Production functions, government interventions and price discriminations were at top of our minds last week (but no more!) and sighs of relief echoed through the hallways of Huntsman and Steinberg-Dietrich on Thursday evening as we bade them goodbye. To look back upon the quarter-long course and to get to know the faculty that made the MGEC work, the Wharton Journal met with the head of the course this year, Prof. Michael Sinkinson, the MGECian himself.
WJ: Your MGEC611 classes engage students very proactively by drawing upon individual experiences in a very meaningful way. How (long) do you prepare for each class and can you share some behind-the-scenes stories of what goes on in the making of the course?
MS: This is my third year teaching this course and it changes year to year. At this point, prepping the lecture itself, knowing how to explain the problem, how all the math works, knowing all the examples, is measured in hours instead of days, which is great. The first year it was measured in days.
MBA students are really sharp and they’ll ask hard questions. It is hard to anticipate every question. So, initially it took a number of days to prep what’s going to come up, what’s going to be the issue, what’s going to be difficult. Now it’s done.
In terms of how I am going to conduct the discussion, how am I going to bring students in, well luckily, I have my stack of face cards, [and] I use these before going to class. Initially these used to be in the form of a feedback form but now I ask the program office to give me face cards. I probably spend 45 minutes to an hour flipping through them to see where I can bring students in. And then the seating chart here (hung on a hook in front of his table) is helpful too. I want to be smooth when I call on someone. So when I know where they are sitting it’s actually very helpful to look at the person and make sure they are actually in their seat. So I make sure to note where they are and I often make notes to myself, second row left, first from back and right.
WJ: You chose to enter academia after a year of working at McKinsey & Company. What prompted this decision?
MS: So, I did, what you would call the Wharton undergrad of Canada. I did a business undergrad and also did a dual major in pure math. I was one of those people who followed the herd and everyone was applying for this job called McKinsey. And I went to info sessions, it seemed very interesting and I liked these case interviews. It was problem solving and I thought ‘I like this’. So, I was very enthusiastic.
Unfortunately, if you have spent time at the bottom rung of a consulting firm, the job is not always high-level problem solving. The reality is that McKinsey is a great place with tons of talented and smart people but the job itself, the day-to-day job, was not what I wanted to be doing full-time. I was there for a year and I saw pretty quickly that it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
After a year and a half I joined a joint PhD program with Harvard Economics and HBS. The cool thing about that is that it’s basically the same as the Harvard Econ PhD but I also had to take MBA classes. So, I have actually been an MBA student for 3 months, and got a taste of it.
WJ: Did you like it?
MS: I liked aspects of it, lets leave it at that. I can give the readers details in person but I would rather not be in print about the pros and cons. I liked aspects of it a lot. Now being a professor, I find it was very beneficial.
WJ: Why did you choose Business Economics as your field of research and teaching?
MS: So Business Economics is kind of funny because it is not officially a field of economics. The technical term for my field would be Industrial Organization, which is kind of business economics. It involves studying the firm and the market of firms.
The reason I chose it is that it lets you explain what you read in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and that’s why I like it. When you read an article and when you think, why are firms doing this, why aren’t they doing this other thing instead and it seems counterintuitive, this is the field that lets you analyze that. When I wanted to be an entrepreneur of problem solving, these are the kind of problems I wanted to address.
WJ: What about your current research on the market structure of TMT industries excites you the most?
MS: I have done a lot of research on media and technology companies in non-price competition settings. I basically assume these firms get prices right and that they can price well. And then I look at how they compete in different ways. For example, having exclusive goods or how they position their product in the market, in terms of media. Now I am looking at how firms compete in advertising. I take the angle that firms are sophisticated, and are going to price their products well, for granted. And then I say how does your advertising affect this, how does your product positioning affect this, how does the price you offer affect this. These are exciting industries to be looking at.
WJ: If you were to give 3 pieces of advice to MBA students, what would they be?
MS: Echoing my convocation speech, people are the best. How strong are the relationships with the people that you trust, you admire, you enjoy being around to, you can reach out to at a moment’s notice. Both mentors but also loved ones. Be surrounded by people that are important to you and that you value and they value you.
I’d also say, people are the worst. Humans are not perfectly predictable. At some point, you won’t be able to explain what someone’s doing and the actions of someone else. Don’t let someone else’s irrational behavior preoccupy you or let you down. Accept that people are going to be irrational at some point and don’t let that get in the way of enjoying your life or getting on with it. You can’t get caught up with the fact that you can’t always explain why someone did what they did.
Finally, this one is not particularly original, but its true. Follow your passion. The thing you love doing will always make a better career than anything else. When you look forward to, when you actually excited about going to work, then you have won. That is winning the game of life. When you look forward to every day, you are just going to be happier. And that’s the best thing you could do.
WJ: How do you spend your free time? (Do you have any?)
MS: I don’t have a lot of it these days. One thing I do enjoy doing when I have a free evening is improving my cooking skills. I think it’s a great way to relax and to make you more social. I try to keep it healthy but when I’m really busy it means less healthy. I also look into new interesting methods. So, there this thing called sous vide cooking. It’s basically a technique that lets you perfect a lot of your proteins. It was a new method that I thought would be interesting to try and so I’ve done that a bit. I have also dabbled a bit in molecular gastronomy. The idea is to use chemicals to alter the texture of food and create a dish in a different way than is done typically. So, I can do an original take on a classic dish by changing the way the textures of different ingredients and so forth. I rarely have free evenings to do either so they take a while but it can be really fun and social. It’s a great excuse to invite people over as a commitment device and then I have to.
Another guilty habit is that I love the New York Times crossword. That’s a necessity for me on a Sunday morning. Having a cup of coffee and working on the New York Times crossword puzzle. I started that in grad school when I was very overworked, I started carving out time to go to the park and solve the crossword puzzle and do something totally different than work. So that became a way to recharge and relax. (WJ: How long does it take you now?) Well, I can usually solve it within, when I’m not trying to race through it, is within 2-3 hours for sure. My best would be within an hour. Sometimes it’s a bit easier than other times and if the clue is up my alley, I can do better. I think it’s a great fun thing to do.
In 2007-08 I got into photography. I used some extra money to buy a Nikon D700 and got into photography. Similar to cooking, I found about HDR, which back then was new and I found it to be super cool. Now our smartphones do it. I’d experiment with different filters and techniques. I try and find different scenes and make them look different.
I also end up traveling internationally a bit and I think both photography and cooking go along well with it. One thing I did in grad school with the budget constraint (after my big landmark exams of second year) was taking a road trip across the United States and Canada. I visited 20 odd national parks, did camping and hiking and photography and that was an amazing trip. I discovered quite a few favorite places there. Internationally, I really like Paris and have been there a couple of times. Paris and London are both fantastic cities and I have been to both many times.
What is your favorite word? Elasticity
What is your least favorite word? Inefficiency
What makes you happy? Smiles
What makes you unhappy? Inefficiencies again (definitely an economist!)
What sound do you love? Waves crashing on a beach
What sound do you hate? Noise pollution/sirens (inefficiencies again)
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Entrepreneur
What profession would you not want to do? Medical Doctor
Interesting goods spotted in his office: The 3rd commercial cell phone invented, a piece of envirocoal (low ash/sulphur/nitrogen coal) from a static mine in Indonesia and a Bee School (Go Bees!) shirt hanging on the wall.
The Wharton Journal hopes Prof. Sinkinson soon recovers from his broken foot and wishes him good luck with his research and teaching.