Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti and the Indulgence of Hate

The earthquake which ravaged Haiti this week has been used by a number of people as an excuse to make attacks on their political enemies. Some of the attacks have been generic, like the ubiquitous media insinuation that the delay in aid must be due to First-World disregard for the suffering of poor Haitians rather than the chaos of Haiti’s weak government and lack of emergency management planning, to the specific attempts at character assassination on Rush Limbaugh and Bill Clinton. At this writing I do not know whether the talk show host or former President of the United States made the remarks which their enemies claim (I am inclined to think not), but in any case the fact that such people use their voice to attack enemies rather than build coalitions to help people in need, speaks about a sad situation indeed, and to my mind the chief cause why we shall continue to see needless, avoidable suffering in places like Haiti.

There was no real way to avoid the earthquake, and given Haiti’s history of corruption and political feuds, it was perhaps inevitable that when a disaster struck again, the men in place to request and direct the flow of help would prove far inadequate to the need of their people. For example, Texas Task Force One and Ohio Task Force One, urban search & rescue groups with long experience assisting FEMA, international search and rescue groups, and the Red Cross in disaster relief, were in position at Ellington and Wright-Patterson Air Force bases within hours of the news of the disaster, ready with medical and surgical supplies, construction equipment to move debris, and together more than 160 experts and more than 120 tons of critical equipment to find survivors, provide on-scene surgical care and build shelters, bridges and repair phone and utility lines. The teams, however, have not been able to be deployed, because the Haitian government has not authorized their participation, even though these groups are arguably the most expert large-scale search and rescue groups on the planet, (having assisted in Hurricanes Ike, Rita, Katrina, and Wilma, the Tsunami which devastated Indonesia in 2004, other natural disasters like floods and earthquakes, and even terrorist acts, like recovery at Ground Zero in New York City; Texas Task Force One’s first assignment was recovery work at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995) they have not been allowed to even leave for Haiti. Not because they are not needed (both teams performed an earthquake scenario in the summer of 2009, for example), or because the United States has not requested their help, but because the Haitian government refuses to allow them entry. This is not to impugn the Haitian government, but it is a sad reminder that even the best intentions are not going to be enough to overcome some of the difficulties to be faced here.

The real problem for Haiti, however, is the same as from past disasters, like death-dealing storms in every year from 2002 through 2008. In fact, one reason Haiti was so unprepared for the present disaster, was that it was still reeling from 2008, when four tropical storms or hurricanes hit the nation. There simply is no Haitian equivalent of FEMA, no emergency response network of first-responders; people are left to fend for themselves as soon as a crisis hits. Because Haiti is so poor, roads and utility lines were never developed beyond the most primitive conditions, and building codes, even for schools and hospitals, are non-existent. In such a condition, blame and bitterness are perhaps inevitable, but solutions cannot be produced unless anger, justified or not, history, however painful, and personal pride, however habitual, are put aside in the interest of building for the future.

Because in the end, Haiti’s future depends on building. Not only rebuilding homes and businesses, but putting together a functional infrastructure that allows families and towns to have confidence not only in a given project, but in a system of financial, political, and personal responsibility that makes the nation viable, not only to its own people but also to its neighbors, in order to bring in the capital that leads to growth and stability. The one hope from this disaster, is that because Haiti has been building a government more responsive and accountable to its people, it may also build confidence in its nation through financial cooperation and the equity of the infrastructure it builds in recovery now. To that end, we all may lend help as best we can, but whatever our politics and ideology, this is no place to make political attacks or attack those who are trying to help the people now in pain and peril.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What’s an Online MBA Worth? My Perspective

Back in 2005, I finally decided that I needed to go back to school. The problem was, my job required me to stay late some evenings, I did not want to take on a lot of debt from a student loan, but I wanted to go to a school where I would not only earn an advanced degree, but really gain resources and tools beyond what I had accumulated in my career. After looking at my options, I decided that I would go after my Masters in Business Administration, and after doing a lot of research, I enrolled at the University of Houston at Victoria. I chose UHV for a number of reasons, one of them being that I could attend school online. I started classes in the Fall of 2006, took the Spring of 2007 off to deal with my cancer treatment, then finished my MBA with a concentration in Accounting in the Spring of 2009.

So, I got my MBA, and for a lot less money than most students have to pay. But what’s it worth? It’s one thing to get a degree, but you have to make it work to get its real worth, and on that end the economy threw me a curveball. My original plan had been to stay with my company, move over to the Accounting department, work as an internal auditor for a while and earn my CPA license, then use my MBA/CPA combination to move up the ladder to a $100k job by 2011. To that end, I took a tax course at Houston Community College to begin to prepare for the CPA exams, along with a box of flash cards and reading up on everything Accounting.

Then my company got bought out. The new company had no retail experience, and worse for me, had their own back office functions at their headquarters in New Jersey. The rumors were that the new company would slash headcount in Houston.

The rumors were right.

On September 18, I was told that my services were no longer needed. After 9 years, I was out. At that point it seemed my MBA had not done much for me, certainly it had not protected my job.

Looking for a job is pretty much a no-fun affair, especially when it comes from being laid off. It could be worse, of course, but my point is that you are suddenly very sensitive to the economy and how difficult it can be to make yourself stand out. All of a sudden, it seems that for every job you find, there are a dozen solid candidates in line ahead of you. Certainly, it was aggravating at times, to find a job that seemed a good fit, only to get not even a response to my application. Beta Gamma Sigma? Didn’t impress. 3.94 GPA? That and four bucks will get you a latte. Over twenty years of management experience? Just means you’re old, hombre.


But of course, the facts are a bit different than the way things look. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, I saw a number of people who were not willing to do what they needed to do to get interviews or serious consideration, and I saw a lot of people who were doing everything right in their job search but having to deal with adverse job-hunting conditions. A recession, the end of year slow-down, and a system that was just plain slow to hire; I heard more than a couple recruiters warn me that if I did not find something by the week of Thanksgiving, don’t expect anyone to make an offer before the New Year. That was depressing, but I began to notice a few things, as well.

First, in discussions with my outplacement group, I realized that I seemed to be getting a better response than some of my colleagues. By itself, I could not say what that meant, but I also noticed I was getting good response from recruiters, and one of them seemed very intent on getting me a position. All of a sudden, I had several interviews lined up, they all went well, and just 10 days after the first interview at one company, I had a job offer, for 25% more than I had made at my last job. I later found out that I was their first and only candidate. The difference, they said, was my MBA.


Look, I’m not about to try to sell you on my path as the best way to go; what worked for me was right because of a number of factors. If I was younger and willing to take the debt for a bigger payoff down the road, I might say take the debt and try to get into a Wharton, a McCombs, or a Harvard Business School. But at the same time, there’s nothing really magical about those schools; everything they teach there you can learn at other schools and your work experience is critical to your career success. Know your own strengths and limits, and that will help you find the right fit. But what I will say about UHV, is that a degree that pays for itself in the first year is a pretty good deal, and one I will not be shy in recommending. The University of Houston at Victoria may be inexpensive and convenient, but it is also AACSB-accredited, its association with the University of Houston is useful in name recognition regionally, and the tools I acquired in my MBA program have direct application in my work. In other words, I am using my MBA in real work, and it’s as real as anything I could have earned from another school.

The online degree may not be for everyone, but everyone considering school should consider it as part of their initial set of options, at the very least.

Good luck!