Reaping What You Sow

Last weekend I was reading a newspaper article about the tough decisions high school seniors and their parents are facing. Do the parents scrape up the dough to send their kids to a top school (even if it means mortgaging their homes or drawing from their retirement accounts) or do they encourage their kids to go to an affordable school.  The author of the article referenced a study that demonstrated a child’s future success was more about aptitude and application of their efforts than it was about the school the child attended. 

In the recruiting industry it cuts both ways. There are some firms who wouldn’t even think of interviewing a candidate unless they went to one of a handful of schools. There are other firms who think the students from some of the top rated schools have issues of “entitlement” that make those firms resistant to ever seeing those candidates. And there is a third mindset that it matters little where the candidate went to school but what he or she did with themselves – in other words, how they applied themselves and what they can show for their efforts.

It’s no doubt that the choice you make (or made!) as to which school to attend for undergrad and/or business school can open or close some doors to you for your career path. But, most experts agree that it’s more important in the long run to “do something” with yourself that is meaningful and which demonstrates you as a person who can effect change and make a difference in the firm you’re joining and in the world at large. 

That article also had me thinking about my many friends with young children. They’re the ones who are sweating it out to get their toddlers into the “right” pre-school (some at costs of tens of thousands of dollars a year in “tuition”). Admittedly, I don’t have children, so perhaps I’m a bit insulated from the pressure my friends feel about getting their kids the “edge” they talk about at every dinner party or social hour. To hear them talk, not getting into the right pre-school can mean the difference between being doomed to a life of poverty or a solid future.

The sense of the direness of getting one’s kids into the right school (pre-K, college or oneself in the case of b-school) has surprised me in that it seems the primary driver of their decisions. Most of my friends and acquaintances are in high income earning brackets and, therefore, feel as though they “should” provide this edge for their children to ensure their future, just to hedge their bets. I’ve been wondering to myself lately to what end this “edge” will lead them, their kids and us as a whole.

While the data has shown that long term earning power is more determined by whether you go to college rather than by where you go to college, my friends ignore that data, saying they’d rather ensure their kids can get the edge, if there is one. After all, they argue, they can afford for their kids to have the best shot at their future.  Yet, these same people continue to use plastic bags at the grocery store and drive Escalades to shuttle their kids to their over-scheduled activities because there’s no “proven” connection between fossil fuel usage and global warming. They won’t pay the extra money to buy organic milk because there’s not a “proven” link between growth hormones given to the cows and the early onset of puberty in girls. They continue to buy plastic water bottles made of petroleum, lined with cancer causing BPA and toss them into the garbage where they’ll sit in landfills for hundreds of years without degrading. Why isn’t the future health of their children and the Earth something worth “hedging our bets” on? What will the “edge” their kids have in getting a job really mean if they can’t work in coastal areas (like New York City or San Francisco) or their children suffer from horrid cancers that were caused by the chemicals we accepted in our water and food supplies. 

Sure, some could argue that the link between our continuing dependence on oil isn’t 100% certain to cause global warming, but neither is the certainty of your kid getting to be a partner at KKR just because he goes to a great pre-school. Neither is it 100% sure that the growth hormones given factory farm raised dairy cows caused the early onset of puberty which has become prevalent in girls in this nation. But early onset of puberty has been linked to an increase in breast cancer. How will feel about having saved that little extra money on hormone free organic milk, if your daughter develops breast cancer in her 20’s. After all, none of that was certain, right, and you were hedging your bets on important stuff like getting her into the right pre-K, not worrying about the Earth or her health.

I say it’s time for some accountability. Our industry has perpetuated a myth that only “certain” people from “certain” schools can get into the club. Let me be clear, it’s not a free-for-all and in reality only those smart candidates who have internal drive and are willing to gut it out should earn a position and will lead this industry in the future.  Let’s begin to be responsible for the decisions we’re making and the consequences they create.

By all means, take the advantage that you have by getting your kids into the best schools and helping them to get an “edge”. But don’t become focused on getting them into the “right” schools to the exclusion of all other aspects of their future. 

The book Water: The Fate of our Most Precious Resource by Marq de Villiers is a great discourse on the limited supplies of fresh, clean water and it’s impact on the rest of this century (just ask anyone in Atlanta or North Carolina facing the drought what life will be like for your kids if we don’t focus on preserving clean water right now).  Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food (or just reading any newspaper about the devastation caused by food scarcity) will help you think about how to keep your kids healthy and away from starvation and the global unrest it can create.  Stirring it Up: How to Make Money and Save the World written by Gary Hirshberg (the founder of Stonyfield Yogurt) will help you think about how to make a changes in your business life that will really make a difference in your children’s future.

It is not 100% certain whether global warming is caused by fossil fuels, or that bovine growth hormone or BPA will lead to cancer in our children or that we may have serious water shortages in our lifetime. It is certain, however, that gas prices will go up and that parents will want their children to have better lives than they had. 

At Pinnacle Group, we have made a commitment to our employees, to their families and to our clients that we will do everything within our power to ensure that we are creating opportunities for a better life for their children.  For several years, we have implemented serious efforts to contain and reduce our carbon footprint including a 100% recycled paper and paper products mandate, mandatory recycling in all our offices, use of compostable kitchen ware and an office run composting program.  We have reduced our travel and offset our carbon when we do. We have encouraged our employees to reduce, reuse and recycle and support their efforts to go green in their personal lives. 

Finally, we have partnered with the GreenWorld Campaign (www.greenworld.org) to make significant strides in reforesting large portions of the planet. Last year, Pinnacle Group had 75,000 trees planted through GreenWorld and we have made a larger pledge for the year ahead. 

It’s Earth Day. And, as our friends at GreenWorld say “It’s amazing what one seed can grow.”  Hedge your bets so the seeds you sow on behalf of your children will ensure their economic, health and social futures are all equally strong. We are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: dpalmieri@pinnaclegroup.com