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.

SMF End of Autumn Social Dinner

Ah, winter break! That time when you can get caught up on things like Dexter and your SMF blog posts.  For this blog post I present you with another great reason to come to Ohio State: extracurricular dinners with classmates! (For those of you counting that’s two exclamation marks in one paragraph.)

We recently went out to Buca di Beppo for an SMF dinner date with friends and family.  The best part for me was finally getting to bring my girlfriend out in a social setting and introduce her to all my classmates.  By now my classmates and I have all become pretty good friends, so I think the time was definitely right to bring in my significant other. Luckily, everyone was very nice to her (of course they would be!) and having her along gave us something to talk about besides finance, which was nice.

Which also brings up another good reason to have as many SMF dinner dates as possible: Talking about things besides finance!  It’s very nice to have the opportunity to interact with my classmates outside of the classroom, which we don’t get to do very often what with all the school work and studying.  We talked about how Ohio is so much colder than Florida.  We talked about how weird the food was compared to back home (a.k.a. China). We helped cheer up a classmate who had recently broken up with his girlfriend.  And we definitely got to stare at Ben’s cute children (photos after the jump).

Get To Know Your Peers

 I overheard an interesting conversation during my last week at work in September that left me scratching my head. The rest of the dialogue is mostly irrelevant, but it ended with one guy saying to the other, “Hey, get it straight – we are coworkers, not friends.” He did not mean it to be rude, but that is certainly how it comes across to me. Moreover, why do the two have to be mutually exclusive? In my opinion, the same goes for classmates. You know you will be spending a great deal of time with the same group of people (especially in a program like the SMF, where all four autumn quarter classes are taken together), so why not get to know them on a more personal level.

I firmly believe that my experience has been enhanced by getting to know my peers outside the classroom. Some of this is through organized events, which I think are great ideas. Many students in the SMF program have expressed their enjoyment from the Summit Vision trip from the beginning of the year. Although some of the activities had a business world undertone, this set the stage for getting students to interact with one another outside of an academic environment. Throughout the quarter, interactions between many of us shifted from strictly school-related to more social in nature.

Another great event was the happy hour at Hampton’s where all Fisher grad students were in attendance, and the SMF students met there a couple hours early to have our own private party. I recall a fellow classmate saying how happy and surprised he was that almost none of the conversation was revolved around school. The same can be said for our end of the quarter dinner at Bravo. Even with professors in attendance, I overheard very little academic discussion. Although there are clearly a number of fantastic organized activities, there is still a bit of a “school-related function” tag to it.

Shedding this tag has been relatively easy and enjoyable. A handful of us have been playing pick-up basketball together, and I know of others doing the same with soccer. I had the luxury of being with my family, but I know a number of students got together and spent Thanksgiving together. I attended a Christmas party last week with a few people. And I am sure I am not the only person who has shared a few beverages on weekends with classmates.

While this may seem like a bunch of rambling about my interactions with SMF counterparts (basically, it is), it is meant to urge people to embrace getting to know their peers. It can be very simple, but you have to put forth a little effort. Everyone has a busy schedule, and unless you are new to an area, your own circle of friends. I encourage everyone to break out of that comfort zone. Having friends for colleagues makes work more bearable and at times even enjoyable. The same sentiment applies in the working world. If nothing else, it is a great excuse to hit a happy hour.

Interviews and Using Career Management

I have said it to a number of people this quarter – a huge part of the reason I came back to grad school at Fisher was for the Career Management Office opportunities and connections. I cannot compare to other universities because I have attended only OSU, but I know it is well-respected. The real benefit is when comparing to the alternative of searching on your own, something you are unfortunately forced to do in the real world. I could go on for days about the hassle of personal job searches, but I’ll leave that for another post (actually, for everyone’s benefit, I’ll probably pass, it would just be me reliving and venting frustration).

The point here is to emphasize a few of the most important lessons I have learned in my second go-around with interviewing and Career Management.

First, as I have mentioned, is to USE THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO YOU!! Set up meetings with your advisor. Let them know what you want to do and they can point you in the right direction (shoutout to Audra!). Not to mention the numerous connections that people in the office have. It is an entire department devoted to finding students jobs at one of the largest universities in the country – they know a few people.

Next, even if you are not in love with some of the opportunities on Fisher Connect during fall quarter, schedule a few interviews anyway. Too many students make the mistake of seeing a ton of opportunities immediately available and thinking it will always be that way. However, recruiting is heaviest in the fall, so take a few chances while you have the options. If nothing else, schedule a couple of interviews for the experience. Familiarize yourself with the process – it never hurts to practice. Also, if you have the chance to interview on-site with a company, you usually have the chance to meet students from other similar programs, which is both fun and useful (mostly to brag about how much better Fisher is than their program. My personal favorite is to let them know I am from “THE Ohio State University” and correct them if they leave out “THE” at any point). And if you’re really scraping for a benefit, a lot of these will have networking events with free food. Which brings me to my next point…

If you have the choice, do not schedule Thursday evening classes. This is something that I discussed with many interviewees from various schools. I personally had two separate opportunities during fall quarter where the company held a networking or pre-interview session on Thursday night and interviews on Fridays, and two of these required some travel, so I had to choose between missing the event or missing class. This may be an easy decision for some of you, but I would avoid the quandry altogether if possible.

Finally, and very generally, using career management and setting up a few interviews gives you a great idea of what is out there, what people are looking for, and potentially sets you up with some options to keep on the back burner while you pursue your dream job.

Office of Career Management, I will gladly accept any gifts you would like to send my way for this awesome endorsement!

If You Are In Columbus Over the Holidays…

If you are spending your winter break in Columbus, campus can seem quite empty, so here are a few ideas to keep you occupied and entertained during the rest of December.

1. Zoo Lights (Pictured Above)

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been hosting “Wildlights” for 23 years now. It runs every day in December other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As you can see from the photo above, it is quite breathtaking. Perfect for a date or a family trip.

2. Easton Town Center

This is not a specific event, but, in my opinion, Easton has some of the best Christmas atmosphere around. If you are not familiar, it is an indoor/outdoor mall/shopping center in New Albany. They string up a crazy amount of lights, have decorations all throughout the grounds, and of course, you can see Santa there. I could not find a picture to do it justice, so here is the link to a clip on their website of the lighting ceremony. Actually, even if you are not going to go, I would still watch the video. If you can make it through without getting psyched for Christmas, your name might be Ebenezer.

3. Go to a Columbus Blue Jackets or OSU Hockey game

I have been to one of each this year. If you have never attended a hockey game, I recommend giving it a shot. I am the first to admit hockey gets pretty boring on TV, but the live action is worth the price of admission (especially the OSU games – only $11 for a lower bowl seat last week). You can check out the Blue Jackets schedule and the OSU schedule.

If nothing else, take a stroll downtown or through the short north. There are always holiday lights, decorations, and specials.

Also, there are a few New Year’s Eve events such as First Night Columbus as well as various hotel celebrations, but that is more personal preference.