Term 10 at Wharton – intimidating classrooms and interesting classes

When we walked into the Steinberg center on a Sunday (July 21) it felt more Monday like than any place we had been before. All the men in the class looked like the CEO’s they are or are aspiring to be in crisp blue/grey/black suits and crisp white/blue shirts, and the ladies looked just as amazing in their formal clothes and me in my trademark sari :). Wharton’s atmosphere didn’t allow us to regress to our “school” days as we normally do. Even Antony and Siva were spiffy (read, not wearing shorts) and that’s a lot !!

As we walked into the classroom we all went trigger happy and had our pictures clicked – with the scary big 1000 page binder with all the material we will need for the week. We had breakfast and got into the classroom and Prof Raju started the session. Kamal did ask him if we should feel a little intimidated by the setting and Prof Raju was emphatic in saying no and that we should just relax. None of us really relaxed though – that was the power of the setting. We were at the institution that pioneered formal business education way back in the 1800’s and were being taught by two professors who have taught almost every one of the 5000 students at ISB, our Alma mater. No pressure, just sweaty palms.

We learnt about Mergers and Acquisitions in the morning from Prof Harbir …. What can I say, it was fascinating to see his choice of words and some of his insightful questions to explain the various concepts – starting with “how do smart men and women make bad decisions ?” And explaining how strategy is really about what you do, not just what you say. Think about how much of your realized strategy was intended and the productivity frontier and how difficult it was to stay on it … He forgot the Indian “jugaad” that Arun and team applied in the evenings to stay glued to the productivity frontier, but more on that in the next section. We also learnt about how no competitive advantage is sustainable forever and the V-P-Co-Ca secret formula :):) We learnt a lot about balancing – balance between competition and cooperation, between overt and covert agendas, the learning race made a brief appearance and then the relational rents you pay. I wrote down a few really classic statements of Prof Harbir – “informed assessment of motives – don’t get conned by the movie star looks”, “temporariness of engagement – breakup is a way of life”, “acquisition is the purchase of the right to corporate control – he/she wears the pants in the house now”, “velocity of change – things are changing around you real quick”, “Asset strippers – hmm, you figure that one out basis your vision :)” “strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions – just very well said, so I won’t spoil it with my version”. We know the value of relational capability, alliance capability and acquisitions as corporate strategy. We also know about Carlos Ghosn and what he did for Renault-Nissan … And why he deserves a “great CEO” tag. Most importantly we understood that M&A is about profit maximization and not about size maximization, right Prof ?

Rajendra did manage to stump Prof Harbir for a few minutes with his summary of the Daimler-Chrysler case, there was spontaneous applause from all of us and ofcourse the smile on the Prof’s face was priceless.

Now the second 75% of the day – ok go easy with your excitement Arun (remember I had to restrain you from jumping at Prof Harbir with abnormal enthusiasm when he drew the abnormal returns graph), I have not done a calculation error in your beloved maths. My calculation is correct. We spent the first half of the day with Prof Harbir, then the rest of the day till 11 pm with Prof Raju, Markstrat and Prof Sajeesh and Sam and a lot of heartburn 🙂

The second half of the day we understood what marketing strategy was all about from Prof Raju and made a mess of it with the Markstrat simulation everyday after his classes. Only one team conned, colluded and generally threatened the customers and made millions – ok that was clearly how some of the other teams and I saw it. The correct statement is – Arun, Anir, Vandana, Sridhar, Sajid and DP played fair and square and were probably the group that listened most attentively to what the prof was saying. Very well done guys, you do deserve a round of applause even as some of us gulp ulcer pills !! :):):):)

Prof Raju – you taught us about discontinuous environments, difference between perceptions and preferences and how they affect purchase decisions, about perceptions being usually homogenous compared to preferences, the semantic and MDS scales …. How many times we gave off the perception of being intelligent and opened our mouths to spoil your preference :):):) Prof Raju, you caught the whole class napping with your Maxwell House coffee slide – our eyes were open and we couldn’t see General Foods written on top of the slide. Guess Markstrat was affecting us more than we thought 🙂 Your classic statement that “a dog can make money” will ensure we never forget BCG’s framework !

The evenings spent with Markstrat brought many learnings to many of us – its important to understand the market, more analysis was needed of the many research reports and the perceptual map … We have access to many of these tools in real life too, we don’t use them as well. So the big learning is to use the data overload that we do have and improve our decisions.

We all have pictures with Ben Franklin on the park bench, I tried showing him Steve’s iPad – he was amused, Vandana and others tried to chat with him, some tried to read from the scroll he was reading from. Hope everyone remembers American history, Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of USA, the first postmaster general, a scientist who invented the lightning rod besides other stuff. There is a life size statue on campus which is what am referring to.

I ate so many Samosas during lunch, that I can no longer say I dont eat Samosas and am sure they ran out of the Pretzels and fish-shaped chips, because we ate so much and now am having withdrawal symptoms.

The last day a lucky few who wore a Wharton T.shirt/sweatshirt or sweater got a hug from Prof Raju as we got our certificates. Awesome term at a very prestigious school …. Now to apply the learnings in our setting. We also have four tests and a group assignment to complete before we can celebrate our country’s independence day on Aug 15th. But the true test is how we apply the learnings everyday at our workplaces and homes !

4 thoughts on “Term 10 at Wharton – intimidating classrooms and interesting classes”

  1. Nice Blog Bindu… I will be very interested in getting varied perspectives… Since you have done all the reading, I wouldn’t like to re-invent the wheel 🙂 Now its for the master to share her learnings… You know we can always workout VC details 🙂

  2. I admire your enthu and always wait to read about your perspective on professors , classes at ISB and it partner schools. Where do you get the time write? Anyway as usual very interesting and indeed happy to see that you have enjoyed the classes at Wharton…

    • Thanks Srikanth. I love to write and have been writing since my childhood, so I always manage to find time. Am a history buff, so enjoy recording various happenings. 🙂 Technology helps tremendously to manage time well because with an iPad you can write anywhere, anytime.


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