Halfway through Semester 1

I was talking to my best friend last night about how life here at HBS is a conundrum. In one sense, I feel like I have been here for years, and in another sense I can't believe I'm already halfway through my first semester. Somehow the individual weeks go by so quickly because I'm so busy, but as a whole I feel like I've been in Boston much longer than 2.5 months.

As I'm sure you can infer from the introduction, 2 weeks ago was our midterm week. We had three exams (Accounting, TOM and LEAD), although only Accounting and TOM actually count toward our final grade (the reason they give us a 3-hour, ungraded essay exam in LEAD perplexes me...am I irrational in thinking that if I'm going to spend 3 hours on something, I should at least receive a mark for it?). With that in mind, I thought I'd go through and do a brief review of each of my classes and professors now that we're at the midway point so you can get a sense for what I'm learning every day.

1) LEAD (i.e. Leadership and Organizational Behavior): This is actually my favorite class. Our teacher, Michel Anteby, is a little bald Frenchman whom I find so cute. The class is structured so that we not only do cases, but also interactive projects that help us learn about our individual leadership style, and how we would handle difficult managerial situations when we're actually in the business world. One of the more interesting simulations we did was called the Lingua Franca Iceberg Simulation. It involved a computer program that garbled the typed text of two people in a group of four to mimic language barriers. We had to work together in a limited time frame to develop a project while fighting through not being able to understand each other. It's amazing how frustrating it was, but also a good lesson as companies become ever more global. When we're not doing simulations, we're often reading cases about specific people and their challenges in creating successful groups, developing successful one-on-one work relationships and in aligning business incentives to create cohesive organizations. My overall course grade: A.

2) Marketing: I'm actually surprised that this hasn't turned out to be my favorite class, but I think it's because the casework blows hot and cold. We've had some incredibly interesting cases on "sexy" brands like Coca Cola, Snapple, the New VW Beetle and Starbucks, and then we've had perhaps the most boring cases ever on companies like Sealed Air (they produce inflated packing material for shipping), KONE (an elevator manufacturer) and some company I can't even remember who manufactures metalworking fluid. Metalworking fluid?! Come on people. When we're not dealing with these less than exciting companies, the class is really fun and I do feel that I'm learning a lot about developing marketing campaigns and dealing with challenges in each of the marketing sectors (i.e. the Four P's or promotion, place, price and product). My overall course grade: B

3) Financial Reporting and Control (aka Accounting): Of all the quantitative subjects, I'm surprised at how much I actually like accounting. The subject matter doesn't have the best reputation throughout the world for being incredibly stimulating, but somehow I feel it's like a puzzle with the debits and credits, and making sure both sides of the balance sheet, well, balance! I can't say it's not hard, because we've had a few classes where I've had absolutely NO idea what is going on, but overall we've tackled a huge range of accounting concepts and truly gotten a glimpse at how subjective accounting can be (and therefore how easy it is for companies to "hide" information in their financial statements, whether intentional or by accident). We've currently just finished our module on Financial Accounting, and starting next week we're diving into Managerial Accounting, which I've had no prior exposure to, so that should be interesting to see how I do. Overall course grade: B-

4) TOM (Technology and Operations Management): This course was my enemy for the first half of the semester, and I think many of my classmates would agree. Basically, the coursework looked at many different kinds of factories and the processes by which products are made. This doesn't sound so hard, but when you start throwing in metrics like cycle time, throughput time, added value time, idle time, machine utilization, etc., it becomes mind boggling. There are so many numbers and so few indications of what to do with those numbers, and help is hard to find because this is the one subject area that almost no one has encountered before in their work experience. The good news? We were allowed a "cheat sheet" for the midterm exam -- one 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper filled with as much information as you could fit (thank you computer and small font!). This cheat sheet is what helped me score an 86% on the exam, which I am extremely happy with. The even better news? The class is now shifting into a more qualitative module on supply chain management and improving operations from a less technical standpoint. Right up my alley! Overall course grade: Was a D, but I'll give it a B- going forward.

5) Finance: Now that TOM is no longer my enemy, I can shift my anger toward our Finance class. We happen to have an excellent professor for this course (his name is Andre Perold, he has a great South African accent and he just so happens to be the course head so he knows his stuff), but I just find it all so confusing and non-intuitive. I've been working with a tutor almost since the start of the course, AND I am a regular at the weekly review sessions, but I still struggle to keep up and truly understand what we are doing. We started the semester analyzing financial statements and doing discounted cash flow analysis, which I actually got with a lot of hard work, but now we're on a risk and return module working with CAPM, beta, the sharpe ratio, etc., and while I have a basic idea of the concepts, I find them incredibly hard to apply, especially in a case setting. If I could give one suggestion to the MBA program, it would be to split this class in two -- put those students with Finance backgrounds in a more advanced, perhaps case based course, and stick us dummies in a lecture class so we can actually be taught theconcepts, rather than struggle through cases night after night not knowing what to do. Overall Course Grade: C-

5 Responses to "Halfway through Semester 1"

Finance Tutor responded on November 1, 2008 at 12:24 PM #

Hi There,
A very nice blog.

If you need any help with accounting or finance, please let know. It will be my pleasure to help out.


Finance Tutor

Anonymous responded on December 31, 2008 at 1:14 PM #

what books did you use for each of these courses?

GabrielleBill responded on January 11, 2009 at 10:38 AM #

Hi there,

We do not actually use textbooks, other than a Corporate Finance book for reference. The school gives out module notes for some classes that briefly go over certain topics, but for the most part all of your learning occurs through case discussions.


Michelle responded on October 13, 2011 at 8:26 AM #

Hi there,
You have an amazing blog here.

I'm wondering how the exams in hbs are given. What is the percentage of the exam to your overall grade? And how does the grades are computed? Are the exams heavy on quants or essay writing?

This questions are quite late but I hope to hear from you.

Thanks a lot.

Best regards,

Gabrielle responded on October 13, 2011 at 8:36 AM #

Hi Michelle,

For most courses, the Final Exam is 40-50% of your grade, with the other half made up by a participation score, and occasionally a mid-term that counts for 10%. Exams are both heavy quant and heavy essay writing -- basically for the quant subjects, you'll usually have to do significant calculations and then use your responses to create an essay answering a question (or several) about a case. We don't actually receive typical grades at HBS. We're graded on a forced curve with the top 20% of students receiving a "1", the middle 70% receiving a "2" and the bottom 10% receiving a "3." I hope that was helpful!