By Stephanie Xia, ZGAS Executive Vice President, and
Aracelis Torres, ZGAS Vice President of Event Planning
On March 28, 2014, former Merck & Co. CEO P. Roy Vagelos, M.D. delivered the first HSBC Student Series entitled “People, Not Profit: Merck’s Battle Against River Blindness.” Dr. Vagelos spoke extensively about his time at the pharmaceutical company, first as researcher and then ultimately as Chairman and CEO. He engaged the audience with stories detailing the thought process behind significant business and ethical decisions he made throughout his 20-year career at Merck, which ended in 1994. While at Merck, Vagelos practiced medicine honestly and ethically, holding true to the Hippocratic Oath he swore to abide by. Notably, he delayed the release of Lovastatin, the company’s first heart disease drug in the 1970’s, in order to perform further testing; set reasonable prices for a much needed HIV drug in the 1980’s; was key in providing the Chinese government with the know-how to mass produce a Hepatitis B vaccine; and helped subsidize the drug Ivermectin, used to treat thousands of people affected by river blindness in Africa.
Under the leadership of Vagelos, Merck was generous with its resources, and always ventured beyond philanthropy. The pharmaceutical company built strategic relationships and partnerships with key stakeholders, such as the Chinese Government, which controls one of the largest economies in the world. These actions paid off in the long-run, growing the company financially and providing it with the economic strength and reputational capital to recruit and hire top-notch talent to further excel.
Vagelos ended the lecture with a quote from George Merck, founder of the U.S Division of the Merck & Co., which lingered in the back of his mind throughout his career at the Company: “Drugs are for people, not for profit.” This honed in on the key point underlying the lecture, which was how to balance ethical concerns and financial benefits when making business decisions. Business decisions that encompass ethics may bring about immediate benefits, but more importantly, they will build a strong foundation of trust that ultimately produces sustainable long-term benefits.
We were particularly touched by Dr. Vagelos’ strong desire to help people and assist with development efforts in Africa and China. These surely contributed to his successful career.
By Josh Ludwig, ZGAS Editor-in-Chief
On March 11th, the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College hosted Ismail Amla and consulting firm Capco in a presentation billed as “Managing a Large Consulting Firm: Challenges and Opportunities." As Partner and CEO for the firm’s North American business, Mr. Amla is intimately familiar with the operations and strategic direction of his firm. Capco is known to have a niche in financial services consulting. The executive spoke at length about the opportunities and threats faced both by his own firm and his clients.
After defining consulting for the audience as a focus on “the end consumer” and where a client sits “in the value chain,” Mr. Amla offered insight into the strategic resources and competing forces within the consulting industry. He explained that the consulting industry of tomorrow depended upon a broad base of talented employees. Mr. Amla described Capco as “a place where employees can and should truly be themselves.” Consultants provide access to wisdom and experience, as opposed to information, the Capco executive explained. However, the Capco executive acknowledged that it was very difficult to differentiate oneself based on wisdom and experience alone. Mr. Amla added that clients expect Capco and its competitors to serve as “partners” as opposed to strictly “consultants” when hired on projects. He predicted that the growth of the consulting industry would principally turn on client transformation as opposed to strategy, or the decisions and actions related to gaining or sustaining a competitive advantage. He stressed that social media, crowdsourcing, and machine learning also presented new sources of competition to consultants that could potentially offer much cheaper services to firms.
Mr. Amla first focused on the impact of what he called the “computer-brain interface” on the future of financial services. He cited the recent technology of chip implants that assist quadriplegics and help the blind recover partial visibility. This technology, the Capco executive explained, could dramatically expand the demographics to which the firm’s clients could sell its products and services. Mr. Amla also stressed the importance of analytics to the growth prospects of financial services institutions. He also discussed the future ability of three-dimensional hieroglyphics to project the image of what is seen by the retina onto a television screen to offer insight into the buying habits and needs of consumers. Mr. Amla spoke of other predictive analytics that could help financial institutions better understand consumers regarding their borrowing, saving, and spending behavior. He also mentioned special DNA analytics that provide information about consumer susceptibility to disease. Mr. Amla pointed out that such information would be invaluable to insurance underwriters in pricing premiums according to risk. However, the Capco executive added that the Food and Drug Administration has since shelved this technology due to ethical considerations. On the other hand, the Capco executive mentioned the potential of Google Glass to provide an unprecedented amount of knowledge and data to consumers about banks themselves. He predicted such technology would force financial services institutions to reshape their business and how to serve their customers.
Although this advanced technology hasn’t yet become available in the mass market, Mr. Amla presented these technologies as opportunities for a financial services industry that has historically been decades behind other industries in the adoption of modern technology. He mentioned, for example, that the recent innovation of banking on smart phones came almost twenty-five years after mobile phones were introduced to the marketplace. In particular, large banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citi face the operational issue of modernizing legacy accounting information systems written in much older computer programming languages such as Cobol. In some cases, system designers who are no longer around wrote legacy systems in languages from the 1950’s and 60’s. It has been very difficult for today’s programmers to move these systems into the modern era. In fact, Mr. Amla revealed that the projected cost of modernizing information technology is so great that institutions such as Deutsche Bank have proposed sharing the cost of updating this infrastructure across institutions.
The Capco executive discussed other issues facing financial services companies in the coming years. Mr. Amla acknowledged that banks are institutions in which consumers have the lowest level of trust. He stressed that they need to make more of an effort to connect with consumers as they rebuild a relationship with them. Mr. Amla particularly praised the efforts of TD Bank to strengthen its relationship with consumers, which have included encouraging consumers to “bring their dogs,” operating seven days a week, and offering convenience services such as counting spare pennies and coins. Consistent with modernizing IT infrastructure, the Capco executive also underlined the need for banks to transform their technology, manage data, and “industrialize processes”. Taking into account their ability to “relate to consumers,” use of modern technology, and data management competency, Mr. Amla interestingly predicted that Google and Facebook would ultimately become players in the financial services industry. The Capco executive added that financial services will likely look different in the future than they do today. The need for an ATM or bank branch, for example, may be diminished by electronic and internet media.
During the question-and-answer session, Mr. Amla made additional points in response to audience inquiries. One audience member asked what was the future of virtual currency such as the bitcoin. The Capco executive commented that the concept of a virtual currency was “brilliant,” but acknowledged that resistance to it was also “massive.” He predicted that virtual currency wouldn’t take hold “this decade,” but would probably gain traction eventually. In response to a question regarding information security, Mr. Amla significantly suggested that information security was a greater threat than nuclear war to the United States. His comment underlined the need he cited for financial services institutions to transform their technology.
The Capco executive summarized that the long-term problem plaguing the financial services industry has been too many barriers to change relating to systems, processes, and people. In addition to their late adoption of modern technology, banks have stubbornly failed to view their consumers as people (with the notable exception of TD Bank). Recently, Mr. Amla mentioned that a banking client of his requested his assistance with introducing a new mortgage product. Mr. Amla answered that his client was asking the wrong question. “You need a way to help people move homes,” he said.
Capco and Baruch College recently collaborated in the publication of The Capco Institute’s Journal of Financial Transformation. The Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College is a sponsor of the Zicklin Graduate Accounting Society (ZGAS).
By Laura Hoffmann, ZGAS IC of Editor-in Chief
On Wednesday, February 19, the Zicklin Graduate Accounting Society (ZGAS) co-hosted Jaymin J. Patel with the Zicklin Graduate Career Management Center in an event titled “Networking Like a Rockstar.” The goal of the event was to show students how to stand out in the crowd at networking events, by attaining what Patel called “Rockstar” status.
At the start of the event, Mr. Patel introduced himself, giving those in attendance a brief view into his life and what inspired him to write The MBA Guide to Networking like a Rockstar. He is a full-time author, public speaker, and career coach. While attending Carnegie Mellon as an MBA student at age 23, he found that recruiters were not talking to him at campus recruiting events because he lacked experience. By contrast, classmates of his that were successful with recruiters, tended to have seven to ten years of working experience. Bucking the trend, Patel managed to work with recruiters to attain an internship in his desired field: management. His classmates were shocked and intrigued as to how he approached networking and the recruiting process, which eventually became the basis of his book. This book was further enriched by his experiences as a recruiter and associate for Booz & Company.
Mr. Patel discussed the following key ideas in his presentation: the definition of networking, the importance of networking, how to articulate one’s story, the relationship hierarchy, the “Half Moon Effect”, the deal-breaker, and Rockstar attributes. Patel emphasized that, using his methodology, students could achieve Rockstar status. According to Mr. Patel, the recruiting process comes down to four words: “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” and “Rockstar”. A Rockstar prospect will get interviews and offers, while the “yes” and “maybe” candidates will fall sharply behind. Rockstars will apply the right strategies in attaining their dream jobs. First, they will focus on the purpose of their job searches and seek jobs that are the right fit; this requires them to recognize and identify what they want to do with their lives. Secondly, Rockstars define strategies which help them clearly identify paths towards achieving their goals. Finally, Rockstars develop distinctive skill sets which are built by maintaining confidence and understanding the road to success.
Networking consists of “building a personal relationship with influential individuals to positively impact career development.” Although Patel mentioned that such “influential individuals” tended to be recruiters, he emphasized that they could potentially be anyone. He then proceeded to discuss a networking experience of his own on an airplane: he was sitting next to an MBA student from the University of Pittsburgh, and the student asked Patel the question we all practice for, “Tell me about yourself.” Patel was working for Booz & Company, but was also writing The MBA Guide. Since he aspired to fully dedicate himself to writing, speaking, and career coaching, he focused on those aspects when answering. The student liked Patel’s pitch, and helped book him to speak at his school’s career center, ultimately kick-starting Patel’s speaking/coaching career. This experience demonstrates the power of a networking opportunity.
Networking is important because it makes the difference between landing a normal versus dream job. It helps one to understand the culture and people in an organization to determine if the company is a true fit. Networking spurs relationships, so people from the organization whom students meet can become their champions, and show them the ropes. Further, it helps to build one’s reputation among recruiters, which is important because recruiters communicate with each other.
In networking, there is a relationship hierarchy which progresses from awareness, to consideration, to acknowledgement and, lastly, to support. Each step represents the level of personal connection between the student and recruiter, building over time. To begin ascending to the Support Level, students must show some connection to the recruiter, making the relationship personal. The only way this can be done is to stand out from the crowd by meeting with the recruiter at an event, and then follow up with an e-mail, requesting one-on-one time with the recruiter (even for only 20 minutes). In making the relationship personal, Patel recommends students find some initial connection with the recruiter, such as an interest in sports.
Articulating one’s story begins with three simple words: “Hi I’m [insert name],” and a firm handshake. The following steps in the process involve describing: who you are, what you’ve done, where you are going, and why you deserve it (not necessarily in that order). Patel reminded the audience that most recruiters know what candidates have done from their resumes, so students should not focus too much on that aspect. Patel also stated that the related 30-second elevator pitch has no practical use, because students must have serious confidence to implement it. He does believe, however, that students should practice it. Patel then asked the audience to articulate their stories to neighbors with whom they were unacquainted, and rate them according to the four-word scale: “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, or “Rockstar”. One of the audience members rated Rockstar joined Patel on the stage and told her story. His advice to her and other students, was not to tell their stories in a strictly linear fashion.
The Half-Moon Effect or "Circle of Death”, as dubbed by Mr. Patel, is the circle of students surrounding a recruiter. Such a circle is hard to get into, but also hard to escape. When entering the circle, Patel recommended coming within earshot of the conversation, waiting for a pause, and then introducing oneself. He warned not to take the spotlight or be an interrupter in the circle. Students should ask one to two questions, but not more than three. The best method is to ask one question and then, based on the recruiter’s answer, ask another one to two questions. Student collaboration within the circle is also recommended. When students want to leave the circle, they should wait for a pause, extend their hand, thank the recruiter, and ask if they can follow up. Within and just outside the circle, there are three types of people: recent alumni or junior employees, seasoned employees (such as partners) knowledgeable about the industry, and human resources recruiting staff knowledgeable about things such as company culture.
The deal breaker in the recruiting process is following up with a note or e-mail. Some tips Mr. Patel offers are: do not send the letter at a very late or early hour, always follow up within 24 hours, make sure the introduction and/or closing are formal, avoid grammar and spelling mistakes, refer to the conversation you had with the recruiter, don’t sound as if you are already qualified for the position, avoid long sentences, and don’t be too conversational, confusing, or inarticulate.
The attributes of a Rockstar are: leadership experience, experience with analytics and modeling, innovative thinking, experience communicating with a large range of audiences, possession of educational benchmarks (such as top scores), excelling in a rigorous institution with difficult coursework, involvement and recognition in programs and activities, good work history and logical career progression, and work experience variety. Patel concluded his presentation at Baruch with his key to networking: “Be Authentic!”
For students interested in further information, please visit Jaymin J.Patel’s website at www.MBARockstar.com. His contact information is Jaymin@MBARockstar.com.
Hello ZGAS Members,