Saturday, February 23, 2013

Negotiating for a Week

I heard good things from Jim-the-janitor about professor Rob Thomas' The Art and Science of Negotiation elective. He said the elective was much better than the others, and I figured, this guy is bringing water and soda and sugary goodies into these classrooms every hour - he knows what he's talking about.

UF MBA, Negotiation, University of Florida MBA
Jim was right - the class was awesome. While most of my cohort was planning to travel to far off lands filled with Malbec (Argentina) or debt (Dubai) for their elective requirement, I was sitting in the beautiful Gainesville, having home-made dinners from one of the best chefs I know, going on roller-coaster rides in a BMW X5 M Series that growls when you walk by it, and learning how to negotiate a good price for avocados at Publix. I spent the week with two of the class' finest - Jason and Daniel.

Jason brought a giant tent that he pitched just outside of Daniel's house, and I, being the woodsie New Hampshire guy that loves to camp and poop in the woods and take advantage of free showers at Hough Hall, promised I'd join him for the week.

The week was pretty intense - the whole time, I was reading, preparing for role play negotiations and studying for quizzes. Thomas does a fantastic job, though. His nonchalant, engaging way about him makes you interested in what he has to say, and his dirty little awkward jokes always keep you on your toes, wondering when the next one would spill from his mouth. I'm not one for dirty jokes, but I am one for quirks that make lectures - or anything for that matter - more interesting.

I learned that negotiating is about finding a win-win for each party. This was of course disappointing in that the first thought that usually comes to mind when hearing the word "negotiation" is "Screw the opposing party." I pictured role plays where I was Jack Donaghy and Daniel was Tracy Jordan, and I told him if he didn't accept my pay decrease, he'd be fired.

On the contrary, the negotiation role plays were almost always about finding a middle ground. The lectures were also drenched in coming up with the best solution for two parties who want something different. In fact, I thought the class applied to a whole lot more than basic business negotiations. I now know how to get my daughter to eat her peas, I know how to coerce my wife to have a sip or two of wine when she's pregnant (and she is), and I now have confidence to step into a Publix and get avocados for dirt cheap (although my social guard still won't let me do it).

I lasted one night with Jason in his tent - I just couldn't resist Daniel's abode. I had practically half the house to myself, which included a sink to brush my teeth, a water thingie coming out of the fridge to get my routine glass of water in the middle of the night, and tons of pillows. I love pillows.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pontificating on Meal Vouchers

In my wallet, I have nearly $50 bucks of on-campus meal vouchers. One of the perks of paying $40,000 for the Working Professional UF MBA is that an $8.99 meal voucher is waiting for you when you arrive to Gainesville every month. I just love getting to class, seeing a pile of small envelopes - each with one of our names - and fishing through to find my vouchers. Additionally, if there were one or two envelopes of vouchers still hanging around by 11:00am, I'd take 'em. Nah, I wouldn't take them, I'd pressure other people to take them. Nah - I wouldn't pressure other people to take them, I'd just dream about taking them, think about it for a long while, then finally decide to take them. I'd walk over to the empty pile and realize someone else already took them. Ugh - I need to get better at life.

Saving up meal vouchers is the natural progression of life in the Working Professional UF MBA program. In the beginning, it's like, "Schweeet! Free meal." You can go to the on-campus Starbucks and grab a dried-out sandwich, or head over to Panda Express to fill your stomach with gourmet sodium. 

But as you get sick of walking over to a cafeteria or a cafeteria-of-chain-fast-food-restaurants, you long for something more succulant. Something fresh and amazing, perhaps a place where you're herded like cows through a rat race of who-can-mak-a-burrito-faster. Chipotle filled this void and was right next to the business school. Other, better places were Burrito Brothers (sweet potato burrito is unreal) or Bistro 1245 (grilled three-cheese and butternut squash soup is to die for), but right next to Hough Hall.

So, instead of using our $8.99 vouchers - our "free" money to satisfy our tummies - many of us went out and spent $10 bucks of our own cash on something more fulfilling. When I taste the warmth of that butternut squash soup on a cool, Sunday afternoon in January after having sat through four hours of lecture, I get renewed... and fatter (pretty sure the only ingredient in that soup is cream).

This spending behavior left many of us with extra meal tickets, or shall I say Starbucks SWAG tickets. We quickly found out we could use these vouchers for whatever goodies Starbucks had to offer. I now have mugs I don't need, I've bought more Kind bars than I know what to do with, and I've chewed on $2 sleeves of cashews that are perfect for my drive back to St. Augustine. 

Now, even despite having purchased all of these little Starbucks goodies, I have $50 bucks. What to do what to do.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gucci Belts and Venture Finance

Venture Finance was engaging. With his designer shirts and big ol' Gucci belt, Professor Rossi paces around the front of the classroom in an attempt to get more steps added to his pedometer. Enthusiasm sweats from his brow.

I was pumped about venture finance. At the time, I was working for a private equity firm so I had a natural interest in a non corporate-finance finance class. Also, it seems that private equity is popping up everywhere, so the timing of the class seemed fitting. 

The Handsome Flying V's Final Presentation
We learned about angel investors, private equity funding, bootstrapping, having your "skin in the game" and lastly, how to succeed in life. "How to succeed in life" (my coined term) was my favorite part. In the last class, Rossi puts finance to the side for a bit and presents corporate brands that dominate. He highlights Apple (of course), Southwest, Harley Davidson and Disney. I'm a branding strategy guy, so the conversation was music to my ears. As Rossi put it, "it's all about the experience," which I couldn't agree with more.

At one point, he described a Gator football game, of which I attended two this past year (SC and LSU). Dang those games are such a blast (even for someone who can't name but two players on the field). Rossi asked a question, "Why do we opt into standing in the scorching sun for four hours, screaming next to sweaty drunkards, dealing with overloads of traffic, buying $5.00 bottles of gatorade? Especially when your couch is so much more comfortable? Why would nearly 90,000 crazies do such a thing every Saturday?" Of course, it's about the experience. 

Rossi showed us how to gauge the health of a company through their financial statements, and he taught us how to ask the right questions to understand the most important part of a company - the people. But outside of the people, the class really came down to understanding and quantifying risks. Risks are everywhere and management risks, sales and marketing risks, development risks, and commercialization risks are the foundation of valuation. 

We got a double whammy of risks in this Term 2 - while Rossi was busy caressing his Gucci belt, we were also learning how to not be like the former BP CEO in Risk and Crisis management, taught by Professor Florig. 

For the finance final, every team had to put together a valuation and presentation for Zipcar, the hippy, Boston-born car-sharing club. If you want to learn more about it, let me know - you learn a lot about a company after sitting through 14 presentations on them. No question, our team's presentation was the best. Brad, our New England accented sports fanatic, thought it'd be fun to have a cocktail party in the front of the classroom. We popped open a fake bottle of Sam Adams, and we were off. Rossi was speachless, and awarded us an A.

Cocktail Party Final Presentation
I was glad the term was over because it meant a party was due. Derrick, in his infinite wisdom, opted for a keg of magic juice (or whatever drink name would imply a sugary liquid that goes down too easy and effects your brain too quickly). We partied at the top of the Holiday Inn, sun shining strong, Five Star pizza trying to soak up that sugary goodness, and stories of the semester floating around the pool. We were halfway through this MBA venture and our risk of making it through were slowly being mitigated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sea Salt and the Professional UF MBA Workload

UF MBA, Working Professional UF MBA, University of Florida MBA
The Working Professional UF MBA Program goes in rhythms of demand. One week, I'm takin' it easy - I get home from work each night, pop open a Jai Alai IPA, go through the motions of my daughter not eating her peas, and search for a respectable movie to watch on Netflix Online (only to find that after an hour, there are no respectable movies on Netflix, and re-runs of Arrested Development or weird, low-budget documentaries would have to suffice).

The next week, I'm going to the Hyppo Cafe every night, sucking down espresso and working on cases, studying for tests or preparing for presentations. Of course, every time there's a busy week at school, it never fails - it is a more demanding week at work.

The combination of these two stresses, and the associated neglect of your family, real social relationships, and fake social relationships (Facebook) that come with it, makes life tricky for a while, especially for us diligent, really-want-to-learn-stuff types.

But you figure it out. For my little family, it was all about finding the breaking point, and going until going any more would result in divorce, a teenage girl that has no self-esteem or Tombstone frozen pizzas (Freschetta pies do not constitute the breaking point - I mean, the sauce is made with sea salt and olive oil). After just barely avoiding a nasty divorce every month, I'm back to playing throw-my-daughter-up-in-the-air-until-my-wife-tells-me-it's-too-high, and other fun games of that nature.

Of course, each professor's workload is different. Most have quizzes every class session, most have various case studies you need to report on, and most have an end-the-term presentation required (in addition to, or replacement of, a final).

In the Working Professional program, you take three classes per term - two, three-credit courses, and one, one-credit course, like Professional Writing or Personal Finance. There's also two weeks when you have to be on campus - the first week, for orientation/foundations review, and the elective week. Alternatively, instead of spending an elective week in Gainesville learning about negotiation tactics or how to construct a business plan, you could do a global immersion. This is where you pay a good amount of cash to spend the week someplace much more glorious and businessy than Gainesville, FL.

Working Professional UF MBA, University of Florida MBANo offense to the beautiful town of Gainesville, with its quaint downtown, its hipster restaurants and eccentric homeless people, but when I think of an epicenter of industry or a business capital of a market, Gainesville, FL just doesn't cry Silicon Valley. But maybe it's just me.

I wanted to go on one of these trips, but at an estimated $5,000ish, I couldn't afford it (I don't work for Lockheed Martin. Aww snap!). Although a trip to Dubai or Buenos Aires sounded like a blast (oh yah - and a great opportunity for learning), my wife convinced me - through the negotiation tactics that I had yet to learn - that we should use the money instead to go on a family trip to Yosemite or Acadia NP after graduation. She had me at Yos..., and I quickly signed up for negotiation class. At least in the negotiation elective, I thought, I'd be able to defend against my wife's unprecedented ability to convince me of just about anything.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Precious Moments with Dr. Jane Douglas

One of the first assignments I completed for Dr. Jane Douglas' Professional Writing class was a personality test. I love those dang tests. I've probably taken 800 of them in my lifetime, and they continue to surprise me with accuracy. I remember one of the questions, "Do you prefer being alone or being with a group?" I picked the group answer, and shortly after, Myers-Briggs told me I was an extrovert. Well I'll be.

Dr. Jane Douglas laughs in the face of your stereotypical professor. She cusses, talks about Jesus and nuns, and wears fitted clothing my grandmother probably wouldn't appreciate, all in the name of tenure. I liked her style - Jane told you how it is. If your writing was crap, she'd let you know through "track changes" notes that read longer than your submission. If your writing was good, she'd tell you why your writing was good.

UF MBA, University of Florida MBA, Grades in MBA
I was torn apart by her grading, which I liked. I'm not talking about 50-Shades-of-Grey-Torture-Weird-Stuff liked. I'm talking Mr-Miyagi-Teaching-Daniel-Son-Wax-On-Wax-off liked. I much prefer and benefit from a class where I get a B and learn a ton rather than a class where I get an A and felt like my time would have been more fruitful had I been cross-stitching Precious Moments scenes.

I write using "it" and "that" way too often, and Jane let me know those words are the devil. Of course, I would have known this if I had nuns for teachers in grade-school, but alas, my only editorial corrections over the last several years have come from Words with Friends.

Jane had us pick writing assignments that are of personal and professional interest - I picked the blog post assignments and the executive summary. The final is a group final, which sounds better than it is. Our assigned group was responsible for putting together one page of writing. We were writing an announcement to employees. Easy enough.

Jane gave some priceless advice before the final, "If this assignment collectively takes you longer than two hours, your paper is probably going to make me want to stab my eye with a sharp object." She was right - if your group didn't connect with the assignment right away, it would promise to be a long project that progressively loses quality from over-thinking. Our paper took five hours, and Jane now sports an eye-patch.

The night of the finals, Derrick, in his amazing event planning wisdom, got the class a stretch limo and a night at 101 Downtown, an urban, music-so-loud-you-have-to-yell type of place. Yah - the bottles of vodka came out with little sparklers attached to them. The bends from my final slowly and melodically turned into awkward dance moves and injured vocal chords. Our first term was officially over. And the next day, at 7:30am sharp, we'd be at it again, save for those who were a little too excited about those pretty sparklers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Zack Morris and Pekin Ogan

If you're in the Internet, Executive or Traditional UF MBA program, it's probably very unlikely that you'll run into the cutest, most lovable old man you'll ever meet - Dr. Pekin Ogan. He only teaches the working professionals (yup - we're the best), and he only teaches one class a year (yup - he's over it) - Managerial Accounting: Critical Perspectives on Decision Making.

Working Professional UF MBA, University of Florida MBA, Accounting
Pekin's smile and Matt's sideburns
Pekin, as he prefers to be called, teaches Managerial Accounting with flawless engagement, focusing on class discussion and endless whiteboard brainstorms as the primary source of learning. He sings, dances, loves his wife, hates the "word" incentivize (it should be motivate), and lives for teaching. Pekin indirectly teaches from a triple-bottom-line management perspective, where people, profits and planet have to play nice together. He despises dumb business, where managers thoughtlessly choose "short term gains" and end up with "long term pains." This concept was drilled through our heads.

Our cohort just ended our second term, and we celebrated with a pool party on the roof at the Holiday Inn with Sonny's Barbeque, Firehouse Subs, Five Star Pizza and kegs of Miller Light - ahh college. Pekin, in his khakis and smile, showed up to join the fun. By the end of the night, he was doing keg stands and playing Flip Cup like it was nobody's business. As Zack Morris used to say, "Hey Slater - I bet your mom can't do keg stands like that!" Actually - I'm pretty sure Zack never said that (wasn't he like, 14?), and I'm pretty sure Pekin never did keg stands, but he was still at the party, shirt off and sipping some cold ones. He was chatting with us about his love for students and his love for companies that choose people over profits.

I learned a ton in Critical Perspectives on Decision Making, and worked hard for an A, thanks to some help from powerful study sessions with a Pepsi financial analyst and New England sports fanatic, Brad, and a tall, finance guru named Jared, who I shared a room with at the Paramount for the first few weekends we were in Gainesville. Jared was the best roommate ever - we stayed up late those first weekends in Gainesville, chatting about our families, our faith, and the anxieties of being in the UF MBA program and having to find time to work on the side.

I was a little bummed out about how, in the first term of the UF MBA program, all of our major tests were on Sunday instead of Saturday. Instead of our cohort flooding downtown Gainesville on Saturday night, celebrating the conclusion of the month's tests by cheerfully volunteering to self-inflicted dehydration, low blood sugar and inflammatory responses from our immune systems, most of us were staking out break-rooms at Hough Hall until 1:00am, doing that last-minute cramming that inevitably becomes from working while going to school and possibly raising a family.

Towards the end of the first term, Pekin told me secretly, as I was showing him his quotes (my tweets) tickering on the giant screen in the middle of Hough Hall, that he just loved our class - it was one of his favorites. I'm sure he says this "secretly" to everyone who tweets him as if he's some renowned business thought leader (which he is in my book), but he had a sincerity and humility about him that sold me. In fact, Pekin has a humility that transfers to your soul every time you shake his hand, or study his smile, or watch his quirky dances. And UF MBA lesson #2 hit me, "Be sincere, be humble, and care more."
UF MBA, Florida MBA, University of Florida MBA, Pekin Ogan, Accounting
My tweets from a weekend with Pekin (and Dudley).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Extroverts and Corporate Finance

I'm an extrovert. I don't think before I talk, I prefer going out every night of the week instead of staying home, curled up on the couch with A River Runs Through It, and I drink tons of water (hoping that I'll have to pee more often throughout the day, inevitably resulting in shorter stints of solitude in my office).

Luckily, us loud-mouth, dominant types are rewarded in the workplace for our ostensibly faulty behaviors. Architects design office space now, completely built around the idea that everyone should have to collaborate all day long with every breathing thing in the company - also known as the open office concept.  Meetings are often biased towards the extravert's ability to think on his/her feet, instead of the introvert's aptitude to actually think about problems and reason through solutions - and then talk. Premiums are paid more for presentations than for substance and critical thinking.

In the UF MBA program, I'm always happy to see that class participation counts towards/against your final grade, and I can imagine that 1/3 of the class is not so happy to see this addition in most syllabuses. Whelp, in Corporate Finance with Professor Dudley, I became an introvert for the first time in my life. Discussions about CAPM and WACC and Cost of Capital and Risk-Free-Rates and Debt and Equity and Risk Aversion and Puts and Calls and Bonds and Stocks and the Black-Scholes Model shut me right up. I was at a loss for words, and every time I opened my mouth to achieve that 10% participation allotment, a sudden sweat would hit my palms, my voice cracked, and my pretend confidence was shattered.

UF MBA, University of Florida MBA, Working Professional UF MBA
Corporate Finance was difficult for me. My brain just doesn't operate like TJ, a sell-side hardline retail broker in Tampa, who probably could have taught Corporate Finance with his eyes closed. I guess I could be complimentary compared to Modigliani and Miller, who said with Nobel Prize Winning authority that finance is a crock of #$^@. Maybe I'm exaggerating their study, or maybe I just like to make myself feel better about not being overly financially inclined - either way, my ignorance in Corporate Finance made me feel naked and vulnerable (don't picture that - otherwise, a hairy back and belly and everything might haunt you forever).

It's funny, I took a few classes in Corporate Finance in my undergraduate business program, but after six years or so, when you have no need to calculate the present value of future cash flows of anything -because you don't have anything - you forget which buttons to press on the financial calculator.

After all is said and done, Corporate Finance was a great class, and the "hotness" rated Dudley was a good professor. He knew his stuff, presented it in a way that kind of made sense (it's me you're talking about), and encouraged thought that went beyond the numbers.  It was like learning a new language to me, where before, all I really knew how to do was conjugate verbs. And I suck at conjugating verbs.

I now know that managers are more scared of debt than equity, I know that Beta is an important yard stick, and I know that the cost of capital is the same exact thing as the required rate of return. I know that MS Excel is responsible for smart-looking people's smartness. I know that forecasting is somewhat of a guessing game with more assumptions than facts, and therefore, reason must accompany numbers. I now know that Dudley's quizzes are easy, and his finals are difficult.

I ended up really appreciating Corporate Finance and getting a B+ for the class. And now, with confidence, I can step away from my computer every hour and tell every living soul on my way to the bathroom how much I know about complex financial forecasting. My poor office-mates.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Happily Peeing Next to UF MBA's

After you have a kid, life flies by. One day, you've got a little baldy with no teeth and a bunch of eczema, and then you blink, and that little rash infested, old-man looking, skullet-sporting creature turns into a walking human being, saying "no" to everything you say. The first term of the UF MBA program rushes by in a similar fashion, but instead of measuring time by rash reductions and length of hair, you measure time by Jason's Facebook posts. 

Every few months, Jason would post up on our cohort's Facebook page how far along we were to receiving that little piece of MBA paper with the $200 frame. When we made it to "P1MBAS13 = .3125 (MBA)," I could hardly believe it. 

As time sneakily flew by, our cohort magically started becoming one giant group of friends. Maybe these friendships were the result of collectively understanding what it's like to sit in a weekend of classes while everyone else is at the beach, or maybe this was the result of a bunch of Type A's with presumably similar interests - Gator football, Tim Tebow, less government intervention, Gator football and Tim Tebow.

Who knows how we all made friends, or how little groups of friends started getting tight, or how anyone becomes friends with anyone. But I like what the articulate and thoughtful C.S. Lewis says about the initial emotion - "Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one!'" 

I pretty much hate Facebook, but using it for groups is genius (and also for stalking people). Every class, we all used our closed Facebook page to write what we were thinking about the class, or to post up a picture of something funny. When I felt a vibration on my iPhone alerting me that the beautifully bearded Matt was asking the tall, body-that-makes-you-not-want-to-take-your-shirt-off-at-a-pool-party Derrick what color deep V t-shirt he was going to wear that evening, I'd watch the whole class gradually smile, like a bunch of drunks doing the wave at a Jaguars game. Or when Candace posted up a link to the Titanic Coloring Book (because every child should be coloring dead bodies in ice cold water, as our eccentric writing professor, Jane Douglas, matter-of-factly presented in class), I randomly laughed out loud, confirming the brand I carried of a bearded homeless man that talks to himself and creepily laughs at his own thoughts.

Our cohort studied together, peed together (those bathrooms are packed during breaks), drank together, learned together and made fun of things together. I read once that a Harvard MBA isn't a Harvard MBA because the curriculum is so far beyond anything else. A Harvard MBA is a Harvard MBA because you're studying with - and peeing next to - really rich and smart people - people that will become major industry and market leaders. I'd say those are good people to know.

At UF, it's no different. I like peeing next to smart, articulate people- people that will, no doubt, become leaders, if they already haven't. I like learning from them and debating with them. I like being philosophically challenged and I like when people have answers to problems that I can't even seem to comprehend. My humble and engaging father told me last week, "It's not about what you know. It's about how you handle what you don't know." No matter how criticized MBA programs are for lacking true value, this personal piece of value goes under the radar in cheap quantitative studies about MBA employment rates and salary levels. The true value, as in anything, is in the people. The UF admissions team, turns out, is not only funny, but good at finding quality people with big bladders. And maybe that's why we're all okay peeing next to each-other - we're in this program to learn, not just from the professors, but from each-other.

UF MBA Group Working Professional Group
What a handsome group! (P1MBAS13) 
-click to enlarge-

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Group Meetings and Thinking Too Much

Studying at home with a screaming toddler running around is problematic, to put it kindly. I remember one night, while preparing for my first team meeting, my little angel was sprinting across the living room in her expensive Seventh Generation diaper, shrieking at the top of her lungs. "What the heck is wrong with her?" I asked my frustrated and ready-to-explode wife. "She only wants to eat yogurt for dinner." I also thought I heard her mumble under her breathe, "I'd way rather be trying to figure out whether a risk-free-rate should be taken from a 20 or 10 year T-Bond than trying to feed a 13 month old peas."

My first call with my new teammates was long, as expected. Each group member wanted everyone else to know that they had read the cases, prepared for the meeting, and was really into this MBA thing. And when five people want to prove that they're awesome at life, you get a two hour meeting that ends where you started.

Due to my obsession with all things google, we did our first few meetings on a google+ video chat, we had dynamic google docs on our screens, collectively making notes (although sometimes I'd sneakishly write, "Dave is hot" in the middle of a long paragraph just to see if people were awake - God I hope we remembered to take those tidbits out of our cases), and we worked through gmail. As all of us were secretly wondering how google makes any money (who ever clicks the sponsored links?!), we got through our first meeting.

I went to the fridge to grab life's most amazing two dollar treat - Stonyfield Oikos Caramel Greek Yogurt. It's heaven, especially after two hours of looking at and listening to my new teammates. Don't get me wrong - I love my teammates. I really do. I just like my bed more. And I'm a people guy! Maybe if we were talking about how all of our days went at work instead of whether Nike's calculated cost of capital was accurate, I wouldn't have needed that little cup of incredible creamy goodness, but this night, I needed it. I needed it bad. And at 110 calories, my figure wouldn't even be compromised - win-win for everybody!

I went to bed and it was about 10:00pm, an hour past my pre UFMBA bedtime and 2 hours past my sit on the couch and watch Modern Family time. My wife was asleep in our King Sized West Elm bed (that we bought - including mattress - off of some good friends that recently moved to Seattle. Of course, everyone knows that buying used mattresses is kinda weird. And then I think about all of those nights I've spent at Hampton Inns on business trips, and how many people peed the bed, or did other things people only do when they're traveling. I remember hearing about a real winner who peed in an ice bucket at a hotel. This guy either felt so free from life's normal and repressive home constraints that he had to show off his autonomy by relieving himself in a cheap plastic bucket, or he had a lot of hot ladies he had to impress. Either way, this guy was super cool, and he's the reason I don't walk around bare foot in my hotel rooms).

Anyway, my wife was sleeping when I got to bed. I shut the lights off for her and grabbed my iPhone to catch up on all of the Draw Something games I was getting nudged on by Landon. While I was finger drawing a figure with a big dress and a pointy hat that looked more like a piece of cheese pizza on a demented person's head (how'd you guess - it's Gandalf!), I got to thinking about everything. Maybe it was those two cups of coffee my wife told me not to drink before the meeting, or maybe it was the mental stimulation from my new knowledgeable teammates. Who knows, but my mind was stirring like a spoon attacking some Arborio rice to craft creamy risotto.

I thought about technology, and how I can't even understand the mechanics of two cans connected by a string, transmitting voices through vibrations, let alone an iPhone that picks up my voice and invisibly and instantly moves it to my brother's house in Santa Cruz, CA - it's magic to me. I thought about politics, and I played in my mind the idea that if one of the presidential candidates used their campaign funds for something other than weightless and snakey ads, I bet the public might actually start trusting their judgment. "Probably not" I chuckled, but come on now - someone has got to be more creative than the current interruption marketing tactics these politicians so thoughtlessly distribute. I guess they're just indebted to too many contributors to actually think and act with any sense of freedom.

I thought about business, and why the heck I'm in business. You see, I'm a bit of a hippie, in thought and beards at least. I struggle with the notion that all corporations know what's best, because every working human being that isn't sleeping at work knows that the way to get to the top is to artfully pretend and present that you're better than you actually are. Perhaps I'm naive, but if a good portion of leaders at the top are just people who know how to talk, and not necessarily know how to think, analyze, criticize and question, then aren't many of our corporate decisions poorly made?

Are some companies led by people who have simply bulled their way to the top, sucked up to their superiors and nodded their heads to the quantitative? Are we less than we could be, say if we just poked the box a little more? And this is why I went back to school - I want to know what I'm talking about. I want to learn how to analyze and scrutinize data, people and especially the two working, and sometimes not-working, together. I want to learn how to lead and engage, not through artificial presentation, but through sincerity, knowledge and experience. Jeez - those two cups of coffee really sent me for a loop eh?

I put my iPhone down on the bedside table, turned onto my beer belly and put my arm around my sleeping beauty - this thinking stuff was making me tired.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Birkenstocks, Gotye and the First Day of Classes

The first day of classes finally came. The wedgies were pulled out and the drool was dried up - so began this UF MBA. My first three classes were Critical Perspectives on Decision Making, Corporate Finance and Professional Writing. 

I’ll start with Dr. Pekin Ogan, the coolest old guy ever. Watching him teach Decision Making in his worn-out Birkenstocks, high-hemmed pants and charming smile was a gift from the Lord. What a great way to start the program. Pekin did what I presume is the hardest part of professing – he engaged. 
In his first class, I was taken off-guard. I thought it was going to be a qualitative look on Managerial Decision Making, but when I was thumbing through his self-authored text book, it was more of an accounting class. Ugh – accounting makes me about as ill as downing some not-cherry-flavored Pepto Bismol. Also, Pekin’s syllabus was just plain intimidating, or “top-heavy,” as he called it. He jumps right into the workload, and you reach deep inside your soul for the reason behind why you were going back to school.

Pekin though, just by being Pekin, makes everything better. He’s an intellect, which the business world lacks, and which I was scared would be void in the program. In the first class, Pekin was ranting, raving and pontificating about hospital beds. To demonstrate, he dragged his old self up on a table, laid down and pretended to be sick on a hospital bed in the back of the room. Pekin wasn't afraid to be awkward, which is what made him memorable. And there's UF MBA lesson #1 - Do things a trifle differently.

Later in the first class, Pekin made everyone fill out a little piece of paper stating their name and a ‘fun fact’ about themselves. Daniel wrote, “6th grade Southeast chess champion.” I wrote, “I like to eat King Salmon in the summer.” Dang – I need a better fun fact about myself.

I don’t think Pekin ever ended up doing anything with those 70 cards of fun facts, or from looking at the lack of scars in the room, boring facts, but I always wondered. Later, Pekin gives you a pop quiz. I won’t give it away, but all I have to say is if Pekin ever called me and wanted to go talk for a few hours about the inconspicuous flowers on the Cornus florida, I'd be there in a second. More to come on him and "Managerial Accounting", which ended up being my favorite class in the UF MBA program.

We had Dr. Evan Dudley, a young, wicked handsome professor (don’t take it from a dude who can appreciate another dude’s good looks. He was rated “hotness” on He started Corporate Finance class like most professors would – review of the syllabus, a ten minute answer to the deep question about what size font should be used in the case studies, and an overview of the grading. Then we dove into the wonderful world of corporate finance. Not going to lie - I was scared.

The classes were broken up with the half-class called Professional Writing, taught by Dr. Jane Douglass. She wears tank tops, tight jeans and talks like a sailor. She’s fun and funny and sometimes offensive. It’s fantastic. She talked about poking herself in the eye with a sharp object when she has to read crappy papers. She has little patience for fluff and a strong passion for quality writing and nuns. Her class starts off with reviewing some basic styleguide rules and watching a video with a little girl holding a flower with a nuclear bomb exploding in the background. 

After the first day of classes, I was overwhelmed. We already had assignments due next class, a quiz to prepare for, and some writing to do. I was driving home to St. Augustine, Pekin’s smile wearing off and reality setting in. I turned up Gotye’s Somebody that I Used to Know, and belted it out the window, not because I have weird relationship problems (like having friends collect my records), but because I was hungry to relate to something familiar for the first time in a week. I'm sure the guys boiling peanuts on the side of State Road 20 probably thought I was a weirdo. Eh - they're right - I am a weirdo (and hopefully a trifle different).  

It felt good to be done the first week of school. I stopped and picked up some Pasta Carabba To-Go. Catchy break-up songs and heavy intakes of carbohydrates were going to be the fuel to get me (and my wife) through this program.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Drool and Foundations Review

My 18 month-old daughter sucks on everything, and it's absolutely disgusting. Drool infests our house, from the expensive wood toys my daughter never plays with to the the ugly plastic toys she's obsessed with, from the chairs around the kitchen table to the toilet seat in the guest bathroom (okay - maybe not the toilet seat). Combine 20 drooly toddlers in a daycare, and there's enough incoming stranger germs to keep at least one person in our house sick at all times.

In the UF MBA Working Professional "One Year" Program, after the initial weekend of orientation, you spend a week in Gainesville catching up on what you've already learned from your undergraduate business degree.

You take eight hours each of Operations Management, Statistics, Accounting, Finance and Economics. It's a pretty packed week, and at the end of each four hour session, you take a quiz to recap what the previous four hours were about (and to assure the professor that you aren't hung-over from the night before). Thanks to the drool my pillows were floating in the previous week at home, I was sick the whole week of "Foundations Review."

UF MBA, University of Florida MBA
Flip Flops in the Shower
The thought of getting sloppy at the smoky and shady "Gator City" every night was replaced with getting my sleep on in my new bed at The Paramount, where I had coerced a fellow colleague, German, to split a room with me halfway through the week. Of course, the receptionist at The Paramount detected that I was homeless, had grace and pity on my apparent lack of ambition, and upgraded our room to a one bedroom suite. It was no Four Seasons and I still had to wear flip flops in the shower to avoid stepping on shady people's left over nastiness, but it was nice.

German and I flipped a UF ID card for the bedroom and I won (this time God Himself having pity on my sickness and homelessness). I was off to bed with a box of tissues, a glass of water and my Netflix app - when I'm sick, the only thing I want to do is watch re-runs of Jim playing pranks on Dwight. 

The week was surprisingly fun, despite my feeling ugh. We went to a Gator basketball game, ate greasy and marvelous cheeseburgers at the Copper Monkey, told our significant others that we were eating vegetarian pockets at Pita Pit, drank a ton of cheap plastic pitchers of cheap, watery Bud Light, told our significant others we were studying and drinking water, and we got to know our classmates.

UF MBA, University of Florida MBA
I remember talking with Matt about how he lives in Southern California and is making the trip to Gainesville once a month for classes. I chatted with Daniel about how the quizzes at the end of each class gave me convulsions. I shared sweet potato fries and corn nuggets with a group at The Top (my favorite restaurant in Gainesville, besides Dragonfly of course). I told Jason I liked his huge sideburns. I went up to some students I hadn't met yet and introduced myself, "Big gulps, huh? ...Well, see you later." Yup - I was making friends.

(Side note - at Cantina one night, I was peeing in the bathroom, and I guess a young, drunk college student forgot his Depends, because he came up next to me and peed in the sink. I got splashed on. Aaaand I was in college again.)

By the end of Foundations Review, I was exhausted, although I felt accomplished. I smiled, blew my nose into a paper towel (out of tissues by this point in the week), and came to a realization. This UF MBA program wasn't just going to be about CAPM or WACC or balancing debt and equity levels. It wasn't just about Free Cash Flows or calculating break-even points or these more trivial concepts that anybody with a brain and desire for a mansion on the beach can figure out. This MBA program was about learning how to connect with people, the less predictable (but most important) part of an organization. And if business is all about focusing on the people, why should a quality MBA program be any different?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Trusting Strangers and Weird Wedgies

6:00am came early, thanks to the dark shades at The Paramount. Teambuilding Day, the most anticipated day of orientation, was finally here. I peeled the roaches off my face, threw on my TJ Maxx found Paper Denim jeans and American Apparel t-shirt, and me and the new roommates were off to Hough Hall to meet up with the cohort. Of course, we had to stop at IHOP to fill up on cardboard waffles before the day’s adventure.

We arrived at the campus, now regretful of having UPS boxes sitting in our stomachs, and our group of 70 students piled into a few old yellow school buses. All of a sudden, our pants turned into skinny jeans and we all just started talking about Bieber’s Christmas album and how our parents never let us do anything fun. 

We arrived at a beautiful, ancient oak spotted estate that had a pool, ping pong tables, conference rooms, and of course, rope obstacles that look random when dormant. We went into a big field and collectively played shoot-the-volleyball-80-feet-in-the-air-and-watch-it-knock-someone-out-when-it-returns-to-earth with our group leader and life philosopher Simon, who told us ten times that the secret to life is to remember people’s names (in this case, I can’t recall if his name really is Simon. I’m so screwed).

Orientation, UF MBA Program, Working Professional UF MBA, UF MBA Experience
Trusting Matt, Austin and Michael with your life.
To manage the day’s activities, the cohort was broken up into small groups of about ten students. My group wrote chants, balanced hula hoops with our pointer fingers, wore climbing gear that perfectly and inelegantly amplified our private parts, climbed 30 foot poles and jumped off the top of them (of course), and snacked on Frito products that are made with cheap corn filler and artificial (but delightful) flavoring. Aside from weird wedgies and having nasty, awkward cheese breath from eating too many crunchy Cheetos, the day was a ton of fun. 

After trusting strangers with my life and eating barbeque hosted by some locals that looked less interested in life than my IHOP waitress that morning, we were herded into a conference room to create our teams for the program. And this is what goes down: you’re given a dull pencil and a piece of paper that has space to write down your background, professional experience, and awesomeness, and you tape that paper onto a wall. I’ll repeat that – you put your life on a piece of paper and tape it to a wall. 

Then 70 strangers browse over your life and either think it worthy, or think it miserable, unemployable and just plain sad. You had students like Brad write, “I DON'T WANT TO BE CAPTAIN” in giant letters as life’s sole describer. You had guys like me who pretended to have an amazing leadership background, but who’s handwriting was so bad, passer-buyers probably wondered how an invalid child had accidently been admitted into the program. Then you had papers like Daniel’s - “CEO of 30 companies.” “Manager of a billion people.” “Everything I touch turns to Gucci shoes.” People like this became captains through silent vote, and after the peasants went outside to sow seeds on the farm, this bourgeoise browsed through the papers on the wall again and picked their teams. I remember playing Omar in ping pong for a long while during the team picking, and he killed me every match. My pride was getting eaten alive, and I just wanted to go in a corner, drink something corn syrupy or hoppy and watch Liz Lemon scarf down a sandwich. 

Angie, Director of Student Services, called the 60 or so students back into the conference room, and we listened intently to the captains announce the new teams. It kind of makes you sick. You scan the room saying to yourself, “please God, don’t put that person on my team,” and He puts them on your team, and you throw up in your mouth (later to find out that the person you didn’t want will carry your team, become the best man at your wedding and literally save you from drowning in a river. That's right - don't judge). The teams are picked, and you write your team charter (goals, mission, etc.) at a banana-spider infested picnic table, each person subtly sliding in comments that make themselves sound interested, smart and capable (this kind of talk dissipates after Term 1). 

Ahh - the day was finished. I walked back onto the yellow school bus, said hi to the Gainesville Sun reading bus driver, turned on Bieber's latest, and I sat down. I slouched, put my knees up against the seat in front of me and texted my wife, “Dang, I’m tired!” She responded a few minutes later, “You're just getting started.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Orientation On the Floor

The night before leaving for Gainesville for orientation, I was getting a bit discouraged. I researched the heck out of Gainesville area State Parks, and I couldn't find any good prospects to pitch my green, two-man, REI tent for orientation week. Despite my hesitations, I stuffed my tent and sleeping bag into the trunk of my little Honda Civic, and I was on my way. 

UF MBA, UF MBA Experience, Internet MBA, Getting an MBA, Florida MBA
Floating Canoes
When I first arrived at the bright, open and obviously LEED certified Hough Hall (pronounced Huff Hall), I finally figured out where that $36,000 tuition price tag was going. There is a giant news-ticker screen in the lobby, a room filled with a dozen Bloomberg super computers worth like $800,000 a piece, and there are printers and nice couches and nice everything. There are also glass canoes floating in the air with colored glass balls stuffed in them. My favorite find, though, the one that put me at ease for the rest of the day, was the shower on the 3rd floor. I wasn't going to smell like hippie for the week when everyone else was taking baths in Acqua Di Gio. 

I texted my wife in excitement, "They have showers!" "Awesome" she replied. Then I discovered break out rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors. "They have rooms I could sleep in," I texted again. "Schweet!" 

For the record, my wife is amazing - I know I'm a tad strange and she appears to be calmingly cool with that. Like good ol' Dr Seuss said, "We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” 
Anyway, after the Hough Hall tour and sitting in room 240, I pretended to be glued to my iPhone, tending to all of those important messages important people get when they're in uncomfortable social conditions:
A friend from highschool (that I don't really know) posted up a picture on Facebook of her friend (that I didn't care about).
A tweet from Cabot came through my Twitter feed on how to make apple cheddar pie. Re-Tweet.

The first day of orientation was kind of fun. You begin by collecting branded laptop bags and nice Nike UF MBA polos that you'll be paying back for the next 30 years (with interest), and then you meet the UF MBA staff. The admissions team, or as the Director of the MBA program calls them, the SNL crew, gives a presentation on the demographics of your class. It sounds boring - they make it fun.
You meet Jim, the maintenance guy that pretty much runs the program. You meet Angie, who has the dismal task of following up to Sean Connery telling Trebek about the noises his mother made last night. Then you meet Alex, the skinny, well-spoken and witty Director of MBA. Alex told us that we are all now part of the UF MBA brand. In other words, "If you get drunk and sloppy and act dumb over at the Swamp, please don't wear the new Nike shirts we gave you." 
For the rest of the afternoon, you drink enough little bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew that the garbage you produce negates any of the carbon footprint that Hough Hall tries to reduce. After thinking about potentially a dozen simple ways to reduce this massive waste (bigger bottles? - now that's a smart MBA student thinking outside the box) and thinking about the gallons of corn syrup that were in the bellies of that room, I thumbed through a binder of colored papers.

As I was reading a pink paper that had a space for me sign my life away at the next day's team building ropes course, I couldn't help but think about my lack of sleeping arrangements. And then I met Josh. 

Josh manages some of West Palm's massive wealth, and I bet he's dang good at it. I would imagine that rich men appreciate Josh's conservative (but assured) investment suggestions, and that rich men's wives appreciate Josh's perfect jaw structure and youthful smile. Josh is also from a tiny little mountain town called Felton, CA, where my older brother lives - we instantly connected. We talked about Santa Cruz's waves and how his mom works in the same hospital as my sister-in-law. 
After lunch and eating some amazing peanut butter filled chocolate chip cookies (Fact: These peanut-butter filled cookies are the best part of the University of Florida MBA program. I take that back - these cookies are the best part of life.), we walked upstairs and Josh discovered I was a homeless transient who just put four peanut butter filled chocolate chip cookies in his pocket and didn't have a place to sleep that night.
Being the nice and open guy that he was and being scared that I was going to invite myself over anyway, he mistakingly asked me, "Hey man - you can stay with us tonight if you want." I jumped on this lead like a hungry salesperson who's got nothing in Stage 3 - Proposal Development, "That would be amazing." 

My spot at the Paramount
Josh hadn't thought this invitation through, or maybe he didn't expect to see homeless people in the MBA program. Either way, his hotel room at the elevator's-always-broken Paramount was already over-booked with three tenants, and I can only imagine what his conversation was with his two gracious roommates, Michael and Jason - "Umm - hey guys that I don't know yet. Mind if we have a questionable transient I found on the street sleep on our floor?" 
Needless to say, that night, me and a dozen cock roaches that were on growth hormones slept on an I-don't-want-to-know-what-those-stains-are-from rug between two beds. I slept like a log, but I'm pretty sure Jason slept with a knife clenched in his hand, just in case this homeless guy was going to pull a fast one. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New Balance Sneaks and the Application Process

As a marketer, part of your job is to try to think like other people. It’s a fun exercise. Instead of going into Factory Brand Shoes looking at a pair of white, New Balance old-person sneakers and saying, “Who would buy those?”, you start saying to yourself, “I bet about 30% of men over 65 would be interested in sporting those around The Villages.” 

Just about everything is a brand, and everything has value to someone (except AOL, Kmart, the majority of the airline industry, and anything not Apple). MBA programs have brands, and I’ll never forget the inspiring introduction Alex, Director of the MBA program, gave about this intangible value on the first day of orientation. The University of Phoenix is the Honda Civic of the MBA system. Wharton is the Bentley. The University of Florida… I would put them at the BMW X5 M (color: Monte Carlo Blau Metallic). 

The Economist ranks the University of Florida's MBA program as having the 3rd best MBA faculty in the world, US News and World Report ranks the UF MBA as one of the country’s best valued programs, and UF’s online MBA is ranked by The Economist as one (of two) of the world’s best programs. Either someone at UF is paying an editor at The Economist a lot of moolah, or this program is legit. I won’t get into how these ratings are achieved, frankly because I have no idea, but I promise you – it’s a laughable process.

Nonetheless, an MBA from the University of Florida has a good brand, especially amongst Floridians. 

The UF MBA application process is like any other admission process, I’d imagine. Enter in a bunch of fields into an online form that you’re nervous will not save your entries, and then write some essays. Oh yah – UF also requires you to take the GMAT. I remember listening in on a virtual recruitment session, and Andy, the SNLish, sometimes-sounds-like-he-just-woke-up-but-seems-like-a-really-cool-guy Director of Admissions said that one of the only ways to get out of the GMAT is to be a doctor. 

After googling ways to become a doctor and ending up on WebMD wondering if I had Fibromyalgia or Rheumatoid Arthritis, I realized that taking the GMAT was inevitable. I studied hard, took a few practice tests, and took the GMAT twice. When I take tests - especially multiple-choice - I sweat profusely, my mind goes blank, and then I sweat profusely some more. Then I shake, throw up (added for drama), cuss at myself, and I’m back in the game! This phenomenon is called test anxiety/panic disorder (just WebMD'd it), and I struggle with it like you wouldn’t believe. It’s funny, I don’t get anxious or stressed out about much, but testing makes me ill. Inevitably, my GMAT scores were not a selling point for my admission. In fact, the reason I took the GMAT twice was because UF asked that I try a second time to improve my scores. I was thrilled (and somewhat unsuccessful).

I was a little nervous about the essay too, because I knew it would have to overcompensate for my back-sweat that made its way onto my GMAT scores. The essay question was open: 

Describe how you would like to see your career develop. Explain how your academic background, prior professional experience and the Florida MBA degree will help you achieve your career goals.

I went into our guest room, dusted off a binder filled with my "career goals," and started typing away at my essay. I wrote about drinking too much wine, moving to Florida, and wanting to become a professor. Here’s a two sentence excerpt from my essay:

After nearly three years of marketing wind energy and carbon credits, my wife and I sat down on a cold, overcast and ugly Friday night at our favorite Italian BYOB in Philadelphia. We popped open a bottle of Pinot Noir, ordered the Antipasto, and had one of those talks that changes everything.  

Two things – (A) when it comes to wine, I really like Pinot Noir (if you haven’t noticed) and (b) I tried to be a tad fun in my essay. I pictured myself as an admissions team member, looking at hundreds of applications and being bored out of my mind, only wanting to think about whether I was getting Sushi-2-Go or a Chipotle burrito for lunch.

Alas, after the essays, the sweat I lost from both sessions of the GMAT, and thinking that the ‘save’ button on the online entry form was going to magically turn into a "Timed Out" screen, I got my little email from the admissions team welcoming me into the MBA program. That night, I stopped at a shady little liquor store near my house, picked up a four-pack of Burton Baton, an oak-barrel aged IPA, and clinked glasses with the wifie. Life was going to change for a little while.  

Next Post: The Beginning of Orientation

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thinking about Applying with a Glass of Pinot

I moved down to Florida a few years ago from the Philly suburbs. People in Philly like the Eagles. They also like stuffing fatty pieces of steamy red meat into bleached white-flower buns, and adding a chemical called Cheez Wiz to the top (or bottom - for the Geno's lovers). It's disgusting, and I love it.

Besides missing the artery-clogging cheesesteaks and the overcast afternoons, I'm glad we moved to Florida. It's sunny and happy, and although the combination of these two elements don't usually make for good indie bands, micro-breweries or coffee shops, happy is fun. Also, I like old people, so I'm in good company.

When I moved down to Florida, I noticed people really only cared about two things - college football, particularly the Gators, and college football, particularly the Seminoles. So, being the counter-cultural, beard wearing hipster that I was, I decided to choose World Cup soccer as my sport of choice. Games are every 2 years, they're only like, 2 - 3 hours, and some of the players look like I'd actually want to sit down and share a Dogfish 90 Minute IPA with. It's perfect.

So when I was accepted into the Working Professional 16 month University of Florida MBA program, I was shocked. Not because I didn't think I was smart enough to get in (although that's questionable), but moreso, because my ignorance of Gator football didn't somehow drip off of the pages of my application essays. I should note that the University of Florida calls this a one-year MBA program, which is plain and simply a lie, as my professional writing professor so elegantly put it. Perhaps the MBA staff has plans to change the world calendar to 16 month years, or maybe they just think they are marketing to sheep. Either way, they sold my whole class, so the UF MBA recruitment team is doing something right (and they're really funny and clever, which is a more attractive draw to the program than the 16-months-is-now-a-year thing).

I didn't do all that great on my GMAT, but I did really good in my undergraduate GPA. This is completely inline with my life story of being a not-so-smart guy that works really hard to catch up to the smart people. For you smart people that are reading this, I hate you. I hate that I have to spend long nights studying while you can go out drinking. I used to think bars were havens for dumb people, but now I know the contrary - bars are where all of the smart people hang out and bask in the glory of not needing to study.

I don't remember what urged me to apply for the UF MBA program - it was the only program I cared to apply to though, and I said if I didn't get in, then I'd have to figure out a new path altogether (or just continue living and working happily in sunny Florida as I had been doing). When I first called my wife and told her I was going back to school, baby crying in the background, she freaked out and told me I was selfish and didn't care about our family. Oh man - if I had a wife like that, I'd probably "stick a sharp object in my eye." Actually, she was amazingly graceful about it, as she always is about everything. She said we needed to get a bottle of Pinot Noir and figure this out. That night, during our 2 hour window of the baby actually sleeping, we made the decision to apply to UF.

Next post: On the Application Process