Goodbye

I left the Warwick campus today. Much as I arrived: in the pouring rain.

And now I’m back in London, in my new home. A cheerful top floor of a pleasantly scruffy house down south. Lying on an unfamiliar bed, in the dim light of an dusky lamp, stone cold sober, thinking. And trying not to think too much about the one inescapable fact: I’m not going back there.

The richest experiences are rich precisely because they end quickly. A skydive, a jungle trek, even a month backpacking. You troll through the time taking action to take things forward. But the MBA had a community. When you’re working and studying in each others’ pockets and half the cohort lives a two minute walk away, you feel wanted, part of everything, alive, even in the most despairing moments late at night before an exam you know you’re not ready for. It wasn’t a year out; it was a life. And now it’s gone and I’m already missing it.

Lots to do, lots on the calendar. But the dreamy green campus is behind me now, and I’m sad. In just two week there’ll be another crop of bright-eyed MBA students using our Syndicate rooms, eating our doughnuts, sleeping in our beds. (And, if this year’s anything to go by, each other’s beds too.)

It was a great year. Thank you, Warwick University. Signing off…. now.

Bittersweet rush of a year in the classroom

The last roll call!

And just like that – it’s gone. The 14 courses of the Warwick MBA, all teaching now finished. Just last assignments and a dissertation to take care over the next couple of months. A final MBA party, hastily arranged, happened last night, and for a few beautiful hours everything was like September again.

And it’s been good. My only regret was I wish I’d … got into it earlier. I don’t feel I truly got the hang of studing and learning formally until Term 3; thinking back, terms 1 and 2 were nightmarish, winging it on worry and adrenalin. Trying to give the impression that you know what you’re doing takes serious energy, especially when you don’t.

But I’ve learned a few things about myself. I’m still a bad person, but perhaps a bit less bad than I was. And I realise now that I feel most strongly self-actualised when there’s something to push against, like deadlines and course timetables and people to let down. Exhausting and depressing it’s been at times, but it’s also been… awe-inspiring.

Ha ha. Me, who’s walked across deserts and sweated through rainforests, awestruck by a concrete college curriculum.

As an outsourced marketing guy I had essentially no obligations beyond turning a great headline, and that’s the trouble: working alone breeds megalomania. I spent the previous six years detached from reality. During this year I’ve gradually started the long trek back.

So: one of the three wishes almost done: build a relationship with the academic world. The other two I’m surprisingly confident about*, too. I came here not to earn a degree, but turn around a life that’d grown stale, and maybe knock off a few of the rough edges I acquired in six years alone.

I’m at the end of nine months of hard work, and all I want to do is go back and do it again differently. But then everyone would.

*Not telling you yet.

Sweet smell of … something

What a great surprise. Somehow I’ve passed all the Term 2 exams!

I expected to fail one and possibly three, given that a) I’m crap in exam halls, b) I’m not a finance guy, c) I’d deliberately chosen electives I’d find difficult (finance stuff), and d) I turned out to be the ONLY PERSON in the entire cohort doing FIVE of the bastards last term (three electives absolutely had to be on my list, which meant doing an extra one in Term 2 and one fewer in Term 3.)

And yet I’ve sailed through the rocky waters of the Examic Ocean. Not even ‘weak’ passes; only one score came a bit close to the wind, and on the assignments (the parts closest to reality) I’ve scored plenty, even in the finance stuff I’m no good at. Whooohooo!

Pleased that another quarter of this four-term MBA is done and dusted. But at the same time… a little disconcerted. Shouldn’t it have been harder than this?

I expected the numbers stuff to be hard; I don’t have a bad head for figures, I just know nothing about maths save an interest in concepts, so the algrebraic bond pricing derivative greek whatever has been hard work for me. And despite being a marketer of 15 years’ experience, I haven’t done well in ANY of the marketing courses this year.

As ‘soft scientists’, marketing professors don’t really want anyone whose experience was gained in the real world taking their programmes; it offends their sense of how the world ought to be. And it’s showed in my results: steady sixtysomethingpercents all the way through. (The stuff I wrote was perfectly valid marketing: it just wasn’t THEIR marketing.) But even so, those scores weren’t difficult to obtain.

I’d love to say I’ve been up until 2am every night studying, absorbing texts and case studies and burning away blood in the Learning Grid. But I just haven’t. (Except for the 2am mornings in the Learning Grid. But I’m a ‘night’ person by nature.)

The only genuine problem for me was all the group work an MBA entails; when you’ve been working as long as I have, some academic’s idea of what constitutes ‘group working’ tends to be both artificial and insultingly juvenile. On the POM course I felt like Kindergarten Cop. And a course packed with representatives of a single nationality didn’t help the time management aspect – or indeed the ‘diversity’ such courses like to trumpet.

(British MBA courses draw most of their cohort from the subcontinent these days, but for me, ‘Shout at each other excitedly at high volume until someone listens’ isn’t ideal academic practice. I came here expecting a degree course in the Western intellectual tradition, yet what I got was… Mumbai Central at rushhour.)

But that’s besides the point. I didn’t really swot or sweat blood from my forehead.

I just did what I always do. Opened a textbook the day before and… winged it. Which I’ve always been good at, too good at to stop. Winging it through life, on a feather-thin slice of cash and the ability to string a sentence together. I’m a fraud.

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself, and this is how everyone works.

I am scared to death of my Investments & Risk Management lecturer

I can’t believe it’s here so fast, but it is. My last module of the Warwick MBA is this week! And the lecturer is already scaring me shitless. What is this, Corporate Finance all over again? Another megabrained lecturer who I’m sure sneaks off at every break just to laugh at my incompetence with financial calculus?

Hell no. It’s worse than that.

This one’s got such a long CV I can barely believe she’s one person. She taught at Princeton, Oxford, and probably the InterGalactic Alliance of Extremely Clever People before Warwick; I’ve just been down her list of papers and most of them may as well be written in Latin. Whereas the Corporate Finance lecturer had a brain only moderately larger than that of Einstein, this one could have lectured Einstein and probably found reasons not to give him a pass. (“Think you’re getting out of that patent office anytime soon, Albert my boy? HUR HUR HUR HUR HUR HUR!!!”)

Investment & Risk Management requires Corporate Finance as a grounding, which means it’s going to be harder. Looking down the programme (I should possibly have started this more than 24 hours before the first lecture) there are long lists including things like Forwards and Futures, Derivative Swaps, Bond Portfolios (shaken not stirred) and enough greek letters to keep the Athens Post Office busy for months. Just how big IS their alphabet?

There’s a whole day on ‘Options’. I think my ‘option’ will be to sit with my head in my hands and sob quietly so she won’t ask me questions. Help!

I am quite pleased I could now hold a conversation with a CFA

Copy from an ad for the CFA (Certified Financial Accountant) institute: “If a CFA charterholder sits before you, she or he can evaluate undervalued and overvalued securities, calculate the values of callable bonds and puttable bonds, calculate alpha, calculate financial ratios used by credit analysts, analyze derivatives, alternative investments, taxes, pensions, inventories, and inter-corporate investments.”

It’s interesting to note that with the right electives, the Warwick MBA teaches you how to do every one of those things.