Thoughts On an MBA

After about 6 months at Kellogg, I’ve come to the conclusion that an MBA is essentially about learning a language — the language of business. NPV, segmentation, ROI, VOC, etc. are all “words” that comprise this language and enable you as a businessperson to converse with other businesspeople. It’s not critical that you learn complex technicalities, but the more you know about and understand the varied areas which business touches (e.g., marketing, operations, finance, etc.) the better prepared you will be to hold a meaningful discussion with colleagues and the business community at large.

Kellogg Diving

Several years ago, I went skydiving with some friends. While I awaited my turn, I felt very calm, as if I was simply waiting for a ride at an amusement park. It wasn’t until I was 14,000 feet above ground, peering out the open door of the propeller plane, that it struck me: I was about to jump from a plane in midair. I froze. It was a tandem jump though, and the instructor I was baby-carriered to leaned forward and out we tumbled.

My first few months at Kellogg have been strikingly similar to that jump from the sky. I thought I knew what to expect, and KWEST and the MMM Ready-Set-Go orientation definitely helped ease me in. However, the non-stop frenzy of CIM week, the onslaught of group projects, and the ongoing battle between the fear-of-missing-out and the fear-of-overcommitting stretched my limits. Moving halfway around the world with two kids has brought its own set of challenges (albeit its own unique rewards). I felt I was tumbling, completely disoriented at times.

As I somersaulted down to earth with the wind battering my face and my brain shrieking “This is crazy!” the fear suddenly disappeared. The pure thrill of free-falling kicked in: I was flying. At Kellogg, that moment came for me in early October. Things started to make sense. It doesn’t take me as long to navigate to Jacobs’ group meeting rooms anymore. I’m learning not only about lean operations and customer segmentation, but also about myself. Lunches with professors and fireside chats with preeminent business leaders inspire fresh insights. Kellogg Kids TGs every Friday are a true treat that I eagerly look forward to.

Yes, sometimes I still feel like I’ve lost my footing, but I didn’t come to Kellogg to keep my feet planted on the ground. I came here to fly.

Featured photo courtesy of Colton Jones on Unsplash

A Year to Remember

Yesterday, July 12, 2008, marked exactly a year since I left New York and embarked on my backpacking tour. My journey led me to some of the most storied cities of Europe, from London to Istanbul. I continued East and explored the colorful, cacophonous, and awe-inspiring India. I then traveled to Karachi, Pakistan and found myself in the midst of the tumultuous aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Even as the city roiled in fear and violence, I met Leena, the girl who would soon become my fiance. Finally, after seven months abroad, I returned to New York in early February. I had just enough time see some of you and pay a visit to my family in Florida before I got an offer from my old company’s Dubai office. In mid-March I left New York again and relocated to Dubai.

It’s been almost four months since I moved here to Dubai, and I’m happy to say that things are going well. It was a bit of a rough start — opening a bank account, renting an apartment, and other mundane activities we take for granted in the US can all be quite challenging here — but I’m starting to get the hang of things. Dubai is a remarkable place, and surprisingly, in many ways, it is very similar to the US. Of course, in many ways it is quite different and takes some getting used to. I plan to write in greater detail about my Dubai experience in my blog. For those of you keeping up with my blog, I apologize for falling so far behind. Now that I’ve finally settled into my new apartment though, I plan to start writing again soon.

Work is going well. My team is great, and though the hours can be long, I’m getting the opportunity to work on some very interesting projects. I’ve also had the chance to travel around the region a bit. The social scene, however, is still under construction. One of the benefits of living in New York was that many of my college friends still lived in the area, and the social scene was largely an extension of the college one. Here I have yet to find my groove. However, in yet another one of those strange coincidences I’ve come to relish during my travels, my Moroccan friend, Faical, whom I met on the train in France (Next Stop: Basel), moved to Dubai around the same time as I did. We ended up renting apartments in the same area, and now we hang out regularly.

In other news, the wedding dates have been finalized. The week-long (as per Pakistani custom) fiesta will begin December 17th, 2008. The proverbial tying-of-the-knot will take place on the 19th. All of the festivities will be held in Karachi, Pakistan.

It’s certainly been quite a year, a truly life-changing one. I’ve visited some fascinating places, met some amazing people, and learned a great deal more about our multifaceted world. Moreover, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the possibilities that exist at the fringes of our comfort circles. Life can take some pleasantly surprising twists and turns if only we open ourselves up to those possibilities. I expect much more change ahead, and I’m looking forward to the new experiences.

I would love to hear from you, so please drop me an email when you get a chance. And if you decide to visit Dubai, please know that you have a place to crash.

Next Stop: Dubai

Dear Friends and Family,

The last time you heard from me was a little over a month ago. Let me assure you, I’ve spared you. I do not think you would have much enjoyed my reports from the swamplands of Florida where I went to visit my mother (for the record, she’s doing well and sends her regards). The weather may be nice down there, but the pace of life is a bit too slow for me.

Now, however, I have some exciting news. You may have heard already, but I’m rejoining the Pepsi company. The opportunity I was seeking with Pepsi Dubai came through, and I’m shipping out this Saturday night. I’m very excited about what this means for my professional growth. There’s a lot going on in that region, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. Of course, the fact that my fiance is only a 2-hour flight away from Dubai only sweetens the deal 😉

Thank you for your help, support, and kind emails throughout my “epic world tour.” It has been an incredible experience. I’ve seen some amazing places and made many lasting friendships. And the most gratifying part is knowing that I’ve changed for the better because of it. I plan to continue traveling and writing whenever I can make the time. Thank you so much for your encouragement, which has been the single most important motivation for me to keep up my writing. In case you’re wondering, I still intend to update my blog with my experiences from the rest of my travels, but it may take longer than expected. In the meantime, I plan to start a new segment with the Dubai move.

If you decide to drop by Dubai, please look me up.

And by the way, if you happen to be listening to Marketplace on NPR next Tuesday, don’t be surprised if you hear my voice… 😉

The Adventure Continues

Dear Friends and Family,

Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we read as kids?  There would come a point in the story where we would have a choice: Does Tim investigate the strange scratching sound coming from the closet or does he scramble down through the trapdoor?  It seems that such twists in the plot have become ever more frequent in my life story, but the difference, of course, is that these choices and decisions are real with real ramifications.  And alas, I can’t cheat like I used to with those books and flip back through the pages to choose the other option.

So here I am still in Karachi.  Things, thankfully, have been calm for the past week or so.  However, the next adventure has already begun unfolding.  As I mentioned in an email some time ago, a friend I referred to as the “Oracle” in Istanbul prophesied that I would encounter significant changes in my life in my 26th year.  I’ve surmised that she may have been on to something due to two major developments: 1) I’m intent on settling abroad for at least a few years and 2) I’m engaged.

I’ve been pursuing an opportunity with my former company’s Dubai office for some time now.  I met with the folks there on my way to Pakistan, and it looks promising.  We were supposed to have something finalized by now, but unfortunately, the process has been slowed down due to major business restructuring in the region.  It is my hope that we can finalize something within the next two weeks.

And I’m engaged.  Surprised?  Me, too 😉  I set out on my trip open to possibility, and I am happy to say that I’ve met the one I plan to spend my life with.  Her name is Leena.  She lives in Saudi Arabia and was visiting family in Pakistan over the winter holidays.  We were engaged in a small, traditional ceremony here in Karachi, and the wedding is tentatively planned for later this year.

I am returning to New York this Friday, February 1st.  I will stay a few days before heading to Florida for another few days.  By then I expect to know where I will head to next.

Thank you for your continued support and thoughtful emails.  I hope all is well with you, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

With warm regards,

All’s Well

Dear Friends and Family,

Just to put everyone at ease, things appear to have returned to “normal” here in Karachi — for the most part. I say for the most part because I almost found myself in the middle of a shootout earlier today when I was out doing some shopping. Apparently a nearby jewelry store had just been held up, and the fleeing robbers started shooting at the security guards. The owner of the store I was in pulled the shutters down, and we waited for things to calm down. Thirty minutes later it was back to business as usual.

So, no worries. National elections have been postponed until mid-February, and all is well. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful emails.

A New Day

Dear Friends and Family,

I awoke this morning to a surprise: I had to push-start my uncle’s truck to get to the gym. Luckily, I got my cousin to help. We got the truck going and arrived at the gym to find, fortunately, that it was open. I expected this to be the most eventful part of my day. I was wrong.

I was jarred awake from my late-morning nap by the ringing of the telephone. It was my aunt, and she sounded agitated. Stores were shutting down again, she informed me, and there was gunfire in parts of the city. Apparently another politician — this time a representative of the MQM, the most popular party in Karachi — had been assassinated. This was bad news. As per Pakistani politics, when the party whose stronghold you’re in goes on strike, the place shuts down immediately and can stay shut for weeks. An aunt and I rushed to the nearby market to stock up on supplies and phone cards. Word had spread fast, and people were out in full force to replenish their supplies after three days of being holed up. Gas stations were closed again. Stores were shutting down even as we arrived at the market. News came eventually that the assassination was just a rumor; the politician spoke on live television to confirm that he was indeed alive. But the damage had been done. The news of his death was akin to yelling fire in a crowded theater. People’s nerves are shot, and they are prone to panicking at the slightest hint of trouble. There were reports that a bus was burned and that two rioters were shot dead in another part of the city. We got what we needed after checking out a few stores and returned home.

I ventured out with a cousin later in the day and though most stores were still closed, the panic seemed to have dissipated. Kids were out on the streets playing cricket. There were more cars on the roads, even a few buses. More Rangers appear to be patrolling the city, and the police presence has increased significantly as well.

Thus Karachi ushers in the New Year. A cacophony of gunshots exploded five minutes prior to midnight. It sounded like they came from every street. There were a few fireworks as well, but the gunshots far outnumbered them. It’s been a one-of-a-kind New Year’s for me, one that I will not soon forget.

I wish you a happy, memorable, and peaceful New Year. God bless.

Aftermath of Bhutto Assassination: Day 3

Today was the third and final day of national mourning for Benazir Bhutto. Most stores are still closed, and the ones that are open are running short on supplies. Fortunately, we have enough food supplies on hand for now, but without new phone cards to replenish our depleted prepaid phones, we have limited phone service. Buses are still not running. Gas stations are opening only for short intervals again, leading to long lines of cars and motorcycles. People are still fearful, and most are staying indoors. There are reports that some groups are still throwing rocks at vehicles and passersby in parts of the city. However, I didn’t see anything when I took a tour of the area earlier today. There is a certain calm on the roads that I think I will miss when the chaotic Karachi traffic kicks back into gear.

Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.

Aftermath of Bhutto Assassination: Day 2

Dear Family and Friends,

Today, the second day of mourning for Benazir Bhutto, brought some encouraging signs of a return to normalcy. Buses are still not running, but there are more vehicles on the roads. The burned cars and trucks that blocked several roads are in the process of being removed.

Gas stations also opened up today, although only for a short time. I accompanied a neighbor to fill up his car and experienced firsthand the mad rush at the gas station as people scrambled to store up as much fuel as they were allowed. It occurred to me that such a scenario — long lines at gas stations for rationed fuel — strikes great fear in us Americans. We shudder at the thought that it could happen to us. I realize today that as unfortunate as such an incident is and would be, it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on.

Most stores are still closed. However, a few have opened under tight security while others have opened with their shutters half-way down, ready to close at the first sign of trouble.

There are policeman and Rangers posted around the city, and it is rumored that they have been authorized to shoot anyone causing trouble.

The general sentiment seems to be that we need to make the best of the current situation. Although there are signs of recovery, there exists an underlying fear that the situation can still get bad as we near elections, which are currently scheduled for January 8th. There is, however, discussion of postponing the elections, which seems like the right thing to do. Hopefully, the finger-pointing for the death of Benazir Bhutto won’t turn violent in the coming days.

All is well otherwise. Please don’t worry. I have no intention of leaving anytime soon; things really aren’t that bad.

Thank you for your emails and for your prayers.

Yours truly,

Aftermath of Bhutto Assassination: Day 1

Dear Friends and Family,

Today was the first day of mourning for Benazir Bhutto here in Karachi. I set out with my uncle this morning to take a tour of the neighborhood and to see for myself the carnage we’ve been seeing on television. As expected, stores and offices are closed. There are burned cars and trucks blocking the roads. Patches of black soot mark areas where tires were burned last night. Large rocks, sticks, and tree branches — all used most likely to smash cars and pummel motorists — litter the roads. Gas stations are closed. Save for a random auto rickshaw or two, the roads are deserted of vehicles, when usually on a weekday like today there would be no end to them. Pedestrians can be seen making their way along the empty roads. There are no buses running, so those who were caught out of their homes last night will have to walk, or, if they’re lucky, hitchhike back. The latter is going to be difficult because 1) there are hardly any vehicles on the road and 2) there is a sense of deep fear and mistrust amongst the people; they’re not in a frame of mind to help each other.

Even as we heard news of buses being emptied and set on fire last night, there were reports that men on motorcycles took the opportunity to rob the hapless passengers of their money, jewelry, and cell phones. A cousin of mine was caught in another part of the city. He tried to return home only to have his way blocked by lines of burning cars and buses. In other areas traffic had come to a standstill. In the mass hysteria that followed the first sparks of chaos, people found themselves trapped on the roads without any law enforcement around to direct the flow of traffic. Those who could, holed up with friends, relatives, and even strangers wherever they could.

Today, there are reports of numerous deaths and millions of Rupees worth of damage in Karachi alone.

As shocked as the international community must be at these turn of events, the locals are just as much — if not more — appalled by what’s happening. How could the city change so drastically within a few hours?

It’s not clear who the perpetrators are or what their motive is. Who could possibly benefit from all this death and destruction? Is it really due to outrage over the assassination? Or is much of it the opportunistic settlement of personal enmities?

There’s a feeling of helplessness: There’s already been one tragedy — why prolong it by killing more innocent bystanders and by destroying the livelihood of others?

And there’s anger, too: Where are the police and the Rangers – those who have been sworn to protect the city’s residents?

Amid all this chaos, it’s the commoners who suffer. It is wedding season in Pakistan, and brides-to-be spent last night at beauty parlors, their weddings postponed indefinitely. For days people who don’t have supplies at home will have to scrounge for food because stores are closed. Auto rickshaw, taxi, and bus drivers — among others who survive on their day-to-day incomes — will be hard pressed to make ends meet.

At the moment, there is a profound silence outside as we wait — seemingly with collectively held breath — to see what tomorrow will bring.

Yours truly,