The Cambridge MBA Admissions blog MBA admissions processes and perspectives @ The Cambridge Judge Business School Tue, 23 May 2017 05:36:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A new road Tue, 23 May 2017 05:36:21 +0000 After more than five years and 127 posts, I have decided that we will close this blog because of a combination of reasons.

Firstly, I have recently taken on a new role as the Executive Director of the Cambridge MBA. Karen Siegfried, a great friend and mentor, stepped down from that role to return to the US and start a new venture. I was fortunate and honoured that I was successful in my application to take over as Executive Director and started in this new role on 15th May.

While I have taken on additional responsibilities over the years, first adding the careers team and now the programme team, the blog has stuck to the admissions sphere. Over the last few months, I did feel that this focus on admissions was a bit restrictive and that explains why my last post was almost 4 months ago. I did think about changing the scope of the blog to include careers and the programme side of things but this leads to the second reason why we are closing the blog — we have more social media outreach now.

When I first started the blog, we were only just experimenting with using Facebook and Twitter to connect with our candidates. Today, we use linkedin, our website, twitter, weibo, WeChat, youtube, and other blogs for students to write about their experiences.

It will be sad for me personally to stop contributing to this blog. I enjoyed writing the posts and responding to comments, some of which were from candidates who later joined our programme and became great alums. The blog was very successful at one point when it had more average monthly visitors than the school website. This was a statistic that I was not proud of because that showed how poor our school website was at the time but I am happy it has now improved greatly and we no longer need to rely on this blog to connect with our candidates.

My team knows that I am a social media nut and I am always looking for new ways to connect with people although I still don’t get Snapchat. I enjoy the longform format that a blog provides so I am working with the team to launch a podcast series. So stay tuned.

Average is now the default Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:09:18 +0000 As my colleagues know, I am a podcast nut. I subscribe to more than 20 podcasts and listen to them every opportunity I can. One of the podcasts I listen to is On Brand, a podcast hosted by Nick Westergaard (@nickwestergaard on twitter) based in Iowa and features interviews with brand marketers. One recent episode featured an interview with Jay Acunzo (@jayacunzo) who has his own podcast.

While most of the interview talked about brands and marketing, there was one snippet that stood out for me. Jay pointed out that the internet has made it so easy to be average because there are so many templates out there. So now, average is just the default and people have to work hard to become exceptional, and it is only the exceptional who will get ahead and have an impact on the world. Jay’s advice is to always ask yourself why you are doing this and who you are doing this for, to get from average to exceptional.

I thought this was great advice, especially for our MBAs who are interviewing for jobs at the moment. If you take the perspective of the recruiter who has to sit through hours of interviews with other candidates, you need to be exceptional to stand out. And relying on templates for CVs or cover letters, or applying generic frameworks during a case interview, will only consign you to the average and not good enough heap. As to how you can stand out from the crowd, the careers service in any school can only go so far in terms of giving you the tools to think things through but ultimately you have to contextualise and apply these tools to your own circumstance.

The FT 2017 rankings Mon, 30 Jan 2017 07:08:32 +0000 So I am writing this at 6:30am while listening to Coverville podcast episode featuring 90 minutes of Warron Zevon covers. I work best in the quiet morning although I draw a line at joining the 4am club.

I’ve just updated a presentation that I do every year around this time to the current MBA class answering any questions students might have about the Financial Times rankings. Love it or hate it, the FT rankings is keenly watched by many candidates, MBA students and alums.

This year, the Cambridge MBA did spectacularly well and was ranked 5th up from 10th. A lot of that improvement came through the weighted salary, salary increase, value for money components and also our faculty research rank.

This is of course great news and is a reflection of the improvements that I have seen in the Cambridge MBA over the last few years. On the other hand, I know that the school won’t get carried away with these results, because we know that rankings are naturally volatile, as you can see from the number of schools that have double digit changes in their rankings every year. Ultimately, we have a strategy for the school and the MBA that, in many cases, overlaps with what the FT, and other rankings measure, but we won’t be driven solely by rankings, as that would tear the soul out of any school.

This measured, or in the words of our Dean, “sober” attitude towards the rankings was not always so easy to maintain. We went through a patch when the Cambridge MBA was in the lower half of the 20s in the FT and I had to write papers to stakeholders explaining where we did not do so well while reiterating the soundness of our overall strategy.

One of the difficulties I faced when explaining to stakeholders then was that the FT rankings do not measure what you think it measures. Firstly, it is very weighted to what the alums from 3, 4 and 5 years ago are doing, now, last year and the year before respectively. Many of the measures from the alumni survey are actually a blended average comprising 50% from the alums who graduated 3 years ago, and then 25% each from the alums who participated in the survey last year and the year before last. Secondly, the FT uses quite a lot of adjustments when arriving at the weighted salary. It uses PPP to convert currencies, rightly takes out salaries of alums who are working in the not for profit sector or taking further education, then removes the top and bottom salaries, before making some sectoral adjustments (which probably hurts the schools who have a high percentage of alums in high-paying sectors). So the final figure that you see probably does not bear much resemblance to what an “average” alum in that year is earning now.

Of course, a good ranking relieves a lot of pressure on the school when explaining to stakeholders, but I also think it means that we have to do even more to keep our stakeholders focused on what matters. On the MBA itself, we have just changed several components of the programme in response to feedback from employers, alums and top leaders, and the school will have a new extension next year that will give us a lot of well-needed space. And while our alums have expressed a high level of satisfaction through the FT survey, we are also looking at other rankings (we only participate in the Economist and Business Week rankings) that provide us with more qualitative feedback from alums and students, and seeing how that squares with what we have learnt from our own class surveys. We can’t satisfy everyone but that process does help us have reliable data on which we can make better-informed decisions about what to change. Along these lines, I do want to increase the percentage of graduating alums for whom we have employment information about. The FT actually reports this number in brackets under the criterion percentage employed after three months. For last year, we only had information from 88% of the class and I see that all the other schools in the top 20 have a higher reporting figure. It is something we will have to improve on.

I want to end off my repeating a message that I have reiterated every year at this time. It is impossible to reduce an MBA experience in whatever school to just a number. Don’t ignore the rankings but make your own judgement of a school from speaking to its staff, its alums and students and make your own decision whether that is the right school for you.

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My 2016 Top 10 albums Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:57:33 +0000 Over the last three years, I have been posting my top 10 albums of the year on my twitter and private Facebook account. As I while away the last few days of 2016, I have posted my 10 albums of the year below. It definitely does not conform to any critics list and has my usual guilty pleasure album. See if you like the music as 2016 draws to an end.

No 1. Chaleur Humaine — Christine and the Queens
No 2. This is Acting — Sia
No 3. Nothing’s Real — Shura
No 4. Freetown Sound — Blood Orange
No 5. Potential — the Range
No 6. Volition — Phoria
No 7. Not to Disappear — Daughter
No 8. We Got it from Here.. Thanks 4 the Service — A Tribe Called Quest
No 9. A Seat at the Table — Solange
No 10. Remember us to Life — Regina Spektor

So a list dominated by woman power pop, electro ambient and some exciting hip hop R&B. Albums that just missed out were Woman by Justice; Close Eyes to Exit by Klangstoff, Konnichiwa by Skepta and Black America Again by Common.

The artefacts of change Tue, 27 Dec 2016 07:03:19 +0000 The business school is closed for the end of year holidays and while many students have taken the opportunity to recharge by spending time with families or travelling with friends, I have spent most of it at home doing errands and day trips. I personally hate contending with the crowds and traffic at Christmas.

Nonetheless, I did rent a car this time as we will be doing some day trips. One thing I noticed when I checked the car for damages was that there was no USB port in the car. Not a big deal since I have an in-car charger for my phone but I then noticed that the charging port only had a cover and then the well (is that even the right terminology) for you to insert your charger. I had been expecting a metal tube that I would have to remove before inserting the charger.

Those of you much younger than myself would not understand why I am so perplexed but decades ago it was perfectly acceptable to smoke in your car. Car manufacturers obliged by installing what is now the charging port act as a cigarette lighter. Recognising that it is difficult to strike a match or fumble in your coat for your lighter while driving, they had this metal tube in what is now the charging port which was heated by the electricity and could be used to light your cigarette. For some reason, that had been a standard item even after it did not become socially acceptable to smoke in your car, and in the case of rental cars, prohibitively expensive to do so.

Modern cars now have USB ports so you don’t need a separate charger but as we make this transition we are still left with the old cigarette lighter doubling up as a charger. I wonder how many people who don’t know about its previous use have wondered why we have such a strange interface in some of our cars when a more efficient one (the USB port exists).

This reminded me of something that our Director of the MBA Jane Davies says to new students during Orientation. She points out that in the UK there are some sinks where there are separate hot and cold water taps. Many non-UK students are perplexed by this since it would make more sense to have just one tap to control the temperature of the water. I won’t spoil her presentation for next year by revealing the reason but her point is that our students come from all over the world and there will be things or processes in the UK, or the University or the business school that one finds odd. It is counter productive to complain about every single thing and insist that it has to be exactly the way one is used to back in your home country but it is better to sometimes accept these differences and learn to move on. Or else you will be the person who loses valuable holiday time by berating the rental car company for not having a USB port in their car while you have an in-car charger at hand all along.

Demonetisation but not as we know it Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:11:04 +0000 Much has been written about the impact on daily life arising from the Indian government’s decision to withdraw certain denominations of cash from legal tender in a bid to curb corruption. I personally don’t know enough about the situation in India to make any kind of judgement but it has been fascinating to hear from candidates about how Indian society is coping with this very drastic measure.

Coming from Singapore, I am steeped in an ethos of accountability and zero tolerance for corruption in public service. But I also know that Singapore’s enviable track record of combating corruption was hard-won and it is a constant battle to ensure that corruption does not gain a foothold in society.

While a lot of attention is focused on high-profile cases of corruption that lead to prosecution or in the recent case in South Korea, to impeachment of the President, what tends to be taken for granted is that a country can remove much of the opportunities for corruption by adopting e-government systems and policies. This means that rules become very clear and there is a proper payment trail. Of course, this requires a society that has embraced digital transactions and it also means a less personal face to public services mostly because it removes all flexibility and judgement from any kind of transaction.

While speaking to a candidate about India’s demonetisation move, it occurred to me that I hardly use cash anymore. I might make two small cash withdrawals a month, but largely use debit or credit cards for transactions. Increasingly I have been using my mobile to make payments. This shift is made easier in the UK where more than half of the card terminals that I see can now accept contactless payments and I just find it far more convenient to pay with my phone than with a card. I recognise that I am an outlier and most people still prefer cash but it is only a matter of time before cash is no longer king. We can only wait to see what business opportunities will be created as a result of this shift.

Playlist for those end of term exam blues Fri, 09 Dec 2016 07:20:58 +0000 All the Cambridge MBAs breathed a huge sigh of relief this week as they finished their Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) presentations to clients as varied as ARM, Jaguar Land Rover, one of the first investors in Linkedin etc. The mood went stratospheric when news that Tom Stanley in the current class was in the starting lineup of the University Rugby team who narrowly beat Oxford in the Varsity Match.

The students now turn their attention to the small matter of several exams next week before they can enjoy their Christmas break. So to help them in their studies I have selected a few new songs that I have discovered. I have shared Apple Music playlists before but the annoying thing is that the widget maker that I used before is broken so I will have to share individual tracks. This might actually turn out better since I can list out the tracks in text for those who have trouble seeing the widgets.

1. A Room with a Zoo by the Winachi Tribe. This might describe what the Syndicate Room, where MBAs do their prep work, was like this past week.

2. Grey by Kolsch. Something to play in the background.

3. Shivers by Annie and the Make Believe. For those who are revising while drowning in coffee in a cafe.

4. Cuffing Season by Yungen. A lot slower than his other work but the opening lyrics about the weather getting colder strikes the right chord as we head into Christmas.

5. If Only I could Forget by Josephine and the Artisans. Probably not what the MBAs want to do during their exams.

6. After the After Party by Charli XcX. Need I say more?

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This year’s Business Week MBA ranking Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:00:01 +0000 Bloomberg Businessweek has released their annual ranking of business schools for 2016. Curiously, they chose to release their ranking of US MBA programmes before Thanksgiving and made non-US schools wait till yesterday to learn where we stand in the ranking of international MBA programmes.

I have always found this nomenclature amusing. Instead of calling it a ranking of non-US schools they choose to call it the international ranking, almost as if US schools cannot be international, or that non-US schools cannot be similar to regional US MBA programmes. I experienced the same sense of puzzlement when I first learnt that the Major League Baseball finals was called the World Series when only North American teams could participate.

The Cambridge MBA moved up to 4th place in this year’s ranking, up 4 places from last year. Any joy in this improvement in overall rankings is tempered by the facts that rankings are generally volatile but even that can’t explain the huge movements in this year’s ranking where the previous top ranked school Ivey tumbled to number 10. The main reason behind its drop seems to be a drop in the employer survey from being ranked top last year to 6th this year. The employer survey accounts for 35% of the total score for a school so that drop has a big impact on the overall score.

Most candidates will look at the headline figures and not understand that in part, the employer survey is actually an alumni survey because schools are allowed to list alums who return to the school to recruit on behalf of their companies as employer contacts who are then surveyed. Businessweek has some way of balancing this by taking the alumni employer contacts into consideration when calculating the “quality” of an MBA programme to employers but not the “reach” of an MBA programme. Both the quality and the reach factors go into the eventual employer survey score. There is no way to tell how prevalent the practice of citing alums as employer survey contacts is but in the interests of full disclosure I can say that we only listed one alum as an employer contact and I have no way of knowing if that alum actually returned the survey to BusinessWeek.

I agree with Poets and Quants that there are some flaws in the employer survey methodology but I can’t see any way that would ensure consistency across years while also ensuring a large sample size. John Byrne of P&Q suggests that we should use a system where the top corporate recruiter from each of the top companies that recruit MBAs be polled but the fact is that if you did that, the sample size is reduced considerably. I understand that the response rate from employers when BW used that methodology was extremely low, and that was also the reason why Cambridge was not ranked in 2012. At that time, there was a different team at BusinessWeek who was in charge of the rankings and while I was asked to submit a list of corporate recruiter contacts for the employer survey, I was not told whether Business Week actually contacted any of those people who recruited at Cambridge.

Ultimately no rankings is devoid of flaws and, as I have always said, candidates should not just take rankings at face -value because it is impossible to reduce the value of an MBA to a single number.

Thanksgiving playlist Fri, 25 Nov 2016 07:22:46 +0000 It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US but the pace of the Cambridge MBA means that there is little holiday respite for our American students. Students are balancing their course work with their careers search, participation in college activities and also their Cambridge Venture Projects. It is a stressful time so I thought I would share my Thanksgiving playlist, or music that I have been listening to this past month.

Enjoy. Not sure if you need to be an Apple Music subscriber to play the full tracks.

What Brexit and Trumpquake mean for MBAs Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:25:14 +0000 I have been meaning to write this blog post ever since the US election results were announced but decided to wait several weeks to collect my thoughts. The elections were hugely divisive and regardless of result, the emotions of millions of people would have been running high the morning of 9th November.

There is a lot of handwringing about the failure of most pollsters and experts to forecast a Donald Trump victory. There is even more debate about what a Trump presidency might mean for America and the world. The answer is probably that it is too early to tell given Trump’s lack of track record in government and his unpredictability. But what I want to write about is the echo chamber that social media seems to have enveloped people today.

Over the years, I have added a high number of Cambridge MBAs as Facebook friends. It was striking how a very high percentage of the MBAs belonged to the Remain camp or were anti-Trump. That might not be surprising given that our MBAs are international and largely benefited from globalisation, or stand to benefit from the free movement of people. What did get me thinking was how this near uniformity of views squares with our aim of building a diverse class.

I have always said that a diverse class is not about collecting passports but to have people with different backgrounds who can provide different insights. And it is by bringing together these different insights into a classroom that will shape the Cambridge MBA graduate. However, when a very high percentage of Cambridge MBAs share the same beliefs, then it does call into question how diverse the class is, and more generally, how diverse is the MBA community.

I am not suggesting that all MBAs were in the Remain camp or anti-Trump. There might have been some who voted Leave or for Trump but chose to remain silent on social media in the runup to both votes because the echo chambers that social media creates can make the voice of the majority almost deafening to the minority. While it might not make immediate business sense to do so, I hope that Facebook and other social media giants could think of how to adjust their algorithms so that a wider plurality of views can be channeled into our newsfeeds even if it means lower average click rates. And to think of ways where more considered discussions based on facts and not fake news, can be carried out.

Ultimately, MBA programmes shouldn’t feel ashamed if they tend to admit students who share certain beliefs so long as they successfully go through the admissions process. On the other hand, we will have to think of how to create the conditions in our MBA programmes where the opposing views to these beliefs get a fair hearing, not out of a sense of tokenism but because MBAs need to be challenged and form their own views about business, society, and globalisation. I expect our Business in Society core class to have many such debates when the class is conducted in Easter term.

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