Business Management

Business Lessons, Life Lessons

One great reason to study Business Management is to learn about business. Another is to learn about life.

A lot of thoughtful people have taught a lot of great lessons about success in business and in life. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Ask the limo driver

    Ask the limo driver

    Zappos, the online retailer, is famous for its friendly, energetic customer service. CEO Tony Hsieh, who’s tried to build that positive energy into the company’s culture (Hsieh explains his approach in his best-selling book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.)

    Here’s one way Zappos does it.

    When Zappos interviews a job applicant, the company sends a limo to pick up her up at the airport.

    Afterwards, when the candidate has gone through her grueling interviews at headquarters and has flown back home, Zappos asks the limo driver how he was treated by the candidate.

    If the candidate was a jerk, she’s out, no matter how good an impression she made during her day at HQ.

    After all, Zappos reasons, it wants employees who treat people well even when they don’t think their job is on the line.

    Because in business, in the end, it actually is.


  • Face reality

    Face reality

    When hard-charging Jack Welch took over as CEO of General Electric in 1981, “face reality” was one of his key ideas.

    He traveled from division to division of GE’s farflung operations, talking to thousands of employees and urging them to take a hard look at their fast-changing competitive environment and question their long-standing assumptions.

    To drive change, Welch believed, he had to convince employees that change was necessary–and the best way to do that was a two-word mantra that he made the centerpiece of his communication: “Face reality.”

    Welch remains a controversial figure, with detractors as well as enthusiasts. His story of what he tried to do at General Electric, told in his memoir Jack: Straight from the Gut (2001), is a compelling picture of the drive and discipline it takes to succeed at the highest levels of corporate leadership.


  • Imagine a world without plastic

    Imagine a world without plastic

    In Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them, Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich explore the fascinating world of behavioral economics.

    Classical economics assumes that individuals are perfectly rational, but it turns out that in real life people often think irrationally about financial decisions. That’s the basic idea of behavioral economics.

    For instance, credit cards make it easy for us to run up high levels of debt, because the decision to buy is removed from the requirement to pay. If you’re careless with credit, Belsky and Gilovich suggest that “you start asking yourself how much you would pay for a prospective purchase if you were paying with cash out of your pocket.”

    None of us are perfectly rational about money, or anything else—but, as Belsky and Gilovich show, we can learn to control our irrational ways of thinking. When it comes to financial decisions, you might say it’s only rational to try.

  • Know yourself

    Know yourself

    In “Managing Oneself” (1999), famed management scholar Peter Drucker observes that in order to manage others, one must first learn to manage oneself.

    To help do that, Drucker says, it’s essential to gauge one’s strengths, values, and learning style.

    Drucker describes one powerful technique for improving one’s effectiveness: “feedback analysis”:

    Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations. I have been practicing this method for 15 to 20 years, and every time I do it, I am surprised.

    Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, the Austrian-born Drucker (1909-2005) produced a host of ideas that helped define modern business leadership. Now you know one of them!


  • Listen aggressively

    Listen aggressively

    When Michael Abrashoff took over the Navy ship U.S.S. Benfold, he found low morale and low performance.

    He wanted to change things, and he wanted to change them fast.

    Realizing he didn’t have all the answers, he set out to find from his crew where they came from, what their goals were, and what ideas they had about how to make the ship function better.

    He interviewed his entire crew of 310 men and women, five a day, until he had talked to every crew member.

    What he learned changed how he led, and helped make the Benfold the highest-performing ship in the U.S. Navy.

    Brash, driven, and often dismissive of the Navy’s rigid ways, Abrashoff has many detractors, especially among career officers in the armed forces.

    But his success with the Benfold, as he tells it in his book It’s Your Ship, shows that it’s possible to turn frustration, failure, and low performance into success: at least if you start by making a commitment, as he says, to “listen aggressively.”


  • ¡Aprender Español!, ¡Learn Spanish!

    ¡Aprender Español!, ¡Learn Spanish!

    From Ryan Bankert ‘13, double-major in Business Management and Spanish. Ryan interned in Chile in summer 2012. He reflects on his experiences there and on learning Spanish:

    I’m sitting in a tourist van, headed to the Valle Nevado ski resort in the Andes. Three Brazilians are sitting to my front. To my left, there is a Frenchman, and to my right, a Dane.The driver and a tour guide, both Chilean, round out our group. 

    We are all chattering away, having a great time driving up into the Andes – in Spanish.

    Imagine this scene with a van full of monolinguals. Pretty quiet ride. Instead, people from four different countries got to talk business, life, and skiing. Just an hour up the mountains–but it made me grateful I’d chosen to start studying Spanish in school, and kept at it.

    Why Spanish? First, I fell in love with the language and culture after just a few classes. 

    Además, anybody interested in a career in business in America should recognize how practical Spanish is. If you speak Spanish you’ve got an instant connection with more than 50 million American citizens, with $1 trillion in buying power. “If Hispanic Americans were a nation,” Forbes says, “it would have the world’s ninth-largest economy.”

    And it’s a rapidly growing group, growing faster than any other demographic group in the U.S. In five years, Hispanics will represent 17% of the United States population. Businesses can’t afford to ignore Spanish, or those who speak it.

    Do you have to major in Spanish and become a fluent master of the language to succeed? No!

    But knowing a little Spanish language and culture can do wonders for you and your business. As José Cancela says in The Power of Business en Español, “Spanish connects with us on an emotional level. It builds trust. It builds affection. Even when you don’t speak it very well, we tend to like you for trying.”

    ¡Que todos sean bilingües!

  • 現地現物 [Genchi genbutsu], Go and see

    現地現物 [Genchi genbutsu], Go and see

    At Toyota, when a manager faces a difficult problem, he or she is encouraged to get out of the office and “go and see” what the root cause of the problem is.

    This principle, “go and see” (genchi genbutsu in Japanese) is one of the core concepts of the Toyota Way, the set of simple but powerful ideas that have helped Toyota become the most successful and respected car company in the world.

    Jeffrey Liker, who spent two decades studying Toyota from the inside, describes how “Go and see” and Toyota’s other key ideas work in his best-selling The Toyota Way.

    Toyota’s approach has attracted so much attention that it has begun to train members of other organizations in how to apply the Toyota Way to their own operations.