Friday, May 25, 2012

Corporate Finance

I love summer school. During each of my degree programs, I've had the chance to take classes during at least one summer, and it's always been great. There's something about the combination of the weather, fewer people around campus, and a compressed class schedule that all works together so well. I know they've made some changes to how the timing of summer classes happen, but when I went through it in my undergrad program, there were three four-week blocks, which could be combined or not. A class could be one of the four-week sessions, either of the two overlapping eight-week sessions, or a twelve-week session. The longest takes me back to my quarter system days; it still feels like a full class but is over before the burnout of a full semester class.

To make things even more interesting, they actually had a one-week workshop between two of blocks. So if you had a class that spanned the workshop, you got that week off. Of course, if you took a class during the workshop week, you were in there pretty much all day.

Corporate Finance was just one block, so we met for two hours a day every day for just under a month. We'd work through a month's worth of material in just four days and have a test every Friday. It was intense to say the least. I'm not sure how I ended up having almost all my business core courses in the summer, but I think it worked out nicely. As an MIS major, most of us felt more connected to the technology side of things than we did to the business side of things. That is a mistake, of course, as you really need to know both sides of the fence to truly be effective in the MIS field.

Overall, finance made a lot of sense to me. We talked a lot about time value of money. In fact, I think everything revolved around that. If we were talking about debt financing, it was about how much the debt really cost you over time. If it was about equity financing, it was the same. Do you want money now or money later? Assume a 10% rate of return... (oops).

Something that particularly sticks out to me was that I didn't buy a financial calculator for this course. I had a nice scientific calculator, but it didn't have the financial functions. Figuring it would be a waste to buy a calculator for just a few weeks, I made do with my scientific calculator. How? I memorized the formulas. How's that for gaming the system? At the time, and still thinking about it now, it felt/feels like I was cheating somehow. I don't know why, because back in the old days, they probably had to do it that way. You know, BC (before calculators). Of course, if I ever do financial calculations these days, I do them in Excel, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to get away with that on a test, especially given the relative rarity that laptops were at the time.

I have to throw out there, though, that for the last test, there was one of the formulas that was just wicked. Maybe even a wicked bear. There was just no way. I don't remember which it was, but it was just not going to be possible with my scientific calculator. But as much as I didn't want to buy a calculator for a few weeks' use, I was even less likely going to buy one to use for an hour (or more like 5 minutes during the hour-long test). So a classmate (Sean Zaugg, if I recall correctly...leave me a comment if you do Google yourself and this comes are you and Rebecca doing, by the way?) and I sat in the back row, at my request, and the plan was that he would place his calculator on the table between the two of us so that I could grab his if needed for that particular formula. He'd clear the display after each problem he worked on, so if I grabbed it at any point in time, I wouldn't see any numbers, intentionally or unintentionally. I'd be nonchalant about it, and the professor would never notice that I picked up the other calculator by me for that one question on the test. Of course, as the best laid plans worked flawlessly. Although again, I felt like I was cheating, because this time I was actually using a financial calculator on the test.

It all came around when my wife took the same class a few years later and bought a financial calculator, as recommended. The best laid plans...

The calculator was purchased with future dollars, however, so I'm going to say that I still came out ahead, assuming a 10% rate of return.

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