Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jobs after Business School

If you're in some fancy business school, or thinking about enrolling, I want to tell you about the kind of jobs people take post-MBA.  I compiled this list using an extensive corpus of two three people 10 years out of Wharton and INSEAD, so I must be right and you're wrong.  If you want my general advice, learn something like medicine, farming, or carpentry -- at least you'd be useful during the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

Management consulting
What is it? Talking to management who already knows what needs to be done, telling them that they need to do it. Providing your stamp of approval so they can go to their board.
Advising clueless management that don't want to ever change anything. Coming up with a 150-page recommendation that would never be implemented, using complicated buzzwords nobody understands like 6-sigma and lean manufacturing.

Investment Banking/M&A
Liaising between buyer and seller who already know what they want to do and at what price. Coming up with a 50-slide deck and 300-page prospectus (which is 90% copy-and-paste job) justifying the transaction and price.

Investing/Private Equity
Screening 200 potential investment leads, searching for gems. Eventually realizing that the good companies don't need your money and that the ones that come to you are in terrible shape.

Equity Research
Building an Excel model in 2 hours with super simplistic growth and margin assumptions, using house template of course. Coming up with a story line to accompany your calculations. Checking with other research houses regularly, to make sure you're not saying something completely insane.  Adjust the numbers upwards if the stock goes up, and vice versa. Goal seek everything.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Case study Managing companies mega-retailer extraordinaire, the gold standard of successful companies. Extensive selection of merchandise, exemplary customer service, an inspiration to e-businesses everywhere. Boon to its investors too with its superlative business model, having evolved from a mere online bookstore to a general retailer to an e-book/media distributor to a cloud service provider -- turning from startup into the 800 pound gorilla in less than 20 years.

But Amazon's biggest challenge seems to be treating its own employees well. Heck, even the part-timers are miserable.

Why is it so hard to take care of your own workers?

For 99% of us white collar workers, perhaps the dream is to become top level management. The job of management is two-fold: upwards and downwards. Sure, your board and shareholders will be demanding that you achieve maximum profit. if you don't achieve target, then you will be penalized. If you do, they may turn and say you didn't set the target high enough. In any case, as long as you are profitable and growing, then at your board meeting you can proudly stand with your head held high.

But as we can see in the Amazon example, the painfully more difficult part is managing your peers and subordinates.

In the labor market, employers are competing for talent, and the best talent is (by definition) scarce. Furthermore, attracting and retaining the best also means paying up, which is a heck of a lot more difficult if yours is a small/ medium-size business, because can you really compete with the bigger (yes, there's always somebody bigger) established businesses that can guarantee bonuses, career development, and other perks that go with them?

The typical way to boost motivation is by using annual performance review and bonuses, true.  But sometimes when business is not as vibrant as you'd like, you're limited in the way you can compensate your employees . Regardless of business climate, reward for positive achievements should never be sacrificed, and deserving employees need to stand ahead of the rest.  It's supremely important to show that good work has not gone unnoticed. There's no plague at the workplace like unhappy, demoralized employees who believe that piss poor work makes no difference whatsoever.

How to motivate then? It may be easier tha you'd think, as long as there's enough work -- indeed if there's too many people and not enough tasks, people tend to get lazy. But meaningful and rewarding work go a long way. A problem in many large enterprises, special purpose teams work towards major proposals that end up never getting implemented. Managers, please don't assign for work  the sake of work itself. Identify productive tasks that cohere with the Company's mission -- if there is none, then start rethinking whether your department really needs to exist.


There was this one restaurant in Samarinda that we used to frequent. It's a decent Chinese dim-sum joint, and judging from the crowd, people seem to like it. Until last month it just suddenly went out of business. When I asked around why it closed up shop, supposedly because the chef moved out of town. Seriously? Come on, it's just simple dim sum, it's not authentic Northern French cuisine or anything. Surely the chef didn't work alone, couldn't the other cooks pick up the slack? This to me, means the chef (and by extension, the entire restaurant management), is guilty of mismanagement.


In the end, retaining the best talent is not only about paying them well, but you also want to provide a nurturing environment. You want your employees to grow, to build their skill sets, and to generally have a positive experience at the job. Naturally some of them may later find other opportunities and decide to leave, but that's OK -- no point of holding back employees whose heart is no longer with the job.   If your business has problems generating enough cash flows to compensate and reward your employees, perhaps it just means you can't afford top talents. Rationalize, get younger, develop fresher talents, knowing full well that once they mature, they may leave for greener pastures. Stop fooling yourself into thinking that yours is the best firm for the best people, because even mega-successful behemoths like Amazon have flaws that they need to address. The motivated workers always seek to improve themselves, and if you aren't providing such environment, they will leave. 

Turnover does not necessarily mean something is wrong.  In fact, for the company I'm running, I feel that I would have served my job well if I find myself redundant, expendable. Why? Because that means I've hired well, SOPs are in place, and I can just sit back, take on a supervisory role, or simply move on to the next job. The opposite, when day-to-day operations can't run without me, means that systems aren't functioning, decision making procedures don't work, and people aren't learning.

Managers around the world, please stop rewarding loyalty over merit. Loyalty is NOT a positive trait.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

On Extra-Terrestrial life

 Since the dawn of ages, humankind has looked up to the skies and wondered : "Is there anybody out there? Does extra-terrestrial life exist?"  However scientists -- outside of crop circle/Area-51/UFO conspiracy theorists -- have not found definitive evidence confirming nor negating the possibility of life in space. Sure, there is evidence of earth-like bodies such as Titan (one of Saturn's moons, complete with icy rock surfaces, oceans of liquid methane, and dense nitrogen atmosphere), Enceladus (another one of Saturn's moons, with likelihood of liquid water underneath its icy surface), and only discovered last month, Kepler 186f in another star system. These are possible places, but will actually we find evidence of life in any of these rocks?

Me, I believe that we will discover extra-terrestrial life in our lifetime. I'm a Muslim, and the Koran suggests that Allah created and spread life on earth and in the heavens, although scholars have differing interpretations. OK I'm also a Battlestar Galactica fan, and although I don't believe we will be abandoning Earth any time soon, but it's an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

Opponents say there are just too many prerequisites for life; too many reasons why Earth is so perfect to enable complex life forms. The so called "rare earth hypothesis" conjectures that in order for complex, multi cellular life to exist, there must be at least the following: a right-sized terrestrial planet (i.e. not a gaseous planet like Jupiter or Saturn) in the habitable zone (i.e. not too hot and not too cold), a central star and planetary system, the advantage of a gas giant guardian (i.e. Jupiter and Saturn's gravity protecting the Earth from stray asteroid impacts), large satellite, plate tectonics, the right atmosphere, and oceans. Not many, if any at all, planets have the advantage of all of these characteristics all at once. Earth, they argue, is so special because it ticks all of these boxes.

Sea cucumber

But in my opinion, here are some reasons why I am convinced that we will find evidence of extra-terrestrial life:

1. Looking at the signs on Earth, life has been discovered in the most extreme habitats. Bacteria lives in the upper atmosphere, where temperatures are beyond freezing, oxygen is lacking and UV radiation is plentiful. Sea cucumbers live 7 miles (!!!) deep in the Mariana Trench, where it never sees sunlight and pressures are off the charts. Mountain stone insects can be frozen solid at -10C for months in the winter and come back to life come spring.  Hydrothermal vents in the deep sea are home to dense fauna feeding off hydrogen sulfide, a highly toxic chemical, and geothermal instead of sunlight as the primary energy source.  What we now assume as inhabitable zone at some planet out there, may actually turn out to be suitable homes to some yet-to-be-identified creatures.

Hydrothermal vents

2. Historically, life on Earth has survived five major extinction events, each of which eradicated >70% of all known species, and that's before mentioning "smaller" events like the Mt. Toba eruption that covered half of the Earth in plume and greenhouse gases. The tardigrade, able to livewithstand temperatures from just above 1 K (that's -450 F or -272 C, yes that is cold) up to well above 150 C, pressures 6x greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, radiations at hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for 150 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce afterwards. Who's to say that we won't find extreme survivalists at another star system in another galaxy?

3. The pace of progress in human intelligence is exponential. In only 10,000 years -- just a tiny part of the history of Earth -- humans have advanced from solely hunter-gatherers to observing space, actually setting foot on the moon, sending a probe to Saturn and even beyond the Solar System, and building a massive space telescope that can observe events happening at the beginning of time.  We did all of that.  If there's someone/-thing out there, it's only a matter of time before we find it.

4. It's just more fun that way. Saying that we are alone, or that our Earth is somehow so special, seems so self-centered and close-minded. Curiosity and innovation are fostered when we believe things are possible. Can you imagine the world if the Wright Brothers gave up believing humans could fly like birds?

"I'll be back!" -- wait, different movie?

Will we be punching aliens ID4-style and screaming "hasta la vista baby" ? Probably not. Even assuming that complex, multi-cellular, maybe intelligent life exists at other planets, consider this: the universe is 13 billion years old, and the Earth is much younger at 4.5 billion years old. Human civilization is around half a million years old, and this whole entire human history is only possible because we are experiencing a prolonged "warm" period in between ice ages. What are the chances that humanity's time, which will only last until the next glacial period or extinction event (another 50,000 years, scientists predict), will coincide with the story of another intelligent alien being? Probably slim. And that's only considering the time dimension. What about the space? The universe, in case you haven't heard, is a pretty big place (and is continuously expanding too!). What are the chances that not only humans and aliens coincide in terms of time, but also get to meet IRL and hang out at Starbucks? I say non-existent. What is possible is that we will find undisputed evidence, probably in the form of fossils, of simple life forms (some form of bacteria?) that lived half a billion years ago at some terrestrial body somewhere in space.

And I do believe this will happen in our lifetime. I'll bet money on it.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

NFL Draft blast from the past

That's how many joints I smoked before kickoff
...or why the NFL draft is a crap shoot.

The NFL draft is coming up soon.  This is a look back into the past -- the 2005 NFL draft specifically.

Matt Jones (Arkansas QB) - Draft report from March 2005 by ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

"Former QB expected to play WR/H-back"

"....I believe is the best player in the draft"

", as a receiver, he's bigger than Southern California's Mike Williams, he's faster, he's more explosive and he might have better hands."

"Some have warned of workout warriors, citing Mike Mamula of Boston College as one who fooled everyone about his NFL potential with gaudy workout numbers.  Mamula is a bad example to bring up when talking about Jones, though. For one, I would hardly classify Jones as a workout warrior."

"...he'll play in more Pro Bowls than almost any of those guys [drafted in the top 10]".

To be fair, the top 10 consists of *drumroll*:
Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Carnell Williams, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson, Antrel Rolle, Carlos Rogers, and Mike Williams.