Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Makes a Leader Great?

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation." ~Aristotle

I have heard John A. Allison IV, the chairman of BB&T Corp., deliver his speech on the Winston-Salem, N.C., company's "10 core values" several times since I moved to North Carolina in 2000 to cover banks. The values have not changed, nor has the underlying message.
I'll acknowledge that his lecture resonates louder now than it did the first time I heard it, given the turmoil in financial markets, sizeable bank failures and bailouts, and the credibility lost by many banks over the past year.
This was also an entirely new forum, with Allison delivering the talk as a distinguished professor in practice at the Wake Forest University Schools of Business.
For Allison, the message is quite simple: your company will succeed if it does what is in the best interest of its customers. Shareholders are also rewarded, not by a short-lived burst in earnings but instead with reliable results that hold up relatively well even in the most difficult situations. So far, BB&T is proving him correct, continuing to post profitable quarter while maneuvering through the recession. That's not to say that the company won't take its lumps - it does have several quarters ahead where a shoe could drop. But so far the company is holding its own.
I wished Allison had been given time to address the company's purchase of Colonial Bank two weeks ago, which will present challenges but has also returned BB&T to being one of the nation's 10-largest banks. (Allison has long stated that banks need to be in that upper strata or miss out on the best opportunities for growth.)
Allison focused most of his comments on leadership. What makes a great leader? What preparation is needed? He shared his views in a fashion known quite well to those who have followed him over the years, quoting Aristotle, Jefferson, and shades (but no direct attribution) of Ayn Rand. But embedded in those quotes were some keen observations from the man himself.
“Leadership matters in all aspects of how we behave,” he said very early in his lecture. “When you look at failures in organizations, it often relates to failures in leadership.”
A great example of a managerial miscue: "Managers often mess up by wanting to change the result without trying to change the behavior." To Allison, such an oversight shortchanges both the employee who erred and the manager who overlooked the misstep. He also urged students to stay engaged, resurrecting a theme from orientation. The best managers, he said, “evade less and keep focus longer."
Without calling out any of his peers in banking, Allison touched on the fallout from bad business practices that allowed companies to pull in astronomical profits before the housing bubble burst. The message from the recent chaos? “Taking advantage of people isn’t selfish,” he said, noting that all living being act in their own self interest. “It is self-defeating.”
Allison reinforced another message delivered during orientation by Steve Reinemund, the dean of the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, urging students to find their passion. “You have to have a sense of passion and purpose in your work,” he said, calling them a key to happiness.
Another key: “Make the world a better place and do something you want to do.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

From Delhi to Winston-Salem

The following is a firsthand account by Rahul Goyal, a 23-year-old first- year MBA candidate who last month moved to North Carolina from New Delhi to attend Wake Forest University.

This is Rahul's perspective of Wake Forest, just weeks after he arrived in the United States. Rahul also provides some of his own background as he pursues his MBA in the Schools of Business. We look forward to including more of Rayul’s observations and viewpoints on the Wake Forest student blog.

I am an International student in the full-time MBA program at Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business ~ a highly reputable business program in the United States.

I have an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Hindu College in New Delhi. I began my professional career as a counselor among the quantitative aptitude faculty at IMS India Resources Pvt. Ltd., a private educational company. Here, I realized my interest in financial research, joining Capital IQ Information Systems Indian Pvt. Ltd., a division of Standard & Poor’s, as a research associate.

This is my first time in the United States and my experience in Winston-Salem, N.C., has been quite exciting and enriching. The city seems ideal for students and presents a very rich learning environment. The living expenses are low, people are pretty warm and, unlike the bigger cities around, the environment is very peaceful.

The University has a huge campus, and I was astonished to see the high-quality facilities that it offers the students. It’s easy to notice the congenial culture in the settings, as the administrative staff, faculty, and senior students are very friendly and easy to approach.

Before applying to MBA programs, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a school with small class sizes, excellent overall facilities, competitive faculty, high reputation and great corporate relations. Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business fit all of my expectations. I’ve already started realizing the value following a week of orientation programs.

Orientation was a great learning experience, and every day I feel reaffirmed in my decision to attend Wake Forest. I am more than 100% confident that my stay in this program is going to be very worthwhile for my career and for my overall self. I have a firm belief that Wake Forest will present great opportunities to help me progress in my chosen career path, and that the program will help me develop a holistic vision for my future course.

I am eager to share more about my experiences in the USA while providing a glimpse inside the MBA program that I know will reshape my life.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mentoring Female Business Leaders

Babcock Women In Business (BWIB) is working to connect the female members of the MBA and MA programs with business leaders in the community. The organization seeks to support future female business leaders in their career and personal development by helping them obtain the skills to find - and properly use - mentors in their lives. The group also hopes to create strong bonds among alumni and develop a strong network of support for all involved.

The group is recruiting business leaders around the Triad serve as mentors to students who are entering the corporate world, nonprofit sector, and small business. Stay tuned because the group is planning an activity in coming weeks for those interested in volunteering. Male and female mentors are invited to participate.

Anyone interested in mentoring can contact:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Setting Expectations

The first-day speakers at orientation for the Wake Forest Schools of Business had a potent message for the incoming classes: to find true success, future business leaders must develop an acute sense of self-awareness and purpose.
Before the first student had arrived, the event had proven groundbreaking by Wake Forest's standards, as organizers assembled 400 students from all five programs for the initial activities. Students from the full-time and evening MBA programs in Winston-Salem and Charlotte were able to mix and mingle with students entering the school’s MA and MSA program. (The gathering was so large that the university had to secure space at the Forsyth Country Club to accommodate the entire group.)
Every speaker had their own general perspective on setting goals and expectations, yet the general theme of responsibility and service permeated their individual presentations.
The most moving presentation by far came from Donovan Campbell, a Marine and graduate from Harvard Business School, who used a collection of successes and failures to demonstrate what a privilege it is to enter business school. He shared his experiences and hard lessons learned while leading a company in Iraq, which also served as the basis for Joker One, a New York Times bestseller.
“Humans are adaptable,” he noted, adding that he had seen teenagers do amazing things in combat. In comparison, that should serve as motivation for students to push themselves. “Failure is inevitable,” he added, admitting to his own shortcomings. “How you respond matters. You must default to responsibility.”
Trying hard to hold back tears, Campbell told a gripping account of rejecting an urge to seek retribution when a member of his company was killed defending school children. “We are Marines and we are better than this,” he told his men, acknowledging that only his faith and core values served as the basis for his decision.
As far as corporate scandals are concerned, Campbell charged incoming MBA candidates to turn the tide back toward responsibility. "We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redeem our profession,” he said.
Dean Steve Reinemund emphasized setting goals and finding purpose and passion in his remarks, charging students to find their place in society by investing time identifying desires and charting a path to accomplishing them. “What is it that you expect to get from your investment?” he asked.
Dean Reinemund also emphasized ethics, which he hopes will permeate the curricula within the Schools of Business. He stressed the importance for future leaders to respect individuals and espouse service, warning that ignoring such deeds yields “deviant behavior and dysfunctional organizations.”
Building on that message, Dr. Nathan Hatch, Wake Forest’s president, encouraged students to explore their passions rather than fall into the rut of “jumping through hoops” in pursuit of grades or a degree. Simply going through the motions is destined to “create a manufactured self” devoid of true passion. Rather, spend time developing “deep vocational discernment,” he said.
With that in mind, today’s leaders have a unique opportunity to reestablish trust and credibility in a world where average citizens correlate business schools with Enron and Madoff, along with exotic mortgages and government bailouts.
Dr. Jim Loehr, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, rounded out the day, presenting a case study for treasuring and conserving energy to maximize performance. He implored students to write out what they view as necessary for success, calling such a move an imperative for staking out future decisions. “Before you launch be certain of what you want,” he said.
Another key takeaway was the need for improved engagement, with Dr. Loehr noting that individuals and the organizations they run often fail to reach their full potential when the leaders lose focus. “How easy is it to get self-absorbed?” he asked.
“Performance is directly related to your level of engagement,” he added.
Interesting fact #1: According to Dr. Loehr, a 15-minute power nap in the afternoon can increase attention for more than three hours.
Interesting fact #2: Dr. Hatch confided to the students that his iPhone has a well rounded playlist that includes classical music, U2, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, and the Blind Boys from Alabama. It was however to independently verify the remarks.
To watch Campbell's presentation, click:

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sustainability: Corporate Duty or Government Domain?

What does sustainability mean to corporate America? How much influence should the government have?

A simplified definition for sustainability draws a visual of building a bridge between the present and future, striving to find ways to meet current demand in a way that leaves ample resources for other generations.

While that may serve as a sound springboard for theoretical debate, it does very little to demonstrate precisely what conservation means to businesses. It fails to illuminate the steps companies are taking to improve the environment, find efficiencies, and rely less heavily on limited resources.

A forum hosted by the Charlotte 2010 Evening program at Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business sought answers, hosting representatives from different industries. The roundtable was the brainchild of a team within the program, which is closing in on the halfway point of their MBA curriculum.

Duke Energy represented a service provider that relies on energy consumption to make money. Profits clearly get pinched when the company revs up investment in renewable energy, or when customers made efforts to lower their energy use. External challenges are aplenty, particularly when it comes to groups upset over the impact that fossil fuels have on the environment.

Goodrich Corp. is closely linked to the aerospace industry, producing components for clients such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The company views sustainability efforts as a boon to profits. By producing more-efficient parts, they have the ability to help clients operate more competitively.

Throughout their presentations, representatives from both companies talked about the many challenges to promoting sustainability. Another chord that resonated from their remarks is that sustainability thrives in an environment where companies, and not the government, presses for improvement.

The debate over regulation is not new, although it has regained prominence as the Obama administration and Congress grapple over whether more intervention is needed in the financial services industry. To some intervention advocates, it unfortunately takes a dropped ball before the government realizes that it needs to pay closer attention to the juggler.

Tuesday night’s speakers presented the counterargument that companies are better motivated by their clients and a need to be more nimble and distinctive from their competitors. Another motivation for internal boundaries is to keep government out.

Harry Arnold, a vice president for enterprise technology at Goodrich, said one reason his company embraces sustainability efforts to avoid political pressure. “I’ll be blunt about that,” he told 50 attendees. (Another reason is that it helps the company recruit forward looking engineers.)

“We have been a self-regulated industry for the last 50 years,” Arnold said. “During that time new planes are 20% more efficient than the ones that they have replaced. And they’re quieter and more efficient. We want to be in a world without government mandates.”

Globally, governments are taking a harder line. Europe for instance is evaluating REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemical substances), which in part would take a closer look at chemical importation. That would include oversight on materials such as cadmium and chrome, which for now are essential components of products that Goodrich makes.

Arnold said that the bigger motivation to reduce and eliminate such chemicals comes from clients. “We have customers asking for the chemical makeup of our products,” he said. “We are working to get rid of the bad actors in our products … but they have to first pass a safety grade.”

Gregory Efthimiou, a communications manager at Duke, used his time to tout programs the company has espoused. “We are trying to balance reliability, affordability, and clean as we move to more sustainable system,” he said.

Duke created a Web site – – that discusses the causes of climate change. The company is looking at distributed generation, which involves installing solar panels on clients’ roofs. Duke is also getting approval for the states it operates in make money when it helps customers use less energy via the Save-A-Watt program.

The company is also investing in carbon capture, albeit a tiny amount (roughly $17 million) compared to the $1 billion it is spending on wind energy. Efthimiou also expressed trepidation investing in nuclear power but said the company is evaluation ways to increase spending there as well.

“Duke has a huge bull's eye on our chest and we painted most of the circle,” Efthimiou conceded. There's no "silver bullet" to solve climate change, he added. "It will take everything we have to make the bridge to low-carbon future."

What do you think? Is more government involvement required to promote sustainability, or can companies self regulate themselves in a way that will improve circumstances for future generations?

Fun fact: The average airplane taxis 500,000 to 700,000 miles during its lifespan.