The Point of No Return – Day minus 1

Friday, 07:46, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

Tomorrow I start my MBA at The Open University Business School. Unlike anything I’ve ever studied before, it’s a part-time, distance-learning qualification, and, depending on how well I cope with…

1. Getting up at 5:45am to study
2. Reading on my daily commute to and from work
3. Committing a significant chunk of my weekend to it,

…it will take around three years to complete. I’m given the option to take it even slower and complete it in 7 years, but I don’t see myself doing it in such a long time!

The main reasons I’ve chosen The OU MBA are as follows:

1. It seems to be a good course (but not in the top 10 UK programs
 I’ve found out)
2. It’s only £16k; unlike LBS that is £57k
3. It’s part-time and distance-learning – the only way I can practically embark on this
4. If I don’t finish all the modules, I still get a recognised post-graduate diploma or certificate

Although the course officially starts tomorrow, I’ve been preparing for it for about a month now, mainly to assess how I will be able to cope with everything when it all kicks off.

I don’t have an answer yet, by the way.


Doing Maths on a Saturday Night – Day Minus 7

Saturday 23:05, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

I’ve just taken a maths test. It’s part of The MBA Handbook by Sheila Cameron. (I’m just going to call her Sheila; she has been with me nearly every single day for the last month and has travelled with me to Sweden, Belgium, Germany, USA and Canada – we’re definitely on a first name basis!)

So, Chapter 13 – Using numbers. I thought I could skip this chapter as:

1. My maths skills are ok; perhaps a little rusty, but ok
2. I didn’t think I needed to be able to do differential calculus
3. Parts of the chapter looked easy

Sheila wants us to diagnose our current skill level so we needed to do a set of basic exercises. This is what I’ve found out:

1. I can do decimals without a problem (e.g. 3/4 = 0.75)
2. I can do percentages pretty well too (e.g. 10/11 = 91%)
3. I’m pretty good working out exponents (e.g. 14² = 196)
4. Correction: I’m not that good at working out exponents (x³ × x² is apparently not x6)
5. My calculator (i.e. my phone) does not have a function for calculating square roots
6. I have no idea what a combination of square roots, integers and algebra does
7. I have no idea what the Greek letter Σ means in maths
8. Could not be bothered creating the graph of sales volume, production cost ($) and sales revenue ($) although I did see it in my head
9. I have no idea what 7 ≠ 7 means
10. I used to be good at algebra (20 years ago)
11. I still understand statistics
12. My arithmetic rocks! (I can do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division without any problem)

Ok, so I underestimated my current maths skills, and possibly the skills I need to have for the MBA? Having skimmed through this chapter, I’m still skeptical that I need to be able to do this level of maths for the MBA.

But what the heck, let’s do this.


Why Not Become a Tuna Fisherman? – Day minus 18

Thursday 18:37, Rue de Bleury, Montreal, Canada

In his book The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman eloquently and, in my opinion, rather humorously, shares his arguments against, and the perils of, doing an MBA. It’s basically a book about not doing an MBA. In many ways he’s right; or at least, I tend to agree with him: MBAs can be very expensive, not in sync with real-time management practice and be taught by academics and not industry experts. Instead, Kaufman argues that if you read avidly you become the master of your own learning.

As you have probably figured out, I didn’t follow his advice. Nevertheless, I’ve learnt a lot by reading his book; it’s full of thought-provoking anecdotes. One of them concerns a tuna fisherman who meets an executive.

Here it is; it’s worth the read.

Once a powerful executive went on vacation – his first in 15 years. As he was exploring the pier in a small coastal fishing village, a tuna fisherman docked his boat. As the Fisherman lashed his boat to the pier, the Executive complimented him on the size and quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch these fish?” The Executive asked.
“Only a little while” the Fisherman replied.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch some more” the Executive asked.
“I have enough to support my family’s needs” the Fisherman replied.
“But,” asked the Executive, “what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a busy and full life.”
The Executive was flabbergasted. “I’m a Harvard MBA, and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing. With the proceeds, you can buy a bigger boat. A bigger boat would help you catch more fish, which you could sell to buy several boats. Eventually, you’d own an entire fleet. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the consumers, which would improve your margins. Eventually, you could open your own factory, so you’d control the product, the processing, and distribution. Of course, you’d have to leave this village and move to the city so you could run your expanding enterprise.”
The Fisherman was quiet for a moment, and then asked, “How long would this take?”
“Fifteen, twenty years. Twenty-five tops”
“Then what?”
The Executive laughed, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you’d take your company public and sell all of your stock. You’d make millions.”
“Millions? What would I do then?”
The Executive paused for a moment. “You could retire, sleep late, fish a little, play with your children, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into the village each evening to sip wine and play guitar with your friends.”
Shaking his head, the Executive bade the Fisherman farewell. Immediately after returning from vacation the Executive resigned from his position.

Kaufman uses this parable to explain the concept of sufficiency, and when I first read it, it made me smile (possibly, you’re smiling too).

The story poses the question why so many of us always strive for more and more, when the ultimate aim is generally to just have enough.

The morale of the story, in my opinion, is to do what makes you truly happy, whether it’s fishing or running a business. And if you can fast track the things you want to do when you’re retired to the present, please tell me how.


On Cooking and Studying – Day minus 21

Sunday 18:02, 35,000 ft over the Atlantic Ocean on route to Denver, Colorado, USA

I recently read in The MBA Handbook by Sheila Cameron that reflective writing can prove to be an effective way of collecting thoughts and digesting these into manageable chunks of information, allowing these chunks to be absorbed as knowledge, inspiration and ideas. While I’m not buying everything I’m reading in this handbook, I’ve decided to give this a go.

I love writing; it has this therapeutic effect on me that cannot compete with the best shrink in New York or household chores such as doing the washing up, hoovering or ironing.

I decided to call this blog The Executive Kitchen as I thought it was an adequate description of what I’d like to write about.

This blog will primarily be about my experiences, thoughts and ideas of doing an MBA whilst working full time. Yes, I know – how on earth will I have time to write! Well, truth be told, I don’t know, but I’m quite happy in this unknowing state. I won’t make promises I can’t keep; but I’ll do my best. After all, the whole point of The Executive Kitchen is for it to be a tool that will help me become a better professional.

Why ‘kitchen’, you may ask yourself?

Well, I can’t say I’m a very good chef. My definition of a very good chef is somebody who can effortlessly whisk a collection of ingredients together into a well balanced and delicious meal. Now, to be fair to myself, I can certainly provide this (and a few glasses of wine) at a dinner party, but it certainly isn’t effortless. On the contrary, it takes a hell of a lot of effort. I have to think about exactly what I want to cook, I need to choose what and where to buy the ingredients and then usually I need to follow a recipe from the few cookbooks I owe. The end result is generally pretty good, if I can say so myself.

The analogy of the kitchen and cooking serves me well in my own pursuit of learning the theory and implementing best practice of business administration. Just like a well balanced and delicious meal is the end result of having worked out what to cook, which ingredients to buy and where, and following the instructions of a recipe, a successful marketing strategy, for example, is the end result of similar thought patterns, but dishes, ingredients, cooking and serving are replaced by tactics, objectives, implementation and conversion rates.

And just like a kitchen, I’m sure this blog will be messy, but I hope anyway, that it’s a way to share thoughts and experiences – even if it’s just to a few of you or even just myself.


Thoughts While Waiting for a Haircut – Day minus 22

Saturday 11:13 am, Rocket Barber Shop, Hackney Road, London

Having failed to beat the morning rush hour traffic to this über trendy East London barber shop, I thought to myself what better time to start my reflective writing whilst I wait for my turn.

In three weeks I start my MBA at The Open University. Although mentally prepared for what inevitably will be an incredibly busy but also exciting time, I don’t think I actually know what will hit me when I formally start the course on Nov 4.

I’ve been thinking about doing an MBA for some time now; several years in fact. I guess what has put me off doing it was that:

1. I wanted to have a life
2. I was really happy in my job and wasn’t planning on leaving
3. I didn’t see the benefits of starting an MBA whilst in a middle management job

The fact that I’m now writing this blog, dubbed The Executive Kitchen, means that all of the above has changed. Well, except number 1 – I still want a life.

So how did this change come about?

To cut a long story short, a few months ago one of the formers directors of my (now former) employer wrote to me on LinkedIn and offered me to come on-board and run the commercial arm of a young, innovative STM publisher. I was poached, in other words. Whilst this was extremely flattering, and although I knew deep down I was going to say yes, I didn’t come to this decision lightly. I spent 13 years with my previous employer, having had a wide range of responsibilities and learnt, well everything I know as a professional (it was my first job after university). With this in mind, it’s not surprising feelings of dedication and loyalty were running high.

But not high enough for my head not to turn.

Having come to the realisation that I was going to move into my first director-level job for an SME of 55 employees, I also very quickly came to the realisation that doing an MBA was the right time. Having been thrown at the proverbial deep end all my professional life, I wanted to do things differently this time round.

Not only do I want to be successful in my new job (I started two months ago), I also feel responsible for the future direction and ultimately success of a whole bunch of people, so it’s kinda important that I give myself the best possible foundation to do a pretty good damn job.