Summer Thoughts: “What I Learned from my First Internship”

Oakley_Headquarters1

Oakley Headquarters – Foothill Ranch, CA

My summer at Oakley was the birth of my intrigue for business.  The year was 2011 and my life goals were relatively unclear at that point.  I had just finished my first year at community college and my father had gotten me an interview at the Oakley Headquarters in Foothill Ranch, California.  The truth of the matter is that on paper, I should never have gotten that internship, but they hired me.  To this day I am thankful that they took a chance on me, and I maintain contact.

I was a part of the Oakley Business Analytics team.  Before I started, the only thing that I could really infer about the work was that it would look good on a resume.  They knew that my skills were limited, but I am not sure that they understood the scope of the issue.  I had done well in my classes, and my father had vouched for my character, but this was my first time in the business world (although Oakley is not exactly a traditional business setting.  See photo of headquarters).

Based on this limited skillset, I knew that I was going to have to knock it out of the park with attitude and work ethic.  Given the start of ‘internship season,’ the intention of this article is to share 3 concepts that I learned while at Oakley which I keep with me to this day.  I have taken these skills into two other industries, another country (and language), and into my Haas classes.  I believe them to be widely applicable to life and business.  Take them for what you will, but they have worked for me so far.

HistoricOAds_RJ43

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1.  Answers are easier to find than questions

The first thing I ever heard at Oakley is something that I am incapable of forgetting.  I was escorted to my team’s area when I met my first boss, David Sunderland.  He stopped what he was doing, and handed me a piece of paper and said, “here is your login.  There is your computer.  Add value.”  I was totally shocked.

This line was fundamental because it taught me that I should be looking for good questions rather than good answers.  I was at community college at that time, and all the problems were ‘givens,’ and after reading the section notes, all of them were solvable.  The data provided was complete, and there was a check figure in the back of the book.  School was a controlled environment, and Oakley was the opposite.

I worked with three great colleagues, Dina Nani, Troy Nguyen, and Mike Griffith.  The work was mostly project based, so it was not the kind of thing where I could develop a monotonous routine and chug it out.  We would start working on a project, search databases, create reports, get down to the meat of the problem (or the solution) and then move to the next.  Sometimes the project would re-appear, and sometimes it wouldn’t.  It was an extremely demanding environment, which is why good questions were so important.

...because every corporate headquarters needs a tank.

…because every corporate headquarters needs a tank.

2.  Know what is good to have and what you have to have

This is a pivotal lesson that I took from Oakley.  As we have discussed, the environment at Oakley was fast-moving, and there was a constant trade-off between accuracy, and practicality.  I didn’t always understand that.  I had always generally assumed that there was a right answer, and anything else was wrong, while Oakley proved otherwise.

Oakley was my first look at imperfect data, (something that I have seen in every job since).  Sometimes it was time delay, formatting issues, SKUs (stock keeping unit) would not work, two reports should be identical and were not, and visa versa.  Anything and everything under the sun can make data tough to work with, and my time at Oakley was my first exposure to that.

There was one specific time that I recall where I should have sacrificed a bit of accuracy for a lot of practicality.  I was working on a Snowboard goggles inventory project.  Dina, Mike, and Troy had teed the ball up in SAP and I just had to run the reports and put them in excel for our boss, Dave.  The problem was that I could not get it exactly right.  A handful of SKUs didn’t work each time and I could not figure it out.  I tried and tried until the team finally asked me what was going on with the reports a day later, so I gave up and gave them what I had.  I was prepared for one of the guys to have to fix my problems and I was disappointed… but low and behold, it was okay.  Dave looked at the reports and I explained what went wrong and he said, “that’s fine, those SKUs are out of date anyways, and it actually would not change anything.  Thanks for the report.”

The reality is that I could have given him the reports an hour after I started, but I spent a day and a half trying to make it perfect when the conclusion was there all along.  The out of date SKUs made up such a tiny piece of the overall picture that I should have sensed something was not right.  I got tunnel vision.  When I was not able to make a complete report, I should have taken a step back, and weighed my options.  Those handful of SKUs were good to have, but were they ‘have to have’ SKUs?  The answer was no, but will not always be no.  The lesson is to remind yourself to ask the question.

My personal favorite, Oakley Frogskins

My personal favorite, Oakley Frogskins

3.  Be enthusiastic

I learned early on that anyone can implement enthusiasm.  Whether the team was helping me with SAP and Excel, or I was making a coffee run, I tried to be alert and thorough.  I organized binders, printed decks, anything I could to add value with a good attitude.  As time went on, I understood more and I took the same enthusiasm into more important work.  I think that they wanted me to do well with this more important work based on the fact that I had showed enthusiasm in the past.  The bar is set low for interns, and attitude goes a long way.  My uncle once told me (referring to interns), “I can teach a guy what I need him to know, he just has to show up on time, and get excited.”

Luckily for me a project came up that was easy to understand, and in low enough priority that I was able to run with it.  Dina, Troy and I were tasked with auditing our transfer pricing system.  I started with only a portion of the work, but because I was significantly less busy, I finished my parts early and presented my framework.  They were still very busy, so I plugged away until I had audited almost the whole system myself.  I used any extra time I had to document my process and communicate my work.

This was not breathtaking work, it was only mildly time sensitive, and it did not even start out as my project, yet it morphed into my first real business accomplishment.  I became enthusiastic about it, which motivated me.  It was a cycle.  I did well, they recognized it, I got excited, which lead me to do well, and on and on.  I am sure it works in the negative direction, but fortunately for me, I do not have a good example of that.

oakley

Concluding, if my story is anything, it might simply be a reminder to others to look critically at past work experiences and boil them down a bit.  If you can learn from my experience, power to you, if not try to think about what you learned in your first work setting.  An introductory perspective is valuable because it forces you to boil it down to concepts, rather than specific practices (because entry level skills are so limited).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone back at Oakley.  Thanks to my father and Ryan Kaneshiro for getting me in the door.  Thanks to Dave, Dina, Mike and Troy for teaching me so much, and thanks to the whole Oakley finance department for being supportive and downright enjoyable.  My internship there had a massive impact on my career and education.  I learned a lot, and that experience gave a sparse resume a lot of credibility.  In fact, one of my two application essays to Haas was about my time at Oakley.  I hope to cross paths with you guys in the future.  Until then, “crank it out (Dave voice).”

This has been a great refresher to myself of the things I have done well and poorly in the past.  Work ethic and soft skills are critical.  This summer I will head into yet another industry, but I am much less intimidated as I might otherwise have been, because most of my takeaways from past work have not been industry specific.   I imagine that many Haas students reading this have got internships lined up as well, and I wish you all the best of luck.  My one bit of advice: get excited.

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