Back to work!

CE logoI can’t believe the last couple of months have gone by so fast!  Of all the summer internship offers that I was extended, I ultimately decided to come to Dallas, TX and work for Celanese Corporation—a Fortune 500 multinational chemical company—as a part of the Celanese Leadership Program.  The internship is meant to give us an inside look into the full-time rotational program which consists of three year-long rotations within finance and commercial functions of the company.

So far I have very much enjoyed my time with the company.  For the last month I have been working in Investor Relations.  It has been a great opportunity to learn a lot about the company from an enterprise perspective and to see how each of our portfolio business fits together into the overall strategy of the company.  I have been privileged to get involved with projects that run the gamut of experiences, from analyzing our place in the minds of investors compared to our competitors (and the overall market), to the formulation of a communications strategy as the enterprise shifts to a more differentiated position in the market, to the preparation of presentation materials outlining our plans for continued growth in China (where Celanese has a large presence) and the rest of Asia. 

For me these projects have been exciting because I’ve been able to creatively apply the tools I developed during the first year of business school to real issues within the company.  I have meta lot of great people in different functions across the company.  One of my favorite things about the internship is our “passport” program where we are given the opportunity to sit down with many of the company’s top executives and spend time learning from their experience inside and outside the company as they reflect on their careers.  So far I have found this to be a great opportunity to learn about the company from different angles, and the executives have been very candid about what they feel are strengths and challenges for the company moving forward.  At the end of the day, my purpose is to gather as much information about the company as I can in order to make an educated decision about whether I want to come back full-time after I graduate from Darden.  So far, so good!

International experience (and an MBA) means better CEOs

I ran across a BusinessWeek article this morning that I found particularly interesting.  While the title of the article, Why Do MBAs Make Better CEOs?, obviously piqued my interest—I can confidently say that many (if not most) of my fellow Darden students strive to run an enterprise as CEO in the [near] future—what I found really interesting was not the quantitative analysis (i.e. CEOs with an MBA grew shareholder returns over their tenure by a statistically significant 15% more than those without an MBA) that supported the article’s thesis.  The article goes on to list out a few points of observation as to why CEOs with MBAs are more successful, namely:

  • An MBA provides a good base of skills and helps to teach the right- and left-brain to work together.
  • The selectivity of B-schools gives MBAs an “elite” status that companies look for in selecting their leaders.
  • The B-school experience help students create and access a powerful network.
  • Choosing to pursue an MBA means that a person is dedicated to self-improvement and willingness to learn—attitudes that are valuable throughout one’s career.

What I really found interesting though is the following quote found towards the end of the article (which reflects actual research instead of just conjecture):

[INSEAD] Professor Will Maddux, has carried out experiments demonstrating conclusively that the simple fact of having lived abroad makes people more creative.

While I am confident that most multinational corporations have long ago discovered value in providing cross-cultural experiences for their talent pipeline—likely because the experience can provide them with a better understanding of international operations and corporate practices outside of the home country—I don’t believe that an “increase in creativity” is quite the goal they have in mind.  In one sense, I think that B-schools get this.  Though B-school motivations might also be of the former variety, I think they are a bit more skewed towards the latter.

The Maddux research mentioned in this article, Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity: The When and How, found that “extensiveness of multicultural experiences was positively related to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity-supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion).”

To be honest, even though I lived in South America for a few years and have visited different regions of the world, I never really thought about my international experiences in the context of how my personal levels of creativity have changed.  I think it has definitely made me even more cognizant of the huge benefit that diversity bring to an organization in terms of additional opinions and differing ways to approach and solve problems, but I never really saw myself as one of those cogs that could add diversity to an organization.  Even as a member of the Consortium I always felt more in the role of a very strong advocate and believer in their mission, but until now I hadn’t really seen myself as someone who contributes to a diverse environment solely on the basis of my presence and my cultural attitudes/perceptions—though I am a small part Hispanic, I was never exposed to Hispanic culture, traditions or the Spanish language in my home growing up.  My big drive for living and working abroad post-MBA (I hope to spend a few years working in China) has always been, first, to more thoroughly experience the rich Chinese culture and language that I enjoy, second, to provide a unique and diverse living experience for my family, and third, to participate in a fast-growing emerging market with a constantly changing environment.  Looking back though, I definitely see my time in South America as something that has given me the confidence and desire to broaden my horizons even more.  Had I not already gone through learning to live in a different culture and gaining local language fluency the first time, I doubt that making the jump to China would really seem that feasible.

I believe that my personal experience is definitely in agreement with the conclusions of BusinessWeek and Maddux, et al.  I think that in the same way cross-cultural experience breaks down cultural barriers and biases, exposure to different ways of thinking must break down the single-minded thinking (a.k.a. “tunnel-vision”) underlying the basis of poor decision-making.  Of course, I am confident that neither of these broadening effects of cross-cultural experience actually take place without a positive and open disposition toward it—much like the value-added to organizations who approach ethnic and racial diversification as a real contribution rather than merely a numbers game.  Maddux, et al. also found evidence for this in their reseach:

studies showed that the serendipitous creative benefits resulting from multicultural experiences may depend on the extent to which individuals open themselves to foreign cultures, and that creativity is facilitated in contexts that deemphasize [sic] the need for firm answers or existential concerns.

So, if the benefits of an MBA and international experience can provide such a benefit to corporate leadership, why aren’t more companies pushing their talent to go to B-school or facilitating international opportunities?

Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved…

Elbert Hubbard.

I thought I would share this quote for all of my classmates that are feeling a little overwhelmed right now.  Keep up the effort!

Black November turns bright

What a wonderful Thanksgiving break this has been!  While it is still difficult to provide for a wife and son on a grad student budget—in an economy that hasn’t provided an opportunity for my wife to find work—we took the opportunity to reflect on all of the huge blessings we have received in our lives up to this point, and it wasn’t hard to find them.  It’s hard to complain when you have health, a supportive (and cute!) family, a roof over your head, food on your table, and the opportunity to attend one of the best business schools in the world.  I’m grateful that although things may be a bit difficult right now (as they are for many people) I have at least been entrusted with the opportunity improve my skills through education.

The infamous Darden ‘Black November’ hadn’t really afforded me much free time to think about anything except school, recruiting, networking, etc. until this last week.  As I took advantage of winter rates (only $15!) at Birdwood golf course on Wednesday to enjoy what would have been great Spring weather, let alone winter weather, I began to reflect on how I have gotten to this point in my life.  It would be so easy to give myself all of the credit for my own hard work and so easy to look past the patience and work that everyone else has put in around me throughout my life to ensure that I’ve had access to opportunities for personal growth.  I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m here at Darden solely because of my accomplishments, especially during such a competitive admissions cycle that likely produced a large number of equally (if not, more) qualified individuals; someone saw who I was and decided to give me a chance.  I feel that since that someone (or multiple “someones”) believed in me as much as I believe in myself, and saw in me the potential that I know I have, choosing to come here to Darden brings with it a social responsibility to mentor others and strive to help them reach their potential.  As “Black November” gets blacker bringing multiple resume drops this coming week and final exams the next week (I guess December doesn’t really start until after exams?), I’ll take pride in the fact that my [increasingly] bright future is not the product of only my own efforts, but a culmination of the diverse influences of many people—past and present—whose lives have touched mine.  For all of you, I am thankful.

Warm regards,


General Management & Operations Forum

Darden GMO ClubYesterday I had the opportunity to attend the General Management & Operations (GMO) Club Forum at Darden.  This annual event brings in executives from various companies that are recruiting on-campus this year.  Visiting us were representatives from BB&T, Danaher, Eaton, GE, Meadwestvaco, and Progressive.  The afternoon was spent participating in panel sessions with our visitors where we learned about their various businesses, heard their opinions on how to handle challenges in management and leadership (especially in the current economy), and received feedback regarding our career goals.

Some of my favorite advice from the panel discussions was:

1) Ethics: “The quick way out the door of a company is to do something that hurts the company’s image.”  Focus your people’s efforts on earning market share; be transparent in your actions and they will follow your lead.  If you employ a “win-at-all-costs” management style, your people will follow your lead and you’ll be held responsible for the consequences.

2) Personal: “Continually push yourself harder and you will come out better because of it.”  The rigor of Darden will prepare you well for handling difficult tasks in a time-crunch, but take advantage of opportunities to stretch yourself—always look for ways to improve your talents and skills.  Above all, make sure to take good care of your body and mind so that you can always perform to your highest ability.

3) Career: “Maintain a distinct and definable skillset.”  Be careful of spreading yourself thin.  No one hires a “general manager”, companies look for management skills that can be applied to certain functional areas.  Find something that you can focus on and become an expert in, rather than remaining a generalist.  Be able to clearly identify and articulate your strengths and successes so that your employer knows exactly how you are adding value for them.

4) Economic Difficulties: “Difficult times are the perfect opportunity for leaders to rise to the top; people are looking for someone to follow.”  Leaders can distinguish themselves during tough times because the ability to come up with innovative solutions and execute them is very important.  Any advantage gained in a down economy will generally be worth way more than if it were to happen in good times.

Following the panel discussions, we were invited to a nice dinner at the Boar’s Head Inn in the Piedmont countryside.  Boar’s Head is a world-class hospitality resort in Charlottesville that is very well maintained and extremely beautiful property.  For dinner, I was placed at a table with one of the BB&T representatives who had very entertaining viewpoints on a variety of issues (including those facing the banking industry today).  Dinner was enjoyable and delicious, and the conversation was interesting.  I definitely appreciated the opportunity to get to know our visitors in an informal setting, and to learn more about my classmates.  Overall, the event was a definite success and I believe that it reflects highly on the GMO Club’s executive leadership.  Kudos to those who organized it!

Victory awaits those who have everything worked out. It is called luck. Defeat is a sure consequence for those who have failed to take the necessary precautions in time. It is called misfortune.
Roald Amundsen.  A Norwegian polar explorer—the first to navigate the Northwest Passage (1903−1906), the first to reach the South Pole (1911), and the first to fly over the Arctic basin and the North Pole.  Said in a comment about Robert Scott, whom he beat in the famous race to the South Pole and who faced starvation and death on the way back (whereas Amundsen and his men put on weight and even fed their dogs chocolate on the return).

Taken from the Darden case Greenland, a pretty interesting read.  Get it here for only $6!