is the best way of doing things! I was placed in section E2 and was fortunate to receive a lecture room seat in the back row close to the exit door (makes taking toilet or coffee breaks a lot easier!!). In addition to being placed in one of four sections, you are also assigned to a group. Each group usually has 5 or 6 students in it and its members are supposed to be drawn from quite diverse backgrounds. There are a number of times in each course when you have to carry out assignments in the group and by doing so it is hoped that you will learnt o work with people quite different to you.

In my group I have an Egyptian family businessman , a Portuguese technology salesman, an Austrian consultant and a French Entrepreneur who had just established an internet company in Silicon Valley. Unlike many groups, we have had very few conflicts till now and have really enjoyed working together. The main reason for this is probably that we are all quite focussed on avoiding conflict and always work hard at ensuring that every group member’s views are heard and acknowledged during any specific group assignment. As a part of the Leading People and Groups course (Organisational Behaviour I) we actually had to write a full paper analysing how our group had performed in period 1.

The overall workload at INSEAD is unreal. Some of this I definitely put on myself in this period as I decided to take an extra course. This meant that I ended up taking 6 courses whilst most of my fellow classmates had 5 or even 4. I enjoyed every course though and I do not regret taking on the additional workload. The volume of material for each course is absolutely insane and even if you were to study every minute of the day you still would not be able to read all the articles that are in your course pack nor do every problem set that is mentioned in the course notes. The main idea is to figure out how much you yourself have to do to understand the concepts being discussed in class and be able to contribute to the discussion that ensues during each lecture. Each person has a different amount of work that he or she must do to get to the ‘optimum’ level.

One thing I dislike with the academics at INSEAD is the grading system. Each of us is graded on a ‘Z-curve’ system which basically means that you are graded against your peers and not on an absolute 1-100 scale. This means that if everyone finds an exam easy and scores high, people can actually fail an exam with say an 80% score! This ‘z curve’ scheme creates an extremely competitive environment at the school as everyone feels they should be studying just as hard as the other – what people fail to realise is that in subjects such as Economics and Accounting – pure hard studying will seldom get you a better grade – you really need to understand the concepts and get a good feel for the ‘big picture’. INSEAD is full of extremely bright people and it is often a shock to the system for some people when they come here as they go from being in the top 10% of their class to being in the middle 10% even though they put in twice the amount of work they were doing back at home!!!

Overall, I found the quality of the professors to be very good and I really enjoyed the learning experience in this period. My favourite class was definitely ‘Managerial Negotiations’. In this class we were shown examples of different types of negotiations we may face in our future careers. I particularly enjoyed the practical element of the course as we were asked to perform 12 different negotiations through the course, sometimes with one other class mate and sometimes with a group of people. I learned a tremendous amount in this course – coming from the trading floor environment I had become quite used to very short negotiations and had developed my own formula for achieving a successful outcome. However, through the course, I discovered how this ‘formula’ may not always get me the result I wished for and learned new ways of successfully negotiating with people.

The exams at the end of the period were quite tough with the hardest being ‘Finance I’. I was also introduced to the ‘open book’ concept for the first time. Most exams at INSEAD are ‘open book’ which allows you to take in any material you wish into the exam (including past exam papers!!). Now, I am sure you are thinking that this must make the exams much easier right? Wrong! I actually think the ‘open book’ concept makes them a lot harder as it gives the examiner the freedom to really test how much of a feel you have developed for the topic as opposed to just testing whether you can remember the formulas. Anyways, results will be declared in week 2 of Period 2 so I will keep you all posted.

Social Life:

The period began with an extremely intensive social calendar. There were dinners and barbeques and parties almost every night and each event was usually very well attended both by people from my ‘promotion’ (i.e. those graduating next summer) and people from the January promotion (i.e. those graduating this winter). The first big party came at the end of the first week or ‘Welcome Week’ as it is called at INSEAD. This party was held in one of the ‘chateaux’ close to the school. These chateaux are basically very large, grand houses with a multitude of huge rooms. The Welcome Party is one of the few parties at INSEAD that are totally free – i.e. entrance and unlimited alcohol for free! As it was the first party there was a great enthusiasm amongst all the students to really have a good time and get to know each other better. The first party also set the tone in terms of the amount of alcohol one finds at INSEAD parties – an absolute truckload!!! I don’t think I went to one party at INSEAD in the first period when the fridges weren’t overflowing with beer/wine and other spirits.

As a result of the large amounts of alcohol available at INSEAD parties, there has always been a problem at the school with drink driving. (One INSEAD student actually died 2 years ago driving from his village to school). This is quite a tough problem to crack as most of the students live in villages which are quite far away from each other. In addition, there are no taxi services or public buses that operate late into the night. This inevitably leads to students drinking and then driving home on some of the most treacherous roads through the forest in and around Fontainebleau. One often sees wild boar and deer running across the road and there are always numerous accidents each and every period. To try and contain this problem, there is an initiative running at the school at present that organises buses to take students from the campus to each of the parties and then to get them back to their respective villages after the party. Although this is definitely helping to reduce the number of people driving home drunk after each party, there is still a certain amount of drink driving that goes on.

In addition to the Welcome Week party, there were a number of national weeks held during the first period. These included the Dutch Week and the Arab Week. I was quite heavily involved in the Dutch Week. The week begins with the traditional ‘Amphistorming’ where students from the respective nationality run into the lecture theatres or ‘amphitheatres’ as they are called at INSEAD and announce the program for the week. The program for each week is usually pretty similar – Monday night is movie night where movies from the particular country are shown; Tuesday night there is usually a dance or cultural performance; Wednesday night there is usually a dance or cultural competition (for the Dutch week we organised a penalty shootout contest in the garden with the Dean of the MBA program keeping goal!); Thursday evening is usually reserved for a national dinner (food from the host nation) and Friday is the big party. For the Dutch week we actually organised the big party on the Thursday night as we had organised a weekend trip to Amsterdam for 150 students starting on Friday afternoon.

The party was sensational. We rented out one of the most spectacular ‘chateaux’ called ‘Vaux Le Penil’ and transformed it into a typical Dutch drinking club with flags and orange streamers all over the place. We also brought in a local DJ from Amsterdam and converted the basement of the chateau into a ‘rave club’ with dancers and laser lights. Everyone had a great time although it was pretty tough leaving the party at 5am and turning up for class at 8.30am!! The trip to Amsterdam was also a success although I did not go as I really did not feel that I could afford to give up an entire weekend without studying.

Following on from Dutch Week came Arab Week with belly-dancing and a big Arabian Nights party at the end. In addition to the national weeks, there was the ‘Moulin Rouge’ party, the ‘Pirates at Chateau Travers’ party and numerous other dinners and barbeques. As a weekly tradition, the four of us in our house decided to organise a dinner at home for some of our fellow students every Saturday night. The dinners began as small cosy affairs with 8-10 people and culminated with our biggest dinner for 20 people. Given my lack of culinary skills, I was grateful that I had three great cooks as my housemates!


The House in Samois:

I live in a small village called Samois-Sur-Seine which is about 10minutes drive from INSEAD (driving through the forest). I share a lovely house with three other guys. We were quite lucky to find such a nice house as we only started looking about a month before the start of Period 1. The house is massive with a huge garden (with a gardener who comes once a week) and its own mini apple orchard. There are four bedrooms (one downstairs which is mine), a living room cum dining room, a kitchen, two bathrooms (one downstairs/one upstairs) and a basement full of creepy crawlies and the washing machine. My house mates are B – a South African banker who was working in the Cayman Islands prior to coming to INSEAD; S – an Indian banker who was working in London and A – an Italian banker who was also working in London. Even though we were all bankers prior to coming to INSEAD we seem to have spent very little time talking about banking during the first period.

As I mentioned earlier, B, A and S are all fantastic cooks and I am usually left responsible for logistics and washing up! Hence, I am extremely grateful for the fact that we have a large dishwasher in the kitchen! I really feel very lucky to have found such great housemates out of the other 300 odd possible people in my promotion as we all get on very well and this bodes for a very homely atmosphere in the house. The house itself also helps to maintain this atmosphere as it was only recently rented out to students, having previously been used as a summer home for a French family. This means that there is a good amount of furniture and very few barren spaces as you usually find in the other student houses. Samois is also quite a popular village with INSEAD students and we already had a few barbeques and dinners for the ‘locals’ at our place.

It is quite a unique experience living in such a tranquil village. The village is so quiet that we actually had a complaint from our neighbour when we were moving in as he felt our music was on too loud! (A bouquet of flowers was delivered to him with great haste the following day!!). The sky is also amazingly clear on most nights and it so nice to be able to sit outside and take in the peace and quiet – what a change from the hustle and bustle of London. Unfortunately, the days are only getting shorter and the weather is definitely getting colder so we may have to wait till Spring next year before we can sit outside again!

Sports/Extra-Curricular Activities:

Unfortunately, the intensity of the overall program at INSEAD has led me to make certain sacrifices. One of these has definitely been my religious gym regime that I have followed for many years. I try and stay somewhat fit during the program by playing football with the INSEAD team on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings but have only managed to visit the gym on campus a total of 3 times in period 1. The gym is quite small (pretty depressing compared to some of the big athletic centres at US B-Schools) but it definitely has all the necessary equipment and free weights. One of the reasons that I find it tough to find the time to workout is also because of the strange opening times that the gym keeps. As it run by an external firm (each student who wishes to use the gym has to pay EUR250 at the start of the year to join!!!) it does not necessarily keep student hours. Hence, this means that it shuts very early on weekends and at 2100 during the week as well.

There are a number of sports teams at INSEAD, from the usual football, rugby and basketball to the more adventurous climbing and sailing but all in all there really isn’t such a large and diverse extra-curricular program as one may accept. I guess this is understandable given how much time one spends just keeping up with all the work commitments and social schedule that seems to be in place from day one. In addition, there are always a whole string of company presentations and other talks during the evenings to keep you busy. You definitely don’t feel short changed for things to do! One of the new clubs that has been formed by some students in my promotion is called ‘The French Connection’. As its name suggests its aim is to help students at INSEAD discover what France truly has to offer during their stay here.

There is also a squash court on campus and I definitely hope to make more use of this in period II.


People:

The students at INSEAD are on the whole some of the brightest and most talented people that I have ever met. Even though there is a large number of consultants and bankers in my promotion, each one of them still has quite a diverse set of experiences and this definitely comes out during the lectures and class discussions. The age range is also quite widely spread out and in my section itself, ranges from 23 to 35. The average is officially around 29 but I feel like most of the people I have met tend to be around 26-27.

One thing that is definitely different at INSEAD relative to the US schools is that people pay very little regard to political correctness or ‘being pc’. This means that most of the students are quite honest and upfront in their views (both inside and outside of class) and I am convinced that this makes for a much more interesting MBA experience. We have two exchange students in our class who were over for the first period from Wharton and they were always going on about how much more open the INSEAD classroom experience compared with that at Wharton. Whilst people are definitely conscious of the other cultures around them, they are not scared to air their own, personal opinions on any topic even though this may strongly disagree with someone else’s opinion.

I also think that INSEAD is far more international than many of the top US schools. There is a really diverse mix of students in the class from Australasia to South America and from North Europe to the Arab world. One thing that is definitely missing is a strong representation from the African continent. In fact, I think I have only seen a total of 3 black students on campus – this is in a total student body of approximately 700 – a little shocking huh?


All in all, period 1 was a blast and I am really looking forward to the next 4 periods. On one hand it is hard to believe that I have already completed 20% of the course but at the same time I have definitely learned so much in such a short space of time.


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