Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Happy New Year to all of you. I have been collecting thoughts and stories around my Southern France trip which I will be posting soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

I have finally made it to the South of France - relaxing mild temperatures. The entire country was supposed to go skiing this weekend but the highways were surprisingly empty.

The country has put in place a very sophisticated speed radar system. Logs your speed and mails you a fine within 48 hrs. Highly accurate and completely automatic. Beware.

I still have a ton of things to do before I head off to Singapore - and I need to worry about Xmas organization now.

Happy Sunday everybody!

Friday, December 19, 2003

Anyone who despairs about the variety at the cafeteria must try the Christmas lunch. Delicious!
Drove a friend to the airport yesterday. A taste of vacation. A couple more things to do and I am off.

Finally...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Heard in Marketing Class and Faithfully Reported

"Men like to talk about the size of their tools, so let's make them bigger!" - student explaining the attributes of Black&Decker "power tools"
you have two cows. the government take both, hire you to take care of them and
sell you the milk.


Although whenever I update my To Do list, I seem to increase its size. I am slowly getting ready to leave Fontainebleau. Glancing over the low sun beams pouring a timid touch of light across the trees of the forest, the thought of the end of P2 is slowly sinking. I feel sad and ecstatic at the same time. Sad to leave so many good friends, so wonderful and extraordinary people. Sad at not been able to phone them up for a quick drink at the creperie in Rue Grande, for a long walk in the forest. Ecstatic at the idea to discover a whole new world, to open the door to more possibilities, more faces and more stories.

My travel agent called. My flight to Singapore got cancelled. The airline is trying to find me another flight, leaving after the 1st of January. My ticket is obviously unchanged. I already have a train booked at some ungodly hour in the morning to return to Paris on New Year's Day but I will just hang out with friends in the capital. A lot of people from INSEAD will celebrate the New Year on the Champs Elysees. Hopefully, in the process, I will get a direct flight instead of some clumsy Paris-Amsterdam-Hong Kong-Singapore hula hoop.

Nice goodbye party - even professors were attending it, playing around like the rest of us, happy bunch.
Nice Christmas decorations.
A time to recoil in peace, take a deep breathe before plunging again into the magic of the program.
I have a couple more meals to go with my mates before I can officially say that P2 is over.

I am also quite shameful frankly at not having yet taken the time to visit the Chateau in Fontainebleau, a marvellous piece of architecture. Something that I must remedy before I leave. Tomorrow will be as good a day for a bath in culture as any other day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Some of the Januaries are already here for math courses so it feels like I should drop a note about ythe first week. You will be completely swamped with administrative things to do, although the school is extremely helpful and will direct you into all sorts of directions. You will be surprised at the weight of your course pack, the weight of knowledge.
Most importantly, you will start to get a feel for what INSEAD is about. You will be amazed at the international diversity around. Make sure that you do not miss out on this fantastic aspect of the school. THIS is what you cannot replicate anywhere else in the world. This is UNIQUE. What INSEAD gives you is much more than a mark on a piece of paper with the Dean's signature at the bottom. It is much more than a set of tools. INSEAD is an open door to the world. It gives you the wildest ride around the globe.

Do step into this community. Be mad. Be bold. Use the network.

As for me, I am stepping out for a little while. After our FANTASTIC section champagne party yesterday, a very short night, numerous drinks, lunches and dinners that I have gone through in the last 24 hrs or so, it is time for a break.
I have had an unexpected conversation with someone whom I respect greatly. Someone notorious in his field. Someone who has opened a new field of opportunities for me to get lost in. Has anyone ever felt in possession of something precious, something easy, something that you hold in your hands but that the wind wants to blow away. A permanent gift that you must make available to everyone.

A writer is like a painter who paints figures for ever. Every minute of his life, a writer goes to the simplest word, to a field to cut some grass. A house is not four walls nor a fence but the book of a day, of an hour. Where something, where anything can disappear - where anything can come back. When your eyes leave the book, they should go out and meet somebody else's eyes, feel surprised in a garden, bite into some fruits.

Words have a voice that you can hear from far away.

I have lit a few candles. I am all concentrated in the smoke of these little fires.

What would I do in a world where questions wage war in cold hotel rooms, where faces are damped by the neon lights? What would I do in a world where nobody ever ponders at the moon, where no inner agitation comes forward? I can't dwell in a silent ravine, home of hectic whispers. Ugliness must end like the crackled song of a word with no history. Voices can confidently kill its echo away.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Good luck to every INSEAD student sitting the Marketing exam right now.
Finance down.

It felt like I was writing a dissertation rather than pumping up numbers through my calculators. I could do the maths and I am supposed to be good at blah blahbing but I am not sure that I can tell which way share prices are supposed to go if you mess up with some arbitrary data. This exams was a lot about intuition. If you lack intuition, you had better be a good politician.

Finance exam was OB Re-loaded:
Structural Lens: please price this two-year European Call Option using some blah blah nuymbers, and tell me whether you can fight back OPEC using forward contracts to hedge against oil price variations
Cultural Lens: if you were an investment banker, how would you value this? What would you suggest in terms of capital structure? If you were an investor, by how much do you think you would be exploited if the firm raises equity for this new investment? If they go for a debt more senior to the one that you are currently holding? When should you start jumping out of the boat and run for your life?
Political Lens: how many words can you use to talk your way through a subject you have no clue about while managing to sound interesting, concise and clear - and oh so intelligent that even your expert audience cannot get to your point.

Apart from that, I vote it the most creative exam of this series in terms of name invention: Mr Entrylevel does not qualify for Executive Stock Options (poor guy, he has to go through the trouble of calculating the replicating portfolio using company stock and riskfree borrowing), the company Vidivendi (in a lot of trouble right now) was in desperate need of your help as it tried to alter its payout policy and introduce some dividend payments, before the CEO heads off to jail, you need a statistics tutor to deal with the up and down factors of call options on the shares of Heteroskedasticity Inc and Nofrills airlines was facing tough competition from Fixedwing.
The most unimaginative name was Start Up Inc, an "entrepreneurial company" contemplating the most common problems to all startups: raising funds. How about "launch pad", "Fresh Start", "Naive Illusion", "Short Lived Hope", "Apply for an MBA"...ok. Maybe not.

So, keeping all options open, if the cum-dividend price of the share of you debt remains at $43,000 / 5 periods, how many drinks can you buy at the local bar to drown your disappointment at receiving an INSEAD warrant calling you again, in the futures, to buyback your pride and put up a fight against equity again. Alternatively, you are proposed to issue a tender cash offer to smooth the edges and hedge your bet.

This cash offer will be fairly priced as a forward contract with a finance professor to agree on a strike mark beforehand, at the beginning of the period. Or used to buy a call option on grades and exercise it only if it falls above 2.5. After all, the assumptions for BlackScholes states that the expected returns of stocks are normally distributed, our z-curve will nicely do the job.

Maybe I just straddled, making grand plans about being a finance wizard and not doing enough about it...

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Heard in Class and faithfully reported
- "So, where would you find the share price" - Finance Professor asking a student about a convertible security problem
- " I just look up in the paper"
Sunday afternoon. Studying finance at the library with a bunch of other monkeys. Not much to write about. One last little effort. Exams are coming to a close. Break is looming up on the horizon. I have decided to spend Christmas in Southern France before heading off to Asia. I heard that they eat 13 different desserts on Christmas Eve to symbolize Christ and his 12 apostles.
Section Champagne party planned on evening of last exam - everyone that is caught with a cell phone ringing in class must donate a champagne bottle to the section, including professors. We all get together at the end of every period to drink them all! Was invited to dinner last night but found myself so crunched with revision work that I could not attend. Pity because it was organized by one of the students that I most admire in the school for his breadth of experience, his audacity, his width of knowledge, kindness and pure brain power. He won't be going to Singapore and isn't in my section so he'll be heading off to another section champagne party. That dinner would have been a great way to say goodbye.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The way things are going, I am just going to pitch a tent on a Singapore beach and hope for no rain. Better get my act together in terms of housing!
Speaking of creperie, we met with a friend at Te-Koz, a tiny creperie downtown Fontainebleau. It is run by a couple of elderly people, out of their living-room. I really like this kind of restaurant. Profits clearly are not the main motivation for these people, as I doubt that they are making much money with the few scattered tables around the lot. However, the atmosphere was so warm that it transported me into rural Brittany at the beginning of the century. Yet, the charm was broken by the loud conversation roaming in English over the vapors of Cidre Brut and of crepes flambees. Back to INSEAD - joyful faces, wild smiles, brilliant minds. Gossips.

How hard will it be to get back to a real life?
Where I stand now can be summarized in one word: WEEKEND.

During the MAC Exam, there must have been some really tricky word because a whole continuous string of French people walked down to check something in the dictionary made available by the proctor. They probably also all got to that question at the same time. At times, the MAC Exam felt like MacDonald's as I was surrounded by munching and crunching noises. Some people just cannot get away without food for three hours.
What else can I say about this exam? I finished it - although I am totally unsure about the validity of any numerical result that I have written down. Like the Price and Market exam, I must have swum in ignorance dressed up in realistic thinking. The general feeling is that it was quite bad for most people, so I am not too hopeful. One peek at the newspaper reminds me that it is only an exam. Nothing to really worry about.
On the surface, it was a very fair exam, all questions addressed points that we had covered in class; some transfer pricing decisions to achieve goal congruence, some product portfolio decision and an illustration that product profitability cannot be completely assessed by just any costing system. Some activity-based, practical capacity, proportonality and death spiral inter-twined with a touch of subtility in how the numbers were presented to get to actual capacity, Overhead rates, etc...

OB Exam: I will not spend any time mulling over it, as my condition of facilitator, random help and conclusion writer did not allow for all perspectives. One of my groupmate has perfectly summarized this exam in the e-mail header that she fired to all of us:
I quote: "final copy - nice one team. never enjoyed an exam so much"
It brought back vivid industry memories though...

PoM Exam: from everybody's account, it was an easy exam - which is no good news for anyone worrying about the z-curve. There again, only what we covered in class in its plainest form. Quality Control, Supply Chain and Inventory Management and Process Improvement, Little's Law, Wait Times, etc...etc...

As my housemate would put it, the most important characteristic of this week's exams is that they are all past.
Finance and Strategy left over for me. I got invited to an accreditation dinner on Monday night, whatever that is...The section is meeting for drinks tonight. I might extract my brain from heavy option payoff diagrams and pay a visit to this creperie.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Two exams down, three more to go. Somehow, the significance of such exams have been extremely reduced by the pressing need to spend time with these people I care about, these people that I admire, these people that I respect. And these people that I might not see again after the three campus policy at INSEAD tears apart the promotion.

I have met with several of my friends, all turning down an offer for a drink - which is likely to be the tip of an unhappy iceberg. Courage friends. Keep your head up and continue to confidently march forward.
It is very difficult to know what to do in such situations. Call or not call.

Because these friends' responses are leaving me with bitter feelings, I will shorten this session to the bare minimum. I will write more about these exams tomorrow. I will finish off my revision with the last past exam paper before tomorrow's exam.

Maybe, I will call.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

An extremely helpful reader has sent me the reference to an RSS feed for this blog. Quite a few people had requested that already so this person is very much echoing a popular demand.

I have somehow tried to include this link in the blog template but I am not quite sure whether this is helpful in any way. Here is the tip from this inspired and able reader.


You can also go to
Then enter the URL of this blog in the RSS Ecosystem tab, ticking the Discover RSS Feed for this blog box.

Many thanks.

If you have any comment about things that you'd like to read about, style suggestions, action suggestions (chats?), drop me a line. As our MAC professor would grandly put it: "I am here for you."
Many e-mails were exchanged between my section mates as we are nearing the time of goodbies. I have selected one that I have received for your enjoyment. Possible exam question. Would the sender consider starting a blog?

"It was a dark and stormy night as O. sat down at his desk and went over his notes again. There was nothing to it... he'd have to retake POM, MACC and OB again. As he contemplated the half empty bottle in front of him, he sighed listlessly:

"Well", he thought, "it looks pretty dire from where I'm standing. I mean all these classes starting at 8:30... just couldn't do it. Then there were all these games, you know... How am I ever going to pass? how will I survive another exciting period?"

In desperation, he opened his designed desk drawer. Listen to the sound of quality... this was a 6-sigma piece of furniture, not this Ikea crap. He started to feel for the gun, a very special weapon indeed; it had been purchased from a multiple division arms dealer, a lean operation applying transfer pricing policy and operating at 80% of excess capacity. The positioning had been perfect: "The gun that won't let you down". The targetting... well... no need to comment. There was no way he was going to miss the shot... Still, he figured, just one more try...

O. calls you and asks for advice. What should he do?

Please provide your answer in font 12, double spaced. Make sure to consider what O's goal is and provide an analysis of his real options at this specific point in time. Examine the situation from all thirty seven perspectives covered in class.

Good Luck ; )"

Every student has received an e-mail explaining the exam procedures. Exams start tomorrow (Leading Organizations, Managerial Accounting), Friday (Process and Operations Management), Monday (Finance, Marketing) and Tuesday (Strategy).

< beginning of quote>

Your P2 exam number is 1935601837465

Make sure you check which amphi it corresponds to using the table below:

Amphi P N° 1 to 43
Amphi B N° 84 to 153
Amphi C N° 154 to 193
Amphi D N° 194 to 233
Amphi BCG N° 234 to 275
Amphi H N° 276 to 289
Amphi F N° 290 to 303
Amphi O N° 329 to 370
Amphi E N° 371 to 391

Am I to infer that anyone with an exam number greater than 391 will receive a subsequent email pointing to an exam location
- on the Singaporean campus
- on the Wharton campus
- on the moon

The school quickly corrected it. Some people say that this should never have happened. I am not so severe. It is nice to have an opportunity to laugh in such hectic exam times.

Wish me luck.
Zipping along the road to the beach...
Got my flight...and a big dent in my budget
Applied online for student VISA in Singapore - very efficient, quick and easy. A marvel of technology, this SOLAR system.
Got about 456 quotes from shipment companies but haven't had time to go through any of them yet
Still looking into housing.

On the housing front - I am proud to announce The Return Of The Plumber!
but we must persuade our cleaning lady to stay with us, as we left her in front of a closed door on Sunday, too absorbed by our revision, stuck in the library and totally oblivious of our obligations.

I was at the bar the other day and this video link with the Singapore campus bar is still active at odd hours (middle of the night in Singapore, I take most students were either -working ; - at the beach; - at a bar in town; - by the pool) and blasts away images of empty seats at some outrageous communication rate. Surely, this is not the best use of tuition fees. Why not keep such precious funds to encourage cross-fertilization between clubs and other cross-campus initiatives?

And kudos to the Sherlock Holmes Septembers who could identify the primate imposter.

Back to PoM revisions. Pretty Ostentatious Mess.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I have handed in all my assignments. I am currently working on the exams that we have at the end of this week.

OB - after looooooooooaaaaaaaaaads of pizzas, my Italian co-writer and myself organized the essay according to the following structure: 1) present the role of a firm in society, mainly from an economics perspective, define the other actors in society (government, human capital) and stress the interactions between the various parties, all animated by a desire to grow and better themselves. loads of examples. 3) mention the fact that all this would be fine and dandy were it not for the fact that we operate in a close environment and that, humanity, like gas, start to be compressed in this limited volume. This already created the need for various "referees", putting themselves outside of the game and worrying on longer term perspectives. Examples. 4) given the reality of exponential and uncontrolled growth, incompatible with such limited resource, we touch upon another dimension of all the actors' responsibilities, around social and environmental aspects. Examples. 5) conclusion and proposal for the future.
Not much one can say in less than 6 pages but hey! Pizzas were good.

Latam - I benefited from reviews from someone working for the Bolivian government who has been extremely helpful. I met the person while travelling in Latin America for a few months. Our paper (written with a Bulgarian January student) has 4 parts: Background of Bolivia, history/geography/socio-politics (me); privatization of pension scheme: rational, initial results, problems and potential solutions (me); political problems caused by proposed gas exports through lifelong rival Chile to the US and Mexico, stirring a lot of emotions and causing the ousting of a president, problems and potential solutions (partner); problems linked with the Coca Eradication problems, led by the US - which leaves numerous peasants without a living and creates a lot of resentment toward Washington. Some 35 odd pages, quite complete and well documented. It was extremely interesting to take a macro-economics view but it came at the worst possible moment in the year as most of the research was done in the midst of exam revisions.
I also miss to see why this class is called "Strategy in Latam". From the contents, I would have simply said: "Latam".

Strategy - this was a group assignment. It was my turn to do the write up. subject was the new easyGroup venture: easyCinema. Industry analysis was not too difficult and we have become very efficient in working together as a group.

Finance - for efficiency reasons, some "experts" in our group have very largely contributed to this assignment...

I have done most of the past papers in MAC - that is, I have attempted to do most of the past papers in Managerial Accounting - apart from one which I am keeping for the day before the exam. I have prepared my A4 sheet which I might modify to add more examples.
I am working on Process Operations Management today.
We are meeting with the group to discuss how we will proceed for the OB exam, which is a 4-hour long exam, at the start of the series.

I will concentrate on Finance/Strategy after the first wave. Like our Finance professor puts it "I am assuming that you won't get till Finance until late, so I am offering to be on campus on Sunday afternoon to answer any of your questions".

Cold Clear Beautiful Winter Days.
European Union Organisation Chart

in heaven :

policemen are english
cooks are french
bankers are belgian
dancers are spanish
lovers are italian
and it is all organized by germans

in hell :

policemen are french
cooks are english
bankers are spanish
dancers are belgian
lovers are german
and it is all organized by italians...

Monday, December 08, 2003

In response to a comment about grades: see post dated Saturday, November 08, 2003 and Wednesday, October 15, 2003 (archive link) for an explanation. If anyone has any more questions, feel free to drop me an e-mail. I cannot speak for the administration, you would have to ask them directly and they are very clear and open about their position, this is a personal stance.

Grades are relative and normalized. 50% of the students will be below the INSEAD average, which is no reflection on their actual skills. The importance of grades is a very personal thing - and most people are clear about their position in this respect. I have found people very open and non fussy about their grades, and despite the competitive character that such a grading system confers to the school, everyone is being helpful to everyone else. In fact, given the level of excellence at the school, I was surprised at meeting such unassuming and easy-going people.

INSEAD does not disclose grades to the public, unless a student requests it in writing because a job offer is conditional on accessing his or her transcript. Traditionally, it seems that investment bankers have put more emphasis on grades than other sectors. I'd expect a good interviewer to be able to assess a candidate's potential without looking at grades which are a very artificial and poor representation of a complex human reality.

Grades are a useful means for Ithe school to control and monitor "learning" - although to be honest, there can be little correlation between the amount of stuff you learn and how well you do at an exam - which tests how well conditioned you are in responding to MBA-like questions. The Dean's List does provide an opportunity for people who excel at academics - and I stress academics - to put something extra nice on their CVs.

I doubt that people select electives only based on grades - some do choose certain electives based on the workload to balance it out in any given period and to free up some time for some of the "other" stuff, which is also an important part of school life. Especially since the year goes by so fast.

Take a long term adult perspective. Choose the electives that will bring you the mix of learning/fun/work-life balance/interest you are looking for. Decide early what you want to get out of the school - be clear about what you can replicate elsewhere and what is so unique about INSEAD. And most importantly, consume without moderation and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Alone with my thoughts. Insecurity, soft likeness to flower. Not enough time. Too much time. Anarchy of the seconds. So many wasted. Soft, beautiful, painless silence. So free. Quick it comes, fast it goes.

Clouds hanging over. Interesting. Talkative. Clouds in my eyes. Haze in my looks. Cotton worlds. I like the way they look now.

I am a grain of dust vanishing in winter. The wind mutters inside me, flows over my feet, holds them down, pierces my clothes. The wind is drawing curly figures on the surface of the water. Like a signature. Like an invitation for agile spirits. Infinitely vast. Splendid and blue.
My classes next period in Singapore.
- Macroeconomics
- IT Systems
- Power and Politics
- Career Dynamics and Self-Assessment
- Strategies in Asia-Pacific
- New Ventures and Business Models
- Strategic Alliances, Mergers and acquisitions

Well. If I had the time to take them all.

The choice of electives, and the subsequent bidding, can be complicated. Several situations arise:
- You know what you want to do after school and you are picking the technical or "softer" classes that you need in order to complete your toolset
- You have no clue about what you want to do and you are positioning yourself at a high level, acquiring general perspectives which will allow you to adapt to any problem and develop your own set of tools when the time comes.
- You are thinking about the uniqueness of the course and you are taking the electives that cannot be replicated anywhere else. For instance, it is possible to replicate a good Finance professor anywhere else, and the international character of the class is not best illustrated in a finance class. It is difficult to replicate such a high quality international environment and an organizational behavior related class, which heavily draws on individual's experience, would be quite unique at INSEAD
- You want the highest possible grade and you will pick subjects that you are confident about. As a result you might also have a lot of time to dedicate to extra curriculum activities
- You want the maximum level of learning and you will pick subjects that you have no clue about

Most reasons are a mix of all the above.
The meeting with Lucky was one of these unique INSEAD moments. I think that the French say "qui se ressemble s'assemble". I found Lucky much more careful in his analysis, much more rigorous in his approach - although our choice of subjects is very similar, our approaches vary greatly. When Lucky graduates, this variety will be missing. Regardless of how unsettling it might be to send off thoughts into the anonymous immensity of the world wide web, voices capturing the essence of the INSEAD experience are essential – as insider’s knowledge is bitterly missing from school documentation. What best conveys the impact of a moment, the extraordinary character of the program, the richness of the diversity of experiences but a number of independent voices, all dipping into the same sources.
Whether you are at INSEAD now, or whether you will be starting soon, either in Fontainebleau or in Singapore, note that writing is easy, a source of endless fun and does not take as much time as people might think. It is also comforting to take a moment to gather thoughts and impression, to let the day fill you up with its magic, to distance yourself for a second from the seemingly uncontrollable stream of events happening around you.
Do not hesitate to drop me (or Lucky) a line if you’d like to discuss this. Otherwise, take a deep breath and plunge into Cyberspace!
Remember that, when you get here, you might be victim of what I have called the INSEAD syndrome: Individual Neurons Suppressed by Excessive Application of Diversity. Writing helps you maintain your strong identity, not feel overwhelmed by a transition to this whirlpool of talents – while at the same time sipping quietly the most enjoyable cocktail of nationalities.
One other item floating around the table was about the relationship between the writings and the readers. In this respect, Lucky is very customer-focused, very conscious of the need that needs filling and systematically addresses the informational gap that persists out there. I would be more torn between the desire to faithfully reports anecdotes or share various thoughts that have sprung out of this environment and the necessity to remain a free thinker and an independent writer. The former aspect is reflected in the choices of subjects covered; the latter in the spontaneous character of the reporting. I am also arguing that as soon as this string of letters is released to the public, it does not belong to the author anymore. It becomes part of the readers’ heritage. Reading is the internalization and personalization of someone else’s story. The more content is suggested in any illustration of reality, the more subjective the recipient’s response in order to complement the account. This can be partially what explains the discrepancy between the idea that we are forming around a reality presented in writing – and the visual experience that it depicts.
The story will be multiplying as people rush back into their lives, with a copy under the arm. All different, all united in the adhesion to the same letters.
It was a privilege to meet Lucky. Thank you for a high quality blog that delivers information to applicants and newcomers, excellent fun for current students and a nostalgic feel for graduates.
Got it all wrong again. Our Managerial Accounting professor was born in Russia...Please correct your geographical map of P2 professor origins…

Bureaucratic Socialism:
you have two cows. the government take them and put them in a barn with everyone else's cows. they are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. the government give you as much milk as and as many eggs as the regulations say that you should need.
I organized an outdoor trip with INSEAD students. Went shopping with an Indian person. We splitted the list of items to buy. On his list was
-For 8 people and 4 days
- Cucumbers
- Butter
- Biscuits
We ended up with 15 zucchinis, 3 squared butter packs of 1kg each and over 25 biscuit packs.

Long pondering over such a discrepancy between my own purchased quantity and waste conscious shopping habits and this apparent abandon, I found the solution in a suggestion through a discussion with other Indian mates: in India, if guests manage to finish off their food, it is horrible news. It means that there was not enough food. In Western cultures, if guests do not manage to finish off their food, it is a very bad sign. It means that they did not like what they ate.
Some dinghy sailing was organized on the Seine nearby. This mainly consisted in avoiding big cargo ships moving large volume of cement up and down the river. Gone are the days of a pleasant picnic on the left bank as pictured in many an impressionist painting in the Orsay museum.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Heard in class:
"there is a cost of touching the customer" - Managerial Accounting Professor
"I like touching the product" - Strategy Class Student

"this ad was clearly about dating. I mean, it says that you can take a girl for an evening out in this car and it will be ok. Was I the only one to get this message or what?" - Marketing Class: student expressing reaction to Skoda commercial.
Heard after class: 5 male students have shared with me their decision to buy a Skoda.

Friday, December 05, 2003

The other day, I had lunch with someone whose writing I admire a lot: the other INSEAD blogger (see link on left-hand side of the page, I haven't yet figure out how to insert a HTML link in this window)

It is strange how words can portray a vivid picture of someone’s beliefs and doubts, while concealing any other real life aspect of this person. On the one hand, one feels familiar with a writer who puts down on paper his heart and soul. On the other hand, one feels remote as all these writings shields out the spontaneity of the moment, and all these little details that make our world so complex and enjoyable.

One of the questions flying around the table was about the choice of my name for this blog – one that I cannot blame on my parents, this time.
I had to find a name that could
- mask my identity
- be stupid enough so that people would remember it
- be somehow related to what I am learning here
I looked at our most creative and insightful professor, our German Finance professor for inspiration. I had the choice between a rocket, a finance monkey, ring ring, matter and anti-matter and poof. Finance Monkey seemed to be the best choice. If I had waited until P2, I could have been Death Spiral.

Must dash off as I have class. I will write more about my lucky meeting.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

And the winners are...

1. Latin American Week
2. Iberian Week
3. Italian Week
4. Chinese Week
5. Africa Week
6. Australia / New Zealand Week
7. British & Irish Week
8. Eastern Europe Reloaded Week
9. Greek - Turkish Week

Well done everyone! The presentations were a lot of fun!!!!

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

This week is CANADIAN WEEK – pancakes with maple syrup, a hockey match on the Fontainebleau ice rink in town, and of course a big Winter Carnival party at the end. On Friday night, it is also Winter Cabaret – in which students put up some acts. Probably a lot of fun! I have not decided which events I will be going to yet. I am torn between the need to study hard for the exam and the desire to spend as much time as I can with my fellow students before I disappear off to Asia.
A 2002 Wall Street Journal article offered the following interesting views from University of Colombia professors (ex Stanford and ex Harvard)

Point of view #1: Capitalism, American-style had some real problems: it could be a force to enrich people everywhere but in practice it has hurt many of the world’s poorest countries and emerging markets, it has pushed austerity on those countries that needed stimulus, led to huge volatility in financial markets and sometimes is only a proxy for cheap access to the world market for the US. For instance, Africa was made worse by trade liberalization, because trade was opened for services exported by rich countries but remained protected in the areas where Africa could compete, such as agricultural goods, textiles or construction.

Point of view #2: Trade and financial liberalization should be beneficial to everybody as world markets will progressively reach an equilibrium point.

Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Monday, December 01, 2003

Saturday night was the Winterball at the Chateau des Conde (http://www.chateaudesconde.com/), a beautiful and imposing castle near INSEAD. This was a black-tie event which only reinforced the magical character of the venue. Apart from the very minor detail of a cloakroom located a few hundred meters from the actual ballroom causing many a lady to catch a cold, everything was extremely well organized. From a relaxing drinks in a lavish Moroccan room with a small number of INSEAD student performing low-key quality ambiance music, to the exuberance of the main ballroom with provocative dancers, percussions, saxo man and Funk’n’Bleau INSEAD.
Champagne served all night – with your weight in chocolate handed over to you in large balls by white-gloved waiters walking around the crowd. The food was not fantastic and the vegetarian choice was basically “the same plate but I will remove the meat part” but all in all very acceptable given the difficulty to cater for so many people. It could not tarnish the quality of the company and the setting.
I am leaving for Singapore and I do not know whether I will come back – I am looking at all these people that I will be already missing – and I have not yet been able to meet the great majority of them! Despite the rush for the P2 exams, the workload with the final cases and papers, it is so important for me to spend time with all these friends that I will be missing bitterly at the other end of the world. All of them so incredible – yet so simple in their approach to life.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Pfff. Just wrote 10 pages about the development of Bolivia (and how one of the most prosperous colonies of Latin America fell to the bottom of the pak) and about the problems (and potential solutions) of the privatization of the pension funds, in such a poor country. First draft of my final Latam paper. (my group partner writes the other half on gas exports to the US and Mexico, via the fiercest perceived rival, Chile, as a political liability in the country, resulting in the ousting of the former president and on the highly unpopular US-led coca eradication program, providing little viable alternative to the peasants that it leaves without a living)

Various sources included World Bank data, OECD reports and studies across various Latam countries, pension fund managers comparision (marketing) data, Bolivia's central government text of law, various articles and newspapers. A very time consuming business this.

I am quite amazed at the possibility to write about the intricacy of such a complicated financial system, about the various incentives programs that could be put in place, about the effects of certain reforms AND understand what I was writing.

Maybe I am turning into a finance gorilla.

National Week Vote was cast today. Alea Jacta Est. Tomorrow night is Winter Ball.

Will also select my electives, finish off first draft of OB paper, my contribution to the next Finance case and kick off PoM revisions. All this in the coming two days.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

My last opinion about Latam class - if was interesting because it gave me a macroeconomics view of the developing world, and this was largely due to the quality of the participants. Apart from that, it is a lot of reading for not a whole lot that we use in class.

Today's class was interesting, as a senior economist from the Interamerica Development Bank (heardquartered in Washington, European Offices in Paris) came to talk about the prospects for the regions vis-a-vis Foreign Direct Investment, and shared some data with us)

Next week, we will finish off the class with drinks at the professor's home. A typical Latin tradition apparently.

On another note, the presentations for the National Weeks were very funny. We must vote for 9 weeks out of 13.

So long.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Academic socialism:
you have two cows. the government take them and put them in a barn with
everyone else's cows. You have to take care of all the cows. the government
give you as much milk as you need.
Creativity in Marketing.
Professor had shown a Volvo commercial depicting the safety attribute of these cars. The spot featured a few children seating around a table drawing.
First boy says: “my father loves me so much that he bought be a baseball cap”
Second boy argues over with an even longer list of things that his father bought and son on until we reach a little girl
-“my father loves me so much that he bought a Volvo”

In the same vein, a group who had to present a marketing plan around the Digital Angel product offering (making GPS based located, with bio-sensors, and in the case targeting Alzheimer patients who get lost), the group made a commercial spot. The film featured the students, dressed up as elderly men, sitting around a table, drinking and playing cards. One of the students was acting as a child (now an adult). Or the Volvo spot transposed years later.
-“my son loves me so much that he bought me a nice holiday in Hawaii”
and everyone builds on with even nicer offering…
The last man to speak says
“my son loves me so much that he bought me a Digital Angel locator”

This class is just like going to the movies at a theater that’d feature only an infinite strings of ads. You sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
We have decided to reposition the quests for profit in our OB Essay. We qualify this as an objective for firms - but not as their role in society.

In turn, we look at various dimensions (functional, human, social, educational, financial, economical) and various scales: local, national and internationalv(with the difficulty to enforce trade agreements, rules of law, etc...). We also intend to run a comparision between countries where the government and the other actors are society are more or less doing their job and countries where there are not strong rule of law, institutions and financial markets.

Since I am writing this essays with an Italian partner, I am getting a lot of pizzas these days.
It is good to know that there are honest people on this planet.

Went to Paris for a very nice dinner with other INSEAD folks at Le Refuge, near Gare de Lyon, a very artsy and cozy place. One of our Italian friends forgot her purse in the restaurant. By the time she realizes the loss, we are just out a restaurant/jazz club nearby, the China Club and Le Refuge has closed. We leave a message, prompting the owner of the restaurant to call us back. Wallet is restituted the following day.

Forgot my wallet on a train seat. A local ran after me with my wallet in his hand. I only suffered minor embarrassment as he was shouting out loud that I was jeopardizing my wealth on public transports.

Using the famous Jack Welch’s principle of Proudly Found Elsewhere


Do you think communication would be so much more simple if everyone in
the world spoke English?? Let's face it -- English is a crazy
language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither
apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in
England or French Fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while
sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find
that quicksand can work slowly. And why is it that writers write but
fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the
plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? and why
do you pronounce Quay like Key but not cough like dough?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that
you comb through the annals of history but not a single annal? If you
have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what
do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If
vegetarians eat vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? What human
organ was used to design church organs?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an
asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a
play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have
noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on
parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a
wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be
opposite, while quite a few and quite a lot are alike? How can the
weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the other day?
Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are
absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? And
where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would
ACTUALLY hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your
house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by
filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the
creativity of the human race (which of course, isn't a race at all).
That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the
lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch,
I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it

This week is the National Week campaign - people will select the second half of the year themes.
Here is the choice

Africa Week
Basing their campaign around diversity, interest, truly international school, arts and craft

American Week
I quote: Vote For American Week...because international support means a lot to us...

Australia/New Zealand Week

Belgian Week
Small is good

British & Irish Week
Loads of undressed good looking rugby and football players

Chinese Week
Loads of food

Eastern Europe Reloaded Week
Dracula style presentation

French Week
Organized Beaujolais Nouveau event

Greek-Turkish Week
Loads of food

Iberian Week
campaign stated that US supported them. People replied that they weren't quite sure whether the US would know where Iberia was.

Italian Week
Loads of good looking, impeccably dressed people eating nice coffee and good food.

Latin American Week
Salsa, Samba, Tequila

Scandinavian Week

Nationalities are putting up booths over lunch today in the bar, will give presentations tomorrow and will ask for a final vote on Friday.
A great source of information about countries

Or do a search on "Country_Name at a glance" and select the World Bank pdf profile.

Anyone with relevant info on the privatization of pensions in Bolivia and on the coca eradication program - feel free to point me in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Just back from a dinner in town with my group members. Despite the heavy workload, we have decided to take the time to meet before the end of P2, as some of us are going to Singapore and some of us are staying in Fonty.

We had such an enjoyable time. Given that we started off as an allegory of the D-Day, with everyone shooting at everyone else, this is great progress.

We have become much more open to everyone else, much more trustful, much more relaxed, which allows us to distribute the work better, hence be more efficient. On the other hand, several members as noticed that the standard for preparation has gone down. We don't need to impress anyone anymore. Still time to reverse the trend and respect better everyone's time.

I am back to campus to finish off my day's work, probably another couple of hours. It is 11.45pm. The library just closed. Everyone is moving to the cubicles. The campus is still buzzing with zombie life, rapacious hands hammering nervously on keyboards, voracious eyes devoring books and papers. Absent eyes poking into the darkness, through the side windows.

On the one hand, I feel that I have grown into someone who questions everything, who cannot be satisfied with halk-baked notions, who feel that any problem has a solution - the only thing left to do being to find it - , who taylors the process to better fit aspirations and needs and who could take on the world.
On the other hand, I feel guided, like a primary school pupil - walking hand in hand with the administration, being given very specific and mechanical tasks, working in a very specific mould, a clone to hundreds of other MBA students, all chained., all exhausted, and all marching with their heads down towards Exam Week - The Ultimate Milestone.

I think that I need a coffee.

On a happy note, I found a TGV train ticket to cross the entire country North to South for 25 Euros around the Christmas period. I love this place.
Heard in class today:

- so what worries you? - Managerial Accounting Professor to student
- well, I am worried about what you are worried about - student to professor
- Ok, but I am not worried about you worrying about my worrying - professor to student

This is called Death Spiral.
Work is taking its toll again.
Juggling between group work in Finance and Strategy, pair work in OB2 and Latin America, both for final papers. Struggling to also find the time to go to extra tutorials offered, and to go through all these practice problems...
For me like for half the promotion, looks like most of this material is not revision at all...

On top of all of this, we are supposed to research our electives for next period. I will be in Singapore so I should be sending emails to Januaries there and get their feedback. Takes so much time...I have so little time.

We are all tired...Some of us are wondering why we are doing all this and putting ourselves voluntary through this program. Some of us are wondering how the school managed to persuade them to even fork out large amounts of money for this!

Like in P1, although I am very busy and have not managed to get more than 5 to 6 hours sleep every day, this exam fever seems to completely escape me. I don't think that I got vaccinated prior to coming to INSEAD as the workload is definitely greater than everything else that I have experienced in life - but somehow, someday, things will come to a close. Working to influence the outcome is good. Understanding that the world will keep turning regardless of the outcome helps too.

Must go. I still have 24857 things to finish off tonight.
you have two cows. the local lord takes some of the milk and you have to pay a
tax for the right of using his grass to feed them.
EDF – Efficient Delivery Folks

On Sunday 7.30pm, our electricity system ceases to function. All fuses seem to operate. No incoming electricity. Main switch is in working position.
On Sunday 7.43pm, a phone call is extended from a cell phone to a local electrician.
On Sunday 8.15pm, a local electrician arrives at the premise of the accident. Electrician checks all my switches, all in order. There is no power entering the house. He diagnoses an Electricite de France problem.
We call EDF and hear a melodious mermaid-like voice asking us to leave our calling details. We leave a cell phone number – note that we have not got a landline.
EDF calls back 4.3 min later and promises to send someone over.
EDF operator arrives at the premises 25 min later. Network is up but there is no power entering the house.
Following trail of lost signal, EDF digs out buried switch box that landlord has never mentioned to us, lest we conducted a hassle free lifestyle. 27 min after final EDF call, the power is switched back on.

Actually, after the EU directive of 1996 to liberalize the energy industry, EDF seems to have organize itself in a very efficient power house. Fortunately for them, the French market is not open to anyone else, so they have in practice a natural monopoly there, loads of over capacity coming from the French nuclear plants (producing about 80% of the country’s electricity) and they are exporting to neighboring countries. Probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest energy company in the world (US companies are all smaller players as the economic landscape there is much more fragmented). Contrary to France Telecom though, looks like they turned an elephant into a gazelle. A lot might have to do with political clout, a lot with the necessity to start showing growth (with France entirely covered, it would have been difficult to grow any further in that market).

Only downside…an ethical and environmental one. Nuclear power creates a lot of nuclear waste which tends to end off the West Coast of Africa – as countries get paid for the privilege to hold this liability.
In our Latin America class, we looked at direct foreign investment from two perspectives:

A country’s perspective: how can countries attract multinationals? Especially small markets, which must target globally oriented sectors, in need for fast response time from institutions. Especially markets with low cost of labor, how can they balance this with low education levels and still remain an attractive environment to companies? How can labor and tax laws influence company’s selection? How does the rule of law, corruption levels and trust factors affect business? How can the efficiency of their infrastructure impede or favor a country? For instance, how a reliable electrical grid could play in favor of Costa Rica but against India in attracting large production plants? Or how can the 500 000 engineers graduating each year from Chinese universities present an enormous untapped educated workforce to further fuel the growth of the country, vs Brazil where only a small number of middle to upper class people reach this level of education? How can being small and efficient and customer oriented as a country contributed to attracting direct foreign investment compared to slow administrative government, such as the EU…
Why is France revamping its tax incentives to offer better deals to foreign executives? Has the country realized that to be a global force on the world market, utilizing brains brought with the national way of thinking would not be enough?

From a company’s perspective, tax holidays on profits and inputs, lower cost, good education levels, good infrastructure to support production, imports and exports, efficient decision making at governmental level, and free capital flows, flexible labor laws, non-unionized workers seem to play a larger role than political or economical stability and efficient financial markets – if we look at companies’ choice to establish operations in Israel, Malaysia or Mexico.

There was a time when many companies were bending in front of governments to obtain favors. Now is a time when companies make more than the GDP of entire countries, when expenses related to the set up of a new operation in a country represent what the firm can earn in a month, or a couple of weeks in another market. Now is a time when the weight of large corporations in a country’s balance sheet, in terms of direct and indirect job created, tax contributions, GDP contribution, growth factor for universities, boost for the infrastructure and incentives for research clusters, strong underlying of financial market trading has become extremely important to a country’s economy. Governments are forced to make concessions – or see business move elsewhere (Toyota choice to settle somewhere else than in the UK, despite very flexible labor laws, because it was not part of the Euro zone, Intel choice not to pick Chile, because the government was inflexible)

Power today lies in economics. Of scale.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I am starting to work on my OB Essay: “What is the role of the firm in society?”
Do I believe that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits? Our Finance professor has argued that the focus on maximizing shareholder’s value, achieved by selected projects and ventures generating the highest positive Net Present Value does two things
- it maximizes the wealth at societal level, by minimizing waste of resources
- it coordinates the efforts of million of firms scattered around the globe with no links between each other, into one unique direction.
Can I not find situation in which such pursuit would directly conflict with my religious, moral and spiritual values?
What role did banks selling Argentinean bonds as the most secure investment to clients play in the fall of Argentina in 2001? What kind of sane system can play with the life and savings of millions of individuals in the hope of creating short term profits?
Does this portray correctly the weight of companies on an economical national balance, the power it confers to the country in question, the negotiating power of big firms over small government and the responsibility that come with it. Does this illustrate enough the interlinks between society at large (its health system, its environmental rules, its education choices, its tax contexts, its dependence on firms’ production, its financial institutions) and firms (its employment level, its reach in the value chain, its financial choices, its contribution to the GDP…)

Is this a living example of the definition of nascent intellectual capacity: the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in one single mind, and not go mad?
I just feel overwhelmed.
A survey company decided to do a world survey on a very important issue. The question was the following:
”What is your opinion on lack of food in the rest of the world?”

The survey was a total disaster as the question was not properly formulated. Too many words were ambiguous:

In Africa, people did not know what food was.
In Western Europe, people did not know what lacking something meant
In Eastern Europe, people did not know what an opinion was.
In the United States, people did not know what the rest of the world was.
We still have not got a phone line. A France Telecom operator has come. Veni Vindi but not Vinci.

He first tried to find out whether the line was active or not by causing the other end of the line to ring. What we did not know at the time was that the line was connected to the neighbor’s. The neighbor’s building is used by a company previously owned by our landlord. The proprietor had a relay installed in his house, for any incoming call. So whenever this operator interrogated the line, he was activating the phone bell on the secretary desk, who would find no one to converse with when picking up the handset.

After a nebulous visit to the house’s most disgusting basement tunnels in search of the phone line’s intricate arms, the operator surfaced in the secretary office of the company next door, who was by that time, sufficiently annoyed by a ring-no response pattern that any phone-related query guaranteed a banging door.
The fact that some secret underground path could open up access to someone else’s office was not the most disturbing factor in this affair. It was impossible for France Telecom to establish a phone line through someone else’s property. In the event of maintenance need, France Telecom would not be able to intervene unless the company building was open. Worse. These people could just tap into our line.
This possibility was not even discussed as the secretary politely indicated the most direct way to the outside world to our phone operator in distress, establishing a clear no-return policy.

The operator then proceeded to locate the head of line, allegedly located in a pole by the gate of the house. There was no such pole. FT phones home, complaining about a mismatch between his historical data and reality, arguing that no one should change the terrain on him. After a 1.5km walk on the main road, the operator locates the head of the line and reports back to the office the updated information.

*Someone* must dig a trench from the head of the line to our house before France Telecom can install a line. A salesperson will contact us.

Three weeks are gone.
The sales person calls and leaves a message.
I call back the next day at 4.15pm. The salesperson has left the office for the day.
I call back one week after. The salesperson is on holiday. His secretary takes my call and agrees to call the landlord to get his authorization. The landlord swears on the head of his ancestors that he has not been contacted by the most efficient proof of the inefficiencies caused by monopoly power. The landlord promises to contact France Telecom.

No further news.

Initial request and purchase of phone: September 6th
Last call made: November 17th
November 20th: receive call from granddaughter of landlady indicating that landlady will call. 30 seconds later, Landlady called and indicates that all we need to do is contact France Telecom, give her old number and that the old line will naturally come back to life.

Is France just not a customer oriented business environment? Is it just that the government privatization efforts is just pushing inefficient elephants into the marketplace? Or is it that our household represents the least profitable customer for France Telecom and they are desperately trying to be rid of us.
Had the most delicious weekend.
Started off with a visit to the INSEAD bar for a relaxed time with section friends. Spotted a video link with the Singapore campus bar, which displayed a static image of empty tables for an hour or so.
Moved onto a local ethnic restaurant. Good food and good company.
Efficient studious Saturday. Lots of sighs when looked at the Singapore flight prices.
Mild Sunday reaching its apogee with an impromptu Mozart trio at a friend’s house – at a house that was SO French, even by French standards. Had not played in a while.

Also we have a new landlady!!! 

I am getting ready to attack this week with renewed energy.

Program of the week:
- Continue practice problems in Finance
- Tackle practice problems in Managerial Accounting and Process Operations Management
- Write Latam final paper
- OB Essay
- Strategy Case Write Up
- Continuous case and class preparation

- Call France Telecom
- Call Landlord to enquire about plumber
- Book Singapore flight, accommodation
- Call Paris DJ for house party

Leisure – all optional of course…
- National Drinks on Monday night
- Executive MBAs Vs Basic MBAs VolleyBall Match on Tue/thur night
- Section Random Dinners on Wednesday night
- Find out what to wear for Winter Ball

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Interesting - I was reading Lucky's blog (see link on side column) - and I realized the Lucky has read the same book as the one that enlightened my summer: "An Essay About Blindness", word for word translation. I guess that the English translation is simply Blindness. Jose Sarammago was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1998.
In fact, I wrote an essay about this book in my third language exam at INSEAD.

This book depicts what happened to a society when a heavily contagious blindness, with no apparent cause and no known cure, strikes. It draws some of the same conclusions as Zimbardo conducting his prison experiment at Stanford in the 70s: people's primal behavior springs out of a transposition of context.

In Sarammago's book, all characters are unamed. This anonymous description of their psychological dimensions creates an even more powerful allegory for the various societal functions. Society facing a nameless invisible enemy is scared. It does not know how to fight back. Original bases for power are challenged.

Interestingly in the book, one character, the wife of the first eye doctor hit by this blindness, does not fall victim to the evil disease, creating a distortion in power balance.

People are put in quarantine, marginalized, yet society does not have the courage to eliminate what has now become a threat. In this dark prison, the "patients" re-invent rules and priorities. Fights for power, fights for food, fights for sex take over rationality. Even the "Love is blind" concept is demonstrated with this extremely well written, extremely powerful, extremely clear and crude essay.

An army general advocating the use of force based on the inferiority and lack of utility of the victims commit suicides when he discovers that he has lost his sight - young people, remember societies which might recommend a social structure which does not take care of its non-contributors (elderly, disabled, unemployed). Everyone can become a marginal citizen.

Society falls increasingly into chaos as pilots become blinds and cause major crashes, as infrastructure becomes useless, as power plant operators cannot control energy levels, as retailers cannot get their supply of foods.
Society loses its last hope as the last researcher becomes blind before having identified the source of the disease.

Can the world be saved? How? By whom or by what?
Book available in libraries, bookshop and online retailers in multiple languages.

Thank you Lucky
The keywords for the Managerial Accounting exam are Death Spiral and Proportionality.
And don’t wear your badge on the train to Paris the day you decide to miss class.

My To Do List
- book flight to Singapore
- arrange accommodation in Singapore
- find somehow someone who'd be willing to take on all my house liabilities
- write up first drat OB Essay
- write up first draft Latin America Essay
- do the hundreds of Finance problems that I have left behind to focus on case studies this week
- find something to wear for the Winter Ball
- figure out where the problems in PoM and MAC are posted so that I can give it a go
- phone France Telecom for our landline
- figure out why plumber has not contacted us
- catch up with my reading pack
- find cheapest arrangement to send off belongings to Singapore
- select electives for next period
- start discussing entrepreneurship with faculty
- try Beaujolais nouveau
- find a non offensive sex toy for tonight's Climax Party at Fleury. Someone suggested that a mobile phone qualified because of vibrating feature
- review srategy case write up for next week's submit date
- find a job?
2001 Business Week article:
“Welcome to the new consumer apartheid. Those long lines and frustrating telephone trees aren’t always the result of companies simply not caring abut pleasing the customer anymore. Increasingly, companies have made a deliberate decision to give some people skimpy service because that’s all their business is worth. Call it the dark side of the technology boom, where marketers can amass a mountain of data that gives them an almost Orwellian view of each buyer. Consumers have become commodities to pamper, squeeze or toss away.”

Inequalities existed before – rich versus poor, sons of kings vs sons of carpenters, aristocrat and landowners Vs landworkers. The ability to segment and segregate consumers have increased and become institutionalized in the pursuit of profits, creating strange situations: people who pay their credit card bill in full at the end of each month are among the least profitable customers for credit card companies which rely a lot of late fees. So middle income customers receive less and less service for their business or can be enticed into greater purchases resulting in prohibitive cash payment to induce a default, and late fees…
Heard on the train. From the most famous Finnish person at INSEAD:

- During its first two years of existence, INSEAD campus was in the Chateau of Fontainebleau, causing a stir at the head Office of the French ministry of culture. How could a private school claim any rights over the use of such beautiful premises?

- “Actually, the population from Scandinavia is similar to the population of Hungary and other Southern countries. We all come from Asia. I guess that there were some intelligent people who traveled South, and some stupid people who went North, like the Fins.”
Heard in class and faithfully reported:
Strategy professor talking about wheelchair customers of Quickie, a company targetting young people interested in sports, who found themselves recently disabled:

- “so Quickie creates a pull market: when their customers walk into the store, they point at a wheelchair and they say – that’s the one that I want”
- “It is all about impulse buying, when you walk around the store, you locate a Quickie and you walk out with it under your arm”.

Last OB Class was about managing across cultures. Every working group had to come up with one myth about their nationality and two insights about how to manage successfully in their country. We looked at the US, France, the UK, Portugal, Ireland, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Peru, Singapore, Hong Kong, Romania, Mainland China, Japan, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, Italian…Advice came straight from the source!

This class was so interesting that the effort of writing all this down left me with a very sore hand…

Some extracts:
- “ People think that Germans do not have a sense of humor. That’s wrong. I am serious about that”
- “They are many ways that lead to Rome. Germans would take the straightest”
-“In Daimler- Chrysler, Chrysler is silent”

- “There seems to be this myth about Irish drinking Guiness. This is very wrong. We also drink Whisky, 6X, Vodka, etc…”

- “The English have a special sense of directness. For instance, “that’s very interesting” really means “thanks for nothing, let’s move on””

- “Everyone thinks that the Italians are on this planet only to enjoy life: they like eating well, drinking well, partying well, and wearing nice clothes. Do not underestimate them”
-"In Italy, family, meaning friends, family, personal contacts, is very important. It is reminiscent from the days of regional break up in Italy and dominace of large families. It is important to have a Father in Italy."

- “In Japan, do not force people to say “no”. The word no and different are the same. So in general people formulate sentences to avoid embarrassment and allow for a positive answer to a negative point. For instance, a rhetorical “do you agree?” which would be answered by a no is transformed into a rhetorical “do you disagree?”, which would be answered by a yes.”
- “In Japan, we don’t want to lose face. If you make me lose face, even though your business makes a lot of sense to me, I’ll let you down, lose a lot of money but save my honor. There is even this spot in Japan for people who have an office near the window: they get paid, even promoted just to sit by a window and watch the traffic below”

- “There is this myth that the Dutch are on drugs, this is totally wrong. Take me for instance I have never smoked”

- “It is true that Peru’s most well known export is Cocaine. This is wrong though, we have loads of other exports”
- “There is myths that Lebanese people are very good businesspeople and that you never know what they really think. Well, this is not just a myth.”

- “All of this cult-like bullshit about corporate core values and message will definitely not work in Romania. After over 50 years of communist indoctrination, we run away from any emulation of an ideal”

- “There is a myth that Portugal used to be only about fish and agriculture. Things have changed, we left the fish to the Spanish and we have become good engineers. What we lack now are good MBAs”
-“Everyone believes that the French are great lovers. Well, the Portuguese are much better”

- “There is this myth that Israeli are rude, especially with foreigners. We are direct, cut the crap type people”

- “In France, people have high social values. A firm’s role in society is just not to make shareholders rich. And for women, it is 3 kisses in the South, 2 in Lyon and 4 in Paris”

- “There is this myth about Switzerland being a boring country. How can a country with three different cultures and languages ever be boring?”

- “everyone believes that Austria is backward looking and xenophobic. You have to understand that there is only one big city in this Alpine country, Vienna. This city was once at the head of a huge and powerful empire of which nothing remains. Austrian love their history. So I guess that it is true that we are backward looking. Now whenever I read the Financial Times and find an article about Austria, I immediately look up Jorg Haider’s name. I guess that since he was elected, the country’s also a little right-wing oriented. Never mind…”

- “everyone believes that the Chinese market is made of totally inefficient state-owned companies exploiting low wage workers in order to make it in the world market. False. Most of these companies have gone under and in the past 10 years, the government has strengthen financial markets to allow for the development of fast moving companies, employing a highly educated highly motivated workforce.”

- “Apparently, Thailand is very well-known for the proliferation of prostitution. To be honest, when I look at the Fontainebleau forest, I am not sure that we have such a clear competitive advantage”

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Murphy's Law
The one day you miss class (agreed with your professors because securing a job is a very important matter and is not taken lightly at INSEAD), is the one day that the Dean of the MBA program sits next to you on the train to Paris...
Question 1: "aren't you one of my MBAs?"
Question 2: "don't you have any classes today?"
Today I am off to Paris-Nord Villepin exibition center for a real-world bath at a trade show. I will be missing three classes (one that I am auditing) - I have asked fellow students to help me catch up with the material.

P2 is one busy period. One course has been added. All courses have truncated their class outline but have added more reading and homework to make up for it. We must polish our CVs for the CV Book, do a lot more group work (and if you are still not very efficient with your super diverse group, you might find this a little painful timewise), we must spend time dissecting the elective list for P3, arrange everything for a possible campus exchange, crank up the networking activities. I don't remember when I last had a full night's sleep...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some of the higlights of Japanese Week:
- Sushi Dinner
- Japanese Tea Ceremony
- Sake degustation
- Kendo demonstration by "Samurai"
- Movie Night (Hayao MIYAZAKI is one of the greatest animators and directors in Japan. The entertaining plots, compelling characters and breathtaking animation in his films have earned him international renown from critics as well as public recognition within Japan. Disney's commitment to introduce the films to the rest of the world will let more people appreciate the high-quality works Miyazaki has given us.
- Presentation from Nissan
- some dance machine, Play Station 2 competition
- usual big big party on Friday night.

Last week, there was also a presentation about Careers in Private Equity for those interested (often by CMS and linked to students with experience in the field). This week: how to get to work for international organizations, such as the World Bank.

On Thursday, a Beaujolais nouveau afternoon, with cheese tasting, organized by the French.
On Saturday, party at Fleury.

This is just a non-exhaustive list of some of the things that are happening at INSEAD this week.

My programme looks much more like
- group meeting for strategy case
- Finance problems
- team sports training
- trade show attendance to meet potential future employer and get a good feel for what's happening in the field
- OB presentation
- Managerial Accounting problem
- Dinner with friends
- Some of this Japanese stuff
- World Bank presentation
- Finding a replacement for our cleaning lady
- Chasing the plumber
- Phoning France Telecom about our landline request, dated Sept 6th.
We have not recovered the use of our bathroom.

Apparently, plumbers cannot do work before providing us with a written quote, according to French law. After many an attempt to align our busy timetables, the man comes to the house to evaluate the effort involved.
The man leaves indicating that we should hear from him shortly. Two weeks later, we have not heard from him.

We call the man and face an answering machine, requesting us to leave a message.
The man calls back one week later. He was ill. He can come but only in the middle of our exam week, three weeks down the road. We cannot go to another plumber unless the landlord agrees to it as he is footing the bill. We settle on the first week of P2 for an intervention. In the meantime, we are hoping for rain.

The plumber does not come.
We call again. The plumber was ill. Actually, he does not have a quote because it was one of his employees who was supposed to send us the quote but he did not do it and now none of them remembers what has to be done as no record was kept.

The plumber will come with the landlady who is paying a visit.

The plumber comes to the house only to realize that he cannot actually perform the work before a tile man artistically revamps the tiled wall of the bathroom. The tile expert is due to come on the following Monday. The landlord calls over the weekend to let us know.
One of my housemates is away for the weekend and will return only late on Sunday night. He and his girlfriend are not aware of the plumber conspiracy.

Monday morning. My housemate’s girlfriend is enjoying a lazy morning and walks to the basement to use the only available shower in the house, loosely wrapped in a towel.
When she walks back up, she hears a male voice in the bathroom. Thinking that it might be one of us, she is not in the least worried and leisurely wanders back into her bedroom, smaybe inging "I wanna be loved by you".

A minute goes by before she realizes that the male voice is expressing itself in French, ruling out most of the regular occupants of the house. She rushes back into her bedroom to swap her towel for more decent attire, and then knocks timidly at the bathroom door.
The tile expert, disturbed in his brain-absorbing task, looks up and greets in perfect slang the lady in satin. After a few minutes of lost explanation time in French, she signals to the man that she’d like him to leave a message, so that we can figure out what he’s trying to say. The man leaves the room as well as no traceable mark of his work, extirpates his thoughts from the emotional numbness in which the boring sights of the light pink tiles had pushed him and beings to craft out his essay.

We come home to find an abstract calligraphic piece of art. The message reads: “I have come. Signed: Mr T. Tile Expert”.

We do not know if we can use the bathroom or not. The landlord is unreachable. The plumber is ill. It is not raining.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Heard in class and faithfully reported

"You are mixed up with the wrong type of crowd" - Process and Operation Management professor
I got it all wrong. Despite a perfect British accent, our Corporate Finance teacher is Dutch. Humble apologies to everyone who was constructing a geographical mapping of my P2 professors. After correction, please note: Dutch, American, Indian, Romanian and Spanish.

Today's Finance class was very interesting. We talked about some of the possible conflicts that arise between bond holders and shareholders, especially under increasing default risk.

This is exemplified by Chapter 11 in the US. If a company defaults on its debt, in the US, management can decide to file for Chapter 7 (liquidation) or Chapter 11 (restructuring). In the event of liquidation, shareholders have only a residual claim on the assets of the firm. After huge payments made to lawyers, government in the form of tax payment, employees, suppliers and debt holders, not much is left for shareholders...If management acts in the interest of shareholders, whom they represent, chances are that they opt for Chapter 11 – if the restructuring does not work, well, it will always be time to file for Chapter 7. People argue that Chapter 11 keeps afloat firms that would otherwise continue to be insolvent and should be closed down. Such filing helps firm re-organize as firms typically benefit from a reduction of their debt load and delays in interest payments. These mechanisms distort the financial picture facing the company.

The example of Eastern Airlines in the US is quite telling.
At the time the company filed for bankruptcy, it faced claims against its assets worth some $3.1bn. It was valued at around $3.7bn. In the event of liquidation, it could fulfill its obligation in full but the shareholders would get close to nothing. So the company filed for Chapter 11. Its first proposal of a turnaround plan was turned down. The second proposal faced the same fate. Ditto for the third proposal until enough cash was spent to bring the value of the firm down to $0.3bn. Each time, management had a choice to liquidate or restructure. By the time, the firm finally filed for Chapter 7, so much value had been destroyed that the original obligations could not be met.

In contrast, in Germany, when a company files for bankruptcy, management is ousted and replaced by trustees. Since everyone is getting very nervous about the ability to turnaround a firm under the burden of heavy labor laws, 99% of the firms filing will opt for liquidation.

On this happy note, I wish you a fantastic evening!

This week is Japanese Week, filled with kimono sushis, camera-armed kendo fighters and humble salutes. I really love the National Weeks at INSEAD – a time of self-deprecating humor, when nationals mock their stereotypes. I am sure that eveyone will remember the Penalty Session against the MBA Dean Pekka (Finland) during Dutch Week, the Belly Dancing competition hosted by the Sultan during Arab Week and the Beer Drinking at OktoberFest!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I have fantabulous news: Singapore is ON!

The final of the Rugby World Cup proves to be interesting. Will we see history revisited, with the convicts obtaining revenge over their former wardens? Or will we see the implacable logic of an old claim over a lost empire?
Of The Importance of Trust
It is customary to hear people say that ethics do not pay – or at least, not always.
Turn to Latin America, a region plagued with recursive financial crisis, high level of corruption, obscure rule of law, questionable safety and business-politics interplays. Low trust levels dissuade foreign investors and customers, push capital to Guiness Book records and contribute to maintaining this spiral of crisis flight
In contrast, observe Japan, where honor plays a large role and strongly backs a trustful society – a country where some senior executives do not see the need the sign a contract to materialize their obligations toward a firm. High trust levels contribute to the inception of a solid economy.

Be dependable.
The 2-hour Lunch Tradition

Of the many clichés associated with France, the long lunch tradition has remained a suspicious mystery in the rest of the world. Awkwardly swallowing a greasy sandwich at their desk, vaguely overlooking wide-distribution emails while dictating the contents of an urgent letter in-between two gulps, anglo-saxon businesspeople just do not understand why the French take so long to drink a glass of wine and finish off a plate of foie gras. Repositioning French meals around their social role as an incubator for debates and exchange of ideas might help. The French often like to question the established order, undo societal models, re-invent philosophical doctrines over a glass of Bordeaux.
Sitting at a table with a French, an Italian, an Indian, a Turkish, a Russian and an Australian participant, after a banal review of everyone’s country of residence, I entered the predictable digression around socio-economics and political issues – to what extent should Germany practice socialism; what are the flaws of the American public system; how could an uncontrolled liberalization based on a corrupt banking system induce a financial crisis in Russia; How can India tackle the urgency of feeding 4 million people starving to death, while creating an industry cluster to assure the country’s future. The ferocious velocity with which arguments were fired around the table was only matched by the depth of their truth. When I carelessly looked down at my wristwatch, I noticed that two hours had elapsed. Two hours of intense cultural debate around some of the key issues and differences in our modern world. Two hours of intellectual delight. Two hours of lunch in progress…
Here it is just another day at school…

Friday, November 14, 2003

Heard in class and faithfully reported

"People's drinking habits follow the following pattern: they go from pure (water, milk, fruit juices) to bad (tea, coffee, soft drinks) to evil (white spirits, beer, wine) toward the end of their life. - Marketing Professor
- Surely, if it is distilled, it's got to be pure - Marketing Student

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Closing on CV Book Deadline, resumes are flying all over the place across cubicles. Most of my day was spent working on CV-related stuff. Come to think of it, most of yesterday too.

I have reviewed 15 other CVs. 3 more to go. Whenever I picked one of these CVs, I thought that I had found the best possible hire in the world, this rare gem that I might spend the rest of my professional life looking for and was prepared to sign a sign-on bonus check here and there - were it not for the fact that I am unemployed. Until I took a look at the next CV on my pile.

INSEAD just pushed the CV Deadline to Monday. I bet they did it on purpose just to get everyone to start this deep soul-searching reflection.

Also filled in my preferences for the Singapore campus exchange. Will disclose them only when I know the results to avoid bad Karma.

On the home front, we can't use the bathroom without flooding the kitchen. Water of unindentified source has appeared in the basement. Thinking of starting a snail breeding farm. Heard they sell quite well in this country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

INSEAD is recalling an exam for a recount! Let's see where else in the world did I see something similar...Oh yes, some presidential election west of the Atlantic...

There is Uncertainy about the Data and professors made a Judgement recall.

P1 Exams are a big deal. Students are asked to make a huge effort to prepare for them. Professors are requested to write new exams each year. The IT department is mobilized and work longer hours to make sure that all students can use the latest flashy technology to get their work done. The MBA Office people camp out under their desks.

INSEAD clients are professionals who have already made a big commitment to the school. One year of their life, high tuition fees, resignation, international move...
They certainly would appreciate being exposed to an equally professional facade for any item that the school puts forth as a priority.

We touched upon the power of the law of reciprocity in our Leading People and Group class. The OB Professors were cast in a leading role in our UDJ regression question. Should our Stats professors consider auditioning for a role in the OB case study?

Dear Uncertainty Data & Judgement students,

I would like to reiterate the request sent to you this morning regarding your
UDJ exams (below).

I understand that you are rightfully demanding further explanation,
and I want to assure you that all due clarifications will be provided to
all students by Monday 17th. Please trust that we are doing our best to
deal with this issue as fairly and smoothly as possible.

Meanwhile, I greatly appreciate your patience and cooperation.

Thank you,

Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences
Technology Management Area

-----Original Message-----
Subject: UDJ final exam
Importance: High

Dear UDJ students,

There was a minor problem in the grading of the UDJ final exam and to be fair to everyone, we feel we should go ahead and make this minor adjustment. Could you please give back your exams by Nov 14th ? Should you not return the exam by that date, your grade will be automatically adjusted downwards by 5 points.
Faithfully reported:

"I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies" Napoleon Bonapart

"Leadership is the ability to get people to do things they did not want to do and make them happy they did them" Winston Churchill.

"Proportionality is Power" Managerial Accounting Professor

Our managerial accounting professor will be your Entertainer.
"I am here for you" - Managerial Accounting Professor Motto

And as he quite clearly pointed out: there are no stupid questions, only stupid people who ask a lot of questions.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Researching the host country...

The French flag seem to represent the colors of Paris as used on the day of the storming of the Bastille, mixed with the Royal white. It is thought that the Marquis de Lafayette was responsible for inventing the red, white and blue cockade which soon became compulsory for Revolutionaries in 1789.
The flag was created in 1790 but with the colours the reverse of what they are today, i.e. with red at the hoist, and revised in 1794 to the modern form, when the French convention adopted the colors. The 1790 flag existed only as part of the jack and ensign of the navy.
The flag went out of use with Napoléon I's defeat at Waterloo, but was brought back in 1830 (again by Lafayette) and has remained in use ever since.
Napoléon I standardized first in 1804 to a white field chape-chausse of red and blue, and in 1812 to the modern French flag. In 1804 took place the distribution of new flags to the regiments, and it is at that time that the near-religious rituals surrounding regimental flags were adopted.

Although significances have been attached to the colours, some people believe that they are all spurious and invented after the fact. The red and blue of Paris were the livery colours of the coat of arms and natural ones for use by the militia.

Blue is the color of Saint Martin, a rich Gallo-Roman officer who ripped his blue coat with his sword to give one half of it to a poor who was begging him in the snow. This is the symbol of care, of the duty that the rich had to help the poor. Equality.
White is the color of the Virgin Mary, to whom the Kingdom of France was consecrated by Louis XIII in the 17th century; it is also the color of Joan of Arc, under whose banner the English were finally driven out of the Kingdom (15th century). It became logically the color of Royalty. The King's vessels carried plain white flags at sea. Liberty.
Red is the color of Saint Denis, the saint patron of Paris. The original oriflamme (war banner) of the Kings was the red oriflamme of Saint Denis. Brotherhood.

Another piece of trivia you could not have gone to bed without.
Deadline for CV book is on Thursday. I hear smashed paper copies thrown into trashcans as the 143rd draft gets abandoned. We must enter our precious data line by line into the school system, which takes forever, as a zillion people are online.

Our section is organizing feedback sessions for people wanting to work in industry/consulting/finance, hosted by people who have worked in industry/consulting/finance.
There might be one field which is under represented in my section, although I have met people with strong interest in these fields: public policies, health management, NGOs, governmental organizations, international institutions.

Frantic last moments preceding the time when your life story becomes a poignant monument of paper, ready for the multitude of potential employers.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

OOOOOOOooooooooo la la. Yesterday, grades were distributed in the midst of beer, Funk’n’bleau rock music, and laughter.

A little recap, grades at INSEAD are all relative. Exams and assignments are graded in absolute terms. Your absolute grades are normalized, based on overall average and on standard deviation. With this process, 50% of the students will be below average. It is possible to have a negative relative mark.

No matter how well you did in absolute terms, what ultimately gets recorded is how well you did with respect to the other students. This is actually used in practice at companies that measure performance of various units only with respect to the other units in the firm. As no one knows how well the other units are doing (results are published after each period), everyone has a tendency to over perform.

I hope that some of these observations will alleviate some of the worries that I have overheard and restore pride in some egos.

- Finance, Business and Economics majors had it easy in P1.
- Consultants have a large scope of understanding, due to the very nature of their work. They also tend to do well.
- For some people, English constituted a hurdle: if reading a case takes you twice as long as everyone else, you will not benefit from the same analysis time
- Your grade does not reflect your actual knowledge of the subject. You can have a very decent absolute grade and a very average relative grade (a lot of my marks are in this case). You know your stuff but some of the other super bright students have better answered the question. Similarly, you might have gotten an ok absolute grade but everyone else did a lot worse than you did and you end up with a sky high relative mark. You might not feel confident making decisions in this subject without relying on a third party, yet your mark indicates that you are an expert.
- These marks reflect what INSEAD expects from you. Not what you want to get out of the program (remember, you are the customer), nor exactly how things are done in reality. Going over dozens of stats exam in the INSEAD format does not make you a Stats wizard. Working on sample Finance problems does not turn you into a monkey.
- MBA programs definitely offers a variety of learning means, and most of your growth will take place with your classmates. As far as educational programs go, it is probably one of the most personalized and varied example. However, exams have the most restricted format and mould people’s thinking into template questions. This might not accommodate for your own learning or execution preference.
- Some people have just brilliant minds and are good with numbers. So what?
- Remember the stats results: GPA and starting salaries are inversely proportional. Success is a personal measure and must be associated with your own objective obviously. However, in general, GPAs largely fail to measure your determination in life, your actual learning (this is not a differential system, people with different starting base are graded on the same scale), your ability to enthuse and inspire others, your people’s skills, your intuition, and many other factors that make successful leaders.
- Since these grades are all relative, any extra minute of work that someone puts in can offsets another student mark. So anyone involved in social activities, club leadership, presentations, conferences and all the other activities that INSEAD offers – all in reasonable amounts - can experience a difference between their actual and theoretical grades.
- Sleep, food, stress and general fatigue do play a large role in these results.
- Even if your objective in life is to be the best ever at what you are doing, remember that you are taking time off this path, at school, to remove imperfections, identifies areas where you will want support. You are taking time off to learn. If this is your key objective this year, the more you learn, the more new areas you cover and the less likely you are to secure top marks.

Finally, may I add that Einstein, in his early years was a very average student, who even had to take support lessons to improve his knowledge?

Friday, November 07, 2003

Everyone in my Latin America class seems to be super knowledgeable. I'd have to read every single word of the Financial Times, The Economist, The Wall Street journal and all the national publications every day in order to come up with their combined answers.

Who can remember by heart, within half a second the GDP per capita in a remote province of Brazil two years ago? Who can remember the exchange rate of one of these currencies in July 1987 to the cent?

I am investigating the possible causes for such distortion

- they have swallowed an encyclopedia for breakfast and dine on its regular updates
- they have a spy-like ear device and someone at the other end of the line with a microphone, is reading out to them the Americas column from the Financial Times.
- they all have worked for the World Bank but only of them is admitting it
- someone asked them this very question the day before during a Trivial Pursuit game
- they are the Matrix

Maybe, they are just normal INSEAD students. Whatever story you bring to INSEAD, you will find people with a story that is even more extraordinary, with a breadth of knowledge that extends beyond yours in certain areas.
And that could well be why you'd go to business school.