Rites of Passage

I began last week in NYC, four days of meetings with prominent as well as “up and coming” UCF alums. UCF has about 3,000 graduates in and around New York. Among the most prominent is Professor Glenn Hubbard. Glenn is a graduate of our economics department and currently serves as Dean of the Columbia Business School. It was a rare opportunity to sit with a fellow dean and pick his brain about the challenges and opportunities facing business schools today.

While much of the conversation was around the transformation taking place in higher education, what struck both Kelly and I was his comment that the school needed more rituals and pageantry to support and reinforce the CBS culture. This is a school that is almost one hundred years old. It is one of the most prominent business schools in the world and the dean believes it needs more opportunities to reinforce and celebrate its culture! Kelly and I had to hold back our laughter as I am known to make this same observation about our college every other day. I have been driving the staff nuts about the need to redo the big space in BA 1 so that it looks and feels more like an arena worthy of hosting such events.

I ended the week attending one of our own three most prominent rituals, the Capstone competition. Unlike the Joust or the Cornerstone competition, the Capstone competition is mandatory for all graduating seniors and represents a rite of passage. It is the last thing students must successfully complete prior to graduation. Every UCF COBA student shares an experience where comfort zones expand well beyond their safety nets. It is an event where you cannot hide. It is an event where you must work in a team. And, it is an event where you have to present your ideas to a panel of business professionals. Various companies have sponsored the competition because it is a way for them to leverage 800 young minds at once–crowdsourcing at its best. I always know when the Capstone competition is approaching because for a couple of weeks the halls outside my office are filled with nervous, well-dressed students practicing their presentations, frequently by talking to the wall.

Watching the finals, I was struck by the innovative ideas, well-coordinated presentations, and the competitive nature of the students. They were “all in.” But what separated the winners from the other finalists was their ability to address the hard numbers. They didn’t “feel” they had a good idea. They didn’t “think” it would work. They showed the judges an analysis of why it would work. Data-driven decision-making won the day. It was the right outcome and one that reinforced a quality that we need to instill in all our students. That I saw less data-driven decision-making in the student presentations than I had hoped, means we need more rituals to help cultivate and reinforce this quality earlier in our students’ development at UCF. Yep Glenn, I hear you.

Advice from an alum to job seekers.

This is a guest post by one of our alums who works as a recruiter. Thanks Kelly!

America’s Next Top Candidate: You!

Reality TVThe “fad” phase of reality TV has come and gone; these shows are here to stay. Whether it’s a singing, dancing, surviving or weight loss competition, it seems everyone has “my show” they DVR each week to follow their favorite competitor.

If you’ve ever noticed, the competitors who walk away winners have one trait in common: they leverage this chance as an opportunity to show off their personal brand. Whether they display their unique talents, highlight their personality quirks or have a quality no other competitor has (everything from fashion sense to an accent), the winners always stand out among the pack of also-rans.

During a job search, the most successful candidates tend to apply this same mindset!

Here are a few techniques that will propel you into one of the top 20 spots, then the final five and, hopefully, your new title: “America’s Next Top Candidate”…

Professional Social Media Presence

Do you display yourself online as a top competitor? Is your profile page clean, work-appropriate and personalized? Do you make it clear you are passionate about your career… maybe even about the company to which you’re applying? Are you engaging with other professionals and influencers in your field or just with your college and high school friends?

Expert Networking Skills

Do you have an “inside” connection at the company? Are you connected on social media with employees at the company to which you’re applying? If not, find someone at the hiring manager level and message that person to request a networking call. This call does not have to be an “interview” but it is a chance to impress the hiring manager by showing your networking skills and confidence.

Present a Unique Personal Brand

What are you passionate about? What motivates you? How would your previous managers describe you? Instead of waiting for these common job interview questions to be asked, work toward answering these in your personal branding well before the interview. This way, the hiring manager will already know enough about you that you can spend your interview time talking about problem solving, solutions and your potential value.

Leave a Lasting Impression

As I personally go through hundreds of resumes, applications and interviews each day, which candidates impress me the most? Those who commit to one or more of these best practices:

  • Confidence is king; simple qualities like body language, eye contact and bringing a “brag book” are never out of style.
  • Handwritten thank you notes come few and far between; therefore, for those candidates who send them, they go a long way toward impressing the judges.
  • I am always impressed when candidates have their own websites where they post their resume, links to their social media pages, other tidbits describing who they are and a statement about their long-term goals.

Next time you enter the tough jungle that is “job hunting,” think of the competition as a reality show of sorts – hundreds of thousands of competitors all fighting to gain the title, the contract and the prize: a shiny new job.

Without a doubt, demonstrating this competitive mentality will help you become “America’s Next Top Candidate”!


Founders’ Day celebrates excellence at UCF. We recognize staff, faculty, and students who have inspired us through their actions. It was a great day for the college, especially for the Dixon School of Accounting. They had three faculty who received university-wide recognition: Marcye Hampton for Faculty Advising, Donna Bobek Schmitt for Graduate Teaching, and Robin Roberts who became the college’s first Pegasus Professor: the highest honor UCF grants a faculty member. As my Aussie friends would say: Good on Ya, Mates.

Then there was our student award winner. With 8000 undergraduates it is a highly competitive process. First each department selects one student from among their many majors and then our executive committee (made up of the department chairs, associate deans and me) picks the winner from the group of five finalists. Just being a finalist is a huge honor. Each finalist is an amazing student and campus leader with a long list of accomplishments. We host a breakfast to recognize all of them the morning of the event. But ultimately we have to choose just one student to represent the college and this year’s award winner is Jessica Fears.

I could tell you how Jessica exemplifies a student who got out of her comfort zone, or how she has embraced data-driven decision making. I could also tell you about the physical obstacles she overcame in her last semester, but sometimes it is just about paying tribute to the unbridled pursuit of academic excellence. You see Jessica completed an economics degree with a math minor. She took four years of calculus, statistical theory, logic and proofs, mathematical economics, etc. She even took Ph.D level courses from Dr. Caputo. Federal regulations don’t allow me to reveal her GPA, so lets just say she did really really well. So well in fact that she will be attending an economics Ph.D. program in the fall at either Texas or UCF -Davis.

I often talk about how math geeks are taking over the universe and how in today’s world the pathway to prosperity involves customization and differentiation rather than standardization and conformity. Art involves risk and great students and faculty are ultimately artists looking to provide insight that changes the way we see the world. Jessica, like her mentor Dr. Caputo has been fearless about this. It is why she is our Founders’ Day student of the year. I look forward to the day when we can make her an offer to come back, join our faculty and put a UCF byline next to her provocative ideas.

From Tears to Cheers

Taylor and Nicole were long shots. After tears flowed during the semifinals in response to a sharp question from a judge, the ladies were sure they had taken themselves out of the competition. But they won their group and their product was the talk of the tournament.

Men weren’t really sure what to make of it. I arrived early at the finals to greet the judges. All of them expressed some discomfort about quizzing the team on their product: a disposable device that allowed women to urinate standing up. Honest anatomical questions were exceeded only by concerns about acceptance of a product that seemed to violate social norms. I walked from the reception area to the Joust room having written Smartway Cup out of the competition. It just had too many questions to overcome in a twenty minute presentation and ten minute Q&A session.

I was wrong. The team had developed a masterful presentation that tackled all of the issues head-on. The fact that while men didn’t get the product, some women loved it. The fact the female urinals were springing up in Europe and Asia. The fact that they had a much more sanitary product than the competition. The fact that they understood the price point, had solid financials, and knew how to sell the product to a target market of early adopters. As a very experienced and successful panel of business people asked their questions, you could hear skepticism turning to interest in the tones of the judges’ voices. When they were finished, I knew Nicole and Taylor were in the hunt. When all the teams had finished, you could sense an upset in the making.

I talk constantly about the need for students to get out of their comfort zones, accept the possibility of failure, and use data to drive their decision-making. Taylor and Nicole took everyone way outside their comfort zones. They learned from their past experience and used data along with a crisp presentation to ally fears, overcome social norms and pitch a potentially disruptive product that no one had given a chance at the beginning of the day.

So stand up ladies everywhere. Smartway Cup has won the Joust! You go girls! (honestly, the marketing slogan possibilities are endless.)

Repost Wednesday: Time to Joust

I love the Joust. It is the embodiment of our values. When I visited last year, I saw the semi-finals and wondered why it wasn’t done on a grander stage. As I’ve written before, rituals and ceremonies that celebrate our values are incredibly important. They affirm who we are as an institution and underscore the importance of the achievement to the individual. They must be part of the fabric that supports the culture we are trying to promote in the college.

The Joust is one of a handful of events in the college that squarely align with the vision I painted during our 50th Anniversary event. It is at the intersection of town and gown–facilitated by faculty and judged by seasoned business professionals. It is open to any student at UCF. It takes courage to enter, research to prepare a convincing plan, and swagger to win. Comfort zones are exceeded, vision is married with data, egos are risked, and failure is almost certain. Only one plan walks away with the top prize.

So, we are going to celebrate the Joust with banners, pageantry, and hoopla…both virtual and in-person. Kelly, Tiffany, and Bridget have done a great job lining up judges. Past awardees will be recognized over the next month and the winner might even get a kiss from Steve Felkowitz (okay, maybe over the top, but we’ll come up with something cool).

But as valuable as winning is to the victor, the advice all of the students get from the judges is priceless. And telling would-be employers (or potential business partners) about the Joust experience is sure to impress and differentiate participants from the pack. As everyone knows, a good scar makes for a great story.

So break out your lances Knights, time to Joust! The Finals are this Friday. Come out and see what it’s all about.

If We Don’t Advocate and Inspire, Then Who Will?

I’m in Chicago today to meet with some alums and potential donors while attending the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) Annual Conference. UCF’s business school and the Dixon School of Accounting are both accredited by the AACSB. Only 178 universities in the world have both business and accounting accreditation from the AACSB. It is a big deal and we just received official notice last week that AACSB has extended our accreditation for another five years. That does not happen without the hard work of a lot of outstanding faculty and staff who deliver a world-class education and experience to our students.

Each year deans from around the world attend this conference to keep abreast of developments in business education, learn about the ever evolving accreditation standards and to network with their colleagues. It is really weird to be in a place with so many deans running around, but the chance to talk to your peers about the challenges they face and how they are addressing them is pretty valuable stuff. Yet like every other professional conference I have ever attended: the Academy of Management, the American Economic Association, and the Industrial Relations Research Association, to name just a few, the formal sessions pretty much suck. In general they have impressive titles, but disappointing content delivered in unimaginative formats.

Here is all you need to know: The organizers of such conferences check your badge before entering any reception with free food and the exhibitor area, but nobody ever checks your badge before you enter a formal session. There is no threat of anyone ever crashing a session. If you did crash one, the organizers would merely assume you got lost looking for the free food.

Contrast this with Ted Talks. People apply for and pay several thousands of dollars to attend these events. These talks are given in auditoriums full to the brim with people from all walks of life and are limited to twenty minutes. The presentations are inspirational and aspirational, made by academics, policy-makers and thought leaders from all different backgrounds, disciplines and areas of interest. Formal sessions at conferences, on the other hand, attract specialists and focus on the mechanics of the science and the strength of the evidence in support of an idea. This makes the presentation highly technical and largely impenetrable to most people. Ted Talks on the other hand, are almost all about the idea and very little about the details of the science. Ted invites everyone to experience the impact of the content presented. Ted Talks are advocacy: well-polished, provocative, entertaining arguments about the power of a specific idea. Limited slide decks, no references to other papers, no regression coefficients, and no time for Q&A, just an idea pitch meant to provide insight and stir the mind of the audience. I keep wondering why universities and academic meetings don’t have more Ted-like sessions.

You don’t get to engage in debate at a Ted Talk. It is a lecture, not a dialogue. As such, it isn’t a substitute for the debate about methods, data, and findings; critical to the advance of knowledge. Yet I fear that our compulsive pursuit of the “tactical” in our professional circles has come at the expense of the advocacy of our ideas and our ability to engage and inspire those outside our areas of expertise. We train our students in the tools of science and teach them to eschew advocacy as unseemly self-promotion destructive to scholarly endeavor.

If we don’t learn to advocate for the power of our ideas and teach our students to do likewise, then who will? And if the food at the reception is seen as more nourishing than the ideas presented at our conferences, how sustainable is the endeavor?

Repost Wednesday: A Sense of Urgency

It is Spring Break and I am enjoying Cactus League baseball with Tyler and Suzanne this week. Tyler and I have been known to see eight games in five days. We would see more, they just don’t schedule enough games at different times throughout the day. Today it is Cubs vs. D-Backs from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (what a great name). We have strict rules: no cell phones. internet access, ipods, or tweets. No talk of work, school or any part of the world that exists outside the contours of the stadium. (No I didn’t write this blog post today–it would violate these rules and frankly you are not important enough to distract me from this experience. I wrote this post ten days ago. I also planned ahead to get tickets to this game–I got the tickets first and then found the time to squeeze you in.)

I am the Jimmy Fallon character in “Fever Pitch” (if you don’t believe me, come to my office). Suzanne is a much more cute version of Drew Barrymore. Like Drew, Suz enjoys the sunshine, beer and an occasional hot dog, but struggles to understand my spring training addiction. My favorite scene in the movie is when Jimmy declines an invitation from Drew to travel with her to meet her parents. He explains that her trip conflicts with his annual spring training pilgrimage to see the Red Sox. Drew questions the importance of spring training by pointing out that the games “don’t count”. Jimmy explains that the trip is really about evaluating the Red Sox’s talent for the upcoming season: debating who should make the team, who should start and who should stay in the minors. An impressed Drew responds “And the Red Sox value your opinion? They listen to what you have to say?” Jimmy, sheepishly responds…”Well no, but….”

Tyler and I know where Jimmy is coming from. We try to see as many teams as possible and to chat with their diehard fans. Inevitably, we are told about a hot prospect, a young player with great potential. My first question to the admiring fan is always the same: How long has the prospect been in the team’s player development system (well usually I just say “the minors”)? The answer better be less than five years. Ideally the answer should be less than three years. By year five, if a prospect hasn’t turned “potential” into results–the only reason the team still calls him a “prospect” is because they have a shortage of talent and need to keep their fans focused on the future. The devoted fan is blinded by the hope of soon-to-be realized potential to help his struggling team. If the team is the Cubs, management probably already gave the under-achiever a five year, twenty million dollar guaranteed contract. But well-run teams (see the Tampa Rays) wont be this stupid. They will have retained the flexibility to trade their former prospect to the Cubs (or the Mets before they ran out of money). If that doesn’t work, they will just cut their losses and give the player his unconditional release.

Like it or not, the world is impatient. Increasingly so. Today, many prospects are paid big money and are expected to show almost immediate results. This is just as true for assistant professors, MBAs and CEOs as it is for baseball players. If you want to make it to the top, it is important to have a sense of urgency. The time to prove your value is short and the next crop of “prospects” are just a year behind you.

By the way, Drew was wrong…if you are a prospect trying to turn potential into results, all the games count.

(This year Ty and I saw eight Grapefruit League games in seven days. Suzanne stayed home.)

The Tigers Need a Closer

My old friend and colleague Nate Bennett has a column in Business Week. His latest entry is about the challenges of baseball managers on teams that really have little hope of winning the World Series. The trick is to get the most out of each player while not losing your credibility about the team’s chances. If you succeed your team just might contend. Think Joe Madden and the Rays.

Jim Leyland of my Tigers has a different problem. He is expected to win. In fact his team is expected to dominate. When it doesn’t, like for most of last season, people want his head. Expectations are even higher this year: he is expect to win the Wold Series. Nothing less will do.

The problem is the Tigers don’t have a closer. Guys on teams need clearly defined roles. If you bat first or second in the order, your job is to get on base: hit, walk, hit by pitch..doesn’t matter. Just get on base. If you bat three through six, you need to drive people in. If you bat seven through nine, a hit would be nice but you are on the team to get the other team out. Starting pitchers need to go five innings and give up less than four runs. Middle relief specialists get specific types of hitters out.

Then there is the closer. His job is to get the last three outs when everyone else has already done their job. The team is ahead. You take the mound and if you do your job, the team wins. If you don’t, everyone is disappointed with you. And if you do disappoint, your job is to forget about it, go out the next day and pitch like you never ever get beat. The ninth inning is yours…act like you own it.

The problem is that Jim Leyland doesn’t have this guy. He knows it and the team knows it. He has lots of good pitchers who can get people out, but none that have had to own the ninth inning. So guys will have to play multiple roles. That is hard to do.

Some say you don’t need this, that you can close by committee. It can be one guys job today and another tomorrow. That is a bit like saying

The people who work for you need to know that you can close. That when they have done all that they can to set you up for success and you take the mound that you will be lights out. Frankly they deserve this and if they believe that they can depend on you to close, they will work tirelessly for you. If they doubt you, or you doubt you, you will not get their A game.

That’s why Jim Leyland needs a closer. Every team does.

Go Tigers.