Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ramping up at Google

My two week vacation is over and I've started my new job at Google. The office is a lot smaller than the Mountain View headquarters, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I really like my coworkers and feel like a good fit for the team. The only thing that's rough is that I'm splitting time between two offices and commuting 100 miles a day. Once I get fully ramped up though, I'll be stationed close to home. I hope my fellow MBAs are doing well, wherever they are in the world.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back home from Oxford

Wow, I'm finally finished with my Oxford MBA. It feels like the past year has just flown by. I remember how long I worked on my application essays, how nervous I was at my admissions interview in New York, and how hectic it was to get ready to move to the UK. Over the past year, I've written over 60 papers and completed 18 courses, a business plan, and a summer internship. I've traveled to Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Iceland, and Greece (not to mention 4 trips back to the States). The most amazing experience for me, though, was simply to spend a year with 215 bright, talented, warm, and interesting people from all over the world. All in all, it was worth it.

Being back in LA is a bit surreal right now. I've changed a lot, but the City is still the same and retains a comfortable familiarity. By that I mean the drivers are still hyper-aggressive and absent minded, the trendy hipsters are still pretentious asses, and all spheres of public life are soaked in a vapid materialism epitomized by the fact that everyone drives either a BMW or Mercedes, regardless of age or income. On the plus side, I can listen to KCRW without having to stream it over a slow internet connection, the sun is always shining, and I actually get to spend time with my fiance. It's good to be home.

That said, I haven't been up to much. I've done a lot of work to make my apartment more comfortable, including painting the bathroom, building a nightstand and wardrobe, fixing the sink, and adjusting the door latches so they actually close. Also, I have a new kitten named Spooky to keep me company.

I'll be starting a position at Google on October 1st, working on contract as an Account Strategist in the Santa Monica office. I look forward to working with a small team in an interesting company, but have to say I'm nervous as to whether Google is the right choice to kick off my post MBA career. I'll just have to jump in and see how it goes. Next step: find a house.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What's on my iPod

Here's what's new to my iPod. Getting heavy play is Back in Your Head by Tegan and Sara, Timebomb by Beck, Me Gustas Tu by Kiko Menendez, and Running Away by the Polyphonic Spree. Sure beats the voices in my head : p

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back in Oxford

Wow, I am soooooooo jet lagged. I get up around 4am and by 4pm I'm about to pass out. Sigh, it'll be over soon. Just three more weeks until graduation, then I'm moving back to LA and beginning the next chapter of my life. I can't wait!

Today I picked up Christopher Hitchen's book God is not Great. The EU subtitle is 'The case against religions' while the US subtitle is 'How religion poisons everything'. I think the former gives a better feel for the book than the latter. This is not a foaming at the mouth rant about the rising tide of religious fundamentalism in the world (not just Muslim, but also Hindu, Jewish, and Christian extremism), but a thoughtful and well reasoned argument that asks religion to justify its existence in an enlightened world. Central points: religions misrepresents the origins of man and the universe, it is not a necessary condition of a moral existence (see also Socrates, existentialsim, and the wisdom of Mark Twain), it is uninspiring given the vast wonders of nature and science (burning bush versus molecular biology), and it is ultimately grounded in the false comfort of wishful thinking. Many good and thoughful people will disagree with Hitchens, but he makes some good points.

Now, since I've just given several family members and friends a heart attack, I have to ask, why is it that it's somehow taboo to ask questions of faith? Is inquiry and honest dialogue antithetical to faith? Saint Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi both delved deep into the philosophical roots of their spirituality and emerged with more refined and robust conceptions of their faith (not to mention reformers such as Martin Luther, whose philosophy was heresy to his church), so why not ask the hard questions and demand answers?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Volunteering with Google

Last week the Google interns kicked in to help out The Family Giving Tree, a San Jose non-profit that assembles backpacks filled with school supplies for underprivaledged kids. We got to spend four hours of our workday assembling the packs and making sure they only contained safe and appropriate items (no pointy scissors for kindergartners). It felt really good to volunteer, and I'm looking forward to plugging back into Reading to Kids and Habitat for Humanity when I get back to LA.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


It’s been a pretty good week at Google. Yesterday, Eric Schmidt the CEO hosted the MBA interns for a Q&A session. One thing he said that resonated was that most MBAs get to the top by following orders; getting good grades, testing well, and generally jumping through hoops. However, career success will require breaking with that conformist mentality and generating new ideas, new products and services, and new ways of doing business.

Within Google, it also means being able to defend your ideas within a meritocracy where the best ideas, however radical, rise to the top. Instead of asking how to control the chaos, one must manage uncertainty while retaining a lively and creative dialogue that encourages debate. The CEO isn’t the only good brain within a company and the solution to the uncertainty and challenges of the world lies in fully leveraging the bright minds within your organization. Worthy ideas must be efficiently identified and decisions must be made in a timely manner to allocate resources and execute against opportunities. It strikes me as a very delicate balance, especially at scale, but I think Google has developed a process that seems to work. Related advice: hire the best (inversely, work with the best). Solutions arise through the wisdom of crowds, so have a smart crowd and let them speak.

Another bit of advice he had was to be willing to take risks in your career, but don’t linger in positions that aren’t a good fit. Feel free to join that startup, but if the culture’s wrong or growth becomes limited, be willing to walk away. Ditto for functions and industries. The career paths of my generation will likely be non-linear, so roll with it.

Today was nice too. I was grabbing lunch at one of the campus cafes and spotted Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Steve Jobs browsing the salad bar. What was really cool was that while everyone noticed, no one particularly cared. It’s nice to be at a place where the C levels are people too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What I've been up to...

It seems like all of my posts have all been responses to MBA questions. While I don't mind sharing my qualitative opinion of the Oxford MBA, please check out the quantitative aspects such as the average GMAT scores of admitted students and career placement reports on your own. That said, I've really enjoyed hearing from prospective applicants. Those of the Class of 2008 that I've met and spoken with have been especially impressive. I'm sure it will be an amazing class and I hope that they take full advantage of the alumni network. We're always willing to help and will bend over backwards for SBS students.

Anyhoo, I thought I'd catch up a bit with what I've actually been doing this summer.

I settled in to a long-stay hotel in Belmont, about half way between San Francisco and Mountain View. The accomodations are office park bland, but I really can't complain too much about it. It's nice being back in the States, and I've got a new car and bike to get me around town. For the 4th of July, I peddled down to Foster City (right next to a big Oracle complex) and watched the fireworks over the Bay. It was pretty mellow, but nice. My brother came up that weekend, so I got to show him around the Bay.
We cruised through the central peninsula to Half Moon Bay then up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. It reminded me a lot of the Oregon Coast; cold, pounding surf, high cliffs, and a salty breeze. We stopped in at the Presidio and Pier 39, then visited my Aunt and Uncle in Oakland. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing weekend.

The past two weekends I've spent in Burbank with my fiance. It's sooooooo nice to see her again and spend time in a place that truly feels like home. Still, it's very surreal. In the past year, I've been to the Swiss Alps, Amsterdam, Oxford, Valencia, Rekjavik, and Athens. I've completely lost the sense of foreigness that typically comes with travel. I think I could land anywhere in the world and pretty quickly figure out the basics of living. However, I've also lost some of my sense of being grounded in my nationality. I suppose I've become more of a citizen of the world, but I sometimes miss the rush of relief that comes from returning to America. Maybe it's a certain form of rootlessness? Point being, I miss being deeply engrained in a community and look forward to starting my life in Los Angeles. It'll come soon enough, though.

Last week, Google took all the MBA interns to the Tom Fogerty winery in the Santa Cruz mountains. The view was amazing! It was a nice afternoon sipping merlot and comparing notes on our roles at Google. Not a bad way to work. This weekend was my Niece's birthday, so my fiance and I went down to see the family. It was really fun, but I got terribly sick on Sunday with a nasty fever and flu. I stayed in Burbank another day to rest and took today off to recuperate. I hate missing work, but I'm sure the value of the intern showing up is dwarfed by the loss of getting a whole department sick. For the next two weekends, I'll be up in the NW fixing up my Mom's house and soaking up the NW summer. For now, I feel like hell. Time to crawl back to bed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

More LBS questions

Dear Richard,

I was reading your blog about your MBA and also your latest post about LBS vs Oxford, and I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind.

1) How do you think Oxford and LBS compare as far as recruiting? It's hard to say, since I don't have any direct knowledge of LBS's recruiting or career services. What I can say is that the Said Business School offers several recruitment paths. First, the career service offers counseling, career workshops, and mock interviews. They also compile MBA CVs for distribution to recruiters and organize several recruiting and networking events throughout the year. Second, the Oxford University career service organizes multiple events, such as consulting and banking fairs. Though these are primarily aimed at undergrads, it still offers a chance to get some face time with recruiters. Third, the MBA class organizes several clubs, called Oxford Business Networks. These include consulting, banking, non-profit, diversified industry, women in business, etc. The OBNs are student directed, but have been really effective at attracting recruiters and organizing career events. They are also a great opportunity to connect with alumni and actively contact corporations that would be less responsive to individual efforts. Lastly, events like Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, the Oxford Media Summit, and the Private Equity Forum offer an opportunity to connect with the wider Oxford community and to network with high profile guests. At the end of the day, the more you take advantage of these opportunities, the more you will get out of the Oxford experience.

2) Would Oxford help to get a career in finance in investment banking and/or private equity and/or hedge funds? Yes, but a lot of that will depend on your background and how hard you work. If you are changing roles, industries, and geography, then the hurdles will be high, but this is true of any program.

3) How would you see Oxford compared to a MSc in Finance at LBS? I think a better comparison than the MBA would be the Oxford MSc in Financial Economics. I don't have much knowledge of these program structures, but I know that the MSc at SBS is extremely rigorous and admits only the best of the best (710 average GMAT, very quant heavy).

4) How is life at Oxford, how is the weather, how is the people around and the cost of living overall? Life is good, it's an amazing place to study and an experience I will never forget. I've met some truly incredible people and look forward to maintaining close contact with my classmates for many, many years. The weather is the weather. I've lived in Los Angeles for the past six years, so the gloom of winter gets me down a bit. However, the spring and summer are heaven on Earth. The cost of living is a bit high, but probably a bit less than London. The biggest factor for me has been the decline of the dollar, but exchanging my student loans to pounds at the start of the program locked in a reasonable exchange rate. If you think the pound will drop over time, just take out a Barclays loan denominated in pounds.

4) How is the faculty in Oxford, the Staff, and the atmosphere between students? Every student has professors they like and don't like. However, I've been happy with the vast majority of my professors. They are knowledgably, friendly, and available to assist students in both academic and career development. The staff at the school is great; friendly, competent professionals. The facilities themselves are fairly new with all the usual technologies (multi-screen projectors, amphitheatre seating, etc.). As for the students, I believe that the small class size greatly enhances the learning experience and create a cohesive class. You can get to know everyone in a class of 200, but at an MBA mill with 700+ students, you simply won't meet many of your classmates.

5) How strong do you believe that the Oxford brand is in London as far as the MBA? Very, very strong. Many City professionals went to Oxford as undergrads and have a strong affinity for alumni. How about in Continental Europe and in the US? I can't really say about Europe, but I assume it's very strong. In the US, the Oxford brand is extremely valued and held in the same regard as the Ivy League schools. Would you rate it anyplace close to Harvard, Wharton, Stanford? Definitely. After meeting several dozen MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford while working at Google, I have to say that I'm really glad I chose Oxford. It's easy to get lost in the crowd and many MBAs come off as one-dimensional; even pretentious. Oxford MBAs are simply different. They are bright, knowledgeable, and accomplished, but they are also people you can have a great conversation with. In short, they are interesting and well rounded people, and that makes for a great program.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

LBS vs Oxford

Just got a question about how LBS stacks up against Oxford. Here's my reply:

LBS and Said both have their strengths and weaknesses. I tend to see them as two very distinct programs. LBS is a lot closer to the American model of MBAs; a two-year program with an internship in the middle. While the pace may be a bit less hectic, the value equation is changed by two years of tuition, missed wages, and living expenses. As for Oxford, it's one calendar year and very intense. There are about 20 hours of lectures per week, on top of a career search and social activities. Being in the City, LBS is likely stronger in finance while Oxford is more of a general management program (one calendar year allows less time for electives), but many MBAs still make successful career changes.

As for the Oxford brand, it's highly valued throughout the world, and particularly strong in the US. Within the UK, both Oxford and Cambridge have first rate reputations with LBS in a close third.

Naturally, Oxford is tough to get into. A business school is only as good as the students, so high admissions standards = a better program and strong alumni base. My general thoughts are that admissions are predicated upon your undergraduate performance, GMAT, and work experience. You'll need to be strong in two out of three and make a good case in your essays as to how an MBA will fit with your life.

The financial aid department can help you put together the necessary loans for international students. Focus on getting admitted, the rest will take care of itself.

One final word of advice; go to an information session and meet the MBAs. What's really unique about Said is the cooperative spirit of the class and these sessions will give you a good sense the class.

Good luck with your applications. Please feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In the city of the future...

Yes, that's an actual tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. He lives near my office. The title of the post is a line from the Radiohead song, Palo Alto, 'In the city of the future, it is difficult to concentrate'. Ever since getting to San Francisco, I've felt a bit out of it; not sleeping well, tired all day, lethargic. I suppose there is an element of reverse culture shock; it's pretty strange going from rainy, cold Oxford and the life of a full-time student to working on the sprawling campus of a .com giant. Also, I've been slow to get my footing in my internship, since my role is so unstructured. However, I think the main cause of my lethargy is just living is this nebulous, rootless purgatory that is hotel life. I really miss having a sense of home, of putting down roots and building a life, of being engrained in the fabric of a place, knowing and being known. At Oxford I had my classmates and was too busy to miss home, but here in my hotel, in an endless sea of office parks, I really miss the comforts of being close to those I love. I shouldn't complain too much though. My whole summer will be filled with trips to see my fiance, family, and friends. This is really a unique opportunity to experience a new environment, build some new relationships, and prepare for post-MBA life. If only I was awake to enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Summer in the Bay

I got into San Francisco on Sunday, picked up my new car, and cruised down to see the Stanford and Google campuses. It's going to be a great summer.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

GMAT and MBA admissions

I've been corresponding with a student who asked for GMAT and MBA admissions advice. Here's my reply:

I took the GMAT in October of 2005 and applied to Oxford, Cambridge, Emory, and Northwestern by January 2006. I interviewed in February and March and was accepted to Oxford in early April. Thus, if you're just starting the GMAT, I would suggest that you shoot for the 2008/2009 school year, as it's too late to complete the GMATs and put together a well crafted application for the 2007/2008 year (I spent about 4 months on my essays and applications).

My GMAT score was 720 (96th percentile); 45 verbal (99th percentile), 44 quant (73rd percentile), and 5.5 essay (88th percentile). I used the Princeton Review book 'Cracking the GMAT'. I highly recommend this book, as it goes into great detail on the structure of the exam. This is a crucial aspect which is not covered well in most other books. I studied for two weeks, took lots of practice exams, then took the test.

If English is your second language, I would recommend improving your language skills and taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) prior to taking the GMAT. The TOEFL is virtually always required of non-native English speakers and the practice will greatly improve your GMAT performance.

In selecting a school, it'll be up to you to decide what fits your life best; full-time or part-time, day or evening, distance or class taught, one year or two. For me, the Oxford one-year full-time MBA fit best. I only lost one year of wages versus the standard two year US program, the reputation of the school is excellent throughout the world, and the tuition is relatively low. All in all, it was a great value for the money. Again, though, you must weigh all the factors and decide what fits best for your life.

As for admissions, keep in mind that the admissions process is the method by which schools maintain their quality (once admitted, schools will do everything in their power to ensure that a student does not fail). Three things are critical; GPA, GMAT score, and work experience. If you're weak in one of these areas, then you need to convincingly explain why in your admissions essays. My advise would be to take the GMAT and look at MBA rankings such at the Financial Times and The Economist Which MBA? to get a feel for the average GPAs and GMATs of accepted students before applying.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer at Google!

Well, I'll finally break my silence on my summer plans. I'll spend the last week of June with my fiance in LA, then I start a two month internship at Google in Mountain View. My role will be as a retail sales associate. I'll be gathering market data to support the ad sales team within the retail vertical. I'm really excited about this opportunity and can't wait to work in a company with such a unique culture. My other plans include a weekend in Utah with my fiance, a trip to the NW to fix up my Mom's house, and a weekend in SoCal to celebrate my niece's birthday. This is going to be a fantastic summer! Post graduation, I'll likely join my fiance in LA and hopefully land a position at Google's Santa Monica or Irvine offices. If not, then I'll be hunting around for a marketing position within the media, high-tech, or medical device fields. So, if you know of any interesting opportunities coming up, I'd love to hear from you.


My best friend is doing a study abroad in Athens this summer. Unfortunately, I missed her when she flew through London, so I took a short trip to Athens to say hello. The last time I was in Athens was 2003. At the time, I found the ramshackle, chaotic nature of the place to be a bit disconcerting (too many easy comparisons to Tijuana). However, I really enjoyed the city this time. The 2004 Olympics left Athens with vastly improved infrastructure. The airport is new, the subways have been renovated and extended, and the tram cars are modern and efficient. The city is still ramshackle and chaotic (every building is in a state of perpetual construction, the swarms of motorcycles, the total lack of sidewalks), but it's easier to enjoy when you can reliably get from point A to point B. The food was great, the people were nice, and the relaxed vibe of the city on a warm summer night was just what I need after the endless assignments of Trinity term. For now though, back to the books.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sailing in Oxford

Today I went sailing with a couple of MBAs and the Oxford Sailing Club on a little reservoir just west of the City. The boats were two person dinghies and we got paired with experienced sailors. This meant that I got to spend a few hours on the water with students from other majors. I had a great conversation with a computational statistician (think building the models run by financial services firms like hedge funds) who was also a die hard sailor. It was a really great way to spend the afternoon, but it certainly makes me regret not getting involved in more activities during my short time here. Message to the class of 2008; a year goes by really quickly, so make some memories outside of the classroom.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Services I disabled in Windows Vista

One way to speed up Vista is to disable all the services that Microsoft dumps on your system. Here's my list of disabled services. I haven't noticed any functionality difficulties with this configuration, but that may vary from system to system. I hope this helps some of my fellow frustrated Vista users. Good luck!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Office 2007 and Vista are HORRIBLE!

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic now that my computer runs like it's 1998. What total crap.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dinner with Chris Sacca

Last night was one of those surreal and amazing Oxford nights. I was invited to a dinner to welcome Chris Sacca, Head of Special Initiatives at Google, as an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School. Chris has become very involved with SBS over the years, particularly in the annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford event. He's also an all around smart and genuine guy who always has something interesting to say, so I was really looking forward to the evening. There were thirteen guests in all, including Professor Colin Mayer, Dean of SBS, Professor Roger Cashmore, Principal of Brasennose College, and Dr Chris McKenna, Linda Scott, and Jonathan Black, lecturers at SBS.

The evening started out with some light drinks in the principals lodge. It was strange to be a student amongst a group of faculty and high level administrators, but the conversation flowed smoothly and I relaxed a bit. Chris McKenna, Linda Scott, and I talked a bit about the surveillance society and how many pragmatists (myself included) have traded a bit of privacy for the safety and convenience it brings. Though virtually every step one takes in the UK is recorded on video camera, this really does nothing but to generate countless hours of mundane tape of people going about their everyday lives. No big deal if you live your public life as if it was public, but maybe a bit more sensitive when it comes to public political actions like protests or sensitive personal events like family planning. Chris showed up along with Fiona Reid, Director of Entrepreneurship Said, and the conversation turned to Chris's blog ( and gun violence in America. However, we were soon directed to the Tower Bursury for dinner.

This is the room (just above the entrance hall in the picture above) where the college administrators used to count the money collected from students and farmers who rented college owned plots of land. The setting was amazingly ornate; wood paneled walls, ancient college crests, silver candelabras, and a long dining table decorated with 17th century silver pieces.

The food was great, but the conversation was really the highlight of the evening. Chris McKenna spoke of how every city has a question, such as How did you get here? (LA) What college did you go to? (Boston) How much is your rent? (NYC) Where do your children go to school? (London) and East or West? (St Louis and Jerusalem). The questions vary, but the underlying quest to develop a shorthand for classifying people remains the same.

The conversation then drifted to the neurological roots of racism and terrorism, specifically the role of mirror neurons in creating deeply embedding empathetic responses to images of suffering. Thus, highly educated, wealthy Arab men who have not directly experienced oppression can empathize so deeply with the perceived suffering of Palestinians that they feel justified in retaliatory acts of aggression. This is an interesting explanation of terrorism, but also raises questions as to the power of media to encourage or discourage these kinds of deep empathetic responses.

In the case of 9/11, each victim was brought to life in the media. We learned of their families, their hopes and dreams, and developed an understanding that the world was a lessor place due to their tragic loss. The American public has a deep empathy with the victims of 9/11, and when politicians invoke 9/11, the emotional response is so powerful as to override the intellectual response. However, what of the soldiers in Iraq? My opinion is that they've generally been abstracted to mere numbers. As Stalin said, one man's death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic. Does the lack of depth, of humanization of the suffering of soldiers and Iraqis, lead the American public to a certain callousness? Does 9/11 trump any debate on Iraq because of a lack of empathy? These are interesting questions.

Anyhoo, back to the dinner. I talked with Chris McKenna a bit about whether we lived in a time similar to just before the outbreak of World War I; a time of massive, yet fragile globalization and tectonic technological shifts in the way we organized our daily lives. Could globalization be halted or reversed? What of the falling dollar? Again, interesting questions and interesting conversations.

The evening wound down with desert and several rounds of wine and port from the Brasenose cellar. We bid farewell and I wandered out into a beautiful Oxford night, my mind swimming with ideas and a certain thrill of being here, now.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Involuntary upgrades

This is PartitianMagic from Norton. This nifty program helps you to slice and dice your hard drive, for when you want to do stuff like load up a Linux operating system on your machine.

This is Ubuntu, a Linux operating system being sold on new Dell's. It comes with it's own word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation suite, and it's completely free. Seems like a fun thing to try. However, it's not as easy as that.

First, I ran PartitianMagic to carve out a cozy home on my hard drive for Ubuntu. Then I loaded up all the files, and used PartitianMagic to redirect my boot.ini file to look at the Ubuntu drive for all the files it needed to load when it started up. I rebooted and then...nothing.

I didn't load the Ubuntu files properly, in part because I'm a novice and in part because the community generated user manual are written by techies with no consideration for what non-technical readers might actually find useful. I consider myself advanced enough to at least attempt Linux, but still, it'd be good to generate consumer focused manuals to ease the switching process for newbies. Apple comes to mind as a good example of easing the transition.

Anyhoo, everything I threw at my laptop failed to bring it back from the dead. Further, I didn't have a Windows XP disc to reload the operating system, because Dell doesn't give you a Windows disc. Lame. After a day of frantic searching for a solution with a looming homework deadline, I ended up buying this:

So now I'm the proud owner of Vista, thanks to my failed attempt to upload Linux. Not exactly what I envisioned, but at least my computer boots up.

My grades

OK, first a few words about the Oxford random number generator. First off, the percentage range is radically shifted. In the US, anything over 70% is generally considered a pass and anything over 90% is an A. In Oxford, the pass line is 50% and anything over 70% earns you a distinction (and this is a real challenge, not the easy A grade inflation of many American universities).

However, grades are also adjusted to a curve, so the actual performance band is narrower still. The lowest passing average for the MBA for the past seven years is 52% and the highest is 69%, with an overall average of 61%. Thus, the entire range from failure to exceptional performance is only 17%, versus 30% in the US. Grades roughly fit a normal distribution, so the vast bulk of MBAs cluster around the 61% average. So, how did I do?

72 Decision Science (distinction!)
59 Developing Managers
66 Finance I
71 Financial Reporting (distinction!)
67 Managerial Economics

68 Strategy
66 Entrepreneurial Project (counts as two courses)
66 Entrepreneurial Project
63 Finance II
69 Financial Management (so close...)

65 International Business
55 Marketing
59 Operations Management
68 Tech Strategy

My average is 65.29%, so I'm well above the 61% class average. Translating this to an American GPA is quite tricky though, since I must assume a normal probability distribution as well as the number of standard deviations encompassed by the range of scores (ie, how much are scores clustered around the center). Crunching the numbers under different assumptions, I get GPAs of 3.52, 3.65, 3.76, and 3.84.

Thus, my best guess GPA is 3.69, the average of my four scenarios. Under all of my assumptions, though, I'm comfortably within the top quartile of my class. Not bad, but definately a change from the American system, where I got a solid 3.95 during my business courses.

Oxford MBA college selection advice

To the 2008 MBA class:

Congratulations on your admission to the Oxford MBA! I'm sure you'll find your year here to be both challenging and immensely rewarding.

I know how stressful it can be to select a college and to make arrangements for life in Oxford, and I hope that I can be of some use in easing your transition. As for selecting a college, I understand how frustrating the apparent lack of clear information can be. Fortunately, I can provide some guidance on the most important facets of the selection criteria.

Surprisingly, there isn't a significant difference between the various college. All of them have long and prestigious histories, grand and inspiring buildings, and a wonderfully diverse student body. So, how to choose? The factors that seem to matter most to MBAs are the size of the college, location, and the accommodations they offer.

My college is Keble, one of the largest college in Oxford. We have 435 undergrads and 226 grad students. Amongst the grad students, we have 14 MBAs. Thus, our MCR tends to be fairly lively, with lots of pub crawls, movie nights, and other activities.

The college is located fairly close to the center of Oxford. The city is small enough where you can reasonably walk from one end to the other, but some colleges, such as Templeton, are far away from the city center. This map offers some good guidance: The business school is right next to the train station on the far left, and it's about a 15 minute walk from Keble to the business school.

As for MBA accommodation, I think Keble has a distinct advantage. MBAs are housed at Acland, a former hospital converted to graduate dorms. On the map, we're right across the street from Green College. The dorms and clean and well appointed. Each room has an ensuite bath, a bed, desk, bookshelf, and wardrobe closet. There are several large, communal kitchens and regular housekeeping service.

Realistically, most MBAs spend the majority of their time at the business school as the intensity of the MBA program often prevents MBAs from becoming deeply involved in their college life. I rowed for Keble the first term and some row throughout the year, but MBAs often run into serious time constraints, especially during Hillary term. The common refrain at Keble is that the grads see the MBAs for the first few weeks, then we disappear for the rest of the year. Thus, the choice of college is a lot less important than many admits realize.

I hope this is useful in your college decision. Once again, congratulations on your admission to the Said Business School!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A good general contractor for Vancouver, Washington

Just a shameless plug for a great local company. James at Elite Construction, (360) 798-4007 or (360) 834-6103 is awesome. He redid the roof at my mom's house and repaired some structural carpenter ant damage. His crew is dependable and experienced, and I'd highly recommend Elite Construction for your general contractor needs.

Friday, June 1, 2007

AppleSoft and TED

So what's up with Apple? For a company with the public image of being the David versus Microsoft's Goliath, are they really that different?

Take iTunes and .mp3s; my fresh out of the box Nano skips when playing variable bit rate .mp3s. Ditto with the Shuffle. These are the same .mp3s that worked great on my previous Mini. After some extensive research, I've concluded that Apple has known about the problem for a long time, but has done nothing to correct it as a way to drive users towards it's proprietary AAC format. So, I've had to recode all of my songs into unprotected AACs, and now they work fine. However, this has been a horrible experience and makes me very leery of buying an iPod in the future. I love my iPod and iTunes is great, but this kind of explicit lock-in is stifling and claustrophobic. At least Microsoft's Zune can play my friggin .mp3s (and unprotected AACs for that matter).

Next case, iTunes for Linux. Why does this not exist? I'm been eyeballing Ubuntu ( for my next OS, but this may be a deal breaker. My theory is that Apple wants OSX to be seen as the only viable alternative to Windows and it's leveraging its killer ap to attract customers through a halo effect while locking out Linux. Ditto for the lack of Zune for Linux. Lame.

Lastly, Apple's new 'DRM free' iTunes tracks come with a watermark of your name and email address. This makes sense to a certain degree. DRM has been a complete failure and watermarking allows copyright holders to track the pirating of their material. However, Apple wasn't transparent about this technology with the public, and thus looks more and more like big brother than a hammer toting rebel.

Meanwhile, The Stranger ( linked me to TED (, the annual Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference in Monterey, CA. Their site is crammed full of fascinating speeches by bright minds including Chris Anderson (The Long Tail), Jeff Bezos (, Bill Clinton (Oxford), Richard Dawkins (Oxford author of The God Delusion), Dan Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness), Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist), Burt Ratan (XPrize), and of course Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google fame. I cannot plug this enough. These are some really thought provoking videos and a wonderful way to look a few years into the future.

Symbian and a good night out

Another week has now passed by. In just a month, Trinity term will be over and I'll be back in California. Come September, I'll officially be an Oxford MBA. My time here has just flown by. I kind of regret spending so much time with my nose in the books, working hard on assignments instead of going out and enjoying the city. I also regret not taking more pictures of my classmates and everyday routines. Sigh, so it goes.

On Tuesday the CEO of Symbian, Nigel Clifford spoke to my marketing innovations class. He was a really interesting, engaging, and intelligent speaker and shared his views of what it takes to build a successful high tech company. In general, Symbian has succeeded by aligning the interests of the major players in its industry and encouraging the development of an ecosystem of complementary assets. Nigel explained this as functioning within a two sided market; you increase your revenues by developing a part of the market that will indirectly increase your value to your customers. Similar to Nintendo collaborating with video game makers.
On Wednesday I uploaded assignment number five for the week and finally had some time to relax, so I did a pub crawl with a handful of MBAs. It was a fantastic night, though I was a little worst for wear the next day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Iceland, Anniversaries, and Google

My branding class is on break right now, so I thought I'd catch up with the blog a bit. Last weekend, while most of the class was at the MBA tournament at HEC Paris, I went to Iceland. I've always wanted to go and sort of imagined it as a souped up Switzerland; lots of rugged mountains and gushing streams, but with the added bonus of natural hot springs dotting the landscape. Well...not quite. Turns out that Iceland is rocky, sparse, and windswept. The island is huge, but most of the surface is craggy lava flows, so it's not that lush. However, I still had a great time and got to see a place that's truly unique in the world.

Immediately after landing I headed straight to the Blue Lagoon. That place is amazing. It's far out on a windswept lava flow in the middle of a rocky peninsula jutting into the Atlantic. The winds was blowing in gales, kicking up a spray of rain that stung your face like a cold slap. However, the facilities were great and once you sunk into the warm, milky blue waters you could escape the cold. I soaked for about an hour, then grabbed a snack and headed to Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is a really small town, around 200k people out of a national population of around 300k. The city is essentially a blend of a fishing village, ski lodge, tourist town, and urban center. There's lots of graffiti everywhere, but it's fun and stylized. This would be a great town to be a graphic designer, but not so much for a bored teen. Speaking of style, it seems that everything is brightened up to fight against the harsh environment. Clothing was stylish and playful, houses were a bright pastel, and modernistic sculptures dotted the urban landscape. All in all, its a nice little Nordic town.

The real fun begins outside of the city though. I went of two tours; a small, off road tour that followed the southern coast then detoured for some hiking in the mountains and the tourist trap golden circle tour. The first one was good, but I wasn't a fan of the downtime spent driving out to the country. Iceland is really huge, so it took a good two to three hours to reach our trail head. However, I did get to hike around some amazing waterfalls and take in some great views. The best was a hike up a narrow canyon, where the walls rose 100 ft above my head and closed in to a narrow gap. We hiked into the gap to find a spectacular waterfall hidden away in the crags.

The next day was the golden circle tour, which is sort of the typical tourist route on a big tour bus. I've never been a tour bus kind of guy, but I didn't want to rent a car, so this was really the only option. Parts of the tour were nice. I got to see some huge waterfalls, lakes, and geysers, as well as a volcanic cone. Unfortunately, there was a lot of time spent on the bus and the tour ate up around 10 hours.

My final full day in Iceland I just relaxed and meandered around Reykjavik. It was a nice break, but soon I had to get back to the reality of the Oxford MBA.

This past week has been especially hard. I've got five assignments due this week, and my head is about to explode. The good news is that I'm now done with three and only have two to go, so it should be downhill from here.

In other news, my fiance and I celebrated our second anniversary. We've been apart for a while now, but hopefully we'll be married and settled in a house by this time next year. I can't wait to graduate and start our life together.

I've also finished reading The Google Story. It was a good book, but it really points out how idiosyncratic Google is. I think many entrepreneurs believe that you can just wake up one day and be a Larry Page or Sergey Brin (if you want to go old school, Bill Gates). However, these really are exceptionally bright guys in the unique environment of Silicon Valley/Stanford who solved a fundamental problem of a massively growing market. Not only that, they were able to sign a very unusual venture capital deal that gave them effective control of the company while bringing in Eric Schmidt, a fantastic CEO. It takes a truly exceptional organization to take the wind out of Microsoft and I look forward to seeing how Google develops over time.

For now, back to class.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oxford Media Summit

Today the business school is hosting a series of guest spreakers from Disney, CNN, Forbes, the BBC, and the Wall Street Journal to discuss the customer experience of media and communications. I dropped into a presentation by Lawrence Aldridge, SVP of Disney's Corporate Alliances.

He gave a nice talk about Disney's strategy of leveraging creative content, technology, and global distribution to grow the company. There were also a few interesting questions from the audience about piracy. His response was essentially that Disney is preempting piracy by using technology to provide legal, convenient routes for consumers to purchase media. What he did not mention was Disney's use of digital rights management tools such as traceable watermarks embedded in content.

As for Disney's stance on youTube, they seem somewhat neutral at this point. They haven't joined News Corp and NBC in their deal to provide content through AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and myspace, but they haven't inked a deal with youTube either. Perhaps they're taking a 'wait and see approach' or counting on iTunes to satisfy consumer demand for Disney content. He did highlight Viacom's $1billion lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement, which points to the ongoing war between Google and content providers over who will capture the revenues of ads tied to streaming video content. Billions of ad revenues are at stake, but some big players like Disney are still sitting on the sidelines rather than to throw their lot in with unproven, but industry backed channels. The user base of youTube is large enough to grant some leverage to Google in negotiating ad revenue deals, but it's by no means settled that Google will secure a place as the mediator between the content providers and the consumers.

I asked Lawrence to address why ESPN withdrew from mobile and why the content didn't resonate within that channel. His answer was pretty cookie cutter; they weren't reaching scale and users weren't will to pay for premium content, so they pulled the plug and moved to a licensing model. He also pointed out that Disney Mobile is doing great, which it is. I was clumsy in my phrasing, but I was really wondering what the limits of leveraging across media platforms are. Does anyone besides compulsive gamblers really need sports scores second by second? Does the nature of ESPN make it a silo within the Disney family? When should content providers license and when should they go it alone?

Disney has historically taken the licensing and alliance strategy. Perhaps the failure of ESPN mobile was a lesson in sticking to your core competencies; in this case, creating content.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Oxford goes to MootCorp!

It's been a while since my last post, since a lot has been going on. I went to Austin two weeks ago to compete in MootCorp, an international business plan competition at the University of Texas at Austin. I expected Texas to suck, but it was really, really fun! Everyone in Austin was super friendly and the food was insanely good!

We were competing against teams from 32 other Universities. On our first day, we presented our business plan and got some really positive feedback. The second day, most of the judged just didn't seem to get our product. We didn't come in first or second, so we were out of the running for the grand prize. However, we did great on the third day. The judges loved us, and we beat out four other universities to win the NASDAQ Stock Market Challenge and a $1,000 prize. This is the best that an Oxford team has done at MootCorp in the six years we've been competing!

Far more interesting than the competition was the time we got to explore the town and relax. Every other team seemed really uptight and serious, but the Oxford team just had a great time!

We went to countless restaurants and hit almost every bar on sixth street (including the Coyote Ugly). The best place was Pete's Dueling Piano Bar. There's two pianos on a small stage, and local musicians just come up, play for a while, then hand off to the next guy. What's really impressive though is how smoothly the players incorporate rock, country, rap, and improvised lyrics to create a non-stop happy drunk dancing vibe. Needless to say, Austin was a blast!

I was pretty dead after getting back to Oxford, so most of the past two weeks has been spent trying to catch up in my classes and get a million little errands done. My summer internship is all set to go now. I booked a room at Extended Stay America, bought my plane tickets, and arranged to buy a 2007 Scion tC on the day I land. This'll be my first new car, so I can't wait. Dania's birthday was last week, so I ordered her something nice. Right now she's scouting around for an apartment in LA, were I'll join her after I graduate. I think she's settled on a place in Burbank, so we'll see how it all comes together.

These next few weeks will be totally crazy as well. I'm going to Iceland next weekend, then come back to four assignments and two presentations. Normally we'll have one or two assignments due per week, so this will really, really suck. It's 2AM now, so I suppose I should get some sleep. Busy busy busy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

All clear

It looks like my internship is a done deal. It looks like I've made it. I'm moving in to a corporate career and all the doors now seem open. Soon, and for the rest of my life, I'll be an Oxford MBA. This will be a nice life.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A love/hate thing

OK, my Blog is back online. I keep going back in forth as to whether its worth a bit of my privacy to have a (small) platform to broadcast my thoughts into the world. Today, I'm in full disclosure mode, so here I am. A couple of new things are going on in my life; I finally got an official offer of a summer internship, so it looks like I'll be spending July and August soaking up the sun in the Bay Area. In the meantime, I need to find a place to live and get a decent car for when I'm there. It'll come together though. My birthday was yesterday, but I completely forgot because I was so caught up in a big homework assignment. However, my fiance and a few friends reminded me, which felt really nice. Wednesday I take off for Austin. I'm spending five days competiting in a business plan competition at the University of Texas. My team is grossly underprepared, but it'll be fun to see a new city and party a bit. For now, it's back to the books.

Branding in the Long Tail

I've started reading The Long Tail, a breathless account of how some products and media are moving from a 'blockbuster' model towards 'the long tail', which could be loosely defined as a large collection of fragmented markets which collectively represent huge markets. Examples include iTunes, where even the most obscure song can find a buyer, and, which offers an endless selection in comparison to the limited 'hits' lining the shelves of even the largest retailer.

However, we're also in a period where branding is becoming ever more important in attracting consumers. So, how does one brand a product that resides in the long tail? Is a single superbrand like Nike sufficient or should brands be individually targeted towards smaller niches? Perhaps marketing will move to something like the consumer products model, where parent brands like Kellogg's host a variety of sub-brands, like Corn Flakes, Special K, and Smart Start. If that's the case, then what is the value of the parent brand? Books and music are a great example; do you really buy a book based upon the brand of the publisher? Perhaps that's the magic of Oprah, through her book club, she's extended her brand as an umbrella that incorporates a variety of 'long tail' books.

The internet is a double edged sword. It provides massive amounts of information and choice, but people still need a way to navigate through the clutter. Perhaps this will shift the balance of power from advertisers to taste makers, those whose recommendations make a thousand little blockbusters amongst the millions of cultural tribes and social networks that dwell in the long tail.

The joy of SonicCare and thoughts on NoLogo

Totally random: over my spring break I had some dental work done and so I'm trying to take better care of my teeth. Every dentist on Earth seems to endorse the SoniCare toothbrush, so I picked one up for $70. Then I discovered that the battery powered SoniCare Xtreme is only $30. In a side by side comparison, they have identical performance. Both are great, but the Xtreme is definitely a deal.

Currently I'm reading the book NoLogo by Naomi Klein. I've resisted reading it for a long time, as I thought it would be a typical leftist rant against the big corporations that sell me nice toothbrushes. However, I saw Naomi on a Frontline episode on marketing titled The Persuaders( and she came across as articulate and thoughtful. So, I jumped in.

The book is really interesting. Her basic argument is that during the 1990's, businesses decided to outsource their production to developing nations and use the savings on massive marketing campaigns to convince shoppers to pay premium prices for otherwise generic goods like lattes, shoes, and clothing. This was in response to the commodification of many products and the split of consumers into two camps; value shoppers (WalMart et al) and luxury shoppers ($200 Nikes and Louis Vitton bags). However, the loss of jobs to outsourcing and exploitative labor practices led to a backlash against the brand images company's were so carefully crafting (Nike, Kathy Lee Gifford, Levi's).

The book was first published in 2000, and a few things have happened since then. First, brands found that they were especially vulnerable to the exposure of their less admirable practices, such as the use of child and prison labor, forced overtime, and the payment sub-poverty wages. This ushered in the era of corporate social responsibility reporting and efforts to at least maintain the appearance of ethical practices. Second, some innovative brands such as American Apparel, Harley Davidson, and Toyota are now using their American manufacturing prescience as a point of differentiation against outsourcing competitors (most clothing are now made in China and GM shifted substantial production from Detroit to Mexico and beyond). However, the trend toward 'everyday low prices' and 'mass luxury' has continued, if not accelerated.

What hasn't occurred is any sort of public awareness of the gaping chasm in income disparity as the middle class has been eroded and CEO and shareholder profits have reached record highs. I see this as an extension of the American 'bootstrap' fantasy that ignores rigid class barriers and perpetuates the myth that cutting taxes on the top 0.1% of earners is good because someday we'll all be in the top tax bracket. The truth is that the class you are born into will largely determine the class you spend your life in. There are the odd exceptions (I consider myself to have grown up in the lower-middle/lower class, but now go to Oxford). However, the general rule is that if your born into the working poor, grow up surrounded by poverty, and attend a hellishly neglected public school, you're probably going to spend your life in a cycle of poverty.

One thing I found interesting about the Virginia Tech shooting was that the main complaint of the perpetrator, psycho as he was, was class disparities. This hasn't exactly become of topic of discussion, nor has America's entrenched phobia of even the most pragmatic gun controls.

As for me, I've always been hyper-aware of class distinctions and have struggled to leap the chasm into the 'haves' category, as I believe it will continue to become more and more difficult to make that transition in future generations. As for corporate America, I'm a bit ambivalent. As a business student, I've been taught the efficient market theory that resources should be directed to their most efficient uses so as to maximize total societal gain. If the Chinese can make our t-shirts cheaper, both the Chinese gain from new jobs and American consumers gain for lower prices. However, it's hard to see how, barring basic global environmental and labor standards, this will result in anything but a protracted race to the bottom.

This is why I support the WTO. Only an organization like the WTO can broker global standards on environmental and labor issues and prevent the wholesale debasement of people's quality of life in the name of free market capitalism devoid of all social responsibility. I think we'll gradually get there as nations like China develop a middle class that becomes more demanding, in the same way that Americans rebelled against sweatshop and child labor in the 19th century. The question is when.

What's on my iPod

First of all, I must say that the iPod Nano sucks. The crappy decoder skips on virtually all of my .mp3 files, so I'm stuck with iTunes proprietary .aac format. This seems like a crass attempt to lock users into the iTunes store, even while Apple simultaneously promotes their deal with EMI (home of the Beattles catalog) to provide open format .mp3s at $1.29 per song that can be played on multiple portable players. Lame.

That being said, here's my latest 25 songs. I'm rapidly becoming a fan of Midnight Movies. Very melodic and ethereal. They have a new release coming out in late April. I've heard some of it on KCRW, and it sounds fantastic.

Yes, that's Avril Lavigne. I'm a sucker for dumb girly pop.