An investment with guaranteed returns

Risk. Risk-management. Risk-aversion. Risk-tolerance. Inherent risks. Risk mitigation. Riskiness. Eliminating risk. I’ve certainly heard a lot about “risk” during my first term of the MBA.

A year ago I was prayerfully considering what felt to me like the BIGGEST risk of my career. I had just been accepted to my top-choice MBA program – IESE. My risk… Quitting a perfectly good job, a job that I really enjoyed and where I felt like I was truly making a difference, moving away from not only my family and friends, but to another country, and to what could only be described as an uncertain future. Then, added to these feelings, the uncertain impact this would have on my wife and two young children. Well, it certainly felt risky to me.

My risk… Quitting a perfectly good job, a job that I really enjoyed and where I felt like I was truly making a difference, moving away from not only my family and friends, but to another country, and to what could only be described as an uncertain future

At the very start of my MBA journey, now almost two full years ago, I wasn’t even completely confident that I was going to quit my job and go full-time. I figured I’d take the GMAT and see how I scored. I did, and my score indicated that elite MBA programs were within grasp. Then I started reading up on top schools and discovered IESE. Then I fell in love with IESE, but even that seemed risky because I didn’t want to set myself up for too big of a disappointment if I didn’t get in. I applied to four schools in Round One. I did interviews with three of them, and IESE asked me to come to an Assessment Day in New York. My hopes were increasing.

Then I got the official acceptance letter, and… it wasn’t strictly hypothetical anymore. What was I going to do?

In August we arrived in Barcelona. Our friends thought we were crazy. They were right—it wasn’t easy. We came with our allotted baggage and nothing more. Just navigating the airports was challenging. How do you corral a two-year-old while pushing a baby in a stroller and piloting six full-size suitcases, three rolling carry-ons, two car seats, a laptop bag, diaper bag, and more?

Eddy and Autumn - El Nacional, Barcelona

Eddy and Autumn – El Nacional, Barcelona

When we arrived in Barcelona we didn’t even officially have a place to live – we signed the lease on our apartment on Monday after arriving on Friday night. More risk.

But now… we’re done with the first term.

Here’s a typical day in my life:

Wake up at 7:00 and eat breakfast with my family. Leave for school at 8:00 on my scooter, this is a great way to travel in Barcelona. Arrive by 8:30 for my team meeting that lasts until 9:45. My team is composed of eight members including me, and we represent Spain, Brazil, Japan, the United States, Hong Kong, Belgium, and India. We discuss the three cases we’ve been assigned for the day and stretch and improve each other’s thinking and work on group projects. At 10:00 we have our first class. After a 15 minute break, our second class starts at 11:30. Lunch goes from 12:45 until 14:15, and then my final class goes from then until 15:30. After another short break I transition to Business Spanish which I’ve voluntarily continued and feel is an amazing opportunity. My Spanish classes take place from 15:45 until 17:45 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. After that it is home for dinner and playing with the kids, and then studying typically from 19:30 until 1:00. Anytime I’m in bed before 1:00, I’m happy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Team C8

Team C8

What am I glad I did or would recommend to others?

We got here about a month early. Did we have to? No. But it was perfect for our family. It allowed us to work through the complicating factors of being a family in a foreign country. My wife could go grocery shopping without the kids. I could get our cellphones switched over. We took care of our immigration paperwork. We found a doctor and learned the public transportation system. We could take three trips to Ikea if we needed to. We didn’t have the pressure of having only two or three days to get this done. It also gave me the chance to mentally switch from being a busy marketing and business development executive to being a busy MBA student. It doesn’t have to be a month, but I’d strong suggest planning in some transition time.

The Business Spanish Intensive was my first true return to the classroom since college. “Intensive” is the right word. It gave my wife her first taste of what was to come once my actual MBA classes started. It was a great entrance back into the “academic” realm, and I would strongly suggest taking at least the first block of classes – it will unlock the city and people of Spain for you in a special way.

For the partners of MBA students, prepare for your student to be gone a lot – and if not physically, at least mentally. There’s no question that an elite MBA requires a ton of work. My wife works hard to keep the family going when I can’t contribute as much. My children still know who I am, but I have to budget time to be with them and maximize these moments.

For the partners of MBA students, prepare for your student to be gone a lot – and if not physically, at least mentally

Eddy and Jonah on the Bus

Eddy and Jonah on the Bus

If you are coming to Barcelona with children, you’ll probably be amazed by how flexible they are. Our children are three years old and one year old now. My daughter has spent half of her life in Spain. She only knows a few words, and her fifth word was “Hola!” There is a wonderful Families and Partners Club that provides ample opportunities for making connections, and the families are constantly finding fun ways of getting together to make amazing, internationally flavored memories – beach days, cooking classes, birthday parties, baby showers, holiday parties, day trips, and more. This is a huge help in getting established in Barcelona, and I’d strongly suggest incoming students look to this group for advice, as everyone is happy to share their story of what they did right and what they’d do differently.

The families are constantly finding fun ways of getting together to make amazing, internationally flavored memories – beach days, cooking classes, birthday parties, baby showers, holiday parties, day trips, and more

You’ll get some mini vacations along the way. The MBA Office does a fabulous job of trying to meter out the schedule so that you get breaks from time to time, and the Spanish and Catalan community plays along nicely by providing wonderful little holidays that don’t appear on other countries’ calendars. Use these days. The festivals are so much fun, and the city is bursting with things to do, and sites to explore.

Belgium - Christmas Break

Belgium – Christmas Break

So how does the “risk” feel today?

At the beginning of this adventure the pendulum of my emotions would swing wildly back and forth from “this is a really good idea” to “what are you thinking, this is crazy” with startling frequency. Today, the pendulum is pegged to the side that says, “This is a really good idea.” Sure, every once in a while the what-if’s creep in, but my confidence in the decision that I made has grown and grown. My family has grown. I’ve grown. And my opportunities have grown.

I know today that I am in the exact right spot for me. From meeting my team, classmates, and professors for the first time, to participating in case-method-driven classes, to sharing meals in the cafeteria, interacting with MBA Career Services, and talking with alumni, my perception of this institution and my decision to accept the “risks” have only been reinforced.

“Opportunity cost” is a parallel topic we’ve discussed a few times alongside risk during the first term. My decision had risks, but now that I better understand the alternative I’ve chosen and can frame the alternative I’ve “forgone,” risk just isn’t quite the right word anymore. It’s kind of like seeing things as a cost or an investment, and an IESE MBA, for me, is an investment with guaranteed returns.

Eddy Zakes View more

Eddy Zakes
MBA Class of 2017

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