That’s how much one (1) euro cost me yesterday when I was converting currency with Chevy Chase Bank for an upcoming trip. You know things are bad when even the branch manager is surprised by the rate of exchange. The exchange rate is probably even worse today. Even if I took out the fees they charged, the exchange rate is probably 20-30 cents worse than it was when I first went to Europe in 2005.

It reminded me of economics classes in business school, and what we learned about what countries do to defend their currency.  The Fed is doing the opposite of those things right now, so between that and deficits our government runs, I expect the dollar to be worth less and less in the near term.

Unlocking Value at Microsoft

I came across this article, via a post from Mini-Microsoft. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a software product manager to be able to write code. I would expect them to be more technology-savvy than this guy appears to be. Whether he was trying to be funny or not, this will certainly add more fuel to the fire for the legion of MBA-haters that already exist.

While I’m not a Microsoft employee, I have my doubts that he’ll be successful in his role without a better understanding of the technology. As someone who has a computer science degree and an MBA, I’ve found that the combination gives me an advantage in explaining technology choices in business terms. The other thing working against him is his product. The vast majority of individuals and corporations that own copies of Office only use a fraction of the functionality available in the older versions of the suite. Getting any company to pay more for a newer version of something that already meets their needs sounds like an impossible task to me.

Daimler-Chrysler: Another Failed Merger?

Today’s news brings word that Daimler may be looking to break up with Chrysler.  I find this particular merger interesting because it came up more than once in my MBA studies.  While the problems we studied had more to do with integrating two different engineering cultures and technology platforms, the financial wisdom of such a merger was always what I questioned.

I have a strong anti-merger bias, having been on both sides of such mergers at each of my last three employers.  I’ve written about them in this blog before.  Thanks to this transcript of a PBS NewsHour segment, it’s possible to look back at the time when this merger was fresh and new.

I found it interesting to read how positively all the guests viewed the merger at the time.  Not until almost the end of the segment do you find much skepticism about whether or not the merger will be successful.

India Skills Gap

I came across this article in one of the e-mail newsletters I subscribe to. It’s highly relevant to my current role because we use a lot of offshore staff for our work through companies like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

The rise in salaries and the springing up of private schools for training people in IT is just what basic economic theory would predict. The quality concerns are predictable as well. Before I joined APS, I asked some consulting colleagues how they would rate the various Indian IT firms. They had strong opinions on which firms were best. A lot depended on where they recruited and how experienced their hires typically were.

One area the post didn’t address that is quite important is turnover.  Because salaries in India are going up, that makes it challenging for firms to retain talent for any length of time.  This can certainly impact quality for companies like mine that use one or two offshore firms exclusive because we just don’t know who they’re backfilling with when they lose talent to other companies.

It’s certainly possible that India could start losing IT work to China.  But I suspect that eastern Europe and some of the former Soviet republics are just as likely to get some of that work.  Philip G. Armour’s column in the latest issue of Communications of the ACM talks about a technology firm in the midwest that’s been quite successful with an offshore team in the Ukraine.

Aston-Martin & Jaguar Changing Hands

There’s been quite bit of buzz in the press about the possibility of Aston-Martin (and possible Jaguar and Land Rover) being sold lately. It interests me not because an Aston-Martin has usually been what James Bond drives in the movies, but because of a negotiation assignment in business school. My final assignment was to lead a team of my classmates (we represented Ford) in negotiating the purchase Jaguar (another team of classmates). As it turned out, our negotiations failed (Ford and Jaguar stayed separate).

The negotiations failed because we I didn’t account for the interests of a few of the Jaguar execs who would be “redundant” in the new organizational structure (they wanted their golden parachutes). But a few of us, myself included, thought the numbers in the case study alone were a sufficient argument against Ford buying Jaguar. It’s been a couple of years since that class, but the recent sales talk feels a bit like vindication.

Advice from Warren Buffett

Buried deep in this article about the dangerous size of the U.S. trade deficit was this bit of advice to MBAs:

“The one piece of advice I can give you is, do what turns you on,” he said. “Do something that if you had all the money in the world, you’d still be doing it. You’ve got to have a reason to jump out of bed in the morning.”

Unfortunately, my current job doesn’t fit this description. I need to do something about that, I just haven’t settled on what.

Taking Time to Think

Came across this blog post via digg.com. The management tips seem quite reasonable in isolation. But when I try to map them to my current workplace, I don’t know if my employer is necessarily ready. Guess it’s one of those “your mileage may vary” kind of things.

Posted in MBA

188 Megabytes

All the papers, projects, PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets of three years in the University of Maryland part-time MBA program fits comes to just under 188 megabytes worth of files. Somehow I expected it to take up more space.

Regardless of the ultimate file size of all that work, my reason for getting an MBA was to gain enough knowledge to change careers. Even when I was getting my computer science degree (from 1992-1996), I figured I had maybe 10 years to write code full-time before I would want (or need) to do something else. The MBA as a degree takes plenty of flack from many angles. People with this degree take the blame for the dot-com bust. FedEx has a commercial that makes a joke at the expense of MBAs. There’s plenty to read in print and on the web about how the MBA is a waste of time. Speaking only for myself, the degree was worth it.

The degree got me my current job. Instead of writing code everyday, I manage projects (and the people assigned to them), their requirements, budgets and schedules. I still write code from time-to-time (more often lately since we’ve got a website launching this Friday), but I spend more time on design. Occasionally I’ll have to negotiate a software purchase or interview potential new hires. There’s too much to do for the job to become “routine”.

Could I do all this without an MBA? Sure. But the odds that a company where no one knows me would give me the chance to try all these things are pretty low. And without the prior exposure to topics like accounting, strategy, and negotiation, I wouldn’t be able to do my job as well. Beyond the things I learned in classes and the connections I made with classmates, I saw the MBA as a way to signal to potential employers that I was interested in more responsibility–that I wanted to become a decision-maker.

Posted in MBA