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Staying the course of Abenomics

May 15th, 2014 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General, Interface Times

The S&P's Chief Global Economist

Yesterday I listened to Paul Sheard, Chief Global Economist and Head of Global Economics and Research for Standard & Poor’s Rating Services comment on the progress of Abenomics thus far. He was speaking at a professional luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

Sheard has a long working relationship with Japan, having previously worked as Global Chief Economist and Head of Economic Research at Nomura Securities, a position he earlier held at Lehman Brothers, where he was also Lehman’s Asia Chief Economist.

Sheard framed Abenomics not as 3 arrows but rather as two policy pillars, one pillar aggressive monetary policy coordinated with fiscal policy and the other pillar supply-side structural reform to spur economic growth. Sheard considered Abenomics as “conventional” in concept of orthodox economics but in a Japanese context a sharp break from previous BOJ policy.

He referenced economic statistics that are striking to describe Japan’s two-decade battle with deflation. From an all-time high of 112.70 Index Points in the 4th quarter of 1994, Japan’s GDP deflator fell to a record low of 89.60 in the 1st quarter of 2013, before increasing to 92.70 in the 4th quarter. Since its peak in the 4th quarter of 1997, Japan’s nominal GDP has been -8%, compared with an increase in nominal GDP of 96% in the US. Four factors severely aggravated Japan economic results: the 2008 financial crisis, Fukushima disaster, yen strengthening to 75, and Eurozone debt crisis.

Regarding the first policy pillar (or 1st and 2nd arrows) of Abenomics, Sheard gave the Abe government (including the Kuroda-led BOJ) good marks.  He considered Kuroda’s policy shift a revolutionary shift in thinking, with the resolute message of “Yes, we can, yes we will” end deflation.

Is Abenomics working? The reflation objective is going well, with nominal GDP growth spurred by public investment up 18%. Public sentiment is good. But victory is not yet secure. The BOJ is on the right track but the handicap of deflation, so long embedded in the economic fabric, is not easy to overcome. And there is not yet strong evidence that Japan corporates are convinced of the enduring benefit of Abenomics.

Regarding the second policy pillar (or 3rd arrow), results so far are less impressive. Growth can come from 3 sources: increased labor, increased capital, and increased productivity though innovation and greater efficiency. With Japan’s population projected to decrease from 128 million in 2010 to 100 million by 2048 and 68 million by 2060 (fertility rate of 1.41 (2012) vs. 2.07 needed to maintain the population steady), Abe must increase the labor participation rate through measures designed to increase female workers and enlightened immigration policy, a holistic approach.

Sheard was firm in his belief that the Abe government should stay the course on monetary policy, even doubling down on monetary expansion. He steered away from making quarterly forecasts of GDP, indicating that S&P emphasizes a longer-term view, but did recognize both a widely expected strong 1st quarter result and a downturn in the 2nd quarter influenced by the impact of the consumer tax increase. Just released: Japan’s 1st quarter GDP rose 5.9%, the best showing in 2 1/2 years.

Staying the course is Japan’s best bet for ending deflation and achieving economic growth.  Abe has an unusual window of opportunity—the turnover of prime ministers in recent Japanese history is frightening (8 in the 21st century). We should give him an ample chance to prove that his policy works.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2014 Warren J. Devalier

So you want to go to Harvard Business School?

July 29th, 2013 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Interface Times, Leadership


I can certainly understand your ambition. We have always put HBS at the top of our top school ranking for several reasons, a most important one that HBS produces results: top executives in any field, for profit or not-for-profit organizations.

Over the years (since we began gathering statistics), Interface has helped 55 clients gain admission to HBS:

Number of Interface clients admitted to top schools:

Wharton —164

Kellogg —148

Chicago (Booth) —147

Michigan (Ross) —133

Columbia —95

Cornell (Johnson) —89

MIT (Sloan) —72

HBS —55

Stanford (GSB) —40

Most of these clients were Japanese or from other countries in East or Southeast Asia.

Some of these clients are now among the most successful new-generation leaders in Japan, on TV or reported regularly in the news of the “Nikkei” or “Wall St. Journal.”

What underscores the quality most distinguishing them? What did they have in common?

It was not merely because they were sponsored by their companies, had the highest test scores, or grade point averages. Indeed we have helped clients with low GPAs or GMAT scores gain admissions to their dream schools.

The most important quality our clients had was strong leadership potential. A passionate ambition to make an impact in the world and contribute to society. That may sound hackneyed but it summarizes their most important distinction.

And the secret to our training services is to eschew “template consulting” and to draw out the unique strength of each client, to develop their leadership not just for successful MBA applications but for success in the game of life.

It is may be about unmasking a hidden talent. It may be about helping a client overcome an application weakness.

In all cases, it is about developing the leadership potential of our clients in the critical area of communication. I have never worked for, observed, or known of a leader who could not communicate effectively—as impactful messaging is the prerequisite to build consensus and a coalition of the willing.

It is also about helping our clients develop the other qualities of their leadership though an intensive professional coaching experience. Our clients regularly feedback that their consulting at Interface taught them much more than how to succeed in getting into a top MBA program.

It prepared them for the MBA experience itself and for the leadership capability they desire in their careers and in the community.

Big changes are taking place in the applications process of leading MBA schools: experiential interviewing formats, as in the case of Wharton’s group interview or Harvard Business School’s Post-interview reflection essay.

Many schools have reduced the number of their essays and maximum word limitations for each. These schools include Wharton, Columbia, Michigan (Ross), NYU (Stern) and of course, HBS. Other MBA schools will follow this path.

The principal force driving the reduction is that admissions committees are exhausted reading thousands of overwritten, over-dramatized, impersonal and stereotypical applicant essays.

HBS Classroom

“You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you.

What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

Use your judgment as to how much to tell us. We don’t have a ‘right answer’ or ‘correct length’ in mind. We review all the elements of your written application to decide who moves forward to the interview stage.”

Harvard Business School sets the pace for the first new ground rule—Less (quantity) is more.

HBS has just one essay, said to be ‘optional’:

1.The ‘optional’ essay is not optional.

For the entering class of ’13, Harvard received ~9,000 applications, interviewed ~1,800 applicants, made offers to ~1000, and will matriculate ~900 of those.

Only 5 of those accepted were Japanese. It’s obvious that unless you are married to the Dean’s daughter you had better submit HBS’s ‘optional’ essay.

2.Copying and pasting a stale essay is death.

Most applicants applying to HBS also apply to Stanford and Wharton.

Among the worst mistakes you can make is to submit the Stanford essay “What matters most important to you and why?” to Harvard. The adcom will smell it a million miles away. Ding!

3.Make it personal.

Were we to caption essay components with the pronouns ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘who’, applicants too often bore admissions with essays that exaggerate the ‘what’, give less emphasis to the ‘why’—the thinking behind a decision point —and ignore the ‘who’, the personality.

HBS adcom will see as much as they need of the ‘what’ in other parts of your application. Your résumé should already capture the best of your achievements.

Consider an essay theme that shows them who you are and how you got there in a poignant, personal essay.

Our clients admitted to leading MBA programs have written moving essays that ‘leap’ off the page. You want to join this group.

4.This is a time to be creative.

Stay away from regurgitating achievement-type essays, telling admissions why you want to go to HBS, or making patently flimsy excuses about why your GPA or GMAT is low. It won’t work.

Spend your time and energy crafting a creative essay on a theme not apparent elsewhere.

5.Be concise.

If you can’t communicate in a concise manner, HBS admissions will conclude that you won’t communicate concisely in the Harvard classroom. It takes little to imagine their verdict. Ding! A concisely composed 300-400 word essay gives you plenty of room to articulate your thoughts.

HBS writes that it does not have a “correct length in mind” but I would avoid like the Bubonic Plague an essay exceeding 1,000 words and strive for much less. Target to make your HBS essay fit on one page.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier
©2013 Warren J. Devalier

Campus Visits

August 9th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General, Interface Times, Interviews

"The world is your oyster."

The value of campus visits

All schools encourage campus visits and some schools, like UCB Berkeley or GSB Chicago, have asked how you learned about the school or whether you have made a campus visit in their application questions. Here’s the way Berkeley (Haas) admissions puts it:

“The best way to know what it is really like to be a Berkeley MBA student is to come visit, meet current students and faculty, and observe a class. Visiting gives you a chance to experience the Haas culture and community, and to learn more about both the Haas School of Business and UC Berkeley campus. We strongly encourage a visit because it could be helpful for you to determine if the program is a match for your needs. If you cannot make it to campus, Full-Time MBA Admissions sponsors a variety of off-campus information sessions and participates in MBA Fairs around the world. You can also connect with current students through the Haas Student Ambassadors.

We understand that not everyone has the ability to make a campus visit; therefore we do not have a preference for applicants who have been to campus. However, we are interested to see what you have done to learn more about the program, and what specific aspects of the Berkeley MBA appeal to you.”

Other schools like Columbia, which has an Early Decision Round, are critically interested in making sure that students who apply in that round are committed to go to Columbia if accepted. Students vowing that they want to go to Columbia in New York City but have never visited the campus open up a credibility gap.

If you are unable to visit the schools, try your best to attend an Information Session in Tokyo or in a nearby Asian location. For example, Berkeley will offer an Off-Campus Admissions Event in Seoul October 24, 2011 and in Tokyo October 26, 2011.

And whether you can make a physical campus or not, be sure to watch the 52 minute Interface video on our Home page ( You will see a picture of an iconic Harvard building in the video window, right above the Topics section. This 52 minute video covers 18 of the leading MBA schools worldwide and offers tips regarding your choice of schools.

Visits to the campus of the schools that represent your primary targets are certainly valuable. There is no substitute for “seeing with your own eyes.” You get a first-hand feeling for the culture of a school. You get a chance to sit in on a class, sensing the quality of the interaction and the students. In the final analysis, the quality of the students with whom you will be spending two years of your life is the single most important criterion in choosing a school.

Moreover, by making a campus visit, you demonstrate that you are seriously interested in the program, willing to spend the time and money to make the visit. You can talk to current students, Japanese and non-Japanese, attend an on-campus information session, and observe a class. You can cite your visit and impressions in your application.

These days the cost of overseas airline travel is not as expensive as it once was. In a well-planned trip, within a week you can visit several schools. For planning purposes, allow yourself at least one day for each school, which includes the travel time required.

With careful logistics and scheduling, if your time is particularly limited, you can compress two campus visits in a day. For example, in New York, if you arrange your trip carefully, and the information sessions and class visit availability works out conveniently, you might be able to visit both Columbia and NYU in a full day, HBS and MIT in a full day, and Chicago and Kellogg in a full day. I have done so— although the scheduling quite tight and is not ideal.

What is the best timing for these visits?

I recommend that you make the visits when classes are in session and when there are plenty of students around. In an ideal world, you would visit your primary targets during one trip and then make a second trip when you are accepted by the schools—to make your final decision and get more detailed information about housing (or arrange it) as well as summer school, and discuss other issues .

If you can, take your spouse with you on these trips, at least the second trip. Remember that during the one or two years that you will be overseas your family will, in most cases, accompany you, so that bringing your spouse is a nice step to build mutual support for your studies.

Should I interview during campus visits?

Many of the schools allow interviews by selection only. For campus visits at this early stage, you will not be interviewing. It is dangerous and premature to do so before you even have a game plan and your essays prepared.

In any case, never take an interview on campus unless you have been professionally trained at Interface for such interviews. I have known well-qualified candidates who made the mistake of prematurely getting into interviews during campus visits without professional training and who failed miserably. One was later accepted by Stanford— which fortunately for him did not allow interviews on campus, and he was trained by Interface for the Stanford interview to which he was invited.

How should I dress for a campus visit?

Since you are not interviewing, you can dress as students dress on campus. Wear elegant casual clothing suitable for the weather, so-called business casual. If you are eventually invited to a school for an interview, dress as you would for the office, in business attire, men: coat and tie, women: business suits.

What should I do during a campus visit?

Most schools arrange a tour of the campus, sometimes in groups and sometimes with an assigned volunteer. They also offer an information session. Participate in both of these. In addition, they will allow you to sit in on a class. You generally make arrangements for these activities in the admissions office of the school. Sometimes you can walk in on the day of your visit and sign up, although some schools require advanced reservations. Check the information on each school’s web page during your trip planning to arrange the scheduling.

It is important to talk to your Japanese colleagues at the school or those Japanese students with whom you can arrange a meeting, even if for a coffee in the student lounge. I also encourage applicants to show they have guts and international comfort by talking to non-Japanese students.

One tip is to get the name of the officers in the clubs or organizations that interest you at a school, send them an email, and see whether they will meet you during your visit. Always be on the lookout for ways in which you could help that organization were you a student at that school. Think of unique ways in which you can contribute and sound out those ideas with your contacts.

Ask each person you meet what they like best about their student experiences and what they believe could be improved. Ask club members what kind of help they need and see how you could contribute in a specific way.

Can you get into a school without making a campus visit?

Certainly failure to make a campus visit is not going to automatically fail you just like success in making a campus visit is no guarantee that you will be admitted, if you don’t have the required credentials, the winning essays and the winning interviews.

Most Japanese find the time to visit the schools of interest to them by making the time, using accumulated vacation or taking a long weekend plus a few week days. With the right trip planning you can manage a fair number of campus visits with a week.

If you really find it impossible to make campus visits to the schools of your choice, then by all means at least attend the information sessions and other events in Japan offered by the schools or their current students and alumni. The Interface Japanese staff do a great job by informing you of these activities beforehand in the Topics section of our Home Page (

Time flies. In September I will be offering the first group interview training workshops that are dynamite to build the foundation for your interview skills. These workshops are inexpensive and offer networking and other advantages to applicants. I strongly recommend that all MBA applicants join these workshops. Just as winning essays require much more than proficient English, winning interviews require much more than proficient English.

All you need to join the interview workshop is a résumé.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier