Category Archives: MBA

Minute Mart Express: A True Life MBA Lesson

Minute Mart Express
1555 Southeast Orient Drive, Gresham, OR 97080-7227

[NOTE: This is a long reflective post]

The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve taken things for granted in my childhood. Having finished an excellent MBA program from MIT Sloan, I also realize that I could’ve gotten everything I needed just by listening to my parents.

Spending two weeks at home before I start my new career, I was truly humbled at how much further I need to go to measure up to my parents. They recently started their 6th convenience store, this time located in Gresham, Oregon. I was home when they were starting everything up, and got to see the hardship first hand.

First. A Background Story:

My parents immigrated from South Korea in the 1970s. No english, no money, after travelling all over the US (from Colorado, to NY, to Alaska) my dad eventually found a home in Oregon and stayed ever since. He was among the first group of Koreans to settle in Oregon (vs California, New York, or Seattle). Looking for work, he found himself doing a convenience store, at the time in a very very tough place in town (lots of crime…he’s been at gunpoint many times). The hours are BRUTAL; As much as I complain about my long work hours, sitting on my computer, procrastinating, reading the internet, and checking email all the time, it doesn’t even compare. Currently they work 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from about 6am to about 11pm. These hours are actually pretty good, before they had to do 6am to midnight! I cannot thank my parents enough for their sacrifice so that I could have the privileged life that I have.

Convenience Store –> MBA Lessons

1. Due Diligence. In finance, PE, VC, etc… you want to make sure you’re making the right investments. Be it checking the numbers, profits, customers, etc. In the convenience store world, when I my parents are looking for a new store, they are super comprehensive. They know it’s going to be their home for the next few years. Not only does he check out the area, other stores, super markets, prices, but they also go into the store 100s of times, at different times of the day. He wants to understand the customers, the product mixes, busy/non-busy times, and the general feel. They are trying to understand where they can add value further value into the business.

2. Investments. Companies call it R&D, capital expenditures, long-term strategy, etc. My parents call it getting-stuff-done. From the first day they take over a new store, they make sure to invest in whatever ways possible to make it the best store they can. Be it adding new freezers/refrigerators, structural changes, new registers, equipment, and new items. Not only do they try to make it comfortable on themselves, but they want the customers and various merchants to feel comfortable as well. If they can be more efficient, then everybody benefits. They understand the sooner they finish making modifications, the faster it can bring returns.

3. Strategy and Operations. Customers, customers, customers. That’s their strategy. They learn what their customers want, and they get it. Even on the personal level, if a customer requests an item, by the next time they are in the store it’s there. Customer value; my parents understand that if it’s convenient for a customer to get what they want, then they’d added value and created that relationship.

4. Business Analytics. Total responsiveness, Agility. Being that they are there all the time, they are tuned to the minute detail (customer mix, product mix, items sold, finances, theft, etc…), and if things change, they are willing to adjust on the fly. If only businesses could be this tuned to their business analytics and customer flow.

Summary:

  • As you can see, my personal entrepreneurial roots/passions come from my parents – the ultimate entrepreneurs; foreign land, foreign language,risk taking, learning on the fly, and succeeding. I have sooo much more to go to match up to them.
  • It’s one thing to learn, but there’s another to DO. Everything I learned in business school…my parents already do, and they do it well

Reflections:
My parents have sooo much work ahead of them. Minute Mart Express is going to be a busy place…at least for the next couple years. Now that I’ve grown up (somewhat), I think I can better appreciate and understand the hardships that my parents are going through. Hopefully with as much education as I have gone through now, I could help them a little bit more…BUT…my guess is that I will probably learn more from them, as I always have.

The Joys of Interviewing

Inspired by this article about the 20 hardest interviews from business insider, I wanted share a few thoughts about interviewing.

Being back in school, the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of interviewing. From consulting, finance, general management, to tech, I feel like I’ve seen every type of interview question (even many of the interviews listed in the article). Further, I got a lot of perspective having been trained as an “official” interviewer when I was working (at GE), and having to conduct these dreaded interviews to others.

Obviously I will be over-simplifying by saying this, but in general I, personally, bucketize interviews into 4 types of questions:

1) Behavioral: “Tell me about a time…”

Helps the interviewer understand how someone works in various situations. Obviously it’s dependent on having good, interesting examples to draw from, but overall, the situations the interviewee picks, and how they tell the story can tell a lot about the person.

2) Technical: “What is XYZ?…”

This is partly demonstrating actual knowledge. Be it industry, technical, or just plain smarts, this helps separate the “talkers” and those who “know.”

3) Case: “A company wants to increase ABC…”

Notoriously used in consulting interviews, but used elsewhere too. Helps the interviewer understand how a candidate might frame, organize, and structure a problem/situation/challenge. I think it’s a great way to see how someone thinks about a problem…at the same time, too often I see people over-use the same “structure” for every situation…

4) Creative: Give me an idea/product about…

Demonstrates scope, vision, and even product/industry knowledge. Obviously ideas need to be able to be backed up by solid logic, but again shows the interviewer that you have an idea of things you want to accomplish and can back the ideas with reasonable logic. Personally, my favorite type of question…I probably have too many ideas 😛

The goal of an interview is to see if the candidate “fits” the position, in whatever way the interviewers deems so. Personally, I think that one SHOULD use all four types, at least in some minimal way, to comprehensively understand the candidate. But then again, the interview questions/answers are only one gauge of the process…the other non-spoken parts are just as, if not even more important: personality, interview/interviewee chemistry, presence, and most importantly…the weather (aka the mood of both the interview and  interviewee, [ya know, sometimes you are and not feelin’ it…that’s life])

 

 

MBA Overview

During my two years here at MIT Sloan I had an opportunity to practicing my blogging skillz…primarily on the interesting things that I’ve had the opportunity to do. I definitely feel privilaged to have done so many things. So here’s a neat compendium of most of the MBA blog posts that I’ve done.

1st Year:

Volunteer for Tech Crunch Disrupt NYC

1st Year Coursework Recap

Conferences:

Treks:

2nd Year:

Larry Chiang talk

Coursework:

Conferences

Treks and Travel:

SXSW:

Overall Thoughts/Recaps:

As one can see it’s been a busy, memorable, and amazing two years. And of course this is still missing a bunch of other things that I’ve done. There’s no way I could’ve shared everything.

Like many great things that come to an end…it’s almost better to not think of it as an end, but rather the beginning…

Graduation and Final MBA Thoughts

Two years passed by fast. It was a very expensive two years as well. Considering MBA expenses and opportunity cost, less summer internship, the total cost comes out to over $350,000!

A lot of people ask me, is it worth it?

In terms of pure NPV, it may not be. More than just cost, but also considering losing two years of industry expertise, it’s a costly detour from one’s career. Whenever people ask me, about themselves getting an MBA, I usually say one thing: if you’re trying to get into an industry/career that you do NOT have any exposure to, getting an MBA would be a great way to spend two years to wiggle into it. Otherwise, using your contacts and trying to get in the door that way is usually just as, if not more effective.

But, to a lot of people, an MBA just feels like the “right way to go.” Everyone has their own reasons – be it a two year vacation, develop my network, spend more time with family (especially for the Asian internationals), progress in my career, or crack into an industry that I have no contacts to.

My reasons lie around the career/people/inspiration route…and with that framework in mind, to answer the question “Is it worth it?”

And with everything else in life, the most important thing I got from my two years is the friendships, and amazing memories/experiences that I otherwise would not have gotten. And unlike money, career, iPads, and the like…(hopefully) the relationships will last forever. Considering that…I would say that’s a pretty good return on the MBA.

The MIT Sloan Armada: Tradition in the British Virgin Islands

We have a lot of traditions at MIT Sloan…perhaps none as grandiose as this:

  • 180 Classmates (45% of my class)
  • 17 Catamarans
  • 8 Islands
  • One amazing graduation trip

To be honest, at first I was skeptical on going on a trip like this. I’m not a strong swimmer, not much of a beach person, and have no experience on a sailboat. How much fun can sailing around islands be?

Taking a quick history lesson, it was first organized over 10 years ago, spearheaded by one of the Sloan head administrators. This is one of the single biggest participating event in all of Sloan. And something about solidifying your friendships over the past two years, and learning about yourself in the process, makes it an amazing event. Like many things in life, it’s the people…the people have made my Sloan experience great, and its the same people that made this trip so memorable.

 

For any future Sloanie (or anyone that can round up 170 of your friends), I would highly highly recommend going on this…consider it a social elective that must be taken.

2nd year Highlight – NYC Startup Trek

Innovation and MIT has always gone hand in hand (or shall I say mind and hand). Many of my college friends themselves have started companies (Dropbox, Xobni, Cardpool). Last year, over 10% of the MIT Sloan class of 2010, at graduation started their own companies. That is amazing.

Obviously Silicon Valley is the mecca of startups, and Boston has always had a great tradition themselves (I assume it helps being in the backyard of MIT). But with the growing NY startup scene, Michael Bloomberg’s commitment to grow this space in NY, and what I would call the “opportunities” that came from the financial recession, my classmates organized the first ever MIT Sloan Startup Trek to NY.

In 2 days, 30 of us we had over 20 companies on the docket to visit. A sampling of the companies we spoke with:

It’s exciting to see this space growing in New York…hopefully I can be a part of it soon.

1st Year Highlight – Luxury Study Tour

You speak Prada???
-Confession on a Shopoholic

Far from that, I didn’t even know what Prada was before this trek. Inspired by my marketing class and professor (Mark Ritson), I was motivated to learn about how marketing is done at some of the best marketing companies in the world. What better way to learn marketing, than from the luxury industry. An industry where legions of people around the world, dream of owning their products. It’s not necessary for their technological innovations, but from the feel, style, and satisfaction of owning the “brand.” It’s an industry that blantantly overcharges for seemingly “useless” items (ie diamonds), and but yet millions of people around the world dedicate a portion of their life savings on it. Further, it was my first time to Europe, an eye-opening and fun adventure I had a chance to share with my classmates.

Highlights:
Visited the “house” of LVMH

 
Moet & Chandon

 
Palace of Versailles

 
the museums!

Overall, from my experience, I’ve learned that luxury products work because it helps people dream and aspire. It’s about status and reaching the places. The vehicle which spreads this message is marketing. And even as as engineer/techie, I cannot deny the power of brand. It changes the way you look at the world, even affecting the strong a medicine maybe, or even how good a certain food might be.

Which then leads me to my last thought: what is the effect of the brand, “Douglas Hwang?”…hopefully it’s something positive and something brings good to people…

1st Year Highlight – 2nd Ever BiG (Business in Gaming) Conference

As an owner of a Nintendo NES at age 5, video games have always been a constant in my life. From the original NES Mario/Dunk Hunt combo, Sega’s sonic, to SNES’s Final Fantasies, I owned a Sega Game Gear (still do in my closet somewhere), and even played original computer games (Sim City, Dune 2, Warcraft I, Civilization I, King’s Quest). I remember N64 Golden Eye tournaments in High School, and our house wide, post-dinner 16 player Halo capture the flag wars. Even lately, when I need to blow some steam, I’ll be jamming out on “Sweet Heart of Mine” on Guitar Hero. Hence, when I heard MIT Sloan was running their own video game conference, I had to be a part of it.

It was held close by at the new Microsoft NERD (New England Research and Development) center, with over 400 attendees. The website to the conference is here, and a copy of the 2010 program is here [PDF].

Being a part of the conference team and seeing the conference go through, one interesting thought came to mind:

In many ways, I feel that the video game industry as grown with my direct generation. When our generation first started playing video games, we were just entering elementary school when Nintendo released their first console. They were very simple games, allowing us to play our imaginations. Later growing into middle school, SNES and Sega released their systems, and also paving way for more mature video games in-line with our generation. From Street Fighter, to Mortal Kombat, better graphics, and more realism. Later came the PS and N64, getting into more realism – augmented reality-ish, and also more community based. First person shooters were taking form (Golden Eye/Halo), and online gaming started to really gain traction. Then going into college, truly realistic games – Grand Theft Auto and games requiring musical skill (Guitar Hero) came into creation. Now, as our generation as grown, many of my peers are getting married and having kids, systems just as the Nintendo Wii and Xbox’s Kinect come out, taking a step back from “mature” realism but taking form into “family oriented” games. It wil be interesting to see where video games go next, how will video games continue evolve as we continue to grow older, have grandkids, and retire?

Well, I for one am looking forward to old even more – it sounds like fun.

2nd Year Highlight – First Ever MIT Sloan Asia Business Conference

 

MIT Sloan, like many business schools, has a very diverse student body. In my class, 2011, approximately 44% of the student body is international. Despite that, we have never had a conference focused on Asia, even considering it’s rapid growth. This past year, spearheaded by the leaders of the MIT Sloan Asia Business Club, they assembled an amazing group of panelists and speakers for the first ever conference of its kind at MIT Sloan.

Previous to this conference, I had an opportunity to be a part of two others – the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and the 2010 MIT Sloan Business in Gaming Conference. Myself, being interested in the growing Asia market, I helped bring some best practices from previous Sloan conferences to this one.

Without going into long detail, I just wanted to share a few conference highlights for me:

  • Chief Marketing Officer, HTC – John Wang. He spoke about HTC’s principles of innovation, and needs to delight the customer.
  • Samsung Electronics Executive Vice President – David Steel. He talked about Samsung’s growth story and vision. He also shared an interesting bit of himself. As a PhD from MIT, he decided to work in Korea for many years, eventually coming back to the states (NJ) as an American leading a Korean company.
  • Chairman of China Development Bank – Yuan Chen, presented an overview of the central role of development financing in supporting the overall growth of China. He also discussed broader aspects of Asian development.

I’m looking forward to seeing this conference continue to grow in the future. The website for the conference is: http://mitasiaconference.org/

 

2nd Year Highlight – Pre-Orientation Hiking Trek

 

To begin…there’s a tradition at MIT Sloan, usually the week before Orientation begins, a few of the second years decide to organize an outdoor trek for the first years, usually a hiking trek and a white-water rafting trek. This is an excellent way to begin two years of business school. While everything is new, while you have no comfort zone yet (at Sloan), and while you are probably the most open you’ll ever be in business school – you embark on an adventure, sharing a common experience before business school even begins. A great way to build non-academic bonds (because you’ll build enough of those in school).

This year, it turned out to be quite the adventure.

Being an avid hiker myself I thought it would be a lot of fun to organize this for the first years. I recruited a few good 2nd year friends – Tyler Spaulding, Gerry Hough, and Allen Breed, to help me figure everything out.

 

Mt. Moosilaukie, in the White Mountain range, also the home to the Dartmouth Ravine lodge, where it’s a tradition for every freshman to go through during their orientation. We planned a leisurely 3 day, 2 night trip to just hang out, play games, do Tyler’s 80’s power hour, have a 60 person flip-cup tournament, and the “usual networking.”

Our hike was supposed to be a nice stroll in the park. A good 2,722 ft elevation gain over 3.7 miles, going up the southeast side of Mt. Moosilauke (peak at 4,802 ft). Our whole group made it to the top, took some nice pictures and ate some lunch. As our group of 60 started going down, a few us took it a little slower, took some more pictures, when all of a sudden we see a helicopter landing at the top…apparently a hiker had some missing the previous day (note it rained all night the night before). With the help of some other hikers, our Sloan group was put to work as part of a rescue team.

We climbed down about 1 mile on the northeast side of the mountain to find a 83 year old man.  Fortunately for him, a group of 3 female hikers (or “angels” as recalled  by the man), found him in the morning, shivering with an open wound on the leg. One went down to call for help. This is where we came in. With the collective effort of 20 people, we carried him up 1.5 miles (verses going down 2 miles), over the narrow slippery slope. Each person took turns, and we passed hand-to-hand over the most dangerous portions.  At the very top, the Dartmouth helicopter took the man away, and days later we received word via local newspaper that the man was safe (and lucky).

Perhaps it was appropriate that on our MIT Sloan Pre-Orientation Annual Hiking Trek we would embark on an unexpected rescue. At Sloan there’s an unofficial saying “Sloanies help Sloanies” it’s a mantra that goes throughout the two years at B-school (classes, job search, etc…) and beyond graduation. Often, it can’t be expected when someone, or yourself, might become helpless and need help…at that point it is when it’s most important to assemble together, pick each other up, and finish climbing to the top of the mountain together. And I would like to think, that attitude is one that epitomizes Sloanies.