Joel Kwan is a corporate lawyer based in Los Angeles, California. Currently acting as financial/legal associate for Westwood Group, a specialty finance company, Joel focuses on general regulatory compliance, creditor rights and structured finance. Visit his website to learn more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

New research project down the pipe

I have one last class for this semester: Markets and Globalization. With a new team and a project with a theme completely foreign to me, I think this will be another great learning opportunity.
For this class we have to choose two companies to make a strategic analysis and recommendations, along with comparisons. Our top 3 choices were:

1. Manchester United vs. Real Madrid

2. Cirque du Soleil vs. Cirque Eloize

3. vs. Apple movie rental service

The general enthusiasm from the team and feedback from our professor made the scale lean towards Manchester United vs. Real Madrid, the two top European football (soccer) teams.

Honestly, I had never heard of Real Madrid before and I know next to nothing about soccer clubs in Europe. But after I did some intitial research and had a crash course in European football clubs taught by one of our team members that happens to be very knowledgeable in the field (no pun intended), I believe we have a very interesting business case to dissect.

I hope I will be able to share the results of our study on my website. To give you a preview, here is the result of some brainstorming (may look like Chinese for now, but was really useful in planning the study).

Deficit of reflective practice

Business people are always on the go, pressed by deadlines and targets. It seems that businesses have been focusing on ever shorter time frames for making decisions and assessing performance, all linked to the bottom-line. During our last reflection period with my MBA peers, we have discussed about how to slow down and take the time to reflect before acting. It's easy to say "think before you act", but it seems ever more complicated in the business arena when we here about the recent corporate scandals where initially sound, intelligent and caring individuals lose their moral compuses and try to cut corners for personal gains. How can we avoid slipping in the spiral of "ethical creeping"? Jim Schram, our guest speaker during reflection shed some light on some of the most difficult questions that has yet to be resolved in business practices in the 21st century. As former CEO of Lucent Technologies, Scrham had his share of dealing in shades of grey, never an easy task. He explained how our Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix probably changed from good to bad in a gradual, very subtle way as people with certain statuses and profiles become part of the elite and actually become more and more isolated from the "real world". This isoloation creates a sheild that may give a sensation of invulnerability. Scharm dealt with this isolation by going back to his roots in a farming towns where his family members "were not at all impressed with his new lifestyle as CEO".

Others will say that more efforts have to come from the education side, namely business schools, where ethics remain a very small portion of general curricula. Patrick O'Neill, a Toronto-based consultant mentions that business schools have five defits in terms of ethics teachings:

Deficit of reflective practice
Deficit of character development
Deficit of respect
Deficit of right use of power
Deficit of mentoring

Back to our MBA reflections, we discussed about how on a personal level we can try to navigate through greyer areas of decision-making in the business place.

1. Avoid isolation

Come back to your roots, family, friends and community, this will help you keep one foot firm on the ground.

2. Newspaper test

When hesitating about a decision, think about how would you feel if your decision made the front page the following day. If you feel uneasy, then it's a sign that the decision might not be the best for all stakeholders.

3. Take the time to reflect

Like going to the gym, reflection takes time, practice and discipline. One can only get better at it by doing it. That's exactly why we have reflection periods weekly in our MBA program.

To read more about the five deficits from Patrick O'Neill, click here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life at 26

Turned 26 this week. I led the reflection period in my MBA class. The reflection period is all about looking back at our experience as students and professionals since the beginning of the program.

The theme I suggested was Transformation and Discovery:

When we decided to an MBA, we had some ideas of what we wanted to accomplish pedagogically. We might brush up some accounting and finance here and some marketing there. However, at the same time we are learning to balance books and evaluate return on investments, there is also something far more subtle that happens. We learn more soft skills such as interpersonal skills, cross cultural communication and dealing with stress for example. I call this the transformation of an individual through an intensive learning and socialization process.

I have heard friends and family of my peers say how they have changed since the beginning of the program, how they had breaken out of our shell and now were much more open to others. That's all about the personal development, or the transformation of the individual.

The other part of being an MBA student is also Discovery. We learn things about ourselves that we did not know before. Be it personality traits or interests that we did not even consider before, many of use are acknowledging new potential in ourselves.

One peer from a marketing background that had never done some finance before discovered that she really likes finance and might go on and specialize in the field.

Discoveries and transformations are extremely important in the learning process, more so than the actual hard skills learned in class I would add. In order to optimize the opportunities for discoveries and transformations, our MBA class came up with some suggestions:

1. Go out of your comfort zone.

Try new things, join new clubs and meet new people. These new experiences will definitely catalyze the discovery and transformation process.

2. Exchange with people you disagree with.

There is nothing less productive than a group of people that have the same opinions sticking together all the time. It is important to acknowledge that there are other ways to look at things and keeping ears and eyes open to those issues may make us see things differently.

3. Be open to change and serendipidy.

Having a plan is important, but it is also important to realize that along the way, many doors will open itself to us and we have to explore other avenues as well since we never know what is at the end of the path.

Well, with these words of wisdom, I have to greet my first guest for my 26th bday party.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Flu Shot

I got my flu shot last Tuesday, it went pretty well. I only waited for about 10 minutes and half an hour later I was immunized (hopefully). My arm is still a little sore, but besides that there was no complication. It's funny how they give you a disclaimer sheet with all the possible side effects, including paralysis!

I am working on an operations management problem based on my experience at the vaccination clinic. I will post it when it is ready. In the meantime, you can see a picture of my bandaid after the shot, with a little smile drawn by the nurse.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Le jour du souvenir...

Il est 11h, les canons retentissent pour nous rappeler des soldats et civils morts en action pendant la guerre. Je n’ai pas pu être présent à la cérémonie car je suis en plein examen. Entre les premiers et deuxièmes coups de canon, deux minutes de silence sont observées. Nous gardons le silence pendant trois heures et demie, la durée de l’examen.

À chaque année je porte le coquelicot, symbole du jour du souvenir qui a été popularisé par le poème de John McCrea. Les coquelicots apparus sur les champs de Flandre suite aux combats particulièrement meurtriers de la Première guerre mondiale ont été une source d’inspiration pour le poème de McCrea, qui était présent pendant les batailles.

Pour amasser des fonds pour les victimes de guerre, des femmes et enfants ont commencé a fabriquer des coquelicots en novembre de l’année 1921. La tradition se poursuit depuis…

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.