On The Importance of People


My senior year of college I took a Management class from a wonderful professor, who was a bit odd, but made a memorable impression on me which has stuck with me to this day.  To set the scene, the University of Colorado-Boulder is a very large public university, and the ‘core’ classes consisted of very large classroom sizes, around 400 people in each lecture hall.  A class such as this one had 4 or 5 different times and days that the class was offered, but all classes shared the exact same final exam at the end of the semester.  Therefore, to avoid the potential for cheating, all students who took this class were given the final exam at the exact same time, but due to the 2,000 or students or so who took this class in totality, it had to be given in a larger room than the room we met in every week.  The only room on campus that could accommodate this size was the basketball arena.  So, like many large schools, all of our finals were held in the arena.

Cheating was something that the faculty tried very hard to avoid, for obvious reasons.  So, as you approached the stadium seats, you were required to leave a seat on all sides of you open: the seat to the left of you, to the right of you, in front of you, and behind you.  So in reality, the 2,000 of us took up the space of 10,000 seats, nearing full capacity.

The management final exam was passed out, the 90 minute time limit  was on the clock, and the professor spoke, “After I say go, you may flip over your exam, and then you won’t hear a sound for the next hour and a half, until I say ‘pencils down’…you may begin.”  After about 45 seconds, all students had read the first question, and it read as follows:

      The Single Most Important Asset of Any Company is:

          A)     Its Business Model

          B)     The Strength of its Balance Sheet

          C)     Its Product Line

          D)    Its People

The only sound in the room is pencils filling in bubbles, 2,000 of them.  Suddenly, the professor belts out, “Everyone, look up here for a second.”  “Question one…” and he reads the question and the possible answer choices aloud, word for word.  We are all staring at him, in total confusion, thinking what in the world is this crazy guy doing?  We’ve just begun this stressful 90 minute period, and he’s reading the question aloud to us…what is wrong with this guy?!  Then, after finishing reading the question and the answer choices, he pauses for a few seconds.  None of us knew what to do…go back to the exam?  Continue staring at this guy?

Then, without hesitation, our professor loudly and clearly says, “’D’, the answer is D, ‘Its people’.”  We all look around, amazed, wondering if this was some weird trick.  He then says, “Everyone take your pencils, and fill in ‘D’.”  I remember I had already marked the letter ‘D’, but I saw hundreds of #2 pencils flip over to start erasing their answer, and filling it in with ‘D’.

“Now…”, the professor said, “continue the rest of your exam in silence”…and that was that.

The point of this story is not the story itself, nor is it that I got the answer correct when others didn’t, but the fact that this one question, the first of the 100 total on that exam, was so important, that not only did this professor put it first on the exam, but he made a statement with it.  He refused to allow any one of his 2,000 students to answer this one single question incorrectly, for he would have failed at his job: allowing the number one lesson in business to perhaps be answered incorrectly by a college classroom filled with seniors, about to enter the workforce.

I don’t remember one single other question on that exam.  In fact, I don’t remember one other question from any exam I ever took in college, from that year or any of the 3 prior years…but I remember this one, as clearly as the day it happened.

I hope this story is able to give an education to our entire Shane Co. family, about the importance of people, and where we are putting our priorities in this company.

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