By Teresa Hessler | January 1, 2014 | 0 Comment
I am not opposed to people spending their (or their parent’s) money on an education and investing as many years as they want in college. Obviously college degrees are important for regulated professions like medicine, finance and engineering (among others).
What I am against is the arrogant attitude of college graduates who are of the opinion that those of us who became business professionals under the tutelage of successful business mentors instead of college professors have nothing valuable to offer 21st century companies and societies. They make me worry about the shape of things to come, as I have nightmares of our world crumbling at the hands of book-smart theorists who lack common sense, respect, vision and work ethic.
My business education began in my father’s bakery while I was in junior high school. My brother and I spent much of our free time slicing bread, packing bread and rolls, frosting cookies, and admiring our father’s strength and good nature toward employees. Dad taught us the importance of making every customer feel special – and how to have fun while being productive at work. By the time I started high school, Dad had noticed that I had a talent and love of math and arranged for his business partner to teach me accounting. At 15 I became the bakery’s accounts receivable and payroll clerk in addition to running the old fashioned cash register in the shop.
While maintaining Honor Roll or Principal’s List grades, I worked part-time in the bakery and at a department store. I was promoted from stocking shelves in the men’s department to running the music and smoke shops which involved buying and managing inventory, pricing, arranging marketing displays, customer service, up-selling and working as a cashier during busy seasons.
During my sophomore year of high school, my math grades qualified me as one of ten students in the school selected to participate in a special new program in coordination with the local community college – Computer Programming! We learned COBOL and Fortran and actually wrote programs to help the Department of Education do their accounting more efficiently. I was in love – computers and I would spend the rest of our lives together!
During my senior year of high school I learned that college was not going to be a possibility for me because my father had become ill, needed surgery and we all would have to pitch in more at the bakery. My parents financial situation hadn’t been good for a while because supermarkets began springing up with their own bakeries tempting shoppers with scents of freshly baked breads and pastries. It was a difficult time in my life because I knew that I was meant to be a computer programmer – and I thought that meant I must obtain a B.S. in Computer Science.
I spent the next 8 years working as an office clerk for a photographer, administrative assistant/inventory control clerk for a manufacturer, bookkeeper for an a electrical contractor and even tested my talents as a real estate sales person. I also got married during that period and was blessed with a beautiful baby girl.
My career shifted into high gear in 1984 when I joined a manufacturing company owned by a dynamic family. I started as an office clerk and quickly learned all aspects of their business from inventory to the manufacturing process, marketing & sales, shipping and customer service and was promoted to office manager during that first year. It was at this company that I was given the reigns to spec a computer system that would automate inventory, invoicing, shipping and bookkeeping. Because it was a small company, it only took a few months from receipt of proposals to delivery of our networked computer system – I was thrilled! My high school Fortran flow charting enabled me to effectively work with a team of programmers to create a custom solution for my employer’s specific needs.
The acquisition of the custom computer network added to my office manager role the task of computer network manager and instructor for a team who had never before placed their fingers on a computer keyboard – this was my first technical writing job and the awakening of a talent and new passion.
Because the company was on the cutting edge of medical technology, in the late 1980s I had my first taste of email while helping the company’s President and head of R&D communicate with scientists at universities in Europe and California, and with various government facilities. With the computer doing a lot of time-consuming paperwork and accounting, the staff was able to focus on international marketing and government contracts, which caused the company to grow quickly. As part of the management team, I had been identified as the best marketing writer on staff and was assigned to work on their IPO. As the company went public, I worked with a PR firm and handled investor relations in addition to my other responsibilities – I had entered the arena of workaholic and I loved my work.
Not long after the IPO, the small manufacturer was acquired by a Fortune 500 company and I was promoted to Sales Operations Manager and relocated to the corporate headquarters where my first task was to train the sales administration and customer service staff, along with the national sales force.
My passion for technology placed me at odds with the MIS department (IT was referred to as Management Information Systems back in those days) because my 25+ member customer service and telemarketing team had been working with inferior phone and computer systems for years – something I felt was unacceptable. I have no patience for playing politics, however, I did finally win that battle, and within a year of my arrival my team was equipped with cutting edge technology. I happily put on my technical writer’s hat and became the trainer for not only my 3 departments, but also the accounting department because as a result of our new order system they also received a new system.
One of the perks of working for a large company is tuition assistance programs, so while at this company, so I continued my education taking business courses in:
For the following three years I was one of two women managers (the other was in accounting) in the entire company of several thousand employees and acquired a sour taste for life on executive office row. I found the bureaucracy to be more than a nuisance and the corruption throughout the good ole boy’s network to inflict more stress than the high salary was worth.
All of my employers up until that point had been small businesses and entrepreneurs from whom I learned important real-world business lessons that I never would have gained in a college classroom. At the Fortune 500 company, I learned business lessons that made me angry and have since helped me understand what’s wrong with the U.S. government.
In 1990 I accepted the position of Director of Administration for a research & development lab and moved from my Long Island corner office to a corner office overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Marina del Rey, California. My prior experience with government contracts came in handy as this facility was wholly funded by contracts from NASA and NIH. I found it exhilarating to be back working for a company with less than 50 employees – a place were I could actually could accomplish goals without men’s egos getting in my way.
By this time, I had my first laptop computer (which probably weighed close to 20 lbs) and was using email to communicate with international universities and governments on a regular basis.
The group of international physicists and engineers working in the lab were brilliant – and also very nice people. My reports were filed every quarter and contract renewals went smoothly until someone decided that the small company was ready for NASDAQ. I was promoted with the additional role of Corporate Secretary just before sister companies were merged or sold off and the search for a new CEO (the type who might wield power in DC) and the process of preparing for the IPO began. Everything fell into place the way the board had desired and the new CEO set up office in the DC area, hired his own administrative staff, moved accounting to his office and left me understaffed in CA in the middle of another merger and move to a larger facility. Human Resources fell under my jurisdiction and I was burdened with the unpleasant task of terminating positions of employees whose families taxed the company’s self-insured health plan a little too much – or who we could no longer afford because the DC office was sucking the lifeblood out of the company. Again that sour taste surfaced and I decided it was time to move on.
As I set out on a 3-month cross-country camping adventure, I wasn’t sure where I would settle or what I would do for a living, but I knew I needed time to clear my head and contemplate. Somewhere between The Grand Canyon and El Paso, Texas I decided to utilize my talents, the skills I had acquired, the many lessons I’d learned and my passion for technology to begin my own adventure: Improving World (which didn’t acquire that name until I bought that domain in January of 1997).
Throughout my career I have been a student and I think that’s because I grew up during a period when teachers taught children how to learn (as opposed to spoon feeding and regurgitating information). In addition to the few courses mentioned above, I have also completed:
As a Technical Writer, I have learned numerous software applications, written end-user manuals and facilitated hands-on classroom courses.