This guest post is contributed by Brenda Harris, who writes on the topic of online executive mba programs . She can be reached at her email id: brenda.harris91@gmail.com

They were developed as a means to stay in touch with friends and get back together with long lost acquaintances, but today, they are equally deified and vilified by society. They are perceived as a bad influence by those who see them as destroyers of privacy and wasters of time, but to others who are wiser and know better, social networks are invaluable tools that not only help you stay in touch with loved ones and share aspects of their lives, but which also help you gain priceless business connections and build your own networks. If you’re wondering how online networks can enhance your business, read on:

  • They make great marketing tools: If you own a small to medium-sized business and don’t have a page on Facebook or any of the numerous other social networks out there, you’re making a big mistake. Today, it’s all about having an online presence because it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get noticed. When you establish yourself on social networks, it’s easier to get new customers because you are automatically visible to friends of your existing customers. And when one of them enters your fold, all their friends are introduced to your products and services through an announcement from the social network page. And since people tend to follow what their friends do, there’s a good chance that you will gain new customers without even trying.
  • They allow you to address customer complaints: The net is a dangerous place, especially if you don’t want bad publicity for your business. A single complaint can get out of hand when it is made online, especially if more people who have an axe to grind against you join the chorus and try to make it your swansong. Online networks allow you to address negative publicity and customer complaints in a proactive and positive way. When you make efforts to allay disgruntled customers, you gain favour with them and they don’t leave you to join forces with the competition. In today’s dog-eat-dog world, it’s wise to focus not just on gaining new customers but also on retaining the ones you already have.
  • They are free ways to advertise: The Internet is a medium that is an advertiser’s dream – it reaches millions of people and is relatively cost effective when compared to other advertisement media. When you use social networks to advertise your products, you do so almost free of cost. And if your methods are non-intrusive and your products and services necessary or attractive, your online ads will generate a large amount of business for your company.

The key to achieving business success using social networks is to harness them wisely and utilize their mass appeal to enhance your business operations.

Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) is an integral part of what draws students to Michigan. It dominated our essays and also the explanation of “Why Ross?” during our B-School interviews. Its the crowned jewel in Michigan’s Action Based Learning.

I remember talking to a good friend at another top BSchool during the fall and she was excited about her doing an international immersion during the Winter semester. She said about 20% of the class gets to go. I was happy for her, dug deeper into what they do and finally said “Oh.. its like MAP, but only 20% get to do it”

So it was an exciting time when the MAP projects got released in December. About 120 projects from all over the world ranging from projects at the University of Michigan to ones in China, Sweden and Rwanda and spanning Marketing, Finance, Business Development, HR in  almost all concievable industries (including Non-Profit, Airlines, Start-ups… etc). I went through various iterations bringing down 120 projects down to 60, then to 30, 20 and finally the 10 that I applied for. Here’s a peek into my choices:

  1. Market research for an Israeli start-up trying to enter Europe with innovative health-care solution in UK, Germany & France
  2. The same as above (there were 3 products and I chose 2)
  3. A sales effectiveness study and incentive restructuring for the sales force for a top high-tech corporation in US, Singapore, India & UK
  4. Market study, pricing and supply chain analysis for a clean-tech start up in up-state NY.
  5. Analyzing a sustainable housing solution in Mexico and creating a framework for similar implementations in Africa & Asia for a joint venture by a non-profit organization and governments
  6. Feasibility and Marketing plan for a new clean tech methodology for power generation for one of US’ top energy providers
  7. Analyze Customer Relationships for a top US e-commerce provider by identifying and tracking parameters of symbiosis
  8. Social Media CRM for a company that manufactures stuff for casinos (this was a popular one as it included 5 weeks in Las Vegas)
  9. Bottom of the pyramid strategies for a US Chocolate manufacturer in SE Asia
  10. Marketing strategy and supply chain analysis for a top pharma company in Sweden.

The results are out…. And I will be headed to up-state NY to help a clean-tech firm do market entry which include market analysis, pricing and supply chain aspects of the business. I am meeting my team next week and I can tell its going to be a fun ride come March 🙂

My first advice to anyone who is coming to Ross…

Do an MTrek!

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Coming from India and seeing my savings in INR depleted by the exchange rate, I was oh so tempted to not do an MTrek (they are not free!). But it did not disappoint. Actually surpassed my wildest hopes and was a perfect introduction to Ross.

MTreks come in all shapes and sizes. From a partner trek (for couples) to Northern Michigan (which I thought was a bit lame compared to the others… Don’t worry couples, this time my classmates are planning some awesome partner treks) to exotic locations like Egypt & Bali… from the cold mountains of Canada to the hot beaches of Panama, Costa Rica and Hawaii, there are treks to choose from to fit your appetite. But more important aspect of the MTrek is the group itself.

My 8 days in the wild country side of Montana & Wyoming with 13 MBA1s and 3 MBA2s have forged some strong friendships. We still meet often and help each other out. In fact I was invited to Thanksgiving to one of my MTrek’s buddy’s hometown, with his family.

We had a lot of fun, from trekking to whitewater rafting, from horse riding to fly-fishing, we did it all. We cooked our own food and stayed in houses in the woods. There was a lot of merriment and my official initiation into American culture (including drinking games).

On the other side, I saw this group as a mini-representation of the Ross community. Within the 13 MBA1s, we had:

  • 2 Israelis, 2 Indians, 1 Chinese
  • An army man who jumped out of airplanes in Iraq
  • A girl who was among the top 150 squash players in the world
  • A sprinter who tried out for All American
  • An accountant, an accountant turned advertising manager, engineers who veered into marketing, army, intelligence and banking
  • A guy who got a top-paid hedge fund job, though a Craigslist ad
  • Passionate people from the non-profit background

We had several great conversations… From topics ranging from beer and Jägermeister to war, politics, religion, business and policy. It is true to say that the MTrek (though I was sad it ended), left me wanting to get to know more people than ever. If my MTrek group was any indication of my classmates; I was going to have a ball-of-a-time. And it did not disappoint.

The houses we lived in Jacksonhole,WY and Big Sky, MT

We cooked our own food.. It was fun! From mexican to chillies to corn-dogs

Rafting in the Snake River

Horseback-riding and fly-fishing

Some postcards from the MTrek

First of all…. Happy New Year everyone!

MBA keeps you on a tight leash and there is so much to do that blogging had to take a back-seat. Now that the fall term is over, I wanted to reflect on my last 5 months in Ann Arbor.

There’s been so much that has happened in the past 5 months that it feels like a long time. I feel I have known my class mates forever and have enjoyed their company for a long time. I intend to talk about the highlights of my Fall term, both academic and others. Hope this would give you a much better picture about the school and the life here.

Just to list some of them:

  • MTrek
  • Fall A classes
  • Football
  • Fall B
  • Parties

Another Application Season begins. It takes me to a year back when I was applying to BSchools and was well into my research and started forming my essays to Ross. In retrospect, some of the articles I wrote here may be of use to guys who are starting out. So here are some resources and all the best:

  • This post talks about the aspects of an application and hopefully the relative importance of each.
  • These 2 posts – Blog Post1 & Blog Post 2 talk about (in my opinion) the different kinds of people who apply to BSchools and what I believe is the admission committees look in them.
  • DISCLAIMER – The views expressed here are purely my own and have not been obtained from any members of any school admission staff.

  • A lot of applicants struggle with the decision of whether to re-take the GMAT or not. Here’s my view.
  • Look at my Events & Meetup posts on my experience at school events (Ross and others)
  • My BScool interview experiences
  • My Waitlist Strategy

Hope these are useful to you…

RossView

Finally…. I am at Ross. I have been meaning to post this for more than 2 weeks now. As my MBA starts, I found out that MBA is as much hectic as everyone has told you… And no.. it is not possible to be prepared. The feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff around you just dazzles you. Its a medicine to help you settle in they say! Lets See 🙂

Ok… Let me start from the beginning. I reached Ann Arbor on the 3rd of August 2009. A beautiful city with an amazing population and weather (no traces of the dreadful Ann Arbor winter I have been hearing about). After my first week of moving into my apartment and  mingling with my fellow MBAs at bars and house parties every night (… hic), I head out for my MTrek.

mtrek

M-Trek’s Vision

“To promote lasting bonds among incoming members of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business community through small-group outdoor adventure.”

It achieved exactly that. 16 people (13 MBA1s, 3 MBA2s), the rocky mountains of Montana & Wyoming, a whole lot of fun and a bond for life. Check out the some photos of my trip here .

What really peaked my interest in the group, other than the fact that they were a truck load of fun, was the diversity in itself. We had People from India, China, Israel… and all over the US. We had an All American Sprinter and a International Squash player. We had 3 military veterans and people from jobs as varied as non-profit, tech, accounting, hedge funds (he apparently found his job on Craigslist), marketing… We had some guys who could hold their drinks well (some not so well) and all totally down to earth (well most)…

When I was done with my MTrek, I thought – “If this is how the rest of the 400 odd in my class are going to turn out… I am excited”.

Another exciting development in my life is that I bought an electric guitar (I call her La Belleza). Its a completely unrelated fact that I barely find time to spend with her… 🙂

Anyway, I plan to blog regularly from now on and help bring a students perspective about Ross that I got from SpeedyChicken & Zachary. I will try to cover all aspects of Ross and life at UofM including academics, clubs, opportunities and (how can I forget)… football 🙂

My visa interview is over and I got my stamped passport yesterday. W00t! 🙂 Anyway here’s the thing with the Visa Interview

Prepare for the worst and in all probability, the worst will never come 🙂

Pre-Interview

  • This post by Maverick is a must read – http://mbastory.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/gateway-to-your-visa-appointment/
  • I took home/land valuations by a Chartered Engineer/ Govt Approved Valuator so that they can be shown as fixed assets…
  • As a comprehensive funding document, I got a CA to certify the funds (along with proof). The document had the following parts:
    1. Scholarships & Loans – Proof was the I20
    2. Liquid Assets – Mine and my family’s SB & Curr A/C  – Proof was certificates from bank/ original bank statements
    3. Fixed Assets – Land/House valuations
    4. Yearly Household Income – Proof was Mine and my family’s Tax Return forms
  • As other source of funds I also took proof of mine and my family’s PF contributions and some other funds not mentioned in the above document.
  • P.S. – When you pay the Sevis fee, you have 2 options a $200 one where the posting of the receipt takes 10+ days or $235 where they mail it to you in 3 days.

Interview

I reached the consulate early (though my appointment was at 8:30 am), but there was already a queue. No cellphones, bags etc allowed and NO Sealed envelopes. I saw several people being sent out to remove them before being let in again. Here’s how it worked in Chennai:

  • First you go to a lady who enters your details into the system and verifys the documents. She asked nothing about my funding docs, but the following:
    1. The DS forms
    2. My passport
    3. SEVIS and HDFC Fee Receipt
    4. My BE Degree Certificate (in original)
    5. GMAT & TOEFL scores (if applicable)
  • Then you are sent to wait for your interview with a consulate member.

I had to wait a while and my turn came around 10 am. My interview was a breeze. She asked me nothing. When she saw I had a loan from the school, she smiled and said have a nice stay in Ann Arbor :)… The only reason my interview lengthened was because I had a name change in my passport and she stopped to verify that. Other wise…. nothing!

But, here are some observations that I had from waiting for about 2 hrs listening to about 50 ppl being interviewed:

  • The name of the school matters. It was only Me and a Harvard MBA admit who had it so easy. They were grilling people who went to not-so-famous universities (and even some known ones too, so it must have been my luck).
  • Here’s what most of them were asked:
    1. Which University did you get into and why did you apply there?
    2. What other places did you apply?
    3. How are you funding your study & stay?
    4. Current job and if it is related to the course (this was mostly for the MS applicants)
    5. Scholarships & Loan details…

All the best for anyone who is gonna go for their Visa interview…