Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Darden Faculty Profile: Casey Lichtendahl

Welcome to the first of what I hope will become a series of interviews with Darden’s top rated business school faculty!  For my inaugural profile I begin with Casey Lichtendahl, one of the teachers for first-year Decision Analysis.  “D.A.”, as it’s known here at Darden, serves as a rite of passage for many students who had never used a regression or an Excel spreadsheet in their pre-Darden lives.

Casey Lichtendahl

JH: Did you know that you have a fan club on Facebook?
CL: Yes, but I’ve never used Facebook and I’m not a fan of all this social media.  We’re losing out on face-to-face interactions such as what we are doing in this office right now.  It’s as if we are trading baseball cards, but we’re more than baseball cards as people.

JH: So have you also shunned “The Social Network”?
CL: I haven’t seen that movie, but I would like to.  It sounds like a good story about the entrepreneurial experience.

JH: Speaking of entrepreneurial experience, you have some yourself, co-founding Tradewinds Ice Tea in the early 90’s.  Any advice for Darden students looking to become entrepreneurs?
CL: I started Tradewinds with my family.  We recently sold off Tradewinds to Sweet Leaf Tea in Texas, and they plan on distributing it with Nestle so I’m not in the tea business any longer.

Having grown up in and around a family business, I had always found it hard to separate our family life from the work we were doing.  I liked that we were developing a tangible product, ice tea, and I enjoyed designing new flavors and working on labels for the bottles.  Operating in a family dynamic is difficult – you are business partners as well as close relatives.  I think in that environment it is important to find ways to create space to be analytical and objective.  With my father and sister involved with Tradewinds, I found that to be challenging.

JH: Why did you decide to leave your business to become a professor?
CL: Coming to business school was the change factor for me.  Probably not too many current students here realize this, but I received an MBA from Darden in 1998.  I came to business school wanting to increase my ability to add value to the family business.  Initially, I didn’t have an interest in the course material in just an academic setting.

In my first year at Darden, I took what was called Quantitative Analysis (now Decision Analysis), and was so turned on by the material that at the end of my first year I was thinking about a PhD.  After I graduated I returned to the family business for a year and tried to translate as much of my MBA experience as I could into improving the business.  I then started at a master’s program at Stanford as I needed more of a quant background to apply to doctoral programs, then I did my PhD at Duke, where I taught D.A. for economics undergrads before returning to Darden four years ago.

JH: Quite an unusual path!
CL: I’m actually not the only member of the faculty with a Darden MBA.  Professors Greg Fairchild and Tim Laseter studied here as well.

JH: In what ways has Darden changed since you were a student here?
CL: The focus on recruiting is much stronger now.  It is a bigger part of what students spend their time doing.  There were corporate briefings going on when I was here, but not to this degree.  I estimate there are about twice as many now.

The curriculum was also structured differently back then.  Instead of the term structure which the school has now, a first-year would just start with “Core”, and topics would come and go in the curriculum throughout the year.  All the classes would build on one another, and D.A. was smattered about with all the other classes.

In addition, the school was smaller back then.  We had four first-year sections instead of five.

JH: Do you still stay in touch with members of your learning team?
CL: I actually have had two of my old learning team members stop by my office.  They are both recruiting managers at their companies now.

Thankfully for many, well beyond the level of math needed to be successful in D.A.!

JH: What does Casey Lichtendahl do when he’s not teaching classes?
CL: This is what I’m working on right now.  [Casey pulls out a document from his desk titled “Habit Formation from Correlation Aversion”]

I’m writing this with my colleagues Raul Chao and Sam Bodily.  We’re hoping to get this published in the journal Operations Research.  Stuff like this is important for the school as it keeps the faculty sharp – we keep up with innovations in the field.

I find that I have a good balance here between my teaching load and research.  While I am teaching a class I put my research on hold.

JH: Have you ever had a day in which you wish you were lecturing rather than teaching using the case method?
CL: No, I really prefer doing things the Darden way.  The case method was brought to Darden by its first dean, Charles Abbott, who had been on faculty at Harvard.  Abbott believed that when there is ambiguity in how to solve a problem, you need students to discuss the possibilities in detail.  You need conversation about the problem spilling over outside of the classroom.   Relying on a single set of answers does not achieve the deepest level of learning.

When I was teaching at Duke I found it hard to keep students’ interest while going through a slide deck.  I’m really glad I don’t get to teach that way here.

JH: But there must be some days where you are thinking, “These students just don’t get it.”
CL: As you saw in class, sometimes an appeal to authority is necessary.  Sometimes we need to reach back to the assigned tech note to reexamine the math behind the business idea.  I don’t want deciphering a tech note to get in the way of understanding an important concept in the case.  I think it is fine, for example, to tell students what three or four statistics are most important in understanding the output of a regression.

When not at Darden, Casey enjoys spending time in Grand Teton National Park

JH: What’s the most unusual thing you ever had happen in one of your classes?
CL: There was a time when I ended up on the “Chips & Quips” page of the Cold Call Chronicle.  I was in class trying to demonstrate the Central Limit Theorem with a coin flip example.  I asked a student if he wanted to bet on the outcome of one coin flip, or on the average of two flips.  To make this a little more dramatic, I told the student that if the coin lands “heads” you live and “tails” you die.

The student, of course, asked me, “What is the outcome in the middle?”  I hadn’t really thought through the problem beforehand, and clearly you can’t end up 50% dead – I needed to think of something else.  So I said, “I’m going to punch you in the face really hard.”

Thankfully, I didn’t get to punch the student, but I really hope I never end up in “Chips & Quips” again.

JH: The holidays are upon us now in the United States.  Any shopping tips?
CL: Well, I rely on my wife to do all of the shopping, so I don’t buy too many gifts myself.  Of course, I need to go to the store personally for her presents, and I’m very much a last minute shopper.  I usually buy my wife something from Best Buy.  For her birthday I bought her an iPhone because she’s not very tech-savvy, and she loves that thing.

One rule I go by is: The more utilitarian the gift, the less romantically appealing.  You might be thinking about buying your loved one a weed eater…NO!  Absolutely not!  No kitchen gear, no appliances, no pots and pans, no knives!  These gifts are insulting on many levels.

JH: My mother loves those types of gifts.
CL: I doubt you have a romantic relationship with her.

Happy students celebrate passing Term 1 D.A. with "x hats" and "dummy variables"

JH: If you could pick only one theme of Decision Analysis that your students would remember in the business world, what would it be?
CL: The most important thing to remember in any decision analysis is to frame the decision properly.  Make sure you lay out all of the alternatives, the uncertainties, and the values of different consequences downstream from the initial decision.  Often when you do this you find you don’t even need to crank through the numbers to decide.

For instance, you might frame your choices as A and B, but downstream of B you might be able to make another decision which offsets the effect of a bad outcome, should it happen.  Now B completely dominates A.  By considering the big structural properties of the problem, you’ve cut short any analysis.  You don’t even need to build a spreadsheet model or do any hardcore number-crunching.

If you can’t make this tradeoff in your head after you’ve talked informally, but rigorously, about the decision, now you can go to the spreadsheet.  If you’re doing any numerical analysis, you need to synthesize your conclusions into pictures.  You need to look at the data graphically.

Hard to believe that we've come to the end of the first semester at Darden!  Most of the students are gone now and an unusual cold snap has descended upon Charlottesville.  I will be away for a couple weeks (follow me on my travel blog if you like), but back blogging to all of you in the new year.  Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Black November -- Pitch Black or a Shade of Gray?

"This shirt is black...NOT!" ~ Borat

About a week or two into my Darden experience I first heard mention of the phrase "Black November", initially mentioned casually by members of the Career Development Center, then in my conversations with second-years. The implication seemingly was that we needed to prepare for some sort of business school apocalypse, with recommended courses of action including writing all of our cover letters and networking with all possible company contacts in September, stocking up on canned foods, boarding up our windows, and assuring our friends that just because we wouldn't be speaking to them for 30 days didn't mean we were dead.

In a way, they all were right. First of all, Darden does lie in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning that it is literally darker these days. Today saw a mere 9 hours and 45 minutes of daylight in Charlottesville, and extra gloomy daylight at that as we had overcast skies and drizzle all day today.

If I took a measurement right now on the Darden intensity meter, where:

1 is "still going to the gym and buying my own groceries"
5 is "down to 6 hours of sleep a night"
10 is "keeling over from physical pain"

...I'd estimate that most first-years right now are at about a 7 or an 8. The last four months have seen a gradual cranking up of this dial to the point where now we face a crush of deadlines related to exams, job searches, and the end of the calendar year. I do see my friends on the town a fair bit less now than I used to. Our old Thursday night social activities have greatly diminished. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I spent most of my time at home catching up on emails, coursework, and other unfinished school tasks, much to the dismay of my parents and siblings. Throw in my 10-year high school reunion and my family didn't see much of me at all.

This is not to say that Darden wasn't intense at the beginning. I received an email recently from a former coworker asking me if I was "surviving the Harvard-Bootcamp-of-the-South", and his portrayal of Darden wasn't entirely inaccurate. Darden's reputation is that of a very hard working business school, and with this reputation I definitely agree. The beginning of Darden felt very intense too, but in hindsight we weren't yet confronted with that many obstacles. You get acclimated to the intensity over time, at which point the Darden first year throws more at you and you frantically struggle to keep your head above water.

My walk home from Darden now looks rather dismal

Having survived this month, however, I don't think November was entirely black. Or as Borat might joke, "This month is black...NOT!" The simple truth is that business school is what you make of it. If you de-commit from joining activities, shun the ever-present corporate recruiters, refrain from networking your butt off to make job interview closed lists, and content yourself with average grades, you're unlikely to be overwhelmed here.

And I don't think that packed schedules are unique to Darden students. The holidays are a stressful time for many people, not just those at Darden. At other top-tier business schools, my friends all invariably seem to be busy, busy, busy. Business school is like a good buffet -- you walk through continually piling delicious foods onto your plate, but once you reach the end of the line your plate is overwhelmed by a mountain of stuff, and you're now sad that you haven't left room for dessert. You're going to need to leave something unfinished because there is no way you can eat everything you've selected.

Darden students choose to be busy. They choose to pursue lucrative investment banking and consulting jobs, knowing well ahead of time the rigors of these recruiting processes. They choose to network endlessly to build a group of professional contacts which will get them a step ahead in building careers. They choose to join clubs and get involved with volunteer projects. They choose to be prepared for case discussions and exams.

The overwhelming part about November is that all these activities converge simultaneously to demand extraordinary amounts of your time. Choosing which to pass up becomes very difficult. You still want a great summer job, but you still want to be prepared for the cold call, but you still want to raise funds for the local food bank, but you still want to sleep. Deciding which to eliminate can, at times, feel like choosing which of your sons to kill. Most students still try to do it all (except the sleep part, I think we've all given up on that).

Keeping a long-term perspective, though, I think we'll find that all this difficult work was worth the struggle. One look at the refreshed second-years here reveals that these hectic times do pass, and the wisdom we learn this month will help us focus our priorities in the world of business. Darden's mission is "to improve society by developing leaders in the world of practical affairs," and this time management crash course will be a valuable, practical developmental lesson for all of us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time for Your Questions!

Reaching into Ye Olde Mailbag to answer a few interesting questions I recently received from a prospective Darden student:

Can you tell me more about the classes, clubs, and culture at Darden in respect to your experience and interests?

First, a little background on me for those who didn't read my first Darden blog post.  I came to Darden after working for six years at an energy trading company in northern Virginia, and prior to that attended MIT where I studied economics. My background is heavily analytical but in a narrow sense of analyzing the risks and returns of financial contracts in North American power markets.  I wanted to expand my breadth of knowledge in an MBA program.

Darden has always been known for its very strong general management curriculum.  In fact, this year the Financial Times ranked Darden #1 in the world in the general management specialty, ahead of an ivy-covered school up in Cambridge, Mass.  I didn't want to specialize deeply at business school and I find that Darden discourages this, at least in the first year, by sending all of its students through a rigorous curriculum of core classes.  Darden strongly emphasizes a holistic approach to managing an enterprise.

In addition to wanting breadth over depth, I also was drawn to Darden by its superlative faculty.  In my undergraduate experience, most professors only emerged to lecture, then retreated back into their research labs.  By contrast, the professors here are extremely approachable, and most keep an "open door" policy over in the faculty building.  Without question, their top priority is to help you learn, and students commonly preserve relationships with faculty well after classes.  You even will see faculty show up to Darden Cup events.  No surprise, then, that Darden's high-touch faculty were ranked #1 in this fall's Princeton Review ranking.

Furthermore, I was drawn to Darden by the case method.  Admittedly, it's an inefficient means of learning, requiring more preparation than other approaches, but I find it equally if not more effective.  I have a "learning by doing" style and tend to lose interest with a lecture approach.  In fact, while visiting a competing school I actually fell asleep in a dry post-lunch marketing lecture.  The case method forces me to stay on my toes and find a way to contribute to the class discussion.  The most rewarding learning experiences here come when either I'm able to convince a student of a better approach to a business problem or when another student corrects my mistake.  You won't get fooled twice when you see a similar problem in the real world!

Culturally, Darden is a very tight-knit community, I think by virtue of being in a smaller town and also due to the types of students who get admitted here. Students at Darden are very interested in helping one another, be it with schoolwork, recruiting, or just helping with personal issues -- you should see how much free food my roommate has received after having his leg wrapped in a cast.  During my undergrad I felt that MIT was a cold, harsh environment, and I thrive on the support I receive from my classmates at Darden.  The environment here resembles a friendly town in the Midwest, like those near where I grew up.

Finally, there are many students here who share my interest in the energy industry.  The Darden Energy Club draws in speakers from industry who teach students about energy topics, and Net Impact actively engages the student body on sustainability issues.  Both set up opportunities for students to meet important industry players in a small setting. For example, Net Impact arranged a meeting for a group of interested students with the CEO of Gevo, maker of a next-gen biofuel / ethanol killer.  Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.  Right now the two clubs are working jointly to set up a Sustainability and Renewable Energy forum at Darden in February, and so far I've been able to bring in an associate at enXco and an executive director at NextEra, both Darden alums.  Again, pretty cool!!

Can you speak to the career opportunities?

Very broad.  A who's who of Fortune 500 companies have appeared on Grounds this fall, ranging from General Electric to Google to Proctor and Gamble to Amazon to DuPont. And of course there's all the big name consulting firms and I-banks.  Even though the overall job picture in the US still looks pitiful, from what I've seen MBA recruiting has been strong this fall.  If you want to land that big marketing job with the big boys, Darden can certainly help place you in a position to nab it (with a lot of hard work on your part, of course).

The Pillsbury Doughboy visits Darden!
(thank you General Mills)
If you're like me, focusing on smaller renewable energy companies, the Darden alumni network has been very helpful.  My focus has been primarily off-grounds with alumni who have been very willing to spend 30 minutes on the phone talking about what they do.  I'm pleasantly surprised at how simply I've been able to build up a network of industry contacts, which should pay off when my job search becomes particularly intense.

Broadly speaking, any application tips?

For any business school application, not just Darden, you need to think deeply about how you fit with the school and its core values.  These schools at the top of the heap are just so darn competitive that if you aren't able to demonstrate that fit in your application, your application gets tossed quickly into the "no" pile.  I don't care how high your GMAT score is or how great your past experience is -- you just won't cut it.

For Darden in particular, I think you need to show how you fit in with what Dean Bruner calls "high touch, high tone, high energy".  The dean can describe this more eloquently than I can in his blog (and this blogger also has a clear characterization), but I'll summarize as follows: you must show through your past experiences how you took action to build a stronger community.  Darden wants driven people, but not those driven to excel at the expense of others. Darden needs students who will give much of themselves for the sake of the group, and you must express a genuine interest in being actively involved here.

(Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Feel free to keep the questions coming.  I can be reached at HarrisJ12@darden.virginia.edu)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feels Like "CEO Month" at Darden

One of the cool aspects of being at a top business school that often gets overlooked is the exposure you get to "C-level" executives* in big business. These titans of industry descend upon Charlottesville to teach lessons about general management which just don't come out on paper. There's a different feel to a case discussion when the chief protagonist is in the room!

In my little world before business school, I sat everyday in a suburban office building, analyzing the movements of power markets.  It was good work, but the world of corporate America felt remote.  At Darden, this is certainly not true!

Tomorrow's speaker: Kevin Sharer from Amgen

This month at school has been packed with business leaders:

  • First, Eric Spiegel, the President and CEO of Siemens, the biggest little German electronics manufacturer you've probably never heard of (only a mere $98 billion company), who spoke about his transition from being a lifetime consultant to overseeing the operations of 405,000 employees in 190 countries.
  • Next, Wendell Weeks, Chairman and CEO of Corning, who spoke to students about managing breakthrough innovation at one of America's last-standing technology manufacturers.  A very candid speaker who provided a refreshing long-term perspective to investment in a world which often seems to value quarterly earnings more than great products (let's just say Wendell doesn't like Fidelity).
  • The following day, Kevin Plank, CEO and Chairman of Under Armour.  Kevin told the remarkable story of a man who 15 years ago turned an idea for a non-cotton athletic undershirt into a business operated out of his mother's basement, then transformed it into a multinational company crossing $1 billion in sales this year.  Their advertising also pumps you up..."We Must Protect This House!"
  • Today, Bill Hawkins, CEO of Medtronic, the world's largest medical device manufacturer.  He shared his lessons on leadership (start by surrounding yourself with a smart, diverse group people) and personal fulfillment (have fun!), and also talked about his company's challenges in continuing to develop life-saving products in the highly politicized health care industry.  A Darden alum!
  • To cap it off, tomorrow we have Kevin Sharer, Chairman and CEO of Amgen, the world's largest biotech pharma company.  Today he and Bill grabbed lunch together at Darden -- to be a fly on the wall for that discussion!  Tomorrow's chat is titled "Healthcare, Leadership and Life".  Should be great!

In my first three months at Darden, we've also received top executives from Target, American Express, Samsung, Cargill, and DuPont, just to name a few top companies.

Preparing for cases can get a little dull sometimes, and it's a treat to take a break to hear the perspectives of these guys.  Their lessons might sound like common sense -- follow your passions, take risks, step out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself -- but clearly they work!

*For those of you who don't know what "C-level" means (as I didn't until about a year ago), it's corporate lingo for the Chiefs: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), etc.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Feel Better Aaron!

In case those of you at Darden haven't noticed, my roommate Aaron picked up a not so pleasant injury at Darden Cup football on Saturday...

Ruptured Achilles tendon.  Ouch!  And he wasn't the only one.  Monday morning's walking wounded also included a dislocated finger and a wrapped up hand with some bone chips potentially locked inside.  Not to mention the other three first-year students already on crutches, and we have something of an injury epidemic on grounds.

Make sure to look out for one another so we don't have any more mishaps, particularly as we enter the high cocktail season around the holidays.  Clearly we're all not 21 years old anymore, so make sure you warm up properly before you exercise, especially as the mercury drops in the thermometer.  Also, if you see someone who took a knock, offer a helping hand.  I'm sure your kind gesture will be appreciated!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Everything I Needed To Know About Time Management I Learned In My Operations Course

I enjoy being able to extend the lessons from my coursework to the mundane details of my everyday life. Perhaps this is just the inner nerd in me thinking creatively while getting bored doing something else, but I think there is a personal benefit to such thinking. If I can break my course material out of the theoretical business context within which it resides in the classroom, I'm able to master the material better. Just how my mind works.

Professor Raul Chao
Recently in Term 2 I finished a required first-year course in Operations, a study of the underlying processes by which firms create and deliver value. Like nearly all classes at Darden, we were taught by a great member of the faculty, Raul Chao. Raul excelled because he insisted that his students get their heads out of their spreadsheets and understand the processes at a high level.

A day or two into the class, I realized that I could model my life as a process. Rather cold, perhaps, but let me explain. A process is defined as the method by which inputs are transformed into outputs. At a manufacturer, a process might take raw materials and convert these into widgets. By making this process more efficient, the manufacturer could produce more widgets in less time.

Let's extend this to my life by analyzing my daily "bed-to-school process". My alarm rings, I take a shower, brush my teeth, shave, get dressed, eat breakfast, and walk to Darden. I've been able to make this process more efficient in several ways. For instance, I pack my bag before going to bed at night so I'm not stumbling around looking for all my notes in the haze of the morning. I also eat a quick breakfast of yogurt, fruit and cereal. One of my roommates eats eggs every morning, but I don't know how he finds the time to cook them. I'm not one to hit the snooze button...need to get every minute of sleep I can! I don't check emails before leaving as I can read them on my smartphone while walking to class.

So I'm fairly efficient at getting from home to school, especially after I've consumed my first morning cup of coffee. But what about the rest of my life? You realize quickly at business school that the experience is what you make of it -- you can't possibly make enough time to do everything. You can study your butt off, you can socialize your butt off, or you can try to balance. The key is to not waste time on the little things so you have enough time to dedicate to the priorities which are most important to you.

In Operations, you persistently attempt to identify the "bottleneck" in your process, the element which limits the capacity. In my life, the bottleneck is pretty clearly...me. I can only read and understand cases at a certain rate. If I spend more time studying then I have less time to go to the pub and make new friends. Both studying and socializing get in the way of finding a summer job.

Operations managers also spend a substantial amount of time on inventory management. If I become less efficient at processing the tasks in my life, stuff piles up. "Inventory" in my case might mean emails to send, companies to research for summer jobs, cases and tech notes to read, or friends and family to call. If I take on too many projects at school, my utilization increases and more things wait to get accomplished. As the unpredictability of arrival of tasks increases, the inventory level increases. Basic queuing theory!

Yesterday's schedule
You spend a couple days in Operations learning some Japanese. "Muda" is waste, non-value-adding activity in the process. "Kaizen" is the idea of continual improvement in the process. A "kanban" is a scheduling system which manages information and material flow in the process. In my case, the muda could be the time spent walking home between school and learning team. If I bring the next day's cases with me to Darden, I save 20 minutes to study and catch up. My Outlook task list serves as my kanban, making sure that I prioritize key to-dos. My learning team embraced kaizen when we decided to split the labor of preparing cases...there just isn't enough time in a day to individually prepare all the cases AND do all the networking, socializing, and exercising you need.

Proper time management is essential in business school. Make sure you've mastered your own system before you apply.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cultivating a Personal Brand

I recently received the latest issue of Fortune magazine, the "50 Most Powerful Women" issue, and saw Oprah Winfrey's face smack dab on the cover.  I don't know what you all think of Oprah, but I find her to be obnoxious.  I can't stand how this self-aggrandizing diva has taken over daytime TV, thrust Dr. Phil upon American society, and courted a zombie clan of book club members who fawn over every title she recommends.  Ugh.

As I was about to disgustingly chuck this issue into the trash, I noticed an interesting quote floating in Oprah's hair, "Now I accept that I'm a brand."  Being in business school and taking a marketing course now in Term 2 at Darden, I became interested and flipped in to read the article.

Recently, I saw a talk as part of the Darden Leadership Speaker Series by Susan Sobbott, Darden class of 1990 and president of American Express OPEN, titled "Cultivating Your Personal Brand".  It was an excellent speech, and you can watch it on YouTube.  As a leader in one of the most prestigious corporate service brands in the world, Susan clearly knows a thing or two about marketing.  I didn't need to come to business school to learn that Coca-Cola, IBM, and Microsoft are the three most powerful brands in the world, but before Darden I had never considered the brand "Jonathan Harris".  Susan, along with the rest of my Darden experience thus far, has made me think about it deeply.

Susan defined a personal brand as, "What you're known for."  The brand is, "what people are saying about you to someone who has not met you.  It precedes you."  She illustrated this by flashing a picture of "The Situation" from the show "Jersey Shore"; like him or not (and I'm deep in the "not" category), when you see his picture thoughts and feelings flash into your mind.  This is a personal brand, and you don't need to be famous to have one -- just ask your friends.
"Brand 56"
Still don't think personal brand is important?  Consider this guy, one of my first-year colleagues.  Flash back to Orientation.  At the beginning of his presentation, our opening guest speaker projected this picture.  Who is this guy?  The auditorium stirred.  The public humiliation continued as the speaker then proceeded to analyze what this guy might be projecting with his football jersey, his hands, and his facial expression.  The speaker has permanently linked the student in our heads with a drug-abusing Giants player from the 1980s.  I hope this guy someday launches a company someday called "Brand 56"; imagine the irony.  The speaker's lesson was clear: beware what you place on Facebook!    [and your personal blog...]

How do you get a personal brand?  According to Susan, first you create one.  You ask, "Who do I want to be?"  You get deep inside and find what motivates you.  I had a friend recently forward me an excellent video by "peak performance strategist" Tony Robbins, who asks the question, "Why do we do what we do?"  This self-assessment is absolutely critical.  If you don't know yourself, you won't place yourself into situations in which you will do your best and be happiest.  I will admit to being as guilty as most of you of not assessing myself enough during the first 28 years of my life.  But being a career changer in business school, figuring out what makes me tick is essential to placing my future on the right course.

Your next step is to make this brand go to work for you.  You think about how this brand comes through in all your actions.  You stay consistent.  "The Situation" will make $5 million this year on the basis of his persona alone, including an awful performance on "Dancing with the Stars".  He's always the same person, even if that person might be arrogrant and nauseating.
Always in character, with the red shirt unbuttoned.
The third step in creating your brand, according to Susan, is authenticity.  You work with what you've got.  You need to be believable for your brand to resonate.  Susan listed a couple steps to make sure you get this resonance.  First, you take an honest and objective inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.  Next, you believe in who you are.  You apply no judgment to your package, you're not self-critical, you accept your set of assets and you run with them.  Finally you must be true to and be proud of who you are.  Be realistic; don't put yourself in situations you won't enjoy.  Fit in the way you fit, and create an environment in which you will truly flourish.

Perhaps no one defines personal brand like Oprah.  She doesn't even need a last name.  She has her own magazine, and she gets called out awkwardly at awards shows.  Well, gear up, because you're getting even more of her once she wraps up her syndicated show after this year.  From the self-referential universe of Oprah comes OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.  With $189 million in funding from Discovery Channel, prepare yourself for instant blockbusters such as "Oprah's Next Chapter" and "Behind the Scenes: Oprah's 25th Season" (which opens featuring Oprah in her bathtub).  But give this prima donna credit.  Oprah is making this all happen without a cent of her own money -- all she contributes is her time and her brand.  Imagine if your brand was worth this much!   But even Oprah experiences psychological hang-ups. In the Fortune article, Oprah asks, "If I'm a businesswoman and a brand, where is my authentic self?"  Exactly the question we all should be asking ourselves.

What's my personal brand, you may ask?  I'm still working on it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

International Food Festival Pictorial

On Saturday evening, Darden hosted its annual International Food Festival in beautiful Flagler Court. The festival reminds us how wonderfully diverse and talented our community is. Whoever invented this idea was a true genius.  After all, who doesn't love eating food?

Following a couple hours of stuffing ourselves full of the cuisine from over 30 countries (plus several "special" U.S. states), several students performed for the community. At the end I was amazed that Darden had admitted me despite my complete lack of cooking, singing, dancing, or music-playing talents.

Here's a pictorial I captured of the event. To those considering applying to Darden, let me say, "If you lived here, you would be home right now!"

Team Mexico – many types of tacos!

The Hawaii table – "Island Party".  My roommate Aaron (on right) brought home the pulled pork leftovers :)

Gumbo and jumbalaya at the Louisiana station – "TJ's Best Purchase"

Team Colombia

Peruvian table.  Great sweet rice pudding!!

One of my learning team members worked the Caribbean table, serving tasty jerk chicken.

Team Texas.  Of course, they think they are a country.  And of course, everything is bigger there.  They served my first-ever (and second) deep-fried Oreo.  Verdict: Awesome!

True to the "everything is bigger..." motto, I think Texas had the biggest serving area of all (even bigger than China)

My classmate Allen represents Texas in his cowboy get-up.  Ideally he would start wearing this to class.

Team China.  Perhaps the most popular station at the festival, they sadly were mostly out of food when I arrived.

As consolation for the lack of food, however, the table did teach me how to write my name in Chinese!

Scandinavian table.  The sunglasses were completely unnecessary. (Isn't it completely dark there in winter?)

My other roommate, Ronald, shows off his salsa dancing skills with "Latina for a day" Stephanie from Hawaii.  After this performance, I'm sure Ronald will have no trouble attracting the ladies!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

First Two Months, A Recap

The first two months at Darden have been full of new and exciting adventures.  I'm surrounded daily by smart, fun, talented people.  I'm glad I'm here.  I won't be able to catch you all up on everything that I've seen and experienced, but let me hit the highlights.

Wine tasting at Kluge Family vineyard
I moved to Charlottesville on July 27th after a week at my mom's house following my around-the-world trip.  It was a good decision to move here early because you get the chance to settle in which you don't have time for once school starts.  Additionally, by not getting here early you would be missing all the great pre-Darden parties happening in Charlottesville!  You want to meet as many people as you can in this time because once school starts it gets harder.

Darden at the beginning felt a lot like high school.  The class sizes are roughly the same (Darden is 339 and my high school was 381) and you're living in a semi-permeable Darden "bubble", taking classes and generally socializing with the same group of people.  As friends get made you see cliques form, though people at Darden are pretty open to socializing with anyone.  Gossip spreads quickly.

West Lawn of Monticello
I made sure to make the most of my time before school, going wine tasting at one of Charlottesville's great vineyards, playing beach volleyball and pickup soccer, and visiting Monticello, the residence of Thomas Jefferson.

Darden first year began on August 16th and hit me like a ton of bricks.  For one thing, I wasn't ready to start my day at 8AM.  I realize this is a typical time in much of the corporate world, but I worked for six years at a company where a 9:30 arrival was the norm, and before that I was in college, in which early mornings are rare.  Hence, I had gone ten years without seeing the sun rise on a regular basis, and I started off groggy!  Luckily, Darden has free coffee everywhere, and I got used to the early alarm after a couple weeks.

Darden brought in some good speakers for our first week.  We had the chance to ask the CFO of Target about his new customer rewards strategy and had a case discussion about global employee development at Samsung attended by one of their VPs.  The last day contained a team-building exercise with our new learning teams.

The three cases per day ritual started full throttle on August 23rd.  Term 1 consisted of classes in Decision Analysis (Excel modeling, Monte-Carlo simulation, and basic statistics), Accounting (mostly managerial, with basics of balance sheets and income statements), and Leading Organizations (models of collaborative leadership).  As a numbers guy, the first two classes were much simpler for me the third, but thankfully the Darden class has a very balanced skill set, and my section had many captivating discussions which helped me get a grasp of the leadership models.  In exchange, I could help my colleagues with stats :)

New Darden FYs enjoying C-Ville
Darden is on a new term structure this year, and its schedule is unlike any of the other business schools I considered.  At Darden, you have four weeks of classes (which meet Monday-Thursday), and then you take exams.  Crazy fast!  Exams, which are take home at Darden, began September 17th, which is before some business schools even start classes.  Following the exams is a recruiting-focused week, with lots of briefings from Fortune 500 companies.  The week was a nice break and also a good reminder of every business school student's #1 priority: Get A Job!!

After recruiting week, and of course a few more parties, we catapulted into Term 2 on September 27th.  Hard to believe, but we're already half-way through courses in Marketing, Macroeconomics (referred to at Darden as "GEM"), and Operations.

So far, so good!  I've done well in my classes thus far, was elected review coordinator for my section (helping prep students for exams), have made many new friends, and even formed an informal Mexican eating club (this will be the subject of another blog post).  Speaking of food, I'm off to the Darden International Food Festival, with food and performing arts presented by students from over 30 countries (and I'm not counting Texas).  Makes me hungry just thinking about it!

It's not Darden without some T.J. lovin'

Monday, October 4, 2010

Birth of a New Blog!

Welcome to my new blog! Over the next two years, I will attempt to distill the wonders, the delights, and occasionally the tribuations of the MBA experience. By reading, I hope you will discover the "je ne sais quoi" of life at Darden.

Today I was inducted as a new member of the Darden Student Bloggers. To be perfectly honest, the first feeling that popped into my head when I learned I had been selected was "Oh cr-p...I DID volunteer for that!" I had completely forgotten that I had nominated myself several weeks ago, back before Darden really heated up. But though my head is still wrapping itself around how I can fit writing a blog into my already-packed schedule, I am happy that I am able to bring the life of a Darden student to all of you. Being selected is an honor.

First of all, this is me. Hello. My name is Jonathan Harris. This is my official Darden photo. If you visit Darden you can find this photo on the Class of 2012 wall in one of the main hallways. I don't think I have worn a suit and tie since this photograph was taken.

I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA and I went to undergrad at MIT, where I majored in economics and management. I am the only person in the class of 2012 who attended MIT, and I also think I am the only person in the class who grew up in Wisconsin, so I like to think I bring "diversity" to the Darden classroom. After college I worked in the Washington DC area at a small energy trading firm called DC Energy. It is a great company and you all should check it out if you're interested in power or natural gas markets. After six years at DC Energy I decided to call it quits and head to business school. I wanted to move into a project development role at a renewable energy company, and I strongly felt that I would need an MBA to master the broader business skills which I wasn't exposed to in my previous trading role.

Between my job and Darden, I took a few months off to reset by travelling around-the-world. Literally. Over 63 days I visited 11 countries. I loved the cultural exposure one receives from seeing so many different places, and I now have a much greater appreciation for how big and diverse our world actually is. If you want to know the best way to spend your summer prior to starting to business school, read my travel blog.

On my trip I started blogging for the first time. I had a lot of friends in the US who wanted updates from my audacious trip and a chance to live vicariously through my travels while they sat at work back home. Despite being a "quant", turns out they thought I was pretty good at the blogging. I thought no one would continue to read the thing after awhile, but when I returned home I had several friends tell me how much they loved the blog, and they encouraged me to continue writing so they could live vicariously through me at Darden.

And so the new Darden blog was born. First, the blog needed a clever name. To find inspiration, I went to the man so many at the University of Virginia look to for divine guidance, Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of Independence and the father of the university, "T.J." hovers as an unparalleled legend in these parts. You see Jefferson's image almost everywhere at Darden, including at the end of Flagler Court, where he stands perpetually staring at his scroll.

You see, Jefferson was a bit of a semantics snob. For one thing, undergraduates at UVA aren't freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, but rather first-years, second-years, third-years, and fourth-years. This reflects the Jeffersonian belief that learning is a never-ending process, rather than one to be completed in four years. At business school we go by the first two distinctions (abbreviated to FYs and SYs), which is fine by me.

More difficult for me was getting accustomed to referring to the campus of the University as "GROUNDS". If you think this sounds like a highfalutin and ridiculous term, you are correct.

Again, there is a history behind the term...Jefferson believed that "campus" connoted a place of plain value, unbecoming a hollowed ground of wisdom and knowledge, the acquisition of which must forever perpetuate beyond your time in Charlottesville! Hence, years of referring to other schools of higher learning as "campuses" needed to be drilled out of me. I still slip on the term every now and then.

The Darden School of Business specializes in general management, and in addition to running a business one could also manage "grounds" (either as a weekend hobby or even a full-time profession), hence the blog name "Grounds Management" was born. I hope you appreciate the amount of thought I put into this.

Well, being two months into my Darden experience already, I have a lot to catch you all up on. Time has flown by here. I hope you all enjoy the journey with me!