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Why M.B.A.s Should Care About Big Data 

BY PHILLIP LESLIE, UCLA ANDERSON PROFESSOR OF STRATEGY

What’s the big deal about Big Data?

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Professor Phillip Leslie

Lately, everyone seems to be talking about data analytics. But this recent infatuation raises many questions: Is it just a passing fad? Why now? Is it applicable to every industry and company? And what does it mean for today’s business-school students?

The reality is that we’ve now entered a period where companies and managers can differentiate themselves by mastering data analytics. Every M.B.A. should be asking: How prepared am I to engage with Big Data? Those who choose to be dismissive, I would caution, run the risk of being redundant in their skill sets the day they graduate.

To begin, it may be helpful to distinguish among three kinds of data analytics – namely, descriptive, predictive and prescriptive. Descriptive analytics is about harnessing real-time data to provide insight into what is happening in your business, whether it be with customers, employees, suppliers or the like. That may not sound impressive. You might think that it’s been a standard business practice for decades. In reality, however, it has taken huge investments in hardware, software and engineering talent to build this form of analytics. For many companies, this is the ongoing focus of their work in Big Data.

Predictive analytics, as the term would imply, is about predicting something, such as inventory stock-outs, call center volumes, fraudulent transactions, communications equipment failures and patient hospitalizations. The effectiveness of the approach relies on the accuracy of prediction (a high “R-squared,” so to speak). If you can predict call-center volumes, you can optimize staffing levels. Similarly, if you can predict equipment failures, you can perform maintenance or repairs ahead of time.

Prescriptive analytics is about testing causal effects. A manager’s daily task is to constantly search for and implement new approaches, like a new shipping strategy, changes to a customer loyalty program, or improvements in customer service. Prescriptive analytics is about testing whether these changes made any difference to sales, customer acquisition, new product listings, and so on. Managers must be able to distinguish between correlation and causation, as well as statistical and practical significance. This is bread-and-butter work for managers, particularly in companies that value evidence-based management or data-driven decision making (like most technology firms, for instance).

In short, regardless of what form it takes, Big Data is now so pervasive that M.B.A.s should take note. Simply use Google Trends to look for search activity for “Big Data,” and you’ll see just how prevalent the trend is. If you want to remain relevant after graduating, ignore Big Data at your own peril.

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UCLA Anderson Students Meet Warren Buffet

BY VERONICA KALYNA

On chilly January morning, 20 UCLA Anderson students – members of the Anderson Student Asset Management Fund, Student Investment Fund, and the Anderson Investment Association – began the pilgrimage to meet Mr. Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha”.  Along with students from six other U.S. universities and a group of Brazilian business students, we began the day at Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), the first of three Berkshire Hathaway-owned company visits.  As we walked through the flagship store, we learned about the “Historic Omaha Handshake” and the two-page contract by which Buffett and Rose Blumkin, NFM’s founder, sealed the sale of NFM to Berkshire Hathaway in 1983.  Buffett’s simple business tenet of “Sell cheap and tell the truth” positioned the retailer to rapidly expand in the Midwest.

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In order from left: Veronica Kalyna (FEMBA 2015), Constantinos (Dean) Pagonis (FTMBA 2014), Nedal Alqam (FEMBA 2015), Debika Seth (FEMBA 2015), Jernine Kim (FTMBA 2014), Ksenia Yudina (FEMBA 2014), Alex Jorion (FEMBA 2015), Joseph Duronio (FEMBA 2015), M. Reza Banki (FTMBA 2014), Ryan Rosen (FTMBA 2014), Warren Buffett, Tom Morgan (FTMBA 2014), Sean Haydon (FTMBA 2014), Danielle Zainer (FTMBA 2014), Jacob Gore (FTMBA 2014), Beth Sackovich (FTMBA 2014), Kevin Zhang (FEMBA 2015), Wenting Shen (FTMBA 2014), Aylon Ben-Shlomo (FTMBA 2014), Jason Stokes (FEMBA 2015), Ignacio Silva (FTMBA 2014).

Our next stop was Berkshire Hathaway’s headquarters, inconspicuously located on the 15th floor of the Kiewit Building in downtown Omaha.  Stepping off the top floor, we entered the marble-and-wood paneled Cloud Room and enjoyed cold cans of Coca-Cola while waiting for the Oracle to arrive.  Soon after Buffett made his entrance, a two-hour question and answer session ensued.  With great candor and modesty, Buffett spoke on a wide range of topics.  While holding a 1951 Moody’s Manual, he quipped, “People who want to relive their youth buy old Playboys. I buy old Moody’s.”  Buffett spoke at length about his philosophy of investing in simple, undervalued firms with solid operations and management teams, and discussed his hands-off management style.  He also spoke about how Berkshire Hathaway’s size has led him and his long-time business partner and friend, Charlie Munger, to “hunt for elephants” – a metaphor for deals in excess of $1 billion – as smaller deals, though more appealing, do not provide significant returns to his investors.

However, not all questions were about the markets and investing.  Buffet also spoke at length about personal and social matters such as philanthropy and the pointlessness of ostentatious lifestyles among the wealthy.  Excerpts from his remarks on a wide range of topics resonated with us all:

On friends: “Associate with people you think are better than you and you’ll start behaving like them.”
On passion: “The degree to which people who love what they do jumps out so much more from the crowd.  Too many people are sleepwalking through life…you want to do something you love and do it with people you like.”
On marriage: “The most important investment decision is who you marry.”
On philanthropy: “Every life has equal value…  Do things that you know will work to improve people’s lives.”
On his approach to investing: “Emotional stability and guts.”
On his lifestyle: “You [students] and I pretty much wear the same kind of clothes, eat the same sorts of food, enjoy spending time with our friends, watch football, and live in comparable neighborhoods.  Other than travel, where I travel on a private jet, our lives are not that different.  I hope you too spend your time doing what you enjoy.”

After the Q&A session, we lunched at Piccolo Pete’s, an Omaha favorite that is also owned by Berkshire.  Here, we enjoyed the Oracle’s favorite treat, root beer floats, while feasting on steak, salad, and fries.  The root beer floats were a first for many of the international MBA students.  Before leaving Piccolo Pete’s, our group presented Buffett with a signed copy of Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and an UCLA Anderson baseball cap, which he kindly wore during the group photo shoot.  We thanked Mr. Buffett for hosting us and as we left the restaurant, he drove off in his brown 2006 Cadillac DTS – a symbol of Buffett’s choice to live simply.

Next we visited a shopping center housing Borsheims Jewelry, a family-owned jewelry store purchased by Berkshire in 1989.  Borsheims emphasizes its Midwestern friendliness and thrift by striving for the lowest prices and unsurpassed customer service in the high-end jewelry market.  Borsheims is also the location of Berkshire’s Annual Shareholder Meeting that takes place each spring.  We had the opportunity to shop and receive the “Buffett” discount on designer watches and fine jewelry.

The final stop was to the Oriental Trading Company (OTC), a party supply distributor purchased by Berkshire in 2012.  We met Sam Taylor, OTC’s CEO and a Los Angeles native, who presented us with special edition Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger rubber duckies.  We toured the company’s impressive 1.5 million sq. ft. warehouse and distribution center, one of the largest and most efficient in North America.  Housing over 100 million items and four miles of conveyor belts, OTC processes approximately 40,000 items per hour at a 98.5% service level.  For many of us, the aisles after aisles of party supplies brought flashbacks of Operations Management and a greater appreciation for inventory management.

On our return trip to sunny California, we felt fortunate for the unique chance and couldn’t help but to reflect on the Oracle’s advice, “Follow your passion, work for a company you admire, surround yourself with people you love and who love you back.”  No words ring truer to aspiring MBAs.

M. Reza Banki (FTMBA 14) with help from Aylon Ben-Shlomo (FTMBA 14) arranged, planned and organized the UCLA Anderson trip to Omaha to see Mr. Buffett and contributed to this article. 

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 5 Things I Have Learned to Make the Most of Your Time at Anderson 

BY NATHAN ADELMAN

As I approach the home stretch of my Anderson MBA, I have had some time to reflect on some of the most meaningful lessons that I have learned as both a student and as a TA.  I believe the following ideas apply to most Anderson students, regardless of your career track.  Here is my list of the top five things to help you make the most of your time at Anderson.

1.The difference between a good MBA experience and a great one is about $10,000

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Over 120 Anderson students gather to celebrate in a traditional Japanese Enkai style party last year in Atami, Japan.

Business school is expensive, no doubt about it.  Even after paying tuition and living expenses there are many other things taking money from our wallets: clubs, trips, social events, and more. Making it even tougher is the fact that most of us are not currently working, so living on a budget is important too.  However, trying to conserve too much money could actually be counterproductive to maximizing the Anderson experience.
I believe it costs roughly $10,000 to take a good Anderson experience and turn it into a great one.  $10,000 is about the cost of 2-3 international trips plus the cost of participating in social events throughout the year.  These experiences will impart to you a global perspective, lifelong friends, and a strong business network that will benefit you for the next 40 years of your career.  So if you spread that money out over your 40-year career, it comes out to about $250 per year to significantly improve the lasting impact of your MBA.  I’m no banker but even I know that’s a pretty good ROI.

2. Not studying for a test is actually harder than studying for the test

Getting good grades has been a chief priority of mine for my entire academic life leading up to business school.  But business school is different than any of my previous academic pursuits because for my career path getting straight A’s does not open any more doors than would getting B’s.  For many of us career switchers, business school is all about landing that elusive first job in a new industry or function.
With that goal in mind, we are forced to re-prioritize the amount of time and effort we can afford to the many demands on our time.  Between class, clubs, recruiting events, and social events, I determined that, while I am here to learn, classes are actually the activity in business school that has the smallest influence on me landing my dream job.
Armed with this realization, I no longer feel the pressure to set the Anderson GPA record.  However, dealing with the feeling of not being as prepared as possible the night before the first quarter accounting final was far more difficult than studying for that final would have been if I had nothing else on my plate.
Now that I am comfortable with that feeling, it has enabled me to better manage my time and prioritize my commitments which in turn has allowed me to get the most out of my business school experience, inside and outside of the classroom.

3. Greater career focus yields more career opportunities

Nathan Adelman

Nathan Adelman

As a first year and also as a Parker Series TA this year, I have seen many students at Anderson who come to school undecided about what they want to do after school.  Without too much thought, they recruit for multiple industries and job functions, hoping to keep their options open while optimistically searching for something that they like.
I have learned that it is the opposite approach that in fact creates more opportunities: be as focused as possible.  Although this seems counterintuitive, the reasons actually make a lot of sense.
First, the more focused you are the easier it is to avoid the time-suck of attending the many company information sessions, writing extra cover letters, and applying to jobs that you are not very excited about.  All this extra time allows you to focus on specializing in your specific area of interest.  This means you actually have the time to do industry research, network with people in the industry, and get to know the companies intimately – all things that you will actually talk about in your interview!
Further, when you can articulate exactly what you want, our supportive classmates and Parker Advisors will think of you first when they come across relevant opportunities.  After all, it’s much easier to help the “Restaurant Girl” or the “The Pharma Guy” than it is to help the “Maybe consulting, maybe marketing, maybe tech Guy.”
So take the time to think about it and pick something that gets you excited, and then go for it!

4. Don’t budget your class bidding points

Class bidding strategy is always a popular debate – bid a lot of points now or save them for that special class in the future?  Well, from my experience the answer is simple: SPEND ‘EM!
There are very few classes that actually require more than a single point to get.  After all, if the class doesn’t sell out in that round, then bidding just one point gets you into the class.  If there are multiple classes that you want to take that each ‘cost’ a lot of points, odds are that the one you don’t rank first will sell out in the first round anyway, so it doesn’t matter how many points you have left if it’s sold out by round two.
But what if you absolutely need to take “People in Organizations” or Dean Olian’s class?  Well, luckily the amount of points that you are budgeted each quarter is enough to get those classes if you prioritize them.
Lastly, the points have zero redeemable cash value once you graduate but taking a good class does… so use ‘em or lose ‘em!

5. Mentors cannot be assigned, they must be found

Anderson loves setting up students with mentors. In fact, it starts right away with the admissions “buddies” you get just after being accepted.  And once you make the smart decision to come to Anderson, just about every club also has a mentorship program where they pair a student with someone experienced in the field.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Not so fast.  I have yet to find a single ‘assigned mentorship’ that was truly meaningful for either party.  I‘m not saying that it’s not possible or has never happened, but it is very rare.  I have seen that forcing – errr, assigning two people to each other rarely creates the true connection that a mentorship is supposed to have.
In my experience a genuine mentorship always starts and develops organically.  They are not assigned or forced, but rather they grow from an authentic connection on both a professional and personal level.  The relationship starts with similar goals and interests and is deepened through shared values and ambitions.
It is this personal connection that really separates an “advisor” from a “mentor”, and also it cannot be faked.  So don’t be afraid to seek out those people whom you admire and want to emulate – odds are one of them will see something in you as well.

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Nathan Adelman (back row, second from left) on a trip with Anderson friends to Nicaragua over spring break last year.

 

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How to Ace a Phone Interview

BY ADRIANA DELOR (mba ’15)

Should you treat a phone interview any differently than an in-person interview?

Job candidates should be vigilant when it comes to conveying the right tone over the phone, according to a workshop the Women’s Business Connection recently hosted on “How to Ace Phone Interviews,” led by 2013 graduate Satiya Witzer. Confidence can easily come off as arrogance, while timidness might signal a lack of leadership potential, Witzer cautions.

The best approach, she says, is to be self-aware. Take note of the areas in which you excel during mock interviews with your peers. Likewise, observe and learn from the areas your peers have mastered. Record yourself practicing and play it back.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help or request an extra practice session. Phone interviews may seem daunting – but with some practice, you’ll be able to convey the right kind of tone and message.

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Jarred Herman (FEMBA ’14)

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Jarred Herman

BY ZUBIN DAVAR

Some folks pick up a second job to pay for their undergraduate education. Jarred Herman found work with the U.S. Navy on a fast attack nuclear submarine, helping pay off his Applied Mathematics degree from the University of Nevada.

Jarred’s four six-month deployments gave him a front row seat on intelligence and reconnaissance work across the Western Asia-Pacific region. After leading a 150 member naval crew as a 23-year-old, Herman moved to LA where he served as an Assistant Adjunct Professor advising UCLA’s Naval ROTC program. He eventually enrolled in the Anderson FEMBA Class of 2014.

Jarred brought his refined team-leadership experience from the Navy to business school and found those skills valued and applicable in the high-pressure arena of consulting. Herman spent the summer of 2013 as a Summer Associate at McKinsey & Company, and he is looking forward to returning as a fulltime hire post-graduation.

Understanding how to leverage the network here at Anderson and realizing that there is no substitute for hard work has contributed to Herman’s success thus far, preparing him well for a continued meaningful and impactful career.

 

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 Nicole àBeckett 

BY ERIC SMITH

FEMBA classmates might know Nicole àBeckett (FEMBA ’15) from her work advising and driving the international trade policy for both Los Angeles mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti.

But what you might not know is that Nicole is leveraging her prior work in international trade, fluency in Mandarin, and high-caliber network to launch a business. The company, called Mercatura Global Trade Associates, is a strategic advisory firm assisting small and mid-sized businesses grow their overseas markets.

Nicole àBeckett with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Chinese President Xi Jinpiing.

Nicole àBeckett with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Chinese President Xi Jinpiing.

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