‘Cuse Chronicles by a CEO – Thoughts on a Train

Phil Nardone

The past few weeks have been a little bit like Groundhog Day here in Boston. It snows heavily, we dig out, the snow returns with a vengeance. Those of you who have been following my blog know, the weekly snow pattern has also been affecting my capstone class as we’ve had to Skype into the past two weeks to teach. When I heard last weekend that we were getting another snowstorm, I couldn’t help but worry about my Tuesday class. So I made a decision, blizzard or not, flight or not, I was making it to Central New York.

So on Monday at noon, I found myself sitting on a train to Syracuse. Yes, there is a train that runs from Boston to Chicago that stops in Syracuse. However, on this day, the trip turned into a 12-hour jaunt across the Snow Belt. As you can imagine, one has quite a lot of time to think while sitting on a train for 12 hours, specifically about how one ends up in said situation. As the snow fell softly around the train, lighting up sky with popcorn sized flakes, creating a blanket so smooth it begged to not be distributed, I found my mind drifting…

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Image byDrew Jacksich https://www.flickr.com/photos/28101583@N07/ udner CC license

Boston – Springfield: What am I doing on this train?

For the first leg of my trip, this thought consumed me. Perhaps it had crept into my mind well before I boarded the train, while I was packing my overnight bag or as I climbed over snowbanks trying to make my way into Back Bay Station from my home in the South End. This thought quickly morphed itself into why did I, Philip A. Nardone, Jr., decide to start teaching this capstone class at Syracuse? And was this really my 13th year?

As restless travelers rustled around me, I arrived at two reasons: First and foremost, this class helps me stay connected to the younger generation. It allows me to fully understand their needs and desires, motivators and inspirations. My students are the future leaders of tomorrow with ideas that are innovative and disruptive. Hearing from them every week keeps me fresh and cutting-edge. They teach me as much as I teach them. And when the semester ends, it provides a great recruiting conduit (reason #2) for the agency. Every year, I’m proud to say that one of my students enters into the internship program here at PAN or starts as an Assistant Account Executive.

Springfield – Albany: Hi, my name is

As three of the train’s young passengers got into a heated discussion with the conductor about whether or not they could get off the train and then come back – yes in the middle of the blizzard – I started thinking that another reason I was probably trying so hard to get to Syracuse for a face-to-face session with my classes, was because by this time in the semester I not only know the names of every student in my class, but who they’re dating!  See I'm one of those rare folks that prides himself on knowing people's names; I see the importance of it in so many ways.  I thought for a moment about how important it is for C-Suite members to connect with younger employees. I feel that many of my C-level colleagues have difficulty making these connections. In the hustle and bustle of agency life, it’s very easy to get caught up in the higher-level strategic demands of the job. The consequence is a disconnect with many of your company’s most important contributors – let alone know who they are, by name.

In both roles as president and professor, I make it a goal to know the name of every student in my class and employee in my agency, after the first week that we’ve met. These interactions, although they may seem small, go a long way in a young person’s career and offer them a sense of confidence which they so deeply seek, especially right out of college.

Albany – Syracuse: What’s your personal value prop

Gliding through Albany inch-by-inch, my thoughts pivoted to examining the executive/entry-level interaction from a different angle. While those of us in the C-Suite need to be more personally invested in younger employees, younger employees also need to identify their personal value proposition in order to better interact with C-Suite members. One of my students recently shared a story with me about how one morning he found himself in the elevator with the managing director of his office. He said although he wanted to take the opportunity to speak up and let the managing director know how much he was enjoying his experience, he didn’t speak up. It was a missed opportunity to connect with an influential leader at his company.

For younger employees, it’s important to keep in mind that initially, interaction with C-Suite members may be limited. Identifying and communicating a “personal value proposition” is critical. I always tell my students that when interviewing, they’ll probably spend about 60 percent of their time with HR, 30 percent of their time with employees and less than 10 percent with someone from the C-Suite. They need to find a way to make a connection with a limited chance to make an impression.  This concept ended up being one of the main topics of our HR Roundtable, a panel discussion we hosted at Newhouse last Tuesday night. All of the HR executives we assembled as panelists stressed that first impressions are critical!

When the train finally pulled into Syracuse that night (past midnight), I took another opportunity to reflect not only about my 12 hour train ride, but my decision to teach the capstone. After dusting the snow off my boots, I arrived on campus feeling excited and motivated to see my class.

This blog post is part of larger series, ‘Cuse Chronicles, from PAN President and Founder, Philip A. Nardone, Jr., as he chronicles his experience teaching two capstones classes at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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