I was recruited to the army after participating in an intelligence program for which only 120 out of over 10,000 candidates were selected. In addition to daily shifts of running the compound’s intelligence operations, my peers and I were given several project options. I elected to train 20 soldiers and improve the work methods of a prestigious department. I discovered it was difficult to find the opportunity to initiate meaningful change in an already efficient department. I did my job of co-managing about 30 intelligence personnel on a daily basis and assumed that would suffice to get my commanders' attention.
A few months afterward, I was called into my commander’s office and notified I wasn’t selected to be among the first set of officers to go to officers’ course. I was surprised – I thought I was doing my work well enough and assumed that I would be noticed and chosen to be an officer. My commander explained to me that I wasn’t making a significant impact on the base intelligence abilities and that I failed to show leadership potential in the short period of time I served on the base. It was my first real disappointment as a young adult. I was used to achieving whatever I aimed for.
Although I was glad for my friends who were chosen, I was disappointed in myself. I tried to analyze my actions so I could understand the reasons for this negative feedback on my performance. First, I admitted that I wrongly chose a project based on superficial impressions rather than real opportunity. Second, I was a competent young manager, but not a leader who reached beyond the job requirements. Third, I learned that I was naïve for thinking that I don’t need to market myself. I realized that in order to be recognized as a future officer, I had to make sure my commanders were aware of my achievements and potential. Otherwise, why should they choose me to be an officer? As in the business world, a good marketing plan can make the difference between success and failure.
Now that I had the experience to identify opportunities, I asked to be assigned to a different project, where I could make a positive impact on a different department. I also decided to be more proactive about promoting my opinions and ideas in our work meetings. Three months later, I was nominated for the officers' course.
This early feedback influenced the rest of my professional military career. I learned how important it is to make decisions based on knowledge and analysis. I also learned that my ability to deeply analyze a situation increases with experience. When I was offered my recent promotion to Head of the ___, I conducted thorough research to validate my intuition that it was the right move for me. I similarly did my homework before I chose an undergraduate program of study and have been researching MBA programs since 2007.
I also learned the importance of getting attention in a big organization. When I was promoted to compound commander, I understood that a major part of my success would be to market the achievements of my compound and my part in them. Ultimately, due to strategic upgrade program I initiated and executed, my compound received additional resources and managerial attention. I was proud to be associated with those achievements and to be promoted to Assistant of the Head of ___, as well as to receive a citation from the unit’s commander, a senior officer of the rank of Brigadier General.
This experience taught me that surprising, authentic feedback, taken in the right spirit, can really help me to understand my own weaknesses and to grow by improving them. Surprising feedback is really an opportunity rather than an insult. In this case, I gained a lesson that paid valuable dividends during the rest of my career: Making wise choices and getting the most out of every opportunity is the best way to help the goddess of luck help you. Sometimes, you have to make your own good luck happen.
My log screamed a 15% weekly loss. Over the previous months, my firm’s equity had dropped precipitously. If the trend continued, my operation could not survive much longer. Until fall 2008, the high-frequency and low profile nature of our trading enabled us to double trading activity while the larger market eroded. Then dramatic market fluctuations caused us to suffer daily losses over 2%—it was my first real crisis.
I had supervised an assistant beginner trader for over a year, mentoring and training her. I directed the company and develop strategies for my trader to implement. When the losses began, we brainstormed alternatives to reduce risk. I suggested limiting trading to equities with the most obvious need for liquidity, as those were historically the most profitable. My trader disagreed and suggested limiting trading across-the-board; arguing that in a volatile market, equities in dire positions would be less profitable than stable ones.
I was eager for opportunities and therefore uninterested in what I saw as her more restrictive solutions. Moreover, I honestly felt I knew better since I had three years more experience. I continued to advocate my position strongly and told my trader to trust my intuition. Soon, she backed off from further confrontation to defend her recommendation and I directed her to go ahead with my method for selective reduction.
Over the next month, our cutbacks yielded no results, and the company lost over 50% of its value. My solution had failed and caused irrevocable losses.
After this period, my trader repeated her earlier suggested method to reduce risk. My solution’s inefficacy forced me to swallow my pride and reconsider her idea. When I did so, I realized that her analysis was sound for reasons I had not initially taken into account. I changed course to pursue her solution. My trader’s method almost immediately stopped losses. I realized then that I had made a mistake in undervaluing my trader’s insights. Looking back, I wish I could retract what I felt was my harsh disregard of her opinions and how I brushed her off without confirming that I at least understood her reasoning.
By the time I realized my mistake, the crisis had ended. However, I also realized this incident was indicative of a more general mistake in my management approach. To prevent this sort of error from repeating, I would have to change the way I managed my associate. I realized that overconfidence prevented me from being more open-minded and taking my trader’s viewpoint more seriously. I also realized my judgment can be skewed by ambition, so when presented with new challenges, I must take more care to evaluate the situation and stay open to a wider range of alternatives.
This experience taught me the importance of encouraging subordinates to contribute to decision-making and problem-solving. As a manager, I must communicate that I value others’ input and have confidence in their abilities. I learned that to be a more effective leader I must balance confidence with observation, ambition with discretion, and guidance with encouragement.
I discussed these ideas with my trader, apologizing for my actions, and emphasizing that I believed in her potential and felt that this situation proved that she has valuable insights. I told her that my top priority is making a good decision, not being right and that I did not want my opinions to intimidate her from voicing her ideas.
Since this experience, I have made a commitment to include my trader in all complex decisions in new situations. I have developed methods that enable us to make reliable decisions with consensus in time-sensitive conditions. I credit several good collaborative decisions in risk management to this practice. To leverage my trader’s different experiences and insights, I developed a curriculum that would help her build her skills. I also taught her to develop her own ideas experimentally. I feel that these investments send a strong message of my confidence in her, and that my discussion of her ideas provides a context to give further encouragement.
Handling this larger mistake in my approach to management has been very rewarding. Over time, these investments have enabled my trader to develop profitable behavioral trading strategies with projected returns of over 100% annually. Beyond profits, I saw that these motivational methods made my trader more confident, and I was glad to give her the respect she deserves. I feel that this effort has also aroused creative energies and brought out an intrinsic motivation in her, making our collaboration both mutually beneficial and enjoyable.
At the end of my second academic year, I started working as a statistics and accounting lecturer at the university's Student Union. The program was designed to reinforce students academically. The program grew rapidly as more and more students were attending the classes. Trying to constantly improve the level of the program, I decided to benchmark equivalent services in other academic institutions. To my surprise, I found out that other academic institutes did not have a similar service. Immediately I thought it was a great opportunity. I approached a friend and together we decided to establish a company that will provide this service to other institutes.
We met almost daily and constantly shared ideas. We were very excited by our initiative. We performed a SWOT and market analysis. We then created a concept, emphasizing the added value we believed we could provide. Later on, we made a financial analysis and set the pricing. We created a presentation and built a pitch for potential academic institutes. In order to put the wheels in motion, we utilized and created new contacts with student unions either through friends and acquaintances or through contacting student union representatives directly. We gathered a team of 20 lecturers and built a full statistics example course.
It was all going well, and we were eager to see the idea turn into reality. And so, even though we were not ready at the time with a solid structure for our service we decided to set a meeting with a very strategic potential client. It was the Head of another university's student union, a 5,000 student institution. We presented our company and our concept and proposed a deal.
"We like the idea," said the student union's representatives, "but your company is in a very early stage and lacks the infrastructure to handle such a large contract. Therefore it presents too much of a risk."
Deep inside I knew their feeling was justified. I realized that we approached them too early in the process. However, as wheels were already in motion I decided I shouldn't give up easily. I stated our experience and our lecturers' experience. Eventually, we were told to wait for an answer as they inquire about other possibilities. A few days later they said they decided not to continue with us, they indicated that we presented good ideas, we fitted academically, and had a strong drive, but we gave no solid ground to back it up.
I remember that at the time I felt very frustrated, but all the while I knew they were right. We put the cart before the horses. The urge to meet success set us off of the course we previously knew we had to walk in. We should have kept following our business plan, and not look for a shortcut. We should have first built a stronger operation basis, approach some smaller institutions, and only than attack for more meaningful clients.
The refusal caused me to second guess the initiative. In addition, as both of us were just about to start our accounting internship in top accounting offices, we understood that continuing with developing the business meant postponing our internship. We got cold feet and eventually decided to abandon our entrepreneurship.
Looking back, I realize some important insights. We failed to build a detailed business plan. Therefore when an opportunity came I was triggered by it and did not take control. I was too hasty. Today, in my work in a private equity investment firm I manage a detailed plan in every mission I lead. This way I try to avoid missing important milestones in a project.
Secondly, I understood that I could have avoided the mistake if I stepped into the customers' shoes and identified what might cause resistance. I might have figured out that we needed a better foundation before approaching them and could make a better decision. In my current work, I meet many managers and entrepreneurs. I have learned to appreciate the entrepreneurs that are able to foresee and address obstacles. Indeed, they are the ones that manage to close deals.
Already as a teenager I developed a special interest in economics, not surprising since both my parents have accounting academic background. Even though my military service, I used to read economical daily papers and follow the stock exchange market.
Once I successfully obtained my bachelor's degree, I started working for _____ accounting office. However, while I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of dealing with complex accounting issues, I was missing the stimulation and dynamics that exist in other branches of the financial industry. I decided to pursue a professional dream of mine, a job in the private equity industry.
Throughout the last year in which I worked for _____ Private Equity Fund, I have learned that this is the line of work in which I wish to continue my professional development. I find the private equity industry fascinating.
Therefore I have set my short term post MBA goal to join a global private equity fund as an associate. I believe that through this line of work I would have the opportunity to deal with much larger and more complex transactions, learn about different business models and build a profound intellectual basis in the field of investments. In addition, I could gain a wider international exposure, which I had initially enjoyed as a flight instructor for Aeronautics Ltd. working in various developing countries such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Azerbaijan.
Looking even forward, I hope to be promoted and be in charge of a regional investment portfolio. I believe that through my country's economy resembles other western economies, it still has some way to go in the private equity field. While our high-tech companies are commonly acquired by global companies, it was only recently that global funds such as Apax partners have made any non-technology related transactions in my country and it is still done to a very small extent.
My ultimate dream is to help develop my country to be a global center of financial services. I believe my country offers several advantages such as strong human resources, entrepreneurship culture, and cultural diversification. I would like to see my country stand at the forefront of the region's financial industry much like Singapore managed to do in the Far East. By acquiring an important role in the private equity industry, I hope to be able to establish global investment funds which will make the dream come true.
I strongly believe that pursuing an MBA at Chicago University is the first stepping stone in my career plan. There is no doubt that Chicago GSB is a prominent academic institution. Chicago holds a strong positioning within the financial industry in general and a well-known reputation within private equity funds in particular. The school's long legacy and extensive alumni network could surely make a strong contribution to my career advancement. I have heard a lot on how the school's career services have outperformed many other top schools' services during the recent recession which provides me a lot of comfort in light of today's market's behavior.
I believe that while I have learned the basic theory of economics and accountings, Chicago's full-time MBA program could enhance my knowledge in those areas I want to gain further understanding. Thanks to the very flexible curriculum I could skip some basic courses and take more advanced courses such as Financial Statement Analysis or courses which I am interested in obtaining further education such as Economic Analysis of Major Policy Issues. Furthermore, my studies were usually conducted using a theoretical frontal learning method. I am eager to take part in the program's lab courses, namely the Private Equity/ Venture Capital Lab, and learn firsthand about actual business challenges and opportunity evaluation.
I am impressed by the wide elective courses selection offered in the concentrations. I am already intrigued by the Analytic Finance concentration, namely the Advanced Investments and Fixed Income Asset Pricing courses. I find the LBO Modeling seminar an important opportunity to compare the models with which I am currently working with the ones used in global private equity funds. I am sure these courses could provide me with a cutting edge advantage in this highly competitive industry and have a strong impact on my ability to achieve my professional goals. I would also want to take part in some courses with an international orientation such as Finance in Emerging Markets which is offered on another concentration. Along with the Emerging Market Group I think I could gain important insights of and experience in this sector.
I think that much like other skills, leadership could also be strengthened by rigorous learning. I believe that Chicago Booth's unique Leadership training program, LEAD, is a wonderful opportunity to practice important skills and enjoy the process. Other than fostering this soft skill, I am sure that the more experiences I will go through the better I will get acquainted with the local and international cultural standards.
Finally, I believe that a supportive environment is a crucial factor in order to achieve the best academic and professional results. I have attended the two recent MBA fairs and used the opportunity to consult with admitted students and graduates of Chicago University. I was pleased to hear that they all indicated how great their MBA experience was and how exceptionally supportive the school's faculty and fellow students were. In this context, if admitted, I plan to arrive with my wife-to-be. As the most important support is that which one gets in his home, I find the Chicago partners club a significant element in my strong preferences towards Chicago GSB.
A true risk is one that makes your throat dry and your heart beat faster, like the second before a bungee jump. Though I’ve grown accustomed to that feeling over time, I will never forget the first time I felt the stakes were really high. While serving as an xxx in a military penitentiary I approved vacation for N, one of the most notorious inmates I knew.
Why take such a risk? An xxx approves and denies vacation requests on a daily basis. Mostly it's routine – you inspect the inmates' background, the extent to which you know them, how much time they have left to serve. The case of N was nothing like that. His father was dying, but it was even more than that. He was also one of my most valuable informants.
N was an officer in the army caught collaborating with the enemy. He was sentenced to 10 years and had already served 5. When he learned his father was dying, N filed a request for a 48-hour leave to visit him.
My initial inclination was to say no. The risks were too great – if a high-profile inmate such as N failed to return, it would get to the press for sure. It would be labeled gross negligence on behalf of the military. It would ruin my credibility as an Intelligence Officer, crippling my ability to do my job. How would my superiors ever trust me again?
Also, N was from a remote village difficult to access by the military police, should we need to extract him by force. In other words, it would be near to impossible to track him down and bring him back if he opted otherwise.
The payoff, on the other hand, was also substantial. N was about to reveal important information about the enemy activity, a menace Intelligence was targeting pretty hard. In addition, N's behavior inside the penitentiary had been flawless; he met all formal requirements. Allowing him to leave would send out an important signal to the other inmates, that good behavior was not overlooked. For many inmates, leaving is the ultimate reward; letting N go, if he came back, would ease the pressures within the facility and help us gain collaboration, scarce at the time.
The night before approving this vacation I used a pretext to summon N to sickbay. We sat there alone, and I offered him a smoke. "Are you going to bail on me?” Silence. “Well, are you?" He looked up, and in his eyes, I saw a tear of gratitude. "Never", he said.
During his 48 hour leave, I didn't sleep; I couldn't look in the eyes of my superiors. But N didn't bail on me. In fact, he came back 3 hours early. Moreover, he then provided much valuable information to us, and the positive effect that granting his leave had on the other inmates was felt for months.
I learned a lot about myself that weekend, and about risk-taking in general. I learned that when you make a decision to take a risk you are ultimately alone. My team did excellent work in mapping the pros and cons, conducting intelligence research, and taking preventative measures to try to make sure N came back. But the bottom line was: "you're responsible; it's your call".
I also learned that you must analyze the situation as extensively as possible before taking risks. N perhaps didn't want to disappoint me, that's true. But I also conducted my own research about his family. I knew exactly where his father was hospitalized and had even visited him without letting on who I was. Since N was an informant, I had tested his credibility many times before and believed he would not lie to me. I also made sure N well understood the harm he could do to himself by not returning – if we found him his chances of ever getting visitation again were slim, and our planned recommendation to the court to reduce his term was off the table.
Although the risk was real, it was well calculated. When, after all the calculations, you are still left with uncertainty it is time to force your throat to work again, wipe off that cold sweat, and make a decision. It is the added value of good managers. And it gets easier over time.
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