Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Town Hall: Messages from The President

Saint Patrick's Day brought us the Luck of the Irish as we won 2 lotteried tickets to see President Obama in his Town Hall here in Los Angeles this week. My husband and I stood in line downtown for over two hours on a sunny, warm Thursday morning for one of the thrills of our lifetime! What makes Obama so compelling? Here are my observations: He is great looking: an athlete's body, long, outstretched jaw and huge, expressive hands. He has perfect posture and commands the room (in this case a school gym) in as comfortable a way as any University Professor. He walks from side to side, giving thoughtful, earnest responses. He nods with the questions as if to show he understands each question perfectly. He listens as well as he speaks. He uses humor, even self-deprecating at times. He speaks like a preacher more than a politician. His words were more prose than policy, and his cadence from quiet to blaring, as he communicated his own emotionality on certain subjects. There was never a moment when I sensed some self-importance as we did with so many former Presidents. Although he came into the room with some taped music playing "Hail to the Chief", he left without any canned sermon about "G-d Bless America" or any conclusionary remarks. He took a final question from a 4th grader named Ethan Lopez and then exited the stage.

There is a lot to be learned from this new President and I only hope that his policy makers and advisors know what they are doing and what advice to give him as well as he communicates his own agenda and hopeful solutions. I was ready with a question about restoring America to its former preeminence: in the economy, education, health care, civil rights, the freedoms of association and yes, pursuits of happiness. He didn't call on me to ask: but having seen him, I heard his call to volunteer and commit to making the difference America so sorely needs.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ethics of A New Generation of Business Leaders

I had the pleasure of spending the day with four young business students yesterday. I was struck by two articles I'd read in the Sunday New York Times, "Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?" by Kelley Holland and "Can you Pass a C.E.O. Test?" by Greg Brenneman. Both addressed the competing effects of business acumen (as we used to define "success") and business ethics. I was intrigued to learn that at UCLA's Anderson School of Business, there is no requirement to take a Business Ethics class as a prerequisite to earning an M.B.A. Why not? There is no Code of Business Ethics, no "Professional Code of Conduct" and no licensure or certification to conduct business. Indeed, as Brenneman notes, many a C.E.O. is clueless on how to push the levers to raise earnings beyond filibustering over buzzwords that are nonsensical. The take-away lesson from Brenneman, who Chairs CCMP Capital, a turnaround expert, was this: "In any interaction, you either gain share or lose share. So treat every interaction as kind of a precious moment in time." Isn't that a good guideline for an ethical code of conduct?

My son reported that every business-related major at the undergraduate level at the University of Wisconsin is required to take an Ethics course. Why? My hope is that just as this generation of students learns to appreciate and value diversity, cultural sensitivity, environmental and global concerns, if they are also trained in ethical conduct, they will not succumb to the greed and sharp practices of our generation, and our business climate will be better for it.