Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inside the MBA: perspectives from an NYU Stern MBA2 - Vol. 2

Synergy (noun) - the idea that the value and performance of two companies combined will be greater than the sum of the separate individual parts. Catchphrase of Teddy Kay in the movie In Good Company. Abhorred buzzword by many MBAs, including myself. And it's also what happened to me this semester...

It's finals season at NYU Stern, which means projects, papers and exams galore. It's about synthesizing the knowledge one has gained over the last twelve weeks and demonstrating one's mastery of said knowledge by applying it to hypothetical or real situations. It's supposed to be the "ah-ha!" moment, if you will, when you realize the depths of what you have (or have not!) learned. For me, this finals season revealed my "ah-ha!" that I have become the dreaded cliche and have been learning synergistically. Doh. As much as I do not aspire to be an MBA stereotype or buzzword, this semester is when I started to realize the real value of the MBA, at least in the academic sense. A year ago, I was desperately attempting to make heads or tails of topics I had never comprehended before - finance, accounting, statistics. I was only mildly successful in that attempt, but I mustered through to Corporate Finance, where legendary Stern professor Aswath Damodoran helped me start to really comprehend. Then, this all started to "click". Eureka!

In my last post, I mentioned the classes I will be taking next semester. This time, I'd like to backtrack a bit and talk about some of the classes I've just wrapped up. I'm not sure if I just did an excellent job of choosing my schedule (hint: always find ways to pat yourself on the back) or if this is how business school is supposed to work, but my courses this term were diverse yet all complemented each other and I found that I was able to univerally apply concepts learned in individual classes. Synergy!

In particular, two of my favorite classes this semester were Managing Growing Companies (MGC) and Corporate Finance & Strategy for Entertainment, Media and Technology Companies (Corp Fin for EMT). Both of these courses are taught by clinical professors. At Stern, we are extremely fortunate to attract many working professionals who choose to spend their free time teaching us about what they do on a day-to-day basis. This means we get individuals who have been extraordinarily successful in their respective fields and have the passion to share their secrets with students. My MGC class is taught by Glenn Okun, who was a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Corp Fin for EMT is taught by Tad Smith, who is currently President of Local Media for Cablevision. Both of these classes are case-based, so the discussion is meaningful, engaging and sometimes intense. Both Professors Okun and Smith use a version of the Socratic method and lead the discussion in such a way that you can't get away with a throwaway answer. Meaning, if you answer a question or offer a comment, you then have to explain your answer and your rationale through follow-up questions. This sometimes leads to nerves, sweaty palms and a slight ducking of the head so as to avoid being called on.

What both of these classes have taught me, however, is how to tie together all of the concepts I've been learning while thinking on my feet. Adding even further synergy, I often learn as much, if not more, from the insights my classmates have and offer. But what I've really learned and what these two classes have made me realize is that getting your MBA isn't about always having the right answer. Instead, it is about being unafraid to be incorrect (because nobody is right all of the time) and knowing you have the tools and skills necessary to get to the solution. So now, I can look the professor in the eye when he calls on me and answer with confidence, knowing that even if I'm wrong, there's still a solution in there.

I'll be on winter break for the next five weeks, so the next post will be slightly delayed, but I have good reason! I will be taking a class (we call them Doing Business In) in Australia over the winter break, so I will share with you tales from Down Under next time. 'till then...