Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A start-up is a start-up...

[syndicated from http://blogs.ft.com/mba-blog]

The California Fisheries Fund is definitely still a start-up. The rapid changes of direction; the nebulous defined roles and responsibilities and the need for self-starters to go through their days doing just that. Even over the short seven weeks I have been with the CFF, I have experienced the turmoil that goes with working in this kind of fast-paced environment. Right now I feel as if I could throw out half of the draft fund operations manual I was given when I started and in fact, have been trying to do just that with my work on defining, refining and updating our mission performance metrics.

Not so easy in this kind of world, where success is not measured by how much money you can bring in, but by much more intangible things such as the increased economic livelihood of a working waterfront, or the estimated conservation delta in the 1, 000ft-deep habitat of one of 60 species of rockfish.

I have been challenged every single day on the job and have loved it. Now I am heading towards the landing pattern of my internship, finalising my projects and working on ensuring that others buy into my ideas and are ready to assume full ownership of the results.
Earning the trust and respect of a diverse group of players. Trying (and most likely failing) to work my way through the deep, political waters of the California fishing industry has not been easy, but has taught me that these individuals are not too different from the hard-working people I grew up with in Appalachia. And I doubt they will be that much different from the hard-working people I will I am sure work with wherever I end up, once I have graduated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not Always "Us vs Them"

[syndicated from my blog at blogs.ft.com/mba-blog]

I now have a little over two weeks remaining with the California Fisheries Fund and am in the process of drafting up my final project papers and presentations, a little of which I have given a window into through this blog. But more important than those white papers or recommendations that I leave with my clients will be the impression that I leave behind.

I doubt very much that I need to explain the difficulties with its reputation that the MBA degree is experiencing in the greater market place. I have spent time and effort this summer trying to dispel those myths, not only to my co-workers at the
Environmental Defense Fund, but also to those of you who may be considering an MBA education, but aren’t sure that a business degree is going to allow you to make the positive impact you desire in the world.

I am coming away from my internship in San Francisco convinced otherwise. I am surrounded on a daily basis by people who dedicate their lives to issues greater than themselves and I have not felt out of place even once, neither have I felt that I have nothing to contribute. The scientists and economists around me bring great gifts to the world as “public policy entrepreneurs” through the EDF, but I have found that I do as well. So far, my MBA experience has allowed me to refine my ability to make and execute decisions and to understand the motivations of individuals that are affected by those decisions. Management, leadership and being business savvy, they are all needed in the non-profit world as well. The ability to present a different perspective, to build and drive a team to succeed, to find a need and fill it with a novel idea or product: these are skills that are needed in any type of organisation and are ones that an MBA can help teach and refine.

Overall, I am very pleased with my experience this summer: it has not only shown me just how valuable my skill-set can be, but I think I have also done my part to show the world that you shouldn’t judge a person by their degree alone. An MBA does not equate to profit-driven greed, nor to a quantitative robot. And not all environmentalists are tree-hugging socialists (although I DO love trees.)

Step One: Earn Their Trust

[syndicated from my blog at blogs.ft.com/mba-blog]

When it comes to all things ocean, I am the first to admit that I am completely a fish out of water. I was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, went to West Point to join the Army over the Navy and have yet to take the sailing classes on the Charles river, offered free to all MIT students. And while I love to eat fresh fish, especially cooked over a fire or grill, I am just not going to be able to name all 50 plus species of rock fish that populate the coast of California.
Seven weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you what a purse seine or a gill net was, (types of fishing nets) much less the differences between the two. And yet, here I am, trying to help a group of fiercely independent and rugged fishermen with their businesses.

I am currently working with a small group of fishing businesses (fishermen, unloaders and processors), to try to bring a new brand to life. I have certainly been able to bring some basic MBA skills to the table, marketing and brand management having been two of my favourite classes during my first year at
MIT Sloan. I have spent countless hours on the phone talking to seasoned brand managers from industries that have similarities to this Californian local, wild fishery, teasing out the key strategies that could help my clients. Diving into their existing market to try to divine exactly what it is their customers love about fish and what it is that should give them a sustained competitive advantage if we can capture it. This is information that these guys cannot readily get on their own. Of course, if they had the time they could work it out, but they spend days out at sea, to bring in the freshest, highest quality catch, in a manner that, surprisingly, is proving to be quite ecologically sound, as well as economically beneficial.

But I digress; that is not the most challenging part. The real meat of this summer position will lie in how well I am able to convince them to trust me, that what I have to share with them is worth their time and effort to put into place. Most of these fishermen have spent their lives on the sea. They have seen increased regulation come and drive out businesses, watching their economies shrink by as much as 75 per cent in 20 years. But this challenge is also why I think we will succeed. The
California Fisheries Fund is truly here to stay in these communities. By making investments throughout the value chain and then helping the businesses to grow and thrive, we are earning their trust.