Saturday, August 15, 2015

Goals after Stanford

It is pretty amazing to think that my time at the GSB has now been officially over for more than two months. I see students in the years below me post pictures about their internships and my classmates posting pictures about their travels. Some friends already work again, others try to push it off as far as possible (Hi Reinhard!). Everyone sees friends and family and gets ready for the “real life”.

I, for my part, have been doing a little bit of travelling, but have mostly been playing stay-at-home-dad (without kids – that would have warranted its own blog entry) in New York. I found an apartment and volunteered at a local soccer camp and read fiction every day. It was different not to have such a scheduled day – yet it made me ready and excited to work again.

One thing I have been thinking about though is that now with the MBA over there is nothing to look forward to. I mean of course there are birthdays, vacations and so on. But three years ago I looked forward to applying to business school and then later to start at Stanford, a year ago it was my internship, a GMIX trip to Rwanda or the Africa Business Conference. But what now? – I start work on September 3rd and that’s it. What’s the next big thing, the next milestone? For all my life education has been setting most goals – getting through high school, going to a good college, semesters abroad, then it was finding a job that would set one up for success (and success being getting into a good business school) and so on.

I tried setting myself more personal goals – running more marathons, starting to journal. Those don’t seem to be big somehow. I am hesitant to say that I want to be an Engagement Manager at McKinsey in 18 months – it could be a goal, should it be one though? Do I have to employ a longer-term view or should I try to relate goals not only to my own personal success, but also to what I do? Or with whom I do it? I feel that goals and steps to reach those goals have provided guidance and security to me. There was always that thought that “I need to get there”.

I guess its normal to think about things like that when starting something new or somewhere new. With the chapter of formal education probably being closed forever I cannot rely on that anymore. It is time to set other goals – maybe more personalized ones.

I probably should have used my two years at Stanford to figure that out… Well. I have done at least a bit of soul searching in that field and have friends that are in the same boat. What do they say – business school is only the beginning of a journey of lifelong self-reflection.

Lets bring it on!

Cheers und bis bald,


GSB'15 Graduation

P.S. I am writing this post at the Panama City airport on my way back home to Germany. Two years ago I flew from Colombia via Panama to California. I am feeling oddly sentimental.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Shame on me! Marathon & Transitions

First of all:

I know my last blog entry was over two months ago. Saying that I didn't have the time would be a lie. That I wasn't inspired - maybe.

Anyways, I came to the conclusion that I actually want to keep this blog going. Despite that fact that my time at Stanford will be over in less than a month. And despite the fact that my life as a consultant in New York will likely (though I am fighting hard to prove me wrong) be less exciting than my life in Palo Alto.

So, I want to write about two things today: (1) I ran a marathon and (2) Transitioning to a new phase of my life

KM 42 - Almost there
After running 20km with Reinhard two months ago I thought it would be a fun idea to sign up for a marathon. Even though I am in A LOT of pain right now (think stomach bug + extremely sore + the flu), I am quite happy I did it and completed the "Surfers Path" marathon in Santa Cruz & Capitola Village in 3:36:06h. Two remarkable things from the marathon are the realization that socializing without consuming alcohol is awkward and something to get used to. One gets constantly asked why one is not drinking and one has to be almost defensive about the choice to not do it. A lot of events are also much less fun (some even not quite bearable) without some beers. On the other hand though - I slept better, was much fitter and had beverages I actually like the taste of  (Traders Joe's Ginger Beer - Good stuff). The other thing I noticed is that a lot of people at business school had done marathons. The percentage is probably much higher than among the general population. When thinking of a stereotypical business school student I will now have to include "completed a marathon" as one of the characteristics, alongside being extensively travelled and not having specific skills in any area. When people ask me why I ran it I usually reply "I liked the challenge". Go figure!

I might have written about this after my first year at Stanford: I really don't like ending things. Not because I am so sad to leave a certain place, but because I feel that I can't be fully present anymore. I don't like doing things for the last time, being sentimental and dragging the leaving process out. If it was up to me Id just do business as usual and then leave from one day to the other. Right now I am planning my summer, looking for apartments, think about traveling, packing things up etc etc, but I am not really at Stanford anymore. It is like I am floating between different phases of my life not fully knowing where I am currently. I remember having this feeling when I started my job after undergrad, when I finished my job and went to Stanford and when I left Stanford to work for McKinsey in London last summer. So, how to combat that feeling of being in between places - no idea. Since I like to plan its difficult to just "be here".

Cheers + bis bald,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

There is no balance, its only trade-offs

In my reading for my "Managing Growing Enterprises" class this quarter I came across the following quote by a CEO who attended the Harvard Business School "New CEO Workshop":

"There is no work-life balance. There are only work-life trade-offs."

With my time at the GSB coming to an end that quote actually made me think. In eight month I will once more have to balance my career, my relationship, my friends, my professional network, my workouts and so much more. I've been feeling that my days need more hours during my time in Palo Alto already, so I can only imagine that it will be much more challenging going forward. The quote made me realize that there isn't that magical equilibrium of perfect interplay between all those balls I have to keep in the air. Actually, doing one thing means NOT doing something else. Devoting time to my friends might mean not doing that incremental bit better at work. 

The term "work-life balance" sort of romanticizes the fact that I will actually have to make decisions to do worse than I could in some areas of my life. That realization is actually quite useful. I know myself pretty well by now and I know that believing in that vague "balance" is not going to hold me accountable and is not going to force me to make uncomfortable decisions. I hate not doing things 100%. I don't like not answering emails in time. I don't like having to decline an invitation to go to a bar with friends. I don't like telling my boss that I do not want to stay in the office until 9pm on a Friday night. I also don't like not going to a movie when I had made plans to do so.

All of this is of course necessary. And realizing that I should make up my mind in advance is pretty useful. Otherwise my behavior will not be coherent, which could result in doing worse over all. 

This ties in to a story HBS professor and business guru Clayton Christensen shared with us last year about his starting days at BCG:

"During my first project I was asked to attend a really important client meeting on a Saturday. I had to tell my project leader that this would not be possible since Saturday was the day I could spend with my wife and my kids. He then asked whether Sunday would be better for me. On Sunday, I had to tell him, I have to go to church and cannot work either. We somehow got the work done by Friday and I was never asked again to work on my weekends."

Especially when starting at a new job in a new company one tends to please the colleagues. The problem is, though, that this behavior is going to set the precedent for the years coming working with those colleagues.

I want to have my mind set on what my priorities are and where I am willing to make trade-offs.

Cheers + bis bald,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Celibacy, Sermon-Dowloads and "Problems" with Minorities - Cardinal Marx at Stanford

One thing I will for sure miss being back in the working world will be the constant flow of decision-makers, thought leaders and influencers that I get to listen to while here at Stanford. Today I had the honor to join a discussion with Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Cardinal Marx is one of the most influential figures of the Catholic church as he was selected by Pope Francis as one of nine Cardinals to help the Pope reform the Catholic church. Cardinal Marx is also leading the German Bishops Conference and oversees the Secretariat for the Economy for the church.

I asked the Cardinal how three things he would want to change about the church:

(1) Involve formerly excluded people (homosexuals, divorcees, women)
(2) Make senior members of the church more forward-looking
(3) Improve the quality of the sermons

He gave the example that for point (3) many priests print out sermons they find online and just give those instead of writing their own. To be honest, I found it quite charming that even members of the church seem to sometimes take shortcuts. It's kind of like: "Reinhard can you send me this slide, I don't want to build it myself". Also the fact that a lot of priests know how to use the internet is promising to me.

Regarding point (1) I was somewhat offended when the Cardinal mentioned that not only the Western World has "those problems" (and with that meaning homosexuals and women), but also developing countries. I hope his phrasing is due to is imperfect English. I am not sure though.

Besides the content of his arguments I found it interesting that he very rarely evoked emotion or spirituality, but was very statesmen-like. The CEO of Mastercard or Christine Lagarde sounded pretty similar. A Catholic classmate was actually disappointed about the lack of faith-related messages. I, on the other hand, found the Cardinal fairly easy to follow and not too up-in-the-air.

Unintentionally the Cardinal actually got some laughs. When talking about the universal application of rules he said:

"We have to have celibacy everywhere. Imagine we don't have it in Africa for example. Then every priest would go there."


Especially at the end I felt rather uneasy though. He placed his hands on some students and blessed them murmuring Latin phrases. It is just so far away from the things we are exposed here. So far away from technology companies, so far away from search funds and so far away from financial modeling. I am amazed by the fact that a group oddly dressed up men who repeat certain phrases in Latin can have such power. A group of men that calls minorities "problems", that cannot have sex and that clearly does not promote gender equality in their organization.

Taking a picture he sat down next to me and we had a quick chat for five minutes. He asked about my studies and what I want to do afterwards. We also talked about the self-selection of people from strong socio-economic backgrounds at places like Stanford and how different this is from Germany. It was like talking to any German politician or business-man and not like talking to one of the most influential members of that add group describes above

A lot to think about.

Cheers + bis bald,

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Best Lunchtime Talk at Stanford

The last two weeks have been filled with quite a few group projects, papers and a lot of really interesting speakers:

Lars Dalgaard (Founder and CEO of SuccessFactors)
John Morgridge (CEO Cisco)
John Pendergast (Human Rights Activist)

This blog post is dedicated to a young woman that has one of the most widely viewed TED Talks worldwide: Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo fled North Korea as a young adult and then dedicated her entire life to rescuing her mother and brother from the scrupulous regime Pyongyang.

What her story boiled down to is that she had rescued her family from North Korea, illegally crossed China and entered Laos, where mother and brother were kept by the Laotian police. Hyeonseo had used and borrowed all money she could to bribe the officials who always kept demanding more. In total despair an Australian man approached her, communicated through his cell phone and ended up giving her several thousand US dollars to bail out her family as well as other North Korean defectors.

Hyeonseo ended her talk at Stanford by saying that we are all fortunate and that we should reach out to those in need. This Australian man had transformed her life and she owed him everything. She called him an angel.

After the talk I wondered whether I have had similar impact on people and whether I have reached my hand out enough. I strive for large scale impact and for solving global problems (to be cynical: basically what gets you into business school and sounds interesting). I wonder whether I have neglected trying to improve lives for people that have names, faces and a very specific story. I also wonder whether it is actually possible to combine both things in the long term.

I think my problem in helping individuals is that I want to be fair and help the person most in need. But can I say that Hyeonseo in North Korea needs help more help rescuing her family than the little girl in a Rwandan village that seemed so bright but could not go to school or the homeless guy at Frankfurt train station who I see every morning going to work? And just to be clear, this help doesn't necessarily have to be money. It can be affection or attention.

I guess the answer is very similar to which sector in development work brings most return. Is it water? Education? Nutrition? Safety?

In the end they are all equally important and one cannot really make a differentiation. But instead of just collapsing under that lack of knowledge one simply has to start and work on something. Or to simply reach out and help someone in need. Ultimately it is a combination of the macro and the micro things. The big pressing problems worldwide and the effects those have on individual lives. I hope I will have enough opportunity and courage to never lose sight of that.

Cheers + bis bald,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I have five friends

First of all sorry for taking so long to write another post. In between London, Miami, Rwanda and Palo Alto I somehow didn't find the time to sit down, come up with a decent topic and put it into words. Thanks to all of you out there who asked when I will post a new article. It feels good to know that the stuff is being read.

But hey, I found a topic and I found time. So lets go. 

How many friends do you have? 

4999? (I think thats how many you can have on Facebook)

I guess answers vary substantially to this questions as do definitions of a "friend". Is that someone that you met at a party and sort of remember the name of or is it someone that you call when your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you? Or is it someone in the middle?

And how many friends are actually normal? (I guess most of us don't want to look like social outcasts).

The topic has come up multiple times when talking to friends (or classmates, or colleagues or acquaintances or whatever you want to call those people). We only have two years at Stanford (and now less than one year left). Most of us are here because of the great people that also come here. Deepening that network and making lifelong friends is what an MBA is mostly about. But am I actually doing this? Should I be more open and reach out to more people I don't usually hang out with? I guess a lot of those questions are related to fear of not making the most out of whats out there.

I can't fully answer it, but I can at least try to make it a bit clearer for myself. Given that I have been moving more or less every two years for the last ten years it is really difficult to stay in touch with people. You don't just run into them at a party or at the supermarket, but you have to make an effort and send an email or a Skype invitation. 

Let me try to divide my social life somehow: 

1) Close friends: 5-10
From where: Everywhere (high school, college, work, b-school)
Stay in touch: Monthly and its a top priority to answer emails

2) Friends or people I hang out with: 50-150 
From where: Where I am right now
Stay in touch: Bump into them, parties, scheduled lunch meetings, etc

3) Lose Acquaintances: 100-250
From where: Everywhere
Stay in touch: Randomly through Facebook (but I know where they live and what they do), maybe meet up when I'm in town

4) People I know: ???
From where: Everywhere
Stay in touch: Not really, I have to ask what they do, where they live, but I know the name and how we met

So what does success for me at Stanford look like with regards to my social network:
- Find 1-5 people for my first bucket
- Find cool people to hang out with (also post-GSB)
- Expand (3) with cool people all over the world 

I think I have around 5 people I would do everything for. If I find one or two more here than I'm gonna be a happy camper. Thinking that one can find 50 new best friends is unrealistic, puts pressure on oneself and makes one be less oneself in my opinions. 

I think its a trade-off between quantity and quality and I'll definitely go for the quality side. 

Would love to hear your comments,

PS: Thinking back to my last post about engineering your life makes me realize that this post might actually go into that direction. Oh well... 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Engineering Yourself - How to increase your performance. Or not.

Time in bed: 5:13h
Sleep quality: 46%

I am at IAD in Washington waiting for my flight to Addis and feel a bit tired. Which makes sense because I only go 5:13h of sleep last night due to a delayed inbound flight. For the last six months I have been tracking my sleep with the sleep tracker app ( I thought it'd be good to get more transparency on my sleeping patterns so that I could make sure to monitor whether I go to bed early enough and which days of the week are especially tough for me to get enough sleep (Mondays by the way). I have noticed a couple of things and with the help of the app tried to smoothen out my sleeping pattern over the week. As a result I actually get more sleep and feel better. Whether thats true or just placebo I don't know. I just feel better.

After I go to the gym I have a protein shake. I take it with water and a splash of milk. Too much milk makes it more difficult for the body to absorb the protein. Or so I have been told. I watch my diet to not eat to many carbs and make sure to get enough other proteins in order to gain muscle and not get fat.

Before I go to bed I watch (German) news for fifteen minutes. During the day it is really difficult to keep up with whats been going on in the world. I feel that I need to know about current events in order to participate in conversations and to fit that image of smart, self-reflected and informed young professional.

When my mum tells me about an upcoming birthday in the family I ask her to send me a calendar invite so that I don't forget. At Stanford my day is very planned and does not leave a lot of room for a lot of spontaneity. Sometimes I block two hours for myself. I also block time to read or to go for a run. If its not in the calendar I'll have a hard time making time for those things.

Isn't it weird? I sometime feel that I am treating myself like a machine. Oil it well, push certain buttons and one gets great performance. It is as easy as that. I wonder whether thats actually the case though. I can see that this is actually counter-productive for certain (probably more creative) individuals, but maybe I don't give myself enough room for nothingness and for unplanned things. Maybe I should not worry about not getting enough sleep when I am out with friends and maybe I should not constantly think about that nagging conscience when I am haven't been working out lately. Yes, I might not get as buff as planned, but maybe I gain something in a different way.

Alright. I have to answer some emails and get a protein shake.

Cheers + bis bald,