Sunday, August 30, 2009

A weekend of Contrasting Viewpoints

Our first weekend back in the final semester was a showcase of contrasting viewpoints, and some very dire predictions.

Our first session was lead by John Allison, Chairman of BB&T bank. Mr. Allison is now part of the faculty at the WFU Schools of Business, and his talk was on leadership, focused around the 10 core values that he used to lead BB&T. Well known for his affinity for the lessons of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, Allison talked about how these values were founded in philosophy and economics and how they guided BB&T to be one of the few US banks that did not "require" TARP funding from the US Gov't. Not only did Allison's talk focus heavily on the strengths of market-based economies and capitalism, but it also highlighted his viewpoints on the errors made both in the present and the past by the Federal Reserve. He spoke about being on committees back in the late 1990s and early 2000s that highlighted flaws in the concept of "expanded home ownership", but he was unable to convince Congress or the Federal Reserve to modify their policies. He also spoke about recent speeches he gave at the Chicago Federal Reserve where he mathematically proved that the US will be bankrupt by ~2025, unless major changes are made to the structure of the US economy.

Our next set of discussions and viewpoints came from our Management Practicum on Environmental Sustainability and Renewable Energy. This session did a pretty good job of dividing the room between "it must be done, it's our future" and "it's too expensive, even though it might be needed". Using a framework from the following books, we began to walk through the challenges, opportunities and existing approaches to the US energy economy.
Environmental and Energy Sustainability are difficult topics to discuss because not only are they extremely complex technologies and economic models, but they are charged with personal emotions and MBA-learned skills about finding costs (usually near-term costs vs. long-term TCO). I've argued before that it involves massive scope that needs better communication and vision to be successful. And I'm also learning that it very much will require a shift in mindset from Costs of Acquisition to Total Costs of Ownership and Impact. The latter is something that I'm very familiar with from selling large-scale technology solutions in the face of rapidly commoditizing computing devices. And of course all of these discussions were had under the guise that we're reached the level of "Peak Oil" and that many natural resources on earth could be near extinction levels by the end of the 21st century.

Saturday's classes were a contrast in management and leadership evolution between large corporations (Leading Change course) and start-ups (Entrepreneurship course). Using the 8 step framework laid out by John Cotter, we looked at how leadership skills align to different types/levels of changes within large corporations, and how leaders can adapt their skills to these various changes. This framework served as an interesting contrast between larger corporations that often struggle during times of change because they expect their managers/leaders to adapt to ay type of change, and the skills required by start-up entrepreneurs in our Entrepreneurial Essentials course. While it may often be a VC firm that pushes leadership changes at start-ups as they grow (ie. bring in an experienced CEO/President), this seems to better align to the concept that not all leaders have the skills to manage a company through all types of changes. It will be interesting to explore how successful corporations are able to create leaders with these skills, or how they transition in new leaders as the change-management requirements shift.

All in all, it was a very full weekend of new ideas and intense discussion. There is not going to be any let-up in this final semester, and I expect the overall level of discussion to rise quite dramatically as we find the intersections of many of these important topics and how they will shape our world over the next 5, 10, 20 and 50 years.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
blog comments powered by Disqus