Q & A

What does it mean to be a manager today?

Ideas become actions when they're pressed into service in a particular context. So are ideals tempered by real experience. We wondered how the idea of management as a profession (and the ideal of management as a profession) would play out at the level of daily life.

So, we sought out a group of graduates of the school. They've all gone to a management school and are managers by that definition at least, but they practice their craft (or profession) in different industries, locales, and roles. Each provides one view on the many-faceted world of management.

First we asked the participants to chronicle a day out of their work lives, breaking the overarching issue of what constitutes management down to a manageable but still rich unit of analysis. Then we set them loose to discuss the notion of management as a profession.


Radha Kuppalli '06

12.07.06
 

I was in New Zealand at the beginning of the week checking out one of our forestry plantations up there, tromping around the bush for a few days. On behalf of one of our investors, New Forests manages a 14,000-hectare pine plantation in New Zealand's North Island. I spent a couple of days with the property management firm in order to understand everything from growing and harvesting the trees to exporting the timber to international markets around Asia. I just got back to the office this morning.

9 am
Telephone conversation with investment manager in Texas. We're working with an investment management firm in the U.S. to develop a global forestry company that would create a portfolio of global forestry assets. This company would be listed on the AIM exchange in London and is targeting European investors, who are currently an untapped market for timber investment. We're going on a road show to do an IPO for the company in late January or early February, so right now I'm in the process of developing a prospectus for this vehicle. I was working with one of the guys in Texas that we're collaborating with on some financial modeling, and developing the investment paper and the prospectus. 

noon 
Australian Chamber of Commerce lunch. A panel discussion on whether Australian business can rise to the challenge of tackling climate change.

Follow-up on portfolio for AIM company. We had done some financial modeling for the AIM vehicle in the morning to answer the investment manager's questions about the returns in the portfolio. I'm not a modeling guru like some of my colleagues here, who are wizards at modeling the growth of the forestry assets and revenues from that and also all the carbon that comes off of it. One of my colleagues had done the modeling while I was away at lunch and when I came back, I wrote an explanatory note for the client about how we had gone about the modeling.

4 pm 
Revision of financial model for another forest portfolio. We're developing a global forestry fund for another client who is based out of London. We had done some modeling of a global portfolio of forestry assets, and I thought that some revisions were necessary to meet the client's expectations. So I worked with a colleague to do some of that modeling, and then sent the client a revised model with explanations. 

 

Chris Wolf '83

12.05.06


The Cogo Wolf Global Strategy Fund is an actively managed exposure to global investment assets. We are currently invested in about 35 exceptional hedge funds, ETFs, and other liquid securities. The fund's portfolio is currently 95% international.

5:30 am 
Arrive at work. Check the overseas markets.

Check the U.S. markets. We have Bloomberg terminals in our office, and I follow the world equity, bond, currencies, and hard assets markets. Follow, weigh various news events.

Reading and research. We subscribe to a wide range of U.S. and international research services, from quantitative analysis to cutting-edge speculations. We are rather thematically driven and proactive. We'll look at a region, such as Africa, and we will construct an investment theme—say, some proprietary derivation of the China footprint. Then we look at relevant business contracts that China has done in Africa by country and evaluate the underlying equity markets. We talk with our contacts and sniff out those hedge funds that invest in Africa complementary to our theme and our firm's generally conservative and pragmatic style. That approach puts a premium on independent thinking. 

Informal discussions. We all keep our doors open and we pop into each other's offices. We encourage a healthy amount of congenial arguing.

10 am 
Internal meeting. Barclays announced that we're in the top 10 funds of funds worldwide in our size category for net performance over the last three years. So, we talk about buying the index report. We discuss some infrastructure and regulatory compliance items.

Conference call with a hedge fund manager in our portfolio. We stay close to our managers and frequently exchange market information with them, making the meetings helpful for both of us.

noon 
Meeting with prospective clients. One asks us for the "American perspective" on a particular issue. My business partner, a Brit, looks at me with an expression of weary bemusement.

Drafting an article.

Discussion on a new investment theme.

late night
I like the complexity and the subtlety of what I do. I've always liked puzzles. I get so involved looking for hidden inferences in the details. My wife hates it when I wake up at three in the morning to write something on a Post-it note, but she would be more afraid something was wrong if I stopped. I don't fall asleep easily, never have. I need to read something non-work-related. Currently, that means mountain-climbing texts, wine reviews, and studies on corvid behavior. I haven't found a meaningful link yet to the global markets so eventually I fall asleep.


Ned Sullivan '82

11.15.06 


Today is a management day for me. I allocate some days of my week to being in the office and managing, and other days to being out and fundraising and doing external affairs.

8 am 
Breakfast meeting. I meet my senior vice president at the same restaurant every Wednesday, and we set out our joint agendas.

Senior management meeting. We've just gone through an update of our strategic plan and we're reorganizing as a result of that. We've identified a set of high-priority strategic outcomes, and we're redeploying our staff in teams that are focused on those outcomes rather than a functional, departmental approach. That was part of our meeting. Then we discussed a series of grants that have organization-wide implications, our medical plan, and, finally, relations with our board of directors. That meeting was an all-morning affair, as you might imagine.

noon 
Meetings with individual managers.

An external day would be very different. I'd be out of the office a lot more, talking with donors, explaining our mission to people, and explaining specific things we're doing in their communities. But everything I do is bound together by our mission, to preserve and restore the Hudson and its waterfront as a world-class public and natural resource.

Various tasks to advance an initiative to finance and complete permitting for a state-of-the-art, green-design hotel and conference center on the waterfront of the city of Beacon. This is a pioneering effort for us to be actually supporting and sponsoring a development project rather than trying to stop one or reshape someone else's. It will entail cleanup of a contaminated former industrial site, and will include a public park and meet the Gold standard from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. We're working with a private developer who is going to build the project on land we own. We see it as part of an effort to redefine how development occurs and what constitutes good development in the region. Scenic Hudson is an environmental organization and a land trust, but we are very supportive of economic development that respects the environment and the natural beauty of the region.

5 pm 
Prepped for an upcoming meeting with an editorial board.

After I got my daughter to bed, I sat down at the computer to prepare for the next day.


Tom Ascheim '90

11.13.06


I got up disgustingly early to take a shower before I got my children ready, took them to school, and then arrived at work.

9 am 
First meeting of the day, with the chief software engineer of a company we bought. Like many companies, we are finding our way into the digital era, and this acquisition was part of that.

Meeting about Nielsen Research, the company that measures television ratings.

Meeting with my boss, the president of the MTV Networks Kids and Family Group. We went through a lot of product development issues—which shows seem interesting and which shows don't—and then some process issues.

noon 
Meeting with two creators. They are animating a new show called El Tigre for us. It's a show about good and evil. The little boy in the show, Manny, has a father who is a superhero and a grandfather who is a supervillain. This kind of meeting is always fun. It's the meat of what we do.

Meeting on HR matters. We spend a lot of time and energy on organizational behavior issues and making sure the company is operating smoothly.

Digital weekly meeting. Our unit is divided up into different operating groups and mine is television, but we attend each other's update meetings.

Meeting with my head of programming. We spent time looking at the schedule—both what shows are on hour by hour and when they're placed in the year. It's a tweaking process based on ratings, and it's a lot like merchandising. Our store just happens to be a television network.

We also do a lot of research with our audience to support these decisions. One advantage to programming for children is that you remember you're not a kid. When you program for grownups you begin to believe that your taste is their taste. It's hard not to. But you know you're not a nine-year-old.

Ad sales meeting. We have a very meeting-oriented culture.

7:30 pm 
Run to catch a cab in time to read to my kids before bedtime.

Email Dialogue:

From: Radha Kuppalli
To: Tom Ascheim, Ned Sullivan, Chris Wolf
Subject: RE: Yale SOM Article
Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hi, Tom, Ned, and Chris. Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and enjoyed some well-deserved time off. I look forward to this discussion with all of you.

I was a joint degree at Yale, between the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and SOM. New Forests is a Sydney-based start-up, about 18 months old, formed out of a management buyout from Hancock Natural Resource Group, the world's largest timber investment management organization.

New Forests is a forestland investment and asset manager. Our investors are largely private equity investors and funds management firms; we invest in and manage forestry assets around the world on our investors' behalf. We specialize in forestry assets in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia. Our unique investment thesis focuses on creating value for investors not only from the timber value of forests, but also from their environmental values, such as carbon sequestration, water-quality regulation, and biodiversity conservation. There are markets developing around the world for these "ecosystem services." You may be familiar with carbon offsets or companies going "carbon neutral." Forest conservation and reforestation are important to mitigating global climate change. New Forests also specializes in "ecological assets"—assets in which the return on investment primarily derives from the environmental values of forest and land assets. We are innovative and cutting edge, I think!

I consider myself an environmental finance professional. As a professional in this field, my colleagues and I (in New Forests and other related firms) work to deliver private capital towards environmentally sustainable assets, products, and services. To me, the driving philosophy behind environmental finance is the notion that markets must value environmental sustainability and the conservation of healthy ecosystems. In other words, negative environmental externalities must have a market price. Over time, I believe markets will value environmental sustainability via government regulation, consumer demand, risk management, and a number of other drivers. 

As an environmentalist, I realized a few years ago that the only way to tackle climate change (and other major environmental problems) is through changes in capital market flows. I dedicated myself to working via the private sector to find solutions to the environmental problems that I care about. I see an entire industry now forming around this idea and investors beginning to take long-term positions on environmental sustainability. Forestland assets are an example of this. These assets are at the intersection of major trends in alternative asset investments, sustainability investments, and solutions to big environmental problems (climate change, water, and biodiversity).

Clearly, I would have to say that I would not consider myself in the same profession—environmental finance—as some of you. That being said, Ned and I probably care about similar issues, as he works for Scenic Hudson. Chris is in wealth asset management, so I can see some overlap in our jobs, having to work with investors.

What may unify us, however, is the management of interests and the conflicts many of us may face on a daily basis. For instance, our investors' interests and needs generally come first at New Forests—they pay our bills. That being said, we have to be very clear with our investors regarding our environmental and social principles and what kinds of assets we will and will not invest in. Another issue that has been nagging at us is the question of whether or not we will log native forests, such as in Southeast Asia. There are plenty of opportunities for us to do so (which can get our investors quickly invested) but we are somewhat uncomfortable with logging primary tropical rainforests, which are being deforested at such an alarming rate worldwide. However, if we (New Forests) don't do it in a responsible way, then some other company with less scruples will likely take the logging concession and liquidate the asset. What do we do? Our strategy is to find innovative conservation financing, but this is an issue we grapple with.
I imagine some of you may face similar types of conflicts of interest.

Anyways, I've probably gone on long enough… Look forward to chatting.

All the best,

Radha 
 


From: Chris Wolf
To: Radha Kuppalli, Tom Ascheim, Ned Sullivan
Subject: RE: Yale SOM Article
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2007

Hi All,

It may be more illuminating to turn the "management as profession" question on its head so that we're not drawn into debating (and beating) an old metaphysical horse, in which the initial underlying premise invariably is that a business degree is presumed to be inferior to a law degree and the resultant discussion becomes a ratiocination and rebuttal of the guild systems. Might we recast the question? Perhaps as follows:
"How do you think the frontiers of your particular industry are overlapping with, interconnected to, and being changed by other industries, including those of your colleagues on this panel, and is this leading to an evolving professional identity?"

This encompasses and broadens upon Radha's interesting speculation on cross-disciplinary management of relationships and expectations.
I was struck by Radha's observation that "the only way to tackle climate change is through changes in capital market flows" and further that "these assets are at the intersection of major trends in alternative asset investments, sustainability investments, and solutions to big environmental problems." In his daily journal, Tom mentioned spending time on programming which is a "process based on ratings, and it's a lot like merchandising." Ned speaks of a new "pioneering effort for us to be actually supporting and sponsoring a development project" in a venture with a private developer. Dean Podolny, Will Goetzmann, and the SOM faculty have been brilliant in their efforts to tear down the academic silos at SOM and recognize that Yale must reflect what is happening in the broader economy.

For our part, as an investment fund, we follow, occasionally avoid, and at times selectively invest around many of the rapidly dissolving silos in the capital markets. Hedge funds are busy buying actual timber properties and stockpiling uranium supplies, financing Hollywood movies and television programs, speculating on Chinese art and 2005 first-growth Bordeaux, investing alongside venture capitalists in pre-IPO biotechnology companies, and being feted by the LBO shops whose portfolio debt they hold, restructure, and syndicate. Venture capitalists are rushing into Vietnam and China, and buying up ethanol suppliers alongside the farmer-entrepreneurs whose culture they can only dimly understand. Sharia and socially responsible investment funds are popping up. Global liquidity is unprecedented. The world is not becoming "flat." It is becoming truly 3-D for the first time, with all of the attendant complexity and opportunity.

So, have any of you talked with a hedge fund or VC lately? We've had discussions with members of each of your fields in the past year.

Cheers,

Chris
 


From: Ned Sullivan
To: Radha Kuppalli; Ascheim, Tom; Chris Wolf
Subject: Re: Yale SOM article
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this fascinating discussion. I found the questions and the responses of Radha and Chris very thought-provoking.

I would like to start by going back to the basic question regarding management as a distinct profession. I believe it is indeed a profession and deserves greater attention and focused coursework at SOM, relative to what was available in my time there (Class of '82). While igb [Individual and Group Behavior] and other organizational courses were excellent, I cannot remember offerings on the fundamentals of management, which I would describe as the nuts and bolts skills and techniques required to manage staff from strategic planning to individual performance planning and evaluation. To elaborate, the training that was available to enable SOM grads to lead, inspire, and manage their teams to achieve their organizations' top priority outcomes was very limited. While I believe SOM was stronger on this front than many other business schools, the analogy of law school grads who graduated from law school not knowing how to practice law (or manage firms) comes to mind. 

Scenic Hudson is an organization of 50 full-time staff people, with an operating budget of $5 million and a roughly equivalent capital budget (used primarily to buy land and create parks). We have more than doubled in size and budget during my seven-year tenure, requiring us to grapple with many tough classic managerial issues—organizational design and redesign, guiding environmental and real estate experts into being effective managers, selection of health care options, staff-board relations, fundraising, marketing, membership, and many more. SOM, during my time, provided an outstanding intellectual framework for work in all sectors. My own career path has closely tracked the vision articulated in the SOM catalog (and demonstrated by his luminous history) by founder Bill Donaldson, since I have worked as a managing director of a bank, a state environmental commissioner, and nonprofit CEO. But I would say the managerial skills and experiences I bring to bear in my current job are those I have learned over 25 years of professional experience, rather than fundamentals I learned at SOM (or the Forestry School, from which I received a joint degree). I believe the management school could do more to provide important basic training in organization and personnel management and that stronger identification of management as a profession would be supportive of this concept. 

In response to Radha's question about balancing environmental with economic interests, we live this issue day in and day out. In particular, we are in a budget shake-down period for our green design hotel/conference center on the Beacon waterfront. In the negotiations with our private-sector partners, our role is to ensure that our mission-based green-design features are retained as the project capital costs are trimmed to fit within the financing. 

We also face this debate in our advocacy for "smart growth" models of waterfront development along the Hudson. As we push for development that respects the natural resources of the land and focuses non-automobile-dependent development in city and village centers, our most effective arguments are often economic and fiscal. Many public officials believe that traditional (sprawling) residential or big box development will boost their tax rolls, while often the incremental cost of municipal services equals or exceeds new revenues generated by housing. We often have to present analyses that demonstrate this to win the arguments about the kind of sustaining development we are pushing. 

In another context, when I was commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, my role entailed helping attract businesses to the state in addition to my regulatory role. In some of the best cases, the agency was able to expedite permit approval and the very viability of new enterprises when the permit applicant was willing to use state-of-the-art pollution control/prevention technologies. 

I am very interested in Radha's work to direct capital resources to sustainable/environmentally sensitive ventures and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these in the future, particularly as the reality of global warming becomes a growing factor in the markets and public policy.
I have been working on the Amtrak train running on the banks of the Hudson River. I recommend this trip along this world-class landscape to anyone traveling from Manhattan to Albany for business or pleasure. It is always inspiring! I am now in Penn Station and have to run off for a day of meetings aimed at advancing our smart growth and environmental agenda in Albany with the new Spitzer administration.

Cheers!

Ned
 


From: Tom Ascheim
To: Chris Wolf, Radha Kuppalli, Ned Sullivan
Subject: RE: Yale SOM Article
Sent: Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hello all:

First, my apologies for such a delayed response. We have been in particularly ugly budget debates for the past ninety days and I have been distracted. It was a pleasure to read all of your comments. You have the varied careers and incisive writing that should make our alma mater proud.

I did my summer internship at MTV Networks (a division of Viacom) when I was at SOM in 1989. It is hard to believe that ten jobs later I am still working in the same company. Currently I oversee Nickelodeon's TV channels (Nick is part of MTVN).

In pondering the original question as to whether management is a profession, I was struck by how at least in my company management most often refers to the act of managing people. It is rarely a privilege given to a new business-school graduate. I started my work life here as a member of the business development group. In that role I helped produce financial analyses, business plans, market sizings, strategic plans, and other assorted "MBA-like" work. I was part of a team, but was mostly an individual contributor. I felt well trained by my coursework in things like strategic planning, finance, and accounting. While the work was satisfying, it never felt like "management."

As time went by, I rose in the ranks and eventually became in charge of a small group of people who produced Nick's first home videos and records. I felt very proud to be finally running something and to be managing people. The pride lasted a very short time, as I soon learned that being a successful individual contributor did very little to train me for being a group leader. My staff expected me to have vision, to motivate them, to know more than they did (even when I didn't) and to put our group on a path toward financial and commercial success. On my good days I achieved adequacy. It was very humbling.

Over time I moved around some more and in the process learned much more about this elusive thing called management. I was given the opportunity to lead a start-up joint venture of a new channel called Noggin. I reported to a board of directors and hired all the new staff. While it was not smooth, the accumulated knowledge of my prior years this time led me to a much more successful role as manager. It was in this role, ten years after I graduated, that I finally felt that I was even really in the "management" conversation. Life at Noggin went well and about a year ago we had some management changes at Nick and I was brought back to oversee Nick's TV channels (including Noggin). In contrast to Noggin, Nick is quite a mature enterprise, creating a whole new set of management challenges.

As I reflect on my career as a manager, I have noticed three difficult transitions that I presume are common to many. First, there is the transition from contributor to manager. Second, there is the transition from managing people whose skills you are familiar with to managing those who have expertise you cannot match. Third, there is managing scale and in the process becoming a leader not just a manager. SOM prepares us for some of these challenges, but cannot prepare us for most. I entered the work force very ready to fulfill my contributor role—and have always silently thanked SOM for that head start. However, we did not spend much time on leadership. It is a discipline that I have of late wished I had studied more. I've read that the military does a good job preparing young officers—I've often wondered if it's true. I would love to see more emphasis at SOM on what it takes to lead an organization such that we can eloquently fulfill all that we need to in our roles as managers.

Best,

Tom
 


From: Chris Wolf
To: Radha Kuppalli,Tom Ascheim, Ned Sullivan
Subject: RE: Yale SOM Article
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2007

I want to add a couple of observations as to the importance of leadership that some of you have discussed.

At Cogo Wolf, our strong investment performance can be attributed to our comprehensive research, original analysis, and adaptive thinking—attributes of a "leader". While many managers adopt a formulaic approach to asset allocation, we steer clear of abstract algorithms and black boxes when making our investment decisions. Our strategy has demonstrated its value for over a decade, and we know from the declining returns of the pack that simply relying on historical performance correlations to forecast future investment outcomes is now, as a result of globalization, less reliable and less relevant. Leaders must set their own course.

The current cliché is that "the world is flat". As I hinted at before, we have actually gone from a collection of flat island states to a mountainous global terrain of underappreciated complexity. The irony of this misperception is that the world has become less transparent, not more, and, in contrast to the drift towards indexation, the opportunities for strategies driven by original thinking will continue to increase.

Leadership is dependent upon management skills but, ultimately, it must have a vision that transcends any illusion of a static competitive environment.

Warm regards,

Chris
 


From: Ned Sullivan
To: Radha Kuppalli; Ascheim, Tom; Chris Wolf
Subject: An Exciting Week in Review

I've had an exciting week that provides an insight into the external aspects of my managerial responsibilities at Scenic Hudson.

Governor Spitzer's first budget was released this week. While the budget contains good news, its expected reliance on revenues from an expanded bottle bill covering noncarbonated drinks to pay an increase in the Environmental Protection Fund represents a challenge to our hopes of securing significant new money to protect the land in the Hudson Valley. If approved, the bottle bill is expected to generate $100 million to $200 million per fiscal year for statewide land preservation projects. The challenge we need to overcome is that the bottle industry has successfully blocked this for more than ten years.

I had an exciting day in the capitol on the day the governor released his budget, including a meeting with the new commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, a chat with the lieutenant governor about our work protecting the FDR home and library from Wal-Mart, and a conversation with the governor about his environmental budget.

While Scenic Hudson has not historically had many celebrities associated with the organization, this week provided contact with some real luminaries. I saw Meryl Streep, who worked with us to defeat a proposed coal-fired cement plant. I also spoke with Al Gore and reminded him of our work together in Maine. Finally, I congratulated Prince Charles on his receipt of an award for his global environmental initiatives.

Yesterday, my board chair, senior vice president, and I met with a donor and secured a $1million pledge that will support the green design hotel we are planning in Beacon.

Who knows what next week will bring? Stay tuned!

Ned Sullivan - Blackberry Device



President, Freeform

President, Scenic Hudson Poughkeepsie, New York