When a watch is more than a time piece

May 27, 2016

The month of May is special – sandwiched between exams and grading is an event we all look forward to – convocation and commencement celebrations. These ceremonies remind us that a degree is more than a piece of paper.  Education is about empowering everyone to create opportunity for themselves and for others.  The emails from graduating students over the past few weeks inspire us to action and make us smile.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.

Miriam Haddad, Class of 2016 wrote to us:
I will be interning with ExxonMobil this summer, beginning May 31st.  I can definitely attest to the fact that Bauer and the Finance Association have given me all the tools to be at my best beyond college in the work force. Bauer is such an amazing place to be: the faculty, staff, and students always pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me what it means to be a leader. 

Farhad Tahir, Class of 2016 wrote:
With graduation just around the corner, I wanted to share with you some exciting news, as well as tell you how Bauer has made me the person I am today. In my very first year here, I was honored to be the recipient of the Bauer Excellence Scholarship. Since then, I utilized the tools Bauer provided me to become a better person, both in the workplace and in the community. After completing a year-long internship with Siemens Wind Service group here in Houston, and a Summer internship with EY’s advisory practice, I am proud to say that I will be joining Shell Oil this summer after graduation…. 

In looking back, all that I am is because of the environment and education I received here at Bauer….I look forward to being an active part of the alumni network, and am proud that my spirit cord donation went towards the same Bauer Excellence Scholarship that I once received…. One day I am certain I will return to the University of Houston, and teach students in classes that I myself took

Nora Bayly, advisor in the Bauer Honors Program sent this note about her graduating students.

John Hounihan, Class of 2016 is a Management (Leadership track and Leadership Studies) major whose passion for leadership and theatre makes him a unique gem in the business school. John was heavily involved in the Honors College in Honors College Club Theatre, which included writing and directing his own shows, as President of the Honors College Student Governing Board, as a TA for Brenda Rhoden’s Leadership course, and he did undergraduate research with her. He was accepted to Graduate School  at Northwestern University to get his Masters of Science and Leadership for Creative Enterprises. He starts in the Fall and hopes to manage theatre companies in the future.

Andy Tran, Class of 2016, a Management (Leadership Track) Major and Biology Minor, has been accepted to medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in the Fall. He also worked as a certified EMT, and was active in the Asian Business Student Association (ABSA) while at Bauer.

And here is a story of a watch that is more than a time piece. Professor Ed Blair wrote about the Spring 2016 Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship Graduation dinner:

We have learned in WCE and PES that if you want evidence of the impact we make in students’ lives, just turn the microphone over to the students. Such was the case last night.

One moment came when scholarships were being announced. Our Wolffest income is now used to support scholarships, and the scholarship contribution from this year’s event will be roughly $140,000, with the largest single contribution being $50,000 from WCE alum Sean Mehta and Luminess airbrush cosmetics. That gift includes $30,000 for scholarship endowments and $20,000 to fund four $5,000 scholarships for next year’s seniors. The gift was raised by Jessica Ramirez, a Wolffest team leader. Dave Cook announced the four recipients and asked Jessica and Andrew Videira from Luminess to join the recipients on stage for a picture. After the picture, he handed the microphone to Jessica and asked if she would like to say something. She began to cry, said “I can’t,” and offered the mic back to Dave. He said, “yes you can.” Sobbing, Jessica said “I know what it is to get help when you need it” – last year, she had financial difficulties and dental problems, and Dave found a dentist who treated her for free and arranged for her to receive a $5,000 Wolff scholarship. Still crying, she walked to the edge of the stage and addressed Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff, who were sitting at a front table: “I wanted to help others the way you helped me, but I didn’t know how. Then, when I was made a Wolffest team leader, I thought that if I could raise enough money, I could do it.” Turning to the scholarship recipients, she said “now you’ll be helped the way I was helped.” The Wolffs teared up, I teared up, everybody teared up. It was a very emotional moment.

A second moment came when seniors Luu Vo and Nick Ravanbakhsh took the stage to tell the story of a watch. One of their classmates, Ildefonso (Fonso) Prieto, lost his watch at a class retreat. It fell into a lake and there was no hope of getting it back. Fonso really felt the loss because the watch had been a gift from his father, who died shortly before Fonso entered the WCE program. His classmates decided to buy him a replacement, and to get the exact same type of watch so he could still think of his father when he wore it. This turned out to be difficult. They scoured Fonso’s Facebook page and any pictures they could find that might show the watch. They found one picture that showed a distinctive link pattern on the watchband, and from that, Nick – who knows watches – was able to identify the brand and model. The model is no longer available, and a web search turned up only one listing in the world for sale (from what Nick termed a “sketchy” website). They ordered it, and the listing immediately changed to “out of stock,” so it appears that this was the last copy in the world. In due time, the watch arrived, and they found that the day/date wheel was in Arabic. As Luu observed, Fonso is a talented guy, but he does not speak Arabic, so the students searched for someone who could replace the day/date wheel with one in Spanish/English as per the original. They found someone in Hong Kong who could do it, and shipped the watch off. Now it was back, and they asked Fonso to come to the stage to take his watch. After they handed it to him, they asked him to look under the clasp. He did so and began to cry. He read the Spanish inscription out loud, then translated it to English: “it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.” He said that he had shared with his classmates that his father often told him this saying. Luu took the mic and said that they had not told the complicated story of the watch to show us what great people they were, but to let Fonso know how much effort and caring had gone into it. He asked that Fonso think of two families when he wears the watch: his own Prieto family and his WCE family.

And I’m not even mentioning the student who has been struggling to pay his bills and was literally overcome with emotion upon receiving a $5,000 scholarship from Keith Cox, or the 16 members of the senior class who declined to apply for scholarships because they said they knew classmates who needed it more than them.

It was a reminder that programs like WCE and PES don’t just educate our students – they care for those students, they create families of students who care for and support each other, and they change the lives of those students.

I wonder if William Butler Yeats had Bauer College in mind when he wrote:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire

Speaking of Trust

April 4, 2016

Last week, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel to discuss the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey. In partnership with Texas CEO Magazine, and ably led by publisher Pat Niekamp, Edelman hosted the panel which included Terry Wade (Reuters), Kathy Beiser (Edelman) and myself.

We discussed the results of the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer. This year’s survey shows that trust levels for business and for CEOs are bouncing back. The informed public — defined as those between ages 25-64, who are college educated and who belong to the top 25 percent of household income per age group in each country and who are avid consumers of media — places more trust in business, government, media and NGOs, compared to the mass population, which represents the remaining 85 percent of the population. Interestingly, for the 16th consecutive year, the technology sector continues to lead the trust index. Over the last five years, the energy sector has witnessed an increase in trust as has financial services (which despite this increase, continues to be the least trusted sector and comes in below pharmaceuticals).

Why is business regaining trust?

Is this a business cycle phenomenon?

When times are good, we tend to believe that businesses are doing the right thing and tend to increase our levels of trust. In addition, anymore, it is not your father’s capitalism. Whether it is Mackey’s ideas on “conscious capitalism” or Benioff’s appeal for “compassionate capitalism,” there is a recognition that customers, employees, and society at large are as important to business as shareholders. Fortune’s “Companies that Change the World” list looks at companies that do well by changing the world for the better. CVS, whose stock price has risen 66 percent since announcing that it will not carry tobacco products on its shelves; Ecolab, which is as much about water and conservation as it is about cleaning and sanitizing; Vodafone, which has helped over 16 million people in Kenya, India and other emerging market countries use financial services without ever having entered a bank; or our own Waste Management in Houston, which has made it easier for us to recycle so we can save the world from ourselves — these are good examples of doing well and doing good.

When Corporate Social Responsibility goes beyond a 30-minute chat on a Friday afternoon, when responsibility gets woven into the business plan, when companies appreciate that long term sustainability and growth are linked to building a trustworthy brand among all stakeholders in society — this is when trust is not merely a word in your values statement; rather, it is your corporate work ethic, which builds your brand and grows market value.

Speaking of market value, the gap between market and book values may have to do with growth options.  At the same time, to believe that a company can grow speaks to the trust that investors have in the firm’s model and mission. Under current accounting rules, U.S. companies do not record intangible items that capture trust on their books.  According to Leonard Nakamura, an economist at the Philadelphia Fed, more than $8 trillion in intangible assets is currently not on the books.  In 2014, companies invested the equivalent of 14 percent of the private sector’s GDP in intangibles and 10 percent in physical assets, the reverse of what it was 40 years ago when 13 percent of private sector GDP went to tangibles and 9 percent to intangibles. Intangibles as a proportion of total investment overtook tangibles in the mid-90s, right before the dot com bubble and have exceeded the proportion in tangibles ever since.

In a survey of global executives, Weber Shandwick finds that 44 percent of a company’s market value is attributable to CEO reputation.

How can CEOs grow, retain and maintain trust, brand and reputation?

  1. Keep the company at the forefront of your message. Repeat the message. As Jeff Immelt says, your message has “got to be repeatable, it’s got to be learnable, and it’s got to be teachable.”
  2. Leaders and CEOs need to cultivate a visible public profile that is about credibility, not so much celebrity. Engage/speak at events, be accessible to news media and be visible on the company website so you can repeat the company message. Am I repeating myself?

Tell me what you think.

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016

SymbolToday is International Women’s Day. So, is there an International Men’s Day?

Numbers explain why.

Today, more than 50 percent of individuals graduating with a master’s degree are women, yet 5 and 10 years into their working careers, compensation levels for women lag those for men.

Only a handful of Fortune 500 companies are led by women (around 5 percent) and less than 20 percent have female representation on boards.

Economists estimate that eliminating the gap between male and female employment could boost GDP in the U.S. by 5 percent, in Japan by 9 percent and in Egypt by 34 percent. When combined with the fact that women are more likely to invest their wealth in education and health for their children, female employment and wage equality can, and will, impact economic development in a broader sense.
Yet, women are struggling to catch up.

Conferences, symposia and keynotes that speak loudly about the lack of diversity, abound.

Let’s act.

Let’s hold ourselves accountable.

So, today I pledge (I will keep you posted):

I pledge to sponsor a woman on my team and help her realize her professional aspirations.

What about you?