Sunday, December 6, 2015

Econ 490: A Semester in Review

     I had been recommended to take Econ 490 classes by older students because of the breadth of topics covered. When I searched through the types of classes, I took Econ 490: Economics of Organizations because the class description described a class that looked into actual organizations and how economics influence how they operate. I took Professor Arvan because there was no other teacher offered and upon reading online reviews about him, I had found that he was both an interesting and challenging teacher.

    The class website being seperate from Moodle or COMPASS 2G was interesting because I have never taken a class in the past three and a half years that used an independent website run by the teacher. I like this because it was customized to the format of the class. The blog topics, the Excel homeworks with descriptions, discussion boards, class topics, and additional sources were all covered in one place which most classes fail to have. A lot of class formats are designed to fit the structure of their operating system as opposed to the other way around.

     There were a few things that I really disliked about the class. First, I felt like the critiques on the blogs were sometimes too harsh. I appreciated a lot of the feedback especially in regards to the structure of the pieces, but what I did not like was that sometimes they felt rather personal and like a disagreement with my opinion as opposed to a constructive critism or counter viewpoint. Additionally, the classroom sessions were sometimes difficult to maintain engaged in. This was because I sometimes felt like when I answered questions, but I answers were not regarded as valid. It made my participation dwindle towards the end of the semester. I think the class could really benefit from a no technology rule to foster more of an open discussion environment. Also, I purchased the class book and I used it a few times if I needed more information about a single topic, but for the most part I felt like it wasn't very necessary.

   While the things listed above are mild, there are a lot of things I really loved about the class. First, I felt like the Excel homeworks taught me a ton. I took the time to actually read through each of the homeworks as opposed to just doing the math and I felt like I was getting an extra class assignment with each homework because I was learning while doing them. Additionally when I had a question, I looked back to past semesters discussion board and was most often able to find any answers to questions I may have. Next, I did like that in class Professor Arvan had a plan, but it was more discussion based. Classes that have pure lecture base with minimal engagement or painfully difficult to pay attention to. Therefore I've really enjoyed the format of the class. Finally, the blog post concept was pretty cool. I liked that the blogs were discussed in class as opposed to just being an assignment we just did and then never carried over into class. There were a lot of really interesting things we talked about in class that stemmed from topics being brought up from the blog posts.

   Class was unique in that it covered a really wide range of topics. One thing I will say is that while I didn't necessarily see the connection between all of the topics, each of the topics individually were really interesting. I think Professor Arvans goal was to cover: introduction to a topic, personal experience (blog), mathematical application (Excel), and then moving on to real life application. The most valuable topic for me was in regards to insurance because it had mathematical application that I have not touched in any other classes and really did not understand. The only thing I would have liked is if it was more generally applied to organizations and not just to the University.

   Co-authoring actually was a really great experience for me. I got paired with Marissa and we came up with a really great system for doing the drafts. We took turns authoring the piece and then reviewing to make sure both our ideas came together and had a second check. Also, we had a really great case that was intriguing and easy to understand. I'm actually so interested in the case we covered that I will probably continue to revise the feedback even though we have progressed to the next stage to make sure that the piece could be used in the future. I could understand how the process could be frustrating, but it illustrated the importance of clear communication. Marissa and I had check points via email and in person where we would discuss some of the concepts we disagreed on. I think the group project may have been one of the most valuable things that was covered in this class.

   Overall, I really enjoyed Economics of Organizations and have already recommended it to a few friends to take in the future. I think it is a class that is meant for learning, not just a class that a teacher teaches to teach. A lot of the lessons, particularlly referring to managing, I will carry with me into the future. I think there were a ton of important things about incentive and how to treat people that were covered in the class. It was a realistic interpretation of organizations, no "fluff". Thank you for a great semester Professor Arvan.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Type A Reputation

    When I was reflecting upon my reputation I began by listing a bunch of positive traits about myself. However, the more I thought about it peoples external repuation can be marked by good or bad categories. Therefor I wanted to touch upon part of my reputation that can be eitther good or bad.

    I am an incredibly Type A person. I like to be proactive, I like everything perfect, and I constantly challenge myself. On the otherhand, I handle change poorly, I'm not a "go with the flow" kind of person, and not excelling is the most disappointing thing I can think of. Whether this reputation is good or bad is in the eyes of who is judging and what their personality is.

   This reputation has served me incredibly well in getting leadership positions or in the work place. I would like to attribute success in my internships or extra curriculars do to me constantly challenging myself to do better and work harder and harder to make sure I am producing the highest quality outputs. For example, I was cross country captain in high school because people knew I would go above and beyond to plan team bonding events or orchastrate extra practices. Being Type A has leveraged me with a type of intrinsic motivation that most other people do not have.

    Being Type A also has its disadvantages. I'm never the person that people want to plan social events because if anything goes not as planned I stress out about it. A time that comes to mind was when we planned my roomate a birthday party, when people came 15 minutes late I thought I was going to have a melt down. This lack of flexibility can make me a difficult individual to work with sometimes.

    Being Type A has served me well in most regards, but it sometimes faults me. There are a lot of times where I wish I could step back and relax. I always take on too much and have tons of things to do. I am currently sitting around watching the Michigan // Penn State game which feels like wasted productivity as opposed to a relaxing Saturday afternoon. Its a reputation that wears on you because people expect you to get things done and to excel and when you don't they are disappointed and you begin to loose face. I never want people to think I am not composed or don't have it together so I constantly work hard to make sure that I excel at what I am doing.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Triangle Principal Agent Model - Who Am I Responsible To?

    Since being in college, one of my proudest achievements is being a part of Illinois Business Consulting (IBC). This is the largest student run consulting organization and is sponsored through tge University of Illinois' College of Business with an office on the second floor of BIF. The program is unique in that it is meant to simulate real life consulting project that someone working for a top firm such as Bain or McKinsey may engage in. The following are the parameters of a project:

  • Team: Each team has 5-7 consultants, one senior consultant, one project manager, and one senior manager
  • Engagement: Each engagement lasts 12-14 weeks and are confined by the terms of the semester
  • Organization: The organization is IBC and is representetd by leadership who are three directors that are hired by the College of Business
  • Client: Your client is who hired IBC to put together a team for your project and they are usually one of the main stakeholders in the project
  • Cycle: There are midpoint (6-7 weeks) and final (12-14 weeks) presentations that are the equivalent of a "busy season" in consulting
    There are good projects and bad projects, good clients and bad clients, and good team members and bad team members on each project. However, the principal of working for a service firm introduces many important points, but the most being responsibility. Those who work for service firms as an employee are employed both by the firm as well as the client which can sometimes result in a struggle over whose direction should be taken.

     As the Internal Manager, I oversee projects and work with some of the Senior Managers on over-seeing how their projects are going from a peer perspective. A few weeks ago I sat down with a Senior Manager who was having difficulty with the exact issue- whose input should she be taking into consideration. Following her internal midpoint presentation, which is when the IBC directors review the deliverable before taking it to the client, the directors said that she was behind in her project and they ultimately demmed the project a failure. This is because she was staffed on a highly technical project and they felt that she had put far too much time into having her team develop the survey as opposed to moving on to the analysis and formulating recommendations. However, this is exactly what the client had wanted : heavy focus on the survey.

    As a Senior Manager, she is paid by IBC, however IBC is paid by her client who is working on an energy and utilities project. She didn't quite understand who she was responsible to:
  • Directors: The directors thought she needed to move on and send the survey out as is, collect and analyze the results, then formulate a recommendation for a client
  • Client: The client wanted a really well developed survey that they would send out for results
     In this situation, there really was no way for her to compromise and serve both. She needed to choose one agent to be responsible to and figure out a justification for the other. In this case, she decided to serve the clients need since ultimately they are the highest form of authority as they employ the organization that employs her and her team. She continued to develop the survey with the client much to the dismay of the directors who considered her project to be a failure. 

    In triangle principle models like this, there was no way to compromise and be responsible to both. They had to choose one or the other in the end. This is because the distribution of power and responsibility is not even. If the directors and the client had had even stakes then they would have had a harder struggle determining who to be responsible. An example of this may have been if they had two different stakeholders at the client site who wanted different things. 

    The decision made by the Senior Manager was not necessarily a failure just because they chose only one agent to satisfy. She made a decision to maximize the chance of success with the client which is a judgement call the must be made in the business world. If she had chosen to have taken the directors side and not follow the clients request she might have lost follow up work with the client in the future and damaged that relationship, which demonstrates long term strategy in maintaining the Triangle Principal Agent Model since she was able to justify to the directors why she made the decision she did.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Conflicting Views: Working for Local Government

     Like any high schooler, I worked for the local government, in this case it was the Lake Bluff Park District at the beach. The beach was privately owned by the park district, but for years they had let it be used as public property. Anyone who came to the beach could use it for swimming, laying out, sand volleyball, picnics, or just strolls along the beach. Not only was I employed by the park district as a life guard and assistant manager, I had been a resident of Lake Bluff since I was two years old. I had been an employee, a patron, and a resident.

     The suburbs of Illinois I am from are referred to as "the North Shore", which is shamefully characterized by wealthy, pretentious and entitled individuals. For 20 miles south of my hometown of Lake Bluff, there are beautiful homes with wealthy families and 20 miles to the north there are run-down apartments and rampant crime. With such a wide variety of socio-economic individuals, I can't say I was surprised when I saw this issue arise. The majority of residents of Lake Bluff had been complaining about letting the non-residents in. This was primarily targetted at the "low income" non-residents who were notorious for smoking on the beach and bringing large groups who took over the grills and often loitered their beer bottles. The Lake Bluff residents had an unspoken rule to keep the beach clean since it was their tax dollars that went to the beach maintenance. A group of Lake Bluff residents proposed to the city board that no non-residents be allowed down to the beach any more.

    I will briefly break down each parties beliefs so that it is easy to understand how each party holds a stake in the dilemma of to let or not let beach residents to the beach anymore:

  • Residents: The residents of Lake Bluff have their city tax dollars spent each year to maintain the up keep of the beach. These tasks include replacing erroded sand, buying new lifeguard safety equipment, and having cleaning/maintenance crews to ensure the beach is running at its best. The group was frustrated to increasingly see more and more non-residents using and abusing the beach that they are paying tax dollars to keep clean. The group wanted exclusive rights for only residents to use the property as they felt it was their given right.
  • Non-Residents: After years of being able to use the beach, they felt that they should be able to continue to use the beach. Also, information was not clearly streamlined and they felt the beach was "public property", even though it was privately owned by the Park District who had purchased it for city use years ago. There was also tension with the residents over them believing the residents found them "unworthy" for beach use.
  • The Board: The Board is the group of city council government that oversaw park district operations and therefore the beach. However, the Board's primary goal is to maintain the happiness of the tax payers and therefore the residents.
  • The Park District (Beach) Employees: We felt both sides due to the nature of our roles. As employees we recieved complaints from both residents and non-residents. Residents constantly complaining and stereotyping that some "clear non-resident" was doing some trivial behavior that interrupted their tax-payer right to have exclusive access, where as the non-residents would speak about how they deserved to have beach access since "they have been coming here for years prior".
   This was more than just a battle over who could use the beach, but rather a battle of power, influence, and socio-economic status. The North Shore is known for being "a bubble", where its residents grow up priviledged and entitled. It was seeing this behavior and class war that really brought to view how pertinent classism is still today.

   The battle began in a series of moves and unintentional counter moves that eventually resulted in a semi-resolution of the conflict.
  1. The Board made a decision to ban all non-residents from beach usage. This resulted in us as employees having to have one employee sit at the top of the beach hill and check photo-id to ensure that they were residents. If they had no photo id on them that indicated a Lake Bluff residency, then they were unable to have beach access. Residents are happy to see diminished attendance resulting in cleaner beaches and exclusive beach access.
  2. There is a massive influx of complaints by non-residents who drive sometimes from 30+ minutes away to be declined at the entrance due to newly introduced regulations. This resulted in high stress and pressures for the beach employees by constantly being barraded by unhappy non-residents.
  3. As an employee, we voiced our concerns for the new regulation. The new rule had left our employees unhappy, stressed, and unmotivated. There was a series of individuals who left as they were fed up with constantly being harassed by non-residents who felt entitled to enter the beach. We propose a $5 daily entrance fee for non-residents so they can use the beach but also contribute to revenue for beach maintenance and up-keep.
  4. The Board accepts an implements a $10 daily entrance fee. However, residents are upset that non-residents can still enter and claim that the fee is not enough to parallel their taxes that go towards beach upkeep. Non-residents complain that they should not have to pay after years of free usage. The staff still has occassional arguments with residents and non-residents but the over all stress level from angry patrons has severly diminished.
  5. Now, five years from this $10 daily entrance per person fee still exsists and has resulted in some of the first profit turning years from the beach which is usually a tax sink hole. Complaints also still persist.

   I think a lot of times we believe that conflict resolution results in both parties being happy and that compromise gives each party satisfaction to leave the deal happy. However, this example clearly outlines that even in a compromise to give each what they want at a small cost:
  • Residents: Less non-residents entering the beach due to a fee that deters X% amount of patrons. Additionally, less taxes are allocated to the beach as profits turned from fee based collections cover maintenance costs.
  • Non-Residents: Non-residents regained beach access, although they still do not feel they should have to pay a fee based on historical experience. They also argue that a $10/per person fee is too steep of a rate and that it would cost a family of 5 $50 for a day at the beach.
  • The Board & The Park District (Beach) Employees: Both recieved less complaints as their policy reduced some amount of complaints against residents and non-residents. However, in both cases neither had fully diminished complaints.
This was an outcome, but it was an outcome that still left people angry. Was there a better alternative? Perhaps, but do to social pressures there is little way to say so. This battle was based on socioeconomic struggles, not a genuine desire to keep the beach well maintained. A sensitive topic like this never becomes resolved. There will continue to be tensions between the resident and non-residents groups whether at the beach or not. Everyone has the opportunity to be more mature and civilized, but the culture we live in does not encourage fostering deep caring relationships and results in childish debates such as the one I have discussed above.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Job Uncertainty & Risk

      Senior year is filled with people worrying about where they will work, running from class to interviews in stuffy suits, making day long trips up to Chicago, all in the hopes that you will find a job that fits your wants. I have been fortunate enough to recieve multiple job offers and a unique risk experience.

     I interned for two summers at a biopharma company in their finance department. I really liked that they had a development program that allowed for you to experience four different jobs within two years within different sectors of finance. I recieved a full time offer for their development program, but it wasn't what I wanted. However, with a very competitive job market, I was nervous to turn down a job when I didn't have an alternative lined up. I had a deadline of September 19th and pushed for an extension to see if I could find an alternative I was more interested in. I requested a month long extension and they countered and agreed to two weeks. The company also was hedging their risk by not allowing me to have a long enough extension to find something else, they were putting the pressure on me to accept.

    I was unsure of what the risk was to me declining: what was the probability I would get a job? how many interviews would I have? even if I had interviews what were the chances I had each round? I knew I wanted to get into consulting, but I also knew I'd be competing against some of the best. I tried my best to build assumptions on my chances. I applied to over ten consulting firms in the hopes that I would get enough interviews to mitigate my risk of declining the  current job offer.

   As my October 3rd deadline approached I looked at the following factors when deciding if accepting or declining was my best option.

  • How many interviews did I have?
  • What was the likely hood of me getting a position?
  • How competitive is the position?
  • Do I have enough options I like ?
  I ended up getting interviews at every company I liked, but still no offer. I decided to ask for another extension, but correctly knew that my chances were slim. I was decline the extension, the company needed to protect themselves against the risk of me drawing it out so they could accelerate their talent pipeline. I was torn on what to do. I had recieved nine interviews with six of them being companies I was actually interested in. Even though they were competitive I did my research on the companies, practiced my interviewing, and networked to best maximize my chances of getting a position.

   I took a risk and declined the offer, even though I had no certain alternative. However, that decision was driven by external factors. I was going to be living at home for a while anyways and my parents were financially stable enough to support me even if I didn't get a job right away. I had no loans or outstanding balances to pay so I didn't have any pressure to absolutely begin getting income right away. This security hedged against my risk and made it a less risky decision to decline the offer. 

   Luckily for me I recieved two offers the following week so I was left job less only for a short period of time (those three days of unemployement were difficult). I am usually a very risk adverse person but my mom explained to me that by accepting my offer, I was for sure closing myself off from what I wanted to do whereas by declining I was keeping a maybe open to the consulting world. For me the risk paid off, but without the security of interviews and financial stability I would have accepted the offer immediately.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Illini Bucks

    Illini Bucks is a unique concept of a purchasable "fast pass" with a one time use that can be used to cut any line on the Champaign-Urbana campus. Its an ingenious idea to gain revenue by taking advantage of student's impatience. However, there are issues with controlling how Illini Bucks is used that could complicate Illini Buck's intended effects.

   The first thing to focus on is locations that Illini Bucks would use and potential opportunities and issues that can result from each of those.

  • Stores: this can be the Illini Union Book Store, County Market, or Urban Outfitters. These can be leveraged in very busy times, however the majority of the time there aren't long lines at these locations. The bookstore during the first few and last weeks of the semesters is a good time or County Market on Sundays, but otherwise there is very little demand for them during the year.
  • Resturants: this is probably the most useful market that I think people would use Illini Bucks for. There are always days where the Chipotle or Maize line can be 25-30 minutes long and on an empty stomach that could really lighten your "h-anger". However, this introduces the problem of what if everyone has access to Illini Bucks? The value is diminished if everyone has them and there is no pay off in line reduction.
  • Bars: this would be a huge demographic for Illini Bucks but probably the most difficult to control. Individuals who had Illini Bucks may use them to cut the line, but so would everyone. So in order to keep the advantage a level of inethical behavior may be introduced in people selling tickets (similiar to scalpers at a baseball game) outside of the bars for marked up prices to intoxicated individuals who are willing to pay the premium. This creates a black market in essence where things are not being sold by the vendor or at the price.
The Illini Bucks is an interesting concept of creating value that is not there. Illini Bucks is not a product, but a service that allows you to cut lines. However, how can you back the value of Illini Bucks? For example. How can you ensure that Destihl honors Illini Bucks and allows you to skip an hour and a half table wait? They can't. There purely is not the bandwith to support enforcement and Illini Bucks is not a requirement. No one has to provide this services because the Illini Bucks provider would need to voluntarily get the stores, resturants, and bars they use them at to buy in to the program and that would require some sort of incentive that they may or may not be able to cover at a price of Illini Bucks that would make it worth it for people to invest.

    Illini Bucks is a great idea, but the logistics are not there. Pricing would have to be low cost to appeal to the student demographic but high enough so a share could go to all the businesses to use it. To have use at every type of area that has a line would be infeasible in terms of cost. Illini Bucks does not have the logistical capabilities to have a successful launch into the U of I market.

Friday, September 25, 2015

3rd Place but Still a Success

       Prior to winter break of my junior year, I signed up for a group case competition. The case was structured to be a month long. You and three other team members, who you were free to chose, worked on the case provided by Deloitte for winter break. When you returned the case competition was structured as:

  • Day One: Present to a team of 3 of the university's  College of Business faculty members
  • Day Two: Present to a panel of 5 professionals from various consulting organizations
    My team was composed of two friends of mine, Shivam and Kurt, and then Kurt's friend Matt who I had an acquaintences relationship with. Shivam had never met Kurt or Matt, so the relationship between them was casual as project partners. I created the following "relationship chart", similiar to an organizational chart to help understand the relationship of the group dynamic as opposed to a team dynamic.

    Since Shivam is from California and Kurt is from Georgia, we had to initially work on the project over winter break via conference calls. It was difficult at first because there wasn't a solid relationship between the group. It was what Katzenbach and Smith would refer to as a group, not a team. We would all present our research we had done those past few days and then review the analysis. However, there wasn't a sense of open collaboration because there was no relationship foundation. Having a virtual team structure was difficult and Kurt had attempted to take a leadership role. It was difficult for the group to respect that though since we were unable to have face to face interactions and there was no clear "team leader" role that needed to be defined. 

    We came back to campus and finally met for the first time to pull together the presentation. To be honest, it started off as incredibly awkward. Kurt tended to dominate the group, Matt was a second semester senior who just wanted to finish the case competition, Shivam did not appreciate Kurt's dominating attitude, and I struggled to balance large amounts of work with the demand of the case competition. After a few late nights of putting in research and fighting over whose analysis was best, we finally started to migrate from a group to a team.

   It seemed odd that the group would form a team working hard late at night, but its exactly what Katzenbach and Smith touch on. Teams come together when you put time and effort into forming a team structure that works. We would take breaks from working to order takeout and show each other new music and one night we stopped working early and took a trip to Red Lion together. After developing a social relationship, we were able to start actually working together as a team.

    The quality of slides, analysis, and effort greatly increased when we came together because we felt accountable to each other. The difference was clear in our performance. The initial slide deck we had created from our phone calls had greatly improved due to the quality of work we were all putting in. It showed too: we moved on from day one to the final rounds day two where only three teams presented to the final panel of professionals.

    We recieved third place (I blame it on competiting against two other teams of all MBAs...), but we had definetly developed the strongest sense of team dynamic. One of the final round judges came over during awards and asked us how we knew each other. When we explained our relationship, he said it was clear that we were all close because our performance had the most evidence of a team relationship. Our presentation skills were stronger because we were able to bounce off each other and our recommendation had come together as a result of mutual effort from everyone on our team.

   The key take away from this project that relates to Katzenbach and Smith is that team structures develop from groups as a result of individuals whose contribution is made to further group performance. They don't evaluate success based on how well they do, but they work hard to deliver a successful result for the entire group. They don't have the mentality of "I do everything for this group", instead they think "I am doing extra to help the group". This was a project focused group: the case competition was our project and we were working to meet that performance. The success of the case competition that led us to final rounds was a result of the time spent not only on the project but as developing ourselves as a team outside of the project. An updated relationship chart representing the team dynamic can be seen below.