Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

May 15, 2010

As another school year wraps up, current students head off to summer and you are graduating. I wanted to share my sincere congratulations and a few hopes for you.

First – the congratulations. You have worked hard for several years to complete a difficult course of work. You and your loved ones should heartily celebrate a job well done and degree earned with a lot of hard work and long days/nights.

Second – Thank you! I always feel privileged to get to work with smart, energetic young professionals early in their career. Your energy and enthusiasm continues to inspire me. I also want to thank you for your sustained efforts over the last year and a half. Your work has helped your clients be more successful, build the school’s reputation and build your skill set. It means a lot to them, but in particular to me.

Now, my hopes & wishes for you

Be curious – Don’t stop exploring. You won’t find your passion sitting on the couch.

Be courageous – Refuse to “settle”. Stretch yourself with challenges beyond what you think you can do. Regrets are terrible and some of the biggest start with “I always wished I had…”

Take the long view – Things play out over time. Don’t get too hung up on keeping score on short intervals.

Keep learning – When you stop learning, you stop growing.

Be flexible – Change is constant. Don’t fight it, be it.

Be true to yourself – Do what you think is right and live with the consequences. Don’t let others dictate the terms of your existence.

Work hard, but have fun – Life is too short to be miserable, so have fun. By the same token, few things worth doing are easy, so don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and work hard.

Build strong relationships – As one of my favorite country music songs says “it’s a long trip alone”.  You’ll live longer and be happier if you do.

Be useful – I think you’ll be surprised at how many things work out for you when you focus on helping others first.

I wish all of you the best as you move on to bright futures. Please stay in touch and let me know what I can do for you. It’s been a pleasure working with you.

Regards. Phil

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To the (CCE) Class of 2009,

May 15, 2009

As another school year wraps up, current students head off to summer and you are graduating. I wanted to share my sincere congratulations and a few hopes for you.

First – the congratulations. You have worked hard for several years to complete a difficult course of work. You and your loved ones should heartily celebrate a job well done and degree earned with a lot of hard work and long days/nights.

Second – Thank you! I always feel privileged to get to work with smart, energetic young professionals early in their career. Your energy and enthusiasm continues to inspire me. I also want to thank you for your sustained efforts over the last year and a half. Your work has helped your clients be more successful, build the school’s reputation and build your skill set. It means a lot to them, but in particular to me.

Now, my hopes & wishes for you

Be curious – Don’t stop exploring. You won’t find your passion sitting on the couch.

Be courageous – Refuse to “settle”. Stretch yourself with challenges beyond what you think you can do. Regrets are terrible and some of the biggest start with “I always wished I had…”

Take the long view – Things play out over time. Don’t get too hung up on keeping score on short intervals.

Keep learning – When you stop learning, you stop growing.

Be flexible – Change is constant. Don’t fight it, be it.

Be true to yourself – Do what you think is right and live with the consequences. Don’t let others dictate the terms of your existence.

Work hard, but have fun – Life is too short to be miserable, so have fun. By the same token, few things worth doing are easy, so don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and work hard.

Build strong relationships – As one of my favorite country music songs says “it’s a long trip alone”.  You’ll live longer and be happier if you do.

Be useful – I think you’ll be surprised at how many things work out for you when you focus on helping others first.

I wish all of you the best as you move on to bright futures. Please stay in touch and let me know what I can do for you. It’s been a pleasure working with you.

Regards. Phil


Do business schools need to change?

March 29, 2009

The Sunday 3/15 New York Times had an interesting article entitled “Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?” Given the long list of MBAs running now bankrupt or dysfunctional organizations and their collective impact on the economy, the article asks experts to comment on whether schools are really doing their job. Essentially asking, “what purpose do they serve?”

Ideas such as a formal code of conduct  for business professionals (like in accounting – that worked out well for Arthur Andersen!) are batted around. Much of the critique focuses on overemphasizing training for technical skills rather than for “judgment”. It is observed that at many schools, ethics is treated as a separate subject rather than something woven through the entire curriculum.

Frankly, I think there are normal generational shifts that drive some of the behaviors described. Graduates reflect their times as much or more as they do their institutions. The current millenial students I teach are quite idealistic and focused on social responsibility. Sometimes to a fault (eg: even a non-profit doing good needs to economically viable).

Our curriculum here at the Carlson School really tries to weave in ethics and CSR from freshman year. As one example, our introductory management course spends as much time on ethics and corporate social responsibility as it does on strategy. We have lively debates over Friedman’s view on shareholder supremecy contrasted with stakeholder theory. Additionally, in my Consulting Enterprise program we try to always model best practices in ethical behavior. A minor, but common “slippery slope” type ethical dilemma is how you represent yourself when doing research.  Clients will occasionally ask us to represent ourselves as students working on a class project.  Clearly this isn’t ethical when we are working on behalf of a client, so we simply won’t do it.

My feeling is that it’s important to develop in our students a sense of judgment, rather than try to “teach” them ethics.  I often comment to my students that many phenomena (like politics) simply are. They exist. If you don’t like politics, then don’t join organizations. If you’re in one then you’ll be dealing with people’s goals, drives and motivations. Having said that, there are “good” politics and “bad” politics. The first advances important agendas and builds things for some common good. The latter aggrandizes personal fiefdoms and enriches its practioners at others’ expense.

I also think it’s a bit much to blame b-schools when the broader culture is so overtly corrupt. I’m no apologist for senior execs who took ridiculous compensation or the boards who overpaid them. It’s unconscionable for publicly taded organizations in my opinion. However, any politician casting a stone is absurd. Republicans, Democrats, legislators, regulators…everyone was in on it. Money flowed freely all over keeping the wheels of commerce turning. To expect an individual executive to stand against the entire system is a lot to ask. That would be a noble person. You can’t expect large numbers of people to do the right thing when there is huge upsayde and little or no downside to unethical behavior.

I think the best we can do as institutions is challenge students to confront these realities and begin to think through where they stand while giving them some tools to frame their thinking.  In the end, they won’t know what they’ll really do until posed with an actual moral dilemma.