The Dream Trip to America

nus study trip mba warren buffet 2008

Meeting Warren Buffet was a major highlight of the NUS Study Trip to America, 2008. Our NUS MBA student blogger recounts the experience of a lifetime.

The Dream Trip America has been a special study trip. We stepped outside Asia for a study trip for the first time in the 40 year history of the NUS Business School. The objective of the trip was to give the students an exposure to the western corporate world and to enable them to learn ‘best practices’ from top business leaders. A total of 23 people participated in this trip, majority of whom were from the MBA Programme.

The highlight of the trip was an appointment with Mr. Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man, for Q&A session and lunch. “Success can be measured by the number of people who are willing to hide you,” said Mr. Buffett, emphasizing on the importance of relationships and integrity. We asked some brilliant questions to get his views on his investment strategies and personal life. Post Q&A and lunch, Mr. Buffett posed for some really nice pictures with us. His humility compared to his success made him even greater than what we had thought about him.

The discussion with Mr. Buffett was very different from the one we had with Mr. Scott McNealy, Chairman of Sun Microsystems. Mr. McNealy’s ideas on open source will have a strong influence on the way companies operate and educational systems work. We also got a glimpse of the thin client systems which are gaining popularity in the business world. Mr. Sumir Chadha, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital, enlightened us on the recent trends in Indo-US start-ups. Sequoia Capital has been investing in USA, Israel, India and China.

The company visits were equally interesting whether they were high techs in Silicon Valley or Investment Banks in Wall Street. The visit to Google campus which marked the start of our study trip was the most entertaining of all company visits. Google has been built like an extension of a college campus with some interesting rules like the rule of “150”, which means an eating place would be available within 150 feet of any point in the Google office. During the presentation a few other interesting facts popped up, like the rule of “20-80”, which means each employee spends 80% of his time on assigned tasks and 20% on his own initiatives. It was surprising to note that successful applications like Orkut and Google News spawned out of people’s personal initiatives. Dressed formally we were thought to be “over-dressed”, as we were explained about the informal atmosphere the company tries to maintain. No wonder the company is breaking all rules purely based on innovation. Apple’s office is different from the “campus-like” Google office. The interesting part of meeting Apple employees was their jovial yet reserved nature combined with a bit of arrogance, much like the company’s own attitude. Unlike the “20-80” of Google, for Apple innovation is a full time task. People in Apple spend days and months coming up with products which blend visual appeal and technology to create brand leaders like the iPod.

nus mba study trip google usa 2008

In New York, the Mecca of finance, we visited Lehman Brothers and Citi. Their offices are located in huge sky scrapers in Manhattan. The meeting with Citi was hosted by the head of recruitment, North America. The presenters gave us an insight into how the different divisions like investment banking, capital markets, structuring and sales & trading work together at Citi. We also got good information on the challenges faced by the operations team at Citi. The discussion was followed by a tour of the trading floor where we got to see for the first time the renowned chaos of the trading floor. The Lehman Brothers visit was unique because unlike Citi, the presenters avoided using PowerPoint slides. The discussion at Lehman was on a variety of topics ranging like how to make a career switch to Investment Banking, credit crisis and risk management at Lehman. The discussion at Lehman was followed by a tour of the trading floor. Lehman’s trading floor is similar in structure to Citi’s, but it is different in the way different groups like equity traders, commodity traders are organized. The “palace-like” offices of these investment banks were very impressive.

We also visited Stanford University and Columbia University. Both universities had old and amazingly beautiful campuses. In Columbia University we interacted with a faculty member who gave us an insight on the teaching methodologies at Columbia University.

Last but not the least were the ‘free and easy’ trips to Napa Valley where we enjoyed Wine tasting. Golden Gate Bridge and Fishermen’s Wharf are some of the most beautiful places in San Francisco, a must see for all those who plan a visit there. In New York, we visited Wall Street and Times Square (where the cold weather of New York failed to dampen out spirits). Los Angeles was a good break as it allowed us to relax after a hectic week.

This trip was the experience of a lifetime. The participants described their trip experience as adventurous, enlightening, motivating, insightful, fruitful and with many such adjectives. Each of them will cherish the memories of this trip for a long time to come.

Rajesh Khanna
Class of 2009