My visit to Cambridge for Cycle Three was packed with a rigorous exam and an astonishing amount of material about analysing a company’s finances and valuing companies, stocks and bonds. The courses were supplemented with professional insight into communications and pharmaceuticals. We had informal discussions about the recent US elections with the insight of professionals from six continents. The entire experience was bookended with unique experiences at Clare and Pembroke Colleges.
Matriculation to Clare College on Thursday
On Thursday afternoon, my flight landed in Heathrow just hours before I was due in Cambridge. With no time to check into my room, I changed into formal attire on the train to Cambridge and arrived just in time to be welcomed by the tutor and head of Clare College. Seven of us 2016 EMBAs matriculated to Clare College that evening in a private ceremony. We received a warm welcome from Clare fellows and graduate tutors Dr Jacqueline Tasioulas, Dr Sian Lazar and Dr Maciej Dunajski, and the graduate administrator, Jenny Colling. Then we entered a formal room to sign our names in the oversized book that all Clare College members sign. Next, we entered the Fellows’ Library which contains priceless antique books and is only accessible by appointment. We inhaled the cozy smell of ancient books as a College librarian granted us the exceptional privilege of leafing through Henry VIII’s prayer book.
The deputy development director led us on a tour of the architecture and history of the College and then we attended an evensong service in Clare’s 250-year-old chapel. The service consisted almost entirely of beautiful music from Clare’s renowned choir. Slowing down to reflect on the evening’s introduction to Clare’s history, ideals and traditions after a hectic, decidedly unpeaceful journey from Houston was restorative. The fellows led us into the dining hall for a formal dinner where we sat at the high table in our black gowns before returning to the formal room to enjoy port and cheese with the fellows and CJBS Reader in Finance David Chambers, who advises Clare on endowment management matters. We discussed Clare College’s unique investment strategies for its endowment, which is the subject on one of the EMBA electives.
Breakfast with members of the CJBS Women’s Leadership Initiative on Friday morning
The next morning, I had breakfast with a diverse, enthusiastic group of women from the MFin and full-time MBA programmes to discuss the CJBS Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). They expressed interest in engaging men in the conversation about gender issues in business, fostering a spirit of including as many interested students as possible, and promoting an atmosphere of spirited debate. They have assembled a list of MBA/MFin students who requested that we pair them with mentors from the EMBA cohorts. We discussed possible programming and networking events and I learned that CJBS faculty, students and staff work together on the WLI conference programme and other events.
Surviving the Accounting exam on Friday afternoon
After lunch with the cohort, we sat for our first exam of the EMBA programme. The exam covered accounting basics and we prepared a ledger, balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statements from scratch. Although many of us could already passively review financial statements, the exam challenged us to understand the accounting basics on a much more fundamental level than before. The time pressure of the exam was intense and many people reported that they did not have time to create each of the financial statements. Our expectations for the exams in January have now been calibrated.
Financial analysis, asset valuation, and portfolio management on Friday and Saturday
With the exam over, the Accounting class focused on using ratios to evaluate a company’s financial activity, compare its activity over time and compare it to other companies. We had breakout sessions with our study groups to work on case studies and use financial statements and accounting ratios to figure out how well a company adhered to its stated business strategy, how to value the company, how it compared to competitors, how its strategic activities could be affecting its profitability, efficiency and solvency ratios. The exercise was far more engaging than I anticipated after slogging through creating cash flow statements.
In our Corporate Finance course, we learned different tools for valuing businesses than we learned in Accounting. We also worked on ways to evaluate debt and equity investments, how betas signal how much the value of a particular stock will rise or fall in step with a changing market, and the influence of cash flows on share prices. The lecturers have clearly designed the curriculum to illuminate how the disciplines fit together to form the “big picture”.
We had dinner at Selwyn College, where a former CNBC anchor spoke about changing issues in the media. She addressed the how the evolution of media delivery affects the content of communication for business and for the journalism procession. Much of the discussion and follow-up questions focused on how the changes in media delivery and content impacted both how people voted on Brexit and on the next US president, but also how the media was surprised by those results.
Our last cycle of Management Science focused on portfolio management. We worked on a case study involving a pharmaceutical company faced with a choice of which promising drugs to attempt to bring to market. The input from the scientists and other pharmaceutical professionals in the cohort took the conversation in a new direction about how their industry works, how pharmaceutical research and manufacturing is financed, and how decisions are made about which compounds to prioritise in a complex industry where massive profits are required to fund research into the next generation of medicines. Reactions were mixed on the value of that discussion.
Comedy and cocktails at Cambridge on Saturday night
Our very own Vanessa Marcie is a comedienne (as well as a PhD at an agency tasked with attracting start-up companies to Nice). Several weeks ago, Vanessa suggested that she and some other stand-up comics perform for us on Saturday night after the EMBA wrap-up session. Everyone was enthusiastic about it and several members of the cohort pitched in to organise the production. Enzo Lamberti booked a basement room at Pembroke College with stage lighting, curtains, and AV equipment. One of Steven Lile’s companies has developed an IoT cocktail scale that works with an app to prepare flawless signature cocktails, so he shipped the scales over from his Portland base and had his bartender develop recipes with a Prohibition-era theme for the occasion. Several members of the cohort brought provisions from their respective countries with them to Cambridge to stock the makeshift bar. Others volunteered to serve as bartenders. Henry Langston took the stage after intermission to honour some of our experiences and class heroes. The entire production came together very quickly as people stepped in to take part.
Vanessa ultimately brought seven comedians to travel in from London to perform with her just for our cohort. Determined to let no opportunity to savour our EMBA experience slip away, the room was packed as we sat on old chairs and wooden crates and laughed until more than one person cried. The applause was rowdy and appreciative, most of all for Vanessa. Although she was immensely funny, what blew me away was the courage it must have taken her to perform in front of dozens of classmates that she met just a few months ago. Equally touching was watching everyone come together to support one of our own with sincere respect and enthusiasm. The power of the cohort and the magic of Cambridge elevated Vanessa’s idea to perform stand-up comedy into a celebration.
On the way back to the airport early Sunday morning, the discussion rolled back around to an oft-repeated theme: the 20 months are simply passing too quickly.