Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Executive MBA Experience: First Semester In

Decided to get an executive MBA was one of the biggest decisions I made recently - not only the time commitment, but spending a significant amount of money: how much to spend, which school to go to, whether I would have any life, how I would manage it with work, and all of that. The Exec MBA experience is like a roller coaster, and this September I got on. Many people have asked me what it's like so I thought this post might give people a view from this inside. We just finished our first semester mid-terms so this is a good time to pause for a moment and reflect (and believe me, there haven't been many opportunities to pause...).

In an earlier post I discussed my decision to go to Rutgers and now that I'm there the first thing to say is that I made the right choice. I really believe this program is unique in how it builds a sense of collaboration, trust, and friendship amongst the students. The academics are solid but more than just learning statistics or economics, what really comes out of the program is how to apply leadership and management skills as you work collaboratively with colleagues and professionals from a variety of geographic, industry, and ethnic backgrounds. These "soft skills," as we characterize them in publishing, are not the kinds of things I thought I needed to learn - but now that I'm here, I'm realizing this may be one of the most valuable experiences of the Exec MBA. The first semester at Rutgers fosters an environment where you can assimilate underlying academic basic (law, statistics, economics) that will be more applied in future semesters while also having a laboratory to practice essential business skills such as negotiation and leadership. I've never "studied" these skills before and going through that process is certainly useful. I feel like a vintage car being "tuned up" for business, and already have noticed its positive effect on how I do my job at work. I really think that Rutgers could market this aspect of the program more, because now that I am here, I realize this is probably the most essential thing I was looking for from my MBA, yet didn't know before I arrived.

In other words - before coming, I was focused on things like quality of networking, school reputation, or specifics of the curriculum (did they have a class on this or that interest). Really all external surface factors. The real experience is what the program can teach you about yourself (you get out of it what you put in, certainly) - how relevant you make the homework for yourself, and the quality of the teachers and program. I'm sure there are many schools that can impart these things but what I've discovered is that you can't predetermine where the MBA will take you before you come in. If you are really open to the MBA experience, you will dive deeply into it and let it transform you into the type of informed decision maker, leader, and business strategist who can make the best decisions about where to take your business and your career. This was my real goal, even though I didn't know it, and I'm excited that this two year experience will take me there. Things like career progress and salary will naturally follow.

So in a blink of an eye two months have gone by, an eighth of the program. Does it consume every moment of non-work time? Pretty much. Is it a relationship strain? Yes, but here are two things that help:

1. Really think through and prepare with your spouse what the family will need. Do you need extra day care, cleaning service? How will you help your spouse manage the extra work load falling to them?
2. No matter what you arrange, it will be a strain, so when you can, take evenings off to return to the family. Yes, you will feel strained and worried about school and work. But you start to learn how to keep up with readings, what you can skip or delay. An evening every other week will seem overwhelming to you and terribly infrequent to your spouse but you will both benefit from it.

The hardest part: your day job demands. As with any job, there are ebbs and flows to the overtime and weekends when work starts to back up or you need to travel. This is where the strong friendships and the group dynamics of the Rutgers program really pay off. If you are a good study group they will step in when you are traveling and you will return the favor. You will learn to get by with less sleep, but don't sacrifice your workout or exercise routine: staying in shape and eating healthy are essential to keeping up your stamina. The Exec MBA is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to go in with proper discipline, but not panic and expend all your energy right away. You need to keep those daily things that keep you going, or you will quickly loose the energy you need.

Two months in, I feel I've gotten the flow. I've had to sacrifice not only hobbies and some favorite activities (like going to the movies or enjoying a fall hike) but also put off friends and cancel reunions with old acquaintances. But pacing yourself is important. A ten minute break to write this post, and now back to my law book for the rest of the day (and prepare for work tomorrow). That's the Sunday life of the exec MBA.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Asia Trip: Days 4 and 5 - Hong Kong

On Wednesday, visited the International Islamic University of Malaysia on the outskirts of KL.

Beautiful campus in the hills. Then it was off on a three hour flight to Hong Kong.

Arrived at the JW Marriott late at night. Great, busy, business hotel - lot's of big meetings going on in lobby. Couldn't see anything at night but in morning, view of harbor was beautiful.

Hong Kong is GREAT city - New York in the hills of LA.

Only they are even more enamored of  shopping malls and brands than LA. Pacific Place is right next to the hotel, one of the swank malls.

Had a Harvey Nicks.

 Plus every big brand imaginable.

After meetings ended Thursday had a few hours to myself before heading home Friday. First tihing was checking out the Peak Tram to the top of the Hong Kong peak mountain.

Then later that night it was time for a night on the town with Nick and Glenn.

Highlight was the night market in Kowloon.


And of course the laser show at 8pm every night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Asia Days 2 and 3: On to Kuala Lumpur

A day of business in Singapore - our office building

An evening of spicy crab.

Then off to Kuala Lumpur. This city - though Muslim - is less gentrified, a more diverse mixture of old and new, with a bit of an East Village vibe. Hotel Shangi-La is very nice.

People love their scooters here.

At night the city vibes with tropical bars....

Colorful lights hang from the big trees.

Petronis towers:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Marty's Asia Trip: Day 1 - Singapore

Arrived in Singapore today. As my classmate Mikael says, it's like Southern California (only a bit steamier). Weather in the evening was lovely however.

Stopped in the morning at the botanical garden. Many varieties of ginge and orchids. Also people doing calisthentics.

In the afternoon I went to Chinatown, saw the Buddist Tooth Relic Temple

Finally went down to the marina where the Sands hotel and financial center is. Beautiful at night.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Best Android Phone for Business Use

I'm sick and tired of my freezing up Blackberry Storm 1 and I'm eligible to get a new work phone. Since I already have an iPhone 4 for personal use (love it, by the way), I wanted to get Android. Why Android? Well, I need to review a lot of different apps and devices for work - I already have iPhone and iPad, and there are few apps available for Blackberry, so it's time I had an Android device.

Since my iPhone handles all my personal needs what I need now is a work warhorse that also gives good app, long battery life (for travel days on the road), Google maps (use it to find meeting locations), and a full-featured browser (tired of Blackberry browser pains). Most helpful would be good productivity tools (word, excel) and VPN features to connect to my desktop for emergency document retrieval.

Oh, and did I mention that I'd much prefer to stay on Verizon, the best rated network (I also have a work Verizon data plan I use constantly).

After some research, the clear leader is the Samsung Galaxy S2 - looks like it has everything I need. Only problem is, it isn't out yet in the U.S.

So if I went with an existing Verizon Android phone to meet my work requirements, the best choices look to be Motorola Droid 2 or the HTC Incredible 2, Both seem to have decent battery life (Incredible 1 was plagued with poor battery performance). Droid 2 seems more business oriented, with VPN and other features I need (Incredible 2 doesn't seem to  have) but not sure I like a sliding phone (wonder if access to top row of keys will be difficult with my big thumbs).

My rank would likely be Droid 2 over Incredible 2 but not sure if I should buy one now or wait for the Galaxy S2.... Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Executive MBA: Why I Chose Rutgers

This fall I'll begin the executive MBA program at Rutgers University in Newark. I've spent a lot of time considering several programs in the NY area, did a lot of web research, went to open houses, and so on.

My first question was whether to do an online or in person program. Both IE Business School (in Spain) and Thunderbird (in Arizona) have high ranking online programs, and their schools get into top five rankings (Wall Street Journal and Financial Times offer the two best ranking methodologies). But I ultimately decided that I wanted to have the in-person experience. Part of my reason for getting the MBA is to develop a local network, as well as more personal friends outside my immediate employer. For this I need the in-person touch.

One thing I've discovered: programs are priced relative to their "tiers" in terms of education and ranking. At the low end are smaller programs at places like Seton Hall and Montclair State College. These programs cost in the $40K range and take roughly two years to complete. The Rutgers program costs roughly $80,000 over two years. Other programs in that middle price range in the area include Babson in Boston, Rensellar in Albany, Fordham and Baruch in New York City, or Penn State (Smeal) in Philadelphia, all of which offer interesting programs with different focuses (Babson has an entrepreneurial focus; Rensselaer a technology focus; Rutgers has a strong program in finance and strategy). Then there are the "name" programs at the top end: Wharton, Columbia, and NYU. Also, Cornell's program, which is somewhat newer and has a management focus, hovers in between but is moving into this top tier. All of these programs cost around $140K or more (and $160K for Wharton).

Some people say "price should not be a factor," but it is to me - I'm an older student (I'll be over fifty once I graduate) and I'm paying almost all the way myself (as a majority of eMBA students now do). While I still think an EMBA investment is going to help my income in the long run, it's doubtful I'm going to move into a trading desk after graduation and make $300,000 a year, so a name degree isn't necessary. I'm doing it mainly because the material is relevant to my current job, it will give me the business background to make more strategic decisions, and it should, in some way, enhance my earning capabilities. I'm also doing it because - as someone who has been in a creative career all my life - I've developed a strong interest in business and finance lately, and want to have a good educational grounding and take myself in a new direction. As perhaps evidence of my newfound financial awareness, I also need to start watching our finances more carefully, and want to avoid taking on any more debt. 80K is my practical limit for that. If I were younger, however - had no debt and had more time to career hop and play the networking game - I would certainly entertain the name programs in the area, Columbia, NYU, and possibly Wharton. That's just not my situation. And some might argue that a program such as Rutgers' is just as good as these anyway.

At the same time, I feel I *do* need to go to at least a "second tier" program with a solid academic reputation and track record of delivering business leaders. For one, I'm a pretty good student (in fact, I teach digital marketing occasionally), and I want to feel like I'm around other leaders and strong students. The quality of the class is important. There also is a value I want to get out of the network of students and visiting and staff faculty I meet during the program. While I'm sure that colleges such as Seton Hall and Montclair State offer a solid curriculum, I'm afraid that personally, I'm just not going to get enough "bang" to make the $40K investment worthwhile.

That leaves the second tier for me. So why Rutgers over Babson, Rensselaer, Penn State, Fordham, and Baruch? Several reasons -

Convenience - Rutgers is only 15 minutes from my home. I've been told by several eMBA graduates not to underestimate the convenience factor. In many ways, it could be the factor that determines whether you complete the program or not.
Rankings - Penn State and Rutgers have both been in the top 25 Wall Street Journal list for over two years.
Return on Investment - Yes, this is a factor, and Rutgers is the only one of these to land in the Wall Street top 10.
Focus on Finance - Like NYU, Rutgers offers a first-rate finance curriculum, as well as a great overseas module in China, both of which are the type of focus I want from the MBA. (Finance may be less important to some people, but I feel I already have a pretty good background in entrepreneurship and is where I'm working now, and also where I need to learn the most).

Finally, more than anything, I have to say what won me over was the enthusiasm of the Rutgers students. Until I go to the program I think this will be a hard thing to completely grasp, but there was a quality to the students that is uniquely different: for one, they are all huge fans of the program. For another, they really seem to bond together (reminiscent of my experience in a fraternity). Clearly, the program can't lavish the same money on food and entertainment as one might get at these expensive programs, but there clearly is a feeling of bonding together as a group. I didn't get quite this same sense from the other schools I visited. It may not be why I looked for an eMBA program in the first place, but it's a quality that is certainly a benefit to have.

Now that I've made the decision, I'm looking forward to starting the program in the fall. I know it will be a ton of work, but I'm really looking forward to being challenged in this way again. I think, in some important way, it's going to help keep me from starting to feel like I'm getting old.