Wes Johnson, Pi Kappa Phi Chapter Adviser: Feb 2011 – Jan 2016

This post has been some time coming to this space.  As I think back about my time as the advisor to my own same undergraduate social fraternity group (although on a different college campus), I can actually appreciate why this post did not get published long back. Having to post something like this on the public web is something I just can’t help but resist it personally, especially to want to call out all the successes. My advisees knew they were doing well towards the tail end of my advising time, yet I did need to maintain an edge as the advisor to push them for achieving more. Even later, there wasn’t to be any immediate victory dance just on my own account of retiring as their adviser, and this position was so far from any simple resume fodder of mine. 

My volunteer experience of those five years, did prove to be some substantial work, but in the end, it’s something that I am proud of for myself to be able to keep up with and also that it provided me a front row seat to the accomplishments of my advisees. The success did not come quickly or easily for them, but over the years the mindset of the men had changed, their prominence on their campus and among fellow Greek life members had improved substantially, and, most apparently, their own membership numbers had increased. As mostly out of character for myself, I did choose to promote myself for the nationwide Advisor of the Year Award for the 2013-2014 academic year.  I ended up taking home the award, and had some nice recognition at the biannual conference among all universities’ chapters.  I’ll never forget the kind words that came out for my candidacy at that time and also via social media when I eventually gave notice of stepping down as the advisor.  Later on, after my Pi Kappa Phi national award, I was further recognized by the George Mason University Student Life Organization as the top Fraternity Advisor on campus for the 2015 calendar year.

Through more reflection, I see that the five years with the GMU Pikapps is even more time than I spent with my own fellow classmates at my George Washington University chapter. Somehow…weirdly(?)… in these recent years, I was able to transition from the advisor into actually a role of teammate and friend when I jumped into the mens rec league hockey team founded by some of the older undergrads I oversaw. My advising days are well behind me, but I’m beyond pleased that I took the position, and appreciative of what it still brings me to this day with fun, sport, friendly competition, and ongoing connections!

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MBA Frontier: Student Org Recruitment Prep

July 15th is probably as good of a spot as any to declare that a college summer vacation is half over. My Pikapp chapter adviseeshave been working and planning for the fall recruitment period that starts up at just the third week of classes. By then, most freshman probably haven’t even been forced to perform their own laundry duties yet, but on campus they will be confronted by people wearing shirts with Greek letters and then asked to decide about joining such and such organization. As much as it requires a share of sales people to try to entice these next ranks, the groups will also need the simple manpower and show of solidarity to reveal their character and culture as well as answer questions about themselves to have hopes of potential members. The internal process may sound simple, but motivation for a group’s own recruitment activities is often times lackluster.

While as an adviser, I won’t be doing any actual sales pitching or activity planning, but I’ve been trying to think of ways to both keep the leaders on track for getting things done on their vacation and also ways they can transfer motivation onto the other members. On this 15th of the month midway point, we have our second, and final, summer check-in meeting to see that the leaders will everything planned for when school starts. Regarding group motivation, one thought I’ve had and need to introduce is to emphasize that the members keep tabs on their competitors. No matter where they fall in the membership size rankings, there’s always going to be that other group who seems just ahead of you in size, or involvement, or sports team record, etc. There is that next-closest competitor who you can act as your measuring stick and who will give the troops a sense of victory if they were matched or exceeded in recruitment intake. For my own undergrad experience, this competitve vibe was always in the forefront for me and my brothers as we went through planning, publicizing, and then execution of our recruitment/rush week. I hope relaying my experience can raise engagement in this new time and place, and give the current leaders some fodder for improving their odds at definitely their biggest priority of the fall.

(photo credit by scazon)

MBA Frontier: Anatomy of an eBay Collectables Craze

It doesn’t take long within my eBay initiation to learn how great of a equalizing marketplace it is. Price competition is fierce and there’s only so much you can do to differentiate yourself with such things as customer service. Having a key product is absolutely essential so that you can not get overly commoditized and marginalized, especially from all the established companies who operate at a much different scale for generating profit. Even an item with the most shoddy description from an inexperienced seller can kill it if you’re shopping the right wares.

At first glance, the valuable products that jump out at you are the brands, but even more so comes anything that has some provable sort of scarcity to it. The starkness of this reality is just huge, and can be seen 24/7 in the massive community of collectibles traders that exist on eBay. I’ll admit, I had some not so subtle hinting to check out this area by one who I would dub my eBay mentor. This friend makes considerable cash dealing in sports cards, and between scouring outside message boards and weekend hobby shows, it’s definitely expanded beyond the level of a hobby for him. The thing that truly gave me a sense of how big the collector’s market and the sports collectors market was, specifically, was the eBay reaction to the New York Knicks sensation, Jeremy Lin. The craze began back in early February, and through the end of that month you could still find the eBay home page had a massive graphic, front-and-center, to push his related merchandise. Pretty unthinkable for a site where you can buy nearly anything to focus on something so limited, and for such a long time!

So taking the Lin evidence, the memorabilia market rises and falls off the latest news makers probably more than anything else. At the same time though, I’ve started to wonder if the market as a whole has been seeing some noticeable upward trends in the recent future. The huge popularity of Pawn Stars and it’s many spinoffs (Cajun Pawn Stars, American Picker, Storage Wars, Hardcore Pawn, etc.) does a great deal to bring back perceived collectable value into everyone’s consciousness. That coupled with a gradually improving economy, and people having expendable cash, makes for a great recipe for gain potential on the collectables front. After all, once you’ve got all your necessities covered, who wouldn’t want to brag about owning the one-of-a-kind presidential-shaped Chicken McNugget!

The latest Pawn Stars-esque show to appear even focuses completely on sports memorabilia, as told through a small retail operation outside Baltimore called Robbie’s First Base. The show, named “Ball Boys”, first airs during an afternoon slot on March 24th on ABC (probably running alongside NCAA tournament games). The collectables trend on television is at a hot clip, and I’ll be keeping tabs on how things work out for this maybe not so small segment of the eBay world.

(photo credit: “SILLY BANDZ” by Scot Scoop)

MBA Frontier: Giving Back

The last broad topic for my MBA Frontier roadmap addresses the management of other people and leadership principles.  Without a doubt, they are two of the key ingredients to accredited business schools and the Personal MBA alike. A quick glance shows at least 14 of the 99 titles related to such interpersonal topics within the PMBA recommendations.  Yet even with 100 books between your ears, a personal style of management will be developed over time and under real life trials. Even within the texts, recommended styles contrast and contention reigns across this topic. While Jim Collins stresses humility, Harvey MacKay speaks of high confidence, but you may never know what brings success until you are confronted with taking action and handling the results.

I will be writing on this topic through my experiences with a volunteer activity that I have just passed over the one year anniversary of.   This student advisory and mentoring post has taught me a great deal about myself, and as I think about my successes and shortcomings it becomes easy to see how it lends itself to my personal development and my fluency of organizational dynamics and management concepts. I’m very happy to be serving this role as a Chapter Adviser for the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. Helping a group of undergraduates toward achieving their own personal development, philanthropic, social, and campus goals is something that I am proud to be able to offer.

During my time as an undergraduate, outside of classwork, the only other constant/unifying aspect was my Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapter.  I continually acknowledge my growth throughout the offices I served in and through expansion of my personal network from joining such an organization. Now, I’m in a circumstance where I can help groups of otherwise strangers to also grasp the big experience that I had from such a student group. In future writing I’ll continue to discuss this Chapter Adviser position in more detail, and ideally weave in the key business topics and takeaways from my readings.  Aside from reasons already mentioned, I’ll leave with my growing list of motivations for keeping up with a position, at times, demanding and with usually little fanfare:

  1. Having a front row view of mentees during their own successes and challenges and knowing of my ability to help to guide them through.
  2. Keeping myself intact with some semblance of public speaking skills, hopefully balancing out spending days at the office putting to use technical skills sitting in front of a computer.
  3. The welcome influence from the young crowd -the university age that prompts so many trends and new ideas. Could this be a group that plants an idea in my relatively aged mind?
  4. Not to mention the exposure to diverse backgrounds and strengths that Pi Kapp attracts on campus.
  5. Being able to look back at my own time as an undergrad in this organization and have renewed respect for what we were able to accomplish.
  6. Collaborating with the other dedicated alumni advisers, who help myself and the other local campus chapters within the brotherhood.
  7. Personally growing this network of advisers by identifying, recruiting and engaging them through the needs of my advisees.
  8. Lastly, the list of things at this point in my life that I can consider myself to be an expert in is very minimal. Typically, with a window of four years or fewer to experience being in a fraternity chapter, it feels good to pass on my deep knowledge and enthusiasm I carry from back when I was in their shoes.

Thanks to those friends, other volunteers, and fraternity staff who supported me and continue to support me through my advising position.

(photo credit “Victor Stalberg and Coach Q” -by dtkindler)