My b school story

Dear Mr. and Ms. B school admission, 

I understand that it has been a long day, week and even month for you to get through thousands of applications to get to mine. For that, I appreciate the last 15 minutes you have spent reviewing my resume, my extracurricular, what others have to say about me, etc. in summary, my life in the last 26 years on the face of Earth. 

As we only have 15 minutes left of my allotted 30 minutes, I hope I can take you through my inspiration, what I wanted to go from here and how you can help me. 

Post college, I have gather a significant amount of time working in a giant tech company, from the customer support function to sales driving part of the business. I had joined the company excited to be working for a market visionary who brought transparency to the fixed income market allowing investors no longer be duped by brokers, excited to be explore a version of myself as a salesperson that was as foreign to me as flying to penguin. I was excited to take a huge risk in letting my personality guide me and venture into an area which I thought I have zero skill and competence at. You are probably curious why, I took the job because I was being bored and unmotivated at my hedge fund investment internship and started to question if investment research/analysis was for me. Four years later, I’m happy to report that I have been further along the way of defining what type of salesperson I would be, though realistically I’m far from what people would think as a conventionally successful smooth-talking salesperson. 

It is because I see sales as a way to change the world. In my job, I was trained to cultivate a curious mind, to explore the pain points in other people’s lives that they do not necessary see, and to show them a solution that will change their business for the better. As my product is expensive, we often had to think long and hard about the real ROI for the client, as adding value is the only way to close. The few times that it occurred to me I had really touched someone and changed their workflow in significant ways were precious. It is very gratifying to realize I have been able to relate to and , even better, transformed some aspect of their lives where moments ago we were complete strangers. 

I envision the future when I could use my skills to contribute to innovative technology, in the broadest sense as how-we-do-things, and the social changes those innovation were going to enforce. For me, it’s never the job you do from 9-5, it’s about more the change you are part of from wake to sleep.

Change has been part of my making since I left home for college at 18 years old. I changed my environment, the culture I operate in, the people I interacted with. But most significantly, I have changed how I see myself, from a Vietnamese high school girl, to a global citizen in the making. It was roughly a year after Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat” came out and I wouldn’t be way off to say the book has changed my world view forever. No longer am I constricted within the geographical and political territory of country and the socialism that reigns. No longer would I be afraid to speak up against violence in fear of retribution. No longer it was such a big deal to disagree with your teacher. For the change I was able to experience, I was forever grateful for a group of selfless Vietnamese college students whom I knew via an online forum.

They were VietAbroader, and soon enough I became one of them. It was a group of Vietnamese college students who decided that together they will write articles about how to get scholarships and financial aids to study in the US and make it available to all Vietnamese high school students with an internet connection. I started helping them with the projects in Vietnam, out of admiration and desire to give back. One short summer project turned into 10 years of involvement, and one group of strangers on the internet became my new “comrades”, for lack of better word, as we dream and create 3 conference concepts, obtain the 501 (c)(3) status, and put in place a succession plan to recruit and train future leaders of the organization. 

My career at Bloomberg has been gratifying but as I look to connect my passion in change with my career, I believe business school is the right answer. A broad management education will expose me to area of business management such as strategy, operations, talent management, that I have zero experience with, but crucial to becoming a leader of change. I will learn from classmates smarter than me and benefit from those life-long connections. Being part of the alumni community, the majority of whom are successful change maker, will continue to inspire and help me realize my vision. Finally, business school, with…, is the perfect training ground for future challenges as my professors and classmates will challenge but will also teach me about team skills and management skills. [general as i will connect with what the school offers]

At this point, I hope it has been clear to you how I wish to leverage my sales skills, combined with a business education from …, to become a change maker through the use and operation of business.   

[appropriate to write more about how non-profit may be not as great of a vehicle because of the resource structure, talent management, etc but will be too long] 

[ also need to talk about immediate post-mba goal, wihch is management in practice ie strategy and management consulting]

[but will sleep on this first. good start]

 

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Rambling

I had the urge to write something on my blog though I don’t know exactly what it is. I just needed to get it out of me and starting writing is a way to do it. 

Today was an eventful day. I made a couple of prospecting calls that didn’t go well, and thus I went through this mental roller-coaster in which I was open to acknowledge it didn’t go well, why it didn’t go well and immediately sought help. As usual, I’m being impatient with the learning curve and wanted it to be different than my previous jobs. The previous jobs usually started with an enthusiastic 3 month learning, pursuing, chasing and flattening out and so did my enthusiasm for the job. I always blame it on my tendency to shift interest (ca? them` chong’ chan’) but maybe there is something more worth investigating.

Over the last few days I have thought about going back to Vietnam and doing something entrepreneurial. Maybe testing a business idea. Maybe doing a philanthropic project. Maybe interviewing for anchorman on TV. Or just reporting as a journalist. Those were some interests of mine in the past when I was young and the world seemed wild open. It still is in my mind but certainly those creative professions are not that easy for me to pursue being in the States. Yes maybe I’m making excuses. But not speaking the native tongue, not knowing the whole gamut of culture references, let’s just say it will be a bigger learning curve for me. At least for now. Definitely these interests will follow me in the future as I foresee I will be forever hungry and enthused to learn and make a difference.

When thinking about my story for business schools and what I wanted to do with my life, I really didn’t want to say that I will want to be back at home in Vietnam and make a difference for that would be dishonest. Since high school, I have always believed that the world is a flat place and every person, at least those with the education and opportunities I have always been so fortunate to have, should be able to become a global citizen. That means the difference you make is global, the legacy you leave is global, that you are doing as much good helping Africa as you do helping Vietnam. In the end, we are all part of humankind.

I have mapped out sort of partially my b school story though a critical part missing is What Is Remarkable About Me.

And I also wanted to do a podcast, especially telling the story of respectable individuals that those like me, at an earlier age, could learn and be inspired as I have having the privilege of knowing these people personally. Some of the examples are Khoa, Viet, Tu, Stephanie Tang (sacred sounds yoga, who quits her wall street job to pursue her life making more peace in the world via yoga and pursue her passion in endurance events)

Speaking of endurance events, I have recently made it a point of my everyday to chase the thrill, to seek the adrenaline, the zone, the flow, if you will. Through personal reflections, I realized I only achieved it when I was attempting something that is significantly harder physically and mentally. To know that what you are attempting is incredible out of your comfort zone, forces all your senses to work, the heart speeds up pushing more blood to our brain, hence you achieve a more desirable outcome. And the dopa-mine that results is unparalleled. I realized I was getting more out of those experiences than indulging in activities that are designed to put my mind and body at ease, at comfort. After all, human are hedonistically adaptable, we get bored at new luxury. This is nothing new but I felt as if I had discovered the secret to happiness as I was previously misguided by the media and advertising that the material things such as a good bath, a sweet macaroon, nice clothes will bring me happiness. Yes you could hear others say it all day (my husband) but until you experience it yourself, nothing is gonna change, particularly for me. 

Now I have determined that I will be seeking adrenaline in life, let’s figure out where that adrenaline will take me, what particular journey I will choose to produce that adrenaline. 

I have figured How to Live, let’s give a shot at What To Live For.

A new kind of private equity

When thinking about what I would like to do with the rest of my life, I am not interested in money, leisure or power. I was in middle school when it first occured to me that I would like to solve problems when I grow up. It was a weekday afternoon and I had just biked from my house to the teacher;s house where I was taking extra lessons with my classmates. It was 100% humid and 100 degree in Vietnam and I had just navigated 2 miles of traffic being one of the only few bikes in the school of scooters/motorcycle. Barely breathing from the heavily polluted air, I said to my fellow commuter, “I will only design a different and better transportation system”

Making a difference has always been part of my upbringing. When I was entering high school, my mom took me to a cottage on the side of the development project and introduced me to a new friend, a girl she had just read about in the newspaper’s Neediest Case. For the following 3 years, I saw her twice a year at New Year and at the beginning of school when my mom would give her money for tuition and books. To me, her effort was superficial at best. We lost touch with the girl after 3 years and, from what i heard, she declined to come to my house and take our money out of embarrassments. 

It was only karma that I later receive help in my own educational endeavor. I came to know VietAbroader who are a few friends studying college in the US and UK and wanted to help other kids get scholarship by writing their advice on an onlinen blog. Their act of generosity and selflessness defied my belief that you need to be wealthy and established to help others. I knew I wanted to be one of them. I started volunteering to help them with organizing a conference in my hometown, and 10 years, 3 conferences and a tenure as a co-president later, I now advise the executive team to run the organize and expand our reach beyond college scholarship.

College opened a lot of doors. I marvel at the number of majors, fields of studies, extracurriculars. The decision that defied who I am now was the first year seminar that I took. It was a seminar on civil disobedience. It was the first time that I learned about the flaws of America, the first time I learned the downsides of capitalism and the first time I realized the system is as good as the people who control it. Growing up in a communist country, I had always thought of America as the land of opportunity, of freedom and of “eat-what-you-sow”. I had thought the free market is the solution to all the inefficiency, corruption and laziness in Vietnamese society. As majoring in Economics and studying laizza faire is not enough, I enrolled myself in two seminars sponsored by libertarian think tanks, AIPE and The Institute for Humane Studies. They solidified my belief in the cycle of creating incentives, reacting to incentives and reaping the benefits. However, neither of them addressed the widening wealth gap, the hostility between classes and what should be done to change in. 

Markets, when left alone on its own, do not result in a fair and equal society, since it is never designed to. It is designed to reward winners and leave losers in the cold. Government-directed distribution of wealth is not the solution as I had personally experienced growing up. It is my personal belief that social changes and progress are in the hand of the good individuals who have the financial resources and the desire to help others. In the end, isn’t looking out for each other in a tribe what made us human?

Yet the non-profit world has its own problems. The common diseases are lack of transparency, inefficient operations, demotivated employees, and the dependency in external funding. It all comes down to the ROI of philanthropic money: how many people does my $100 donation help? Those who have worked in private sectors, especially for Amazon, knows that there are initial investments and sunk cost to set up a corporation that function property. Talents come at a cost too. In our society, it’s hard to pay barely a livable wage and expect someone to dedicate your life to your organization. Luckily someone had asked the question, what if we set up and run a not-for-profit the same way we would a for-profit? It starts with diligent research on demand, patient product development and intelligently targeting communities who are the best candidates for the program. And paying our people what they deserve in a fair labor market. 

I would be lying if I say there is one cause that I would like to dedicate my life to. Isn’t it selfish to pick one cause, out of a thousand, and not do anything about the other nine hundred ninety nine? What is the line of work that will allow me to relentlessly learn new things everyday while improving the operations of countless not-for-profit? I don’t think it exists yet. Consulting doesn’t get involved in execution and impact investing does not get involved at all. What if we set up a private-equity mechanism for not-for-profit, where the donor provides not only funding but also expertise, network and manpower, to make the not-for-profit a better organization? Often times, not-for-profit founders would be too busy to dedicate fully to networking, improving and strategizing. Why don’t we go beyond handing out dollar bills and actually help them spend it wisely?

How would I actually get there from where I am now, a sales person at a financial technology company?

In my line of work, we don’t sell what-is, we sell what-could-be. My success depends on my ability to visualize my client’s success with my products in the picture. It requires curiosity and knowing the best question to ask to thoroughly understand clients’ current situation, the analytical skill to identify the gap from available facts and known uncertainty, problem solving skill to identify the solution and the team skill to work with client and make it a reality.

What I need to further develop is 1) a network of people who can help me succeed, 2) business operational skills and 3) investing knowledge [here are the things XYZ have that will help me]

 If there is one more thing I would like to do with my life, I want to make not-for-profit sexy. I want to help create the not-for-profit bubble, an economy where the hottest employers are mission-driven organizations, where helping install solar panels in Nepal is the best dinner conversation topic, where college students practice case interviews focused on energy shortage. Doing that requires branding skills and thought leadership, which i think intellectual environment and exposure to the thought leaders of the world at … can help me develop.

Where are you on your list?

It has been a personal belief of mine that one has to put oneself first before caring for others. There has been many times when I thought to myself that I would give my all, put myself last, in order to achieve something bigger than myself. It was noble and selfless- however, there was always a point when not sleeping, not eating right and not exercising will push you over the limits physically and mentally. Evolutionary instincts, times and times again, force us to give in if we are not taking care of ourselves properly. In the end, we need to energy, the presence and the mindfulness to attend to whatever greatness we are creating. 

By leading a full life and tending to oneself, one would be the example to others that they themselves can achieve the great life for themselves and as no great life ever comes without help from others, gratitude is a natural consequence. Gratitude occurs when you realize how far you have come and the enormous gap that exists between where you are now and where you used to be, which would have never been closed without the help of other people, systems, forces outside of you. For gratitude to exist, there has to be honesty to realize where you were and the humility to admit the limit of how your own actions can affect the outcome. The rest of the formula is luck, which is any and everything beyond yourself. 

Put yourself on top of the list. 

Random thoughts, recollection, reflection and personal observations