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Saturday, November 29, 2003

 

Recruiting season eh?

Resume deadlines for 1st year internships are readily approaching. Currently I'm in the cover letter phase. The cover letter advice I have received so far has been this: no one reads them but don't screw them up just in case someone does. And thus I've emailed all the 2nd year students I know, asking them for their cover letters from last year. The way I figure it, they have already put their blood, sweat, and tears into this process of cover letter writing. So why re-invent the wheel. Of course, as we all know, students are fundamentally lazy, and there's no reason to believe the 2nd years are any exception to this rule. Thus, the cover letter templates that I will receive from 2nd year students have likely been passed down for generations. In fact, no one knows where these cover letters came from originally. However, I do have one particular cover letter in my possession which, through cover letter forensics, appears to have originated from Neanderthal Man's job application for the Cro-Magnon Man position. It's 40,000 years old and has a spelling error, which is why, we presume, he didn't get the job. No one said that life was fair.

The good news is that spellcheckers have improved and times have changed. Most of us now walk in upright fashion, and with modern technology we have no excuse for spelling errors. On the down side, those of us undertaking consulting interviews must learn the art of the case study, which is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of mankind. Anyone who knows anything about case study interviews can attest to the fact that this method of evaluation is, in fact, a giant leap back for mankind, one that makes me yearn for the days of foraging for nuts and berries in the wilderness. Thankfully, to numb the pain, we have free access to case study guides through Wharton's career center. Studying these guides, coupled with careful scrutiny of the official consulting company web sites, will effectively provide me with the false sense of security I need (in the face of astronomical odds) to walk in to my interview with confidence. And, as long as I've got a few carefully prepared questions for my interviewer, everything should be okay.

posted by Ryan : 7:09 PM | permalink
 

Top 10 Questions to ask your Interviewer

• Have you found indentured servitude to be rewarding, or are there drawbacks?
• Do you guys have Coke or Pepsi in your vending machines? 'Cause Pepsi ain't gonna cut it.
• Want to arm wrestle for an offer?
• Can I receive my signing bonus in SEPTA tokens please?
• Speaking of bulge-bracket banking... do you think this suit is too tight?
• Do you want a twinkie? No, I insist... come on, there are like 20 in this box. Really, I can't eat them all.
• Care to stop by Au Bon Pain for a monopoly pricing model case study?
• On dress-down Fridays at your firm... are bathrobes ok?
• Do you guys block KaZaa?
• Umm... what is the expected bonus level for your bottom quintile performers?
• Can you tell me about a time when you realized you had just bombed an interview?

posted by Ryan : 6:59 PM | permalink

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

 

Microsoft and Search

Interesting article on Microsoft's plans for search. What I think is particularly intriguing is the concept of personalization: the idea that the search results can actually vary based on your own preferences and behavior. As one of the Microsoft people say, "The two of us type in a query, we get the same thing back, and that is just brain dead. There is no way an intelligent human being would tell us the same thing about the same topic."

The issue of getting good search resembles the problem of keeping out spam. Users ultimately have different standards for what is spam and different ideas of what are good search results. In the spam world, user-defined Baysian filters (which cater algorithms to the user's preference) have gained in popularity. Perhaps this is another innovation for the search market?

Another idea worth exploring for search technology is the community-based recommendation engine. SoulSeek, one of my favorite P2P applications, has a feature that lets you rate bands (thumbs up / thumbs down) and spits out a ranked list of bands that you ought to like. I'd like to see an optional Google feature that tracks search history and/or my interests and generates lists of search keywords that I ought to like. It wouldn't make me more productive, but it just might make me search more.

posted by Ryan : 10:46 AM | permalink

Sunday, November 16, 2003

 

Career Trek - Dallas, TX

I spent Thursday and Friday in Dallas on a Career Trek. A career trek is basically a regionally focused recruiting effort designed to give students exposure to company offices outside the Northeast area (i.e., last year 59% took jobs outside the northeast). Most people on our Dallas trip had either grown up in Texas or had family there. Personally, it's where a good part of my wife's family lives. And once you have a kid, proximity to grandparents becomes an important factor in choosing a location.

We visited 8 companies on the trip, spending an average of 1.5 hrs at each office. Lots of driving, lots of powerpoint presentations, and lots of schmoozing. Half of the companies were consulting-related (McKinsey, Bain, Mercer, and A. T. Kearney) which was my main area of interest. The others were across the board: Prudential Capital, Carlson Capital, American Airlines, Pizza Hut, Exxon, and Trammel Crow. I was a little disappointed that we weren't able to visit Booz Allen and BCG but there were scheduling conflicts.

Going on a career trek has several advantages over staying put and recruiting on campus. First of all, you get a feel for the work environment which you don't get in the campus info sessions. Second, you get to meet company representatives in an atmosphere where there aren't 300 other Wharton students trying to compete for their attention. Much better ratios. Several of the companies had high level execs presenting, which was impressive given the small size of our group (about 15 or so). For example, we met the CFO of Pizza Hut, the CEO and CFO of Trammel Crow, and general partners elsewhere. Third, each company gets a resume book of people on the trek, so perhaps they'll remember us when we apply for interviews in a month or two! Fifth, it's a great way to network with your fellow students who are likely to be an important part of your network if you decide to live in the area.

There were also some disadvantages of doing a career trek. First of all, we were required to attend all company meetings, regardless of our interest. The rationale, I believe, is to have a higher attendance so that recruiting companies have a bigger audience to present to. It wouldn't look good if the CEO of a company came to an hour meeting with just a small handful students. But a couple of the presentations were a bit boring because they assumed an interest level in, say, real estate or subordinated debt. Yawn! The second disadvantage is that it isn't cheap to do one of these treks. You need to buy your plane ticket, rental car, hotel (unless you stay with family), and you have an opportunity cost of missed classes and events back at school.

All in all, the trek was definitely worth it. I don't feel like I had any dramatic revelations about the future of my career. But I can now visualize what it would be like to live and work in Dallas. And, in the recruiting dance (as with the MBA admissions dance), companies evaluate you both on your competency and your likelihood to take their offer for a specific office. With any luck, my participation in this trip will signal to these companies that I'm serious when I pick Dallas as my office choice.

posted by Ryan : 8:05 PM | permalink

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

 

Jobs on iTunes: "We'd be happy to break even"

Steve Jobs admitted today what I speculated on: that iTunes is a loss leader. It's just an additional "feature" of the iPod, where Apple is really making the money. What little money they make after the RIAA takes it's chunk is probably just enough to cover costs. Makes you wonder how Napster, Rhapsody, and BuyMusic.com will do in the end...

posted by Ryan : 10:33 AM | permalink
 

Good overview of the TiVo phenomenon

Here's a good overview of the TiVo phenomenon and the effect it has on the owner. The article presents TiVo as addicting, which it certainly is. In fact, one of the reasons people don't purchase TiVo's is they're afraid they're going to watch more TV. And that definitely happens -- at first. You're like a kid in a candy store and you want to grab all you can. But then you grow up and realize that candy stores will always be around, and you enjoy them more if you don't binge every day. As a TiVo owner, it took me a little time to realize that those Seinfeld and Simpsons re-runs would always be around (and perhaps "on demand" at some point). That's when the TiVo equilibrium hits and I started to control the TiVo rather than the other way around. And the shows that pile up on your TiVo become like bookmarks on your Internet browser that you use only when you really feel like it.

posted by Ryan : 9:59 AM | permalink

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

 

Rant

I must confess... I'm not off to a great start this quarter. I'm particularly sick of two subjects that will go nameless (but they rhyme with flaccounting and floperations flanagement). I just can't seem to find any interest whatsoever in these subjects. The common denominator in both of these classes is that the class time is spent on working through detailed problems versus giving conceptual explanations. Lots of "here's how" and no "here's why." Busy work. Personally, I need a few "why's" at 9AM, no matter what I'm doing.

The remainder of my core classes (Finance, Leadership, Strategy, and Ethics) are not too bad, but they can also be hit or miss. Either there is too much detail or not enough. Just the other day in Finance, we spent an hour and a half going over the mechanics of a type of stock grant used exclusively in Europe. Too much detail. Where's the fast forward button when you need it? If only life were a Tivo.

In other more interesting classes (Strategy and Leadership) it seems like the professors often want to "switch gears" and move on to some other topic just as the class discussion gets interesting. You prepare for a class for 2 hours and then you get to contribute a 15 second soundbyte and it's no wonder you feel a bit empty handed when you leave class.

I recall undergrad classes I had with 10-15 people in them, and I got way more out of the class. I think professors need to split us into smaller groups to allow people to discuss or lead a case in greater depth.

At times like these, I step back and give my (whining) self two reminders: 1) In the words of Cake, "learn to buck up." Classes aren't always interesting. That's life, deal with it. 2) Classes are not really the reason I came to business school. I came to b-school to make friends, give my career a kickstart, write Top 10 lists for the Wharton Journal, and eat cheesteaks. And I'm going to do those things. With or without Flaccounting.

posted by Ryan : 4:19 PM | permalink

Sunday, November 09, 2003

 

A belated happy halloween from baby Christian

A Halloween greeting from our little red hot chili pepper. He's happier of course when the top is down.

posted by Ryan : 8:42 AM | permalink

Saturday, November 08, 2003

 

Hmmm.... what fuels iPod demand?

Here's an interesting article from CNET on the iPod's shortcomings. I think their last argument -- that the iPod can only be used with one online music service -- is a bit weak. Let's set the RIAA political correctness aside and not kid ourselves here. The reason these hard-drive based players are selling so well is because people have amassed huge MP3 collections. And where have those files come from? Kazaa, Morpheus, and Napster.... not BuyMusic, iTunes, and so forth. Think about it this way: in order to justify the purchase of a 20gb portable music player, how much money would you have had to spend on online music in the last year in order to have 20gb worth of music? Given about 60mb/album, at the going rate of $9.99/album, that works out to about $3300 for 20gb of music. I would be surprised if more than 5 people in the world have spent that much on online music. And yet over a million iPods have been sold, promising huge capacities.

The cycnical side of me says that Apple has a vested interest in music piracy, as it clearly fuels demand for their iPods. You might say "But what about iTunes?" They make peanuts on iTunes compared to what they make on iPods. iTunes is surely a good way to spin their iPod business as a legitimate, politically correct thing. But think about how much money we're talking about here. Apple makes PC-sized margins off the iPod, which means they get about $100 of income per unit. That's about $100 million so far. Compare that to the pennies they make from each of the 17M songs they've sold to date and it becomes clear where their interests lie. Another way to look at it is this: with over 1M iPods sold and 17M songs sold on iTunes, people have an average of 17 Apple-bought songs on their iPod. That's half a percent of the player's capacity.

Counterpoint: iTunes is clearly an investment in the future. Demand for iPods will saturate over the next couple of years (what's next after you buy a 20gb player, a 100gb player?), but demand for online music will continue to grow at a healthy rate. And Apple's got 80% market share of all legally purchased music online.

Another important counterpoint to my "let's not kid ourselves" argument is that not all large MP3 collections are pirated. Personally, I have about 25 gigs of MP3's and a generous portion of those files are ripped from legitimately purchased CD's or authorized live recordings from "taper friendly" bands. Despite all the RIAA hype, people will continue to buy CD's. And they will continue to rip them for use on their computers / MP3 players.

posted by Ryan : 7:44 PM | permalink

Friday, November 07, 2003

 

Consulting humor

Nice comic strip here, especially if you've ever witnessed the implementation of a technology consulting project. (source unknown, it was an email forward)

posted by Ryan : 9:56 AM | permalink

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

 

Exhorbitant pay: Entertainers vs. CEOs

A few days ago I pointed out a graph from The Economist highlighting the increasingly excessive proportions of CEO pay. In a recent article, Knowledge@Wharton asks: why we aren't we as critical of sports figures and entertainers who make huge salaries? While some interesting theories are presented, I think this statement hits the nail on the head:
With entertainers we can actually see what’s being produced. There’s a market where Julia Roberts or George Clooney are paid $10 million to $20 million per film. But it’s a bare knuckle industry. Kevin Costner was very, very hot at one point, in the $5 million to $10 million range for a movie. But now he’s dropped off the scene and is having a hard time getting work. That market works. If you’re not bringing in the box office, you’re toast.
I think the public has seen too many examples of CEOs who are not particularly good but get paid astronomical sums (i.e., Michael Eisner of Disney). But Professor Larker makes a good point that even the high-performing CEOs are cutting shady compensation deals:
My view is that if you have done well, you deserve to make the big bucks. But when you’re gone, you’re gone. The thing that angers people is the kind of stealth compensation we’re seeing. I don’t think people begrudge [Jack] Welch all the money he made as CEO. But here’s a guy who amassed unbelievable sums of money and shareholders find they are still … paying for his apartment, his travel and even his tickets to Knicks games."
In the end, the public will continue to come down hard on CEOs because they appear to be writing out company checks to themselves. In large part they are. Ideally, the Boards of Directors are supposed to policing these compensation schemes, but too many boards just look the other way. And the same might be said of the shareholders.

posted by Ryan : 6:01 PM | permalink

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

 

Permanent links work now

Quick note: I've finally gotten the permalinks to work here, so going forward individual posts can be specifically saved/bookmarked. And I'm sure you all are just elated. ;)

posted by Ryan : 9:43 AM | permalink
 

Gateway's foray into consumer electronics

BusinessPundit references a BusinessWeek article about Gateway and its foray into the consumer electronics market, and asks the bigger question about what Gateway should do strategically.

I don't know if I have the answer, but I can see one issue: marketing consumer electronics isn't the same as marketing PC's. Take, for example, their Connected DVD player (a DVD player that also wirelessly streams audio/video content from your computer through your home entertainment system). I am their target customer for this product. I have gigabytes of media on my computer, a decent home entertainment system, a semi-old DVD player, and a 802.11 wireless network. I also wish I could connect my computer to my home entertainment system. Yet, I go to their site and have no desire to buy the product.

They're marketing this thing like they'd market a PC: "Here are the specs, here's what it looks like, and oh by the way it's $50 off the usual price." They should be selling the user experience here, not just the hardware. Will this streaming of media wirelessly cause the usual blips and delays that I see when I stream media over the net? Will I be able to stream any type of audio/video format or will I be crippled by some proprietary restrictions? Are they going to try to sell me some monthly for-fee service? Who knows?

Gateway will have a really hard time competing in the competitive market for innovative consumer electronics if they don't first learn how to market them. Gateway ought to take a tip from the Apple iPod and the Handspring Treos. Those are some decent examples of how to market an innovative, "nice to have" consumer electronics device.

posted by Ryan : 9:19 AM | permalink

Monday, November 03, 2003

 

Top 10 Cool things about Philly

(this week's Wharton Journal submission)
  1. Minutes away from Jersey!
  2. Home of the ghetto-fabulous Cinnemagic 3 theater
  3. Proximity of Schuylkill makes getting rid of old furniture easy as pie
  4. Tap water’s flammability comes in handy when fondue fuel burns out
  5. Fresh Prince of Bel Aire? Born and raised in Philly, baby.
  6. SEPTA buses going to campus conveniently pass by every couple of hours
  7. Locals eschew usage of “You all” and “Y’all” in favor of vastly superior “Youse”
  8. For insomniacs, the nightime medley of gunshots and sirens provides a soothing lullaby
  9. Respectfully, auto insurers cap annual rates at just below the re-sale value of your car
  10. Delicious cheese steaks: Five dollars. Surly service: no charge!


posted by Ryan : 1:41 PM | permalink
 

On being a generalist

When it comes to the business world, I've always seen myself as a generalist, one who enjoys knowing a little about a lot of things. But I've always wondered if I've missed the boat by not specializing in anything. I ask myself: what would it have been like if I had spent the last 5 years of my career becoming an expert in corporate finance, operations, accounting, or investment management?

At business school, I've quickly realized why I've been avoiding these specialties: they bore me silly! But there is value in realizing these things. The core program takes the mystique out of all of these subjects. You get to open a lot of doors, look inside, then close (or slam) those doors with confidence. You may go back to being a generalist when all is said and done, but you have a few extra tools in your toolbelt. And if one day you're running a company (say, AOL for instance), and your CFO wants to capitalize advertising costs as an asset on the balance sheet, you can take one of those tools out of your toolbelt and whack him on the head!!

posted by Ryan : 11:40 AM | permalink
 

Coolest feature of Office 2003

Sometimes it's the little enhancements that make the most difference. My favorite new feature in all of Office 2003 is the Outlook notification window that pops up when you get a new email. First of all, it's semi-transparent, so it doesn't feel like an intrusion. Second of all, it shows you the sender name, subject title, and the first few words of the message body. Third of all, it includes a delete button in the pop-up window so you can delete messages (and spam) without even having to be in Outlook. This little pop-up window seems like a tiny feature change, but it makes email management (which has turned into a full-time job for some) so much easier.

posted by Ryan : 11:12 AM | permalink

Saturday, November 01, 2003

 

Why Philly Rules

Here is one example of why Philly rules. Even Catholic school girls are not to be messed with.

Speaking of Philly, in a couple of days I'll put up a new Top 10 list about why this city is so cool.

posted by Ryan : 7:15 AM | permalink

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