Saturday, March 31, 2007

home sweet home

I'm back!! Haha... Great surprise? Well, not really. I heard of stories of my friend who surprised his family members and had a great reunion. I also had another friend who told me of his experience who tried to keep it from his family, but had to wait for his family to return from another state about 2 hours away, some days after that.

Mine is a bit of both. I wanted to make it a complete surprise, but upon realising that I left the house keys with my mum, had to tell at least one member of the family about my going back. Made my brother the initial accomplice but since he would be at work at the time of my arrival, I had to include dad into the picture as well. So came dad obviously glad at seeing me after almost a year away. We chatted and caught up during dinner yesterday.

Mum's away on missions trip in Thailand. I thought she'd be the best person to surprise. But in the end I couldn't resist but send her an SMS to let her know I was home. Well, no one knew where my house keys were, so I'm practically stranded in the house until someone comes back and allows me to use his keys to get out of the house! Wat a bummer, like a prisoner in my own home.

It has been a great holiday in HongKong (was there before flying down Malaysia). It was a transition of sorts for me. Weather in Niigata was hovering around 10degC, HK was about 20degC and KL a blistering 30!! No wonder my face reddenned and puffed up! It didn't help that it was hot and rainy at the same time, weather these days are getting crazy.

I am looking forward to more eating sprees and feeding myself with Malaysian food during this 1 week. If I haven't already messaged you, you are welcome to call me and invite me out for mamak sessions!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

ladies and gentlemen, presenting....

Business Communications class was not the course that I, and most of the class, expected it to be. The course syllabus outlined 4 main components such as Speaking Skills, Writing Skills and Cross Cultural Understanding, but in the end the one thing that I brought back was only Presentation Skills.

Not trying to boast, but even then I did not learn much as most of what were taught were common sense. And I didn't agree with some points which the professor mentioned as there really is no one absolute way to design your slides or do a presentation.

But this was one of the lighter courses which did not require heavy reading or analysis of cases. To be fair, I did improve my presentation skills and had fun in the end. During our first assignment, we were asked to give a solo presentation on any topic. I had to change my topic a few times just to get one which I thought was interesting enough. I spoke on "Being Malaysian Chinese".

Some of my classmates come from homogenous culture or were pure Burmese, American, Indian, whatever. So the term Malaysian Chinese itself was intriguing to them. I shared on my ancestry, the upbringing my brother and I had, and the multi-lingual conversations that go on in my home. Even the professor enjoyed my presentation.

Our 2nd assignment was a group project on Cross Cultural Communications. We had to choose a country and present the do's and don'ts of doing business in that particular culture. We chose China and incorporated some role-playing to make it more interesting. As the group leader, I did most of the work and pushed for many practices. It was good to see us presenting well on the actual day and entertained our audience a little. But what I didn't expect was us being the top 3 teams!

For the final project, the professor reshuffled the groups and had us do a roadshow presentation in which we were the top management of companies trying to get investors to pump in their money. My group was Red Hat. I had really good team members as each one took initiative to contribute to the group. It's always a breeze and joy to work with members like that. I had the same experience for my Marketing Communications and Mobile Business Strategies teams as well.

Since it was just a week before the finals and everyone had priorities for other subjects, we couldn't practice as much as we should. One of our teammates brought along her son and that kinda distracted the concentration somewhat. I don't blame her nor her son, he is such an adorable kid.

On presentation day, we delivered better than rehearsed. The opening gimmick, or hook as what we're taught, was a success. We did a blue screen act which had the audience sympathising with us as they taught it was a genuine technical error. But I turned it around and put it as Red Hat's advantage as the largest distributor of Linux software. Slides were welldone as they incorporated the corporate colours as well.

We had compliments from both the professor and students alike. Again, I thank my team for how it all turned out. It doesn't matter if we were one of the top teams, but having people talk about our hook days after that never failed to put a smile on my face. It had been an awfully exhausting week, but jobs well done like that are worth it all.

*Pictures are of the area surrounding the campus, credit due to the school's yearbook imagebank

Monday, March 19, 2007

branding niigata

Brand Management presentation was the culmination of many weeks of hard work. The lecturer warned us in the first class that it was going to be heavy, and we shouldn't complain about it in the course evaluation!

I decided to take it anyways coz I felt that if I had a genuine interest in the course, then it wouldn't be as bad as if I was forced to take it. True enough, we had week after week of group discussions, meetings and case studies. The only thing that sustained me was my interest.

The final project was to brand the Niigata prefecture. And it was going to be a competition amongst the 4 groups. Truth to be told, there's nothing that sets Niigata apart from say, Tokyo (sights and sounds of a metropolitan city), Kyoto (ancient capital, temples & geishas), Hokkaido (Snow Festival, wide expanse of land) and Okinawa (American naval base, southern most island).

Niigata has a little bit of everything, hence their machine-gun approach to marketing their prefecture. The best rice and sake in Japan. Temples, palaces, museums. Fresh sushi & sashimi. Tulips and camelias. Sado island and gold mine.

Our task was to position the prefecture in such a way that would compel foreign tourists to make Niigata a preferred destination for their holidays. We had briefings by the city officials through our lecturer, sponsored-trips to visit the Northern Culture Museum and a hot spring, weeks of brainstorming and discussions, research and translation work and many discarded ideas.

The big day finally came. We were the 1st group to present to the city officials who had drove in the snow to our campus to judge our proposals. Even with few rounds of practices, I was still nervous. I never liked public speaking anyways. The fact that before that, some members were not contributing to the group, did not help make things better.

I had to sacrifice sleep to redo some of their work just because it wasn't up to mark. Another team member also took the initiative to compile work as the previous effort by another member was such a mess. We were keenly enthusiastic about what we've come up so far, and didn't mind putting in extra effort.

It was well worth every drop of sweat and blood and late nights. We were thrilled to be announced the winner in class the next day! In a way, we kinda expected it as we had a video made to crystallise our proposal, and our positioning had a different slant compared to the other groups. The judgest liked what we presented, and so did our lecturer.

We were initially awarded a night's stay at the Niigata Grand Hotel so that we could join the Sake tasting festival this weekend. Some of the group members still had papers due, so we decided to forgo that. Instead, we were offered a sushi lunch this Tuesday with our professor. I must say it isn't an equivalent reward, but winning the competition itself was reward enough.

I wouldn't have been able to do this without Him!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

what a wacky week!

I've survived the wackiest week of my life!

Tues, 13th Mar : Brand Management presentation
Wed, 14th Mar : Japanese presentation + Mobile Business Strategies presentation
Thurs, 15th Mar : Japanese written test + International Business Management presentation + Business Communications presentation
Fri, 16th Mar : Innovation & Business Development final paper + Japanese conversation test

I thought I was going to die. After they started closing down the on-campus convenience store earlier than usual, we had no where to turn to for instant food. It was such bad timing as we were having our finals and no one would have had the time to cook something decent! I spent most of my meals buying the bento sets or getting pre-cooked food from the vending machine.

With His amazing grace, I am still alive! Woohoo, and came out victorious :D
Now that is a story which I shall happily elaborate later. For I have a party to go to - they're having a Irish-themed party at the lounge tonight and I'm gonna see what drinks Bryan's concocted this time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

a year older, a year wiser

Happy birthday to me! :)

Couldn't really celebrate my birthday as next week is finals. 5 presentations + 2 papers, and I'm nowhere near 10% completion for any of them. Worse thing is most are group-based, so timing depends alot on my group members as well!

But, I still managed to celebrate my birthday. Had a few dinners, got some fresh flowers, hand-wrapped gifts, chocolates and even a bottle of champagne! Really nice of my friends here to remember and made the effort to make it meaningful.

I have much to be thankful for! ;)

Monday, March 05, 2007

being in grad school

One of the things I love about going to grad school, especially one that's related to business, is that you get to learn things that are practical. Coming from an engineering background, learning stuff about management is an eye-opening experience.

Regardless of the fact that this is not the best business school in Japan, nor does it boast the best facilities, I think I've gained a whole lot more than if I had stayed back in my previous workplace. True that OTJ gets you more than school work does. But on hindsight, if I had stayed on, I would've stagnated and eventually rotted away!

Entrepreneurship and New Business Development is by far one of my favourite subjects here. The lecturer, unabashedly claims himself to be the top consultant in Japan. His company has so many top-notch companies that they do not need to find more clients! Their corporate website is understated and do not give away any clues as to how well they are already doing.

The only downside is that this class is held on alternate Saturdays. But he comes in with an air of confidence, ready to impart his insights and experience into the world of Japan consumerism and how to start a new business in this country. There are no textbooks, no reference materials. Just him speaking and us listening in awe. Well, maybe awe is a strong word, but he manages to keep us interested enough on Saturdays when everyone else is sleeping away or doing their groceries in Jusco.

We just concluded the last class with a final presentation. Each group had to come up with a business idea with regards to the Japanese market. Prior to that he would give us consultation sessions which were supposedly worth thousands of Yen in the real market. Not surprising as he travels around the world giving advice and talks to business people and students.

Our idea seemed simple at first, especially when other teams also did outstanding jobs in their presentations. The premises, basic assumptions, target market, marketing and promotion, financial projections, competitive advantages and future plans were all well thought of.

He invited 2 real-life investors to come and judge our presentations. Each had "Y10omillion" to invest in our "companies". The results was surprising and expected at the same time. They judged based on their personal background and know-how of the industry, and gave valuable feedback as to whether our business plan would work in the real world.

The marks given by the 2 judges were very close and it was quite hard to tell who would win. Our lecturer eventually shocked us when he gave Y0 to 2 teams and decided to split his Y100million to the reamining 2 teams. The other team which was also into mobile got Y10m while ours got Y90m!

May and I were so excited we squealed in delight. We seriously thought the other teams would win as they had evidently put in more effort than us. However, it all boiled down to how feasible the business plans were and the attractiveness to potential investors.

One thing I noted was that most of the Japanese were proficient in financials. Some of them came from banking background while the rest clearly had exposure to corporate finance. No wonder no you can't find any Japanese in any of the Marketing courses. Finance is where the money is!

And oh, since there was an abundance of food from our lunch party, we decided to take away the rest for snacks. I bagged myself a bottle of red wine!