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MBAs, Politicians and 'Theft'

John Van Horn

One of the nice things about being your own boss is that you can write about most anything. This month, I am devoting part of this page to a few comments on an article you will find elsewhere in Parking Today.
The article is a "report" or "paper" written by a graduate student working toward his master's degree in business administration. Ostensibly the paper was written about the shift in parking technology, from the origin of the parking meter to the present day.
This young man did some research and put together some interesting stuff about the origin of the meter (that's what caught my eye) and some of the reasons we go through technology shifts. That, too, held my attention.
However, as I read the rest of his piece, I realized that his research was a tad lacking. He made assumptions that were without backup, and at the end, he tried to be literary and left me standing in the station. So why should I beat up on this poor defenseless student?
Well, I am hoping that the letter I sent him critiquing his work will do some good. (It was well received -- see his letter on page 21) I am equally concerned that the PhD who selected this piece for publication is being too easy on a student who someday will be trying to find a job with credentials that might not be worthy of their name.
Oh, he will get the job based on his degree and most likely his gift for gab. However, when the time comes to perform, will he be able to meet the requirements of his boss?
In his defense, my daughter-in-law Karen, a recent MBA graduate from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business, tells me that some MBA's feel that they don't have to do the research, that they hire someone to do it.
That attitude won't go far in this economy where people are being asked to multitask -- that is, do many different jobs simultaneously. The perfect person is one who can do three or four jobs well. Most of the time, each job we get fills only half our time and we fill the rest. By assigning more tasks, productivity goes up, and time and money are saved.
I think my MBA candidate simply called about four or five people, probably folks he found on the Internet, and that was it. It appeared to me that after his conversations, he made up his mind what he was going to say, and then pushed in the facts to fit his preconception. All the technology he ran into worked, and the advances made in the industry were in a straight line. Whereas, those of us in parking know there have been a lot of false starts, many ideas that didn't work, and as many bad decisions as good ones. (I had to remove some of his backup data as it was so far out it would have embarrassed some of our readers.)
I always say that those doing research have to know enough about their subject to ask the right questions. If they don't, some time spent in basic research would be well worth it.

Which brings me to a sad story. Elsewhere in PT, you will find an article about the Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, its operator Penn Parking, and issues concerning employee theft. On the surface, it would seem that an incompetent operator got caught again. Digging beneath the surface a bit, we find it's more complicated than that.
Seems Penn Parking had the contract for WMATA for a number of years. Penn President and founder Lisa Renshaw met with her customer and has documentation that she had made many suggestions on procedural and equipment changes. However, she was never given the go-ahead to implement the changes. Of course, her contact at WMATA is having difficulty remembering the conversations that took place more than three years ago. He also can't seem to find the documents that Lisa provided him.
The transit agency is "embarrassed." Seems it wanted to have a fare increase, but is having trouble getting backing now that it's discovered that it can't even manage its parking operations.
Of course, since this is Washington, DC, the politicians are getting involved. Some congressman from Virginia is planning hearings on -- are you ready? -- theft in parking lots. The politicians are trying to determine if this is a local phenomenon there in DC, or if it's a nationwide problem.
Good grief! Theft in parking garages! What are they thinking? No matter who is found at fault, here's another example of a black eye for the industry. Remember, from last month: "Parking, that dirty little business."

This month we are holding the Parking Industry Exhibition and Conference of Parking Management and Technology in Chicago. The response has been overwhelming. I always sweat out the last few weeks, but attendees always seem to sign up and all goes well. Sandra and Dawn tell me that all is ready at the Hyatt Regency, the food is laid on, the rooms reserved, the decorator ready. All we need is for the date to arrive.

See you in Chicago on April 19.

Article Abstract from April, 2004




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