15 MINUTES OF FAME IN A NEW YORK MINUTE

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It seems that each week of the CEU Business School NYC Module gets better and better; this week is no different. In my quest for personal & career growth nirvana, my climb to the top of Everest is taking me to new highs I have never achieved before. As I sit perched atop base camp and reflect on the week, I can now proudly say that, “my name is Ersinan Mohammed and I am an MBA”. While it is true I don’t hold the piece of paper officially confirming this fact just yet; it is my MBA state of mind that holds weight. The walk, the talk of an MBA is now within me; then add in the ingredients of swagger and hustle that I came armed with…you now are looking ar an MBA Samurai ready for battle.

Starting right out the gates on Monday (June 2) at Zephyr Management, CEO Thomas Barry, really demonstrated the value of finding “relative advantage” in high growth areas. In his career and investments, he realized it was never worth it to take on the best and smartest in the most hotly pursued regions but instead go to where you have competitive advantage. In his personal life, he first went against the traditional route his parents wished for him, then failed at getting the State Department job he thought he wanted, and was finally able to connect the dots not by following the smarter guys in London, Vienna, Tokyo…but going to Santiago, Chile. His story confirmed that my strategy to attend CEU in Budapest was the right one; instead of going to a higher ranked MBA program in my home area of San Francisco, I chose CEU to follow “relative advantage” to give me a better chance of shining and attempt the “connect the dots” between what I already know from my life in the United States to the emerging Central and Eastern Europe region. What’s next? By being in the lucky position of getting accepted into one of CEU Business School’s prestigious exchange programs (Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad www.iimahd.ernet.in/institute/about/rankings.html), I am looking forward to having a “right place, right time” moment.

Tuesday (June 3) morning started with a bang at Rudin Management with COO John Gilbert. We learned where the real money lies in real estate…not the sexy Trump Tower luxury suites but in the bowels of the boiler room, HVAC systems, and the data collected minute by minute. Real estate is all about collecting, analyzing, and acting on data. Rudin Management gained competitive advantage by creating an operating system for buildings called Di-Boss. Just to put things in perspective, they saved $1 million in a year just for their 345 Park Ave location alone. Rudin was a lesson in how to look deeper into one’s traditional business model to find the unsexy gaps where margins can be increased.

That same afternoon, Steve Ibach gave us an insider’s view of his journey from philosophy PhD student to Wall Street. He kicked things off with his secret to success: “Be humble, hungry, and honest”. We bounced around between a range of topics from Flash Boys (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/30/michael-lewis-on-60-minutes_n_5060400.html) to peer to peer funding with the common theme of how to take advantage skews in data and the market (for example, can you build a secondary market for the failed campaigns on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo?). Steve is a success story of the “fake it until you make it” philosophy; he is not the type of person to say “I don’t know” to new problems, he approaches the unknown by hacking, hacking, hacking until he has the information he needs to get the job done. His final advice to a few of us who chatted with him after was to take advantage of thinking different: he cited a professional socialization experiment that showed how all Harvard MBAs think alike in their approach to solving the “Candle Problem” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle_problem). As a CEU MBA student exposed to classmates from over 20 nations, each class discussion and group project is a learning exercise in meshing diverse problem solving approaches. This competitive edge taken away from the CEU experience will prepare me for future work in emerging markets and I can thank classmates from around the globe (USA, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Georgia, India, China, Hungary, Slovakia, Belarus, Russia, Netherlands, and France).

An MBA trip to New York would not be complete without visiting the big boys (Bloomberg, General Atlantic, and Ernst & Young) on Wednesday (June 4) and Thursday (June 5). Visits like this are usually reserved for the Harvards, Stanfords, UPenns, MITs, and Berkeleys of the MBA world. But one of the biggest things I am thankful for in the NYC Module of the CEU Business School are networking powers through Dean Mel Horwitch and Bala Mulloth; in this NYC module they are able to leverage direct access to big time speakers and company visits through their vast networks (Harvard, Princeton, NYU, London School of Business, Oxford, University of Paris-Dauphine, and Theseus Institute in Sophia Antipolis, France). Just the exposure to these companies and networks allow students from our MBA programs to think bigger. Not to take anything away from Hungary but the scale of business in the US is apparent here when business leaders talk in terms of billions of USD, not millions of HUF. By learning the fundamentals in Budapest, and seeing them in action in New York, we are able to get the full picture MBAs need to thrive in the global market place.

D-Day (June 5) – a day shy of the actual 70th anniversary the real D-Day that swung the tide of the WWII on the shores of Normandy, France June 6, 1944, this past Thursday marked the day my personal victory of my MBA operation. After 9 months of MBA battles with sleepless exam preparation, delivering consultant quality reports and business plans, and countless public class presentations, I was faced with the challenge of competing in CEU Business School’s  “Your Move” New Venture Competition with NASDAQ OMX and Prezi. Three teams, including my own, have spent over 6 months developing our business plans and making pitches to advance into the final round of the contest to take place at NASDAQ, the second largest stock exchange in the world. This was no small feat and probably the biggest stage most of us have ever been on. In the true dynamic fast moving nature of New York, we only realized the scale of the event a few days before when we were featured in the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20140604-908488.html).

My own team, including myself Hari Subedi and Oana Jajae, was HIDstart which a Hub for Innovation Development that was pitching the value proposition of an incubator space with a side walk cafe and cloud marketplace connecting entrepreneurs with business consultants. This business model has been on my mind many years and was actually my inspiration for attending B-school. Our tough competition consisted of 2 other teams: (1) Wymeria, a cultural tourism venture capturing the hidden value of the Mississippi Delta by Jaime White, Mark Davison, and Rebecca Joyner, and (2) CheckIT.com, an IT security site by T.K. Mohammed and Judit Bajzák. Exactly 1 month ago on May 7 the elimination round took place at CEU InnovationsLab in Budapest. Weathering finals week for the semester with some members unable to participate due to schedule conflicts and other competitions, our teams pitched in the elimination round to meet the following criteria:

  • What is the value proposition each venture will offer and to whom?
  • Who are the potential competitors and partners in this venture?
  • What key resources are needed for the venture and how would they be acquired and developed?
  • How is growth measured for each venture?

Needless to say, back in May we all had a ways to go to make our pitches up to NASDAQ and Prezi standards. We went through intense Prezi software and design training by Lily Popper who works with executives and TED Talk speakers around the globe. We had coaching from CEU Business School faculty who specialize in entrepreneurship and innovation. Once in New York, we had practice rounds with local serial entrepreneurs suchs as Murat Cannoyan (founder & CEO of PatientPlus). Just one week before we had to balance our busy New York schedules, including back to back wedding weekends for me which included a red eye return flight from San Francisco just 72 hours before D-Day. Our groups had to incorporate new members into teams, learn to be Prezi Jedis, and update financials to newly evolved business models. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday prior to the finale was filled with running around town to find the perfect outfit, endless tinkering with Prezi, countless dry runs, and sleepless anticipation of the pressure packed upcoming big day. I personally slept only 3-4 hours a night during this time.

Then the big day of Thursday arrived. Every dry run my team did, I was a serious wreck going over my time limit, losing my focus, and simply bombing over and over. Even though public speaking is one of my strengths, I let the sleeplessness and magnitude get the best of me. Needless to say, when I woke up that morning, threw on my suit with Golden Gate Bridge t-shirt, I was definitely not swimming with confidence but I still gathered the strength to start my day. While in the lobby of NASDAQ, counting down the minutes and going over my talking points, in walked in the friendly face of  Zane Groshelle who is Prezi’s Lead Evangelist and was one of the panelists. He sat down with us and noticed my shirt right away which led us to learn that we both grew up in San Francisco attending neighboring high schools at the same time. We talked about the San Francisco Giants and how New York burritos don’t compare to the taquerias back home. This casual moment was all I needed to calm down and be myself.

In the elevator ride up, all the competitors joked with each other highlighting the friendly team work environment at CEU. Although we all wanted to beat the crap out of each other, we still loved each other, and wanted everyone to bring their A game. This collaborative synergy is what really drove all 3 teams to push each other towards success. Minutes before, I found out my team HIDstart was going first and I was going to open. I quietly went to the back of the room and proceeded to do calming basketball stretches just as I did 14 years ago before our championship game. Standing on the stage, before opening my mouth, I took in the moment, scanned the room and entire crowd, then thought “this is really happening?”. I took another breath and zoomed right into slide one (http://prezi.com/09auob4aoqfq/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share) and suddenly I felt this power and transformation into a new, bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter version of myself. I was experiencing flow and being in the zone, the same feeling Michael Jordan must have felt on his way to 6 championships. It was fitting that the two stories I kicked things off with was first of my father’s journey from Iraqi refugee to American entrepreneur and second my growth from out of work in the financial crisis to cofounder of www.itjones.com. This moment ranked alongside these stories as one of my biggest personal game changers…I WAS NOW PART OF THE CLUB…THE MBA CLUB. My team finished a close runner-up to Wymeria, who earned the amazing privilege of being featured on the Times Square big board on NASDAQ’s video tower. Nevertheless, I was proud of my work, my team’s work, my competitors’ work, and the work of the MBA program and NYC module for getting us to the that point. We all truly pushed each other to achieve something greater than each of our parts, representing ourselves and school with flying colors.

Later that evening, we were invited to a gathering at NYU-Poly with Dean Mel Horwitch’s circle of friends, students, and colleagues from his various networks. The brain power in that single room was humbling but now that I was a MBA Samurai, I confidently worked the room because I now also belonged to their club. This feeling is now something no one can ever take away from me. The next day, I confirmed it wasn’t a Cinderella moment, as in my visit to www.orchardplatform.com I still had my same super powers.

My consolation prize of the NASDAQ Prezi competition was not too shabby. My friends back home were impressed with NASDAQ’s twitter shout out I got and we had our entire MBA class take a group photo which was put up on the NASDAQ tower overlooking Times Square to the thousands of people in the square below as well as to anyone at home who was watching a news network with the tower in the background. And it was fitting to be in a photo with the entire class because each person’s unique global background and experience had a huge part in my growth at CEU Business School and the NYC Module. Although our image was only up for a New York minute, this 15 minutes of fame captured a moment that will live forever.

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