Your Best Assets May Walk Out the Door… Just Make Sure They Come Back In

One of the required electives at Baylor is Organizational Behavior, in which we explore strategies for leading change and managing the human resources of a business. This summer, I remember Loretta (my boss) telling me that being a leader in consulting is really challenging because everyday your most valuable assets (your people) walk out the door. I think this topic is really important, and so far I’ve really enjoyed the class.

A part of the class is a group project for which we survey and assess how a local organization manages its human resources. Our group has selected a marketing firm of roughly 15 employees and we are about midway through our data collection process. Last week, we interviewed five employees in a broad range of positions, from design to sales, and we tried to draw out their honest opinions about the firm’s leadership, communication channels, and talent management.

In the process, I learned that interviewing a real skill, and one that I think it would be helpful for MBAs to master. I only conducted two of the interviews, but here are some reflections:

- Establishing a certain level of trust and comfort is critical to getting open and honest responses… and it’s really hard to do in the first couple minutes of meeting someone.

- I feel like there’s an interview strategy spectrum from planned and rigid on one end to totally free-formed and improvised on the other. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. In order to adapt to the interviewee and get the information you want, you have to be flexible. However, it can be difficult to listen to their response while simultaneously formulating your next question.

- One misstep can derail the interview. A poorly timed glance at your list of questions can ruin the interviewee’s trust, comfort, or confidence in their answers. Asking a good question at the wrong time can interrupt the flow of information and result in you missing out on some valuable information that might otherwise have been shared.

- Interviewing is a lot like teaching in that you really have to know the objective inside and out because you have to consider multiple perspectives. On the one hand, you have to know what kind of information you desire to glean from an interview. On the other hand, you have to figure out how to ask the right questions to access that information through the interviewee. Most likely, you will have to restructure, rephrase, or disguise your questions in order get an adequate response.

Overall, I think our group was able to uncover some pretty valuable information from our interviews. Ultimately, this will help us analyze the firm’s strengths and weaknesses and provide recommendations to the firm’s leadership. I’m looking forward to interviewing the managers next week to find both consistencies and inconsistencies with the employee interviews. Hopefully the responses will help our team make recommendations that allow the firm to better manage and lead its employees!

Bring It Back

Remember when I did this? Yeah, me too.

Let’s jump right into the updates:

- Class has been waaaaaay more busy this semester. I like most of my classes, but I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Oh well. It’s what makes the degree worth the effort.

- I got an offer from CRA, where I interned this summer! I really enjoyed my experience there, but I’m taking my time to make sure I make the right career decision.

- I have interviewed with several other companies, and I’ve got a big interview at Chrysler next week! I’m looking forward to visiting their HQ and learning more about their FLDP program.

- The Baylor Bears are undefeated! We’re sitting at 7-0 heading into the meat of the schedule. Pretty exciting stuff.

-Last night, I carved a pumpkin for the first time EVER. Just like that time I went to Disneyworld for the first time as a sophomore in high school, I still don’t feel like I missed out on life before now.

Proof.

Restart!

So it’s about time to give this blog a blast of fresh air into its lungs.

An administrative note: I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate various kinds of blog posts in order to make it easier for me to give updates. I haven’t decided on titles/tags yet, but the general idea will be to have an identifier for posts about what I’m learning in class, upcoming events, stuff happening in Waco, and longer-form entries about my life in general. Part of the reason I struggled to write much over the second half of the summer was because I felt like there was so much to write and I rarely made the time to sit down and get it all on paper.

Speaking of summer… what happened?

Well, the case that we picked up on the weekend of the 4th of July turned out to be a pretty big case for the rest of the summer. The case was a contract dispute between two oil and gas companies, and CRA was hired to provide an expert opinion. I researched a lot of specifics about oil and gas accounting and, on top of learning a lot, I was able to contribute a lot to the project. At the end of the summer, I got to join Loretta and John at the attorney’s office to help strategize and prepare for the arbitration. It was easy to lose sight of the context, but when I think about it, I was really fortunate to be able to contribute and have my opinions taken seriously, despite being so junior relative to everyone else in the room.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time at CRA and I’m thankful for the opportunities I had to learn from everyone in the office. One of the things that I enjoyed most was the high degree of intellectualism in everything we discussed. For example, one case required that I worked on called for us to determine the direct cost of a resource, as stated in the contract. “Direct cost” is an accounting term and has a specific definition, but in the context of a complex contract with companies providing conflicting information, it can be a difficult to argue whether something is or is not a direct cost to a panel of arbitrators and attorneys, who may not have had previous exposure to such concepts. One such discussion was whether or not the cost of capital should be considered a direct cost. We immediately decided that it wasn’t a direct cost, but we spent a long time discussing how to argue and prove that it should not be considered a direct cost. To me, this kind of discussion is fun because the answer isn’t just sitting in a textbook somewhere. You have to present arguments and be prepared to defend them in order to succeed.

My time at CRA was great, but I also really enjoyed living in Houston this summer. There was so much to do and explore around the city, but I also had a great social circle. The people that I met through The Table at FPC (my church) were great. I played basketball with a bunch of guys on Sunday afternoons, had dinner and Bible study at least once a week, and went swing dancing on Sunday nights. My last night in town, a Friday, we went to a swing dancing event at this downtown market in the wine cellar. It was almost like going to an old speakeasy. We had a great time, and I definitely feel like I will have a great community if I have the opportunity to move back to Houston after graduation.

I’m now one week into my FINAL semester at Baylor, and it’s been crazy already! I don’t remember a semester ever starting off this busy. We’ve got a case competition coming up in just another week or so, I’ve got three books to read for class (in addition to all the articles and other case readings), and I’ve got to apply for jobs. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m definitely looking forward to wrapping up the semester and my degree. There’s plenty to accomplish between now and then though!

On a side note, I took some time on Saturday to watch my Michigan Wolverines win big on Saturday, though next week will be the real test against Notre Dame. Baylor doesn’t really play anyone for a while yet, but it will be fun to watch both teams aim for their respective conference championships!

Fourth of July

This is sooooooo long overdue. And really, there’s too much to share in one post, so for now let’s skip ahead to the Fourth. This post will sort of be in two parts, with totally different focuses for each one.

 

Episode I – An Artistic Twist to the Fourth

 

I feel like there are two ways to spend the Fourth: in a city, or on the water. Growing up in Michigan, I spent a lot of 4ths on the water with stuff like boat parades, beach concerts, and lots of grilled things. The best part was always the fireworks show, mostly because everybody would park their boat in the middle of the lake and the fireworks were so close they could pretty much explode in your face (sometimes almost literally).

 

The city is something else. It’s a lot less “backyard cookout” and a lot more “produced and curated by Usher.” I’ll be honest though, the Houston fireworks were somewhat lacking.

 

Outside of the fireworks, I had a great 4th. It was a Thursday, but it was obviously a holiday for work, so I decided to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, which, as it turns out, is free on Thursdays! I live just over a mile from the Museum District, and I’ve wanted to go to the some of the museums since I moved here. I had no idea what to expect. While I’ve had an interest in art for a while now, I really felt like I didn’t even know where to begin. The art world seemed so foreign, and I felt like I had “get” pieces in order to enjoy them.

 

Then I spent three hours at MFAH.

 

Seriously. Wow.

 

I went by myself, and I spent three hours and probably only saw about half of the museum’s collection. Also, the museum has a few other campuses. So there’s even more.

 

I love hamburgers and all, but getting a little culture on the 4th is a great way to celebrate the diverse peoples that live in America. I loved walking through pieces of art history from different countries in all different time periods. I was also just fascinated by the things people could envision and create from so many different materials. After a while, I found that I wasn’t looking at every painting trying to “get it” as much as I was trying to see how the artist created the image. Some of the images evoked emotion, while others were just pleasant to look at. There were plenty that I found to be just boring, or too abstract. I felt like I was able to enjoy most of them just by looking at them and examining some closely, but I also liked that there were a lot of little plaques that gave some background on the artist, an interpretation of the piece, or pointed out details I may have overlooked.

 

All in all, it was an awesome experience and I can’t wait to go back or to another museum. If you’re not sure if you would enjoy the art museum thing, I recommend going anyway just to check it out.

 

After the Fourth, I was told to “work from home” on Friday, which meant doing whatever I wanted and checking emails on my phone in case anything came up. But Saturday was a different story.

 

Episode II – A Case of Mondays… On Saturday.

 

I slept in a little, got a morning run and workout in, and was just getting around to thinking what I would do the next two days, when I got an email from Loretta, my boss. To this point, I had never been asked to do anything for work over the weekend, but Loretta got a new case on Friday, with a report due Wednesday. She needed me to put together some stuff ASAP so we could hit the ground running on Monday. Gulp.

 

I spent a couple hours on Saturday working and, after taking a break to finally eat something (breakfast/lunch around 2pm), I found that I could no longer connect to the CRA VPN client. This was a problem. It meant that not only could I not access some of the resources I would need, I also couldn’t work on – or even look at – the work I did earlier in the day. After several hours of trying every trick in the book that I knew from my old IT help desk days, I got lucky at 8:30pm and finally got through. But by that point, I was so mentally out of it that I decided just to go into the office early Sunday afternoon and finish up before a 2:30 meeting with Loretta.

 

I left church a little early on Sunday and when I showed up to the office around noon, Loretta was already there (surprise!). I kind of expected it, and fortunately she didn’t really care that I still had some stuff to do. She felt that I had enough done, and we were ready to move forward.

 

I should probably note here that the goal was to provide an expert report for an arbitration case. I can’t name the companies, but they basically had a dispute over an option agreement, and Loretta had been hired by one of them to provide her opinion – as an CPA and oil and gas accounting expert – as to how the contract should be interpreted. There were a lot of complex issues in the case, but the biggest dispute really came down to the definition of “direct cost.” Who woulda guessed that a basic accounting definition would cause so many issues?

Anyway, without getting into the details of the case, the next few days were crazy. I learned a ton, was confused a ton, and by Tuesday night I had worked 31 hours in 3 days and had yet to eat dinner before 9pm.

 

It was totally worth it though, and Loretta gave me huge props for working late and through the weekend. Best of all, we got the report turned in on time, before the end of business hours on Wednesday night (with all of 17 minutes to spare!). Through all of this, I’ve come to really enjoy the work we do at CRA, and the people that I work with. It’s hard to believe that my internship is already halfway finished, but I’m looking forward to the second half!

 

Thanks for reading and I hope you guys enjoyed your 4th… and your weekend too!

Community

This is a post that I’ve meant to write for a couple weeks, and one that I’ve been looking forward to sharing. In the three years since I graduated from U of M, I’ve moved to a new city five different times, and I lived for two weeks in a sixth. In some ways it’s always a little exciting to explore a new place, but the reality is exploring a new city is often long process. Until you get plugged into a community, it can be a pretty lonely process.

For most of my life up to this point, I’ve always found friends and community in the places where I spend most of my time – school, sports teams, dorms, etc. When you graduate and move to a new city, however, the closest equivalent to one of these is the place you work. But the rules are different now.

Suddenly, not everyone is the same age, into the same things, or even willing to spend time with you outside of work. Some people are married with kids and others are milking the bachelor/bachelorette lifestyle for as long as they can. Seemingly without fair warning, the structures we’ve relied on for finding friends and building relationships are removed from the equation, and it can mean a lot of nights at spent at home just passing the time in a poorly-air-conditioned apartment until you can justify going to sleep.

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I think many Christians would agree that our faith is filled with interesting yet mystifying dualities. It is true the Jesus is both a servant and a king. It’s true that creation is broken and yet capable of immense beauty. It’s also true that our faith is founded on both a deeply personal self-examination and repentance, but personal change also brings about communal change. Simply put, Christians need community.

After I graduated, I really struggled to plug into a church. I tried out a few churches in Holland, but it seemed that every church’s “20’s and 30’s” ministry was really just a 30’s ministry. At one church, I remember having a discussion about how I could have been one couple’s daughter’s algebra teacher. That’s probably awkward enough for any teacher. It was even more difficult for me to comprehend that a church could offer three separate worship times, yet there was no one within 10 years of me in age.

I should offer up a quick disclaimer: I love going to church with both older and younger people. I’ve sat with enough children and grandparents to know that they can both offer up their own words of wisdom. One of the (many) reasons I love UBC in Waco is that our Mi Casa (life group) spans multiple generations. I’m lucky to share meals and conversations with friends in all stages of life each week. Living in Houston, however, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find a good church community that would challenge me and encourage me in just a few weeks.

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I definitely don’t mean to diminish church by saying it is simply a place to meet friends, but one of the purposes of the church is to bring together Christians to teach, support, and encourage each other. The tough part, as a 25 year old guy in a new city, is that so often you only get a few minutes to meet and converse with people each week. This happens all the time:

“Hi, I’m Andrew.”

“Oh, I’m Bob. Nice to meet you.”

We have a conversation, and Bob seems like a cool guy. But next week, Bob is out of town, and the week after that he’s sick. Three weeks later, we’ve both forgotten whatever it was we talked about the first time and the “friendship” starts over again. It’s almost equivalent to the “friend zone” in dating – it can be tough to move beyond Sunday morning coffee hour.

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Barely twelve hours after I moved to Houston, I went to FPC Houston – a church in the Museum District. I found out about FPC because one of my friends from Michigan, Kelsey, invited me to go. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Houston. I have met so many great people at The Table – the young adult ministry. Beyond that, people have been excited and willing to invite me into their community beyond Sunday mornings. I play basketball with a bunch of guys on Sunday afternoons, go to a Bible study every other Monday, and I have people to call up and hang out with on the weekends. This has made all the difference in my internship experience.

I wish I could present some sort of guide for finding community in a new city… but I can’t. I just got lucky. But I can say that being a part of the church has not only improved my social life this summer, but my faith as well.

It’s still early in the summer, but I have no doubt that FPC is going to have a huge impact on how I grow this summer.

What’s really in an internship anyway?

The reason internships exist.

Office tour.

Introductions.

Usernames and passowrds.

Typing.

Awkward conversations.

Retyping… several times.

Printing.

Figuring out the optimal print margins.

Reprinting…

If you’re lucky, said internship may even lead to a full time offer. Congratulations!

All of these happen over the course of an internship, sometimes every day, but none of them are really the point of doing an internship. By the end, these will probably be the things I forget about my internship. I’ll probably remember the final reports and cool models and stuff. But the reality is the internship is more than just accomplishing stuff that you put on your resume. It’s also learning to fight and survive a million tiny battles along the way.

Like that time where I accidentally printed the entire 80 pages of a 10-K, when I only wanted two of them.

Or when I brought a list of comps (comparable companies) to my boss time after time, only to be told the results weren’t satisfactory each time.

When we look at internships from 10,000 feet in October or January or April, we only see the collection of mountain tops that makes up the surface – the cool things that we will talk about in interviews in 6 months. We never see the gritty, sometimes mind-numbing, and more often frustrating valleys that make up the space between those peaks. We build our expectations based upon our view of the peak, and we take our first step only to find that our foot falls further than we expected. Inertia takes over. Pretty soon it’s all we can do to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and we find ourselves running down the mountainside into the valley.

In the valley, the shadow of the mountains broods and seems to provoke us: “Why aren’t you at the peak? You should be there by now. After all, didn’t you go to school for this?”

But the trek up to the next peak can be overwhelming. Pretty soon we forget about the peak, because all we want to do is make it through the next hour of climbing. Just a few more steps…

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Last Tuesday, I began working on a valuation case. Pang (the other analyst) and I would build the model, though he had actually built most of it before I began at CRA. Since this was an oil and gas company, the cash flows would be based on the firm’s assets – its reserves. A lot of the inputs were easy to find because we had what’s called a reserve report – a detailed “inventory” of the firm’s reserves and the level of assurance associated with each reserve. Other inputs would require a certain level of assumptions, so obviously it’s really important to maximize the level of certainty regarding those assumptions. This meant finding comps, or comparable companies, that were as similar as possible to the subject company, which was a private firm.

I was made responsible for identifying the comps. I used Capital IQ to screen for public companies that met various requirements, such as total asset size, revenue, etc. I brought my list of comps to my boss, thinking it wasn’t perfect but it was probably at least close. Nope. What I didn’t know was that most of the subject’s assets were in a specific, now highly valued oil play – the Bakken shale play. It was back to the drawing board, but this time I had to figure out how to find companies with mostly Bakken assets – which isn’t really screen-able or easily identified in Cap IQ.

This process and the conversation with my boss repeated itself multiple times per day for over a week. Each time, I felt that I was pretty close to the true comp set, only to be asked to consider additional factors. Each night, I came home and my brain hurt from scanning probably a hundred websites, PowerPoints, and 10-K’s trying to determine the percentage of Bakken assets for each comp. It was frustrating, and at times it seemed thankless. Other times, it felt like I was being told to chase down a rabbit trail. But suddenly, I was given a deadline of Friday afternoon, when we would have conference call with the New York office. Things would have to come together quickly.

Friday morning, I met with my other boss – the VP of the Houston office – and it was a tough conversation. I had come up with 8 comps that were sufficient for my first boss, but the VP was not happy with the way we had chosen them. The process was too subjective – the result of many conversations asking me to look into this company or that one. We had a good list, but without an objective series of criteria, it would look like we hand-picked them to influence the eventual valuation. In the span of just a few hours, I would have to reverse-engineer a screen that would allow us to identify the same eight companies, but in a more objective manner. Then, I would have to design an acceptable format for presenting them so we could share them with the New York office during the call.

Enter the million tiny battles with Excel, printers, and my old graphing calculator that has several pixels missing so a 7 sometimes looks like a 1.

I skipped lunch and at 2:01pm I walked into the conference room with a stack of papers…

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Internships are full of situations and times for which school either cannot or does not prepare you. Realizing that you could recreate the result of a week of iterations in several hours is one of those times. Sure, knowing the companies that would make up the final comp set helped me re-do a week’s worth of work in half a day. But it was having the conceptual understanding of how to arrive at the end goal that made it go faster. I was now aware of which factors were most important, so I could quickly prioritize and align my screens. But what am I supposed to think about the week I spent working and re-working the list of comps?

Was it a waste of time? I mean, I guess I learned. But would I have learned the same thing by asking more questions up front, making fewer mistakes, and arriving at the comp set sooner?

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Midway through the conference call, the VP put me on the spot to discuss the comps. Nobody else on the call had seen the new list but me. I wasn’t expecting to do this. On all the other calls, I had only really been invited to listen. I tried my best to keep calm and walk through the list, knowing that one curveball question could totally expose me. The curveball never came, and I made it through relatively painlessly. This was likely the biggest success of my time at CRA so far. In fact, the VP said she was really happy with the comp list.

I don’t think finding a list of comps is a mountaintop achievement. Valuing a $50 million+ company will be. But an internship is as much about surviving the unknown as it is about milestone achievements. In other words, it’s been two weeks well spent. Here’s to the next 8!

When in Houston…

As I’m writing this post, I’m actually a week in the future. Or really, this post is about what happened last week, which was my first week in Houston and first week at CRA.

First of all, Houston is super hot. As in the “I think I sweat out my body weight just moving into my apartment” kind of hot. Also its humid, so all the sweat just sticks to your body. I slept around 2 or 3 hours total the first night.

 

Houston from space.

Houston from space.

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Andrew Masotta 101

Hello all! Welcome to my first ever blog.

Since I’m writing to an unknown audience (that I hope exists), I thought I’d start by sharing a little bit about myself. This isn’t to say that I’m the most self-interested person in the world, but I hope knowing me will give some context to all that I’ll share over the course of my internship. Hopefully, some of you readers will identify with some of the stuff I say, share, or experience!

For starters, I grew up for the most part in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I got my undergrad degree from the University of Michigan, which I still love and follow passionately. My undergrad degree was in Secondary Math Education, but I quickly learned that teaching in the classroom just wasn’t for me. After a year of teaching middle schoolers in Holland, MI, and doing some tutoring and a number of odd jobs for the next year, I decided to get my MBA. When I started undergrad, I never would have guessed that I would want to go into business, but I learned a lot about myself while teaching, and I finally listened to what my parents and other mentors were telling me.

Soon after, I was packing my bags and driving 1,600 or so miles south to Waco, Texas, to get my MBA at Baylor University. It’s been just over a year since I made that trip south, and while I still love my friends and the community I grew up in, Texas has been treating me well. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Baylor, and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot with my friends there. For example:

Bonobos CFO Brian Wolfe

We went to New York City for a week in October, which was a lot of fun but we also heard from some great business leaders and we shared some really cool experiences (like meeting with Bonobos CFO, Brian Wolfe!).

Baylor MBA’s at Coca Cola’s HQ

We worked on several projects for Coca-Cola as part of our Focus Firm class, and I got to go present at the Coke headquarters in Atlanta!

Crawfish!

Aaaaaaannnd, we had a crawfish boil to celebrate the end of the school year. This is the most Southern thing I’ve done.

Obviously, there’s plenty more I could say, but this blog is supposed to be about my internship, so I’ll call it good for now. I’m looking forward to sharing more when I take on my internship in Houston this summer at Charles River Associates! Look for a couple more posts coming soon.