New Craziness!

Have we lost our common sense? Our government is spending more than what it is taking in. Our politicians cannot make coherent statements, instead they speak gibberish. Our corporations, viewed as icons in our society, are giving away technology at a drop of the hat for the sake of the almighty buck. When and where will all this end.

I am always reading, it is something I love to do. It makes me think, another thing I love to do. And often I get a little passionate about what I am reading and need to vent. Today is one of those days.

Before I start ranting though, I want to say congrats to the Boeing Company and its employees. The first 787 was delivered on Monday of this week, and after so many years of working on the product it is nice to see that it has finally been delivered to ANA.  This airplane will be the new workhorse for the airline industry. I can hardly wait to fly on one. Everyone worked very hard on that plane.

Now comes the ranting. Flat tax proponent Steve Forbes is absolutely correct. Flat is the new fair. If we really want a solid tax system we need to completely revamp our current tax code. However, our politicians don’t want to go there. Sometimes I think it is a control thing. If a tax code is simple, then people will understand it. If not then we have to have large government agencies, and huge industries, to provide services for people that will help them fill out their forms and pay their taxes. The people who can afford to work the system thrive and pay little, while those of us who can’t pay the most. It appears that a flat tax will eliminate double taxation of savings and investments.

Herman Cain has an interesting plan. He calls it the 9-9-9 plan. Personal income will be taxed 9%, net business income tax will be 9%, and we will be charged a national sales tax of 9%. I don’t think we know how this will actually work in the long run, but it is interesting. My only concern is state and local taxes on top of that. The fact is, we enjoy a certain amount of services that are provided by the government. We cannot continue to assume that we get something for nothing. A flat tax does provide a long term solution.

I think greed and entitlement is throttling this country. Another example of this is what GE is doing in China. GE is participating in a joint venture with the Chinese aviation company that is developing the C919, a 737 size airplane that will compete with Airbus and Boeing in the near future. GE is providing the avionics for the plane. The avionics are the brains of the airplane. The question everyone has “is GE giving away the farm by providing proprietary information to another country?” John Bussey, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, asked Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, that tough question. Immelt stated, “I’m done, this was reviewed by the Commerce Department and the Defense Department.”

I had this same concern when Boeing partnered with Japan on the 787. Japanese industry had the responsibility to build the wing for the airplane. This meant that Boeing would give the Japanese engineering information on how a wing is built by Boeing. Lift, as well as avionics, are critical design elements that will give a company competitive advantage over another entity. I am amazed at how easily Boeing gave a future competitor proprietary information on wing technology, and how easily GE is giving China avionic details that you better believe will make it into their stealth fighters.

Both of these examples are national security issues, and we just give them away for the almighty buck. My gosh that irritates me. If you could only hear how hard I am hitting the keys on my computer. What are we thinking?

And that is my thought for the day!

Schultz and Harvard: Sometimes Its Good

One of the topics that is usually covered in a business ethics class is the concept of a moral minimum. This is a choice made by management to either do no harm or to do good within the community. Usually the moral minimum is to do no harm. A business takes a defensive position making sure that its product or service will not harm the users if properly handled. A car can be very safe at 40 miles per hour, but if one is driving it 120 miles per hour that is a different story. This is fairly common, but sometimes a TOMS shoes will come along that attempts to accomplish good.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has stepped up to the plate and slammed a home run. He has decided to do his part to stimulate the economy. He, as other CEO’s are doing, is sitting on a stockpile of cash. He has made a commitment, and has challenged other CEO’s to do the same, to hire new employees and implement plans to grow the business by opening new stores. It makes me want to buy a cup of  coffee. However, that is not the only good that is happening in the world of business.

Harvard is known for producing some of the highest paid MBA grads in the nation. 95% of last year’s graduating class have found jobs. Not bad, especially in a down economy. However, many blame the MBA for the plethora of problems occurring in the business world. Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Harvard Business School, has made some huge changes to the curriculum at Harvard.

Nohria stated, “When you take the reins as a leader you start suddenly believing that your words are more important than everybody else’s.” Because of this tendency he has decided to make ethics a centerpiece in the new program.

The focus of the program is now Entrepreneurship and Leadership. This seems to be common in many schools across the United States. The emphasis is on micro-businesses. In fact, Harvard is giving each student $3000 to launch a product or service. The new program will be very hands on.

Nohria stated, “After Enron, we were the first business school to introduce a required course that focused on corporate accountability.” However, the emphasis is not just on words, the focus in on responsibility and holding up under pressure and temptation. There is a recognition that under the right circumstances one’s moral compass could fail.

Harvard has finally gotten it. It is not just making money, it is the process of making money that is important. The process must be one of integrity making the world a better place. You know what as business people we can do both, make money and make a difference for humanity.

And that is my thought for the day!

Faith and Business

Walton Padelford has written a very interesting book, one that is helping me to think through how I live my faith in the classroom. As you know I teach business at Warner Pacific College in Portland, OR. I have been asked by several professors how I demonstrate my faith in the classroom while teaching business, this question can also be applied to the workplace too. Padelford had some very interesting comments in his book about this very subject.

Padelford states, “Business, then, is our place of spiritual warfare and living the Christ-life.” I agree with this statement. As a Christian I am challenged daily to take the high or low road. Am I going to be ethical, loving, or am I going to lie, cheat and steal? The choice is mine. Am I going to live a life that demonstrates the high calling that Christ has on my life, or will I choose to be less than all I can be?

“God’s grace and love gives the disciple a certain business-ethical orientation.” Or at least it should. I remember a few years ago that I would not do business with someone who had a fish sign on their business card. My experience was that these individuals were less that ethical. Kind of sad actually.

Padelford states in another section of his book, “Jesus Christ gives us the world as the sphere of reality in which to operate. Our vocational responsibility is a limited one, but in the decision-making required of us the life of Christ becomes a reality in us.” I thought about this specific statement in church this morning. It got me to think how my motto fits with scripture. For example, how does Humility, Service and Professional Will fit within the Sermon on the Mount? I found out quite well.

In Matthew 5:3-6 we see that the blessed are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, and hungry for righteousness. This blessed person is someone that recognizes their place in relationship with God. They know that in themselves they are lost, but in God they are blessed. This seems to me to be quite humble. In Matthew 5:7-9 we see that blessed people are those who are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. These individuals have a servant’s heart. They truly want to serve humankind for its betterment. The last characteristic of professional will is observed in verses 10-11. Professional will involves the willingness to follow through and finish well, or complete the task no matter ow difficult. In the Sermon on the Mount we learn that blessed individuals are those who have endured persecution and have hung in there with Christ. They hold on no matter the cost.

So there it is, when we talk about how can anyone be a Christian and teach business, or be a business person, there is no doubt that humility, service, and professional will can be characteristics of one following Christ. So I can be a Christian and a businessman too. No conflict.

And that is my thought for the day!

Will We Ever Get Along?

Here were go again! First it was the debt limit, then the FAA, now federal aid to disaster victims. Each side, Republican and Democrat, blames the other for the impasse. I for one am getting extremely tired of these yay-whos not getting along. These little Nero’s are fiddling while Rome burns.

The Dow came back a little yesterday, but now we are all waiting for the Finance Ministers of International Monetary Fund to make a statement. They are enjoying their annual meeting, and the market expects them to make a statement soon. Many people in the know are beginning to recognize that we are heading into the second dip of the recession. We are now experiencing 3.8% inflation which is the highest in years, housing has lost about 30% of its value, and 401K’s are detracting. All of us are just a bit less wealthy.

One of the economic leaders attending the IMF meeting stated, “We are in a red zone, we are at risk of repeating what happened in 2008.” They also stated that it is happening due to other reasons than what happened in 2008, but the fact is our, and I mean all of us, have lived beyond our means for so long, that we are now paying huge price. I think I am going to become an adherent to the economic philosophy represented by the Chicago school of economics.

Milton Friedman is probably the most well know individual associated with the Chicago school of economics, and we all know what he said about ethics and profit. But there was another prominent concept the emerged from that arena, the model of rational expectations. “Rational expectations is the idea that people look ahead and use their smarts to try to anticipate conditions in the future.”

My gosh, that simple concept is filled with so much meaning. When investors in Enron were receiving 500% returns on their investment did they ever think that something may be amiss? Or the individuals at the top of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi pyramid, did they every question why they were making hyper returns? They were living for right now. It wasn’t just the uber rich that lived beyond reality,  did the middle class ever think to live within our means when our economy was growing at a consistent 3% plus? We now know this growth was fueled by debt. We were all living beyond what we should have.

The fact is we did not look ahead and anticipate the future. We were too comfortable in the way it was then. This is why we are in the state we are. However, fighting and bickering telling each other it is my way or the highway does not cut it. We need innovative ideas to get us out of this pickle we are in. We also need the drive to suceed. We cannot give up.

So politicians, business leaders, community leaders, church leaders, and all of us need to roll up our sleeves, get lean, and get er done! We may have to live with a little less, but that is ok. We can do it!

And that is my thought for the day!

Marx and the Market

A couple of years ago I spoke at a Leadership conference in Portland, Oregon. The title of my presentation was “A Managerial Response to the Marxist Critique of Capitalism.” My premise was that Marx did have a point about the exploitation of the worker, and how capitalism as a system can generate a sense of alienation of the worker from the personal satisfaction of work. I enjoyed the talk, wrote a paper, and am still trying to get it published.

Now Peter Coy, in Bloomberg Business Week, has written an article about Marx. It is in this week’s edition. His premise is “The economic crisis has made the philosopher’s ideas relevant again, but the world shouldn’t forget what Marx got wrong.” He argues that most of Marx’s predictions have failed, and many of his followers were the worst mass murders of history. I agree with his argument, however, as the old saying goes “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Coy points out that “Marx said that the proletariat [worker] isn’t paid enough to buy the stuff that capitalists produce.” Coy is paraphrasing, but is accurate. Marx felt that the Bourgeois, Business Owner, is motivated to do two things. Pay subsistent wages and maintain a large army of unemployed. Therefore, the workers can be controlled and more surplus profit can be generated.

Marx also felt that the owners of production would become fewer, but larger, entities. Which means a smaller number of producers would control the market. At least until the Proletariat had had enough and would rise up and overthrow the Bourgeois.

Coy goes on to draw a comparison of today’s global economy with the economy in the 1800’s when Marx was alive. Coy does make a good point when he describes the productivity gains in the early industrial age as incredible, and how this is similar to the reasons we are currently at a 9% plus unemployment – productivity gains due to technology.

Reading the economic philosophy of Marx is a difficult. I would agree with Coy that Marx’s political philosophy has failed. Communism has not taken over the world. However, Marx’s critique of Capitalism is a relevant discussion. How managers treat employees, pay employees, and develop employees is very important. Today there are many companies that exploit their employees. They will often tell their employees that if they don’t like how they are treated don’t let the door hit you in the behind on your way out. This is a costly and inefficient way of operating.

Therefore, we need to listen to Marx, and then make a decision on how we intend to treat people. Will we as managers exploit, or will we help the employee develop their skills, and give them the opportunity to find purpose in their work. I firmly believe it is the employee’s responsibility to find meaning in their job, but I also believe it is the manager’s job to develop an atmosphere that support this endeavor.

And that is my thought for the day!

New Realities

The paper this morning was filled with job information. Not the kind we want to see, but the problems associated with our working world. One article discussed how even with a 9.1% unemployment rate people are still quitting their jobs. It seems they are so fed up that even the prospect of being out of work for a while is better than what they are putting up with in their current job. I would hope that these folks that are giving their notices have new jobs lined up.

The second article I thought was interesting was entitled “Even Hints of Layoffs Decay Morale.” Examples that are given include Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, and Goldman Sachs Group. The numbers associated with these organizations are staggering. 30,000 for B of A, 25,000 for HSBC, and 1,000 for Goldman Sachs. Obviously, working for these companies at this point in time is stressful.

I am positive that in these organizations employees are saying, “if they would have listened?” This seems to be a huge mistake that managers across the board are making. “People in powerful positions, such as managers, tend to dismiss other’s advice when making decisions.” Its not like we don’t discuss this in college. People that study business are required to take several classes that explore communication. In many classes professors will create listening exercises to drive the point home that it is important to listen. Yet, here we are, unhappy employees who think that their managers don’t listen to them.

Gary Hamel in his book The Future of Management discusses the failures of management in this complex modern society. “These new realities call for new organizational and managerial capabilities. To thrive in an increasingly disruptive world, companies must become as strategically adaptable as they are operationally efficient.”

The question is whether organizations are operationally efficient? Employee moral is critical to operational efficiency. If our people are waiting to quit when they find something new, they are not giving 100%. It seems like managers are missing the boat.

How can we change this in the classroom? As Thomas Kuhn notes in his classic work on paradigms, “real progress demands a revolution.” So in the classroom we have got to do some radically different activities to get young future managers to see the importance of valuing employees and listening, resulting in a more satisfied and productive workforce.

This is not something that will occur overnight. The old guard has been in place for years, and they are committed to the way it is now. But its Friday and Sunday is coming.

The fact is the millennials are beginning to join the workforce. They are a different breed, and they will demand a change. They will start small companies, they will create change in large ones too. We academics need to adjust a bit to make sure they are ready to face the challenge. We need to make sure they are prepared.

And that is my thought for the day!

What Is My Motivation For Being An Educator

What motivates us to do what we do? An example from business would be, why are we in business? Is it to maximize profit, or maximize social benefit? Traditionally that has been the difference between for-profit endeavors and not-for-profit endeavors. Or is the motivation something else? Is it to provide a service?

Padelford in his book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Business Ethics, makes a very interesting statement about what he calls the economic man. “The caricature of economic man, a person who pursues maximum profit or wages or money returns in every situation, pushes ethical considerations into the background in modern economic studies. Efficient and increasing production seems to be the primary focus. However, physical provision, no matter how great does not necessarily bring friendship with other people nor union with God.”

The question of motivation has been rattling around in my mind since Friday. What is my motivation to be an educator? Do I want to be recognized as Rabbi as I walk down the street, or is it the pay, or is there some other reason for choosing this type of vocation? Right off the top I can tell you that it is not the pay. Our school has worked hard at raising faculty pay to a level of competitiveness with other schools in the area, but compared to my previous salary, not even close. So what is it then?

Often we look at work as a drudgery. As Christians we look back to the fall and see toil as the curse of God due to our disobedience. We fail to look at the original commandment from God before the fall. Padelford makes this statement, “The instruction to dress and keep the garden is given to Adam in chapter 2 of Genesis, so that work itself is not a punishment for disobedience, but an opportunity to be co-regent or co-creator with God.” He is careful about what this co-creation means, and by his definition I see the term innovation.

Redemption restores our ability to have this relationship. We can co-create, be creative, with God and produce new and innovative processes or services. As an educator I have come to realize that this is the motivation for what I do.

I’ve recently adjusted my life’s motto.  It is now “humility, service, and professional will.” If I lose my job for any reason it will not stop the call that God has placed on my life to be humble, serve, and have the will to complete what I been given to do.

Humility to me as an educator means I recognize that I don’t know everything. It also means that I recognize my students are creative and want to express that creativity. Service means that I am there to serve my administrators, peers, and students to the fullest extent. This means that no matter how redundant the information is that I am trying get across to my students, I will do my best to make it interesting to them. If I can’t do that then I need to become a professional golfer. Professional will involves walking with integrity, and mirroring this to my students.

Ultimately my reason for being an educator is to make a difference. It is to co-create meaning for students that they can grasp and internalize, resulting with them going into the real world to make a difference. I’d say that is a pretty exciting vocation. I need to get to it.

And that is my thought for the day!