Saturday, May 29, 2004

Here is why there is an anti-DrinkDrive campaign at Insead. This is a message from the Dean of the MBA program.

"Dear MBA Participants,

I would like to reinforce the message that the Summer Ball Committee has sent to you w.r.t. using buses instead of your cars
tomorrow when arriving to and leaving from the Ball. This is my third month of May as MBA Dean --- I would like to forget the first two:

In May 2002 we had two horrible accidents in consecutive weekends after big parties. We lost one MBA student and another student was left with a permanent damage to his brain.

Last May a student leaving the Summer Ball crashed his car against another car while driving back from the Ball --- sending himself and a small child from the other car to the hospital.

I know that we all will have a magnificent party tomorrow --- but let's also commit to have a safe drive back home afterwards. Please use the buses that are frequent and go to all the villages where you live. And especially if you drink do NOT drive ---
that is not an option ! To ensure that the traffic will flow smoothly tomorrow police has been informed of the event.

Warm regards and see you tomorrow,"

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Latin Party last weekend (which I attended until about 5am...) was absolutely fabulous. It featured only Latin Music and live Brazilian Drummers and Brazilian dancers. Loads of Samba, mambos, Salsa, Merengue, Bossa Nova and other latin beats followed us throughout the whole evening. Free Capirinhia (spelling?) at the entrance, and loads of really nice Latin liquor for the most merry among us. Hosted in the by now well-known Chateau de Bellefontaine. There was not ONE moment of boredom, one moment of rest. We danced the night away and realized with surprise that the sun was about to rise when the DJ played the last MP3 of the day. Kudos to the organizers. Fantastic job.

Mmmm, my P5 looks a lot like

- tiny bit of classes here and there
- tiny bit of interviewing here and there
- loads of parties, BBQs, Dinners (two this week) and lunches...

Sun's out. Smile's out.
Saturday is the Summerball - the event to which all of INSEAD (Faculty, Students, Staff and Alumni) is going to. Tuxedo and evening dresses (panic moment...WHAT am I going to wear???)

The ball will be hosted in the beautiful Chateau de Courances (it is so beautiful that it is sign-posted from the highway.

Buses are organized to take you to and back from the party. No drinking with driving. Please...

More to come after the event...if I remember anything.
I have just created another impossible situation for myself. My housemate and I are hosting a Vegetarian Indian dinner, a Mexican BBQ (for the non vegetarian) and French desserts.

My role is to cook the dessert part...for 25 people!!!

I am going to spend my weekend locked up in the kitchen with a pink apron around my waist!

Right now, the plan is to take this seriously and to make

- a tarte aux fraises (Strawberry tart)
- Pain Perdu
- Country-Style Apple Cake
- Yogurt and Lemon Cake
- Clafoutis aux Cerises (Cherry Clafoutis)
- Chocolate Cake

Let me see, each of them should keep about 6 people happy, so we should have plenty of food for the really hungry. I bet you that half the ingredients will be missing from the stores and I will have to beat the bush in search for vanilla or cherries. Plan B is fromage blanc with Strawberry coulis and fruit salads + cheese platter. Plan C is ice cream for everyone and no questions about my culinary skills.

I decided against crepes. Having to make hoodles of them was even less appealing. I can't do mille-feuilles and I figure that Meringue was maybe too much of a challenge the day after the Summerball.
Last MEG class was a lot of fun - we were the key designers of The House of Dior and we had to design outfits (and dress up one of us) with trash. The theme was Homeless people (and Dior presented a Homeless Collection)...

Took loads of pictures and prof served champagne at the end of class. I am not sure that I have actually learned so much in that class but prof is super good and hey! If there is champagne...can't be that bad!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Great log off on the Yearbook theme, for which we must all write some profiles.

Subject: Profile Advice Needed


I need some help...I know, I know, you've heard that before, but now I really need it. You see, I left my profile writing to some people and I'm really not happy with the results, so I decided to write my own. Can you tell me how it sounds?

PWU, Yeh

I am so great. Everyone loves me. Do you love me? I think you do. I know you do. My husband does. He tells me on the phone 100 times a night. My group loves much that if < some girl's name> wasn't married, I'd consider switching teams!

MOST LIKELY TO be loved by everyone!


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Graduation is on a Thursday - clearly a day that everyone can make. Most convenient date. Most of the people I wanted to invite are unavailable as they would otherwise have to take a (or more) day off work, and it is not THAT important. Could the school consider organizing this event on a Saturday like some other institutions that I know of?

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I love France...

Today, I woke up to a voluptuous smell of coffee - another advantage of having a cleaning lady that so diligently serve your needs on Sunday mornings - and a lovely spring sun. After my monthly ablutions, I shook out my laziness for a short brisk morning walk to Church, when I sat down with a dozen people forming the village population that goes to Church. The parish members could all have been Louis XIV's personal friends. The priest could have been Vercingetorix' personal coach. After that, I was treated to a delicious crepes brunch in a lovely backyard in Barbizon, the village of the peintres, surrounded by a bunch of chickens hoping to grab the last bread crumbs. The waitress was all smile, the setting superb. I then painfully made my way to school to e-mail my humble contribution to our Financial Statement Analysis group project before being lured out of seriousness by a bunch of friends. As we shared more food around a cubicle table and jokingly compared job offers in the most exotic places, we could not resist the repetitive calls from the lower side of our tummies. We headed to a small Japanese restaurant in town for a nice chit-chat session, and a few drinks. In fact, I am still having a laugh with a couple of them as I write...when I should really be reading tomorrow's case and write up another couple of profiles for our Yearbook.

When I came back from Singapore and reached Fontainebleau, I had the impression that time had stopped in the 19th century. Still, Sundays in France are precious. This is such a lovely country to be in.
Some of you may remember my mishaps with France Telecom, back in autumn. In the end, we gave up, have no phone line and did not ask for these installation fees to be reimbursed. We bought a cordless phone which we never used for anything else but kitch kitchen decorating role.

Well, upon my returning from Singapore, I found a letter from a Huissier de Justice indicating that I had 24 hours to pay my phone bill (from posting date, hence 24 hrs prior to my receiving it, thus ingeniously crafting a system in which I would lose all chance to be legal). Failing that France Telecom would go ahead and press charges.

Needless to say that I was speechless. How could I possibly be charged for phone use when I had no phone in the first place since these idiots never managed to find the phone line that belonged to the house?

I called France Telecom who indicated that the case was now in the hands of some Tribunal (Justice Court) and that I had to talk to them directly. The tollfree number for customer service is available only from a landline, supreme irony of this story. I called the Justice guy, explained what the deal was and asking for a "arrangement a l'amiable". The lady that I had on the phone indicated that the lawyer was unavailable but from what she understood I was disputing the charges. So I had to write a letter to the laywer, Maitre So and So, to the attention of France Telecom. He will pass on the message and think about the most appropriate response.

I wrote the letter. I am waiting for a response.
Job Search

Je respire l’odeur d’un soleil monotone
Qui pleure avec mon coeur quelques lourdes flammes,
Pour ouvrir la porte d’un infini d’automne;
Et m’avance à l’assaut sous un bouclier d’âmes.
I notice that a lot of the time, Deans at Insead are taken from the faculty and tend to be finance or economics professors. What if the Dean of INSEAD was an OB professor?

Seriously - there would not be 150 pop stars deciding when and what to teach. INSEAD would invest a lot of time in recruitment to get the best in IT, Marketing, CMS, etc...and would provide them with clear goals, career path and developments. They would hire for instance a few French people on the Singapore campus, selling them the tropics. They would also hire Singaporean and export them to Fontainebleau, selling them peace and quietness. Retention rates would be very high, and managers would be trained in doing the performance appraisals. There would be little infighting, just the usual political discussion, as the strategy would be so clear, the objectives for everyone would be very transparent and results published everywhere. There would be a lot of recognition for excellence and the school would take advantage of its small size to run the institution like a mini company. If it turned a profit - which it is not allowed to do - then the money would be reinvested immediately into the school for better scholarships, for better education, etc...the program, after the core course, would be more left to the participants to taylor, to take away from of the rigidity of a schooling system and allow people to take better control of their career and their needs depending on which segment of customer (industry, consulting, etc...) they are targeting. If they wish to do so as the program would be a bit longer (12 months with a summer break), they could take few elective over the last two periods to take the time to really reflect about what they want to do, and efficient career counselling would be provided. The school would be renamed HeavenSEAD.

Students would all be able to select a personal coach to follow them throughout their study. The curriculum would be modular to tailor it to everyone's needs. There would be a personal assessment at the beginning of the year to determine your learning style and all courses will be adapted to match it. Early on, you would engage in a dialogue about your life priorities and you will discover that you started to dislike accounting when your mother refused to give you more than 1 penny as pocket money when you were 6 and you could not finance your self-research and development. Food and general mood would be chosen to favor intellectual brilliance. Relaxation and massage sessions would be available before each exam. Each professor would have to spend 20 minutes with you whenever they return a paper to go in detail into what you can do better next time. Your working group would be allocated a mediator to help overcome its natural crisis and clash of egos, soon after its inception.

The school would constantly be looking at ways to develop leadership, to become more aware of cultures, classes would be delivered in many different languages, the library would also offer selection of German and Russian literature as well as sanscrit lessons to reach the heights of Nirvana. Buddhist and Hindu temple would spring out of the woods to complement the spiritual landscape of Fontainebleau. Campus exchanges would be mandatory to perpetrate a tradition of openness, quotas of female would be risen to a minimum of 44% on the basis of equality of genders.

Students would be able to choose their preferred slot for exams, depending on whether they are morning or evening people and seating spots would be allocated on the basis of an X or Y style, as well as on your Myers Briggs score.

CMS service would take the form of Personal Career Coaching services, to explore with you, the depths of your psyche and isolate the seed that either makes you a bloody investment banker, or a sheep farmer.

There would be no more Admission Office as it was representing the last bastion of capitalist elitist and probably machist selection system. The school would in fact turn itself into a charity organization for minds in distress and find out about your potential and your motivation in a big dinner party with candles and guitars. The essays would have to be in rhymes or sent with a sheet music for the accompanying harmony. Alternatively, you could sketch, paint or draw your portrait as a replacement for the "Candid Description of self" part.

The organization structure of the school would keep changing by function (faculty, administration, security, catering) or by competence (marketing, finance, food, etc...) as every year the current organization would show its limitation. On average, it would be perfect.
Academic standards are not dropping in P5, academic focus is dropping in P5. People are spending an increasing amount of time running around the world in search of jobs, and an even higher amount of time socializing with other INSEADers.

When I contact alumni (and by the way I was never disappointed by the help they could provide. Response rate is amazingly high) they keep telling me: don't sweat it, don't spend too much time looking for jobs. They will come eventually. Insead will never repeat itself.

This is also my message to you.
Recently I became 30. I am entering a new decade. I am becoming decadent. Sad story this.
Heard in class and faithfully reported

FSA = Financial Statement Analysis
MEG = Managing Entrepreneurial Growth

"in pure accounting terms..." - student in FSA
"first of all there is no pure accounting" - FSA professor

"children make you good managers. Anyone with children? Yes? How old" - MEG professor
"1 year old? That's ideal to work with senior management" - MEG professor

"Leaders are dealers in hope" - MEG professor

When circulating a sign up sheet for lunches with boxes for a list of students, people all zoomed on one date and added lines of name below the box
-"well, we teach you to THINK outside the box, not to WRITE outside the box" MEG professor

"look out for my book: Strategic Parenting. In there, I reveal what the most frustrating thing is for a Harvard MBA: their kids. 'Cause they can't fire 'em!" - MEG professor

"OD, Organization Development you idiot, NOT Overdose' - MEG professor

"The power of innovation is to make you look at things differently. Insead really innovated with the opening of the campus in Singapore. Now it is forced to look at the world globally, force to re-invent itself as it cannot be just a European business school. It was a pioneer, it had to invent other ways to continue be a pioneer" - MEG professor
Do I think that you need a car if you want to live in a village? Yes I think you do because

- cycling to school is fun (I do it) but difficult in winter (I did not do it) and even dangerous if there is snow
- sharing cars is difficult since you are unlikely to have the same class schedule, want to go to the same party (or at the same time), might need to do shopping 15 kms away, etc...
- buses do not go there and they would only run when you don't need them (as in during class hours)
- there are no taxis at night (at least, none I could ever locate)
- it is cold in the winter, it is dark at night, there are loads of wild deers and boars (I saw my first boar of the year last week)

In Fontainebleau, you do not need a car but it comes with limitations as you will depend on other people to go to any out-of-town event. I know people who have not got cars and who live in Fontainebleau.

In Singapore, you do not need a car. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, buses and metro function extremely efficiently and cheaply. Any other travel will entail either a bus, a plane or a ferry. You can also rent car for a weekend and share the expense with friends.

Where can you get a car? Contact Executive Solutions who might be able to redirect you but I would say that the options could be

- find a friend who is dumb enough to lend you his or her car
- buy mine at the end of this year, 4 years old, perfect state and cheap
- rent (to be considered if you are going to Singapore) - one of the rental places was offering a fairly good deal but its name escapes me.
- lease (about 4k Euros per year all inclusive)
- buy (you bear insurance and maintenance financial obligation) but if you don't drive often and are willing to go through the hassle of reselling, you might end up better off financially
- steal: I would advise strongly against this, especially if you are eyeing mine

Thursday, May 20, 2004

One thing that Insead could do better? Consult the students and involve them more and more into the decision process. It has the advantage of being able to move fast, as it does not depend on a big university, it can take advantage of many voices and insights from its constituents.

PoM professors might argue that students are inventory at Insead, work in Progress, unfinished goods that the system tries to spit out with as much added value as possible, and as quickly as possible. They would identify customers as being the hiring companies.

I argue that paying students are somehow customers. Their voice should be heard. Faculty members are competent at deciding about a curriculum. Students are competent at deciding about their life.

Mercedes once thought that customers could not decide what they needed as their cars because they weren't engineers and they did not know how to make a car. They have since learned that you do not need to be an expert to articulate needs and wants.

I have heard another argument: students are only transient. One year is a very short time, they are not interested in making changes since any change they make will really bear fruits for the next generation.
If anyone tells me that Insead lasts only for 1 year I will select another program immediately. Clearly it is not. When you choose a business school, you form part of its community for life. You will evolve with its alumni, you will keep in touch. Its name, reputation and standards will follow you throughout your career. Every current and past student has a strong interest in developing the school, in helping it change for the best. This makes a lot of brain power available to the school, some free consulting. There is nothing more frustrating for someone with ideas to feel powerless if they can't be expressed. Use it, perhaps more than what you do today.

Insead does listen to students. We fill feedback questionnaires to help select courses, professors, we have Dean's Forum as a forum of discussion. We have academic rep, CMS rep, etc...I would involve students even more, a lot lot more in the running of the school. Insead is a non for profit evolving in a highly competitive market. European business school are springing out of everywhere now. It must keep its innovation rate, for which it is well known, it must keep its high standards, it must develop its brand, presence. It is better to follow its market than to follow its engineers.

Anyway, my 4,300,000 cents
I was quite interested by a company in the Heart Disease space. They asked me about my motivation. I told them that I would quite like to wake up in the morning thinking that I'd contribute positively to society and that I would have a strong incentive to make good products since I consider myself a long-term customer, fitting in the top 20% at risk for heart failure. This didn't cut it with them.
I am going to look to look so dumb in my Cabaret act. I wonder why they picked me for this role. I thought I had so little in common with my character that I would not be such an obvious choice. Anyway, I guess that's acting. I call it self-humiliation.
Cabaret's Theme this year is LORD OF THE DINGS.

Decorations and adds re-use pictures from the film, cleverly re-crafted to give a B-school feel. Well done to the Cabaret Theme.

The Enlightment Summerball will take place in some marvellous chateau again.

Spots in the GRADUATION PARTY organization team are up for grabs.

Taste of holiday all this. In my case, unemployment!
Heard in class and faithfully reported

"In our negotiation class, we talked about credible threat" - student in MEG class
"Clearly your nego professor is an incredible threat" - MEG professor

"What is the difference between a manager and a leader?" - student in MEG class
"a leader is authentic. He or she stands for something" - prof in MEG class
This week is Latin America Week!!! Fiesta Semana Latina!!!! participants from Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and El Salvador get together to offer a fantastic week (Italian week was already very good to standards are high in P5)

Tango and Capoera demonstrations (a little provocative but very very well done), tequila and Chilean wine tasting, loads of really nice Peruvian, Mexican food, Salsa and Merengue contests, cool CDs, funny t-shirts, loads of smiles and loud greetings!

Latin Culture - one of the BEST cultures in the world!!!!

Tomorrow I will be heading to Cabaret (and I am doing a tiny participation in a tiny act just to help out a friend), then to the Latin is good again. Sun's out and weekend's approaching.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Thalys is really cool although interestingly it takes under 2 hours to get to Brussels and over 2 hours to get from Brussels to Amsterdam. First class gives you free food, free drinks and loads of space.

Anyway, today I messed up in a grandiose way and delivered the most inaccomplished interview in my whole career. Let us look at how I did that.

First of all, I did not interview in the language in which I worked - to match the language of the nationality in front of me. Except, I had prepared in my working language, I could be enthusiastic in my working language. This was awfully disturbing. No matter how fluent i was in the other language, I became hesitant, searching for words, searching for expressions, searching for some sense of identity and a link between this awkward means of expression and what I had done.

It seems to me that I conveyed an impression which is quite at the opposite of what I had prepared: stumbling across any questions, unprepared, unclear, unable to communicate, with less enthusiasm, energy and ambition - slower than unusual in my thinking and ability to persuade and influence. Loads of blah blah and not enough to the point.

So one small change and I was completely thrown off. I spent a lot of time focusing on the communication, and not enough on the substance. I was asked several times to clarify my thoughts and lost time and impact. My preparation was thrown out of the window.

This is a complete waste of time. The outcome of this process will not be distorted as it will not be based on what I am, nor on what I did and learned but on what I could clumsily translate. One small change which threw me off changed what might have otherwise been different into an uneasy feeling of incompetence.

I never react badly to a company's ding if it is accompanied by the knowledge of having effectively communicated who I am. Not being able to give out the best of yourself, and be evaluated on this mediocre performance is a lot worse. Worries bring only ulcers and heart attacks so I will not worry. Regrets drags you back into the past and wastes time. I have learned a lesson: I will insist to have my interview conducted in my working language, and do the small talk in any other language I am fluent in to leverage my preparation and give a more natural touch to the process.

The language I was asked to express myself this morning is the language of my mother...

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Heard in class and faithfully reported

-"Entrepreneurs are risk averse" - Entrepreneur in Managing Entrepreneurial Growth

-"Everywhere else in the world, managers are people that you want to emulate, that you admire. In France, if you are a manager, people want to spit on you" - Entrepreneur in Managing Entrepreneurial Growth
Fabulous weekend. A light breeze refreshes our mind with new energy. A warm and gentle sun is caressing gently our bruised senses after the Las Vegas party of the Chateau de Montmelian last night -also a fabulous fabulous night and everyone was dressed up - but me since most of my clothes are still in the Singapore shipment that I have not bothered to pick up.

This morning I was woken up by our cleaning lady - who has taken to turning up at 9am on Sundays for a whirlwind clean up job. I had gone to bed, say, early in the morning. Since I was awake and forced out of bed, I decided to step up and fully enter the day. I was therefore able to observe the doings of our cleaning lady.

She has got to be the most efficient worker in this country. We had a party on Friday night, before the Italian party and the house was still displaying obvious signs of chaos. When I walked down after a lazy shower and with my eyes still half closed, the entire groundfloor had been revamped into a respectable interior of a lovely cottage mansion. She greeted me with a joyful BONJOUR, which made my head nearly blow up and a cup of coffee. She comes every week for about three hours because we have a very large house. She charges close to nothing, since she must also travel 9kms to reach the premises. Even though she tends to find our house in the most abject state of cleanliness, she is done with the cleaning and tidying after a couple of hours, which leaves her plenty of time to put some order in our shelves, re-organize our books, put our CDs in alphabetical order, swap glass and plates on the shelves to present a more aesthetic front to guests, etc...When I came back from Singapore, I had left my bags half open, with my rags overflowing and softly creeping onto the floor in the direction of my bed, for a few days. After the cleaning lady came, all of my clothes were neatly washed, ironed and folded and placed equitably on shelves or hangers in the most logical order.

I must still do some sort of work for the assignment that was due last Friday.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

On Monday night, the CEO of Renault will come to INSEAD, as part of the Global Leadership Series set of conferences. Obviously this is a day I choose to be out of town. Nevertheless, cool stuff.
I was so taken by all these mundane activities that Insead MBAs indulge in during the week, such as going to classes that I forgot the most important part. This week was ITALIAN WEEK!

And yesterday evening was the party which I missed. Friends just told me about what happened though and I am glad I was not there to witness this. It would be typically the kind of events that men might find enjoyable but that, as a woman, I find quite degrading. I bet you that the Wharton exchange students were shocked.

Two female dancers were hired. They wore very very light clothes and at some point found themselves topless - something I had seen at The Moulin Rouge in Paris earlier in the year, never at an INSEAD Party. The Winner of the Italian Prize (a trip to Italy for two) was sat between the two topless ladies, who got very close. He must have found the situation very enjoyable, at the expense of the two ladies. One might argue that these ladies are doing this job because they enjoy it, because they get good money for it, because it is easy and that among all the alternatives they have available to them, it is a safe way to make an ok living. If demand is there, why not.

One might also argue that this is not necessary for everyone to have a good party. Good music, good company - and admittedly good beer are already three components that should suffice to provide enough entertainment value for most of us. Playing with people's fantasies at a school party which cater for all sorts of different levels of moral attitudes is what I argue against. Entertainment at the expense of someone else's dignity - even if this person does this voluntarily - is not something that I want to subscribe to. Too bad I contributed 15 Euros. At Le Moulin Rouge, it was clear that this was what people were going to see and were willing to pay for. I did not know that this would be on offer - had I known, I would not have wanted to witness it.

I like parties, I like being with people, I like dancing - I don't drink more than the occasional glass of wine because I became so ill once with forced drinking that I never want to go through this experience again. I don't like paying to fulfill someone else's fantasies. I would hope that we do not need this to be happy.

To end on a happy note, I will now turn to my assignment, due yesterday, and then go outside!
This morning's class was great! An entrepreneur came to talk to us about his experience. He is English and lives in Paris. He went to INSEAD, probably somewhere in the 90s. Young, tanned and really cute, but let's move on.

Now, it is important that classes be interesting in P5. Academic motivation levels are at their lowest and everybody realizes that they have only a few weeks to call up friends for drinks and parties, and follish weekend outings.

Heard in this particularly interesting but probably illegal Saturday class and faithfully reported

"This is selling out" - cute alumnus
"well, not really. Yes you are giving up some equity"- student
"and how else do you define selling out?" - tanned alumnus

"we found it so difficult to do business in France, an otherwise extraordinary country to be in. The repressive nature of the government, the power of the French state which diminish any initiative of private and free enterprise and the scale of the black economy distorts the market so much that it makes it difficult to hire, to make proper investment decisions and to conduct everyday businesses. There is such a strong incentive for people to dodge their incredibly high taxes that they just do. People get a lot of cash over the counter as an undeclared complement to their salary. How can I then hire these people on a standard package, fully declared?

The yound, tanned and really cute guy then went on talking about setting up a business a France. Now, please take this with salt. It is true that the country does not offer the most welcoming environment for entrepreneurs. It is changing though, as some people are taking bold initiatives, such as the person at the origin of the SophiaAntipolis technopole who is now lobbying the European Union to take on debt to help develop Research in Europe. France are looking at other ways to set up taxes to help small businesses and a young generation of French students who are looking for rewards, for managerial responsibilites, who can actually speak English and who are not desirous to leave their roots and families to live abroad who starting to raise their voices. It will take time, perhaps another 10 or 20 years, it takes vision and dedication, but the country will NOT be able to sustain its current set up if it wants to continue grow. Its political system, an elite system of many people padding themselves on the shoulders and congratulating themselves with their lack of success but it is ok because it is not performance based, that's only for the private sector will come down crumbling if it does not reinvent itself and bring new blood in. Resistance to societal change will slowly mute into a listening ear before it can be turned into action. A country that has changed the face of Europe as it went through a revolution and sustained war on all its borders at the same time is able to take radical steps for its survival. When it becomes unbearable, when too much wealth gets destroyed or moved, it will move. Just as its own pace.

So, having said that, and bearing in mind that this story is told by someone who is very emotionally linked to this reality, thus bias, and is not representative of all businesses and all people, I invite you to read my account of it, which I have tried to keep as faithful as possible. Assuming that this story is true - I see no incentive for the man to lie about it in class - I will then give you my two cents about it, as I usually do.

It is about the role of the Unions in France. Our cute entrepreneur has successfully set up several pubs in France when an anarchist, revolutionary, bloody Union got through his doors via his three Sri Lankan chefs. According to the entrepreneur, their aim is not to better the lives of the workers they represent, but to tear down the whole system of private enterprise and evil management, to defeat a society that claims that it is all right to make money by exploiting the weakness of the poor workers and to overturn the government and to replace it by Marxist thinkers. It would not occur to them that companies can develop a person, provide training and a fulfilling set of rewards, as well as an income to the workers. The Union told the chefs that they could sign at the bottom of the French text, which they probably could not read, give them some money and that they would gain a 20% payrise in no time.
A few weeks later, the Union guys told the chefs that they could go on strike, that the first day nothing will happen, that the second day, there would be a meeting and the third day, they'll get their rise and be paid for the striking days, as it was the way things were done in France. Legally, people have to deliver a 3-day notice before a strike in which they state the reasons why they desire to go on strike but as we will see further down the line, this is not always easy to enforce.

First the Union asked me to do all sort of disruptive activities as a means to slowly sabotage the business. They would either not serve certain dishes, or cook something different from what was actually ordered, or cook the same dish for everyone, or forget to buy food and then use it as a pretext for not cooking, etc...

In the case that we are concerning ourselves with, they just decided to go on strike. They did not come to work and the pub missed a lunch service. Management just decided not to do it the French way. They organized another way to bring food in (ordered it) and the chefs could see food being served at dinner. Management decided to wait for workers to start negotiations but the poor chefs who were not sophisticated and went on strike apparently for no other reason than ask for more money did not have a clear negotiation agenda so did not come. After a few days, the chefs went to find employment elsewhere while being still officially on strike with the pub. This is of course illegal since a strike does not refute your obligations as an employee, but if you tried to bring it in front of a Court in France, they'd argue that the workers must be able to feed their family, that it would cost even more the State to help them out and that it was therefore better for them to have two jobs, just one in which they did not work for a while. The employer on the other hand, although under no obligation to pay a salary during the strike, cannot fire the workers on strike and it is difficult to hire somebody for a short undetermined period of time.
On the other hand a bunch of Union people, whom the pub management had never seen before, distributed tracts to encourage people to boycott the pub, to support the poor chefs, and made a lot of noise and threats to potential customers.

Management sue the chefs and thus indirectly the union (since they were employed elsewhere, in breech of contract, since they gave no notice and disrupted the business further than necessary by performing their tasks badly when not on strike, etc...). They judge of the Supreme Court found them to be right and condemned the chefs and the Union for misbehavior. Unfortunately, at that time, finding out that this was happening in many places, the Prime Minister and the Government had passed a recommendation throughout police offices to actually protect the workers, who formed a large part of the electorate. So MANAGEMENT WAS UNABLE TO HAVE THE LAW ENFORCED. Three Police commissaires (or police chiefs) told them that they felt sorry but just could not go to these people with the Court Order and have it enforced because of the recommendation they received from the government.

Now, let us examine this situation, with a cool distant perspective.

France separated the three powers: Justice, Legislative and Executive to avoid conflicts of interest. The Police depends on the Ministry of Interior, not the Ministry of Justice. Where does their loyalty lie? You tell me...In which countries can't laws be enforced which lead to seemingly arbitrary behavior? Dictatorships, of any form. Which negotiation technique lead to better results: collaborative or competitive, statistically? Is it good to see society as a constant battle between proletariat and executives? Are people born equal?

The system calls for everyone to be bought off, the chefs and the Union - a very corrupt way of dealing with labor problems in a developped country. I call this plain extortion. Strange for people who claim that money is not pure, noble and that no one should engage in a quest that might actually generate revenues.

On a much lighter note, and quite interestingly, the 36-hr SNCF strike coincided with the coming out of the sun and BBQ weather.
A friend who is a fan of the London Business School's Dean came with a great idea which is worth posting. She thinks that the Dean of a business school, should come from the real world and also sit on a few major corporation's board, advise big groups on something important. This would contribute on perpetuating the vision and mission of the school, ensure a constant dialogue between the real world and the school, instead of having it slowly sink into a theoretical swamp and clearly contribute to raising the school's visibility. For Insead, US groups would be desirable as a brand management action.

Obviously, this must not detract the Dean of the school from doing his or her job as the Dean of the school, but since there also are so many Deans for everything at school, they should be able to spend some time "out there".

As for the other Deans, is a three-year tenure long enough to really truly change things? Could they afford to be away from their dear publications for longer? Don't know.

In any case, I have found that a dark side of INSEAD (and probably of many administration) are little nasty political in-fighting. To give you a few examples: Faculty are 150 pop stars who do not understand the scheduling constraints of administration. Administration are clearly this insensitive rigid wall against which all attempts at creative thinking and elating mind explorations will miserably crash. MBA participants evidently constitute nothing but a constant source of nuisance as they keep requiring more and more servicing from the Career Management Service, the MBA Office and since they force MBA Admission Officers to stay up until 2am at night to read over their glossy life stories. The cafeteria should be sent to Mama's Cooking for Dummies book as they keep messing up the Langue de Boeuf and the IT people are on a world domination strategy as they take control of everybody's life with their maintenance spikes.
This is a little exaggerated, but there is a bit of that.

Oviously everyone claims that their existence is the most important thing for the school to be successful.
Where would INSEAD be without the excellence of the faculty? Everyone should feel secondary to what they bring. After all, INSEAD IS an academic institution.
Where would INSEAD be if administration could not provide the basic services of scheduling this so excellent education, for students to find a job, for receiving the mail, which contains without doubt praise for the faculty, etc...
Where would INSEAD be in there were no participants willng to pay for the excellence of the faculty and no network to adhere to?
Where would INSEAD be if there was no IT (there is very little today, and we all suffer so...)
And yes the cafeteria could improve but is it really INSEAD's core business?

It is difficult to imagine that everyone could actually work together more happily if they sat down, put all these insignificant quarrels aside, look at a common objective and show enough flexibility and desire to listen to make it happen.

Grow up. Look ahead.

The world would be so much easier to live in if everyone did that, wouldn't it?
I don't know if you realize but I am dedicating one hour of my Saturday to find more stories to entertain you with. Have I become a blog addict? Do I become feverish when I am away from the Internet for more than 10 minutes? Do I roll my eyes and display a blank stare when people stop sending me e-mails?

I don't think so, might not be that bad.

Turns out that I am on campus because of another of these illegal, highly detrimental to my general health and psychological well-being, Saturday class. At least, they had the decency to move it from an 8.30 start to a 9am start and gave us some breakfast. I tell you, whoever does the planning at this school need to be taught good manners. Weekends in the last period, especially the sunny ones are reserved for friends, sports and other even more damaging to health activities, such as BBQ training and beer and wine drinking.

Turns out that today's class was extremely interesting, so I will forgive them. It was not taught by our usual professor, it was taught by a British INSEAD alumnus who has since become a fairly successful entrepreneur, setting up a business of English pubs in France. I will dedicate a full post to the main take-aways of this class - and as I contemplate the weather outside, I am hitching to go on a bike ride throughout the forest. Unfortunately, I have just realized that I have missed a deadline for a paper, so I wil also dedicate an hour to writing it up.

Email is down - for the WHOLE day. In Singapore, maintenance happened at night (Fonty day time). We have had many many many many days of system maintenance taking down our communication lines with the outside world down for hours and hours. Of course, I came to send emails for my job search (which is going well by the way in case anyone of you wondered - I am searching a lot. I am not finding much yet, but searching ok). Global firms do maintenance work when it is least disrupting (middle of the night) and not so often. Weekends are used by MBA to work sometimes....and a 10 hour no-email-no-nothing period is a lot of time. Too much...Too often...
I got drawn into a cabaret act about the mishaps of a foreigner in France and low standard of quality displayed by certain firms in the country. I will post some of the other stories that we have investigated but will not have time to depict during Cabaret (next Friday!!!) on this blog, for your enjoyment, in due time.

In the meantime, here is some more Heard in Class and Faithfully reported

"I call these pro forma statements taht turn a $1.4bn loss into a $3bn profit a Cisco Remedial Accounting Principles, otherwise known as CRAP" - Financial Statement Analysis professor

(raising his right hand in a ceremonious manner)
"I want all of you to hereby make a promise to me, take a pledge. I want you all to swear that from now on, you will all be looking at the comprehensive statement of income to be the true representation of the economic performance of a firm. All those who wish to take this pledge, please stand up, raise your right hand and say Hi." - FSA professor

"How can the UK and the US GAAP transform a loss into a profit??? Clearly it is much better for Marconi to do their business in the profit country. In fact, they should move all their operations over there!! One would think that they would agree on cash, but NO! Even their cash flow number is different, by $20m!!!!" - FSA professor

Not everything likes the teaching style of this professor but I must admit that by just looking at a company's balance sheet and income statement, he works miracles and can unroll a whole story that would never have crossed my mind, if I had not talked to people in the business, do some due diligence, etc...He is extremely good - and I want to be able to do that, one day. In my dreams.
Yesterday after running around all week, I was feeling so tired that I could not extirpate my clumsy physical shell to transport it to the Italian party – to which I had bought a ticket and was quite looking forward to going. I sat for 1 second on my bed and I woke up 9 hours later in the same position.

We celebrated my birthday on Wednesday night – with some decent wine and cheese. My housemates had recommended that I bought some beer as he was not sure that we would have enough. I invited only a small committee, we ended up being some 15 people in total. So I did buy extra beer. I came home to find 10 bottles of wine, three cases of beer outside the fridge and at least 30 bottles or cans of beer inside the fridge, left over from the eXtreme party. I don’t know what my housemate is on, but it must be good for having so blatantly over-estimated the amount of alcohol one person, especially driving, could take in, in one evening.

On Friday, I was taken to a small and lovely restaurant in town for another celebratory event. I then realized that it took me one week to feel part of the community again, to re-integrate the Fontainebleau spirit, to latch onto the various conversations – to naturally laugh again, smile at everybody in earnest and completely be myself again. One week.
Light blue skies lost is the disorder of broken branches, turned like broken arms toward the sun in a silent pledge for life. Timid birds deploying their wings to catch the first beams of freedom. Flowers inviting everything to a feast of colors. Impressionist touch of lightness.
Spring has come.
One thing that I value most at Insead is the number of class interventions by a diverse intelligent set of people. As a result, one thing that upsets me most is when pedantic participants, mainly interested in redirecting the spot light onto their glorious past abuse the rights that they so expensively acquired to speak up in the program for stupid remarks. The former enriches everybody’s experience, makes excellent use of class time and adds much to the contents provided by the faculty, as very few professors will ever claim to be completely rights. Most of them see their mission as providing academic tools to observe reality, a framework in which to operate but understand the limitations of this approach when interacting with hands-on participants. The latter tend to paraphrase ineloquently what the professor says, provides boring evidence of the point already brought home through questionable work experience and usually is not even funny.
Why would all these people feel the need to repeat constantly the name of their past employer? Do they lack so much confidence in their own identity when speaking up that they must refer to a bigger umbrella?
Yesterday, in our FSA class, someone spoke three times to merely repeat what the professor says, or perhaps argue over $100,000, when we unveiled a $6bn gap.

At this point, I would like to quote another INSEAD blogger, for whom I have a lot of respect: Lucky Goldstar. He once wrote “There are messages behind each lesson, and disputes about details will easily obscure the subtle tuition that is the object of the interaction. You may not remember the facts one year from now, but you should remember the stories that they told.” To this, I would like to act: unless you truly do not understand the message of the lesson and genuinely need clarification, do not draw attention to yourself by repeating a story that all your colleagues have already heard as they have kept taking classes with you or since they were listening to the professor, just for the benefit of the professor and dubious class participation points. He is getting paid to be there. Your fellow participants are paying for the class.

Most of them also mention: class participation isn’t about quantity, it is about quality. So please, give us a break.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I have to prepare an excellent presentation - with the WHAT and the most enlighting WHY.

It is always good to ask consultants for advice on how to make a general catchy presentation, with good logical flow. A fellow student gave me excellent advice based on his experience of things that worked and did not work. His explanations were not only clear but his style was also extremely inspiring. I even look forward to spending another couple of hours on the presentation now! I have often been asked about the general working style of the school. The minutes that we spent scratching our heads over the crucial question of Dos and Donts in a presentation is very illustrative of the collaborative atmosphere that I have encountered on campus. Even the competitive grading system did not destroy this spirit. I have found it among the alumni community. I have found it among my fellow students. I have found it in the faculty. I find it in myself.

Do not get me wrong. People here are firm in their positions and high achievers, animated by unusually high levels of ambition. Yet there seems to be an underlying consensus that collaboration betters everyone's life and growth at the expense of others ultimately is ultimating self-limiting.

You might argue that if there is a cake, cutting a piece and handing it off to someone else evidently means less food for you. Only if you assume that there will be only one cake, or that you cannot change its size. Try cutting the cake, and share the list of ingredients as you hand over the piece. If you manage to satisfy the person's senses and appetite, he might shop for you to make another cake. Better, share the recipe and satisfy the other person's curiosity. Next time, this person will make the cake for you. The person might even add some fruits from their own garden, which will improve the taste tremendously.

At one point in the Bible, out of one piece of bread, Jesus feeds the crowd. Collaboration does the same. Obviously in the Bible, the act represents something totally different, and must not be mistaken for a parable on collaboration. Still, out of any given starting point, you can create ways to multiply the pieces of breads. So long as you make sure that you grab what you need, there will be more for others too. If you eat the bread before you think of these ways, you will starve people around you - and ultimately cut your own recurring feeding source.
Heard in class and faithfully reported

-"I was once hired by the US Attorney's office and the FBI to help them investigate cases of fraud. So as I was sitting there with my little pen, going through hoodles of numbers, they were standing right next to me with BIG guns" - Financial Statement Analysis prof
I had the impression in P4 that my workload had gone lighter and lighter. I now think that I have just become much more efficient at MBA-type work. I know where to look for the useful tidbit of inforation in a 15-page long case, I know what matters and what does not in a group meeting, I know my classmates and can work better with them - above all, I am clear about my priority. If you are clear about what your objective is, you know when to say stop.
Apparently the Wharton Exchange students are appalled when they read the numerous Insead e-mail log offs. It would seem that this is quite specific to the school.
Heard in class and faithfully reported

Managing Entrepreneurial Growth prof

- "This guy was running an accounting firm, the kind of firms that you would go to if you wanted your taxes done and pay none"
- "The guy of the accounting firm added Bean Counters as the underlying motto for his firms and was distributing jelly beans to all his customers"
- "My daughter once asked me why I became a professor when I was making good money in the private sector. I told her I wanted to spend more time with her. She replied that I should have gotten the money"
- "It either gets destroyed, or it gets destroyed"
- John Major wore the pants but Thatcher had the balls"

-"please give me, in three words, top strenghts of your group" - prof
- "attention to details - this makes three words" - group

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Here is a little story.

Invite One
"I can confirm your meetings on day x at time t with
- Mr so and so - title
- Mr so and so bis - title

Reservations have been made at hotel blah blah blah. You can take the underground to our offices, located in-between station x and station y, you can look up the address on the web. PLease organize your travel and at some point please give me your receipts and bank details. we will reimburse travel tickets. good luck"

You book some second class travel ticket, pay upfront and fight with French Bank who does not know what a swift code is.

Invite Two
"I have the pleasure to welcome you to our offices on day x. I have made the following arrangements for you. First class tickets have been mailed to Insead. Here are your travel details
. A chauffeur by the name of Mr so and so will be waiting for you in front of Location L.

Here is your schedule for the day (minuted transfer, meeting and lunch information)

Please do let me know if I can be of further assistance to you"

Which company gives you a better impression?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Participants taking the Market Research and Advertising classes were all focused on a project about drink-driving problem on the Fontainebleau campus. One of my best INSEAD friends' groups won the contest. Their campaign will be rolled out next year I believe.

Some of the causes that they have listed are as follows:
- people socialize at parties
- there is alcohol on offer at parties
- people live in scattered places around the countryside
- There is no good bus service outside of town and no reliable taxi service at night
- People want flexibility and do not carpool with a non drinking driver very often
Apparently, on average, people drink-drive up to twice a week and there are about 52 minor road accident each year. That would be one incident a week.

I remember that upon arrival I faced one of the most intense emotional moments of the year: reading a letter from an Insead participant’s mother. She had lost her son in a car accident, while he was studying at Insead. The MBA Office representative contributed to this feeling of uneasiness by indicating that she would love to meet all our parents but not if it is to take them to hospital.

Yesterday, I met some friends for dinner in town at La Villa before going to the eXtreme Party. One of them had more than two glasses of wine and a beer at the restaurant and more drinks at the party before driving home.

I took part in a couple of focus groups, both on the Market Research side and on the Advertising side. How can we change this situation? Who to target, with what means to be most effective? - next year's campaign is targeting the host of the party.

I lost a father to a driving mistake – and he was not in the driving seat. Just in case you forgot, we have only one human father. His best friend soon followed him into the grave in very similar circumstances. A truck driver fell asleep at the wheel, knocking out a few cars along the way as he led his vehicle off road.

That’s already a lot for one life, don't you think?

Be responsible. If you must go wasted, don’t go driving.
Heard in class and faithfully reported

- "success abroad does not depend on the company's home country, it depends on their firm's specific advantage." - student in the class

-"Who are the 5 biggest and arguably the most successful companies in the world? GE, Exxon, Citibank, WalMart, Pfizer.
And what do they have in common?
They are all American. And they all failures in Brazil" - Global Management Strategy prof
Heard in our (Saturday awful illegal scam) class and faithfully reported:

- "In yesterday's class, which I unfortunately missed, we talked about..." - student in Global Management and Strategy

- History is a very good predictor of which type of companies will win in which market - assuming they already have a Firm Specific Advantage which prevents the other national companies to beat them on their home turf. I have even a better predictor. Give me the country's national sport and I will tell you which firms will win. Take India. They play crickets, English firms are very succcessful there and beat everyone else in any given market where they have strong players. Vodafone for instance is very big out there. BP beats Exxon. Take Malaysia. They play baseball, and guess what? GE's strong there. Now take Brazil, they play football, Telefonica beats everyone, Fiat and Volkswagen beats GM and Ford, Siemens beats GE, Carrefour beats WallMart..." - Global Management and Strategy professor

"- History seems to be playing a larger and larger role as time goes by. In Mexico, who would you say should win? Spain!!! of course! Telefonica is winning, BBVA is winning, citibank is large but not first there, Zara is winning, there is no Gap in Mexico. Of course, Spain doesn't have a Wall Mart nor a car company that's big enough to be a leader out there. " - same prof

"- Some industries are dominated (Intel beats ST in Europe; Nokia beats Motorola in the US; Microsoft beats everyone everywhere) but most non-commodity markets are moving toward concentrated types (large companies still dominant on in their domestic markets: Carrefour does not beat Wall Mart at home and vice versa; same with Citibank and ABN-AMRO)"
- same prof

-" ok, if you have not read today's case, which I am sure is a most unlikely event, then please turn your name tag upside down, I won't be cold calling you." - Global Management Strategy prof
(1 student had his name tag upside down in this infamous Saturday class)
I am facing a true management challenge in one of my working groups. For as long as I can remember, one member has not contributed much to the group output. Apparently this person was busy with other group work. The other group indicates that they were under the impression that he was actually doing work for us which prevented him from doing too much work for them.

Some specialists call this a free rider problem.

Actually, it is not quite like a management problem because, at this time of the year, and given the composition of the rest of the team, I do not really care.

I decided to try to imagine a difficult conversation that we might have, just for the heck of it. You will note the subtle touch of culturally-aware Insead MBAs throughout the conversation and the delicate balance between harsh substance and diplomatic communication shell.

The Group -
Hi, are you so immobilized by your obvious neurotic apathy that you could not feel enough empathy for our noble cause of gaining access to superior knowledge? You clearly did not advance any help to accomplish our task.

The deliquent member -
Hold your horses Ben hur. You sound like hyper-sensitive subamibian molecules that have been shaken too hard after osmosis. I am at this present time gathering the intensity of my cerebral power before I unleash its energy in the spheres of this world.

- Are you saying that you have just sealed yourself off from the group and turned your mind into some medieval monk who has just taken vows of permanent silence?

- What deranged fantasy are the ethearal vapors of your grey cells elaborating to justify your total lack of interest in the richness and spread of my contacts, my well of knowledge and the originality of my approach? Like a feline - I wait and prepare for the ultimate assault.

- are you committed enough to our cause to save the wreckage of the project?

- what do all these lachrymose excesses mean? Hyper-sensitive was a euphemism to refer to your total loss of dignified self-control.

- If you are not committed, should we see ourselves forced to invoke an elaborate mathematical curse upon you. It is called the z-curse.

- What kind of treacherous debauched approach does this low blow form part of? None of you could even begin to comprehend the singularity of my genius. Back off and cram your disillusioned neurons in to the working quarters of this 2 by 2 ft cubicle while I decide whether I should sprinkle some grains of my personal enlightment into the miracle of laziness onto all of you. This conversation is now over. You may return to work and produce this miserable report.
Homeless, jobless and broke. and I am happy. Surely, this must be evidence of insanity.

Maybe the clinical professor could attempt to fathom the working of the psyche which can produce such paradoxical feeling and dislodge any sign of mental derangement.
Alternatively, I can work on the first side of this equation and fix the jobless/broke/homeless triangle. In fact, this is what I will apply my time to this afternoon.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I have found the original e-mail after the MRT station collapsed next to Insead. Remember, this happened last week, just before I flew back to Europe. Sad business this.

Subject was URGENT.

"Dear All,

There has been a serious accident on the Technopolis Building Site that is immediately adjacent to our site. The Police and Civil Defence are dealing with the situation.

Please do not panic as this is NOT a “Nicoll Highway cave-in”.

However, as a safety measure and in order to assist the emergency services, work on our own building site has been immediately stopped. Furthermore we have made our facilities available to the emergency services.

Ayer Rajah Avenue is currently completely closed to any in-coming traffic. In order to assist the Police in this, we would seek your understanding in not calling for taxis etc. until the avenue has been re-opened. This will also mean our DHL and postage services will be disrupted. Should the avenue continue to be closed we will make alternative arrangement for the shuttle service this evening.

In the mean time we seek your understanding and cooperation in not going out onto the avenue to “have a look” and should the Press call you, please decline comment and refer them directly to me.

I will provide further updates when I have more information. Once again, this does not concern our site and the stability of the adjacent land is not affected."
It is high time I demonstrated my commitment to you readers of all nations and combatted any assumption of nascent narcissism you might entertain. I am calling for general feedback.

- Is this journal addressing your main questions?
- Are you finding it informative?
- How could it be made better? (I am still trying to figure out how I can link specific posts to generic headers to help you navigate the blog better. Help Help Help)
- Anything that's missing?
- is it at the very least fun to read?
- would you like to see other languages represented?

I am also going to take a bold step at innovation and diversify into other forms of entertainment: would some of you be interested in live chat sessions? - anybody that replies yes if you could suggest ways to set it up, I'd greatly appreciate, I am clueless.

Tomorrow 8th of May is a bank holiday. It commemorates the armistice of WW II between France and Germany. AND I have a Saturday morning class. Clearly, there is something very wrong with this. My humble understanding of a bank holiday is that it is a day when people do not go to work. Obviously I have been brought up with narrowly defined ideas which fail to encompass the intricacies of MBA program planners' minds. Or is it that they do not consider that going to class is work? Since this corresponds to a good 50% of our activities during this program, are they telling us that this intense and grueling year of hydrant fire academic work is only a long string of Club Med moments?

Ooohh..My head.
Tonight is eXtreme Party - at my place...Mmmm, I wish my housemate had told me beforehand. I have a 7.30am wake up commitment to meet someone at 8.30am...And I have a class at 10.15am!!! Why do I ALWAYS choose those electives that have the worst possible time slots!!!! I have not had Saturday classes since the first term! How did this come about!!!
I checked: TWO of my electives have a couple of Saturday classes. This is inhuman, anti-social and probably illegal.

Tomorrow is the God and Goddess party at Tavers.

The problem with all these parties is that I spend a good 3 hours figuring out how I am going to put my costume together.

Sunday, I am off for a very very short while. Last time it was Eurostar. This time it will be Thalys. Fast automatic check-in, nice, fast, comfortable high-speed train, plane-like service and cool custom officers who asked me:

- Mmmm- so you were born there? Did you leave soon afterwards or do you actually know it?
- I left when I was 18-months old.
- Ok, get out of my way then. I lived there for 10 years.

I'll most certainly spend Sunday in Paris - wandering around blossoming city parks and sunny little alleys.

Since I got back, I keep waving hands cheerfully at everybody I know. I must know a lot of people, I nearly got a cramp. Lunches, dinners and drinks with old friends - although I might be missing tonight's party. Busy figuring out what kind of world domination strategy I need to embark on if I want a job at the end of the summer. Actually, I won't actually be missing it: I will get home to 200 people drinking and dancing. I will enjoy the party for a couple of hours, then slip into my bedroom knowing full-well that I will not be able to sleep with the music resonating full blast throughout all the crumbling walls. Hence the importance of buy-in Versus unilateral management decision, especially with the stakeholder is absent.
Obviously, once all the shareholders - that is the whole of Insead - knows what's going on, it is difficult to propose another date!

Actually, my housemate is super happy to be able to throw this part. It is to help him raise some funds for some bizarre adventure 800km trip in Sweden this summer. I hope there is a good turnout and that everything works out well for him.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

I have received the following e-mail from an Insead professor who is distributing some questionaires for participants to fill in.

"This year we have translated both of these questionnaires into French (this is not a simple ‘straight’ translation. To be psychometrically correct we had to translate from French into English, back translate into English, and finally retranslate to French)."

He is a chaired Clinical professor. No kidding.
If you want to call internationally for cheap go to

If you are looking for houses in Fontainebleau try although most houses there are of lower quality (as in less maintained by less dedicated landlords in my experience) which charges no fee, or contact Executive Solutions through the Insead website. They are not fairly helpful and put together some little packages for you (also for mobile phones, car rental, etc...). I find Moretz sur Loing, Bourron Marlotte, Samois sur Seine and Barbizon lovely villages but I have not been to all of the places around here. I live in Chailly en Biere, half way between the lovely village of painters of Barbizon and Carrefour, or walking the delicate line between culture and consumerism.

If you are looking for accommodation in Singapore, the two places where most students gathered are Dover Parkview and Heritage View, both on Dover Rise, about 5 min walk from Campus. Some choose to live close to Holland Village ($3 for a taxi ride to Insead). Insead MBA Office can help you with a list of agents and you can use NetVestibule to find people to share with. If your agent is a crook, please report it to Insead so that they do not recommend this person anymore. Heritage is newer, looks nicer, has more pools but none of them are suitable for laps and smaller appartments. Dover Parkview is older, fewer pools, looks as crappy as a luxury condo can look, has a nice big swimming pool, terrace appartments and larger interiors. I lived at Heritage and loved it.
France Telecom's motto says: "there is a life after purchase"

That is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo true.

You can never get rid of them as you stumble across a long list of problems and interact with incompetent customer service staff.
My housemates has just posted details to a party on Friday night at our place. Always nice to discover that your living room will be invaded by 100 hungry and thirsty MBA participants before it actually happens and you are caught reading some doubtful English tabloid quietly sitting by a joyful fire, sipping a Bordeaux.
I had lunch with an Insead student who is just back from Wharton (there are quite a few Wharton students around in Fontainebleauright now).

I am hereby offering his opinion (not mine)

- professors are like the Insead profs in general: star ones, so-so ones and good ones depending on the classes
- students are like the Insead students: bright, less varied in their origins and experiences and typically a little younger
- a lot of international students have actually lived in the US for many years
- big university and proximity of other departments is good
- academic rigor on part of the 2nd year students drops a little as everyone focuses on job search
- in total he calculated that Wharton students get 10 hours of extra teaching (their year is shorter than an Insead year and they have fewer classes per term) compared to an Insead students that fulfills the minimum number of credits to graduate
- very American in style, even if you hang out with the international crowd
- very good experience for anyone who has not been in the US, or who wants education experience there
Heard in class and faithfully reported

- "My children were born in the US to a Spanish father and an English mother. They now live in France. I am working on getting them early into the Insead MBA program as they already fulfill the language requirements" - ICA professor
I have registered for four classes this term but I need only 2.5 so I will be dropping one. Selecting which elective to abandon is a mind-blogging exercise.

- Global Management (around international expansion)
- Industry and Competitive Analysis (prescriptions for firms evolving in a competitive landscape)
- Financial Statement Analysis (this one I am keeping for sure)
- Managing Entrepreneurial Growth

I have had three classes so far: GM, ICA and FSA

Global Management was excellent. We talked about the situation facing Mercedes when the market got flooded with Lexus in the United States. and how a German-centered company reacted to the situation from complacency to action.

We discussed the fact that out of R&D => Inputs => Manufacturing => Marketing a firm creates Benefits (B) and offers them at a price (P) while developing them at a cost (C). B-P is the value captured by the customer in the form of consumer surplus. P-C is the value captured by the firm in the form of profits. So B-C are the two axis that firms can play with in order to increase the value created: either by product innovation (B firms, strongin Marketing and R&D usually) or by process innovation (C firms, strong in Manufacturing and inputs, or supply chain management). B firms tend to be on a high benefits and high cost type of profile. C firms tend to be on a low benefits low cost type of profile.
The former might get locked into a niche. The latter supplanted the minute someone comes in with a lower cost solutions and profits suck. Former is a Struggling to Survive firm such as B&O, the latter is a Profitless Prosperity firm (such as non_name Chinese firm) and there is such a thing as a Magic Middle, which Samsung for instance in the Consumer Electronics industry is striving for right now.

Most successful firms must play on both axis and develop products that enhance quantity and quality of life for plants, animals, humans and corporations. They can then grow through internationalism (this class) or innovation (another class which I am not taking).

The prof defined sucess as having three components for a firm: Profitability (ROFC, or ROIC), Growth and Sustainability which comes from economic focus, economic fit, ecological focus and ethical behavior.

Looks like I will want to continue with this class. I have one more session to go before I need to decide. I think that the prof is Indian but my predictions have a poor record of accuracy.

ICA was also absolutely fantastic - we had a brief overview of the course and will be called to explore a strategy questions along many axis (and the Porter 5 Forces is only one of them) and deepen our ideas of Structure of the industry, Ecosystem, Cooperation, etc...and see how it affects profitability. We looked at how growth is always a good thing as it boosts profits in general but noticed that industry profitabilities also depended very much on the elasticity of supply, on the ability for firms to cooperate to maintain high prices (legally that is!) by putting limitations on their natural ability to increase capacity without being caught in a prisoner's dilemna (quotas for French wine for instance of a certain Appellation Controlee works to this effect). So highest growth industries with low barriers to entry (Wireless, Internet, etc...) get very crowded very quickly and profits are nil to small. Effectively, they move quicker to commodities markets type behavior even though one must constantly be on the lookout for competition! Prof is Spanish, studied and taught in the US. Great guy! he told us he was married to a British lady, a typical Insead profile!

FSA was great. Prof is American and he shared with us some of the insights he got to in his research to explain the link between Earnings and Share Price (or why we should listen in class really). I missed the first class since I miss the first day of the term which is truly a pity as I also really liked the way the prof went from real-life application to a more theoretical approach. And this class will be SO useful at every stage of my career.

Classes are fuller than in Singapore of course, Profs struggle to start on time (and finish on time as I noticed twice in the past couple of days) - people ask good questions.

It is good to be back.

I have just met one of the people I admire the most at Insead - he also keeps a journal. He went onto the China Field trip, organized by Insead and like me was amazed at the dynamism, sea of change and energy levels in Asia.

Walking around London and New York he felt that these cities offered the same facade for many years. It was the same old refrain over and over again.

He would barely recognize Singapore a few years from now, and certainly would come across many new buildings in Shanghai. Asia is blessed by a strong culture of education and people starting to reap off the benefits of this growth. Asia has many many many challenges ahead and a long way to go. Asia place to be?
On Monday I could not go to class as I had to be somewhere else for an interview. It is really too bad that these must happen during days of class. The contents of the classes are valuable, the discussions during classes are valuable so why would I have to miss class because I am dealing with such a trivial matter as securing employment?

Since the programme is so intense, we do have a lot of classes until the end. More time is freed up for job search and I certainly have more flexibility than at the beginning of the program. Not quite enough maybe?
So here I am, in Fontainebleau. I find myself again moving swiftly amid the quiet beauty of the forest trees, risking my lives whenever I cross the street - and enjoying the voluptuous palate delights of the country. Yesterday I could not resist, a few of us headed down to the T-Coz creperie in town for our first city meal. I had a dinner with friends on Sunday. Most of their stories featured events and professors from P3 and P4 - I felt alien to the conversation. No one at that dinner was too curious about Singapore, about the "other" campus.

Back into full fledged life now - familiar faces which I am happy to see again, smiles and loads of welcome back.

It is good to be back.

It is also sad to be back.
When I came back from holiday in Singapore, I walked to campus as I had done so many times before. As I approached the Singapore campus, I noticed frantic activity: road blocks, a surprisingly high number of police officers, fire engines, ambulances. I was wondering what had happened: did the world finally come to realize that Insead was charging way too high tuition fees? Did they fact that we had to do our Non Negotiable projects in the field upset anybody anywhere?

Insead all over the place on the news, TV, radio, and newspapers the day after.

Turns out that the MRT station next door had just collapsed and they were looking for people under tons of broken concrete. The parking lot of the school was turned into a temporary hospital. The director of operations on campus forwarded a message to all participants:

"Dear All,

Regarding the unfortunate accident on the adjacent building site, you have probably got all the details from the press. The accident happened while they were preparing the reinforced metal bars prior to casting at basement 5. It was not a ‘landslip’ and our buildings are not affected.

We continue to make our facilities available to the emergency services but would anticipate that they will withdraw fully from our site by Friday morning.

On the INSEAD building site work is currently suspended as a precautionary measure and we anticipate work to start on our site again on Monday 3 May.

Thanking you for your understanding and cooperation this afternoon."

My thoughts and prayers go to the victims and their families. Some 28 people were taken to hospital, 2 people died and some 15 were still missing on that day.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I have good news: there will be a blogger in the class of 2005. Welcome!!!
Do keep me posted when you have an URL - I can certainly reference it from this page.

The more people write the better! The diversity of experiences can only be beneficial to all of you readers!

Writing this blog has been extremely rewarding. It is easy and I was the only one to decide how much time I wanted to dedicate to telling this story.

Anyway, must go back to these oysters, grilled tuna and provencales tomatoes and this lovely regional white wine

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I have returned to the home of French Bullfights: Nimes as I could not stand the 5 degrees and the rain that greeted me as I stepped off the plane in the most disorganized airport in the country: Charles-De-Gaulle. I had to fit in-between two bulky suitcases on the TGV down south because all luggage lockers were unusable for safety reasons (plan vigipirate in vigor throughout the country after the Madrid terrorrist attack) which considerably reduced my comfort level already at its lowest after a 13-hr flight.

Fortunately, the smell of a Southern nature in blossom, lilies of the valley decorating every home as a symbol of luck on May Day and the purity of the Languedoc skies changed my spirits for the best.

It is very possible that the lovely glass of rose wine, the delicious cheese and bread and the most succulent strawberries contributed largely to the satisfaction of my senses - which between Singapore and Fontainebleau have grown increasingly delicate.