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End of Quarter 1

Today, I finished my first semester of the UCLA fully-employed MBA program. The final obstacle, the statistics final, was met and exceeded.

So what do I think of my experience to date?

There have been three main classes so far. The first class was a five-day intensive orientation class, focusing on business leadership. The other two classes, accounting and statistics, took place once a week (Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning, respectively) for the last 12 weeks.

The orientation class had some interesting features. There was a lot of group work involved, so it gave students a good chance to meet others. (My best way of meeting people is working with them. This shouldnít be surprising, given my innate introversion and work ethic. Perhaps a generalization would be to say that one of the best ways of meeting people is to share common experiences.) The last two group projects that I worked on were difficult experiences. I think that we missed some important points (or were not clear enough in our presentation), and that we put more work into the projects than necessary (perhaps due to the group dynamics). On the other hand, the other group members were fine people to meet, and I think that some of them will become friends.

I was a bit apprehensive going into the main part of the quarter. I wasnít sure what to expect out of the classes. Fortunately, both accounting and statistics were very analytical. I can play with numbers and math all day. This may help ease the transition from the engineering and mathematics world that I am familiar, to the business world, which involves non-quantitative skills at times. I usually spend an hour or two on the weekday evenings (Monday through Wednesday) working on my homework, which is actually a fairly significant impact considering that my job takes more than 40 hours a week, too.

The professor was one of the main features of the introductory accounting class. Dr. David Aboody brought a surprising passion to accounting. There is an underlying story to the numbers reported in financial statements, and that story needs to be teased out in order to truly understand the value of a company. Aboody discussed and gave examples of how the financials are manipulated, so that we, as prospective investors, can make more informed judgments. (I suppose that he was also giving examples of how we, as prospective business owners, can manipulate numbers to fake prospective investors. Knowledge is power, and it is up the person to use it ethically.)

Dr. Richard Stern, the statistics professor, was an interesting contrast to Aboody. His style was more along the lines of a traditional academic and mathematics-orientated professor. (I admit to identifying with him, due to my somewhat similar background and idiosyncrasies. How can I not like a guy who publishes his self-written C code in the lecture notes?) I thought that the lectures were particularly good (and the lecture notes excellent), and Sternís expertise was apparent. It was not a class in the mathematics department, though, and as the examples and homework problems related the math to actual business problems. Return on investment and risk management are two of the most important topics in business, and I believe that this class provided some tools to quantify both of those.

So, it was a good quarter. (I anticipate Aís in both classes.) There was a lot of work, of course. But I am glad to be back in the academic world, and I believe that I learned interesting and useful things. I have been very impressed with the quality of professors in the program. Some might say that I havenít been stretched yet (out of the quantitative world), and that future classes will kick my butt. But I am learning new things, and gaining new perspective on old things. The future will hold new challenges, and the skills that I have now will form the basis for embracing it.

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Comments

Jeff -- you seem to have covered the spectrum with time on "leadership" and time in the quantitative methods area of management. I always liked statistics myself and have been intrigued by the importance of accounting knowledge in setting the direction of a business. We (i.e., BP) have added a competency related to "understanding accounts" to a development program we are doing with MIT for project managers (actually "Major" project managers, i.e., $50million+ projects). For instance, the trade-off between capex and opex is one of the great mysteries of project choices that can't be fathomed without an understanding of accounting.

Glad to hear you are being energized by the experience. Maybe a PhD is in your future?

Have a Merry Christmas (even though Betsy will be in Colorado, right?)

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