Intersecting Minds: Education, Business and Technology at the North Carolina State Jenkins Graduate School of Management

More on Classes and Exams

September 29, 2009
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One of the more difficult adjustments I’ve had to make at CBS has been dealing with the final exam as 100% of the grade policy. For a class like Corporate Finance, where the exam will cover most, if not all of the material presented in the readings and lectures, this is fine. We as students know what to study and where we need to focus, and then we just have to perform at exam time.

But for my other three classes, this is a much trickier proposition. Both International Logistics and Strategic Risk Management require individual 15-page papers. The topics of the paper are pretty much left up to us, as long as they have something to do with Logistics or SRM, respectively. There’s very little in the way of guidelines and structure. As a result, going to class and doing the readings for these classes is truly optional, and when I do the readings, I interpret every word through the prism of whether or not that particular article or chapter in the text will help me write my final.

This approach is a complete 180 from how we learn and cover material at NC State. Almost every class has a variety of projects that receive grades, whether those are midterm exams, presentations or other assignments. The courses are much more structured, and students know from the first day what exactly will be expected of them throughout the semester. That’s not necessarily the case in Copenhagen. For example, here is an excerpt from an e-mail we received from the administrative office regarding our finals:

Automatic Exam Enrollment Exam enrollment is done automatically in the courses you have in your course enrolment status. Don’t panic if you do not see all your courses in the exam enrolment status at this point. However, please contact the course secretary if your courses do not show in your exam enrollment status at the latest two weeks before the exam is set to take place. Before then – don’t worry.

If we had to wait until two weeks before the exam date to figure out when, where, and how the exam would go down, I know many people back at home who would be freaking out.

So it will be up to me to take more control of my schedule here and navigate the assignments the Professors have laid out for us. Fortunately, I already have some interesting ideas for my Logistics and SRM exam papers, and I feel like I’m up to the challenge. While this can be a frustrating experience at times, it’s much more similar to a non-academic environment. In business, managers are expected to be pro-active and to not simply wait for direction from upper management.


More Signs of Global Cooperation

September 25, 2009

CNN reports today that the G-20 will supplant the G-8 as the primary decision-making body on major international financial and economic issues. In an earlier post I touched on the importance of cooperation to combat climate change. The same logic applies for managing the global economy. There are now so many connections that when catastrophe strikes one country it ends up striking many. Key passage:

One of the key goals is preventing such a crisis from occurring in the future, he said.

“In the run-up to this crisis, many of the world’s largest economies depended on the American consumer to buy their exports to drive growth, and we made it easy; for too long, Americans were buying too much and saving too little,” Geithner said. “And that’s no longer an option for us or for the rest of the world. And already in the United States you can see the first signs of an important transformation here as Americans save more and as we borrow substantially less from the rest of the world.”

In order to prevent another crisis, major imbalances must be prevented. The United States, or any other country for that matter, can not over-leverage itself to that extent. To keep that from happening, nations that have built up huge trade surpluses (i.e. China, Japan) need to encourage consumer spending to even out the balance.

One other interesting side note from the article. It doesn’t list the world’s 20 largest economies, and there’s actually a bit of disagreement there judging by the Wiki entry.

Here are the top 10:

1 United States 14,264,600
2 Japan 4,923,761
3 People’s Republic of China 4,401,614h
4 Germany 3,667,513
5 France 2,865,737
6 United Kingdom 2,674,085
7 Italy 2,313,893
8 Russia 1,676,586
9 Spain 1,611,767
10 Brazil 1,572,839

My Residence

September 24, 2009
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A few days ago, I took an opportunity to briefly film the exterior and interior of my residence. Instead of attempting to describe further, I’ll let my narration and the videos do the talking. First the outside:

Then the inside:

Needless to say it’s been an experience in here so far.

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Obama On Climate Change

September 23, 2009
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Following up on my climate change post, I wanted to highlight a few key excerpts from President Barack Obama’s address on the topic yesterday. Obama delivered this speech to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York in advance of the meetings in Copenhagen later this year. After starting the address by recognizing the progress America has made in addressing global warming, Obama gets at the crucial elements of developing a response to the challenge.

First this passage:

Because no one nation can meet this challenge alone, the United States has also engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution than ever before… we have put climate at the top of our diplomatic agenda when it comes to our relationships with countries from China to Brazil; India to Mexico; Africa to Europe.

For almost a decade, America has refused to believe global warming exists. President Bush and his advisers favored a hands off approach to climate change, saying the science wasn’t there to support the dire warnings coming from the environmental community. As a result, America hasn’t been active in combating climate change despite the fact that we emit over 25% of the total carbon emissions produced on Earth. We’ve refused to engage the global community, refused to join Kyoto, and refused to implement any type of sane energy policy regulating carbon emissions. All of that needs to change, and it’s good to see Obama making a start.

In that same vein:

But those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy. Still, they will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own. We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. There is no other way.

These words come in the same vein as those I highlighted above. The global community must act together to ensure the worst forecasts are prevented. However, two actions must happen for this to succeed. First, achievable, actionable standards must be set and agreed to by the global community, including America, China, Japan, Brazil the EU countries, etc. Each nation has its own agenda in terms of economic development, growth and impact on the global stage. Making compromises and communicating will be hugely important to reaching common standards.

Secondly, these countries will also need to develop tactics to reach those standards. Will the United States be able to pass a cap-and-trade energy policy? How will China plan to cut down gasoline emissions? How will other first world countries be able to wean themselves off coal power? What is India’s approach to managing economic growth vs. environmental sustainability? These are a very small sample of the truly huge questions facing the global community. And they will require specific, coordinated action by all the actors involved.

The 11 Most Bike Friendly Cities

September 23, 2009
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A friend of mine yesterday commented that we must live in the most bike friendly city in the world. That got my brain going, and so last night I google’d, “worlds most bike friendly cities”. The top link led me to a ranking of the 11 most bike friendly cities. Interestingly enough, I’ve lived in three of them.

Portland, Oregon, my hometown, comes in at #2 on the list. Copenhagen is #3, and San Francisco is #8. I’ve also visited Boulder, CO, which comes in at #4, and I’ll be touring Amsterdam, which tops the list at #1, in less than two months. Of the cities I have lived in, I can sing the praises of all three. They are beautiful and interesting cities, and they all have a focus on managing sustainable growth and protecting the environment.

As a result, Portland, Copenhagen and San Francisco all have strong public transportation systems, of which promoting bike use is just a piece. They all have well-organized bus systems and there are many neighborhoods that are completely walkable in all three. And while I’ve only traveled through Boulder, it seemed to share the same ethos and layout as the other cities.

The situation almost makes me a little sad to come back to Raleigh, which, like far too many American cities, has almost nothing in terms of public transportation. In Raleigh, everyone drives everywhere all the time. The natural sprawl of the city has made the bus system inconvenient, and there are no bike lanes to be found, despite the flatness of the terrain. Raleigh has many redeeming qualities, but the public transportation system and citywide emphasis on sustainability isn’t one of them.

Key Climate Change Meeting Today

September 22, 2009
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From December 7-18th, Copenhagen will be hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Fifteen of the largest nations in the world will be meeting in Denmark to discuss the Kyoto treaty, and how to keep momentum on blunting anthropogenic-related global temperature increases. This event marks a coming together of the US, China, Japan and several European nations. As I mentioned in my previous post, climate change is a huge issue in Europe, and I’ll be trying to highlight this where I can, as well as blogging about the conference later on in December.

For now though, I wanted to quickly point out this article from CNN. Here are the first grafs:

World leaders converge Tuesday in New York to focus on climate change, with the clock ticking down toward a summit this year in Denmark, where a global climate change pact is to be signed.

Negotiations for the global pact have stalled, and Tuesday’s gathering is aimed at jump-starting those talks.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Rwandan President Paul Kagame are among the world leaders expected to speak Tuesday.

Roundtables are also planned, all with the overarching and generally accepted goal of limiting the rise of Earth’s temperature to within 2 degrees Fahrenheit above its temperature before the industrial revolution.

In particular, the world will be focusing on the United States, who declined to participate in the original Kyoto Protocol, as well as China, who has quickly become one of the world’s largest polluters.

Life Without Television (And Car)

September 22, 2009
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One of the major adjustments I’ve had to make while living in Copenhagen has been learning how to live life without two essentials to life in Raleigh: the television and the car. It’s an interesting dichotomy too, because one device (the car) gives so much time back in the form of convenience, while the other (television) sucks so much time away.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t really missed either. With the exception of individual sporting events, which I can stream live on my computer anyways, I haven’t missed ANY of the shows I used to watch back in the States. Instead, I fill my evenings by socializing with other people in the dorm. I’ve found myself cooking more, to the tune of 7 days/week. And of course, why would I cook alone when I’m surrounded by my peers. Shopping, preparation, dining and cleaning now consume at least 2-3 hours of every day. As a result, I’ve spent more time interacting with and getting to know my peers, and far less time spacing out in front of the boob tube.

As for the car, well, I haven’t really missed that either. I love being outside, even when it’s raining or cold. Maybe this has to do with my upbringing in the wet climate of Portland, Oregon, or maybe it’s because I’m just an outdoors person, but walking/biking everywhere has definitely made me appreciate the elements a bit more. Thankfully, Copenhagen might be the easiest city in the world to live in without a car. The public transportation (Metro, Train, Bus) is top notch, and the bike lanes make riding from one point to another easy and safe.

Additionally, I’ve gained a nice boost of well-being from the fact that I’ve drastically reduced my carbon emissions from giving up the car. The Europeans take climate change much much more seriously than Americans do, and it’s nice to know that I’m doing what I can to reduce my carbon footprint on the planet.

At this point, I’m feeling pretty certain that these two aspects of everyday life will require some of the most adjustment when I come home. I wonder if I’ll have the energy to cook as much when I come home, or to take a walk/bike ride every once in awhile instead of driving (which is virtually impossible to do in Raleigh anyways). It sure would be nice to think so.

Posted in International

Touring Copenhagen

September 21, 2009
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A few days ago, I went out to explore downtown Copenhagen and shoot some video for those of you back in the States who have been following my trip, or those of you are curious to see what CPH looks like. I began the day on campus at Solbjerg Plads to eat some lunch and do some studying:

Next, I hopped on the Metro over to Nørreport station to meet a friend and visit some of the parks. Here is some footage from the Nørreport train station:

From there, we walked over to Copenhagen University:

And then we took a walk along one of the many rivers that separates downtown CPH from the surrounding countryside:

Finally, we finished off our day at Kongens Have, one of the main parks in central Copenhagen:

Copenhagen is truly a beautiful city. Tomorrow, I’m hoping to post some more footage of the dormitory where I live, and some more footage from campus.

Summer Internship Overview

September 16, 2009
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Since my summer came to an end so quickly, I didn’t have much time to recap my summer internship experience. In lieu of writing out a long-winded response, I think this short video summarizing my time at Genentech will suffice:

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Still Bearish on the Economy

September 11, 2009
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Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to follow the global economy since I arrived in Denmark. However, now that things are settling down a bit, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up a little bit on what’s going on. And best of all, one of my classes, Strategic Risk Management is covering in nitty gritty detail the mechanisms (derivatives trading, credit defaults swaps and collateralized debt obligations) by which the global finanical system almost melted down last year.

Meanwhile, the US market has had a nice little run over the summer. Entering trading this morning, the Dow sat at over 9,600, a far cry from the mid-6,000’s at which it was trading just 8 months ago. There are plenty of proverbial “green shoots” suggesting the economy is beginning to pull out of its funk: a slowing of the rise in unemployment, expansion of manufacturing, and stronger than expected corporate earnings over the summer months.

Despite all of this, I’m still fundamentally bearish on the US economy over the next 5-10 years. The U.S. is unwinding itself from 30 years of overleveraging on the individiual, corporate and government levels. Coming down from that will take time. Consumer spending, the primary driver of US economic expansion since the 1970’s, hasn’t picked up the necessary amount of steam to drag the country out of the economic doldrums.

Additionally, we still haven’t addressed the primary causes of what got us here in the first place. Simon Johnson has an excellent piece up at Baseline Scenario today summarizing what we have learned about the global finanical system over the last 12 months. It’s not pretty:

But how much good does all this new knowledge now do for us?  There is very little real reform underway or on the table.  We can argue about whether this is due to lack of intestinal fortitude on the part of the administration or the continued overweening power of the financial system, but the facts on the ground are simple: our banks and their “financial innovation” have not been defanged.

In fact, they are becoming more dangerous.  The “Greenspan put” has morphed into the “Bernanke put”, to use the jargon of financial markets, where “put” means the option to sell something at a fixed price (and therefore to limit your losses).  The Greenspan version was always a bit vague, involving lower interest rates when a speculative bubble ran into trouble; the Bernanke version is huge, involving massive cheap credits of many kinds (as well as interest rates set essentially at zero).

In other words, we’re incentivizing financial institutions to make all the same mistakes they did the first time around. Only this time, the Fed won’t have the weapons at hand (low interest rates) to combat another huge bubble.

Ultimately, nobody is entirely sure where the global economy is headed: optimists say a V-shaped recovery could still happen, the majority of economists think it will be a U-shaped recovery, and the pessimists think we’re sitting right in the middle of another bubble. If I had to pick, based on what I argued earlier, then I would go with the latter scenario. Call me a pessimist at the moment.

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