It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. So began our wonderful and hellish experience as Co-Chairs of the largest High Tech “Trek” sponsored by Harvard Business School.
As the WesTrek 2001 Co-Chairs, Tina Hsiao (OD), Julia Davies (OH), and I were the CEOs of an organization that encompassed 7 cross-functional Vice-Presidents, 5 Directors, and over 25 additional direct reports. It was an event with a $100,000+ budget, affecting almost 350 students and 200 companies. Needless to say, the responsibilities were mind-boggling. Without our dedicated team of student volunteers, there would be no WesTrek – and no Harvard Business School presence amongst the other B-schools flocking to visit the Bay Area.
What are the characteristics of a quality Co-Chair then? Certainly, the ability to handle stress is one! Imagine juggling the demanding needs of students (especially HBS students!), Career Services, the faculty, companies, and corporate executives – not a simple task. Delegation and an eye on the big picture also helped keep us focused. With Tina and I having been integrally involved in WesTrek 2000, we knew exactly what improvements we wanted to make; and Julia, our January Co-Chair, brought in a fresh perspective as we continually strove towards a bigger and better WesTrek for 2001.
Commitment and a complete “open door policy” served to motivate our team. Not a day (or night) went by without some interaction from the Co-Chairs, whether we were emailing meeting minute summaries, promoting team spirit, providing direction, offering assistance, pulling strings, or recognizing outstanding efforts. Our VPs knew that they could come to us with any problem – big or small – and that we would solve it together. Our weekly executive meetings, similarly, were forums for discussion, idea sharing, and friendly debate.
How about grace under pressure? Contrary to popular belief, the preparations for WesTrek did not end with our fall semester final exams. No, they kept on churning right up until and throughout the week of the event. The Co-Chairs coped with presentation location changes, misprinted directions, student and company cancellations and additions, and even non-HBS students crashing our event. Expect the unexpected, we soon came to learn!
All in all, serving as WesTrek 2001 Co-Chairs was truly a transformational experience. We amassed incredible knowledge on the skills required to be an effective general manager. It was hard work, and it was unbelievably time-consuming… yet we all became close friends and were even able to have some fun together. Besides, when else will you have such an opportunity to put the concepts you are learning into practice, in real-time?
However, let us not gloss over the realities of this position. In the interests of presenting a fair picture to all would-be WesTrek executives, we have compiled a pros and cons list on the “Best and Worst Things About Being WesTrek Co-Chairs”:
Worst Things About Being WesTrek Co-Chairs Huge time sink Barely passed some of our 1st term EC classes Lack of broad-based support from the administration Had to put up with lots of whiny people Had to convince lemming-like HBS students to visit San Francisco during a high-tech downturn Became a dumping ground for everyone’s problems Had to connive people into helping us The stress of managing such an enormous event with limited resources, high expectations, and exposure to the press
Best Things About Being WesTrek Co-Chairs Helped justify not reading cases Would rather not enter the real world yet anyway! Will probably never experience this kind of zero bureaucracy again Honed our LEAD skills Put those Negotiation and Marketing abilities to good use Great practice for future management career Pulled together an outstanding team of officers The satisfaction of pulling off such an enormous event with limited resources, high expectations, and exposure to the press
Top Ten Most Interesting Emails Received by the WesTrek 2001 Co-Chairs
10. If I do not stay in the designated hotel [where parking is included in the room rate], can I still park there for free?
9. I know that the registration deadline is Friday. I was wondering if I could get back to you by Monday.
8. What can you tell me about the chances of people who want to sign up but missed all the sign-up deadlines?
7.[Regarding “no aftermarket sales” policy due to individualized lottery process] You mean I’m not allowed to sell what is mine?
6. A friend of mine asked me to inquire about the WesTrek lottery. He registered for WesTrek, but during the first round of the lottery, something went wrong with his password and he failed to log in. Also, he actually wanted to join a carpool with another sectionmate who is also registered. Is it possible for you to redo the lottery so that his sectionmate’s selections can count for both of them?
5. I had a problem submitting my lottery bids for a while so instead of me trying again, is it possible for me to submit them to you so that you can type them in manually?
4. If a company presentation is boring, is it okay if I leave in the middle of it?
3. I can’t believe what the Hyatt hotel is doing! Did you know that when they say a room is a triple or a quadruple, that means you have to actually share beds?
2. Is there any chance I can switch my WesTrek registration over to EuroTrek?
1.This “Friday at midnight” deadline – does that mean Thursday night at midnight, when it technically turns to Friday December 1, or Friday at midnight, when it technically turns to Saturday December 2?