Life and Business Lessons by Seymour Schulich


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I am reading Seymour Shulich‘s book, called “Get Smarter”, and here’s an interesting piece of advice that he gives in regard to industries he would avoid if he were to choose a career today. I thought it would be a good point to consider for MBA’s:

Mr. Shulich writes “in general, I would avoid:

  • airlines
  • auto parts
  • retailing
  • biotechnology
  • grocery stores
  • chemicals
  • wholesaling
  • machinery manufacturing
  • paper and forest products
  • auto manufacturing
  • restaurants
  • appliance manufacturing
  • trucking
  • any manufacturing that competes with China
  • telecom services”

I am looking at the list, and I see that I personally may need to re-think the path I chose two years ago.






Posted in MBA

Add rigor and system to your application to Wharton MBA

In my last post I outlined why I think most applicants to Wharton fail, and also gave a few pointers on what should be done instead. In this post I am offering a simple way to approach the application to Wharton and Wharton/Lauder in a rigorous and organized way.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu summarized the fundamental principles for an MBA application strategy in a very eloquent and surprisingly up-to-date verse:

故曰:知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆。

i.e. “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

If you want to get very strategic about your use of all the tools that the application form gives you, you could—for a sophisticated and targeted application—use the following approach:

  1. Outline your professional and personal goals. Your goals are a fundamental thing that define everything.
  2.  Define strengths that make you unique, or as Paul Bodine calls them in his wonderful book, which you should definitely buy,—your marketing handles. Think of them as supporting pillars of your application, or these can also be defined as short overarching themes of the application, i.e. “International Experience”, “Well-rounded”, “Animal Lover”, “Turnaround specialist”, “World Champion”, “From Rags To Riches” etc. This is where you place your bets, and it is important to market your candidature using the strongest marketing handles you got in your arsenal.
  3. Define other details that help you stand out, these are grouped in different categories such as hobbies, family background, special talents, i.e. “Hot Air Baloons” in hobbies, or “Brazilian Asian” in family background.
  4. Define strong stories from both personal and professional life that illustrate the #2 and #3. Then decide which of them tie into #1 and how.
  5. Analyze Wharton’s application form and process.
  6. Draw up a goals matrix based on analysis in #5. What is a goals matrix? —It is a table that maps your goals to the tools in the application. Download my generic example of the matrix so you can edit and expand it in all directions to suit a particular school. It gets really comprehensive when you add sub-goals, entries from #3 above, tactical approaches, stories, sketches, etc. You get the point.
  7. Write.
  8. Edit
  9. Collect all the 3-rd party inputs, i.e. exam scores for GMAT, OPI, TOEFL, school transcripts, notarized copies of all important documents, certified translations of foreign documents, follow up with your recommenders to make sure they are on schedule, etc.
  10. Repeat #7, #8, and #9 until you have reached all the goals in your matrix so that your application portrays you in a comprehensive and compelling way.
  11. Review and submit application to Wharton.

The point is—the first and very important step in applying to a top business school like Wharton is to analyze yourself and your target school. After that you absolutely need to have a plan.  If you are as talented as Sun Tze (at Wharton you will meet quite a few people who are on par with him intellectually) you may do all the planning in your head, alternatively, you may find or devise a planning tool that is effective and suits your personality and work preferences.

Why Most Applicants to Wharton Fail

Wharton is a super elite business school, make no mistake about that.  Note and shameless plug: The Wharton/Lauder program is even more exclusive. Every year thousands of applicants submit their applications in hopes of joining the ranks of Wharton MBAs with a unique life-long access to cutting edge business thought and education, an exceptional and powerful alumni network, very handsomely paid jobs (for the rest of their lives), and a good chance at extreme wealth and power anywhere they go. A Wharton MBA changes one’s life for the better. It has changed my life for the better, and I know my life and career will remain on a steep upward trajectory for very many years.

There is a lot to gain, stakes are high, and people from all over the world spare no effort or expense to get into Wharton.  They take the GMAT over and over until they enter the much coveted 700 points club, they hire very expensive consultants to hold their hand and “improve their profiles”, sacrifice vacation time to visit campus, schmooze with current students, try to befriend the professors, and write hundreds and hundreds of emails to the adcom with questions about the wonderful school life at Wharton.  They also spend days and days in front of the computer on the wonderfully informative GMAT Club forum (I am a regular contributor) and a competing resource on BusinessWeek.com (not a fan at all) in hopes of getting that tiny bit of information, if only a hint, a slight glimpse into the future and what awaits.

However most applicants fail to gain acceptance, and the failure tastes very bitter. There is a number of reasons why this happens, and one of them is bad luck, but everything else being equal, it is the quality of application itself and a lack of the overall application strategy that prevent the email-spewing “profile improvers” from getting in the door.

Below is my attempt at painting a picture of an applicant who will never get in:

Five main traits of an applicant who will never get admitted to Wharton

1. Cluelessness

My experience with dozens of applicants shows that the absolute majority of these people are clueless kittens.  Often people approach me after they have submitted an application to Wharton, and after a few minutes of conversation it becomes clear they have absolutely no clue about the application process or the components of the application itself. Most importantly, they lack any substantial understanding of themselves, and so their applications most certainly revealed that.  Without this understanding they cannot really tell the world who they are and why they are unique in any detail.

Despite the fact that absolutely every book on the topic of MBA admissions out there stresses the importance of self-reflection before you sit down and start writing, few people do it in a systematic way. Most applicants assume they have all the information about themselves stored in their heads anyway, and all that examination of self is for someone else to do.

A very thorough examination of one’s weaknesses, strengths, dreams, aspirations, sins and merits is an absolute must if you want in at Wharton.

2. Low scale

Many candidates are afraid to think big or pursue mega goals. Mega scale scares the living soul out of them, and so they settle on tiny tactical goals, which they pronounce “realistic” and therefore “believable” and “comfortable” when they explain why they need the education. Quite often applicants conceal their true goals and claim other “more interesting” goals in their blind quest for the non-existing magic recipe to get in (many people mistakenly think that candidates with certain goals have a better chance than others). This is exactly the opposite of “change the world” type of aspirations—true and sincere aspirations—one would meet among the Wharton MBAs.

Dream big, aim high if you want in.

3. Fear

The miniscule scale breeds a lot of fear.  I must admit fear is what paralyses most applicants at some point, and I—too—fell prey to that feeling when I was an applicant myself, but I overcame that emotion because I clearly understood its crippling effects. However most applicants just do not get rid of the chills. Looking at the above paragraph, I must say that it is a chicken and egg problem as fear is probably what makes them aspire for the “realistic” and the “comfortable” in the first place.

They are afraid that there is no cure for their lowish GPA in undergrad, that their community contributions were tiny (so they urgently start teaching math to unsuspecting inner-city kids or helping the equally unsuspecting homeless guys hold their bowls at the soup kitchen). They repeatedly ask themselves questions about “the true cost of MBA” and map put “opportunity costs”, i.e. they are afraid to make changes in their “comfortable” and predictable lives, take drastic and powerful turns to change themselves and the world along the way, and continue with the penny counting. These people are scared that their unpaid speeding and parking tickets from five years ago will be a major obstacle, and they also think that deviating from a one-page format of the CV will be a major roadblock on the way in.

A Wharton MBA applicant just like any good businessman or a warrior has to be fearless to succeed.

And by the way, one must actually truly care about community contributions, it comes naturally, and cannot be faked.

4. Lack of strategy

Most applicants that I have had the pleasure of communicating with did not even bother constructing the big picture. At best they just looked at the application process as a recovering alcoholic looks at his life, i.e. “one day at a time”.  In most cases, they discover what exactly the application form contains the moment they decide to populate it with information. Needless to say most of these guys and gals end up on the curb. You can spot these characters early on: they usually post questions on GMAT Club that sound similar to “Do you know what we should write in Section A?” or “My GPA was 3.456, is it OK to round it up to 3.5?” This type of comments just reveals that the candidate has not followed an organized, disciplined approach to the application.

What one really needs is a very detailed strategy, an aggressive and multidimensional plan, and a clear understanding what kind of tools the school gives you to deliver the message you want the school to hear. Of course, this rides on the premise that you do not have Cluelessness (see #1 above) or Fear (see #3).

The better the strategy the higher the chances at acceptance at Wharton.

5. Poor execution

Most people mistakenly think that the application is limited to writing, photocopying undergrad transcripts and performing other types paper shuffling.  Some go as far as writing a blog about how the stapling and the trips to the FedEx office, and some even manage to damage their submitted applications beyond repair by blogging about how the paper shuffling was done in their particular case (yeah, I am looking at you, Chris). This is just one example of poor execution.

I am convinced that visiting the school has a huge impact on the quality of the application. Now, there is visiting and there’s visiting.  Remember, most candidates who visit the school have no plan and are Clueless (see #4 and #1 respectively above) and so they just show up in Huntsman Hall, bounce around from wall to wall, sometimes they sit on classes and generally have the facade of what “should be done”. Of course, they take a tour of campus in a group of equally unprepared applicants, and leave thinking that the “Campus visit” check box is now filled and they have gained advantage over everyone else. Wrong.

Poor execution permeates every step an unsuccessful applicant makes: from misspellings on essays (one female applicant in 2011 wrote about her experience in conSLuting” for example) to using smiley faces as punctuation :)   These people spend hours thinking about the color and brand of the suit to wear for the interview instead of actually preparing for the high-stakes conversation itself, and so on.

Good strategy has to be executed to perfection if you are seeking admissions at Wharton. The color and brand of your suit add absolutely nothing to your success.

So if anything above, my dear reader, describes you in some way, your chances of getting in at Wharton are zero. No need to fret about the seeming unfairness of the admissions process if you have been denied this year. It should help if you can regroup and start from the beginning, i.e. get rid of the Cluelessness, Low Scale, Fear, Lack of Strategy and Poor Execution, and the world might smile at you with its happy Wharton MBA smile.

How Lauder-Preneurs are Building a Website that Brings Transparency to Global Healthcare, One Doctor at a Time

One of the biggest problems EVERY country in the world faces is the lack of transparency in healthcare, particularly as it pertains to quality and costs.  Why does the cost of healthcare differ so much between countries? Why does it differ between states or even cities?  Worse yet, why does it differ at the same exact hospital when two different people come knocking at the door?  Additionally, how does a person find a doctor or dentist at home or abroad?  What are the qualities that make a good doctor?  Three of us Lauder-Preneurs (Alejandro-Portuguese ’09, David-Chinese ’09, and Gabriel-Portuguese ’09) are attempting to bring clarity to these exact questions by connecting people with doctors or dentists throughout the world.

HuliHealth’s objective is to help you to obtain the best possible medical treatment – based on your own personal criteria – wherever that may be; in your same city, another state or even in another country.  In short, our goal is to connect any person to any doctor in the world, while creating transparency around quality and cost in the global healthcare industry.

We are currently in the initial stages of testing our website and things are definitely starting to come together.  In very basic terms, our product strategy is to do the following:

1) launch a “minimum viable product” website that only a few patients/doctors can see
2) learn and improve
3) launch a slightly less minimal website that is open to the public
4) learn and improve
5) repeat cycle

For those who aren’t familiar with the term minimum viable product, the basic concept describes a product which has the least amount of features necessary to solve the customer’s need.

Our plan has always been to launch a prototype of our website as quickly as possible. But why would we launch an “imperfect” website? 90% of startup companies fail because they run out of resources (time or money) before they figure out what customers really need. Their biggest mistake is taking too much time to create the “perfect” product based on assumptions that have never been fully tested by real customers. By the time the startup realizes that they need to make changes to the product, it is simply too late.

Although we have designed our website around patient/doctor feedback, we know that our website will not be perfect from day one. Therefore, our goal is to learn (and improve) as quickly as we can to ensure that we achieve the “perfect” website before our money runs out. We are extremely excited and are looking forward to sharing the website with all of you in the coming weeks/months. Any and all feedback (upon website launch and in the future) is much appreciated!

PS: There is a lot of content out there discussing the minimum viable product and lean startup concepts, but this short article (http://mashable.com/2012/01/13/user-feedback/) highlights their importance.

The HuliHealth team