Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sayonara, January!

Many days have passed since I last wrote, and for that I apologize. The fact is that, aside from jetsetting around on the weekends, life has been pretty boring! Nights are filled with cases about pharmaceutical salesmen and words like bottleneck (I'm not talking about Grolsch here, unfortunately) and throughput. And days are filled with classes in which we discuss said cases.

Meanwhile, it seems I'm not the only one suffering from a lack of motivation. Everyone around here is dragging. And with midterms just over two weeks away, I for one need to get my act seriously in gear. The problem is that now I'm not only having to study at night and on the weekends, but also carry out research for summer internship possibilities.

Because you see, unlike my friends who have signed on(read: sold their souls) at banks or who are now in their second rounds of consultancy interviews, I still haven't figured out how I will be spending my summer. My focus is narrow, but fortunately I am an eternal optimist (even if you can't always tell from this blog!) and the options are many. So I am currently considering the following for Summer 2006:

1. Nothing. Well, not really nothing. More like loafing and cavorting. I've never had the chance to really just screw around for a summer, and what better place to do that than here?

2. Internship. I'm currently looking at the big ad agencies that are based in London and NYC, as well as film production companies out of London and LA. But in doing research into advertising, I realized that a lot of the big agencies work with much smaller production companies that are based right here in Barcelona. And considering my goal is to one day open a small production company of my own, what better way to find out how to do it than to work at one? And then I'll get to practice my Spanish over the summer as well, rather than developing a south London accent or reverting to my So Cal slang.

3. Somewhere in between. See, I have a lot of movies in my head. I've always had a lot of movies in my head, but when I was working I never had time to sit down and write them beyond the treatment phase. And I have even MORE ideas now that I've met so many characters here at school. Maybe I should just shoot some spec TV commercials and work on a couple of screenplays. Then I'd have a commercial reel to shop around along with my movies...

Thou shalt be kept posted. Now I must return to my marketing case for tomorrow. It's about power tool salesmen. AWESOME!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Changing of the Guard

This weekend marks a momentous occasion here at Casa Calatrava. Alex (or, as I call him, The Gentle Giant) will be leaving us for greener pastures. That's right, he and his girlfriend Natalia got engaged over the holidays and this weekend he is moving in with her. Some of you may not consider moving in with your significant other "greener pastures," but I will leave you to discuss that amongst yourselves.

I, for one, am very happy for them. And though we are all sad to see Alex go, we are also delighted to welcome the new member of the Calatrava Guapos: Pierre, from LA FRANCE! Allez Les Bleus!!!!

Pros to Pierre's arrival:
1. We may be able to convince him that Alex always did all of the ironing and that the person who lives in that particular room is the designated ironer. And dish washer.
2. Less German will be spoken in the house, which means George and I will understand what is going on more often. Though this still may or may not be true, since we often don't understand each other in English. (A typical conversation runs like this: Person 1: "Blah blah blah." Person 2: "What?" Person 1: "What?" Person 2: "What?" Person 1: "No, YOU what?" Person 2: "What?" Person 1: "Nevermind!")
3. I can practice my French.
4. Pierre is a whiz and perhaps this will affect me by osmosis. I plan to become an expert in finance simply by being around him.
5. French cooking! (Though this could be a bad thing: All that butter and cheese. Looks like I'll have to add an extra 20 min per day to my regular running regimen.)

Cons to Alex's departure:
1. Average height of Calatrava Guapos drops considerably.
2. We will miss him. A lot!!!
3. My soccer team will now only consist of 1/2 of the Calatrava Guapos. George, Alex, and I all play on the Pablo Royo 80s Superstars.
4. No more fondue!
5. If things are on high shelves we won't be able to reach them. Better get everything down pronto!

Alex, we will miss you! Have fun in your new house. You will always be a Calatrava Guapo!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Needed: One Motivational Speaker

After two weeks of only three days of class, it's difficult to comprehend that today is only Tuesday and not Thursday. Tomorrow should be Friday and instead it's only Wednesday. Not fair! And the next four weeks will be like this... with the fourth one ending in midterms!

Regardless of the monotony of our nightly cases (or perhaps because of it), we are still managing to have a good time. Sunday night I went over to Julian's place for a cinephile dinner. His wife works in the film biz, and they invited Jorge (who is a rabid movie fan), Kyoko (who worked in video games and now wants to possibly go into TV) and me over to talk shop. I brought George along as well, and we all enjoyed a lovely dinner and chatted about movies. Next time we're planning to do a screening of something, since Julian has set up a projector in their house. And when the weather gets nicer, I'm hoping to screen movies on our roof against the wall.

Speaking of the weather getting nicer and being on the roof... Maybe we got a little overexcited about the recent spell of warm weather we've had during the day... But we decided to have the first Calatrava BBQ of 2006 last night. Marco cooked up a feast and a few people came over and shivered on the roof next to the fire. I think we'll wait a while for the next one. I took photos, but because there was so much sausage involved, most of them are kind of... inappropriate.

My main difficulty now is overcoming a severe lack of motivation as the second term gets underway. I mean, I'm not a person who is capable of not doing my homework because I'm too freaked out about getting cold-called in class. So, to an outsider, it probably appears that I'm studying like crazy. And I suppose I am. I just feel like I'm missing something. I mean, I feel like I'm doing the work every night and preparing my cases for class, but then the exams will roll around and I'll be totally blank. It doesn't help that this term so far has felt really fragmented. since we started midweek the first week and then again last week because of the career days, we only saw our marketing professor for the second time today... two weeks after our first class with him! So some of the classes are taking time to get rolling.

Meanwhile, there are also always very funny moments in our class. We've realized that Section A is far funnier and more entertaining (read: disruptive) than the other two sections, which is a badge we wear with pride. But the professors sometimes come up with even better lines than the students.

For intance, today in Operational Finance, our professor Heinrich said (in a strong German accent): "Yesterday there was an entrepeneur in the 2nd year class talking about how he got bust. It was very silent, the class."

Hmmm maybe that doesn't read so funny. Try saying out loud in your best deep-voiced German accent, and maybe you'll understand.

Anyway, tonight we have our usual three-case load to prepare for tomorrow. Managerial accounting is a case about a company deciding whether to manufacture plastic or steel rings for machines. Verrrrry exciting. Human resources is about a hotel in SF that made a poor decision (in my humble opinion) about its service policy and how it affects the staff. And in Marketing, a lovely case about snack food in Italy. The case is in lire. I'm-a confused-a.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

First time for everything

Today was a day of firsts for me: First visit to Andorra, first time skiing in Europe, first time skiing with someone in a purple jumpsuit during the 21st century, and first broken ski.

Where to begin? At the beginning.... which was at 5:15 this morning when my alarm went off. I rolled out of bed and felt all of last night's cheese like a rock in my stomach and knew immediately it would be an interesting day. Showered, got ready to go, and got the call from Marc that he was outside. My place was the last stop, so Pablo Royo and Huy were already in the car, and off we went. It was pitch black out.

I think I fell asleep within 5 minutes and when I woke up a while later, I realized we were somewhere in France. Pablo and Huy were also asleep and Marc was attempting to ask a French sanitation guy for directions in Catalan. It didn't work so well, but another hour later we had arrived. We crossed the border of Andorra a few times for good measure (Marc seemed to have an affinity for a particular roundabout) which worried me because I thought I might be stopped for smuggling too much Swiss cheese into the country. After having breakfast and renting skis, we headed to the resort and got ready:

Huy, the king of the mountain:

Pablo Royo, in his very fashion-forward, simultaneously retro, 80s jumpsuit:

Marc gets dressed:

Singing the Barcelona Football Club song, just for good measure:

The four of us skiied and boarded together for a while and then caught up with a huge group of IESE-ers who had arrived yesterday. Only eight of us did the day trip and another group of 20 or so went for the whole weekend. We had coffee and took photos (I didn't bring my camera on the slopes, which turned out to be a good thing) and then a big group of us skiiers headed off together. The weather was sunny and warm, so it was a beautiful day, but there hadn't been any new snow in two weeks, so the conditions were very icy and fast. My bindings were also too loose, which I realized on the lift around 1pm. They were set for a flyweight and I'm at least a super featherweight. Particularly when loaded down with fromage.

And on that very run, as we were bombing down the mountain, I was cut off by another skiier just before hitting a nice flat area. I swerved to avoid him and in so doing took myself out. I landed on my back and lost my hat and goggles, both skis and poles, but fortunately not my sense of humor because it turned out to be very necessary. I slid downhill, headfirst, on my back for a good 200 meters and actually caught up with the skiier who cut me off. I yelled out, "Sorry! Are you ok?" and he just gave me a dirty look. I suppose I could've shouted out in French instead, but strangely enough, the vocabulary just didn't come to me as I was skidding down the hill.

Nora caught up to me with one ski, Nana with my hat and goggles, and I think Alvaro brought my poles. The second ski was nowhere to be found. After several minutes of searching, somone on a lift about 200 meters away shouted in French that the ski was below them, another 200 or so meters back. Marc skiied down to get it and climbed back up the mountain while I skiied partway down on one ski. I tried to put the ski on and realized the binding was destroyed and, as a result, the brake, which is what allowed my ski to carve downhill by itself at a ridiculous speed. What a liability. Good thing I bought that insurance for 3 euros!

So Marc and I headed up the lift and the skis followed. We were on the lift that went right over the ski's path, so we were able to see all the magnificent turns it did, including one where it would've landed in an icy water hole but instead swerved around it and continued on. What an amazing ski. I should've kept it. Instead we rode the lift down the other side of the mountain and traded in the busted Rossignols for a pair of Dynastars. I asked the guy to adjust the bindings better on the next pair.

While we were at the bottom, Marc and I decided to have a bite to eat for lunch. I orded a ham and cheese panini, which inexplicably took an hour. When it finally arrived it was only a cheese panini ... another meal of melted cheese with bread! I couldn't handle it and fortunately enough French came back to me right then to convince the waiter that I really shouldn't have to pay for it, and he agreed. Even our drinks were free. Cha-ching!

We rejoined the rest of the group for a few more runs and then called it a day. On the way back home, Marc, Pablo, Huy and I discussed the nature of our work teams and of course all our new professors and classes. We laughed so much during the ride each way that it's no wonder my stomach was hurting. A cheese brick in your belly and laughing till your face hurts aren't always the best combination, but it was worth it. All in all, it was a fantastic day spent with great friends.

With Huy, Nora, and Marc:

Huy, me, Alexandre, Alvaro, Nora, Marc, and Pablo Royo:

Now it's late and I'm tired. Tomorrow it's back to cases and, if I can get up early enough and I'm not too sore from the last three days of soccer, rugby, skiing, and back-sledding, maybe I'll go for a bike ride.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fondue Encore!

Tonight we had a fabulous Spanish class dinner hosted by Andreas. This was my second Friday fondue in a row and all I can say is that I'm glad there are only two Swiss people in our class because I don't think I could handle a third round of cheese and bread anytime soon. Don't get me wrong... it was a fabulous dinner, but I think I'm going to be carrying this cheese around with me for a while!

Our entire Spanish class went to Andreas's parents' home, aside from Francis and Jan-Erik who had left in the afternoon to go skiing. Their cheese-consumption spots were dutifully occupied by Blaithin and Ana.

At any rate, in order to prove that I do on occasion venture into the kitchen (if only to cut the cheese), some photos from the evening:

Please note the extreme concentration, not to mention the sheer skill and talent of my ambidextrous stirring!

Below, Robain (Netherlands), Ana (Portugal), Andreas (Switzerland), Jill (Belgium), Ali (UK), Carol (Chicago):

Next to me is Matteo (Italy), and Robain, Ana, Andreas, Jill, Ali, Carol, and Federico (Italy):

In less than 5 hours I have to get up because I'm driving with Marc, Pablo Royo, and Huy to Andorra for a day of skiing. I'd better get to bed!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Answer to Cost Accounting is…. Rugby?

Last night my friend Alexia agreed to come to soccer practice and, in so doing, join the IESE women's soccer team. The caveat was that today I had to come to rugby practice with her. So tonight I played rugby for the first time in my life.

Now, I've watched my fair share of the game (particularly 6 Nations) so I was familiar enough with the rules to know that I wouldn't be allowed to chuck a hail mary downfield, but I'd never actually played beyond tossing ball around a few times. So I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly I caught on. I was also impressed with the turnout. 11 of us! That's more than the soccer team has ever managed. I'm sure the perfect weather didn't hurt either... Anyway, it's now official. I'm on the IESE womens' rugby team.

Another interesting aspect of rugby is that it seems to do wonders for one's accounting abilities. Too bad I didn't figure this out before my final in December. I say this because after practice I managed to do tomorrow's managerial accounting case in about an hour. Now this could be the result of 3 things:
1. I did it completely wrong.
2. The teacher lied to us when he said this was a hard case.
3. I got hit in the head during practice (and don't remember it happening) which unlocked a secret accounting door in my brain, and will now be a whiz at it from here on out.

Chances are it's really #1, or maybe a combination of 1 and 2, but I'm still holding out for option 3. I will keep you all posted as I continue this very important study.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Dose of Reality

After three relatively easy days of classes last week, a nice weekend, and two days of career workshops, reality has officially set in. I snapped out of vacation mode pretty quickly today when I had my first official second term accounting panic attack. I mean, I thought finanacial accounting was hard, but at least with that there seemed to be some hard and fast RULES. Cost accounting seems to be more "anything goes," which seems great at first (no wrong answers... right?!) but then just turns into a big mess of too many options and waaaay too many numbers. So far, my decision after reading every accounting case has been to sell the company and buy a ranch in Wyoming with the proceeds.

Anyway, we have now officially met all of our professors for the first half of the second term (we'll get two more classes after midterms in mid-February) and we've had at least one session of every course. Today started with our first A6 team meeting of the year, followed by our first Operational Finance course. The professor is very tall (and seems more so when you're sitting in the front row) and very engaging. In fact, I was almost interested in finance for a few minutes there. Almost.

After finance came Operations Management and a case about a cookie baking company we are starting in our dorm room in college. Special things happen during class sometimes and today that special thing came from Jill, when she answered that she couldn't mix a second batch of cookies immediately after the first because, in her words, "I'm spooning!" It was just too much for me to handle and next thing I knew, I was laughing so hard I was crying.

Lunch brought my frantic hopes to better understand the accounting case that I'd worked on over the weekend and also last night. And in the end, accounting was fine... I just don't have any confidence at all when it comes to the material and I don't think it's the kind of confidence you can simply convince yourself you have. Or at least, I can't. Anyway, hopefully I'll eventually start to understand this stuff. After all, it's only class three tomorrow.

After Spanish class I attempted the accounting homework for tomorrow with a couple of my team members, Gabriel and Matteo, but I didn't get very far. I did as much as I could and then went to play soccer with the ladies. I think tomorrow I'll play rugby. All the teams are now starting their push for the MBA Olympics, which is in Paris in June. We have won the last three years, so there's a serious title on the line! Anyway, soccer is always a fantastic way to get over accounting homework frustrations.

Now it's time for more case and technical note review and then off to bed, so I can start the whole process again tomorrow!

One more item of note... I would like to say congrats to my dear friend Pradeep, who on Monday received a summer internship offer with Citigroup in London. One day I will film the heartwarming tale of a young IT consultant who moves from Nepal to Barcelona and lands a plumb job at a major international bank. (And if anyone wants to finance it, please let me know.) Way to go Pradeep!!! Rock on!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Alex!

Alex brought a beautiful (and stinky!) cheese fondue from Switzerland, and we all enjoyed it at Calatrava Friday night. After stuffing ourselves with cheese, we devoured a Panettone George brought back from Italy as well as some lovely Italian dessert wine. Unfortunately, after eating the cake, we realized we had nothing left to put candles into for Alex's birthday, which started at midnight.

So George deftly and decoratively cut up an apple, and this was the result:

Moments later, George emerged from the kitchen and we started singing Happy Birthday. Unfortunately, George then laughed and blew out half the candles himself, so we had to start over. George said, "Act surprised!" and came out with the apple again.

Yesterday I went shopping. This is the time of year to SPEND in Barcelona! Wow. I had been planning to shop in NYC but never got around to it since I went skiing instead, and I'm glad I waited because yesterday I made a killing on shoes. In the evening, Alex's girlfriend Natalia held a surprise party for him at her place. I had the easy job - I was in charge of music. Natalia whipped up an impressive spread, and Alex was indeed surprised (or at least good at pretending to be) when we all popped out from behind chairs and flower pots.

Later in the evening, Alex and Natalia made their announcement to everyone that they had gotten engaged over the holidays and everyone started chanting, "BESO! BESO! BESO!" (Which means "kiss" for you gringos or people who don't know the song Besame Mucho.) And they did. Then I said, "Any other announcements?" And George, who was standing next to Marc, leaned on him and said, "Yes! Marc and I..." And the chanting started again: "BESO! BESO! BESO!"

Poor George. I think he often makes a funny comment in the moment, not realizing he's setting himself up for someone else to make an even better one at his expense! I hope he never changes.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Three Lessons Learned

Only three days into the new term and I have already learned three very important lessons.

1 and 2. I will never, EVER represent a company or a group. Period. In negotiations class yesterday I was chosen as the negotiator for our group and had to meet with the negotiator chosen from another group to agree to a price we'd both charge for our products. (As this case was not based in reality, price-fixing wasn't part of the issue.) I met my counterpart, and it wasn't who I'd expected. I don't think she'd expected me either, but anyway we promptly agree to a price and shook on it. But this was after two rounds of sales in which the other team had stolen away some of our market share and we had lost some money. Now we'd be even from here on out, but we'd never make up our lost money.

Wanting to continue on our ethical path, our group continued to keep the quoted price, even as the stakes grew. After our second and final negotiation meeting, three sales rounds later, we agreed to continue as we had previously. We shook on it and that was that. But one round later, our team decided to make back the money we'd lost in the first two rounds, because the other team hadn't agreed to cut us any slack. Since we had to operate as a team and the majority wanted to change the price and gain market share, I had to go back on my word to the other team. We ended up basically putting their company out of business and, in reality, the point of the game was profit... but none of us felt that great about it. So the first thing I learned actually was that I shouldn't agree to something I don't believe in 100%. No more going with the majority for me.

But more importantly... when we returned to class (we had been separated into two large groups representing the two major companies, and a bunch of smaller groups which were negotiating together) my negotiating counterpart started screaming that I should never be trusted. At first I thought it was a joke. But then, as class proceeded, she kept hammering it home and screaming over other people about what a horrible person I am. This was frustrating because I was just the messenger and can't actually control the decisions of an entire group. And anyway, when I met with her, I did tell her our intentions, and they were true. But they changed later. Anyway, the whole thing upset me enough that I vowed I would never be the public face of a company, nor represent a company or a group in any way. I really couldn't deal with being personally slandered like I was yesterday. So that job possibility is officially out.

3. Today we got our first term grades back, which leads me to the third lesson of the week. When you know you're crap at something and you'll probably fail... well just be crap at it and fail. Don't spend hours and hours and all your weekends working on it as if it will make a difference, because it WON'T! And I'm okay with this. Yes everyone, I failed accounting. I got a big fat C. And had I not spent so much time on it, I really wouldn't mind because I'd deserve it. But instead I studied harder for that class than all the others combined, and it got me absolutely nowhere. And it's even more frustrating after getting a B on the midterm. The final was killer, and also weighted for people who did better than it than on the midterm.

Next I need to learn how to not let one C spoil my A's, because I'm much more annoyed about the C than I am happy about the A's. I'll work on that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New Year, New Classes!

I got back to my apartment around 7 last night and received a warm welcome from Marco, George, and Alex. I missed those guys! I really lucked out with my flatmates, no doubt about it.

This morning I walked to school and hit the cafe, which is now smoke-free thanks to the new smoking ban that went into effect on January 1 here in Spain. How nice to not smell like an ashtray first thing in the morning! Everyone looked well-rested after a few weeks away (well, everyone except the people who spent the last two days interviewing for investment banking internships) and I was given plenty of compliments on my hair, which is now back to normal after visiting my usual salon in Manhattan.

Our section has a pretty easy start to the new term, which is both a blessing and a curse. It means I can still be in denial about how much work lies ahead, but it also means we can sort of ease into being back at school. This morning we had two back-to-back sessions of Negotiations before lunch and afterward our first Marketing class. After that was Spanish, and then a long line at the bookstore to get a few textbooks that just arrived. Tomorrow is pretty chill again, with another double session of Negotiations in the morning and Human Resources in the afternoon. Awesome! Friday gets a little hairy: Operations Management, HR, and Managerial Accounting. Frightening.

All in all, a good first day back. I think the jet lag is just about to set in because I'm feeling a little funky, but I'm surprised I don't feel worse after so many flights in the past few days. Maybe it'll hit me tomorrow....

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another day, another terminal

In keeping with my vacation tradition of posting from airports, here I am writing from Heathrow. Hooray! My last English-speaking stop before I go back to Barcelona, so I should really talk to everyone I possibly can. Except that everyone around me is speaking different languages....

My flight was delayed last night by nearly two hours so the people at British Airways at JFK changed my connecting flight, just to be safe. Somehow we made it here in 5 hours though, which meant I could have made my original flight to Barcelona and instead have several hours to kill. But I like airports, so I don't mind. Especially airports with wireless hotspots!

By the way, the skiing in Utah was AWESOME. I didn't take any pictures because I was too busy, well... skiing. But yeah, it rocked.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Off to Utah

I'm now waiting in the jetblue lounge at JFK for my flight to Salt Lake City. After two more fantastic days in Miami and two nights hanging in Manhattan, I am now on my way to the powder of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. Two days there, then back to NYC for two days, and then I'm off to Barcelona. Four airlines in three weeks... I think it's a new record for me.

After two days of cold, windy rain in New York, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning to a blue sky and sunshine. And I've heard the powder in Utah is wicked right now. You really can have the best of everything sometimes!

Here's the view this afternoon from my friend Michael's place, where I crashed the last two nights: