It all started on the golf course. Early last year, I attended the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. As I was wandering around the clubhouse, I ran into Mark Brian Smith, the filmmaker who produced and directed “Fear No Fruit,” the documentary about my mom and our family business. He had with him a longtime personal friend Simon, a banker. As per usual, we shook hands and exchanged business cards.
So I guess I was a little surprised when six months later I received an email from Simon, who had changed banks, inviting me to be the keynote speaker at a CEO summit. As it turns out, his new bank, Union Bank, is a sponsor of the CEO Summit at the University of La Verne and he is on the steering committee. After seeing the movie about our company, he thought our story would be great for the summit’s audience of 150 to 200 local CEOs.
So last week, I drove 30 miles to La Verne and spent a few hours there. We took a quick walking tour and La Verne President Devorah Leiberman shared some pretty impressive information with me. The university is recognized amongst the country’s leading schools. U.S. News and World Report rates La Verne’s undergraduate online degree offerings as No. 1 in California (and 24th best in the country). The university has four colleges: Arts & Sciences, Business & Public Management, Education, and Law.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised how many of the deans and associate deans from the four colleges listened to my presentation. One in particular stood out to me—Rita Thakur, associate dean of the College of Business & Public Management. We sat at the same table during lunch and had a lovely chat. She was born in India and you can read her story here. She struck me as kind of quiet, so I was trying to imagine her as the associate dean. But I quickly learned that her mild-mannered demeanor was simply her way of charming people and accomplishing her goals. She drilled me about the internships at my company. During my speech, I had said, “Ask for what you want.” She did just that, saying, “I want you to give one of my students an internship this summer!” That’s chutzpah!
During our conversation, I learned about a program she created at La Verne that is the only one of its kind in the country. It’s called “The Rita Thakur Skills for Success Program.” For all four years that students are in the College of Business & Public Management, they are required to enroll in the program. It teaches both life and professional skills that students just don’t get anymore! Things like: etiquette, how to do introductions, how to make sure your resume gets to the top of the pile, interviewing techniques, etc. As they progress through their undergraduate education, the students continue to get professional mentorship, consulting opportunities, and training for soliciting a loan, selling a product, and developing a business plan.
I was so excited to learn this.
It was even more timely when I read The Wall Street Journal on March 20. The headline on the Personal Finance section was “Should College Students Be Required to Take a Personal-finance Course?” I vote “YES.” I know what it’s like for a twentysomething new hire who doesn’t know how to choose a health insurance plan or what questions to ask about the 401k plan.
One of the biggest challenges millennials and others who enter the workforce have is lack of training in those life skills. It was awesome to see that a single person like Rita Thakur recognized the opportunity and created a program that will give thousands of students at the University of La Verne a better chance of success in the business world. Perhaps other universities and colleges will embrace the practical needs of today’s workforce and give students similar training.
I get a lot of speaking requests during the course of a year. I accepted this one because I could tell that La Verne has something special to offer, not only to the community with the CEO Summit, but as I learned, to their students. If you should have the opportunity to speak at a local college or university, whether it is about your own business or career, or as an opportunity to mentor and give back, I hope you will make the time to do it.
It’s always good to pay it forward!