About this vision thing again

Dear Dean Likierman,
It's another January, and another set of MBA rankings. I wrote about this to your predecessor too (see here) on the occasion of last year's rankings come out. Congratulations! We rock. We're co-number 1, that's quite the feat. And I'm very happy as I think everyone in the LBS community is.

But, and I hate to bring this up again, what are we going to do about our vision? We're there. We're the world's pre-eminent global business school. Can't go higher than this. So what's next? Like I said last year, I think we should think a bit bigger than being number 1. What are we going to do with being number 1? This year, this question is even more important than last year. There's some things, partially caused by MBAs (not just from LBS mind you, but we can't wash our hands from this completely) that need fixing. And whilst we're at it, it would be good if we can make the world a fairer and better and healthier place to live. So how about we aim for something like that? Let's aspire to be bigger than ourselves, to do things greater and better than just be number 1.

I'm glad you're our dean. You shook my hand at graduation and made me feel like I was the one and only person that day that was graduating, which was an amazing feeling. Let me know how I can help,
warmest regards,
London Business School MBA2007

Not my brightest moment

So that wasn't my brightest moment today I have to admit. I was part of
the alumni panel at  MBA2010 today, where we had the graveyard slot
(i.e. after lunch, when everone dozes off), and the other 4 panelists
saved the day. Thank God. Because I wasn't on a roll at all. I blame it
on the gazillion little fires I was putting out at work today, which I
always do, that's part of my job, but today we had a few really hot
ones, combined with having a complete office refurb and desks being
replaced. The hunt was on for a working phone, a socket to plug laptop
into, and praying that the builders are not using a drill the moment
one of my clients calls and that the internet wasn't going to go down
the moment I had send out email. All of the day until 2pm was spent
running around like a headless chicken on steroids, so by the time I
got to Lords, I was beat. And  I definitely wasn't in top form. If you
were there, and listening, I apologise. I like to think that Im normally a tad more amusing
and entertaining. I suppose everyone has their off-days. Nevertheless,
I hope it was helpful. And entertaining. But if you read this, you
probably knew what I was going to say anywa

What every MBA2010 should know

*warning, if you're an MBA2010, this will spoil whatever it is that I'll say during Orientation. You can stop reading now and read it after Wednesday if you want to be surprised.*

So last year I wrote this post on what advice I would give the incoming class, and since I've been asked to be part of the alumni panel at MBA2010 Orientation this week, I thought it prudent to check out what I'd written last year. And you know what? It's good stuff, which I know is tooting my own horn (although most of the advice comes from a group of people, not just me). But useful. So I'll copy the whole thing down here again, as much as a reminder to myself about what I want to say at Orientation as advice for the incoming class.

From last year's post (original here):

"My list:
* Remember what you came here to do. I
wrote down what I thought I wanted to get out of my time at LBS, and
promised I'd try and fit as many things as I could in, and would only
do things that I'd love doing and got excited about. It is easy getting
sidetracked with everything that's going on, and that goes in
particular for jobs. I've been to Milkround presentations where I had
no business going to, just because I felt I should go to them. Just
because everyone else jumps into the river, doesn't mean you have to
also. Or something like this. You get my drift.
* Put learning before grades.
LBS is a grade-non-disclosure school which means no one except for you
will ever see your grades. Take advantage of this. Stretch yourself. I
took electives which I otherwise never would have taken. An internship
that was unpaid but was invaluable in figuring out what I wanted to do
next. Learning sometimes doesn't correlate with grades (and good
internships don't always correlate with earning lots of money), some of
my classes where I got the worst grades I learned the most from.
Always, always put learning before grades.
* Give back. I
believe in 'what goes around, comes around'; if you can help someone
else, do. It's good karma. If you are less altruistically inclined,
remember this: it will come back to you in spades, but not in ways you
can imagine now. If you trip someone up, they will remember and who
knows, they might just give a negative recommendation to their friends
who works for company X that you are just dying to work for.

I have since thought of a few more:
* Have fun and lighten up a
little. Life's not that serious. Neither is an MBA. Work hard, but also
leave plenty of time to enjoy the good things in life
* Go outside
your comfort zone in terms of friends. If you come to LBS, there will
be around 60 other nationalities with you. And people from professional
backgrounds you had no idea even existed. Don't stick with what you
know. Or who you know. Venture out, get to know different cultures and

I asked a few of my fellow alumni, and they came up with this (thanks to H, M and J and yes, the list is censored a bit):

* The best stuff happens outside of class
*  If you have never lived in England before, read Kate Fox's Watching the English. It will make life a lot easier
*  If you are single, this is probably the last chance you will have to meet large numbers of people of the opposite sex. [Natasja's edit: especially if you're female I would think, the male/female ratio is 75/25]
Only nerds, gifted individuals and private equity wannabes want to be
on dean's list. Nobody likes a wannabe. Everyone loves a nerd.
* Decide on your grading philosophy today.
* Try to focus on learning. Not grades. Learn to build your intuition, not memorize formulas.
Don't stare at the female professors. They will notice and they will
remember (Natasja's edit: huh? Ehm. I don't personally have any
experience with this, but will take my friend's word for this)
* There are good cheap eats in London. You just have to find them. Asking helps.
* There is life beyond Marylebone Road (aka the Bubble). Not just at night and in clubs. Explore.
* Get involved in clubs.  This extends your network and allows you to apply the skills you are learning.
Accept that the only way to make lots of money is to have no life. 
Work-life balance mean fine tuning budget/expenditure balance.
* London is the world's most expensive city.  Accept it now and stop whinging about it.
Understand that this is an opportunity to learn about yourself and
consider your next steps. you have another forty working years after
graduation to work. Don't fill your first year with too many electives
as you will change your mind after your summer internship in any case.
This is not your home and yes it is overcast here most the time – we
all already know that, you're not telling us anything we don't know
yet. Take advantage of the free museums, concerts, cheap arts and drama."

Oh, and if you're going to London Business School (must remember to be on brand and not say LBS all the time), you'll be seeing loads of this:


London Business School newsflash

I don't think I talk
a lot on the blog about London Business School anymore (trying to be on
brand and not say LBS but I know I can't keep it up; you know what,
everywhere I say LBS, pretend I say London Business School). Which is a
bit odd, since my bond with LBS is still quite strong. My housemate was
one of my classmates, most of my friends in London are ex-LBS (working
a little bit to tip that balance to include more 'normal' people, not
that I don't like my MBA friends, but it's good to have a mix), I help
organise a regular drinks-catch-up do for my class, answer questions
and chat to applicants and students and help out with events that
require alumni every now and then.

Two pieces of news came in this week which cement my connection
with LBS that little more. First up, I’ll be
part of an alumni panel at MBA2010 orientation, which I hope will be a
hoot. Loved doing it last year, although I’m never quite sure if the
advice I dole out is the kind of stuff people want to hear. Anyway, if
you’re reading this and you’re 2010, come up and say hi, it would be
nice to meet you.

Second piece of news is that I got elected to the IAB, the School’s
International Alumni Board, kinda like a think tank made up of alumni.
Every alumn can stand, and so I did. And got in as did 3 other 2007s (hurray, go Jackson, Jasdpee and Vinay!) and a bunch of alumns who I don't know yet but look forward to meeting. Thanks to everyone who
voted for me, ever so nice. Now I hope I can live up to the votes of

When bschool and dschool collide

I love it when a plan comes together. A few weeks ago, at the Innovation Edge 08 conference, I ran into Gabriele, LBS MBA2009 (and a few other 009s), of I want to shadow Steve Jobs-blog fame. Before I knew it, the idea was born in my head to try and do a bit of rapid prototyping of our own and bring together bschool and dschool for a networking event. I roped in two of my studygroup mates from dschool, the wonderful Helena and Julea, and together we started making a plan, picked a date and set the ball rolling (well, that ball was kept rolling by Gabriele, Helena and Julea, I must admit I tried my hand at delegating on this one ;-) And this past Thursday, the two worlds collided and we had ourselves a blast! I think about 35 people showed up (including a special guest, Idris Mootee, who blogged about it here) and I think it went well. 

When people ask me about the diffferences between bschool and dschool, it's so easy to fall into cliches. And some of them are true. There are bschool people wedded to their Excel spreadsheet. And there are designers with not a commercial bone in their body. But they are extremes, and I'm finding that there are a lot more similarities than differences. The problem as I see it tends to lie in language (it is like speaking two different languagees, bschool speak and dschool lingo) and perceptions, both in large part due to the way we are educated to see the world. Once you bridge those, beautiful things happen. And I think they happened last Thursday. I had a blast and thank Gabriele, Helena and Julea. Awesome job! Here's to having some more of these events this autumn. 

PS The countdown is on, 3 more days and then I'm off to A'dam to see Bruce Springsteen, and I can't wait!

Dear Dean Buchanan

523966593_aabe1db54bDear Dean Buchanan,

We haven’t met yet in the flesh. In fact, I don’t think we’ve met at all (I don’t suspect you’re an avid blog-reader, although for all I know you could be). Allow me to introduce myself and take 5 minutes of your time. I know a million alumns probably want to do that, so I’ll be brief.

My name is Natasja and I’m a fresh alumn, an MBA2007 and I love LBS. I bleed LBS if you prick me. I spent more hours at our lovely buildings that I even care to acknowledge, I happily took out a whopping loan, sold my house and everything in it just so I could come here; I write about it constantly (see the archives on the right), and tell everyone who wants to listen, and a few people that really don’t want to listen, about how wonderful LBS is.

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks LBS is a kick-a** place (excuse my French). The FT thinks that apart from Wharton (who, by the way, waitlisted me, and then I dinged them) we’re the most fabulous fulltime MBA around. Hurrah. Well done.

But doing well in the rankings, which is a good thing albeit not the holy grail some applicants make it out to be, is also posing a problem. To be more specific: it’s our vision that’s the issue for me. LBS’s vision is ‘to be the pre-eminent global business school’. We’re number two now. With a bit of luck and effort we’ll be number 1. And then what happens? We’ve accomplished our vision. I spend my days as a brand strategy consultant telling our clients that your vision should be aspirational. It should inspire and motivate. And frankly, ours is not doing that for me. To be pre-eminent? Why? I just don’t think it’s big enough to be honest. Not bold enough. Why do we want to be the world’s pre-eminent b-school? What’s the purpose of being number 1? I think we should think bigger, bolder and better. Somewhere towards ‘the next generation of business leaders’. Something with changing the world. Hopefully for the better. But a bit more than just being number 1. This is not a pissing match (excuse my French yet again), this is about our future. And I want to be part of a school which aspires to more than just be number 1.

Right, that’s what I had to say. At least for now. I realise you must get tons of unsolicited advice and not all of it very constructive. So I hope this was. We’re all very happy and excited you joined us as our Dean and have high expectations of your leadership. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,
Yours, with warmest regards,

PS Yes, I do this for a living, this vision-mission-values stuff. But this was not a pitch. It’s just my personal opinion.

Spot the differences

2198892027_3252e02b3cAlthough I’m not quite sure if two weeks into a 2 year course gives me enough comparison material, and realising full well I’m comparing apples and pears, I’ve been thinking about the differences between the MBA and this MA in Design Studies (henceforth known as MADS, I’m too lazy to type the whole thing out every time I mention it). Beyond the obvious (many more women at MADS than LBS; students are younger on the whole, most of them have a creative background, they’re a lot more funkily clothed and I’ve not seen a Financial Times in class yet) there’s also some differences that go a little deeper. *deep thought alert. well, semi-deep thought then*

The MBA is mostly about making good choices. Knowing which tools and frameworks to use when and how to choose the best option. Strategy, finance, operations, but even to an extent marketing and entrepreneurship help you become a better manager. You learn to manage and choose from a range options. And that’s a very good thing methinks, provided you’re reasonably good at it of course. MADS is all about generating options. It’s about those steps that come before choosing an option from a set: it’s all about creating something new. Very different mindset. And I’m kinda doing it backwards: I learned to make logical choices before I learned how to make the things that you choose between.

Right. That’s enough deep thought for today. I haven’t fully adjusted to my course schedule and the work that comes with it yet, plus at work the workload has jumped up and bitten me in the bum these past two weeks, and I’ve planned a ton of social engagements so I’m struggling to find time to answer personal email and to blog. I reckon I need a few weeks to adjust my schedule back to what feels like more normal again. So excuse me for making this post a bit of a hotchpotch of random thoughts.

Photo at the top of the page was taken in the Tube on the way home yesterday and I don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t believe Vicks put this out. Come on guys, you can do better than this! Damned, you’re owned by P&G, they have more than enough money to hire a good agency. Show some guts and vision. Anyone spot the dodgy statistic in the ad? This kind of stuff irks me. It’s unnecessary. It’s unimaginative, boring and juggles dodgy stats. *Sigh*

All MBA’s are evil

2052757092_d1864813daIt’s kinda hard to miss it’s nearly Christmas if you’re living in the Western Hemisphere and you’re leaving the house at the moment. I for one am looking forward to going home for Christmas, help my mum cook, celebrate a belated Sinterklaas and spend time with my family and friends that I don’t see nearly as often as I would like to.

In this season of unbridled shopping (I’m actively avoiding going into central London on weekends, the tourist-shopping-crowds are horrendous… I love you, dear tourists, but please don’t stop in the middle of the street to take a picture and then get cross if a bus honks at you, carry a tube map with you (pick up a free one from any tube station) but don’t stop and read it right at the entrance of Leicester Square station, and please please please remember that there’s a reason why all the Londoners stand on the right hand side of the escalator. Oh, I had no idea I had all this pent-up frustration in me. Mental note to self: remember you were a tourist once and made these mistakes. And many more. Multiple times. I think I must be turning into a proper Londoner, they (or should I say ‘we’) like nothing more than to moan about tourists. All this as an aside.) I’m not trying to go nuts.

After that rant, something more in keeping with the spirit of the season. No, don’t worry, I won’t sing, you’re probably right in guessing that my voice needs a little bit more practicing in showers.
For some strange reason that I can’t quite fathom myself, I’ve become quite the activist lately. There’s a lot wrong with this world and I’m sick of being apathetic about it. Sick and tired. So slowly but surely I’m trying to right a few small wrongs. I’ve bought carbon-offsetting for all my flights for 2007 and intend to do so for 2008 too (amazingly, it costs very little too). I’ve written to British Airways to ask if they could offer carbon offsetting with their booking procedure (right before the annoying ‘do you want a hotel’ advert they display), have written to Eurostar asking if they can offer competitively priced one-stop tickets to any Dutch stations (as they do for the Belgian stations) so it becomes more financially viable to travel to NL in a carbon-neutral way, I’ve signed a bunch of petitions (asking to ban styrofoam, to get the Climate Change bill accepted in the House of Commons (x2) amongst others), made a micro-loan through Kiva. Not enough to save the planet, or make a big difference, but maybe my small actions will add up to something bigger. And I’d rather do something small than nothing at all.

I’m trying to be less evil. The world has enough evil, apathy and cynicism in it. Time for some kindness. I believe that if we all do a little bit, lots of little bits will ad up to a lot (consider compounded interest for the (would-be) MBA’s). I realise that sometimes it doesn’t feel like that, and it’s easy to become cynical and find flaws in anything and anyone who’s trying to make this world a better place. I’m not saying become a happy-clappy-noncritical person. All I’m saying is that this is our world. We are the people we’ve been waiting for to change the world. Now go and do it. And if that seemingly selfless aspect of it doesn’t convince you, consider this: all research into happiness shows that helping others gives you a huge sense of happiness and wellbeing. If you need some inspiration to make this world a little bit of a better place, check out these resources:
* Change the World for a Fiver (book) and the accompanying website
* The Everyday Activist (book) and the accompanying website and blog
* UnLtd, a London organisation that supports social entrepreneurship
* Room to Read, a charity close to my heart, with a mission of educating children
* Kiva, become a investor
* Freecycle your unwanted stuff
* Plant a tree
* Perform random acts of kindness
* Smile at the people around you
* Give to your favourite charity

My plans for 2008: do more good, be less evil.

What to do about interview jitters?

1933037094_9a0b2c5663[if you look closely, you can almost see where I work on the photo on the left.]

It’s that time of the year again. Leaves are falling, I’ve scrambled to find my gloves and buy a cool new hat for the winter season and the MBA application season has started in earnest. This Friday the interview invites for LBS R1 candidates will be sent out, and I feel a duty to make some (hopefully useful) remarks on the whole interview-thing, in a paying-it-forward kinda way. So I started writing until I remembered that I have already doled out more than enough advice in the past, and looking back on it, there’s really nothing to add. So I’m going to be shameless and copy my previous advice below (original post here). Anyone who’s got anything to add: please be my guest and add a comment.

On b-school interviews
Be early, no need to stress out about being late if you can help it.

If you’re unsure of the dresscode, ask (there’s nothing worse
than being over or underdressed to help increase nerves for no good

Think ahead and plan some answers to common questions (why the
MBA? Why this school? Why now? What do you want to do post MBA? Why
you? Examples of teamwork, leadership etc), but don’t rehearse them to
the point where you become a robot reciting pre-rehearsed answers.

something interesting to say (ideally, you are an interesting person
so that shouldn’t be too hard).

Prepare some questions for the
interviewer and try to make them interesting (what did you like best of
your experience? What electives did you particularly like? What is the
one activity that I should not miss?). Remember this is as much an opportunity for you to find out more about a school as it is for them to find out more about you.

Do not drink during the
interview (as in: drink alcohol. Any other beverages I have no particular view on).

Know your application inside out and
expect detailed questions.

Don’t be rude or disparaging.

Be honest. Be
nice and gracious.

Don’t slag off anyone (former bosses, other schools). See also the previous points on not being rude and being gracious.

See also this about my own LBS interview and trawl the other blogs to see what their experiences were.

Be yourself. Oh, that’s a tricky one. You’re nervous, want to make a good impression, and in my case I had no real idea what the perfect business-school student was like, but I was quite sure they probably didn’t resemble me. I had the best interviewer though, he made me forget all about it, and was interested in me as a person. And I decided that since I had no idea what a typical MBA was like, I might as well be myself. As you can tell, it must have worked, reader, I got admitted.

Enjoy it!

[edited: ok, so I did have more to say than in the original. I could’ve known. Once I get myself talking, it’s hard to stop. So I added the bit about being yourself and enjoying it. It seemed like those were sensible things to add.]

Of friezes and tattoos

1558798021_ea2385c488After a nice week at work (we pitched on Monday and found out on Thursday we won the job! I can’t out of reasons of confidentiality say who the client is, but I’m very very excited!!!), it was time to let my hair down on the weekend a bit. What better than some real art and fake tattoos?

I went to the Frieze Art Fair with two friends and found it a bewildering experience (much like the last time I went). I appreciate art most when there’s an element of the artisinal, of skill, in there. Something that I couldn’t do. Or think I could do. And to be honest, I’m not clever enough for some of the art at the Frieze. The best part for me was looking at the people that were there, what they are wearing, eavesdropping on their conversations.

After trekking home, going for a run, a quick shower and change of clothes it was off to Regent’s Park again, this time for Tattoo (see my account of my first ever Tattoo here) which is a celebration of all the diversity at LBS held annually and which comes with a lot of gratuitous fake tattoos. I missed last year’s (that and missing the Santa pub crawl were my biggest regrets of going on exchange in autumn) and wasn’t going to go this year. I’m an alumn now, feel I should leave the partying to the new batch. But Wince, bless his heart, thought otherwise and convinced me to come and boy was I glad I came. We had a blast, there were a good number of 2007s there, it was great to see some of my 2008 friends and make a whole bunch of new 2009 acquaintances. I met the guy who writes this blog (check it out if you know anyone that knows anyone that knows anyone that knows Steve Jobs please!) and promised I’d put a plug in for it, here you go.

Now, where’s my nailpolish remover…if you’ll excuse me, I need to remove a few tattoos :-)

Happy alumni day

1438341675_4db291070dAs you probably guessed by now by reading the blog (or if you’re a first time reader, it should become clear in the next few minutes), I love a good celebration. I think no occasion is too big or small to celebrate it. And you should celebrate as often and as much as you can. Makes life more fun. And you live longer. Well, actually you might not, but you’ll have more life in your life.

So tonight LBS was the excuse to celebrate: I attended my first annual Alumni Day reception (I call it the School’s birthday, but I don’t think it technically is) and it was a blast. All over the world there were LBS alumni shindigs today, celebrating I’m-not-quite-sure-what (alumnihood? LBS? Ah well, it doesn’t really matter anyway, it was a good excuse!). It was great seeing a bunch of my classmates (tons of them in suits having started work), admissions staff (you know who you are!), current students and meeting some alumns who I didn’t know yet. It reminded me how nice it is to be part of a community, especially one that I like as much as this one (yes, yuck, someone pass me a bucket, it’s all a bit sweet and sickly, but I do really mean it. I bleed LBS if you prick me. Which I prefer you don’t. Prick me that is). So far so good on this alumni-thing. I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Visiting a b-school is a lot like dating

810755727_9d0aa748caLike the ever-handsome-and-clever Patxi (yes, ladies, it is true, there are some very handsome men at LBS*! But before you all rush out, this one’s taken), I got an email from Manoj asking for advice when visiting b-schools. I think Patxi has put down very useful comments and for a while there I didn’t think there was anything I could add. However, I wouldn’t be I (me?) if at one point I do feel there’s something I need to say about this too. So here it goes.

Visiting a b-school is a lot like taking a girl on a first date (not that I have any personal experience in taking a girl out on a date, I must admit, I prefer to date guys, but I’m extrapolating from my experience of watching American movies). If you asked her out, that means that you already think she’s going to be nice/interesting/sexy/entertaining (delete or add as appropriate) so the groundwork is laid. You dress up nicely, but not too formal, just enough so she can tell you made an effort. You come on time, make an effort to be courteous and interesting and most of all interested in her, and try and leave a good impression in general and not behave like an idiot/raving lunatic/serial killer (again delete or add as appropriate, you get my drift). You try and figure out if you want to go on another date. Now that’s exactly the process of visiting a b-school too. Follow the above (and most of all, read Patxi’s advice, which is much more practical) and you’re sorted.

I’m getting ready for what promises to be an interesting week. Tomorrow one of my old housemates is back in town (yeehaaw!), Tuesday and Wednesday I’m off to Istanbul/Ankara for what promises to be a whirlwind business trip, and Thursday it’s back to normal schedule again. I spent the past two days trying to assemble a wardrobe for a business trip: after ditching my suits 4 years ago, and only having a few dresses/skirts I really needed a wardrobe update (although no suits are necessary, it’s not that kind of business, I still needed more than trainers, a tee and jeans). And of course with my first paycheck update, and some of the sales still on, I had a blast :-) I had forgotten exactly how nice it is to shop with a paycheck in the bank.

Above photo taken about a month ago in my ‘hood in London, as always with the trusty N95.

* That said, I must say that all the male LBS MBA bloggers are quite handsome… maybe it’s a blogging thing ;-)

[edited to add: btw, I’ve officially graduated. Got the letter last week. Now all that’s left is the nice shiny piece of paper that someone’s calligraphed my name on. Apparently, that will take a little while, till sometime in autumn.]


I just told my mum that I wasn’t quite sure what I am right now: graduated so no longer a student, but not yet working (start tomorrow). I suppose I’m in some sort of limbo. But a pretty good one :-)

I feel at the end of my MBA I should be giving some sort of advice to the incoming class and prospective applicants. And I will. But for now I am going to lean back, look back and enjoy all that happened over these past two years. A lot has happened. I’ve changed a lot. The world has changed. I’m very happy with my decision to do an MBA and in particular to do it at LBS (the cynics and scientists amongst you will moan about not having a control group: I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t done it). People have asked me what the one thing is that I took away from it, but that’s an impossible thing to ask. There is no one thing. Everything’s interconnected: the academics, extracurriculars, exchange, my friends, living in London, Sundowners, student ambassador-ship. I have no idea what my life would’ve looked like if I’d stayed back in NL but I sure as hell know that I’m loving my life now and the past two years have been such a blast!

Thank you for all the warm wishes, I really appreciate them. And I promise to go over the comments and reply. *cue advertising jingle, look away if you don’t want to see shameless begging from my side* If you want to make someone else really happy (which will make me happy too), please consider giving a small monetary gift to people who could use it *end advertising jingle*.

PS And no, that’s not where I’ll be working. You can see Canary Wharf on the photo, where most of the big banks are. And I won’t be working there. I just liked the photo, taken this past Sunday when my parents and I took the boat down to Greenwich.


As of today* I’m doctorandus Natasja MA MBA. Congrats class of 2007!!!!!

* technically, not today, we don’t graduate formally til the end of the month, but today marked the unofficial end with our graduation ceremony. More later this weekend.