My Winter Break

It’s always nice to travel back home and see family during breaks. My hometown, as mentioned in the previous post, is located in northeast China which means it’s freezing in winter.

I got several texts from my friends during the break– saying was cold in Columbus. I didn’t text back anything other than this screen grab…

Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang Province, China

Mudanjiang is not the city that I was born; I was just there during the winter break. I know I am crazy. When most people travel to some places warm in order to stay away from the cold winter, I actually stepped into a freezing locale. This city is known as the “snow village”; because of the location of the city, during winter time, it snows almost 24/7. However, I do admit it is very pretty, just like I’m in a fairy tale.

Snow Village

 Harbin, my real hometown, is known for the International Ice and Snow Fest.

Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

 If you are planning to visit, make sure you’re bundled up and your phone is fully charged because when your electronic devices are exposed in such a low temperature, the battery tends to die very quickly–like in 10 mins.

The 5th annual Wells Fargo Investment Thought Leadership Forum

Last December, a handful group of students and I were given the opportunity to assist “The Wells Fargo Investment Thought Leadership Forum” in New York City. The conference, that took place in the prestigious Plaza Hotel, hosted top-notch discussions on market, credit, banking, and the broad economy. The speaker list included several of the world’s most known and successful investors and managers including Howard Marks (Co-Chairman of Oaktree), Larry Fink (Chairman and CEO of BlackRock), Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg and 108th Mayor of New York City), and Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co). Furthermore, we felt even more privileged knowing that, among the 1,500-member investor audience representing more than $3 trillion in capital, our group represented the only school present at the conference.

The group with Professor Sheridan!

Our trip started on December 6. Myself and Jared Ablass, SMF student from Canada, had to catch our flight to New York at 2 PM. We arrived at LaGuardia around 5:30 PM and went directly to the Airbnb we rented for the two days trip to drop our bags– and off we go we were, already on our way to our first meeting/dinner with an alumnus from the program.

Arriving in NYC!

The day of the conference, we decided to walk to the Plaza hotel. All of us agreed that a morning walk on 5th Avenue could not hurt.

After a quick breakfast in the hotel and a welcome remark by Jonathan Bock, managing director at Wells Fargo and organizer of the conference, we started the day with a word from Howard Marks. The discussion focused on today’s incredibly challenging low-return investment environment. Mr. Marks emphasized his presentation on today’s uncertainty in the macro environment and the fact that this uncertainty might not lead to high prospective returns in the future because of central banks keeping rates low.

Following Howard Marks was a highly anticipated panel (composed of leaders from Wells Fargo, Apollo, BlackRock, and CalPERS) giving their thoughts on some of the most pressing issues facing the economy (from tax cut all the way to technology). Among other things, the panel was explaining that the tax reform is expected to be powerful for cash flow-oriented companies (as they will have more cash in hands) and particularly for investment bankers on expectations of M&A.

The lunch discussion with Michael Bloomberg was, in my opinion, one of the best discussion of the entire conference. I particularly enjoyed listening his point of view on climate change. As mentioned during the discussion, Mr. Bloomberg explained that while the federal government is clearly a part of the environmental solution, it is more important to see both the innovation and environmental improvements coming from corporate and city leaders in response to citizen demand for cleaner air and water.

Finally, the heavily anticipated closing discussion between Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co.) and Mike Mayo (Large Cap Bank Analyst at Wells Fargo Securities) focused on Mr. Dimon’s catalog for success during his time at the head of one of the biggest financial institution in the world.

A discussion with Jamie Dimon!

We closed this great day with an alumni dinner at a fine restaurant in Manhattan. We had the chance to share this meal with a couple of alumni working in the Big Apple.

Alumni Dinner in NYC!

This diverse group of motivated students coming from all around the world (including myself) are extremely grateful for the opportunity that was given to us by Professor Pinteris, Professor Sheridan and Fisher College of Business. In my opinion, an event like this one is what sets the Specialized Master of Finance apart from other programs and gives you the belief that one day, you’ll be in the shoes of those highly successful individuals.

The entire group with Professor Pinteris and Mr. Bock!

 

Let’s Get Strategic

My favorite course so far this semester (and arguably the MHRM program so far—although I’m finding it remarkably difficult to choose between it and my former favorite Organizational Development & Change) is Strategic Management of Human Assets taught by Professor Steffanie Wilk. The course is required in the MHRM core curriculum, but what makes it different than most MHRM core classes in structure is that many MBAs choose to take it as an elective. We have the option to take it during the day (Tuesday & Thursday 1:00-2:30 PM) and Thursday evenings (Thursdays 6:15-9:30 PM). I personally chose to take the daytime option because I was excited to learn from and interact with some MBA students I don’t as often get to interface with.

In short, the class is about strategically aligning human resources policy, practice, and decision-making with the strategy of the organization. During the first week of class, we defined the three primary strategies by which businesses compete: cost, quality, and innovation. We took some time the first week to define what each of these strategies can look like (and not look like) based on industry, sector, and product, and then we dove right into debate about competitive advantage. Some insider thoughts from Jen’s notebook:

Strategy

Cost

Business seeks to find efficiencies to ultimately provide a lower cost product or service than competitors  (example: Costco)

Quality

Business focuses on quality of product or service and precise “moves” hinge upon how customers define quality  (example: Wendy’s)

Innovation

Business focuses on differentiating products or creating new product lines to leverage new markets  (examples: Amazon & Apple)

Competitive Advantage

a condition that, when present, makes magic

In other words, your competitive advantage differentiates you from competitors, makes money, and is sustainable over time. In other, other words, it’s the secret sauce of the organization.

We are currently in the midst of what Professor Wilk likes to call “Airplane Week.” We are discussing the commercial airline industry and how two distinct airlines—Southwest and JetBlue—compete using their respective strategies and competitive advantages. Today we debated what, precisely, differentiates Southwest from competitors and how the strategy impacts culture, recruiting, hiring, training, rewards and performance management processes.

I was genuinely fascinated by the discussion, and impressed with the effort it takes for organizations like Southwest to appear like they function effortlessly in day-to-day operations. And, I’m already looking forward to Thursday when we’ll talk about JetBlue and how they approached the competitive landscape as a start-up airline in the late 90s.

Spring Semester Preview

I am back in Columbus after an exciting break full of travel, and I was met with cold temperatures and a little bit of snow!  I wrote about one of the very fun trips I took over Christmas break in a recent post.  Another trip I took over break was to Houston, Texas, to go apartment-hunting and do a little sight-seeing, as that’s where I’ll begin work after graduation.

Since it’s the beginning of a new semester and also since this semester is made up almost entirely of electives, I thought it would be good to do a preview of my first quarter of classes.  The SMF curriculum allows you to choose from any of four different concentrations if you wish, but you are not required to follow any track.  This flexibility in choosing your classes is one reason I was attracted to the program.  I decided to use this flexibility to my advantage by taking classes from all the different areas of concentration offered in the SMF curriculum.  In the area of corporate finance, I’ll be taking Mergers & Acquisitions.  This course also happens to be taught by the SMF program director, Professor George Pinteris.  In the area of investment management I’ll be taking Portfolio Management and Fixed Income.  Within the risk management area, I’ll be taking Derivatives Valuation. Finally, within the real estate concentration, I’ll be taking Real Estate Valuation.  This course in real estate will also give me the opportunity to pursue a certification in Argus, a real estate valuation software.

I am very excited for all of these classes, as I think they represent the spectrum of finance offered to SMF students.  I also think that these different areas of the SMF cur,riculum give me the chance to practice honing different skills.  For example, the Mergers & Acquisitions course will help me to hone soft skills through the heavy class participation required, while the investments and risk management courses will be much more quantitative in focus.  Finally the real estate valuation course will teach me technical and applied skills by learning a specific software used in industry.

I’m ready for the exciting and challenging semester ahead of me!

New Beginning With a New Hope

It’s been just past 100 days since I have left my home as I’m writing this blog. I guess I’ve gone through the cultural shock and have emerged out quite successfully I would say. I could finally go and visit a place which goes by the name of the Hocking Hills. Time has flown past pretty quickly since I have landed in this beautiful city. Though it’s hard to recollect exactly on how I have spent these 100 days, I have a lot of good memories to carry over from here.

It’s a given from the moment you see the curriculum that life here would be hectic. You need to be quick and I personally feel that’s a good thing as it will show a preview of the working style out in the real world. The subjects are interesting and professors are great. There is a significant difference between the education system here and my country. I assume that everyone outside the country will initially struggle but I can promise that everyone will cope up eventually. I have taken a sweet amount of time to get adjusted and I can now confidently say that I’m done with the incubation stage.

Diversity is one more aspect that I love over here. Professors here are a combination of people who have excelled academically and professionally. That is of significant importance if you are studying in a business school. I have worked in the same industry for a significant amount of time before enrolling in this course, yet there is a lot of concepts to learn. I have learned that there is no “one way” of doing things which did shake my beliefs about always having one solution to a problem. I can confidently say I would be a coming out of the MBLE program with better knowledge and thinking than what I had imagined when I joined the college.

NYC Trip

Finals are over and just like that, I am halfway through the SMF program.  It’s crazy how quickly pre-term and the first semester went by.  Since Columbus is a lot closer to New York than Oklahoma, my mom and I decided to go on a trip to New York right after finals were over.  I took a bunch of pictures and wanted to include as many as possible.  Here are some of my favorite sights from the trip:

The Statue of Liberty
My mom and I enjoying some New York style pizza
Me with the famous Charging Bull in the Financial District
Downtown Manhattan at sunset from the Empire State Building

Proximity to New York is one of the many perks about being in school at Ohio State.  I know that many of my classmates recently attended an investments conference in New York and it provided them the opportunity to listen to some very knowledgable individuals from the industry and to also network with SMF alumni in the city.  My trip to New York was a blast and I can’t wait to go back!

Surviving Winter in Columbus

Every year, around mid-October, the anxiety starts growing among my MHRM comrades. I get it—the Midwest can be an intimidating place during the winter, especially if you’re from more temperate environments like some of my more southern classmates. After all, we are just a 6-hour drive from Chicago, or as we fondly refer to it here in the Midwest, “Chiberia.”

All joking aside, winter in Columbus is really not that bad. From December to February, typical lows are in the high teens and highs are in the mid-40s (Fahrenheit). It does get windy, and we experience a fair amount of precipitation in the form of snow. It actually can be quite beautiful on sunny days.

This is an old picture of Mirror Lake in the winter. It’s currently under construction. When done, the site will look more like it did when it was built in 1870.  

I’m personally grateful to experience all four seasons. When I lived in Oregon, we had a long summer and a long winter, and almost no shoulder seasons on either end. And I really didn’t realize how much I loved fall and spring.

Believe it or not, though, people do live in Columbus year round. And they do so successfully with a curated wardrobe of very warm and sensible items. Here are my winter non-negotiables:

It’s pretty much a wearable sleeping bag.
  1. Long, down parka. This is the coat I wear all winter long. It even functions as a blanket in my house when I’m trying to warm up quickly. Down is one of the best natural insulators, and it cuts wind like no other. Wool is also a good option.

 

No furry animals were killed in the making of this hat.

2. This hat. It covers your ears and is as soft as fake fur on the inside. It is also filled with down so you don’t have to worry about your noggin getting cold–all of your knowledge will be warm and protected.

Bonus: you might be confused for a fisherman while wearing these puppies.

3. You’ll see a lot of these around campus. They’re waterproof, and if you want the upgraded version, you can get them with faux fur on the inside (pictured above, highly recommend). I wear boots like these walking across campus, and change into my work shoes when I get to Gerlach Hall. There’s really no substitute for a sensible winter boot.

Investing in high-quality, durable outdoor clothing is completely worth it. The last thing I want to worry about in the midst of school and work is my comfort. And I promise–it is possible to stay warm all winter with a little time and preparation on the front end.

Zoo Lights

Columbus has many unique features and things to do such as the Columbus Zoo. The Columbus Zoo is rated the third-best zoo in the United States, and definitely worth a visit while in Ohio! During the winter months close to the holiday season, the zoo gets transformed and decorated with millions of beautiful Christmas lights; it’s called “Wildlights.” The MAcc Council decided to plan a trip on the last day of classes. Pictured below is a group photo outside of the zoo of all the MAcc students who went.

MAcc students at the Zoo

The zoo is separated by areas and locations the animals would be found, such as the Artic Zone. It’s a large area and I would have gotten lost without a wonderful tour guide and fellow classmate who knew her way around the zoo. If you want to see the animals in addition to the lights, I would recommend going early afternoon. Once it gets dark outside, many animals are hard to see and are also sleeping. There are various food carts and stops throughout the zoo, so you can get a cup of hot chocolate or a snack while looking at the attractions. The center of the zoo is a pond that plays a light show choreographed to holiday music every half-hour.

If you love taking photos or just want to get into the holiday spirit, I would highly recommend checking out Wildlights! Everywhere you look and go is lit (as seen above on a bridge inside the zoo). With the semester coming to a close, I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays!

See You Next Semester

Time flies.

I doesn’t feel like my first day at Fisher was a long time ago, but we’ve actually gone through half of the MAcc program already. From the first day of orientation, August 14th, to the last day of class in the autumn semester, December 6th, we’ve all done some incredible work.

I still remember all the projects that we had done (and sometimes, all the frustrations they brought us). Nevertheless, all of us finished the projects well and we all learned something.

Now that I’ve been here for awhile, I can tell you that being a graduate student is a lot different from being an undergrad student. Everyone in the program is very self-motivated. We work a lot more efficiently as a group. Since the program is heavily case-based and group-based, having good interpersonal skill is very important. But it’s fun! From what I can see, everyone in the program is enjoying themselves and our groups; most of us met new people and got to know a lot of new friends.

The spring semester will start on January 8th. But when we come back to campus, we will not see the KPMG students anymore. I was talking to some KPMG students the other day and he said he met (and befriended) more non-KPMG program students than he originally expected. I was glad to hear that, but also realized that– unlike me– he would be leaving soon and coming back for the summer term to finish up his degree. It’s a unique program.

Time for me to relax over break. See you in January!

MAcc Fall Reception

As a way to wrap up the first semester of the MAcc program, all MAcc students, faculty, and staff came together this past Friday night to celebrate one last time before winter break. The evening consisted of a cocktail hour, dinner, and reception.

The cocktail hour was by far one of my favorite portions of the evening. Not because of the cocktails, but rather, the casual aspect of the cocktail hour. I was able to jump around from classmate to classmate and reconnect with them. I was even able to reconnect with some of my undergraduate professors (who also teach in the MAcc program) and update them about my life– and thank them for all that they have done for me. Once the cocktail hour ended, we sat down and had a delicious dinner. Following dinner, Professor Zach had the opportunity to give a speech. He had the whole room laughing and reminding us of all the good times we had this past semester. Additionally, a guest speaker came in who was also a part of the MAcc program a few years ago herself.

Trying to be cool at the MAcc receptionAfter the MAcc reception ended, a number of us enjoyed the nightlife Columbus offers. It’s crazy to think that we are halfway done with our MAcc (and some of us are 87.5% done with our college career). I will miss some of my peers who will go off and do an internship this spring semester through the KPMG program. However, I will continue to work hard and to make those lifelong connections!