Getting Comfortable
Monday, October 14, 2019
Michael Korobov

“Does that make sense?” my boss asks me.

I’m crouched behind him staring at his screen. In the last 45 minutes we’ve flown through Excel worksheets, tab after tab, following linked cells through a labyrinth of mathematical formulas. If it wasn’t for his keyboard clicking and clacking loudly like a pianist banging a broken instrument, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes open.

I had followed the demonstration for the first ten minutes ceremoniously without blinking, but after a momentary loss of focus (a brief thought of what’s for dinner), there was no way I could keep up with ever-changing worksheets and functions.

“Yes, I think I’ve got it,” I lie.

Trying to act casual, I add, “… and we have similar examples of this analysis saved down, right?”

I pray that the answer be affirmative or I’m toast.

“Yeah… I think so, or something similar. Let’s try to get a draft printed on my desk so I can review when I get in tomorrow morning,” he responds briskly as I realize he is already responding to another email.

I head back to my desk and within a few minutes, my boss is gone for the day.

I’m able to find a couple Excel files that appear similar to the analysis I was just shown. I attempt to draw connections to the jumbled notes I took from my boss’s explanation, the memory of which is becoming increasingly blurry. It quickly becomes clear, however, that the examples I found are not completely applicable to the task at hand. The time frames are different, some of the variables don’t match, and the source data is in different formats. There is no available precedent to follow, no clear set of steps.

“I hope he doesn’t actually expect me to do this right,” I think.

As I see my colleagues start heading home for the day around me, I can’t shake the feeling of uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I remember how just a few years back as a student at Iowa, the challenges were different. While studying for exams and working on projects was demanding and time-consuming, there seldom was ambiguity over expectations and between what was “correct” and “incorrect.”

I had taken solace in memorizing points on a study guide and ticking off every bullet on a rubric.

Since starting a fulltime job, there have been certain assignments where the definition of success has been less prescriptive, less black and white. As I’ve been given more responsibility over the years, the frequency of these tasks has increased.

Dinner suddenly becomes an afterthought. To make it to tomorrow, I must become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I’ve started to get used to that over the years. After a few hours, I identify the parts of the analysis that don’t make sense and document them. I make assumptions that are likely wrong but allow me to defend my thinking. I click print.

Hearing the printer buzz, I collect the warm sheets of paper, give them one last glance, and place them on my boss’s desk. As I pick up my briefcase, I tuck away a list of questions written in my notebook for our discussion tomorrow.

Michael Korobov (BBA15) is a private equity associate with CIC Partners in Dallas, Texas. As a student at Tippie, Korobov was accepted into Tippie’s selective Hawkinson Institute of Business Finance and landed a job with global investment bank Houlihan Lokey immediately after graduation. He is a current member of the Tippie Young Alumni Board.