Monday, April 5, 2010

Kids, Pay Attention in Class!

No one in my b-school class would have confused me with a "quant jock." From the moment I stepped foot on campus, it was clear that I was a "poet" through and through. My liberal arts undergrad and my consulting-lite experience cemented my fate as the guy who would write the memo or design the PowerPoint slides in each group project. Leave the hard-core financial models to someone else.

My classroom experiences offered additional data points to show that I wouldn't ever be a corporate numbers guy. I sort of understood the concepts in my stats class and managed somehow to pass, but I knew in the back of my mind that I would never have to rely on unlocking an r-value to earn my paycheck. Queuing theory was an interesting exercise, but Gantt charts made me cross-eyed. I did, however, enjoy my corporate finance classes. Strange, but every data chart has outliers, right?

Fast-forward several years and I find myself in a position where I'm digging deep to remember details from classes I never thought I'd revisit again. Like the teacher trying to dissuade a 12-year old of the notion that he will never need to use algebra in "real life," I'm encouraging all you aspiring CSR practitioners in MBA programs to pay attention to these lessons!

In the past weeks, I've been pulled into conversations about AQLs and NPVs. I've had to seek correlation and statistical significance. My research has delved into countries' GDPs and labor optimization.

As a CSR practitioner, I'm effective at my job only as long as I understand the business I'm in. I find that I'm constantly trying to understand my business better, to figure out my colleagues' pain points and to find interesting social and environmental opportunities.

It's too easy to dismiss CSR as a fringe exercise that has no real relevance to the business, and in some companies, that may be okay. But if you really want to make a strategic difference - both to society and to your company - you'll go out of your way to learn the business, be conversant in important issues and create connections that others may have missed.

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