Equations, Exams and Excel

I started writing a post about business school a few weeks back, but the post (and the whole blog) got lost in a maelstrom of work drama, the class group project and the final exam that seemed to suck up the entire month of May. The good news is that I passed my class. Some of you who know me might be thinking my stress over not getting a “C” or better in the class is just a bunch of dramatic mental gymnastics. Take it from me, though, college is a lot harder when you get older. Between working full time, family responsibilities and brain cells lost, it is a hell of a lot harder to digest equations and memorize chunks of data at forty-something than when I was twenty-something. On the other hand, the thought of producing 10 pages of research on a subject in APA format, complete with abstract and references seems like no big deal. Unfortunately this semester didn't give me the chance to rock my crazymad paper writing skills. It was all equations, exams and excel.

I now have two semesters under my belt. I estimate I have four more to go if I take two classes each semester. I was trying to go at it a little slower, but my advisor pointed out the error in my thinking. It seems some classes are only offered in the spring or fall, the wine business electives are offered somewhat randomly, and there are three classes which are a prerequisite for a fourth (only offered in the spring). This would mean I’d end up being stuck at some point along the way with nothing to take while waiting for a class I needed to roll around next semester. So, now I’m back to giving the two classes at a time another try. Lesson learned from my first semester- do not, under any circumstances if it can be avoided, take classes two nights in a row. Space them at least one day apart to keep your energy up and spare your sanity.

This past semester was tough even though I only took one class. Following the advice of a more seasoned student, I traded my choices of the required Marketing class, or the elective Wine Sales/Marketing for Financial Statement Analysis. I’m not sure if it was a good idea or not. This is the class where they train you to be your own personal version a Wall Street Master of the Universe. The curtains are pulled away from the inner sanctum of stock analysis. It's your ticket to grab the golden egg of MBAhood.

According to an article in the New York Times, 40% of graduates decide to take jobs in finance and/or consulting doing this kind of work rather than staying in their chosen fields from their undergraduate days. The professor many times mentioned that all of us in the class were now qualified to get a job as a junior analyst. As long as we were willing to work 70 hours a week for 5 or 6 years we’d be set - as brokers, or hedge fund managers, or whatever, and make a bazillion dollars a year. I found it ironic that the professor obviously rejected all of that for the calmer waters of academia. I understand, though. I can’t think of anything I want to do less than financial analysis on that scale. Seriously. Even if I could make a ga-jillion dollars doing it, I never got anywhere close to feeling like I mastered any of it.

All this, combined with the recent collapse of the financial sector, gave me a lot to think about over the sixteen week semester. There were quite a few editorials about the demise of the MBA if you were paying attention. The New York Times and others were almost gleefully reporting on new graduates from the top schools going begging for jobs and there were plenty of comments suggesting that MBA’s in general were responsible for the collapse. The premise of the first article I mentioned is why business schools needed to change and focus less on the financial side of business and more on the actual production of goods and services.

Week after week, I had to work at keeping my perspective straight as I struggled to absorb all the information we were learning in class. People who go into the wine business tend to be romantic. Most of the other Wine Business majors were not interested in doing financial analysis either. We all want to be making, or selling, or drinking, or talking about wine. Financial Statement Analysis was like a soul-sucking demon speaking a foreign language to which I had to pay tribute before I could pass to the next level. I was starting to question my purpose in getting the MBA in the first place.

Luckily, the semester ended and I was able to bid Financial Analysis adeiu. After giving it a lot of thought, where I considered giving up (for a millisecond) I was able to remember why I came to the program.

Post script- It’s taken me a few weeks to get this finished and up on the blog. Due to some family issues, I’m back to considering only taking one class in the fall. I’m looking forward to taking one of the wine business electives, Wine Finance. I’m afraid taking one class at a time will leave me to slog through a lot of less interesting stuff when I’m done with the wine classes and just have the general MBA units to finish.

In case you were wondering, I’m doing the MBA program because I enjoy understanding the big picture of how things work. I want to know why decisions are made. I’m also looking to get a leg up in a career in which I got a late start.