Monday, December 22, 2008

People, Places and Panic

To this point, I haven't really talked about the program in detail. So let me cover a few basic questions that I get asked all the time.

What is the structure of the program?
The program is 17 months long, and the Class of 2009 runs from August 2008 until December 2009. The group meets every other weekend, Friday and Saturday, in Winston-Salem on the campus of WFU, in the Babcock Graduate Management building. We have two courses each day when we're on campus. Three times during the program, we meet for extended periods. The first is the Orientation Week in mid-August. The next is a two week international trip, with the options of visiting Japan, China, India or South America (Brazil/Argentina/Chile). The final week of the winter 2009 semester is a practicum project which ties together many aspects of the entire program. Because the program is condensed to 17 months, it is not only a huge time commitment from the students, but also for the sponsoring companies. The entire program requires students to be on campus ~45-50 days, so we're very appreciative of the support our companies provide us to participate in this outstanding program.

What type of people are in the program?
In a couple words..."an interesting mix". I don't have exact details about demographics or scores, but let me share some tidbits about the diversity and backgrounds of the group.
  • There are 31 people in the class.
  • The majority of the class are married, with about 50% having children.
  • They come from as close as Winston-Salem, and as far away as Charlotte, Raleigh, Roanoke, Hickory, Asheville and Charleston, WV.
  • About 20% of the class are Senior Executives, or run their own businesses.
  • About 25% of the class have worked &/or lived abroad and speak at least 2 languages fluently (besides English)
  • The following markets are represented in the class: (Green) Architecture, Automotive, Banking, Computer Engineering, Consulting, Education, Healthcare, IT, Telecommunications, and Textiles.
  • Beyond traditional manager roles, the class includes existing or former Doctors, Police Officers, Fire Fighters, Science Teachers, MTV Producers, Kick-Boxing Instructors, Black Panther protestors, Race Car owners, Punk Rock Guitarists, Authors, Porn Mustache wearers, and Military Brats.
How do you manage work and school?
The keys to surviving an MBA program, and "survival" is the optimal description, are prioritization and sacrifice. If you're like most people in the class, you were already working 50-60hrs weeks (or more), and managing a certain amount of work travel. Now throw in the alternating weekends in the program, and roughly 20-25hrs a week doing reading, papers and preparing for the next weekend. So something has to give, and it usually falls into one of a couple of categories:
  1. Hobbies - These are the easiest and hardest to give up. In my case, my golf clubs have literally been put in the attic. Matt Kirk and I have sworn that we'll get in a game in the Spring/Summer, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. But otherwise, they are collecting dust.
  2. Exercise - Prior to the program, I was an avid runner, typically getting up at 5:30am and putting in 25-30 miles a week. I was down around 167lbs. When you're up studying almost every night until 12:30-1am, it gets much tougher to get up at 5:30am on a regular basis. So like many 18yr old undergrads, I've developed the dreaded "Freshman 15" (actually 13). Getting this back on track and consistent is moving to the top of my list for 2009. 11:30pm is now going to be my cutoff each night.
  3. Family Time - This probably belongs at the top of the list, because an MBA program is very difficult on the family. Probably more so than the student. The irony is that for most people in the class, they are in the program because they want to provide better opportunities for their family. While the sacrifice here is difficult, it is short-term. I've found that the key here is communication (over-communication) and dedicated time. I never touch the books on off-weekends and Sundays. That's time for the family. And I try and find ways to stay connected to my beautiful little girls, through phone calls or video. We use Skype to talk live, and I try and create them a short video every weekend:

  4. Work - This probably isn't a good thing to ignore or de-prioritize, especially in today's economy. If anything, the program's demands are an excellent opportunity to see how well you can better learn to delegate, as well as hone your communications to your teams.
What's the biggest challenge in the transition back to school?
Panic. There are many outstanding people in my class. People that have been successful in every aspect of their life. But the pace of this program, and the variety of new topics has exposed me to a number of people who are experiencing Panic for the first time in their lives. It's been really interesting to watch people struggle with new concepts, and potentially face failure. I suspect this is a huge learning experience for them....both good and bad. The good news is that our groups have really bonded together and people are very helpful in getting others through these times. Sometimes this is just a reassurance that they aren't the only one struggling to learn something. Sometimes it's taking extra time to help them work through homework problems. Sometimes it's being available on the other end of a phone call to listen to their challenges. And sometimes it's having to be blunt with them that they need to step up their work and raise the level of their game. I suspect that while people may worry about grades now, by next December they will just be glad to have the MBA title on their resume and will look back at the relationships as being much more important that a B+ or A- in Quant. I know I will.

What are you going to do with your MBA once the program is over?
That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? The knee-jerk answer is to file for a Federal Funds Bailout for my tuition bills, but that line may be fairly long:) The real answer is that I look at this program as part of the process, and not the answer. I went into this program knowing that I had a number of skills that I needed to improve, and several areas of knowledge that I needed to expand. I'm confident that I'll leave the program improved in both of those areas. But as far as a specific job or project I'm hoping to obtain, that's not on my list of goals. It may be for some of my classmates, but not me. One thing that I do plan to do as part of this program is to expand my international exposure. I'm planning to attend the two-week trip to China in May 2009, and will be working to learn at least a moderate amount of Chinese/Mandarin prior to the trip. I have a Chinese woman on my work team that has offered to tutor me, so maybe by May we'll be able to conduct our 1:1 meetings in least a little bit.