Bernice's Blog...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

LEADER Project

Now that I have recruitment settled, it's time to get back to school and extracurriculars. In particular, one project that I'm very excited about is LEADER ( It's a student-driven initiative where volunteers will teach business skills to students and entrepreneurs in the newly developing economies of Eastern Europe and Russia.

This program is actually one of the factors that I chose Ivey, so I was quite anxious about the interview process as there are only a few spots available. I have experience in teaching / tutoring, and loves to travel - so the combination seemed to be a great fit for projects like LEADER. During the interview, I was asked questions to determine fit and judgement, and a case-teaching portion to demonstrate my abilities. Despite extensive preparation to teach the case, the interviewers threw in some curve balls, which shortened the section I was able to teach. Luckily, I was able to teach some key aspects of the case, so I was selected as part of the team.

November is when LEADER will kick into high gear, where I'm part of the curriculum team. We'll be looking at the existing course material, identify gaps in understanding / knowledge, and finding new cases that could demonstrate the missing concepts. I'm actually quite looking forward on this as I had extensive experience with tutoring one-on-one, but less so in preparing class material where LEADERites will be delivering to a classroom-full of students.

Since this is a non-profit student-run initiative, we need to do a fair bit of fundraising. So part two of this is to figure out how we'll be able to get there and back!

Friday, October 29, 2010

ZS Associates

I'm EXTREMELY happy about my recent progress! I received an offer from ZS Associates to join their team as consultant, and I've accepted their offer to start in August 2011.

Many have not heard of ZS Associates, and to be honest, until I saw the job posting, I haven't either. As I did more research on the firm, the more I liked the work that they do. I come from a marketing and sales background in the financial industry, and have experience with customer segmentation. When I heard that ZS is a specialized sales and marketing consulting firm in the pharmaceutical industry, I was immediately interested for I've always had an interest in baby boomer industries.

I called up an alumni who worked at ZS Toronto office, and she offered tremendous help in understanding the type of work, the software, the clients, and the interview process. Though she was a stranger, she was always cheering me on, telling me "You could do it!" which was really motivating!!

I did an insane amount of case prep... everyday consisted of at least 4 cases before class, and another 2 or 3 after class. Some days I get very discouraged and had doubts about whether this effort will pay off, but I guess it did!! =)

First round was one behvioural and one case - I found that my research on the pharmaceutical industry helped a lot in the case. Second round was one deep-dive behavioral, one short verbal case with some behavioural, and one case presentation.

The toughest part was a case presentation where I was given 40 minutes to read through a LOT of material (about 20 pages of text & graphs), and come up with a recommendation. Then I had 30 minutes to present the information and answer questions from the interviewers. The time crunch was definitely the hardest part, and I hadn't expected to receive so many slides! Aside from the tough case presentation, and some tough behavioural questions in first round, I thought the interview process was fairly similar to other interviews.

For the case presentation, I practiced with some Ivey cases from profs with 3-4 pages of text and 3-4 exhibits, but nothing like what I had during the actual interview! I am SO thankful for my classmates who supported me throughout this grueling process of case preps, especially those who don't even want a case in return! I can't thank them enough!!

Throughout this process, I had the opportunity to meet some very nice people in the different firms, of which Deloitte's people really impressed me... the caliber of people, the culture of collaboration. It's unfortunate that I had to choose between the firms, but the positive experience I had at Deloitte definitely ranked "up there"!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"What Really Works" - Harvard Business Review

It's been a while since I've blogged... actually about six months!! Recently I read an article for my Ivey MBA that I thought would be interesting to share...

Nitin Nohria, William Joyce, and Bruce Roberson selected and studied 160 companies in 40 industries over a span of 10 years. Through the study, they categorized these companies into one of four types - Winners, climbers, tumblers, and losers.

Winners: consistently higher Total Return to Shareholders (TRS) than industry in both first 5-year half, and second 5-year half.
Climbers: lower TRS in first 5-year, higher TRS in last 5-year
You get the idea...

So they found that winners consistently performed better in 4 primary practices and 2 secondary practices (out of 4 possible choices), which they termed the 4+2 formula. It seems that having a 3rd or a 4th secondary practice doesn't necessarily improve their success, so 2 is the magic number.

4 Primary Practices - Strategy, execution, culture, and structure
4 Secondary Practices - talent, innovation, leadership, and M&A

The article goes into good depth on each of the topics, and surprisingly out of the many factors that affect each of these practices, only a few key ones matter.

Strategy - devise and maintain a clearly stated, focused strategy
- clear about your strategy & consistently communicate it to customers, employees & shareholders
- be careful of how to pursue growth, don't be tempted by just any opportunity to expand, being pushed into areas unrelated to the core (strategic drift)

Execution - develop and maintain flawless operational execution
- steady winners increase its productivity by about twice the industry's average
- judge investments by whether or not they significantly lower costs or boost output
- be realistic, understand there is no way they can outperform their competitors in every facet of operations, so determine which processes are most important to meet customers' needs
- be very clear about the standards to meet (1/3 of winners offer only avg product quality)

Culture - develop and maintain a performance-oriented culture
- champion high-level performance and ethical behaviour
- encourages outstanding individual and team contributions, and holds employees responsible for success
- pay-for-performance, set specific goals, raise the bar every year, and enforce benchmarks
- Makes employee's work more interesting, exciting, and rewarding
- Write down values in clear, forceful language and demonstrate them with concrete actions

Structure - build and maintain a fast, flexible, flat organization
- Trim every possible vestige of unnecessary bureaucracy - extra layers of mgmt, an abundance of rules & regulations, outdated formalities
- Make structures and processes as simple as possible
- Winners spent considerable time, money, and energy on programs and technologies designed to force open the boundaries and get divisions & departments to cooperate and exchange information
- Future rests not on brilliance of executives but on dedication and inventiveness of their middle managers and employees
- Don't bog down decision making by lengthy chair of command, so employees are free to create and innovate

Two of four secondary practices
Talent - hold on to talented employees and find more
- winners hire execs from outside half as often as losers did
- much cheaper to develop a star than it is to go out and buy one, continuity & company loyalty important
- offer training & development that can prepare employees for new jobs & encourage enrollment

Innovation - make industry-transforming innovations
- not only new products & service, but also new technologies to internal workings that can transform an industry
- have the ability to foresee and prepare to disruptive events
- ambition to lead the way with major, industry-changing innovations & willingness to cannibalize offerings, resisting the temptation to wring every last cent out of an existing product before introducing another to take its place

Leadership - find leaders who are committed to the business and its people
- CEOs influence 15% of total variance in a company's profitability or TRS
- choice of new CEO is just as important as choice of whether to stay in the same industry or enter a new one
- ability to build relationships with people at all levels of org and inspire the rest of mgmt team to do the same
- ability to spot opportunities and problems early, seizing opportunities before their competitors do and tackling problems before they become troublesome nightmares
- board members should truly understand the business & passionately committed to its success

Mergers & partnerships - seek growth through mergers & partnerships
- frequent (every 2-3 years) and small (<20% of size) deals more successful than large, occasional deals
- acquire to cross-sell, economies of scale, gain market share
- didn't enter into areas far removed from their core business - generally a losing proposition
- only make sense if leverage existing customer relationship or complements both companies' existing strengths

It was definitely a good read in knowing that many things thought to make a difference actually didn't!!