Archive for April, 2010

Careers Question: Laid Off, New Job Offer & Networking. What do I do?

So you’ve got the perfect long-term career plan.  Graduate from a good school. Get a good GPA. Move into a relevant business role after graduation. And then eventually land the job of your dreams. Well the good news is that having a career road map means you’re far more likely to get there. But there’s also bad news. The bad news is that vast majority of these plans tend to get disrupted pretty early.  And so while career road maps are one of the most critical pieces of long-term success, in my opinion, there one thing that’s a bit more important.

In today’s society, the ability to adapt is critical. Information changes by the second, competitors consistently enter the markets, and business plans are disrupted causing changes and conflict in the workplace.  And so the ability to adapt to change has become a necessity, not only true in your day to day activities at the workplace but also more broadly, as you consider your longer term path to career success.

In a recent question, one of my readers was recently let go from his job and so he was balancing a new job prospect on the horizon and also thinking about business school. So he wrote me and asked me for a bit of advice.  Below is his question and then below that my response.


READER’S QUESTION
Dear Jeremy,

First off, you have a fantastic website.  You seem to have a knack for connecting a lot of people, sharing good information, and then connecting people with that information.  Thanks for that.

So here’s my situation. I graduated from college in 2008, where I studies Business and Finance. Upon graduation, I worked at an investment firm as a client services analyst for about a year, but unfortunately got laid off when the economy went south. When I was hired, I had the goal to eventually become a wealth advisor, but at the time, there were no investment analyst spots open and they told me that this position was also a typical path to an advisor at their firm.

About six months after I was hired, the company did hire someone for the other position, instead of moving me to that role, and ironically that person still has a job today.  I was bummed for a bit, but sent out a few resumes and recently got an offer for another client services position, which seems to be a bit less technical but pretty similar. The firm is similar but smaller and they manage a lower number of funds.

I am trying to decide if I should take the new position I was offered, or continue looking for something more quantitative and investment-oriented. Most positions at bigger firms seem to be looking for college grads, so I’m not certain how I can move into this role. I was also wondering if I should I considering getting my MBA? Or if I should try getting a CFA? Or again, I could just take the offer, and start all over again?

Also, do you think networking helps in the investment management world? I have not spent much time doing that, but after reading your site, it seems as though I should be. Please advise.

Thanks in advance for taking the time.

Regards,
(Name)


MY RESPONSE
Hey (Name),

Thanks so much for your question and for reading my blog. I appreciate your kind words, and I hope you’re right about being able to connect with a wide range of people. Fortunately, I’m continuing to get more hits and responses as time goes on, and I hope you continue to keep reading, even after you find the perfect job!

So after reading your question, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of factors to consider: (1) the economy, (2) your short and long term career goals, (3) MBA or CFA qualifications, (4) and then the situation at your last job. Bringing all of these factors together and quickly make a decision now.

I remember having to make similar decisions over the past few years, and suspect I’ll be making them as I continue to progress in my own career. Often times it feels like a herculean task with a lot at stake if you make the wrong choice. The good news here is that there’s not a whole lot of pressure, given you’ve got a job waiting for you if you decide to take it. In any event, here’s how I like to think about the issues. In context, hopefully it’s relevant for you as well.

1. Nowadays, many people are making decisions based on the economy. In my view, that makes a lot of sense, especially for younger professionals like you who have not hit the “two years experience” threshold and that may not have quite as much cash in the bank so may not want to spend too much time off. In my personal experience, I know a couple of recent graduates who lost their jobs right after joining their companies and really struggled finding their next position, because they didn’t have the months/years of experience to bring to the table. In that sense, taking the job might be compelling. On the other hand, there’s definitely something to be said about taking your time, having a little patience, doing your research, and really finding the right company and the right role. One thing in your benefit is that it looks like you’ve gained some real technical experience in your last role (and in your academic career) so some companies will really value that if you decide to hold out.

2. Generally heading toward your dream jobis a multi-step process, including both the short-term (i.e. immediate next steps) and the longer-term (years down the line). The important thing here is to be sure that your ST goals align with your longer term vision. In this case, you have the option of hopping into another client services role at a different investment firm, and although it may not be a substantial step forward toward your dream job as an advisor, it is very related and seems to fit your story pretty well, while also providing you with a unique set of experiences to draw from once you do become an advisor. If I were in your position, I might do some more fact finding and see just how related this role is to your last role–degree of technical skill involved, contacts with advisors, actual client contact, how much of a sales role–and then reflect on how happy I’d be in that role.

3. (A) Many people choose to MBA when these sort of transitions don’t work out according to plan. But on average, folks in these positions tend to have closer to 4 or 5 years of experience as opposed to one year. And although some schools are taking early career candidates (CLICK HERE for my post on early career candidates) most still look for more than one year of experience and also a more compelling rationale for going early outside from being let go at work. (B) Further, it’s also important to do some research at some of your target schools to see how many MBAs actually go into wealth advisory field. In my experience, you certainly don’t NEED an MBA to be a wealth management professional. For example, when I worked at Morgan Stanley years ago, neither the 28 year old VP I worked not the Associate I worked with had MBAs, and at the time neither intended to go back and get one. On the other hand, some people still get an MBA before going into the field, including a Northwestern JD-MBA in my program who accepted an offer at a bulge bracket firm for after graduation.   (C) And finally, your thoughts about the CFA make a lot of sense, especially for the investment industry, where at some firms the CFA can be a proxy, or even preferred over an MBA. I’d suggest doing a bit more research to see what you can find in regards to this firm.

4. Given all the competing considerations above, I wouldn’t lose to much sleep over what happened at your last company. Unless there’s a contract with the company that included a specific term for length, or an agreement to move you to the new position (pretty unlikely), companies often tend to have discretion with hiring and pay decisions, and in the end, I suspect that your energy may be better spent sending out resumes, meeting with employers, and networking with people in the industry … as you already suggested.

In sum, yes strongly consider the new role and start networking. I write about networking on my site a lot (CLICK HERE for recent post on networking), but in short, you can start by reaching out to those in your close circles. Speak with them. Get information. Then expand your circles and get more information. It’s constant and ongoing.  The one thing people forget, though, is that the best time to reach out and expand your circles is when you don’t actually need to. So, if I were you now, I’d tread water carefully because you don’t want to come off as someone on the prowl, simply out for personal gain. And even if it did get you helpful information now, it likely won’t be useful in the longer run.

That’s because the best networkers are those who aren’t only out to build their own networks and find their own jobs, but they’re also out to help others get connected and find information as well.  And in the end, they probably spend a lot more time helping others than they do themselves.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 Leadership 1 Comment

Reflections After My First Final Exam

Constitutional Law has long been considered one of the hardest first year courses in law school.  Not only because the material is hard or because the issues are ambiguous, but also because it requires learning a lot of of information. And so the people that start studying early and put in more time tend to perform better than the rest of the class, which is the goal for most law students. Last night, I reflected a bit on what that meant to me, what it takes to achieve success after graduate school.

Having met a lot of successful people over the past couple of years, I’ve seen how so many things factor into becoming successful—getting started early, putting yourself in the right position at the right time, putting in the hours, having perseverance and stamina, and perhaps most importantly having passion.

Why? Because success is hard and competition can be stiff.  In law school, there are 65 students in each section competing on the same curve. And because of the law school culture most everyone puts in an inordinate number of hours studying and pulling all nighters, and so it becomes hard to differentiate yourself, especially in straightforward classes with less wiggle room for additional points on exams. In business school, everyone comes in with significant experience, some with pretty unique experiences and others from the typical “prestigious” jobs and industries. It’s even harder to differentiate yourself in that environment.

But school is a piece of cake when compared to becoming world class at the professional level—coming up with the next big internet start-up, making an argument in the leading supreme court case, winning a seat in congress, becoming a fortune 500 CEO, or being part of the banking team that takes the next Google public.  In fact, statistically speaking, you have a better shot of becoming a professional athlete.

Because in the end, there are too many things to wrong along the way. Internally, many people experience burnout over time, get overloaded with too much information, or loose motivation. Externally, people often give in to more lucrative opportunities arise, they concede to the herd mentality and change careers, and organizations often get the wrong perception of you because of something they don’t like in your background (stay tuned for a post on this).  And so like I’ve said before, Passion Is King! and it often times it becomes more important than anything else in your longer-term career success, especially when you’ve already found the activity that optimizes the mix of your passion and skill.

For example, if you don’t have the passion to study Constitutional Law, it’s likely you won’t get the top grade on the exam because it’s hard, maybe not even the median grade.  And what about the other 29 classes you take during law school, especially the curved ones, or with the professor you don’t connect with.  It becomes harder to stay focused, harder to turn down other opportunities, and harder to take risks because you have no skin in the game.  And in the end, it becomes harder, perhaps impossible, to get other people to believe in your idea, even if it’s a really good one.

There are plenty of JDs from all the top schools that experience this. They get good grades in school (mediocre grades in good economies), and then work at firms or organizations but never become the Managing Partner, can’t land a coveted GC role or break into new industries, and can’t garner the support to fund their entrepreneurial ideas.

Don’t get me wrong.  The majority of these folks go on to lead highly successful lives by almost every possible account. But for just for a minute, I’m talking about something a little more–like taking part in the Senate’s recent vote on health care (i.e. that also what our Con Law exam was about), leading the nation out of the current financial crisis, becoming the first diverse president, being the first woman elected to the supreme court, helping negotiate the rescue of imprisoned journalists by North Korea, or growing your high-tech computer start-up to become Silicon Valley’s most profitable and respected company and then being named CEO of the decade.

Northwestern Law and Kellogg are both great schools, and I suspect that most people here, if not everyone, will lead very successful careers. But I’m interested to see who will led by passion upon graduation, or at least  a couple of years after graduation.  This isn’t to say they won’t work at a firm or take a high-paying job.  After all, most students here have to pay back loans and really benefit from those jobs for a couple of years.  But it’s only to say that they’ll be ready to be decisive and make things happen when the time comes.

But for now, time to channel my passion to do a little studying for my Property Law exam on Friday. Good luck to everyone taking exams!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 Leadership 10 Comments

Crunch Time: The Countdown To Final Exams Begins

It’s that time of the year again. Just like in the NBA playoffs where last second shots and game winners that leave you on the edge of your seats become all too common in the spring time, in law school last second epiphanies, and changes in study techniques that result in pulling all-night’ers become common as final exams approach. And while I’d obviously prefer watching game winning shots on TNT with championships on the line, instead, I’ll be joining the rest of the school in the library as finals week is approaching far too quickly.

It’s business as usual here at Northwestern Law School as we’re now in the last few weeks of the semester. 1LS are hiding away in their apartments or in corner library cubicles, 3Ls are finishing projects and papers in anticipation of graduation, and some of the first year JD-MBAs are deciding if they should take a break today to attend DAK’s final event in downtown Chicago. It’s a hard choice given our first final exam is in less than 48 hours.

Last semester I did a good job managing my time when it was crunch time. I read intensely. I wrote and edited multiple outlines. I pulled multiple all-nighters. And I marshalled the information in a way that was both effective and informative. I even used the book series named Crunch Time to help. But second semester is always a bit different.

This semester, I’ve personally spent more time on a variety of chores and activities and have spent more energy organizing more chaos around me. It’s been more of a balancing act. In some respects that’s because we all know what it feels like to take the exams and we’re more well-prepared than we were last semester. Nonetheless, now it’s crunch time, which means it’s time to stop balancing so much and time to continue to increase hours reading, studying, outlining, and then re-doing all of those things until we’re ready for the exam.  I hope that things will work out the same as they did last semester.

The good news, though, like I said is that we all know what to expect.  So people are less stressed, my classmates are going home a bit earlier, and as a result, everyone seems to be a bit happier, at least relative to last semester. I suspect that the three hour- exams will also feel like a piece of cake this go round, especially for those of us that took part in the seven hour marathon exam in our Criminal Law Final exam with Len Rubenowitz last semester.

In the end, the exams won’t catch us by surprise, that’s for sure. Whether everyone’s new strategies are effective or not, we’ll see.  For me, the question now is whether what I did before will work again. Stay tuned to find out!

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Saturday, April 24th, 2010 Law School No Comments

Being Strategic With My Time During Reading Week

I remember the busy days of working at a consulting firm.  While we did have some normal days, sometimes there was a real sense of urgency, a lot more beeps and buzzes from BlackBerrys in the offices, and often people ran around at a more frantic pace in, especially when the work involved our big clients.  I’ve notice how many people who are this busy often like tell themselves, no big deal, this is just for today, tomorrow things will be better.  But it’s funny how that pace often extends for days at a time. In fact for some it goes the full week, and for others, it becomes a lifestyle. Interestingly enough, something similar thing happens during your first year in law school.

Managing your time is very important both in business and in law school. In law school, we spent weeks upon weeks scrambling around trying to get through four or five classes. We read multiple textbooks, analyze hundreds of cases, we meet with study groups to try to figure out what’s going on, and we read supplemental materials to gain better understanding. During the semester everyone moves at their own pace and develops their own styles.  But then at the end, we have what’s called Reading Week, and during reading week, everyone really starts to picks up the pace.

Law schools tell us they have reading week so we can have time to study thoroughly for exams. And at one point in the semester, when you’re all caught up, you start to think the extra time should be plenty of time to master the material. But from my perspective that’s not entirely true because most people get behind, get involved in other activities, and sometimes just get a bit tired. And so in my experience, reading week is also a time to make up for all the reading you didn’t do, to catch up on outlining, and to catch up on administrative things you have to finish (i.e. I just did financial aid last week). And as such, it also becomes a time where some people constantly remind themselves of how much they need to study before our final exams.

A lot of people stress out about reading week, although this semester seems much more lax than last. I suspect that is both because people are too tired to be relaxed and because with one semester under our belts, people are relying a bit more heaviliy on their legal analysis and analytical skills rather than pure work ethic to do well.

Most of us have our first final exam on Monday, in Constitutional Law.  That should be the toughest one. Despite that, I’ve personally, I’ve still maintained a pretty balanced lifestyle though. Not only am I still writing posts on my website, but I’m also keeping active with other things.  This past weekend I went to a full day leadership seminar and networking event for Stanford alumni, called Leading Matters (Click here to see my recap of the event) Last night I went to a talk by renowned economist, and Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, and it was well worth the time. Today, I’ll be having lunch with a JD-MBA admit, who also happens to be a Stanford grad, and I hopes to show her how great the JD-MBA program here is.  Tonight I’ll be headed out to Evanston for a kick-off event for Kellogg’s second Admit Weekend (DAK 2), which like last year, should be a lot of fun. And concurrently, I’m also gearing up for my role on the Executive Committee for BMA at Kellogg. Since most committee members are first year MBAs about to head into their second year, and not entering students, I have to play a little catch up before I can get started. And unfortunately, a lot of that happens now, in the final quarter at Kellogg, right in the middle of law school final exams.

So yes, I’m pretty busy, just like the old consulting days when we had to cater to a big client. Or perhaps a better analogy, just like the old consulting days when I was also applying to business and law schools, which was right in the middle of the economic recession, and where we had to bill every hour we could get.  And no matter how busy I am today, I’m not sure I’ll ever be that busy again. But I guess we’ll see soon enough. Either way, I’m off to go do some reading. After all it is reading week.

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Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 Law School No Comments

Leading Matters: Stanford University At The Forefront Of Change

As an anthropology major, I’ve read a lot of papers by the great anthropologist Margaret Mead. In one case she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Well, if this is true, than we certainly need more of these groups today. The current economic crisis is still on everyone’s mind, in addition to other issues like clean energy, new Supreme Court justices, and failing investment banks and law firms.  I’m not surprised that many of the law students and business students, not only at Northwestern but also across the nation, are feeling a little nervous in the midst of uncertainty. But in my opinion, times of uncertainty are good because they also create opportunity. And “we have to be willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.” At least that’s what Stanford President John Hennesey told us at a leadership conference in Chicago this past weekend.

This past Saturday, I returned to Stanford to reconnect with hundreds of alumni and former classmates. No, not literally; it’s finals week here at Northwestern Law. Instead Stanford came here, to Chicago, as part of their Leading Matters tour to showcase how the school is playing a leading role in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And the Cardinal crowd in Chicago was well represented—students and alumni from the GSB, alumni from the law school, and others from various departments and schools at Stanford–and there were over 500 alumni registered for the Chicago event.

Among others, Penny Pritzker, President Hennesey, and Helen and Peter Bing were there.  And for all my law school readers, I also had a chance to hear and meet Constitutional Law expert, former Stanford Law School Dean, and current litigator at Quinn Emmanuel, Kathleen Sullivan. I found her talk to be especially compelling, given my first final exam is in Constitutional Law and given that all 65 of the rest of my section mates were in their apartments or at the school studying while I was at the event downtown. (Click here for my follow up post on the Constitutional Law exam).

The entire crowd was engaged and ready for an inspiring afternoon. After almost every remark for the first five minutes, a series of claps, and “wows” would ripple through the audience from front to back, and sometimes back to front, often ending with those around me, an entire row of Stanford MBAs. In his welcoming address, Mr. Hennesey ended with the remark I mentioned above … that “This is a university willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.”

In that moment, right at the outset, I re-connected with Stanford, which unfortunately has been a rare experience given I’ve spent the past four years in Boston, Phoenix, and Chicago. And for the day, I didn’t think much about my upcoming finals here at law school. Instead, I took the day to engage in the event, connect with old friends, conjure up old memories and traditions, think about the broader vision that Stanford had, and finally to do what I enjoy most, meet lots of new people.

I attended the first few sessions with GSB alum Marquis Parker (MBA & M.Ed, Class of 2006, and Stanford MBA blogger).  I also re-connected with fellow 05 Anthropology major, Andrea Lazazzera, who also happened to be the master-organizer of the Chicago event! I saw two of my good friends from my undergrad days, who I met during Stanford’s Engineering Academy. I had drinks with  a good buddy who also lives in Chicago but who I don’t see often because of law school.  And I even ran into a Stanford grad that graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It was great seeing everyone again.

But more than the great connections that I made at the event, the underlying purpose was to show that leadership matters and that Stanford is playing a leading role as the nation is facing real challenges ahead.  And “in a series of panels, speeches, and seminar sessions, President Hennessy, deans and faculty shared their bold visions for Stanford in the 21st century.” They discussed the current financial crisis, foreign policy issues, clean energy, Obama’s appointment for the Supreme Court, and how Stanford leaders were leading in all the fields.

“It was pretty impressive. The entire event blew me away. I was inspired,” one of the guests said to me as the day concluded.  Another alumni commented that “it was good to see everyone again in such an inspiring environment.” I agree with both of the comments. And what I found most interesting about the event was that topic of money or donations never came up, at least not to my knowledge. Instead, the focus of the event was on education and on leadership.

And in the end, I re-engaged with the idea that when we bring ourselves together around a common purpose and when we connect with others, with ideas, and with inspiring leaders, then we can effect change on a broader scale.  Not only because we have more hands to help and minds to come up with ideas but also because you can connect with the hearts of the people, and inspire them to do more than they could have ever imagined on their own.

And after being capped off by a 15-20 minute video during dinner, the event did just that.  The message was compelling and well worth the time, even in the middle of finals week. In fact, after the event, I’m now even considering heading to the one in Boston toward the end of the year (I spent a few years in Boston before Chicago) and maybe even to the one in the Bay next month, depending on how my summer work schedule plays out.  The event in San Francisco already has nearly 900 registered attendees, and could turn out to be a huge reunion-type event.

Either way, Bravo Stanford! And best of luck the remaining events!

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Monday, April 19th, 2010 Leadership 13 Comments

US News MBA Rankings and Law School Rankings

Only months after seeing the worst of the financial crisis and watching professionals flock back to business and law school, it seems as though people are paying more attention to school rankings than ever before.  Even though many still maintain that fit is the most important factor when applying to grad school, it’s undeniable that applicants are shining a bigger spotlight on rankings than usual.  While dozens of websites and magazines come out with their version the annual rankings, U.S. News has long been considered the gold standard. And just last week, we finally learned which schools struck gold in 2011.

Last Friday, the U.S. News released its 2011 B-School and Law School rankings.  It’s no surprise that as usual, there was very little change at the top of both lists, a fact which was also confirmed by the leaked rankings days before.  In the end, my opinion is that these new rankings don’t really change much, because I personally think that there are a lot more things to consider when choosing a school than the school’s ranking. However, most people do factor ranking into their analysis, so it is interesting to see how things shake up from year to year.  As such, below I’ve listed the top 15 ranked MBA programs for 2011. You can also click here to see the full list on US News website and click here to see how U.S. News came up with its rankings (i.e. methodology).

1.   Harvard Business School
1.   Stanford Graduate School of Business
3.   MIT Sloan
4.   Kellogg / Northwestern
5.   Chicago / Booth
5.   Wharton / Penn
7.   Tuck / Dartmouth
7.   Haas / Berkeley
9.   Columbia Business School
9.   NYU / Stern
11.  Yale SOM
12.  Ross / Michigan
13.  Darden / UVA
14.  Fuqua / Duke
15.  Anderson / UCLA

Similarly, here are the top 14 for this year.  You can click here to see the full list of law schools and click here to see how U.S. News came up with its rankings (i.e. methodology).

1.    Yale
2.    Harvard
3.    Stanford
4.    Columbia
5.    Chicago
6.    NYU
7.    Berkeley
8.    Penn
9.    Michigan
10.  Virginia
11.   Duke
12.   Northwestern
13.   Cornell
14.   Georgetown

Sunday, April 18th, 2010 Law School No Comments

Can I Get You A Drink? Kellogg’s MBA Admit Reception

Have you ever been at an event and seen someone you really wanted to chat with for some reason or another but didn’t.  Perhaps someone you recognized from high school or college; or someone you knew had the insight you needed for work or class; or maybe just someone you thought was interesting, but you never quite found the moment or the courage to go introduce yourself.  Well, the good news is that it’s completely normal and that it’s probably happened to all of us.  But here’s an interesting question. What if after leaving you found out that the other person was hoping to get the chance to chat with you too?

My question arises having just attended Kellogg’s admit reception last week. It was a two-hour event, organized by Kellogg admissions and hosted by the Chicago offices of Deloitte Consulting here in Chicago.  Overall, it was certainly an interesting mix and a good number of people, some who I recognized from previous events and many others who I met for the first time. I always enjoy going to these types of events, as they’re usually a good way to meet new people, which is something I personally enjoy.

The event started at 6:30pm and took place on a Thursday.  I walked in with one of my JD-MBA classmates. We were a few minutes late, so I was pretty excited to finally make it to the event.  As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I scanned the room to see who was around. Gazing from left to right, I saw a sign-in table to my left, the table of appetizers directly in front of me, and to my right, that’s where the lions share of people were standing, over by the bar. “Can I get you a drink?” was the first thing I heard upon entering the doorway to the  room. I figured it was probably going to be an interesting night.

The first thing I did was head over to the sign in table. I figured that would not only allow me to grab my name tag and sign in but also to chat for a few minutes with the admissions team.  I’ve gotten to know a few of them over the past year or so at these types of events, since I originally applied last year as a JD-MBA, so I enjoy chatting with them when I can. I also figured that I might some good information about which of the JD-MBAs would be showing up that night, since I had heard from a lot of them earlier in the day.

So I quickly chatted with one or two members of the admissions team and talked about the upcoming admit weekend in late April. I took a look at the list to see which JD-MBAs would likely not be coming out and I concurrently scanned the room to see who was around.  And after leaving the check-in table quickly found my way to a few good conversations.  The first who actually turned out to be a 2009 alum who worked in marketing in Chicago. I actually saw her in the elevator right up in front of me on the way up to the event, so knew I’d eventually catch up with her.  I also ran into an MLT Fellow and a friend who I met in New York City a few weeks back. I enjoyed engaging in conversations and seeing where people where from and what other schools they were considering. Although for some people doing this may be a bit less natural, having food, being admitted to the same school, and having a bar usually helps to mitigate that.

At some point, I finally made my way over to the bar for a glass of wine, but I spent more of my time and energy chatting with people nearby. I did this for about 30 or 45 minutes before we had to head into the adjacent room where Kellogg had set up a 5-person panel of alumni to talk about their experiences. Most people grabbed a drink from the bar on the way into the room and took a seat to see the panel session.  Taking my glass of wine with me into the other room as well, I decided to sit at a table where I didn’t know anyone at the time.

The panel was facilitated by Director of Admissions, Beth Flye and led by a panel member who was a partner at Deloitte, and an older Kellogg alum.  It was pretty typical panel, though instead of fielding many questions, Kellogg threw them a few underhand softball questions for most of the time. And by the time, they opened it up for Q&A, I think most people were ready to mingle again.

One thing that interested me just before the event ended was that I ran into my friend that I’d met in New York City a second time that night. And he was looking for finance information about Kellogg, specifically alum in the private equity industry.  I was surprised he hadn’t bumped into anyone that night, because I found a number of them in the room, including the person I spoke to five minutes before form Madison Dearborn.   Although people like to call Kellogg a marketing school, Kellogg usually has more finance majors than marketing, so it tends to attract a lot of people just like this.  So I shared the information I found with him, as did a Kellogg professor who was at the event.

And that tends to be my usual mentality at these types of events. Find a way to help someone. Give information, show concern, and connect them with someone else. Because in the end, everyone wins. Someone finds the information they need, and more generally, more connections you established, which pave the way for making new ones and learning new information. It’s also a lot more fun.

In my view, every meeting or conference can be a game changer.  You can change the game for someone else, or someone else can change the game for you.  In today’s age, where there’s increased pressure to work longer hours in a bad economy and where internet is king, it can be easy to sit back, send emails, and rely on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook to make connections.  Don’t get me wrong, those can be very useful tools that connect you globally, all across the world. But at the same the Internet connections can’t replace real connections.  And while for some people doing that is harder than it is for others, that’s still no reason to stay home. Try doing a bit of research before the event, and think about other ways to help you connect. And when all else fails, ask someone if you can get them a drink. At events like this, most people won’t turn you down.

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Monday, April 12th, 2010 Business School No Comments

Day At Northwestern Law 2010 Kick-Off

In my view, nothing is more important for any organization than making the right people decisions.  That’s not only true for business, banks, and law firms, but also for graduate schools, including law schools. Most schools go about this differently because different schools value different pieces of the application and so they look for different things from applicants. Ideally, most schools hope that all admits would eventually choose to attend, but realistically they know only some of them will.  And that’s why schools have admitted student weekends.

Shortly after I was admitted to Northwestern Law, I came out to Chicago for Day at Northwestern Law (DANL), which is the law school’s version of “Admit Weekend.” When I originally was accepted to various business school and law school programs, I decided it would be beneficial to visit all the campus before actually making my final decision on attending business school. The rewards from visiting schools were numerous. I saw people who might be in my class the next year, met a large number of people, learned more about the individual programs, and ultimately found comfort in my final decision.

In the end, I’m quite happy with my choice to come here to the Northwestern JD-MBA program. It’s been an interesting and challenging experience so far at the law school and it sounds like my time at Kellogg will be just as fun. But I have found the two environments to be quite different. And that difference is also evident in the admissions process.

As it turns out, in law school, the yield rates (i.e. number [those who accept offers] / [total number of offers]) are much lower than business school rate. So there are more people at those weekends that may not be in your class. This has more to do with the application process than anything else. In law school, applicant tend to apply to far more schools. That’s because the applications are more standard, need less personalized information, are often shorter, and even cost less money. So applicants can crank out more applications and usually end up with more choices as a result, which means more schools get “NOs” from students.

As such, it seems as though for some law students, the admit weekends may be pretty important. While some students pick law schools entirely based on ranking, many get comfortable with a certain range of rankings, and after that look more at program, fit, and culture, some of which weigh that more highly than ranking. For the latter group, and hopefully to convince some in the former group, schools have events like DANL.

DANL 2010 just kicked off on Friday.  They had a pretty interesting day of events, met alumni, met other admits, and had a few sessions during the day. As part of that, a few students came to my Con Law and Property classes. They also took part in a dinner at a local restaurant “Zoo Life” and came to the annual year end show, put on by a group of law students.

Today, they have a jam-packed schedule since it’s the weekend, where more students can help. Schools usually jam as much into the schedule as possible, and it begins bright and early before 9am.  Though it will be interesting to see how many admits make the 9am deadline considering I saw a number of them out pretty late the first night.

These sorts of events are a good way for Northwestern, and all schools, to do some recruiting and increase yield. Given the volume of admits and events though, it’s indeed a group process to make that happen. Conventional human capital theory says that recruitment is most effective as a team sport.  As soon as you have one teammate, then the workload splits 50-50. With two teammates, it’s 33-33-33.  Then 25-25-25-25. And so on. This is especially important when in admissions recruitment and at events like DANL, where you want to hit a critical mass, reach out to more and more people, give everyone a chances to ask questions and uncover information, and have someone there with experiences in everything NU Law.

I’m personally here helping out this weekend too. I’m doing what I can to help speak to the JD-MBA admits and other admits who want to discuss careers issues.  In fact, I’m helping at a careers table today during the fair in just a bit.  I personally had a lot of fun at my admit weekends (mostly MBA schools), and I even had a blast going back to DAK (Kellogg admit weekend) this year as a law student.  So I guess this is my way of giving back.

Peer support is pretty big at Northwestern, so giving back is pretty easy.  And when you have one person who wants to get involved, that mentality often cascades throughout the school, or at least through the club, and in the end you may end up with a lot of people who want to pitch in and help.  And at that point, you go from 25-25-25-25, to 1-1-1 … which is ideal. It’s the whole idea that a team working together can accomplish a lot more than the sum of its individual capabilities.

In this case, we can share more information, and help people make more informed choices about coming to Northwestern Law next year.  After all, the more committed students we have here the better off we are. We can improve our events, curriculum, and networks, and we can bring the students and alumni more opportunities. In the end, those things are better for everyone.

But as for DANL. We’ve only made it one day so far, so still have a bit more work to do to pull that off. In fact, I have to leave now to help at the activities fair.  I’m part of the Careers Committee here and given the economic environment, I suspect we’ll have a good number of admits with questions about recruiting.  After that, I plan to sit on a JD-MBA panel. I’ll fill you in on how everything turns out.

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 Law School 2 Comments

How Much Do CEOs Make? Are You Sure You Added That Up Correctly?

There is a lot of talk about how much public company CEO’s make, especially at companies performing poorly, those repaying TARP money, and those handing CEOs large bonuses, while the business is imploding. Every April, the whole world has the chance to shine a spotlight on these CEO paychecks.  That’s because spring is the annual proxy statement season, and calendar-year public companies disclose compensation numbers. This means General Counsels work with JDs at law firms and MBAs at consulting firms to do valuations and finalize their SEC filings. It’s interesting to see how pay can swing like a pendulum from one year to the next depending on firm performance.  But perhaps more interesting is the fact that levels also happen to change when they are interpreted by a a different valuation firm. Even in the same year.

Just last week, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal published respective lists of the top 200 CEO’s pay packages from last year.  But to my immediate surprise, I noticed that each list ended up with pretty different results. Compensation for some CEOs was different on WSJ than on NY Times, and in some cases, the spread was significant.  HPQ’s CEO, for example, was paid a total of ~$11MM according to the WSJ though the NY Times reported ~$24MM.  But more surprising, and maybe more scary, was that both valuation firms are considered highly-reputable, industry experts when it comes to executive compensation.

Given the resources used for the studies, I didn’t expect to see such inconsistently.  In today’s environment, where executive pay is already under scrutiny, and where banks are doing little to help the case, companies have no incentive to make compensation even harder.  That said, the herculean task of figuring out executive compensation is critical. Company reputations are at stake and executives will have even less chance in the court of public opinion. And conversely, it would be a real economic breakthrough for economists and businesses to figure out how to balance rewards with incentives.

To that end, below, I’ve provided a few details below about the two studies. I’ve included (A) Links to the studies (B) Information on firms that carried out the studies (WSJ and NYT simply reported the information) (C) A few big picture takeaways (i.e. my opinions)

(A) Links To Studies
1. New York Times Study
(i) Pay Table
(ii) General Discussion
(iii)
Valuation Techniques

2. Wall Street Journal Study
(i) Pay Table
(ii) Discussion
(iii) Valuation Techniques

(B) Firms Behind The Studies

1. The NY Times study was put together by a firm named Equilar. Equilar is the undisputed industry leader in compensation research. Its analysts dig through proxy statement for a living, and they tend to be consistent in their approach. Many top compensation consulting firms utilize services from Equilar, and some use them extensively.
2. The Hay Group put together the WSJ study. Its Compensation Consulting group is very good and competes with top firms for projects. However, in my experience, it does not always hang with Mercer, Towers Perrin, Watson Wyatt, and Aon for top clients. I suspect all of the firms here, including Hay Group use, or have used, Equilar quite a bit.

- Comparisons aside, both firms should have more than enough resources and experience to do this study, and the real challenges are (i) finding all the numbers, (ii) maintaining consistency of methodology of those numbers across the 200 companies, and (iii) using a sensible option pricing model to calculate the expected stock value (i.e. black scholes). Not a cake walk by any means, but doable.

(C) What does this mean? For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion:

  1. Stock compensation is hard to value. There are a large number of assumptions in every calculation, many of which change depending on the effective date and are subject to late disclosure, non-disclosure, or improper disclosure by the companies. It also depends on all the black-scholes assumptions.
  2. If these expert firms can’t come up with consistent numbers, then the media definitely has no business putting out numbers in magazines and papers, which influences and persuades the general public.
  3. Similarly, articles bashing “Pay for Performance” should also be assessed on the merits of the research and experience of the researcher. And to be valid, they should be back with a good data set.
  4. Governance standards for proxy filings still has room for improvement. I suspect they will continue to refine the rules, come up withe more standard approaches, and further incent companies to follow. In the past few years, they’ve made some progress.

But these are all high level ideas, easier written about in a post than driven forward, and easier discussed than executed. Executive pay analysis is difficult, not only because it’s highly-technical and nearly impossible to interpret inconsistent and non-standardized data, but also because many numbers are never even disclosed and because the rules of the game are continuously changing. The good news is that the U.S. has taken strides over the past few years, and they’ve taken leaps and bounds as compared to the rest of the world.

But now that we’re in a bit of a standstill with the economy and there are so many questions about valuation, how do we know that these plans even work? And what can we do to continue to incent executives to drive companies forward?   Well, for one, I suspect companies will eventually figure out a more consistent methodology to use when analyzing CEO pay plans–the SEC can do it’s part by making more targeted rules. But they should also allow the best leaders at companies to continue leading.  Not only through developing performance and compensation schemes, but now also by giving them incentive to be creative, innovative and develop as leaders.

That’s because the most successful companies spend more of their time talking about new possibilities and walking down the path of innovation than they do about money.  After all look at companies like Google and Apple, where innovation is king!  Don’t get me wrong, these guys get paid well and they spend a lot of time coming up with the right pay packages, but that’s not the primary driver. And in the meantime, maybe U.S. companies will finally spend more time thinking about that and eventually find a bit of insight into what really drives CEOs and how to harness that to achieve better results.  Some theorists suspect that finding this would lead to even better company performance, suggesting that incentive programs actually destroy intrinsic motivation. It’s an interesting debate.

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 Labor Economics 3 Comments

Good Friday … For Labor and Job Statistics

The US economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest net gain in over three full years. That’s good news right?  Well, that depends on who you ask.  Some say that it’s clearly good news, and that we’re finally moving in the right direction. But others say that the stats are superficial, and that they don’t address the underlying economic issues. I’m not sure what the real answer is, but one thing is for sure. The job market does seem to have a little bit more life. And sometimes, momentum can be a good thing.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently agreed in an interview with Businessweek and said “there’s a momentum building up” in the U.S. economy and the odds of it faltering have “fallen very significantly.”  The Obama administration agreed. White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said that “job creation will accelerate.” And Christina Roemer, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said suggested that there’s a “gradual labor market healing.”  And so it sounds like there may be a subtle wave of optimism that seems to be lingering.

That is definitely the case at business schools, where although recruiting numbers may be slightly down [(i) I don't know for sure and (ii) It's not over yet], they won’t be down by much. And during recruiting season, the students seemed to be pretty confident about their chances. Some of the ones I know did well. Many will be working at banks, consulting firms, Fortune 500′s, and start-ups. Even at the law school, things seem to be trending upward. It’s harder to tell exactly how things will play out, since law schools tend to do the vast majority of recruiting in the fall. But the message I’ve heard from most firms and organizations is that things will at least be a little better. I look forward to reporting the real news this fall.

That said, I don’t think these stories are necessarily compelling.

1. First, the administration has the herculean task of managing the negative sentiment that came from the past two year and balancing that with a more optimistm to keep people motivated and working hard, all while delivering a message that’s both truthful and transparent.

2. And more importantly, it’s not necessarily compelling because (i) the world of MBAs and JDs headed to become consultants, bankers, lawyers, fund managers, and non-profit leaders doesn’t reflect the overall economy. In fact, it’s really only a small fraction of the economy.  The average person doesn’t attend a top 10 law or a premier business school nor do they hunt for six-figure jobs in their mid twenties, if ever.  So many times, that person may end up jumping through a lot more hoops to get to the “promise land” of finding employment.  (ii) And not only do these individuals represent a small percentage of the overall economy but they also have the advantage of undergoing a highly sophisticated recruiting process that starts well before interview season begins. A process where employers have coffee chats, luncheons, mixers, and receptions months before recruiting ever begins. And a process where hundreds of employers accept resumes, come to campus, and interview dozens of students on campus, all day. And sometimes multiple days.  So taking a step back and looking at everything from a 30,000-foot, big picture view, I see that it’s a privilege to have the process in place.

So with a 30,000-foot view in mind, here are the objective arguments about the labor force, from both sides.

1. One on hand, the hard numbers from BLS do suggest improvement. (i) In total, employers added 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest monthly gain in three years. That’s always a good starting point.  (ii) Manufacturing payrolls have also reportedly increased. (iii) This story is also true for heath care employers, who added ~27,000 full-time jobs and ~40,000 private-sector temp jobs. (iv) Surprising is that construction field held steady for the first time, after losing nearly ~865,000 last year.  (v) Further, sources also suggest that the investment banks are finally starting to breathe again, and that broadening their scopes of services has helped them to decrease risk and squeeze out more revenues. (vi) And finally the unemployment rate is still down to 9.7%.

2. On the other hand, context suggests that the grass may only look greener. (i) I suspect we’re all aware that the number of jobs and hence total payroll numbers continue to skydive in financial industry. Venture capital and entrepreneurship numbers also remain low. (ii) However, even the numbers that are improving, according to US News, may really be more related to a reduction in labor force than an improving economy.  (iii) But despite these more nuance calculations, even real growth number, according to some sources, are lower than expected. For example, forecasters expected ~200,000 new jobs in March, not 162,000.  And that’s in spite of the fact that BLS reported more census takers this year than usual. Not only does that potentially positively change the accuracy of the reporting of the numbers but it also increases the number of actual jobs created.  And coincidentally, these happen to be six-month temporary jobs, not full-time permanent jobs.  While adding temp jobs is a good way for businesses to pick up and a good way for folks to earn a bit of cash, it also may not be indicative of any real economic trend.

In a recent post, Former Secretary of Labor said something similar. Rob Reich said “These are six-month temp jobs, and they tell us nothing about underlying trends in the labor market. It’s hard to gauge precisely how many were hired — probably between 100,000 and 140,000, although some estimates put the hiring as low as 48,000. Almost a million census workers will need to be hired over the next few months. Subtract these, and today’s job numbers are good but nothing to write home about.”

Conventional wisdom pinpoints that demand for such temporary employees increases during recessions and during recoveries, so employers can get the help they need, while also shining a spotlight on their budgets and reigning in expenditures. This may mean that we’re still somewhere in the middle.  Either way, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and unfortunately, nobody has the million dollar crystal ball to lead us into the future.

In light of that, I think I like some of the positive signs. After all, psychology plays a big part in market movements and perhaps a bigger one in its recoveries.  There are a lot of different ideas and competing opinions out there, a few are from experts, a good number from those who have agendas, a lot with a different perspectives than you or I have, and most of them with different levels and sources of research.

And in the end, how you frame the issues will affect [and possibly even change] your viewpoint.

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Sunday, April 4th, 2010 Labor Economics No Comments

#AskJeremy – Recruiting Question: Breaking Into The Consutling Industry Wtih Low Undergrad GPA?

Imagine this. Your company is looking for a new CEO. Finally, after months of rigorous interviews and hours on the phone pouring over candidate resumes with your search firm, two candidates finally made the short-list. But the board is split. One candidate has the background most of us dream of–elite schools, blue chip companies, well-connected, and looks the part. But the other has something different. A spark. An obvious desire to make things happen. He much hungrier to take over the helm and had more creative, actionable ideas in all of his interviews. You also really connected with him during the meeting. But just one problem. He has no proven record at a firm like yours. Which of the two would you choose?

In most cases, it seems likely that the two candidates wouldn’t be quite so different. But even if they were, I suspect that the answer would be “it depends.” It might depend on the board, the other executives, the industry, sector, and stage of the company.  There are many factors that go into hiring a CEO and into hiring decisions generally.  That’s why in most industries, search firms help facilitate the process.  They post jobs, work networks, make calls, screen dozens, and sometimes hundreds of resumes, interview candidates, and work for weeks, even months to fill a single slot. And in a recent message, I received a question from a reader who feared just that. As an applicant to the consulting industry, he feared that his application would be lost in that pile of a hundred resumes and that he’d go weeks, even months with no luck, given he’s the “inexperienced” person in my hypothetical above.

I responded with a few words, which I’ve shared below. But I’ll also note, that my answer only scratches the surface, as there are so many factors that might go into recruiting in the consulting field that it’s impossible to talk about all of them in a single post. Hopefully this post will be helpful as a good start.


THE ORIGINAL MESSAGE
Dear Jeremy,

I really enjoy your blog. It’s very well-written and informative! Here’s my story.

I’m an undergraduate student looking to eventually end up in consulting and currently looking for an internship. I’ve found a small firm that I’m really interested in. I sent them a email, got a response, and met with one of the consultants earlier in the week. I had a pretty good experience and think I may have a small shot at getting an internship at the firm.

But I currently go to (state university) and my GPA is a 3.2, which is low for the consulting field, and I don’t have any real finance, accounting, engineering, or even business coursework. But because of my meeting, the consultant said he’s willing to accept my resume during current recruiting cycle. However, because they’re openly targeting a 3.5+ GPA, I don’t know if I have a chance.

At the end of the day, I really want to work in the management consulting industry, but am not sure what to do next. Was wondering if you can help? Do you have any suggestions on how to maximize my chance of getting in the industry.

Thank you in advance,
(name)

Hey (name)

Thanks so much for your message, and for reading my blog.  I appreciate your kind words and hope you continue to read.

So, in general, most experts will tell you that performance always trumps pedigree.  And that instead, hard work, intelligence, speed, and raw intellectual capacity is more important. It’s what companies like to call the “meritocracy.” In a sense, meritocracy is part of the “American Dream” where everyone gets a fair shot, where opportunity has no bound, and where climbing the ladder is based on your performance in the workplace.  But as nice as that my sound, it has few issues.  1.  As a firm manager, how can you measure all of these things from two candidates you don’t know and have never seen perform. 2. And even if you could measure, most people are human, and make decisions based on their experiences, especially when they don’t have a real basis for analysis. 3. Where do things like talent, attitude, future potential, integrity, and ability to lead come into play? 4. And finally, what happens when the decision is ambiguous and multiple people don’t agree. Or worse, if they choose the wrong person.

Which leads me to my point. My point is that, while in an idealistic world, a company based solely on merit (or on future merit) would be great, it’s almost impossible to create that environment. There are too many complex business and political factors, and too much information that can’t be uncovered. This is especially true for new hires, and more specifically for college graduates.

That said, I think your concern i justified, as on average, you probably won’t win too many resume “competitions” in your quest for a management consulting role. That’s because at many of those firms grades are king, and school names, connections, and previous experience are like keys to the treasure chest of employment. But for this firm, you may still have a chance. I’ve laid out a small framework of things you might consider as you think about it.

1.  Assess Fit. First, since this firm is a boutique, the firm might interview you in  one of two ways. One on hand, it may be highly selective as a small firm, and so those who gain employment may have to fit very strict criteria, and that may be grades, cultural fit, connections, geography, specific expertise, energy,  or a combination of those, and maybe other factors.  On the other hand, the firm may really need help, and they may be looking now, or may not have a lot of applicants, and so it might prioritize someone who wants to come in and work hard, and choose the applicant who has the most passion to work in the industry. I’ve navigated this process multiple times and in my experience it can be hard to predict. Though I’ll note that many of the most successful boutiques were indeed pretty selective.

For you, having already talked to a consultant, you’re in the drivers seat and have the best view of what’s actually true. If the latter, then you may want to follow through and submit your resume. After all, if he really liked you, he may push for your into the second round. On the other hand, if you’re having doubts and don’t feel comfortable submitting now then you also have the option of rescinding. As a smaller company, they may understand, though you also run the risk of coming off as indecisive, which may not help in your  quest to land a role at that company. Before doing that though, you should do a bit more analysis.

2. Look For Other Strengths. First, you should consider your profile as a whole. Although you don’t have an engineering or other traditional “consulting” degree, any quantitative classes, professional exams, certifications, or even regular business classes might help you to stand out. So you should be sure to highlight them. And if not, you might consider taking a few, either now or post-graduation. It often helps to have these because sometimes “perception is more important that reality,” especially for the purposes of finding a job. As such, many places will value your perceived understanding, interpreted through your tangible qualifications, and they’ll value that more than your actual understanding.  That’s why things like major and grades become important during interviews. And that’s part of what hinders the pure meritocracy argument at times. In part that’s because firms have limited time to interview and don’t have the resources or information about your college or pre-college experiences. So it’s less risky and it’s also more standardized to use your scores, majors, etc as a proxy. And after that, then merit may come more into play once you get the job. So to the extent you do have other strengths that may not be obvious, be sure to sounds the alarm.

3. Network More. Going forward, considering your stats and experience, you’ll also have the best bet breaking into the industry by finding links and connections, through friends, acquaintances,  the career center, or anyone who can figure out how to help you.  It would require a lot more networking, reaching out to more and more people, watching for issues in the industry that you can bring up during future conversations, and most importantly seeing if you can make a connection with someone who may be a champion for you when passing your resume along. As I mentioned before, it would also help to get some relevant experience along the way, though under this scenario, it would make you a better networker because you had a better idea of what to say and more experiences to draw from. Though keep in mind, there are quite a few different types of consulting, so be sure you get training that’s relevant to what you’re looking for. And in the end, you could be more qualified and also have more people pulling for you in your next interview. Thee odds could tilt in your favor.

4. More Practical Considerations.  Aside from looking at intangible considerations like fit, networking, areas of strength, there are also a few practical things you may want to consider as you think about it from a longer-term perspective. Generally, most people in your shoes consider taking finance classes. Many students also proactively raise their GPAs, some concentrating on their quant GPAs.  Other candidates work during the school year, some others at smaller firms trying to build up qualifications. Along those lines, another group might work in some sort of school clinic, some of which may even give credit, or even count it as an internship.  Though you’ll have to balance all of that with your grades issue.

5. Go Through The Back Door. Additionally, you may even consider another industry to get started from. One good thing about consulting, which is not as true of banking or the legal profession, is that you don’t need to start there to get there. Good corporate, entrepreneurial, and/or functional experiences are highly valuable and showing impact will go a long way.  But depending on the size, prestige, and location of the firm you want to break into, you’ll need to have taken on higher level of responsibility, proven an ability to make impact and drive change, and be able to tell a compelling story before finding a seat at the interview table.  At that point, many of the larger consulting firms may also require a case study. For some, that process may be long, so I’ll save it for another post.

6. Think Longer-Term. And so finally, if none of this works or you don’t want to sacrifice that much time to move into consulting now, you could still end up with some pretty good experience. That will not only set you up well in your current career, but it may also set you up well for an MBA program, where you’ll go and have the chance to start all over again. And in the end, you’ll have a chance to give consulting another shot. But who knows, it’s possible that by then, you may not even want to.

Good luck either way!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 Careers No Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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