The First Class

This is not a cube about the first class at Emory or at Clemson or even the first class I ever took. Instead it'll focus on the distant memory of the first class I can remember. As my class-taking days come to a glorious end, I though it a worthy exercise to reach back and seek the oldest class memory I can reproduce.

I want to make a distinction between school and class. I can remember instances in school – parties, gatherings, events – that came before this first class memory. I define a class as a particular teacher-guided assignment or lesson. Anything that doesn't fit this criterion is just a memory about something else set in school or about school itself; not class.

After navigating back into the 80s, I reach what is a painful memory - likely the reason why it's indelibly marked in my head. I'm pretty sure this "first lesson in memory" took place in one of the classrooms in Karl C. Parrish and that would make it the latter part of 1981 and thus the second grade. The subject: handwriting; the topic: cursive.

I remember sitting in a desk writing the same letter over and over line over line in a light yellow paged notebook. I remember thinking how much I hated it. I remember my hand hurting from the seemingly endless repetitive motion. I also recall liking some letters more than others. I think I remember lowercased "Ls" and "Es" were not too bad; others that escape my mind were just absolutely horrible.

I have tried yet have failed to recall a class earlier than that one. Although more than 20 years ago, I still am a bit troubled that is my earliest recollection of a class. What is even more disturbing is that I cannot remember another class or lesson for at least two years after that instance. This tells me the pain suffered during that one session was such that it became a memory not to be forgotten. It's funny but every time I hear a reference to cursive writing, it is the image of that classroom and the memory of doing lines that comes to mind.

Do they even teach kids cursive anymore?

Created: 5/7/2009

The End: Not with a Bang, but with a Whimper

And so it ends. Check that box in my list of life goals next to "Get an MBA." Three years have gone by. Gains? Many - too many to count really. This has been an incredibly fulfilling journey of knowledge – not only of management and finance and the other MBA staples, but of introspective discovery.

It doesn't seem like yesterday when it started. As a matter of fact, it seems like ages ago. Nine semesters "crammed" into three years stretch in my mind for miles. My brain is probably bending time to accommodate the volumes of information I have taken in and retained. It certainly feels like it was another world back when we headed off to Winshape to participate in teambuilding exercises. Time and space are relative after all.

In the balance sheet of my life are left behind some intangible assets, and even some short and long term investments. Opposite is a sizeable liability. In due time, one will collapse to zero and the others will continue to grow. Knowledge or the investment on education can be depreciating assets for some. Not for me.

Is it fair to say that it ends with a whimper? A trip to Brazil is a few days ahead and then there's graduation and a party. For all I know, there could be plenty of fireworks between now and receiving the diploma. Still, it is not literally that I mean that the end to this journey is muffled. Thing is, just like momentum took a while to kick in at the start, it'll take a while to wind down now that it's over.

I remember how hard it was those first weeks and months to make it to class, to interact, to do homework, do get back into a school-mindset – all while working full time. Once the wheels were turning fast enough, it became an afterthought. I'd gotten used to it. It would only be a little of a pain between terms. So, after a while, school became a part of life and something that I dealt with automatically – classes, assignments, projects, group meetings, etc. And now that it's over, my body and my mind have not yet realized it; the wheels are still turning. Momentum is carrying forward and I have to wait for reality to set in and slowly bring those massive gears to a halt. I almost cannot remember the feeling of being out of school – not having to go to class or do homework. The wheels of human conditioning are massive indeed.

So it closes - this chapter in my life. It was fulfilling yet taxing; expensive yet enriching. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Would I have done it any differently? Not a chance. I was honest to my intentions until the very end and loved every minute of it (well… almost anyway). Will there be a graduate school reprise? Not only "No", but "Hell no." I'm done. And so, FIN.

Created: 4/23/2009

Bullish on Options, I came out way ahead

In August I went long on a call option (bullish move). This was a European-style call (I couldn't exercise it early, although everyone knows you should never exercise a call early even if given the ability to, if would've been an American-style option). The call had an expiration date of December the fifteenth. The strike price was an expectation to become familiar with a very interesting set of financial tools. The cost was the loss of 3.5 hours during each of eleven (includes final exam) Saturday afternoons in the fall (college football season). And so, the transaction made, classes started.

Why a long on a call? Well if you know derivatives and therefore the cash flow/payout on a purchased call, you'd understand. There was a fixed cost on the purchase. I knew I'd have to go to class and what I was sacrificing to do so. My losses were capped at that. On the other hand, my gains were limitless (if anything only bound by my ability to grow intellect in the subject). It was a bullish move because I gambled on the fact that the class would yield greater returns than the strike price. I had a feeling I would gain a lot more than initially bargained. At worse, I'd only lose 11 Saturdays. At par, I'd walk away with my expectations having paid a fair price. At best, I would end with a great understanding of these tools and a thirst for much more in the very intriguing and highly-interesting area of finance.

It is December the 21st and I made a killing on this trade. I really didn't know that I would end up so hooked on the power of derivatives. I not only was fascinated by them, I understood them front and back – they made sense to me. I found myself explaining the concepts to classmates. I got my first perfect score on a test (and likely another on the final) in grad school. All things said and done, I got a DS to no surprise. But regardless of grades and scores, I came out with a love, a passion for something I didn't know anything about six months ago. The feeling is overwhelming. How often does this happen in life at this stage? At 33, I have been exposed to many things and have an idea of what I like and what I am good at. To find something that fits both those criteria is refreshing and exciting.

I learned so much. Nothing beats learning something you like, especially when it's being taught in an effective manner by a great teacher. I'd be remiss not to give credit where credit is due. The professor delivered a subject that can be confusing and at times counter-intuitive in a very clear and concise way. We all learn differently and what worked for me might have not worked for someone else, so I guess a little luck in that front was certainly at play.

To add to this new found love, I have started reading the book Traders, Guns, and Money in which expert Satyajit Das shows us the interesting, albeit treacherous world of derivatives from a first hand account. I've only read a couple of chapters and I am absolutely hooked. Understanding (for the most part) the complicated transactions described is incredibly rewarding – the true gain on the exercise of my call analogy.

So what do I do with this newly found interest? Knowledge is indeed power. I will become as informed as possible in this so-called "Financial Weapon of Mass Destruction" (as quoted from Warren Buffett). I will learn what more is to be learned about derivatives. Not because I want to be an expert or a trader, but because not knowing derivatives can be devastating. On the other hand, knowing derivatives can be very beneficial. We all need derivatives in one way or another whether we know it or not. Being caught on the uninformed end of the stick can be quite troublesome.

Much like a mechanic quoting a repair that is impossible to shop around or cost-compare, the sellers of derivatives (especially the OTC products companies buy for risk hedging) can charge virtually whatever they want for their products. What's worse, they can structure the products in ways that mostly benefit them while giving an impression of fairness. They only (or at least mostly) have their own interests in mind. "Everybody's gotta make a buck right?" Right; unless it's grossly disproportionate and achieved at the expense of someone's ignorance. That's when you have to throw in a penalty flag.

Asynchronous or imperfect information is the key inefficiency in inefficient or semi-efficient markets. Unspeakable amounts of money have been made and lost on this alone. There's a reason why inside-information trading is illegal and why so many white-collar executives have been sent to jail. This is bad. What is worse is the sale of highly sophisticated financial products by double-talking bankers with only their interests in mind. This is the worst case of "buyer beware." If you're not careful, you'll get burned.

I guess I say all this to say that I will not allow myself to get burned. A fair trade involves some risk on both sides with both sides understanding the upsides and the downsides. I can buy a stock on an assessment that I will go up in value and it doesn't. Unexpected results are one thing; deceit is something else. I will not be deceived by disinformation. Okay, I'll get down from the soapbox. This has become a Finance cube instead of a School cube all of a sudden. Such is the fate of a multi-dimensional topic I guess.

I will close with a little known fact: the options market (especially the OTC market and mostly because of swaps) dwarfs the stock market by Dollar volume. Makes sense if you think about it. Every single levered company carries interest rate risk. A way to hedge this risk: interest rate swaps.

Created: 12/21/2007

My Asda is not "Grasda"

This semester seemed long and loaded. Perhaps it was just the "midway done" itch, because compared to all the others it really wasn't much worse. Perhaps it was that the semester occurred during summer and nothing is better than taking the summer easy. After all, they call them the lazy days of summer, don't they?

All that said, and having been over for three weeks, the grades just came in. Given that this semester I received the lowest grades in my graduate experience so far (all above average and not really that bad), I cannot complain about the results: two classes, two HP (High Performance).

After four semesters and eight classes, I've gotten seven HPs and one lonely DS (Distinction). Not too shabby. At Emory, MBA students do not receive a numeric or letter grade, quality point average, or class ranking. According to school literature, these are the grade descriptions:

Distinction (DS): An honors grade recognizing work of exceptional quality as evidenced by total mastery of all course concepts and techniques. The student stands clearly above the class and is able to integrate and apply concepts and techniques and consistently demonstrate initiative and creativity in response to assigned work.

High Performance (HP): Work of very good quality as evidenced by a solid mastery of all course concepts and techniques. The student shows consistent initiative in responding to assigned work and meets or exceeds all of the instructor's performance expectations.

Performance Standard (PS): Work of good quality as evidenced by a solid mastery of most course concepts and techniques. The student shows initiative in responding to assigned work and meets all of the instructor's performance expectations.

Low Performance (LP): Work of below standard or marginally acceptable quality. The student's mastery of the subject material is uneven and there may be some difficulty in understanding and appropriately applying concepts and techniques. However, overall performance meets the instructor's minimum performance expectations.

No Credit (NC) = Work of unacceptable quality. The student demonstrates little understanding and great difficulty in applying concepts and techniques. The student fails to meet the instructor's minimum performance expectations.

So even after a semester full of group meetings (mostly fun – I had a great group), long articles and cases, and tons of work (some busy), things turned out pretty good. IP & Operations was painfully trivial (for me anyway) towards the end. Leading People and Organizations started off slow and got a lot better as the semester advanced. Despite rough patches, both classes are relevant and were definitely worth my attention.

I have a week of vacation to go and I'm just getting mentally prepared to attend a class on Saturdays this fall. Mostly out of core classes, I have two Finance electives lined up: Derivative Asset Analysis and Portfolio Management. I'm looking forward to both.

Clarification on the Cube Title:
Our final project for LP&O was a case study and presentation on Asda – a Walmart-type (EDLP) of retail chain in Great Britain. During my section of the presentation, summarizing the increasingly woeful state of the chain after some failed organizational changes, I coined the phrase, "As you can see, their ‘Asda' was ‘grasda'." The play on the popular "their ass is grass" was well received by the audience. I followed the laughter with a typical, "I'll be here all week." Classic.

Created: 8/29/2007

Fallout Class

This cube is really split between two categories: School and Tigers. Since the culprit of the issue is purely academic, here I am.

So there's a class I really want to take: Derivative Asset Analysis - it may sound complicated or just alien, but I believe it'll be a lot of fun. Of all the electives coming up ahead, I was really looking forward to this one, mostly because of what my Finance teacher from last semester had commented about it (he's teaching that class as well). There was no doubt this subject would end up a part of my MBA "toolkit"… that is until I found out when it's offered.

There is a sacred time of the year. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not available on Saturdays in the fall. College football, specifically Clemson football, is far too important to me. If I'm not at the game, I'm watching it on TV/webcast, or listening to it on the radio. It's hard for me to be mentally involved in anything while the Tigers are playing. After a game, I'm either pumped or devastated. This is the life I lead during the fall. Whether I love it or hate it, I can't do anything about it – it is what it is.

Of course, Murphy's Law dictated that the class would be offered only on Saturdays, only during the fall. If that's not a kick in the crotch, I don't know what is. This conundrum forced me to embark in a soul-searching journey that is still going on as I type this cube. Do I take the class this upcoming semester? Do I wait until fall of 2008 to take it? Should I take the class at all?

First, I had to analyze my exposure to the problem. How many games will I potentially miss? Without knowing game times yet, it is impossible to predict accurately, but I know for sure that there is no way I can go to any Clemson games whenever I have class (a trip to Clemson is an all day affair). There won't be any class for two of the most important games – against FSU and Virginia Tech – so I'll definitely make those and that is huge. There are two big ones towards the end of the season that may be bigger depending on the team's record at that time – Wake Forest and Boston College (this last one specially). Most other games are away, but will be painful to miss if on TV. Then, there's the one special game: Georgia Tech. The game is in Atlanta this year and it falls on a day when I would have class. Classes will run from noon until 4PM so there's an outside chance that I would be able to make it (if the game started in the afternoon or in the evening). This one would really be painful to miss for many reasons. Exposure: Moderate.

Second, I focused on the possibility of this being a good football year for the Tigers. A young offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback at center certainly would indicate that this may be another mediocre year. There is certainly a feeling amongst the faithful that the 2008 season might be a lot better. Great Football Year: Low Probability.

Lastly, I reviewed the class itself to determine if I really felt like it was worth the sacrifice. After reading the course description, I can honestly say that I'm very interested in Derivatives – not only from a professional level, but from a personal level. I think I can gain valuable insight from this class – knowledge that I can apply to my own investment strategy. On the other hand, this is not a required course and there are plenty of great alternatives available in its place. Then again, I want to take it. Class Desire: High.

If you add the previous three categories the answer is quite evident: take the class. I have registered it (the first one to do so as a matter of fact) and am continuing to prepare myself to do it. Yet, I have not cancelled the class I'd be taking in its place (Entrepreneurship). Although the decision seems easy enough, I still am not wholly convinced that I'm taking the plunge. This is a big deal and I don't know if I can muster enough strength to do it. It may not be until August that I make the final decision. Stay tuned.

Created: 6/27/2007

ESTJ or ISTJ suit me fine

For my Leading People and Organizations class I had to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. This test consists of about 70 really general personality and work behavior (you would likely do A or B) questions.

After going through the whole thing and almost flipping a coin at some of the questions, my results portray me as an ESTJ or an ISTJ. I mention both because I’m evenly split between E and I. By definition, an E stands for Extraverted and I for Introverted. S is Sensing (fact-driven) opposite N for Intuition (wonders about possibilities) in taking in information. T stands for Thinking and is opposite to F which is Feeling in reaching conclusions. Finally, J represents Judging opposed to P for Perception attitude in the outer world.

According to the MBTI Type Today website, and based on my results, I am:
Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want other to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.
Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized---their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty.

Sure – I guess. That’s a pretty general, somewhat accurate assessment… except it’s too simple to box me or many others in those categories. I understand the nature for this and other types of personality analyses (like the Birkman, a much more comprehensive and elaborate analysis which I have also taken in school). Upper management wants to try to understand people’s behavior so they can make an informed/numerical assessment on whether a certain type of person is good or adequate for a certain type of job. This is good and all, but the results of a test that can easily be skewed by a seasoned test-taker should never be used for such things. As far as I’m concerned, it boils down to being a cop-out tool to substantiate the lack of other more concrete and relevant analyses.

Strong words, I know. Imagine how hard I would’ve come down on the test if I really had disliked my results.

Created: 6/4/2007
Last Edited: 6/4/2007

Year 2 Starts

So my fourth semester of nine begins tonight. It certainly was a short break between Spring and Summer terms. Once I think I've gotten into a groove, the semester ends. Once break is starting to settle in, a new semester starts. C'est la vie.

I think this will be a good one - not that the ones before have been horrible. Leading People and Organizations and IT/Operations - should be interesting. IT/Operations should be easy enough to opt out of - I'll know after tomorrow.

I already can't wait until the July the 4th break. We're all heading down to FL for a family vacation. It should be fun - lot's of golf, beach, and hanging out. I hope there won't be much due after the trip, although I know there will be.

Created: 5/30/2007