Getting The Most Out Of Your MBA

Hi, my name is Kevin Nakao and I am the co-founder of MeritShare with Travis Pearl.

Today I had the opportunity to speak to a really great group of MBA students at the University of Utah. Special thanks to Kelly Collins for inviting and hosting me.  Here is part 1 of the notes I prepared for the presentation. I will publish the second topic we discussed, ” working in tech” tomorrow.

I received my MBA from Harvard Business School a while ago , but I can still remember with clarity what really mattered:

Pivot Time
I went from working on sales compensation systems in healthcare to developing marketing campaigns for Puff Daddy and Tom Petty at Universal Music. The time is now to pursue things you have always been interested in. You have both the permission and the opportunity to try new things and make radical career changes.

Some great ways to explore your new career include:

  • Summer internship: I thought I might be interested in consulting, so I spent my summer working for an excellent consulting firm. The people were fantastic, but I really didn’t like being a consultant.
  • Sponsored work project: I was able to work on a project with Paramount Pictures that offered a insiders view of the entertainment business, some good contacts, and paid trips to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of working in the music business. The results of our study were published in The Hollywood Reporter – -providing some credibility in my job search where I had no industry experience.
  • Your colleagues: the best information about what an industry or company can come from the students around you. Since most good MBA programs require work experience, chances are you can find someone who has worked in the industry you are interested in. It’s also a little like taste in food, movies, and music — everyone has their own preferences so it is good to know the person providing the perspective.

Network, Network, Network
Good things come to those who hustle and create their own opportunity. Anyone who tells you they don’t is setting the bar too low for themselves. Yes recruiters may be calling, but you should set your own targets and not have someone else determine your career destiny.

Again, getting to know your fellow MBA’s is critical. It’s the strongest component of my network today.  Some of my most trusted professional contacts came during business school. Make it a goal to meet and have quality interactions with 100 people from your business school program. I was very involved in many business school activities including a business ethics forum started by a friend, the b-school musical, and the volunteer consulting group. My first visit to the land of my ancestors, Japan, was with a group from the business school.

Your instructors are also an important part of your networking resources. The connection between business schools and the private sector is very strong. These are very well-connected people. One of my good friends from business school works in the commerce department for the Obama administration, the results of an introduction from a former professor.

You are investing a lot of money and time over these two years, get the most out of it. The stronger you make your network, the more you enhance the brand of your MBA and your alma mater — which in turn,makes you more valuable.

During my second year of the MBA program, I worked as an intern at the local branch office for Arista records and helped put up posters, monitor music playlists, and basically do anything I was told. During that time, I went to New York and Los Angeles at least once per month to meet people in the music industry. I had completed over 70 informational interviews with various levels of music industry people. This was an excellent education, but also a huge benefit – because an important part of the entertainment industry is who you know. This was critical in landing my dream music industry job (more below)

Build Your Brand Online
As you know, the first thing a potential employer will do is Google your name to find results about you. I do this with every potential business partner or meeting I have with a new person. You need to have more than a Linked in profile because when someone does a search, there is an entire page of results that show up – and you want to make sure that first page of results tells a positive story about who you are. There are a lot of great resources like Mashable that give advice on this topic, but I will give you a couple of quick and easy tips.

Get on Twitter. Both Google and Bing are indexing and paying close attention to these “social signals”. Most content on Facebook, and a lot of the non-resume content on LinkedIn is behind the wall that can’t be reached by Google’s spiders.  Google is also optimized to youtube, so if there is any relevant video content you can post about yourself, this is a good “SEO” tactic.

Building your online brand is one of the benefits of MeritShare, when someone gives you an award or kudos, the results are optimized for Google and Bing Searches.

Sonia Karkenny
Sonia was the executive admin to the Al Teller, the head of Universal Music which owned MCA, Universal, and Motown records. Al worked out of both New York and Los Angeles where Sonia managed his appointments. For a period of 8 months Sonia tried to help get me a meeting with Al in both places. On a trip to LA she asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting in a small office for up to 8 hours to get 15 minutes of Al’s time. She got me the meeting with Al and the first thing he asked is what I had done to research the industry. I started rattling off the names from the +70 informational interviews and the work I had done in my internship. I walked out of the meeting with a job.  In the next couple of years i was promoted to a national sales manager managing a team of 8 reps and became Director of Marketing where I handled the marketing campaigns for a roster of artists. It was a dream job that gave me exposure to every part of the music business and the opportunity to work with artists including Tom Petty & BB King (they were already big), Puff Daddy, Mary j. Blige, and Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dogs soundtrack.

My key takeaways here are to hustle, be persistent, and know that everyone is important in your career and you never know who will put in the extra effort to make the difference. In my case it was Sonia, and it underscores the importance of my next point:

Be Nice
You represent your school, and yourself.  MBA’s sometime’s get a bad rep. You are spending a lot of money on this degree and you want other people to value the MBA brand. Everyone knows your smart, but are you likable, do they want to work with you?

It is the reason I am here today, last year Kelly brought a group of MBA’s to Seattle that I had the opportunity to meet with and speak to when they came to visit. I was really impressed with the students I met.  Several folks that participated with me remarked how polite and engaged everyone was.  I had some nice Twitter interactions with a couple of the students that visited.

You will achieve great things if you are smart and work hard, but opportunity really opens up if you approach it with kindness and niceness.

On that note, make sure to send a follow-up and thank you note when you interview. It is also an opportunity to bring up a selling point you may have forgotten or stumbled on during your interview. My rule of thumb is that if you want the job send both an email and a hand-written note to the hiring manager. Not many people do this and you will stand out. If you don’t want the job, send an email anyway – chances are good that you may run into the person again. I have actually kept in touch with folks I have met during interviewing that have become valuable colleagues.

That’s it for now, check back tomorrow for a write-up of what it is like to work in the Internets.

You Don’t Win Games Just By Showing Up

According to Bersin and associates, over 87% of companies provide recognition based on years of service, a practice first mandated by unions.  While retention of employees is critical and high turnover is undesirable  – not connecting recognition to performance or company values is a disservice to employees, shareholders, and leaders.  In her research, Bersin analyst Stacia Sherman Gar also shows that service-based awards have little to no impact on turnover, morale, or performance.

A much more effective approach to tenure-based systems is to provide recognition programs based on company values, results, and performance.

Values-based recognition:
Values help define how you want people to work together and make decisions.  Some of Google’s values include: 1) Fast is Better Than Slow 2) Democracy on The Web Works 3) Focus on The User and All Else Will Follow.  It is easy to imagine how Google’s focus on the consumer helped to guide decisions and policies related to advertising and their uncluttered ad-free home page.

A well-selected values should deliver on the strategic imperatives or missions of a company.  One of Zappo’s core values is “Delivering Wow Through Service”, reinforcing a brand promise and competitive differentiator for this successful e-commerce company.

Values-based recognition rewards employees who best demonstrate and exemplify the desired behavior, providing teaching moments for the entire company.   In order to maintain their spirit of entrepreneurialism and ensure their size does not slow them down, Amazon provides a “Just Do It” award quarterly to an employee who provides a shining example of taking initiative and “getting ‘er done”.

Great companies are also built when there is tight alignment between the founders vision and the values needed to deliver on that mission.  Apple’s relentless focus on building great products and attention to detail is a manifestation of their late founder Steve Jobs.  Founder-based values can be very effective when  you have a leader that embodies those characteristics.

Goal-based recognition:
Goal-based recognition provide awards based on measurable results.  Many sales organizations use these for top performers, providing the award to the individuals who makes the most sales or consistently exceeds targets.  Almost every position can establish this type of recognition program and leverage SMART goals to make sure they are effective and support company priorities.

In other cases, critical company results are accomplished by cross functional teams of engineers, designers, product, and marketing people.  Thus, goal-based recognition can be applied to group or teams.  Apple retail stores constantly monitor and optimize their operations to improve their customer net promoter score (% of customers who would strongly recommend to a friend).

Goals-based recognition can also be used to draw attention to key initiatives that need additional exposure.  Many companies are in industries being disrupted by technology, business models, and global competition.  Print and media companies need to get more digital, digital companies need to go mobile, and mobile companies may need to address new platforms and form factors.   A forward-looking goal-based recognition program can help prepare a company for a very different future.

Although tenure and attendance based recognition is an easier system to manage, the effort to develop values and goal-based recognition will produce better results.  You can still keep a tenure-based system, but put a lot more weight and attention on recognition that reinforces the values and results of employees and teams.  You owe performance-based recognition to your employees, your customers, your board, your investors, and yourself.

Coffee is for closers, awards are for winners.