Clearly I’ve spent this semester committing the web’s mortal sin of not updating, but I’m here to make that up to you dudes in Sammy G. style with a list. And to keep from fully ripping off the 11-item format, I added a bonus item.
So here it is, a UMich semester’s worth of the 12 most notable things about business school:
- Business school is hard. “Dude, Pat, b-school is supposed to be all about partying hard, talking about owning things and schmoozing it up at free recruiter dinners. What the hell are you talking about?”
Dudes, you are wrong. B-school is most definitely not the walkthrough it’s described to be. People — probably med students and law-school grads — kept feeding me those lines about business school being the easiest professional school, and that my biggest concern would be my social schedule. If that’s true, then I made the right decision by not even pursuing medicine or law, because you should try putting some constant-growth perpetuities and heteroskedastic predictive models in your pipe and smoking it. It does not produce a delicious aroma, if you know what I’m sayin’. Point is, getting an MBA is not the joke it is made out to be.
- Business school does actually teach you about the real world. MBAs also get a bad rap for being too busy collecting salary to handle the real business of business, but that is mad unfair. There’s a reason most b-schools won’t take you right out of undergrad: they actually care about experience and getting a student body that knows what it’s like to get up and go to work in the morning. Then there are all the professors who get seriously paid for all the consulting work they do on the side, so it’s not like they’re walled off from the real-world application of their theories in the way that most professors generally are.
I’ll give you two examples: Sam Zell with Tribune Company, and the credit crunch that’s going on right now. Before b-school I would have just sat back and shook my head in confusion at what happened. Alright, on second thought, the credit crunch still makes me shake my head in confusion, but I certainly know about the reason Zell loaded up Tribune with so much debt and why it went south so fast. (Quick answer: debt has a multiplier effect that makes good times really good and bad times really bad, so he was betting that he’d make way more money when he turned things around at Tribune, except that he didn’t turn it around, so the company crashed a lot harder. Thanks, Prof. Purnanandam!) The part you learn the hard way is how to tell your boss he’s screwing up, but thanks to the MBA you can at least provide some good reasoning on why he’s screwing up.
- India produces a lot of b-school professors. Based on Ross, and on my in-laws’ b-school-prof friends in Bloomington, business-school faculty is apparently one of India’s leading exports. Five of my eight professors thus far have rocked the Subcontinent.
- Business schools like group work. A lot. Every one of my classes in Fall B (Ross typically breaks the semester into two halves, each with their own class schedule) involved an assigned group and extensive group work. This is usually fine, but more than a few examples of interpersonal drama have developed in my section as a result of people not getting along in group settings. (I had a serious free rider in one of my groups this quarter, but he was from another section so the drama is minimized.) I like group work for lots of things, but try getting 5-6 people together to try and work on a 12-page paper, all of whom have really busy schedules: it’s made me long several times for being able to just write my own term paper and get that mug done.
- Trying to teach soft skills is not a good way to spend academic time. Lots of b-school stuff is really useful, like statistics, valuation, marketing, negotiation, etc. But we also had a class this past quarter devoted to the soft skills of management and the different personality interactions in the workplace. We learned plenty of “awareness” of potential issues, but almost no tactical skills to use when, say, two dudes hate each other but both have to work in a team anyway. I might have found a particular tactical set useful, but just telling us that “People at work sometimes disagree” is, to put it mildly, a really questionable use of our tuition payments. Same goes for trying to teach creativity, friendliness or leadership: sometimes you got it, and sometimes you don’t.
- I really like my section. Our class of 420-odd people is broken up into six sections; I’m in Section Six, which is, as its numerical order would convey, the greatest of the sections. I really did luck out: it’s not often that you get a random grouping of people and get along with almost all of them. My section has been the real highlight of b-school.
- Bell’s beer, from Kalamazoo, is really good. I’m halfway through now, so I had to throw in a minor point to get the ball rolling for the second half of this list. It’s true, though: Bell’s really is good.
- Being in school has had a negative impact on my ability to follow pro sports. For the past six autumns I’ve always been full-on into Steeler fandom, able to follow not just the Black and Gold in-depth but the rest of the NFL, too. My Sundays were filled with Miller Lite (come on, it’s always on special), buffalo wings and highlight shows. Yet this year my Sundays are usually stuck finishing up finance problem sets and going to group meetings for whichever club, course or recruiting group recognized that Sunday is the only time of week we’re not all otherwise scheduled up. Now I’ve fallen way behind on the NFL, and even missed the Steelers’ come-from-behind win against Dallas last week. Not cool, man.
- Recruiting is a strange beast. G told me that law school doesn’t involve that much schmoozing — you go after firm interviews through a lottery, then they either take you or don’t. Around here, though, networking is how it’s done, whether you go for on-campus stuff or self-directed. If you want to get an interview, it really helps to be on the closed list, which you do by meeting enough people in advance and making a good enough impression that they add you in. That’s not to say you don’t need to know what you’re doing, because the acquaintance-making just helps you get an interview, not bypass it. If you’re freaking clueless, it isn’t going to matter.
But a lot of the firms started winnowing down their lists toward the end of the semester, so people started getting calls for invite-only stuff that they don’t discuss out of politeness. (Ross is known as the friendly, social b-school, so maybe at other schools people trumpet their invites. That would be some dick-move stuff, so I hope not.) As a result, you never know who’s going around with 12 different dinner invites, and because everyone has to interview anyway, nobody knows if it’s even going to matter in the end. So there’s this weird air of secrecy even as everybody tries to help each other out with case-interview practice and assorted other contacts. (If somebody’s cool, then it makes sense to help them get a job along with you so you can work with other cool people.) So we got that going for us, which is nice.
My favorite reaction to this secrecy thing has been the use of it to mess with gunners. (A gunner, for those who don’t know, is someone who tries way too hard to “outgun” all of their fellow students. It is not a good label, even among recruiters.) People have made up events and then bragged about them in jest just to get the more gunnery types worked up. “Did you get an invite to the Goldman-Sachs helicopter tour? Yeah man, they pick you up in a Sikorsky and fly you to Chicago to meet with 8 partners for dinner. I’m totally stoked.”
- The class motto this year: when in doubt, consult. As unlikely as it would have seemed to me a few years ago, the career goal right now is to get a job with one of the consulting firms, then work directly with media companies to get their ducks in a row in the industry. I didn’t think consulting would be a career for me with my whole not-that-corporate thing, but the more I learn about it, the more sense it makes considering I’ve wanted to do media-strategy work all along. That’s sort of a roundabout way to get into consulting, but my plan is pretty solid compared to some of the other people I know: With all the banks falling apart, consulting on campus right now is this crazed mass of people practicing case interviews and coming in anew from all directions. I don’t know who all these new dudes are, but we had people falling out the doors of the Bain presentation in November, and those people definitely weren’t there at the earlier presentations. As several students have said, “Consulting is like an extension of b-school for when you don’t know just what field you want to pursue.” I don’t really see it that way because I have a specific interest within the big C, but apparently the rest of the school would add that it’s a great place to go when panicked.
- Michigan is cold. Seriously man, it is.
- Business school was a good decision. I work my ass off, Outlook Calendar dictates most of my life, and plenty of this is flat-out hard. But after meeting some awesome and interesting people, finding interesting new career possibilities and learning how to turn some of the gears in the working world, I am down to roll for another three semesters and get to where it takes me.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 1600-word discourse on just what I’ve been doing for the past four months. I’m starting my three-week time off, so I’ll do some more updating this time. I think. Peace out!