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A blog about business, hospitality, current events, and other interesting stories I want to share.

Bullet Train

When Passion Gets Derailed

Passion is a bullet train, speeding down a track that you think you know all too well.  Your train is well supplied, brimming with the resources and technology needed to keep it going at full speed.  The path is seemingly predictable, as passion doesn’t deviate from its target, so too does a train not derail from its track.

However, what your train never sees coming, whether because of its velocity or its inherent belief that it can’t be stopped, is the one thing that will always stop it.  For a train, that one thing can be any number of problems or objects, from a mechanical failure to a collision.  Similarly, the derailment of passion can be caused by any number of problems, but they all result in the same endings: disappointment, pain, and disorientation.

My train was derailed last Friday, when I resigned from an organization that I had stuck by for 3 years.  Resigning from any position with that type of tenure is difficult, but resigning from a position that was fueled by passion and love for the organization is even worse.  My derailment began with not being promoted within the organization, despite my passion and its physical embodiments.  Tenure seemed not to matter, nor hard work; being the first one to arrive and the last one to leave meant nothing in this environment.  My plans and ideas, putting pen to paper to express what my passion meant, carried no weight.  My references and what others could say about the quality of my work, my determination, and my accomplishments had no impact.  In essence, my derailment was laid out ahead of me, and despite my best preparations, there was no way to avoid the conclusion.

Now of course there were mistakes of my own.  Did I throw too much coal in the engine?  At times, yes, and I let my intensity get the better of me.  Were my dreams of what the destination looked like too grandiose?  Perhaps, and so my ideas may have been perceived as unattainable or unrealistic.  And while I recognize these shortcomings, I do not credit them solely with my downfall; rather I see them as just a little rust on the wheels, issues I didn’t see until after the crash.

Maybe more importantly, the derailment occurred because the track was broken from the beginning.  Having been with the organization since freshmen year and visualizing the destination, I could never have foreseen the problems and issues that would occur years down the line.  By the time I realized the problems were there, it was too late to divert the train.  My fate had been sealed.

So what’s the lesson here?  To speed down the tracks slower or maybe get a different mode of transportation?  I don’t believe that will solve the problem.  In fact, I truly believe that passionate people get the most done when they are speeding down their defined track.  When everything is working as it should, they are able to cruise along and meet every deliverable, create fresh ideas, and add value at every twist and turn.  Some people will get hurt, as I have, and it will take time to redirect my passion into something else.  At this point, that’s all I can do; I can’t afford to just lay by the side of the track.

All in all, I don’t regret having spent the time that I did with this organization.  I know it’s in good hands with a leader who shares my vision and will be around long after I’m gone.  I have many other opportunities to pour my heart and soul into.  I keep the company of great friends from that organization.  However, I will not forgive nor forget what those at the top did to put me in this situation.  In addition, I can’t say that I will be at the same level of happiness working on anything else, not for a long time anyways.  And despite my best intentions, I don’t know if my new “bullet train of passion” will ever be as fast or as sleek running on a different track.  I just don’t know, at least not until I reach my destination.

Inspiration for innovative employees

Why good employees leave your organization (and how to stop them!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a successful organization when I came across this article on LinkedIn.  In the post, Vartika Kashyap describes a few key reasons why good employees leave organizations and I can’t disagree with any of them.  Between unnecessary rules, not recognizing contributions, promoting the wrong people, and neglecting their personal growth, organizations and companies that practice these bad habits (including organizations I’ve worked for), put themselves at a real disadvantage when it comes to hiring and retaining talented associates.

However, I’ve also worked for some really great employers.  Employers who fix all the above faux pas of their lesser counterparts are definitely ones to keep your eyes on.  These organizations know the value of human capital, and they won’t disregard the contributions or talents of their star employees.  All in all, I think Vartika hits the nail on the head with why an employer would drive away quality employees, but this article would be pretty short if I didn’t add a fifth element.

Encompassing all the above factors, the fifth reason why good employees leave organizations is that the organtizations themselves are not innovative.  How can innovation contribute to employee retention and goodwill?  By promoting and fostering the other four factors!

Innovation that Inspires

Think about it:  an innovative company will create rules and guidelines which don’t hamper creativity and productivity but foster it.  Innovation means recognizing the amazing contributions of fellow associates and promoting them to realize their full potential.  Innovation also means creating engaging and stimulating activities, processes, and systems which enhance the personal growth of employees.  When a company or organization fosters a culture of innovation, it strives to do its best by its employees, and in turn promotes a co-creation of value between the two; a symbiotic relationship forms with mutual benefits between individuals and the larger governing organizations that encompass them.

Constant, Gentle Pressure

As for how to stimulate this symbiotic relationship and create a culture of innovation, I’ll take a page from one of my idols whom I’ve written about a few times before.  Danny Meyer, restaurateur and entrepreneur extraordinaire, invented the idea of a “constant, gentle pressure” for implementing change within an organization.  Through employees and managers who strive for continuous improvement, never forcefully but always consistently, an organization can strive to be its best and never rest on its laurels.  This type of culture is one that’s inspiring to employees, not off-putting, and one that will attract and retain the best talent, not drive it away.

At the end of the day, associates deserve an innovative culture because it’s the fountain from which the other attractive qualities of a compelling organization flow.  When you add in that constant, gentle pressure, you get a fountain that overflows with the stuff of great organizations.

A Gloomy Day in Pittsburgh

Loss is a Part of Life, but It Still Hurts

“Men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things”

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Some time has passed between finding out that I was not selected for a position in one of my favorite organizations and now.  I’ve had time to reflect over what I did right, where I went wrong, and what I can do going forward.  However, it has been difficult.  I feel a lot like Hillary Clinton right now, knowing that I was perhaps over qualified for the role, that I had put so much time and effort into something that I had real passion for, and only realizing that maybe I was never really wanted.  Hillary’s words could tell you exactly how I am feeling right now: “There have been a few times this week where all I wanted to do was curl up with a good book or the dogs and never leave the house again,” she said at the Newseum gala a few days after her disturbing loss.

I can completely identify with her sentiments and I feel more empathy for her now than I ever have.  For all intents and purposes, I am walking in her shoes; I fought hard for the position that I wanted, proposed change and growth that may not have been easy but would have been right, and I was cast aside for my efforts.  Just like Hillary, I was devastated that I could lose in a manner where the level of experience, passion, and insight was seemingly ignored in favor of some other less pronounced trait or ideal.  I had worked my entire college career to a point where I thought I had a shot at making a difference, in no way for myself but in every way for the organization I knew I could lead.  I was rejected, and in my opinion, I was rejected in the same grossly unfair terms as Hillary was.

So here I am, still recovering and still unsure of what I should be doing.  Everyone has been saying don’t give up, don’t give in, and keep moving forward in life.  Great advice, of course, but not something that’s so easy to do in the moment.  When your plans are ground to a halt, it can be easy to remain grounded, unsusceptible to the driving force that allows most people to continue living their lives.  Healing is necessary, and as usual I will eventually throw myself at other passions in my life in the pursuit of healing.  I’ll take walks, I’ll read, maybe dance a little, and I will continue to cultivate my unwavering commitment to the integration of hospitality and business.  The last one may take more time, but it shall be worth it in the end.

Finally, I am still reminded of Hillary in her strength and commitment to something she fought for: the democracy of the United States of America.  Even she is attending the inauguration today, a feat of strength only she could accomplish.  It inspires me to keep going myself, in the hope that I may one day be as strong, and to not give up on something that gave up on you.

 

Union Square Cafe

Danny Meyer and the Science of “Enlightened Hospitality” in Action

This past weekend, I had the privilege of traveling to New York City to see what has now become one of my favorite musicals (Hamilton, that is) and spending some quality time with my father.  It was some sorely needed R&R and I thoroughly enjoyed Hamilton in a way one can’t really appreciate until one is sitting in the theatre and taking in all the sights and sounds.  However, I will not be writing anything on that experience (other than to coincide with my post on reading Ron Chernow’s biography on the same man), mostly because there is no commentary I can make that hasn’t already been said.

This post is dedicated to another event that occurred during the same weekend and both the man and the philosophy behind it: The event was dining at Union Square Café (USC) before seeing the show.  The man is Danny Meyer, restauranteur and entrepreneur extraordinaire, and the philosophy is enlightened hospitality, the science of delivering exceptional customer service and how it makes the guest feel.  After reading Mr. Meyer’s amazing book Setting the Table, I knew that I eventually had to dine at one of his restaurants and experience this science for myself.

The truly amazing aspect was that the service began before I even visited USC.  After confirming my reservation on the phone at another one of his restaurants a few days before, I asked the receptionist if there was any availability at USC.  I had resigned myself to a response of “no”, considering one usually must book a month in advance at USC, until the receptionist came back and not only found us a spot but accommodated our need to be at the theatre by 7:45 PM.  If that’s not a textbook good first impression I don’t know what is!

What’s more, the enlightened hospitality didn’t stop once we reached the restaurant.  Every staff member seemed to know our time table for getting to the theatre on time, and they all made it their duty to accommodate our crunched schedule.  Nevertheless, we were greeted warmly, indulged in complimentary champagne (this also happened to be my long overdue birthday dinner), and provided superb recommendations that turned out delicious.  We were even greeted by the restaurant’s own guest relations manager, who I made a connection with over our mutual love for Danny Meyer, hospitality, and the UK (having studied there only just last year and she being originally from London).  She gave me her card and invited me to come up sometime again for a private behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant operation.  The ending to our meal was just as spectacular, as I was surprised with a birthday dessert and we were given a loaf of bread to celebrate the company’s newest bakery opening up soon.  Needless to say, I left happy and satisfied, both with food and with experience of enlightened hospitality in action!

I could honestly go on and on about the restaurant and the hospitality I received but let us also look at the way enlightened hospitality was delivered: every single staff member I met, from the associate who took our coats to the guest relations manager, was either informed or genuinely curious about me.  Everyone was excited for me to be seeing Hamilton.  Everyone wished me Happy Birthday.  The guest relations manager capitalized on my zeal for hospitality and made it a point to give me her information and invite me back.  There was no ulterior motive in anything done, only the desire to build customer loyalty and good will among the restaurant’s guests, with the hope that they will either return again (as I hopefully will in the future) or spread good news about the restaurant (which I certainly will).

Enlightened hospitality goes beyond what Danny Meyer describes as the technical delivery of a product or service, which any fancy restaurant with a decent chef can accomplish.  All the interactions I had with the staff and the service I was provided contributed to an entity beyond any product and vastly more valuable: a feeling.  A feeling that I was important and cared about and not simply another customer to feed.  For any business, creating value out of feelings might be challenging and have no immediate monetary value.  However, the reason I believe Danny Meyer has been so successful is that he focuses on these feelings as the building blocks for success (i.e. brand loyalty, bigger customer spends, word-of-mouth marketing, etc.)  The feeling that Danny Meyer and his staff created for me was priceless, and everyone knew that.

So a huge thank you is in order, to Danny Meyer and the entire staff of USC, for delivering more than a tasty meal and a loaf bread.  Thank you for an indescribable feeling that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  That’s enlightened hospitality.

Here is the link to Union Square Hospitality Group, the parent company to all of Danny Meyer’s fabulous restaurants, if anyone happens to be in New York and looking for a fantastic time out: http://www.ushgnyc.com/

Reflections, Soldiering On

Everyone loves to reflect on the past.  I am no different.  When New Year’s Eve rolls around, we all think about the past: the good and the bad, the failures and the successes, and then we look forward.  We look forward to a new year with the similar good and similar bad, with challenges and opportunities that are only different because they are fresh in our minds.  Personally, I am not such a fan of this process: treating each year individually, as if they are discreet events, and cataloguing what happens to try and see what “score” we would give that specific year.  Life is too fluid and long for such a premature rating and we don’t change radically overnight because humanity decided 365 days is enough time to fit in all one’s moments.

Many people are saying that 2016 was a bad year.  While I can’t disagree with them, I don’t like assigning blame to a single entity, like a scapegoat that answers to all of us.  Nor will I blame anyone else for my own shortcomings.  For me, 2016 was bad not just for the celebrities that died or the election that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.  No, 2016 was awful because I was awful.  The year was a failure because I was a failure.  My “scorecard” represents a mountain of evidence that I didn’t live up to both my own expectations and those of people I care about.  I won’t spell out these failures (and yes there were successes, although few and far between) but trust me when I say they were there and they were real.  It was a bad year because I was bad, and no other entity deserves the blame, at least in the very personal sense.

I do not write any of this to seek sympathy or to find comfort anywhere.  I am writing this to hold myself accountable and for others to hold me accountable too.  I want to do better in the next year, not so that my scorecard for 2017 shows I was a “success” but so that I may do better in every subsequent year.  I want to look back on my whole life, without the blinders of ignorance to shield me, and know that I did the most amount of good, for the most amount of people, whenever I was able to.  I will be happy with nothing less and I should be held accountable for nothing less.

So I do not look forward to the year 2017 with any special consideration.  Instead, I look forward to the rest of my life, knowing I made changes to who I am to become the person I want to be.  Believing that my new philosophy (do the most amount of good, for the most amount of people, whenever I can) will not let me down.  Hoping to make amends, to heal, to learn, and to grow as a human being.  And finally, wishing that other people will hold me to these promises, just as I will always try to do for myself.

***

On a more organizational note, I apologize for not posting as much as I probably should have over the past few months.  If my tone in the previous paragraphs is any indication, I wasn’t in the best of spirits to be writing about fine dining and business pursuits.  I should have more time to write regularly in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Kindness means Business

The Business of Being Kind

Like most everyone, I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, coming from a variety of sources and spanning the spectrum between incredibly useful and incredibly useless.  Furthermore, and not to get too technical here, but all the advice I’ve received lines up on a bell-shaped curve, which is slightly skewed toward the “bad” advice end, with only a few good solid pieces sticking out as outliers over on the “good” side.  Some time ago, I came across some really great advice from one of my supervisors where I currently work and I only recently began integrating that advice into my life.  Furthermore, the advice is so simple, so easy to implement and yet so important to my current situation and future aspirations that I am kicking myself for not realizing and taking to heart that advice sooner.

So what is this magical piece of advice?  Be kind.

Just two words, but two words that have so much impact and so much meaning if utilized to the extent that they are meant to be.   Being kind means having compassion and consideration for other people and things.  Being kind means empathy, not apathy.  Being kind is so easy to do if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and reflect on their experiences the best you can.  Finally, and here’s where the lesson comes in, being kind is extremely beneficial in the workplace.

Don’t believe me?  Well we all know you might despise Craig from the marketing department or that you think your boss Jeff is a moron, but research from a variety of universities shows that a workplace culture that stresses kindness and forgiveness translates into higher productivity, higher self-worth and confidence, and a better-perceived image of management.  This type of research comes to fruition and bubbles to the top through conferences like those held at Stanford University (https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/psychology-kindness-workplace) which held a “Compassion and Business” conference back in 2013, bringing together the best of psychology and business to stress the need for kindness in the office environment.  It’s fantastic when businesses and universities can conduct and support this type of research and share their results for the benefit of so many people.

What is even more fantastic is that I think my company has a terrific culture centered on kindness toward employees and other stakeholders.  As an employee, my supervisors take great care to make sure I’m doing work that I like, that I get the necessary time off I need to take care of my other commitments, and that I’m happy too.  That level of care translates to more productivity on my part, in addition to a higher overall level of happiness.

Moreover, being kind has implications for what I hope to accomplish and how I hope to behave in the future.  As a hospitality professional, being kind and considerate to all guests is paramount to guest satisfaction and repeat business.  As I wrote in my last post, one of the ways to add hospitality to your own life is to be kind and considerate, and that goes for employees of hospitality organizations in addition to the everyday person.  My kindness in every guest interaction is so important, so reflective of my own personality and the culture of whatever company I represent, that it should take on more meaning in organizational culture that I believe it currently does.  For many organizations, the emphasis on kindness and the guest experience is there, demonstrated most beautifully when I worked for Marriott International.  For other organizations, the emphasis is not there and I think we’ve all worked for one organization or another that has that lack of focus on kindness.

Unfortunately, the lesson in kindness has come too late in my life to rectify mistakes I have made, some quite recently.  The good news is that orienting oneself towards being kind doesn’t take that much time or effort to do and I’ve begun trying to do just that for myself.

 

Adding Hospitality to Your Own Life

At the current moment, I’m not feeling my emotional best.  When I’m down, however, it helps to retreat to the comfort of something I am passionate about and for me that passion is hospitality.  Even though I’m sad, hospitality is a way of living that can make me feel better.  By treating other people with respect, with warmth, and with care, you can create for yourself hope of happiness by doing something good.  I hope I can spread some goodness even when I’m not feeling the greatest.  Enjoy:

What do I mean by adding “hospitality” to your life?  If we take the straight definition of hospitality, as the relationship between host and guest, where the host welcomes and takes care of the guests needs, my title doesn’t really make sense.  But in my experience, one can do more than simply exhibit hospitality: one can live it, cultivate it, and spread its message to those who don’t yet practice good hospitality.

Moreover, hospitality in this day and age is not only exhibited in formal institutions of customer service like hotels and restaurants.  When I say you should add hospitality to your own life, I am referring to what characterizes the host-guest relationship.  If you’re the host, you should be kind to everyone and respectful of other people’s needs in addition to being proactive in all of your responsibilities.  As the guest, you should have manners toward and consideration for others’ thoughts, feelings, and actions when it may be hard to do.  At its best, hospitality is utilized to understand the characterization of both the host and the guest, synthesizing the two into a balanced representation of what you hope to present to the world.

Now that may be a lot of fanciful language but let me offer two concrete suggestions on adding hospitality to your life with examples: go out of your way to show you’re thinking about someone and the famous line from Arron Burr in “Hamilton”, “Talk less, smile more.”  The first suggestion doesn’t need much explanation; if you go out of your way to show kindness, appreciation, or thanks toward someone, you will be playing the perfect host and your guests will love you for it.  The situation happened to me a few times in the last several months where some really good friends forwarded me articles that not only had to do with my interests in hospitality, but had really insightful outlooks for the future of the industry.  My best friend sent me an interesting article about recognizing gender differences and how these translate to addressing people in the 21st century , and another very good friend sent me a couple of articles on how Airbnb is impacting the hotel industry.  The way these two individuals took time out of their day to think of me and actually do something is beyond touching and not only makes me want to return the favor but also pay it forward.  The simple act of caring and acting on that caring feeling can make a world of difference in the world of hospitality.

Now my second suggestion will need a little more explanation, especially on how it pertains to the hospitality industry.  If you’ve read one of my last blogs, you know that I am very familiar with “Hamilton…An American Musical” and one of Arron Burr’s repeated lines throughout the show is “Talk less, smile more” which is to mean that one should keep his thoughts to himself and erect a facade to cover one’s true intentions; cue the smile.  For Burr, that strategy worked well throughout his life where he transitioned from successful lawyer, to New York Senator, to Vice President of the United States very methodically.  However, if we are to glean anything from this phrase, we need a modern approach.

The reason I chose this phrase is because I have been trying (rather unsuccessfully) to utilize an alternative version of it.  Rather than concealing bad intentions with a smile, I want to listen and understand people, which requires less talking and more listening, and then respond with a positive attitude.  The art of listening is something I struggle with and as a hospitality professional, listening to your guests and keeping a positive attitude no matter their problems or complaints is of paramount importance.  So rather than political gain, my goal for talking less and smiling more is to understand more and support that understanding with good vibes.

I believe anyone can and everyone should become a hospitality professional in some way and incorporating a few key behaviors into how one lives life is the first step on the way to becoming one.  As for me, I still have much to learn (or actually remember) about hospitality but it’s the journey that’s the exciting part.

Alexander Hamilton: The Perfect Mentor?

Like most people infatuated with musical theater, I cannot seem to get enough of Alexander Hamilton as of late.  The smash-hit musical “Hamilton” seems to be the cause, especially as I listen to the cast album on repeat during work.  Everything about the musical is inspiring: the story, the music, the inconceivably clever raps, and even the charming, literal genius (MacArthur “genius” grant winner to be exact) writer, composer, and star behind it all, Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, all contribute to an enthralling tale of love, lust, and loss which will throw anyone into borderline obsession with one of our little-recognized founding fathers.  While yes I really do enjoy the music as that is all I have at my disposal (since, as with most of America, I have yet to see the show due to ticket prices reaching near bankrupting proportions), I was more curious with the man who started it all: Alexander Hamilton.  A few weeks ago, I picked up the biography that inspired the musical by the same name for two reasons. First, anyone who knows me knows I am an avid reader anyways, and after finishing Freakonomics, I figured reading a seven hundred page book on Alexander Hamilton’s life would satisfy me until ticket prices come down.  Second, I am never one to obsess about anything until I actually do my homework and know who or what I’m talking about, and this musical is no exception.  Mr. Miranda took his time crafting such an amazing musical that I am now going to take my time and study the figure that is Alexander Hamilton.

And whoa what a man!  Seven-hundred pages may seem like a lot but they are over-flowing with Hamilton’s very complex and provocative life.  This is a man who transformed himself from a poor Caribbean orphan into Washington’s right hand man, then a distinguished New York lawyer, and eventually the country’s first treasury secretary.  I’m also leaving out a plethora of other achievements, roles, and events in this incredible man’s life, but the only point I’m trying to make here is to buy Ron Chernow’s biography if you are at all interested in seeing what our most undervalued founding father did for America.  Mr. Chernow does a phenomenal job of condensing and blending Hamilton’s own writings with tertiary sources and other biographical material into a surprisingly easy to read and also really intriguing story.  The full review will come out when I finish the book, (just reached page two hundred so this might be awhile) but I wanted to write about something very distinguishing I noticed in Hamilton’s character…

Alexander Hamilton was the one of the first professional American mentors!  Now I can’t say for certainty that he was the best, as mentorship was something that thrived in colonial America, in particular the apprenticeship as a special kind of mentor-mentee relationship.  However, Hamilton seems to poses the innate ability to guide his mentees, whether they be his children, his colleagues, or even his opponents.  In personal encounters or professional meetings, Hamilton played the perfect courtier and role model for many in New York, especially among his lawyering days.  He dressed the part, “trim and stylish, though not showy in dress” writes Mr. Chernow.  He smiled first, talked second (taking from Arron Burr’s musical words), in ways that “convey[ed] an impression of mental keenness, inner amusement and debonair insouciance.”  He trained numerous new attorneys, fresh out of law school himself by only a year or two, and saw to a strict regimen for his students that was not intended for the weak of mind.  He was honest, good-natured, and daring, never one for accepting bribes and yet always tackling the challenging cases that “established critical points of constitutional law.”  Hamilton also always did his homework, reading and writing and preparing as if his life depended on it and seeking out scholarly and legal authorities in and beyond his realm of study, including “the Frenchman Domat, the Dutchman Vinius, and the Spaniard Perez”, but also the likes of Jonathan Swift, Plutarch, and Voltaire.  He was a family man and a philanthropist, having his children tutored in French and at the same time working to create educational institutions in his home state for the benefit of all children.  There are so many facets to the character that is Alexander Hamilton that my recounting his life in this paragraph does not suffice it.  In essence, Hamilton was the jack of all trades, jacked up all the notches.

Does being this multi-talented actually make Hamilton a good mentor?  I would argue yes.  This is a man who seemed to ooze perfection with a flawlessness only dreamed about in the aspiring young minds at the time.  However, peel back the ooze, and one finds a man who works tirelessly (to his eventual doom) in the pursuit of helping others, which is what a mentor is all about.  A mentor should seek to educate himself tirelessly, as Hamilton does profoundly but expediently.  A mentor should aim to help those around him, especially those less fortunate than he, as Hamilton did on many occasions in his pro-bono legal work for the poor.  A mentor should care about the ones he loves, as Hamilton did every day for his eight children and his loving and supportive wife Eliza.  Finally, a mentor should be passionate about something, and about imparting that passion onto others, for that is at the core of who a mentor is.  Nothing less characterizes Hamilton, who through passion and his relentless work ethic fought for a greater framework of law in the state of New York and eventually for the whole country.  And for this passion, Hamilton has been admired by many, as great mentors should be.  Both Judge Ambrose Spencer and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story handed praise to Hamilton for being “one of the premier lawyers of the early republic” and that doesn’t even begin to describe him or his work.  He’s indescribable and at the time, he was nonstop.

I urge you to read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton if you want to see more of why this powerful founding father deserves his very own musical tribute.  As for me, I aspire to be the kind of mentor Hamilton was but in doing so, I already know that I will fall short of that expectation.

Brexit: Please don’t Leave

Whether you are for or against the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union, you must at least be aware of the consequences, the good and the bad, of such a sudden decision.  And unless you were living in the UK, as I was from January to April, you may not have heard too much about the “Brexit” situation, otherwise known as the decision as to whether or not “Britain” should “exit” the European Union.  The potential benefits and far-reaching implications, however, are not isolated to Britain but could impact the entire European Union (EU) and moreover the larger global community of trading partners and investors, including the United States.

First, I should start with some background on the decision: the UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a referendum will be held this coming Thursday on June 23rd to decide whether or not the UK will remain a part of the European Union.  A referendum is essentially a vote where everyone can cast a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question, with a simple majority declared the winner.  The European Union is, quite simplistically, “an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries” that began after World War Two and strives to form an “ever more closer union” between its member states.  The reason a referendum is being held in the first place is because many politicians and citizens have been calling for a new vote on whether or not to stay in the union, arguing that Britain is being held back economically and philosophically by the rules and laws to which it is bound by being a member state, including environmental, transportation, and consumer rights laws.  The individuals and parties who want to stay in the union essentially argue that EU membership gives Britain many distinct advantages – access to more labor and capital, a better trading platform (the common market), status among other developed nations – that outweigh any disadvantages in retaining membership.  The vote is fairly split, with no clear winner guaranteed (Hunt “The Uk’s EU referendum”).  If this seems complicated now, just understand that leaving the EU would result in hundreds of other issues having to be examined, from the UK’s involvement in negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States to the minute details of the protection of endangered species of bats in the UK under the EU’s endangered species laws.

Moreover, the exact results of leaving the EU would be effected by what kind of relationship the UK would have after the separation, and there are different types of relationships that could be established.  For example, the UK could adopt a Norwegian model, in which the UK would still be involved in the European Economic Area, or the UK could structure its relationship along the lines of Switzerland, which means a series of bilateral accords governing access to specific sectors of the common market or a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) (“BREXIT: The Impact on the UK and the EU”).  However, no matter which type of relationship the UK decides on, there could be serious implications for individuals, businesses, and countries across the globe.

For individuals, one item that should have significant impact is the falling of the British pound to other currencies around the world.  The pound has fallen around 5% against the dollar so far this year, hitting the lowest level in more than 6 years, and falling against the Euro by about 12% since November (Imbert “‘Brexit’ Could Deal”).  This means rising prices for the goods and services that UK residents purchase both at home and abroad, which could become far worse if the Brexit were to actually follow through.  Consumer’s also currently benefit from the lack of trade barriers with EU countries, and the risk that consumers could lose this benefit may be spooking forex markets, an ominous sign of what may be to come considering how much trade the UK conducts with the EU (see Appendix 1) (Dhingra, “Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?”).  Moreover, the 5.5 million Brits abroad could lose a lot of the benefits currently afforded to them including National Health Service insurance and pensions, a serious issue to UK citizens that live, work, or study abroad for one reason or another (McVeigh “Brexit Anxiety Stalks”).  Another source of potential risk for the average UK citizen would be in the form of future jobs, however there is mixed evidence about the true impact that a Brexit would have on jobs.  “Leave” campaigners have seemingly debunked the myth that 3-4 million jobs would be lost if Britain left by pointing to a recent paper by the Institute for Economic Affairs which makes the conclusion that “‘Jobs are associated with trade, not membership of a political union…’”  Meanwhile, “remain” campaigners argue that while current jobs are less at risk for disappearance, future jobs are the ones that are truly at risk, particularly in the foreign-owned car industry and financial services industry.  These sectors rely heavily on the UK’s membership in the EU, especially the 2.1 million people in the UK’s financial services industry, which has a special dependence on EU Internal Market legislation combined with UK financial regulations.  Loss of the former would create an “untried, unknown and unpredictable alternative” which companies would not want to invest future capital and talent into until a proven status quo is in place (“UK and the EU”).  Individuals would arguably be in a weaker position, both domestically and internationally, with regard to the detrimental effects that a separate United Kingdom were to have.

Businesses do not fare much better, and the findings on this are much less contested than the factors affecting individuals.  For one thing, businesses would suffer from the decrease in foreign direct investment that would surely occur from a split from the EU because, as the London School of Economics explains, “Part of the attraction of the UK for foreign companies is as an export platform to the rest of the EU, so if the UK is outside the trading bloc, this position is likely to be threatened” (Dhingra, “Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?”).  Maybe more significantly, EU states are some of the biggest contributors to UK FDI, contributing just over 46% of total inward UK FDI in 2013 and which the UK uses to secure the most FDI projects and jobs with that money of all EU countries (see Appendix 2) (“BREXIT: The Impact on the UK and the EU”)  And not much has changed since then, with the most recent statistics from 2014 showing that the UK received the most inward flow of FDI of all EU countries at 28% or about $35 billion.  (“UKTI Inward Investment Report 2014 to 2015”)  Another red flag for “leave” advocates would be the surveys of company executives about Brexit, which are resoundingly negative: 66% of British firms say that Brexit would negatively impact FDI in the UK, 29% say that a Brexit would impact whether their company would continue to invest in the UK and 36% say that the UK’s international competitiveness would be negatively impacted (“BREXIT: The Impact on the UK and the EU”).  As such, companies are already devising contingency plans for what to do, including moving production or staffing accordingly out of the UK to remain competitive with the larger EU (‘Brexit’ Prep: Are Corporations and Investors Ready?).  Businesses are doing what they can to prepare for a British falling out with its EU counter-parts, and the results can’t be good for the UK on the whole.

Finally, Britain doesn’t stand on good ground when it comes to the impact that the Brexit will have on not only the country’s own economy and political landscape, but also in connection with other countries that do business with the UK.  There would be some benefits, arguably very important ones, when it comes to Britain leaving the EU, including a savings of about £20 billion a year in dues to the EU parliament and greater control over a variety of regulations and laws, which all EU member states must follow, ranging from environmental protection to welfare funding.  But not only could these regulations and laws be renegotiated without Britain having to leave the EU, as they have already done and could continue to do in the future, but that £20 billion doesn’t include the allocation that Britain gets from the EU and the rebate which Margret Thatcher negotiated for Britain in 1984, which reduces the real contribution to about two-thirds the original sum (“In, Out, Find a Fib to Shout”).  The economics of Britain leaving the EU could be discussed at length, which effectively stem from the disappearance of one of the biggest players from the “single market” and which economists from the London School of Economics have quantified as an overall -3.09% loss to the general welfare of the UK economy (Dhingra, “Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?”).  Furthermore, there are more dire implications of the UK leaving the EU: political pressure.  Chief politicians and economists like Italian finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan predict that a Brexit would open the floodgates to other countries that would want to leave the union, including France and several eastern-European countries, which have already seen anti-European sentiment growing since waves of conservative members have been swept into their legislatures (Wintour “Brexit would damage EU and UK”).  Nobody wants both a Brexit and a “Frexit”, which would serve to effectively disable and ultimately end the political and economic union that has lasted for over 4 decades.  Saving Britain might be the only way to save the European Union.

Individuals, businesses and countries are poised to lose much from a Brexit.  What little benefits the UK would gain from its independence would be wiped away by the struggle of competing and negotiating on its own, away from the relative security of the EU.  The costs of simply negotiating new FTA’s with other countries would diminish any cost savings the UK were to gain from not having to pay the EU its dues.  As the June 23rd is close at hand, UK citizens will have a simple choice to make, as long as the facts are carefully examined and that British citizens believe they are better together, which this author believes they are.

Works Cited

‘Brexit’ Prep: Are Corporations and Investors Ready? Perf. Iain Reid and Stephanie Flanders. Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 7 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2016-04-07/-brexit-prep-are-corporations-and-investors-ready>.

“BREXIT: The Impact on the UK and the EU.” (2015): n. pag. Global Counsel. Global Counsel, June 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.global-counsel.co.uk/system/files/publications/Global_Counsel_Impact_of_Brexit_June_2015.pdf>.

Dhingra, Swati, Gianmarco Ottaviano, and Thomas Sampson. “Should We Stay or Should We Go Now? The Economic Consequences of Leaving the EU.” Centre for Economic Performance (2015): n. pag. LSE. London School of Economics, Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/EA022.pdf>.

Hunt, Brian Wheeler & Alex. “The UK’s EU Referendum: All You Need to Know.” BBC News. BBC, 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32810887>.

Imbert, Fred. “‘Brexit’ Could Deal Major Economic, Political Blow to EU.” CNBC. CNBC LLC., 1 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/01/brexit-could-deal-major-economic-political-blow-to-eu.html>.

“In, Out, Find a Fib to Shout.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 05 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21693943-voters-want-facts-about-britain-and-european-unionbut-these-are-elusive-out-find-fib>.

McVeigh, Tracy. “Brexit Anxiety Stalks the Costa Del Sol: ‘If We Quit Europe, Brits Won’t Buy Here'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/05/brexit-costa-del-sol-spain-eu-referendum>.

“UK and the EU: Better off out or In?” BBC News. BBC, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32793642>.

“UKTI Inward Investment Report 2014 to 2015.” GOV.UK. Crown, 17 June 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ukti-inward-investment-report-2014-to-2015/ukti-inward-investment-report-2014-to-2015-online-viewing>.

Wintour, Patrick, and Rajeev Syal. “Brexit Would Damage EU and UK ‘politically and Economically'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/06/brexit-damage-eu-uk-politically-economically-italian-minister-padoan>.

Entering a New Role, Taking that First Step

“I shouldn’t be nervous at all.  I’ve done this half a dozen times”, I say to myself as I enter Two Chatham Center, home to the Pittsburgh based AccessData, a Broadridge company.  I made my way into the office, where I greeted my fellow interns and my supervisor with a bright smile on my face but a knot in my stomach.  This was to be my next internship for around four months (or longer) and even after having several internships and part-time jobs before now, I was still uneasy.  For some reason, the foray into an unfamiliar office environment, with little knowledge of the company, the culture, and the people, still unsettles me.  What is even more bizarre is that I knew I had nothing to be worried about: I had obviously interviewed well, beat out the best of the best candidates to get to this point, and demonstrated that I match the “type” any company looks for in a qualified, outstanding employee.  Maybe I’m concerned other employees won’t like me.  Perhaps I’m concerned I won’t perform to the level expected of me in my new role.  With all these reasons to doubt myself, it can be difficult to enter a new job with a positive attitude, and although I masked my nervousness well, these thoughts still plagued my mind like a swarm of pesky flies.

It’s now one week later and I can definitively say (as I knew was the case all along) that I had nothing to worry about.  Not only were all of my colleagues welcoming and supportive of me and the other new interns but our supervisor did everything possible to settle us into our new roles with the least amount of friction.  I felt like a valuable part of the team right from the beginning, and by the end of the week I had the confidence to know that I can take on this job with the can-do spirit that I’ve come to hone through my past experiences.

So why was I at all nervous?  If you’re anything like me, you subconsciously ask yourself questions at an almost breathtaking speed, where as soon as you’ve settled one thought, another one pops up to take its place.  And while I can’t necessarily stop the questions from coming to a head, I can take some managed steps to mitigate the impending tension (or, in other words, calm down).  First, I always have positive attitude when I enter a new company.  Even if you’re masking some insecurity, a friendly demeanor will undoubtedly make everyone around you more comfortable and receptive to a new presence in the office, and may even initiate fast friendships.  Second.  I learn as many names as I can.  One of the topics in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People (my review can be found here) is that learning people’s names goes a long way to showing you respect and care enough about your colleagues to remember a vital piece of information about them, and it may make conversation or asking for help go more smoothly (instead of saying “hey you!”)  Finally, I believe that the most important trait to have is a can-do spirit.  Having the mindset to always try your best at a new task or perform to the best of your ability in your new role will always garner more respect than saying “I can’t do it.”  We show appreciation and respect for our new colleagues, who were often times in the same positions as us, when we roll up our sleeves and say “Yes we can”, even when the opportunity for failure exists.

As I continue down my career path, I know that I’ll have to enter many new offices with the same thoughts and uneasy feelings as I had experienced a week ago.  But following my plan and staying true to what I do best, I’m sure I can meet that challenge and succeed.