Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
MONKEY BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
When Business Week looked up a class from the Harvard Business School at their 20th reunion, 36 percent of them turned out to be self-employed. The editors, expecting most of the graduates to be running international conglomerates by now, found that surprising.
Those self-employed MBAs are using the principles they learned in school on a somewhat smaller scale than they may have envisioned as students. Instead of Business, Government and the International Economy (an actual Harvard course), they have to be concerned about less global matters. The corporate jet is a leak in the office roof. International negotiations consist of trying to get roofers of various ethnic backgrounds to do something about it.
Human Resource Management means trying to motivate the employees to stop complaining. At least, nobody has to water the ferns.
When I took the trouble to look up the curriculum for Harvard's MBA program, I was interested to see how much of the material life teaches you whether you like it or not.
I started out in 1967 by going to business school of a sort. I went to lunch with an old-time agency creative director turned consultant named Arch Macdonald.
I would have been temperamentally unsuited to a real business school with classes about regression analysis and indifference curves. But I could pay attention easily enough to Managerial Economics as taught by Professor Macdonald.
Arch told me: "Don't worry too much about new clients who cross-examine you about the cost of everything. So they complain about your estimate and bleed all over the floor. The reason they carry on like that is they expect to have to pay you
"The clients to watch out for are the ones who act as though money is no object. They can run up a big bill without sweating because they don't intend to pay it anyway."
Managerial Economics was not the only informal course I took. My studies in Organizational Behavior included business anthropology. Particularly colorful was my field work on corporate rites of passage.
It could be harrowing. I saw colleagues baited by headhunters with a piece of cake that turned out to be a can of worms. Some were fiendishly smothered by a whole ball of wax.
I once worked for an advertising agency where the owner was on close terms with the entrepreneur who founded what is now a giant food company. They decided everything at lunch, then came back and issued orders. My boss felt free to tell the client's advertising manager what to do. My boss, called behind his back, "the Sahib," didn't even pretend that the young man's opinions carried any weight.
A few years passed. The food company merged with a conglomerate. The founder retired from active management to count his money and occupy a more or less honorary seat on the board.
Executives of the conglomerate came to Gunga Din (his real name, of course, was something more Anglo-Saxon) and said, "Now this is a real company run by organized people who have been to business school. You are a real advertising manager with real authority. What do you think of that?"
G.D. said, "I think we are going to have a new advertising agency as soon as I decide whether the head of the old one will be coated with honey and staked down on an ant hill or simply trampled by elephants."
In Production and Operations Management I was encouraged to do original research. Here's something I discovered that could help in the international competition against the Japanese: When it's not instantly obvious what file something belongs in, put it in a drawer. When the drawer gets full, probably in about six months, take a fistful of paper out of the bottom of the drawer and throw it away without looking at it. Anything you haven't had to retrieve by then has somehow become translated into Etruscan, which no one anywhere knows how to decipher.
Well, almost no one. I do wonder sometimes about the linguistic origins of annual reports from companies run by business school graduates.
Also, never buy more than two filing cabinets. When a file drawer gets full, don't juggle files from drawer to drawer. That overstimulates them.
Just find something to throw away to make room for new material. If you ever let the files get the upper hand, you'll have to become a conglomerate to deal with them.
You could come back from a holiday weekend to find a stack of file folders sitting in your chair. "We've taken over," they say. "You have till noon to clean out your desk and move down the hall."
The self-employed MBAs, as well as their classmates who really are running international conglomerates and advising the leaders of governments, did get a head start in knowledge of business. But the rest of us find out soon enough the arcane lore that lies at the heart of it all:1. Sales are always too low. 2. Expenses are always too high. 3. If you're rude to young people, someday you'll be trampled by elephants.