Monday, December 7, 2015

Course Reflection

The most interesting take away from this course for me would have to be model 1 versus model 2 management from Argyris and Schon. I had experiences with working under both types of managers before. Personally, I found the single loop approach to be more effective in corporate settings in which deadlines are tight (for the particular internship we had to meet the deadline of November 11th which is equivalent in China to Black Friday in America). I certainly see the merits of a more open and innovative approach using double loop, but from what I read and what I experienced, work environments must be conducive (in industries that thrive on innovation and tasks being jointly controlled such as application development) in order for it to produce results.

As for class structure and blogging, I would prefer more of a class discussion oriented blogging instead of purely interaction between student and professor. Having other students who have written blogs on similar topics as well as the professor give input and feedback would in my opinion be  more engaging. I found that approaches like this used in Moodle classes such as epsy 220 which I'm taking currently can produce very stimulating results. For class structure, I'd like to reference a political science class I took with Professor Seitz. The class was structured in a seminar style in which students sit in a circle around the professor and take turns offering voluntary input. Although I'm not sure whether such a style would fit what you have in mind for an economics course, I highly enjoyed that class due to the level of involvement from everybody. Perhaps a circle would not be necessary, but having a staggered seating in which students can choose to sit at the back and everyone is looking forwards at the board instead of at each other discourages participation and sharing. If what I'm referencing aligns with your goals for the course, some of these aspects can be used as improvement to future courses.

Homework and blogging do take time, but amount of time is dependent on the content of the assignment. To put into perspective, the last excel homework took me 10 minutes while the one on transfer pricing took me nearly three hours because I couldn't figure out where to plug in each cell. Blogging on the other hand typically takes around half an hour. The blog on Argyris and Schon took longer due to the reading preparation involved.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I have held the position of president for a student organization for the past six months. During that time, I've slowly but surely developed a reputation for being a demanding leader. The organization have always ran a surplus and large amounts of funds are leftover each year. Although this is a good thing, it also means officers are nearly as proactive and concerned when it comes to issue of funding from sources such as SORF and sponsorship. This has landed me in trouble quite a few times with the SORF board in particular due to late forms which has resulted in missed funding opportunities. This is also largely a consequence of me being friends with a few of the officers. During the start of me taking over the organization, I let a lot of their poor performances slide. However, it quickly became apparent that the organization would be run to the ground should the situation continue. To remedy this, I started cracking down on deadlines and threatening removal from the organization should an officer miss a deadline.
To build upon this reputation, I've demanded mandatory meetings with the officers. During meetings, individuals who have not been meeting deadlines or have been performing poorly (bad poster designs, forgetting to send emails) are called out on the spot. While this method is likely not the best approach in the long run as it will lead to tension, my goal is to keep a surplus to hand down to my successor as has been the case for the past decade or so in this organization's history. I'd say, in the short run, this approach has definitely worked. Deadlines these days are submitted early, our SORF funding form for the coming month was submitted three days before the deadline and emails are sent out on time. I haven't adopted this approach for a long period of time (roughly three months) so I've yet to deviate from the reputation I'm building and I don't see myself doing so in the near future.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Triangle Principle Agent Problem

For this post I will reference one of my earlier experiences I wrote about involving my boss during my internship using bribery as a means to an end. During my internship at a financial firm, my boss who acted as my mentor throughout the three months asked me to accompany him to a business negotiation deal to both experience what it's like to interact with clients and type up meeting minutes for him. The project my boss was in charge with was critical to the future of the company as it constituted a value added proposition to our product that would have made it very attractive to the target consumers. The client was therefore a representative from the firm which we were trying to secure a partnership with and solidify their position as a value added option. The setting was at a coffee shop which made it an informal negotiation in a sense. After the usual meet and greet and chatting about each other's children and lobbing casual questions at each other, my boss and the representative got down to business. After roughly five minutes of proposals from both parties, my boss slides a thin white envelope across the table. It was only when the representative opened it up and the sun caught the envelope that I saw the cash inside. The representative simply slipped the envelope inside his briefcase and the negotiations continued. This event shocked me in two ways. Firstly, both parties involved were Fortune 500 companies which I would expect to adhere to stringent company codes and secondly, the response from the representative seemed almost staged as if he was expecting such a gesture and had experienced bribes before.
As an intern, I had my fair share of menial jobs that I had to perform and one of these was completing my boss' four hour annual company code of conduct module. As ironic as it sounds, this particular company heavily stressed the importance of both non-disclosure agreements and bribery prevention in the module. My position was both my boss' subordinate and a company employee who signed a contract which specified that I would abide by the companies code of conduct (which they force you to actually read). My boss would expect me to stay quiet and be thankful that he gave me such a great opportunity to witness an actual business negotiation. The company on the other hand would urge me to report this incident to human resources to avoid potential lawsuits. I chose to stay quiet and simply take it as an eye opener. Perhaps through popular culture, I've been conditioned to think that these sorts of underhanded practices run rampant in the financial sector and therefore it didn't particularly irk me. Nevertheless, had I faced a moral dilemma, I'd say there would have been no easy way out. Had I reported my boss, I would lose a very important connection and mentor meaning almost two months of wasted time. Staying quiet and keeping it to myself in my mind was definitely the more prudent choice of the two. It'd be very hard to satisfy the interests of all parties involved.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Group Dynamics

I've been fortunate in that throughout my three internship experiences, I've never experienced anything that amounted to a conflict. Minor disagreements were present as expected, but these were few and far in between and were all swiftly dealt with through communication and understanding. Therefore, for this example I will be using an anecdote concerning office politics that my mom -Cindy had told me about this past summer. For background information, Cindy works in corporate business and is a senior member in the finance division. The company she works for supplies fast moving consumer cosmetic goods.
The conflict arose due to misconduct from the sales department. It must be noted here that sales representatives are highly motivated to post strong sales numbers as their year end bonus heavily depends on performance. The sales division, under instruction from the vice president of sales engaged in a practice in which they were essentially stockpiling company products in the warehouses of the buyers who would then resell it to large super markets. The way this works is that the sales representative convinces the buyer to place a order larger than the number which they forecast will sell. They promise that doing so only ensures that the warehouses won't run into a shortage of supply problem from unexpected large orders during the year end shopping season and promises that returned goods will be refunded for the full price. This practice allows the entire sales division to post temporary high performance and fetch a large year end bonus. However, when the products are returned from the warehouses, there is a possibility that they are expired or in poor condition resulting in losses to the company.
When this practice was found out, Cindy led a company wide audit. The VP of sales when confronted took on a rather nasty attitude as he had been with the company for longer than Cindy despite occupying the same position in the company. He reasoned that the losses to the company were likely negligible and tried to push it under the table by dealing with the issue later when products are actually returned and are proven to have caused significant losses. Cindy was outraged by what she saw as a blatant disrespect of code of conduct and lack of remorse took on a similarly nasty attitude which resulted in a lot of friction caused by their personalities as discussed in the book chapter. Neither backed down and it became more of a power struggle than a right or wrong issue as both individuals had similar titles. Office atmosphere was tense as the rivalry blew over between finance and sales divisions.The issue eventually forced the CEO to fly in from Germany and resulted in lengthy investigations from a hired third party and more detailed auditing (lots of wasted time and money). The outcome was a hostile work environment for the better part of the year and both Cindy and VP of sales being forced to take an extended unpaid leave to let things cool over.
Looking at this post mortem from the VP of sales' perspective, I can understand the decision as he felt for posting results so that the division which included nearly a hundred people could go home happily with their bonuses. From Cindy's perspective, it was her job to audit and make sure that company finances are kept in tight check. The real take away from this is that both individuals could have dealt with this by avoiding open confrontation which negatively affected the working environment. Instead, a more amicable approach would have been appropriate until it was deemed that the practice was indeed a violation of code of conduct and had resulted in losses to the company. The atmosphere was so tense and toxic that Cindy later reflected that she shouldn't have acted based on her emotions and considered the effect such confrontation would have on her colleagues.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sharing and caring

The article deals extensively with the issue of equity and egalitarianism. I found it interesting how Haidt talked about the communal effort during the wars as I simply can't see such a selfless, coordinated effort happening today on a societal scale. Incentives drives effort in the same way that lack of incentives discourage effort. In reading the article, I thought, kids share marbles, yes, but these are young toddlers who have yet to experience societal pressures, expectations and competition. Moreover, these are merely marbles which hardly equates to the same worth as, say, money. So is it really suitable to draw such a parallel comparison between the social experiment and society? What if the toddlers were replaced with adults and marbles with things of monetary value, could they replicate the same results? When we study indifference curves in economics, one of the primary assumptions is that more is better. Hence what drives the rich and powerful to resort to underhanded methods to obtain even more money. When referencing procedural fairness, what exactly does Haidt propose? Is it possible to establish a fair system that can fairly allocate resources, and what would the determining factor be? Hours spent? Quality of work produced? Or something entirely different?

During one of my summer internships, I was part of a team that had to produce a detailed market analysis for a new product targeting a specific consumer group. The start of the project was brainstorming and coming up with ideas. We used a software similar to google docs which allowed team members to share ideas, but no credit was given to who wrote it unlike google docs which displays the name of the contributor after the sentence. Progress was slow and no one really paid attention to the document. Each week however, the team held a meeting in which we planned and discussed key information gathered in front of the project leader who was a lot more senior than the group members. I still remember, the day before the first meeting, there was scarcely half a page of idea and material posted onto the document. But come time for the meeting, everyone was throwing around what types of research articles they found, competitor information and similar market studies. Part of me (the cynical part) thinks this was due to the fact that during the meeting, the project leader would applaud good finds and ideas by personally mentioning the person's name while the document was simply available to all of the group members and was anonymous. For selfish reasons, it therefore made no sense for members to extensively share with each other the precious information they found through combing the internet and company archives. This experience I think ties well with Haidt's example of his mom hanging around his grandparents to collect the foil from the cigarette packages. Such action would realistically be of no personal gain to her as she would not be recognized for the effort, but nevertheless she did it for the sake of the greater good. That's what was truly striking about the article when I read it because I feel that kind of mentality is becoming rarer and rarer today.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Income risk

I can into the university with a political science degree with the intention of doing law. However, after a couple years and realizing that law school was just not as attractive a career choice as it had been before I came into college, I added an economics degree to increase my chances of finding a job in the financial sector which I gained interest in. I took further steps to reduce risk of being unemployed after graduating by interning during every summer the past three years. I am fortunate enough to have received a return offer last summer which guarantees me a job position after graduating. I currently know the salary and location of my work if I take the return offer which really gives me peace of mind knowing I won't be jobless. My tuition was also taken care of entirely by my parents which significantly broadens the number of choices I can make upon graduation.

With regards to the experiences of others, a friend of mine who recently graduated sticks out the most. My friend graduated from the U of I with a computer science degree and landed multiple job offers in both east and west coast. Most of these offers were very attractive ones such as Google which he interned for two summers in a row. From sophomore year onward, he consciously streamlined his resume and tailored himself to the firms he wanted to work for through coding competitions, computer science clubs and internship experiences. These experiences made him very prepared for post graduation job hunting as he had a solid idea of what to expect during interviews (especially how to tackle the technical interview which is a crucial portion of the programming job process).

He has now worked in Google for two years without hiccups and has plans to hop jobs and maybe try the East Coast for a change. Although this seems like a boring example, I find his experience and preparation process very motivating and inspiring. During a recent catch up phone call I had with him, he reiterated the importance of tailoring your resume and having a specific interest instead of aimlessly throwing out resumes hoping for a hit. His rationale is that the job market now is simply too competitive for the "shotgun" approach.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Assuming that Illinibucks can only be used solely for the purpose of academic related activities and campus services, the primary use of Illinibucks would likely be to get priority in class selection, adviser meeting and fund provision services like SORF. These are what I personally would use Illinibucks for. I had trouble this semester getting a slot in several 400 level classes which was unfortunate since I had a strong interest in them. Adviser meetings were also hard to schedule durign the beginning of the semester which delayed some of my selection processes. Finally since I'm on the board of one of the SORF funded organizations, getting priority in the funding process would have helped greatly in speeding up the planning process.

As for prices, since Illinibucks would be allocated to all students, the services would become somewhat of a commodity. Too low a price would mean that Illinibucks would lose a lot of it's value if everyone is willing to use it. This could result in students essentially having to pay for Illinibucks to select classes that they would previously have gotten under the system without Illinibucks. I'd say this is analogous to the strategy of some airlines that force customers to incur hidden fees. Too high a price would probably result in no one using Illinibucks and heavy complaints from students that this gives an unfair advantage to students from more affluent families.

I had an experience with this during Middle School. Each year the school allows students to choose a location around the world to travel to as a school sponsored outing. Each country group is capped at 20 students with the selection process favoring seniority and order of last name (which rotated each year). Hot spots like Europe would be snatched up during the first round by seniors leaving the less popular destinations like South East Asia for underclassmen. The school decided during my sophomore year to allow students to pay an extra fee to pick earlier which drew huge complaints from parents with several families deciding to simply boycott the school excursion. Needless to say, the policy was quickly reverted.