Teaching the STARs

ANNAMARIA LUSARDII recently taught a class on financial literacy in the new STAR EMBA program that the George Washington School of Business (GWSB) just launched. This is a new Executive Master in Business Administration (EMBA) for Special Talent, Access and Responsibility (STAR) students, targeted to athletes, celebrities, and others. For those who do not yet know, I have moved to GWSB, so you can say I went from teaching the little stars (Dartmouth undergraduates) to teaching the bigger stars (athletes and celebrities).

Programs like this one are much needed and fill an important gap. Irrespective of high salaries and lucrative contracts, an athlete’s career is normally very short and often riddled with injuries. Ken Ruettgers, a former NFL player and now the executive director of GamesOver, documented that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt, divorced, or unemployed two years after retiring. This is one of the ugliest statistics I have seen. As Doug Guthrie, the dean of GWSB, stated succinctly: “These individuals need help translating their special talents and access to resources at a very early stage in their lives into the business skills that will help them elevate their personal brands into business dreams that will change the world.” I particularly like the latter part of the statement. These are extraordinarily talented individuals who were recruited for the EMBA program because of their enormous potential to make an impact.

The program is customized to fit these students’ needs, including their playing seasons (several of the football players in class are still active). Thus, it started with two weeks of full immersion in many courses in Washington, DC, and will continue in the heart of the financial capital (New York) and on the West coast, in Los Angeles. Spouses were also accepted and very much welcomed into the program, and out of 23 students, we had four couples in class.

In spite of their special talents, the group, in many ways, behaved very much like regular students. After a few days, they were wearing GW T-shirts or caps, were complaining about homework, and had found the strategic places in the classroom where they thought they could surf the internet, respond to e-mails, or finish their assignments without being noticed (we saw them, of course). There were differences as well. After a few days they stopped eating the catered lunches (too many calories I guess); regular students would never pass up buffet lunches. They went regularly to the gym, many of them looking so super-fit that I could not avoid feeling very wimpy.

But beyond these differences, they were not, by any means, a regular class. Their insights were profound and they startled a few faculty members with their comments. They did not speak a lot in class, but when they did, they were succinct and nailed a point, as if there was no margin for error. Even though they were soft-spoken in class, I could sense their confidence and determination. I admired the female basketball players’ toughness—they had played in several countries, spoke many languages, and one of them, more than 6 feet tall, was wearing very high heels!

We knew we had great potential to work with. We knew we could push these students for more work, give them challenges, and expect the best. These students know endurance, the importance of hard work, the correlation between effort and results. As I looked at this class of football, basketball, and baseball players; Olympic gymnasts; and poker players, I knew I could expect a lot from them. I also knew they expected a lot from me.

My class on financial literacy was divided into three parts. In the first part, I discussed why financial literacy has become important for each of us, what the consequences of financial illiteracy are, and why—in a new world of individual responsibility—financial literacy is an essential tool for making financial decisions. In the second part, I discussed why financial literacy is especially important for athletes: given their short careers, good planning is particularly important, as is an understanding of how to grow and protect wealth to make sure that resources last a lifetime. While most people get rich later in life (apart from those pesky Harvard students who invent Facebook while in college), athletes are rich early in life, so they have to learn in their twenties about trusts, wills, and prenuptial agreements. In the third part of the class, I discussed how these students can make a difference in promoting financial literacy. My discussion here was focused on the divergence of wages between those with and without a college degree and the fact that high school students are asked to make one of the biggest investments of their lives—the investment in education—without having any notion of this basic concept or of the basics of economics and finance. I discussed what athletes can do to make a difference in the lives of the many young people who look up to them.

For those of you who think that we professors just show up in class and teach off-the-cuff, let me tell you that I prepared a lot for this class and was quite nervous at the idea of teaching this group of students. Several weeks ahead, I started reading about the different sports played by the athletes who would be in my class. For example, I read lots about football and football players: rate of injury, lengths of careers, what it means to be drafted. Because I did not know anything about the game, I read “Football for Dummies,” so at least I knew what a linebacker is and could understand the dossiers of the athletes in my class. I read the sport pages of the newspapers and read sports magazines (I understood half of what they were saying, but there were some good stories). At the end of the class, I went to talk to one of the students, who is a football player for the Baltimore Ravens. I had mentioned the Ravens a lot in class and talked about Ray Lewis (of the Ravens) as an example of an athlete who cares a lot about financial literacy, and I wanted to tell him that I think the world of Ray. He jokingly suggested I come teach the Ravens. When I told him I didn’t know whether I could really teach a whole team, his reply hit me like a ball in the head: “Yes, you can. Because you can relate to us.” I always prepare for my classes because I want to know who my students are, what they need, and to make the class relevant to them, but no student ever told me “you can relate to us.” I’ve been teaching for close to 20 years, and it was a linebacker from a football team in Baltimore who best articulated what teaching means for me and what I strive for every day in the classroom. I never felt so good. As I told you, these people are truly special, they are STARS!



Where’s the “beef”?

~Putting the “MEAT” into Diversity Initiatives~


By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

[Sixth in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]

John T. HewittWithout question, diversity continues to be a hot topic for politicians, companies, and certainly for successful business leaders. Unfortunately, the discussion rarely evolves from a good idea to actual fruition. In other words, there seems to be lots of “lip service”, but little real action. Never having been the type to sit on the sidelines, I am pleased to share that at Liberty, we put the “meat” back into diversity initiatives, and we encourage other corporations to do so as well!

So what exactly does this mean? As I have shared in previous articles, the makeup of Liberty Tax Service encompasses nearly every color, race and ethnicity, associated with our operations in the U.S. and Canada. We have won “Best of the Best Awards” for several years running as the best business opportunity for African Americans, Hispanics and Women. Why, you might ask? Because we actually took the diversity discussions out of the conference room and into the field.

When planning our diversity efforts, aside from being blind to color, race and gender, the first order of business for us was answering the question – Do we want to create a marketing campaign or an initiative? The difference is rather important, and the last thing I wanted to do was try to hoodwink our way through a marketing campaign under the auspices that we are providing the community with an “initiative”. An initiative promises our commitment to social responsibility, instead of a “buy one get one free” concept. Please do not misunderstand. I am a strong supporter of marketing campaigns. As a matter of fact, at Liberty, our Marketing Department works diligently to ensure we have the most innovative and creative marketing campaigns in the industry for each tax season. But when an effort is branded as an “initiative”, your company must take the responsibility to ensure that this is not a cover for a sales campaign, or you will lose credibility very quickly.

Initiatives require that companies become somewhat selfless in their service-provider efforts, and focus on providing something that the selected community needs in order to better itself. An initiative should not be about selling more products; although in the long run, your efforts to work diligently for the betterment of the community will, in fact, endear you to that community who, in turn, will make you their vendor or product of choice. But it’s all about giving first. If you take care of the community first, the community will take care of you. For this reason, we chose to go with an “initiative” and we have never looked back!

As a tax firm, we had to be introspective about what we had to offer our underserved communities across the nation that could utilize our expertise in a manner that would make a difference in their lives. Sure, we do taxes; but what else do we have to offer? We started from ground zero, working to understand what we could offer effectively and how it would make a difference in the lives of these often disenfranchised communities. We started with identifying which ethnicity would be our first directive. Given that the Hispanic population in the U.S. consists of approximately 53 million individuals, complimented by the fact that the U.S. is second ONLY to Mexico in the number of Latinos living in the country, it made sense that we focus on this emerging majority first, and then branch into other ethnicities.

While identifying the target group on which we would focus was a good start, a great deal more effort was needed in order to ascertain what we were going to offer our Hispanic communities that would be of value to them. And equally as important, how we were going to engage them in a productive manner. As we continued our analysis, we found that the economic structure in Mexico, Latin American countries and islands, is considerably different than that which exists in the U.S. We also found that, while many government organizations provide our Latino immigrants with access to ESL and even GEDs, these efforts do not typically include instruction on how to manage in a credit-based economy that is quite foreign to many of our immigrants, Hispanic or otherwise.  And, while it is vital that all immigrants learn English, and certainly it is admirable that they should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to expand their education, it is also equally important that they understand the fundamentals of our economic system so that they can thrive instead of just survive in their newly adopted country. We realized that the Liberty team is in fact a group of “fiscal and financial” professionals. For this reason, we determined that our valuable contribution to our target group would be to provide financial and fiscal education, at no charge, to Hispanic communities across the nation, and to do so in their own language. The next step was planning how to implement this initiative.

Identifying a target group that would benefit from a company’s domain expertise is paramount to a successful initiative effort. Unfortunately, this is the point at which many well-meaning business leaders’ efforts seem to go south, so to speak. Enthusiasm is a wonderful trait; but it sometimes blinds us to the facts. Quite often, we are tempted to allow our enthusiasm to lead us in a direction that does not necessarily address the needs of the selected group. We soon realized that it was vital that we pinpoint exactly what our Hispanic communities need and want, and understand how they think, how they feel, how their culture affects their decisions, choices and overall personal and financial development in the U.S. Furthermore, we also accepted the fact that getting to know and understand the special needs and important nuances of a diverse market segment can be time-consuming and is an effort that can sometimes require sensitivity training.  

That said, time and again, it seems that the common thread in this conundrum is the misguided opinion that once immigrants arrive in the U.S., they lose their culture and meld into a “one size fits all” community. This misnomer is further exacerbated by the fact that often, companies have a “non-diverse” individual leading their diversity efforts, which in my opinion, is a bit of an oxymoron. Using myself as an example, as an “Anglo”, I can certainly empathize with the plight of our new Latino immigrants as they work to acculturate in the U.S.; but I will never be able to really feel and understand their experience on a truly personal level. Unless you have lived in the culture and have walked the path of the new immigrant, comprehending the distress and confusion many of our new Latino neighbors experience upon arrival to the U.S. would be difficult at best. That’s why so many companies ultimately end-up “translating” their mainstream materials into the language of their chosen target community and then consider their diversity efforts a fait accompli. Most interestingly, these same business leaders are at a loss as to why their target community did not readily embrace their company’s efforts. Well, as the old saying goes, “it takes one to know one”….in this instance, I believe the adage holds true.

For this reason, fundamental to our strategic plan to create an initiative that would flourish and reach out to our Hispanic communities nationwide; we believed it was vital that the program be “created by Latinos for Latinos” in order for it to truly reach the heart of the people we are aiming to serve. Liberty’s Diversity Programs Team consists of Hispanic professionals hailing from five different countries in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. We hired these professionals to create a Hispanic Fiscal and Financial Education Initiative that could serve as a benchmark for other corporations across the nation. And, I think they have been extremely successful in doing so.

Liberty’s Education Initiative is branded: Una Familia Sin Fronteras® (A Family Without Borders/Boundaries), and it is an initiative that is committed to FREE education for all Latinos across the U.S., to be provided in both English and Spanish. The initiative is anchored by four key directives:  Information provides Options, Options provide Empowerment, and Empowerment provides Self-Esteem. By keeping these four directives in constant view, we have been able to create a one-of-a-kind initiative that has touched hundreds of thousands of Hispanics across the nation. But, it was not a quick and easy task. There are no short cuts to creating a successful diversity initiative. It takes time, effort, funding and the right people to make this a success.

In order to fulfill the mission of our Hispanic educational initiative, we had to again look introspectively. The Franchisees would ultimately be the community service providers teaching these seminars, and at this time, the majority of our Franchisees are non-Hispanic. We are working diligently to change this dynamic, but for now, this is the reality. Therefore, we had to begin our education internally first, in order to be able to make the impact on the community to which we aspired. To that end, we created a Hispanic Services Seal of Excellence Certification training program that all Franchisees who wish to participate in our Hispanic initiative must complete prior to being allowed to work with our Latino communities at the education level. A portion of this training program includes sensitivity training, which shares the unique cultural aspects of  Hispanic immigrants, and celebrates their spirit and achievements, noting the consummate impact that Latinos have had through the years in forming the America we know today. Upon completion of this 22-hour training program, this elite group of Franchisees receives a “seal” that they can display on their office windows that announces, “Orgullosamente Sirviendo a la Comunidad Hispana”, (Proudly Serving the Hispanic Community). Each of these offices must then hire bilingual staff members from the neighborhoods in which their offices are located so that they have Spanish-speaking personnel that serve our Latino clients in their own language. This is a key requirement, and one that is unequivocal. Additionally, we do not hold to any educational requirements. If the potential staff member only has a grammar school education but is bright and willing to learn, we will teach them how to use the computer and our tax software, and most importantly, we will put them in a professional environment that will allow them to, in turn, help their own community. Many of these staff members actually become the teachers of the numerous FREE seminars we provide.

To reemphasize our commitment to the “initiative”, we invest all marketing dollars that would have ordinarily been spent on Hispanic advertising into 30-minute, uninterrupted, live radio shows on local Spanish-language music stations throughout the country, during which we continue to teach the community about not only their fiscal responsibilities and tax issues in general, but about such other important topics as “First Home Ownership”; “Why do you need a checking and savings account”; “How to start a small business”; “The importance of education”; “What does “credit” mean?” – to name just a few. The listeners are able to call in during these live broadcasts and have a score of questions answered immediately on the air. We also give airtime to nonprofits and institutions that provide services that benefit the Hispanic community on a national or local level. So, during any given program, the guest might be a representative from the U.S. Department of Education speaking on the FAFSA program, or a small local nonprofit that is community specific. By keeping these programs local and live, they can be geared to the needs of each community.  Another interesting development of the educational Spanish-language radio shows is that we are able to train the very Latinos we hired from the neighborhood to be the program hosts. Imagine the thrill experienced by someone with a potentially limited education as they become “radio hosts”, speaking on a live radio broadcast with family and friends listening, and being able to serve their own community in a positive and constructive manner.

In summary, the initiative enables Liberty to provide the best possible services, in Spanish and in English, to Hispanic communities. It serves as an employment opportunity for many individuals from Hispanic communities across the U.S. who may never have believed they would be empowered to work as a tax professional. Equally important is that the initiative serves as an educational vehicle for the general Hispanic community on pertinent topics that will help them prosper and heighten their economic awareness.

We launched our Una Familia Sin Fronteras educational initiative only three-and-a-half years ago, and because we have stayed absolutely true to the concept of an “initiative”, without being braggadocios, I can say we have had remarkable success. For instance, we are the only private firm that has been allowed to partner with school districts across the nation, providing our FREE seminar series through their Hispanic adult education outreach programs. We started with the largest, Los Angeles Unified School District, and we now proudly work with numerous school districts across the nation. We were also the only private firm to have been sanctioned by IME in Mexico City, (Institute for Mexicans Abroad) to work within all of the Consulates in the U.S., including their neighborhood learning centers. Additionally, we have partnered with the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, the FAFSA program through the U.S. Department of Education (we have turned our offices into FREE FAFSA forms completion centers for anyone who needs assistance with these forms in Spanish and English), community colleges, libraries, the National University of Mexico (UNAM) which has five campuses in the U.S., and nonprofits large and small, through which we teach over forty different FREE seminars throughout the year (and growing), many of which are college accredited. Again, imagine the impact on the self-esteem of someone who has not had the advantage of even a high school diploma, but receives a Certificate of Completion for having attended one of our college-accredited courses. The pride these immigrants feel in having successfully completed a college-approved course is priceless, and they will pass on this determination for success to their children.

The impact that beneficial information provides is long-lasting. It is the continuation of this thirst for knowledge, and the understanding that everyone deserves at least one, all-important moment of accomplishment in their lives, that drives the efforts of our initiative.

Many of our partner organizations and institutions originally considered working with a for-profit, private firm as “taboo”. However, because of the proven integrity of our initiative to stay on topic, with no sales pitches slyly introduced, we have become a resource for education that they would have had to either hire someone to provide or do without. We continue to add more organizations and school districts each year for which we supplement their current curriculum with our FREE informational seminars and workshops. During these tough economic times, our partners have been able to provide increased services to their constituents, at no cost to them or to the community. As a result, partner referrals have been instrumental in growing our alliances and expanding our outreach into the Hispanic communities across the U.S.

In order to support the direction of our initiative, we have recently formed the Una Familia Sin Fronteras Foundation, chartered with maintaining the focus on FREE education for Hispanics through expanded adult programs, financial assistance for students of all ages and support of various community efforts in this area.

It is Liberty’s honor to work with the Latino community. Our goal is to continue expanding our alliances and educational options as we advance our efforts with the initiative and the Foundation’s charter. I hope that by having shared our story, other business leaders will join in and create distinctive programs that will resonate throughout America in support of our diverse population. It is not only an important responsibility, but I believe it is our obligation to do so.

*The references “Latino” and “Hispanic” have been used interchangeably in this document with poetic license, and with no intention to offend or ignore any ethnic group.

About John Hewitt
John T. Hewitt is a pioneer in the Tax industry with over 42 years devoted to its success. He is the founder of two franchise service companies that Entrepreneur magazine has ranked in the top 20 of their Franchise 500 and also listed in Inc. 500 top privately-held companies. He is also the only CEO in the tax industry history who has made the Top 100 List for most influential people while heading two different companies, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service and Liberty Tax Service. Accounting Today has named Mr. Hewitt one of the Top 100 most influential persons in the tax industry time after time (minimum of 10). 

After a highly successful sale of Jackson Hewitt (NYSE: JTX), Mr. Hewitt started Liberty Tax Service in 1997. Under his leadership, Liberty Tax Service has reached unmatched success in the industry and has been recognized as the fastest growing retail tax preparation company in the industry’s history, continuing to succeed at the level of the sum of both of its competitor’s business.  In January 2011, Entrepreneur magazine ranked Liberty Tax Service as #1 of the tax franchises on the Entrepreneur “Franchise 500.” Additionally, Liberty Tax Service is the only tax franchise on the Forbes “Top 20 Franchises to Start.”

With 3,800 offices in the U.S. and Canada, Liberty Tax Service has embraced diversity in its ranks, and kept its franchise price affordable. For this reason, Liberty Tax Service is the only tax service that was included on the elite list of “25 Top Franchises for Hispanics” in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 published by Poder, formerly Hispanic Enterprise magazine. Liberty was also been recognized in 2009 and 2010 as the “Best of the Best” in Black EOE Journal, the Hispanic Network Magazine, and the Professional Woman’s Magazine in the categories of “top franchise,” “top financial institutions,” and “top supplier of diversity programs.” Black Enterprise magazine also named Liberty Tax Service as one of the most affordable and best franchise opportunities for minorities six times since 2001, and most recently as one of the “40 Best Franchises for African Americans” in its September 2010 issue.

Mr. Hewitt is a highly regarded national speaker, writer and expert in the tax industry, as well as a serial entrepreneur and expert in management growth strategies.

The Courage of Women

ANNAMARIA LUSARDII want to cover a topic that is not discussed much in the world of finance: the courage of women. In an arena in which women have been scarce and where financial genius and wizardry are often synonymous with being male (and there are many excellent men out there), it’s interesting to note, by gender, some of the key players in financial events of recent years. 

In a world where corporate interests have a big voice, it was a woman who stood up and advocated protecting the consumer, the “little guy.” It was a woman who promoted regulation of the derivatives market, an arcane market that few understood well but in which immense risk could be taken. It was a woman who blew the whistle on Enron and its overinflated evaluations. And the list goes on.

In the same time frame, we witnessed Bernie Madoff carry out an enormous Ponzi scheme that defrauded individuals of their retirement savings and institutions of their endowments. And it was a young derivatives broker who brought down Barings Bank, one of the oldest of the United Kingdom’s investment banks. This dude even had the audacity to write a book titled “How I Brought Down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World.” Another male trader almost took down France’s second-largest bank. The former head of the International Monetary Fund, which had been dealing with the financial situation in Greece, which is threatening the very existence of the Euro, has been under house arrest. And the list goes on.

At the risk of making gross generalizations about gender and finance, the above outline makes me hope we will begin giving truly serious consideration to furthering the role of women in the financial world and start opening doors more widely to them. One useful role I could see for women is in curbing the excesses that we have witnessed in recent years and that have caused some venerable firms to go knocking at the doors of government for help. The risk-averse attitude of women (considered a fact but hardly documented in the data), often considered a weakness, may turn out to be a strength. As women rise to the top, I hope their voices will be heard.

Some progress has undoubtedly already been made. The top regulator of financial markets and head of the Security and Exchange Commission is Mary Schapiro. At the Department of Labor, Phyllis Borzi is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration, whose mission is to protect the security of retirement, health, and other employee benefits for America’s workers and to support the growth of the private sector employee benefits system. We are talking about trillions of dollars here! The endowments of some of the wealthiest universities, such as Harvard, are managed by women, and many Ivy League colleges and universities (which are some of the richest institutions in the United States) are headed by women. We have yet to see any woman go down in flames from their seats at those positions of power, but, of course, history will tell. The helm of the International Monetary Fund will be given to a woman. This is another milestone, though I wish women were not brought in only when crises occur and when everyone—man or woman—will face very difficult situations and is more doomed to fail than to succeed. 

I believe that one ideal job for women in finance is that of financial advisors. A critical quality in that job is the ability to care for clients and listen to their needs and concerns, and women can excel in that. And, important in wealth management is not only wise investing but also the right amount of protection, against disability, death, and other risks. Coming back to my posts of a few weeks ago, there was much wisdom in the football players’ bringing their mothers to the New York Stock Exchange to discuss financial literacy. That memory still warms my heart.

Women have used cleverness and ingenuity when caring for others, achieving important results. My favorite example is Ethel Percy Andrus. A school principal who retired in the late 1940s to take care of her ailing mother, she was shocked to discover how many retired teachers had no health insurance. As there was no national health care program for people over age 65 (Medicare wasn’t created until 1965), Ethel turned to insurance companies to offer group health insurance to retired educators. She was turned down by more than a dozen companies but she persisted until one company agreed to develop a health plan for retired teachers. The plan became so popular that non-educators also wanted to purchase it. In 1958, Ethel established AARP (then known as the American Association of Retired Persons). The rest is, well, history. 



CESI Partnership

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