The road to Toronto
I was recently asked whether six months down the line, the Cass MBA was what I had expected it to be. My answer was ‘No, not at all.’
Well for one reason, I wasn’t quite expecting to be heading to Toronto with my MBA classmate Varun Venkatraman next week. We will be representing Cass as one of only three teams to make it to the Ben Graham Centre’s 2018 International Stock Picking Competition Finals, hosted by Ivey Business School. Better yet, we will be the first European business school to do so!
Having just visited Dublin for International Consultancy Week and Israel/Palestine on the agenda for my international elective in early May, I definitely hadn’t planned to add any further trips during this hectic period; juggling MBA studies, job applications and working on my Business Mastery Project.
Yet here I am, squeezing in another trip to Canada.
When I told my mum, she marvelled, ‘Stocks? That’s so not your thing. That Varun guy must be very special if he can get you to do something like that.’ That surprised me in two ways: despite her general pretence of not really understanding what I do in my job in financial markets, my mum actually knew I don’t care much for microeconomics and stocks.
And secondly, she was absolutely right about Varun, he was the only person who could have made me sign up for this. So how did we end up here then?
Rewind to October 24th when the Stock Picking Competition was first announced via email, barely two months into our MBA. I remember reading about it, taking note of yet another interesting challenging experience to gain during the MBA and quickly hitting the delete button. Stock picking wasn’t in my sphere of interest at all. But I undoubtedly knew who’d be all over it: Varun.
In life we develop many types of friends and I dare say the older we get, the less likely we have people we call friends just out of circumstance. We know the difference between work colleagues, acquaintances and friends, and even though we might publicly use those terms more loosely, most of us reserve the title of real friends for the special people in our lives.
Unlike in kindergarten, the mere fact that you ended up sitting in the same row is reason enough to become friends. Very rarely we find that one person who we can bestow the title of ‘best friend’ we so innocently gave to people when we were little.
Funnily enough, Varun was the equivalent of that kindergarten kid sitting in the same row; alphabetically next me so that I sit right in front of him during all exams, he was also in the same group as me through induction to Block 2. The Cass MBA Gods (most likely our Course Officer Tony Whiteman) made it easy for us to find each other. And we’ve been pretty much inseparable since.
So when this competition came around, I was quick to dismiss my own participation but also to encourage his, telling him to apply alone because I knew he’d be more than capable of handling this challenge independently.
However, as the deadline grew closer, he grew more encouraging for my participation. He wanted someone to bounce ideas off but also to critically check his logic, someone with a different way of thinking and unafraid to express it but whose opinion he equally valued enough to listen to.
We both come from the financial industry but at opposing ends of the spectrum, Varun from private equity, myself from foreign exchange in financial markets, and born in the same year just 10 days apart but on the other side of the world; our friendship is defined by having enough common ground that connects us but so much that sets us apart that we approach problems in very different ways.
Another month into our MBA and we saw more and more examples of how our collaboration brought the best out of both of us, I increasingly understood why he wanted to have me on his team. I also recognised that this was a unique experience I was never going to have again; one I could never do outside of the MBA and never without Varun.
Reminding myself that that was what the MBA was all about, I jumped at the offer the next time he asked me and was signed up for the competition with him.
For the first round in mid-January, a couple of weeks after our exams, we were given a list of stocks to pick one from that we would analyse over two weeks and recommend as a buy, submitting a report to a panel of industry professionals and academics.
Never having done anything like it, I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly contribute to this. I must confess I rather resented doing something that would make me potentially feel helpless and highly dependent on someone else’s experience. After a decade of work experience, it can be hard to accept doing something that pushes you completely out of your comfort zone. But Varun had it all covered. He knew what he had to get done and also knew where I would be of help.
Picking a company based in Germany meant that my German background became useful, sifting through company history and industry material in German. Understanding the very unique German legal structure and its implications made us recognise specific challenges of our company and how this would affect its value and potential for an outside investor. Using Bloomberg to extract the relevant data was another way I could help and I gradually saw my efforts contribute to the bigger picture.
When we submitted our report, I knew I didn’t want it to end here. Although I had gotten so much out of it I knew how much this meant for Varun. Seeing him rise to the occasion, I wanted him to get the recognition I believed he deserved. And long before the results were revealed, the dates were set in my calendar and I waited hopefully. When the confirmation email came on 21st February informing us as one of the top three finalists to present to a panel in Toronto, we took half a day to celebrate our achievement and then were ready to crack on.
When I signed up for my MBA, I went in with an open mind, ready for every new experience, expecting or even demanding the unexpected. In spite of this, I couldn’t have foreseen finding that invaluable friend who would challenge me and help me grow, taking me all the way to Toronto.
Akane Vallery Uchida
Full-time MBA (2018)