I am one of the four GMBA students who early in May was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference 2016 in Los Angles. The event aggregated some of the brightest minds in business, finance, politics and more to paint a detailed picture of the macroencomic environment currently faced today. Panel discussions covered everything from developments in artificial intelligence, to trends in asset management and hedge fund activity, to current geopolitical trends—there was even a discussion with NBA legend Kobe Bryant on his recent retirement and career success. I am grateful to Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and to Guggenheim Partners, specifically Michael Perkinson, for the opportunity to attend. Similar to my Carey classmates, I’d like to share a few insights and takeaways from my experience at the conference in hopes they inspire you to better prepare for the business environment in which we are about to operate upon graduating from Carey.
The panels are available online so I will try to avoid regurgitating factual information you could find elsewhere. That being said, let me start with a few potential trends I noticed from information received at the panels, and I’ll end by elaborating on a more experiential takeaway.
- The business environment for most industries is changing quicker than ever and, subsequently, uncertainty is very, very high.
Throughout the panels and various discussions, one thing was clear—things are changing quickly. As future business leaders, if we are not prepared to adapt and react to these changes, we better be happy with a career in middle management. I know many seek out an MBA in hopes of a bigger paycheck or a better title, but a degree is not enough. You have to prove to an organization and your employers that you are smart enough to understand the potential and application of new developments, and that you are well-prepared to quickly make decisions that will benefit your organization.
- Think carefully about the nature of the field you wish to enter—could technology replace you before you’re ready to be replaced?
Two technologies stood out to me as large potential disruptors in business for the coming years: Blockchain, the ledger system that underlies bitcoin technology, and computer learning. One panel I attended—‘The Transformation of Finance”—included participants from Google, NASDAQ, 3 sigma, and an interesting startup named Kensho (if you don’t know about Kensho, you should look them up). The general consensus among panelists was that if your job consists of running numbers in Excel or querying a database, essentially anything a computer could do, you will be out of a job much sooner than you think. Beyond this basic point, the Blockchain has much more potential than just Bitcoin. The basic way in which it works is allowing for verifiable bilateral transactions that do not require a clearing process from an intermediary to settle. Beyond the implications for money and banking, there is unlimited potential within organizations. Think about the transactions of information within an organization that require clearing by a manager, from accounting to contract settlement, the potential is seemingly endless. You may think you are safe because your understanding of a desired profession is based upon its institutionalized practices. But once managers develop willingness to undermine institutions and rethink the way they operate, entire professions could be wiped out altogether.
- Real interpersonal connections are an important facet of “networking up.”
At the conference, one notices a lot of a certain type of networker—ferociously scanning the room for someone of status so they can have their ear for a minute to shoot them the same rehearsed pitch and drop a few names. You can imagine how fast such an impersonal act could go in one ear and out the other of someone with high status.
Let me share a quick story and I’ll get to my ultimate point.
I arrived at the conference pretty frazzled from the multiple flight connections and one lost bag, so I sat at the bar to grab a drink and collect my thoughts, thinking maybe I’d meet some people to chat with. Upon receiving my drink, the gentleman next to me held up his Corona and said “Cheers to a good conference. What’s your story?” It turned out this was Corrie Elston, an executive at Google and a speaker at the conference. For two hours we talked about everything from Fintech startups to favorite vacation spots to views on footwear, among other things. At the end he gave me his personal email unprovoked and said to give him a shout if I ever have any questions or am ever in the Mountain View area. He also told me he appreciated how I didn’t hound him about Google or talk about job opportunities, even though it was obvious I had interest in his work. It was a real connection, and I never once thought about it as networking in the typical sense. This may sound strange to some, but think about the long game. If I emailed him in six months or a year, he would probably remember me and potentially be willing to help.
I understand this is a unique situation, and I share it to have you think about how you are being perceived. By no means am I saying you should try to talk for two hours with everyone you want to network with. But, when you find yourself trying to develop a business relationship, be genuine and don’t just think about your professional well-being. In international business especially, the foundation upon which the business relationship is built is almost as important as the actual business relationship itself. People want to know that they can trust those they do business with. This is applicable to businesses looking to work together, individuals looking to develop a mutually beneficial connection for business purposes, and most importantly for you, when interviewing for a job or selling yourself to someone of high status. Regardless of what your intent may be, take a second and pump the brakes before you dive headfirst into what you ultimately want out of the interaction.
The above is certainly the case when, for example, meeting an executive at a large firm who is probably used to getting that everywhere he goes. They don’t care that you have interest in their company or that you know where they went to college. The “airport test” gets their ear and if you pass you’ll likely get an opportunity to prove yourself. When we get executives to visit school, you look like an absolute doofus chasing them out of the room to shake their hand or give them a resume. They know people want to work at their companies.
Sometimes you just have to sit back and wait for luck to strike. You’re not always going to have that face-to-face interaction with the executive in your field or your favorite company. A successful businessman once told me that half of success in corporate America is luck—being in the right place at the right time. When you get such an opportunity, don’t be star struck, don’t feel like it’s your only chance to make a good impression, and don’t be scared to voice your opinion. If you are visibly anxious, sweat, stumble over words, they can pretty easily tell that you likely don’t perform well under pressure. Build the relationship of trust to let both of you feel more comfortable. Let them know with your actions that not only you can interact socially, but that you have patience and are different than the typical young person they may meet.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”
And I find it highly applicable under these circumstances. As young people seeking to make a positive impression, stay calm and stay cool, but be ready, willing and able to add value when the opportunity presents itself.