Mylène Farmer Will Perform at Stade de France in September 2009

Mylène Farmer (France’s answer to Madonna) has announced (and sold out) 2 shows at Stade de France for September 2009. If I had gone to INSEAD last year, I could have caught her shows at Bercy, seen in the clip above.


The Blogger Survives the Ups and Downs of Recruiting

Ed Norton is Consoled After Receiving Another Ding

In Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, the nameless narrator (played in the film version by Ed Norton), rebels against the corporate ladder and what he calls “the IKEA nesting instinct”, by dropping out of society and exposing himself to the raw emotional reality of cancer support groups and the physical violence of extreme fighting. In the sequel, he might choose to attend INSEAD.

Recruiting is hard because companies woo you to apply by sponsoring cocktail parties, bombarding you with free pens, bags, corkscrews, and dinner invitations. Like a homely girl with braces and acne in high school who is flattered by the slightest attention from boys, your self-esteem is boosted and you are lulled into applying. But then you are unceremoniously rejected because based on a 30 second scan of your resume, you are deemed too old, too technical, too artsy, disloyal, too international, not international enough etc.

The companies that you thought were safe fall backs, reject you, while the obscure long shot can’t wait to interview you for a position in a country whose name you can’t pronounce. One frustrating aspect of recruiting is that companies will never tell you that the reason they don’t want you is that they’re overstaffed and not hiring. I was rejected for an interview at one place that I really wanted, and so I used my INSEAD alumni network connections to glean the following information:

… I can share with you a conversation that I had back in January of this year with someone from HR. I was trying to find out why another friend of mine was not invited to interview [with them] and was told that recruiting is closed for 2008. They wanted 5 and got them: 2 from INSEAD and 3 more that I haven’t met. ”

My self-esteem might have been spared had the company shared this information in their PFO letter, but alas why would the company want to share their hiring targets and staffing needs with an applicant? Better yet, the company and INSEAD’s Career Services office should have told me to apply back in fall while there were still positions open.

And so without this information, we applicants tend to internalize the rejections. What did I do wrong? If I was good enough for a free corkscrew, coffee chat, or dinner, why not an interview? Where is Meatloaf with his hormone-induced man-boobs when you need someone to hug?

The Blogger Receives Interview Invitations and Interview Rejections

INSEAD’s Career Link Jobs Board, Circa 1982

Recruiting has started and so have the rejections and interviews. I will try to keep score and at the end of the process I hope to provide you with the final box score numbers of jobs applied to, 1st round invites, 2nd round invites, and offers (hopefully there will be at least one!) but for the moment, I will only say that I have received both good news and bad news.  Yesterday I saw a poster on the door of a Philadelphia McDonald’s that read, “Now Hiring Store Managers, salary up to $57,000”.  When I have a chance, I’d like to run a net present value simulation to calculate the break even point between working at McDonald’s vs. going to INSEAD.

The big Wharton Studio 54  party is coming up on Thursday. The theme is Jungle Love and I suspect (fear?) that many Wharton MBAs are planning to dress in loin-cloth or body paint. I think I will just wear club clothes. The party will feature shooter-boys in thongs and shooter-girls in bikinis, pouring shots. Who says only INSEAD MBAs know how to have fun? The following day I have a Goldman Sachs conference in New York, so I hope I can recover in time.

The Blogger Discovers That >1 Person is Murdered Each Day In Philadelphia

CSI Philadelphia

The University of Pennsylvania employs a private police force of 100 armed officers to protect students from crime. Others have pointed out to me the high murder rate in Philadelphia, as shown in the map above. If you look at the map, you can see the marked contrast… no one was murdered last year in the 10 square block area south of Market Street and west of the Schuylkill River, where the UPenn campus sits.

When you enter the INSEAD Fontainebleau campus, you see the edge of the Fontainebleau forest peeking through the glass atrium of the Upper Gallery, or the administrative secretary in the marble foyer lobby. At Wharton, you are greeted by security guards behind large desks.

From my bedroom window here in Philadelphia, I see the helicopter pad on the roof of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a Level 1 Trauma Center and one of the best university teaching hospitals in the U.S.   I am not sure what to make of the odd symbiotic relationship between UPenn and the impoverished, violence ridden neighbourhoods which surround the University.  For medical residents, they provide a steady stream of trauma victims to poke, prod, study, and of course heal.  For students like me in the business school at Wharton, what is our relationship with the community and what is our duty towards its residents? There are some programs at the University to encourage students to come out of the bubble and interact with the surrounding communities.  Sometimes I wish we had more opportunities of this sort in Fontainebleau, to get involved.

The Blogger Experiences Reverse Culture Shock

Global Monoculture

“When you have lived in and been integrated into more than one culture, exposure to a different mindset changes your own. After that first long sojourn abroad, the true culture shock comes on your first trip back home. People ask seemingly ignorant and annoying questions. You realize that your countrymen’s knowledge of the world is limited to a mixture of TV, myths and illogical conjecture. Their prejudices seem shockingly narrow.” –Skyfrontier

I’ve been in the U.S. for 2 weeks now, and I’m still trying to make sense of it. I feel like a foreigner. Because I’m white and English is my native language, Americans assume that I’m one of them. On the street political campaigners try to solicit my support for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. At the airport, the Immigration officials direct me to the passport line for Americans. I try to protest that I’m not from the U.S., but they all seem to doubt me. At Penn, cafeteria staff express annoyance at my ineptitude with my PennCash swipe card. I blend in like the veteran students, so no one realizes that I’m new.

But my biggest challenge has been relating to people. In France, the way to tackle bureaucracy is to condescendingly challenge the interlocutor in fluent French. I tried this aggressive tactic in English last week at Penn when I faced an inept admin person in the International Student Office who was clueless about how to handle my U.S. visa. His supervisor, a motherly Indian lady, rushed out to defend him by protesting to me, “Can’t you see that he’s new here?” Her guilt trip succeeded in making me feel like crap. My self focus has made me ignorant of how other people might be going through the same transition.

My friend Andre argues in his blog Skyfrontier that the global nomadic experience engenders us with a perilous smugness as we arrogantly cling to our ‘amplified’ understanding. “In France they do things better/worse… etc.” As INSEAD nomads, we are tempted to challenge everything based on our heightened awareness and experience.

Are the Almond Croissants at Au Bon Pain up to par with those baked at Frédéric Cassel on rue Grande? Should I keep my mouth shut when American students wax enviously about pro-worker employment laws in Europe? Should I politely nod my head in agreement and confirm their thesis with tales of 6 week annual vacation leave in France, or should I ruin their fantasy with wretched stories of les perturbations on the RER D?

Alternatively should I voice support or protest when the Unites States is used as a normative example or the de facto benchmark for democracy, human rights, taxation, capital markets etc. ? Would my protests just fall on deaf ears? Who wants to know about the flexible U.K. public company listing requirements, the 10% income tax in Zug, Switzerland, universal health care in Canada, gay marriage in Spain, and other forward-looking laws which make the U.S. seem comparatively antiquated.

If food can be considered the embodiment of a nation’s civilization, perhaps we should read something into the numerous food trucks which surround UPenn and which dispense daily sustenance out the back of a kitchen on 4 wheels. In France the geography of alimentation serves a descriptive function… Laser printed signs in the INSEAD cafeteria (err, restaurant) proclaim that today’s beef comes from the Netherlands, and the Monoprix flyer proclaims that the Brie on special this week comes from Melun, and not Meaux.

In the U.S., food geography is used fancifully in an evocative manner to conjure up exotic images of distant places, never visited. “Organic Black Egyptian Licorice Tea Leaves” boasted one menu board. The last time I visited Egypt I remember tea coming only in one variety—the overly sweet sort that comes in a short glass cup topped with mint leaves. But to whom can I protest? The waiter? My fellow dinner mates who as American will likely frown at my futile objection?

As our year at INSEAD comes to an end, these questions will not remain purely academic as we face the reality of going back to work and in most cases, a more provincial existence. Get ready for the coming culture shock.

The Blogger Settles into Philly

I’m getting settled here in Philadelphia and I love it. Above is the theme music opening for Action News, “Delaware Valley’s leading news program”! The clip is from the 1980s, but the station still uses that same campy 70s bongo riff to open their 6 o’clock and 11 o’clock news. Last night Action News reported on a fatal shooting and an abandoned baby in a dumpster, just minutes from the Wharton campus. When I arrived here at UPenn I was greeted by scary posters for the “Active Shooter Campus Emergency Procedure” (lock yourself in a room) and the “Antibiotic Resistant Staph Infection Prevention Program” in the gym (don’t share towels). The next day, UPenn sent an emergency alert test e-mail to everyone on campus urging them to phone a hotline to test the campus alert system. Can anyone blame Americans for being scared and germ-phobic all the time?

On the positive side, I love the area around the Wharton School. It’s so convenient. There’s a huge CVS pharmacy, 4 Starbucks, a Cosi, a GAP, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a Taco Bell within 2 minutes of the Wharton building, and unlike Fontainebleau they’re all open until 11:00 PM!

The Blogger Flies to the City of Brotherly Love

The Other Philly

I’m in Philadelphia now, although classes at Wharton don’t start until March 17. Above is a picture of a funny bus I saw while on vacation in Jordan (aka “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”) during the semester break between P3 and P4. You have to love the complete randomness of some Jordanian bus company owner deciding to name his fleet after Philadelphia.

My flight to Philadelphia from the Middle East was a 20 hour journey that included a free upgrade to business class, a free massage at the airport business lounge, a 7 hour layover back in Paris, a 50% off clearance sale on Lacoste at the airport, and most interestingly, a long chat with a management consultant who sat next to me in business class. (Pretty good overall…)

My consultant seatmate was an Engagement Manager from a boutique consulting firm who was flying to Germany with a Senior Partner and a Senior Consultant. They all seemed so intense, dressed in business suits on an overnight flight. I caught the tail-end of the Partner’s conversation to his underlings, something boastful about being able to compete with the world’s #1 strategic consulting firm (I’m not making this up!) What struck me most about these consultants was how contented they were. The Partner seemed really excited to go meet the German client and was clearly in his element. I’m going out on a limb here, but he seemed like the type who would go nuts being around the house with his wife and kids. He lived for his job, and he really loved it. This is something that I’ve noticed about my fellow INSEAD participants. Half my promotion will be applying to consulting firms for jobs, but how many of them really have the intense passion of this partner?

Even my Engagement Manager seatmate spent half the flight reviewing class notes from his top-tier Executive MBA program, and the other half preparing for his client presentation. I felt guilty for enjoying the Business Class pampering dressed in jeans and a muscle shirt, while he toiled away at his work dressed in wool gabardine. It’s possible that the juniors were heedful of the Senior Partner’s presence and were less inclined to relax. We exchanged business cards and talked about the merits of INSEAD vs. keeping your job and pursuing a part-time MBA. His boutique consulting firm is growing at a phenomenal rate and he encouraged me to apply.

The next 2 weeks will be busy. Even though I won’t have classes, I will be working hard on my job applications and on an independent research project under the supervision of a Professor. Still I have my travel plans for the next 2 weekends planned already… NYC followed by D.C. (Hey I need an excuse to use the flashy new Lacoste weekend bag that I bought on sale at the airport duty free).