Business through a Local Lens by Rick_Franza
Are You Engaging?
February 02, 2012 02:07 PM | 2795 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Are You Engaging?
by Rick_Franza
February 02, 2012 02:18 PM | 849 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Are you engaging?  No, I am not asking about your winning personality.  Rather, I mean being engaged in something that you are passionate about or motivates you.  For those fortunate to have jobs in this tough economy, if you are not truly engaged, you feel like your days are long and that you are just “punching the clock”.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a presentation (co-sponsored by Coles College’s Executive MBA program) at the Georgian Club by leadership expert Jeremie Kubicek, entitled “Making Leadership Come Alive”.  An important theme of Jeremie’s message was how to address the issue of “dead” employees, and one of his main solutions was to provide opportunities for those employees to be more engaged in what they do.  That is, find a way to complement what your company does with what is important to you and those who work with or for you.  Find the things that you and they are passionate about.

At KSU, we are taking engagement seriously.  After the controversial initial Provost search last year that was chronicled in the pages of the MDJ, we at KSU realized that the local community did not understand us well because were not well enough engaged in that community.  In addition, many of our faculty and staff are energized by participating in activities which improve our community.  Therefore, our President, Dr. Dan Papp, has made engagement a primary strategic initiative on our campus.  A university has a lot to offer its community and we are now making a much more conscious effort to be further vested in that community while further energizing our faculty and staff.

So, if you see that your employees or co-workers are “dead”, try to enliven you and them by being more engaged in the world around you.  See how your company and employees can complement what you do with what you are passionate about.  It will make you more engaging…in many ways!

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Soft is Hard
by Rick_Franza
January 18, 2012 04:22 PM | 745 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
As an administrator and faculty member at KSU’s Coles College of Business, I can assure you that we have excellent business programs.  Our students graduate with a strong skill set of analytic and business techniques that allow them to add value the enterprises of their future employers.  Depending on the program, those skills include auditing or cost accounting skills, professional salesmanship, or the ability to manage financial and/or human resources.  Our students are clearly mastering the more tangible or “hard” skills required to be successful business professionals.

However, like many business schools, we have been less than successful in teaching our students the so-called “soft skills” necessary for professional success in business.  These include interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, leadership, teaming, motivation, and basic planning and organizing.  Frankly, we have been struggling with how to institutionally improve the soft skills of our approximately 4,000 undergraduate business majors.

We have recently taken two major steps in the direction of improving the soft skills that potential employers have found lacking in business students across the nation.  First, we have recently completely a major curriculum overhaul of our BBA in Management program.  We have put together a series of four integrated courses that are linked together with conscious intent to improve the soft skills (along with the hard skills) of our Management majors.  More details on this curricular change will provided in a future installment of this blog.

Second, we have initiated the “Coles Success Series” which will bring in outstanding speakers to address this soft skill issues.  On January 26, local consultant and former Green Beret, Eddie Williams will kick off the series with the presentation, “The Essential Elements of Success” which will provide our students with tips and direction for better success in the marketplace.  Our second speaker will be women’s business leader, Erin Wolf, who on March 21 will discuss “Personal Branding”.

While the developing of soft skills are hard, we hope our new curriculum and speaker series will make it easier for our students to be better business leaders.

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Georgia On My Mind
by Rick_Franza
December 16, 2011 04:26 PM | 952 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In my last installment of this blog, I wrote about how uncertainty, primarily driven by politics, is stifling the national economy.  While we might have to wait for November (or beyond) for some of that uncertainty to subside, there are some indicators that our local economy is turning around:

  • Georgia's tax revenues are up approximately 7% versus last year and are up in every category (individual, sales and use, corporate).  This is not because of raised tax rates, but rather a sign of a healthier economy.
  • Georgia’s unemployment rate finally fell below double figures in November.  While the uncertainty noted above is still impeding employment efforts, firm revenues and profits are encouraging enough to add on employees judiciously.
  • Consumer confidence appears to be on the rise.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday experienced large increases in sales over last year.  People appear to be more willing to spend discretionary income which is a positive sign for the Cobb economy which depends significantly on retail and the hospitality industry.
  • Firms have strengthened their balance sheets and processes such that they are now investing more on meeting their customers’ needs rather reducing costs, positioning themselves for success as the recovery accelerates.

We are by no means out of the woods.  The uncertainty caused by the politicians in Washington continues to stifle the growth anticipated from a recovery.  In addition, the specter of the European debt crisis and its potential collateral effects hang over us.  However, when those obstacles are removed, Georgia, Cobb, and its businesses are poised for success. 

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Gloom, Not Doom (At least not yet!)
by Rick_Franza
December 08, 2011 03:27 PM | 890 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending the 19th Annual Economic Forecast Breakfast sponsored by the Bank of North Georgia which was reported on in the MDJ’s business section last Wednesday. I was looking forward to attending the presentation by Dr. Albert W. Niemi, economist and Dean of SMU’s Cox School of Business. I had attended last year’s breakfast and Dr. Niemi’s forecast for 2011 was pretty close to spot-on.

Unfortunately, as reported on these pages, Dr. Niemi’s forecast was sobering for 2012. He predicts another year of slow growth (2.1% increase in Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)) and high unemployment (9.0%), with moderate inflation (2.5% increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI)).

At the root of his forecasts are the three keys to the U.S. economy: job creation, housing starts, and consumer spending. He provided compelling data to show that the road to full employment (5% unemployment rate) is at least six years away, that home prices will not hit bottom until late 2012 to early 2013, and that consumer spending will remain sluggish.

However, the most enlightening part of Dr. Niemi’s presentation was not the “what”, but rather the “why”. The unemployment problem, which definitely negatively impacts both housing starts and consumer spending, continues in large part to three areas of uncertainty which are interrelated. Those three areas are health care costs, taxes, and political direction.

While businesses never operate in an environment of total certainty, decision making is clearly easier in times when more certainty exists. Businesses always have to deal with uncertainty in their marketplaces with respect to customer tastes and competitor actions. While there is always some uncertainty related to the government/regulatory environment, I cannot think of a time in our history when such uncertainty existed at the level it is now. Businesses are reluctant to make investments, particularly in human resources, when there is such uncertainty related to the costs of those investments.

Whether you agree or disagree with “ObamaCare” (and I think there is both good and bad in it), its timing could not have been much worse. As the country was mired in its most significant economic crisis since the Great Depression and the goal was (and still is) to stimulate job growth, this initiative has caused enough uncertainty to cause companies to hesitate to add to their workforces. Similarly, the uncertainty as to what is going to happen to tax rates, particularly corporate tax rates, have caused similar inaction by firms. At the root of these uncertainties is the entrenchment of our national political parties, unwilling to budge from their positions.

However, there are reasons for optimism. Last February, President Obama appointed a bipartisan National Commission Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (“Debt Committee”) which was charged primarily with creating a deficit reduction plan for the long-term fiscal sustainability of the country. While the commission proved that some bipartisan agreement could be made, ultimately, both sides of the aisle were not willing to make the concessions necessary to adopt this plan for the long-term fiscal health of the country. I am also encouraged by the fact that the so-called “Gang of Six” Senators which includes Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss has been working toward bipartisan solutions to our current situation. Unfortunately, these signs of cooperation have not resulted in any action.

At this point, both sides of the aisle need to move quickly to remove the uncertainty plaguing business. Politicians are too concerned with being right than doing what is right. There is definitely room for some middle ground that will unleash the potential growth currently stymied by political and fiscal uncertainty. Otherwise, we will be looking at long-term doom, not just short-term gloom.

My next blog installment will address more specifically the state of Georgia and Metro Atlanta’s opportunities and challenges in the current fiscal environment.

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