Second Semester Cold Call: A Survivor's Guide

February 27, 2002. It was all but inevitable. I had tempted fate for too long and I was in for a cosmic smackdown. I had somehow avoided cold calls for the entire year, but regardless of my false sense of security, I finally got the dreaded cold call for the Nucor case. As I sat down that day, I have to admit that some key signs pointed to the possibility that my day had arrived (see #1 below), but I figured that somebody in my section must have worked in the steel sector and would be a far more eloquent ambassador for rolled steel and oxygen furnaces than I. I guess not.

Given my recent indoctrination into the 2nd Semester Cold Call Club, I thought I would share some tips with those of you who have yet to be singled out. If you heed my advice, I hope that you will be ready when the anvil of fate falls on your head.

Dummies Guide to the 2nd Semester Cold Call
1. Know When You Deserve It: Twenty minutes late to class on February 26th = Cold Call on February 27th. If you are late, really late, despite the fact that you really, really, thought that class began at 10:40, you are a marked man and probably deservedly so. Being late breaks a cardinal rule here at HBS and the punishment will fit the crime. Worse, you’ll get stuck opening a case for a company that makes ingots or industrial solvents, or something involving a Micronic Jr. CNC drill.

2. Eat before class:
Assuming that you have committed the error mentioned in #1, do not, I repeat do not, bring your breakfast to class. You, like me, may be caught with a mouthful of $2.95 Yogurt “Parfait” when the guillotine drops.

3. Think of Linus – Use your security blanket:
I know it sounds stupid, but use your write-up. What’s the point of splitting write-ups and meeting every morning at 7:30 if you’re not going to fall back on this security blanket in your time of need. I was shocked to learn that some people don’t do write-ups for their study group (then again, that’s what they say until I look around Spangler in the morning and see 20-30 people with a copy of the write-up I did the night before).

The way I look at it, entering any class in Aldrich without a write-up is the equivalent of setting the Titanic to sea with an insufficient number of lifeboats. We all know how that turned out. How would you like it if someone made a movie featuring a Celine Dion song that chronicled your untimely death by Cold Call? But I digress. Like a crazy man, I tried to go unscripted for the first 2 minutes of the opening until I realized that I was never going to remember all of the relevant facts and then use them to formulate an insightful series of relevant editorializations and thought provoking questions – I am not in Section I.

4. Use humor……sparingly:
As I proceeded along with the outline of Nucor’s strategy and particularly its geographic focus, I decided to spice things up with a little humor. If you’ve gotten this far in this article, you know that McGinnis using humor is not a winning strategy. Still, I bet the farm on what I thought was a funny one liner about the fact that we’d spent an inordinate amount of time in Strategy focused on companies (Nucor, Wal-Mart, Edward Jones) whose charters stipulate that all physical plant must be located within a five mile radius of either a trailer park or a Hooters. Although the people around me thought that I was mildly funny, I realized that I’d now forfeited any chance I had of being an Edward Jones rep.

5. Cross sell the best merchandise.
This is the one tip that I believe is exceedingly useful. Try, if at all possible, to integrate the learning you’ve had in your other classes. You might as well try to draw on all of the hours of work you’ve been doing this year. Can I suggest something like: “Clearly, Company X’s strategy draws a clear parallel to the kinds of things we learned last semester.

Before the CEO even considers whether a new plant is feasible, he should first assemble all of his employees in an airplane hanger and address them from the top of a step ladder. He should then begin an intensive campaign of Activity Based Costing to determine whether to organize production as a job shop or simply rebalance the line and shift the bottleneck. Finally, he should launch a new brand identity if, and only if, he believes that this is truly a learning organization that will be able to unite all of these new concepts through the spirit of Kaizen.”

I hope that these tips are useful to somebody in the RC class in the dwindling weeks of our first year. Remember, the Cold Call is potentially painful, but I also discovered that after class you get, for once, almost 20 minutes of a kind of minor celebrity status. As you walk to the coffee cart, nearly everyone has some words of encouragement or commiseration to share. The way that I look at it, 20 whole minutes beats the heck out of the standard 15 allotted to reality show stars and boy band members. I could get used to this.