Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Did I Enroll In Grad School At Concordia?

Many have asked me why I decided to go back to school for my MBA.  Others have asked why Concordia University.  I've decided to copy and paste my admissions essay that I had to write when I applied.  I tried to be transparent, real and lay it on the line to answer both of those questions.

The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive
I spent the greater part of 2009 walking with and supporting my father in his brave journey with cancer.  He passed away in December 2009 as I held his hand.  There’s something very profound about that experience that causes one to reevaluate everything in their life.   For me, it centered around a quote from Saint Irenaeus, “The glory of God is man fully alive” and demanded the question, “What makes me fully alive?” 
I have lived in Austin for 21 years having moved after college graduation to work for IBM. In 1998, shortly after transferring to Dell, my wife and I discussed ways that we could vocationally work together.  After much prayer and brainstorming of ideas, we launched Texas Seniors’ Guides, Inc. in 1999.  Texas Seniors’ Guides connect seniors, their adult children or caregivers with local services, events and resources using print and online media.  Eleven years later, we are providing a web portal of relevant resources and information while publishing Seniors’ Guides in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio with sales in Fort Worth to begin in January 2011.
The culmination of the journey of escorting my father to his eternity with God and returning to our blessedly thriving business made me consider, “Am I fully alive?”  Alive, yes. But fully?
The quest to understand what makes me “fully alive” is what has led me to this application for the Concordia MBA program.   I have come to the conclusion that to fully engage in intentional purposeful activities that make me fully alive, I would need to do a few things to get my personal house in order.    I approached this from three different but dependent perspectives:
  • Business Owner
  • Husband
  • Christian
Being a business owner means that I need to make sure that my business and employees are well positioned for lasting success in the industry and the communities it serves.  Jimmy Collins, President and Chief Operating Officer with Chick-fil-A, said, “Build the business.  Guard the brand.  Take care of your people.  What counts in this business is not how much money we make or how much chicken we sell.  What counts is the difference we make in the lives of others.” (Eat Mor Chikin, Inspire More People, S. Truett Cathy, p.168).  Long-term success requires further education to acquire the tools and knowledge to position our business to be impactful and adaptive to the inevitable marketing, technological and demographic changes. 
Being a husband means that I need to make sure that I am always protecting our family – physically, financially, and spiritually.  From a financial perspective, that requires me to maintain competitive employability as a mitigation of risk to our current business plans.  The Concordia MBA program will give me that competitive edge.
Being a Christian, for me to be “fully alive”, means that I want to be able to help/mentor other business owners to develop into state, national and global leaders in their industries.  The Concordia MBA program will help provide the foundation needed to invest time and energy into others.  The beauty of mentoring relationships is that the personal growth is experienced by both the mentor and the mentee as long as the mentor remembers to “Be impressed and interested, not impressive and interesting.”  (Becoming A Person of Influence, John C. Maxwell & Jim Dornan, p. 81)
I’ve attended an informational session and sat in on one of the marketing classes to observe the cohort learning environment.  From these two events and reviewing the MBA Program outcomes, the Concordia MBA program traits that I’ve identified and that resonate with me are:
  • Entrepreneurial Atmosphere
From the moment I attended the first informational session, I could feel the excitement and entrepreneurial spirit around the room.  From the staff to the current students that spoke in the session, the class size, the curriculum, and the prospective students, there was a sense of excitement and a free flow of ideas that can only encourage out-of-the-box entrepreneurial creative thinking.
  • Evolving Program
One of the most exciting aspects of the Concordia MBA program is that it is new.  As explained in the information session, rather than building on standard educational curricula and programs already in place at other educational institutions, the program was designed from the ground up.  It has attempted to maximize what’s worked best at other schools and minimize or eliminate what has not worked well.
  • Peer Collaboration (Cohort)
The most intriguing aspect of the Concordia MBA program is the MBA cohort design.  To commit to this journey with 15-19 of my peers will be exciting and rewarding.  I look forward to forging new friendships that are sure to last a lifetime.  Most of all, I look forward to being challenged by my peers and reciprocating, so that we will all become exceptional impactful leaders in the business community.

After 17 years of working in various positions for other corporations and 11 years of owning my own company,  I’ve come to the conclusion that I still have so much to learn.  Sometimes, the best knowledge is knowing what you don’t know.  The Concordia MBA program is one of a multitude of MBA programs offered and accessible in the Austin area, but it is the perfect fit for me.  I believe it will equip me with some of the best experience and knowledge needed to fill those gaps.  I anticipate that this new chapter in my life will demonstrate that a man (or woman) who is fully alive, truly brings glory to God!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 3: It's Getting Very Real

Very tough week of schedules, not to mention allergies.  Three debate papers and one current events paper due for marketing and a group problem set due for Economics.  Much more of my study time was spent on economics.  I tried to "clock out" on Tuesday and Wednesday, but know now that can never happen again.  It was hard trying to do all the reading and the assignments from Thursday - Monday.

Reflections and Expecations:
This was really a tough week.  Working in teams can be completely exhausting.  I love my learning team and appreciate them more and more each week as we learn more about each other.  But, it's that getting to know and trust one another's work that is completely draining.  Personalities, work schedules, backgrounds, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses all come in to account as you try to unify as a team.
I'm having high hopes that light bulbs will come on this week on some of the economics material.

Class Time:
Marketing was great this week, but also overwhelming.  Both group projects have now been assigned as well as our individual projects.  The sheer amount of work required to pull those off is inconceivable at the moment, but starting is the hardest.  Hopefully, once we get started the projects will come together quickly.  Starting this week!
In Economics, we did a thorough review of Chapter 3 and lots of great questions from the cohort.  I am happy to say that the light bulbs did light up tonight and I'm starting to get a grasp.  This is thanks to Dr Estrada's unique way of walking through the material.  Very practical and applicable.  It should also be noted that he also is very good at learning people's names.  Last week, he was still confirming people's names as he addressed them, but was right on everyone's names tonight.

Personal Thoughts:
The team leader for the week did a great job of trying to get the week scheduled out.  We picked a team name and even created a logo.  We are putting "Learning Team 4" behind us and will now be called Paradigm Shift.  While that may seem silly, it proved to help give ourselves a short commercial break to do something fun that we all had input.  Tonight as I write this, I realize just how completely exhausted I am from the week and from sitting 5 hours (1 hour with the team and 4 hours in class) learning marketing and economics.  I've also had several people ask why I chose to go back to school for this MBA.  The only way I can answer that is to let you read my admissions essay.  I tried to make that as transparent and real as possible.  So, I will post as a part of my profile this week.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 2: Cobwebs, Schedules, and Personalities

This week proved to be a good week to clean off the cobwebs of my learning and study habits.

The writing assignments for both economics and marketing we not too terribly labor intensive, but adding in all the reading requires looking for every opportunity in your schedule to read a few pages.  As with any group of five individuals thrown into a team, there are schedules and personalities.  For my learning team, we are working well together as a team.  Our biggest challenge will be our schedules.  Three of us travel with our work, so it will just be a matter of over-communicating our schedules to one another.

Reflections and Expectations:
I am quickly learning that one habit I need to change is to go to bed earlier and get up earlier as reading early morning is proving to be better for me with respect to comprehension and retention.   The combined reading and writing assignments are forcing me to be more disciplined with my schedule and plan out more.
As I am preparing to go over to the campus to meet with my learning team before class, I am excited to continue to get to know my team members as we learn how to best utilize each others strengths for the good of the team.  I am hoping that evening's classes will include lively discussion and debate as we clarify and validate what we've read this week.  Will be interesting to watch the group dynamics of the class as each learning team starts to form their individual group synergies.

Class Time:
I had met with some of the learning team earlier that afternoon, so we walked up to class just a few minutes before it started.  Room was extra warm tonight which made it a little difficult to concentrate.  The learning teams seemed a lot tighter tonight as we all seemed to stay in our little groups throughout the night instead of engaging others from the different teams.  Professor Warren had some people share their ad/article analysis that they had done for our weekly assignment.  Good discussion and always enlightening to see how others approach their assignments.  We learned more about the group and individual projects that will be due during the class and I'm officially in schedule mode.  This is going to take some sorting out and rearranging my schedule to squeeze in more time to work on this.
During Economics, Dr Estrada took the time tonight to take us all through a few of the basic concepts from Chapter 1&2 in response to our questions.  He provides many real world examples that help put the "book knowledge" in a different light.  Similar to the marketing class tonight, we also learned about our group project that will be due at the end of the semester.  This is really going to get busy!

Personal Thoughts:
Well.....2 weeks down and the work is starting to pile up.  I can't get too overwhelmed since I've not yet experienced the full load of work these projects are going to require.  Worrying about it at this point, will just waste brain cells and time.  Our learning team is quickly unifying and planning some time to meet this week to work on some economics problems that should hopefully help us all to feel more confident in the material.  I had recommended, and the team agreed, that we rotate an assigned leader for the team each week.  That person will be responsible for coordinating our meeting times, our project work, and basically managing us as a team for the week.  Each week a different person will assume that position giving each person multiple times to lead throughout this and next semester.  So, at week 2, I'm liking marketing much more than I thought and not disliking economics as much as I thought that I would. 
In case you want others' perspectives on this journey, the following are others that are currently blogging:
David Pfahler
Christine Herrera  
Amanda Keeter

Monday, January 10, 2011

And so it begins...... Week 1

Format Note:
I've decided to add a couple of sections to the weekly blog.
"Preparation" to give insight to what I had to do to prepare for the week - a general summary.
"Reflection and Expectations" to give thoughts on the challenges of the week while preparing and to provide any relevant expectations of the upcoming class.
This will require me to write these two sections BEFORE class.
I will then conclude the weekly update with "Class Summary" and "Personal Thoughts"

In preparation for classes this week, a couple of things had to be accomplished.  Since I had taken the Economics pre-assessment test and didn't do so well, I needed to take the Ivy Class on Economics.  So, finishing that this week while experiencing the wonderful world of cedar fever proved to be a challenge.  I studied most of the week and most of the day Saturday, then took the test Saturday night and ....passed!

Mid-week, we received our learning team assignments from Dr. Ford.  We are grouped into learning teams with four members each.  These four people will stay as a learning team for 2 semesters.

We also received a note from Professor Warren earlier this week stating that we should read the first two chapters in our textbook and be ready to discuss SWOT in class.  "Two chapters", I thought, "no big deal".  So, I had put off reading those chapters until after I finished the economics assessment.  Well, two chapters turned out to be a BIG deal for me.  This is a honking big book and the print is small, two chapters proved to be ALOT of reading!  But, I finished it Monday morning and am ready for class.

Commercial Break: Reflection and Expectations
While doing the required study / pretest for economics and the reading for marketing, I'm a little anxious about ramping up my study skills.  It's been 21 years since I've really had to engage studying habits this intense and at that time I was a full-time student.
Incidentally, the message in church yesterday was "What are you doing to prepare for Sunday".  The point being that corporate worship and hearing from God, requires preparation (basing it on the events leading up to Acts 10:44).  This hit me specifically because of the amount of "preparation" I had done this week for the 4 hours of class.  What if I had prepared with the same intensity for Sunday worship (this takes on different meaning for different folks)?  Just that thought has totally changed my morning quiet time, starting this morning.

I'm looking forward to this evening's class to get to know my learning team.  I'm excited to see what each of us will be able to contribute to the team.  I am a little anxious about economics, even though I made a 90 on the pre-assessment, I feel like I essentially crammed and am worried that a lot of it might not "stick".  I have no idea what to expect out of marketing tonight, but I think I will really enjoy diving into that class.

Class Time:
There was a much more relaxed atmosphere tonight as class started.  After the normal introductions with at the beginning of each class and going over each class syllabus, we were off to the races.  We immediately dove into a SWOT analysis for a scenario with Apple Computer's IPhone being offered on the Verizon network.  Great discussion and just gave us a taste for the type of discussion to follow.  Time flew by and we were done with Marketing class for the evening, had a 20 min break and Economics was to begin.

I have to hand it to Dr Estrada, he definitely knows how to use real life examples / stories that help you understand the principle of economics.  The evening was spent with lecture on the basics of economics and helped reinforce some of the assessment studies that we had to do.

One evening done.....lots of work ahead.

Personal Thoughts:
The evening met expectations of being engaging and sitting through this with our learning teams.  Going through the syllabus made me understand that our learning teams are really going to be working a lot together and leaning on each other to get all of this work done.  One interesting observation was watching each learning team start to plan together.  Since there is a project that we will actually compete with each other - that competitive component seemed to thrust each team into tight groups at the end of class this evening.  Each trying to figure out their best meeting options and likely how to get started asap on their project.
Wish I had more introspection that this, but this is just beginning........

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Launch Workshop - Jan 3, 2011

So begins my 2 year journey to an MBA at Concordia University in Austin, TX. This blog is an attempt to help me capture the events, process and hopefully personal growth through this two year journey.  I decided to do this as one of the members of the first Cohort had done the same thing and it really helped me by reading her blog.  Not that this will help anyone else, but at least it will facilitate my own gathering of thoughts each week.
The journey began this past Monday night, January 3rd, with the Cohort 2 Launch Workshop. It was facilitated by Dr. Ford. Upon arrival, there was a sense of apprehension AND excitement in the air. The room was arranged into five table groups, four people per table. Dr. Ford and Dr. Christian were both moving throughout the room sitting with different table groups to get to know us and break the ice.
Our homework due for that evening was to each bring in a one page situation brief that focuses on one aspect of the the assigned problem. The problem we were to address was that given the current global economy, what can we do to capture, cultivate and retain a talented workforce. We could try to address this at as high a level or low a level or our own choosing.
As we began sharing our situation briefs with our individual table groups, my table discovered that we had all essentially written similar situation briefs focusing on workplace fulfillment. Each table group took notes on one large paper to summarize the approach to this big ambiguous problem. The discussion was great and gave great insight into the thought processes of the members of the cohort and what to expect in this two year journey together. Once we discussed as our table group, two members of the group had to rotate to another table to learn what that group had come up with, share relevant information that we could add, and discover commonality in our approaches. Each table group's paper was put up on one of the walls and we spent 10-15 minutes going over all of them to look at varying approaches.
We spent the rest of the evening discussing various introspective questions with our table groups and then would share with the whole room as facilitated by Dr. Ford.

Personal thoughts:
I came into the evening wondering how easy or difficult this journey would be. I shared that evening that I am terrified, but very excited. I came away from the evening with the utmost respect for my peers as I got to observe their transparency, as well as their thought process. The humbling thought for the evening came to mind as I was listening.....I thought to myself, "I'm not the brightest bulb in the box". This is a room of diversity of education and work backgrounds, ideals, and thought processes, but it's a diversity that will serve to complement and unify us as a "little family". I'm proud to be a part of this group and excited to watch us all grow through this together. I hope I can still feel this way at the end of this semester :-)