Limited Time Offer! My Business College for the Real World


In Sunday’s Post Alley, David Brewster wrote that Seattle should take the lead in “pioneering disruptive change in that well-defended but vulnerable entity, American higher education.”

I have often groused that American higher education does not teach what one needs to know, even in its professional graduate schools. Where I received an MBA, the business school separated the wheat from the chaff, and taught the chaff. For example, it taught that accounting sprang from the logical application of principles.

Were you a CEO about to post dismal earnings, “principles” don’t help. What you need is a cookie jar. Had you, in your last acquisition, accrued, as part of the purchase price, reserves for contingencies for unlikely events vaguely related to this acquisition, you could now reverse those reserves, magically producing enough income to make earning-per-share dance the Watusi.

This trick is not taught at business schools. I had to learn it by myself. “How to Cook the Books” will be a required core course at my new Seattle-based Graduate School of Real Business, that will disrupt the MBA industry by teaching the skills students actually need to succeed in business.

“Sucking Up” will be a required core course. Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is sucking up.” This is an overstatement for the for-profit sector where sucking up explains 54 percent of success. However, for government and non-profits, it is right on target.

Our coursework begins with “Yes, Boss,” which teaches 50 different ways to tell your boss that he or she just had another great idea.

We follow with Flattery 101: How to Suck Up without being seen as a Suckup:

  1. Identify how the Suckupee would like to be perceived by others  
  2. Think of something the Suckupee has done at work that would reinforce the desired perception.
  3. In the Suckupee’s presence, connect the act to the desired perception through a non-judgmental observation, not a compliment. For example, “Watching you play both good cop and bad cop in the bank negotiations was an education for me.”

We then move to more advanced skills: Judging the Suckupee’s level of narcissism, feeding the narcissism to a constant craving, manipulating maternal or paternal instincts, use of humor and sarcasm while flattering, and exposing competitors as sycophants, etc.

The core requirements will include the twin courses, “Claiming Credit for Success” and “Avoiding Blame for Failure.”

“Business Jargon” probably does not need to be in the core. Perhaps this should be an elective, where students learn that pretentious buzz words are like garlic. Used parsimoniously they add gusto and zest. Overused, they smell.

Students will learn that a sentence such as, “We should leverage our value propositions to amplify brand DNA and enhance brand equity,” noxiously reeks. However, at a meeting when a peer seems to be making a brilliant proposal, you might interject, “That’s an enticing idea. I wonder… in the long run does it reinforce or undermine Brand DNA?” At a minimum, your animation will throw your rival off stride.

“Use of Professionals” will be another elective, where students learn when and how to use:

  • Lawyers: If you don’t want some action taken, but are unwilling to bear responsibility for inaction, ask a lawyer for a written opinion. The opinion will always state that the action entails potential liability. You can then say, “I would love to do this, but the lawyers won’t let me.”
  • Appraisers: You can give the IRS money or you can give them paper. If you give them minimal paper, you must give them much money. If you give them stacks of paper, there will ask for very little money.
  • Auditors: Audit firms are in the business of extortion: Give us money or you don’t get a clean opinion. Retain the extortionist who charges the least.
  • Consultants: If you are accountable for a project, and there no obvious internal scapegoat to blame for failure, hire a consultant to write a go/no-go report. Always follow the written advice.

Tuition at the Graduate School of Real Business will be high. Our graduates are going to make a lot of money.

Steve Clifford
Steve Clifford
Steve Clifford, the former CEO of KING Broadcasting, has written humor for and the Huffington Post. He is the author of "The CEO Pay Machine."


  1. I suggest two post-grad courses on stock programs. first, how to set up executive stock award programs for CEO’s (and don’t forget the CFO; s/he is the one who jiggers the quarterly eps). The second is how to forgo dividends and instead buy-back stock just before the annual insider trading gate opens.

    Another course: how to select one’s buddies for board seats and overpay them so as not to ask too many questions.

    Re lawyers: I learned never to ask if I could do such and so. Instead, I would ask “what would happen if I did this?” if the answer was “you’d be sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $40,000 fine,” I wouldn’t do it.


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