Monday, October 26, 2009

U of Ottawa MBA's Take Oath of Conduct

Read a story in the Ottawa Citizen today about U of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management MBA students taking an oath of conduct. The article is here. Another article from the CBC with a copy of the oath is here.

To recap the story, the students at Telfer have joined two North American schools to take an oath of conduct upon graduation. The other schools are Harvard and Thunderbird (Arizona). The oath itself contains statements about considering all stakeholders (not just shareholders) in decisions, obeying laws and acting in an environmentally sustainable manner, among other things.

Having recently completed an MBA, I think it is also important to point out the effect many of the recent "scandals" have had on MBA programs. In one word, it would be HUGE.

I did my MBA at UBC (Robert H. Lee graduate school at Sauder) and in the program there, Ethics or Corporate Social Responsibility was one of the main cornerstones of our program. The first three months of the program is referred to a "The Core". Everyone does the same 13 subjects and few of them get more attention than others in that you spend more time studying them and case discussions are centered around them. They included accounting, marketing, supply chain, strategy and corporate social responsibility. Our year started out with a discussion of Joel Bakan's "The Corporation" and our major project, a business plan, had to included considerations for corporate social responsibility. I have not attended other MBA programs, but I can only assume there was a similar emphasis in other programs.

Why does this oath exist and why are MBA graduates taking it?

1) MBA are starting to get a bad reputation. Many people believe that MBA's are at fault for many recent financial scandals. Jeff Skilling from Enron was a Harvard MBA.

2) Other professionals such as Accountants and Doctors have to take oaths of conduct.

What do I think about it?

It is a marketing ploy. The oath is not mandatory and it is not universal across all MBA programs so for the time being, it serves to differentiate one student or one program from another. Any MBA program worth anything SHOULD be teaching a heavy dose of corporate social responsibility so an oath such as this should not be necessary.

It is not going to deter bad behavior. Some people might argue that if something stops just one person, it is successful. I believe that is an excuse for an inefficient allocation of time and resources. Perhaps more time and effort should be spent inside the program teaching corporate social responsibility, instead of tacking on an oath at the end. And even then, I am sure we are always going to have these problem because not everyone that commits fraud/white collar crime is an MBA and because human nature often trumps everything else.

Personally, I found it really funny that the entire time we were debating and discussing the Enron scandal in my MBA program, Wall Street was pulling billions of dollars out of Main Street. I believe that until regulators and government get seriously tough on corporate crime, we are going to have these problems. Energy goes to where the money is. Which means that if you're smart you will go to Wall Street and make millions instead of going to SEC and making nothing. As long as Wall Street is smarter than Main Street at ripping people off, the trend will continue and oaths like the one taken at Ottawa U, Harvard and Thunderbird sound nice... but if we think they are going to make a difference, we are only kidding ourselves.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Recession Is An Opportunity

I was driving home from a store today and I was thinking about all of the bad customer service experiences I have had in the last year. They range from not being able to get service at stores to not being able to find what I was looking for because the shelves are disorganized.

I could be wrong, but I believe that many stores are currently under-staffed because they are trying to reduce overhead in the face current market conditions. From a business perspective, I can understand the logic... if sales are flat or declining, then you need to reduce your costs to maintain or increase profitability.

But this leaves a bad taste in the mouth of your customers. And it does this at a crucial time. As a consumer, I have two broad choices to make each day: do I spend my money or not. And I believe that in times like these, that question becomes all the more important. In the good times, consumers think about where they are going to spend their money but in recessions, people think about if they are going to spend their money much harder in a recession than when times are good.

So if a consumer has decided they are going to spend their money, which is probably a decision people are not making very often, should a firm just throw the opportunity for that purchase (to fill that demand) out the window with poor service? I think not.

This leads me into viewing a recession as an opportunity. I think that smart firms understand this and see this opportunity to grab market share from the competition. For this reason, I say that a recession is an opportunity.

I think the same applies to career planning. If you are successful in your career and times are good, then the opportunity cost of switching careers is high because then you will forgo all the progress you could have made if switch career paths. When you're in a recession, that opportunity cost is much lower, so if you're going to make the switch - now is the time.

The job market is not very good right now - trust me - but there are opportunities and I read last week that we may never, at least for a while, go back to the levels of employment we were at a few years ago. I read this to mean that some people may never get back into their old industries. Worse, some people may never even get back in the job market or have a really hard time doing so.

So I say that if you're going to make a move - now is the time. It is all about perspective and I think everything changes if you look at a recession like an opportunity.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Elusive Muskellunge

I started fishing the Ottawa River when I was probably three or four years old. Back in those days, it was pretty easy to pull large fish out of the Ottawa River.

Over time, it seemed as though it became harder and harder to catch the big ones; yet one specific type of fish, the Muskellunge or "musky", was always what we were after. Muskies are the largest members of the pike family and I have caught a few pike in my day.

However I had never caught a musky. Until last Thursday.

My brother in law and I had been talking about trying to get out musky fishing for a long time. We spoke to local fisherman who had caught muskies and figured out a few places where they were active. It should be noted that the Ottawa River is known for some of the best musky fishing in the world.

Finally, one of his close friends purchased a proper fishing boat and we were one step closer. Then, we found out about a place known for an abundance of large muskies and everything fell into place.

I went out and got licenses, a few large lures and some heavier fishing line. We loaded up the boat with some food and we were off to the races. Musky tend to feed in the morning or at night so we went out later in the afternoon for the late shift.

We launched our boat and started trolling at about 5mph. With four lines in the water, we got tangled up a few times but once that was all sorted out the real action began.

I started reeling in my line because I thought I might be tangled or have a bunch of weeds but it turned that as soon as my line came closer to the boat, something was on it. My first musky! It was about 36 inches long and about 10 pounds:

I caught a second one about an hour and half later that was about the same size but it spit the hook as we were about to put it in the net.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Octoberfest in Vankleek Hill

This past Saturday, I ventured out to Vankleek Hill for the Octoberfest celebrations, sponsored by Beau's.

Vankleek Hill is about an hour east of Ottawa, towards Montreal. Beau's is a small brewery in Vankleek Hill that makes some of the best craft beers I have ever tasted. They make a beer called Lug Tread that is considered a lagered ale in that it combines the best of both types of beer. It is available at select LCBO stores in ceramic bottles and select pubs as well as restaurants. Look for it and give it a try sometime.

This was the first time there had been an Octoberfest celebration at the fairgrounds in Vankleek Hill and it was an interesting time to say the least.

The Good
There were lots of things to see and do. There was a traditional ompah band, hay rides, a pretty zoo for the kids, food, lots of beer and "Norm" from Cheers was there.

The Bad
I felt the event was highly over-priced. It was $15 to get in, which I think was pretty steep seeing as you can go to rural fairs and pay $10 for all the rides. Mugs were $8 and then it was $4 a beer and $1 for food tickets and various food items were pretty costly... up to like $7 for a sandwich. Kids admission was free though.

The Ugly
The service for beer was pretty laughable. It took me TWO hours to get my first beer. I had to wait 45 minutes for beer tickets then over 1.5 hours to get a beer. And the people service didn't really seem organized.

My Advice
Show up early. We got there at 3:30 and bus after bus of people were arriving. Just after I got my first beer at 5:30, the beer lines seemed to be much better. Be warned about going late.. they claimed to be sold out at about 6pm when we were leaving but the event was going until 9pm.

Here are some pictures

Friday, October 2, 2009

Updated Layout

I woke up today and decided that it was time to update the layout of my blog.

For one thing, my header (I often call it masthead) image reflect my previous geographic location on the west coast. For those of you who didn't know, that was a picture of the Burrard Inlet and Georgia Straight taken from the Stanley Park seawall.

My new image is a picture I took a few years ago on the canal locks next to the Chateau Laurier. In the coming weeks, I am going to do my best to get out on my bike and get a better picture that I think summarizes Ottawa better, but this will have to do for now.

I also simplified the color palate and design elements to make things look a little bit cleaner and re-organized my right hand column to reflect the changing times... which means I moved my tweets up and the RSS feed down.

Good call? Bad call? Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

EI Update (Conclusion)

My posts about my dealings with EI (employment insurance) seem to be popular as lots of people have emailed me with questions about the issues I had.

So here is my last update that details how things got resolved. To recap, getting my ROE (record of employment) was a nightmare and didn't happen until mid August (finished work at the end of June). I finally got everything sorted and submitted close to the end of August (24th) to be exact and was supposed to get a decision on September 16th.

What ended up happening was that there was no decision made on September 16th. In fact, it took them nearly a week to finally make a decision and in order to that, they needed to clarify some stuff with former employer. I found this out because I was calling the EI office every single day.

The EI office calls my company in the USA but leaves a number only available in Canada... so my old company can't call back... I had to play middle-man and get the EI rep's number from my old company, call them and leave a message that to call back and if a message is left, use a number that works.

Turns out that all happened and they finally approved my application and I got the funds 2 days later.

So let me summarize my lessons to anyone in a similar situation:

1) If you know you are going to leaving work before it happens, ask for your ROE as soon as you can so that you can leave the office with it on your last day OR have it processed ASAP after you leave. Ideally, you get a paper copy and walk out with it on your last day. If not, be sure to ask for it before you leave and have them process it and send it to you. It can be submitted electronically but have them only do that if they know how to do it. Otherwise you are best going and handing it in.

2) Fill out your EI application immediately when you finish work. You can do it online or you can do it in person. Personally, I had an account with Services Canada because of my e-Taxes that made doing it online really easy.

3) Continually monitor the status of your application. That said, it does take about three weeks for things to be processed.

4) Be prepared to wait for everything to happen. For example, when I dropped off my ROE it took about 5 business days for it to show that it arrived. When they were suppose to call me, it took two business days to get processed.

5) Don't expect to be getting a large sum of money. At best you are looking at 450 dollars a week so be sure to have some savings to fall back on.

6) The good news is that you can be eligible for a good number of weeks of coverage... so rest assured that you will be given some time to find a new job.

Now I have to get back to my job search!!!