Archive for December, 2006

Display of Skills

December 28th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

During the first class of “Executive Power and Negotiation”, Dr. K told us that previous students had repaid the tuition for the class with a single negotiation. I was a skeptical until it happened to me.

I drive a black 2004 Toyota Prius. For the last couple of months, the heads-up display had been giving me trouble. Sometimes it wouldn’t boot up properly. Other times it would function fine for ten minutes and then reset itself. When it was nonfunctional, I couldn’t access the onscreen controls for the temperature. The most annoying problem is that the radio would turn itself off intermittently. None of the problems were safety critical, but they were all frustrating. The engineer in me was sure the problem would be simple to fix. It seemed like there must just be a loose wire somewhere.

I brought my car to the dealer a couple of weeks ago and described the problem to them. It turns out that Toyota was aware of the problem since it occurs in all of their vehicles from the 2004 time frame. Unfortunately, their preferred solution was to replace the whole display unit. Since my car was no longer under warranty, I was on the hook for $4600 if I wanted to fix the problem. There was no way I was going to pay that much, so I resigned myself to living with the problem.

However, I realized that this was a perfect negotiation opportunity. I did some research on line and discovered that many Prius owners were experiencing the same problem. It started to get the impression that the part was defective. Since my best alternative was to live with the problem and pay nothing, I felt like I had nothing to lose in calling Toyota customer service and raising a stink.

At first, the service representative told me that there was nothing they could do since my car was out of warranty. It was time to get mean. The escalation went something like this:

“I have been an advocate for this car. My mother-in-law bought one based on my recommendation. My wife is a loyal Toyota buyer. Do you want to lose them as future customers, too?”

“A $4600 repair is over 1/3 of the blue book value of the car. I would be better off selling this one and taking the cash to buy a Honda Civic Hybrid. The $4600 would more than cover the difference in cost if I wanted to buy a new car.”

“What do you expect me to do? I can drive the car for the rest of its useful life and this will always be a problem. Every time someone is riding with me and the radio cuts out, they’ll ask me what happened. I’ll have to tell them that the reason that the radio doesn’t work properly is because Toyota doesn’t care about its customers.”

That final line elicited some action. However, the action was to pass the buck back to Darcars. So, I went through the same exercise with the Darcars representative and she took action. For the next two weeks, I kept on top of her. Much to my surprise, I got more than I expected. Toyota decided to replace the display for free. They even covered the cost of installation. They chalked it up to customer goodwill. I chalk this up as the most successful negotiation that I have ever had in my life.

The $4600 I saved by calling Toyota more than covered the cost of tuition for the Negotiation class. Whoo hoo!

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Stand Up Comedy

December 22nd, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Fall semester is done. Finally. A word of advice for everyone out there who is considering taking three classes at once – don’t do it. All semester long I felt like I was struggling to keep up with my academic demands and my professional responsibilities.

Unfortunately, even when the semester was finished, I didn’t get a break from taking classes. On Friday, I turned in my last paper. On Monday, I started a three-day course on project management that was required for my job. The course was taught by Gloria, a subcontractor from ESI International. Her style was completely different from that of any professor I have had at the Smith School or anywhere else. The nearest comparison I could think of was comedian and fellow Silver Spring native Lewis Black.

Someone once told me that every professor’s secret dream is to become a stand up comedian. I don’t think that’s always true. However, for some professors, it is clearly the case. Thinking about my classes, I think the breakdown is as follows in order from least to most humorous departments (your mileage may vary):

Decision and Information Technologies – notable comedian: Wolfgang Jank
Prof. Jank started our first class on business statistics by having us vote on our favorite type of beer. Unfortunately, that’s the funniest thing that happened in any of my D&IT classes, which is why I rate this department the least humorous.

Marketing – notable comedian: Gabriel Biehal
Prof. Biehal is on the list only because he is taught the core course, which happens to be the sum total of my exposure to marketing.

Finance – notable comedian: Halak Unal
Prof. Unal is the Don Rickles of the finance department. He is quite funny as long as you are not his target. Everyone gets a taste of his acerbic wit at some point.

Management & Organization – notable comedian: Myeong-Gu Seo
Prof. Seo’s stories about his childhood friends (with names like Fighting Chicken) were the best part of the “Leadership and Teamwork” class.

Logistics, Business & Public Policy – notable comedian: Burt Leete
I took Prof. Leete’s class “Law for Managers” during the summer and class met for four hours a day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. His humor made the time pass quickly. Somehow he managed to slip some sexual innuendo into every lecture.

Accounting & Information Assurance – notable comedians: Mike Finch and Jim Peters Prof. Finch and Prof. Peters are reminiscent of the Smothers Brothers (or perhaps Bob and Doug McKenzie for those of you who are fans of SCTV). Whenever you ask one of them about the other, you’re bound to hear a hilarious backhanded compliment. Their teaching styles are not for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed both of their classes.

If you have taken classes with any other comedians please post a comment.

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Organizational Fit

December 12th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Last Friday, I turned down a research position that I had been offered at a local market due diligence firm. Even though it represented a pay increase and a shorter commute, it was not the right fit for me. Before the MBA program, I probably would have taken it and I probably would have been unhappy.

I had never heard of the firm before CareerQuest, but the Vice President who I met made quite an impression on me. He was very personable and he made it clear that I was the kind of person he was looking for to fill the position. The job did not sound like exactly what I want to do, but I saw a lot of opportunity to grow and gain skills that would get to where I want to be. So, I pursued it through a phone screen and an in-person interview. All the while, I was still on the fence. It sounded like a good opportunity and it was so close to home. So, when I received an offer, I insisted that I be given the chance to come in and meet the team again before I made up my mind.

My goal was to do a fit interview. I learned about organizational fit in Managing Human Capital. Ever since then, I have been the guy in my office who does the fit interview. I trust that the other engineers on the hall can determine how well a candidate knows their stuff when it comes to hardware or software. My role is to determine how well the person will fit in the group. For people who have an engineering education, the hour in my office is the hardest one of the day.

In lieu of a sign saying “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” I opted to hang a misprinted name plate outside my door. The company that does the engraving misspelled “Server Room.” So, when it is time for an interviewee to answer probing questions about their work habits and conflict management skills, they come to the “Sever Room.” It is an apt title. I am persistent in my questioning. I know that tends to make people feel quite uncomfortable, but it is for their own good. I don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t fit. If I were to give my blessing to a candidate who I felt would not thrive and succeed, it would be a disservice to that person and to my team.

The firm that made me an offer did not consider fit in their screening process. They might be used to going with gut instinct to determine if a person would fit in. So, I took it upon myself to do my own reverse fit interview. I met with four people in the firm and asked them about their passions, frustrations, and work habits. I also asked them why they offered me the job. The answers that I received turned me off of the position completely. I discovered that my technical background was not important to them. The work does not lend itself to a social office environment and most people spend the day with their office doors closed. For a gregarious person like me, that would be a depressing way to do work. I decided right then that I would not accept the offer and I knew I was making the correct decision.

I owe my professors in the MBA program a lot. I have learned so many valuable skills from them. Knowing how to differentiate between good and bad opportunities and having the confidence to walk away from the latter may be the most valuable skills of all.

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Attrition

December 5th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Last night was the last class session for “Networks and Influence.” After I turn in my final two assignments next week, I’ll be just that much closer to graduating. For some of my classmates, last night was their last class. They’re done.

It’s a strange feeling for me. After spending fifteen weeks together, it is weird to think that there is a good chance that I probably won’t ever see some of my classmates again. I should be used to it by now.

I started the part-time program as a member of the Shady Grove core group. For the first year and a half, all of my classes were with the same sixty students. A couple of people dropped out along the way. For the most part, though, I knew that I would see the same people for three and a half hours, twice each week. Only the professors and the subjects changed. I developed friendships with a lot of my classmates. Then the core ended and everyone scattered to the winds for the elective portion of our studies. There are a number of people who I haven’t seen since the core. There is a sense of loss when you have studied with someone for a while and then you suddenly don’t see them at all anymore.

I guess short-term camaraderie is just part of being a part-time MBA student. There are people who I met in my electives who I got along with great for fifteen weeks (or even as few as three) and then suddenly they weren’t part of my life. There are people who I worked with in groups who I haven’t ever spoken to again simply due to the transient nature of the program. There are people who I said goodbye to last night that I may never meet again. The same will be true on Wednesday night when I have my last class for “Executive Power and Negotiation.” I’ll say goodbye to some of my classmates for the last time. There are some people who I expect to always keep in touch with as well.

So, goodbye to Erin, Ish, Melissa, Greg, Tijen, and Brett – my fellow students who are graduating this term. I have enjoyed taking classes with you and I wish you continued success in all of your endeavors. Fare thee well and may we meet again soon.

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