Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Art of Coming Home

Art of Coming HomeOK, I stole the title of this post from Craig Storti, the author of the book by the same title, which tackles the issues of coming back to places you lived in and loved, after you have been away for some period of time. There are a lot of studies written about how to expatriate people and what to do with them during expatriation, but do we really pay enough attention to those who are being repatriated back to their countries, companies, friends...?

I am writing this being in South Africa on a short exchange between IE and Wits business schools. I lived over two years in South Africa as an expat, so I came to know this country very well: it's traditions, people, food, cultures, and I even dabbled in two out of it 11 official languages (Afrikaans and Zulu). I moved to Madrid after that to do my MBA and now I am back - what a weird feeling! It is a mix of nostalgia with excitement and bewilderment. It feels great to be driving around the familiar routes, listening to my favorite radio stations and DJs, meeting old friends and colleagues, drinking gorgeous South African wine and enjoying the food that makes your mouth water the moment you look at the menu. Yet, it's not the same as I remember it 11 months ago. Same feeling as I had when I returned to Russia after a one-year academic exchange program in the USA (UGRAD 2002-2003): there has been so much change in my life that one year counts for five - but can you really convey this feeling? Massive photo albums and exciting (as you might think) stories do not help... nothing much has been happening here... As they would say in the corporate world, "business as usual".

How do you reintegrate back? Craig Storti suggests that self-awareness is the first step. It is critical to recognize that time, experiences, knowledge, places are perceived differently by different people and being in a foreign country for a long time accelerates the learning process and you might be well ahead of the curve compared to many friends and colleagues who have not had that opportunity. Patience and acceptance of that fact are the next important steps, in my opinion. Thirdly, take this chance to learn about your own culture - many things will not look the same to you after you have been away... and you learn to appreciate it better: we all know that you miss most what you do not have at the moment. Finally, preparation is best weapon: be ready to face the challenges of the inevitable culture shock and remember that it's always a W-curve, so it hits you twice - when you leave your country and when you come back.

I am not aware of any companies that would run reintegration workshops for their internationally mobile employees who return to their home countries after an international assignment, while most of them will have an induction of sorts before s/he leaves. So why are we underplaying the effects that coming back might have on people and their private as well as professional lives?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Workplace is changing. Are you?

This video does not give any answers but raises tons of questions, boiling down to one single conclusion: the speed of change is becoming so fast that it is impossible to keep up with the most recent developments, unless organizations become lean, agile and open to constant state of flex. This puts an enormous effort on HR, particularly in areas of change management and learning. Demographic and technological trends cannot be ignored any more, but very little is done to leverage their potential or minimize their disruptive influence. Long story short - watch the video:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Leadership, Power & Influence (Part 2): Bolero

One day in class we watched this video. It is, of course, Ravel's famous Bolero, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. Do indulge for 10 minutes in this amazing piece of musical talent and while listening try to answer the following questions:

  • Is the job of a conductor of an orchestra similar to that of a CEO?
  • What other similarities with the corporate world do you see?

Have you enjoyed it? Genius is difficult to hide even if you try very hard. But back to the questions...

It is quite understandable if many of you answered "yes" - after all, it is a common business metaphor and often we do talk about "orchestrating resources", "fine tuning key messages" and "carrying the baton". Nonetheless, a classical performance ambiance is characterized by such features as presence of a score, clear definition of roles, expectable audience, expert musicians, rehearsed show and you are expected to perform well.

What happens in the real world? The business space is riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity. The score is changing and most CEOs have to juggle multiple scores at any given point in time. While any deviation from the prescribed note (if noticed) will be an unforgivable mistake in an orchestra, grave failures are being tolerated in reality when it comes to large corporations. Competition is attacking you from all possible angles and frankly speaking often you do not know what to do next.

Ravel: BoléroSo why do we fall into the trap of finding similarities? Maybe it's because we are used to the fancy fairy tale of a clockwork working place. MBA students go through a plethora of cases and think that in their professional experience they will be capable enough to avoid mistakes and that they will not be dealing with complex problems. After a while you start believing yourself in living fantasies and hope - just like a symphonic orchestra. But when you leave the concert hall, the reality hits again, and no baton or even a magic wand will rid us of the uncertainty that makes our world unpredictable and, therefore, wonderful... just like Ravel's overtones.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Future of the Jobs in Luxury, Fashion and Design

The world of fashion, luxury and design has been captivating hearts and minds of people for centuries. We want to be close to what is beautiful, attractive and valuable. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel valuable, just like the precious pieces that we create, handle and sell in multi-million dollar boutiques around the globe. We want to be associated with such names as Patek Phillipe, Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera and such. What is all this industry about? Basically - about anticipating the dreams of people, helping customers live those dreams and revel at the intimate proximity of sheer beauty.

Contrary to popular opinions, creative people sometimes do know how to make money, and not surprisingly, the luxury industry is growing, while others are shrinking. As I learnt from my professor, María Eugenia Girón (former CEO of Carrera y Carrera, by the way), it's nearly a 160 billion euro industry (2009), which continue growing or at least was not as susceptible to the recent downturn as other parts of the global economy:

A rapidly developing industry means a lot of change. A lot of change means many opportunities. Ergo, for a steep career curve you should move closer to the rich and beautiful, and here's the catch:

  • there is a psychological dissonance between the perception of the industry and actual salaries for people working there (for more info see my earlier post: HR in the Luxury Industry)
  • to get up in the ranks, you will have to start at the very bottom. A couple of weeks ago we had the CEO of Louis Vuitton for Spain, Portugal and Morocco coming to IE with a presentation about career opportunities for MBA students. The only MBA entry position around the world in LV is a Store Manager. They believe that the only way to learn the ropes is to get your hands dirty (as dirty as it can get selling EUR 25 K handbags).
Yet, hundreds of freshly baked MBAs join this industry each year and with the change in values across societies, the luxury industry is also trying to be more responsible and sustainable. When 80% of customers would choose a product demonstrating its sustainable nature at the same price, it becomes evident that we are moving from conspicuous to responsible consumption. Look at these example of fashion/luxury ventures, which are definitely "greener" than the others:
  • CIEL: only sustainable and socially responsible sourcing;
  • Ecoalf: recycling PET bottles to make textiles for their fashion creations;
  • BabyDeli: only ecological product for babies.
CSR practices of a company nowadays have a definitive power to skew the employment decision of many young and bright specialists, who care about the future, and I believe we can expect the fashion and luxury industry to be more and more attractive for business school graduates.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music and History instead of Financial Accounting at Top MBA Schools

Can listening to Beethoven make you a better boss? Is a business more likely to survive in the marketplace if its manager has a familiarity with the works of Charles Darwin? David Bach thinks it just might. Mr. Bach, the dean of programs at the IE Business School, in Madrid, is an architect of a pioneering new collaboration between IE and Brown University that is offering a liberal arts and management executive M.B.A. 
This was how an article titled "Spanish-U.S. Master’s Degree Will Be Steeped in Liberal Arts" in New York Times started earlier this year. The new IE-Brown Executive MBA program has a heavier emphasis on the role of liberal arts in the process of business education. Whether prompted by the recent crisis, addent attacks at the current system of bussiness studies or a genuine realization that making profit is not the sole responsibility of a company, this is a clear evidence that the curricula are changing in leading business schools.

I am not sure how it is going to come across to the rest of the MBA crowd, but I am really enjoying this shift. One of the elective courses that I am taking is going to be part of the core IMBA program here at IE starting with the current intake already and it´s called Creative Management Thinking. I am half-way through it and I can guarantee that I have learnt more useful things than in all the Finance disciplines put together so far. Consider some of the issues we have been talking about in class:
  • Grain supply in Ancient Rome and notion of equilibrium in the system (economic, political or whichever)
  • Looking at Innovation through the prysm of a shipping container and how it changed the world (by the way, this book is highly recommendable: The Box)
  • Beethoven´s 5th as a great innovation and breaking off the traditional sonata form
  • Comparing four Gospels and the idea of a Narrative in business + subsequent discussion of the housing bubble in the US
It is just like putting a new pair of glasses and starting to see the world differently. More comprehensive I would say. I am slightly jealous of those who will be studying after me as they will have the privilege to enjoy more of such courses and for them they would form part of the base of their education, and not the nicely whipped airy topping, as it is for me. But I am grateful for the opportunity to be in such a class, and i will share my thoughts on Beethoven with you a bit later.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The timing could not be more perfect! 3 months before my graduation and the good news is just streaming in. A couple of weeks ago Financial Times again ranked IE Business School MBA Top 10 in the world:

Now there is more. Apparently, winning the World Cup last year was not enough for Spaniards. Apart from specific business school, the country itself transforms into a concentrated business knowledge thesaurus...

Spain was ranked 3rd most popular location for global MBA students in a recent Geographic Trends Report published by GMAC, the body who administers and owns the GMAT exam.
3. Spain
The presence of top-rated schools such as ESADE, IESE and IE Business School have catapulted Spain to the third most popular European destination among aspiring management graduates. 
From the Economist to Businessweek to Financial Times, all published rankings of international MBA programs place Spanish schools among the top. The full time MBA in most of these institutions span 18 months on average with the exception of IE Business School where the average program duration is 13 months. The top schools have a very diverse international, student body with an average experience of around 5 years.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fly on the wall: how I witnessed an interview

I am typing this up as I am sitting in a Starbucks café in Castellana next to IE. I positioned myself in my favorite corner, set down my order, pulled out my laptop and inadvertently overheard a conversation among three people sitting right in front of me. OK, eavesdropping is bad, but here I had no other choice: those were sitting right in front of my nose, so the best I could do was to pretend uninterested and engrossed in my own stuff. Thus, clicking away and sipping on what turned out to be an atrociously watered down americano, I realized that I was listening to an interview in a sort of typical setting: an interviewer, a candidate and an observer (maybe a line manager?) who did not say much throughout the whole process. I should say I genuinely enjoyed the experience. For once I was able to be outside of the interview, being neither on the one or the other side of the fence, and, goodness gracious!, every single one should be granted such a marvelous opportunity in their lives - to be a fly on the wall.

The interviewer was good. I mean... really good. Professionally dressed, nice posture, slightly leaning forward, taking notes, but still keeping the eye contact, constantly reaffirming that she is listening, probing... I wish I could film that encounter to show later as an example of good interviewing skills.

The guy across the table, however, evidently was not accustomed to going through rounds of uncomfortable questions very often. Here are just a few examples of what I observed in his behavior that would raise some flags for me:

  • Talking too much and too quickly. His style came across as selling. It was so obvious that he was trying to convince the lady in his own worth, that I started wondering whether he himself believed in it.
  • Too much gesticulation. It is important to use hands to emphasize a point, but doing it all the time takes away the importance of gestures, dilutes the message and after a while becomes increasingly annoying (no pointing fingers in the direction of the Italian boot-shaped piece of land...).
  • Overgeneralizing. Saying things like "I see myself as being a great success in the Latin American market" is not enough. Give details, facts, examples, names - something that would corroborate your statement, then they are fine. If the recruiter has to probe you on those broad declaration and, to make matters worse, you don't have a convincing argument at hand -> too bad.
  • Having no questions. The interviewing lady asked at the end if the candidate had any questions, and he (foolishly?) replied in the negative. Normally it means one of the two: (1) you are unprepared, i.e. you have done nothing to find out more about the company, the person himself/herself, the job, etc., or (2) your level of intelligence does not extend further than the limited scope of your work and ABC News.
As I came to observe the process quite late, I could not comment on how the conversation started and developed, but the 10 minutes that I witnessed were enough for me (even without the need to ask anything) to figure out that the guy was not getting the job. Why? The level of the recruiter's professionalism indicated that she comes from a serious executive search agency or a large company (later I found out she flew in from London for this interview), and the level of answers and the nature of behavior of the candidate demonstrated that he was not up for the challenge. 

What if start frequenting lobbies of posh hotels and observe various interviews? You won't believe how many interviews are taking place in settings like that! I was interviewed in hotel lobbies on a number of occasions, particularly because I used to travel a lot. I think that would be a cool idea for a book, no?


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