Friday, July 25, 2008

"Prospective Student" Visits Duke

Today was the big anti-climactic day for me at the Duke Fuqua School of Business. Today was the "prospective student" campus visit. I also had my application interview. I say "anti-climactic" not because I came away disappointed (I didn't), but because I knew that instead of this step being a few steps - and months - away from actually entering the program, it was instead still very much an uncertainty, with no definite path to fruition.

I was hoping that I would leave today with a sense of "belonging" or not. Did I fit in? Or would I feel out of place? Knowing that the chances are slim and none that I will be entering school in the next cycle which begins March 2009, would I still be interested in Duke? Would Duke still be interested in me? How patient am I?

Undoubtedly, as of today July 25, 2008, I believe that I will someday attend Duke's business school and work towards an MBA. Two months ago I would have never thought such a thing. Not because I didn't think it was possible, but it was not even a consideration then.

Today I experienced many unexpected things. First of all, SHY and QUIET me... as I sat at my table with the construction business owner from Asheville, the entrepreneur from India, the young executive from Wake Forest, and a Vice President of a brick company in Charleston, I found that it was me that was initiating the conversation and asking the questions of others. I also got out of my shell long enough to approach total strangers who were current students, and start talking to guys who looked like alternative band members, but who were so articulate and intelligent, I could not help but be engaged by what they were saying. I attended an actual class on Negotiations. I took in the material and answered in my head some of the questions the professor asked, as they discussed a film clip from the movie Wall Street.

I was impressed. And I felt at home. I felt like there was challenge there. Earlier in my education life, I sought more depth in Computer Science via advanced education at Ga Tech. The MBA is an advanced degree where I would broaden my scope and knowledge. I want that. I am eager for it.

My interview went very well, and I think I would be accepted should I apply. I showed my colorful business case charts to the interviewer. He seemed surprised - or perhaps flattered - that I would spend so much effort on a case to get myself into Duke. He complimented my "consultant" deck of charts, and then we were done. So I hope that showed my level of due diligence. At this point, my essays are done, and I have 2 of my 3 recommendations submitted. The last one should be posted this weekend. My plan we agreed to was that I would apply, without the letter of company support, and without any means for paying. And then they would send me a letter of conditional acceptance, provided I was accepted.

So I have done my homework. I will get the GMAT out of the way in 2 weeks, then I will leave it to God and IBM to decide what comes next and when. I am beginning to contemplate the thought of paying my way 100%. After buying DUKE shirts and/or shorts for everyone in my family, I can't possibly not go.

So what about the picture shown? While I would say that is "how I felt," the reality is that is Caleb (age 7) minus 2 front teeth, superimposed on a cellphone photo I took today at the student center. And right now, he and I are both just prospective students.

Time for Some Campaignin'

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Disappointing 24 Hours

Bottom line. My line VPs will not take my case forward because it is weak in their opinion due to my division's opinion that only a person clearly demonstrating himself as an executive would be under consideration. And since I have not had that level of exposure, the point is moot.

On the bright side, my VP offered me a new job reporting to him and leading a highly visible project. So, provided that goes well, I hope they will have a different opinion of me next year.

I still have the GMAT on August 7, and those scores are good for 5 years. I have the campus visit and interview this Friday. If, come January, I still have fire in my belly for the MBA, then I will consider applying into the last round (due Jan 15). I then may inquire again about sponsorship, or perhaps I will strike it rich by then and can pay my own way. I think the odds are slim that I would get company sponsorship AND be in a position to start in 2010. But maybe I'm just not patient enough.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Setback

Talked to my VP today. Not the one that has to approve, or the one below her who I think will be supportive... but the first VP in my mgmt chain. His assessment was that our company would only send someone to a program like this if they were already an executive with high potential to be a senior VP. It was a very discouraging conversation. Basically the message was, "are you crazy?" The fact is that all the people I know from my company who've gone into this program, with one exception, have been 1st line managers.... One guy was not even a manager yet. That's the difference in being in my division and the other. Anyway, I knew this would be a fight and so it is.

Hopefully, I will look back on this day as the day I had 2 flat tires. This was one. And the other happened 2 miles from home on a bike ride. I got back on track and made it back home in the latter case, and intend to do the same in the former.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Funny Things the Kids Say: Seth at the Swim Meet

At the swim meet this week, I noticed that Seth (and many of the other kids, for that matter) spends a lot of time looking around at the competition while he's swimming a race. That evening, I gave him some advice. "You shouldn't look around while you're swimming. Just swim hard and don't worry about what everyone else is doing," I said.

Seth said laughingly, "Yeah. I was swimming, and I looked around and I didn't see anyone in front of me, so I thought I was in first place! But then when I got done I realized everyone had already left the pool!" He's such a good sport.

For the record, he was 5th place. Out of 6. He's got a good build for a swimmer. So he'll get better if he practices.

Busy Week

Just a quick update. I picked up a few pounds during my week off, despite exercising every other day. Trying to get back down to the "new low" range again.

I've gotten all 3 essays for Duke application nearly completed, and all 3 recommendation invites sent out. Duke has given me the green light on pre-qualification.

I am worried about company financial support. Specifically, my organization is not the organization that tends to spend money around here. Ironcially, we are the ones who carry the comany when it comes to revenue and profit. Go figure.

I've yet to find a person in the last 9 years from my org who has been supported in such a program. I found one from 10 years ago, but we have changed quite a bit in 10 years. And that person said they knew of one person in my org who applied for the Duke program a few years ago but the org told him they would not pay for that, and to go somewhere cheaper, and so he went to UNC. I checked online, and UNC's b-school is about 22% cheaper, which is not that much of a difference, honestly. My next plan of action is to make a case that I can use to convince my vice-president to support me.

This has been a rough week back at work. I've not studied for the GMAT at all. I worked until 2:30am Tuesday night, then was up at 6:30am for a shower and 7am call.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Off This Week, But Busy

I took off all this week, and have been trying to move forward the MBA ball. Here are the main planets (aka dependencies) on my list that need to align:
  1. Conduct discussions with trusted colleagues (done)
  2. Convince myself that this is the right thing to do at this time in my life and career (done)
  3. Need sponsorship from my company (application submitted)
  4. Do well on the GMAT (scheduled for August 7 - I'm studying now)
  5. Get 3 letters of reference (3 people identified and informed)
  6. Write 3 essays (I have topics in mind)
  7. Transcripts ordered and sent to Duke (done)
  8. Resume updated and sent to Duke (done)
  9. Pre-qualification by Duke (pending review of resume and transcripts)
  10. Campus visit (July 25)
  11. Interview (TBD)
  12. Get my application in on time (August 13)
  13. Get accepted (4-6 weeks later)
  14. Get my job restructured so that it can be done in 40 hours a week starting in March, not 60
  15. Last but not least, get spousal support (I think I have that)

I have been studying the GMAT math portions the last 2 days, to brush up on some of the basic geometry and algebra needed. I've taken many practice questions, and have gotten to the point where I'm not missing questions because I don't know (as was the case last week), but because I am being careless. And so, I can fix that.

I'm switching gears to study verbal sections now. Hopefully, I've gotten better since my SAT days! Fun fun.

We just got back in town tonight after being in Richmond and/or Danville since Sunday. So the vacation is half over.