Monday, December 19, 2011

Time for Your Questions!

Winter break has begun here at the Darden School and Charlottesville has become very empty.  After finishing up final papers and exams for Quarter 2, I headed up to New York for a long weekend, celebrating my brother's birthday and catching up with several of my friends.

The winter holidays are upon us, meaning that many of you that are applying are frantically trying to put together applications in preparation for the January 12 deadline for second rounders.  I also hear that some of the first rounders will receive a great Christmas present come Wednesday!  For those of you still applying, I thought it would be helpful for me to compile some of the questions I have received recently from applicants.  Feel free to send more questions my way.

Happy holidays!


1) What are the key areas in the Darden School curriculum that are important for career switchers to management consulting?

Mike Lenox
The Darden school prides itself on a general management curriculum covering a breadth of business areas.  Darden students are known as hard workers with a mastery of business basics.  The strategy faculty, such as Mike Lenox, Jeanne Liedtka, and "Venkat", are particularly strong and the courses they teach will refine your thinking to help you enter management consulting.  Tim Laseter, a former partner at Booz, teaches a valuable first-year elective called "The Consulting Process" that prepares students to engage in the specific problem-solving style unique to the consulting industry.  You can learn more about coursework and faculty at this link.

2) After completing graduation, do students generally opt for consulting in specialized industry segments or do they get assignments that spread across a broad industry spectrum?

Every major consulting firm recruits at Darden.  The "Big 3" (McKinsey, BCG, and Bain) strategy consulting firms recruit heavily here.  Also, you'll find firms hiring for operational consulting, IT consulting, and industry-specific consulting such as health care or financial services.  Consulting is the #1 career chosen by graduating Darden students, so you'll have ample opportunity here to find the best consulting fit.
3) How is Darden's focus on international business?

Strong and getting stronger.  In addition to having a diverse student body (30% from outside US) and faculty, I think two new developments at Darden will make this a stronger international business school in the upcoming years.  One is the launch of the Global Executive MBA, which will expand the Darden brand internationally and bring additional international business ideas into the curriculum at Darden.  Another is the recent launch of the Emerging Markets Development Club, which will aid students interested in international business careers post-MBA.  Existing student groups such as the International Business Society also promote international business careers, and the curriculum is filled with business cases from around the globe.  The emphasis on a global business perspective has strengthened at Darden in recent years.

4) How do you feel about the Darden life in general? Do students get sufficient time out of academic activities to engage themselves in community activities?

You certainly have time to step away from academic activities, but the rumors you may have heard about the Darden first year are somewhat true.  The core curriculum is rigorous, and you also will find yourself heavily engaged in recruiting activities.  However, like any business school, you get out of it what you want to put in.  If you place a priority upon community involvement, club activities, social events with friends, or getting out into nature, you will find time to make it happen, for sure.  Also, the faculty here have been highly receptive towards restructuring the first year experience in recent years to improve the academic/life balance, leading to Darden vaulting itself to #1 in student satisfaction in Business Week's latest survey.  The second year at Darden consists entirely of electives, so the academics are as rigorous as you want them to be.  Each student is able to find his or her proper school/life balance, and the time flies by far too quickly!

That's a summary, but you can find more of my feelings about Darden life by paging through my blog.
5) Do the students get opportunity to get involved in entrepreneurial activities around the community?

Absolutely.  The Darden incubator at the Batten Institute provides financial and instructional support to students who want to launch businesses, and many entrepreneurial conferences happen at Darden and the broader University of Virginia throughout the school year.  Concept and business plan competitions give students the chance to present new business ideas and win prizes, and the E*Society connects students at the University of Virginia to the Charlottesville-area entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Entrepreneurship at Darden link

6) I found the club of Community Consultants of Darden very exciting with students helping small businesses and getting consulting experience.  If you are involved in it, could you please share a bit of your experience?

CCoD is definitely a good opportunity for students to get involved with real-life consulting engagements that help local businesses.  I applied last year but was not accepted into the program (it's a competitive process). 

7) Could you please let me know the activities a learning team is typically involved in?  Is the scope of a learning team limited to only case study discussions?

My learning team!
Learning teams at Darden function as a study group to aid you in preparing for class.  In first-year, you are all taking the same core classes simultaneously, and the learning team helps to solidify your understanding of key case concepts and gives you a chance to explain your ideas to a small group of classmates in a safe environment.  The formal discussions are mostly case-based but the teams also tend to hang out with each other socially as well -- you spend a lot of time with these folks and you tend to bond with them.  I've even met alumni who still keep in contact with their learning team members, even several years after graduation!
8) I have read your bio on the website and am looking for more information on clean-tech at Darden.  What specific resources does Darden provide that can help me realize my dream to work in this industry (professors, courses, clubs, events and so on)?  Can you elaborate with some of your personal experience during the MBA program?

There are several resources at Darden that can help you find a career in clean-tech.  The school is known for its strong student body and attracts recruiters from several companies with global clean-tech initiatives, including Corning, 3M, Samsung, and General Electric.  The primary clubs that attract students interested in clean-tech include Net Impact and the Darden Energy Club, which connect students interested in environmental sustainability and renewable energy to clean-tech jobs.  There are several events at the university throughout the year focused on clean-tech topics, including a day-long forum about the future of electric vehicles last fall.  Finally, professors Mike Lenox, Richard Brownlee, and Andrea Larson do a lot of research on clean-tech topics and make excellent resources for learning about the latest trends.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday has passed, and with it our five-day weekend is over.  While my roommates stuck around in Charlottesville and celebrated the holiday with their Darden "family", I went the more traditional route and traveled to New York City to eat turkey with my actual family.  We filled ourselves with turkey, stuffing, string beans, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and three different desserts!  I rushed back to Charlottesville for the rivalry football game against Virginia Tech, but the game didn't turn out so well for the Cavaliers, alas.

The holiday season reminds me that it's the time of year to give thanks, so therefore I want to list some of the things that I am thankful for this year at Darden:
  • The professors.  These men and women are world class and pour their efforts into giving students a fantastic educational experience.  The Princeton Review gave Darden its #1 ranking for teaching faculty amongst all business schools, and Darden deserves the ranking.  Students come first for professors here, and I can hardly imagine another school with as much access to faculty as students do here.  Thank you.
  • The staff.  The folks who keep the classrooms impeccably clean and the grounds beautifully maintained.  The lady who always greets me with a smile when I walk into the Abbott Dining Center.  The guys at the computer help desk that deal with all the woes faced by my laptop.  Those in Career Services that work to bring companies on-Grounds and those who will let me schedule Outlook appointments on their calendars to help me sort out my career thoughts.  The people who delivering the catering on-time, every time.  Thank you!
  • Student leadership.  There is always a heavy dose of events on the Darden calendar thanks to the efforts of so many student club leaders, who make time to organize speakers and conferences such that others can show up and learn.  Also, special thanks to the folks on the DSA Social committee – there's always something going on here that students can participate in to get to know one another.  Tailgates, cold calls, bonfires, and other parties are ingrained in student life here and part of the reason we have such a strong community at the school.  To those who tirelessly work the logistics behind these events, thank you!
  • Active students in the classroom.  I'll be honest – classes during second year don't feel the same as first year.  Many have locked down job offers already and feel like they have punched their tickets.  I get that.  To those of you who still show up having read the case, who contribute to the class discussion, and who don't incessantly type out messages on your laptop in class, thank you.  The high-touch nature of the case method is one of the reasons I applied to Darden, and I appreciate the efforts of those students that help all of us learn.
  • My roommates.  Having two guys I get along with, hang out with, and who keep the house clean is great.  Not having strife at the home means more energy to focus on everything going on at school.  Thank you.

Only two weeks to go until winter break here – gosh this passes so quickly!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 Net Impact Conference

"If we don't change our direction, we're going to end up where we're going."

With this Chinese proverb we began the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon.  This annual conference aims to energize attendees to promote social and environmental good through business.  Over 2,600 participants from schools and industry met to discuss the latest ideas in clean tech, social entrepreneurship, impact investing, international development, and corporate responsibility.

Lord Michael Hastings addresses the Portland Ballroom

Business cannot succeed in a world that fails.  But business is not the enemy – it rather is the most powerful potential force for improving social cohesion and environmental stewardship.  Successful businesses improve the human condition.  Businesses can be profitable and meet the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  This will happen when profits are aligned with the interests of society and the planet.

The conference showcased ways that businesses are achieving this alignment.  It kicked off last Thursday with a keynote address by Lord Michael Hastings, Global Head of Citizenship and Diversity at KPMG.  He stressed that the key to change is overcoming cynicism.  Friday started with Liz Maw, Executive Director of Net Impact, asking participants to "occupy Wall Street from the inside".  Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, emphasized that there is "no mission without margin" and talked about efforts of Walmart and others to develop a consumer-facing eco index.
FedEx, EDF, and Eaton talk about partnerships
Breakout sessions followed and I looked to branch out beyond all the renewable energy panels that I listened to at the 2010 conference.  One of the best I listened to featured leaders from FedEx and Environmental Defense Fund talking about how they partnered with Eaton to develop a fleet of hybrid electric vehicles that have trimmed FedEx's fuel costs and lowered greenhouse gas emissions.  I also listened to a panel of educators debate the merits of charter schools and the impediments to improving productivity in public education.  My day finished with a riveting group of cleantech VC's talking about the factors they consider when investing in green economy companies.

In the middle of all this was an expo featuring companies interested in hiring students who want to use their talents to promote social and environmental good.  Considering that I met Waste Management at the conference twelve months ago, I know from experience that the expo can connect students with great companies.  This year, I also spoke with representatives from Eaton, Sprint, PG&E, Gazelle, and Mercy Corps.

Saturday was a lighter day but still featured several good speakers.  A group of entrepreneurs delivered "speed keynotes" in the morning.  Jen Boulden asserted that "green business is not an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp" and told us that we needed to escape "paralysis by analysis" when starting our ventures.  Darell Hammond spoke about the urgency he felt to build playgrounds in urban areas.  Vail Horton presented his inspiring story of starting a business despite not having any working arms or legs.  I then attended a session presented by a pair of career consultants, who spoke about strategies for finding that dream job.  Seeing some rare Portland sunshine, I rented one of the free bicycles provided by the conference to explore a little of the city's riverfront and downtown.  The conference ended with a keynote by Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation at Nike, who presented a frank discussion of 12 years at a company that was once a "poster child for all that is wrong with supply chains".  She spoke how Nike has managed to innovate and change its approach, and closed with some advice: "Don't measure yourself by the competition – measure yourself by the potential."

Quick bicycle tour of downtown Portland
Much like last year, I came away from this year's conference with a much fuller picture of the challenges in joining people, planet, and profit, but also with a hopeful sense of the possibilities.  I enjoyed reconnecting with folks outside of my Darden network and meeting new faces with change on their minds.

The industrial revolution style of doing business simply won't work through the 21st century.  The strains it presents to our ecosystems and our social fabric are simply too great.  I'm impressed that 2,600 participants came together to discuss "sustainable business" in Portland, but I'm hoping that I reach a point in my business career where this becomes the de facto way of building an enterprise.  The urgency is great – if we stagnate with current business practices, if we don't change direction, then where we're going could be a dreadful place.  But I remain optimistic that we can innovate to sustain all 7 billion people on our planet.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hokie Heaven vs Wahoo-Wa

My sister Jillian and me
Last Saturday I received an invitation from my sister to attend a football game at Virginia Tech, where she is an undergraduate.  I gladly accepted and made the 2.5 hour drive from Charlottesville to Blacksburg, happy to catch up with my sister and seeking to gain a greater understanding of the UVA-VT school rivalry.

I will say that attending a business school with a big-time football team is pretty cool, especially as I didn’t have a real football team to take pride in during my undergraduate university experience (more on that later).  Internationals tend to find it odd that American universities even have glorified sports teams at all.  These teams are a source of pride for students and alumni and date back to the late 19th century.  American football and men’s basketball are by far the two most popular with spectators; unfortunately UVA has struggled at both of late.  You can think of the passion surrounding a big college football game as being comparable to a raucous soccer stadium abroad.

Having attended a Tech and a UVA game on successive October weekends, let’s compare the two experiences on several important dimensions…

Tailgate: Big edge VT
I arrived in Blacksburg at 11AM for a 3PM kickoff, and when I met my sister she was already frantic to get out of her apartment so we could join the tailgate frenzy.  Get this – fans of VT are out tailgating 5 or 6 hours before game time!  Each group grilling in the parking lot seemed to have a Virginia Tech tent and the bean bag game “cornhole”.  My sister’s tailgate at Tech had a delightful spread: grilled burgers, brats, pizza, chips & guacamole, shrimp salad, broccoli salad, assorted fruits and vegetables, rye crackers, potato chips, and some exceptional jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon.  I washed this down with a couple beers and several “dark and stormies” (a cocktail consisting of rum and ginger beer).  And after the game we did even more tailgating – I've never done that anywhere before!
The Darden tailgates before UVA home games are good as well, but simply can’t compare to the exceptional tailgate experience at Tech.  Darden generally has barbeque (pulled pork, potato salad, cole slaw, burgers) or some spread from Chick-fil-A and keg beer, but the tailgates only begin 2 hours before game time and can become too crowded to navigate when corporate recruiters are in town.
Fans: Big edge VT
UVA students storm field after unexpected football upset
Even before I arrived at the stadium I knew who the winner would be on this dimension, based on all the vehicles I saw on the highway covered in VT stickers and flags.  At Tech, everyone is in the stands before kickoff, and the stadium is full.  Everyone is in Tech gear – thankfully my sister had a sweatshirt I could borrow so I could fit in.  The stadium is LOUD – students stand the entire game and scream on almost every play when the defense is on the field.  Third down plays are a bit obnoxious – students rattle their keys (because it’s a “key play”) and the disgusting sound of a turkey gobbling plays on the stadium speakers – but certainly intimidating for the opposing team.
UVA, on the other hand, is what I will term nicely a “wine and cheese” crowd.  The fans are relatively sedentary compared to the Tech fanatics and certainly don’t rush to get to the game on time.  The dress code is confusing – some fans wear orange, others wear the more traditional ties and sundresses (weird Southern tradition), and the remainder don’t even dress up at all.  I’ve never seen Scott Stadium at capacity, either.  But the UVA students did rush the field after an unexpected win against a highly regarded opponent two weeks ago, which was pretty cool to watch.
Band: Tie
Both the Cavalier and Hokie marching bands are loud and enthusiastic.  Each amplifies the spirit in the stadium.  Both bands dance around endlessly in the stands and get me revved up.
Halftime Entertainment: edge UVA
Well I already compared the bands, but UVA gets the edge here for its talented baton twirlers.  At the last game I saw one juggling 3 batons simultaneously, each lit on fire!  Simply awesome.
Song: big edge UVA
UVA’s fans are definitely the more musical of the two.  The “Good Old Song” that plays after each touchdown does cheer hearts and join hands, as the lyrics go.  And I like the “Wahoo-Wa” cheer, though it’s difficult for most Darden students to learn.  Students at Tech, on the other hand, don’t even know their school song…pathetic.
Cheerleaders: definite edge VT
UVA’s cheerleaders can barely form a human pyramid.  Tech’s were quite skilled.
Team Quality: definite edge VT
Tech has had a far better football team than UVA for years – it has won the last 7 games between the two teams and 11 of the last 12.  Tech perennially receives invitations to top post-season bowl games while UVA football players are stuck at home.  And I’ve seen some wretched UVA football team performances in front of the home crowd during my two years of business school.  But perhaps there is hope…UVA was the #1 ranked football team for a brief period in 1990 and had successful teams throughout the 1990s.
Mascot: definite edge UVA
This guy rocks!
The Hokie is an ugly, turkey-like bird.  Not ferocious at all.  Surely Tech could have picked a better one.  UVA’s CavMan, on the other hand, is fierce and good-looking.  The human embodiment of the Cavalier rides into the stadium on horseback prior to kickoff waving a sword…one of my favorite parts of any UVA football game.
Stadium Aesthetics: edge UVA
Scott Stadium is beautiful – fellow blogger Patrick Clifton once described it as having a "a gladiatorial, amphitheatre feel."  The symmetric horseshoe wrapping around the field is completed by a lawn area for students.  Tech’s Lane Stadium is an intimidating concrete jungle and not pretty at all.
Overall: After judging on nine dimensions, the VT and UVA football experiences have fought to a tie with 4 wins each.  But UVA is simply the best – I now have a special place in my heart for Mr. Jefferson’s university, and Tech will always be the “enemy”.  Plus, Tech doesn’t have a top-tier business school like UVA does!
Speaking of which, let’s see how Darden compares to top 10 U.S. business schools (as judged by the Poets & Quants aggregate ranking) in terms of football quality, in case that is an important consideration for deciding where to apply!

This is the MIT marching band in "pi formation"...I kid you not
·        Harvard: This school’s biggest game every year is against Yale.  Most of my friends that are alumni of these two schools tell me that people mostly don’t even end up in the stadium for the football, but rather drink in the parking lot.  Way to support your team, guys.  Kudos to Harvard though for having Ryan Fitzpatrick graduate to the NFL.
·        Wharton: Penn has a mediocre team – I don’t think anyone watches them
·        Tuck: Same as Wharton
·        Columbia: Even worse than Penn or Dartmouth.  And the players wear baby blue jerseys.
·        Stanford: A top 10 ranked team this year, but the school’s mascot is a dancing tree.  If your mascot is a dancing tree then I have a hard time taking your football team seriously.
·        Haas: Cal has a good team, a big rivalry with Stanford, and my all-time favorite quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) played for them several years ago.  I approve.
·        Fuqua: Awful, awful, awful football team.  But if you love getting psycho about men’s basketball then Duke is a great place to go.
·        Kellogg: Northwestern’s football team is typically the doormat of its conference, and the team wears a not-so-ferocious purple jersey.
·        Booth: I didn't know Chicago had a football team until I looked it up. 
·        Sloan: I can confirm from my undergraduate experience at MIT that the football team is pathetic (I had roommates on the team).  The football “stadium” would be embarrassing for most American high schools and the stands always had more supporters for the away team than for the Engineers.  The mascot is a goofy-looking grinning beaver and the “band” consists of about 5 amateur geeks looking for an excuse to blow their trumpets outdoors.
So there you have it – clearly, only Haas and Darden can offer top-notch MBA and football experiences.  Go Wahoos!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blink...and there goes First Quarter!!

Last year, in the midst of the depths of Black November, my learning team survived our GEM case discussions by watching this parodic South Park clip about the global financial crisis...

After watching this again (and getting another good laugh) I think that this video sums up my second year of business school, in a way. Instead of a bank account I have a rapidly dwindling account of time. These days, it feels like I blink my eyes, click my heels, and two weeks passes by. Annndd it's gone!

"What do you mean? I have a whole year left!"
"Not anymore you don't. Poof!!"
"Well what can I do to get back my..."
"I'm sorry sir, but this school is for enrolled students only."

This (or something similar) has been a recurring nightmare for me and many of my classmates over the course of the second year. Life at business school is way too fulfilling to want to leave and reenter the real world (though a paycheck would be nice). Probably every MBA graduate that I have spoken to in the universe has talked about how the second year passes far too quickly and how you need to make the most of the precious few moments we have here. Unless I'm able to complete my prototype time machine soon, we all will need to heed this advice.

29 mile bike ride to benefit the
Central Virginia Boys & Girls Club
I'm a little incredulous that I haven't written in this blog since August. Between a packed class schedule, student club events, nights on the town, intramural sports, weekends away, days in the mountains, and the full-time job search, I've known that I wanted to write something but just didn't commit the hour or two to piece together a proper blog entry.

Well, let's start at the beginning then. The second years returned to Charlottesville around August 20 or thereabouts. The first week or two was definitely a "honeymoon" period -- everyone was absolutely thrilled to be back and to see all the classmates who they had missed over the summer. Sort of like how the beginning of first year was defined by making introductions and getting to know everyone, the beginning of second year was marked by everyone wanted to know what you did with your summer and whether you liked it. We all talked about how things would be different (and better) in our second B-school go-round.

And different second year has been, though like the other bloggers I don't find that it has been any less busy. There have been weeks where my Outlook calendar has looked as ridiculous as Sara Sajadi's, though not nearly as well color-coordinated. The busy character of second year is far more manageable than first year -- it really is a "choose your own adventure" as fellow blogger Lily mentions. We all have our interests and the freedom to pursue them. For me this has involved planning events for the Energy Club as well as checking off items from that Charlottesville bucket list we all have.

Another beautiful day on Darden grounds
One of the aspects that I've found really valuable from my second year experience thus far has been the ability to use my "wisdom" built up from a year at Darden to mentor and advise the incoming student class. I was selected this year to serve in the Second Year Coaches program, where I am able to help 4 first-year students navigate the turbulent waters of MBA internship recruiting. This has been a great opportunity for me to give back to the school, as I was particularly grateful for the advice my SY Coach provided me last year. I have a great group of FY's to work with and I enjoy helping them find themselves anyway I can.

After a couple weeks all of us second years found our "flow" and are quite settled in now that it's October already. I do miss my mates in Section E but like that I'm able to see some new faces in the classroom through SY electives. The intensity level in class isn't the same as FY but there still are some really engaging case discussions. My Q1 tax class was probably the hardest class that I have taken at Darden and Horniman's "Leading Strategic Change" provided moments I was laughing so hard that my diaphragm hurt. Also, in elective classes you get some great guest speakers -- the hostage negotiator that visited my Bargaining class was definitely one of my top 5 class periods at Darden!

Time to get back to making every moment count between now and the seven months to graduation. So long until next time!

Wahoo-wa!  UVA football game

Darden Oktoberfest...PROST!

Rock slide in Shenandoah N.P.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Darden FY Day with Habitat for Humanity

Hello everyone! I returned to Charlottesville last week and it is glorious!! The life of a second-year in business school is sweet indeed!

No time for rest with me as I was immediately thrust back into the swing of things. This year I've joined fellow blogger Lily West on the Darden Outreach Committee, where I will be helping to coordinate Darden's involvement with our community neighbors. We have an ambitious agenda this year, including a canned food drive, tutoring at local schools, and a fund-raising dance marathon!!

Last week was orientation week for the incoming First Years. This year Darden introduced a new Outreach Day at the end of the week on Saturday for interested FY volunteers to break away from school and contribute to the C'Ville community. Students were able to participate in activities with the SPCA, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and with Habitat for Humanity.

I took charge of the Habitat effort and am proud to report it was a great success! We had two shifts of roughly 40 students each putting up dry wall and siding on a multi-family community of homes. I'm especially proud of the students who made it out for the early (8AM) shift after a late Friday night of partying! The crew leaders with Habitat were grateful for the assistance and impressed with what the FY students were able to accomplish.

This new group of students is definitely service-oriented and off to a great start in school. You can see all the pictures from the day here. Welcome Darden Class of 2013!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Learnings

As the summer internship winds down and Report Out Day has past, a time of reflection is upon me. Trapped inside by the Houston summer heat (under a heat advisory for the entire month of August thus far), I sit at my computer to ponder the insights I've gained over my 11 weeks here.

My summer at Waste Management has been a tremendous learning experience and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to work there. I have connected with a great network of colleagues and MBA intern peers, and I am grateful at the level of responsibility and access that WM entrusted in its interns this summer. I certainly recommend the WM Organic Growth Group to any incoming first-years considering an internship next summer.

With that overview in mind, I give you all a list of key learnings from my summer. Several may sound trite, but certainly these are meaningful to me.

1. At a public company, the shareholders are the boss
Of course this is obvious, but the meaning didn't sink in for me until recently. Before business school I had worked at a private company without any outside investors, so I knew exactly who I was ultimately answerable to -- his office was down the hall.

In the weeks leading up to WM's 2nd quarter earnings announcement on July 28th, I knew things weren't looking too rosy. Discretionary costs such as travel were being pared back and I had heard about a hiring freeze, but those who had been around for awhile said this wasn't cause for concern. Then, three days before the earnings release, I learned that my summer mentor had been laid off, along with several other employees at corporate. Earnings were dismal as I suspected, 5 cents/share below Street estimates, and WM's stock was pounded (as I write this, it is down 20% from when I started my internship -- which hopefully won't be held against me when managers consider a full-time offer!).

Since I joined WM, its stock (blue line) has had its butt kicked by both the S&P 500 (green line) and arch rival Republic Services (red line)

Now I had seen people terminated at my pre-B-school job, but never any of my close peers or people above me. Having my mentor Greg laid off hit my morale -- hard. I had lost the person I could bounce ideas off of for my summer projects, or ask questions about interpreting old analysis that didn't quite make sense. I had lost the person who set up intern lunches with all the managing directors that touch our group, and the person who made sure I was actually being paid. I just felt...loss.

Such is life at the big corporation, I realize. The layoffs felt reactive...unnecessary in better times. But when shareholders demand costs come down, the big corporation needs to respond.

CEO David Steiner talks about the difficulty in managing today's business while simultaneously investing in the future. Some investors don't care about the future, or don't believe in his story about why the company needs to change. I wonder how much these future investments played a role in missing the earnings estimate.

2. Corporate America can be very tribal
Even at a company of 70 employees, like my last job, cliques develop and managers develop favorites. That said, everyone pretty much knows everyone, and interacting with the entire organization isn't all that difficult.

At a 43,000 person company, of course, one couldn't possibly know everyone. One couldn't even know the 900-odd people at corporate. That said, I'm surprised by the extent to which people cling to small clans at a big company.

Take the 44th floor, for example. Next to the Organic Growth folks you have Corporate Communications. Down the hall are folks in Customer Experience and Marketing. These four kingdoms all seem to act independently, held together in a loose union by a common break room and air conditioning. Perhaps this is my fault, but I haven't even spoken with half the folks on my floor, probably. Off my floor this stat is far worse -- I have only been to floor 45 for the vending machine, and haven't even walked on floors 42, 46, or 47...all WM.

In analyzing this, I suppose that part of the reason could be that our projects rarely overlap. I associate strongly with those I work with, but as an intern I haven't generally been comfortable introducing myself to those who I don't. And I think this is the culture at WM. I hope that as a full-time employee I would act differently.

End of my ride-along on a truck, pulling in to the scale at the Atascocita Landfill

3. Enforcing culture from the top is a struggle
I sense a near universal disdain at WM for Human Resources. I think people's gears get ground partly by the prolonged orientation days and the ever-present reminders about how to spell G.R.E.E.N. (Great operations, Respected brand, Empowered employees, Engaged customers, Neighbors of each other and our environment -- it's on my screen saver!). I see the struggle -- managing a big battleship of an organization and trying to steer it to be a high-performing operation by delivering messages to people who generally want to be free thinkers and not told what to do.

At my old company, culture was rarely discussed, which was both good and bad -- a high-performing company evolved over time, but analysts sometimes felt overworked with a lack of purpose. The approach of the big corporation feels somewhat "1984"-ish at first, but perhaps I would grow accustomed to this messaging over time.

4. At a large company, the information you need is usually somewhere internal -- unlocking the gatekeeper can be a big challenge
During intern HR orientation (everyone's favorite!), we played a game in which your team needed to cross a vicious desert to reach a mining village, with the goal to bring as much gold home as possible. Your team could ask an old man for advice, but your team would lose time for hiking and mining, and the old man might prove unreliable. Turned out that the old man knew his stuff.

For almost every project I've needed information on this summer, there's usually an "old man" at WM (not literally, of course) with the wisdom to guide me to an answer. However, accessing this information is not always easy. Sometimes I wouldn't know that information was available internally, or sometimes I wouldn't know who in a particular group to contact. I discovered that people outside one's tribe can become very busy and difficult to get a hold of. These communication differences were often magnified by the large distances between people, sometimes across the country even. And sometimes information would be withheld, as the gatekeeper feared the information may be used against him.

I'm not sure how WM could improve its information sharing, but certainly reaching folks in the big corporation was not nearly as easy as in my old job.

5. Public exposure can be cool...except when it's not
A nice thing about working at a big company is that people outside the company know what you do. Well, they probably don't know what YOU do, specifically, but you probably don't need to explain what your company does to them. In my old job, explaining what a power trading company did and why it was valuable for society was a big challenge!

The WM Organic Growth Group explores all sorts of cutting-edge investments into new waste conversion technologies, some of which have really cool potential (in my humble opinion). The group was even profiled in the December 2010 issue of Fortune magazine (see my March posting). However, with that exposure means all sorts of used-car salesman coming to WM with crackpot ideas on how they can turn waste into gold. I've needed to screen several, which has been fun...or not!

I'd never worked before for a company that could buy space for its logo on a stadium scoreboard

6. Some companies DO value work-life balance
A BIG positive from my summer. Leaving in the evening by 6PM has been lovely, and I've put in a fairly pathetic effort in trying to fill all of those extra hours in my day. I still remember the days at my old job of sometimes trying to sneak out at 5:45 to catch friends for happy hour downtown -- people definitely took notice there. At Waste Management, on the other hand, the seemingly early departure is strongly encouraged. Definitely a plus.

7. I'm still young
Surrounded by a pool of recent college graduates at my old company, it was easy to forget that I remain a recent entry into the job market. Working in the company of "grown-ups" at WM has pleasantly reassured me that 28 is still a young age and that a life of career potential awaits!


Well, that's a wrap on my summer. Time to pack up my car again and head back to Charlottesville!