Yesterday was FBLA Day at the College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dozens of yellow school buses lined up to discharge several hundred business suited and skirted members of the Future Business Leaders of America vocational club from area high schools.
Our future business men and women started their day with written tests — not one, but several. They take tests on everything — principles of business, business plans, marketing, speech and more. If it’s related to business and can be tested, it was probably on one or more of the tests. Wasn’t that an exciting thought? Let’s take a field trip to the capitol city and take tests! Yeah, man! Where do I sign up?
Following the tests, our young business people were instructed to walk to the far end of the campus (most of a mile), sit in an auditorium and be lectured on the minutia that accompanies all FBLA events. Officers were nominated, campaigning begun, and everyone exposed to rudimentary parlimentary procedure. Remember Roberts Rules of Order?
Having ran the gauntlet of tests and endured the agony of boring lectures, the real mayhem began — the competitions. The groups broke up into individuals and small teams of three to give speeches, take interviews, analyze business cases, and more. With schedules in hand, my state’s economic future began scurrying about the four story maze that is the College of Business. Like ants at a picnic they paused to talk with each other in the hallways. Exchanging limited knowledge of room locations, last minute changes, and wishes for success.
I was hoping to watch the speeches this year as I had overhead the briefing being given to the adult volunteers supervising the events that “…at one minute left, you stand up. When time is up, you move to the podium and take the mike away…” Whoa, take the mike away. This wasn’t going to be any friendly Presidential debate were the light would turn red and you could keep on talking. Mikes were to be confiscated. Dude!
While I have judged the speech competition in past years, I drew a different assignment this year. This year I had the honor of judging the business cases. The students are given a ficticious business and its problems. The students have just 20 minutes to review the case, identify the problems, and develop possible solutions. Then, our brave entrepreneurs are wisked in front of a panel of judges where the students have just ten minutes to brief on the case and their solutions. Then our future leaders face perpetual questions for five minutes from the judges.
Here was the case de jour. Robert and Kim own two retail stores in Dallas and Houston where they sell high-end baby furniture. The owners launched a new website by hiring a full-time webmaster. While intially doing well, orders have fallen 50%. It seems furniture is being damaged in transit by the freightliner. Also, Robert is managing both stores and employees are upset because he is never available to answer questions. Got all that? Twenty minutes from now you have to be able to retell the problem and offer realistic solutions, in ten mintues or less, in front of a panel of critical judges, scoring you.
Here’s how it went down in Little Rock…
Group 1 (1 male, 2 female). Bubble wrap. We need to bubble wrap everything. Don’t know how much we’ll need or how much it will cost, but it will solve the problem. Also, let’s disasemble the furniture and outsource assembly to the expectant parents. Nothing bonds a young couple like assembling the puzzle that is the baby crib. Robert. Robert, you need to hire another manager for one store. Demote the existing two assistant managers and put them back on the floor. You’ll save money. (If you ever wondered were Wall Street gets ideas for downsizing and outsourcing, they probably were judging this event and liked the ideas.)
Group 2 (3 male) The boyz from the city say expand! Robert, you need a store in the capitol city. You ain’t nothing unless you got a store in Austin. Then you’re gonna advertise! Newspapers, magazines, radio, television. As to that problem with damaged goods, ship by air. (Ah, yes. The Silicon Valley dot-bomb model. Why didn’t I think of that?) By the by, male #2, named for a mid-east religion, is a real salesman and can talk himself out of any situation. Business schools should attempt to track him down. He’s going places, seriously.
Group 3 (1 male, 2 female) Corporate pink. Years from now we will always associate FBLA with black clothes and pink accessories. Team Pink says close Houston, circle the wagons in Dallas and advertise. Word-of-mouth, branding, that’s were salvation is to be found. Forget the web. Forget going international. Go back to your roots. And, you need to read your original business plan. (Hmmm.)
Its going to be hard picking a winner from this bunch. So many good ideas. Clearly our consultants have gleened much knowledge from television and its 30-minute and 30-second solutions. But, its not entirely for the judges to decide…
Remember the tests? The judges scores are aded to the test scores from the morning and a winner is determined. So, the winner may not have had the best solution.
Jack! Tell our winners about their fabulous prizes for winning the regional business case competition…
Timothy, we’ll transport our winners in a fabulous yellow bus to return to the capitol city. While in the capitol city, they will enjoy tests! Lots of tests. But, we’re not done. No! What could top this fabulous day but competitions! Our winners will enjoy meeting dozens of local celebrity judges and answering questions.
So, the next time you meet a young person in FBLA, give them a thumbs up, a few words of encouragement, and perhaps, buy them lunch. They’ve had a rough day.
To get involved in FBLA, contact your local high school and talk to the business department. They’d love to have you.