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June 22, 2010

Interview with Stanford GSB Class of 2011 MBA

My former client and member of the Class of 2011, the Japanese blogger at “sutebuu survival@Stanford GSB,” was kind enough to answer my questions regarding surviving his first year at Stanford.  “Sutebuu” is one the smartest and nicest guys I know. I think you will find his views very insightful.

Adam: You are a really smart guy, but based on our conversations both after your first quarter and more recently when I was at Stanford, it seemed like even you were academically challenged. So how hard is it? 

Sutebuu: First of all, throughout the year, I never had an occasion to think of myself as smart. There are plenty of other people who I thought were super smart, and they continuously made insightful comments that really stimulated my curiosity. With the no grade disclosure rule, students are incentivized to make impressive comments in class. Of course, you can speak on facts that are quite obvious, but I think students have general motivation and pride to make it insightful, which creates higher barrier for foreigners just trying to speak out and gain participation points.

Looking at the amount of workload, I chose go on the very high side. This resulted with devastating “14 classes a week” (taking 7 courses) at its peak in April. Also, I tried to take as many advanced courses as possible, which inflated the amount of workload. Usually, a class for fundamental learning requires students to prepare 2-3 hrs, answering questions on a case study and read 1 or 2 supplementary readings.  When you are taking 7 courses, you also have 2 or 3 assignments a week, which each takes 1.5 hours of team meeting and a few hours homework. I am glad now that is over, but more to that there are lot of intellectual rewards to hard work. I was quite sleep deprived throughout the year, but you can reduce the workload by about 40% if you choose to do so.

Like in many schools, just passing a paper test is relatively easy. Though, today’s MBA education is not about knowledge, but the ability to think, collaborate and lead. It needs to be challenging, and in that context, I am more than satisfied. The most challenging times were when I wanted to contribute more to the team, when I wanted to effectively lead a situation in English, or when I wanted to logically and sharply write my opinions in assignments (within a short time). These just turned out to be time management problems, if you had enough time to prepare, facilitate meetings or consult the lecturer, it isn’t that hard. The problem comes if you do not honestly face the time/quality tradeoff. I did a really poor job on this, and was overly optimistic in many occasions. 

Adam: What parts of the program have you liked the most? The least?

Sutebuu: The part I have liked the most, was opportunity of seriously learning organizational behavior. At first, I thought I had nothing to learn from this academic field, because I thought I knew quite well about myself.  It turned out to be a positive surprise.
This field, which I think is a mixture of psychology, behavioral economics, strategic communication, and ethics, is something that tends to be a bit embarrassing for a businessperson to learn. I think the school community acknowledges this fact, and still provides arich selection of courses to honestly learn about oneself to become an effective leader. For example, the Leadership Lab course enables students to have a small team of 8 that
could provide very polite comments to each other on how they communicate. Also, there are Coaching courses where  a 2nd year student coaches 1st year students, and, of course, some mandatory courses that touches on many issues. These in total enabled me to gain psychological strength, and actually become fearless about future challenges since I think I can better manage myself.

The part I like least is like the other side of the coin of a young entrepreneurial population. Some people are obnoxious, some people just party like undergrads. Of course, everyone is free to choose, but sometimes there is a certain herd mentality that strongly favors party people. I feel that is a bit distracting. I sometimes feel a little glad because I am married and do not need to be heavily involved in the Schwab Residential Center culture.

Adam: How would you describe the culture of GSB? Are there any common characteristics you find amongst your classmates?

Sutebuu: Culture of GSB, compared to what I have seen and heard at other schools, is young, friendly, and powerful. Young average age creates a momentum more near to undergrad, the Silicon Valley community embraces entrepreneurial efforts, the school’s very high academic requirements (For example, average GMAT score) filters academic capabilities, and many people come here because they are willing to help each other. I feel more risk tolerant and willing to start new things just because of the culture.

Adam: Do you actually have any time for clubs?  If so, which ones are you active in?

Sutebuu: I belong to three clubs, but do not have any active role. Some clubs are just for circulating e-mails. Though I benefit a lot from what other clubs organize, like BBL (Brown Bag Lunch talks) sessions and guest speakers throughout the year.

Adam: What is hot at GSB right now?

Sutebuu: Any kind of venture business is always hot. There is a variety of things people are interested in, certainly the situation is not that everyone is interested in just cleantech and iPads.

Adam: How boring is Palo Alto?  I ask because I have to say that I think Palo Alto is really dull. The night I spent there convinced me that I would not want to spend another night there. Next time, it will be daytrip. 

Sutebuu: There are very few places to hang out after midnight. The student community organizes a lot of drinking parties and events that try to make best of it. Also, students regularly organize “small-group dinners” to know each other more. As long as you think that talking to decent friends and great surrounding community as an attraction, I think it is not as boring as one feels as a visitor here.  I often enjoy the time of drinking at home with friends.

Adam: Do you expect anything will change when the program moves into the Knight Management Center?

Sutebuu: Dean Saloner announced that there is no plan for change in class size. I heard that there are high-tech meeting rooms, but because students are the strongest assets here, probably there will be no large change. It will be just waste of words if you mention it in application essay.

Adam:  Do you have any specific advice for those considering application to GSB?

Sutebuu: Showing high academic ability by mixture of GPA and GMAT, with high TOEFL scores for foreign students is pretty much a prerequisite. Then your “why” essay is incredibly important. It is very much forward looking, but also requires self reflection.  Personally, I think the process of writing this should be fun. After you come to school, you will be free to utilize a whole universe of opportunities and that most valuable resource, your time. The self-discipline you create with the WHY essay guides you on how you would handle it .Conveying a strong story about yourself, usually beyond a standard answer to “why you need an MBA”, and improving it to the level that you think “if Stanford will dismiss this, they are going to regret it”, actually starts your MBA life even before you get admitted.

For Japanese applicants, currently, there is relatively smaller number of applicants compared to other Asian countries’ applicants, i.e. there is comparatively higher chance of getting admitted. There are relatively few info on actual life here, but I hope my blog (http://sutebuu.blogspot.com/) could help you to consider coming to this wonderful place.

Good Luck!
I want thank Sutebuu for taking the time to answer my questions.  His advice on how to approach the Stanford application essays is really worth keeping in mind for any applicant, whether you apply to Stanford or elsewhere. See here for all my posts about Stanford GSB.
-Adam Markus
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