Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Not so little" Littlefield

Operations Management has been the course on everyone’s mind this quarter. That’s not surprising when you consider we just finished our third week and we are already working on our third major assignment. The assignments require a great deal of focus, attention to detail and problem solving.

This weekend, our assignment is to manage the operations of Littlefield Technologies, a company that manufactures digital satellite system receivers. The simulation runs for 100 hours over the weekend and the goal is to have the highest cash balance compared to both our peers and a computer benchmark that makes no decisions throughout the simulation. Some of the decisions we need to make along the way are purchasing and selling the machines operating at each station, increasing the size of the lot that flows through the factory, and the terms of the contract that dictates how much revenue we earn based on how soon the customers receive their orders.

Needless to say, it’s going to be an interesting weekend, especially considering the simulation is running constantly, even during the night. For the sake of our sleep schedules, I think most of us are looking forward to 9:00 pm on Tuesday night when it is all over.

76 hours to go…

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Long overdue Q3 wrap up

Ladies and gents, it’s been awhile. Q3 finished with a report, presentation, three exams and an essay. And shortly after submitting that essay and enduring a 5 hour delay at Toronto Pearson airport, I was on a plane headed southbound to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for our March break. Alas, we are back in Toronto now, and have just finished a week in Q4.

As usual, though, here is a wrap up of the classes we took in Q3.

Economic Environment of Business: The standard macroeconomics course for every MBA graduate. You will learn everything you need to know about GDP, inflation, interest rates, labour productivity, quantitative easing, the participation rate, foreign direct investment, net exports and net capital outflows. The evaluation is pretty straight forward: 3 quizzes and a heavily weighted final exam. One thing that the professor does expect, however, is that you keep up with the required readings that he posts online. Most of the readings are articles from The Economist that are relevant to the topics discussed in class. If you want to get a good mark on the final, you should be able to make references to the articles where appropriate. I suggest keeping up with the articles throughout the quarter and not leaving them until two days before the final.

Managing Customer Value: This course is a continuation of MCV from Q2. It was structured very differently though. We only had about 5 lectures throughout the quarter; the rest of the time, our attention was focused on the marketing simulation that you work on in groups. Each group manages the marketing and advertising decisions of a company that operates in the same industry as the companies managed by our classmates. Everyone starts off in a unique position (from the market leader to the underdog) and we needed to make decisions on how much to spend on R&D, what segments of the market we should target with which products, how much sales staff to hire, and whether we should enter an entirely new market. The major deliverables included a report and presentation that outlined the group’s strategies and justified the decisions made. It was a pretty interesting exercise and most people had fun with it. In fact, some people wished that the simulation went on for longer!

Finance: Another continuation from the finance course from Q2. The material taught in this class was much different from that taught in the first finance class. In the first class we learned how to value stocks and bonds; in this class, it was all about corporate finance. When should you accept a new project? What are the advantages and disadvantages of financing a project with debt or equity? And how does a company’s dividend payout policy affect the value of the company? We worked on three cases throughout the quarter with our groups, which really helped us understand the concepts and prepared us for the final exam. The professor for this course, David Goldreich, was very enthusiastic and made the 8:30am start time a little more enjoyable.

Leadership: I really enjoyed this class. I would actually say that it was my favourite class from Q3. Before each class we had to read a case about a leader within an organization. We spent the majority of the class discussing what the leader did well and what he or she could improve on. We also spent a few classes analyzing our social styles, which I talked about in a previous blog post. To get the most out of this class, it was important you thoroughly understood the case being discussed and participated a lot in the class discussion. The majority of our evaluation in this class was a final paper, which was due at the very end of the quarter. Each student had to pick a leader that he or she has had professional interaction with and, using the tools and models taught in class, analyze their actions and show whether the leader was effective or not. You could also choose to write the paper about a professional leadership position you have held in the past. My biggest piece of advice in writing the paper is to start early! Get a solid outline written and know in advance exactly what points you want to discuss. After exams were over, nobody was really looking forward to writing a 3000 word essay, so getting started well ahead of time eased a lot of the pain.

Strategy: This strategy class was very different from the strategy class we took in Q2. The first class was more focused on an individual company; this class was more focused on the interactions between companies, competition, and horizontal and vertical integrations. Some of the companies that we talked about in class were Boeing, Nintendo, Disney and Microsoft. The course was taught by two professors, but other than that, it was similarly structured to our first strategy class: we had to read a case before class and be prepared to discuss it with each other. Our evaluation was based on our participation in class and a final exam. There was no case analysis project this time, although I think many would agree that some form of evaluation in the middle of the quarter would have been nice.

And there you have it! Q4 has started off well and despite the 8:30am classes every day, I think the next five weeks are going to be very interesting. Stay tuned!