Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Books, Books, Books

Reading has become a passion of mine lately. I have been reading business books (regularly) since the beginning of my junior year of college (fall 2003). Now that I am upon graduation I have to move them back to Boston. In that time I have read 48 extracurricular books. Most of them have had some sort of business aspect. Now I get to take them off the shelf, brush away the dust and recollect and reflect about some of the lessons contained in each one.
Here is a list of some of the top books that you shouldn't miss:
Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch
Execution by Larry Bossidy
Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
Radical Leap by Steve Farber
Does IT Matter? by Nicholas Carr
There you have it, the top 7 books in the Library of Travis from the past two years. I really wish that I could read faster because there are so many good books out there that I have in my reading queue!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

StartingBloc Part III: Corporate Sustainability

The most recent StartingBloc event took place at the Wharton School on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Our topic: Corporate Sustainability. I will outline the meat of a three hour Saturday morning lecture here. NB: I am still deciding whether or not I agree with the points the speaker was trying to make.
Over the past 100 years, no company has been able to maintain market-beating returns for more than 15 years. Also, environmental and social systems are in decline all over the world. Frank Dixon, Senior Advisor of Innovest Strategic Value Advisors asserts that no company is even close to sustainable because of its failure to think systemically. Nearly all human knowledge is derived from the the perspective of the human mind. This is the wrong perspective for human survival and prosperity. Economic and political systems that are developed from a reductionist perspective are inherently flawed because they fail to fully address the total system.
The largest flaw of the Western economic system is the failure to hold firms fully responsible for their negative environmental and social impacts. Failing to hold firms responsible in a competitive market essentially forces them to be irresponsible and unsustainable. This occurs because firms attempting to fully mitigate impacts would probally put themselves out of business (costs would become too high relative to peers). These costs are called externalities that are not included in the price of a product. From a societal point of view, it is inefficient to not incorporate externalities into prices since it is usually much more expensive to clean up pollution than it is to prevent it.
Finally....
Modeling human economic systems after nature would make humanity sustainable. In nature, systems such as forrests grow then level off, forming a sustainable balance with other systems. The idea that a business or a national economy should grow indefiniately in a finite world is unrealistic. A more sophisticated economic system would recognize that firms also have an optimal size. Companies would be rewarded for achieving and maintaining optimal size. Growth beyond this would be penalized.
There was a alot that was talked about at this conference. Some of the other things: the inherent problems with the concept of the discount rate, Western Advertising, and current political and social flaws. Perhaps in the future I will blog about these topics as they related to the discussion. If you would like to know more, leave a comment.

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School actively recruits StartingBloc Fellows. Moreover they have taken out an ad in every Fellow's binder that we recieve, and it is situated in such a way that I see it every time I open the binder. The ad is incredibly simple and effective.
In simple Times script - middle of the page:
Talent Should Never WaitHarvard Business School
I must have looked at this over 100 times and each time I stop and think about it. It evokes the the mytique of the Harvard Business School Brand as well as gets you immediatedly thinking whether you can fit into that brand of high powered business people.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

A Public Company with a Sense of Humor

The brainiacs at Google have done it again with the addition of Google Gulp to their product line. Move over Keyhole and Desktop Search, Google Gulp is here.
At Google our mission is to organize the world's information and make it useful and accessible to our users. But any piece of information's usefulness derives, to a depressing degree, from the cognitive ability of the user who's using it. That's why we're pleased to announce Google Gulp (BETA)™ with Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE), a line of "smart drinks" designed to maximize your surfing efficiency by making you more intelligent, and less thirsty.
I especially like the section entitled "Google Gulp and Your Privacy" (It's the fine print).
Read on here.

Monday, April 4, 2005

Know Thyself: The Entrepreneur's Ultimate Asset

On March 15th, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, lead figure in the widely acclaimed documentary, Startup.com, spoke to the undergraduates and MBA students of Villanova's College of Commerce & Finance. Tuzman’s talk primarily focused on how one becomes a successful entrepreneur based on was he learned when his business crashed as documented in “Startup.com.” He discussed how in 2000 he was so driven by his ego, his desire to make money and live the high life, that he lost sight of how to actually attain his goals. As a result, he failed miserably and lost the millions of dollars that people had invested in him and his venture.Tuzman asserted what it is that makes a good entrepreneur:
To want, to desire to be an entrepreneur is like a thirst you can’t quench, a fire in your belly you need to tap into…you need to have your eyes wide open for the entrepreneurial path, a path of courage, a path of seeing what you’re made of, seeing what you can do.
Kaleil was at Villanova, in part, to promote his new book “The Entrepreneur’s Success Kit”. In beginning his discussion of it he led the group through a short visualization exercise. The purpose was to get everyone thinking about by what things they are “driven” (i.e., recognition, health, money, courage, and acceptance). He asserts once you “know thyself” (as Socrates put it), you will make better decisions as to ventures you should get involved with and thus reducing your risk of failure (in theory).
It was very cool being able to meet someone that I have heard so much about in class and entrepreneurial discussions. Moreover I was able to shake the hand of someone that, at one point, had a net worth of over $1,000,000,000, even it was only on paper!
And now for Kaleil Isaza Tuzman’s Final Thought:
The good thing about the American bankruptcy code is that they are the most forgiving. You can try again, the market allows it. Take responsibility of your failures and get back up there.

White Castle: THE CRAVE

I was in New Jersey the other day with a friend looking at places to live post-graduation, when all of a sudden, we had a craving for White Castle. Neither of us had ever had White Castle, but we saw "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" a couple of nights before, so we were dead set on finding it! Finally, after an hour of driving, we found it. Upon devouring the little burgers called sliders. I came to two conclusions. 1) White Castle serves the low-end of the fast food market (if there is a low-end). White Castle serves food in pure quanity. There is no question of this when most of the value meals have multiple burgers, drinks, and orders of fries. I got the #3 10 burgers, 2 orders of fries, and 2 drinks. 2) Related to the last statement, I would not be eating White Castle for a ver long time because I felt like I was sick from eating too much. Upon riding shotgun in a pronated position back to Philly, I decided to call the White Castle customer service line. What happened next was nothing short of amazing.
I dialed THE CRAVE hotline and in one ring the phone was picked up and I was talking to Steph from White Castle HQ. I was not expecting to talk to an actual HUMAN BEING! (at least not until I had gone through a few minutes of menus) I couldn't believe it. I was so stunned, I began stuttering like I was in high school trying to pick up a cute girl at the dance. Finally I was able to compose myself. I simply told Steph that I liked the burgers. That was all. Just saying that they were A-OK in my book.
With the burger-induced coma I was slipping into while riding back to Villanova, I couldn't help but think how preconditioned I am to talking to or listening to some answering system. It amazes me that I was caught so off gaurd by an actual person (that was ready to talk and not transfer) answering the phone.
I suppose the takeaway from this experience is that if you don't have a product with quality that is superior to your competitor's. Compete on something else. I think White Castle has decided to provide superior customer service.