I’ve had a number of opportunities lately to interact with college students recently, both bachelor and graduate levels. Going back to my thoughts on child labor, and the generally miserable state of the US economy, a couple things stuck out.

I was invited to participate in a “business etiquette dinner” for graduating business majors from one of my alma maters. They asked me to wear “business attire”, so of course I showed up in boots, jeans and a leather jacket. I made the point when I introduced myself that when you own your own business, you can dress anyway you want. No ties at work is one of my rules for life. Someone better be getting married or have died before I’ll wear a tie (tuxedos don’t count). Life is too short for superfluous neckwear.

The point of this dinner was to teach the future business leaders of America not to pick their noses in public, don’t order the lobster on a job interview or get hammered on the boss’s wine. I suppose this is all valuable advice, though I am guessing everyone at my table already knew which one was the salad fork.

In my gleefully subversive way, I enjoyed telling them about “table manners” in China (there aren’t any) and loading them up with alcohol-besotted China stories – like the time a friend stripped off his shirt and did The Worm down the middle of the banquet table. Very athletic guy. He got the job, in case you were wondering.

However, the one rather shocking thing was that not one of these “business” majors had held a job before. And nearly all of them wanted to be bankers or lawyers. I weep for the future of this country. I told them they should consider entrepreneurship, making things for a living and an international career. Maybe one of them had some glimmer of what I was talking about.

Do something you love, and it will never feel like work. Don’t work for the Man; BE the Man.

I learned a great deal about business in undergrad and grad schools. I am not belittling the value of courses in operations, accounting, marketing, finance, etc. Some of those subjects, like accounting, I have no idea how you would learn them without a classroom setting. But I also know that I absorbed what I did in the classroom because I already had a frame of reference and life experience to make it relevant. I don’t know how it comes across as anything but theory otherwise.

I am not sure how successful they will be finding employment in a few months time. I haven’t watched Andy Rooney in years, but I expect their humility will have a lot to do with that success.

Much is being written about education as the next bubble. I know that spending tens of thousands a year to get a degree before you’ve ever put in 40 hours anywhere seems less sensible than ever. Work for a year as manual labor before blowing $100,000 of your parent’s money (or taking on the debt – gak!) for crying out loud. I worked in a factory and a brewery before heading off to school. Best learning experience I had before grad school.

The graduate students were far more impressive, as one would expect. All I spoke to had work and overseas experience. Their program requires them to get an internship, and they were all already looking before the program even began, especially the China trackers. We are lucky enough to have a student from Mike’s and my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, starting in Shenzhen this week. It is a big moment to grow a company such that you can offer an internship – when we went to school there, nearly all the internships were with companies like GM or Delphi.

Tired and late – nearly 2 AM – 10 years out from my MBA and I am still working 18+ hours a day (and loving every minute of it). But then, I’ve got plenty of practice.

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