Time to Drive the Truck

Anne Marie tells me I have finished my one-on-one meetings will all of the faculty and staff of the College of Business Administration. Nice to meet all of you. If I missed anyone please contact Anne Marie to schedule a visit.

So what’s next?

When I was at the University of Kentucky I remember using a case about UPS. UPS is one of the largest employers in Kentucky, so many students could identify with the company. Some might even end up working for it. What I liked about the case was the claim that no matter what position people were hired for at UPS, they started out by driving the truck. The logic behind this approach was simple: if you hadn’t driven the truck, you didn’t fully understand UPS. Lesson: before you try to manage, make sure you understand the core functions of the enterprise.

For the College that comes down to two things: knowledge production and knowledge dissemination. So, I have been attending research seminars offered by our various departments in an effort to understand how we create knowledge. I can’t overstate how important an active research program is to the long-term success of the college. An emphasis on research is what differentiates universities from community colleges and ensures that faculty have interesting things to say to students that goes beyond what they can read in the book. Think of it as professional development for faculty or the equivalent of corporate R&D.

I also like to attend seminars because I learn things about how business is evolving, new concepts that change my view of the world, and insights into how I can be a better manager and leader. For most of our students these lessons are learned not in research seminars, but in the classroom. So over the next few months I plan on visiting some classes, sitting in the back and observing. Knowing what goes on in class is critical to understanding UCF and the college….it is simply, our biggest truck.

So, if I show up in your class, don’t freak, I’m not there to evaluate anyone. I’m there to understand the student and faculty experience. I want to witness lecture capture both live and via the net. I want to see Cornerstone and Capstone in person and get a glimpse of what our various majors and graduate students are up to. I don’t want to interrupt class. Pay no attention to me until class has ended. If you are not in a hurry when class is over, stop by and say hello. I’d like to have a brief conversation with you.

Guess I won’t be driving the truck, just sitting shotgun.

TweetBack Thursday: Evaluating Ph.D. Programs

@AlexWilstrup1 asked me to discuss the most important factors to consider when evaluating Ph.D. Programs in Business Administration.

Obtaining your Ph.D. involves an apprenticeship. Unlike your undergraduate or other graduate level experiences where you took courses from numerous professors, your Ph.D. education is largely in the hands of three to five faculty members. These professors will be heavily involved in shaping you, supervising your work, and evaluating your performance along the way. One faculty member, your major professor, will chair your dissertation committee, guide your research on that project and will use his or her professional network to help you land your first job. You will forever be viewed as “his or her student.” It is a label that sticks throughout a career.

So prudence requires that you choose this group wisely. Begin by identifying people you want to learn from: people whose work you admire and want to extend. Next visit the campus and meet with these people. You need to assess how interested these professors are in taking you under their wing. Some faculty are more willing to work with students than others. The bigger the name, the greater the competition to work with the faculty member. Few professors are willing to take on more than a few students at once: it is very time consuming work. Due diligence also requires that you talk to the doctoral students in the program. They are in the best position to tell you how accessible specific faculty are, your chances of working with them, and what they expect from their apprentices.

While on these visits it is also important that you ask for data on where graduates from the program get hired. Every program keeps this data. Ask to see the last five years worth. Get this by program, not by college or school. Programs within schools can have very different placements because the Ph.D apprenticeship process is so dependent on the major professor and a small group of other people. Most programs also admit small numbers so less than ten people may have graduated over five years. The key question is whether you like what you see: is the program consistently placing students at the types of institutions you would like to be at after graduation?

The bottom line is that this search process is all about fit. You want to be at a place with three to five professors who are doing work that interests you. People who are willing to help shape you, allow you to work as their research assistant, serve on your dissertation committee and have a track record of helping their students get jobs at the types of places you aspire to work. Don’t be afraid to check out several schools before deciding where to apply: once admitted you are going to be spending almost every waking moment there for three or four years–it is a deep dive, be prepared.

Plato’s Academy

I believe the first example of free public higher education in the western world was Plato’s Academy in Athens around 387 BC. The Academy was situated in a grove of olive trees inside a park about a mile outside the city. You had to be invited to attend the Academy and if extended the offer attended for free. Plato would lecture, give students problems to solve and spend time in dialogue with his apprentices. One can easily imagine Plato and Aristotle sitting under a tree engaged in conversation.

Many centuries have passed since Plato’s time, but higher education really hasn’t changed much. Yes, there has been the invention of the blackboard, followed by the whiteboard, the smart board, the Powerpoint and alas the internet. Yet the best education still occurs the way Plato did it more than 2,000 years ago when a student sits next to a Master and engages in dialogue.

In a university of our size, undergraduate students are more likely to be in a class of 1600 than 1, but a version of Plato’s Academy exists on campus. Last week, Professor James Gilkeson asked me to speak at an “Honors in the Major” lunch designed to encourage students to enroll in this terrific program. Honors in the Major gives students the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a project of the student’s choosing. The end result is a lasting relationship with a faculty member who can write a detailed letter of recommendation for the student as well as a unique work product to show employers that highlights the student’s analytic and communication skills.

To my dismay, only nine business students showed up to the lunch. I asked the students how many of them had been in a class of 1600 at UCF, they all raised their hands. I asked them how many had been in a class of one at UCF—no hands were raised. When I asked if they would like the opportunity to be in a class of one, they all nodded yes.

These students get it: Whenever you get the opportunity to sit and have a one-on-one conversation with a person who has something interesting to say, you do it. Doesn’t matter if it is a professor, an alumnus, or a business professional: you take advantage of the rare opportunity to learn from them in such a personal way. You take the time to listen and get your questions answered, realizing that the answers are likely to be more forthright and nuanced than you would get if you asked them in a large group.

The fact that only nine students took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about Honors in the Major is both a little sad and an enormous opportunity for those interested in differentiating themselves in the University and the marketplace. Thousands of students will graduate from the College of Business over the next year, but only a handful will have enjoyed the enormous advantages of participating in our version of Plato’s Academy. If you are looking for a way to stand out from the crowd, it is hard to imagine you could do better than this.

TweetBack Thursday: Blogging to Build Your Personal Brand

Spencer Dewald gave me suggestions for a number of blog posts. One was: “Instructing students on how to make their own blogs to employers (aka creating an internet brand that works on your behalf).

Hmm, Spencer this is something I don’t know much about. If I was smart I would let Joanne Chive, Roy Reid or Grant Heston answer this one. They are my key advisors when it comes to public relations and social media. Maybe one or more of them could provide a guest blog post on this topic or offer a rebuttal to what I’m about to write.

I don’t blog as part of a strategy to build a personal brand. As Dean, I am responsible for setting a vision for the college, communicating that vision and motivating our stakeholders to do what is necessary to realize that vision. I am also responsible for ensuring that students get the most out of their UCF College of Business experience and that alumni continue to realize a return from their degrees. I use social media, including my blog, to get my message out to Knight Nation and start conversations. I can engage people I will never have the opportunity to meet in person as well as keep the dialogue going with people I haven’t seen in a while. It is a way I can help make a large college feel small and give people a chance to interact with the person who sets the priorities for the school. The blog isn’t about me, it is about the cause: creating and sustaining a unique culture and value proposition that transforms lives through education. I stop blogging the day I no longer lead such an organization.

So my advice would be to blog to further a cause you are passionate about (or to teach someone something), not as a vehicle to build a personal brand. Maybe I’m too old school, but I don’t think it is a good idea to blog as a means of landing a job. Frankly, as a potential employer I am interested in knowing how you apply your knowledge and experience to get stuff done. Unless I am hiring you to blog or develop edgy content, blogging about your talents and experiences is likely to come off as self-absorbed, shameless self-promotion. Not helpful. Or you could write something that offends the very people you are trying to impress, also not helpful. And it may distract you from doing the stuff that will land you a job, not helpful.

Roy, Joanne and Grant, your thoughts?

Paying it Forward

On October 5th I had the honor of hosting three inductees into the UCF College of Business Administration Hall of Fame. The connections we faculty make with our students tend to fade with time and distance after graduation. So we seldom get to see how our Knights turned out, what they accomplished, and how they impact the lives of others. Events like the Hall of Fame remind us that our work matters: that many graduates attribute a good portion of their success to what they learned at UCF and that higher education transforms lives.

Nobody got more higher education from our college than Merrell Bailey. She has five degrees from us, a journey that started when Stan Atkinson introduced her to “the time value of money”. Merrell, then a would-be engineer, allegedly stood on her desk and squealed out loud upon hearing the concept. (This story is completely believable if you’ve met her.) Today she is managing partner of Bailey, Zobel, Pilcher, a firm that specializes in probate, wills, trusts and planning.

Jonathan Kennedy decided to be an accountant as a result of a class project that required him to interview business professionals. At UCF he was heavily influenced by Jim Potts, Linda Savage and Nancy Klintworth. Jonathan took most of his classes on our Daytona campus and today is Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Intersil Corporation.

Brian Wheeler was on the six year plan to graduation when he took a marketing class that required him to create a fictitious company. Thanks to a $20,000 loan from his dad, that fictitious company became Tijuana Flats. It has eighty-five locations in five states. Brian also owns Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen and is founder of the “Just in Queso” Foundation.

Over the course of the evening, our three inductees’ stories illustrated the hallmarks of a great education. Merrell’s introduction to the time value of money fundamentally changed her view of the world. Jonathan found a career from a class project that he accelerated through a co-op with Harris Corporation. And Brian got the knowledge, skills and confidence to know he could compete in a highly competitive marketplace with his food covered in his “smack my ass and call me Sally” hot sauce. Today, all three give back to UCF.

It was a great night. Our inductees were funny, articulate and inspiring. If I have one regret it is that we didn’t encourage retired faculty to come to the event. We will fix this for next year. Maybe we will even invite the Dead Pigs to play a set or two. It was the efforts of our retired colleagues that provided the foundation for our honorees’ accomplishments. We just threw a party and reveled in their success. In essence, they paid it forward to us. It is our obligation to ensure that we pay it forward to the next generation of UCF faculty. Twenty years from now, I want them to be as inspired by our work with students as we are by the people who came before us.

TweetBack Thursdays: The MBA doesn’t help you figure out what you want to do!

Chris Reagan asked me to comment on: “I feel like I could write ‘all the reasons everyone’s told you an MBA is great, but why it won’t help you figure out what you want to do.’

From a curricular standpoint, that is by design.  The MBA is a generalist degree. Its power lies in giving you many options.Nothing is more valuable than having options. You can take the conceptual, analytic and communication skills you learn in an MBA program and apply them to a wide variety of settings.  In a world that is moving fast and where people have to reinvent themselves every eight to ten years to stay relevant, strong general skills are a must.  Math, statistics, platform skills, and the ability to write never ever go out of style.

Realize that what you want to do for a living isn’t in the curriculum, it is in you. Most people don’t know what they want to do when they grow up and it tends to change over time.  The only real way to know this is to experience the job.  That is why I am so big on internships and job shadowing while you are in school–it allows you to see the day to day of the work and what people do. Asking professionals about their work in areas that interest you can also help. The other thing to remember here is that if you try something and don’t like it–don’t be afraid to try something else.  Don’t fall victim to the fallacy of sunk costs.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Every year I get inundated with business school publications. This usually happens around ranking time when schools are competing for vanity in the publication(s) of their choice. All of these b-school publications proudly proclaim that their institution is globally, strategically, entrepreneurially, sustainable. All of them. The proportion of their students that can find India on a map, know what it takes to start their own business, or calculate the financial return on investing in a piece of green technology is an entirely different question. Yes, I’m skeptical of some of these claims. Marketing is frequently ahead of production. But, what these publications are telling me is that an emphasis on international issues, entrepreneurship, strategy, and sustainability are necessary components of a modern day business school curriculum. What they are not, is differentiators.

The quest for differentiation lies not in developing programs around topical themes, but rather in creating a unique culture that imprints a distinctive and highly visible set of qualities on graduates. Something that hits people in the face when they greet it. Topical programs are easy to copy, cultures are not.

If you have ever met Dr. Lapchick, you know he is an evangelist. He believes in leveraging the large venue sports provides to promote social good. Everyone associated with the sports business program: the staff, faculty and students has drank this Kool-Aid. (I say this in admiration not in condemnation.) Every sport business management person I meet is optimistic, articulate, respectful, and firmly convinced they are working to bring positive change to the world. Every single one of them.

A similar observation applies to the Professional Selling Program. I attended their Meet and Greet at the Orlando Science Center a few weeks ago. Almost to a person, those students were aggressive, professional, confident and focused. They believe they can sell you anything and are going to get rich doing it. They too are all in.

These two programs differentiate their students. They also share some similarities: Both programs have a strong sense of what they are trying to accomplish. Both programs are small (around 30 students). Both programs have a great deal of industry participation, are seen as among the most applied programs in the college, and have lots of co-curricular activities designed to reinforce key values and behaviors (e.g., building homes in New Orleans).

Can this be done on a larger scale? (Accounting comes close.) Can we purposefully imprint a small set of highly visible and distinctive qualities on all our students? A set of qualities the market will value and that will give us an identity among the crowded market of business schools? Something we can sustain over time?

Somebody needs to break out the Kool-Aid.

TweetBack Thursdays: The Life of the College

About a month ago, I invited 160 students to be part of my twitter focus group. The students were selected at random within class so that I invited thirty freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors each, as well as 40 graduate students. The purpose of the group is to give me a better sense of how students experience UCF, identify the issues that are on students’ minds, and get insight into how we might improve the college. I also plan to use the group to vet some of my crazy ideas.

Last week I activated the group for the first time asking them to send me ideas for blog posts. I got about twenty responses. The suggestions were wide-ranging and thought-provoking. Some topics I could write about at length, others were likely to generate a more succinct response. Because the focus group is meant to reflect the interests of a broad set of students, I am going to respond to each of them with a blog post. Lengthy responses will get addressed on Mondays. Shorter responses will appear on TweetBack Thursdays. Not all Monday posts will come from the suggestions of my Twitter peeps, but the Thursday ones will. TweetBack Thursday lives as long as suggestions keep coming.

The first suggestion come from @chrisjg04 who wants to hear my thoughts on what our student organizations can do improve the college as a whole.

I’m a big fan of our student organizations. They give students leadership opportunities, facilitate the transition from school to professional employment and help students network with employers. If you are a student, join them. If you are a department chair, work with them on co-curricular activities. If you are a faculty member, tout their importance in class and show up at their events.

These organizations give students an opportunity to participate in the life of the college and build a sense of community. The best thing they can do to help improve the college as a whole is to realize that they can have a huge impact on the school through coordination of their efforts. Toward this end, I would like to establish a council made up of the presidents of each of the student groups. This council would meet with me each month to discuss issues and plan events that would be of interest to all students. Another role of the council would be make me aware of the many guest speakers that are coming to campus so that we can publicize their appearances, make sure they are greeted appropriately by college administration and that they have a great experience while they are here. Lots more can be done here, I will get us all together soon to talk.