Mastering Business Analytics: Qimonda engineers & scientists

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D-I-Y-ers, click here.

Addendum: In response to two near immediate —Google's fast!— queries: Yes, the terms of the offer below are open to other unemployed engineers and hard-science majors (quants). Provide an equipped presentation venue and absorb our out-of-pocket costs; we'll donate our time and requisite materials. Alternatively, for a minimal fee, we'll bear the costs. (IT managers click here.)

For non-corporate groups (15 or more) of employed quants the daily fee is $200/head and we bear costs enumerated below. The "deposit" and other terms below, however, would apply.


Genesis: Gopakumar Sethuraman (a Qimonda alumnus) reached us via an unlikely chain of web-links; we became aware of your collective situation through our email exchanges. So, this offer to aid those of you who wish it, is thanks to him.

Qimonda alumni consider this :

Premise 1: You are a strong analytical thinker; you are comfortable with intellectual abstraction; you have proven quantitative skills; you are self-disciplined and self-motivated.

Premise 2: You don't mind hard work because you realize that nothing worth having is ever "easy."

Premise 3: You aspire to a (more) senior management role either within a technical function or general management.

Premise 4: You have heard such terms as income statement, cashflow, earnings, liquidity, asset, expense but don't really know what each means. You've a vague notion of what budgeting and planning are but would be hard-pressed to explain them in the context of corporate strategy and/or strategic marketing.

Worse, as for actually going about doing target costing or putting together a financially compelling presentation (NOT PowerPoint!), well, you'd certainly opt to "pass." "Passing" would be a pity. Because, the surest route for realizing your career ambition is via mastery of premise #4, business analytics; it's potentially "low-hanging fruit" for you.

Sidebar: Business analytics is about solving business problems. Business problems universally exhibit three traits. 1) They are embedded "word problems." 2) Their "scope" is cross-functional. 3) They are analytics-intensive.

Ergo, to solve them, one must simultaneously command a firm grasp of business language (accounting-ese), a business perspective both vertical and horizontal, and analytical skills both wide and deep.

Of the three, the third constitutes by far the highest hurdle for would-be business analysts. This is where the "quants" enjoy a significant home field advantage.

Observation: The problem is largely one of communication stemming from two distinct learning needs. First, there is the fundamental Suits vs. Geeks problem that each group "speaks" a different language, with the "suits" (and most employees) speaking some dialect of accounting-ese (with varying degrees of proficiency) and quants speaking a dialect of techno-speak. Second, the "suits" are trying to solve business problems entailing business complexities beyond the quant's understanding ... and, quite often, the "suits."

Complicating the problem, the "suits" believe that they're doing a stunning job of "communicating" the problem, when, in fact, such is seldom the case. Worse, the situation all too often tends to be that the requester (i.e., the suit) has a less than perfectly framed command of the concepts at play. Sadly, the quants may have all the analytical and technical horsepower most problems require but cannot bring that power to bear. Never mind, guess who gets blamed when a project tanks?

Non-Solution: The knee-jerk "solution" of opting for an MBA to address the communication "problem" fails for several reasons.

First, MBA programs (with three notable exceptions) are not designed for quants; they, in fact, cater to non-quant students. So, quants get short shrift via a dumbed-down curriculum which plays away from quant strengths. (Among the exceptions, "solutions" typically entail Mathematica, MatLAB, SAS, SPSS, et cetera. Which of those is your next employer likely to support on the desktop?)

Second, MBA programs don't merely fail to "ignite" quant student interest, the programs alienate quants by virtue of frustrating them. Quants intuitively know that there are better methods available (think: Lagrange) but are unable to pursue the alternatives on their own.

Third, MBA programs are drawn-out affairs, largely because the non-quant (majority) students have difficulty "getting" what little analytics the curriculum presents. Not surprisingly, quants end up feeling stifled, frustrated, and left-out. At best, they attain some degree of "fluency" in "suit-speak," but, they fall grossly short of achieving their full potential ... and even these modest "gains" require several years!

Finally, MBA programs, including Harvard's, are anything but sure-fire.

Yes, things were different back in the 1960's/70's. The calculus prerequisite (among others) went out when the "Student Evaluation" process came in. That's progress for you....

Compression: How can so much material be absorbed in so little time? Think: Pareto. Easily 80% of the useful MBA material constitutes far less than 20% of the typical MBA class time.

Further, in a conventional MBA program, much of each semester is spent reviewing crucial material from other courses. This is a fixture in silo-centric curricula. In contrast , our approach is strategy-centric, eliminating all of the repetition plaguing silo-centric programs — material need be presented only once.

That is, all material is integrated (cross-functional) and new learning is presented JIT. It's all immediately incorporated into student knowledge by applying the new concepts in solving relevant, realistic (typically mini-cases) business problems of the moment.

Many MBA programs attempt "team-teaching" wherein, in theory, faculty work together to cover material in a manner similar to our JIT. Unfortunately, these attempts invariably devolve into "turn-teaching" — a de facto return to the status quo ante.

Solution discussion is also couched in strategy-centric terms. Our students fully appreciate a given solution's import in terms of corporate specifics and are able to address them in both analyses and communication.

Finally, because quants don't suffer math-phobia, far more demanding problems are routinely solved than are typically ever attempted in conventional MBA programs. Result: Students rapidly accumulate a portfolio of useful, real-world models upon which to later draw.

Broad strokes : Students learn everything of value included in the typical MBA core: Economics, Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Operations, Statistics, and Quantitative Methods. They do NOT get concentration- level coverage of any given functional area (e.g., Finance) in these, our two foundation (ISA core), modules. They will, however, delve far deeper into the computational analytics than they would in any MBA program.

Aside: "Concentration" material is covered with equal dispatch and rigor in our functional (finance, marketing, operations) modules. Baby-calc — calculus semesters I through IV — is covered JIT in the basic functional modules as necessary.

Each of the advanced functional modules goes far beyond traditional MBA material; probability, PDE, vector analysis, linear algebra, and OOP are prerequisites. For instance, the advanced financial functional module incorporates much from traditional MS/Computational Finance programs.

Further, because students are immersed in a (senior management) strategy-centric perspective, they immediately appreciate why the material they are learning is important and how it "fits" into the business "picture" both broadly and narrowly defined. With this understanding of the corporate-wide context of how businesses are actually managed, they are rapidly enabled to communicate intelligently with managers and executives at any level.

Observations predicated upon the strategy, tactics, metrics-triad common to all properly run organizations are profoundly different from and superior to common analyst commentary. They tend to be immediately recognized as such, too.

BTW, this also means, students are no longer "chained" to any industry or sector. The analytical framework is just as valid for a healthcare facility as for an aerospace manufacturer. An ISA graduate become the ultimate "portable app."

Specifics: The first 5-day module addresses perturbation methods and optimization in complex, deterministic systems, e.g., constrained, non-linear optimization of financial operating systems. The second 5-day module addresses probabilistic methods and optimization in complex, dynamic systems, e.g., applied Monte Carlo simulation of competitive marketing models. As noted elsewhere, all modeling is undertaken within Windows/Excel, in line with global corporate norms.

FYI: The key to making this "work" lies in the effective use of a dynamic, graphics-based, real-time presentation environment driven by VBA "What-if " perturbation and live optimization. In a group presentation context, "solutions" become group solutions with de facto buy-in gently assuring conflict-free consensus building. In short, you win without combat.

Format: Sessions feature a mix of lecture (~20%), seminar (~30%), and team-based, in-class, lab work. There is limited class preparatory reading (.pdf) and there is homework in the form of concise reading/ mini-cases for the teams to prepare for each next-day's class. There are several "carryforward"* cases which are revisited as learning progresses from ISA-1 to ISA-2 ... and beyond, for that matter.

There are NO protracted readings. There is no mystery as to how the various bits and pieces fit. There is no busy work; there is no fluff. There is no separating wheat from chaff — there is NO chaff. If students arrive prepared to learn, then learn they shall — guaranteed. Uniquely: If students decide as a group post-class that a given class "failed," there is no charge for that class, period. (To date, no one has exercised that option.) Compare that to rampant "eval" bribery.

Presentation is made in Excel 2003/Win 2003. Appropriate software will be provided as necessary. You MUST have the Excel Solver Add-in loaded when you arrive, as you will be using it extensively. (Bless you, Dan Fylstra!).

Proposal: Qimonda alumni (particularly anyone willing to coordinate the session) may contact us to arrange sessions in Richmond, VA via this link. Individuals may make a reservation here.


Fee: This is a non-profit venture. Ideally, someone from Qimonda will assume the role of coördinator and arrange for:

1. Meeting venue with:

2. Collecting funding to absorb our out-of-pocket expenses:

We're perfectly amenable to doing this "rough." So, if one of your number has an appropriately sized living room and you're willing to sit on the floor, we're halfway home. Office Depot sells 4x8' whiteboards for around $200 and delivers them for $50. Given that this event will be during hurricane season, transport could be either rental car or plane (aisle, please). As for room (safe, clean, non-smoking) and board (pretty much anything will do), they need not be elaborate.

Alternatively: We'd simply set the daily tuition fee at $100 and we'd handle the details and bear all the costs enumerated in the above section. We'd site the sessions in a hotel within reasonable proximity to your former Qimonda facility. This approach would require that you reserve a seat by securing your reservation with a $100 deposit (via our shopping cart) at least 30 days in advance. Your deposits would, in turn, be applied against your first day's tuition. Employed "outside" attendees would be charged $200/day. (Robin Hood is alive and well!) You would be expected to pay the daily tuition (cash, please) after each day's class.

Why the deposit? Your $100 deposit would be to cover our financial exposure in securing appropriate classroom, AV equipment, and transport. (Non-profit != Loss!) Since all of these commitments would have to be made well in advance of the session, your deposit would become irrevocable as of 30 days prior to the session. Prior to 30 days pre-session, you could cancel your reservation and have your credit card credited for the deposit.

Something to think about: What are you going to do while you're waiting for the next economic "bus?" An obvious choice would be to become a freelance consultant; ISA graduates have many of the requisite skills. However, since every Tom, Dick, and Harriet does just that, how do you distinguish yourself from those merely parading as consultants? Read on.

It's been suggested that launch a site solely for our ISA-core graduates. Its private side will be password protected and its public side will showcase your and your fellow ISA colleagues profiles. The site purpose is specifically to help you highlight your learning and specific skils as well as to leverage your ISA contacts and their skills. It will be entirely free and provide, among others:

Finally: You'll find a lot more detail here and throughout the broader site, should you want it. Note that the FREE 5-day seminar mentioned on the quantMBA pages is closed, so, that's not an option. You can reach us (some background) here.

Postscript: Business management is largely a matter of recognizing and resolving business problem. Few employees command a broad understanding of business and a broad array of analytical tools. Therefore, most business "solutions" are fragmentary, piecemeal, and, ultimately, unsatisfactory. To be most effective, business management cannot simply recognize and resolve (react) but must be proactive and anticipate business issues long before they mature into problems. The ISA approach is to imbue each student with the requisite knowledge to be able to function effectively on all three levels: anticipation, recognition, resolution. Doing so entails students internalizing our integrated strategic framework (STM) and its related analytical framework (ISA).


*Some of these "carryforwards" are loosely based upon extremely well-known and widely-used B'School classic cases. Amusingly, we've heard from former students that they've "devastated" colleagues (said, "Suits") with MBA's from august institutions while "discussing" our solutions to these "classics."