Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Future of MMS

Before I wrote this post, I decided to go back and read through some of my earliest Luke@Duke posts, more than a year ago. It’s funny reading the cautiously optimistic tone that characterized my early writings because I realize now how little information I had at the time. The MMS program was in year one, an infant at Duke and an untested concept in the United States. Without any employment stats or even the knowledge that the program would last beyond its 3-year pilot phase, my classmates and I put our blind faith in the concept behind MMS and hoped it would turn out a success. At least I had the privilege of attending a class and meeting current students; I imagine the international students had practically no idea what they were getting themselves into.

A year later, I don’t think a single one of us regrets our decision. Our class achieved 100% participation for class gift donations, the first time a program has ever achieved full participation in the 40-year history of Fuqua! I think this not only reflects well on our program’s success, but also validates the need for one-year business programs in the US to fill a niche need in the workforce. With applications up 5-fold (based on early estimates), I’m happy to see the program gaining even more steam and becoming more competitive, something all of us new grads will appreciate.

Despite my satisfaction with the program, however, something kept nagging at me about the value proposition of the MMS degree. I think it stemmed from the fact that I was entering an analyst position at Accenture at the same level as freshly minted undergrads, despite my master’s degree. Not that I felt any bitterness, but a little voice told me that if only I’d had my act together in undergrad, I could have just started my career a year earlier and saved some money. Yet intrinsically, I knew this wasn’t true – I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made the MMS experience so much more valuable than the mere employment opportunities.

Preparing for the New Marketplace
The answer came to me recently while reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat on my flight back from San Francisco. Strangely enough, Friedman expressed the same concept that MMS has been using to market itself – the What’s Your And? proposition. Indulge me for a minute here. Friedman explores the changing business dynamics in the world of what he calls Globalization 3.0 – the new era in which individuals can collaborate globally, consumers have a voice that can force huge corporations to change their policies, and two guys with a great idea and a computer can form a multinational with the power to compete with the Fortune 500. Friedman also discusses the future of the labor market in the US, where he expects that more and more service industry jobs that provided stable employment in our parents’ generation will soon be outsourced (if they haven’t been already) to Bangalore and Chengdu. As opposed to Globalization 2.0, which featured the outsourcing of industrial production and other blue-collar jobs, Globalization 3.0 is shipping many white-collar jobs overseas – from tax accounting to X-ray scan analysis. Still more white-collar jobs are not being outsourced but are simply disappearing due to advances in technology.

In the labor market of the 21st century, America’s white collar jobs will rise one step further up the value chain. Call center operators may not remain but people who understand how to design systems which provide quality customer service will always be in demand. In this period of transition, young professionals will require a more versatility skill set and will be well served by a psychological mobility that allows us to build a career out of a series of jobs at different companies, as opposed to Gen X’s norm of logging 30 years with a single firm. Technical skills will always be important, but jobs that also require the right side of the brain (creativity and soft skills) will be where the US retains its competitive advantage. The US will also (hopefully) remain the world’s greatest innovators. Staying at the top won't be easy. Just as the Industrial Revolution required secondary education to suit the needs of the new industrial marketplace, Friedman posits that Globalization 3.0 and the flattening of the world will require successful professionals to attain even more education.

The Need for MMS
This is where the MMS program comes in. One of Friedman’s ideas is that innovation often sprouts from multiple ways of looking at a problem. An example is biotechnology, which requires an integration of computer science and biology to create the next breakthroughs. While reading this section, I though immediately of the What’s Your And? proposition, which is our program’s tagline for expressing how students learn business fundamentals AND have other backgrounds or interests, such as a psychology degree, athletic pursuits, or a passion for renewable energy. Admittedly, I used to think the What’s Your And? tagline was a little cheesy and served more as a marketing tool than an actual communication of value. When contemplating Friedman’s book, though, it all made sense. MMS really is about providing the business lens to look at organizations on top of whatever else your background may be. You don’t come to this program because you majored in the wrong subject in undergrad; you come here because you want an additional component to your education to be more prepared for a business career. MMSers are versatile; we can work in marketing or finance but also understand the broader perspective of how individual pieces fit within the company's strategy, a skill that will become necessary as we continue advancing in our careers.

New professional jobs will also require the ability to manage and work as part of global teams. My girlfriend works at Google and regularly wakes up early to conference call with team members in India who are just ending their days. This is the model of the future, and it will require a cultural sensitivity and managerial ability to develop a cohesive team out of employees who may never see each other face to face. MMS has prepared us for this. Think about it! Our program is over 30% international and may include future options to spend a term or two abroad. We do most of our work in cross-cultural teams and take classes on managing diverse groups. We practice public speaking and learn presentation and other business communication skills. While the hard skills – finance, accounting, etc. still form the basis of a business school education, these soft skills shouldn’t be overlooked. The MMS program doesn’t just teach you how to use Excel; it helps you transform into a confident young professional ready to take on the new way of doing business. What’s Your And? doesn’t mean that every single one of us has some niche interest that we plan on pursuing in our professional careers, but rather that we have a nuanced understanding of business and aren't just geeks ready to crunch some numbers. For some, What's Your And? could be as simple as “I have a background in finance, and I’m prepared to be a leader on a global team.” It's a proposition that companies will find very appealing and the reason I think we will see programs like MMS continue to gain popularity.

Sure, I could have found a job in consulting right after undergrad. I already had a strong enough resume and a master’s degree is not required for an analyst position. However, I feel so much wiser after one year of MMS that it’s only now that I recognize how underprepared I was in undergrad. I may have been able to pick up the skills I needed on the job, but I would have been in a much more vulnerable position should the job market have changed. I also knew nothing about organizational behavior, I was a much less adept and less confident presenter, I thought networking meant selling out, and I had no clue how much in the real world is negotiable and how to go about doing it. These are just a few examples, but the bigger picture here is that I was in a much weaker position to be successful in my career outside of the basic requirements of the job. After a year of MMS, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running at Accenture and manage my career deliberately rather than just float along and hope for the best. I can’t wait!

Thanks and Goodbye
This will be my last post on Luke@Duke. Before I end my post, though, I want to thank all of those who have read my blog and contacted me with questions, even the insecure ones who simply wanted to know their chances of getting in. I started this blog on a whim, not even knowing whether or not I would matriculate and frankly feeling neutral toward the program. I had no idea where it would lead or even if I would keep up the blogging, but I recognized the need to get more information out on the web to help potential students make better informed decisions. This blog has allowed me to connect with dozens of people interested in the MMS program, and it has truly been a pleasure. While my time as a student at Duke is over, I hope to stay involved in the MMS community – so please, whether about Duke or Accenture or anything else, keep the e-mails coming.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Graduation

As I write this post from my girlfriend's Google office in San Francisco, I feel every bit as distant from Durham and Duke as the 3,000 miles across the country. It's been just two weeks since we officially graduated and became MMS alumni, but already our class has scattered. Some have already moved to various cities across the US, China, and Europe in preparation for their new jobs. A few unfortunate souls remain unemployed and have moved to metropolitan areas (mostly New York) still in search of work. Most, like me, are simply enjoying their last free summers in the foreseeable future before starting work in late summer or fall.

Reflecting on the completion of my MMS degree, I realize that graduation this time around was a much different experience than a year earlier when I obtained my BS in economics from Duke. While last year I recognized less than half the faces at my graduation ceremony, this time I knew every single person - and not only recognized them, but knew them as friends or at least good acquaintances. I fondly knew all the professors and staff up on stage, making for a much more meaningful experience than the drab and generic graduation ceremonies of undergrad.

When Associate Dean Kathie Amato spoke, she remarked on how many students said they wished the program was longer. Not longer in the sense of having another term of classes, or more time to find a job, but rather that we weren't quite ready for the MMS class experience to end. Cliché though it may be, I felt this same bittersweet sentiment myself - happy to graduate and move on with my professional career, but also sad that our class was finally disbanding.

Over the past year, I've truly enjoyed getting to know the characters that make up our graduating class - and let me tell you, our class is full of characters. In a close-knit program of just 100 students, personalities and idiosyncrasies come out quickly and you really get to know each other well. I've had some great times with my fellow classmates: some of the things I'll miss next year are playing basketball after section A, enjoying delicious hotpot with my Asian friends, discussing startup ideas at Brightleaf bars, hosting pregames at our West Village apartment, and debating the efficiency of financial markets over hangover brunches. I'll even miss stressful 3AM nights at Fuqua working on team projects, which were in retrospect some of the best bonding experiences of them all.

I will truly miss the MMS program, but I have no doubt that our class will stay connected in future years. Besides the professional side of our network, it's really cool that across the globe, from Shanghai to New York, I will have MMS friends that I can visit. For now, though, it's time to move on in our careers. After an intense year of business school, I think we're all excited to get out there and put our knowledge to the test!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MMS Marketplace

Dear Class of 2012:

Looking for furnishings when you move to Durham? Getting here early and need to sublet for a month or two? Want to buy a car? Check out the MMS Marketplace, where current MMSers are posting their stuff for sale: http://groups.google.com/group/mmsmkt

I also have some stuff of my own for sale (pics included), which you can view on this page.

Thanks!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Illustrated Culinary Adventure with Chloe Wang

The New York Times recently featured Durham as one of the top 41 places to visit in 2011, in large part because of its revitalized downtown nightlife and excellent restaurant culture. Below is an excerpt from article:

A decade ago, downtown Durham was a place best avoided after sundown. But as revitalization has transformed abandoned tobacco factories and former textile mills into bustling mixed-use properties, the city has been injected with much-needed life. In the heart of downtown, a crop of standout restaurants and cafes has recently sprouted around West Main Street, where low rents have allowed chefs and other entrepreneurs to pursue an ethos that skews local, seasonal and delicious.

Along these lines, MMSer Chloe Wang has written a guest post giving you a taste of (culinary) life at Fuqua and beyond.

--

Hi guys! My name's Chloe and I'm an international student from China. I did my undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, and I will be working in the finance industry in NYC starting this summer.

Contrary to popular belief, Durham is actually a great place for foodies. Being a foodie myself, I have been exploring places to eat all around campus and in Durham. Part I will be about food in Fuqua, and part II will be about brunch places in Durham. Enjoy! I'll try take better pictures next time :)

Where to eat? (Part I: At Fuqua)
When we are at school having classes:
Fox centre is the only food place that’s available in the Fuqua building. There’s also the law school cafĂ© right next to Fuqua, but Fox centre has more variety. During break, you’ll see all MMS kids rushing towards Fox centre to grab a bite. At lunch, we always eat together at huge tables. (The pictures are taken by phones so they may be a little blurry; hopefully they still give you an idea of the Fox centre!)
- Starbucks: We have a coffee area that serves Starbucks coffee and other soft drinks.

You can also get packaged sushi, sandwich, parfait, gelato and salad.

If you are in a hurry, or nobody is at the counter, you can check out at the self-check out machine. This is what we did during final weeks, when everyone is studying in the MMS team rooms and got really hungry late at night. A large ice-coffee is $1.94.
- A little on breakfast: You can either get cereal and bakery at the Starbucks stand, or get a real breakfast at the grill or the salad bar. There are omelets and pancakes and tons of other selections; at the salad bar you’ll see yogurt and fruits. Breakfast closes at 10, and reopens at 11 for lunch.

- The Grill: You get burgers and steaks here. My favorites are philly cheese steak with curly fries, and grilled cheese. The lines can be a little slow but it’s worth the wait. Prices vary.

- Pasta and Pizzeria: I love their pepperoni pizza. Around $3 per slice.

-Asian station: The food is great, but it is the same every other day: on day 1 there’s ginger chicken, grilled pork and udon noodles; on day 2 there’s bibimbab, pad thai and curry, and the cycle goes on and on. $7.95

– Indian station: A nearby Indian restaurant called Sitar serves Indian food in the fox centre twice a week for $7.95. You can also get Mango Lassi for $2.99.

- Comfort food: The menu is different everyday, such as fried fish, grilled chicken, and cavalry, with different sides. Price varies.

- Sandwich station: The sandwiches are huge! You can either have pre-made sandwiches or make your own sandwich, which is priced by weight.

- Salad bar: The salad bar is actually quite good. You pay by weight, and normally it costs me around $8.

- Dessert bar: Slices of cheesecake or chocolate cakes; around $2.99.

People sometimes complain that eating at Fox centre gets boring and it’s overpriced, but due to lack of choice they eventually come back and eat Fox centre food again.

However, if you happen to be having a light day, you can go to Bryan centre and eat at the great hall, where the undergraduates dine. They have a much bigger selection. Oh! Don’t forget to buy a locopop on your way there =)

Fuqua Friday:
Luke mentioned Fuqua Fridays before, but I would like to talk a little more about the food aspect of it. For those of you who don’t know, Fuqua Friday is an open event every Friday at Fuqua, where people come and eat dinner, hang out, and drink. There’s an overflow of drinks and food. Every week there’s a different theme. So far we have had themes of southern barbeque (hosted by MMS and I think is one of the best Fuqua Friday), Latin America, Asian, Italian, etc.

Part II on the way!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cohesion

cohesion, n.
1. The linguistic elements that make a discourse semantically coherent
2. The bonds or "glue" between members of a community or society

Yesterday marked the beginning of the end of our program, at least in my mind. We're almost halfway through our last term, and gorgeous weather in Durham right now makes it hard to concentrate on classes. Last night was special in particular, though, because of a class reception we had with Dean Sheppard and several other MMS administrators. The climax of the event happened when Dean Sheppard gave a toast to our class, thanking us for our commitment to the program and encouraging us to stay close even after graduation.

After Dean Sheppard's toast, something really special happened: impromptu, an MMS student took over for Dean Sheppard and gave his own toast, an ode to our class. The group then chanted another student's name, and another's, and one by one members of our class got up and spoke about what this program has meant to them. One student in particular embodied passion for our program when he began to tear up speaking about his love for his classmates. Finally, Associate Dean Kathie Amato got up and spoke about how this is her dream job - working with MMS. Such a display of passion and emotion, completely unplanned, was quite an incredible experience to be part of.

Perhaps part of the energy of the night reflects the renewed optimism among job seekers in our class, as several have received offers in the past couple of weeks and things seem to be picking up for others. Still, it's clear that our class camaraderie runs deep, even more so than I had realized. If someone had told me how close our class would become at the beginning of the year, or even a few months ago, I would have been skeptical - yet here we are, closer than I'd ever imagined a one year grad program would be.

Reflecting on the night, I began thinking of how now, at the beginning of April, everything is finally coming together...

A Brilliant Curriculum Design
Before I get overly emotional, I want to speak about how everything is falling into place in regards to academics. When I made my decision to come to Fuqua, I took a quick look at the types of classes offered (marketing, finance, strategy, management, etc.) and was satisfied that this program taught a broad set of business topics. What I didn't realize at the time was the true genius of the curriculum design, a feature quite distinct from my undergraduate education.

Allow me to elaborate: my courses in undergrad ran the gamut from dance to mechanical engineering, with some econ classes thrown in that somehow managed to form a major. Even within the econ department, "prerequisite" classes were typically not truly necessary to take more advanced courses, and I took a lot of random classes that were very interesting but had nothing to do with each other. By contrast, in the MMS program, every term builds on previous terms in a very intentional manner to form a comprehensive education.

The best example I can give this term is finance. This class, Fundamentals of Financial Analysis (coded under accounting), draws from just about every term we've had so far. We're learning different valuation techniques, and to do a valuation requires knowledge of corporate structures (Corporate Finance - Spring I), CAPM regression (Capital Markets - Fall II), financial statements (Financial Accounting - Summer), evaluation of opportunity costs (Economics - Fall I), and spreadsheet modeling (just about every class). It might also be helpful to look at corporate strategy (Strategy, Fall I), or take a closer look at the accuracy of book values represented in financial statements (Managerial Accounting, Spring I). Finally, PowerPoint, business writing, and presentation skills developing in Business Communications I & II will help us deliver our final team projects at the end of the term.

I could go on, but the point is that the classes in our final term make sense of everything we've learned up to this point and provide clarity to the benefits of previous courses. In Mohan's accounting class way back in the summer, it was a real struggle to back out different accounting numbers and prepare financial statements line by line; sometimes it felt tedious to learn these techniques when I figured that in my professional career, a CPA would take care of the accounting and I could just focus on corporate strategy. In the final term, I finally realize how incredibly useful it is to understand a company's annual report and SEC filings, even though I'll likely never have to prepare these reports myself.

Coming to the end of this program, I feel confident that I'll be prepared for my analyst position at Accenture. In fact, it seems slightly absurd that these companies hire undergrads with non-business majors; I feel like I'll be able to hit the ground running while others may require months of on the job training before they can really contribute. I also am hopeful that I'll have more leeway when it comes to project choice - I know that in management consulting, project managers often look for team members with specific skills, and I couldn't imagine being chosen to work with a financial services client without at least some background in finance. The Fuqua faculty have also been incredible, and talking to business majors in MMS from other undergraduate institutions, I get the sense that the level of education at Duke is far above that of many other schools (I won't name bash here), even when similar courses are offered. You don't just learn finance, marketing, and accounting in this program as discrete subjects - you become business savvy.

The MMS Family
Back to my original point, and inspiration for writing this post - the cohesion of our class. One great aspect of going to school in Durham vs. a bigger city like New York is that students here tend to hang out with each other a lot. What's really neat is how the class has come together, here toward the end of our program. We hung out a lot way back when the program started (my roommate and I once hosted a party with at least 2/3 of the class in attendance), but naturally as time went on, different friend groups started to form and hang out on their own. MMS romances were born, the job search dampened the social scene, and attendance at Fuqua Friday slowly began dropping.

Now, in April, class bonding and sociability have rebounded and hit an all time high. Last weekend, for example, the MMS Outdoor Club hosted a weekend trip to Charlotte to go Whitewater Kayaking (pictured above) - with over 30 in attendance! Even some students who didn't plan on rafting came along for the fun. The Wine & Beer club has been very active and has hosted a couple of events this term that reached capacity at upwards of 25 or 30 students. The MMSA is hosting a pool party this weekend, and I expect a ton of people will show up to that, too. I remember way back in the summer, a girl from last year's class mentioned that an MMS friend she had made would be her bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding. At the time, it seemed kind of implausible that classmates could bond that much within just a year, especially in grad school - but now I understand.

Maybe this sounds natural to some of you, but I think it's quite extraordinary that our class, rather than getting sick of seeing the same 100 faces over and over again, has managed to become even closer over the course of the year. We've all gone through the same exact experience, suffered the same hardships, and now we've emerged stronger than ever. I think this experience is unique to Duke, and during my undergrad tenure here one of the aspects I loved most was the amount of school spirit and pride. This remains strong within our alumni network, too - Duke and Fuqua alumni are notorious for their willingness to help current students. A couple of weeks ago, at a focus group of MMS students, a student proposed to Kathie that we establish a mentor system with next year's class to help with the job search and other questions. The two dozen or so students in attendance all seemed to love the idea of connecting with future MMSers and were very excited about the prospect of staying involved with Fuqua even after moving away to start their new jobs. Trust me - you won't find this level of commitment at other schools!

A Closer Class, A Stronger Program
The closeness of our class is for me the biggest unforeseen benefit of the MMS program. When I decided to matriculate, I based my decision on the educational value of the program and a shot at breaking into consulting; the social scene was not really a factor at all in my decision. In retrospect, though, I realize how beneficial it is to have such a tight-knit class.

In academics, this translates into a cooperative rather than competitive environment (despite our grades being based on relative performance). When I've needed help learning material, there have always been students more than willing to help out; some students have even led review sessions at the request of others. The same is true of recruiting season - when I was applying to jobs, I had several friends more than happy to look over my resume, cover letters, e-mails, etc. and make suggestions. In the early stages of the consulting club, we held weekly mock case interviews, and I found lots of people were willing to show up and help out their classmates; we even had some MBAs volunteer their time to practice with us. With everyone helping each other out, we all benefit.

Professionally, our cohesion will translate into a strong alumni network, which is good for both our class and future classes. If I ever want to find a job in banking, I have several classmates who I know I could call up years from now that would love to help me out. Fuqua also has a strong reputation for alumni donations, and right now our class is nearing our goal of 100% contribution - I think that speaks extremely highly of students' satisfaction with their experiences here.

Finally, there's the social side of a close class, which I think can easily go undervalued. Making friends was low on my priority list for attending this program, but it's made the experience really enjoyable. Whether it's playing IM sports, going to pubs, or even going skydiving (this weekend!), it's always easy to find MMSers who want to join. Sometimes the admins even get involved, as with an upcoming wine tasting!

MMSers take their studies seriously, but we're probably the most fun group of grad students at Duke. This facet of the program is truly important: reflecting on the year, the things that I'll miss most about Fuqua will not be my classes or guest lectures, but rather my classmates and the MMS faculty and staff that obviously care so much about us. While the curriculum forms the core value of the MMS program, the class cohesion has enhanced every aspect of my year at Fuqua.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MMS 2012 Admit Space

Dear Class of 2012,

Future MMSer Saumya Garg has asked me to share with you a blog he has created for purposes of connecting with other students in advance of the program. You can access the blog at: http://www.sam4duke.blogspot.com/

There's also a facebook group created by a student from the class of 2012.