The role of B-Schools in preparing women for leadership roles (and others)

An article in Forbes is critical of business schools, claiming that they don’t do a good job preparing women for the multiple roles that they will play when they graduate. The author claims that b-schools focus exclusively on the roles at work and fail to help women (and men) plan ahead for how their work will eventually affect their lives, as well.

As a 1988 MBA graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, I am happy to be able to disagree.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but a panel discussion I attended one weekend during b-school completely changed my perspective on life and how I made decisions regarding work and family.

Many of my female colleagues (who at the time made up approximately 30% of the MBA class; I think that number is similar today even though my school is missing from this list!) were not married (like me) and did not have children, but were still interested in hearing about life after b-school.  These women spoke honestly and candidly about the fact that women, more so than men, would have multiple lives and roles after b-school.  They presented us with the stark facts that by virtue of getting married and having children, we would make career decisions that would take us off the path we had in mind today which would ultimately lead us to have several different career paths.  “What?!  I was going to be a CEO by 30!”

As I veered off this path for the first time as we moved to State College, Pennsylvania.   I was filled with dread after I left my job, but I was not surprised.  I had been prepared for this by the panel of alums who alerted us to the fact that we might have to choose between our marriage and a promotion one day, which I had done.  As a result, I discovered a new passion and career path, college teaching.  As a result of that new road taken, I am now a b-school professor myself.  Now, it is my turn to prepare a new generation of women for the speed bumps ahead in life and work.


It’s Morning in America for George Feldstein and Crestron Electronics

Monday mornings after a long holiday weekend are always a challenge getting started, especially when most of the weekend Karen and I spent nursing our two kids who were sick.  So it was a real pleasure to read this article this morning in the latest issue of Forbes.  Given that our economy continues to sputter along with anemic GDP growth and 9% unemployment, the tonic that our country needs so desperately can come from entrepreneurial leaders such as George Feldstein and his terrific company, Crestron Electronics:

In a quiet corner of Crestron Electronics’ cavernous Rockleigh, N.J. research lab, an aged engineer hunches over a chaotic assembly of plastic tubes, spinning motors and wire. He flips a switch and an exhaust pipe spews a plume of white mist. “This is my Rube Goldberg machine,” says George Feldstein, with an impish grin. “I always have to keep my hands busy. Not bad for a CEO, huh?”

At 70 the founder of Crestron Electronics—maker of myriad home automation devices—is as fit and energetic as a man half his age. He’s also a tireless tinkerer, with 14 patents to his name. His latest project—a more efficient humidifier—has been in the works for over a year. Typical evaporative humidifiers require water tanks (breeding grounds for bacteria), while the steam-injection variety gobble electricity. So Feldstein invented a system that pressurizes a small amount of water and pushes it through tiny nozzles, atomizing it into vapor. When he tested it in his home last winter, the mist left a dusting of salt all over the furniture. (“My wife nearly threw me out,” he says.) With any luck the boss’ latest invention will hit the market next year.

Feldstein doesn’t just create gad­gets—he creates jobs. As protesters, pundits and politicians bemoan corporate America’s addiction to cheap overseas labor (the manufacturing sector now employs 11.8 million people, down nearly 40% in three decades), Crestron has added 500 people—20% of the company’s workforce—in the last five years.

Feldstein owns 100% of Crestron, which could very well make him a billionaire. (He won’t comment on his personal fortune.) Based on sales of similar companies over the last few years, Crestron, which carries no debt and pulls in $500 million in annual revenue (on its way to our list of largest private companies), could be worth at least $1 billion. Yet somehow Feldstein has attracted little attention outside of the trade press, even as he provides new jobs by the hundreds in a prolonged downturn.


“I have great belief in American enterprise,” he says. “When the economy went south we brought everything in-house and paid more for it, rather than lay people off. People don’t realize the importance of the continuity of labor.”

Translation: This isn’t about patriotism—it’s about strategy. By manufacturing 80% of his products—1,500 in all—in the U.S., Feldstein says he is able to build technologically complex devices in low quantities with few errors. Hiring at home also allows him to develop the kind of long-term, committed help he needs to keep expanding. Even with the company’s latest growth spurt, Feldstein estimates around 15% of his workforce has been on staff for at least a decade. “We bring in people, and we give them a profession,” he says. “It’s one of the most important things about a job: It should provide a career for people who want them.” And by keeping Crestron privately held, Feldstein doesn’t have to answer to pesky analysts and shareholders who might have him cut costs by shipping production overseas.

If we had 1000 more leaders like George Feldstein in the U.S., our economy would be well on its way to recovery.


TOMS and Social Responsibility

Karen was recently interviewed by Mary Ellen Biery for Sageworks and its blog on  Here are some excerpts:

Privately owned shoe maker TOMS built its business model around social responsibility, giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Company founder Blake Mycoskie recently added a line of eyewear that provides eye care to people in need for each pair of glasses TOMS sells.The idea is popular; Mycoskie has more than 38,000 Twitter followers, and TOMS has more than 17,000 Facebook fans. Even from a financial perspective, TOMS appears to be winning. It gave away 1 million shoes between 2006 and 2010. Presuming it sold that many, too, and with company website prices ranging from $44 to $140 a pair, the company has ramped up a robust sales machine in four years.

“Consumers more and more are looking to buy from socially responsible companies, and they’re actually willing to pay more for products in certain cases,” says Karen Mishra, assistant professor of marketing at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. She and her husband, Aneil, have co-authored two books on how leaders can be more effective by building trust.

For some businesses, being socially responsible can help reach a new target market or customer. But customers are savvy and see through disingenuous efforts, so use caution, Mishra says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily for everybody.”

Mishra offers these tip if you’re considering a socially responsible component to your business:

Find a genuine connection to any cause you openly support, or customers can be confused or turned off.

Ensure partners are ethical and can deliver on the promises you’re making to customers. TOMS provides details on its “shoe drops” and partnering organizations to show accountability.

Use caution in ramping up any program to avoid overpromising customers and hurting your business.