Staying in shape to stay sane

February 25, 2008

Darden is great, but it is also really draining. The workload, while not exceedingly complex, strikes me as quite heavy in volume and so different from what I did before (I wasn’t exactly designing a company’s optimal capital structure before; I was a military officer). The recruiting events, blissfully easing up only very recently, are frequent and require your committment in order to build your future career. I also feel a need to give back to Darden and the community, so I frequently pitch in when we’re hosting admissions events or conducting a charity event. Even the social events, fun as they are, can exacerbate the situation by compressing the time you have available for all the other demands on your time. Weekends become crowded with cases, studies, social events, and, of course, a number of oft-delayed errands.

 Although a spring break vacaction to Costa Rica is drawing very near and is looking really good right now (oh man), it’s important to have some small daily time to yourself. For me and for many other students at Darden, it’s physical activity that sets me free and clears my mind.

Many Darden students participate in intramural or pickup sports. Most of us participate in Darden “Cup” events, which are competitive events held between sections. Many other students hit up the North Grounds Recreation Center, which is the high-quality, fully equipped gym next door to the Darden grounds.

For me, it’s a combination of things that help. In my youth, I was very happy to spend the day playing video games or watching TV. When I entered the Army, I was quickly intiated into a world of daily fitness training. What at first was an irritation quickly became a very personally fulfilling and enjoyable activity. I especially began to enjoy running.

At Darden, the initial toll of the workload diminished the time I had for running. I also wanted to get to the gym to do some strength training, but it was so difficult to find the time. When the third quarter began after the New Year, I made a resolution. I wanted to be in shape by spring break. It is surely a coincidence that I’ll be on a beach that week 🙂

The combination keeps things interesting. I run every other day or so, and I keep it to 3-4 miles at a quick pace in the interests of time. As the weather keeps many of these runs a cold proposition, I often head indoors. After tiring of treadmill workouts, I’ve taken my workout to the Aquatic Fitness Center (AFC), about a five minute drive or a fifteen minute walk from Darden. They have an indoor track. 10.5 laps equals a mile. To my amazement, I’ve held up fairly well on the track surrounded by undergrads. For some reason, it’s more fun to run when you’re surrounded by others… I don’t know why. Somehow having someone in front of me keeps me focused and even makes me run a little faster. I do my strength training there as well… there’s plenty of equipment, which means that it’s easy to get in, work out, and get back to work fast.

Since I’ll be surfing during break, I started swimming about a month ago. The AFC has an olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s really cool to walk out of a locker room and onto a pool deck under a banner emblazoned proudly with ACC Swimming championships. I had no idea Virginia was so competitive in swimming. And, as a student, I get to use these same facilities almost any hour of the afternoon!

The first time in the pool was a real eye opener. After a struggling through a few raggedy laps, I pulled myself out of the pool, light-headed. I had no idea why I can run for an hour without a problem but for some reason ten minutes in the water almost killed me. I realized I had a long way to go.

So I’ve picked up the workout pace. I’ve traded a few runs a week for more swimming, and I’ve added a few laps to each workout. I’ve also started concentrating on form and breathing. It’s funny how on the first lap of the night I can swim almost half the length of the pool without coming up for air, and by the last lap I need to breath after almost every stroke. But progress has been steady, and I know it’ll pay off when I get on a board in a few weeks.

Fitness is a lifetime committment to yourself and your loved ones. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself. But it is so hard to find the time, the energy, and the motivation to go sometimes. Darden offers a lot of challenges. The military did as well. When I was in Iraq, when I needed time to think or reflect, or just to clear my mind and gain some human perspective, I hit the gym. It’s so cool to be able to bring that same experience into this new and challenging environment. The pounding of the pavement, the slick feel of the water, the beating of the heart. It all keeps me grounded, gives me back my human condition, my perspective.

Now, I just need to work on getting more sleep 🙂

Better Late than Never

February 25, 2008

Please note that this is a historical post moved from my old site. This was originally posted on February 15th, 2008. 

It’s been about two months since my last post, and there’s very little excuse for that kind of delay. To all of my loyal readers, I offer my sincerest apology. Between the drought of new Mike Murphy blogs and the now-ending television writers strike, there must have been a real lack of interesting, inspired content out there… right?

Okay, so it’s been a wild ride. First, after the end of the second academic quarter at Darden I ran off to San Francisco for a “job trek”. A job trek is essentially a coordinated event in which a group of b-school students travel together to a particular geographical area and look at job opportunities there. In particular, we were looking for internships in the high-tech industry. We also checked out some great consulting firms. We started with Google, whichc had a fantastic campus and an understandably interesting atmosphere. We then checked out Broadcom, eBay, and Yahoo! (I guess Yahoo! isn’t really a smiley place right now, but I digress). I really liked the city… very cool area.

After returning from the job trek I headed home for Chirstmas. Christmas with my family was fantastic, of course. I had a great time. After Christmas I headed to Vegas for New Years. Some of my old Army buddies and other friends got together for the holiday. This was my first time in Vegas, and it was awesome. I loved all lights and sounds of the strip. We checked out the Blue Man Group show, and I lost a little money, hehe. We spent New Years eve at the Hard Rock Casino bar, and went onto the roof to check out the fireworks over the strip. UVa was playing in a bowl game with Texas Tech, so I made a small wager at the sports book for UVa to beat the spread. Unfortunately, since I’m a complete amateur, I misread the spread on the ticket and assumed the outcome (UVa losing by 1) rendered the ticket a loser. I left it and caught a flight home, but when I opened a paper on the plane and checked out the line in the sports section, I was suprised to find that the ticket had actually been a winner. My hasty call to my friends, who were still in our hotel room, resulted in somone collecting the prize. I received a phone call a few hours later, thanking me for breakfast and cab fare to the airport. Awesome.

After returning from Vegas I headed straight to Charlottesville to begin practicing for interviews. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful to receive about ten interview invitations, including a number of top notch consulting firms. I was primarily interested in consulting for four reasons: first, it’s a people (client) business, and I enjoy relationship-based collaborative environments. Second, it’s team-based, and I really enjoy working on small teams to effect big change. Third, I really like problem-solving, and that’s what consultants do: they solve problems. Last, and definitely not least, consulting is an adventure… projects typically are only a few months long, and then it’s on to a new project and a new challenge. Thus, it’s a great place to get a breadth of experience in a short amount of time. In this way, it’s similar to the case method that dominates the curriculum at Darden. Each day at Darden, we come into class to tackle three distinct business cases. With each case, we put ourselves into the role of manager or consultant, and apply a new technique to solve a problem. It could be determining the valuation of an initial public offering in Finance, dissecting a statement of cash flows in Accounting, determining how to shift a corporate culture in Strategy, or conducting a competitive analysis in Decision Analysis. For a student with no real business background, the case method is the best thing going to get a wide range of practical experience in a short period of time while honing new skills. Consulting is just an extension of this logic.

Consulting interviews are rather demanding. Typically, a consulting interview consists of a few “fit” questions to determine how well-suited a candidate is for consulting and how well they’ll fit into a particular firm’s culture, followed by a case. The case portion is usually a real business problem, and you talk through how you would approach solving it. At some point, there’s often some data interpretation and some basic calculations must be completed to reach a viable conclusion. One of the hardest things in preparing for case interviews was preparing for the math. Calculators typically aren’t permitted, so it’s necessary to do basic math by hand. This can sometimes be a bit tedious and even a little intimidating. After all, how long has it been since you’ve last done long division? Doing it efficiently in front of an interviewer watching your every move requires a bit of practice.

I spent countless hours practicing with my classmates. We used a lot of sample casebooks to help eachother prepare. I practiced with students who, like me, have never been in a case interview before. In addition, I practiced with a few students who had a consulting internship last summer, as well as with a few of our career consultants. Darden gave us a lengthy break (until late January) to prepare for interviews.

I never would have been able to land interviews with these firms immediately after leaving the Army. I would have slid just below their radar. I owe Darden a great debt for not just giving me a great business education and helping me develop a network that will serve me for many years to come, but also for providing excellent career services, helping me reach out to recruiters and position myself for the best possible opportunties. In a small effort to start giving back, I have volunteered some time to show prospective students around during their visits to Darden, and I’ve reached out to a few military applicants to offer personal assistance with their admissions process.

All the work and practice paid off. I had several successful first round interviews, and was invited to second round interviews with a number of firms. After a few weekends of flying to different offices to conduct second round interviews, I received several great summer internship offers. In most cases, these internships pay nearly double my Army salary on a monthly basis, which is quite humbling. More importantly, all of these offers provide an opportunity to learn more about consulting in general, and whichever firm I end up with in particular. At this point, I am favoring one offer over the others, but I feel it’s best to withhold my decision from the blog (which is published on the Darden portal, after all) until I make my decision known to all of the recruiters and interviewers that have been so helpful and supportive through the process. I can say, however, that it is looking very likely I will end up in the greater New York area for the summer.

Classes have ramped back up, and, amazingly, the third quarter is almost halfway over already. It’s flying by, and with recruiting activities winding down, I am free to focus on my classes. I’m spending a lot of time working on Finance (FMP), Decision Analysis (DA), Strategy (STRAT), and Global Economies and Markets (GEM). DA is proving to remain my favorite class, as we’ve jumped deep into competitive analysis. Given that I am generally clueless in Finance, I am really learning a lot in that class as well. Until a week ago, I had no idea what a “future” was, now I’ve learned how businesses can hedge against rising fuel costs by purchasing futures options in the market. I really like how much I’m learning in that class… and the case method works surprisingly well in this context.

So, what’s next? I have a few weeks of classes left, and then it’s time for Spring Break! My trip to Costa Rica has been locked down. I’m going, and it’s going to be great… I have an intermediate surf lesson booked for every day I’m there.  In preperation for the trip, I’ve begun replacing half of my runs with swims at the Aquatic Fitness Center. I can’t wait.

I hope everyone is well out there, and I hope to be a little more prompt in my next posting 🙂

Mayflies get One Day

February 25, 2008

Please note that this was a historical post moved over from my old site. This was originally posted December 15th, 2007. 

Mayflies spend their entire lives underwater, dodging predatory fish and trying valiantly to live until adulthood. Their lives range from several weeks to several years, depending on the specific species. But all species have one thing in common: they get to fly for one day. On the last day of their lives, they reach adulthood, their new wings become functional, and they manage to leap from the water and take flight. They see a whole new world that had never before exisiting for them. After mating on this day, the Mayflies die, and they cycle repeats itself.

There is a great deal we can learn from the noble mayfly. We, fortunately, have more than one day. But sometimes the concept of maybe living as if we only had one day left is worthy of our consideration.

I received a call from an author that is writing a biography about a friend of mine that passed away in Iraq almost exactly a year ago. After confirming he had the blessing of my friend’s family, I was anxious to help tell the story of this remarkable individual. And so it all poured forth. I told of the jokes, the professional disagreements, the “off-line” conversations that centered upon a mutual frustration at the organizational inertia we felt we were sometimes fighting. When our unit arrived in Ramadi in 2006, we were inheriting the most dangerous city in the most dangerous province in the most dangerous country in the world. Our commander, desperate for a solution to the bloody stalemate that had prevailed for the past several years, decided wisely to change tack and began speaking with some who had been bitter enemies only a few short months before. My friend, Travis, was the critical face man for this effort. Fluent in Arabic, educated and experienced regarding Arab culture, and committed to the opportunities afforded such an effort, Travis forged relationships with tribal leaders. He won them over one at a time… some through kind conversation and gentle persuasion, others through the clever use of fear of being rendered irrelevant to an emerging movement. Irrelevance is a dishonor worse than death for an Iraqi tribal sheikh. And young, willing men began to swell the police ranks. My job, far less glamourous and far more “nuts and bolts”, became much harder as I struggled to find a way to get them all processed and trained. Our units provided resources they really couldn’t afford to get the job done, as if everyone collectively saw the vision at the same time… that this was the key to breaking the stalemate in Ramadi, the key to turning the tide on Al Qaeda in Iraq. This vision was Travis’ vision earlier than any of us, save maybe for COL Macfarland, our commander.

On December 6th, 2006, Travis and two other friends, Megan and Vincent, were killed on a mission to show a western reporter a new, fully functional police station in what was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Ramadi. The perpretrators of this crime were soon apprehended, largely as a result of the help from Iraqis who had come to call Travis a friend. A few weeks later our commander presented our strategy and the emerging success to a congressional delegation. Shortly thereafter, a new “surge” strategy was announced. Now, there is growing agreement that this strategy was successful. I think this is probably largely true. However, I think this strategy has been successful because of a successful proliferation of the techniques used to pacify Ramadi across the entire nation of Iraq. This fundamental policy shift from focusing on fixing and empowering the bumbling central government to focusing on empowering local authorities and partnering with them to drive out the real enemy, Al Qaeda in Iraq, permitted a successful surge effort to largely succeed.

The unit that replaced us in Ramadi came with fresh minds and energy, and they took the success there to a higher level than we even thought possible when we left. I’ve received photos of fixed streets and cleaned neighborhoods, new schools and functioning generators… even a 5K race being run by young atheletes on a street that I can only remember as a good place to go if you wanted to get into a firefight or worse.

As I spoke with this distinguished author about this story, it came back in a cold rush, particularly events of Dec. 6th, 2006. We owe it to all we’ve lost, either in the military or in the normal course of life, to take the lesson of the Mayfly and apply it to our own lives… to live each day like it could be our last.

Exams wrapped this week at Darden, and the first semester drew to a close. The reality that one-fourth of our effort has been expended hit hard upon exhausted students. It was a challenging few months, particularly the last few months. And more challenges remain, clearly, as the recruiting season really heats up in January and we begin to interview and vie for exciting internships that hopefully become exciting careers. I felt pretty confident about my performance on all of the exams. However, there were a few that I just couldn’t tell… I could either have nailed them or I could have completely shanked them. We’ll see in a few weeks. The last exam was operations, and I felt very good about that one. I finished in record time, and had time to make the entire process of my thinking explicit. I had a chance to refine my responses. Upon submission, I began talking to some friends about their impressions. Through the conversation, I realized that I had made one critical mistake that made every response on my exam incorrect. It was small and simple, but I had failed to annualize weekly figures in all cases. An email conversation with the professor placated my concerns… I would not be significantly penalized for such a small yet consistent mistake. Happy, I began to plan the details of my winter break in greater detail now that the break itself became imminent.

I’ll start the break by taking off to San Francisco for a few days to visit technology companies and consulting firms in the bay area. Then I’ll spend Christmas with my family in Cumberland, MD, and spend some of my time trying to apply some of what I’ve learned at school to the family business. Then I’m off to Vegas for New Years… sure to be my coolest New Year’s celebration since Paris in 2004-5. At some point, possibly upon my return from Vegas, I’ll shoot down to Florida to see my Dad and stepmother Pat, and then I’ll come back to Charlottesville for a week of interview drills before we start again. Wow, it’s going to go fast.  But then, it always does.

Ask the mayfly.

Recruiting, Ravens, and Exams

February 25, 2008

Please note that this is a historical post moved over from my old site. This was originally posted December 8th, 2007.

The first semester classes have drawn to a close at Darden, and now we’re only left with the spector of exams next week. Classes ended really ended with a whimper, not so much of a bang. This makes sense… at some point in November, most students minds are so saturated with so many new concepts that our ability to process more is severely compromised.

And then there is the recruiting push. Unfortunately, business school is not a place to go to find yourself. It’s pretty much assumed that you’ve done that already when you arrive. If not, it’s not a big deal, you have a least… 2 weeks to figure it out after the beginning of classes. Fortunately, Darden does a good job of helping students with resources such as Career Next Step , Bristol Meyers Brigg scores, and multiple other personality and aspiration tools. In the end, for most of us, the process doesn’t break tremendous new ground, but actually acts to, in a very deliberate manner, validate what we already thought. So, now I know I want to start out in strategy consulting. That’s what I thought. But the process is valuable insomuch as it is deliberate, and it requires a measure of self-awareness that is healthy. So it’s good to know why strategy consulting makes sense for me.

So, I attended every consulting firm’s briefing at Darden. Most of the major firms recruit here, and they offer office hours frequently so that students can try to obtain answers to their more in-depth questions about the firms in a low-risk setting. Additionally, it’s generally a good idea to learn more about the firm by reaching out to Darden alumns that are working in these firms. I personally liked to find Darden alumni at the firms that have a military background, since I knew that they had a unique insight into the transition that I’m undergoing now… and it’s always better to leverage someone else’s experience, and not reinvent the wheel every time.

But it came to a head last week. All the major firms and most companies had a deadline of December 7th for submission and consideration of resumes and cover letters for summer 2008 internships. Now, I completed a very solid resume after much hacking, revising, and pasting way back in October. But now it was necessary to write individual cover letters for each firm, validating my interest and effectively proving that I had completed my due diligence… that I did my research, knew what the firms’ individual aspects were, and that I gave it some thought before I decided to apply. The temptation early was to generate a “boiler plate” cover letter and do a “find and replace”, adjusting only the administrative information on the cover letter to match that of the target firm. But this is a mistake… contrary to popular belief, I think firms actually read cover letters. Thus, you’re missing an opportunity to market yourself if you don’t take the cover letter seriously… it’s an opportunity to address the “fit” with that company or firm, and that “fit” isn’t something that is usually explicit in the resume. So I sucked it up and wrote the letters on an individual basis. The resulting letters were just better that way… more personal. In one case, I sat down to write the letter and realized I knew little about the firm. I think I made the healthy conclusion not to apply… it wouldn’t be fair to the firm in question, and it would only make my life more difficult if I were offered an interview.

So, trying to finish cover letters, fill out online applications, finish up our final cases, and prepare for final exams… yeah, it was a busy week.

Not busy enough for me, apparently, though, since I decided to take my first absences of the semester and head to Baltimore on Monday night to catch the Ravens/Patriots game. As the miles between me and Charlottesville increased, I felt some of the associated stress slip away. My friend Jim and I went to the game and sat in the south endzone, only a few rows back from the action. The Ravens were coming in at 4-7… clearly not a playoff season. However, this was Monday Night Football… national television audience, and this was the New England Patriots. They were undefeated, and 20 point favorites over the Ravens.

The game was phenomenal. The Ravens gave the Patriots fits, and led in the final minute. A series of outlandish plays and penalties, including one on the fans for hitting Randy Moss with a plastic bottle and another on Samari Roule for tossing a flag into the raucous group of fans sitting in front of me, resulted in the Patriots sustaining their final drive through two fourth down conversions and finally into the endzone. A last second heave by Kyle Boller landed in the Ravens’ hands three yards from the endzone… but no further. The Ravens lost in a tight, exciting game. They played well enough to cast a pleasant light on this week’s Sunday Night Game against the Colts… maybe we can beat them.

I returned to Charlottesville on Tuesday morning, aware that my voice had left me sometime in the third quarter the night before. I reflected in the reduced stress level associated with the distance I put between myself and Darden the night before. The next day I bought my plane ticket for Spring Break 2008. Costa Rica, here I come.

Darden and the DB Factor

February 25, 2008

Please note that this is a historical post moved from my original site. The date was November 28th, 2007. 

Hey everyone, I’m pleased to announce that my blog is now going live via RSS feed to Darden’s page. The Darden PR people will never forgive themselves… (j/k, Sue, thanks for the help!).

About a month ago, a good friend, former Army buddy, and all-around good guy name Will Bardenwerper wrote an op-ed piece for the NY Times reflecting on what he perceived to be a general disconnect between the home front and the battlefield in the war on terror.

Will is a guy who had a successfull, albeit nascent, Wall Street career before getting a little upset after 9/11 and joined the Army to set things right. He led a successful Army career, first as an Infantry platoon leader, and later as our Brigade’s Public Affairs Officer. He writes in his op-ed about the apparent apathy among the high-rolling ranks of Wall Street investment bankers and other movers and shakers when it comes to the issues of our nation’s security, and the increasing burden upon those who have volunteered to provide it.

Recently I had the opportunity to view the Robert Redford film “Lions for Lambs”, which calls out this very same apathy among undergraduate college students. The film, panned universally by critics, rang true with me in the end. As clumsy as the combat scenes tended to be (this is the normal reaction veterans have to the film industry’s apparently fruitless efforts to recreate the real thing), the message was borne out. Too many young Americans are maybe just a little too caught up in Chris Crocker and his rants about Brittany. We are on the verge of a historical presidential election during one of our nation’s most divisive times… we are facing unprecedented challenges in the realm of international relations… and, now, thanks to Global Economies and Markets, I know we’re also probably on the edge of a recession or at least a correction (knowledge may be power but it’s also a reason to worry, and I’m learning again now that I’m back at school). Yet Madden tournaments and three-year-old carribean murder cases are at the center of attention for the average young American.

And in Will Bardenwerper’s world, managers are complaining about paying more than a 15% tax on their “interest income” generated by shrewdly managing someone else’s money. Sigh.

There is what I call the DB factor. I won’t get too elaborate on this point, but the “DB” stands for a middle-school insult that somehow still seems relevant to me even to this day.

At Darden, I look around at my classmates and I notice that the DB factor is pretty damn low. Even when I look past the diversity of the students, and past the classmates who came from a military background, and even past the students who have pulled themselves to this point from a white collar background, I see it in everyone else: a very, almost unexpectedly, low DB factor. The Darden community is putting together a great auction to benefit “Building Goodness in April”, a wonderful charity in which groups of students head out and spend their time and the newly raised funds to refurbish the homes of those less fortunate. We are sponsoring a great “Toys for Tots” drive (I’ve already given one of my favorite toys: Kinex), and I can’t even begin to say how grateful I personally am to the Darden Military Association (DMA) and its associated sponsors for their support of military candidates and students at Darden. Probably the most important thing to me, however, is the in-depth description of pro-bono work I’ve heard from almost every company or firm that has come to brief on-grounds. It’s nice to know that giving a damn doesn’t stop when you get an MBA. In fact, it’s nice to know that you have the potential to do a lot more good as a result of getting one.

Will’s point remains solid. My stepbrother, Alex, is still in Mosul, and so my thoughts never stray far from Iraq. The fireworks at the Tech game last Saturday had the predictable result of having me duck and search involuntarily for the safest piece of earth to get under. A bag of garbage on the side of the road is still somehow a bit more ominous… I subconsciously swing my little car around it, avoiding it at all costs. And sometimes, even now, when leaving my apartment for the cold walk to grounds in the morning, I find myself feeling not just for my keys, wallet, and phone… but also my weapon, which, of course, was turned in for the final time last February.

But as long as we can remember the big picture while focusing on improving our little one, I think we can all collectively keep the DB factor down. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m not dead…

February 25, 2008

Please note this is a historical post moved from my old site. This is from November 8th, 2007. 

Hey all,

Thought I’d finally update. The first year at Darden has lived up to its reputation, and the time affectionately named “Black November” by preceding classes has begun. The first quarter exams finished almost a month ago, and we started right into our new classes. Now I’m taking marketing, accounting, finance, global markets, and operations. I’m pretty happy with my exams grades… I could have done better on a few, but all of them were good enough for me to be happy.

The real reason that I’ve been busier recently though is the recruiting process. My spare time is often spent practicing case interviews, although spare time is certainly a rare commodity at this point. Add to that the company briefings, cocktail receptions, networking dinners, open office hours, and even sponsored tailgates on weekends, and it’s a real rat race. It’s worth it, though… one of the reasons you come to a good b-school is to land an exciting job at a good firm. You want to study and learn the material, and get good grades, but at the end of this experience you want to walk into a new career that is rewarding and that fits you. And the firm that eventually hires you wants to know that you are a good fit for them. So, they do a lot of tire-kicking first… multiple interview rounds. I’m interested in strategy consulting, which means that I am mostly looking at case interviews, which are unique among interviews. Case interviews are basically a situation in which the interviewer gives you a business situation and you conduct an analysis and make a recommendation… usually in about 20-30 minutes. It’s not a written test, it’s given to you verbally, and you’re expected to communicate your thought process as you work through it. There is some basic math, of course. Ever try figuring out 8% of 63 million in your head while someone is looking at you? Yeah… takes practice.

I am trying to find time to do more fun things, as well. Tonight I’m headed out to the Thursday Night Drinking Club (or TNDC), which is every bit as scandalous as it sounds (and twice as much fun!). I’m still managing to make it to the gym several days a week, although it’s definitely getting tougher to find the time. I have taken up watching The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm when I can make it home in time. And UVA’s football team is really pretty good this year (8-2). Basketball season should be a blast here, too, and it’s just getting started. I loved going back to Penn State in September to see the Notre Dame game, see my little brother’s place (typical undergrad apartment), and just see how SC has changed.

A lot has happened since my last update. Keith is engaged to Kelleigh in NH, my friend Jim was married (I got to be the best man!), and my friend Troy has become an uncle. It’s all good news, for sure.

Looking ahead… it looks like I will get a few days to get away over Thanksgiving, which will be great. I’m heading to San Francisco in December to see some companies that don’t recruit on grounds here at Darden. That will bite into my Christmas break, but I’ll still have a few weeks to see family and friends. For spring break, I’m heading to Costa Rica for a week of beach and surfing. If anyone thinks they might have some time off in the spring, let me know if you’re interested, I’m openly recruiting a small crew for this great trip.

This is a historical post moved over from my old site. The date of the original post was August 19th, 2007. 

Do you still have dreams that you’ve overslept and missed a final? Or that you forgot that you had a class all semester and never went, and suddenly it shows up on your grades? These nightmares have followed me ever since undergrad at Penn State… probably exactly the price I had to pay for having such a damn good time while there. And now, I’m back, and it’s really kinda weird. I mean, I haven’t been in a classroom in five years. A lifetime of events and memories have occurred since then. And now, it’s like deja vu. My first Darden class wasn’t actually a class… it was a refresher in Economics. It was actually optional, and I even paid for the privilege. But nonetheless, suddenly I’m back in a classroom, and I’m surrounded by a bunch of other young adults, and we’re discussing business and economics and the teacher is lecturing and (whimper). Well, to be honest, the econ was a waste of time. The course didn’t go very far and the concepts were covered entirely too broadly, so I felt as if we were missing out on some important details. The good news was that I was learning to function in a classroom environment again. The course lasted until last Wednesday, when I started the Accounting module. This, too, was optional. However, as I’ve never had an accounting class a day in my life, it was very useful. I learned an awful lot. The prof used a lot of old Accounting tests and cases for us to get used to the Darden method of instruction. It’s important to note that Darden is 100% case-based. Many b-schools are case-based, but they only cover a few cases per class per semester, or they only cover them in more abstract courses. Darden and Harvard are kinda unique in that they teach everything through cases. Harvard is obviously the standard-bearer in case studies and their cases are used all over the country, including at Darden.

A case is essentially a short story about a business, with lots of supporting documentation, and then a bunch of discussion and questions. The typical Darden day is 3 classes, over by 2 PM, and then 5 hours to study the cases on your own and try to determine answers, and then meeting with your assigned “Learning Team” from 7-11 PM to argue/defend your case with your colleagues. Then you go to class the next day, where the prof questions you on the case and the class discusses it. There is no lecture, not even in a class like accounting. It’s all taught through example and hands on application. I’ve heard we’ll have 3 cases per day, 5 days a week. What a pain in the ass… however, it’s also clear that it works. Every second-year I’ve talked to swears by this workload as the best way to prepare for internships and business in general.
I have been impressed by the diversity of our class… we have more then the average number of women (30%) and international students (35%).

Social events are also picking up. Monday and Tuesday nights were drinking engagements at local bars, in which I mingled and met people and forgot names and generally had a good time. Thursday we played soccer (I suck at soccer but it was still fun). Saturday I went to a barbecue at a student’s house and then we were off to a social engagement at a professor’s home.

I continued this trend of meeting and shaking, and last night we took the fun to “The Corner”. “The Corner” is UVA’s undergrad bar destination, and it was fun. I finally got that “I’m older than everyone here” feeling. Unlike at Penn State, the bars here have a rep for letting a lot of fake IDs through, so there are a lot of underage kids joining in the party. But all those college drinking nights came back in a hurry and we had a good time. Beer was cheap (very cheap!) and good times were had by all. Apparently the required after-bar food here is something called a “Gusburger”, which is essentially a burger topped with a fried egg. It tasted a lot better then it sounds. My apartment is only a five minute walk from Darden, but it’s too far to walk to any of these nightlife establishments. So, no worries, apparently a cab can take you there for about 7 bucks, which is even cheaper if you split it. Half of my class lives in the same apartment complex.

Some other good news this week pertaining to school. Darden was ranked number four b-school in the nation by Forbes, who relies entirely on return-on-investment on your MBA. This represents a four-place jump since the last such poll. And we were all pleasantly surprised to find out that a Darden second-year is now engaged… to Jenna Bush. Where the hell am I?

So far, though, my favorite thing about this school is the free Starbucks in the morning. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but that could be destined to change soon in the coming year, I think. And, no, that’s probably not really my favorite thing… it’s just my favorite touch.

So, today we’re off to orientation and taking our class photo. Orientation continues tomorrow and Tuesday, with the assignment of our sections and learning teams. We’ll be together as a team for the year, and as a section for the quarter (they divide the year into quarters here). On Wednesday, real classes start, and the fun begins!

This weekend, I’m heading to the AL gulf coast just in time to be battered by a hurricane (j/k)…. actually the officers of my old unit are getting together for a reunion. I haven’t seen some of these guys for several years, so I’m looking forward to what is required to be a good time. This will probably be my last big trip for the semester.

Well, I hope that everyone is well… Jim’s wedding creeps closer, and his bachelor party is coming together… no more details there, that will remain largely secret. My parents are getting close to finally opening their store in Cumberland, MD, and my bud Austin is getting close to finishing the already infamous “Wilson” movie. When it’s released, I’ll send you all a link… you’ll need to check it out… he’s put a lot of time and effort into creating it, and it should really rock.

So, until the next time I can come up for air…


February 25, 2008

Please note, this is an old post transferred from my old blog site. Original date was July 26th, 2007.

 Wow, it’s been a busy week. Since my last blog, I went to DC to my friend Matt’s birthday party (two weeks ago). It was a great time… since it was the 14th, he had the whole thing themed around Bastille Day… with predictably fantastic results. Then I spent the better part of a week helping load and unload commercial shelving for my parents… they’re going to be opening a country store in downtown Cumberland, MD, in a few weeks. Last weekend I went to sunny LA. I flew into LAX on Friday, rented a car (free upgrade to a Chrysler 300 from an economy car, score!) and went to the Marriott where I was staying. It was in Marina del Rey, located between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. I wanted to visit my old college bud, Steve, and maybe do a little surfing too. I lugged the board with me. Steve and I scoped out the local Kwiki-Mart (formerly a 7-11 now made up to look like a Kwiki Mart for the movie) and then grabbed a bite in Century City. Afterwards, we did a driving tour of Bev Hills and Rodeo Drive. Then I went to bed (jet lag!) and got up in the morning with waves on my mind. I drove down to Manhattan beach, but the surf from a distance didn’t look too good. So I parked (pretty far away, traffic and parking are both generally a nightmare in LA) and walked down sans board. Of course, when I got closer, the waves looked much better, so I rushed back and grabbed the board. Needless to say, it turned out to be a great day. Between Saturday and Sunday, I had some of the best rides in my life. The waves were bigger than even France, and they came more consistently, with less chop and longer frequency. This was cool because this way I could more easily paddle out to the lineup without exhausting myself getting past the breakers. I fell plenty, too, of course, but for the first time, I could really see turns and moves happening, less voluntarily than instinctive, and it was great. Man, I am telling you, surfing is the bee’s knees.

So, other than that, Steve and I went out Saturday and Sunday night in Santa Monica for food, shopping, and drinks. The nightlife is quite good, and the place is just full of beautiful people. I stayed away from the most pretentious places, fortunately.

Well, I hardly had time to relax upon my return on Monday, because the furniture shipment was coming to my new apartment on Wednesday (yesterday). Since the shipment could arrive as early as 8 AM, I had to leave to Charlottesville at 4 AM, packed and ready to go. So naturally, the movers didn’t come until almost 3 PM, and found me both tired and a bit irritated. My irritation grew as they couldn’t open the crates (didn’t have the right tools) and pretty much put everything wherever they wanted. However, I did manage to get them to take all the packing materials with them. I’m about halfway unpacked now, still a long way to go. However, it’s beginning to take shape. I did get my internet up, and cable is on the way. Today I picked up my official “Darden” laptop. Tonight, I’m heading to DC to an alumni party for current Darden students (Yay, network!).