Archive for March, 2011

2011 Social Enterprise Symposium

March 31st, 2011 by under Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Marketing, Triple Pundit. No Comments.

I just got back from the 2011 Social Enterprise Symposium, hosted at the University of Maryland in College Park.

It was a great night and I learned alot.

Honest Tea was recently fully acquired by Coca Cola, which held an option to purchase the firm after its initial 2008 investment for 40% of the firm. Source: Honest Tea

Problem or Solution: It’s In the Eye of the Beholder

Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea was the keynote speaker of the evening.  He shared with us an insightful story about a visit he made to China to visit an organic tea farm from which Honest Tea sourced its leaves.

The tea shrubs were on the other side of a river from the village where most of the farmers lived.  Villagers had to take a flat log raft across the river to get to the farm and to transport the leaves to the other side.

Goldman floated the idea of investing in a vehicle bridge to get across more easily.  However, the villagers said they didn’t want a bridge for a reason that was not immediately appearant to Goldman.

The villagers said that if they build a bridge then more cars would come through the village and through fields which would pollute the air and damage their crops.

Sometimes what we see as a problem may actually be a solution.

Another interesting comment was that Honest Tea uses different bottles for different distribution channels.  Glass bottles still go to the health niche stores and restaurants, but the newer then PET bottles (that take up less mass) go to mainstream outlets like supermarkets.  Different customers value different attributes in their bottles.  Bottles signify a sort of traditionalism and greenness, whereas plastic bottles are convenient for transportation and bulk purchase.

And a good quote from Goldman: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it.”

Thinning America and Fattening the Bottom Line

I attended a panel of consumer packaged foods representatives from Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup, and Mom Made Foods.

You can read some of my thoughts about the panel and on strategy, food, and health, my blog post on Triple Pundit.

Beyond Microfinance: Funding Small and Mediuim Sized Enterprises

Charles Githuka Ngugi at his feed factory in Ngecha. Source: International Chamber of Commerce



Many people don’t know that the Marshall Plan following WWII was predominantly debt funding that the US government directed to special European lenders to fund the rebirth of small businesses to rebuild Europe.

Although microfinance has rightly received a lot of attention and financing in the past 15 years, small businesses are the primary employers of people worldwide.  Microfinance is important for getting people out of extreme poverty (e.g. <$2 per day at purchasing power parity), but it’s capacity for use as a ladder further up is questionable.

Critics note that not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and would rather receive wage employment.  Furthermore, emerging economies that want to achieve large scale production needs large scale capital.  Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) usually need US$100,000 – US$1,000,000 in order to grow.

I also attended a panel on Financing SMEs this evening.

Funded by multiple governments, the International Finance Corporation is one of the largest lenders to SMEs in emerging economies, but stringent loan terms often make financing unfeasible: 11 month loan terms; 140% collateral requirements.   This is not growth financing.

 According to Tom Gibson of SME Think, financing SMEs is a “chicken or egg” problem.  On the one hand, financial capital is a commodity, but SMEs in emerging economies need specifically designed financing vehicles that are appropriate for their situation.  Furthermore, the capital cannot be more sophistaicated than the entrepreneur.

Agnes Dasewicz, COO of Grassroots Business Fund also says that these SMEs can benefit from management and business development consulting and mentorship.  Grassroots Business fund has a portfolio of approximately 30 investsments in 8 countries.  Besides financing, much of their value is added through capacity building programs around developing financial and marketing training and advising on accoutning systems.

But if development and economic growth is the goal why make loans instead of grants?  According to Rodney MacAlister, Managing Director of the Africa Middle Markets Fund, business people recognize that loans and equity shares hold them accountable to creating minimum return on their financing.

Emerging market SES investment is a slowly growing field because many investors do not understand it well enough.  Matthew Davis, founder and CEO of RENEW Strategies acts as an intermediary for angel investors to invest equity in SMEs.  Davis remarked that there are a lot of good deals, but that investment requirements are often too tight to allow the deals.

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International Week!

March 15th, 2011 by under Articles for the Smith School. No Comments.

Nothing like a little Vietnamese Salsa..... Source: Francvien Champ Paraphantakul

With 40% of our students coming from outside the US, we are an extremely diverse community at Smith.  The different perspectives we bring to the classroom and to our business practice are also reflected in the ways we have fun.

Check out what we did at International Night!

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An Interview with Prof. Kudisch on Communication as a Competitive Advantage: Speaking with Impact Workshop III

March 6th, 2011 by under Career Search, Professional Development. No Comments.

Major firms increasingly recognize the usefulness of theatre training techniques to improving business commuincation skills. Source: Kiati Plooksawasdi

After last week’s the Speaking with Impact workshops, I sat down with Prof. Jeff Kudisch, Managing Director of the Office of Career Services (OCS) and former Associate Chair and Distinguished Tyser Teaching Fellow in the Management & Organization Department.  Prof. Kudisch, who is an executive coach and has a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, says that more and more corporate executives are reaching out to theatre professionals as a way to develop the communication skills of their high potential leaders.

The Art and Science of Communication

For the past few years, Prof. Kudisch and his brother, award winning actor Marc Kudisch, have been playing around with the idea of using theatre techniques to tap into the creativity of Smith students and further develop our presence and ability to communicate.

“Practical intelligence is a blend of art and science,” said Prof. Kudisch.  “Marc leverages knowledge and skills of the arts and I bring the lessons learned from business practice and science, and so far, we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg together.”

Comparing teaching, presenting, or interviewing for a job to acting on the theatre stage, Prof. Kudisch echoed his brother, saying that communication skills can be developed through awareness of our own behavior.

In the workshop, the first thing Marc did was get us to stand in a circle and listen to the people around us using a soft focus to match what they were doing.  In our Leadership and Human Capital Management class, this was called “emotional calibration.”  Then, Marc encouraged us to introduce new movements while maintaining our awareness of the actions around and continuing to match them to the point until which we moved together as one unit.  Marc called this “adding to the conversation.”

A parallel situation would be when meeting an interviewer, first reading her affect and attitude, and adjusting our own disposition to complement the situation.  Then we add to the conversation by engaging her on a level that resonates with where she is, which has the same effect as drawing her into our own rhythm.

In another workshop on designing effective powerpoint presentations, Prof. Oliver Schlake showed us how to use meaningful metaphors to replace text.  In a presentation, the goal is to redirect attention to the presenter and away from the PowerPoint itself.  This means presenters must be able to have the knowledge of the slides and the presence to hold the audience without the PowerPoint itself, which in turn requires a lot of practice.

 
 
 
 

Smith students shuffle, jog, and sprint through a theatre exercise. Source: Kiati Plooksawasdi

Taking Risks as Opportunities – Practice and Experimentation

Both Kudischs encouraged us to use our time at Smith to be expressive and experiment with our communication skills.  Referencing the work of IDEO, the design and innovation consultancy, Prof. Kudisch said that failure is an opportunity for learning.  IDEO’s mantra is “fail often to succeed sooner.” They encourage risk taking and wild ideas and are known for creating a relaxed and fun corporate environment that unleashes their employees’ talents.  “Your time at Smith should be to let go and take risk and not hold back.  Fear of failure shouldn’t be what’s driving your behavior when you walk into that interview.”

I think the brothers are right.  Atavistic heightening of our physical senses aside, when we experience fear (especially fear of our own failure) as a dominant emotion, we pay less attention than is due to the world around us.  Our social senses decrease and we are less able judge the situation and calibrate our own behavior.

  • Are we extra skittish when we walk into an interview because we fear the person on the other side is that much better than us?
  • Are we afraid of looking stupid in front of our classmates when we present?

Instead, if we can read the situation and hold ourselves to what we are worth, we can express poise and bearing through sensitivity to the people around us and an awareness of ourselves.  To get to that point, both Kudischs recommend that we practice by “playing” more – take the opportunity to experiment, especially in classes and case competitions.

 
 

Jeff Kudisch, Ph.D and Award Winning Actor Marc Kudisch developed their poise and presence through practice, practice....and guess what?...practice. Source: Unknown

The Brothers Kudisch

When I asked Prof. Kudisch what he thought of working with his own brother, he said: “Magical.”

Prof. Kudisch grew up helping his parents sell antiques at mall shows and later selling goods at a local flea market.  He attributes these early experiences as a salesman to how he became comfortable speaking in front of others.  In that environment, “no one cared” how well he did and he gradually learned what worked.  Much like the hundreds of hours of experience the Beatles gained in Germany before becoming hit makers in Britain, Prof. Kudisch had plenty of experimental practice to become an effective communicator.

Marc entered college believing he would be a politician and he pursued political science.  While in school he participated in some plays on the side and one evening after midnight realized that he was working on the backdrop of a theatre set when he should have been writing a paper due in a few hours.  Realizing what he really wanted to do, Marc switched from political science to pursue theatre.  One day, Marc busted his knee and spent months relearning how to walk.  He began stretching every morning and today is able to do the splits.

Both brothers cut their teeth through continued practice and discipline.  Yet, if we met them for the first time and didn’t know their backgrounds, we would be impressed at what seems to be an innate presence and talent.

By saying “Yes” to opportunities and improvising, we can be taken in unexpected directions.  We learned in our Entrepreneurship and New Ventures class that this way of leveraging contingencies is called “effectuous reasoning.”

The point of the Speaking with Impact Workshops Series was to encourage us to develop our own talents by practicing behaviors that allow us to experiment and sharpen our communication skills.  Listening and improvisation are behaviors to develop our presence. 

 
 

Don't be like this....please....... Source: Super Stock - Royalty Free (1530R-35177)

The Implication – Developing Communication as Competitive Advantage

Sometimes I feel so focused on developing technical skills that I forget to develop the other parts of myself.  Yet the companies that approach Prof. Kudisch aren’t hiring on the basis of technical skills alone.

Prof. Kudisch told me that many companies are willing to train smart people who are fast learners, but they can’t teach qualities like listening, communication, presence, teamwork, leadership, and risk-taking.  Those are the key characteristics employers are “buying” when they hire MBAs.

Yet those qualities are developed by practicing behaviors that can be encouraged and taught.  At Smith, we constantly work in teams for class projects or business competitions and we present in front of classmates and introduce corporate speakers.  Will we be ready when:

  • Prof. Kudisch is showing a recruiter around the school and he introduces us when we bump into them in the hallway, are we ready?  Are we in “zone” to stand up straight, look them in the eye, smile and say hello?  Do we always carry ourselves that way or are we able to seamlessly snap to attention?
  • we walk into an on-campus interview and don’t know who to expect on the other side of the table, will we notice if recruiter is wearing a Maryland alumni pin?  If we do notice, will we use that as an opportunity to thank them for staying engaged as an alumni and start a different conversation than the regular “nice to meet you” and “glad to be here?”

Developing the Smith brand begins with students so it’s encouraging that student  workshop feedback showed that what students liked the least was the length of the actual sessions – they were just too short (two hours per workshop). In other words, our Smith students clearly wanted more stage time.

This is just the “tip of the iceberg” and is a conversation that just got started.  To use Marc’s, words, it’s up to us to add to the conversation.”

To learn more about how the Smith School plans to develop the talents of our students, check out this video of the two Kudisch brothers describing the roles of self-awareness and improvisation in developing presence.

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Do MBAs Communicate Poorly (for Business Purposes)?

March 3rd, 2011 by under Career Search, Professional Development, Reflections. No Comments.

When we speak, are we just boxing ourselves in? Source: James Yang, Wall Street Journal

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights employer concerns that MBAs lack business communication skills, especially when writing or working with clients.  

Employers most often fault MBAs for not being succinct and simple.  At firms such as Morgan Stanley, managers read new hires’ emails before they are sent.  

For those wishing to improve their business writing, the article’s main takeaway is to focus on communicating Implications, not Methodology.  I would add that if we really understand the methodology, we should be able to explain it during Q&A anyways.  

Learning Communication at Smith  

These points dovetail well with what we have been learning at Smith.  Last week’s workshop on powerpoint design by Prof. Schlake emphasized the minimization of text and the use of imagery and metaphor to communicate and keep the audience focused on the presenter.  Yet, this is only the first step toward actually communicating effectively – in other words, you first need to make sure people are paying attention to you!  

At the IMPROVing your Presentation Workshop, we also learned how to listen to the environment around us and recognize the subtle moves and actions of our collaborators and audience – in other words, the second step is to calibrate with others so you can communicate with them and bring them into your rhythm.  

In our Entrepreneurship and New Ventures class, we continually refine our writing skills (my team has rewritten our elevator pitch and business plan countless times) to achieve meaningful brevity.  In other words, the third step is to actually speak meaningfully and not get (yourself or your audience) lost.  

In Pitch Dingman events, informal “Donut Storming” idea sharing sessions, the Cupid’s Cup, or business competitions, we practice pitching and speaking with seasoned entrepreneurs and business people, including Smith’s own Entrepreneurs in Residence.  Or we can drop into the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship to talk through an idea.   In other words, we return again and again to step one and continually practice, practice, practice.  

The Office of Career Services, led by Prof. Kudisch, is developing a more structured curriculum to house our communications learnings, but the key to building competitive advantage as MBA leaders is the integrated appraoch that Smith takes to developing our communication skills.  

Suggestions?  

  • What do you think Smith/Smith students could do better to improve our communication skills?
  • What communication tips/skills do you use to be a more clear and influential business presenter and writer?

To comment, click on one of the links by the date which says how many comments there are.  

Post Script  

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently “sin” towards prose and detail.  However, my goal is not to pitch a business concept or support an analysis, but to paint a portrait of life at Smith in rich detail.  

Building the Smith brand aside, my objectives for this blog are unabashadly oriented toward the professional development of potential applicants, my classmates, and myself.  My goals are to:  

  1. To provide a deep look into the school so that people who are not with us daily can have a real taste of what we’re doing and learning;
  2. To be an internally valuable resource for members of the Smith community to know about an event they may have missed, what their peers are doing, or what trends may affect them; and
  3. To be a place where I can reflect upon the things that we’ve learned.  There’s really so much to gain at Smith that it can be overwhelming and this blog is a place for me to sort it all out.

I hope you will continue to enjoy this blog and learn with us.

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