October 28, 2021

You’re the Boss Blog: A ‘Not-to-Do’ List for Recent College Graduates

College graduation: lofty commencement speeches are given, bright futures anticipated and, for some lucky college graduates, new jobs await. While commencement addresses may be inspiring, I wish someone would take the opportunity to deliver a more practical message to new college graduates who are about to enter the work force. It would go something like this:

“Congratulations. You’ve just earned your college degree. I’m glad to be here as the first person to speak to you as college graduates. I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news: Despite your newly obtained degree, you don’t know anything. You have no skills. If you are really lucky, you will soon land your first job. You are not entitled to that job. Quite the contrary, there are many people just like you who would love to have that job. If you get it, you should be grateful for your good fortune and make the most of it. It will be hard work, sometimes backbreaking work, and you may feel that the work is beneath you. But the reality is that nothing is beneath you, because you don’t know anything — yet.

Now, the good news: You live in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world. If you work really, really hard, if you are happy to start at the bottom and work your way up, if you are ready to grind and scratch and claw, and if you catch a bit of luck, anything is possible. Anybody can be anything in America. You just have to be willing to learn fast from those around you and work really hard.”

Unfortunately, I was not invited to deliver any commencement speeches this year. So I’m doing the next best thing and reflecting in this post on my first job. I hope that it can provide a bit of help and guidance.

I’ll start with a summary: I totally whiffed on my first job experience. When I graduated from college, I knew nothing, had no skills and was not owed anything. But that’s not how I felt at the time.

I had just graduated from the Wharton School, the country’s oldest undergraduate business school and one that consistently lands the top slot in college rankings. I studied entrepreneurial management and tried to drop out of school to start a business during the winter break of my junior year. (Thankfully, my parents forced me to stay in school.) I finished my studies early in my senior year and spent the remaining weeks waking up early to read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and then using the rest of the day to consume voluminous amounts of coffee while devouring Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I was biding my time until I left academia to do what I thought I was meant to do: run a business.

Like all Wharton undergraduates, I interviewed with companies that came calling on campus: investment banks, strategy consulting firms and technology companies. At the time (I graduated in 1997), there was a company called Trilogy, based in Austin, Tex., that was getting a lot of press. Trilogy had been started by Joe Liemandt, who dropped out of Stanford to start an enterprise software company that was selling multimillion dollar software applications to big companies like Boeing, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. While the software seemed esoteric — who understands what product configuration software does and why another company would spend millions of dollars for it? — Joe’s success was tangible. He was on the covers of business magazines and was ranked as one of Fortune’s 40 richest under 40 in 2001. He was the type of entrepreneur from whom I could have learned a tremendous amount.

But I didn’t think there was anything I needed to learn.

I was recruited to Trilogy by Ajay Agarwal. Before joining Trilogy, Ajay had graduated from Stanford, then Harvard Business School and worked in strategy consulting at McKinsey Company. Today, Ajay is a managing director at the venture capital firm Bain Capital Ventures. Ajay’s recruiting pitch was particularly compelling: come to Trilogy to work in an entrepreneurial environment with extremely smart people. The problem was that I believed I was ready to be the entrepreneur immediately.

Still, I accepted the job, and after a summer schedule meant to shed a wanderlust that I assume most college seniors have, I moved to Austin. I was paired with Jason Wesbecher, another Wharton undergraduate who had been working at Trilogy for about six months. (Today, Jason is the founder and chief executive of Handshakez in Austin.) Jason was the epitome of inherent intelligence, hard work and focus. He was driven to acquire customers for Trilogy, understanding that revenue was the lifeblood of a fast-growing start-up. At the time, I could not have been less impressed with that role.

I was ready to start a company. I felt it was my destiny to do so. It was what I had dreamed about since I was a child. In retrospect, I was terribly, utterly, naïve. Now, 16 years later, here are my reflections:

1. I knew nothing. Yes, it is true I studied business in college, and the college I went to is a good one (if you were to ask Donald Trump, it is without question the best). But there is a vast difference between studying business and doing business. Until I had actually done it, I knew nothing at all.

2. I didn’t know that I didn’t know anything. This is actually worse than not knowing anything. I thought that I had something to contribute. In fact, I thought that my presence at Trilogy was a real gift to the company. I was wrong.

3. I missed the opportunity to learn. Because I believed that I already knew everything, I missed the chance to learn from the incredibly smart people who did know something. Trilogy was an exceptionally good company at recruiting. It produced a Trilogy Mafia well before anyone talked about the Paypal Mafia. Former Trilogians have gone on to accomplish absolutely amazing things. And the people I had the chance to work with directly — Joe, Ajay, Jason and many others — were all truly extraordinary businessmen.

4. I thought I was entitled to something. Somehow, I arrived at Trilogy thinking that it was to their great benefit to have me as an employee. As a result, I thought I was entitled to the opportunity of doing something “strategic.” What I came to understand afterward was that many college graduates would have loved to have that job, and that it was my opportunity, but not my right, and certainly not something to take for granted.

5. I was confused about the meaning of hard work. I thought I should spend my time thinking big thoughts. I assumed that if I were in the office a lot, I must have been working hard. I didn’t know that I should have been doing what Jason was doing — the hard work of calling potential customers, learning about their problems and presenting our solutions. That was hard work and meaningful work. I didn’t realize it until after I had left.

My time at Trilogy was a missed opportunity. I realized it at the annual Trilogy Prom, where the entire company gathered at a luxurious location to celebrate the year’s success and to recognize extraordinary individual performance. Jason (deservedly) won a Trilogy Star Award based on his exceptional contribution to the company. As I watched him walk to the front of the room to accept his prize, I was of mixed emotion: proud of him but disappointed with myself. The experience proved to be a turning point.

After just over a year at the company, I decided to leave. Thankfully, I started to figure out what it took to achieve success. It was Jason’s focus and do-whatever-it-takes attitude that caused me to re-evaluate my own disposition. Once I did, I realized that I needed to start afresh. I looked for a small start-up where I could join on the ground floor. If I proved my mettle and the company grew, I might be able to take on more and more responsibility, learning essential skills to start my own company someday.

Next week, I’ll talk about my second job experience — what I did when I joined Callidus Software.

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of H.Bloom. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/a-not-to-do-list-for-recent-college-graduates/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Getting Change Fees Waived for a Canceled Flight

A traveler at an American Airlines terminal.Associated Press A traveler at an American Airlines terminal.

Airlines take a lot of heat for indifferent customer service — and it’s often justified. But I recently had a pleasantly reasonable experience with American Airlines, although it did take a little time to resolve.

This past weekend, I was scheduled to fly with my two daughters to Connecticut, to attend my niece’s college graduation. The event would also serve as a family reunion. We planned to get to bed early Saturday night, because the Sunday morning flight was quite early.

At about midnight, my 11-year-old appeared at my bedside — never a good sign. “Mom,” she whimpered. “I feel sick.”

Thus began an endless night of vomiting. Was it a stomach flu, or was the hot dog she had for lunch rancid? Who knows. But when dawn arrived, it was clear that we were not going to be able to board the plane. Rescheduling was too risky — what if she was contagious, and the rest of us were about to fall ill, too? I pictured us holed up at an airport restroom. Or worse, getting sick at the commencement. No, thanks. So, bleary eyed, I called American to cancel our flights.

“Do you want to rebook?” she asked. Not yet, I said, explaining that a member of my family was ill, and I wasn’t sure when we would next travel. She asked if it was one of the ticketed passengers who was sick. “Yes, it’s my daughter,” I said. “She is vomiting. You don’t want her on your plane.”

Since the tickets were nonrefundable, she said, we would receive a credit for the amount paid — but, a change fee of $150 a ticket would be deducted when I booked a new flight. That meant an extra $450. Ouch!

I asked if it was possible to waive the change fees, given our situation. She seemed puzzled: Waive all three fees, even though just one person was ill?

I explained that the ill passenger was a child; because she was sick, I couldn’t fly, and neither could her sister. Even though I was tired and grumpy, I tried to remember what a travel expert — and my husband — had told me: Customer service reps are stressed, too. Be nice, and you’re more likely to get what you want.

The representative put me on hold for what seemed like a very long time. I was losing hope. But then she came back on the line, to tell me that the airline had waived the fees. There would be a permanent notation on the tickets — she gave me all three of our ticket numbers for future reference — so when we re-booked, we wouldn’t have to pay the extra amount.

How often does something like that happen? Kent Powell, a spokesman for American, didn’t provide statistics. But he said in an e-mail that customer service representatives are trained to consider “extenuating circumstances that warrant exceptions to our policies and procedures.”

In other words, it can’t hurt to ask. The waiver didn’t replace the disappointment of missing our family big event, but it did help lessen the financial sting.

Things took a little longer when it came time to rebook the flight. I decided to use the credit for our family’s planned summer  vacation in late July. I had to call American to rebook, since I couldn’t apply the credit using the Web site. All went well until it came time to actually waive the change fee. Although the agent could see the notation on the tickets, she needed approval from the “pricing” department. The pricing gurus then referred her to customer service, which again bumped her back to pricing, she told me. All this occurred while I was on hold — for a total of nearly 30 minutes.

I then tried to add my husband to the reservation, which complicated things. Because he hadn’t been on the original trip, I had to make a new reservation for him. That would cost me an extra $25, the agent said, unless I went and paid online. She created a reservation for me and gave me a record locator number. But when I went online to pay for it, the system told me I couldn’t — because the reservation hadn’t actually been created online. So I had to start over to create a new reservation online for his ticket.

In the end, I got my new reservations without the extra fees — but it took much more time than I expected to complete the transaction.

Have you successfully had a change fee waived? How did you manage it?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/getting-change-fees-waived-for-a-canceled-flight/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Having Mom Do Your Laundry, to Save Money

Associated Press

When I was in high school, I visited France on an exchange program and stayed with a well-to-do family. When I returned home, I marveled that the household employed a maid who washed my clothes. My mother rolled her eyes. “You have a maid here who does your laundry,” she said. “Me!”

So it was with great amusement that I tried out the “living with your parents” calculator, provided by the real estate blog Movoto (covering the “lighter side” of real estate, it says). The calculator shows big savings from living at home, including the perk of having your mother do your laundry.

The calculator lets you plug in your monthly rent, and other expenses if you choose. It then shows how much you would save if, after college graduation, you live with your parents for four years.

The calculator was created by the blog’s marketing director, Chris Kolmar, who laments that if he had just lived at home for a few years, he would have enough for a down payment on a home.

I plugged in rent of $1,000, and the calculator used his default settings to report that in that case, you would save more than $89,000 by moving in with your parents — and that nearly 2 percent of that amount was savings on laundry.

That raised some questions. Does it mean that your mother is actually doing the laundry for you — or just that you are using her washing machine and detergent?

Sally Olsson, the blog’s spokeswoman, confirmed that the calculator assumes that your mother is doing the laundry — and a lot more. In effect, the savings shown by the calculator come from completely freeloading. (Mr. Kolmar also explains in the blog that he spends $35 a month on a laundry service, because he hates to do it.)

There is no doubt living with your parents can save you money, but shouldn’t you be contributing something? Or at least doing your own laundry?

Do you live with your parents? What do you contribute toward household expenses? Or if you’re a parent, what do you expect from your grown-up children?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/having-mom-do-your-laundry-to-save-money/?partner=rss&emc=rss