What I Learned: Week 3 At HBS

September 17, 2012

We had one of those beautiful two class days at HBS today, and so I’m taking some time working out of the iLab on this Monday afternoon to reflect on the last week of learning before I jump into three cases tonight on the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, General Electric’s Healthymagination Program, and an Operations Class Process Simulation.

I find that we are learning so much and covering so much material that if I don’t take time each week to reflect on what I’m learning so much of it will pass me by. So here’s a summation of what I learned last week, designed someday to help me reflect and recall and perhaps share a bit of what’s happening here with those who someday may wish to come (and perhaps help classmates more easily explain to their parents what’s going on).

This post is a follow-up to Week One at HBS and Week Two at HBS. Just like I wrote in those posts, I am absolutely loving the experience here and every day feel like I’m a little kid in a candy store taking in a fire hose of wonderful new knowledge. If you’re interested in seeing more photos from the time here so far, check out my photo blog. I’m also tweeting from time to time via @ryanallis on Twitter.

I have a sense that future reflections may be more spaced out as the club schedule is rapidly starting to ramp up and I’ve joined the Entrepreneurship Club, Start-up Tribe, TechMedia Club, Africa Business Club, Social Enterprise Club, and Energy and Environment Club. My section (F) is also holding its retreat in Vermont the weekend after this.


Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD 1)

FIELD 1 focuses on “individual skill building to develop leadership intelligence” and “leadership exercises, peer feedback, and personal reflection.” Here’s what we did last week in FIELD.

  • Storytelling and Improv Workshop - The storytelling and improvisation workshop was the most energizing activity we’ve done at HBS to date. It was put on by the Ariel Group and was designed to help us become better communicators and more engaging speakers (and reduce all the ums, uhs, likes, you knows, and unnecessary ands we often use as crutches when speaking). From the student feedback I heard, this workshop received the highest reviews from classmates of anything we’ve done so far. We took the time to visualize a story of a dramatic defining moment in our life and had a chance to practice telling the story multiple times. It was so wonderful to have a business school (traditionally the realm of the left-brained analytical geniuses) focus four hours on creative and emotional intelligence during the first month of classes. The next day, we discussed plans as a section to continue our practice and attend an upcoming show at Cambridge’s ImprovBoston, now being run by my friend Zach Ward from North Carolina.
  • Leadership Presence – We also received a copy of two related books–Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar and Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler. We read chapter one of Leadership Presence, which was very good and reinforced the lessons learned in our improv and storytelling training.
  • Feedback Workshop - We went to the Innovation Lab on campus (the iLab) and filmed ourselves giving and receving feedback based on four fictional cases. The lesson emphasized authenticity, specificity, the intention to help, and humility in the process of giving feedback. One can learn so much when they watch themselves on video! Companies should absolutely utilize this technique in their managerial training programs. After experimenting with a few provided feedback formulas, I found that my preferred way of giving feedback to others in a professional setting was to
  1. Ask for permission to give feedback
  2. State the specific behavior I observe
  3. State the effect of that specific behavior
  4. Ask for the individua’s perspective on the feedback.
  • Hay Group Emotional and Social Intelligence Assessment (EISI) – This session focused on the results of a 360 degree review assessment completed by peers, direct reports, and supervisors we selected prior to us coming to HBS. I found I had the greatest opportunity for improvement in: “Understanding others’ perspectives when they are different from my own perspective” and “using metaphors to describe themes or patterns.” This assessment was created by Daniel Goleman’s company. Daniel is the author of the well-known book Emotional Intelligence.
  • CareerLeader Results Report – We attended a session on our future career paths. Not surprisingly, according to the 19 page CareerLeader report I really enjoy 1) Influencing Others 2) Creative Production and 3) Enterprise Control, I am most suited for the following roles: Product R&D Management (99), Venture Capital (98), Marketing (98), Management in Science and Engineering (94), Public Relations and Communications (90), and Entrepreneurship (86). Rounded out the jobs I am least suited for were Supply Chain Management (11), Financial Planning and Stock Brokerage (11) and Production and Operations Management (8). Finally, I learned that the four most important components of a fulfilling job to me are Intellectual Challenge (12), Power and Influence (11), Affiliation to Enjoyable Colleagues (9), and Managing People (9) with job security (0) all the way at the end.
  • Section Norms – A class discussion led by our FIELD professor Amy Edmondson (who by the way was once Buckminster Fuller’s chief engineer — so awesome) on what norms we wanted to have in our section of 90

Should you happen to be interested in obtaining a copy of any of the below cases you can find them on the Harvard Business Publishing web site.

Finance (FIN 1)

  1. Gone Rural Day 1 – Evaluating the operational effectiveness of a $700k per year in revenue rural South African premium basket weaving operation and the tie between scaling social impact and operational execution
  2. Gone Rural Day 2 – Creating a five year pro-forma income statement and balance sheet for this South African firm with various scenarios to determine outside funding needs and understand the link between targeted growth rate and funding needs and the link between key elements of operational efficiency (like the cash conversion cycle and inventory levels) and funding needs.

Financial Reporting & Controls (FRC)

  1. Polymedica Corporation – Discussing whether direct-response advertising costs should be capitalized or expensed.
  2. Accounting for Frequent Flyers – Looking at the frequent flyer accounting practices pre-1991 and how FASB was thinking through changing the accounting rules related to capturing the liability on airlines’ books.
  3. Magnet Beauty Products – Evaluating whether to capitalize a lease on the books of a 32-store chain natural beauty supply company.

Technology & Operations Management (TOM)

  1. Polyface Farms – Analyzing the operations and expansion plans of a sustainable farm in Virginia.
  2. Fabritek – Drawing process diagrams and calculating and understanding the bottlenecks, capacity, and throughput of the various production processes of an integrated circuit board manufacturer in the 1980s.
  3. Dore-Dore – Understanding the pros and cons of cell production (single-process flow) vs. assembly line production in a French hosiery and knitwear manufacturing plant.

Marketing (MKT)

  1. Sealed Air – Looking at how this $4B global public company brought a new video monitoring technology called VTID to market, particularly focusing on which customer segments to go after.
  2. Principles of Product Policy – A module note on new products, product mixes, product life cycles, and managing product and brand portfolios
  3. Emotiv – Evaluating product positioning and go-to-market strategy for a low-cost ($299) neurotechnology headset that uses electrical brain waves to control computer games and other applications. Emotive began in 2003 and after six years of R&D launched in late 2010. As I’ve become extremely interested in neuroscience in the last year (due to my mom Pauline passing away in May from a brain tumor) I found this case really fascinating. Here’s more about the product from the Emotiv web site. After class we had a chance to play with an Emotiv headset. While I didn’t have the chance to use it myself, many of my classmates did. It was absolutely breathtaking to see a computer program controlled with just my mind alone. My classmates were playing games, lifting rocks, and scaring off spirits with just their thoughts. I plan to become a customer when I get back to San Francisco next summer. I was very thankful to casewriters Elie Ofek (our marketing professor) and Jason Riis for writing such a case about such a groundbreaking technology.
  4. Marketing Breakeven Analysis – A module note on how to calculate a breakeven analysis for the number of units a company must produce to cover their fixed costs with gross margin proceeds.

Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)

  1. Greg James at Sun Microsystems – Creating accountability and effectiveness on a team split between India, UAE, France, and the USA. As part of this case we learned about fairness on teams and our professor Lakshmi Ramarajan (who by the way was once a professional dancer AND managed conflict resolution programs in West Africa!) played a video of a scientific experiment involving Capuchin monkeys. We learned that Capuchin monkeys (like humans) often reject unequal pay. Watch the video!
  2. Taran Sawn at Nickelodeon Latin America – Looking at how to be proactive as a manager in establishing the conditions for high team effectiveness (across performance, team work, and individual development and satisfaction) as a General Manager prepares to temporarily work away from her team due to health complications.


It would take quite some time to list all that I learned last week–so here is just a sample of some of the key items I took away or greatly improved my grasp of last week. I’m so excited to be learning at this pace with such smart and caring peers. I continue to grow rapidly in learning how industries operate outside of the industry I’m most familiar with–software.

So far I have a much better understanding of:

  1. How companies achieve production efficiency manufacturing a physical product — Including how to calculate bottlenecks, capacity, throughput, output rate, work in progress, cycle time and labor utilization.
  2. GAAP accounting — Particularly as GAAP accounting enables to the capitalization of assets, depreciation of assets, and amortization of assets and the effects of these balance sheet items on GAAP net income.
  3. The payment cycle (aka cash conversion cycle) — Particularly with respect to ideas on how to reduce days in A/R and inventory holdings. This knowledge is particularly helpful for someone like me coming from prepaid subscription software (in which you have negative net working capital due to monthly and annual prepayments) and no inventory at all.
  4. Financial ratios and how they relate to a company’s health — Particularly interest coverage, leverage ratio, ROE, and ROA.
  5. Debits and credits — It took me three weeks — but I finally have learned that an increase to an asset is a debit (IAD is how I remember) and an increase to expense is a debit (IED is how I remember). From that I can work out that an increase to a liability is a credit and an increase to revenue is a credit.
  6. Measuring Team Effectiveness – I’ve learned that it’s not just performance metrics that count in measuring team effectiveness. It’s also the “capability of team members to work and learn together in the future” and “individual needs for development and satisfying work.”
  7. Being proactive as a leader – From both the Erik Peterson case and the Taran Swan case I’ve learned just how important it is to be proactive and aware as a leader and address potential interpersonal conflicts right away.
  8. The different types of leadership challenges – Specifically the difference between tactical leadership challenges that require better processes and procedures and human leadership challenges (that require better management, recruiting, training, org structures, mentoring, etc.).


Finally, during a particularly meaningful session in LEAD, the class listed out the traits of the best bosses they’ve ever had and the worst bosses they’ve ever had. I wrote down the list we brainstormed as I found it particularly helpful.

Best Bosses Worst Bosses
Supportive No mentoring
Encouraging No feedback
Asked about family Humiliates people
Care about your success Pits team members against each other
Values-centered Sink or swim environment
Passionate Uses fear-based motivation not intrinsic motivation
Makes you feel useful Doesn’t follow through
Good listener Bad listener
Inspiring Pessimistic
Create a sense of ownership Treats workers as cogs in a wheel
Good Presenter Not open to feedback
Over-communicator Under-communicator
Considerate Doesn’t care about you
Include people in decisions Makes decisions unilaterally
Set clear expectations Unclear expectations
Gives credit and claims accountability Takes credit and deflects responsibility
Enthusiasm and energy Low energy
Commitment to the organization Cynical
Competent and Self-Aware
Open to feedback
High EQ

That’s all for this week. My posts may be coming less frequently in the weeks ahead, but I still plan to post reflections from time to time on my experience and lessons learned. I’m off to read about the Subprime Crisis. Thanks for reading!

Week Two at HBS

September 10, 2012

Hello from Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. Here is a reflection on my second week at Harvard Business School. It is a follow-up to “Week One At HBS.” I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be writing–but for now I’ll try to keep sharing my lessons learned each weekend. I’m very much enjoying the experience here so far.

The Purpose of HBS

This week during a Section F lunch we heard from Rawi Abdelal the Chair of the MBA Required Curriculum (first year) at HBS to give us an overview of what’s to come.

Rawi shared with us that the purpose of attending HBS is to help us:

  1. Develop our own worldview and sense of how the world works;
  2. Enhance our ability to see the whole;
  3. Spend two fleeting years imagining how a new generation of business leaders will engage with an change the world; and
  4. Reimagine our place in the world.

The HBS Deal

Rawi shared that the “HBS Deal” is “We will teach you how the world works now. You go make it better.” He shared that the HBS learning model began with individual preparation (of cases), then small-group discussion and projects in groups of 6, then section level 90 person facilitated class discussions, and then individual reflection and integration (which I like to do via blogging).

He encouraged us to share our conclusions with our classmates–but to more importantly share the thought processes behind our conclusions. With the data identified and thought processes highlighted, we could better discuss them and learn from the variety of perspectives. Finally, Rawi shared that we are at an extraordinary moment–at an inflection point in globalization and at a new point in the evolution of business leadership and that HBS is excited to be part of this evolution. Rawi was quite a polished speaker. One thing you notice at HBS is how polished every speaker is.

Sections Coming Together

The sections are starting to come together and are really getting to know each other–through case comments, class time, and social events. We held our first “Skydeck” session on Friday in which the top row in the section classroom makes a powerpoint deck to tactfully and artfully make fun of other classmates for things that were said in class or happened during the week. You really learn so much from the perspectives of the other 89 people in the room. Friday’s cases on Cialis and a Whiskey company provided for a fun morning. We also began planning for our section retreat in Vermont at the end of the month.

Week Two Activities

This week I had the chance to attend an HBS Africa Business dinner on Tuesday, an HBS Social Enterprise Initiative Kickoff on Wednesday, an MIT Energy Ventures Class on Thursday, a DNC Convention watching party on Thursday, a Boston Teammates (a group of 20-somethings who are part of a listserv related to changing the world) dinner on Friday, a HBS dance party at Naga in Central Square on Saturday, and a sectionmate’s birthday party on Sunday. It was a fun week indeed.

Student clubs are about to start up this coming week. At the moment I plan to join the Africa Business Club, Energy and Environment Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club.

I keep myself busy. I enjoy spending my energies learning and talking with people who really care about where the world is going. One definitely has to make maximum use of his or her productive energies to be able to gain from the full experience. Even then, one has to make tough choices between multiple great speaking events, club events, section outings, and learning opportunities.

The Classes

Right now I am at the beginning of the Required Curriculum (RC) year and have six classes:

  • Technology & Operations Management (TOM)
  • Marketing (MKT)
  • Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)
  • Financial Reporting and Control (FRC)
  • Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD)
  • Finance 1 (FIN1) – Hasn’t begun yet

This Week’s Cases

In the past week we’ve read and reviewed the following cases and primers:

  • TOM – Benihana – Analyzing the aligning elements that made this hibachi Japanese restaurant highly successful in the 1980s
  • TOM – Donner Corporation – Analyzing process flows, capacities, and bottlenecks in making electronic circuit boards in a factory
  • TOM – Process Fundamentals – The basics of drawing process flows and calculating capacity, bottlenecks
  • TOM – Polyface – Analyzing the operations of an environmentally sustainable farm in Virginia
  • MKT – Red Lobster – Looking at how Red Lobster improved customer perception of freshness and quality from 2004-2010, redesigned their restaurants, and went after a slightly upscale customer segment
  • MKT – Cialis – Looking at the product introduction and target market messaging strategy during Eli Lilly’s introduction of Cialis into the market in 2003. Cialis quickly grew to capture ~40% of the market with $1.5B in annual sales to Viagra’s $1.9B.
  • MKT – Market Segmentation, Target Market Selection, and Positioning – A review of the basics of how to segment customers into different groups, write a positioning statement, and create a brand
  • FRC- Accounting for the iPhone – A case on revenue recognition. Looking at whether Apple could realize the revenue from the sales of iPhones under GAAP even though it had an outstanding obligation to provide free software updates to its customers and which practice better reflected economic reality.
  • FRC – Compass Box Whisky – Evaluating the accounting and operational implications of switching from purchasing 10 year old whisky to purchasing new whisky and holding the inventory as it ages
  • FRC – Polymedica Corporation – Evaluating the proper capitalizing vs. expensing of direct-response advertising
  • LEAD – C&S Grocer – Looking at the productivity gains realized from transitioning to self-managed teams inside a wholesale food warehouse that has becoming a $20 billion private company
  • LEAD – Managing A Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems – Evaluating how to manage a client crisis with a distributed team in India, the UAE, France, and the USA
  • FIELD – Managing Diversity – A great HBR article on how to fully take advantage of the varying perspectives on how to best do work and create value for the customer that can arise when you bring together competent people from many different backgrounds

The Lessons Learned

So what are the hard and soft lessons I’ve learned so far through all the cases. Here are just a few of them.

  • How to create an operations process flow chart and calculate the capacity and bottleneck in a production system (Donner case)
  • For a consumer product, have a memorable spokesperson (Snapple case with Wendy)
  • Objective reality is sometimes subjective with multiple truths (Kansas City Zephyrs Case)
  • When disagreeing on a conclusion, discuss the data and inputs that led you to that conclusion (RC year overview)
  • Create a work environment in which people teams can manage themselves (C&S Grocer Case)
  • Focus on getting the basics right and then execute (Black and Decker & Snapple)
  • When going after two very distinct markets, have two distinct brands (Black and Decker & DeWalt)
  • Make your product standout visually (Black and Decker)
  • How to properly assign debits and credits to record an accounting transaction that balances assets, liabilities and owner’s equity (Compass Box Whiskey — this one’s a bit hard!)

A Developing Interest in Renewables & Clean Tech

On Thursday I had the chance to go to MIT and sit in on the first Energy Ventures course with Professor Bill Aulet through my friends Titiaan Palazzi and David Cohen-Tanugi (a researcher working with Jeffrey Grossman). I’m becoming more and more interested in renewables, solar, and batteries as time goes on. Energy is arguably the biggest industry in the world and clean energy presents perhaps the biggest business opportunity in our lifetime. With the prospect of reaching solar grid parity this decade and our atmosphere now at 395 carbon dioxide parts per million it is both economically interesting and societally critical for great entrepreneurs and scientists to focus on the opportunities and challenges within cleantech.

Last year I got to know Jim McQuade (HBS ‘11) while he was writing the HBS Second Market/iContact case with Profs. Sahlman, Lassiter, and Nanda. Recently, Jim took a role as COO & CFO of SolidEnergy Systems, a spin-out of co-founder Dr. Qichao Hu’s research on batteries at MIT. SolidEnergy Ssytems is just one example of the many clean tech companies in Boston. It’s wonderful to see so many students at HBS and firms in the area focused on this great opportunity to re-create the world’s energy system to become carbon neutral over the next two decades. I’ve already found a number of folks among my classmates I could see myself investing in or wanting to work with someday down the line.

Preparing for My Future

From a big picture, I want to focus my life on how we as a species can create a world in which everyone has access to basic human needs in an environmentally sustainable manner. From a career standpoint, in the next twenty years I’d like to build Connect in San Francisco into a software company that helps connect people globally on touch devices and invest in via HumanityFund or lead of growing a renewable energy company. After that, I’d love to get into public service. So far HBS seems to be a great place to prepare me for these goals of leading a company that makes a large positive impact in the world and leading part of the public sector. I’m meeting people here that will enable me to do more than I could have imagined.

Balancing School and Work

Tomorrow the team of Anima, Addison, Marwan, Sara, Zach, and Thor at Connect (the company I co-founded in May in San Francisco) is back to work for the Fall Season after a two week break. We are building a touch application for laptops, tablets, and smartphones that builds an integrated address book (merging data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, iPhone, and Gmail), allows you to view and filter the home, work, and check-in locations of your contacts on a map of the world, and brings together all your digital interactions with a person in one place.

Connect launched its alpha version on August 15th and now is spending the autumn building out the beta product requirements and mobile application before a December beta launch. As I noted last week, while it is challenging leading a company from across the country, I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful COO/co-founder Anima running the daily ops and a great engineering team who is making it happen. It’s also fun to continually be engaged in building a new start-up again. It’s been 9 years since iContact was at the same stage and it’s been fun getting into the details of product management again.

Another packed week awaits. Off to bed!!