Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

Finally, the end is beginning to look closer than the beginning. As of today we’re done with four terms in the Wharton EMBA program, and we have two more to go. The weekend was a busy one – with two finals and a big assignment due, but that’s all water under the bridge now. We celebrated in style once it was all done and then it was back to our families to spend some quality time after a hectic term.

This term felt different in more ways than one. It was the first term when we were all not in lock-step together as a class. We had several combinations of electives so we saw some people consistently in some classes, but missed some others entirely in class. I guess that’s the nature of the electives game, where like minds flock together. And we started taking electives, which meant that we were diving deeper into business areas of interest to us, which is supposed to make us understand those areas well.

Speaking of electives, we had our share of amazing ones this term, in addition to interesting core classes. In our strategy class we learnt how to look at companies through the lens of corporate strategy and see how various moves that they make are driven by different strategic frameworks. For the folks in class without a consulting or strategy background, this was a great way to learn about Porter’s five forces, game theoretic settings for oligopolistic competition and many other concepts that help you discuss companies more intelligently and derive insights. In our legal and ethical environment of business class, we went over the fundamentals of corporate law and ethics. We even learnt how to engage in insider trading. Umm .. okay, if the SEC is reading this well just because we’re Wharton we don’t do insider trading – we know its illegal too and spent hours discussing what not to do. We even learnt fancy legal terms like scienter and ultra vires (not a virus you want to get) – looks like lawyers, like doctors, find secret code to communicate with each other without us figuring out what they are talking about (nosocomial, anyone?).

There were two marketing electives with varying mileage for different people. In the New Product Development class we learnt how to survey the market to decide what products to build, and how to prioritize features and price them right based on market feedback. We learnt the basics of market research and tools to use, which we could reinforce with the market research class next term. In the class titled Contagious we learnt about how we can make ideas stick, and how we can make them spread. The frameworks taught to us, hopefully, will let us analyze our products and marketing strategies and make changes to align them better with what people might want to respond to and recall.

The revelation this term was the international corporate finance class. I’ve had my share of difficult classes and inspiring professors. This one outdid the past on both counts. In a class that had a fascinating breadth in terms of issues covered, we got a fascinating view of different issues companies need to think about while conducting business internationally – how to analyze project returns in the presence of political risk through probabilistic methods; how to look at risk to cash flows instead of just modulating the discount rate, through the adjusted present value framework; how to evaluate manager and firm performance across geographies and account for currency and inflation related distortions; how to look at international corporate and withholding taxes and look at better transfer pricing and royalty payment scenarios to improve performance. We also learnt about several different securities – options, forward contracts, range forward contracts, participating forward contracts, currency  swaps, Level 1 sponsored ADRs, euro-bonds, Yankee bonds, James Bonds (well, I made that one up..) … many I’m sure we’ll promptly forget in due course of time. We also saw how the Miller and Modigliani framework of analyzing capital structure lends itself to a lot of these discussions through the exceptions it makes for taxation, financial distress, information assymetry etc.

People like Prof. Bodnar make something as complicated as this look so effortlessly simple though he made us sweat bullets through the course to make sure we understood the basics. I expect to have nightmares for a few weeks of having gotten my currency numerator and denominator wrong by writing it in American terms and not European terms .. ah the irony. But all jokes aside, this has gotten me interested enough to delve deeper into more finance stuff next term as I attempt to navigate the waters of what is purported to be one of the the toughest classes in the program – Investment Management – and another class on Capital Markets. But more on that in the coming weeks.

This term also clearly showed the wealth of talent in class and of people taking the time to help each other understand the materials and get their concepts sorted out. We had our share of get togethers as well in parks and people’s houses, not to mention several Friday late nights partying it up in the city. A few babies were born during the term as well, and a few more are on their way in Term 5, and at least one classmate got married during the term. Overall, it felt great to be back in the game and on the way to finishing the degree, and even better to have been done with one more term.

Here’s looking forward to the Brazil trip and two more terms of fun!

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