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Bears Business Brief: An old-fashioned recipe for leadership

Mike Merrigan
Mike Merrigan

By: Mike Merrigan

In light of the upcoming elections and continued corporate failures (have you looked at a VW lately?), I thought leadership would be a good topic to discuss with you before your morning run or workout.

So what exactly is leadership?  What are the traits and qualities of a good leader? Are leaders born or made? Chances are good that none of you answered these questions the same. If you used Google to help, you were given a smorgasbord of choices including such things as seven habits, eight secrets, 21 indispensables, 33 qualities, etc.

Amazon also offers plenty of books to choose from, in their nearly unending a la carte menu from chefs like Blanchard, Covey, Maxwell, Jobs, Welch and Coach K. Even Mercy executive Donn Sorensen has published his five keys in his recent “Big-Hearted Leadership,” which I recently read.

No other topic has been discussed, studied, researched and written about by scholars and would-be scholars (no offense intended, Donn). Throughout the decades, most scholars have not agreed on a single definition or leadership theory; however, most would probably define leadership as an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes.

That doesn’t sound like a tasty recipe you can get your mouth around, or even both hands. Especially when today’s business leaders operate in a world where little is certain, the pace is relentless and everything is more complex. It takes time to develop relationships (Twitter followers and Facebook friends don’t count) and even more time to reflect on the direction you want to go or the changes you want to make, especially if you want them to last longer than a post on Snapchat. Leadership books offer great sound bites, but do any of them contain the recipe that you would want to pass down through the generations like a great family recipe?

Are leaders born or made? I believe it is both and that we all have the necessary ingredients to lead — in our careers, communities, families and personal life.

Sometimes we just need to simplify things and focus on a couple of things that reinforce each other, not five, seven, eight, 21 or 33 separate ones. To me, a simple recipe for leadership is doing the right thing, for the right reason, the right way and being morally good. This is especially true today when many major business decisions have a moral aspect to them, because decisions can result in benefits to some and harms to others, and rights recognized for some and denied for others. This definition sounds simple, but it’s very difficult to do, especially without the right ingredients (which were obviously missing at VW for many years).

One key ingredient that makes this recipe work is so old fashioned that it comes from Aristotle and is in the form of practical wisdom. For Aristotle, the purpose of life was human flourishing; and, with practical wisdom we flourish and without it we languish. So where can you buy this ingredient?

You already have it; you just need to develop it and learn how to use it. Aristotle focused on virtues as his ingredients, including such old-fashioned character traits as kindness and altruism. He viewed everything in existence as moving from potentiality to actuality; and, that a person’s full actuality is already within them, it just needs development, nurturing and perfecting through good habits. (If this sounds a little familiar to you, we would refer to it as self-actualization today.)

“We are what we repeatedly do . . . excellence is not an act, but a habit.”  He even gave us his five focal virtues (or habits — sorry Covey) that we should work on as a starting point: compassion, discernment, trustworthiness, integrity and conscientiousness.  As these virtues become habit, we become more virtuous and stronger in character. Lastly, Aristotle believed that as we become people of virtue who engage in virtuous acts by habit, we receive more virtues, which ultimately produce the key virtue, practical wisdom.

One last key ingredient is all you need to make this recipe complete. It’s like that little teaspoon of baking powder, but it is the one that makes all of this work. For Aristotle, that last ingredient is courage — it is the first human quality that guarantees all the others. With it, we almost become like Superman — we know what the right thing is, we are emotionally attached to it and we do it.

This article appeared in the June 25th, 2016 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

 

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Bears Business Brief: The new job search

Vickie HicksBy: Vickie Hicks

The days of sending a paper resume to an employer are over. The job search has evolved in many ways. Here are a few things to consider when searching for a job in 2016.

  • Sending your resume has changed. When applying for a job, you will most likely be applying online. Two things to consider when sending your resume as an attachment. Save the attachment as a .pdf file instead of a .docx. This will save the formatting and if there is a typo in your resume, it won’t be glaring to an employer who opens the document. Also, name the attachment as yournameresume.pdf. Employers receive hundreds of emailed resumes and yours will be harder to find if it is named myresume.pdf instead of vhicksresume.pdf.
  • The phone is still used in the job search. Always answer your phone politely and do not send calls to voicemail because you do not recognize the caller’s number. Employers say they often call an applicant to set up an interview and are met with an unprofessional voice mail greeting. Your greeting should include your name and/or your phone number.
  • But watch doing business on your phone. Don’t use your phone as your primary device for written communication when conducting your job search. People tend to speak more casually and hit send far too fast when using their phone to send an email.  If you are sending your resume, filling out an online application or thanking an employer, do so on a laptop or desktop. This will result in fewer typos and will help you speak more professionally. All written correspondence in a job search should be flawless.
  • LinkedIn is now vital to your job search. LinkedIn is where you now build and maintain your network of connections. Remember, it’s not what you know but who you know. Your connections may help you find your dream job. Complete a profile, add a picture and make connections. It’s important to make sure the information in your LinkedIn profile and resume match.
  • Politeness still matters. Return phone calls in a timely manner. If you are looking for a job, you should return all phone calls from an employer within 24 hours. It’s a good idea to use the same form of communication the employer uses. If the employer calls you, call the employer back. If the employer emails you, email the employer back. Many job candidates don’t respond at all, so responding gives you an edge.
  • Indeed.com and LinkedIn jobs are great places to start looking. Indeed.com compiles job listings from multiple sources. You can even set up alerts when certain job titles are listed. The LinkedIn jobs feature will often have positons not found on Indeed.com.  Also, by using LinkedIn, you can discover who you might know that works for a particular employer. Connections matter.
  • Resumes should be tailored to the position for which you are applying. I recently served on a search committee and the person applying had not customized his application materials to the specific position being offered. That person was immediately rejected. The “spray and pray” approach of sending out a generic resume to as many companies as possible is seldom effective.  Only apply for a position if you are qualified for the position. If the job requires a CPA license, don’t apply if you don’t have one.

Hope these tips help you land that next great job opportunity.

Vickie Hicks is the corporate relations specialist for the College of Business at Missouri State University.  Hicks has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, communications and college recruiting, and she can be reached at vickiehicks@missouristate.edu.

This article appeared in the June 18, 2016 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Alumni Spotlight: Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams headshot
Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams seemed destined for sales since her days as a Girl Scout.

Even though she perceived herself as shy, “I always sold the most cookies or had the most badges.”

Asking for money for a cause she believed in came easily to her. What didn’t come easily: Her undergraduate degree. In 2000, she was a single mom to twin toddlers, working two jobs and taking 18 hours of classes for a marketing degree.

Dr. Linda Pettijohn, who retired from the marketing department in 2010, said of the thousands of students she taught in her 23 years at MSU, Williams stands out. “If you say you can’t have it all, you haven’t met Nicole,” Pettijohn said. “Everyone gets 168 hours in a week, but to know Nicole you would have thought she had 200. That was how well she got things done.”

She often used Williams as an example for other students.

“Dr. Pettijohn would say, ‘If anyone needs help with time-management skills, contact Nicole,’ ” Williams said. “I used that story a lot in interviews, or when people want to know the true Nicole.”

Williams used that work ethic in jobs in finance, biotech/pharmaceutical and nonprofit organizations. Her career took her to Atlanta in 2011, and in 2014 she opened a State Farm Insurance agency.

“My business has really flourished because people see me being a leader in the community and want to help me grow my business.”

Williams is the president of the National Sales Network’s Atlanta chapter, which organizes professional development opportunities for minority sales professionals and managers. It has about 300 members.

She is also an alumna and board member of the Atlanta chapter’s New Leaders Council, which trains entrepreneurs and other professionals to develop into progressive political leaders.

“I knew five people when I moved to Atlanta; now my network is probably more than 2,000 people because of my involvement in nonprofit organizations.”

In 2014, she was recognized as an “Emerging Leader” by Who’s Who in Black Atlanta. In 2016, she was featured in Ryse magazine, a print piece of the Ryse media group that celebrates multicultural professionals.

Her time-management skills are still sharp: She is considering opening another business and may start fundraising for a political campaign. She is also preparing to send her 17-year-old twin sons to college.

She attributes some of her success to Missouri State professors, who taught her about personalized service — when “people know your name and know your history. I learned that approach from Missouri State, and it really has helped me throughout my career.”

Williams’ top 3 fundraising tips

Williams has raised funds for nonprofits, and has been part of committees that have raised more than $1.8 million. Her tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to pop the question.

    “A lot of people talk about how great their product or company is, but it’s harder to ask ‘will you donate?’ or ‘can we get a pledge card going?’”

  2. Provide networking opportunities — both in person and online.

    “Mixing (in-person) networking into fundraising activities has been a huge hit here in Atlanta. There are a lot of young, single professionals who want to get out and meet people. … (Also) engage people on social media; that’s huge! Especially those young and emerging audiences. They don’t open emails or mail. If you don’t get them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — and there’s probably many others that I don’t even participate in — then you’re not going to reach them.”

  3. Get on the radar of your local movers and shakers.

    “Tap the shoulders of leaders who have large networks and influence within the city, and then they’ll invite their people out.”

This article appeared in the Summer 2016 Missouri State Magazine and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Do I really have to keep all of those tax records?

Kerri Tassin
Kerri Tassin

By: Kerri Tassin

I teach tax accounting classes at Missouri State University, and each semester in class we discuss business related expenses for purposes of possible deductions from federal gross income. When we start to explore certain deductions and transactions, I pause to have a real heart to heart with my students. This is the time I advise them to have a serious chat with their future clients about recordkeeping. So many taxpayers wish to take advantage of legitimate tax deductions, but fail to keep adequate documentation to calculate the proper amount or provide substantiation as required by law. In this Bears Business Brief, we’ll take a look at some important records taxpayers need to hold onto, and why we need to keep those records.

Internal Revenue Code §162 allows taxpayers to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses that taxpayers pay or incur in the process of conducting a trade or business. IRC §6001 requires that taxpayers keep records that can verify the correct amount of items of income, deductions and credits claimed on a tax return. In addition, heightened standards of substantiation apply to certain types of expenses taxpayers may commonly incur in the conduct of a business.

According to Internal Revenue Code §274(d), in order to deduct certain business related expenses including travel, meals and entertainment, business gifts, and expenses incurred related to the use of listed property, taxpayers must be able to provide substantiation for those expenses. According to the code section, taxpayers must substantiate these particular expenses with either adequate records or evidence that corroborates the taxpayer’s statement regarding the expenses.

Taxpayers must be able to prove the amount of the expense, time and place of the travel or entertainment, date and description of a business gift, business purpose of the expense, and business relationship with persons entertained or with those who received gifts. Proper documentation and recordkeeping make this process of substantiation possible. Records may include receipts, credit card statements, cancelled checks, and entries in journals or account books, depending upon the type of expense. In addition, taxpayers need to document expenses as near the time of the actual event as possible, while memories are still fresh.

In particular, transportation expenses can amount to a significant deduction for business owners. Business owners who use a passenger vehicle for business purposes may generally choose between deducting actual vehicle expenses or a standard mileage amount, subject to certain limitations. Taxpayers who choose to deduct actual vehicle expenses need to keep track of receipts and records for expenses such as fuel, repairs, insurance, and depreciation just to name a few. Taxpayers who use either method for deducting transportation expenses also need to keep a mileage log with detailed information regarding the date of travel, business purpose, destination, and miles traveled, especially when the vehicle is used for both business and personal purposes.

Failure to keep adequate records, especially for certain types of business-related expenses, can result in the disallowance of valuable deductions. Proper recordkeeping will help taxpayers accurately calculate, report, and hold onto those deductions. Now might be a good time to contact your tax advisor and ask for assistance putting together a good recordkeeping system for your business.

The material in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute written tax or legal advice. Please consult with your own tax advisor regarding your personal tax situation.

References

Internal Revenue Code Section 162

Internal Revenue Code Section 274(d)

Internal Revenue Code Section 6001

Internal Revenue Service Publication No. 463 (2014)

Assistant Professor Kerri L. Tassin, CPA, JD teaches tax accounting classes in the School of Accountancy at Missouri State University.  She also serves as director of the MSU Public Service Tax Clinics.

This article appeared in the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Big financial windfall? Take the annuity.

James Philpot photo
James Philpot

By: James Philpot

In my prior column, I discussed principles for dealing with financial windfalls. To reiterate, financial windfalls do happen. Most are not very large (maybe in the five-figure range), but sometimes much larger windfalls (6-plus figures) force us to decide whether to take a large lump sum or a series of annual payments. I propose that almost everyone will be better off with the annuity.

For my arguments, I am going to assume we won January’s Powerball and face the choice of taking $980 million as a lump sum now or as a series of 30 annual $50 million payments beginning now. The analysis and conclusions change only slightly as long as we stay in the 7-plus figure range.

First, a common misconception of lottery players is, “If I die, I lose the payout.” That’s not what happens, because the payout is not a life annuity, but a period-certain annuity. If we die after payment number six, the value of the remaining payments goes with our estate to our heirs. Beyond lotteries, this is also the case (or can be specified) for other large windfall sources like legal settlements and life insurance policy proceeds.

Income tax (which generally does not apply to life insurance proceeds or legal settlements) can also play a role. With the huge amounts of money involved, and assuming constant tax rates over time, there is really little significant difference in the tax applied to the Powerball lump sum versus the annuity. However, the annuity offers tax deferral. Effectively, the lottery invests your lump sum for you during the annuity period, deferring income taxes on both the lump sum amount and on income earned until you take a payment. This is akin to the benefits of a traditional IRA.

Many people choose the annuity because they believe they are superior investors and can do better starting with a lump sum. Financial professionals know that any rate of return must be evaluated after adjusting for both tax and risk. Using the January Powerball numbers and a 39.6 percent tax rate, taking the annuity provides an after tax rate of return of approximately 3.25 percent to the winner. There is no investment risk — only counterparty risk, which can likely be insured. Compare this rate of return to the current after-tax rate on 30-year Treasuries (about 1.57%), and we see that this is an after-tax-and-risk investment performance matched by few professional managers. This return is also after the lottery’s cost of managing the funds, which could be significant for you. Still feeling lucky? Remember that you may have just used up a significant amount of luck in gaining your windfall in the first place.

Human behavior makes the most compelling argument for the annuity. Very few of us are already familiar with huge amounts of money, and anecdotes abound of lottery winners (and even celebrities and athletes who worked hard for their fortunes) who are presently broke. The annuity provides an annual limit of potential waste over a “safe” time horizon. If you are thinking, “That wouldn’t happen to me,” please remember once you likely also swore that you would not turn out like your parents, that your kids would always be well-behaved, and who knows what else.

Dr. James Philpot is a certified financial pPlanner and is associate professor of finance at Missouri State University. Statements in this column are intended for educational and informational use only and are not to be construed as investment. 

This article appeared in the June 4th, 2016 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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