Wow, what an amazing response so far…glad everyone is enjoying my MBA recollections (it’s a lot of fun for me too).  If you missed it, you can find parts one and two here.  Now onto Part 3!

First Year: Third Quarter

Strategic Management

MBA courses are, by nature, often discussion based.  While I generally like this format, at times it can be unclear whether we are really on the right track or just blowing smoke.  With Professor Mary Tripsas at the helm, this was never the case.  She had no problem calling out vague or unsupported comments and really forced us to elevate our game and exploration of the topic at hand.  This challenge was energizing and is what really made the class stand out.  Other than Tripsas leaving a normally quick witted classmate speechless after calling him out for yawning in class, what do I still remember?

  • Who made that toilet? The first case we read was about Japanese luxury toilet company Toto and it’s challenge to American Standard.  To this day, I cannot use a bathroom without noting who made the toilet.  For the record mine is a Toto.
  • You can make a two by two matrix for just about anything (and it will probably help)- By the end of class we had seen so many of these that it almost seemed cliche and yet they really are a great framework for analyzing and organizing complex ideas or markets.  To demonstrate just how versatile they can be, here is one I like for Game of Thrones characters
  • Porter’s Five Forces- We were all doing an MBA and Prof Tripsas used to work for Monitor…needless to say, we got so much Michael Porter that it had to stick, if for no other reason than the amount of jokes and five forces parities we made.
  • Two-Sided Markets- Before going on to win the Business Plan Competition (spoiler alert), 5/6 of the Geck Squad did a routine presentation on Uber and two-sided markets.  We wound up getting really excited about it and putting in a lot more work than necessary but ended with a final presentation that we were really proud of and that I could probably still give today.

Analytics for Managers

A one credit course that was repeatedly cancelled because of weather, this class left a lot to be desired and was revamped considerably for the better the following year.  There was really only one take-away, but I will say it was tremendously valuable.

  • Solver- The course could probably have simply been called Solver because learning to use this Excel tool (nested in the data analysis tool pack) was the real take away from the course and also the key to success in the class.

Operations Management

This class was widely considered to be the second most difficult class in the program (after accounting), both for the level of the content and also for the breakneck speed with which Safi delivers it.  He has a particular style and vocabulary, but once I got used to it, I actually found the class to be tremendously interesting and easier than I expected.  A few things really stuck out to me:

  • Two Bin System- The class presented lots of methods for materials replenishment but this simple trick really stayed with me: store your materials in two containers and reorder a containerful every time one empties.
  • The Critical Path- In every project there are tasks you can do concurrently and tasks that can only be done one after another.  By identifying the latter tasks you can determine the required order and minimum possible time the project will take.  Understanding this upfront is crucial to a successful and efficient project.
  • Six Sigma- This is a methodology based on statistics and process improvements to limit the amount of errors in a batch to below three standard deviations on either side of the mean.  Basically, this means a maximum of about three defects per million.  Less important than the actual numbers, however, is the mentality that mistakes are not inevitable but rather good process and continual improvement can lead to virtually perfect batches.

Manager’s Practicum II: the Consulting Project

While this class lasted the whole semester, I’m including it here to keep the four and four balance in my posts.  For the class, we were grouped in teams and assigned a client with a business need.  My group got assigned Narragansett as a client with a marketing project to help expand their consumer base.  The semester certainly had some ups and downs but overall it was an awesome experience working with the 2xBrewCrew.  By now you know what’s next…takeaways:

  • Technology has come a long way but it hasn’t permeated all industries as much as you would think- The alcohol distribution industry is still remarkably manual and there is an amazing lack of standardization and data, which means…
  • There is no substitute for talking to people and doing on the ground market research- Thankfully for us, this meant traversing the East Coast and having conversations with liquor store managers, barkeeps, and of course pub patrons…over a couple of brews of course.  What we learned from all these conversations not only helped guide our thinking, but it also informed the survey we sent that gave us hard data to examine.  And…
  • Data is power.  When presenting our findings to Narragansett’s CEO, one in particular was a shock and he pushed back considerably.  A nice guy, but also an imposing personality, this could have been an intimidating moment but we had spent weeks on our research and interpreting our results.  We had data on our side and that gave me the confidence to push back and stand by our recommendations.  Our client was impressed by our work and even instituted many of our suggestions.
  • Your teammates matter…a lot.  Not much to add here, I just feel fortunate to have been assigned to the team I was on.  Someone once suggested keeping a list of the best people you work with to hire later, needless to say, these folks are on my list.