February 26, 2017

WANG | The Dyson Influx

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I  have a serious question that needs a tongue in cheek answer: What makes a great business student?

It’s really not as asinine as it sounds. Lately, I’m beginning to think that the market for business students is sorely lacking in clarity and ripe for exploitation, if we ever begin to think deeper than just grades and internships. On some level, this is article is inspired by the half measures business takes to define itself, because if the sciences are precision and humanities are expression, business is a premature gestation of both. We don’t derive Slutsky’s equation or breathe Shakespeare. They are not special tricks and bubbly rhetoric. Last night, I had to watch my policy debate friend prep for a new debate. She was speaking in tongues, running her mouth so fast the syllables were blurring the air around her.

“Why do you have to talk so fast?” I said, bewildered if not mildly impressed by her sheer speed.

“To fit in as much evidence as possible in nine minutes,” she said, looking up.

Then she went back talking at an ungodly rate.

But in business, it’s just a matter of speaking slowly and confidently. It’s not exciting, and it’s not supposed to be. In my management communication class, most of the students stand up during the second week and do a little talk in front of the whole class. The cinch is that not a single one of us has more than two minutes to prepare the topic. So while some people might have had a little more comfort speaking in public than others, all of us were on the same level of preparation. There were weird topics (“What would win? Rock or paper?”)…..and there were thoughtful ones (“What are you passionate about?). And the people! Some were clearly passionate alphas unafraid to articulate their thoughts. They paced and swiveled and romped their way through the presentation. But others were a little hesitant, and the awkward pauses were palpable. Some people  get the gist of public speaking from day one and run with it. But most people, like me, don’t.

That’s okay. That’s what the class is for.

Professor Lennox, who teaches Management Communication, sees it as a refinement for those who want to move up in management. Entry level jobs are mostly data analysis and crunching, but advancement requires softer skills. For his part, coming from the school of hotel administration before teaching at Dyson, communication is an important part of the career advancement part. The hotel school offers a variety of communication classes, ranging from management communication to corporate communication – even a communication class for entrepreneurs, which teaches them to talk about their ideas to potential investors.  But Dyson only offers one communication class. This is a problem, because it’s only offered to freshman. For such an important skill that is never objectively perfect, its development is being limited by the Dyson School.

Professor Lennox has hope though. He’s planning a grand new foray into communications for Dyson by hiring new faculty to teach a variety of classes. He’s got impeccable timing too. Three weeks ago, Cornell decide to up its ante against the rest of the business world.  When Fisk Johnson, owner of an embarrassing amount of degrees from Cornell University, decided to donate a small country’s GDP to Cornell’s business program, he not only managed to bring a stream of extremely important people to the celebration with deep pockets and ubiquitous last names, but also made a statement on behalf of Cornell’s Business School: Wharton was old news. Cornell was going to make it like any other American organization — spend, spend, spend until it got to the top, and look pretty freakin’ good while doing so.

And with Dyson’s exceptional business analytics program, they can continue to churn out good business students. The problem is, at the end of the day, a business school can only do so much. While a graduating medical student, knows all he or she needs to know before his or her residency, and a law student, after passing the bar, is ready to practice, a business student is never really fully prepared for his or her career. Blame it on the constantly shifting winds of the business industry. Blame it on the baselessness of business — what was good one day might prove to be poisonous the next. If there’s one thing we know in business, it’s that we don’t know.

Poor Marissa Mayer. The former Yahoo CEO turned laughingstock has seen her reputation tumble farther than anyone in recent years. Once a star as a part of Google’s Product Search team, the Stanford graduate  was hired to lead a floundering Yahoo company in 2012. Despite her pristine resume (consulting job at McKinsey, internship at Menlo Park), she never got her feet down properly at Yahoo. Throwing money after expensive hires wasn’t enough to stem the bleeding of Yahoo. The problem was despite all her business acumen, she lacked experience, which is a nice way to say she lacked intuition of where the market was going. But how do you get intuition? Her plight recalls the tale of John Scully, one of the renowned marketers in the world who was a driving force behind the Pepsi Challenge back in the 70’s. Still, despite that and his Wharton MBA, his tenure as CEO of Apple was nothing short of disastrous. Apple’s reputation plummeted in the late 80’s to early 90’s as Scully failed to introduce anything innovative, his biggest mistake being the Apple Newton, a personal assistant that was known for its erratic writing mechanism and unfortunate stylus. It wasn’t until Steve Jobs returned to a leading role in the company that Apple became a successful business again. And the funniest thing was — Steve Jobs, a college dropout, never had the same business exposure and education his predecessor had. And it didn’t matter.

It’s why I don’t think there’s a good answer to “how you make a great business student.” Or, at least, there’s not a good serious answer. There’s more than one way to become one, and there’s not a checklist to be done to become a great business student. It’s a lot like seeing the future. You can’t predict it, it might be vastly different from what you expected, but when you see it, you’ll know it. That’s the exciting thing about being in business — what you don’t know might be the most valuable part of your education.

William Wang is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester. 

  • MD-Associate professor – class of 1997

    Graduating medical students know only a fraction of what they need to know. Internship and residency/fellowship (often an additional 3-7 years of training) are instrumental.

    • BigRed2015

      I think William’s point still stands, though. Yes, graduating medical students are not experts in their field but as you describe there is a reliable and well-worn path to get there (via internship and residency/fellowship). In other words, there aren’t as many unconventional ways to become a great doctor. In the business world it’s unclear who the experts are and how they got there, what skills are actually contributing to their success, and how to replicate it and train for it as as student.