The Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA

University of 

University of Rochester

There Are Plenty of
Jobs Out There--
If You Qualify

By Ronald N. Yeaple '65S (MBA), '86 (PhD)

A Simon School professor who has studied the career experiences of over 450 successful Rochester alumni relays their advice in a new book, "The Success Principle." Following are some excerpts.

Contrary to what the press has been reporting, middle management in America is surviving and, in many places, prospering. Government statistics cited in The Wall Street Journal show that there are plenty of high-quality middle-management jobs.

"Reports of middle management's demise are much exaggerated," notes a Journal reporter. Government data show that the number of managerial jobs in Fortune 500 and other companies reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has remained almost unchanged since peaking at nearly five million in 1990.

In the decade from 1983 to 1993, the government reports that the total number of executives, managers, and administrators in the whole work force grew by 28.8 percent.

While the very largest corporations --those with payrolls of more than 50,000--have fewer management jobs than in 1989, small and medium-size companies have added about 180,000 such jobs. Small, high-tech firms have fueled spectacular growth in management jobs. Says one manager in a small telecommunications firm, "The industry is exploding. There is so much opportunity in the marketplace, it's incredible."

There are, then, exceptional opportunities for managers who qualify. But to succeed in today's demanding workplace, managers need a new mix of strategic skills:

Let's look at each one of these new skills in more detail.

Multifunctional Skills

Years ago, large companies were made up of departments of functional specialists--accountants, salespeople, engineers. These people spent most of their time working in their own little groups, seldom talking with people in other parts of the company or with customers. Coordination among groups was orchestrated by layers of middle managers. Decisions were made slowly and cautiously, with multiple signoffs by each layer of management.

'The Success Principle'--
Advice from 450 Successful Alumni

If you do excellent work, you can count on your company to promote you.

Not so, say the more than 450 Rochester alumni surveyed by Simon School professor Ron Yeaple '65S (MBA), '86 (PhD) for his new book, The Success Principle (Macmillan Spectrum). In the world of corporate downsizing and re-engineering, professional employees must learn to manage their own careers and not depend on their companies to take care of them, respondents cautioned.

In preparation for the book, which features case histories and exercises, Yeaple conducted a comprehensive mail survey of M.B.A. graduates of the Simon School and electrical engineering graduates of the School of Engineering. The ages of the respondents ranged from 22 to 73, with salaries ranging from "grad students scraping by on $10,000 per year to investment bankers earning $1 million annually," Yeaple reports.

"Drawing on the advice and experience of the study participants, Yeaple urges professional men and women to "turbocharge" their careers by applying many of the same strategic concepts that major corporations use--among them, setting long- and short-term objectives, selecting and cultivating a personal board of mentors similar to a corporate board of directors, and acquiring an in-depth knowledge of how a company works.

Now Executive Professor of Business Administration at the Simon School, Yeaple turbocharged his own early career by designing a custom stereo system for President Kennedy, which he personally installed in the living quarters of the White House. He did that job while working for Stromberg Carlson, where he was product manager of consumer products. Later he moved to Xerox Corporation and more recently was executive vice president of the Ritter Company before joining the Simon faculty full time.

A four-time winner of the school's Superior Teaching Award, he focuses his research and teaching on professional career development, marketing research, new-product development, and the strategic management of technology. He is also the author of a 1994 book, The MBA Advantage: Why It Pays to Get an MBA.

In today's competitive environment, decisions have to be made much more quickly and accurately than in the past. In their best-selling book The Wisdom of Teams, McKinsey & Company consultants Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith make the case for organizing the company into multifunctional teams. They find that teams consistently outperform collections of individuals organized by traditional job functions. Citing examples from Motorola, Ford, 3M, and General Electric, Katzenbach and Smith show that the multifunctional team has become a critical element in the new-product strategies of these top firms.

What is the difference between a team and a committee? Both are made up of individuals from various parts of the organization. But the individual contributions of members of a committee are based solely on their personal expertise. In the case of a team, their contributions are combined into a joint product that embodies the collective wisdom of all the members.

For example, a multifunctional new-product development "team" typically will consist of individuals from Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing, and Accounting. If the person from Marketing is concerned only with what Marketing wants from the new-product program, and shows no empathy for the tradeoffs that Engineering and Manufacturing face in developing and starting up the new product within the overall constraints of project time and cost, then the group operates as a committee. But if Marketing shows an understanding of the problems of the other members and a willingness to work together to make the entire project a success, then the group operates as a team. In the second case, Marketing is concerned not with scoring points for Marketing, but in making the whole project a success--even if Marketing has to make some compromises.

To be effective, the individuals on the team must have multifunctional skills-- a working knowledge of the functional areas outside their personal area of expertise. If, for example, the Marketing person on the team is uninformed and naive about the development and startup processes in Engineering and Manufacturing, he or she could get taken for a ride and end up making unnecessary compromises, or could insist on product features that are technically unreasonable.

The objective when serving on a new-product development team is not to win for your personal functional organization, but to win for the company as a whole. Sometimes this means having enough knowledge about the other functions of the company to know when to back off.

Many of the highest-paying jobs in the new economy require a wide breadth of knowledge as well as specialized skills. To survive and prosper in today's team-oriented environment, managers must have multifunctional skills as well as expertise in their own specialized areas.

Decision-Making Skills

In the hierarchical organizations of the 1980s and early 1990s, you didn't make many decisions without checking with your boss--and often your boss would have to check with his or her boss. In today's leaner organizations, the authority for making decisions is being delegated to those in lower levels of the organization. A Xerox Corporation executive says, "The reality of re-engineering is that many more people are in a decision-making mode." You are much more likely to be given the responsibility for making your own decisions, and for being completely accountable for the outcomes. As one young manager reported, "I used to have to go through my manager to implement anything I needed to do. Now I have a lot more latitude."

To compound the problem, in the old organization of the 1980s, typically there were legions of staff experts available for consultation on everything from marketing research to office layout. But many of these purely advisory staff jobs have been eliminated in today's flatter, leaner organizations. If you have to make an important decision, it is likely that you will have to do it without the help of internal staff support. You will be on your own, perhaps with support from a computerized decision support system.

With less staff support available, managers who are personally skilled at structuring and analyzing complex decisions have a critical competitive advantage in today's organizations.

Pursuing a Dream: From Staff Accountant to Screenwriter

"Craig," 29, graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in economics and finance. After working for a year as a staff accountant for a department store at a salary of $23,000, he resigned to attend the Simon School, earning an M.B.A. in 1990.

His first job after graduation was as an associate director for a bank in New York city, at a starting salary of $46,000 --twice his pre-M.B.A. pay.

But Craig soon discovered that banking and big companies in general were not for him. His dream was to become an independent screenwriter for the Hollywood film industry. After a year as a banker, he left New York to pursue his dream, working by himself to develop his craft. Within three years he established himself in his new profession, earning $100,000--more than four times his pre-M.B.A. pay.

Craig has turbocharged his career. He believes that while his M.B.A. degree has allowed him to bring an analytical framework to a creative field, his success as a screenwriter is mainly the result of "discipline, will, learning about and listening to myself, and heart."

His advice to other young professionals: "Think very hard about what you want professionally and personally in this life, and meet as many people as possible in your field of interest."

People Skills

People skills--the ability to get things done through other people--are what distinguish managers from individual contributors. People skills include leadership, and the ability to work with a team and to persuade others through written and oral communications. The star loner is of little value in today's organizations.

In the hierarchical organizations of the past, information about critical operating variables, such as sales and shipments, was gathered at the bottom of the organization and then summarized, refined, and selectively edited by layers of middle managers as it was passed up the line to top management. Then, after reflection, orders based on this information would come down from the top, again layer-by-layer, staff meeting by staff meeting, until they reached the troops in the field or on the production line.

For example, if sales were lagging behind budget, this information would work its way to the top over a period of days or weeks. A decision would be made at the vice presidential level to cut prices by 5 percent, which would then be transmitted back down the organization over a period of days or weeks to the people in sales, who would see to its implementation. The whole process might take a month or more, during which the situation in the field might have changed, and the 5 percent price cut would be either too late or, perhaps, completely unnecessary.

In today's marketplace, information technology has revolutionized the flow of information in organizations. Virtually all managers have computers in their offices. By consulting their computers, senior management--and everyone else in the organization--knows within a matter of hours, for instance, how sales are going. The need for layers of middle managers to collect and summarize information has disappeared.

Setting a Personal Stretch Goal

"Cindy," at 31, is leveraging the combination of her technical undergraduate degree and her recently acquired M.B.A. in finance and marketing to shoot for her five-year objective as a top manager of a major East Coast telecommunications firm. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1986 and was hired as an assistant engineer at a telecommunications company, at an annual salary of $32,000. That fall, she began her part-time M.B.A. program at a local business school, where 100 percent of her tuition was paid by her employer.

After completing her M.B.A. in 1991, Cindy was promoted to engineering manager at a salary of $55,000. Within three years she was promoted again, this time to director of network strategy. She works an average of 50 hours a week at the office, spends another five hours a week on company travel, and brings home an hour's worth of work every night. She also manages to squeeze in another 10 hours a week for tennis and golf. She earns $75,000 a year (an 18 percent increase over the prior year), supervises 33 employees, and rates her job satisfaction, on a scale of 1-to-5, as a "5."

Asked about the most valuable skills she acquired in business school, she lists general business acumen, as well as financial and marketing skills. In retrospect, she wishes that she had taken more case-oriented courses to give her more practice in applying her new skills. While she values the skills she learned in her M.B.A. courses, she also gives much credit for her rapid rise in the company to senior managers who took an interest in her career and served as her mentors.

Overall, Cindy is very satisfied with the value of her part-time M.B.A. degree and would definitely do it again if she had to do it over. She says, "It has given me a broader business perspective which has assisted me in career advancement."

Incidentally, her advice to up-and-coming managers, appropriately, is: "Network, network, network!"

To speed up decision-making, senior management has delegated the authority to make decisions to first-line managers, who have the most expertise to deal with the problem and who have the most to gain or lose by the results. The middle management hierarchy for command and control is gone.

With the decline of hierarchy, the basis for managerial decision-making is changing, from "Do it because I'm the boss" to "Do it because we agree it's the right thing to do." The emphasis is on persuasion of colleagues, not on command of subordinates. This means that today's manager will greatly benefit from becoming skilled in the art of persuasion.

Marketing Your Strategic Skills

You can't count on spending your entire career with one employer, or even in one industry. In today's environment, companies are unable to promise lifetime employment. As Fortune's Walter Kiechel has pointed out, "Honest companies will avoid organizational co-dependency."

Not only must you develop and refine your managerial skills for the changing environment, but you must also think about how you are going to market them. To get the most value from your investment in these skills, people have to be made aware of them.

One way to market yourself is to polish your writing skills and to document your ideas in writing. Your written work has the potential to reach a much larger audience within the company than your day-to-day oral communication.

To enhance your reputation outside the company, join a professional organization in your field and attend meetings. Become an officer. Develop an area of expertise in your field that will provide the subject for presentations at conferences, and for written articles for professional journals.

Think of Yourself as a 'Company of One'

Published studies show that there are jobs everywhere for those who qualify. But to cope with today's turbulent job market, you must learn to think of yourself as the CEO of a "company of one" --yourself. You can thrive and prosper in this market by developing a conceptual framework for mastering a set of strategic skills like those outlined above.

As it turns out, many of these strategic skills are adaptations of the strategic planning techniques that top corporations have used for years--concepts that will apply equally well to managing the success of your personal "company of one."

This program requires planning, commitment, and hard work. But you can do it, and, believe me, it is worth it.

Excerpted with permission of Macmillan General Reference USA, a Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company, from THE SUCCESS PRINCIPLE by Ronald N. Yeaple, Ph.D. Copyright © 1997 by Ronald N. Yeaple. This book may be ordered toll-free from Macmillan USA, Indianapolis (tel. 1-800-428-5331/fax: 1-800-882-8583.)

Ronald Yeaple is Executive Professor of Business Administration at the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.

| UR Home | Review Contents | Mail |

Rochester Review--Volume 60 Number 1--Fall 1997
Copyright 1997, University of Rochester
Maintained by University Public Relations (jc)