I have been amazed with the American art of doing buiness again in the last couple of days. Even blizzard Nemo, who covered the whole Boston area with 2 feet of snow overnight, created immediate opportunities for making money. The day after the storm, when most streets were still covered in snow, I noticed a ‘Dig me out! 50$’ (with a phone number to call if you wanted the job) sign on top of a pile a snow, most likely covering a car of sorts. As I was taking a picture of it, a guy came up to me asking jokingly: “You’re not going to send that picture to the IRS, are you?” After I assured him that I wasn’t going to cost him any money, I asked him if volunteers had shown up for the job. “I just got hired to get it done,” he replied. I smiled. “Good luck!” I said, before continuing on my walk. The forces of nature had led to creative job creation within hours. Only in the US?
Regular businesses seemed severely hit by Nemo however. Most shops closed down early on Friday PM, just before the storm. Public transportation came to a complete stop. At 4 PM, the state of Massachusetts installed a nation-wide driving ban. When I took a walk in my neighboorhood after the storm on Saturday morning making my way through 2 feet of snow, I was wondering about the businesses in my neighbourhood in Cambridge. Starbucks: closed. CVS 24/7: closed. Dunkin donuts and 7 eleven: OPEN FOR BUSINESS! I was so amazed that these shops were open (remember: no cars or public transport available) that I went into the 7 eleven store to have a look. I got a jug of milk and when paying for it I asked the cashier guy how he got into work this morning. The only thing he replied was: “Got to make the money. No work, no dollars.” Did he sleep in the shop? I guess I’ll never know. Only in the US?
After the Nemo-weekend, it was time to head back to the HBS campus for school and to work on my business plan. In groups of 6 students, all HBS MBA’s have to start a company as part of the curriculum. HBS provides a budget of 5.000 USD per team and we all get started. The teams get 10 days to come up wih a business idea which they then have to present to students of another section. The students of that section will act as ‘investors’ into our section’s business plans. After an afternoon of presentations, the real madness started.
Every team gets assigned a ticker symbol for their company. These get inputted into an online stock simulation tool, with each stock starting at an initial value of $100. The students all get access to the tool at the same time and have 3 hours to act as real investors on these stocks. Students can see stock prizes go up and down in real-time based upon number of shares sold or bought. Students are incentivized to invest in the ‘right’ stock, as a team of HBS professionals will rate the business ideas and their execution within a couple of months. The best ideas according to the HBS jury will receive a lot of points. Those invested heavily into stocks that receive a good review will receive better grades.
While stressful, I really enjoyed the experience. Never before had I been active as a trader! I went for it! We were even allowed to short stocks to make more profit on our ‘stock simulation.’ I shorted tons of stocks – I sold stocks I didn’t have in the hope I could buy them back later at a lower price. I invested massively in the stocks of companies I believed would be successful. I changed my mind from time to time and acted accordingly until the market closed that night at 9 PM. The market will open again in 2 months, after an update of all the teams. I really loved the whole experience, and am happy that HBS pushed us into this business exercise.
All the above made me even more aware how business feel and entrepreneurship are engrained in the American culture and schooling system. Any economic opportunity is carefully looked upon. And people seem to be trained to do so both in schools and in everyday life. Hence the economic success of the country? Only in the US?