New Life, New Challenges

This is the fourth week since I’ve arrived in the U.S. Classes began on August 22 so that I have met all the professors teaching the courses I’m enrolled in. Life is tremendously busy, including for us international students. We had so many orientations, workshops, seminars as well as welcome parties at the beginning of the semester. Class schedule at Ohio State is different from last year since we transferred from quarter to semester. OSU used to have 3 quarters for one academic year. But now it has 2 semesters and each semester is divided into 2 seven week sessions. So, it’s definitely a challenge. However, group projects have made assignments very interesting and efficient. As a new arrival, I would like to give several hints to international students. I hope that they can be helpful for new international students getting accustomed to new surroundings here.

Do you need a pickup and temporary accommodation?

If you don’t know anyone to pick you up when you arrive at Port Columbus airport and need temporary accommodations for a few days before you can move into your apartment, you can contact IFI for help. IFI volunteers are so nice and helpful! My friends and I lived in a volunteer’s house for a few days. The hostess drove us to Chase Bank and AT&T to get our bank account and cell phone numbers set up. We had a good time together and I truly appreciate their kindness and assistance.

Come to U.S. several days earlier before your orientation begins.

Some people suffer from time lag when they travel to another country. I came from China so I had to turn my biological clock 12 hours backward. Luckily I seemed to adjust to the Eastern Standard Time (“EST”) after a goodnight sleep on my first day arrival. You need to open your bank account and get a SIM card for your cell phone. You also prefer to buy furniture for your apartment unless it’s provided already by the apartment complex. Thus it’s a good idea to come to Columbus at least 4 days earlier before orientation begins.

I need to go to campus for another workshop now. I’ll write about academic stuff and other interesting events in the following blogs.

Ohio State football games are on the way. GO BUCKEYES! ! !

A lot of pizza and a little bit of finance

Just a quick blog post before my Thursday 8:30 AM class (BUSFIN 6221: Industry, Risk & Pricing with Prof. Brandl… I’ll probably write a post about him at some point… he’s a lot of fun in the classroom)…

Most of you may not know that I got my BS in Electrical (& Computer) Engineering from tOSU in 2002 (I put the “& Computer” in parentheses because that was a name change implemented AFTER I chose Electrical Engineering as a major… I assure you that I am not qualified to program a computer, build a computer, or fix a computer). During my time at tOSU from 1997-2002, I probably ate Adriatico’s pizza half a dozen times and never really thought it was great (though it was the favorite pizza of many of my friends at the time). Then I went about 10-12 years without having it, until last Friday, when the Fisher Graduate Finance Association (FGFA) provided Adriatico’s pizza for free at their Info Session. (Aside: If you want “college kids” to attend anything, provide food. If you feed them, they will come.) Though I love pizza, and especially free pizza, I didn’t truly appreciate Adriatico’s until recently. It was AWESOME!!!

Yesterday after class, a number of my SMF classmates and I couldn’t help but notice some tables set up out in the “quad” (I actually don’t know what the open area in the middle of all the buildings is called). There were large open boxes of pizza (again, Adriatico’s) on the tables. It was free; provided by the good folks at Ernst & Young. They also gave out free t-shirts (“I <3 EY”).

In light of all the free-food opportunities at tOSU, my classmates and I have decided to found the Fisher Finance Food Association. Do you like Finance? Yes. Do you like Food? Yes. Welcome!!!

On to class… Prof. Brandl doesn’t like technology out while he lectures. Computers and phones in their cases, or incur his wrath.

You saw Captain at 1 year. Here he is at about 9 weeks.

From Classmates to Friends

As a graduate student, I didn’t know how much of the normal student body I would be exposed to throughout the year, so a few of my SMF classmates and I took part in one of OSU’s Welcome Week events. The university put on a concert with Big Sean headlining. Six of us met up before just to hang out before with the main act not starting until 9:00 or so. Since most of us aren’t familiar with the campus, it was quite an adventure trying to navigate by foot across campus to the South Oval. We went up and down a few streets and alleys, maybe circling the same building a few times.

Once we got to the North Oval, which is next to the library, we could hear thousands of freshman screaming, yelling and singing along from about 200 yards away. The opening acts were just finishing up, so our timing was perfect. We all piled into the crowd and got to enjoy the fun that was a outdoor concert with thousands of others.

Big Sean at OSU

The concert was fun, but the best part was the bonding that went on through the entire ordeal between us. After, we all decided to swing by the nearest Jimmy Johns for a quick bite to eat then continued to enjoy each other’s company for the rest of the night. It may have just been some silly concert, but it was the start of turning people who were just classmates into friends.

“Chef” Restaurants in Columbus

In my attempt to adapt to the rapid moving life style of a Fisher SMF graduate student, I have personally failed already in my attempt to save more money.  How does one save money?  Cooking at home for most is the best start.   The average meal I have cooked at home thus far costs me roughly $3.50.   Eating out?  Roughly $12 (after tip) and can grow exponentially if you find yourself ordering alcohol.  If any good has come from my failed attempt to cook is that I have discovered two very good home-style restaurants that offer great options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Chef-O-Nette (2090 Tremont Center, Upper Arlington)

Styled from an era before this millennium, don't be fooled by the offerings of its menu.

Chef-O-Nette’s interior is similar to what one would expect a diner to look like from the 1950s.  I went for lunch with a few friends and discovered a must have item. Their milkshakes. Diners are traditionally known for greasy food and milkshakes, and Chef-O-Nette answers to the call.  Priced a bit steep in my opinion ($3.50 for approx 16oz), the taste makes up for any raised eyebrows on the cost.  I chose the vanilla which was far superior to any shake at Shake-N-Shake or Johnny Rockets.  I politely asked for a free refill but the waitress laughed and looked as if I was psychotic.   The lunch menu offerings are mostly a la cart, but fairly priced in my judgement. I chose a chesseburger and it was excellent.  Its a 1/3 lb patty cooked medium well by default and comes with all the trimmings for only $3.50. Adding fries will cost an additional $2.00 only.   The restaurant however has their “claim to fame” item, which is the “Hangover Sandwich”. Perfect for those late Saturday and Sunday mornings, the Hangover comes with a hamburger patty shacked with shaved ham as well.   In all, Chef-O-Nette is perfect for a breakfast or lunch, with a nostalgic diner feeling paired with excellent customer service.   It is no wonder Google Reviews gave it a 27/30.

Chef’s House (5454 Roberts Road, Hillard)

The second “Chef” restaurant is another diner style restaurant just west of Columbus in Hillard.   Like our first choice, the menu is full of traditional diner items, with a classical, yet simplistic decor inside.  Rumor from the streets was Chef’s House has a major specialty on the menu that sets a favored breakfast item apart from anyone else.   Established in 1989, Chef House’s hash-n-eggs is a cardiac pumping treat.

Chef's House: Tasty Hash and Eggs to get the heart pumping

While most restaurants that offer hash and eggs usually serve some version out of a can, traditionally with tiny diced potatoes and grounded up corned beef (or even ground beef), Chef House’s hash is from scratch.   The actual corned beef part of this meal is ripped pieces of corned beef, pan cooked to perfection with sliced onions and peppers.   The potatoes are sliced pieces that are added as an optional side.   Eggs come with the meal and the portion is generous for about $8.99.   While I wouldn’t recommend eating this daily per the FDA, this is most definitely a treat and worth the drive down interstate 70.   The menu offers traditional mom and pop diner food such as sandwiches, soups and burgers. It would be serving the eggs and hash a great disservice to fail to even consider this meal when ordering.   Urban Spoon rated Chef’s House 8/10, but the hash is a perfect 10 in my book.

In all, the quest to find “Chef’s” in the Columbus area proved to be fruitful for those times I choose to not be one myself.

JB

Not Your Average Ice-breaker

Taking a leap of faith on the Summit Vision Zipline

The Fisher Specialized Master’s program kicked off the semester with a bang. After an exciting first day of orientation, the second Fisher SMF class headed to the Summit Vision ropes course for a fun-filled day in the sky (and on the ground). Summit Vision lays claim to a multitude of team building activities that focus on fostering communication, trust, problem-solving skills, and leadership among other values. It was the ideal setting for this green group of young professionals to mesh and form bonds that will continue to grow throughout our ten months together (and long into the future).

The fun-loving and competitive spirit of our SMF program was on showcase throughout the experience. Activities such as the 50 foot zip-line and the “Pamper Pole” allowed students to get in touch with their daring side and take a “leap of faith” if you will. Some of the yips and yells that resounded through the area were priceless. On the other hand, several ground activities encouraged teamwork and innovation. The competition to record the best times in these ground initiatives got intense and led to some good-natured banter among teams.

As much as we learned as a group, I think the greatest takeaway from the Summit Vision experience was the groundwork that was laid for this recently introduced group to transform into one big family. As the professors have already made evident, this year is definitely not going to be a “walk in the park.” It is important that we have fellow students to lean on when the “going gets tough.” After our orientation and morning at Summit Vision, I can confidently say we have a group of students that will get through the toughest of times together.

Side Note:

After seeing several of our SMF students in action, I have a feeling the university’s intramural leagues better be prepared for a serious contender coming out of the Fisher School of Business this year!

Treat it like it’s your job

I’m an outlier. The average age of the 2012-13 class of SMF students is around 23 years; I’m 33. The average work experience of the group is about 1.5 years; I’ve been out in “the real world” for 10 years. So maybe it’s just that I don’t know any other way to approach this SMF thing than this: I plan to treat it like it’s my job.

Some of you reading this post may not have ever had a real job before (you know, the kind that pays you well enough to support yourself, independent of your parents, and, in exchange, requires you to dedicate a significant portion of your time, brain power and effort). Here are just a few tips for treating something like it’s your job…

Be on time. By this I mean to include both showing up on time and completing your work on time (sounds simple, but most people have a hard time dealing with the planning fallacy)

Check email regularly. So much information gets shared through email. If you’re not checking yours regularly, what are you missing?

Calendar everything. When I was 23, I truly believed I could remember every appointment I had just because I was so darn smart. Ten years later I’ve learned that relying on your ability to remember everything isn’t so smart the first time you miss a meeting with someone you might have wanted to impress (client, boss, love interest). Forget gold; time is the most precious commodity on earth. For that reason, time management is really, really important. Check out this book if you want some guidance on the topic. (Side note: I got a new boss in March 2010. About a month later, I approached him to ask about his early thoughts on how I could improve my performance at work. All he said back was, “I don’t know how you organize your time.” Then he handed me a copy of Getting Things Done, the book I link to above.)

Dress for work. Sad but true: people will judge you based on how you look. Personally, I’d rather be pre-judged as competent and well-groomed than have to exert extra effort trying to change people’s first impressions to the contrary. Wear shorts and flip flops if you want… just don’t be surprised when people treat you like a person who wears shorts and flip flops.

Step up and lead. There are opportunities to lead all around us. And the beautiful thing is that we each get to choose our own level of involvement. So the next time a leadership opportunity presents itself, why not take it? Afraid of failure? Guess what, so is everyone else. To quote Mark Twain: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

To wrap my very first blog post up, and to show you, kind reader, that I am not just the miserly old man in the classroom, I will share with you a picture of something I love…

My dog, Captain, who turns 1 on Monday, August 27th

 

 

In The Presence of Greatness

When evaluating whether or not to return for grad school for the SMF degree, I came up with a litany of “pros”, most of which have come to fruition. One that I had not given much thought to is the exposure to unbelievably successful people right in the classroom. Certainly I knew I would be among other motivated and talented students, many of whom will be worthwhile friends and acquaintances moving forward. Also, as I have mentioned before, there is a great gateway to an unbelievable number of companies via our Career Services Team. What has been more surprisingly impressive is the quality and quantity of professionals we interact with every day in the classroom.

Just in the past week, I have met the CEO of Bob Evans (Steve Davis) in a class co-taught by the former CEO of Hyperion/President of Americas at FedEx (Jeff Rodek – who was also told he was one of 3 people in the company who could replace founder and current CEO Fred Smith) and former Chairman of Sears Mexico/CAO at Cardinal Health (Tony Rucci). I had the pleasure of meeting with the current President of JobsOhio (Mark Kvamme), who also happens to be one of the more successful venture capitalist partners from one of the most well-known companies, Sequoia. Although much of what he told us was confidential, let’s just say he was in on the ground floor of some incredibly savvy investments into what are now global icons. And this is for a class co-taught by the CFO of Ohio State University, and a quite successful Asset Manager at JPMorgan in his own right, along with a well-respected and published professor, Michael Weisbach. Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting with a Senior Analyst and a VP from Wells Fargo Equity Research. To sum that up in the parlance of our times, most of these people are on the short list of Google results for searching only their first name. And that was just this week!

Although last week was admittedly more action-packed than most, it is certainly not out of the ordinary. We have countless other opportunities to meet with incredibly successful and well-respected professionals and professors on a daily and weekly basis, something many people probably take for granted. Sometimes you need to step back and realize just how remarkable many of our interactions at Fisher can be.

Fisher SMF Students Partner with Prominent Companies in Spring Projects

One of the many benefits of the SMF program is the Spring Quarter project we all get to work on with various Finance-related firms. The nature and scope vary to fit the interests and focus of everyone in the program. For those not familiar, we rank our preferences of which projects we would like to participate in, then we are assigned to teams (typically three students) and will work with these companies on a specific project for most of Spring Quarter.

Some of the companies involved are nationally renown – JP Morgan (2 projects), Wells Fargo (2 projects), and Nationwide. Others are major employers within the state of Ohio – Worthington Industries, STRS (State Teachers Retirement System), and of course, Ohio State. We actually have five projects tied to the university – two with the office of the CFO, two with the Wexner Medical Center, and one with OSU Technology & Commercialization. There are also projects from Lazear Capital Partners, Alpha Squared Capital Management, Diamond Hill Capital Management, and Perfect Practice (a medical start-up).

Generally, the projects focus on a number of the main topics we study in the program – trading, corporate finance, and investments. More specifically, we will be involved in real-world issues such as assessing M&A targets internationally, researching and acting on historical market trends, and helping to get a start-up firm off of the ground to name a few. With opportunities from asset management firms, securities research firms, pension funds, boutique investment banks, manufacturing firms, higher education, medical-related enterprises, and even start-ups, we are incredibly fortunate to have such a broad array of possibilities. Most of us are looking to get in to one of these specific fields, and partnering with a group of established professionals will prove to be invaluable experience to jump-start our careers.

Although the specifics of each project are confidential for now, I will continue to post about our experiences with this project throughout Spring Quarter.

 

Experience in a case-based course

I had the opportunity to take a “cases” course this quarter, which is something I had not previously experienced. For those who do not know exactly what this means, the course is based entirely on published cases or real-life scenarios emphasizing a particular subject matter. There is no textbook and there are no tests. For every class, you read the assigned case ahead of time, usually with some preparatory questions to help guide your thought process. Each class is a guided discussion of the case.

While it is not as easy as it may seem, I found it to be an incredibly useful experience. Of all the times you hear “you get out what you put in”, it actually rings true in this instance. You can spend anywhere from 1-5 hours preparing for a given case. If you have truly studied and considered every aspect of the case, you have a great deal to contribute to the discussion. If not, you are lost for parts of the debate and cannot connect the pieces of all of the points being raised.

For our particular class, we were required to prepare a group presentation for one case and individual case analyses for two cases. Clearly, I spent more time preparing for those particular cases, and I can certainly say that I learned a great deal not only from those tasks, but especially from the discussions that followed. Essentially, taking the time to thoroughly prepare then hearing everyone else’s perspective allows you to see how you missed certain aspects, or thought of something in a completely different manner. I found this to be especially applicable to real world situations where there is no answer key, just opinions and precedent.

A general takeaway from the class is that you cannot be afraid to voice your opinion. While it may seem “dumb”, it could be that your particular expertise provides a fresh perspective that others would not consider. With everyone speaking in a diverse class, you get a great variety of insights and points-of-view. Also, a nice benefit is that you can miss a class and not fall behind because the subject matter is typically unrelated from one class to the next.

Obviously, this type of class is only relevant for certain subjects, but Corporate Finance is one where it is particularly useful. Rather than learning additional formulas and terms, you are forced to apply knowledge, not just regurgitate it on a test. If you are considering a career in a field where a cases course is offered, I highly recommend it. It allows you to learn a great deal about the subject as well as how your peers view and treat the material. In a professional environment, it is not always about right and wrong, but rather understanding how the issues are approached by those around you.

When the daily grind is too much, take a much needed break

I consider myself to be a rational person. I enjoy warm weather and am not a big fan of snow. It has barely snowed in Columbus this winter. I should be happy. Instead, I trekked over to the mini-mountains of Pennsylvania and exposed myself to 48 straight hours of snow. Midterms really will drive you insane.

Ok, so I did not just sit in the snow for no apparent reason. I went on a ski trip with nine of my good friends. The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, if you have never tried skiing, give it a shot in the next month or so before “winter” is over. More importantly, take breaks from classes and/or work. To put the first point to rest, I have skied fewer times than Jeremy Lin has started an NBA game, so you don’t have to be good to have fun. Just set up shop on the “green cirle” hills (the easiest level), and you will do just fine.

On to the bigger point – you need some escape from the grind of classwork, projects, midterms, and whatever else a job brings on a daily basis. Certainly a weekend on the beach would be even better, but any getaway can rejuvenate you (mentally; physically, skiing is not the best “rejuvenator”) after a few stressful weeks. Plan something with a few friends once a month or so, even if it is nothing big. For those in Columbus, some ideas are: a trip to Cleveland to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Cincinnati for a riverboat gambling trip (be responsible!), Canton to the Professional Football Hall of Fame, or any other nearby city just to visit a different place (Toledo, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh) that are only a few hours away by car or bus and are reasonably cheap. It is a great way to break up the quarter, giving you something to look forward to for a few weeks at a time, then, of course, actually serving as a getaway for a weekend.

This is something I have tried to do for the last several years. As great as it is to take breaks from school, I appreciated it even more in my two years in a professional environment. With school you have 10-15 weeks of certain classes, then everything changes. In an actual job, it can seem like there is no end goal in sight. Sure, this plan costs some money, but, in my opinion, a little cash is worth my sanity.

And if anyone actually wants to take my advice, the next destination is Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day. I have already started my countdown.