B-Schools: Love them or Leave Them?!

“We are facing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. There is plenty of blame to go around. But as suppliers of ideas and talent to the business community, business schools need to accept some responsibility.”

Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana, HBS, “Failure to Promote a Higher Cause”

B-school and Ivy League undergraduate programs have become a necessary evil perceived by many as the only way to get hired, be offered a fair salary and/or be promoted.  Learning for the love of learning is a secondary consideration these days.  Students take out astronomical loans with the aim of getting an edge over their competition, being hired relatively quickly and not falling into the growing percent of new graduates who are unemployed or underemployed.

The reality is that not all MBA’s or Ivy League grads are created equal.  In their quest for fast progression up the corporate ladder, with corresponding financial rewards, some take wild risks that impact not just their companies but in some cases an entire country.  Ethics and morals are tossed out the window at the thought of a quick ride to the top with mansions and boats waiting in exotic locations for their pleasure.  So that you don’t get the impression I’m an Ebeneezer Scrooge, I’ll state for the record that I have no issues with individuals who work, get rewarded and spend money on themselves and their families. I have my vices and love to travel to exotic places as often as possible.  My concern is when a lack of foresight affects more than the graduate themselves.

In the not so distant past, the U.S. became one of the biggest victims of arrogant (or perhaps just plain stupid) B-school graduates, those high flyers with charisma but no substance as their exotic financial derivatives imploded and brought a once great country to it’s knees.  Perhaps they called it “innovation” or “thinking outside of the box” to justify their experiments but where was the risk assessment?  Oh that’s right, there was none, just as with Enron. Oops!  Whether it’s fair or not, the perception created was that  B-Schooler’s knowingly created  a catastrophe with the intent of taking personal short-term gains regardless of who was hurt.  Not that different than the robber barons who exploited others in their quest for profits at the expense of America’s native population and resources over 100 years ago.

Can B-School Grads Get the Job Done?
Observation over many years has shown me that it is a relatively small percentage of B-school graduates who are able to immediately apply their knowledge and skills through practical application upon graduation.  The others are like deers, standing in front of the glaring headlamps of a car, frozen and unsure of what to do.  To successfully integrate into the “real world” takes learning methods and specific skills from the employer hiring an individual.  Firms choosing to heavily recruit in the B-school  and Ivy League arena need to ensure robust internal training programs are in place so the  percentage who don’t intuitively “get it” are developed before placing them in front of clients.

Organisations who do not have these plans in place will suffer from the experienced hire syndrome that seems to be running rampant.  With highly qualified individuals regulated to lower levels, and in many cases forced to train their managers, the workplace isn’t very harmonious these days.

What Does the Future Hold in Store?
My prediction is that the perceptions will change, young people will no longer be burdened with ridiculous student loans and emphasis will be placed on common sense, relationship skills and the ability to apply concepts at both design and execution phases.  Focus may even switch back to apprenticeships, where new hires are assigned a master practitioner to oversee their development and ensure their success.  The days of being solely a strategist are over.  Substance counts.  A new benchmark is being set and individuals must be able to both strategize and execute. Many hiring managers are making conscious choices to hire individuals with desire and drive versus a pedigree to ensure they have employees capable of getting the job done.

Organisations who are currently operating under this model (it’s fascinating to see some late ’90’s tactics coming back into play), and have chosen to put their head in the sand like an ostrich, need to be prepared for the lawsuits that will be leveled at them. While some employees won’t bother to file- others will.  The demographics for promotion, have shifted and in one global firm known for it’s outsourcing capabilities, individuals in the 25-35 range, many on H1B visas, are selected over older, more experienced American Nationals.

Why?  An individual working for five-ten years typically makes less than someone with twenty plus years of experience and is cheaper to promote – lack of skills and ability to perform – just a regrettable by product.  It’s a case of “see no, hear no, say no evil.” The alleged leaders who allow these practices to take place look the other way and will continue to do so until they get caught.

The smart organisation will ensure diversity prevails and individuals hired for their experience, abilities and IP are given the same opportunities as the “home-growns,” regardless of what country of origin they may be from and let performance be the ultimate dictator of advancement.

Disclaimer: All insights and opinions are my own and have been formed over many years of practical business and personal experiences; as both an employee and a business owner. They do not represent the views of  my current employer. MM

Those Darn Experienced Hires!

The Sting
Many consulting firms are eagerly recruiting experienced hires with promises of moving quickly through corporate hierarchies.  With all of the economic turmoil subsequent to 2008, many highly qualified and skilled individuals were displaced and had to begin new careers.  As the search for new opportunities commenced, some firms, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity elected to make low-ball offers to prospective employees – anywhere from 30-50% lower – than their previous salaries before the collapse.

Being human, and in most cases having families to support, individuals took jobs that they should have either; 1) Passed on or 2) Done a better job negotiating base and bonus pay for. The short-term benefit to organisations was that they had an influx of thought leadership and IP from these talented individuals.  But as the experienced hire’s rose-tinted glasses began to dim, they realized they had been drawn into machines that did not operate the way recruiters promised they would.  Being fast-tracked is unusual, if not impossible, at some of the Tier 1 consulting firms.  The bureaucracy favors “home-growns” those individuals recruited right out of undergraduate school and trained as analysts into a very disciplined system with guaranteed promotions every 2-4 years and younger MBA recruits who tend to have immediate executive sponsorship.

“If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.” Jack Welch

The Reality
Forget labor laws, they are violated every day when the demographics of individuals being promoted are analyzed.  However, instead of making a fuss, it’s easier for this seemingly forgotten group of employees, to find a new job and move on – choosing to maintain amicable relations – than filing a claim as required by the EEOC and asking for the right to sue.  While I can’t say for certain, not having been privy to the risk assessment and reserves former employers had in place, it is evident some companies are prepared to have a revolving door of talent due to poor, or no, inclusion processes for experienced hires. In many cases, these talented individuals are asked to train the younger and less experienced managers they are assigned to work for.  Ouch! That stings, can be demoralizing and lead to workplace relationship issues that no one has time to deal with.

Déjà vu
This isn’t a new phenomenon, but tends to happen when leadership is short-sighted and inferior HR practices are in play.  In the late ’90’s Jacques (/aka/Jack the Knife) Nasser was CEO at Ford.  I have always felt that he almost single handedly set the company up for failure when he tried to make his mark by going on a shopping spree and buying market share with numerous name plates.  Whilst it was nice having Aston-Martin and others in the stable, I was always partial to Jaguar and Land Rover, it wasn’t practical and his deals were ROI losers. The Kwik Fit debacle, sold to shareholders and employees as such a great deal, suffered from either; due diligence not being performed, the people performing it not being qualified to do so or the books were just plain old cooked, leading to hundreds of millions in losses.  Jacques was an elitist (or perceived to be so by many). It was perhaps while taking a break from his Rodeo Drive shopping spree, that he sent out a decree to amp up recruiting at the big name B-schools, Wharton, Harvard, et al, to bring in individuals who allegedly had high potential and would “help” the company flourish.  My opinion on B-Schools can be found here.

What he seemingly failed to recognize were four key points; 1) The buyers who made up Ford’s core client base, 2) That it can take years to master the basics of automotive operations, 3) The rage and bitterness many long-term employees – with high potential – felt at having opportunities taken away and, 4) That these skilled workers would take their IP and years of know-how and walk away.

Ford suffered this loss of IP and and other dysfunctions for several years with share prices plummeting, lack-luster models and Bill Ford Jr.’s attempt at being CEO after “The Knife’s” reign until Alan Mullaley came to town and saved the well-known American icon. But that is another story for another day.

What to Do?
For the experienced hire workforce, which can turn up to 78% in 18 mos., remember who you are.  If your firm is not currently valuing what you bring to the table, you should be looking for new opportunities.  Don’t fall into the trap that was set – where if they can make you believe you are “worth less” than you used to be – that it actually means you are worthless.  Pull up your bootstraps, find your self-esteem and negotiate better next time around.  Find the top two or three areas that you were known for/made your reputation on previously and showcase those skills.  Make yourself so valuable that you have more than one offer to consider.  When you make the move, go to the firm that has the best cultural fit so you don’t repeat the experience you just extricated yourself from.

Organisations, you need to get real. Leaders need to take a serious look at the costs of offering higher salary’s to experienced hires to ensure longer retention versus the astronomical costs (typically one years salary that is just gone- poof!) of recruiting and on-boarding due to high turnover.  It’s tough to go wrong when you embrace valuing employees instead of seeing them as interchangeable commodities. Valuing people through recognition, reward and advancement really does pay off.

One woman who is beginning to make a difference in how both employers and employees perceive and operate in the workplace is Liz Ryan at Human Workplace.  Her mission is to bring  the human factor back into the workplace and encourage leaders to see the harm draconian HR practices ultimately do to their business.  You don’t have to be a slave rowing endlessly under the threat of being whipped, you can find opportunities at progressive firms who choose to value employees as their greatest resource.  As a wise man once said; “Be the change you want to see!” You should take his advice.

Disclaimer: All insights and opinions are my own and have been formed over many years of practical business and personal experiences; as both an employee and a business owner. They do not represent the views of  my current employer. MM

Spanish Red Wine and the Entrepreneur


What I learned from drinking Spanish red wine (a Rioja if my memory serves correctly) is that it’s best not to mix vintages.

It’s been on my mind a lot recently, perhaps because I’m in the middle of my MBA and taking Entrepreneurship right now, but a key success factor for entrepreneurs is having the right people around them at the right time. An organization is no different. You need the right blend of styles and skill sets on a project or team to ensure everything gets done on time while generating a profit. The counterpoint that some will take is; “Well people have to learn to work together!

Yes, you can force individuals to work together by giving low performance ratings and other draconian means but at what cost? What if you are stifling one of your “best and brightest,” forcing them to conform and  to “get along” when a change – although possibly inconvenient – would allow you to leverage the full value both individuals bring? Just putting the idea out there…it’s a new way of looking at the situation and thinking outside of the traditional box of “comply or die!”.

“Just as it’s best not to mix vintages, it’s best not to mix personalities that blatantly clash. As coworkers guardedly tap dance around each other, waiting for the other to strike, work piles up and customers are neglected.”

The Story
It was a sweltering hot night in Puerto Rico and the “Father of the local Ford dealership cartel” (I’m joking… well, kind of…), Jorge, was trying to educate us Gringo’s on the differences between the various types of Spanish red wine that were available and what made each so special. Jorge was the leader in my mind. He owned two dealerships and had a knack for choosing just the right wine at dinner. We were at a group dinner that evening and I was the top dog from a status perspective from the factory (as always, we were there to “help” our dealer partners). As was customary, I ordered a nice bottle of Spanish red for the group to go with dinner. It was moderately priced, perhaps $17 back in 2001. As dinner progressed we became more intrigued about the description of why some Spanish reds were so superior to others. I threw caution, and the fear of facing our Finance staff when I turned in my expense report, to the wind and challenged Jorge. “So, what would you have selected if there were no limits?” He looked me down and returned the challenge by giving the vintage and dollar amount, about $75 dollar a bottle.

I looked back at him and said “Order it. Let’s see why this is so special.” He accepted the challenge and we quickly had our new bottle of wine to sample. My coworkers were looking at me with varying degrees of respect and horror. I could hear them thinking everything from; “she’ll never get this one paid for” to “at least someone has balls around here”. As the waiter made his way around the table, I must have inadvertently moved my hand in what was a “go ahead” sign and he began filling my glass with wine. It was like watching a car wreck that you have no way of avoiding. The most lovely, pure Spanish red was being commingled with the moderate wine that I had not finished drinking before my glass was refilled. My eyes wide with horror, I knew there was nothing to do but bluff my way through this debacle.

As I had been taught, I swirled the glass while carefully holding the stem and watching for “legs,” the more the better according to wine aficionados and took a small sip. I looked up at my colleagues and said, “Not bad for a $40 bottle of wine.” I like to remember the incident as though we all laughed together and overlooked my horrific faux pas, that I hadn’t been looked at with varying degrees of sympathy for not understanding what the waiter was looking for when he reached my chair. I didn’t get to taste the beauty or bouquet of that high priced wine that evening but I’ve always wondered what it would have been like, if I just hadn’t accidentally waved my hand that night.

Practical Applications In class the other day, we were talking about the difficult personalities that employees with an entrepreneurial streak can bring to an organization. My classmate, Kinglsey, made this post: “Entrepreneurs are transformational (not transactional) leaders and can be good managers/employees when the situation is right. Entrepreneurs are great if they are managed correctly. You wouldn’t tell Mike Tyson that he needs to start with 2 left jabs then a right cross before backing out and repeating two more before starting combination #24. You would just tell him, “Go out there and knock ‘em out.” There is a fine art in managing an entrepreneur- you must give them the freedom to find their own way yet make sure that they know where you want them to go. If you need a transactional leader, and likewise a transactional manager, it is best not to hire an entrepreneur for the job.”  I think Kingsley nailed the point home perfectly. Just as I don’t recommend mixing two significantly different bottles of Spanish red, I don’t recommend putting the wrong personalities together in a work setting. An entrepreneur working for a micromanager is a disaster in the making.

As leaders in organizations, it is incumbent on us to take the time to place the right people in the right positions. It is not always easy, especially now when resources are scarce. But just as I never fully experienced that $75 bottle of Spanish red, an employer will not experience the full potential, that unique bouquet from the individual employee, if they put them in the wrong position. They will get a diluted, not so satisfactory experience for both sides. Depending on manager and employee maturity and experience levels, the wrong combination can be toxic. Results can include horrifying HR intervention steps that could have been avoided at the outset. Taking time to understand up front what the employee skill and personality sets are, and what they can become when blended with other employees, is critical when seeking to fill positions in today’s economy. Ensuring the right people are in the right positions leads to optimal outcomes for both employee and employer. Hire in haste; repent in leisure.

Full disclosure:  I started B-school with the intention of completing my MBA but 3 moves in 4 1/2 years, while working, was more than I could manage and I didn’t submit my dissertation in time to get credit.  Completing the coursework let me receive a Postgraduate Diploma instead of an MBA.  Just want to make sure my digital profiles match 🙂
Disclaimer: All insights and opinions are my own and have been formed over many years of practical business and personal experiences; as both an employee and a business owner. They do not represent the views of  my current employer. MM