Whizzing Winter Quarter

Already weeks into the final stretch I was comfortably settling on the fact that I’ve rushed past the opportunity of writing a reflective summary of Winter quarter (as I did with Summer and Autumn before). Where you lack internal pressure, the will be external one – and as our fabulous Yearbook committee has been recycling those texts in the past they convinced me to not drop the habit this late in the game. So here you go:

Winter Strikes Hard in California

Compared to the build-up from the first half of the Sloan program, the theme of the Winter quarter felt like more of everything. As the days get shorter and weather chills (mind you, we’re still talking in Californian terms here, you know the kind where for entire two mornings per year you can see slightly frosted windshields at 8am! *gasp*) people get indoors: more academic units, more study group work, more external guests and more parties.

As my friend Juliano says, a program this short and intense has no middle: there is the excitement of the beginning and and then you’re starting to wrap up. Our core Finance class in Winter was the last where all Sloans were together in the same lecture. Beyond a few class meetings and a social event here and there (and average participation of either is usually way below 100%), this will not happen again before the graduation dinner.

To compensate, our social chairs went out of their way in Winter. I am slightly biased here, of course, as Ede held one of the seats on our Partners side, which meant I could see the effort and pain behind the scenes up close and that we spent exactly zero Fridays outside the circle of classmates. But what events those were: the eclectic European night, a full Brazilian day (modestly called “lunch”) which brought the first truly warm sunshine out into the bossanova rhythms, kimono-clad and sake-soaked Japanese evening, musical and overeating-risked Chinese New Year, a cunning Belgian beer tasting…

There was also a bit of real winter in these months (as per the meaning of the word I grew up with) as people made proper use of the renowned geographic feature of Silicon Valley: you can get to the Ocean in an hour, and to the snowy slopes in three. As a tip to future Sloans, forget the hotels at Lake Tahoe and rent one of the massive private homes up there. With 5-7 bedrooms you’ll end up housing 20+ latecomers who can survive on couches, and the joint cooking events, conversations shouted over karaoke backdrop, improvised full on cocktail bars, games of pool and poker, champagne in the jacuzzi and the sight of classmates’ morning attempts to complete various financial analysis papers before hitting the slopes again will remain with you as some of the better memories of the year.

Academically, and going beyond Professor Strebulayev’ infinite source of amusing quotes, I will think back of this quarter mostly in terms of finance (in which I took four different classes – and loved them all) and juggling various study groups in parallel to deliver papers and presentations. With one team we built a business plan and pitched a crowdsourced service for proofreading and language learning feedback to dyslexics, foreign students and white-collar immigrant workers. With another team, we designed an elaborate proposal for taking a real public company private, shifting their product portfolio for higher exit multiples, levering up the non-existant debt, restructuring operations (yup, the founder’s private jet and golf tournaments need to go) and getting out at 10X of our money in 5 years. With third group, we pre-analysed and went through 6 real startup pitches along with a real VC mentor and decided to maybe just to give money to one of them.

Despite of the chaos of trying to schedule ~20 people into these different groups at conflicting times, I really enjoyed actually doing stuff (as opposed to just discussing in class) with my MBA peers. The ease and breakneck speed at which almost anyone in this school can deliver complex quant models and high quality analysis still amazes me. And then you can pull pretty much anyone on stage with a 5 minute heads up to present the outcome with coherent, engaging story line.

And finally, the other thing that peaked through Winter of course was the incoming flow of guest speakers. It is one of those things where you have to actually remind yourself that having Eric Schmidt run a class a day after he returns from North Korea or just the weekly routine of dropping a lunch meeting with one innovator or founder you admire for another one due to the scheduling conflicts is not quite normal way of life of most people in your field and with your interests in the world. What used to be almost as intimidating as exciting upon arrival has now has become “yet another day at the Farm” for us. These interactions are to be grateful for.

As Mike Maples Jr put it (yes, when meeting students on campus, of course): “Part of the Stanford miracle is the flow of the amazing founders walking through (I had McNealy, Osborne, Jobs in class as an undergrad…) – you sit there as a student and you say, hey, these guys are not that much smarter than me – I could do this as well.” This way of running a school interwoven with the industry is all about confidence building. And I believe we came out of the super busy Winter more confident than ever about our ability to manage time, deliver to deadlines, not to leave you peers behind, prioritise family and social life and get anything done you set your mind to – in the started Spring quarter, and especially beyond.