Sunday, April 27, 2008

Class of 2011 Blogging Community

I know it's been a week and I still haven't posted the second half of my Columbia visit. Apologies! I will get to that I promise but I just wanted to take this post to say that I feel excited to be welcomed by the class of 2011 bloggin community. The other day I actually got a couple comments on my posts which made me happy. But even more amazing, I saw that 3 other applicant blogs actually posted links to my blog. Unbelievable that anyone else would think my blog worth linking to, I was so honored.

So I want to give a shout-out to Soni, HappyBunny, and V2b!!!

Who'd a thunk it? I feel bad that I don't have any links so I think I'll be adding a section soon to link to other informative and worthwhile blogs. Those 3 plus Samantha's Best MBA Blog Ever are the 4 that I follow somewhat regularly. I've never blogged before so it's really quite cool how I do indeed feel a sense of welcome and acceptance from our lil community. And fortunately, it's a bit different than the feel of the BW forums.

Also, a sidenote: a Columbia student who is graduating this May just created an excellent post on BW forums entitled "what's wrong with Columbia?" or something similar (his username is "mbaCBS"). He illuminates many reasons why Columbia may be a poor fit (from a student's perspective) in a very sensible, non-troll-like manner. Some of the things he cites are the bureacratic administration, commuter student body (especially on weekends), the crappy cafeteria in Uris Deli, and the hit-or-miss quality of professors. Definitely worth a read. Good thing for me that the need to be in NY overrides all that. I don't need a ton of friends, just a few non-commuter ones will be good enough to help establish my NY social circle and network. I don't know how much the administration will actually effect someone like me but the deli isn't that much of a concern. I eat like crap anyway and you can always go off-campus in a pinch. The professor problem is an oft-cited one and definitely a concern as they can really make or break the quality and happiness of your education... I guess I'll have to research my professors for 2nd year and pray for 1st year Core profs! :P

Monday, April 21, 2008

Columbia Visit the Sequal

I’m on the bus back from NY right now and figured I’d recount my second Columbia visit which happened mere hours ago. As Mario Batali would say, “bon appetito.”

I originally wanted to visit again to sit in on 4 classes (back to back to back to back) to perhaps get essay quotes/ideas but nixed the idea. For one, it would’ve been near impossible getting up early enough and commuting in from long island (my family’s home) to make a 9:00 am class. Also, I would’ve likely fallen asleep at some point. I decided to do only 2 or 3 classes starting with the 10:45 am time slot. I arrived at 10:00 am and stressed myself out on the phone for half an hour as I barked at my HMO, Kaiser Permanente, regarding my broken hand (I need surgery apparently). My first class at 10:45 was the main reason for my visit, Real Estate Finance with Prof. Tomasz Piskorski. The class is an elective unless you want to take other real estate classes (like me) in which case it’s a pre-req for everything else. I got there 3 minutes early and sat in the left-most seat in the second row. I didn’t introduce myself to the professor cuz he got there late and I didn’t want to make a scene. There were about 60 students in the class, maybe 25% female. There were a couple attractive ones but I could tell that my dating would probably be with students from the other Columbia schools. I introduced myself to the girl to my right, Gina. The dynamic was a little weird as she was eating but she was definitely friendly. She answered a couple typical questions about the class and confirmed that the quality of professors can be hit or miss. Apparently she’s interning at General Electric this summer which struck me as odd since she’s a real estate major. She said it was real estate related though I didn’t understand her brief explanation. She confirmed that real estate students need to take a bit more initiative when searching for jobs. It’s just the nature of the beast.

I picked up a class handout and realized that today’s class was the course review which is great considering I wanted a high-level overview. The class started and I was a bit surprised to see that it took the professor a good 7 or 8 seconds to get the class quiet and attentive. Maybe I’m being na├»ve with all the respect jumbo or maybe the weather was so nice and it was near the end of term that students’ attention spans were down and spirits up. He proceeded to go thru the course and I loved it. I paid attention to everything he said despite his semi-thick Russian accent (definitely still understandable though) because it was the perfect overview that I was looking for. Very informative with just the right level of detail. I cannot wait to take the class myself in 2 years. Ha!

The class was at capacity and about 5 minutes in, an attractive blonde (dyed but still) walked in and pulled a seat up next to me on my left. It was the middle of class so I didn’t introduce myself but I did lend her a pen. She wasn’t as pretty close-up L It was also funny cuz she kept drinking an iced coffee and eating radishes (with a very audible crunch with each bite). I smiled at her, she smiled at me, and that was it. She analyzed her nails for much of the class and didn’t seem very inattentive to the lecture. She was dressed stylishly, I’ll give her that.

I was impressed at how seamlessly the professor pulled a recent real-world example into his lecture- as he was talking about what a large component of a company’s value is contained within its property, he mentioned that when JP Morgan was valuing Bear Sterns, they had to consider the prime building location too. He also had a great international example of how German inflation affected the value of mortgages in the early 20th century. Interesting stuff. The highlight though, was when he shared an anecdote about his dinner 2 weeks ago with some Wharton faculty. They were dining in Chelsea (on 20th St and 8th Ave I think) and staring at some rundown lot across the street. One of the Wharton professors commented that it’s crazy that nobody’s developed that prime land into a building or something more useful. Professor Piskorski’s response was (and this is illustrative of one of his lecture points) that undeveloped land is like owning an option. Just because an option is in the money doesn’t mean you’d necessarily exercise it so why would you immediately develop the land? There’s value in waiting as you may obtain more information or the option may become even more valuable. Apparently, the Wharton professors mulled it over for 40 seconds then conceded “you may have a point there.” The class blew up in laughter. When the professor reiterated that these were Wharton faculty who had not considered this “option view” on undeveloped real estate, the class blew up again. Finally, he declared that the entire class was now more real estate savvy than Wharton faculty at which point the class blew up again.

I couldn’t help but be delighted by this anecdote too (it really was quite funny especially when 60 other students are busting a gut), but it somewhat slightly bothered me that the class was relishing his portrayal of Wharton that much because that conveys to me that Columbia students consider their school inferior to Wharton (they wouldn’t have been so giddy if the faculty in the anecdote was from a community college right?). I’m very much in love with Columbia so I don’t think of going there as me settling. I would definitely choose Columbia over Wharton if given the choice even though I know people usually view HSW as the top 3 MBA programs. Sigh. I guess I’m just a little sensitive because my undergrad alma mater, Georgetown, sucks in the rankings every year.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just a Note

So today I officially hired my admissions counselor. Mucho money well spent I hope. The reason I chose to do this today is because I realize it's past the half-way point of April. This gives me just under 5 months to submit my application by my personally targeted submission date. I know that 5 months is actually plenty of time but like I said before, I'm a worrier. I want my app and essays especially to be near perfecto. Since I've been commited to this process for close to a year now, to experience the countdown from 12 months to 5 months is quite anxiety-inducing. I know I'm not actually running out of time but that's my crazy brain at work. I'm also taking the bus (classy guy I am) to New York this weekend so I figured this would give me a great opportunity to brainstorm some essay topics during the 4-5 hour trip. Might as well use that time wisely. Also, maybe a small part of me was afraid of this particular consultant filling up with clients and not accepting my business later. Paranoid I know.

I was surprised cuz the phone call wasn't as informative as the free consultation. He basically reiterated the stratgy that he had originally given me for free and told me to do a first draft immediately. No real new info. He did send me several sample essays to take as examples. I haven't read any of them yet (will do so on the bus ride) but a preliminary scan revealed that these were probably first drafts themselves as they all showed egregious typos and one had no paragraphs. I'm sure the pearls of wisdom will arise during the editing/revising phases. I'm glad to finally get started. I also asked him if I should do anything in particular when I visit Columbia this coming monday. He said "try not to be an asshole." :) haha, I think I'm starting to understand him.

In other news, I had a nice conversation with one of the real estate portfolio managers at my company and he was super-nice and helpful. It sounds like his group is so small and specialized that I wouldn't be able to join them in the future but he did offer to introduce me to some of his high-powered friends. I'm going to meet him for lunch in a week and then maybe talk to one of his friends or two. Truth be told though, I don't know what the chances are of me switching jobs before my app is submitted. Seems like too risky and too much of a red flag at this juncture. It'll make me seem fickle/undecided and immature for jumping around so much. I'll have no qualms about jumping after receiving an acceptance though (fingers crossed) :P And on another note, I found out today that I'll require surgery on my fractured hand. Sucks. At least I'm typing around 35 wpm now wuth one hand hehe.

Oh, and one very last thing! My hits counter has informed me that someone from Tishman Speyer in New York has been reading my blog on a few occasions. Firstly, you're the man. Secondly, hook it up, my friend! ;) hehe, j/k.................. no, but seriously. Help me please. Just kidding. Or am I? Can't blame me for trying right? :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tishman Talk

So it turns out that one of the new co-workers on my project has a friend who used to work at Booz too... except he left a month ago to wok at Tishman Speyer! I asked if she could put me in touch with him since he was a fellow georgetown alum and lo and behold, he was super nice and let me pick his brain for half an hour.

What did I learn? Well obviously I asked how he got the job... turns out it was thru networking as a couple of his friends worked in real estate development and urged him to give it a try. His good friend at Tishman got him an interview and he was able to wow them. Simple as that. Unfortunately he is the lowest guy on the ladder there so it's not like hecould've hooked me up but I did learn a lot from our conversation. He told me to learn as much as I can. He said it's really important to learn all the terminology so you can speak in the interviews as a knowledgable industry observer/student to show that you're serious. He said to have your story down cold as you were looking to switch industries and needed to be convincing. He was able to send me a couple links too, one to a real estate job posting board, and the other to a real estate development news site. Both very helpful.

He loves his new job even if he is the smallest guy there. He said it's amazing how lean Tishman is considering they manage so much property worldwide. For instance, their DC office only has about 20 professionals including him! His title is research sales analyst and I could hear the excitement in his voice when he talked about visiting potential sites, visiting architectural offices, looking at blueprints and spreadsheets, etc. I'm really happy for him to be honest. He mentioned that development is still an old boys' network in the sense that most people got their start via knowing someone on the inside (networking). He recommended that the MBA was my best bet as places like Tishman, Hines, etc. recruit their young studs from top b-schools like Columbia into thir rotational programs. He revealed that two hot roles available to graduate MBAs are in Acquisitions and Portfolio Management. His current role as a research sales analyst apparently pales in comparison to these MBA positions and he'd have to work his way up into those roles.

So the good thing that I learned was that I'm indeed going down the right path if I aim to pursue development. He also motivated me to start reading much more. I'm going to have to buy a textbook from the ULI bookstore methinks. I also shelled out $25 today for a ULI Young Leaders workshop on Zoning, Entitlement, and Land Development next tuesday. It's a bit steep for a 90 minute class but we'll see. I'm sure I'll learn something and it could get me more excited and motivated.

This weekend I'll be back in NY to see my mom and on Monday, I'll be at Columbia to sit in on a couple more classes, most specifically Real Estate Finance. I'll also visit the Milstein Center for Real Estate to see what ot has to offer. Next week is also when I hire ny admissions consultant hopefully and start essay wbrainstorming/outlining. I'm excited. Ya know, it's amazing that I'm now typing close to 40 words per minute with only one hand :P

Tomorrow I will be informing my project manager of my long-term desire to leave the project to pursue a more relevant project. Ehhh... slightly nervous I admit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Polls, Emailing the Adcom, & More

I just put up 2 polls on the right aide of my blog. Please do take them. I know some people may not respond seriously but I definitely appreciate the input and will be checking the results incessantly (even tho nobody reads this thing anyway hehe).

Also, I'm sorry that I can't reveal the actual spin or framing of my story. I've decided that I may need to be a little more discreet as I'm sometimes overly trusting and self-revealing. My hit counter showed that someone from Columbia's network accessed my blog a couple weeks ago via a Businessweek forum posting. Obviously I don't know if it's someone from the adcom but why take chances? As it is, I feel stupid enough that my username on there was "TienEtBerkeley" back from over a year ago when I first registered an account. I just started a new one called (don't laugh) "TienColumbiaLove". Terrible dork I am I know. My mind was drawing a blank.

I also decided to email the adcom and ask what approx date would next year's app be released. Apparently last year's app debuted on July 24th, giving about 3 weeks until the ED review period started. I also asked if it was okay to use last year's essays if I wanted to get a super- early start on them (the respected consultant said that most schools don't care). I wonder if the adcom will just think I'm a super anxious nerd given that I revealed both my real name and my brown-nosing username of "TienColumbiaLove." I apologize for anyone who may have just vomitted.

Lastly, I am trying to get on a project at work that is more real estate related. It will require a lot of networking, political navigation, research, entrepreneurial initiative, and relationship management. I'm screwed. There's no ETA on this but I mentioned it to my manager for the first time on thursday and he sounds supportive. Even if I don't get on a related project until after I apply to CBS, it would be great experience.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mr. Admissions Consultant Himself

I got a free initial consult from probably the most respected of the myriad MBA admissions consultants and all I can say is "wow." I don't want to reveal the consultant's identity out of respect to him but will reveal my impression. I talked to the fabled man himself and he is completely different from the other companies I've dealt with. In every way.



Firstly, he was very blunt and straight-forward with his opinions. He talked with a self-confience that gave the impression that he knew exactly what he was talking about. He appeared not to be telling me his interpretation of my situation or offering his opinion. Rather, he spoke as an authority. He told me not what he thought was the best way to frame my story but the only way to frame it. I was truly taken aback. When I played devil's advocate and asked if his spin could be interpretted negatively by the adcom, he bristled and told me to stop being "paranoid".

I tried to respectfully present other interpretations of how my story may be presented and he seemed really annoyed by my challenge to his authority. He told me to "stop being an @$$hole" which really shocked me. He sounds like he's done this so many times with so many applicants that he knew his way was best and that I should thus just accept it. When I tried to display some humility, he scolded me saying that I "should stop acting like a dumb kid who is trying to sneak in the back door" and that I should instead "believe in myself." Man, I was really taken aback.

I've never received such harsh treatment from a consultant before and typically would've just hung up. But I couldn't. His suggested framing of my story was truly strong and impressed me (and two confidants who I later recounted it to). I never thought of my story as unique but I now realize it indeed is. I simply wasn't focusing enough on the elements that were so familiar to ne that I had taken them as commonplace (even though they aren't). I feel like I have a coherent plan now.

The reason this guy was willing to be so harsh with me was probably because he didn't care if I hired him or not. This guy is so well-known that he doesn't need the business. He was not fawning or obsequious nor did he try to make me feel good as other consultants had. He got right down to brass tacks. In fact, he gave me the most valuable info, the framing of my story, for free (this was a free consultation). Why pay for the essay/app services then? The weird thing is that now I actually want to hire him despite his borderline rude demeanor. He was just too good. He acted cocky like he knew he was right about everything he said in such a manner that could only lead me to surmise that he indeed was right about everything. I still haven't decided if I'm gonna shell out for this dude but I'm definitely considering it.

Oh, and this occured last week. Sorry that I didn't post this earlier but I broke my hand while playing basketball that night. I'm typing with 6 fingers. No basketball for 5 weeks so I'll have plenty of time to think (and get fat).

Monday, April 7, 2008

Paranoid Musings

Okie doke. So I'm feeling really nervous about two things right now.

1) My sad BusinessWeek username. Too bad I signed up my account over a year ago and incorporated (foolishly) another school's name into my handle huh? Hopefully nobody from Columbia's adcom sees it and gets the wrong impression because there's no aspiring MBA 2011 more committed than I. I pretty much believe that. I even emailed FrancescaBW, the BW forums moderator, and asked her how I could delete my username to start anew. She didn't have an answer and is querying her tech guys. Kinda crazy how nobody else has ever asked them to delete their account huh? But then again, I guess no one has ever had as good a reason as mine: paranoia.

2) This one was quite alarming too. Thanks to those lovely (and free) site counting tools, I am able to see how many people view this quaint lil blog and also from which larger network they're from. Apparently today around noon, someone from the Columbia.edu network visited my blog! uh-oh... And the referring website was one of my Businessweek threads. I wonder if Christina from the adcom was checking out my page? That would be unbelievable (well, not really but you know what I mean). This brings up a good question that I've considered before but never came to a real conclusion on: does this blog make me seem super serious and committed about Columbia? (which I am)... or does it make me seem super competitive and nerdy (which I assuredly am not hehe)? Let's hope whoever visited from the Columbia website was not from the adcom and in the event that it was, that they love my blog :) I know I shouldn't think that way... just watch, tonight I'm sure I'll have a dream where I receive an email from Christina asking me to matriculate before I even applied! Man oh man, that would be a sweet dream :P And nothing more than a dream :(

Sunday, April 6, 2008

No Vision

So my primary concern (aside from trying to get work on a project that's more real estate related) is that I have no vision. I told my story to a friend and he said the first thing that jumped out at him was that I had a reason to pursue real estate development but no real "vision". I agree. I wrote the following post on the BW forums to the Anonymous Admissions Consultant (gmatgenius) who has yet to reply. I decided to paste my post because I think it articulates my concern pretty well.

I do have a more pressing concern at this point. One friend of mine said that my story for wanting to become a real estate developer lacks the so-called "wow" factor. He said that the reason is because I have no "vision". To me, the attraction of real estate development is not only the challenge and ability to build something tangible, but the opportunity to contribute to a city (even one as great as New York). Helping to shape the landscape/skyline and re-invent what people think of as iconic buildings- those are the things that hold immense appeal to me. Obviously these are my feelings and opinions, not a "vision". Do you think this hurts me? I think that I can convey this well (read: sincerely) in an interview setting but I worry that I'll come off as simply a greedy slum lord wannabe in the essays.

So essentially I like the idea of helping to shape New York City. I want to be able to walk down the street or stare across from Brooklyn and point to something that I helped contribute to. Is this enough? I don't know.

In even more paranoid news, my BW forums username is "TienEtBerkeley". This is because I created the account over a year ago when Berkeley was my top choice (what a foolish thought at the time hehe). Anyway, BW will not allow me to change my username... it's funny cuz there is an option to do so but when you try to change it, BW doesn't actually process the change. Also, I cannot open a new account under the same email address! So I'm stuck with my Berkeley username ... my concern is that some of the Columbia admissions officer (i.e. Christina) will see it and remember me negatively come admissions time. I even had the insane thought to email Christina to explain the situation but I think no information would be preferrable in this situation hehe. I may have to start a new email so I can create a new username. Then I'll just forward all of that new email's messages to my current email.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Seeking Real Estate Experience

So from the various free feedback that I've been able to glean from the admission consultant threads on the BusinessWeek forums, it appears that I am a competitive candidate for Columbia. I have the GPA, GMAT, undergrad transcript, well-known employers, a nice resume, good extra-currics though not overwhelming, just enough leadership activities (barely), and good essays and recs (assumed of course). I'm also applying super early in the Early Decision round and I should be a good interview, especially since I have a decent story and know a boatload of stuff about Columbia and why I fit. However, almost every admissions consultant pointed out one glaring weakness. I need to do more real estate related stuff (either work or activities) to flesh out my story. Currently the only real estate experience I have is as a Manhattan condo owner where I serve as the de facto landlord since I rent it out. I am also a minority partner in my family's business, a real estate holding company (dad used to develop apartment buildings on a very small scale but no longer). That's it. No actual work experience.

Thus I set out to do something about it. Some people say that with 5 months until I submit my application, that there is nothing I can do to change my profile. I aim to prove them wrong. I joined the Urban Land Institute on monday. The ULI (as I may have mentioned in my previous post) is a professional organization that provides research and info on land use, development, and urban planning. It's truly a wealth of info. I joined under a Young Leader membership (for those under age 35) which cost $175. Since my company sponsors one professional membership per year, my company will be picking up the tab on this one. I've been listening to their podcasts on real estate careers which has been helpful. I also wanted to attend an annual development conference on April 9th here in DC but unfortunately, it's during a work day and I'm not sure if I want to give up the entire day. But how can joining one professional society make up for my lack of industry experience you ask? Read on, dearie.

I was decently involved with my family business, the real estate holding company. When I was younger (high school and very early college), I would go visit the apartments on weekends with my parents and engage in various tasks such as cleaning, interviewing tenants, driving the construction crew insane with nitpicking, etc. When I was younger I also remember tagging along for errands to various federal building departments in addition to cleaning. Anyway, after college, I started handling a lot of the bookkeeping for the company. My father always hated it because English is not his first language. Obviously he can get by but it's frustrating for him, especially since dealing with finances in real estate (where contractors and ambiguous fees are always screwing you) is frustrating enough. Thus he employed my great English skills to manage much of the finances. Obviously he had all executive power but I ran the books, writing checks, collecting rent from tenants, calling contractors and plumbers and other random people. I printed statements and made sure everything ran smoothly from a financial point of view even though I didn't have any decision-making power. I didn't get paid for this as it's supposedly a responsbility of mine (I am a minority partner after all) and thus I don't get a salary nor pay taxes. I didn't even consider this work... more like a chore really. After I moved to DC 6 months ago, my sister took up much of the work (since proximity to the properties in NY is somewhat important) but I still advise her. I think I definitely need to talk about this activity. I can't put it on my resume as a job experience but it's definitely an experience to talk about since it took up to 10 hours a week of my time. Our company does hold 3 small commercial units, 1 house, 1 condo, and 2 investment properties (condos) in Beijing. So this is a noteworthy activity that fleshes out my story substantially. It doesn't make up completely for my lack of industry experience but does substantially mitigate it I believe. I will probably add a line in the "Additional" section of my resume for this. I'll also need to mention this in my essay #1 describing my short and long term goals (as background info). If I can't fit it in, then I'll need to include it in my Optional Essay #5 as info that I want the adcom to know about.

Besides, I can't quit my job now. I've only worked there for 6 months so it'll make me seem fickle, undecided, immature, etc. (all of which I am to a degree), since I switched from Finance to Consulting to Real Estate? and all within 3 years! I just can't do it. If anything, I've started to contact random people at my company regarding related projects with the Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the Economic Business Administration (EBA). Maybe I can help out on those projects part-time if they have to do with land use, development, or urban planning. Even if I can make this happen (it'll take a lot of networking though), I'll only have a couple months experience by the time I apply which is why I need to play up my newly realized activity. Hooray for a plan! I think this makes me a strong candidate overall. Just gotta ace my essays and recs now.

Oh yeah, good news on the rec. I don't think I'll tell my manager that I'm thinking of my MBA as he's a bit narrow-minded about certain things. He may support my decision but if he doesn't, then there'll be no convincing him otherwise so I'd rather not even try. Instead, I'll try to get a recommendation from my Project Manager whom is very gung-ho about doing anything possible to help you out. My co-worker who is going to apply for the part-time MBA program at Maryland (in a month!) for enrollment in Fall 2008 is going to get a rec from him next month. So she'll kinda be my test case to see if I get a rec from him. He seems like he's willing and will be good about it though.

One last tidbit, the Columbia Early Decision review period begins Wednesday, August 8th! That is crazy early. I literally have 5 months then! I've already started revising my resume (more time-consuming than you think if you are a perfectionist) and have obviously made significant progress with the Urban Land Institute membership and realization of my family business bookkeeping activity. In 3 weeks I am going to visit Columbia again and sit in on their Real Estate Finance course (plus others) before classes end. Then I'll start plotting/brainstorming my essays using last year's app. Unfortunately, Columbia doesn't release their app until late July (that's what they said when I called). Hopefully it's more like mid-July, that way I'll have a good month to do it before submitting by Aug 15th at latest. I should probably start approaching my recommenders in early June to come to an understanding. Oh boy.