Nurturing BSchool Connections

Joining Kellogg grew my network exponentially, and enabled me to build relationships with and learn a lot from really smart and admirable people. Fast forward to life after school though, and then comes the challenge of maintaining and nurturing these really valuable business school relationships.

The typical post-MBA job is pretty challenging, and forces MBA grads to spend their weekdays struggling to stay on top of things, and weekends recovering from the struggles of the previous week, while planning for new struggles ahead. With this tightly packed and mostly overflowing schedule, how can we find the time to nurture our existing relationships, not to mention build new ones?

I’m currently struggling through this challenge, and have been chatting with a lot of friends about it. While I still haven’t found a silver bullet, I’ve stumbled on some pretty good ideas:

1. Intentionally Plan Your Connections: This tip comes from Keith Ferrazzi, the networking guru who wrote the bestseller titled Never Eat Alone. Keith talks about creating a relationship action plan, as a way to stay on top of your relationships. His approach is pretty structured (which is not surprising as he’s an ex-consultant), and involves categorizing your network into 3 segments, and committing to an interaction frequency for each segment. Keith’s approach didn’t work very well for me, as categorizing my hundreds of friends was too cumbersome. Instead, I decided to identify the top 10 – 15 people that I really wanted to stay in touch with, and then tried to make plans for that small set of people. These plans included activities such as coffee or brunch meetups, and phone calls over the weekend, or during lunch time at work. The most important part of this tip is the PLANNING. Schedule a specific time and put it on your calendar like you would a business meeting because this stuff is actually more important in the long run.

2. Turn Facebook Time into Connecting Time: No one plans Facebook time into their day, but somehow most of us get to check Facebook an average of 14 times in a day. How does this happen? More importantly, what if we could turn that time into networking time? We all have ‘gifts of time’ during the day; examples include commute time, waiting in line for coffee, or waiting for people to show up for a meeting. In times like these, as I find myself reaching for the Facebook icon on my phone, I stop and ask myself: who can I ping right now to let them know I’m thinking about them? I try to hit at least 3 messages a week which is a super small goal, but I think this is beneficial in two ways. First, social media is already a widely accepted additive (although not a substitute) to our face to face interactions. Second, these low cost drops of pings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites easily become an ocean of thoughtfulness and connection.

3. Just Do It!: This last tip seems to be in contrast with the first, but they actually work very well together. After making a networking plan, it’s really important to not stay welded to it. Don’t worry if certain people are slipping through the cracks and not being reached out to by you. Just keep reaching out and staying as connected as you can with those that are top of mind for you. The interesting part of this approach is that it helps you power through your inertia, and get started really quickly.

Any other good ideas on how to nurture business and personal connections?

3 Things I Wish I did Differently At Business School

Now that I’m a few months into life after graduation, I’ve had some time to reflect on my bschool experience. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to have attended a school like Kellogg as it was a truly transformational experience. However, if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely do some things differently. Before mentioning what these things are, I think it’s important to state that some of these areas of improvement are definitely unique to me – an introverted and risk averse Nigerian guy. Now that the safe harbor statement has been shared, here goes:

1. I Wish I Developed Relationships With People Not Like Me: Most of my really good business school friends turned out to be people who recruited for tech-related careers, were part of my section, or were foreign students like me. This sort of makes sense considering that like attracts like right? The downside to it is that there were so many awesome people who didn’t fit into any of these buckets that I’d really have loved to develop a relationship with. I think I was just too caught up with academics, finding a job, and delivering on my other bschool responsibilities to find the time and resources for these other relationships. In other words, I was lazy and it cost me big time.

2. I Wish I Partied More: Parties aren’t my thing and they probably will never be. I prefer quiet casual conversations in quiet settings to loud parties where I can barely hear myself. In addition, there’s usually such a huge demand on your time at bschool that most people (including me) end up doing what’s tried and tested. For me that was avoiding parties and spending time with my friends in quiet, convenient settings. If this is true, why do I wish I partied more at Kellogg? Some of the cool people I wanted to meet actually liked to party (they’re not like me remember?). Also, a wise friend once said that the magic of life usually happens outside your comfort zone. I wish I had stepped out of my anti-party comfort zone more often; who knows what magic I may have found? 🙂

3. I Wish I Took on More Extra-Curricular Responsibilities: Now to be fair, I did take on a decent amount of stuff. I was president of the Africa Business Club, logistics chair for the Kellogg Technology Conference 2014, VP communications for Catholics @ Kellogg, and an admissions committee reader for my entire time at Kellogg. The reason why I feel I could’ve taken on more is that I could fit these responsibilities into my schedule without dropping major balls. In other words, I didn’t figure out my breaking point. Maybe if I did take on more, I may have reached my breaking point. I may also have been forced to learn new time management skills in order to cope. There’s no way to confirm this hypothesis now though because I didn’t experiment.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to current or aspiring business school students – given my own personal experience – it would be this: do what you need to do to be successful, but once in a while, try to find the magic that lives outside your comfort zone.

Negotiating Job Offers

You’ve networked like crazy, gotten that coveted interview spot, and converted the interview into a full time job offer. You’re all set! Well.. almost. There’s a little wrinkle in the offer; you want more money, a different location, a different role, or something else which needs to change before the offer can become perfect for you. How do you go from where you are to where you need to be? You’ve got to negotiate!

I recently attended a panel on negotiating your job offer which was organized by the Kellogg Women’s Business Association (WBA), and I learned a few good ideas which I believe are worth sharing:

 1. Just Ask: A lot of times, women (and other minorities) are just plain scared to ask for what they want because they’re afraid of what people might think. Now I don’t have any data to support this, but I’m pretty sure that this is a key reason why we end up earning less than our peers on average. When you ask for what you want, you usually get one of three responses: yes, no or not yet. Since none of these responses make you worse than you were before asking, why not just go ahead and ask?!

2. Timing Matters: Sometimes the degree of flexibility that you can expect from a firm depends on when you try to negotiate. Just like business schools, companies usually extend more offers than the positions they have available, knowing that some candidates will decline their offer. The yield target for such firms is the number of candidates that accept their offer as a proportion of the total number of offers extended. How does this basic math affect your negotiation strategy? If the firm you are negotiating with is a hot employer (think McKinsey, Google, Goldman Sachs), then they’ll probably hit their yield targets quite early in the recruitment process, and become less flexible as you move towards your offer deadline. On the other hand, if the firm is not a hot choice among your peers – but is a great fit for you – you may want to negotiate a bit closer to your offer deadline. The HR folks will probably be more accommodating as they come under pressure to hit their yield targets.

3. Use Data that Supports Your Argument: There is a good 4-min video from the panel that addresses this topic.

4. Make it About Them and Not About You: Also clearly addressed in a 3-min panel video.

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ll share one more really good video about negotiating your job offer which I found online. This guy is a rock star at Harvard Business School and after viewing the video, it’s easy to understand why. Oh and by the way, he got his PhD at Kellogg… #justSaying 🙂

Image by Kellogg School of Management

First Year Musings

The first year of my Kellogg MBA is done! It ended on June 11th. At least that’s when I had my last exam. The next thing on my plate is my summer internship at Microsoft! I think it’ll be a pretty good time in Seattle.

A very common line that I heard from MBA grads when I told them I was going to business school was “business school was the best 2 years of my life!”. That certainly wasn’t the case for me though. I’m pretty sure that the past year doesn’t count as one of the best of my life. A better way to describe my first year at Kellogg would be transformative. I’ve learned a lot and improved my business acumen, and I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some really smart and talented people. Most importantly, I have been fortunate enough to create some true friendships with remarkable individuals that I believe will support and challenge me for the rest of my life. I know it sounds cliche, but it turned out to be true in my experience.

This year the outgoing Kellogg class of 2014 did something interesting. Each student took a personal portrait while holding a message that they’d like to send to themselves ten years from now. It was really interesting to see the insightful, inspiring and sometimes funny messages that these portraits contained. Stealing a page from their play book, I asked myself what I would tell myself a year ago as I was about to start my MBA at Kellogg. I came up with four things:

1.  Figure out what’s important to you outside Kellogg, and create the boundaries necessary to protect it. Not doing this might lead to unpleasant consequences for you.

2. Networking is important, but play to your strengths. If you come alive in large gatherings, then by all means go for it. If you are more comfortable with smaller, personal conversations, then go ahead and do that. What’s important is that you’re making meaningful connections that matter to you.

3. While the first year is fast paced and filled with interesting activities, you still need to make out time to reflect on your experience and make sure you remember – and are daily moving towards – your true North.

4. Seek out and spend time building relationships with the 2nd years. They really are an amazing bunch, and they’ll be gone sooner than you think! 🙂

Are There Introverts at Kellogg?

introvert leaders

Four weeks ago we had Day At Kellogg II, or DAK II: the weekend-long event that showcases the Kellogg experience to admitted students in order to help them decide if they really want to get their MBA from Kellogg. I was really happy to participate in this event since it provided the opportunity to help admitted students answer lots of questions. One of the questions that I got and strongly resonated with (because I had a similar question during my own DAK) sounded something like this: “the people at Kellogg are really great and personable, but there are so many activities going on and I’m not sure if I can keep up. Do you think I’d fit in here?”

 If I ask most people to come up with a Kellogg persona, or description of a typical Kellogg student, they’d probably conjure up an image of a guy or girl wearing neon colored onesies, and having a pretty good time. 🙂 Nonetheless, my ‘insider-view’ makes me convinced that we actually have three main personas at Kellogg.

1. Outgoing Oscar: This is the quintessential Kellogg persona. Friendly, fun-loving and outgoing, Oscar likes to spend time with his Kellogg ‘besties’, and can be found at pretty much every Kellogg social event. Surprisingly enough, Oscar doesn’t just have fun. He has a leadership role in 10 clubs on campus, and is actually president of 2 of those clubs. What a lot of people don’t realize about Oscar is that he constitutes about 35% of the total student population at Kellogg.

2. Contributing Cathy: When you think about the stereotypical Kellogg student, almost no one thinks of Cathy, despite the fact that she makes up about 60% of the Kellogg student body. Cathy is friendly and cool, but unlike Oscar, she’s not everywhere. She attends a decent number of Kellogg events, is involved with 2 clubs on campus, and holds a leadership position at one of them. She also makes out time for important stuff happening outside Kellogg, such as keeping in touch with her friends and family.

3. Disinterested Deb: Deb is the anomaly at Kellogg. Unfortunately, most people think the same thing about Cathy. Making up only about 5% of Kellogg’s student population, Deb isn’t at Kellogg to frolic and play; she’s here to get her ticket punched. She probably had a high powered career before business school, and was about to hit a glass ceiling so she decided to take a break from work and come grab the credentials necessary to further her career. Deb is hardly seen at any Kellogg event, and she is also unaffiliated with any club on campus. If you want to find her, look in the classes of professors that care about class attendance. You still might not find her there though! 🙂

In the end, I guess my short answer to the question about fitting in at Kellogg would be that, with a strong sense of self and great interpersonal skills, you’ll do well here. Interpersonal skills get you into the game. You won’t go too far without them. On the other hand, your sense of self will enable you to minimize the effects of FOMO. In the end, I really believe that everyone is free to engage and contribute to the Kellogg community as much as they choose to based on their personal and professional goals. One way to get a flavor of this fact is through the video below from Hear My Story, a really cool Kellogg event that allows students to learn from each other’s life experiences. In this clip, some students mention that they also felt like they weren’t going to fit in at Kellogg because they weren’t going to be like everybody else. I think Hear My Story is one of the things that make Kellogg truly unique. Enjoy!

Image by fastcompany

The Africa Business Conference at HBS

Last week I went to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the Africa business conference organized by the Harvard Business School (HBS). As this was my first time in Cambridge, I spent the first day of my trip going around and trying to get a feel of this historic city. Unfortunately, Cambridge’s weather was just as bad as Chicago’s so I was not too excited about my freezing tour. Notwithstanding, I did experience a lot of cool historic and current sites and sounds; the computer science building at MIT was one of them:

mit

Keynotes

As expected, HBS was able to deliver some African heavyweights as keynote speakers at their conference. My favorite was Okechukwu Enelamah, the founder and CEO of Africa Capital Alliance, a leading private equity firm in Nigeria. The best part of his keynote was when he spoke about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Paraphrasing, a mentor will provide you with guidance while a sponsor will expend his or her economic, political or social capital to see you succeed. In his case, his sponsor was his former boss who not only coached him but also recommended him for admission to HBS at a time when going to Harvard was mostly unheard of for Africans. This story really got me thinking about two things: how can I get sponsorship in my own career, and how can I give it?.

Panels

The conference had a variety of panels covering an array of topics from agribusiness to tertiary education in Africa. My favorite was the panel on women and leadership as it was literally “star studded”. My two coolest people on the panel were Ibukun Awosika – a serial entrepreneur and business leader in Nigeria – and Ory Okolloh, a Harvard alum and former policy manager for Africa at Google. Ory actually has a cool TED talk about the African story which you can check out here.
Mrs. Awosika really set the audience on fire with her passion and practical insights stemming from years of experience as a business leader, wife and mother. One interesting piece of advice which she gave to the ladies and I’m paraphrasing loosely was: if you are dating a guy, do not try to become the woman you think he wants you to be. Instead, tell him your plans and ask him about his. If they don’t match up and you decide to end the relationship, know that you have saved yourself and that gentleman a huge amount of frustration in the future.

Apart from the keynotes and panels, another interesting part of the conference was the opportunity to network with a wide variety of Africans currently residing within and outside the US. On a personal note, I was able to connect with people I had met while studying for my undergraduate degree in Nigeria, and had not seen for close to 10 years! This was really exciting, and I was really glad that I got to be part of this large gathering of Africans talking about Africa.

HBS Conference

Kellogg Tech Trek

After completing the roller coaster ride of first quarter exams, the next item on my business school calendar was the technology trek to Seattle and San Francisco. I wrote about this trek in my business school essays, and was actually very excited to be one of the thirty Kellogg students chosen to participate. I understood that the trek in and of itself would not help me get an internship. However, I believe that the knowledge and experiences gained from directly interacting with – and learning about – prospective employers could be valuable during the recruiting process for summer internships.

For those who may be wondering, the trip wasn’t financed by Kellogg. Each student was responsible for his or her transportation, lodging and meals. Our trip was 5 days long, and filled with visits to some of the most admired technology companies in the world today. Our daily agenda looked something like this:

Day 1 (Seattle): Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia

Day 2 (San Francisco): Apple, Cisco, eBay/PayPal

Day 3 (San Francisco): Flextronics, Facebook, Google

Day 4 (San Francisco): Intel, Intuit, Box

Day 5 (San Francisco): Airbnb, Evernote

Other companies which I would have loved to visit were Adobe, LinkedIn, and Workday. Notwithstanding, I thought we had a pretty impressive list. Although it was nice to be physically present at great companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, the companies that I really enjoyed visiting did one of two things well:

  • They engaged us in very lively discussions about the changes in their industry and how they plan to respond to those changes. The companies that I think did this quite well were Intuit, PayPal, Box and Flextronics.
  • They gave us some sort of insight into next-generation technologies that they might bring to market in the long term. The most impressive company in this regard was Intuit. I also enjoyed visiting the Intel museum and immersing myself in the history of this great technology company. You would think that the companies that would really shine in this regard are big players like Google, Facebook and Apple. However, I’ve come to realize is that the technology industry is so competitive these days that no one wants to ‘show their hand.’ This makes sense, but It was still disappointing to not get to see all the cool stuff being developed at these respective companies.

An unexpected benefit of participating in the technology trek for me was the chance to spend a substantial amount of time with my classmates. We spent a fair amount of time in transit as we moved from one company to another, and this provided me with ample time to meet new classmates and interact with those I already knew on a more personal level. This turned out to be one of my best parts of the entire trek.

I made a slide deck of some of the pictures I took during the trek. I didn’t take as many as I should have so they don’t tell the entire story. Still, as the saying goes, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.