Thursday, April 27, 2006

I Scream!

As if we haven't had our fill of ice-cream, guess what we were plied with today for our Marketing exam? That's right. Yet another ice-cream case.

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. It all started with a little Russian ice cream company...

Back in mid march when the second period at INSEAD was kicking into high gear, our Strategy professor (a certain Argentinian of much pomp and gesture) decided that the best way to "learn strategy" was to have us analyse the Russian ice cream market and do a strategic proposal for Ice-Fili (its an actual Russian ice cream manufacturer).

Well what did we learn from all that? Besides the obviously useless knowledge of how ice cream was manufactured, there was a Porter's 5 Forces analysis of the industry, a market sizing (you're supposed to do one for the present case and a forecast for the future), a value-chain analysis which revealed that distribution was the key problem for Ice-Fili. Furthermore, there was the ubiquitous Willingness-to-Pay (WTP) vs. Cost Advantage analysis, plus a detailed analysis of Ice-Fili's competitive advantage over its rivals.

Oh and it wasn't just a case of delivering the report and being done with it. It wasn't that easy - the Argentinian of dubious distinction decided that we also have to critique each other's reports. And the critiques must come with a sincere and frank analysis of why their analysis works / doesn't work and where it is lacking. Wow - in addition to having piles of assignments from Finance, Marketing, Process Operations Management, Managerial Accounting and OB, our Strategy professor wants us to READ the nonsense we produced, and DO his job for him.

How fun.

So we did. Sometime in early April. Then what?

So the Argentinian Aardvark (at this point, I'm not even certain he's Argentinian. Maybe he's Spanish but who cares? Let's assume he's Argentinian. On a side note, "Argentinian is a damn hard word to type. Damn that Argentinian) tells us that what we've produced was of 'tremendous quality', and we should 'leverage on the incredible learning opportunity', and that we had 'collectively learnt an enormous deal'. And so on with the bombast.

Then what?

Then the Argentinian (ah... I discovered copy-paste!) with his Hand of God decides that our strategy exam is going to be based on... you guessed it!... the Russian ice cream market, with particular emphasis on that hated 2 syllables: ICE-FILI!

By this time, we were going to riot. The worst was that he had the cheek to say that what we had produced in our reports was IT. Like in, 'go read your COLLECTIVE WISDOM and DISTIL IT into your exam answer'. Like hell that is helping anyone because nobody had any idea which report was good, and which was bad in the first place.

Ah well... Some changes took place and we now have a saner strategy examination - but it was still about Ice-Fili, like anyone really cared anymore. Everyone was sick of Ice-Fili, Russian ice cream and anything remotely related to ice-cream.

Oh, until today. Our marketing professor decided to join in on the act and gave us an exam case on - you guessed it! - ice cream!

But heck, I found it fun though. How do you segment the ice cream market in the UK? How do you position Delice as the ice cream sandwich of choice? What is the advertising strategy you'll employ?

I wrote and I wrote till my wrists hurt. And none the worse after coz I think this exam was a breeze. And what's there to do to celebrate the end of it?

I headed to the bar and ordered some ice cream. Yeah.....

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Little White Lies

A Little White Lie (LWL) is the seed of the big black mistake.

One coats the LWL like the little bit of flourish it is; it's akin to seasoning. No harm done - people put MSG into food so that it tastes better. That's what the LWL does - it makes difficult messages palatable to its consumer. And that is a good thing is it not? Without the LWL, nobody can take a hard message, or a particularly incriminating one.

The LWL looks deceptively like an innocent little thing. Seriously, what can one expect the LWL to become? Does it grow? Does it germinate and grow mouldy? Does it spread like a wild virus, spawning baby LWLs and infect ideas like birdflu? Perhaps the LWL just remains that: something little, small, innocently benign.

But I think that, if anything at all, the LWL is dangerous not because of its inherent size - it can't really do much harm if ever uttered or spoken in its own form. It is dangerous for being a precedent. It is dangerous because it holds potential. It is a seed - with the right soil condition and a little water, that seed can become a solid tree. And though a seed may be easy to miss, when it becomes that tree, it is just waiting for an axe to cut it down.

Learn from your mistake: don't speak of the LWL ever, even in public forum such as this. See, the LWL does not serve any good cause being spoken of aloud. It is spent the moment it is created, but giving it life in a little sphere known as the internet is inviting trouble of all sorts.

I do not feel as if I need to give the LWL further life. Let it rest, let it die. For there shall be no tree, and there shall be no further mistakes of such a nature.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Call Option of Sorts

I am supposed to be sleeping. Hell Week is, in a sense, over. The worst has passed and there is only the weekend to look forward to. What was supposed to be a dinner-movie-clubbing thing tomorrow turned out to have to exclude its only male participant - moi. In any case, I wouldn't have fitted in with 10 other ladies (much to their disappointment, so I believed).

So... I'm supposed to be sleeping. See, it's like a call option (and here I launch into the "What I learnt in Biz school mode"). A call option, in its most basic form and which I can express in words, is an option which when you buy, and which when exercised gives you a share of a particular stock at a fixed price. The price is predetermined as is its maturity date. An American option allows you to exercise the share before the maturity date, while a European option restricts you to exercising it only on the maturity date.

This is what happened: I bought a couple of call options known as sleep. When I so choose to exercise them, I am supposed to get sleep. However, I decided that I might need to keep awake later today (so as to read my Corporate Finance Policy M&M bull) that I hedged my bet by drinking two cups of coffee. One at the bar (the free kind) and one while lounging at TCC with a groupmate.

What happened with hedging such was that I am now kept perpetually awake by the coffee (quite akin to somebody holding onto plummeting stock which they are using to hedge against their call option). However, I haven't been able to exercise my option to sleep - the coffee is keeping me awake.

All that shouldn't be making any sense to you nor any student of Finance - ask me again in the morning.


I also figured that, since I'm almost done torrenting Mai Otome episode 25, I might as well just keep awake a while longer, wait it out, and watch it.

See, the thing about me and anime is that I blame my friend Stripey for making anime such an allure. I'm into the philosophical - harem - yuri - kawaii - techy - mecha - humor - you-name-it-they-got-it shit and anime provides the right mix of everything to make another fan out of me. I'm of the opinion that animation in the States seem targeted at only 2 markets: the male kid so that he will buy the action figure (works for girls too - anyone recall My Little Pony?); the adult who's into somewhat adult humour (I used to like South Park and The Simpsons). The japs seem to view that divide as a spectrum, and fill the market with products that straddle the entire range - look hard enough and you can find anime of any stroke and niche to meet your particular fetish.

Of course the somewhat significant one doesn't know (at least not till recently) that anime is becoming a hobby of sorts. She hasn't made any fuss of it, so long as I'm still the addicted to her I suppose. At least I'm not into collecting figurines in super short skirts, so I'm far from descending into otakudom.


Damn... that download isn't done yet.

See, I have this friend (don't we all?). He is somewhat attracted to this girl who he's hanging with a little too much. The thing is that they are colleagues and they click really well. He's into girls with spunk like her - she's into males of a particular fair colour though.

The problem is they both have their others. And thus he pretends that he's her best pal and all, just so that he can hang around with her. Well, he's not really pretending per se - he's really the pal-ly kinda guy. She seems to wanna hang out a lot too - it's not really a problem isn't it? They're just pals hanging out, nothing beyond walking that plateau, shooting breeze and talking about the weather (and other more savoury topics).

Maybe it isn't a problem - girls like certain kind of guys because they exude that kind of brother-vibe. You know: they think you're the kind of guy who'll make a great Brudder. Not like in a pesky little kid sibling who pisses on your toys and plays doctor with you. I mean the kind of Brudder who offers a listening ear, an open mind, and passes no judgement. The safe kind of guy who's cool about the gals around him and offers emotional support. The Brudder doesn't get the gal - the Jerko does and that sucks doesn't it? (Say, was that all in the present tense?)

Perhaps it helps that the others are in the land of far, far away. Absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder (to someone else??). In my friend's case, absence meant options - options meant opportunity, so why not explore some options then? Live life with no regrets, so they say. What's to lose? And if the options don't work out, there's the fallback plan isn't there?

He's a confused one, that friend. I think he should look for the tangible, and stop asking himself the 'What ifs'. Life isn't about what it can become if you'd done this or that. Life is about having walked the road and asking where to go next. The counter retort to the 'What If' is 'What If it is not'. Answer that question first, my friend.

[Maybe I should start charging for useless emotional advice by the hour... hmm.]


The download's done! Me - out.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Case of a case of cases

I haven't had the time to update this blog recently, even though there suddenly appears to be more readers (thanks for dropping by guys!).

In any case, my excuse is that I'm officially in the Hell Week at INSEAD. This week, there're about 6 (or so) assignments due, some big, some small. The biggies have taken up so much time: group discussions take up the bulk of it. I guess the real deal is that group discussions are a function of how well the group works together. For a group that tends to bicker and disagree (i.e. my group) it takes a really long time to get things done.

But a caveat though: that doesn't mean we don't do a good job. The additional time spent usually resulted in well-crafted reports. But well-crafted reports don't often mean the most productivity (the hours spent bickering over the minutest points just rankles me!).

In any case, this period is markedly different from the previous one in terms of the cases: almost every lecture is structured around a case study.

Case studies for dummies

Case studies are the real (or disguised) life examples which typically encompass a business lesson within. The usual structure is a story, some history of the company, miscellaneous blah blah about the personalities in the case (if any), a little too much information about the competition, the problem, and maybe some questions to guide your thought process (if the author is kind). There're also the exhibits attached at the end, which usually is a sign to look out for numbers to do some crunching with.

The thing about cases in P2 as opposed to P1: they're longer. Waaaaaaaay longer. Like 15-20 pages as opposed to the wafer thin 3-4 page lightweight.

So what does this mean in a period already chockful of activity?

Less sleep, little time for anything else. At the end of it all, I have only a case full of cases to show for it, and bleary eyes. No wonder the coffee in INSEAD is free: you'll NEED it.