Your Best Year Ever

To many, October 19, 1987 is a fateful date. To some it represents Black Monday, the day where a tidal wave of financial destruction swept across the globe. Relentlessly this wave traveled from Hong Kong to London to New York, destroying any assets in its path. Young college graduates were forced to sell their first cars, young families lost their first homes, and young entrepreneurs lost their first businesses. However, Black Monday doesn't mean the same thing to all people.

To a few members of the older generation, Black Monday represented a different financial crash—one they had seen before. For those who battled through the Great Depression, it meant a time for cocooning,staying close to family and working with their communities to get through "another one of those hard times."

To me, Black Monday meant just another day wishing for my first Transformers action figure, wondering what time I would be allowed to play outside with the neighborhood kids, and hoping Mrs. Spencer would turn out to be a nice first grade teacher. I was expecting a new baby brother to arrive in exactly a month. For all that I knew, Black Monday could have been the best day of 1987. In the end, it all comes down to perspective.

A recession, depression, or stock bubble burst is absolutely a terrible state of affairs for all devastated families. Breadwinners suddenly feel an incredible burden. Watched by the passive masses—us—markets led by a greedy handful begin to collapse. Nevertheless the shakeout is necessary. A stock market crash results from everyone's misbehavior and then a cleansing of business begins. Clever entrepreneurs, spirited artists, and open-minded thinkers are soon separated from their inefficient counterparts. They represent the collective phoenix rising from ashes. I have had the good fortune of witnessing this firsthand in the founders of my last company, Kingston Technology.

Electrifying technologies 2.0David Sun and John Tu were already millionaires during the 1980s, having sold their first company, Camintonn, to AST Research. However, nothing could prepare them for the rapid crash of Black Monday. Quickly their fortunes were swamped in the aforementioned tidal wave, and they were forced to rebuild from the ground up. The pair built Kingston Technology, which 20 years later is now the clear market leader in computer memory. Sun and Tu used a combination of hard work, luck, and faith to help grow "Camintonn 2.0" into an unimaginable success.

Whether it is Camintonn 2.0, Google 2.0, or Web 2.0, businesses need to move forward. Organizations that provide an open platform for interactive experiences and conversations with consumers will rise from this latest shakeout as winners. The recession is still in its early stages. No company has completely figured it out. What is certain is that we live in exciting, technologically advanced times. There is much debate over whether our world is growing closer or farther apart because of social media, mobile technology, and interactive entertainment. There is no question that the process is electrifying and that new graduates are at the forefront of this new era.

The corporate world has hit a stumbling block. Entire departments and divisions are becoming irrelevant. Industries are getting wiped off the Fortune 500 map. These are nerve-racking times. MBA jobs are disappearing, too. Just like in past recessions, new positions will emerge to lead corporations into the future. These positions are waiting for you, the new class, to create them. Tell us what is broken. Teach us what we are missing. Invent the solution to a global problem. As graduating MBAs, PhDs, and undergrads, you represent the new corporate phoenix. This can be the greatest story of your career.

The mystery of goalsOxford's MBA program is a 12-month whirlwind. Before the students know it, everyone is elbow deep in DCF, Porter's Five Forces, and the Four Ps. Between lectures, formal dinners with college mates, and CEO presentations, there are only a few short moments to catch a breath of fresh air. Even with our hectic schedules, Oxford students insist on great work. Team members ensure that every detail down to an adjective is cleverly written. Everyone works toward deadlines at the sacrifice of sleep. The energy and determination here still inspires awe in me. I've decided to carry this mentality into my work at McCann Erickson as my personal MBA Year Two, and I hope you do, too. (If you did a two-year course, then think of it as MBA Year Three).

Whether your goal is to get a job, start a business, or travel the world, it is important. However, life is distracting. Humans procrastinate. Our personal goals get pushed aside and never get completed. Yet when we have no desire to finish that last accounting paper, we miraculously submit it on time, with more effort, than any previous assignment. Why is that? Is it really a matter of the professor telling us we have to finish the project or we won't get a grade? A grade pales in comparison to our goals.

I really do hope that all of you can achieve something exceptional this year. I am currently watching my younger brother (the same kid, a month younger than Black Monday) go through similar steps to mine. As an aspiring journalist, he is afraid the career he wants may not be readily available. From his perspective, this is really the first bubble burst. I will extend the offer I made to him to all of you. If you have a job or a goal you would like to complete in 2009, e-mail me and I will do my best to keep you on track. I can play professor and set deadlines. I will try to keep alive the MBA sense of urgency so that by the end of this year, you'll have something to talk about. Who knows? It may be the greatest year of your life.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.