Dear Lucy

December 1, 2013 10:01 pm

Dear Lucy ...

It will cost me $2.40 for every minute that I’m in an EMBA class. If a student rambles for 15 minutes in class, will that idiot owe me $38?

Certainly not. The $2.40 is an average. The value is not evenly spread over the course: you would expect to derive more value when the professor is talking than when other students are. Even then, the maths do not quite work, as the true benefit of the EMBA comes from outside the classroom – from the contacts and the job offers that are supposed to flow from it. As far as the verbose student goes, there may be some value you can extract from him after all. Waffling uninterrupted for 15 minutes is extremely difficult, and is a skill that might come in handy one day. The next time he starts banging on, I suggest you learn how he it does it.

Is the study of “strategy” not just all about figuring out how to secure profits without having to make a better product, work harder or be smarter?

If you have worked out what strategy is all about, you are smarter than I am. It’s possible to waste a lot of time thumb-sucking on what strategy is and is not – forgetting that the strategy is the easy bit. The hard part is making it work. As Winston Churchill put it: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

In two months at business school, I’ve discovered that everyone in my class bonds and plans events on Facebook. I don’t have an account and don’t plan to open one. How can I stay off Facebook but keep abreast of gossip and my classmates’ shenanigans?

The only way to do that is to establish your absence from Facebook as your unique selling point – something that makes you cool and alluring, forcing people to come to you. But as two months have gone by and the parties have been carrying on without you, it sounds as if your classmates have reached the conclusion that you aren’t so cool, and they can’t be bothered seeking you out by pigeon post and semaphore. It is, of course, perfectly possible that all these parties and all this gossip that you are missing out on is a waste of time, and that you are much better off locked in your room alone working on discounted cash flows while you listen to Mahler on the wireless. Yet on balance I wouldn’t leave it to chance. Sign up, but prove your moral fibre by wasting only 15 minutes a day on the site.

I completed my MBA a year ago and despite the promises of my business school, it hasn’t made me rich, transformed my life, changed my thinking or made me into a better person. Can I get my money back?

I would be fascinated to see what those promises actually were. Did the school really promise that you’d get rich, and be kinder and cleverer? If it did, then yes, definitely, go for it and demand every penny back – and make a huge stink while you’re at it. But I fear your school did nothing of the sort. I bet it promised you something that was full of hedging and jargon, which on closer inspection meant nothing at all. The London Business School website promises it will “empower you to meet your individual and organisational challenges – now and in the future.” And then says: “We choose the best and make them better.” This is sheer genius. It sounds good, but offers nothing that you could hang a hat on.

I get frequent emails from the business school telling me about parties and my responsibilities to maintain my academic work. I am able to think independently, have a child and other priorities/goals that allow me to function at a real-world pace while enrolled on an EMBA programme. Does the school really have to send me spam?

Yes, of course it does. Everyone you have ever bought anything from has to send you spam for the rest of your life. That’s just how the system seems to work. My advice is not to waste a second getting cross; instead, set your spam filters so none of it lands in your inbox ever again.

As a male first-year MBA student, I often find myself distracted by my lovely female classmates. Considering that the male-to-female ratio is 9:1, how do I stand out from the crowd?

All the research shows that what women really like is a man who is funny. That’s how Woody Allen scored. The lesson for you is clear: to stand out from your eight rivals you should make her laugh. I should warn you, however, that there are two potential pitfalls to this plan. First, what women like least is a man who is trying to be funny but isn’t. So if you can’t do it, don’t try. And second, as far as I know Woody Allen has spent little time hitting on MBA students. It is possible they have had the laughter knocked out of them by all that competing and studying, and are only attracted to the man with the highest earning potential, or the strongest jawline. As the jawline is a given, try being the best in the class – if you manage that the best jobs and the best girls may all be yours.

I “borrowed” my roommate’s idea for a major assignment and she found out. Is there anything I can do to save the friendship?

I hardly know how to begin. Of course she found out. How were you expecting to get away with it? The problem is not saving your friendship, it is saving your degree. Business schools don’t look kindly on intellectual property theft. If you are lucky she won’t tell.

Lucy Kellaway is an FT associate editor and management columnist and writes the weekly Dear Lucy advice column

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