Saturday, August 30, 2008

Internship: Week 10

It is over. An exciting and enriching 10 week stay in the República de Chile. Time to move to Chicago.

The last week was relatively less intense, compared to how the rest of the summer spanned. The first three days were quite hectic though, what with the team scrapping together the final pieces of the presentation; examining the slides for the umpteenth time, to find if we can spruce it up a wee bit; anxious about how the board would react to the recommendations. Eventually - the hard work paid off.

The presentation was completed on Wednesday, and we did not face any major issue in getting approval. Once the presentation was approved - I was set free. I had Thursday and Friday for myself. Absolutely nothing to do. In fact, it kind of felt weird to not have anything at work. But the million farewells made sure I was busy!!!

I had a series of feedback sessions and it was interesting to hear what people saw in me. I was very curious, considering the completely different cultural and organizational setup i was working in. Overall - it went quite well. I had a tonne of feedback to offer and it was all received very well. What remains to be seen is how this small company, set for major growth, copes up with the challenges of growth and how it incorporates our recommendations in the process. They've promised to keep me updated!!! I'm anxious to see how it works out.

So thus ends another chapter in the bschool story. I've learnt a lot over these 10 weeks. I cant wait to return to Chicago and put them in good use - I will be there in about half a day! And then, life moves on to the GSB drill.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Internship: Week 9

The penultimate week of the internship was a really busy one! I was working hard to try and wind up the project this week so that my last week would be relatively free! Looks like I've almost managed to do that. Almost!!!

I received all necessary information in the defined time lines! All too well. The consultant proved difficult right till the end, and gave us a bunch of so-so guesstimates. We already had our own bunch of guesstimates and found his set to be quite different from what we had. That meant that we had a string of meetings to try and reach mutually agreeable numbers. It took us two days!

My colleague who was working on the model needed extensive help. I did many parts of the model and redid many other things she did. There were a lot of logic questions she had no answers for and the two of us had to run around the office to get a lot of information she had missed. Overall - it was a very fun exercise, and we managed to have a satisfying model by the weekend. Even more, the model now proves that all our initial hypothesis are right - so we're quite thrilled.

With all that done, I'm working on fine tuning the presentation for the board presentation this week. I presented the content to my CEO and he's quite happy with what he saw. I have a review today evening with a few General Managers, and once i answer their questions satisfactorily - I am all set to face the board for the second time. We have addressed a lot of questions from the previous board meeting and hopefully the board will like our answers. Cant wait for Wednesday.

I'm planning to officially finish the internship on Wednesday, after the board meeting. I'll still have to drop in on Thursday and Friday to transition my work and bid adieu to all the wonderful people I've met here - but I want to do that on my schedule and not have the binding to be at the work place during work hours. I'm hoping a few lunches would help me complete the farewells.

Speaking of farewells, my CEO is out of the country on a business trip. We bid adieu after the review session on Friday. We had a mutual feedback session and it went exceedingly well. I wont be meeting him again.

I celebrated this internship with a weekend trip to Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and Isla Negra! I also completed my Chilean ambition of visiting all 3 of Pablo Neruda's homes!!! Quite a humbling experience. Last but not least, I had tonnes of fantabulous sea food from all 3 coastal towns. I'm not exaggerating, but over the weekend, I've tasted some of the best sea food I've ever had!!!

So I'm almost done, with one more week to go in this country. Hopefully everything will go smoothly over the week and I'll find myself is Chicago on Sunday noon! I just cant wait for that!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

As anniversaries go...

I just remembered - It's been a year since i left for Chicago as an aspiring MBA student. I have been in a rare introspective mood this weekend. I've lived some kind of an exciting life over the course of my first year at GSB and the internship. Things have changed - for both the good and the bad - and in the process, I have changed!!! Since change is the only constant thing ever, I'm not surprised at the change; but comparing what i was last August to what I am now - I really am surprised what the last year has brought upon me.

It is quite difficult to write this post without giving away too much of myself. Especially to people who know me personally. Still, I feel obligated to write this post, to chronicle this moment in this journal, at least for the sake of posterity! So I'm gonna be as discrete and riddled as possible!

Bottom line: I have had a great year. There have been long durations when i failed to notice it enough to appreciate how great it was. But sitting at my home here in Santiago - when i look back, I must certainly agree that it has been a good year. Business school is a one-of-its-kind beast. At least in my case, the last one year has been quite transformational. Inside the classrooms - yes! Certainly!!! Somehow i managed to entangle myself in a lot of good and bad things outside the classrooms. That, coupled with the great GSB classes, mean that these 12 months have taught me a LOT more, on a LOT many fronts, than ever.

Looking at myself today - I must admit there are changes. The perspectives on a million things (and the very act of having one), the outlook towards life and business and everything in between, professional and personal aspirations, a few core beliefs and the belief on what's core, responsibilities - including the very definition of a responsibility, plans on every front including how & what i plan for, the personality and the person - all of these have changed.

Then there are the causes behind these changes. The Experiences. The successes and the failures; the acceptances and the rejections; the realizations and the denials! The People!!! Friends - old, new and the non-friends, professors, colleagues, group mates, class mates, peers, bloggers, people i meet through the blog, people i meet through GSB - everyone has contributed to this. Some less than the others and some more! But you are featured, at least as the source for a tiny little step (or mis-step) that took me here. And to you all, I am grateful for helping me with that step at that time!

So what am I now? What is this change I am talking about?
Am I a better man today than what I was last year? I cant answer that? I'm partial when i rate myself!
A Good man or a Bad one? I don't know! Who am I to draw the lines?
But am I happier now than last year? Certainly yes! More than i could remember in quite a while!
And in the end - isn't it the only thing that matters!

Here's to all my second year friends' first years at their respective business schools and the corresponding changes it has brought about in them.

Change sure does sound like the flavor of the season!!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Internship: Week 8

This was the week of the farewells!!! Six people I've met in the last two months finished their work and took off to their respective destinations. By Thursday night, our social network had been effectively brought down to less than half the size it was a week ago. This was also a four day week. Friday, 15th August, was a Chilean National Holiday for Assumption of Mary.

In more closer circles to me - this was the last week for the French guy from BCG who was working with me. So he finished his part and left for Buenos Aires. So here I am, two more weeks of internship, left to tie all loose ends and bring the project to a grand closure. I'd be making my final recommendations to the board during my last week.

The week went by in a jiffy. We had a string of parties during the weekend and the weekly After Office was good this week. So we were sore throughout the week. On top of that, the French guy and me wanted to bring everything to near closure before he left. So we were literally cramming up five weeks of work into the last three weeks. I'm glad we've covered most of it.

So next week - i wait for inputs from a consultant (who's proving to be increasingly difficult to work with) and some evaluations from a colleague who's been given almost everything required to complete the work. Once i get these information, I will have to analyze everything, draw conclusions, make necessary changes in our recommendations and prepare the final presentation deck. As I'm nearing the end of the internship, I'm also planning to set up two-way feedback meetings with my CEO sometime next week. So, all going well, i must bring the internship to a logical closure by the end of next week.

I'm hoping to keep my last week relatively light for two reasons: (1) The presentation is on Wednesday, so there's not a lot of time left once the week starts, (2) There is a bunch of GSBites in Chile for their Random Walk and i want to hang out with them.

Hopefully - it will all work to plan.

Der Feeder

Alright. I was asked to add the RSS Feeder for the blog.

I guess i am spoilt with the sophisticated live bookmarking available in Firefox 3. Seriously, you guys need to upgrade to this wonder browser. It just makes web-life SO simple :)

Nevertheless - I've added the RSS feed tool on the Right side pane.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Talking about GSB

GSB just updated the online student profiles page with profiles from Class of 2009 students, including yours truly. For prospective applicants, this is a great way to hear real people talk about the school, as against reading published or printed material. So get your headphones out and start watching...

India(n) wins Olympic Gold

India's Abhinav Bindra won the first individual gold medal for my country in 61 years in the Men's 10m Air Rifle event at Beijing Olympics. It is one of those moments when you feel instinctively ecstatic; and in a short while start to ponder about the million questions yet to be answered. Lets give it to the man, he has really defeated multiple odds. He really deserves all accolades that comes his way - Congrats Abhinav. You really have earned the love and applause of the billion and more Indians world wide.

You have also earned instant overreaction from the Indian Media, Politicians and general public that will come your way in the next few days! Having lived in India for the best part of 25 years, I can visualize the mindless euphoria that would follow. And everyone would forget the fact that this gold medal took 61 years coming and was not a result of a system but the sheer brilliance of an individual!

No one gave the Indian athletes any chance of winning medals, let alone a Gold, in the Olympics. To quote Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympics Association, India should not "expect too many medals in China." The IOA and SAI are hardly worthy of supporting, let alone creating, world class athletes. There have been multiple complaints of shabby politics, favoritism and all sorts of discrimination against athletes. The latest was when Indian weightlifter Monica Devi apparently failed a drugs test and was pulled out literally hours before boarding a flight to Beijing, only to clear the same test when it was too late to play in the event. A CBI probe is looming at the biggest sports bodies of India. The national hockey team, the only Olympic gold winner for India till Abhinav, did not even qualify to Olympics this time. There has been literally no improvement in grass root level development of games. There seems to be no clear planning or execution in improving sports in India. Very often, athletes leave India and travel to other nations to train before key events - that act explains the state of the facilities. The lesser we talk about the individual sports bodies, the better.

The point I am trying to make is that this is hardly India's Gold medal. This is simply an Indian's Gold medal. In 61 years of Independence, we have not made significant strides in our quest for sports supremacy. And the people in the important positions certainly have their priorities wrong. Everyone who can talk will talk about Abhinav. He will receive a million accolades and pose with every important person in India who wants to bask in his glory. But soon, he will be forgotten and the nation will move on to the next political scandal or the biggest summer blockbuster. Including the people who could use this moment and this person to spur the imagination of a country and take steps towards creating the necessary infrastructure and providing fair opportunities to create more gold medal winners. They will claim their share in Abhinav's success, consider their job done and move on.

I believe that Abhinav has earned everything that will come his way in the next few months and perhaps many more. In a system that does not promise any podium finishers, he managed to stand on top of the podium and gave us Indians on of those rare moments of listening to our national anthem at the Olympics. I congratulate and salute him for his achievement.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Internship: Week 7

This week was a drag! Really, after our Maipo escapades, everyone was so exhausted. Slowly but steadily, everyone started falling sick and by Friday - everyone was in pretty bad shape. Things weren't that good with me though, as i felt too sick on Wednesday and had to take a day off. Still had to work a bit from home. I was still in bad shape on Friday!!!

Work wise - this week was busy as hell. The five week plan became a three and then two week plan as things totally went out of control. The strategy recommendations we were working on, we were instructed, had to be ready at least by Monday of week 8. Our manager settled for a draft version, but it had to be ready on Monday because he was presenting it to our biggest client on Monday. Meanwhile, the CEO did his bit to ask us to forward the same draft to a representative from the office in the region with the most difficult business environment for our clients, making it a really lucrative/important office for us. Talk about pressure.

My consultant friend and me crammed all week and managed to get the stuff ready by Thursday. A lot of the recommendations still need to be validated and financially evaluated, which we are working on. We still need pricing information, which we'd hopefully get in a week. Hopefully, the the timeline for these processed and the negotiations with the clients coincides so that we will have concrete plans when the clients are ready to proceed. We also need to get the board's buy in on the final plan. I'm presenting to the board again on my last day at work! I guess it is a great way to bring the internship to a grand closure.

The weekend was fun. I was introduced to Poker, which i found quite fun. I even won the game that night ;) Six of our friends are leaving home this week, so we celebrated together on Saturday. All of us are understandably sore from the action, but are all set for another week of gruelling work. At least this is a short week, with Friday being a national holiday in Chile.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hanging by a thread...

I went on a weekend trip to Maipo Valley, also called Valle del Maipo, a lush region located in the South of Santiago. It is a long stretch of small villages along the Maipo River, that originates from the Maipo volcano and flows through the numerous mountains of the Andes. The valley is famous for its numerous vineyards, including the Maipo section of the famous Concho y Toro Winery.

We were planning this trip for at least a week. A classmate from GSB is with me in Santiago, working with a different entrepreneur. Her friend flew in from Canada for a week and that was our the motivation for the trip. What a great trip it turned out to be. The original plan was for the friend to reach Santiago at 7:30, we start from Santiago at 10, reach our destination (more on that later) and do all the stuff we could potentially do - horse back riding on the natural forests, bathe in hot-springs, visit a few vineyards, cook Asado on that altitude, etc. What eventually did happen is worth a huge novel.

To begin with, the flight of our friend got delayed and he missed his connecting flight in Atlanta. So it turned out that he was to come on Sunday instead of Saturday. On Friday, we went out dining with out friends in Santiago. After a heavy dinner, we decided to attend a show done by a Bon Jovi cover band. The show turned out to be awesome and we sang along with the cover band dudes till 3AM. When we hit the sack, we had time for 5 hrs of sleep before the weekend adventure.

All of us woke up at 10! Frantic preparation and multiple phone calls later, we find ourselves at the car rental place, Alamo, at 11AM. They took literally 2 hours (I'm not exaggerating) to give us a car. This, after reserving a car the previous day. So we started towards Maipo at 1PM, hoping to reach there at 2:30PM - the trip usually takes a little more than 1 hr. After maneuvering through Santiago's mid-Saturday traffic, we reach the base of the Andes and drive up to San José de Maipo, a small town on the way to Cajón del Maipo, our eventual destination. The time was already 2:15PM. We call the contact person at our hotel, and this is how the discussion went:

Us: Hey, we are the people who made reservations for the night. We're at San José de Maipo.
He: Oh great! It snowed last night. You cant drive the last 500 m. Hope you have an SUV.
Us: What! We have a mid-size-sedan. We'll come over in some time.
He: Uh, what? Sedan??? Good luck!

Really - we "felt" him grinning!!!

From San José de Maipo, we had to travel in 10 kms of tarmac and 19 kms of dirt track to reach Cajón del Maipo! The dirt track is basically a narrow strip on the mountains, where there was snow and water everywhere coz of the overnight rain. We set on our journey, and wriggled through really rough 15 kms of, when the car in front of us stopped. The driver walked towards us and, to our utter shock, declared "You have a flat tire"!!! We replaced our care tire at an altitude of 1800m, in between two huge mountains, with snow all around us. In spite of our situation, we were still overawed by the view around us. It was quite breathtaking!

We eventually fixed the tire and managed to go to T-500m of our night stay - Lo Valdes Mountain Refugio! We struggled for another 30 minutes to find a way/place to park our car. Shovelling 2ms of snow with bare hands at an altitude of 2000m to create parking space for our car definitely goes down at my most memorable experience ever. The tire-change experience comes a close second! After we parked our cars, we set on foot to the Refugio, only to find really bad pathways, with puddles of ice-cold water. We almost gave up after 200m - when the owner of the Refugio met us with his vehicle as he was going out. He gave us a ride up, during which i managed to freeze both my hands pretty badly - that really hurt. Eventually - we got to the place at 6PM and set our beds for the night. And guess what, there was snow everywhere and walking around was supposedly life threatening. We were told that we cant do anything that we planned to do. We had traveled 100kms, scaled 2000m and went through all of that suffering for literally nothing :)

The view in front of us made up for all our miseries. It was unbelievable and the best thing I've ever seen in all my life. We were really overjoyed and buoyed up by the experience of just being in such a picturesque place. The Refugio was on a small cliff, with huge mountains (some scaling above 6000m) all around us. One word - Awesome!!! But the sun sank behind the mountains pretty soon. So we finished dinner, hung around a bit and slept at 11 - when the place shuts down its generator and goes completely dark. Our mobiles had no coverage. The only connection we had to the world was a telephone line. Lying on my bed, tired from the day's activities, I felt like i was in a different world altogether and it was quite refreshingly liberating to shun all the modern bondage and be there as just a human being - me for myself!

True to our tiredness, we woke up at 8AM. We had instructed our now forgotten friend to take a taxi to San José de Maipo, but he was supposed to be there at 10:30AM. There was no snow during the night - so the snow from the previous night had frozen into ice. Driving was gonna be hell. We had to leave as soon as possible. The view outside, with the morning sun, was spellbinding. I'm running out of words to describe it. We could have stayed there for a week. We enjoyed the morning view in all its glory, finished our breakfast and left the place in a hurry. The owner of the Refugio gave us a ride to our car and all of us felt that he was holding back a huge laughter after he saw our car. He had this smug look at screamed "No kidding"! Oh well!!!

Our tires were in pretty shape and none of us were confident about crossing the dirt track without busting a tire. All sorts of contingency plans were being discussed and we were checking our tires every tenth minute. After another painstakingly agonizing two hours on the roads, with some really adept car maneuvering by our friend (I'm really impressed. she did a really great job) we reached San José de Maipo and met our friend who had been waiting there for two hours.

We just had to do something than just driving around. So we drove back a few kilometers and found a spot where they had horse back riding along the shores of the Maipo river. We finished formalities and then the guy at the place mounted us on the horses. To our total shock, we then realized, he let us handle the horses. HE DID NOT COME WITH US!!! In hindsight, it was fun to learn to communicate with and handle the horse - but the first 10 mins were scary as hell. The horses were hungry and they would stop at every sign of food - and just wont listen to us. My best moment was when my horse finally gave up and started galloping full speed at random - only for this owner guy to chase us me in another horse and bring my horse under control!!! In all possibility, i could have gone pale white through my brown skin!!!

So we at least did horse back riding. We were hungry after the trip and returned to have lunch at San José de Maipo. We merrily ordered Asado and waited for the food - for two hours. And the food was crap. It was just that kind of a weekend. We also managed to repair the tire at San José de Maipo. Once we finished lunch, it was late in the day and to started our descent to Santiago for some much needed rest. We made it to Santiago at 6:30PM and dropped the car at the renting place, to bring an eventful trip to a tame closure.

Really - that was one hell of a weekend!!! Even though nothing went as planned, we had a lot of fun. I guess it is boring if things go by plan ;)

Some shots from Valle de Maipo

And finally, the crazy tourist :)

Internship: Week 6

I'd like to call this The Week of a million meetings. Seriously, that is all that we did this week. Though, through the meeting mayhem, we managed to get loads of work done! We also have our task cut out for my remaining four weeks in Chile. Busy times ahead.

The week started with a review of what happened at the board meeting. Me and the consultant intern had some important questions to answer, and we also had to decide on steps to proceed. We brainstormed all of Monday to give a structure to our approach and we had a draft ready by end of Monday. We then dug deeper into individual problems and assigned responsibilities across the five member team that we have. It was two of us, trying to define every \one's role.

As we analyzed more, new questions kept coming up and we needed to literally run on our heels to complete many tasks. Eventually, towards the end of the week, we had analyzed most of our tasks and had tangible deliverables. There is still some uncertainty regarding some tasks, but we decided to take a look at them at the end of next week, so that we will have more information. We'll be working on the remaining stuff throughout this week, apart from working on our individual responsibilities. This is pretty much what we did throughout the week!

After a week of working hard, we played hard too. Trip to Neruda's home in Santiago was a really thrilling experience. I plan to write about the trip after i visit his two other homes in Valparaiso, near Santiago. My friends and I attended a Bon Jovi Cover Band concert, which was good fun. And then, we went on a weekend trip to Maipo, which turned out to be an experience of a life time!!! A detailed post about the Maipo trip to follow...