Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Post: Doing Business In Africa - Joe Andrasko

So here it goes, the first ever blog post about summer internships and recruiting from a guy who has yet to write his first cover letter…  

From a recruiting perspective, my first year at Darden was a bit atypical. I came to Charlottesville focused on entrepreneurship and, throughout the first year, I couldn’t seem to shake my interest in working for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to be interested in “real jobs.” I polished up my résumé last fall, made sure I used action words in all my bullet points, tweaked margins and fonts, the whole nine yards. I even went to some company briefings and “networked” on the recommendation of the good folks at the CDC who kept urging me to “trust the process.” At the end of the day though, my buy-in for the “the process” wasn’t quite there. By October, I decided to curtail the briefings. By November, I had all but written off the traditional summer internship.

Here’s the way I saw it: I was 27 years old, single, no family to support, and had a meager savings sufficient enough to provide sustenance at least in the form of ramen noodles and Natty Light for a year or so. If the actuarial folks at big insurance companies have it right, I also have roughly 50 more years of life expectancy (knock on wood) during which I can work long and hard for whatever big corporate brand deems me worthy of employment. So, where was the value in spending 10-12 weeks slogging away for some big company over the summer? The full-time job offer? I thought they had second-year recruiting for that. The learning experience? I thought we had cases for that. Bragging rights? Touché… but I thought those had already come with admission to Darden.

So what should I do? Like the protagonist of any good HBS case, I gratuitously mentioned my elitist business school credentials and “consulted my notes from first-year finance” for the answer. After careful analysis, my cost of capital (in this case, 10-12 weeks of time in July and August) seemed too great for me to justify the investment in a formal internship. 

If you’re still reading (which I realize is highly unlikely after the above reference to DCF-ing my life – no pun intended), you’ll be happy to know that I didn’t simply trade off a summer in corporate America for a summer on the Jersey Shore. Instead, I did what any good entrepreneur would do and took advantage of one of the best kept secrets at Darden: The Batten Incubator. (For anyone interested in entrepreneurship, the Incubator is worth checking out)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I started two small businesses prior to Darden so abandoning the formal recruiting process was perhaps somewhat expected. I did also cave-in to interviewing for one job in the spring. Truth be told, I had a pretty difficult time deciding against taking it. But here’s why I did: As part of his sales pitch, the company’s founder told me what a great experience it would be to work for more experienced entrepreneurs like himself. After all, he reminded me, he had sold his first company – the one he started in his late twenties – for $180 million. I’m not sure he intended it, but that statement actually convinced me not to take the job. Why would I go work for him when I could go take a shot at building my own $180 million business? Game on. 

So I traded the traditional route for a shot at never having a boss and enjoyed an exciting summer. The business that I’m trying to start, a small private equity fund focused on agribusiness investments in southern Africa, allowed me split time between Incubator meetings in Charlottesville and farm visits in Swaziland. Needless to say, however, I still haven’t managed to sell anything for $180 million. 

So, what does that mean? Well, if first-year finance can continue to enlighten us, it’s time to employ a hedging strategy. I’m back on the recruiting train, secretly jealous of classmates with fancy offers, and trying my best to get back into the good graces of the CDC. I’m still hopeful about my business prospects and still wary of corporate America but at the end of the day, Darden does expose us to some pretty great opportunities and writing them all off on principal seems somewhat shortsighted. The good news is, I can sleep at night knowing that I put together a summer that was as educational and enjoyable as it was untraditional. And, if I need to spend a little extra time tweaking bullet points and actions words this fall, so be it.

For more info about the Africa endeavor and my summer in the Incubator feel free to check out this blurb by the significantly more eloquent folks in the Darden communications office.

Joe, apart from being one of the smartest kids at Darden also happens to belong to the most awesome Learning Team here. LT 32. When he's not flying off to Swaziland, or running his tutoring business at Nantucket, he gets kicks out of making excel models without moving his hands off the keyboard.

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