This weekend I attended a conference at Penn State (my alma mater) hosted by the Smeal College of Business and the Women in Business Club. I wasn't sure what to expect since it was the event's first year, but I really enjoyed it and I felt that every session had some relevance to me and my career advancement goals, which I think means it was a great success.
The first speaker was Michelle Austin, an entrepreneur who founded the Fluidity fitness system. You may have seen her infomercial with the free-standing ballet bar. She showed a case study of her company, including how it took her 6 years to raise capital and how much she had to learn about in order to protect her intellectual property and structure good deals with investors. In addition to making me really want to be on Donny Deutsch (click here for Austin's Interview) one day, it made everyone there want the Fluidity bar :)
The second speaker was Anne Weisberg from Deloitte. She is one of the authors of Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace With Today's Nontraditional Workforce. According to Anne, the reason why most flexible work arrangements don't reduce attrition rates or otherwise don't live up to expectations is because they are always set up as exceptions to the norm. Also, tradeoffs such as reduced pay that come with the arrangement usually aren't clear to those outside the arrangement, so it can breed resentment among other employees. Deloitte is implementing Mass Career Customization, which allows each employee to customize their career-life balance across four areas: pace of work, workload, location/schedule, and role. The tradeoffs for "dialing-down" one of these areas are clearly stated, and the choices are incorporated into the employee's performance expectations and review. For example, if you are going to work 80% of full time hours, it will be clear to everyone that you are also receiving 80% pay and your goals will reflect the reduced hours you work so that your performance rating will be fairly assessed. I think it's a great idea and I'm encouraged to see that a big company like Deloitte is giving it a try. I hope other companies join in, because once the baby boomers start to retire in large numbers, companies are going to have trouble finding and keeping good knowledge workers. I think a system like this could help keep people who might otherwise leave. There is an activity on the website where you can customize your own career/life preferences, check it out.
Other than these two, my favorite speaker and a big part of the reason I attended was Sue Paterno, wife of legendary coach Joe Paterno. Sue is very involved in many philanthropic activities, including the Special Olympics and Libraries Advisory Board, among others. She and her husband also donated a significant amount of money to build a library on campus. She discussed the benefits of giving back in any small or big way that you prefer. It was a great way to wrap up the conference: although we are all going to work hard on making our careers the best they can be, it is important to remember that giving back creates valuable rewards for both giver and recipient.
One last note for anyone considering Penn State's Smeal College of Business for their MBA. I got to visit the new Business Building on campus and it is really nice. Smeal was recently ranked #1 by Princeton Review for best business school facilities and I completely agree! The program itself seems to me to be a good up-and-coming second tier program with a very small class size (<200). If that sounds like a good fit for you, I encourage you to check it out. The campus atmosphere and town are beautiful and the football experience can't be beat. I love my alma mater and I've met few fellow alumni that don't feel the same way! It was great to be back this weekend.