Monday, November 29, 2010

Exam Season at London Business School

It’s exam period, with final exams scattered across the last four weeks of the autumn term here at London Business School. I want to write about exams because they illustrate three really fundamental characteristics of business school (or at least London Business School):

1)The only thing that matters is what you’ll remember after business school. Business school exams are similar to those language exams: people don’t care how well you did on a test. They only care how well you speak the language, and if you can apply what you learned in the real world.

The focus of teaching is on retention and application, and our exams therefore test us on what our professors think we should remember in 10 years. For instance, our mid-term exam in Strategy class asked “what should eHarmony do, given the entrance of’s Chemistry?” A question in our Corporate Finance exam asked us to calculate and use the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to assess investment decisions. Because only relevant things are taught and tested, my classmates and I study for exams to make sure that we understood the main lessons – not because we care about our grades.

2)Teamwork matters more than coursework.
About half our grades in most classes are based on work done in collaboration with our assigned study group of 6 people – one group, one grade. So a large part of our transcript is out of our direct control. If you have been assigned a group that happens to work well together, those weekly Financial Accounting problem sets will be easy; if your group is rife with conflict, the homework will be tough, no matter how many CPAs on your team.

The purpose of having forced study groups is to get good at working with other people, since organizations are, by definition, collections of people working together to achieve a shared goal. Indeed, mastering the art of working on a team is a far more useful skill than mastering any single class lesson. While it may seem strange that so much of our grades are based on the performance of people we didn’t chose to work with, isn’t that how true in any job as well?

3)Grades don’t appear anywhere – really, they don’t.London Business School has a non-disclosure policy for grades, and grades on a forgiving curve: basically half the class gets an A, the other half a B, with the top and bottom 10% getting A+ or C/F. These are two wonderful policies -- especially when you get together a group of highly driven and academically accomplished students. There are so many ways to learn in business school; classes are just one of them. By deemphasizing grades, the school makes sure we don’t chain ourselves to our books instead of interacting with visiting business leaders, exploring London, getting to know each other, or contributing to campus club activities. London Business School seems to have the view that it will offer a tremendous wealth of resources, and then leave it up to us how to make the most out of them.

I’d love to write more, but I should probably study for my exams… If you have any questions about London Business School, drop me an email at

Liz Aab, Forte Fellow
London Business School, MBA 2012

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I had an interesting conversation the other day. And then another one. And then another one.

It’s been a month since I started my MBA at London Business School, and if I had to describe the experience so far in one word, it would be “conversations.” Indeed, few nights have gone by without someone inviting me out for a “drink at the Windsor Pub” next to school. The focus is not drinking, but talking, whether about our studies, or lives, or the world, or just the weather (we’re in London after all).

In the classroom too, our courses are all about conversations; the 80 of us in my “stream” sit in U-shaped lecture halls, where it’s easy to see and respond to each other’s input, eye-to-eye. Because of these classroom dialogues, in just a few short weeks, our stream has already developed a clear rhythm in its interactions, and a distinctive personality.

Moreover, conversations here have been noticeably less purposeful than those I’ve encountered before. In the past, my conversations usually focused on offering and obtaining relevant information. For instance, when I was working in New York, the “Three Questions” people asked each other when they first met were: (1) “Where do you work?”; (2) “Where did you go to school?”; and (3) “Where (in NYC) do you live?” Then during the four years I lived in Beijing, expats also asked each other a set of three predictable questions, though different ones, namely: (1) “How long have you been in Beijing?”; (2) “How long are you staying here?”; and (3) “What do you do?” The answers to those questions helped figure out how you thought the other person might factor into your life; they were intentional.

But here at London Business School, surprisingly, I haven’t found a fixed set of “Three Questions” nor a structured set of answers. Because we’re such an international school, the first question tends to be “Where are you from?” But where the conversation goes from there is anyone’s guess. Today over lunch, for instance, the answers to “Where are you from?” set us off on conversations about the deregulation of Nigeria’s telecom market, and the violent post-partition history of Bangladesh. Later, at the pub before acting class tonight, a few of us tried to predict each other’s Myers-Briggs personality types, chatted about white-collar wages in Peru, and planned a class trip to a London Business School alum’s newly-opened burrito shop.

The MBA so far has been wonderful because these conversations have been so fascinating. If you would to chat more about the experience, Forte, or London Business School itself, feel free to drop me a line – I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Liz Aab

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halfway Through the First Semester!

Well, we have cleared the halfway point of the first semester here at Kelley. I say “we” and not I, because the camaraderie and support of my classmates has been so fundamental to the experience that I feel as though all of us first years are really making our way through together.
The amount of material has been a little overwhelming to learn, and midterms were intense. However, the most challenging part of the first semester so far has been figuring out how to properly, adequately, and respectfully navigate the professional world. Career services has really whipped us into shape so that we present ourselves well and everyone has been getting out there and meeting new people. I am shy (not really, but for a business student, I am shy), and since the beginning of the semester, I have begun to feel a lot more comfortable speaking with highly intelligent, revered people from different industries and walks of life.
I’m looking forward to the next semester and a half. We have the case competition in a couple weeks, which will be hectic, but also a little exciting. I have Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, during which I will be able to visit friends, family, and also great professional contacts I have made in my home area. Next March I will be traveling to San Francisco for the Velocity Conference with students from Kelley. Directly after that, I will head to rural India for two weeks with a different group Kelley students to work with community entrepreneurs.
Yeah, the decision to come to business school was definitely a great one.
Anna Narem, Forte Fellow
JD/MBA Class of 2012 at Indiana University Kelley School of Business

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Telling your boss you are going back to school?

“Tact” is one of the most important weapons you will need in your “back to school” arsenal. You have finally convinced yourself that it is time to take a break from the corporate world to pursue an MBA; you have slowly accepted the reality of forgone wages and have even begun searching for a new apartment. But wait, when all is said and done, how do you break the news to your supervisor? I say, it depends. Different firms have different cultures – some firms have processes and contracts in place that provide the option for employees to take a leave of absence to pursue higher degrees, while many others don’t. Pursuing an MBA might also be a route for dissatisfied employees or career switchers, in which case your exit notice might not be received with fist pumps and celebrations.
Here are a few tips to guide you:
1)Who will be writing your recommendation? MBA applications have traditionally requested recommendations from current or former supervisors and colleagues, among other valid options. If your supervisor is writing your recommendation, it is only rational that he/she understands your future intentions and will keep tabs on your acceptance rate. If you trust your supervisor enough to involve him/her in the process, you should have no anxiety. Make sure you reassure your boss of your commitment to maintain the same standards of productivity till you leave. On the other hand, if you opt for either a former boss, college professor, highly secretive colleague or someone other than your boss to write your recommendation, depending on your impetus, it is only wise to hold off till the two week notice.
2)Relationship with your supervisor. Do you plan to return to the same company after graduation? If so, your exit strategy may impact your re-entry. Be careful to burn as less bridges as possible. Take the time now to make the right management and HR connections. Regardless of your future plan, remember that your supervisor/ colleagues become an essential part of your network.
3)Historical experience of former colleagues. Seek advice from former employees or friends who have left similar industries in pursuit of an MBA. They will most likely have a relatively accurate view of the best approach. Make sure your plan and timeline aligns with the company culture.
Coming from the consulting industry, analysts/ junior consultants are encouraged to pursue higher degrees. I involved my supervisor early in the process – taking the time to discuss my future aspirations, my MBA plan and the schools I was interested in attending. He was enthusiastic and agreed to write every recommendation I needed. Even though I started hearing from schools in March, I was not eager to make my final decision until I was certain. This bought me some time to hold-off on providing the final verdict to my supervisor. After which I was able to candidly discuss my exit strategy.
Whatever timeline you choose – Be tactful!
Oyinade Ogunbekun, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Harvard Business School - Forte Sponsor Events

Come visit the campus of Harvard Business School to learn more about our MBA Program. We offer many different campus programs, including Friday lunches with members of the HBS Women’s Student Association, (WSA). You can find more information here or view the WSA calendar.

Please check our MBA calendar to see available dates/times for campus tours, Admissions information sessions, student lunch programs, and class visits.

Also, feel free to ‘Introduce Yourself’ on our website. We will keep you up to date with events that are of interest to you in or near your area. For now, check out our Event page.

Monday, November 1, 2010


To say that business school is going to stretch you more ways you can imagine is an understatement. There are so many opportunities to be involved with organizations that are aligned with your career interests, talents, and mission in life that after you’ve wrapped up academics and extra-curriculars plus some social time and job searching, you aren’t left with much time to sleep. And that’s a reality in business school, but also part of the fun.
Two years will fly by – my 13 weeks already has. Therefore, my advice to those of you seriously considering business school is this: Get ready mentally and physically for the business school process. Starting from studying for the GMAT to your applications, and then to the actual two years in school. It will test you, grow you, and mold you into the person you want to be (or at least get you on that path).
Most importantly, it is a process that will involve some moments of introspection. Please remember to pause and really take a step back at various phases when you’re studying and writing your essays to even after you’ve started your program. I am constantly and realistically evaluating my goals and passions in life. Business school is all about having an endless amount of resources but very little time to refine and figure out what you want to do when you graduate. Dig deep to find out what makes you tick and pursue it diligently. People don’t tell you this enough before you come to business school, but I’ll say it over and over again: Have a plan BEFORE you start school. If you have a plan, you’ll get there!
With that, I want to leave you with two books worth reading prior to starting business school to provide some perspective and a worthwhile study break.

·A Random Walk Down Wall Street, Burton G. Malkiel
·Capitalism at the Crossroads: Aligning Business, Earth, and Humanity, Stuart L. Hart

That said, I’m curious… what are some things you’re most looking forward to in business school? Clubs? Social/Networking? Getting started on your new career? Finance courses? Comment back and let me know!
Jennie Wu, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012, USC Marshall School of Business