All posts by Laura Melina Loeven

MBAs hear views on how Africa can accelerate growth

Africa, home of some of the world’s most impressive wildlife, is a beautiful continent with breathtaking scenery. But the poverty, exploitation and, in some cases, war has hindered its progress. But how do you wake up a sleeping beauty and bring out its best?

The Singapore Business Federation invited Nanyang Business School students and industry leaders to a breakfast session with Guillaume Kavaruganda and Hazel Ngubeni, the ambassadors of Rwanda and South Africa respectively. They shared their views on what is needed to accelerate progress in Africa.

Rwanda on the move

Mr Kavaruganda says the abolition of the excessive protectionism of African markets and a proactive transition to free movement of goods and people in Eastern Africa are the priorities to become competitive. Yet, Rwanda, like its neighbours, still struggles to address structural issues such an unstable energy supply, a lack of housing for its 12m people, poor infrastructure and a deficient education system.

Even though Rwanda prides itself as one of the few African nations to have achieved political stability, there is still a long way to go to win investors’ trust

But the government is aware of its responsibility to provide basic care for its people and has made smart moves to improve the living conditions. Recently, access to basic healthcare has been extended to 85 per cent of the population; a drastic improvement that will not go unnoticed by foreign investors. Yet even though Rwanda prides itself as one of the few African nations to have achieved political stability, there is still a long way to go to win investors’ trust.

Africa is more than gold and diamonds

Having shed light on the forward-looking initiatives that Rwandan officials have brought on its way, Hazel Ngubeni broadened the perspective on the challenges and multiple investment opportunities across Africa.

She projected a map of Africa to visualise the natural resources to be found in each of the 54 African countries. “This is how people see us,” she jokes. “There is gold, diamonds, more gold, and more diamonds.” But Africa is much more than precious metals and gems.

By investing in intercontinental highways, water integration and improved energy supply, the continent shows that it is seriously concerned with improving infrastructure to foster growth of its service and manufacturing industries, and promote trade within Africa and with foreign partners.

Rwanda has converted development opportunities into growth, with annual real growth of gross domestic product averaging about 8 per cent between 2001 and 2015. But South Africa has reached a stage of stagnation and complacency. Despite its past progress, its currency, the rand, is crashing; its credit rating is rapidly approaching “junk” status; and South Africans have taken to the streets. But what issue to tackle first?

Johan Burger, director of the Centre for African Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, argues that the greatest challenge in managing South Africa is setting priorities to tackle social issues.

However, South Africa is willing to learn from its peers and assess high-tech solutions to address its most pressing problem: the provision of adequate healthcare in remote areas. Using innovations, such as drug delivery via drones, the country seeks to emerge from its crisis by meeting the basic needs of the rural population and preparing its people for a much bigger task: economic growth.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved.

How do you get interested in business operations? Play a game…

originally published on Financial Times MBA Blog on June 13, 2016

by: Laura Melina Loeven, MBA 2015-16

The last course I have to pass before graduating from Nanyang Business School is a 12-week operations class. As more consumers around the globe demand good quality products at a low-cost, establishing cost-efficient and reliable operations is a fixed part of every corporate agenda to gain an edge over the competition.

Thus, aspiring executives must not only be good strategists, but also need to be prepared for managing the day-to-day operations.

Yet many multinational corporations are criticised for their negligence in operations management, and we read more and more about the difficulties balancing cost and quality. Climate change, depleting natural resources and labour strikes are just some of the challenges faced. But how can you prepare MBA students for a multitude of operational issues in just 12 weeks? How do you engage a bunch of young professionals in a subject that does not sound nearly as sexy as any of the popular strategy design courses, but has an even higher impact on corporate success? The answer is simple: you play a game.

What I saw were just three machines, an order book and a reporting tool that displays real-time analysis of my team’s performance. It all seemed so simple.

Tapping into the competitive spirit of MBA students always works, and soon after firing the starting gun of the Littlefield simulation game, enthusiasm for operations issues increased notably. The class is split into groups and the game is played over the course of one week. The goal of each group is to maximise revenues from customer orders while maintaining optimal machine capacity utilisation. Yet, the only decisions a team can make is to buy or sell machines. The catch? One hour in the Littlefield world represents a full day in real life, so inevitably you end up monitoring the game before breakfast, skip lunch to check the capacity utilisation figures, and wake up at night to make sure operations are still running smoothly.

When typing the key word Littlefield into Google search, I stumbled across a scary YouTube video of a particularly committed student who fully dedicates himself to the game, monitoring the virtual factory floor 24/7. But he drops all other responsibilities, neglects his girlfriend and eventually loses his mind. With this off-putting story in mind, I am hesitant to engage in this exercise and approached the game with scepticism. However, what I saw were just three machines, an order book and a reporting tool that displays real-time analysis of my team’s performance. It all seemed so simple.



For seven days, I logged into the Littlefield game and saw the reporting graphs climbing up and down, and found my team’s ranking moving in sync. Staring at the chart that reflects the capacity utilisation of my factory left me in awe, and even after 10 months of business school I feel helpless. Puzzled by the uncertainties of Littlefield, my team decided to follow the most complacent of all strategies: do nothing. While ignoring our managerial responsibilities seemed to work well for us for a while, we eventually dropped to the bottom of the field and finished the game as the second last team. Still, Littlefield taught me crucial lessons on operations management, and life itself:

  • If you want to go far, go together. Only working with a team leads to success.
  • You are never prepared enough. Making decisions when uncertain is an art you have to master.
  • Even simple set-ups bear risks. Be proactive, bold, and balance a holistic overview and attention to detail when it comes to managing daily challenges.
  • Doing nothing is never a good idea. Observe, analyse, act and react to succeed.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved.

Meditate to be better than a goldfish

originally published on Financial Times MBA Blog on June 6, 2016

by: Laura Melina Loeven, MBA 2015-16

As part of my MBA degree at Nanyang Business School, I sought relief from my stressful student life by joining a meditation and leadership workshop with Laurence Freeman.

Laurence Freeman

Father Freeman is a Benedictine monk who became famous for practising meditation with Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister of Singapore between 1959 and 1990. Meditation describes themental discipline that helps individuals to discover their inner consciousness and to develop spiritual energy. It can also promote relaxation and calm a distracted mind.

I was there because I wanted to deal with issues caused by my frenzied lifestyle: insomnia, coffee addiction, hair loss, you name it.

In the first lesson I discovered the average person’s attention span is incredibly short. Since the digital revolution, most people can only focus for just eight seconds. This is even less than a goldfish, which has an attention span of nine seconds.

It seems the human race needs to relearn attentiveness and break some of its unhealthy habits. Dividing our precious attention between the virtual and real world, television ads, phones and all other distractions of daily life, we have lost the ability to just sit and be in the moment.

At the time of the workshop, I was an MBA student close to graduation, I confess that I felt unable to just “be” in the present, but rather contemplate the next move. Simply being, not doing anything, poses a seemingly insurmountable challenge to the self-titled workaholics.

The downsides of multitasking are obvious — we pick up only 20 to 30 per cent of the information available. We can waste valuable time and resources by overthinking merely for the sake of thinking about something — a mental activity which serves no purpose.

In his soothing voice, Fr Freeman outlined his strategy for dealing with stress: meditation which provides a moment of silence in a noisy world. This has the power to reduce anxiety, increase productivity and improve human relationships, Fr Freeman explained.

But where do I find the time to meditate in my jam-packed schedule?

Fr Freeman’s response was simple: you never have time, you make time. Stress is a choice, and most of us choose to be stressed, because this simply is what everybody else does. Throughout the day, we volunteer immediate attention to every small agitation in our environment, and hence become creators of our own misery.

‘The downsides of multitasking are obvious — we pick up only 20 to 30 per cent of the information available’

However, meditation corrects this tendency towards distraction, and resets our busy minds. It is certainly no coincidence that meditation and medication start with the same prefix “med-”, Greek for care and attention.

Under instruction, I sat with my eyes closed, back straight, hands folded on my lap, and soundlessly recited a mantra. Pretty soon I discovered just how difficult it is to focus for 10 minutes.

My first steps into the world of meditation became an incredible journey of discovery and self-reflection. Taking baby steps on the long walk to peace, kindness, joy, patience, self control and many more big words, I discovered how difficult it is to just focus for 10 minutes straight. My mind wandered again and again, and seemed to resist stubbornly any effort to empty my brain’s Ram.

After two days of practising meditation, I left the workshop feeling deeply impressed with the world of imagination and inner peace that opens up to those who regularly meditate, but at the same time I am utterly ashamed of my inability to shut down. However, I also felt much calmer.

Yet, drawn in by the science of meditation and its positive impact on the mind and the work of successful leaders, I vowed to practise regularly — and made a promise to beat the goldfish in the discipline of attention.

Today, I still get distracted during meditation, but I appreciate that taking this regular time out allows me to relax and withstand stressful situations.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. 

Final Student EXCO & Club Co-Chairs Lunch at Botanical Garden

After a successful series of events, celebrations, competitions, trips and presentations, Student ExCo members & Club Co-Chairs of the Nanyang MBA Cohort 2015-16 came together to celebrate a great performance round the year!

On the bright noon of 18th May’16, in the last week of MBA for the Class of 2016, a bunch of student leaders met for lunch at the “Food for thought” restaurant in Singapore´s Botanical Garden.

The past year was certainly a roller coaster ride for all MBA students and the efforts put in by elected members of the student council deserved a grand celebration. Having successfully organised and hosted multiple school-internal and interscholastic events, the idea was to come together and appreciate each other as a team for one last time. The class mates celebrated their success and recalled beautiful memories that all individuals weaved during 2015-2016 MBA life.

Veronica (VP Finance, and full-time MBA student)  brought all student leaders together and invited the group to Food For Thought, one of the best guarded secrets when it comes to restaurants in Singapore. After a splendid lunch, Veronica surprised all graduates with her artistic skills and presented beautifully designed “Thank You Note Cards”, on which the ExCo members could leave a message for their fellow students. When writing farewell notes, circulating the individual´s cards across the table, and conveying our appreciation and well wishes for future, the formerly excited crowd realized that the MBA journey was coming to an end – and a wave of nostalgia hit the group.

Post hogging on desserts, we all conveyed our regards and thank you to Veronica for making this team lunch such a memorable experience! Thereafter, Mr. President, Deep (Full-time MBA student in the Strategy & Innovation Track) and Vice President Aditya (Full-time MBA student in the Banking and Finance Track) gave touching speeches, thanking all the ExCo members of team for performing well and working beyond boundaries to deliver a great show throughout the year.

The lunch ended with a crazy picture of an amazing student council that has transformed into a group of close friends over the year. Now we are not just the Nanyang MBA cohort, of 2015-16 we are Nanyang MBA Family for ever!

The Student Executive Council and Club Co-Chairs of the Nanyang MBA 2015-16
The Student Executive Council and Club Co-Chairs of the Nanyang MBA 2015-16



Analytics Workshop by E-Commerce Expert from Lazada

A NBS alumni working for Lazada, South-East Asia´s number one e-commerce player,  was invited to give a workshop on business analytics and advanced excel to the current batch of MBA students.

Sunny Jain (NBS MBA Class of 2013) has over 6 years of experience of working for technology companies as well as financial institutions. Over the last 2 years he has been working as a pricing manager with Lazada, who recently made it into news with regards to its acquisition by Alibaba.

Sunny provided thought-provoking insight into the ways of working of e-commerce firms, especially with regards to the key performance indicators and the challenges that various firms face to remain competitive. In the second half of the course, he offered an excel learning session wherein he gave sample case questions based on data populated in an  excel file.

The current MBA students who signed up for the workshop learnt to build pivot tables and simple statistical data models that allowed them to understand e-commerce dynamics and generated insights pertaining to an annual sales report of a hypothetical company. The speaker proved that Excel is indeed a powerful tool and stated that learning to build complex data models catering to various business challenges is indispensable to be well prepared for the corporate world.

The 3-hours sharing session was very insightful and after multiple “aha”-moments,  the participating students left the room with many valuable takeaways from the workshop.  Eventually, the lecturer closed the day with the recommendation to spend 5% of earnings every year to upgrade one´s skills – an interesting tip that the MBA students, who are to graduate soon, will certainly take to heart!

Learning about Financial Derivatives and Risk Management

“Do good work and enjoy the work that you do. Money will follow. Make sure that you don’t work for money alone (As the sole aim!).”

With these words, Professor Tan signed off the Derivatives and Risk  Management course, the last elective module for the MBA students  of 2016 who chose the Banking and Finance Track. Derivatives, much hyped and complex financial instruments, were created with the aim of risk management in finance. However, they are predominantly used for speculation and trading. Hence, Prof Tan asked the class to always wear two hats while analysing derivatives: Are you going to manage risk? Or are you going to trade?

The Derivatives classes were exclusively scheduled on weekends, but as the class size was small and the topic was interesting indeed, all sessions were quite engaging and nobody minded weekend work. The class participants discussed a wide variety of topics ranging from the creation of structure products, various risk mitigation strategies used by corporations, the fall of Lehman brothers and many more, and learnt from a variety of case studies discussed during lectures.

After the last class session, Prof Tan invited his students to a celebratory meal to Spruce at Bukit Timah, which was a fire station prior to it being renovated to a modern day bar/bistro. The trip to Spruce marked the closure of elective classes for the MBA class of 2015/16 and Spruce´s location in beautiful greenery, overlooking a mountain, served to be the ideal getaway to clear the mind after a whole day class . Tower beers were being emptied and a lively discussion on topics such as cultural diversity, returns of VC firms and even the Chinese preference of Tibetan Mastiff dogs ensued. It was time to celebrate.

Before leaving the event, all students cheered Prof Tan for his upcoming Gobi Desert Challenge wherein he and his EMBA team will represent the Nanyang Business School  in a daunting desert challenge over the course of 4 days,  and everyone promised to take the message from Professor Tan to heart: Make sure to give back to society.

Derivatives class
The Derivatives Class Participants celebrate the completion of course work

Nanyang MBA travels to a soccer tournament in Hong Kong

From April 29 to May 3, a group of 17 full-time, part-time and exchange students of the MBA class of 2015/16 embarked on their last fun trip of their MBA journey. The trip´s destination could not have been more exciting, exuberant or exhilarating: Hong Kong. The MBA program of HKUST, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, invited the Nanyang MBA as well as 7 other teams from Singapore, China and Hong Kong to participate in a full day soccer tournament at their beautiful seaside soccer field.

Soccer field at HKUST campus, Hong Kong

The NBS soccer team had practiced hard and was well prepared and pumped when they boarded the flight to Hong Kong on a Friday afternoon. The players, who were supported by four dedicated cheerleaders from their MBA class, showed great excitement and enthusiasm for the tournament ahead and the class outing to Hong Kong started with great fun and laughter already on the flight to the venue.

Once arrived in the city of 7 million people, busy financial centers, super tall buildings and a seemingly endless skyline, the players and their supporting team took of to find a good place for the last supper before the big game. Well fed, the group made an excursions to Hong Kong´s ferry terminal, the best viewing spot to take impressive photographs of the city´s skyline, but returned to their accommodation early to rest well for the match day.

Students from the MBA Class of 2015/16 in Hong Kong

On Saturday morning, the HKUST representatives fetched a joyful yet exhausted NBS group to shuttle them to the soccer field on the HKUST campus. As the program is coming to an end, many final project are due soon, and the weeks before the trip had been tough so that the bus ride to the tournament venue was much less agitated than the flight on the day before. Travelling to HK, and the excitement of the vibrant city, had exhausted the players who now had to focus on the matches ahead of them.

The tournament started off with an intensive game against an MBA team from Hong Kong, followed by an encounter with the HKUST international alumni. When the NBS players finally met with a Chinese team, exchange student Patrick scored the first goal for NBS, and great cheering started from the side slide. Unfortunately, the NBS team was eliminated from the tournament after the first group stage, but thoroughly enjoyed the day, the amazing venue as well as the hospitality of HKUST,  and left the field and without any injuries – a great success in itself!

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During the following three days after the tournament, the class ventured out into the city in small groups and explored the streets of Hong Kong, visited breath-taking view points and embarked on jaw-dropping tours across the island. After cable-car rides to Big Buddha, double decker bus tours along the shore of Hong Kong, a short visit to the HSBC headquarters including a tour through the historic building, and finger-licking good meals at Hong Kong´s local restaurants, a happy but tired MBA cohort returned to Singapore with bags full of good memories, thousand of pictures, and an enormous sleep deficit. What a great trip!

Big Buddha Statue on Lantau Island, Hong Kong
MBA Class of 2015/16 in Hong Kong – A great trip for all!


Winter is coming – MBA Class of 2016 has “Game Of Thrones” fever

Just in time for the first episode of the 6th season of the popular show “Game of Thrones” on April 25, the most passionate fans of the medieval fantasy epic came together in a Nanyang Business School seminar room to watch how the story of knights, queens, kings of the Game of Thrones saga unfolds.

Equipped with chips, soft drinks and the most tasty popcorn available, the class transformed their preferred lecture room into a full fledged movie theatre and anxiously awaited the beginning of the show. A sense of joy, mixed with tense expectation filled the room and the spectators were notably relieved when the first scene´s actors appeared on the screen. To match the atmosphere in the room with the show´s arctic winter scenery, the NBS seminar room was bone-chilling cold and the air conditioner did the best it could to let winter come to Singapore, too.

As per the event rules there was utter silence in the room while the show was running, but great agitation started as soon as the final credits appeared on the screen.

class mba

All students thoroughly enjoyed the Game of Thrones event and as the post-show discussions to unravel the happenings of the first episode intensified, the class agreed to meet again in the next week to jointly watch the upcoming episodes. What is going to happen next? What will happen to John Snow. It remains exciting.

Karaoke Night – Celebrating the 2016 Case Competitions at NBS

After successfully planning and executing two case competitions on NBS campus in March and April of 2016, the MBA Student Exco VP Case Competition Prashant Sharma invited the case competition committee members, the NBS teams who competed in the Venture Capital Investment Challenge and Amalgamation Challenge and two hands full of volunteer helpers for a relaxed afterparty to jointly recap the hectic yet extremely rewarding job of organising two full day events, an to simply celebrate the success of the events.

Having organised two full day events with MBA participants from all over Asia, the NBS team not only widened their network across the region but also intensified their knowledge on the challenges of event management and cross-cultural engagement.

To acknowledge great teamwork, the impressive feedback on the smooth and professional execution of the events, and the many hours that went into event preparation, the volunteers and organisers of the case competitions at Nanyang came together at the house of one of the Singaporean students and enjoyed the hospitality in a Singaporean home. After discovering the great cooking skills of the MBA batch of 2016, and enjoying a delicious barbecue as well as a wide variety of snacks and side dishes, the party moved inside the karaoke room, that was opened for the class as a courtesy of the host, and an impressive concert featuring the MBA all starts began.

After hours of furious singing and dancing, the party ended with a round of card games, and a photo shoot to not only remember the outstanding party, but also the case competition events and the friendships formed while working together.

Case Comp Final Party 3

Nanyang MBA participants celebrate the successful closure of the Case Competition Season
Nanyang MBA participants celebrate the successful closure of the Case Competition Season


A walk in the park – Trek to the Macritchie reservoir park

After staying very close to amazing greenery for almost six months on NTU  campus, it was time to actually explore the abundance of nature right outside the university campus.

Despite being busy with group meetings, assignments and internships, it was time to give rest to the mind and have some physical workout. Hence, an adventure trek to Mac Ritchie Reservoir park was organized and many of the students participated enthusiastically.

The target set was to complete a 10 kms stretch around the park. The group of MBAs, determined to master this exercise, looked like an army batallion on a mission – and accepted yet another challenge.

Sounds of humming birds welcomed us throughout the trek. The chosen stretch had many different terrains – rocky/muddy, wooden planks over muddy ground and concrete floors. Short conversations on plenty of MBA issues and matters with fellow batch mates shortened the 10 kms trek. Also, monkeys were very eager to find out what we had for them and gave us company in many of the pictures. Luckily, the weather showed sympathy for our sweating bodies and remained normal throughout.

The highlight of the trek was the TreeTop Walk, a 250mlong freestanding suspension bridge between the two highest points in the park and the first of its kind in Singapore. From the suspension bridge, the MBAs had a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy and tried to spot different wildlife in their natural habitat. The group could also enjoy panoramic views of the verdant greenery of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the placid waters of the Upper Peirce Reservoir. As the group overheard the firing drills happening in the nearby park, the Singaporean batchmates enlightened us with their army firing experiences to calm the agitated minds of some frightened graduate students.

Finally, the hiking mission was accomplished and our stomach was starving for fuel. The entire MBA group was invited by one of their native Singaporean batch mates to a nearby golf club to relax in the pool and fill our starving stomach with food.

trekking 3 Trekking trecking 4