Thursday, February 25, 2010

Did Lack of MBA Ethics Cause the Recession?

It was inevitable that one outcome of the recession, aside from the devastation of the economic hurricane, would be deciding who or what truly was to blame. The truth is there is no one factor or person. However, as the smoke begins to clear, there is increasing blame being attributed to the financial leaders of our generation, specifically the mighty who have fallen.

We have all been witness to major financial scandals over the last couple of years. Many of these scandals have been perpetrated by key figures in the upper echelon financial world, individuals with impeccable credentials, or so we thought. To the dismay of both the public and academia, a good number of these individuals bore MBA's – seemingly their license to direct the financial community – from some top business schools.

While no pattern has emerged, a number of questions have arisen regarding MBA programs and the students therein. While there are no guarantees, an MBA from a top business school is a tremendous stepping stone to a lucrative career. The question is how desperate are students to obtain that coveted degree.

In a 2006 study released by the Academy of Management Learning and Education, an astonishing 56% of MBA students admitted cheating, far exceeding any other major discipline.

The focus of many major MBA programs is quite straightforward – your sole obligation is to make as much money as possible for your stockholders, within the parameters of the law. Unfortunately, a decided absence of ethical teachings has caused many graduates to ignore the legal obligations of earning money. The argument that students want to earn as much as possible in order to repay their expensive education doesn't hold much water. Were that the case, medical students would be dropping like flies in insurance scams.

Many business schools acknowledge that a lack of classes in business ethics may be part of a larger problem and some, indeed, have begun to change their curricula to reflect a necessary change. Others schools have tightened their application processes to help weed out potential "future problems." Overall, the fall of the giants has helped remind us that, in a democratic society, we are all equally accountable for our actions.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hope on the Horizon for the US and Canada

The news is out – the recession is over! Or is it?

Whatever you read today seems to have a different opinion. Some say that the worst is behind us and we're recovering very nicely, thank you. Others say that we're experiencing a temporary lull before the next storm. Optimists say we can return to our previous standards of living. Pessimists say that we should learn from our mistakes and prepare for the next rainy day.

The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The fact is that the best of economists will tell you that predicting the future is virtually impossible. Yet, when the figures are checked and re-checked, the recent economic indicators are rather positive. Forget the major "what-if" theories and focus on what's really happening.

Recently released figures for the final quarter of 2009 indicate a growth in the GDP of both Canada and the U.S. In the U.S., the growth is attributed primarily to inventory rebuilding. While some consider that a temporary measure, likely to taper off, others point out that the need for increased inventory is due to resurgence in consumer spending. True, consumers are still spending their money more cautiously but the figures remain positive.

Not just consumers are spending more. Business investments grew by 2.9% in the final quarter, as compared to a nearly 6% drop in the third quarter. Equipment and software investments rose by a whopping 13.3% for the quarter. Also, net exports added to the U.S. GDP, indicating that the Americans are now using their weak currency and high productivity to their benefit in foreign trade.

Back in Canada, economists have re-examined all the figures and are pleasantly surprised that economic growth in the fourth quarter exceeded 4%, well above the forecasts. The Canadian figures continue to rise well, indicating that recovery is progressing.

It's hard to tell but, for the time being, after a treacherous journey, both Canadians and Americans are safely on the way back home.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to Perk Up the Disgruntled Employee

You wonder what happened. A couple of years ago, you hired a key employee who seemed like the whiz kid that would be a major asset to your team. At the onset, it worked. But, as time wore on, the shine began to tarnish. The "whiz" became a "was." It's easy enough to say the employee should go home and you'll find another rising star. But, many managers agree that you would be mistaken. Training new employees is costly, both in time and money. Moreover, if you originally spotted talent, chances are that the talent is still there. The question is what happened along the way and how can you improve the situation.

In the hustle of daily business, managers often tend to focus on the most pressing issues and ignore the secondary or tertiary ones. However, our employees are among the basic raw materials that allow the business to operate. When you consider the fact that the majority of an individual's waking hours are spent at work, it is vital to make sure that the person enjoys his work. There is a direct correlation between performance and employee satisfaction.

Perhaps the whiz kid just became part of the background. You assumed that outstanding performance would just come naturally to such a person. But, what about providing positive feedback? Has a job well done been rewarded, either monetarily or through other recognition? Have you taken the time to sit and chat every now and then? Find out what is bothering that employee. You may discover that a breakdown in the managerial chain of command has affected this person and left a feeling of disgruntlement. In that case, track down the true source of the problem and you might correct the situation. A simple discussion may reveal that your employee needs additional skills in order to perform the task at hand. In that case, attending a course or a change of task will rectify the problem.

Managing an effective staff requires time and skill. It's not enough to give assignments and sign paycheques. Remember that a loyal staff is vital to your company's success. Invest the time and energy to develop and protect that loyalty.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Deal with the Know-It-All Employee

Practically every manager has encountered this employee. An average worker has a self opinion of extreme competence. Yet, despite a decided lack of skills, this employee will make decisions independent of any managers or co-workers.

Different styles of management will handle this situation in a variety of manners. Some would say that this type of behaviour must not be condoned and would immediately dismiss the employee. However, a more experienced manager does not rush to fire employees. After all, one needs working, trained employees, rather than terminated ones.

It is imperative to thoroughly assess the situation. Has the employee's decision making caused damage to the company, either in a business sense or by demoralizing other employees? If so, your response may be somewhat harsher. If not, a subtler tone may be in order.

Speak to the employee. Find out what makes the person tick. Were they trying to cover up a lack of knowledge or simply being irresponsible? Do you think, after speaking to them, that change is possible or is this merely the person's personality? If change is possible, go for it! Sometimes, the mere fact that a person has been noticed can trigger a change, especially if the employee knows that they are being watched. Or, perhaps, a change of scenery may help. Move the employee to a different task. Another tactic to consider is the chain of command. Try allowing the employee to consult with you, rather than a supervisor. The feeling of importance may counter the feelings of resentment or punishment for having been caught doing something wrong.

Each case, undoubtedly, is different and there is no clear cut recipe for success. However, the bottom line is that you have to make a business decision and do what's best for the company, not for your feelings. It's not always easy to do what's right but management is all about making the tough decisions.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Public Speaking: No Joke (Unless You Can Deliver it Well)

Public speaking does not come easy for some people. For others, it's a snap. The more experienced speakers have learned the secrets while many novices will wake up that morning with a major headache.

Making a presentation, or giving a speech, is part of the business world. But, in order for your presentation to achieve its goal, the delivery must be successful. This requires your connecting with the audience. Experience has demonstrated that a common technique, when applied correctly, is opening with a joke.

A joke, when delivered properly, can break the ice with the audience. It sends a message that the speaker is here to speak with us, not to us. Similar to the co-worker that attracts a crowd at the coffee machine by telling a good joke, you can attract the crowd in front of you to listen to you.

Of course, this is not an opening for a standup routine. Neither should you use the podium to tell the latest racist joke that you heard at the bar last night. The motto is KISS – keep it short and simple. It makes good sense to do some research beforehand and try to learn what makes the audience tick. For example, a high tech joke will not work well for an audience of medical practitioners. But, a good doctor joke certainly will. Be careful, though, not to insult anyone in the audience. If you feel that they will appreciate it, try poking fun at the industry, but only if you're part of it. Outsiders are not usually welcome to do this.

Learn to read your audience. If you see that your joke is not going over well, abandon it (with a shrug for a last ditch attempt at a chuckle) and get on with the business at hand. Delivery is everything! You have to go with the flow of the audience. Sometimes, the audience is waiting for what you have to say. Other times, they may be waiting to leave. Do what you can, in a professional manner, to win them over. Telling jokes, like making a powerful, impacting speech, is an art. Learn the craft carefully and you can be quite successful.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Buy American and Canadian Too!

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the landmark US$787 billion economic stimulus package intended to jumpstart the ailing U.S. economy. While it contained a variety of elements, one of the more controversial clauses was the "Buy American" stipulation. In order to qualify for government contracts, U.S. companies were obligated to buy only from American suppliers and manufacturers.

As both the U.S. and Canada rely heavily on exports between the two nations, "Buy American" was met with strong opposition from both American and Canadian business. Supporters of the clause argued that America needed to boost sales and manufacturing at home. Opponents noted that supply chains north and south of the border are so intertwined that all parties involved would be hurt, not improved.

After months of deliberation between the nations, a multi-faceted trade deal has been reached between Canada and the U.S. All though yet to be fully ratified (the U.S. requires an executive order while Canada requires each province and territory to sign, as well as the federal cabinet), the agreement reflects the spirit of cooperation that has long existed between the two neighbours.

Canadian companies will now be able to bid on procurement contracts in 37 U.S. states. Similarly, U.S. suppliers will receive reciprocal access to provincial procurement. As the possibility of future U.S. federal funding is quite realistic, the current deal contains a commitment to fast-track negotiations on possible "Buy American" stipulations.

As a result of this reaffirmation of the strong links that connect the two nations, talks in Canada of promoting "Buy Canadian" retaliatory actions have been suspended.

Rather than just looking at what's good for each other, both Canada and the U.S. have agreed that maintaining the long-standing friendship will have a positive payout for both countries.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Obama and Small Businesses

In his recent State of the Union address, U.S. President Obama presented a bold, economic initiative to help bolster his nation's struggling economy. Obama proposed making $30 billion available to small community banks so that they, in turn, can make these funds available in the form of credit to small businesses.

From a patriotic standpoint, Obama is worthy of praise in his concern for small businesses, part of the backbone of America. From an economic standpoint, many feel he has missed the boat.

Many bankers and economists agree that the problem in the U.S. economy is not the lack of credit but the lack of demand by small business and consumers. Simply put, Americans are not interested in borrowing money at this point in time. Unsure of their country's economic future, Americans prefer to save rather than spend. Herein lays the problem for small businesses. Their market has shrunk, due to fewer customers. As a result, they cut costs by hiring less and purchasing less from suppliers. At the end of the chain are the businesses that face closure. In order to keep afloat, these businesses attempt to obtain credit to pay their bills. But, these are the high risk customers that the banks don't want. The banks want the solid customers who can repay their loans. After all, banks make money from repaid credit, not defaulted loans.

At this point, the only banks that would require funds from Obama's $30 billion are those holding problematic loans, and they probably won't qualify. Bank regulators are examining records with magnifying glasses. High risk banks will most probably fail, rather than receive federal relief.

Maybe Obama should re-direct his funds. Stimulus funds need to get into the economy right away. Rather than strengthen the banks that are in trouble, strengthen the small business sector. When consumer spending is stimulated, the wheels of the economy will be oiled and the system will move forward.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tips for MBA's Seeking Work in Canada

It's not easy. There's a lot of competition out there, and every unemployed MBA, whether recent or not, is looking for a job. What's the best job search strategy?

Recruiters and career experts offer the same advice to job seekers. Analyze your strengths and focus on your interests. Being an all-around expert in everything will work against you. Have a clear-cut idea of how to best sell yourself. Also, while you're still in school, start making connections. Long before graduation is the time to start developing your network of contacts. Let the business world know who you are and what it can expect down the pipeline. You want business to be waiting for you.

Don't be overly picky. As small, temporary jobs and internships come your way, take them. Each job affords you additional experience and contacts, both of which are vital down the road.

Another avenue to follow is temporary contracts. With a growing number of entrepreneurs starting businesses in Canada, many are seeking business consultants to help them in their start-up ventures. However, while ideas abound, money doesn't. Many cannot afford to hire "top" consulting firms and would rather pay less for younger talent. While these contracts will rarely offer job security to a young MBA graduate, it will help establish credentials and afford opportunities to gain vital hands-on experience.

Current MBA graduates should be aware that patience would have its rewards. A large segment of today's senior management is at the front end of the baby boom generation. Many will be retiring over the next decade, making way for the next generation to make its mark on the business world. Therefore, the time is right for "the next generation" to gather experience and be ready and waiting for the opportunities that are just around the corner.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emerging Fields for New MBAs in Canada

There used to be a saying in financial markets, "MBA – leads the way." The question today is where that MBA is leading to. The times are changing and traditions are changing with the times. A student who put in long, hard years of study to earn a respectable MBA degree can still look forward to a rewarding career. But where will that career be?

Banking, long a natural employer of skilled, financial and business minds, has begun to offer new opportunities. The relative strength of Canada's banks has allowed them to expand internationally. This translates into ripe opportunities for MBA's with international experience, or those seeking to gain experience.

With more and more Canadian companies seeking outside, professional advice to help examine and assess their operations, in light of the effects of the recession, consulting jobs are providing prime employment for bright MBA students, especially those with knowledge of those industries that are going through tremendous change, like media, wireless broadband, and health-care.

For many other graduates, the time has come to think outside the box and forge ahead into uncharted territory. Public service is now seeking more MBA students that ever before. For example, the government's stimulus funding for infrastructure projects has created many jobs and projects. These need the right people to administer and oversee these massive projects.

Growth in the non-profit sector has outpaced the economy. As the need for professionals has grown greatly in the "third sector" of non-profits and NGO's, job opportunities for appropriately trained MBA students are continually available.

MBA students, with their fingers on the pulse, are also preparing themselves for careers in other budding sectors, such as sustainability and technology. A good deal of investment dollars is heading to these fields and many companies are seeking top, business minds to help them emerge on top not only financially, but ecologically and socially as well – the top business priorities of the 21st century.

There is one thing that an MBA student will not learn in school. When opportunity knocks – open the door. However, sometimes you have to search for the handle.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Canadian Auto Industry Driving Growth

Cars are a vital part of the Canadian culture, not to mention the economy. The recent recession had a devastating impact on automobile manufacturers and sales in North America. However, with the economy on the rebound, sunnier days are in sight for the Canadian auto industry.

British Columbia and Alberta, the country's westernmost provinces and both with resource – dependent economies, were hit extremely hard when commodity prices took a nosedive during the recession. However, with the demand for natural resources rapidly returning, the economy in the west is improving and car sales will follow suit. Industry experts predict that new car sales in British Columbia will rise by 5% in 2010 and by 10% in Alberta. This is a major recovery following a dismal 2009 ending in sales declines of 15% in B.C. and 21% in Alberta.

Growing consumer confidence in the nation's economy, coupled with global recovery, is expected to fuel positive sales figures across the nation. Projections for the current year anticipate auto sales to climb to 1.53 million units, 10% higher than sales figures for 2009.

Another province expected to contribute to the rise in sales figures is Saskatchewan. Although the province holds the record for the oldest vehicle fleet in the country – average age exceeding 11 years – auto sales are still 12% above the average. In general, growth in the province has exceeded the national average for the last three years.

On the other end of the scale, Quebec is expected to show only a moderate increase in auto sales of no more than 3%. The province currently has more new vehicles per capita than any other province.

Whether the contributing factor is a recovering economy, a relaxation of credit restrictions, or even purchases for the upcoming Winter Olympics, the fact is that Canadians love their new cars and, having weathered the global storm, it's time to go shopping.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Career Path for an MBA in Canada

It's best to begin with the good news. Overall, on the global level, the Canadian economy is in much stronger shape than the American economy. That having been stated, life is still rather difficult at a grass roots' level, especially if you are a recent graduate of a fine university, clutching the license to a successful career – your MBA.

This is not to say that an MBA degree is unimportant. Just the contrary! It is a degree well worth pursuing, especially if your career vision is targeted in the business or financial sectors. Unfortunately, though, the current employment market is not the most promising for new MBA's. In the finance sector, traditionally the major MBA employment sector, career centres for MBA graduates report a decline in finance jobs ranging from 6% - 16%. In addition, graduate schools have reported a drop of on-campus recruitment of at least 10%. Furthermore, graduates seeking internships have encountered a serious reduction in available placements. Back to the good news, the dip in salaries in Canada was slight, compared to the major drop in 2002. Estimates are that salaries will return to the pre-recession level by late 2010 or 2011. However, if you can't secure a position, the salary is irrelevant.

Recruitment has been on the rise in some sectors, though. More positions requiring MBA's have become available in government, health care, non-profit, and energy. While these sectors comprise a relatively small percentage of all available jobs, it may cause new graduates to begin thinking in different career directions, away from the traditional employment sectors. Also, a growing number of recent grads have turned to entrepreneurial endeavours, as have many Canadians who have been unable to find employment.

Some graduates have begun looking for foreign employment, although the prospects abroad are also not very encouraging. For most, though, they will weather the storm in Canada, hoping for better times down the road because, when all is said and done, there's no place like home.

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