Getting an M.B.A. Via Tivo
Think there's nothing to be learned from TV? Think again. This season, a whole generation of businesspeople has undoubtedly learned object lessons from Donald Trump by way of his hit NBC series The Apprentice. Meanwhile, a New York City entrepreneur named Anthony Schneider has authored Tony Soprano on Management: Leadership Lessons Inspired by America's Favorite Mobster. In the book, Schneider shares tips (resolve differences through face-to-face "sit-downs"; reprimand your staff quickly; raise your voice and pound the table to emphasize issues that matter to you) that he's taken from the hit series. Since donning the don's best practices, Schneider reports, "profit margins are up, and I'm much more relaxed." What other lessons can a business owner derive through some smart TiVo-ing? Here's a program guide, along with some color commentary from a panel of business experts.
The show: Six Feet Under, HBO. The plot: An employee who owns a minority share in a family funeral home may be headed for divorce. The lesson for entrepreneurs: You need a buyback plan. "Before the divorce is filed, put a restriction on the transfer of stock so you have the first chance to buy it back," says Steve Blaylock, of Blaylock and Cleous, a Wichita law firm that specializes in business divorces. "Set the buyback price at a reasonable discount--say 40% of the original price--and establish a payment schedule of, say, five years."
The show: Miss Match, NBC. The plot: A divorce law firm employee runs a matchmaking business on the side, though sometimes her work for a client of one business affects a client of the other. The lesson for entrepreneurs: "What employees do on their own time is their business," says John Pearce, an entrepreneurship professor at Villanova University. "However, if the employee's job performance is declining as a result, her boss should confront her directly and warn her to stop slacking off."
The show: Arrested Development, Fox. The plot: An entrepreneur is jailed following a government investigation into his company's accounting practices. The lesson for entrepreneurs: Being investigated? "It's vital to retain highly specialized legal representation," says former FBI agent Joseph Wells, chairman of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. "Hire an accountant to review your books. If they've been cooked, have your attorney work out some sort of deal with the government. If not, open them up" to the Feds.
The show: The OC, Fox. The plot: A developer is sued by environmentalists concerned that wetlands will be destroyed by a major project. The lesson for entrepreneurs: "Build with recycled material, incorporate landscaping that won't overrun native plants, and stay off the actual wetland," says Ruth Galanter, a retired Los Angeles city council member who helped negotiate development near wetlands. "But don't kid yourself. Groups committed to preventing development aren't going to support one just because it's well done."
The show: The Simple Life, Fox. The plot: Hotel heiress Paris Hilton visits rural America. The lesson for entrepreneurs: Pay attention to your kids as you build your fortune. "If parents don't teach their kids the value of achievement early on, they'll have to do remedial work later," says Ernesto Poza, professor of family business at Case Western Reserve University. "Someone Paris's age might try an internship at the family company. Her parents could also ask her to set a quarterly budget. She could even take a business class."