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Scouting Talent: Tips From Troops On The Ground

You correctly note that "Despite years of rhetoric about talent -- and stacks of annual reports insisting that people are a company's biggest asset -- most companies still don't get it" ("Star search," Cover Story, Oct. 10). What you should have added is that most business schools don't get it, either. Despite the fact that accrediting bodies such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) list communication abilities, ethical-reasoning abilities, and multicultural understanding among the top six essential learning experiences for students, most business schools today do not require their students to take a human resource management course or offer HR management as a major within the school, essentially eliminating opportunities for their students to acquire talent-management skills.

Current business school curriculums and faculty compositions are too heavily skewed toward the functional specialties of finance and accounting. While these skills are certainly important, they are often over-emphasized to the detriment of the talent-management skills you justifiably highlighted in your timely article.

K. Michele Kacmar

The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Editor's Note: The writer is chair of the Human Resource Management Div. at the Academy of Management.

Your title, "Star search," totally illustrates the problem companies have in finding good chief executives. To find a good manager, one looks at previous results. To find a star, one reads the publicity releases. But the best reason to go for the manager rather than the star is the way managers start their jobs. A manager can take a little time to learn the ropes and change the company slowly, but a star needs to hit the ground running and make a splash! In most cases (Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), for example) that initial splash is a disaster. Go for the manager.

Stephen Wells

Greenwich, Conn.

General Electric Co. (GE) was mentioned in your article on how to recruit, train, and hold on to great people. But when Jeffrey R. Immelt was selected to lead the company, GE did not retain W. James McNerney Jr. and Robert L. Nardelli, who were the No. 2 and No. 3 leaders of the company. When GE purchases companies, the top management of those companies must wonder if they are going to be retained. (Most probably are not since GE will bring its own people to run the company better.)

Your article did not even mention Warren E. Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK), which does a great job of recruiting and holding on to great people. Berkshire Hathaway has bought dozens of companies over the years and has never lost a CEO to a competing enterprise. Many of those CEOs are way over the usual retirement age but keep working hard every day, mainly to make Buffett proud.

Doug Kahn

Vernon Hills, Ill.

Great article. This and much more needs to be said over and over until human resources management is prioritized and approached in a disciplined way. The organizations you so appropriately laud worked at it hard, year after year. At these companies, at least early on, front-line operations management complained about how much time was taken up by all that people stuff. Accounts scoffed at the lack of proof of long-term value. Even HR probably complained about the increased workload. But someone high in each of those organizations had the will to keep the urgent many at bay and champion the prioritization of a disciplined approach to talent management. Hooray for those leaders!

Thomas J. Hattersley


For some career "talent," being close to natural beauty is a prime consideration. I'm unsure that I qualify as "talent," but I am able to be a virtual information-technology associate at our Washington (D.C.) office while working across the country in the pristine Wenatchee Valley. The ease of lifestyle (an office on Melody Lane, next to Easy Street) is energizing, and that energy dividend gets invested right back into career pursuits.

Thomas Jirgensohn

East Wenatchee, Wash.

As a resident of Arizona's 8th Congressional District, I know firsthand the two faces of Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) ("Whipsawed on the border," Government, Oct. 10). He talks tough, but his actions are decidedly not in favor of doing anything to deal effectively with the disaster of illegal immigration. The most surefire way to stop illegal immigration is to require that all employers verify the authenticity of all federal work-authorization documents (i.e., Social Security numbers and/or visa documents, forgeries of which can be purchased for a few dollars on any street corner in Tucson or Phoenix). But there is not a single member of Congress who will even contemplate such legislation.

The real question for the Republicans is this: Will the number of culturally conservative Hispanic voters who might support Republicans exceed the number of defections of disgusted Republican voters who will support Democratic or third-party candidates -- or simply stay home?

Rick Cunnington


When illegal immigrants respond to border-control law enforcement with aggressive violence, such as firearms and rock-throwing, it is no longer "immigration." It's an invasion. It's time for the President and his advisers and Representative Kolbe to understand that. If they don't, by 2008 a good part of their base in the Republican party will be voting for someone who does.

Jack Gregory

Anderson, S.C.

Re "Hanging up on Dell (DELL)?" (Information Technology, Oct. 10), the signs play out like an ancient Greek tragedy: 1) Ensure that your customers must keep buying big by making upgrades that are difficult without replacing the entire machine; 2) Cut back on service -- availability, quality, or both -- and train your customers to gradually expect less of you; 3) Make it clear that time is worth money only if it is Dell Inc.'s time; 4) Divide your customers into classes, improving your service for some (business sector) but not others (private sector); 5) Blame the others for being "too demanding" after building up a brand of second-to-none customer service for years; 6) After allowing your product/service to degrade, charge extra for the offerings you built your brand upon; 7) Allow your market share and stock price to fall before correcting the problems.

Let's not be too harsh on Michael S. Dell and his management team, though. They didn't invent the Wall Street game that rewards shortsighted focus on numbers as much or more than long-term, steady, and robust growth through a well-balanced and sensible business model.

Jennifer Kirley

Greene, Maine

My experience with Dell dates back to 1995, when I purchased my first home system. I had to reach out to Dell on numerous occasions for technical advice and almost always received fast and effective help. But not much can top my most recent experience, when I discovered the dreaded "blue screen" and could not open Windows on my eight-month-old Dell desktop system. I called support at 9:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning. A technician worked with me for more than an hour. No success, so he had to run a repair program. He phoned me a few hours later to check my repair status. The program was making little headway, so he requested a service call to replace my hard drive. I received an e-mail on Monday morning directing me to call their designated field-repair service. The field technician was at my door at 1:00 p.m. and had my new hard drive installed and was reloading the Windows operating system within 10 minutes. Total down time was less than 30 hours, which I consider exceptional.

Ted Paquette

Alpharetta, Ga.

Re "Medicare's big experiment" (Social Issues, Oct. 10): Physicians are pretty smart people, and they will quickly sort out how to maximize their reimbursement based on quality of care. Predictable unintended consequences: physicians less willing to take on medically fragile or complicated patients, who by definition have negative impacts on traditional quality-of-care markers, and physicians less willing to practice modern pain management -- just in time for the largest retiree population the health-care system has ever seen.

Increased data on individual treatment decisions also make it easier for politicians with a "moral" agenda to ferret out physicians who make treatment decisions that run counter to that agenda (think Terri Schiavo). Pay such physicians less and they become extinct, all the while saying that government is not "telling physicians how to practice medicine."

It's one of those deals that sounds good on paper yet is easily hijacked at a later date.

Dewey Clark

Glen Arm, Md.

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