MBA Guides: Business School first year, first term: Case Hell

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I wrote these six pieces in my first few months at Columbia Business School as a fresh of the boat first year student in New York. While they are all a little dated (it has been 10 years) they provide a nostalgic look back at days when post the sanctioning of your student loan you could sit at peace for a few hours each evening and write a page for your business school student magazine. Away from the din of the traffic, the rush of the finance case due the next morning and the maddening competitiveness of some of your classmates. I wrote under the pen-name Roach.

Despite my earlier claims to a business school education being a walk in the park, a five case week was serious trouble. The school hit us with a 5 case week earlier in the program and then at pre-determined and researched points at the stage where we would start to get comfortable and slack off. This piece was written in the quarter when the world didn’t believe that Bill Gates had actually donated his massive fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Bob Rubin btw was the new Treasury secretary and the Goldman and Fed reference went out to him.


I don’t know about you, but I have definitely had a wild week.

3 am on Monday morning is a fine time to come home.  For starters, there is no one around for blocks to witness you begging your car keys to open your apartment door. As you finally let yourself in, the first thing on your mind is sleep. There are nagging reminders about work due at dawn but 3 am in the morning is no time to think such dark thoughts.

First Half
More cursing in order since I slept through most of my 3000 dollar course at home.  There is no justice in life. It wasn’t enough that I had to shift to a ‘keep that card in chains’ life style, I now have to have a guilt trip about missing the Oriental Express to school. I call FedEx to check if they can get me to class on time but the fastest they do is OverNite.

Second Half
It’s been four hours into my forward looking, 21st century education and I have been pondering about the true meaning of coffee cups, paper plates and recycled brown napkins in life.  While we are at it, let’s add bagels & cans also. Do you know there are more of these in a regular lecture than all of us combined? How come I have to pay tuition while these guys get an MBA education for free? Then again is it because they don’t pay that they get recycled and I don’t.

Last class on Monday is always a personal struggle. I am still in my partying mode from the weekend, which gets turned on promptly at 5pm while the professor is discussing the intricacies of opportunity costs.  The deeper the professor gets the more desperate I become. I am sitting next to ‘Betty-Davis-Eyes‘ and the last thing on my mind is optimizing capital structure.

Let my People Go…

Tuesday & Wednesday

Recruiting Hell to be followed by Case Hell. Five courses and five case submissions due before the week is out and I find out on Tuesday.

This is not the standard run of the mill case analysis, mind you. Not the five-minutes-into-the-class, fly by wire, real time, on-site analysis that I am famous for.  You know where I tend to forget about the details and the numbers.  We are talking serious stuff here.  Numbers…And words …On Paper … Under my name.  I have a reputation to look after.  I don’t want to be blackmailed by a fellow student with what I submitted in Capital Markets or Corporate Finance when I am running Goldman or the Federal Reserve (or both)

 Let’s ignore the logistics details behind case analysis for the minute.  Details like

1. The fact that a young, eligible, warm-blooded party animal currently in student status would actually have time to go over five cases in the next two and a half days during early spring.

2. Even if the member came from a socially deprived and culturally starved segment of society and had the time, then what? Where will he get the brains to go over five HBS cases and come up with five right answers?  There is enough information in there about everything except what you need to know. ‘And He took one part Encyclopedia Britannica, one part S&P ratings, one part confusion and Lo! There were HBS case studies’

3. Further more for those of you who are still unconvinced, it’s a statistical impossibility to have the time, the brains, the cases, the answers and to be in the MBA program at the same time.  It’s like Mike Tyson taking boxing lessons at a finishing school in Switzerland. Or Brother Bill donating his fortune to charity!


So I mixed fries and burgers in Operations, my brand strategy bankrupted P&G, my Privatization Plan caused another revolution in Russia and I was burned on the stake in Negotiations. Which was a good thing since the third degree burns required emergency surgery and I didn’t need to turn in that fifth case.

I think I will take that three-day weekend now.  Please.

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