Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best of 2010

So I swore I would never become one of "those guys" and now look at me: I'm a deadbeat blogger. I swear that over the past month I have thought about writing many a posting. The only problem is that I like to write things that are fun. Or interesting. Or inspiring. I promise you that nothing I have done in the last 30+ days have been anywhere close to any of those things (well, except for the Santa Stumble, but that’s a topic for another forum).

Instead, the past month has been a barrage of networking, cover letters, job applications, exams, late nights, early mornings, and one awesomely bombed mock interview. I mean, it was bad. I’m not a complainer, so that’s not the point of writing this. No no, you see, I’m an excuse-maker. And I’m really good at it.

Therefore, here are my nine best things from 2010, in order and including Darden & non-Darden stuff.

9. Getting to have another “first day” of school
You might think it sounds dumb, but there is nothing quite like the first day of school for me. Then again, I am a nerdy loser. But nonetheless, nothing beats figuring out who is in your classes, meeting your professors, diving into the material, the whole atmosphere. Nothing was different about Darden, even if it is a much different environment and learning experience. At the end of the day it is still school. The only thing that could make it better would be if my mom could have packed me a brown bag lunch with a little note in it. Also, I haven’t really figured out who the cool kids are yet, but I know that I’m not one of them.

8. Vegas Trip
I would like to tell you more about this, but you know what they say about what happens in Vegas . . .

7. Back in the Valley for the Fall
I wrote about this earlier, but to reiterate, there is no more beautiful place to spend fall then in the Shenandoah Valley. From September to November the weather is perfect, the leaves are beautiful, and for the first time ever, I had D1 college football in my backyard. Even though the Cavs were just plain turrrrible, it was still an awesome experience.

6. Winning the Darden Brand Challenge

Given the brains of my fellow classmates, I really didn’t think I’d win anything academic at Darden except maybe Most Likely to be Voted Off an Island. But low and behold, my team won Darden’s annual brand challenge, a pretty big school event that pits first year students representing different brands in a competition to see who can create the most engaging, interesting, and insightful data survey and product exhibition. My team deserves more credit than I do, but I will still treasure my picture with Mr. Doughboy and will have the pink shirt for years to come.

5. Section E Darden Cup Domination
Another thing I wrote about earlier. Since the softball competition, however, Section E has rolled through several others and holds a comfortable lead going into the spring semester. Also, my play in flag football earned me the curious nicknames “Little Ball of Hate” and “Bret Michaels”. Not really if those are good, but considering my college nickname was Cupcake I’m going to take them as a complement.

4. Snowmageddon in D.C.
Well it was awesome for some reasons and horrible for others. But the back to back blizzards led to the following things: Three days of living in Glover Park (even though my apartment wasn’t there), Two awesome Georgetown basketball games at Verizon Center, One amazing 90s themed birthday party for myself, a 4:00a.m walk home from Logan Circle to Tenleytown (4+ miles), and exactly zero days off work (for me). Loved the snow, except that it didn’t go away until like April and D.C. gave up trying to plow it. Other than that, it was great.
3. Having myself as a roommate
If you’ve never lived alone, try it. It’s the best thing about moving to Charlottesville to me. I have people over when I feel like it, clean when I feel like it, watch whatever T.V. channel I feel like, pretty much do whatever I feel like. For those that know me, you know how incredible this is to me. I really hope I don’t have another roommate until I get married.

2. Doubling my # of Facebook Friends

You meet tons of people in business school. I mean the whole point of going to network. I never actually imagined that I would like so many of them though. It’s been the single most surprising thing about school and I’m really lucky to have met and connected with so many people.

1. Cruising Europe for 6 weeks

If you’re considering going back to school or even if you’re not, do some extended travelling at least once. I mean, 6 weeks wasn’t even that long, I wish I had done longer. But get out on the road, push your comfort zone and get a different experience. You will never regret it. The time I spent travelling this summer was definitely my best experience of 2010, maybe my life.

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Steps Up, One Step Back

I was talking with a recruiter last night about career development and he told me something interesting: Every time he has an amazing breakthrough, crushes a presentation, or excels in any other way which otherwise makes him love his job, he writes it down on a scrap of paper and places it in a jar in his office. At the same time, whenever he is grinding through a spreadsheet at 2am, making the 1,000th revision to the same slide deck, or otherwise doing something that makes him want to run into oncoming traffic, he also writes it down on a piece of paper and places it in a different jar. He tells me that whenever he goes back and looks in the jars, that the number of pieces of paper in the happy jar far outweighs the other one. And, he concluded, if that ever changes, then he’ll quit.
The point is this: in all phases of life, you need to have perspective. There are going to be huge highs where you think everything is set and life can’t get better. And there are moments where you are pretty sure no one has it worse in life than you. Well, if you thought either one of the above two sentences applies to you, you are wrong. Life is never going to be perfect but it should never totally suck either. You need to step back, take everything in, and figure out if you’re happy. And if you’re not, then don’t complain. Complainers are terrible. If you don’t like your life, then figure out why and change it. It’s as simple as that. But why should I care that you’re unhappy if you don’t intend to do something about it?
Right now, I’m happy. I can truly say that I’m happier now then at almost any point in my life. Yet, in business school, on any given day, I will have a trillion setbacks. And it will suck. But why should I complain or be in a crummy mood? At the end of the day I can look at my life, know how lucky I am and feel truly blessed.
For me it’s like two steps up, one step back. Make a good comment in class, get a nice thank you note from a recruiter, bomb a networking call. Do good on one test, do good on another, look like an idiot on the last one. Get invited to two company events, get left out of another. Sometimes I think I am literally the master of MBAs one day, a real “hitter” (for you wall streeters), and the next day I wonder if I can get a job tending bar or if I’m not the right “fit” for that either.
But at the end of the day, I can always look in my two jars and know that I am happy. What do your two jars look like?

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Little Bears

When I first arrived at Darden three months ago, there was one thing I was more anxious about than any other aspect of B-school. It wasn’t my career prospects (although I probably should have been more nervous about this). It wasn’t the demanding class schedule and curriculum. And it definitely wasn’t the fact that I was going to be sans paycheck for the next two years. Nope, it was whether or not I would have a good Learning Team.
For those not familiar with Darden, Learning Team is kind of like a study group that you are assigned to at the beginning of your first year. I say “like” because in reality it is so much more. Essentially it’s an otherwise random group of six first-year students from different backgrounds, genders, and nationalities that spend two or three hours a night sitting around a table in a tiny room talking through the case for each and every class. Needless to say I had two questions about the people I would be hanging out with every night for the next year: 1) Will I like them? ; and 2) Will they like me? It really never crossed my mind that this could be a positive experience; I was just hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be miserable.
We like to spend most of time messing around, as you can see

Well, that is a long-forgotten memory. I’m going to make a bold statement: my Learning Team is the best in Darden’s first year class (I say “bold” because a lot of people would say the same thing about the LT, but they would be wrong). I don’t even think of my LT, which we named, by the way, The Little Bears, as a study group anymore. I could be a CPA with a background in marketing and investment banking and I would still show up to meet with them every night at 7pm sharp. Yes we crush cases all night and yes it is a lot of work but it never really feels like it. We always mix up the night with a healthy dose of jokes, gossip, and videos (like this: ).  No one hesitates to stay late and help someone whose struggling with a particular case and everyone brings a unique perspective on each case.
In three months I’ve learned almost everything there is to know about them, including their families, relationships, future plans, and, most importantly, drink preferences. I’ve especially learned a lot of about the last point. You see, we are a social bunch of Little Bears (I know you’re making fun of me right now for referring to us as The Little Bears, but trust me, it’s awesome).  If there is a Darden social event, you can pretty much count on all six of us being there. Much like the rest of Darden, we work hard and play hard. We just happen to get after it a little harder, whether it is coordinating a sweet Breakfast Club costume ensemble for the 100 Case party (still waiting on the pics), taking on the dance floor at TNDC, or meeting on a Friday afternoon for LT “Happy Hour” where we can kill two birds with one stone (cases and drinks). This past Sunday is a great example: after a long weekend, “J”, who is originally from New Orleans, invited us over for homemade jambalaya and drinks so we didn’t have to meet at Darden to go through our cases.
I guess the thing that as surprised me most is how much (I think) my LT likes me. You see, I am a weird person. Like, sarcastic, corny, self-conscious, all-over-the-place, off-topic . . . just, weird. I was pretty worried that everyone would catch on and quickly write me off. Instead, my group knows I’m weird and still wants to hang out with me every night. And that, more than anything, is what helps get me through the long days.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog “Never Mind, They Didn’t Like Me and I Got Voted Off the Island”.

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oh Really, What Frat Are You In?

God I used to hate that question in undergrad (Well, unless I was talking to a co-ed who thought my fraternity was cool). The point is, though, that at Darden you really don’t have to worry about cliques and that is pretty great. Sure, everyone is in groups (your learning team, section, career focus) but in the end, we are all Darden students and that counts more than anything. I don’t think I realized that until the 100 Case Party this past weekend.
Let’s think about that for a second. Everyone in my first-year class has read, evaluated, and discussed 100 different business cases, 100 different companies, 100 different industries, 100 different unique problems in just over two months. And the cases weren’t different for anyone in our 300+ person class; we all looked at the same problems and thought about the same issues. That’s really different from almost any other type of school experience, and all you needed to do to understand the impact of that was attend Darden’s 100 Case Party this past Sunday night.
Let’s ignore the fact that it was an amazing 80’s party. Let’s ignore the fact that my Learning Team decided to dress at the original Breakfast Club + the Principal (Xinlei, you are the man). Let’s ignore the sheer amount of alcohol consumed in the name of being awesome. I’d rather focus on the fact that it was a class-wide party of over 300 people celebrating a single (and only initial) feat: completing the first test of one of the world’s most demanding business schools.
I had no idea how many people I knew or how close I had grown with them until Sunday night. Everyone I ran into either threw me a high-five (the wannabe entrepreneurs and marketers) or a celebratory hand-shake (the wannabe bankers and consultants). It didn’t matter if it was section mate who I had spent the past 2 months discussing business five hours a day with or a random classmate who I had sat through a career conference talking about where I see the job market going in the next five years. We all just partied like it was 2007 (when the economy was good). I can’t tell you what a fun and revealing night it was, although I admit I didn’t realize it until my mind finally cleared the next morning (ok more like 3pm).
Ok, that’s a lot of random thoughts, but seriously it’s amazing how much my outlook has changed since August. To summarize, business school (or at the very least Darden) is incredible in its ability to unite people of a common thread, those that like to work hard and play even harder. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to be here. It’s not the easiest thing, but the challenge is well worth the reward. And I don’t mean the work is worth the sick job/career you get when you leave. It’s worth it for the late nights (both studying, networking, and neither), the people, and the experience. College is the best.

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why the Fall is Awesome

Probably the greatest thing about being back in school for me is the chance to be in the Shenandoah Valley for this time of year. From late September to early November I can safely say there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than rural Virginia. The weather is perfect for me: warm during the day, cool at night, always with a nice breeze. I'm not really one for nature (I hate, repeat, hate hiking) but I love to drive out of C'ville to the nearby country side and take in some of the views, which are absolutely amazing once the leaves change color.

This is what it's all about this time of year

But really, it's more than that. College football and the NFL are in full-swing which make the weekend days both busy (with tailgates, going out, watching your friends cry when their undergrad school loses) and relaxing (when you are a tired from said activities the day before). Everyone pretty much knows what is coming soon (winter) and is maximizing their activities. There are all sorts of festivals, weekends and events taking place. In fact, let’s just take a look at my schedule so far and upcoming this Fall:

Last weekend was the International Food Festival (which was a show; seriously check out the pictures on Darden’s flickr page: I am still full from last weekend and was shocked to learn that Ireland actually has good food. This weekend is UVA’s homecoming, which I intend to treat no differently than I did my homecoming in undergrad (to summarize Andy Bernard-style: Bars, Beers, Buzzed, Wings, Shots, Drunk, Football: UVA-UNC, Slaughter, then back to my place for a quick nap before we hit the town). Then the next weekend we have exams before the 100 Case party. That’s 100 class cases, not 100 cases of beer. I’m sure the actual number of cases consumed will be much more than that. And then the next weekend is Darden’s Halloween party. Feel free to comment below on suggested costumes, as I’m having a hard time thinking of ways to top last year (I’ve included that picture as well).  

Wow, writing this just made me realize how awesome the next few weeks are going to be. Besides all that class, exam, and career stuff of course. Maybe it’s because the fall here also reminds me of being back in college, or because I am actually back in school, but I haven’t been this happy in a long time despite being busier than ever. Speak of which, I need to go; I’ve got another briefing in 10 minutes.

I'm the Tiger

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Winning the Cup

To say that I like competition is like saying that nerds like math. I am so competitive that if I can't win or be the best at something, then I pretty much don't want to do it at all (see golf, a.k.a. the worst game ever invented). Luckily for me, it seems that I was placed with the one group of students at Darden that pretty much feels exactly the same way I do. That would be, of course, Section E. We have a simple mission: to be the smartest, coolest, most amazing group of 65 students this school has ever seen. It doesn't matter if its a forecasting exercise in our Decision Analysis class, having the most students at TNDC, or even a basic simulations to learn operations. We want to be awesome at everything, and to be honest, so far we are.

Enter Darden Cup, the single best way for a section to demonstrate its awesomeness. Darden Cup tests a section's talent, teamwork, and dedication through a series of events between each of the five first-year sections. The events range from Trivia Night last week (we really dominated this one) to a charity 5k in April with pretty much every sport in between. Sections get points both for winning an event and having their members & faculty come out to watch. Did I mention Section E has won two years in a row and we are attempting to establish a dynasty with our third in a row?

Which brings me to softball.  As a former Division III baseball player with no chance of playing competitively again, Darden Cup softball somewhere between passing my classes and actually getting a job in terms of importance. This was my time to shine and I went all out. Eye black, cleats, new glove, bandana - all check. Insane desire to win: check mate.

I made some solid contact right here

There was only one problem, and their name was Section B. After cruising to the championship, we were pretty sure we had the event in hand until they decided to hit a couple of home runs and take a 6-0 lead in the top of the first. We tried our best to come back but fell just short, 9-8. It was a great game. Special shout out to S, our athletic rep and team captain, and D (guy), J (girl), and S (girl) for awesome performances. Also I would especially like to congratulate my buddy B on section B's team for letting a ground ball go right between his legs despite having played professional baseball prior to b-school. Stellar job man, stellar.

We also have crushed B in all events since Softball and are currently enjoying a comfortable lead in the overall Darden Cup standings. Many, many events still to come but I have no doubt that we will prevail. And yes, just to be petty, I'm going to tell you my stats from Darden Cup Softball: 6-8, 3 doubles, 5 runs, 5 RBI. Insane need for competition: fulfilled.

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One set of exams . . . and then another?

To summarize: Term I exams done (sweet). But the real test has been this week: Can I get a company to like me so much that I get an internship offer? It's very easy to forget at Darden that the main goal of this place is to help you find a career that fits well with who you are. Or as I like to put, I came to Darden to figure out what I want to be when i grow up (note: estimated date of growing up is somewhere in the 2020 to 2030 range right now). And that is where this Briefings Week comes into play. There are no classes, no cases, no Learning Team, just me, my peers and more than 30 companies. It's like Speed Dating except instead of likes & dislikes you are talking about "fit", "lifestyle" and "skill sets". It's kind of exciting to hear from people who are experts in their field and world class companies.

For example, in one day yesterday I went to presentations by Target, UPS, 3M and a couple of top consulting firms. And these weren't presentations by an HR rep and a few recent employees, these were senior level employees including, directors, partners, and vice presidents. It's amazing to me that these people would come all the way to Charlottesville because they are interested in hiring me. "Me" being any Darden student, trust me they are definitely not looking for me.

As cool as the presentations are, it’s important to remember they still are a test. These companies are looking to see that you not only have an interest, but also are willing to do detailed research and engage with them. That part is daunting and “pit diving” is definitely scarier than the first time I jumped off the diving board into my neighbor’s pool when I was a kid. “Pit Diving” by the way, essentially means talking to the recruiters/presenters have the briefing (I know, I need to do a blog dictionary, its coming soon). There are basically three ways it can go: good, bad, or the recruiter doesn’t even remember talking to you. For right now, I think I’m fine being that last one because I am still trying to figure what exactly I’m supposed to say and do.

So wish me luck as I leave to go dive into some murky waters. I’m pretty sure I did ok on my actual class exams, but I have no idea how I am doing on the most important one of all.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Am I growing up?

So this past Friday night I decided to stay in. Not because I had something to do Saturday morning, or was particularly tired from the week, but just because I wanted to. Which wouldn't be a big deal except that I did the same thing the previous week. I'm pretty sure you'd have to go back to the 1990's to find the last time I purposefully stayed in two Friday nights in a row. And again, it wasn't that I had anything pressing to do, I just wanted to get up early, get ahead on some work, do some laundry, and get a good workout in. That's not even the half of it though. Here are a few other things I've started doing in the past two weeks for the first time in my life:
  1. Eating a healthy breakfast every day - granola bar, fruit, and yogurt
  2. Waking up a little extra early to read the morning paper
  3. Actually doing homework
  4. Hosting a group of people and offering more than a bottle of Beam and a case of Natural Light. I invited my Learning Team over for cocktails on Friday afternoon, and you should have seen the spread I put out.
This all leads to one question: What is happening to me?

Even after only a few weeks, I think Charlottesville as changed me. B-school has changed me. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm liking it. It's like for the first time I can see what I really want for myself in the future and, more importantly, I have the tools to get me there. The craziest part of it is though, now I am more than willing to make the commitment to go after that. This new-found drive is something I have never felt before, and I'm sure that is a product of Darden and its community.

Darden is a completely different environment than I've ever been in. First, a lot of people in my class are married or engaged, and many of children. I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate a place where many of my peers have families of their own. Not only that, these people are obsessed with success but still interesting, friendly, and social. I don't think I've met many people that had both those characteristics before (in my previous experience, success-obsessed people are usually extremely boring). Whatever it is, my classmates are convincing me that I too can be driven and not have to completely change myself. And that's why I don't feel bad at all staying in on a Friday night for no good reason.

Now, before I get too wishy-washy trying to explain my feelings, that was just Friday. Thursday and Saturday nights were completely different stories. Thursday was the section social events where first-years party with there second-year section counterparts. In section E we used this as an excuse to have a keg race, first-years vs. second-years. All I can say after doing my first keg race in three years is this: I've still got it. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I was a major factor in the first-year's victory. And I base that mostly on the headache I had Friday morning. Then on Saturday, I finally got to experience college football as a student at a big state school. And it was awesome. To break down: tailgate, food, beer, game (w/ flask, obviously), UVA crushing Richmond, more food, bar hopping on the Corner, then back to my place in Ivy Gardens. All with my classmates (mostly the single ones).

So, in other words, I have changed, but maybe not that much.   

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The First Week

After a week filled with moving boxes, multiple cases, guest speakers, new friends, and plenty else, only one thing is clear: This isn't going to be anything like my first college experience. In fact, I think the next two years may be the most challenging time of my life to date. That being said I couldn't be happier with my current situation.

I am stoked to be back in the Shenandoah Valley. Having done my undergrad only an hour west of Charlottesville at Washington & Lee University, I know everything this city has to offer. It is a beautiful place with far more to do than appears to the naked eye. This may be my last chance to live in an area such as this given my career goals and I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible. That may be easier said than done though.

Throughout my first college experience I can probably count on one hand the number of 12 hours day I put in. At Darden that appears be the minimum, and it will probably be more than that during my first year. That being said, Darden is a school built on the ideals of intimacy, interaction, and community. I chose it because these are the things that will help me survive, and ultimately excel, in the competitive environment of a top B-school. Only now I am seeing just how important they will be.

The best thing about B-school is not what the challenges entail, but rather what they produce. Knowledge. Understanding. Values. FUN. A couple of highlights from my first week, which was half orientation and half classwork, include:

• Discussing one of our first cases about Target with the company’s CFO. The case had to do with a new rewards credit card that the retail chain was unveiling. It was discussed the next day on the CFO’s quarterly earnings call with thousands of investors and analysts listening.

• Meeting my learning team for the first time. I cannot wait to work with these people. This is the most diverse group I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of: an engineer from China, a capital markets analyst from New York, a commercial banker from Atlanta, a graduate from the Air Force Academy, a lawyer from Mexico, and me. Not only am I looking forward to learning from them, but also hope to establish long-lasting friendships with my team as well.

• TNDC, otherwise known as Thursday Night Drinking Club. In addition to being a great way to blow off some steam, just another chance (among many) to meet other Darden students and make new friends.

• Tubing down the James River with 40 of my classmates. If you’ve ever been tubing the Shenandoah Valley, you know that this is Charlottesville at its best.

You can be sure I will be writing more about these things and more as I navigate the M.B.A. world. I am under no illusion that the next two years will be all fun and games, but I cannot help but look forward to it. This is an opportunity to grow leaps and bounds as a professional and a person. I am still finding my way and will be for some time, but this much I know for sure.