Of Underdogs and Intellectual Humility

March 5, 2014

When a group of undergraduate students from the entrepreneurship program at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C. T. Bauer College of Business competed in a business plan competition this past weekend, they knew that the stakes were not even.  Bauer undergraduates were competing against graduate students, not to mention students from Harvard, Yale and MIT.

None of this mattered to our students who are ready to compete with anyone, anytime, anywhere.  And so they did.

Kudos to Bauer undergraduate students Cassandra Hoang, Bobby Jacobs, Casey McNeil, and Susan Tran, who won first place in the competition (MIT team placed second). They helped create a business plan for a technology developed by Prof. Allan Jacobson, Robert A. Welch Chair of Science and Director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at University of Houston.

The REEcycle plan, as it is known, is part of the program we adopted this year to have Bauer students put business plans around technologies provided by the University of Houston Division of Research. The REEcycle plan addresses rare earth elements (REE) used in computer memory, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, fluorescent lighting and more. Demand for these elements is outstripping supply, which is especially problematic because China produces most of the world supply and is increasingly treating them as a strategic resource. It is believed that recycling could address about 20% of the demand for REEs and reduce our reliance on Chinese exports, but to date there has not been a commercially viable method for extracting REEs from electronic components. Prof. Jacobson has developed such a method, and the REEcycle team has put a well thought out business plan around it.

We met the day after they returned from the competition, and I asked Cassandra Hoang, Bobby Jacobs, Casey McNeil, and Susan Tran, what they learned from the experience.  The big takeaway for me was the power of humility in these participants.  Arguably they were the “underdogs.”  Yet, or rather because of this, they did everything they possibly could to more than compensate for whatever it is they were “perceived” to lack.  They rehearsed for weeks ahead of time. They rehearsed the day and night before the event. They sought out and took to heart the feedback they received from alumni, faculty and friends.  For sure, they received a ton of advice. No one could blame them for not trying.

And they won.  They won big.

Yes, Bauer students do not need to be compared to any other group, and they can more than stand on their own ground.  Yes, I don’t need to emphasize “Bauer #1, MIT #2.”  Yes, “Bauer #1” says it all.

For what Bauer students possess in ample measure is what Lazlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, referred to as a skillset that Google looks for in its hires called “intellectual humility,” or the ability to continually learn and want to learn.  If being the underdog comes with a large dose of intellectual humility, then Bauer students will always want to be underdogs, and refreshingly so.

Where Awesome Happens

December 9, 2013

whereawesomehappensLast week as I walked down the hallway to Room 302 at Melcher Hall, I noticed a sign posted outside a classroom.  It read ‘Where Awesome Happens.’ Students of Bauer RED Labs posted this outside the door to RED Labs.  What a true statement especially coming from students.

So how does ‘Awesome Happen’ at the Bauer College?

The very next day I had the opportunity to see ‘Awesome Happen.’  Attending the Bauer Microfinance Graduation and Pitch day on Saturday, December 7, I met with students graduating from the Microfinance program.  Students in this program learn business skills, they also learn to give back by using their skills to help the community.  In Houston, they assisted local Taxi cab drivers avail of microloans from the Alliance for Multicultural Services Center, helping the drivers create strong business plans and money management strategies.

Our students worked with the Ayuda Para project in Mexico to help create a homegrown salsa business.  In the Navajo Nation (NM, AZ, CO, UT), they worked with local leaders on evaluating the poverty cycle and studying how education helps alleviate poverty.  Our students also traveled to India and Africa and worked with local microfinance organizations to empower local citizens who had ideas for small startups that could help overcome poverty.

Serving through microfinance organizations that raise resources that can help ‘micro’ sized businesses whether in Houston or abroad, Bauer students are using their skills to help others grow.  They understand that business needs to have a soul to be impactful and to create multiplier effects in the community.  I was reminded of the saying that the longest distance to travel is the 18 inches between the head and the heart.  Our students in the Microfinance program have traversed that distance and are making ‘Awesome Happen.’

Giving Thanks

November 27, 2013

What a wonderful time of year it is – a time to give thanks, to acknowledge and to be grateful.  As we approach the official Thanksgiving break, I continue to be amazed by the people around us – faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community at large, all of whom, working together, make a difference and change lives.   For this I am truly thankful.  By no means exhaustive, and not in any order, I say:

Thank you, Tammy

Many of you I am sure, have seen our Bauer College Security Officer Tamara (Tammy to some of us) Hauser who sits at the concierge desk at the entrance to Melcher Hall.  Waiting for the rain to subside on Tuesday evening, I chatted with Tammy about her family, her three sons, and her husband Raymond.  This Thanksgiving, Tammy and Raymond (who is being treated for cancer at M.D. Anderson) have given generously to support a kids’ celebration at M.D. Anderson for kids with cancer.  Thank you Tammy, and thank you Raymond.

Thank you, Priscilla

Priscilla Harrington is a Supply Chain Management and Marketing major, also in the Program for Excellence in Selling.  Not only is she an active volunteer in the community (she will be helping out at Turkey Trot, the day before Thanksgiving), she gets other students to do the same.  She is a mentor in the Ted Bauer Leadership Certificate Program (TBLCP) and received the Bauer Pride Award and the TBLCP Leadership Award.  Priscilla and her fellow TBLCP students volunteered for the Houston Souper Bowl of Caring, where they sold over 400 bags containing canned goods for the Houston Food Bank.  Thank you, Priscilla.

Thank you, Joyce

Joyce Williams is director of Recruitment and Community Outreach at Bauer.  There is a reason for this.  In my opinion, Joyce’s middle name is “Service” and the litany of service projects she is involved in would be hard to fit into a brief description.  Yesterday, Joyce and her team completed the Stars of Tomorrow Excellence Program’s Food Drive.  Our own Bauer Leadership Council, Bauer Morale and Training Committee, students, faculty and staff all pitched in. Working as a team they collected 1,000 items to feed eight families and start a food pantry for the Edison School community.  Thank you, Joyce.

And the list goes on.

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.