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!!