Release Date: 12/15/2011
As the crowd of more than 200 people slowly makes its way out of the Baldor Business Building, a neatly-dressed young woman stands near the podium talking with the guest, Ms. Becky Jones, State Farm vice president of agency for the Arkansas and Oklahoma market areas. The young woman smiles and waves to the people passing by, and as the room finally empties, she offers to help Ms. Jones carry things out to the car. This second event in the year's SIFE and PBL Distinguished Speaker Series has, by all measures, been a tremendous success, and Phuong Cat Do, the young woman by the podium, has played an important part in making the event happen.
Phuong came to Clarksville in 2006 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a bustling city of more than 6 million. While her older brother, Huy, had studied accounting at Ozarks, and her younger brother Chuong chose to study Political Science, Phuong decided to go in a different direction. She decided to pursue a degree in business, but to focus on something she really enjoys - working with people. For Phuong, a major in management/administration with a minor in sociology has been the perfect choice.
She said that after she chose her major, some people said to her, "Everybody can do business…why do you want to study business? It doesn't require any skills. You can just go out there and start a business." And while Phuong says that is true to some extent, her answer to those people was "Everybody can do business, but not everybody can do business well. How many people who 'go out there and start a business' actually succeed? Why don't you study it, and become prepared for it?"
Now that she's in her final year of the Ozarks management/administration program, Phuong views this program as the perfect choice to prepare her for a career. "This major actually prepares you for a lot of options," she said. "When you study management, you don't just have to go and do management. You can do a lot of things. Our classes actually prepare us to know something about accounting, something about economics, something about politics…. You have a base, and when you branch out, even though you're not an expert (yet), you have a base so you can understand what the government is talking about by remembering 'Oh, Dr. Parks told me this!'"
The major includes some theory-based courses like "Organizational Behavior," which covers issues of psychology, anthropology, and cultures, showing how these relate to management. Then there are the hard-science courses like "Operations Management" which teaches decision-making systems, and how they support the decision-making model quantitatively. "I always say management people are split," says Cindy Lanphear, Phuong's advisor. "There's the system's side of management and the people side of management. And that's what management is: systems and people. It's the convergence of those two that makes someone a good manager."
"Phuong is really serious about her major," Lanphear said. "She's always in my office asking deeper and deeper questions about management issues, or what would you do in this situation. It's all about putting the tools in the toolbox." What a student chooses to do with those tools - how he or she chooses to apply them in the real world - is something Lanphear says is entirely up to each student. "Some people think 'you're not creative in business,' but you are!" she said emphatically. "It's not just about the product. The product is the easy part. It's what happens inside that requires creativity. When you work with people inside a company you're dealing with the company's most valuable and most difficult asset. If more people would just realize that, like Phuong does. She's got a really good head for that. She has a lot of common sense. It's that group of skills - that mindset - that makes you work well with people and with systems."
Phuong said that she thinks organizing events like the SIFE/PBL Distinguished Speaker Series has given her chance to use her systems knowledge, but also has shown how important the "people" aspect of managing is. "Making a schedule is the first step of being a manager," she said, "but technically, you can't work alone. If you do a simple task, you can work alone. But if you do a big task, like the speaker I did today - I cannot do it without a lot of people. I need Colin to help me with the machine, I need Eric to help me setting up, I need Paul and Ana to take care of the tour, and I need Dr. Casey to do this…so the first thing I say is always 'Thank you to all of you who have made this event possible.'"
She said that helping with these events has also helped raise her awareness of how she interacts with people. "Part of the Distinguished Speaker Series job is dealing with very successful people - very important business figures if you think about it," she says. "If you just happen to slip something, it can have an impact that you might end up regretting. I just read yesterday in a book What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, that when you deal with a client, you have to be extra careful - extra conservative. For example, you never offer Pepsi to a Coca-Cola client. You never know…maybe they don't care, but what if they do care? This one simple thing might damage the business that you're working with."
"I am trying to be very careful with what I say and what I do because you never know if you have an influence on somebody else," she said. There are still things she said that she needs to work on. "I still think I look pretty silly when I talk." She fluttered her hands imitating herself speaking to a crowd. "People are making a judgment on you," she said. "They learn from your mistakes or they learn from your behavior."
As Phuong gets ready for her final semester, her upcoming graduation represents another symbolic milestone in her learning process…a milestone, but certainly not a stopping point. She believes people can find opportunities to learn all around them, even in unexpected places. "I think we learn from everywhere," she said. "We learn when we watch movies. I talk to people, and I learn from my friends. And of course we learn from our textbooks - all of my classes have taught me something." She paused for a moment, thinking back on her coursework. One class in particular stands out, not necessarily because of the content, but because of the way the people in the class used that learning opportunity.
"When I took a social theory class," she said, "we had a small group and everybody was so good! We respected each other and we talked about everything, all kinds of issues. Everybody was chewing on what this person was saying, and we stayed up late, together, working on the class. I thought that was really interesting, because the class itself, if you study in a hall lecture with like 300 students, you would sleep in the back. I would!" She laughs. "It's really dry…its theories written decades ago by some German guy…it's so dry. But because we discussed it with each other, we made a connection with each other, and that's what made the class so fun. Even now, I still remember the information! It is so fun to learn about something new and complicated. You challenge yourself while you know you have friends to support you. Classes like this can only be found at Ozarks - it's such a friendly environment."
So with graduation approaching fast, what's next? Phuong has taken the GMAT and is looking into different graduate programs. She is currently interning in the Administrative Division at Johnson Regional Medical Center, and is working with Professor Lanphear to find a summer internship. Ultimately, she hopes to take what she has learned and put it to use in a people-oriented management career. "There are lots of options out there," she said, "but right now, I'm limiting myself to health care management, human resources, or public administration."
Regardless of where her path takes her, Phuong is confident that her education, and her passion for learning, will ensure that she's ready. "When you go out to the workplace, it's not like I'm going to do the same thing as my book says," she says. "I think education is not memorizing the material, it's about digesting the knowledge and incorporating it into your habit and personality. You learn to become a better person. So when you learn about leadership, you don't just go out and declare to the world 'I have learned about leadership. I can be a leader now.'" She paused, deep in thought. "I don't introduce myself as a leader," she then continued. "People are the ones to judge whether I am a leader or not. And since I can't dictate what people think and do, I can only apply what I've learned into what I do and keep hoping for the best."
Phuong Do, left, with fellow SIFE and PBL members.