Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lead America - 2010 Global Business & Entrepreneurship, Columbia University

Why LeadAmerica?

In December 2010, I will be graduating from Marquette University with degrees in Marketing and Entrepreneurship and entering the business world. How should I spend my last summer of "freedom"? I knew right away I wanted to spend it with Lead America. Lead America is the nation's premier youth leadership organization. I decided to be a Team Leader for the Global Business and Entrepreneurship program. I felt confident about the summer since I am a Lead America alumni myself. I also worked as a Team Leader for the same program in the summer of 2008. However, part of me was nervous. New students, new venue (I have never been to Columbia). Before I knew it, all my worries disappeared.

Columbia University

One of the most prestigious universities in the country, this Ivy League school was a very attractive location for a Global Business & Entrepreneurship conference. We stayed at McBain Hall (Primarily a Sophomore dorm ) on 113th & Broadway. The upper Manhattan location was great as we could leave campus and walk around Riverside Park or have a milkshake at Tom's Restaurant (The Seinfeld Restaurant).

Speakers & Off - Sites

New York City always attracts students who want to enroll in a Lead America conference, especially for Business. During the 10 day session, our students heard from professors at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University, who spoke to them about Entrepreneurship, International Business, Marketing, Finance, and more. Also, they had the privilege to hear from Senior Sports Illustrated Writer Jon Wertheim, who spoke about careers in Sports Marketing. "The number one rule of public speaking is knowing your audience", he told our students in the beginning of his speech. He was prepared for his lecture, realizing that he was speaking to a group of High School students who may not understand the complex sports marketing industry as well as they think. He mentioned that in High School, almost every student interested in the profession wants to be a sports agent of a sports owner. He explained that both are glorious jobs but extremely hard to obtain. He also encouraged the students to look past Sports Marketing as a major, and obtain a well rounded business education that will make them more marketable for sports teams. Having a sports background myself, I found his speech to be extremely beneficial for the sake of the students.

During the off sites, the students enjoyed Ellis Island and South Street Seaport, both wonderful New York attractions. We also visited Rockefeller Center, which gave the students chance to explore the heart of the city with their friends with a little distance from the Team Leaders (as long as they stayed in groups of 4).

Business related visits included the NY Federal Reserve Bank, the largest of the 12 Reserve Banks in the country. It featured a very interesting self guided money exhibit as well as a guided trip to the vault, located on the bedrock of Manhattan and home to over $240 billion worth of Gold (most of which belongs to foreign countries who needed a safe place to store their national treasure). I found it interesting that for a transaction to occur, workers physically removed blocks of gold from a country's cell and transferred it to another's. Those workers required to wear protective add - ons to their shoes in order to protect their toes from the heavy blocks of gold. (The add - ons were unattractive looking and cost over $500). We also visited Fox Business where the students explored control rooms as well as studios, sat in anchor chairs, and learned about the unique Fox culture that made this young station such a success. The final off site was to the United Nations, where students learned about the policies, procedures, and meetings that take place inside those very important walls.

The Business Plan

A major part of the ten day conference is spent on a business plan simulation. The students are required to invent a new, socially responsible idea and produce a 9-10 page business plan and present that plan to a panel of venture capitalists. This session, Team A (lead by Team Leader Jesse) created a product called "T - Fast" which is a touch free toilet paper dispenser marketed to Hospitals and other health care organizations. Team C (lead by Team Leader Brianna) created "Enviro - Wash" which is an eco- friendly car wash. Team D (lead by Team Leader Janki) created "Make My Muffin" which was a healthy, interactive muffin restaurant. Team E (lead by Team Leader Meghan) created "Sani Band" which were wrist bands with hand sanitizer in them. Team B (lead by me) created a product called "Hac Jac" which is a heating and cooling jacket for the military as well as "Hac Apparel" which is a heating and cooling jacket targeted towards the elite. It is so amazing to see High School students from all over the country produce such smart, organized, and detailed plans in less than 10 days. Facilitating the simulation and reading their plans make me feel confident in their abilities to be ethical business leaders in the future.

My Team

From the very first day, I saw a lot of potential in my Team B. One of the first activities we do as a team is a game called Warp Speed. The students stand in a circle and toss a tennis ball to one another. The rules are that Person A must say the name of Person B and toss the ball to him or her. Person B responds by thanking Person A and throwing the ball to Person C. This game is designed to get students to remember each others names and is highly effective because it connects a name with a face. To make it more challenging, I often times introduce 3 balls to make it more difficult. Needless to say, High School students (as well as any other group of individuals) struggles with this game. Even though my team struggled in the beginning, they were able to accomplish the task in a surprisingly quick manner, and had each other's names memorized by the end of the game. That simple game showed me that this team is willing to work together and make an effort to be successful. Like my previous team, we had 3 good ideas for a product but couldn't decide on a winner. It was taking us a long time to make up our mind and I was trying to push the team to make a decision and move on. The most difficult part for my team occurred when a few members felt like they were being attacked by another member who they felt was being "too bossy". A confrontation occurred and team morale was down. I also noticed that cliques were forming on my team. To solve the first issue, I pulled my president and 4 VPs aside (the two members who had the confrontation were both VPs) and we talked about respect and ways to make this team stronger. After a healthy, positive conversation, they assured me they were ready to move on. I also addressed my team as a whole about the cliques. I told them that in the past, my teams were always the most cohesive and well bonded and that I will not accept cliques on my team. As the days progressed and the students continued to work on the business plan, all 17 members formed a close bond as if applied with magical glue. Members would come up to me and say "I think we have the best team. We are the closest team in the conference." I couldn't help but smile. I also pride myself on having a well behaved and respectful team, and despite a number of behavioral issues throughout the conference, I am happy to say that my team was not involved in any of them. Furthermore, many students on the team had very outgoing, vibrant personalities that made every event seem more exciting. I will forever remember their smiling faces and the way they transformed the team to become the closest and best team in the conference.

Teams A, B, C, D, E

This was a bigger conference, with 90 students attending. I was used to the large number since in years past, the conferences would consist of over 100 students. I enjoy the large numbers as it creates opportunities for friendships, excitement, and more resources they can use during their simulation. The conference started slow due to a number of logistical issues we had. It was the first time that Lead America did not use buses for off site visits. Instead, we took our students on the NYC subway. At first, accountability was my biggest concern but we were able to create a good system which proved successful and we have not lost any students. However, the extreme heat (100 + degrees) made the trips miserable. Furthermore, the rides were very long and caused us to be late to many of our tours. As a result, our students didn't get much time to eat and site see. Another logistical issue were Columbia's facilities. I expected a lot more from such a prestigious university. The heat in the bathrooms and dining hall made it unbearable to stay there for periods of time. I joked that when we would eat, we would gain 5 pounds and lose them at the same time to the sweat, so at the end we would break even. However, the logistical issues did not take away from the success of the conference itself. As the time went by, the students formed close friendships and had a lot of fun. They especially enjoyed the fact that we allowed them to watch the World Cup Final and rewarded them with trips to ice cream stores at the end of the conference. Overall, I got to know most people in the conference and felt very proud when students from other teams thanked me for teaching them new things and being approachable with advice.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. - John Quincy Adams

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