Having an internet dating business, I was surprised to see that the recent global downturn actually boosted the growth of my website – the human need to communicate appears to increase at times of crisis. To provide support for over 13,000 users (up by almost 70% from 2008), I hired a team of five professionals. I had the opportunity to provide a better service to my customers and to give, even if only for a few people – jobs.
I’m also aware of the fact that many companies (including the one I’m working in), had to lay off workers or even declare bankruptcy. The crisis showed how the banking elite, who overreached when times were good, brought the world to the brink of another Great Depression. However, I believe it’s not about good or evil intentions, but about decision-making and ethics. Facing many dilemmas in my line of business, I know the significance of ethics in making business decisions. When does online flirting turn into harassment, requiring my intervention?
For me, the current crisis and its root causes have highlighted the importance of understanding business ethics in-depth. It showed me the importance of business standards based on creating value for customers and shareholders, while taking responsibility for a company’s actions.
Inspired by Professor Freeman’s publications on business ethics, and taking ethics seriously, I pursue a Darden MBA to become a better leader, whose decisions are clear and who is accountable for these decisions.
The downturn also made me realize the importance of entrepreneurship, which contributes to economic growth by creating jobs, investing in community projects and fostering technological innovation. My desire to launch my own technological company has only grown stronger.
My vision for such a company was formed through my volunteer work at a Children's Hospital, where I see children suffering from painful injections. Identifying the need for a quick, non-invasive anesthesia solution, I started cooperating with Professor Vladimir Gotlib. We are currently working on a patent-pending electronic device for pain prevention, and negotiating funding with Mobile Capital Network Inc, a VC fund.
I believe that Darden will provide me with the best tools to understand and learn the lessons from recent events. This will enable me to establish a company based on sound ethical practices, and form a network with other like-minded students, together with whom I’ll seek to have a positive social impact.
During the global economic crisis I was an observer, not a victim. I learned a great deal from being a spectator at a play about leadership, with the economic crisis as the backdrop.
When the crisis hit I was developing my own leadership style. From my first day as a military engineer I was persuading people of different backgrounds, ages, and cultures to implement my managerial and technical solutions, not sitting alone in front of a computer. I quickly learned that to lead I needed confidence; learning about the situation before acting, “reading the market”, gave me that confidence. The more successes I accumulated, the more confident I become. I had not yet learned about the fine line where confidence takes on the prefix “over”, and becomes dangerous.
During the crisis I purchased equipment from two family businesses – “Seller & Son”, an importer of leading manufacturers, and “Maker & Son”, a local manufacturer of similar equipment. “Seller & Son’s” business prospered during the crisis, adding an extra work day to keep up with demand. “Maker & Son” survived only as a component supplier, losing the basis of its reputation, its identity as a manufacturer.
Working during the global crisis with both of the leaders, and people who knew them for decades, clarified for me that making the effort to understand the situation, reading the market, is an essential part of leadership.
“Maker & Son” was established in the sixties. Emphasizing technologies and successfully selling systems for decades, its leader felt he didn’t need to focus on service. When customer concerns shifted, “Seller & Son” did its research, “read the market” and offered responsive service. “Maker & Son”, outwardly confident, did nothing to keep its market share. During the crisis it continued to have long response times, forcing clients to find solutions for themselves. “Seller & Son” was always willing to help without looking for an immediate profit, welcoming clients’ problems and providing immediate solutions. Those customers that still had the resources to buy during the crisis voted, with their wallets, for the company providing service.
During my latest project I made the same mistake, while deciding which Sections would be responsible for the safety testing of newly purchased equipment.
I divided the responsibility between two units, without doing the research to find out who already had the necessary expertise. I re-invented the wheel with the new distribution. Only my reputation and good relationships with those involved in the project saved the new wheel from breaking because of the bumps in the road, the internal conflicts, I accidently created.
Struggling to keep my new wheel turning, I remembered “Seller” and “Maker” during the crisis. As “Maker” had done, I assumed instead of checking. I was paying for the over-confidence borne of my past successes. When I admitted my mistake, the road became smoother. Now as I lead, I know that asking the right questions can help you succeed during hard times. It will not harm a leader’s image; it is over-confidence that can ruin it.
During my role as an Assistant Controller, the biggest task I faced was to lead the implementation of one of the biggest financing project in Indonesia, the LNG train expansion project.
The project was worth about $4 billion and was wholly funded through borrowing. My role was to lead the operational stage by working closely with several parties, external and internal. The main objective of my project was to ensure that borrowing the funds would take minimum time and be utilized effectively; I also needed to align the process with the agreement and to find a viable option to lower the cost of borrowing.
We had three different pools of lenders that each had a specific loan agreement with us. In one of the loan agreements, I found that it provides a flexible way of how to choose the interest payment period-either 1, 3 or a 6 month cycle.
I called a meeting and raised this point to the board; in the meeting there were different opinions. The implementation of 1 month cycle surely would reduce the cost of borrowing, but on the other hand increase the administration and manual process, because the notice to borrow the funds would need to be prepared every month.
The Jakarta office wanted the 6 month cycle because they prepared the administration process. On the other hand, the global team in Singapore was keen to elect the 1 month cycle as they were interested in lowering the cost of borrowing.
The decision had to be made before the first loan drawdown or it would automatically pick the 6 month cycle as the default. As I was based in Jakarta and could witness the workload of the team, it was easy for me to support the Jakarta position.
Regardless of that, the first step was to find the common ground, which all agreed was to create the value for the company. I calculated how much capital the company will save if we decided to pursue the 1 month cycle of interest payment.
At the same time we analyzed the additional effort that the team had to do; we also took into consideration the learning curve of the team and the time to optimize the additional process. The other aspect that I assessed was the availability of additional support during the learning period so that the transition process would be comfortable.
After I looked further, I understood that opting for the 1 month cycle resulted with significant savings. The Jakarta team also agreed with me after I presented them these findings.
To help with the implementation of this option, I volunteered to provide support during the transition period by calculating the fund to be borrowed and ensuring the notice of borrowing aligns with the agreement, before the team in Jakarta could process it further.
In the end, the decision to take the 1 month interest period saved about $800K for the first year of financing period and estimated to save around $5 million by 2020.
Calling the meeting and discussing the different options while listening to opinions of the different parties turned out to be a very successful move for the company.
I am confident that I will use this strategy in Darden to impact my classmates in group learnings and projects.
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