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MIT Sloan Student Blog Archive

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Having Real Impact

Having done a various labs and action learning classes through MIT, my projects have turned out very differently.  Each time I have learned something, helped the client, and grown in my own personal understanding of global business and entrepreneurship.

 I will admit that this G-lab experience went above and beyond my hopes or very high expectations. 

Brazil was definitely an awesome country with a lot to offer any action learning team, it has a vibrant culture that is really dynamic and interesting to do business in. My G-lab team was amazing, being able to mix and balance fun and hard work in a truly special way.   Even our client was truly inspiring. This group of passionate and intelligent scientists was taking a very brave path into entrepreneurship and building a very unique business in Brazil. 

 But I expected these things (I know, very ambitious). 

What was unexpected was the depth of the relationships and the real impact we had on each other.  There was a real exchange of knowledge and I feel as though I developed a lasting relationship with our client. I really believe that our work was valued and will be utilized in helping the client become a global company. 

At the same time it’s impossible to describe how much I learned from our clients and their struggle in making their company something really amazing.  As a hopeful hardware entrepreneur their effort and experience were invaluable to me.  At the same time I know we offered a real opportunity for the founders to exchange ideas and get another perspective on their business.

 Overall it was a truly amazing experience. 

Adeus, Brazil.




Visiting UFSCAR – A day in the life of a Brazilian PhD

MIT is an amazing wonderful place where awesome technology gets discovered, created, and commercialized (the MBA in me is happy about this part). It is very easy to begin to forget that this phenomenon happens all over the world.

Not just at MIT. And not just in the US.

After working for almost three weeks with a Brazilian nanotechnology company it’s been amazing to see how entrepreneurs work in other countries. And even more amazing to see the great work they are doing. It’s a privilege to work with them and learn from them – I have realized it’s important to remember the knowledge flows both ways.

Today our client took us to the university where it all started. He showed us the labs and the instruments he used to make the discoveries that are the underpinnings of his company. They had the works when it comes to molecular analysis a every level: x-ray crystallography, SEMS, AFMS, and more!

Photo Jan 21, 9 26 08 AM

It was exciting and humbling to see these great scientists working (and starting companies!) ½ way across the world from MIT.

Fruit & Juice! Oh My!

There are some things that always surprise you when you go to a country for the first time.  In Brazil, I have had a very pleasant surprise about the abundance of fruits.  And more amazingly fresh squeezed juices.  They are everywhere! :)

  Photo Jan 16, 7 33 09 AM

The fruits are everywhere.  Mangos, watermelon, papaya, bananas, grapes, kiwi, and fruits I’ve never even seen or heard of before. The freshness and amazing flavor is really missing from the same fruits in the US. Even our breakfast spread has a huge selection every single morning.

  Photo Jan 16, 7 36 36 AM

So far our whole g-lab team has a clear front-runner juice: Abacaxi w/ hortelã. This is a wonderfully frothy combo of pineapple with crushed peppermint.  It is refreshing and not too sweet.  The best part is discovering the name and learning how to order it was a fun cultural experience for the whole team.


I will definitely miss all the juice!



We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of one of our Beijing iMBAs, Charles Hwa. Charles, you were such a bright light for us in Beijing - thank you so much for your hospitality, your generosity, your infectious humor and laughter every minute we were with you. To all our Tsinghua friends and family, our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. Charles, you are already dearly missed.


China students reunite @ MIT

With our Shanghai private equity client using positive exclamation marks for our final deliverable's feedback, our mission was accomplished.  We hosted our Shanghai Jiaotong University classmates as a culmination of our project, and this post highlights musings of their visit.

Cultural nuances between US & China:

MIT hallway poster sessions don't typically exist in China: When we created a poster for our project as one of 30+ to fill the Sloan cafeteria, our Chinese counterparts were learning simultaneously with our teaching methodologies.  In China, formal one-way presentations structured with Q&A at the end were the norm.  In the US, two-way dialogues between students, administration, and other classmates - during the lunchtime passing period - employed a far more casual (non-graded!) opportunity for others to learn about MIT China Lab and partake in future years.

English-speaking Chinese students are far more self-sufficient in the US vs. us in China - Our Chinese counterparts' English was far better than .  MIT organized buses to (you guessed it!) outlet malls nearby, so we did less hosting than they generously extended us while in China.

Hierarchies between top Chinese schools is far more noticeable than in the US - While top-tier university students readily assimilate with each other, there is a much larger sense of rivalry even between #1 and #2 schools' students in China, e.g. Beijing University vs. Tsinghua University.  It was interesting to witness the camaraderie among students from top schools across different cities, as our MIT classmates certainly respected them all evenly.  

Perhaps our MIT China Lab will not only build greater US-China relations, but also strengthen China-China ties by the 60+ students across top Chinese universities who met for the first time - at MIT!


Well, these last few weeks have been a whirlwind. First, our China Lab students were here. Their visit consisted of shopping, and eating, and shopping, and eating. With a little bit of classes and C-Function thrown it; it was definitely a challenge trying to keep up with them, and balance classes and homework. But, so worth it to see them experience Boston and MIT! Some of the highlights included us watching Divya dance during the C-Function, eating lobster, having Tommy and Emily negotiate during an exercise during Entrepreneurship Strategy class, and Tommy deciding he’s applying to MIT!
Then, came the 60 page China Lab final report. It was definitely difficult to produce this report across time zones and language barriers, but, we did it and I’m so happy and proud of our report.
Now that both of those are over with, it’s time for my final blog post, also a “two in one” post.
Looking back on the China Lab experience, I am so glad that I took advantage of action learning during my first year of Sloan. I think I learned an immense amount about myself, and how to work in a diverse team, during this process. Not to mention the enriching experience of getting closer to Divya, Tommy and Emily and, learning about Goelia.
Some of the lessons included:
The importance of being transparent with your teammates
Working in a group, there are obviously times that people are on different pages, or, are a little dissatisfied with each other. During this process, I learned how toxic that can be. I think it’s crucial that all teammates are on the same page; and, as a manager it’s important to implement processes that create transparency and allow people to be open with each other as often as possible.

Challenging yourself in a “safe” environment is invaluable
During China Lab, I have also been able to challenge myself in ways that you don’t normally have the opportunity to do. For example, at times one of my weaknesses is driving change during a meeting and taking charge. During the project, I’ve had the opportunity to be able to do this during group settings, as well as with our clients. I think this learning opportunity, and chance for me to grow as a leader has been invaluable. It is also a relatively safe environment to work on leadership skills and try to develop as a leader and a teammate. I’m grateful to be given this chance.

Feedback is always a good thing
When you work closely with people, they are able to see your strengths and weaknesses from an outsiders prospective, and, likely pick up on things that you’re not able to see. Divya and I realize this, and are doing a “feedback” session next week in order to become more aware of how we can each improve going forward. I’m reminded why the ability to give and receive feedback is such a valuable aspect of being a leader and, definitely think it is something I’d like to retain in my life – and, put into practice at my own company - after business school.
In all, I hope the lessons I’ve learned are ones that I’ll carry with me for the rest of business school and after.


Final Report...

Well, our final report to the client has been successfully submitted, the iMBA students have come and gone (with suitcases of merchandise acquired from the Wrentham Outlets), and life has finally started to slow down. Time for a belated 2-in-1 blog special!

Post-project reflections: Risk management is no small task

When we first arrived at the Beijing Microfinance Center of Harbin Bank, we thought we were simply coming in to help the team build a simple credit rating model for assessing clients. However, when we arrived and saw that the Harbin Bank microfinance team wasn’t composed of 500 people, but rather, 5, we realized that our task was much bigger than we had ever imagined…

Our project ran into a few hurdles from the start. The “database” that the client provided had less than 200 observations, with many gaps in data. Most of the data were not even labeled; we didn’t know what a “1” or a “2” meant in data categories such as “loan amount.” As we worked on the model and found ourselves making more and more assumptions, we started to see that the value we were going to provide to Harbin Bank was not going to be in a fully developed model, but rather, a thought framework to help Harbin Bank think about the whole risk management process from top to bottom. Risk management is no small task, and it begins with strategic planning, developed through excessive data gathering, and implemented correctly through modeling and training loan officers. Of course we couldn’t do all of this in two weeks, but we wanted to generate value to Harbin Bank by giving them an appropriate thought process for thinking through all of these critical issues.

At the end of the two weeks, all of the China Lab teams in Beijing presented final presentations in a mini case competition at Tsinghua University before their clients, guest judges from the industry, and the Chinese “media friends.”  It was an interesting experience to say the least – for one thing, we didn’t know this was happening until we arrived in Beijing. Then there was the media presence and the huge fanfare around the dozen closing speeches we had. It really felt like a whole production, and even though we didn’t win “best presentation” award (congrats to Michael and Laila on winning!), I’m proud that we were able to present well despite the project’s challenges. One of the guest judges, a managing partner at PWC, applauded our work and acknowledged that calculating risk is difficult – even for the large banks. The final presentation reinforced for me what four students could bring to the table with a bit of hard work and perseverance.  That and the 50 page report we delivered to Harbin Bank will hopefully get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What I learned from China Lab: Leadership in the midst of adversity

At the last China Lab seminar, Professor Huang asked the class what we had learned from China Lab. Definitely, what I learned wasn’t how to build a better model, or even how to complete a project and a final presentation without a clear project objective. What I gained was an interesting perspective into the world of SOEs in China, and a deeper understanding of the value of being able to influence change from the bottom (and conversely, the frustration of being unable to influence change).

Our main client contact had a great idea about building a framework to predict risk assessment. Unfortunately, his superior didn’t provide the resources to support this idea, and didn’t even fly down from Harbin to Beijing to meet with us even once during our time there. When we asked for assess to internal personnel for interviews, the superior in Harbin did not grant access because that would’ve meant going to his boss. So as a result, our team just stayed in our cubes for two weeks without having any real interaction with the company.

Despite this, our team built a great model that the main client contact embraced. When he shared the model with his peers though, we saw firsthand how he was alone in his excitement. Because our cubes were right next to his, we could hear the heated debates he had with his colleagues about utilizing a model for risk assessment. This leaves me wondering if our work was in vain…

I’m currently taking a class at Sloan called “Managing in Adversity.” In this course, we study cases of adversity and the CEO of that company comes in and shares lessons learned from the situation. When I reflect about China Lab, I wonder what were the lessons learned.  I think there were many learned here: SOEs might not be as open to change as expected. Affecting change in organizations is difficult, especially from an outsider’s position. Without senior management support, change needs to be driven from the bottom with value creation. And frankly, I’m amazed by the reluctance to change, even when an idea (such as risk management) is clearly beneficial for the business. Last week in class, the former president of Trader Joe’s summed it best: “Only a baby with a wet diaper likes change.”

One of the skillsets I want to – and absolutely need to – develop as a leader in management is being able to drive true change. Understanding that I need to grow in this area was my biggest takeaway from China Lab, and I highly recommend this lab experience for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves as a leader in a global setting. That, and those who want to have a lot of fun over spring break too!


From guests to hosts

Our fellow students from Kunming (and all the other Chinese business schools) left Boston about a week ago. Most of them are now using this opportunity to visit many other cities in the US: New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles... they plan to know the country quite well by the time they go back to China!

Having them here has been an excellent opportunity. After being taken care of by them, it was now our turn to show them around, taken them with us to our classes and help them feel at home in Boston. I do hope they enjoyed they time here! The bar was quite high, since they were extremely nice to us when we were in China.

Hosting each other makes for an interesting experience: we both have the opportunity to show our counterparts a bit of the live we live in our cities, our university, our classmates... and if the differences are obvious (from eating rice noodles to hamburguers), it is also worth looking at the many things that bring us together: the genuine curiosity we all exhibit when we ask questions about how things are done here and there; the interest in learning a bit more about projects that are similar to what we do; the willingnes to travel and visit new places... al these things allow us to talk in the same level. And is this the foundation that makes me believe that a more globalized world can bring amazing opportunities to us all and that, if we do things correctly, we can all benefit from out time together.

It sounds like obvious, but it is always different to experience it first-hand than to "just" know it (and, ultimately, that is what Action Labs are for). I hope this is not my only chance to have a cross-continental experience like this: I've seen that there is a lot to learn!


China's State-Directed Capitalism

China is a capitalist economy. The key difference is that the market does not direct activity - the government does. In studying China in class and by keeping up on the latest news about China, it is clear that the government plays the role of Adam Smith's proverbial "invisible hand." It regulates the market and keeps it in "equibilbrium." 

China's form of capitalism has clearly worked for this communist country, but the jury is still out as to whether it will work in the long-term. Today China has experienced unprecidented foreign investment. According to Bloomberg, China received $105.7B in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2010. This FDI has permited unprecedented investments in infrastructure, capital, and job training. All of these impacts from FDI will have a long-tail and impact China for years to come. Additionally, China and Chinese families have continued to emphasize education, resulting in an education-focused urban community. 

China's unique form of capitalism has catapulted the company ahead because the government is able to create purposeful policies that greatly aligment capital and government. This can only work in a non-democratic country such as China as in places like the United States partisan bickering and stalemate prevents many meaningful policies that could boost our economy from passing. Similarly, India, a hyper-democratic country with far more than two primary political parties, struggles to align policy and capital. In fact, the misaligned policies are one of the reasons China continues to outperform India. 

In the end, the United State, India, and many other democratic countries have their individual freedoms, while China has skyrocketting incomes and is bringing millions out of poverty every year. No one model is right or wrong; they simply have tradeoffs. The real challenge for China will be to make its deployment of capital more efficient - fewer examples of destroying adequate infrastructure only to build slightly newer infrastructure for the sake of creating jobs - and to balance its people's interest to self-express and to freely consume information with its interest to maintain control of information. 


The unbearable lightness of projects

Learning how to set and manage expectations is one of the most important skills in project management. Interesting enough, one never stops learning.

Before coming to Sloan, I worked for more than four years managing global projects with over 30 stakeholders located all across the world--this is one of the few areas of knowledge where I considered having expertise. During the China Lab class, the experience of defining and freezing the project scope was not an issue for our team. In addition, thanks to the hard work of our Chinese teammates, our finished deliverable provided our host company with specific tools and sample documents to start the implementation of our recommendation—besides a list of next steps.

Nonetheless, there was not a milestone in our project plan to spend quality time with our teammates from China—besides scheduled school work and group lunches. Additionally, this week ended up being one of the most demanding times at Sloan during my first year and as it sometimes happens; lack of sleep and extra work knocked me down with fever during the weekend.

I set the expectations with my Chinese counterparts that my time was going to be very limited before they reached US ground and as a result of my sickness, they were candid and comprehensive with my even more limited situation. Nonetheless, this doesn’t remove the sense of guilt that they traveled literally half-across the globe and I couldn’t be the host I wanted to be.

So… what happens when the expectations are clearly set and defined… but the bitter taste doesn’t go away? My answer is simple: people are not projects. But on the positive side, people are not projects and deadlines are not set in stone. The fact that my teammates are not longer in American soil doesn't mean that our relationship cannot keep growing. People are not projects and I'm happy about having to deal with the heaviness of human relations.