Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Case by Case

I'm not the biggest fan of my managerial accounting professor. He prefers to give homework, then quiz us when we first arrive and then teach us the subject. It seems back-assward. This guy gets middle-of-the-road evaluations and I was pretty certain he was being reviewed last week by this guy who sat in the back of the room for his class.

He also prefers teaching us through case studies instead of problems in the books. These are your standard Harvard Business Review cases that find their way into just about every class in grad school.

For many of the qualitative classes, we have cases to analyze and comment on the effectiveness of strategies or provide recommendations on what direction the companies should proceed. Many times they are about or portray real life organizations and situations. We've dealt with Starbucks, eBay, and Barilla pasta.

The effectiveness in an analytical class is much more difficult. Deciphering the right numbers with which to build an operating budget or return on equity isn't the easiest thing.

Last week, we had two cases; one dealing with coffee and requiring a three page Excel delivery and one about a small airplane company and discussions around the control systems it put into place.

The airline one was easier since it was discussion-based. I have a tendency to bullshit my way through discussions as you might have already guessed. The case dealt with two guys who decided to buy and operate a failing aviation company a few years after they completed grad school. The case covered the systems in place and which of the several independent units (maintenance, flight school, charters, sales, etc.) they decided to reorganize, improve or shut down. Each employee was overviewed on what value they did or could add. And the financials were all redone allowing each unit to be its own cost center.

The professor questions...which units made sense to keep? Why was this person more valuable then this one? How would you have handled this instance in their shoes? Did the owners make the right decisions; why or why not? Put yourself in the place of the mechanic/accountant/customer and ask yourself the same questions.

It was a thorough discussion and one of the most liveliest to date. At the end, the professor indicated that this case portrayed a real life aviation company.

And one of the protagonists was sitting in the back of the room!

I'm not a man who is easily star-struck, but let me tell you, that was about the coolest thing ever. To be able to ask the person about what you just read was probably my favorite part of this entire program. It was so impressive to hear from this guy (who was in his 60's) about the decisions he made and chances he took at age 26. I'm not sure I would have had the guts to do what he did, but it was an honor to meet a man who attempted and succeeded.

I left that day having an expanded appreciation for what I am doing. Many times along the journey, I've had a lot of self doubt, but it's experiences like this that let me know I really have made the right choice.



Blogger Dad Stuff said...

I didn't understand most of what you said, but the ending was pretty cool.
Very clever of your professor.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Wait a minute... Sir Richard Branson sat in on your class. How cool is that!

Seriously though, I agree that it is nice when these moments of inspiration befall you.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous FT said...

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11:43 AM  

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