SMU Data and Models

The Value of Training (and being a Learning Machine)

Written by Mario Briccetti

A steel buyer is required to make buying decisions – often worth millions of dollars – on current market conditions and expectations of future market conditions.  How does anyone do that well in an environment of uncertainty and constant change? One way to get an advantage is to be a “Learning Machine”.

Here’s what Charlie Munger has to say about Warren Buffett: “Warren (Buffett) is one of the best learning machines on this earth. …If you stop learning in this world, the world rushes right by you.”

I agree with his sentiment; the way to get ahead and stay ahead is to be constantly learning.

Buyers typically have four paths for learning: internal training, suppliers, external training and talking with peers.  Most internal training is tactical in nature.  By that I mean things like how to use the computer system or properly fill out the paperwork/receivers for an order.  Sometimes internal training is more strategic in nature (like how to manage people).  But most companies (particularly small ones) rely on hired experts for training that is strategic in nature.

The second path (and one in particular open to buyers) is training through suppliers.  As an example, I received 6-sigma training though GE when I bought motors from them at Nordyne.  In the steel business many suppliers are delighted to have buyers visit their facilities and anxious to discuss both the broad issues of their business and the details on how their products are made.  I always learned something visiting a vendor’s location and I would encourage all buyers to seek out this type of opportunity to learn.

The third path is through industry events.  A great example of this are the kinds of programs and conferences available through and sponsored by Steel Market Update.

Finally the fourth path is through simply having friends and contacts in your particular industry.  After all, many of the issues you face somebody else has already been through and solved.  However, the best way to meet these kinds of people is through industry events (like the ones given by SMU).

Unfortunately many managers talk about training employees but when it comes time for the actual investment in training, they back off and start creating roadblocks (too busy, need more sales, watching travel costs).  Even more remarkable is that the managers themselves are not eager for and often reject opportunities for their own training!

I think there are two reasons for this.  First everyone wants to make more money now and it’s hard to see a fast payback especially on strategic training.  That’s shortsighted and ultimately very costly.

Second, and perhaps more important, many of us find learning uncomfortable.  Most of us think we have a good handle on our job and looking for better ways of doing things takes a lot of intellectual energy — we might discover that our world-view is deficient and that is always painful.

That’s too bad.  I felt I always got value when I took the time to learn something new.  I preferred to speak with suppliers who could educate me and my people, not just ship product.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, interacting (and listening) to a group of peers in your particular discipline gives you a whole new set of contacts and problems solvers.  Simply put, getting better at your job means stretching intellectually.

The above article was written by Mario Briccetti of Briccetti and Associates and an instructor for Steel Market Update (Steel 101 and Sales Training). Mario can be reached at:

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