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!

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.

Reviewing the applications

I woke up this morning drenched in sweat in the cold harmattan weather sweeping the West African region. The reality of my situation probably sunk into my subconscious mind overnight. I felt on top of the world before going to bed but ended up waking with a headache and feeling at the bottom of the world. Yes, I have received the interview invite from INSEAD, but the journey has just begun. Now I am going to be measured against the best from across the globe. I think I will make a good fit for INSEAD, but so will thousands of others, thousands of others who could be better fits.

The euphoria is over. Reality has sunk in. This is when I need to be true to myself. The hardest part is the wait before the final decision. I need to keep that a the back of my head and roll up my sleeves.

My new reality dragged me into an introspective good today. I decided to review my journey so far and the to look for a way to marshal my plan towards the interview. First I need to understand how I got to where I am.

I hired consultant who helped me through the applications for Harvard, INSEAD, and Stanford. I poured my heart into the applications. I bared my soul and faced my fears. The applications depicted the real me. Wharton was a difference case altogether. I have a limited war chest for the applications, so I had to lean on a colleague who I met at my former employer and who also happens to be a second year candidate at Wharton. Who else could be in a better position to guide me through the application process if not someone who hago been through the process before? There was a stark difference between the consultant and for friend. While I saw the real me shine througI with the consultant, I felt canned in the Wharton applications. I hardly recognized myself after submitting the Wharton application. Yeah, the application looked really good, and well executed but it wasn’t me. The question now is whether that would work.

So far I have been been invited by INSEAD. I hope I get invites from Harvard and Stanford. Let’s see if Wharton would work. I hope I will be able to use my experience to advise others in the future.

Does the canned method of application works? Time will tell.

Watching the deadlines

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The deadlines are here! They are less than 10 days away now!

Harvard: January 6, 2014
Wharton: January 7, 2014
Stanford: January 8, 2014

Whew!

I thought it was going to be an easy ride after getting the transcript and submitting the INSEAD applications at the nick of time. It was not been so. Now, I need to manage people. I have to keep nudging my recommenders. Luckily, I have one who is always on point; in fact, he has often been ahead of me on a few occasions. I guess that is what business school is all about. You get to fight deadlines every now and then. You have to keep pushing people to do what they have delegated them to do, including your bosses.

There are so many variables that come up for consideration.

Okay! Now putting pen on paper, rather putting fingers to keyboard has given me an idea of what to do to push for this.

So, I am too busy to complete my rambling. I will be back.

Revisiting Wharton

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I told my boss about my decision to apply to Chicago Booth instead of Wharton. His first reaction was “What’s Booth?”. He was aghast. “Well, if that’s what you want, then no problem. I will gladly do your recommendation”. This was coming from someone who has an MBA from Oxford. Someone who should know what works and what doesn’t work in Africa.

This was interesting. I decided to do a little research about what Africans, Nigerians especially, what they think about Booth. To my horror over 50% of them have never heard of Booth before, but they have all heard about Wharton. Now, my intention is to get an MBA from a school whose name would kick doors open, not merely knock on them. I was shocked back into reality that Booth would knock doors timidly in Africa.

Then I went back to Booth’s website and took a stroll around the place. Then I got another shocker. Booth is also looking for someone who would fit with the town called Chicago.

You say what??

I have no idea in the US where Chicago is located. I am an African boy. My roots are in Africa. And that is where I am going to develop with my MBA.

I’m sorry Booth. Africa just doesn’t know who you are. Poets and Quants got me fooled for a minute.

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.