Raj Singh

New Guiding Principles Help Undergraduates and Staff Transform Values Into Action

Monday, April 8, 2019

When Raj Singh, finance professor and associate dean of the Undergraduate Program at the Carlson School of Management, teaches finance to incoming freshmen, he finds they learn more if he keeps it simple.

“When I teach, I feel if we can get the principles of finance, calculus, or brand management clear, everything else is a simple application of these fundamentals,” Singh says. “For instance, arbitrage pricing is a simple yet powerful principle. Once understood, it allows us to value a wide range of securities.”

Then, Singh realized he had an opportunity.

Before Welcome Week in August, hundreds of bright-eyed freshmen walk into the Carlson School for the first time. This touchpoint was an opportunity to introduce them to simple principles that would empower them to take purposeful action on campus and in their careers.

“We realized this was our chance to intentionally develop these amazing students,” Singh says. “We asked ourselves, ‘What do we want our students to be known for? What principles are integral to our students’ experience that resonate with our faculty and staff? What will energize us and prompt us to work toward a common goal?’”

Singh and his team distilled their unique personal experiences and beliefs into guiding principles that will help students make good choices as they approach turning points in their lives. “These are ideas we’ve always believed in, things we’ve been doing all along,” Singh says. “Now we’re making them explicit.”

We Before I

Put the needs of the many before the needs of the individual Singh and his team determined the first step for success for Carlson School undergraduates is taking responsibility for fostering an environment that supports active inclusion of all members of our community. 

“We ask students to consider the impact of their actions on the entire team or the community and not just themselves,” Singh says. “Share credit with others who help us, give gratitude freely, stay open to ideas, appreciate the contributions of diverse approaches and perspectives. This collaboration actively builds better organizations.”

Students bring these lessons to the workplace—and they succeed. When Dornan Bland, ’15 BSB took over as regional material operations supervisor at Xcel Energy, annual expenses at one of the facilities he oversaw came in several hundred thousand dollars over budget. To get spending under control, he knew he had to cultivate a “We Before I” attitude in his team.

“You always want it to be about the crew, the team, the objective,” Bland says. “If your peers, your subordinates and superiors don’t trust you, it’s incredibly difficult to get things done.” 

He worked on building relationships—and the facility met its budget. Bland doesn’t take the credit. “When your team helps you accomplish something big, you give them credit,” he says. “That’s one of the most important things about being a manager.”

Work Before Reward

Take on any challenge with an unassuming and unrelenting work ethic

Singh is no stranger to hard work. After getting his bachelor's in mechanical engineering from Kurukshetra University in India, Singh arrived in New York City with a few hundred dollars. He secured a scholarship, worked numerous side jobs, and earned his MBA from the City University of New York.

From there, Singh went on to Carnegie Mellon to earn first an MS in Finance, and then his PhD in Finance, while he worked the night shift in security to support his young family. He owes these achievements 
in large part to the principle of “Work Before Reward,” which resonates with many students who are introduced to it.

“It’s important students learn achieving a long-term goal is far better than immediate results and short-term gains,” Singh says. “It’s not an easy or obvious lesson to learn, but it’s the foundation of a commitment to lifelong growth, resilience, and learning, the essential components of lifelong success.”

It's a lesson Santiago Strasser, '12 BSB, knows well. His family moved to the United States from Argentina when he was 18. After starting his post-secondary education at a community college, Strasser transferred to the Carlson School.

Strasser graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Business and worked in marketing for a few years. He’s now back at the Carlson School in the Master of Science in Business Analytics program, serving as a teaching assistant for several classes. He says he imparts his work ethic to his students.

“I try to instill that sense of community and hard work I got here as an undergraduate,” he says. “That’s a big reason I wanted to come back. The values the Carlson School instills in its students are unbelievable.”

Why Before How

Ask questions about purpose before making decisions, and pause and reflect before taking action

According to Singh, this third guiding principle is critical to developing more thoughtful, analytical actions. “We have to be curious about the underlying reasoning for doing something,” he says. “We can’t just do something because it’s been done before.”

“Why Before How” helps students not only excel in their studies and solve business problems. This framework for thoughtful action also helps them tackle big life decisions.

“A student who walks our hallways will be confronted by these principles at many 
points in their journey,” says Singh. “They might go to an advisor and ask how to complete a double major. In turn, the advisor will ask why a double major is important to the student.”

“Before students are taught how to diversify a supply chain, they will ask ‘Why?’ for the strategy. We teach students to wait to address the how until there’s a why—because the why affects the how in many ways.”

Putting Principles Into Action

At the Carlson School’s Undergraduate Business Career Center (UBCC), Lisa Novack and her team help students speak about the importance of these principles to potential employers.

“This past year, I worked with employers on both the East Coast and West Coast. Unprompted, both talked about the Midwestern work ethic Carlson School students possess," Novack says. "Those values make them successful both here and nationally. That’s probably why 97 percent of our undergraduate students have a job six months after graduation.”

According to Singh, the true test of these principles is not how they sound on paper, but how the students, faculty, and staff internalize them and turn them into actions that drive their lives forward.

“If we can make these principles part of our culture and shared experience, we will attract students who appreciate these principles and give them opportunities to grow in meaningful and fulfilling ways,” Singh says.

It’s working. After Singh’s address, the Carlson School guiding principles can be overheard in conversations all over campus and throughout University hallways.

“I better figure out the why before the how,” a student walking into the office of Carlson Global Institute says. Another student says, “My academic advisor just asked me to do the same thing before I change my major."

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