Monday, April 25, 2011

The End

The irony is that it isn’t really the end but the beginning. As great as the MBA is, we all enter it as a gateway to better things afterwards, trying to look two years ahead. So it is with that expectation that we enter the program. But there is so much that happens in between, so many things that for one reason on another don’t make it on the blog and are therefore not captured. It has always been my aim that this blog would serve not only as a pensive collection for reflection, but also act as a source of entertainment, ideas and discussion with its readers. It is my hope that the impression I leave here is an honest and comprehensive reflection and an imprint of myself and my experiences contained within its digital pages.

I am grateful for all the rich experiences while I’ve been on the program. Obviously, I’m very lucky, having the opportunity to reap the benefits of the program by meeting smart hardworking people, being exposed to brilliant ideas and new ways of thinking, and taking full advantage of all the programs available whether they are international programs, case competitions or classes. I certainly feel like I'm on the top of the world right now seeing nothing but clear horizons.

I have throughly enjoyed my time on exchange in London and studying in Toronto. It’s with an invigorating sense of optimism that I look forward to the future. The adventure is hardly over as I’ll spend the summer travelling. And as always, even then, the end of that period is simply the beginning of the next intrepid endeavor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Service Management Field Trip – Thessaloniki

Yesterday marked the last day of in person contact with our project sponsors. They have sent us some preliminary information to analyze and signed off on the project scope and definition. All that remains now is for us to do our analysis and provide our report. That coupled with the completion of our individual assignments will tie up the end of this course.

Shown above: View of Aristotelous Square from the Orizontes rooftop restaurant in Electra Palace Hotel Thessaloniki.

This has been a unique experience, to hear from the mouths of people who live here their opinion on a very timely topic: globalization, competitiveness and the structure of a nation’s (Greece’s) economy. Our professors did a lecture on Monday talking about the characteristics of the Greek economy, breaking down GDP components and telling a story about Greece’s economic focus and structure over the past 5 years as a backdrop for the current conditions the country is facing. They also prescribed a logical recipe for what would be needed to turn the Greek economy around and the challenges involved. These sentiments were echoed by many of the project sponsors who participated as many of them were looking to boost their competitiveness and engage the other economies of the world.

Today, I’ll be spending most of my time wrapping up all remaining loose academic ends in the hope of leaving nothing unfinished for my return to Toronto.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Prince William and Kate – Let the Market Decide

Apparently, Brits will bet on anything. I was just watching the BBC and there was a short clip on questions Brits were asking and what bookies were placing in terms of odds of various events happening at the wedding: Kate’s car breaking down, Prince Harry dropping the ring etc.

This got me to thinking about mathematically predicting the future. Not just in physical models (for instance forecasting weather) which is difficult enough, but also in these sort of abstract ideas. After all, how do you predict what is Prince Harry’s chance of dropping the ring? Let’s say you could even come up with a very convincing model that would give you one good guess.

Another method would be to let the invisible hand of the gambling market decide. Assuming you could get enough interested people to bid in the “market” on an individual question, having more or less people bid for or against any particular question can give you an indication as to whether the odds offered are too “generous” and allow you to recalibrate the odds directionally until you arrive at a relatively stable number.

For example, when asked: “What’s the chance of the Queen wearing a blue hat?” initially it’s even odds. However, people start doing their homework, statistical multi-factor regressions, etc and discover that she actually tends to wear a blue hat quite often (especially at royal weddings) and people starting overwhelmingly taking bets that she will wear a blue hat. If the bookie is paying attention, they will start moving the odds, maybe now offering 2:1 odds that she will wear a blue hat. People start fine tuning their model and continue to make bets until the odds rest at 3:1 (the current odds of the Queen wearing a blue hat). The bookie takes bets on either side taking the spread.

The invisible hand of the gambling market has determined the probability of the Queen wearing a blue hat. While we aren’t even sure what models were used, assuming intelligent people using real money have staked a “best guess” at what the appropriate value for the probability of the Queen wearing a blue hat is, we are given another robust answer.

Back in Thessaloniki

After taking some time to do a whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean, I’m back in Thessaloniki to finish my last class of the Exchange as well as my MBA program: Service Management field trip. I’ve met two of my group members as well as classmates from other teams as we did some basic exploring of the city’s waterfront.
Shown above: Thessaloniki waterfront at sundown.

We have our first official class today. We've already been in contact with our sponsor company and also have our first group meeting today as well as we meet face to face for the first time.

Tomorrow, we have an arranged city tour which I am looking forward to. Also, today is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week in Greece which is a very important holiday with unique celebrations that I am looking forward to.

I am also in the process of completing my final project for Managing Corporate Turnarounds as my other team members have sent me their parts and I finish up the write up for our class.

After my class is done here on April 21st, there are a few days to spend before flying back to London on the 24th. My flight back to Toronto is the 26th. While I have really enjoyed my time here, I’m looking forward to going home, visiting my sister in New Orleans on the 27th (to drive back to Toronto).

I’ll be spending May studying for the CFA II exam after which I’ll also have the opportunity to visit friends and family in Australia in June and Malaysia (with a chance to climb Mt. Kinabalu and dive in Sipadan hopefully) in July before I return to Scotia Capital in August.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ship of Theseus as a Metaphor for Replacement Cost

Looking at the Parthenon being restored, it reminds me of another Greek concept: the ship of Theseus. It is essentially an identity dilemma: If you take care of something, but are forced to replace parts due to decay over time, is that object still the same? This is something I’m sure archeologists wrestle with when they rebuild replica parts to restore murals or structures for which the original parts are long gone. Even if they use the same material, artistry and methods, the original has lost something ineffable.

This concept has been extended several times with several unique spins, my favourite being Plato’s carriage, where Socrates and Plato exchange parts on their carriages until finally “Socrates’” carriage is made entirely of Plato’s original carriage and vice versa. At what point did the identity of the carriage change?

In a vain attempt to bring all my philosophizing back into the MBA realm of finance, it’s sort of interesting when you think about it in the context of the idea in accounting principle of replacement cost or M&A. While accounting will capture the physical quantities contained within a company’s finances, there also exists value beyond the sum of its parts in the same way you would expect an M&A transaction’s synergies to broaden the qualities of the combined entities: that seemingly ineffable quality.

Parthenon and the Golden Ratio

Today I visited the Parthenon which is one of my favourite buildings and the preeminent landmark of Athens and located in the Acropolis. And yet, many people are unaware of the beautiful mathematical design it holds in plain view. Built into the Parthenon’s design you will often discover that many porportions are designed to the golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, the ratio that many Greek’s believed to be the source of proportional mathematical beauty.

Shown above: Parthenon

Many believed that this ratio occurred often in nature and was the basis for beautiful proportions (for example it appears in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man as the ratio between the length of the arms and legs).  Another occurance is with Fibonacci numbers as the ratio between them is an approximation of this same ratio (Fibonacci numbers are numbers in a sequence in which the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers). The approximation becomes more accurate the further out you go. Note: It's only an approximation because the first two numbers are one and one.

The golden ratio is mathematically defined as follows:

(A + B) / A = A / B

Or in layman’s terms, the proportion between two measures is the same as the proportion of their combined length and the larger length. Note that this definition can be recursive and applied over multiple lengths repeatedly.

Also note, that the proof for the actual ratio is self is quite elegant:

(A + B) / A = A / B (Multiplying both sides by A x B we get)

AB + B^2 = A^2

0 = A^2 – AB – B^2

= A^2 – AB + 1/4 B^2 – 1/4 B^2 – B^2

= (A – 1/2 B)^2 – 5/4 B^2

Now assume that B is 1.

= (A – 1/2)^2 – 5/4

5/4 = (A – 1/2)^2

Sqrt(5) / 2 = A – 1/2

Therefore, the golden ratio, A = [1 + sqrt (5)] / 2

Note that this makes A approximately 1.62. (it is an irrational mathematical constant)

Intricate in its beauty, elegant in its simplicity.

Near the Parthenon was once the statue of Athena overlooking the city.

Shown above: Athena's perch from which she offered Victory to the Athenians, now long vacant.

Previously, this building was home to statue of the grey-eyed goddess who watched over her namesake and in her raised hand held Nike, the winged goddess of victory. While the statue is long gone, perhaps it is time for the Greeks to look after her and her fellow Olympians as they recover and protect artifacts of the past.

Athens Metro

The Athens Metro is one of the newest and most beautiful metro systems in the world despite (or rather because) it took an immensely long time to build. This is because as they dug, they had to stop because they often ran into old archeological ruins. Then they would stop digging with machines and archeologists would dig with toothbrushes. The metro plan was equal parts archeological dig as it was construction site.

However, the result is a brilliantly new metro system that includes exhibits and finds from their digs and the duality continues: it is both museum and metro station.

The fare is 1.40 euro for a 90 minute multi-trip ticket which needs to be validated. A day pass is 4 euro.