Saturday, August 15, 2015

Goals after Stanford

It is pretty amazing to think that my time at the GSB has now been officially over for more than two months. I see students in the years below me post pictures about their internships and my classmates posting pictures about their travels. Some friends already work again, others try to push it off as far as possible (Hi Reinhard!). Everyone sees friends and family and gets ready for the “real life”.

I, for my part, have been doing a little bit of travelling, but have mostly been playing stay-at-home-dad (without kids – that would have warranted its own blog entry) in New York. I found an apartment and volunteered at a local soccer camp and read fiction every day. It was different not to have such a scheduled day – yet it made me ready and excited to work again.

One thing I have been thinking about though is that now with the MBA over there is nothing to look forward to. I mean of course there are birthdays, vacations and so on. But three years ago I looked forward to applying to business school and then later to start at Stanford, a year ago it was my internship, a GMIX trip to Rwanda or the Africa Business Conference. But what now? – I start work on September 3rd and that’s it. What’s the next big thing, the next milestone? For all my life education has been setting most goals – getting through high school, going to a good college, semesters abroad, then it was finding a job that would set one up for success (and success being getting into a good business school) and so on.

I tried setting myself more personal goals – running more marathons, starting to journal. Those don’t seem to be big somehow. I am hesitant to say that I want to be an Engagement Manager at McKinsey in 18 months – it could be a goal, should it be one though? Do I have to employ a longer-term view or should I try to relate goals not only to my own personal success, but also to what I do? Or with whom I do it? I feel that goals and steps to reach those goals have provided guidance and security to me. There was always that thought that “I need to get there”.

I guess its normal to think about things like that when starting something new or somewhere new. With the chapter of formal education probably being closed forever I cannot rely on that anymore. It is time to set other goals – maybe more personalized ones.

I probably should have used my two years at Stanford to figure that out… Well. I have done at least a bit of soul searching in that field and have friends that are in the same boat. What do they say – business school is only the beginning of a journey of lifelong self-reflection.

Lets bring it on!

Cheers und bis bald,


GSB'15 Graduation

P.S. I am writing this post at the Panama City airport on my way back home to Germany. Two years ago I flew from Colombia via Panama to California. I am feeling oddly sentimental.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Shame on me! Marathon & Transitions

First of all:

I know my last blog entry was over two months ago. Saying that I didn't have the time would be a lie. That I wasn't inspired - maybe.

Anyways, I came to the conclusion that I actually want to keep this blog going. Despite that fact that my time at Stanford will be over in less than a month. And despite the fact that my life as a consultant in New York will likely (though I am fighting hard to prove me wrong) be less exciting than my life in Palo Alto.

So, I want to write about two things today: (1) I ran a marathon and (2) Transitioning to a new phase of my life

KM 42 - Almost there
After running 20km with Reinhard two months ago I thought it would be a fun idea to sign up for a marathon. Even though I am in A LOT of pain right now (think stomach bug + extremely sore + the flu), I am quite happy I did it and completed the "Surfers Path" marathon in Santa Cruz & Capitola Village in 3:36:06h. Two remarkable things from the marathon are the realization that socializing without consuming alcohol is awkward and something to get used to. One gets constantly asked why one is not drinking and one has to be almost defensive about the choice to not do it. A lot of events are also much less fun (some even not quite bearable) without some beers. On the other hand though - I slept better, was much fitter and had beverages I actually like the taste of  (Traders Joe's Ginger Beer - Good stuff). The other thing I noticed is that a lot of people at business school had done marathons. The percentage is probably much higher than among the general population. When thinking of a stereotypical business school student I will now have to include "completed a marathon" as one of the characteristics, alongside being extensively travelled and not having specific skills in any area. When people ask me why I ran it I usually reply "I liked the challenge". Go figure!

I might have written about this after my first year at Stanford: I really don't like ending things. Not because I am so sad to leave a certain place, but because I feel that I can't be fully present anymore. I don't like doing things for the last time, being sentimental and dragging the leaving process out. If it was up to me Id just do business as usual and then leave from one day to the other. Right now I am planning my summer, looking for apartments, think about traveling, packing things up etc etc, but I am not really at Stanford anymore. It is like I am floating between different phases of my life not fully knowing where I am currently. I remember having this feeling when I started my job after undergrad, when I finished my job and went to Stanford and when I left Stanford to work for McKinsey in London last summer. So, how to combat that feeling of being in between places - no idea. Since I like to plan its difficult to just "be here".

Cheers + bis bald,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

There is no balance, its only trade-offs

In my reading for my "Managing Growing Enterprises" class this quarter I came across the following quote by a CEO who attended the Harvard Business School "New CEO Workshop":

"There is no work-life balance. There are only work-life trade-offs."

With my time at the GSB coming to an end that quote actually made me think. In eight month I will once more have to balance my career, my relationship, my friends, my professional network, my workouts and so much more. I've been feeling that my days need more hours during my time in Palo Alto already, so I can only imagine that it will be much more challenging going forward. The quote made me realize that there isn't that magical equilibrium of perfect interplay between all those balls I have to keep in the air. Actually, doing one thing means NOT doing something else. Devoting time to my friends might mean not doing that incremental bit better at work. 

The term "work-life balance" sort of romanticizes the fact that I will actually have to make decisions to do worse than I could in some areas of my life. That realization is actually quite useful. I know myself pretty well by now and I know that believing in that vague "balance" is not going to hold me accountable and is not going to force me to make uncomfortable decisions. I hate not doing things 100%. I don't like not answering emails in time. I don't like having to decline an invitation to go to a bar with friends. I don't like telling my boss that I do not want to stay in the office until 9pm on a Friday night. I also don't like not going to a movie when I had made plans to do so.

All of this is of course necessary. And realizing that I should make up my mind in advance is pretty useful. Otherwise my behavior will not be coherent, which could result in doing worse over all. 

This ties in to a story HBS professor and business guru Clayton Christensen shared with us last year about his starting days at BCG:

"During my first project I was asked to attend a really important client meeting on a Saturday. I had to tell my project leader that this would not be possible since Saturday was the day I could spend with my wife and my kids. He then asked whether Sunday would be better for me. On Sunday, I had to tell him, I have to go to church and cannot work either. We somehow got the work done by Friday and I was never asked again to work on my weekends."

Especially when starting at a new job in a new company one tends to please the colleagues. The problem is, though, that this behavior is going to set the precedent for the years coming working with those colleagues.

I want to have my mind set on what my priorities are and where I am willing to make trade-offs.

Cheers + bis bald,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Celibacy, Sermon-Dowloads and "Problems" with Minorities - Cardinal Marx at Stanford

One thing I will for sure miss being back in the working world will be the constant flow of decision-makers, thought leaders and influencers that I get to listen to while here at Stanford. Today I had the honor to join a discussion with Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Cardinal Marx is one of the most influential figures of the Catholic church as he was selected by Pope Francis as one of nine Cardinals to help the Pope reform the Catholic church. Cardinal Marx is also leading the German Bishops Conference and oversees the Secretariat for the Economy for the church.

I asked the Cardinal how three things he would want to change about the church:

(1) Involve formerly excluded people (homosexuals, divorcees, women)
(2) Make senior members of the church more forward-looking
(3) Improve the quality of the sermons

He gave the example that for point (3) many priests print out sermons they find online and just give those instead of writing their own. To be honest, I found it quite charming that even members of the church seem to sometimes take shortcuts. It's kind of like: "Reinhard can you send me this slide, I don't want to build it myself". Also the fact that a lot of priests know how to use the internet is promising to me.

Regarding point (1) I was somewhat offended when the Cardinal mentioned that not only the Western World has "those problems" (and with that meaning homosexuals and women), but also developing countries. I hope his phrasing is due to is imperfect English. I am not sure though.

Besides the content of his arguments I found it interesting that he very rarely evoked emotion or spirituality, but was very statesmen-like. The CEO of Mastercard or Christine Lagarde sounded pretty similar. A Catholic classmate was actually disappointed about the lack of faith-related messages. I, on the other hand, found the Cardinal fairly easy to follow and not too up-in-the-air.

Unintentionally the Cardinal actually got some laughs. When talking about the universal application of rules he said:

"We have to have celibacy everywhere. Imagine we don't have it in Africa for example. Then every priest would go there."


Especially at the end I felt rather uneasy though. He placed his hands on some students and blessed them murmuring Latin phrases. It is just so far away from the things we are exposed here. So far away from technology companies, so far away from search funds and so far away from financial modeling. I am amazed by the fact that a group oddly dressed up men who repeat certain phrases in Latin can have such power. A group of men that calls minorities "problems", that cannot have sex and that clearly does not promote gender equality in their organization.

Taking a picture he sat down next to me and we had a quick chat for five minutes. He asked about my studies and what I want to do afterwards. We also talked about the self-selection of people from strong socio-economic backgrounds at places like Stanford and how different this is from Germany. It was like talking to any German politician or business-man and not like talking to one of the most influential members of that add group describes above

A lot to think about.

Cheers + bis bald,