Sunday, July 27, 2008

Internship: Week 5

That was a busy week again. This was the last week of my friend from HBS, and so we were slogging throughout the week to put together a presentation which is to be presented to the board at the end of Week 6. The initial deadline to finish the presentation was Wednesday. We had a board member visiting the office on Friday, so we decided to do a test run when all of us were around. This meant that we cut our deadlines by technically three days and effectively five days (taking the weekend into account).

We finally did manage to get the presentation ready by Thursday morning, and even had time to get it reviewed by our General Manager of Strategy as well as the BCG consultant who works with us. We decided that most of the feedback will be incorporated during week 6, since we did not wanna majorly tinker with the slides. On Friday, we had a 3 hour session with the board member, the CEO and the entire Strategy Development team. We were pushed for information and reasoning behind each of our suggestions and many hypothetical situations, but overall the analysis and the recommendations were very well received and the board member and CEO were very satisfied and highly impressed with our work.

Now we have to implement the other comments into the presentation, add some more slides on global strategies and make it ready for this Thursday. Also, most of the presentation is in Spanish (I'm in Chile remember) with my part in English. The HBS guy is a Spaniard, so it all went smoothly. Apparently, one of the board member does not speak English and with my friend gone, I am gonna handle the entire presentation. So someone is translating my slides into Spanish, to give printouts to this particular board member, while I'm taking notes for all the slides into English so that i have reference points during the presentation. Oh the travails of working in Chile :)

I also meet with my General Manager tomorrow, to discuss future steps after the presentation. We know what to do, but we're short of time and I am hoping to allot responsibilities accordingly. Also, we need to work on a transition schedule, because the team will shrink down from five members to just two by the time i leave. I might also have lunch with my CEO sometime during the week - something I'm really looking forward to. Here's to another week of crazy and exciting fun at my work place!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A truly Global MBA - v2.0

This is a list of the food I consumed over the course of the week...

Sunday - Oriental food at Asian Bistro (albeit a bit Chileanized)
Monday - Authentic Spanish Tapas (the taste of that Spanish Tortilla is still lingering in my mouth...)
Tuesday - Yummy Japanese Sushi (Santiago has fresh sea food, so the sushi is great)
Wednesday - Italian Pizza (purchased from the truly American Pizza Hut though)
Thursday - Greasy Desi food (yeah! Indian food in Santiago)
Thursday Night - Chilean Asado (loads of great meat)
Friday - Sandwiches (okay - where did this originate from?)

As you can say, quite a busy week eh...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Internship: Week 4

This week was a start-stop-start kind of week, and the one where I've had the most fun yet. Wednesday was a holiday, as it was the day of the feast for Our Lady of Mount Carmel (or Mary, the mother of Jesus). A mid-week holiday always disturbs the momentum you gain, and this one was no different. We still managed to achieve our milestones for the week.

Work was busy as usual. We are submitting level 1 recommendations to the board in Week 6, for which we have a preliminary presentation in Week 5. Our aim was to finalize the presentation and get things done by the end of this week. Also, we had recommended a client survey, to validate our conclusions, and the client survey was due on Friday. We needed to be ready with that information on Friday. Everything went on well.

There are three Indians (two from Chicago GSB and one from Babson) doing their summer internship in Chile. This Friday, the three of us got together to prepare Indian dinner for the rest of our friends in Chile. It was a three hour long ordeal in the small kitchen/living room of the Babson dude, but it was well worth the trouble. The extensive menu of Chicken Tikka Masala, Fried Vegetables, Rice, Breads and Raitha came out very very well and was well received by the international audience.

This was followed by a day long trip to a nearby vineyard on Saturday. During the trip, we tasted different types of wine, travelled in a Steam Engine Train, saw a little bit of Chilean folk dancing and witnessed a huge sprawl of vineyard space from tall cliffs. Quite a day to remember.

Week five thus begins, and it promises to be one more busy week as we prepare for the presentation on Friday. This week is also the last for the other intern from HBS, so it is gonna be one of farewell.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Internship: Week 3

Last week was hectic, and that is an understatement. My first assignment was coming to a closure – I just had one more interview to do and then assimilate all information. I'd already completed the out of order requests that came my way. But then, when you are working for a start up, there is never a day when things go by your plan. I was pulled into two meetings where everyone talked in Spanish and I was like :-o One of these meetings, I was informed like 15 minutes before the meeting, and they have me a stack of papers to read up and be prepared before the meeting! The other meeting was almost four hours long! Oh well – the joys of Entrepreneurship! Anyway – I did manage to have the interview and finish the write up, only for the General Manager to schedule a review meeting on Tuesday. Am I cribbing too much here? I actually love this job and this on-the-needle experience :)

My second assignment was given to me in Week 2, and it was so interesting, I started working on it already. I'm trying to top load myself, so that I won't be stressed during the last few weeks of my internship. But that's making my days quite busy. This task involved a lot of research – I mean lots!!! I gathered content for a day and was reading it for the next three days. That plenty. The good news is that I have the write up 75% ready already, and it is satisfying to have covered as much when the task officially begins only today! But I have a suspicion that these guys will find a way to keep me busy throughout!

Finally the whole initiative is coming together. We had a discussion with the team and worked on how we're gonna present our recommendations to the board and how the individual pieces each of us are working on fit into the overall story. That discussion's given a lot of perspective and direction, and the team was glad that we're in good shape. In fact, our CEO was so glad that he sponsored two of our lunches last week ;)

Overall – week 4 is gonna be more work. This Wednesday is a holiday, so that would be a welcome break. We are entering the business area of the internship and, going by the first three weeks, it promises to be good fun and a lot of learning.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Chilean blogshots - Part 1: Santiago

It was Saturday morning.

So I've been in Chile for two weeks and haven't really seen anything but office and home. I was dying to see parts of the city. It was also a very sad situation because by design or by fate, I do not have a camera with me. I'd given the old one to my brother and I could not buy the new one in time for the trip. I've been damning myself for that mistake – this city is very nice and there are so many nice shots I could visualize. Okay – enough cribbing!

So on Saturday my classmate from GSB who also happens to intern in Santiago called up and we made plans to explore some part of the city. So we discussed and consulted people and numerous guides (we always make a fuss) and finally decided on Plaza de Armas in the center of Santiago.

Santiago has a decent metro system and we took the Red line to the la moneda stop, from where Plaza de Armas is a nice walk through an array of government buildings.

Right outside the station – we found a Burger King. Before we crossed two blocks – we saw three Burger King Outlets. This city is has SO much American fast food. You cannot walk 3 blocks without seeing a KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut or a McDonald. Even though I was hungry, we decide to skip the Amrican options and walked further.

The first building we saw was the presidential palace, El Palacio de la Moneda. This is a Chilean National Monument and historical building, closely tied to a lot of historical events in Chile. The President works here. It was surprisingly easy to get access to walk on the patios of the palace – ask one of the guards and you're all set to enter; with camera! To go inside the building, we need ID proof and have to go through a security check. Still, we were allowed to take cameras without any question. May be I am overreacting here. The palace has a gorgeous fountain inside and there are beautiful cast metal structures to capture your imagination. But the best part of entering into the building was the Orange trees. I've never seen one in my life – and these trees were loaded with ripe oranges!

In front of the presidential palace is a huge park and there are many government buildings around the palace. My friend and I walked through these buildings and reached one of those Chilean market places which was SO full of people, we were thrilled. The place had concrete roads, benches in the middle of these roads and all shops were very very colorful. My friend went crazy taking "I was here" pictures :) We then grabbed a quick bite at a nearby café (which surprisingly had an English menu, but less than average food) and walked further. On the way, we also purchased the biggest and the tastiest dark grapes I've ever seen. Delicious!!!

Plaza de Armas is quite a phenomenon. It is like an open fair – and there was so much cheap (I mean really cheap) artwork you could buy here, we were really amazed. This is like the everyday or weekend carnival of Santiago. We enjoyed every moment we spent there. The place also has a huge park with a lot of trees (imagine a concrete square, with concrete roads, having a thick bunch of trees – an oasis of sorts really) and there were small shops under these trees selling all sorts of stuff. Heck, there was a small hall where people were busy playing Chess! We spent almost 30 – 45 minutes just gaping at the buzzing energy and diversity of the place.

Our last stop for the day was the Mercado Central, a huge and busy market place (lots of seafood and meat being sold here). Just an old school market place that amazed me with its scale. We ended the evening by walking into one of the many tiny little restaurants in this place and tasting Ceviche. It was the best thing I'd eaten since I'd set my foot on Chilean soil. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes sea food – it was the best closure to the evening.

More about Santiago and Chile, as and when more weekend tours happen :)

PS: Check this page for a virtual tour of central Santiago. This is a HUGE place and will probably take like a day to explore. We only explored parts of it.

PPS: A lot of things are inferred, given my poor Spanish skills. If something needs correction, please let me know and I'll change it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Internship: Week 2

This firm sure has a LOT of work to do. I am a member of this unique group called "Development Group" and we added one more person to this group last week. This person is a BCG consultant and will spend 6 weeks in Santiago with us. Everyone i meet is so surprised that the firm needs three people to work on its next version - but in reality, it does. Actually, we've been involved in deep conversations on how the firm will manage the milestones we set for it once all of us leave. So I'm not surprised at all.

It is not just this we discuss about. The three of us discuss anything and everything about how we want to take this wonderful firm to the next level. It may well seem like we are creating opportunities for the firm. The truth is that this is a company brimming with possibilities and we are just trying to prevent and save the company from doing mistakes. We are, in effect, trying to give the company a meaning, a direction and tell them what makes sense and what does not. Very importantly, we are trying to help them see how in the long run, these decisions will place them better than just taking up everything that comes their way.

Needless to say, I am learning a LOT and enjoying myself in the process. The fun of exploring a new city and a new culture also adds to the really good time I'm having here. This weekend we were busy socializing, with a dinner on Friday, sight seeing on Saturday and another dinner on Sunday. I'm also meeting a diverse group of really interesting people in the process and am learning on multiple fronts from them.

Overall - this promises to be a summer (well, it is winter in Chile) to remember and even though I am constantly tired with all the work and socializing, I am certainly enjoying every moment of it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A consultant's moment

Everyday, my friend from HBS and I have lunch at a Sandwich place near our work place. The food is unbelievably fresh, healthy and incredibly yummy! We have a heavy lunch (as is the culture of Chile) and on our way back to office, we have honey-roasted-nuts for dessert ;) This stuff is apparently available in New York City too - and is sold by a Chilean!

Yesterday, the two of us suddenly ventured into estimating how much the nut-vendor earned per day! We went around on a sound discussion (we have about 3 blocks to walk to reach office) and by the end of it, we had brought in standard deviation, the bell curve, estimated population of Santiago, estimated floating population in this touristy city, % of them in downtown, approximate "office hours" for the nut-vendor, number of packs he could make in an hour, number of packs people could consume in an hour, and perhaps many other parameters. The analysis fast and furious - for understandably no reason. Finally - we settled at an excessive estimate of a revenue of 150000 Chilean Pesos (approximately US$300) for the nut vendor per day.

During our dessert time today, we got curious and asked him.
His answer: 120000 Chilean Pesos (approximately US$240).

Considering it was a blind estimate - not bad eh...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The ScoreTop Fiasco

The story came to existence when GMAC shutdown the website and then BW covered the story (BW Story 1). The initial estimate of around 1000 violators by GMAC was then increased to 6000 and it made big news; BW published another article (BW Story 2) and there is a huge debate in their forums (BW discussion thread). GMAC tried to answer some questions with a ScoreTop FAQ, but I guess it still left a lot of questions unanswered.

This is hot topic in probably all business schools. This site is a disgrace. The well-being of the site highly depended on a snow-balling effect, in test takers coming back and reporting scores. Of course, it is well documented that Mr. Lei Shi himself appeared for the GMAT thrice, but that's hardly sufficient to run the site for 5 years. The mere existence of the site for well over five years is a clear reflection of the times we live in. When people are desperate, most of them take the easy way out. But guess what, Karma hits back!!!

It is ridiculous to see the perspectives thrown around in numerous discussions. "Test takers were innocent" say many - they're clearly not on firm footing. "How could GMAC cancel my score. I will sue them if they do so." say others - not knowing it wont stand the test of law. "Will my percentile score improve?" or "Will I get off the waitlist because of this" - question a few self centered ones! Some even have the audacity to publicly say "I scored well and got into a M7 school purely because of this website. If they cancel scores, I'll never be able to score the same again", not knowing that GMAC is never letting them sit for the exam again. Even more audacious is when someone says to this person "Don't worry! You haven't done anything wrong." Some even argue "These students must be kicked out because one of the qualities of a successful business person is to do a mistake well and leave no trace; and they have failed in that regard." I've been lost in this maze and don't know what's worse...

My opinion is certainly not going to change anything, but to me this is straight forward. In my eyes, anyone who signed up for the VIP membership has violated GMACs test policies. They clearly had an unfair advantage that others did not have. It was all but common knowledge that the JJs had live GMAT questions. Actually, this has been settled beyond debate in the court of law - the very reason why the website is down. I wouldn't be surprised if GMAC cancels scores of all 6000 students who signed up for the VIP access. But that decision involves a lot of subjective evaluation and would be a bit too rash from GMAC. I'm sure GMAC is more sensible than that. There are violators who went on to post questions in the forum from their tests - and these guys are definitely getting their scores cancelled. In theory, most of these VIP members could be students or alumni of top business schools in USA and hence the repercussions of GMAC cancelling a bunch of scores could be intimidating.

I believe GMAC will certainly cancel scores of many people, otherwise the point of the whole exercise is lost and the signal that it wants to send to such websites will not be sent. I am quite curious to see how this unfolds. If you had a VIP membership, pray!