Archive for September, 2007

The What and the How

Have you ever executed an analysis perfectly and then learned that the analysis didn’t hit the mark with regards to What was needed. My engineering education provided me with many tools, so I’ve always been good at knowing How to complete an analysis, but that’s only gotten me half way to the finish line.

A recent accounting class at Darden really brought this concept home. My class had just finished an accounting case where we had applied activity based costing to allocate fixed costs. Armed with this tool, most of us spent 2-3 hours in our next learning team debating the appropriate drivers to allocate the fixed costs in our next case. It wasn’t until we finished the allocations that we realized fixed costs were irrelevant to the current business situation. We spent our time determining how to allocate fixed costs rather than discussing what costs were important to business.

Every MBA program teaches the how and the what in different proportions, and it’s important to understand which elements you need to develop. If you have an engineering or technical education (like myself), you probably have a pretty good handle on how to complete an analysis and apply a framework. If you have spent time managing people and organizations, you might have your bearings with regards to what are the right tools to address a business problem.

Another consideration is the career field you seek to enter. If you are looking at a specific technical function such as asset valuation, you will probably need to bone up on how to apply different valuation tools. The more general and cross-functional the career, the more you will be challenged with determining what tools are appropriate.

Once you have an understanding of your development needs, you should consider the teaching focus of your target MBA programs. An assessment of the teaching methods employed can be a good indicator of the programs focus. I’ve included some examples below.

What: cases, class discussion, team discussion, simulations
How: text books, lectures, technical notes, excel models

High Touch

Darden’s slogan is ‘high touch, high tone, high octane’. I have heard this slogan many times, seen it on flags, in PowerPoint presentations – now I pass road signs with the slogan every morning when driving to the Darden Grounds. For those of us already part of the Darden community, the slogan is like saying ‘the sky is blue’.

Let me reflect on the Darden ‘high touch’ experience, which refers to the high level of interaction between students, faculty, and staff. Although this term was initially in reference to the Darden classroom environment, the ‘high touch’ clearly extends outside the classroom. This last weekend is a good example of the Darden ‘high touch’ social scene.

Movies – Friday night, my wife and I met up with another Darden couple to see a late night movie

Darden Cup – On Saturday morning I joined my section at the Darden Cup event, which was a football tournament between the five first year sections. Over half of the first year class attended and most students that attended played football. My section was able to recruit our Decision Analysis professor to attend. I believe all 5 professors of another section attended.

LASA Fund Raiser – Saturday evening my wife and I joined two other Darden couples for dinner at a local restaurant. Darden’s Latin American Student Association (LASA) had organized for 12.5% of proceeds at this restaurant to be donated to survivors of the earthquake in Peru. This casual event was attended by close to two hundred students, faculty, and staff. From our table we could see students talking with Darden’s Director of Student Affairs and Darden’s Director of Admissions.

Learning Team – Sunday evening a member of my learning team cooked dinner for our team at her house. During dinner, we were joined by a second year student who provided advice on how to make the most of our learning team. Later we prepared for our Monday classes.

Compared to my undergraduate university, Darden has a very strong sense of community. Most of this is probably driven by the school size (310 in my class) and the school’s small town location (Charlottesville, VA).