Grateful for 2014

It was a roller coaster of a year, but it ended up as one of the best years of my life to far. I am so grateful for how things turned out and, sincerely, I couldn’t have asked for better. Everything worked together for good: from all the dings from Harvard to Stanford GSB to Wharton to the strange outcome at INSEAD and then to getting into London Business School Exec MBA and only to end up with a deferral, it was a serious journey and it has brought me to where I am today.

A few weeks after getting over the fact that I had to defer my admission till September 2015, I took a very hard look at my life. I wondered – what if I applied the same laser focus I had during the application process into what exactly I wanted to do with my life, what would I achieve? I am so glad that I embarked on another journey of soul searching. This time around there were no questions from some admission committee members; I crafted the questions myself and I answered them, not to satisfy some Adcom members but to satisfy myself. I did not need any consultant for this either and there was no time limit.

I must confess. A lot has happened in three months when I started the journey. I am an investment manager and my motivation to go to business school was to develop the business side of things so I would be able to converge my experiences as a medical doctor and an investment manager. Right now I am in the process of incorporating a Hedge Fund that will partially morph into a Healthcare focused Private Equity Fund in a few years. Strangely, the Federal Government of Nigeria signed the National Health Bill into law a two weeks ago; this bill encourages private participation in the healthcare industry in Nigeria. This is what I have waited for, for so long. I also sampled the opinion of a few friends about the Hedge Fund and I got a resounding support: I have even gotten funds lined up waiting for the fund to get rolling. But I am keeping my fingers crossed at this time. People will promise you things out of politeness but when the time comes to deliver, the stories will start.

But the thought of running my own Hedge Fund, doing what I really like doing and setting the investment rules, while honing my business skills at London Business School is an adventure that I am looking forward to in 2015. A lot has really happened in just three months since I deferred my admission because of work, and I am positive that a lot of many more good things will happen in the next nine months before school starts. I can’t wait!

London Business School Calls…

After my interview session at the London Business School in Dubai campus, my wife and I stayed back for a few days to enjoy the city before heading back home. The admission committee members who interviewed me told me that I should hear back from them latest by Thursday this week. I had already set my expectations for Wednesday/Thursday, only for me to open my email on Tuesday, and bam! the offer for admission was sitting right there. I checked the timestamp on the email only to discover that the email had been sent for over 24 hours!

My first instinct was to rush off an acceptance email right there on my mobile phone before they changed their minds about the admission. But now, I know I made the right choice not to send the email immediately because I am quite certain that it would have been full of grammatical errors and wrong spellings and they might have been forced to withdraw the admission. Instead, I took a deep breathe, rushed off to tell me wife about the good news and gave myself some few minutes to calm down. Then I opened up my laptop and sent an official looking and sounding acceptance email.

It was a rollercoaster of a sixteen months, which included three tries at the GMAT and lots of bucks for travels to Lagos and Dubai and application fees, not forgetting those pesky consultant fees. But I am glad the journey is over. For the past 36 hours I have been wondering what would have happened if I had hired my second consultant instead of the first for my Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and INSEAD applications. I cannot predict what would have happened with the first three schools but I feel strongly that I would have been accepted straight through at INSEAD. While the first consultant was able to put many of the puzzles in place, the second consultant brought a higher level of clarity for the LBS application process. The first consultant’s interview training was a goldmine that actually went a long way to help.

Looking back at the long painful journey of self discovery, I am glad that things turned out the way they did. I had a vertical career move in the first week of 2014. My second admission consultant felt that this promotion could have spooked the admission committees because I was unable to explain within the short period before the deadlines why I wanted an MBA at that point. Most MBA graduates who are interested to coming to Africa would be glad to take my current job. It would have been a real struggle to let go if I had been admitted into Harvard or Stanford. But I doubt I would have let go if I had gotten into Wharton. INSEAD would have been easier because I could have looked for a way to talk my employer into letting me go for only ten months and come right back to my current role. But I am glad I do not have to make that decision. I now I get to go to a great school while keeping a great job. It is the best of both worlds. Another thing is that I do not have to face the prospect of getting torn apart by a smart 22 year old in front of the class at Harvard; I think I will learn better and appreciate it more if I am slammed by a 40 year old experienced manager at the Executive MBA program in the city of Dubai. At least, I can always go to Wild Wadi after that.

And I finally got to send an email to INSEAD to take me off the waitlist, and it felt really good.

I am grateful to the Almighty God for how things have turned out. The journey of self discovery was well worth it.

And yes, I am going to London Business School!

Another ding from Stanford… and way forward.

It was not quite unexpected.

When Harvard and Wharton ding you without an interview, then you know your chances at Stanford are slim to none. I hold nothing against them because I am pretty sure there are many great applicants to pick from. I had to take a cold hard look at myself after the Wharton ding, and I came to the realization that there was really nothing I could do about who I am. I made good use of all the opportunities that came my way, but the fact that I came from a poorly understood culture did not really help matters. The Admission Committees simply did not understand me.

I make investment decisions that potentially impact the Nigerian financial markets almost on a daily basis, and I am involved in activities that have changed the actions of the managements of some listed companies in Nigeria. I am pretty sure that if these schools were Nigerian schools, they would have understood the context of candidacy and I would have stood a better chance.

Enough of the whining.

Now I know that I might have to look towards more internationally focused schools, schools that are more likely to understand the context of my candidacy. American schools have exposure to 35 – 40% international applicants. Americans with a population of about 300 million have slots for 60 – 65% of the seats while the remaining 6.7 billion of the World population fight for the remaining seats.

Now, I have to work out a strategy to get off the INSEAD waiting list. And I have a month to apply to London Business School and IESE Business School. If I have the time, I may throw in Chicago Booth into the mix, just for the fun of it.

No, the MBA dreams of the African Doctor is not dead.

I may be bruised and battered but like King Leonidas and his 300 men, my chin is up in the sky, and I will fight on.

Meanwhile, the views on my blog have almost touched 2,000. I am humbled by your belief in me, and I am grateful to those who have encouraged me all along.

I am sorry I do not have better news for you.

Coping with a ding

I saw it coming. I definitely did. When the email did not come last week, I prepared mentally for a ding, and that was exactly what I got. Harvard Business School obviously did not like me as much as I liked it. The feeling of getting dinged by your dream school is better imagined than experienced. I went through all the gamut of the Kubler-Ross grief stages (denial, anger, bargaining, grieving, and acceptance) in different cycles.When the ding finally came, I was ready for it. But it still stung.

It is hard to give up, but my real source of concern is what exactly caused the ding. After searching high and low, four reasons came up for why I was rejected. There was really nothing I could do about them because they were not my fault in the first place. I happen to be in my mid thirties, work in an unknown firm, graduated from an obscure university in the backwaters of west Africa, and had an un-explainable academic performance (there is no GPA for medical degrees in my country). After a little research I came to the realization that all of the people who went to HBS from my country that I know all had their undergraduate degrees from either the US or the UK.

My real concern now is whether Stanford also operates through the same set of standards. If it does, it simply means that I stand no chance there either. However, if the Stanford Africa Fellowship page is anything to go by then I may have a chance because they encourage Africans who got their undergraduate degree to apply for the fellowship. Well, one can only apply for it if one gets admission in the first place.

Oh well, I have started shaking the sting out of the ding. I have my second INSEAD interview in a few days. The first interview went really well. Even though the first interviewer was supposed to be the bad cop, we ended up really connecting and some of our future goals were in alignment. My full debrief for the interview will come up after the second interview. I think the second interviewer will be the good cop because of the way he sounds on the phone and the tone of his e-mails. But I have no intention of taking anything for granted.

Yikes. This application process is really tough, and it can be quite emotionally draining. But I am so glad to have the opportunity to put everything down in writing because I know that five years down the line, I will be glad that I did. I know this because I have full confidence that I will get admission to a really great school where I will be able to fulfill my destiny.

Warren Buffet was dinged by Harvard Business School. He went to Columbia where he met his mentor whose ideas ended up making him one of the richest man to have ever lived on this planet. He probably wouldn’t have fulfilled his destiny if he went to HBS. So I guess I am in good company after all.

Okay Stanford GSB, I am waiting for my interview invite. INSEAD, I am glad for the interview invite.

Wharton, I will make up my mind about you on February 21, 2014.

And Harvard, thank you for the opportunity. But if I had been admitted by both Stanford and Harvard, I would have chosen Stanford, even though Harvard was my dream school. No hard feelings. That’s just how the world works.

Selecting the Schools

After making up your mind to go for an MBA program, the next task is school selection. A lot of introspection goes into selecting the program that will make a best fit for you. You also need to consider if you will fit nicely into the school. It probably took me almost one year to make up my mind. I had to do a lot of research into the different schools that popped up on my radar before making up my mind. It sounds like a lot of hard work, but it was really quite enjoyable; that would probably the only enjoyable part of applying to a business school.

I mentioned in my earlier post that Harvard Business School and INSEAD were a slam dunk for me. Well, I mean it was easy to make up my mind to apply to both of them for several reasons. INSEAD’s main campus in France and I want to steep myself in the French culture. Anyone who speaks English and French can do business in at least 90% of African countries, which is my destination after business school. The fact that INSEAD has a reputation for breeding entrepreneurs, especially through their flexible curriculum, also appealed to me. The school also hammers a lot on international motivation; I might have stayed 99% of my life in my country but boy! am I internationally motivated. Why is my cable TV perpetually tuned to Bloomberg TV and CNBC Africa? I need not say more.

Harvard Business School (HBS) was also quite easy to lock down as a target school. In my country, HBS is highly regarded and it opens tightly locked doors easily. To put it more succinctly, the HBS tag breaks down doors. If I am to fulfill my dreams, I need to be able to take doors off their hinges. That is definitely not the pitch I intend to throw at the Adcoms, but that is the real motivation. With my CFA Charter, a school that is not well known may just end up giving me a marginal edge from where I am, and it might just be best to continue on this trajectory without hitting on a business school. Did I just say that? Oh well, approaching business school applications is like approaching the woman of your dreams. There are different stages of hurdles to cross. In Africa, you not only woo the woman, you also woo the parents.

HBS and INSEAD. Tick. But then I need more schools to apply to. At least, I need to cast my net wide enough.

Stanford was on and off my list over the research period. At a time it was my top school, and at another time, I dropped it off my list. After going through their website, some MBA oriented blogs and forums, I made up my mind to add it to my very short list of prospective programs. The fact that the school is located in the Silicon Valley, right in the midst of entrepreneurs pretty much clinched it for me. I also like the flexible curriculum that the school offers.

The last school that got into my list was Chicago Booth. I was fortunate to meet with some of the Admission guys in Singapore when I went for the CFA annual conference earlier this year. I was able to have a feel of what the school was all about. Although the school is known for its strength in finance, which I must confess is not really my forte, I just felt good about the school. A little stroll up and down the schools website and also helped me make up my mind. I also like the fact that they are trying to carve a niche for themselves in the social enterprise space, which is my final destination.

Other schools I considered were Wharton and Columbia. I had to yank them off my list for two big reasons. They seem to be quite big in finance and all my research shows that they tend to prefer candidates with high scores in GMAT quant. While I was able to score 49 – 50 in my practice tests, I just couldn’t go beyond the 47 mark in the real test. I like quantitative stuff but I just need to convert it into something a little bit more logical to retain all those hard formula. I wonder how I passed the CFA exams, which are quantitative intense. Well, those are just excuses. I actually like those schools. Warren Buffet, one of my mentors, even graduated from Columbia. I just felt something off about them. I have not been able to put my finger it, though.

Anyway, here was the acid test. I asked myself if I would gladly go to any school if I get dinged in all the others. My answer was Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes for HBS, INSEAD, Stanford and Booth, but the was answer was No! and No! for Wharton and Columbia. Sorry, we are not just compatible.

Deep sigh.

And I hope that my four chosen schools will all feel for me what I feel for them. I want one of them to be my kitchen.