Vele’s Thoughts

Vele discusses investing in Macedonia, technology, digital photography, business and international affairs

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      Vele Samak works as the Minister for Foreign Investments in Macedonia. The views expressed here are his own personal views and not official news or opinions of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia.

Archive for December, 2004

Fall semester finals are almost over

15th December 2004

I have 2 finals to go before this Fall semester is over. I had my best classes so far, including strategic implementation, marketing strategy, marketing research, problem solving and design, and new product management. The final case for strategic implementation was due today and our team of 4 did what I’d call an excellent job and submited the case yesterday. This was an outstanding class taught by Prof. Zbaracki, formerly of the University of Chicago. I highly recommend it to any 2nd years or even first years. Hugely important to understand what it takes to be an entrepreneur in an organization or politics and implement a strategy. This is essentially where typical consulting job ends and implementation of your ideas begins.

It is interesting how you can actually do a group project very well and write an excellent paper with 4 people. I used to think this was about your group, but the OPIM class by Prof. Ulrich taught me that this is more about how you structure and break up the problem and the tasks. Writing a good paper require thinking a lot about your ideas, hashing out a plan and then writing and revising a clear argument on paper. The writing depends on the discussion and the argument for the paper and can’t be broken up among participants. Everyone has to be on the same page and with the same ideas before you write your first draft. It is where hand waving, generating ideas and OneNote become very useful. I’ll talk about OneNote in another post, but all I can say is, I haven’t writen a single page of paper this semester. It’s all in OneNote.

It is very typical at Wharton, especially in 1st year classes to meet once or twice and break up a project. Usually, most everyone has a different idea of where you are going. Some even end up shirking their responsibility or not doing much because they are waiting on other to finish. This is very inefficient. However, once you hash out all your ideas, you can easily substitute people within the writing structure. It’s like painting a room: if someone leaves, just hand a brush and paint to the next person to finish the part, but you still need to decide which color you’ll use to paint the room. I know it sounds common sensical, but it’s amazing how often it’s ignored especially at Wharton.

Marketing strategy was another fun class. Prof. Christophe taught an excellent semester. His case selection was very good and the structure of the classes enjoyable. He did go into some very quantitative classes where we had to create market response models using exponential or Adbudg functions to determine sales given spending on advertizing, promotion or other marketing mixes. It was all a piece of cake for me and my team, small thanks to my 7 years as a expert “quant” at Citigroup. However, and this was truly important, Prof. Christophe didn’t dwell too much on the quant work but always highlighted the managerial implications of the modeling exercises. My biggest takeaway from quant modeling has always been to know where it breaks down, not how good it is. Knowing your boundaries can help you in your modeling to avoid becoming an LTCM. While it may have been a turn-off for some, I’d say this class got as close as possible to Technology Marketing as you can get at Wharton. The cases weren’t always about Tech, but we did discuss Lotus, Siebel, Documentum, and Xerox, while cases on Viagra, Telstra/Optus and Schwab had very Tech-heavy implications which coupled with the Tech interest and background from some of the students, myself included, made for a very useful class and after-class discussions. Considering this class went for about 150 pts I’d say this was a total bargain. There’s definitely a herd mentality at Wharton when it comes to bidding on classes and great classes are often available for close to nothing. This fall, I paid less than 1000 pts for all my classes.

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Newly processed photos

15th December 2004

It’s amazing how long it can take for me to finalize a photo that I have take long time ago and turn it into an image. I finally added a half-dozen photos to my Various… gallery on my website. I’ve been tinkering with these photos for ages. Some were ready long time ago and are sitting printed in my albums, just I never bothered to posted them. The photo of the water taxi in Elliot Bay, Seattle, took me quite a while to edit so it is just right. The quadtone of the moon over fields in Greece was taken in September 2001 while on vacation. I could never decide how to format it and frame it how much contrast was enough. This is really my best edit so far.

Couple of other photos took very little time to edit, for example. The photo of the twin triangular towers in Century City are probably one of the most filmed objects. Back in 1993-1994 while I attended Santa Monica College I used to live few blocks from there. The photo came straight from my Westin Hotel room where I stayed while on a tour of the UCLA Anderson School early last year. It was a lovely LA day in February with strong winds that left an unusally clear day. Only people who’ve been in LA will understand what I mean when you see the mountains behind the buildings — something of a rarity given the typical smog. The depth coupled with the strong shapes and the shadows left a strong impression on me.

The other image that I really like is the sunset over Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty. It was a very cold windy day after snowing. The sun light came out at the end of the day just peeking through the clouds and left a very beautiful light over the harbour and especially on the snow. Finally, the photo of the full moon over Philadelphia was a very lucky shot. Luck is preparedness in the face of opportunity — an often quoted definition by Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape describing the occasions that lead to some of the best photos from photographers. This was just such an occasion when I grabed my equipment and climed the roof of the Locust Point building where I used to live last fall and took this photo. Great timing combined with patience to finally figure out the proper blending for the moon and the cityscape.

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Terrapass makes people feel really good about their cars!

11th December 2004

The terrapass.com venture had a final presentation to a group of entrepreneurs and VCs on Thursday. We presented an entire business plan in a very unorthodox way: 14 teams presented 1-2 slides each that covered everything, from concept and branding, to certification, sales, web marketing and business planing. I presented for my team the public relations strategy. We are published in the Wharton Journal so far and we are expecting coverage in the Daily Pennsylvanian soon. The key message: people feel good about themselves and their cars when they buy a Terrapass that offsets the CO2 emissions from the cars. Finally, an tool that empowers individuals to clean up after their cars for mere $50 per year.

The feedback from the audience was very valuable: they were very impressed by the speed and the amount of accomplishemnt that was made. With the usual questions and advice on strategy, we felt that we did an awesome job that will continue to validate itself over the next few months. When do you get a chance to learn about solving problems, create a business along the way, and present to an audience of potential funders just before finals?

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Wharton Art Show

11th December 2004

Wow, who knew Wharton MBAs were this talented outside of the business and party scene? The Creative Arts Club hosted its first art show last Wednesday night in a nice club room at The Grande apartment building, 15th and Chestnut. There were over 30 students whose works were exhibited, along with an accompaniment of wine, cheese and other snacks. I exhibited 6 of my best photos: Dingmans falls, Big Sur, Manhattan skylines, Harriman State Park and Foggy view of San Francisco. The show was very well attended with over 150 people previewing the artworks which included everything: photography, beautiful paintings with different motives and techniques, jewlery, and even a music! I was very impresed by the quality of artworks. The talent level was very high and I’m hoping for a repeat in the spring. The attendance was very encouraging given this event occured right before many projects were due for the last day of classes and right before finals. Great job!

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Fine dining in Philly and elsewhere

11th December 2004

How do you spell dining heaven in Philadelphia? Oh, yes, the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. Yesterday, my wife Roxanne and I finally made the trip to this restaruant whose reputation preceedes it by far. The lunch was not a special occasion, although by the end of this experience you certainly feel that it was indeed a very special occasion. Especially given a student budget, the rarity of this endeavour made it even more special. The experience at the Fountain ranks up there with other notable top restaurants such as Le Bec Fin and Founders, both in Philly, Chanterelle in New York City, and Taillevent in Paris.

While these are all widely recognized as top restaurants, ranked at least 28 on Zagat, with highly refined dining experiences and signature dishes, they all have their own quirks that you could make a ranking depending on the occasion. My top preference is Taillevent in Paris, which I’d put as one of the top restaurants around the world. Not only is the food the best among all of the above restaurants, also confirmed by colleagues who’ve had even more such experiences, the place itself has a very homely atmosphere, with waiters who are very charming, relaxed and put you at ease instantly. The sheer lack of pretention at a place of this caliber is simply unmatched. And coming from France, that says a lot. The owner personally welcomes you and bids you good bye, the tables are separated and cozy enough for you to feel private and romantic, and if you do smoke a cigar, they bring a small table fan that strategically keeps the smoke away from other tables. I personally don’t mind, even prefer sometimes, the smoke of a good cigar, but not everyone does.

Basically, the French in this case know that you come there to enjoy the food and your company, you will spend a ton money, and you don’t need to be reminded of it or made special about it, you just have to enjoy yourself. The place itself prides on experience and it doesn’t need to create artificial exclusivity, something that’s occassionally hard for American restaurants to understand because we all yearn for some recognition of this exclusivity and we only show it with price! But I think this notion is very short-sited when it comes to enjoying the finer things in life.

The relaxed ambience at Taillevent is closest to that of the Fountain, which is why Roxanne and I enjoyed it so much. You simply immerse youselves in conversation and enjoy the food, speaking of which, the pheasant breast was awesome, grilled on top of cranberry risotto and pumpkin puree: delicious! The foie grass was good but not the most impressive of the ones I have had. The least interesting foie grass was the one at Le Bec Fin. While that at Chanterelle and Brasserie 8 1/2 in NYC has been the best so far. Mind you, these are all delicious meals, I’m talking subtleties here.

Chanterelle’s environment was perhaps the least exciting. What made up for the very sterile room (their signature) and pretention from their waiters was simply the untouchable food. Their food was right next to Taillevent in taste and enjoyment. This is the biggest reason to go to Chanterelle: the food!

Now, if you are in Philly looking for a high-end romantic place, you must visit Founders, the restaurant on top of Park Hyatt hotel. It has a very classy atmosphere with views of the city. The dining and service are top notch, and best of all, has live music on weekends with a small dance podium where you can take your significant other for a quick dance between meals. The music is matched to the quality of food and service to make for a truly romantic dining experience. I think Fountain comes in close 2nd in romantic restaurants, while Le Bec Fin a solid 3rd. Le Bec Fin had excellent menu, outstanding service, even if at times the pretention does sneak up on waiters, and very good ambience, although not as cozy or separated as Fountain, but I’d say it’s an excellent place to enjoy group dining, if all of you can afford it, of course!

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