Friday, March 28, 2008

Reflections; BGI Term II

As I write this, I am seated on the Acela Express, Amtrak’s service covering the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. If there is one area of the country that is well suited to rail, it is the Northeast. It is dense, there are plenty of cities and towns to connect, and there is a history of rail service. I am reminded of the phenomenally efficient (at least in my eyes) train service I experienced in Europe fourteen years ago when I joined the legions of recent college graduates traipsing through the continent. Imagine if we had that same level of investment and competence here (image from Alaska in Pictures).

I am 80% through “spring break” (not the exciting kind depicted on MTV) and have started reflecting upon what I learned over the course of the second quarter at BGI. It amazes me that I have been able to digest the amount of information we have been asked (don't we want) to digest. I have not digested it all. An honest business school (or grad school) student will admit that the intent is not to digest it all, but to comprehend and master that which we want to learn. The institution's role is to assure that we have a solid understanding of the core elements of what any business school student would know. Wait a second…aren’t we learning about business in a different way? Well, yes we are, and we are expected to have what “mainstream” business school students have received (except for the network)?
Q2 classes:
  • Economics I: Neoclassical & Ecological Economics
  • Finance, Accounting, and The Triple Bottom Line II
  • Social Justice & Business (What?! Social Justice & Business, you must be joking…nope…it’s BGI..and it’s important.)
  • Leadership & Personal Development (LPD)
  • Action Learning Project (ALP)
Economics…we covered neoclassical economics and ecological/political economics; game theory, auctions, the tragedy of the commons, welfare theorems, and of course, the mac daddy…supply and demand on the microeconomic tip. On the political side of the coin…we hit the profit rate equation (HARD) and analyzed the inherent conflict between the owners of capital and the workers. The wage rate is a negative in the numerator (as I have mentioned before) which leads to the desire to minimize it while keeping all other variables the same. I’d say the highlight of the term was the reality fish market we created at the last Intensive. We were divided into buyers and sellers with different values. We went into the trading pit amidst chants of "sell fish", to sell our fish…and came up with a graph that pretty much reflected the classic upward sloping supply curve and downward sloping demand curve, with an equilibrium price of ~$5.49. There was a tax imposed upon the buyers and the sellers and we noted the change in the equilibrium price as well as the lost trading (deadweight loss). It was very compelling.
Then, we debated the inherent conflict between the owners of capital and the means of production and the workers, and learned that they main concern for these capitalists is to control the workforce. People (the workers) are not machines, they are not without a mind and a will, therefore they must be controlled. A more efficient technology that gave more control to workers is something that, in general, would not be supported, even if it increased profitability.
Social Justice. I am not sure where to begin. At the start of this class, I was immediately underwhelmed. There was technology issues with the classes online and the instructors did not seem to have a plan for integrating the ALP into the term. There are always two side to every story, so I am in no position to make a neutral assessment. At the end of the class, mu opinion was different. We looked through the Unilever/Oxfam case evaluating Unilever's economic impact in Malaysia, focusing on the affect on poverty. It was fascinating, especially when we were in a role playing portion of the class and Unilever's skin whitening product came up. Suffice it to say...there were some subdued fireworks (and later, for me, some deep questioning).
Finance. What can I say? It's the bedrock of business. Balance sheets, p&ls/income statements, cash flow...that's it. It is difficult for me to remember all that we covered in the class...though I do remember that I did not perform well on our exam. The whole contribution margin concept threw me for a loop. I believe it was the wording...when I think "margin", I think profit margin, that's it. Contribution margin brings in variable costs for a singular product (what does IT add to the bottom line?) and ignores fixed costs. I get it now...I think. Our final exam was a group analysis of Pacific Lumber's purchase in the mid-80's. It was an interesting exercise, allowing us to draw upon what we had learned from the start of the year...way back in October, to analyze the case. We all learned a bit more about each other, including writing styles and what lens we look through. I learned that I like to edit, or at least have strong opinions about style in assignments I (or a team I work with) submit.
On to the next a few days...

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