Summer School, Part 2: Advocacy

Not long after we began the Executive MBA summer session, I went to lunch with some fellow students.  As we talked about the classes we’ve taken so far, the question came up: Which class so far has made the EMBA experience worth it?  My response: “The one we’re taking right now” – referring to Advocacy.

When it came time to begin choosing electives, a 2014 EMBA strongly urged us to consider taking Advocacy from Dr. John Daly.  Let me be clear, fellow members of the Class of 2015: if you didn’t sign up for this elective, you seriously missed out.  By all means, read his book, but don’t think you will have gotten everything he covered in class; he goes into a lot more detail that isn’t included in the book.  See if the class is offered in the fall or spring, audit it if you must, but find a way to take the class.

The fundamental premise of advocacy is that it is not enough to just have ideas, or even the best idea.  Since ideas don’t implement themselves, somebody has to go to bat for them.  That means navigating corporate politics, identifying key stakeholders and resolving their concerns, recruiting allies.  All this takes an awfully high level of finesse and nuance.  It really seems like successful advocacy is a strange alchemy of equal parts salesmanship and diplomacy.

It was a particular treat to take a class from a professor who is so clearly in to what he does.  There’s a reason Dr. Daly has won every undergraduate teaching award at UT: he’s entertaining, knowledgeable and very much up to date on current events and trends.

The best way I can sum it up: if there were a single class that goes into some detail as to what precisely a leader does, how a leader is supposed to behave, Advocacy would come pretty close.

Posted in Executive

Globetrotting, Penguin spotting, Shark Dodging

Adventures in South Africa Part 1 (The “Fun” Part)

Throwback…errr…Monday- to my international trip to South Africa in April!  What a whirlwind and amazing trip! If you aren’t already aware, part of the MBA program requires that students travel to an international destination to learn about all of the inner workings of the country of choice.  Prior to departure, we research cost, laws, the political and cultural landscape and how it weighs in on our hypothetical company, and “pitch” the business idea to our peers based on industry within the country.  I’m happy to report our pitch went off swimmingly (#nailedit) and why wouldn’t it, we focused on wine and who doesn’t love all the research that is required for an in depth presentation on wine.

But, before descending on Johannesburg to join roughly 30 other Professional MBA students to discover the city, I spent a week exploring Cape Town and all it had to offer with a few of my classmates.  After all, Travel and Leisure did name it the number one travel destination of 2014.  Why not take a little extra time to knock off some bucket list items?

I’ve never jam packed so much business and pleasure into a trip internationally so I’ve done you readers a solid and decided to split my trip up by weeks into two blog posts.  Both weeks were amazing, but for very different reasons, so I hope you’ll come back and read my part 2 when I get around to posting it [so maybe check back in 3 months? ;)]

The country is just absolutely beautiful, and I just had to share, so here goes a basic photographical timeline of my first week gallivanting around South Africa –pic heavy!

Let’s just start at day 3 (after two days of travel): A full day of animals…

We begin the day with a slow boat ride to Duiker (Seal) Island

Duiker1Duiker2

duiker3

Seals are fat and lazy. That is all.

Did you know there are penguins in Africa?  The Boulders Penguin Colony in Simons Town is home to the endangered land based African Penguin.  These guys were amazing to watch and so neat to see walking around in their tiny tuxedos on the beach.

penguin3penguins2penguins1

Now let’s get to the baboons. Of all the animals in South Africa to be feared, none are feared worse than the baboon.  Lions? Nah (we’ll get to that later) Sharks? Nah (We’ll also get to that later).  I heard more warnings daily about baboons than any other animal, in the two weeks I was there.  Why?  Because they are crafty as hell.  They are smart, and can open car doors, and are strong and angry little creatures.  They realize that they can spend the day foraging for food, or attack a human carrying a sack and it will most likely contain a chocolate bar or something else that’s going to make it go bonkers and want to attack another human the next day.  We weren’t allowed to have our car windows down when driving slowly because the little buggers LEAP INTO YOUR VEHICLE.  Anyways, behold…the mighty baboon.

babboon

After visiting penguins, we were able to hike a few hours all around the Cape of Good Hope, the Southeastern most point of Africa.  This area is gorgeous, with multiple bluffs overlooking the green and blue waters where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet.

cape point 2

cape point point

What am I pointing at? I dunno. The guide told me to point, so I pointed. I’m assuming it’s Antarctica.

Cape Point 3

The original Cape Point Lighthouse was built in 1859.

Cape point 4

Lounging like seals at the Cape of Good Hope

cape point 5

Hook ‘em!

On day four, I had the pleasure of hiking one of the eight natural wonders of the world, Table Mountain.  It was easily 100 degrees outside and with no cloud cover.  Most of the hike through the Platteklip Gorge that cuts through the main “table” (aptly named as the mountain is 2 miles of flat surface when you reach the top) is naturally shaded by the bluffs that surround you, but that’s only after hiking for roughly an hour uncovered in the sun.  But it was ABSOLUTELY worth it. Check out those views…

table mountain

Up, Up, Up

table mountain 2

View of Capetown from the top. The gold ring in the top left corner is the stadium where the World Cup was held in 2010.

The next morning we hopped in the car and cruised the coast 2 hours to Gansbaii, some of the best whale and great white viewing in the region.  For a small fee, paid both in South African Rand and life years, you can swim in a small cage, loosely attached to a boat while “qualified” fisherman goad Great White Sharks toward you using chum and large, smelly, fish heads.  Did I mention they throw in a free on-boat lunch? Yum.  Still, it was one of the most unique experiences seeing these misunderstood creatures up close and personal, and as you hear the boat operators speak fondly of these smart animals you develop a great appreciation for them. I sort of fell in love- no, seriously. It’s those Bull sharks you have got to watch out for and luckily we were very far from them…I think.   These pictures were taken from a viewing area at the top of the boat after the actual swimming in the cage.  It’s a completely different rush seeing these things start to circle the boat from yards away, as you try to quiet the Jaws theme that’s playing as background music in your head.

shark

I’m just gonna take a second here to talk about the best food I had while in South Africa.  It was at a little place called Mariana’s, in the small “crafty” town of Stanford.  The owners grew their herbs in the back yard, and served only 10 tables a day…you arrive when you want, they serve you when they want- what an amazing concept!  The food was outstanding!

drive

And onward, we drove three hours into the mountains to go on safari.  It was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve ever been on.  Much of the land is used as vineyards, and we could go an hour without seeing a town.

And finally, the game lodge.  Not much explanation necessary here, just lots of amazing animals in their habitat.   I took about a thousand pictures, but since I’ve already bored you with so many, I’m just dropping in a few.

animals

lion

Can I pet you?

lion 2

What about you in the back?

Point of this entire post is to tell you to try to take a little bit of extra time on your own to visit the country while on your international trip.  You’ll get to see plenty of amazing things while with the group, but there are just some things you won’t see while being shuttled around on a greyhound bus.  Namely, a lion this close.

lion 3

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Posted in Global Trip, Houston, Uncategorized

Summer School, Part 1: Entrepreneurship…It Ain’t Just For Startups

Summer is upon us.  Most of higher ed actually, you know, takes the summer off.  But for those of us in the Executive MBA program, it generally means it’s time for electives.  Yes, we EMBAs willingly agreed to sacrifice any notion of a full-on summer vacation so that we could attend school.  But classes are generally held only on Saturdays and Sundays, so that makes it okay!

One of the electives I’m taking this summer is New Venture Creation, taught by Dr. Rob Adams.  As the name of the class suggests, it’s all about startups.  I’ll be honest: I didn’t really pursue an MBA to become an entrepreneur.  But it’s an elective, it fit with my very tight schedule, and several members of the Class of 2014 highly recommended the class, so I signed up for it.

I will not mince words.  If you are not game for doing a startup, Dr. Adams will not attempt to persuade you otherwise.  In fact, if you’re only lukewarm on the idea, he might try to talk you out of it.  From day one – which started just as we were completing our final exams from the spring semester, I might add – he made it very clear that the startup world is not for the faint of heart, that anybody looking to start his or her own venture is fighting very long odds.  In fact, since any new venture is far more likely to fail than succeed, his recommended approach to entrepreneurs is to fail fast and fail cheap.  If your idea won’t find any paying customers in the marketplace, Dr. Adams says, you’re far better off finding out as soon as possible.

As we develop our business plan, I’m finding that our MBA skills and general business backgrounds are really put to the test.  You take an idea, start hammering on it to discover if it really has potential, begin sketching out how this company might attract funding, where you anticipate taking it three, four, five or more years down the road.  What kind of prices can you really charge for this product or service?  How will it stack up against the competition?  What kinds of customers will you pursue?  How will you ramp up production?  Finance, marketing, accounting, leadership, hiring decisions – it all comes together.  ”Use your MBA skills,” Dr. Adams said more than once during our weekend marathon.

Moreover, the skills required to become a successful entrepreneur are hardly limited to the startup world.  He pointed out that plenty of people end up becoming “intrapreneurs” – starting some type of new venture within their existing companies.  As it happens, this is precisely the situation I find myself in within the confines of my day job. Developing realistic financial projections, scoping out a marketing plan, determining the type of customer that would be an optimal fit for a new offering – these are high-level business questions, not merely entrepreneurial considerations.  And while it can be heartbreaking to take your pet idea and subject it to a pretty harsh interrogation, it’s for your own good to check your ego and tender feelings at the door and take a cold, clear-eyed assessment of what it will really take for that pet idea to see the light of day.  In other words, not only is New Venture Creation a good way to put me through my paces midway through the program, the class could hardly have come at a more opportune time in my professional life.

So I’m a bit bemused to find tremendous value and unexpected use of a class I hadn’t expected to take in the Executive MBA program.  After a year in the program, this is where the rubber starts to meet the road.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper to help write.  And some financial projections to put together.  And a book to finish reading.  And some lectures to listen to online.  And…

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Posted in Executive

Blue and Orange

This blog is not about school. I thought I would write about something else for a change. So here I am, talking about Texas! It is right now the season of Bluebonnets. I have seen those on medians on highways. I have seen those before but something stuck with me this time. The shimmery blues, bright oranges and grass swaying with the wind. The result – this poem. As I wrote this poem it dawned upon me that the number of days in Texas are so few and I know I will terribly miss my home of almost 7 years. Texas was where I landed when I first came from India. But then bigger and better things await! Hook ‘em!

BLUE AND ORANGE

Whizzing along at a speedy seventy
it’s your day of colors and beauty;
you don’t at all seem to mind,
some sizzling salsa to unwind.

You bend once and rise above
forever so joyful, you dearly love,
this fateful game of hide and seek,
you bend some more, then take a peek.

The chase for once interrupted by red
when green’s a go, back to moving ahead;
a short halt, a stretch, some rest
a stealing glance, on the bright and best.

You’re not all blue, there’s your orange mate
it was destined to be, for it is but fate;
your moves coax him to dance along,
right here, right now is to belong,

All’s in place, all’s just perfect today
to unheard livening music you sway,
the fiery ball has been gentle too,
you beam with pride, why wouldn’t you.

The resplendent, invigorating display,
colors galore and fragrant spray;
no one stops but you carry on,
the long, lonely roads you adorn.

(Copyright: Chirali Bhandari, 2014)

I still have a few more things to share before I sign off with my last blog. I was incredibly lucky to be able to attend President Clinton’s speech in person. But that story is for another day. Meanwhile, look around, stop for a while, take in the colors and carry on!

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Posted in Austin, Student Life

Wash-(wow)-ington D.C!

The Washington Monument

The past few weeks have been eventful. For the first half of my spring break I was in Austin. I watched a Shakespeare play, went to a Broadway show ‘Wicked’ playing in Austin (enjoyed every second!), went to the graffiti park (one block from my apartment), spent time with my husband who was visiting me from California and simply relaxed. For the second half of my spring break, I went to Washington D.C. for the Washington Campus Study Program. And yes, I am more than excited to share details about that trip!

It was my first visit to DC and all the narratives I had heard from others, about it being a beautiful city with lots of things to do, were all true! It is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. The best part is its public transportation system that allowed me to traverse from Point A to Point B without a rental car or taxi. But first let me tell you about the campus study program. It was an opportunity to learn about the public policy making process in the U.S., how the policies are framed, influenced, changed; who are the key players; what challenges they face; why is it difficult to reach a consensus; how does the government function. The speakers were experts in their fields with a long track record of public service.

Main reading hall in the Library of Congress

What stood out for me was how accessible the institutions are to the common man. I went inside the Capitol, saw the Senate Gallery, and attended a voting session in the House. The Supreme Court was equally accessible and open to public and The Library of Congress was one of the most beautiful libraries I have seen so far. I also attended a hearing where Secretary of State John Kerry was reading his opening statement to the Appropriation Committee. All of this was truly phenomenal. Read more ›

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Posted in Academics, Full-Time

Auf Wiedersehen Switzerland!

Hook 'Em! From the Texas group!

I know I’ve said this at the start of other blog posts, but wow – time has flown! Ten weeks in Switzerland zipped by and I’m done with all the coursework for school. I’m about to embark on three weeks of globe trotting and then return to Austin for graduation festivities. Below are my reflections on my time abroad.

Spreche nicht gut Deutsch

Hook 'Em! From the Texas group!

Hook ‘Em! From the Texas group!

Translation: I don’t speak German well. One of my three favorite lines I learned in German. The others were “I don’t understand” and “I don’t know.”  I was actually pleasantly surprised that I was able to get around the German speaking countries with limited language skills. I took German while here and learned enough to order in restaurants and maneuver through shops and train stations. People often responded to me in English – probably because my German pronunciation or the deer in headlights look if they responded in German. I’ve grown accustomed to not understanding 90% of conversations around me although I still am looking forward to going to the grocery store without staring at food products forever. Overall though I’ve found it easier than I expected. Read more ›

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Posted in Full-Time

True Appreciation!

A recurring thought that does not leave me is that it’s my last semester at UT. Yet another situation when I exactly understand, true to every alphabet, what bittersweet is. While on one hand I am waiting for assignments, exams and my long distance with my better half to be over, on the other hand I know it’s going to be a very different life once I graduate and move to California. But I will think about that when it’s time. Right now, I am truly appreciating UT. How exactly?

The first three semesters keep you on your toes, literally, all the time. Networking, coursework, getting to know classmates, making sense of it all, interviewing for internships, interviewing for full-time jobs, being involved in extracurricular acivities – it’s all a haze, a time-devouring daze. After the winter break I thought, this being my last semester and all, I want to go to new places in Austin and truly enjoy the rich experiences the school and the city have to offer. Coincidentally, I was also advised to ‘make use of all the rich resources, to experience all the great things about school’ at about the same time, thus reinforcing my earlier commitment to explore new things. Read more ›

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Posted in Full-Time

Hindsight is 20/20 – Looking Back at 3 Underrated Pieces of Advice

Bright Idea

I’m so close to graduating from EMBA and wanted to share three areas of the program that I underrated in the first 18 months.

#1 TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITY OFFERINGS
What? I know, you’re thinking, “How could you be serious?!?” There are literally daily opportunities to go to different events, watch others present (like TVL and MSTC), network or volunteer. “My brain is completely saturated and the email invitations are too long!” Now, I’m not saying that everyone can do everything or that everyone will enjoy everything, but there is something for everyone. Not only will this expand your experience in the program, remember – it builds your network. I always prioritized work and studying before these events and I know I missed out on a few I still regret. Remember, that test is just a single event over the course of your entire career, while the relationships you make in this program can affect you over your lifetime. Read more ›

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Posted in Academics, Executive

This Class Isn’t Meeting My Expectations

Surviving finance from Dr. Rao

It’s safe to say that, in the course of any degree, a student is probably going to encounter a class or two that simply didn’t measure up to what he or she had expected or hoped to learn. Early in my second semester in the Texas Executive MBA experience, I’ve encountered one such class.

Numerous members of the EMBA Class of 2014 had warned us about Financial Management, taught by Dr. Ramesh Rao. “Get ready,” one student warned. “Finance consumed me,” said another. “It’s a seriously hard class,” said yet another. One suggested we will likely do something like this at the end of the semester:

Surviving finance from Dr. Rao

So when we started the class a few weeks ago, I went in with an attitude normally reserved for a visit to the dentist. This has to be done, I reasoned, so let’s do it. Read more ›

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Posted in Executive

Forum Encourages Women To Apply To Business School

Student-Panel

Written by Jocelyn Sexton, MBA ’14

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of co-hosting the Texas Executive and Evening MBA Women’s Forum. We welcomed prospective students to an extended information session, as well as a panel discussion with alumnae and current students from both programs. We ended the event with a networking reception to continue answering questions about these programs for working professionals.

Professor Violina Rindova gives presentation at Texas MBA Women's Forum

Our goal with the Women’s Forum was to provide information to prospective students about the culture, curriculum, and experience at McCombs, as well as to encourage future leaders to apply to the program. The percentages of women in top leadership positions and women applying to MBA programs are both low, and we’re hoping to play a big part in increasing these.

I can’t help but wonder if the relatively low number of female applicants is due to the fact that many women lack mentors. Or perhaps it’s because Read more ›

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Posted in Evening, Executive
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