Category Archives: Brooks

Sports versus Food

Laugh now, but I’m an Atlanta sports fan. As a result, I had to eat my feelings this weekend. Good thing Mom and Dad (and Brother and Sister) were in town!

My wife—Meg—and I don’t like adventuring too much when we’re hosting others and we ended up taking my family to some of our favorite places to eat. In order to truly drown my sorrows in foord, we had one delicious meal for every horrible loss incurred this weekend:

Round 1: UGA versus Torchy’s

I went to The University of Georgia for my undergraduate degree. Like many (about half) of the traditional students, I was not an accounting major and studied marketing during my undergrad. Anyways, I was heartbroken to see the Bulldogs lose in Columbia on Saturday. Only two things kept this loss from ruining my weekend. One, we’re still ranked higher than the Gamecocks (Go Dawgs!), and two, priming the tank with Torchy’s Tacos.

In order to wash away the pain, Meg and I took my family to one of the best taco restaurants in Austin—Torchy’s! Torchy’s boasts a delicious menu of TexMex-style tacos. I remember we got some combination of Democrat (shredded beef), Brushfire (jerk chicken), and Mr. Orange (blackened salmon) tacos. Of course, we had to top it all off with dessert in the form of Lil Nookies (deep friend cookie dough)! Job well done, Torchy’s!

Round 2: Braves versus Rudy’s

The Texas Rangers swept the Braves this weekend. Though I was sad to miss my home team playing just up the road, it doesn’t look like I missed much. As  with the Bulldogs, I had some good food to dampen the pain of our October hopes slipping away. [editor’s note: GO RANGERS!]

Thank you to Rudy’s off of 183 for your mid-sweep boost! I love Rudy’s breakfast tacos. Like usual, we got some combo of bacon, sausage, and potato breakfast tacos. They are delicious to start out with, but add a little heat, and mmm mmm mmm! Unfortunately, I only had room for one taco this time because I knew I needed to leave room for my next big loss.

Round 3: UT versus la Barbecue

UT UCLA vs la Barbecue

What to say?! The Longhorns played much better and with much more heart than last week’s loss to BYU. Unfortunately, games are longer than 57 minutes. The Horns fought the entire game and forced a key turnover with the minutes winding down, but it wasn’t enough to hang on. While the effort and the execution were markedly improved, it still resulted in a credit to the Win-Loss account. Thankfully, I had some serious meat to make it better.

La Barbecue came onto the Austin circuit only a couple of years ago, but it has certainly made a name for itself. La Barbecue comes from the Franklin lineage, which Brooks covered in his BBQ tour last year. I haven’t been to Franklin’s, yet, but supposedly the quality isn’t much different, and the line is substantially shorter.

We got to la Barbecue around noon on a dreary Saturday and waited about one hour to order before we inhaled 3 pounds of brisket and a pound of pork. The food truck/trailer/park is BYOB, which makes the wait fly by, and any time you did spend in line is completely forgotten with the smell and taste of John Lewis’s work. The UT loss stung, especially with the victory in our grasp, but La Barbecue did a lot to make me feel better.

Round 4: Falcons versus Hopdoddy

On Sunday, the Falcons did not Rise Up against Cincinnati. Like UGA’s defeat, the Falcon’s loss was upsetting, particularly coming one game after such great victories. Regardless, we credited the loss column again, and as a result, I turned to the dinner plate.

While it’s no fun to watch your team lose, delicious burgers do make it better. Hopdoddy is a must while you’re in Austin. Their burgers are incredible and the atmosphere is fun. Anything you order will be great; just don’t forget queso and fries!

Honorable Mention: Fantasy versus Pinthouse Pizza

Clearly, I wasn’t perfect this weekend. My starters were about as stout as wet noodles, and my bench, with 4 total suspensions and deactivations, scored almost as many points as them.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll follow it all up with Pinthouse Pizza. It’s a yummy pizza joint with home-brews and a family-style atmosphere. Perfect for washing down a fantasy meltdown!

Ethics – Fundamental Attribution Error

When we read the stories about Enron, HealthSouth, and other accounting scandals, what is usually mentioned is the malicious intent of the executives to perpetrate a fraud. This is because “bad people do bad things,” right? Although the stories are instructive of how things can go wrong in an organization and how it can affect those involved, it is easy to forget about how we are all susceptible to the same temptations.

The fundamental attribution error is the human tendency to attribute the cause of these wrongdoings to the character of the individual who committed them. It’s called an error because, overwhelmingly, human behavior is determined more by environment than inherent personality traits. This error of perception works both ways, too: when something goes right, we tend to think that it was due to our virtues and/or skills rather than external factors (sheer luck, a good supporting staff who helped along the way, or a stock-market generally on an uptick). This, combined with the fact that people tend to rate their ethical inclinations higher than they actually are, is a troublesome sign for working professionals in just about every field. A fraud can begin with an innocent mistake, and continue because the perpetrator needs to cover it up. Of course, this is because they do not believe themselves to be a bad person.

However, being aware of the problem is an important step toward preventing future unethical behavior. That accountants spend a great deal of time thinking about internal control perhaps serves as a tribute to this way of thinking. We restrict access and separate duties of employees in a manner that reflects the notion that environmental factors are strong determinants of behavior. Surely these companies do not go around hiring bad people all the time so that they feel the need to exercise constant vigilance. These employees go along with it without feeling as though they are distrusted because the company thinks they are bad people and thus likely to steal from them. It is an unfortunate fact of life, but you can put an otherwise good person in a position where they can commit fraud without oversight or control, and you will run the risk of a fraud occurring.Thumbnail_FundamentalAttributionError_01_21_14_Version_01-1024x576

For more about the psychological aspects of ethics, see Ethical Decision Making: More Needed Than Good Intentions and the Ethics Unwrapped Series, both by Robert Prentice, McCombs School of Business.

International Potluck


Recently, the MPA International Connection hosted a potluck where international students shared foods from their respective home countries. Fortunately, they invited all of us to come and try them out. In good spirit, the domestic students brought some of their own food to share with the international students. Career Consultant Dawn Shaw was there, too, helping promote unity among the varied group of students in the MPA program.

About 25 students brought food from China, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Hawaii, and elsewhere. My only regret is that I didn’t save more room for the Korean BBQ. A bigger sampling might have given me enough ammo to write about another stop on my “BBQ trail” even though it’s pretty different from Texas BBQ.  There was so much food that I didn’t get to eat a substantial amount of any one dish, but I do not regret1610014_294678857356625_2368457516241372259_ntaking the opportunity to try out each one. My contribution, being a southerner, wassouthern-style sweet tea. I made a regular sweet tea version and another one infused with fruit.

Altogether, it was a great way to branch out and try something new that you would not otherwise be exposed to. I have always enjoyed eating foreign foods, but there’s nothing like home-cooking. That is a truism that transcends national and cultural boundaries. It also provided a venue to better get to know some fellow students who we may not have known at all otherwise.

That there is enough interest in an event like this is a testament to the diversity of the Texas MPA class, which is a quality important to me. I have enjoyed my travels outside the US and look forward to future travels, but experiencing fellowship in this context with others who are outside their home countries is the next best thing.



Bill Powers and the University of Texas

Large_university-of-texas_seal_rgb(199-91-18)Despite having arrived in Texas only one year ago, I have been paying attention to the controversy surrounding the university’s President, Bill Powers, for some time. It has made national news and recently culminated in his announcement of resignation in 2015. The issue has many facets, not least of which is what the fundamental purpose of the university should be. The University of Texas is a world-class research institution and the flagship university of the state of Texas, but some argue that increasing tuition costs are cheating students out of a low-cost education.

Sure, if we could have it both ways we would provide every student with a top education for pennies. The fact is that tuition costs are soaring everywhere, not just UT, and declining state funding is part of the cause for the increase. Another reason commonly cited, again not just at UT, is the increasing administrative burden on university budgets. That said, the idea that college education should be cheaper to make it more accessible to students sounds like a positive notion on its face, but the side-effects could result in consequences antithetical to the stated goals of its proponents.

The Board of Regents has accused UT of wasting too much money on “ivory tower research” that does not result in much benefit to the public or students. The solution? Force professors to teach more classes and do less research so that fewer professors would be required to be on the payroll. Some unfortunate side-effects of that policy would be that the best professors would leave for other universities that do allow for research opportunities, leaving students with fewer professors that have extensive knowledge of current research in their fields. This is not to say that professors who do not engage in research are inferior, but an important part of a college education, particularly in technical fields, is learning about the forefront of progress. Another side effect would be found in rankings, which are dependent in part on the volume and quality of research. UT has numerous highly-ranked programs that would suffer in several ways. This would also result in employers of UT graduates that frequently recruit here because of the prestige of the academic programs becoming less inclined to do so.

Additionally, many of those students who come from out of state (or out of country, for that matter) would cease to come to Texas if not for the prestige and opportunity offered here. These are the students who pay the most in tuition, and whose absence would be well-noticed on UT’s “bottom line.” The brain-gain that Texas enjoys from these students coming from all over the world ripples through the state’s economy as they graduate and become employed in high-tech industries, which are attracted to the state because of its well-educated labor pool.

Further, what about the Texas residents seeking a world-class education? If UT’s education were cheapened, would they remain in-state at a public university? Not likely – top performers will seek their next best opportunity, and if that involves going to another state and paying top tuition rates there, they will do so.

If Texas is in need of more accessible college education for its citizens, why provide it at the expense of another group of its citizens and the economy at-large? Would it not be easier to convert, say, Austin Community College into a 4-year university? Is UT the only university in the state that is capable of providing what these reformers seek? They could also more effectively achieve their goal by attacking the administrative cost of the university, rather than sacrificing academic excellence in order to lower tuition. Of course, this would not necessarily make education at UT more accessible, but definitely less burdensome since colleges typically do not compete on tuition rates due to the fact that many students take on loans.

The bottom line is that UT has spent decades growing through investment to become one of the top universities in the country. That legacy should not be discarded so quickly. I agree with the Regents that we should do what we can to reduce tuition, but they should be more prudent in their actions and make sure that they do not sabotage their own goals by ignoring side effects that could potentially subvert those goals.

Competing With Engineers for a Sustainable World

A couple of months ago, we all received an invitation to compete in BASF’s Team Chemistry challenge. A fellow MPA student decided to formTexas-mascot a group, and so I joined. It seemed like a fun project – come up with ideas to lessen the environmental impact of football gameday. I love football gameday and I have an interest in environmental sustainability, so it was like a match made in heaven. Of course, the incentive of winning a bunch of money didn’t hurt.

So, we set to work coming up with ideas on how to approach the problem.  We easily came up with a host of small solutions that would have some impact, but quickly got bogged down in the details. After spending some more time pondering our work, we decided to focus on a group  of related solutions and hone in on them.  As Joel said in his most recent article about accountants being risk-averse, we learned from our initial mistakes, found the proper balance, and ended up with some pretty cool ideas.

We were invited to a couple of events by BASF and the Athletic Department to learn more about the initiative and the goals of the competition. One event was a sustainability panel sponsored by UT Engineers for a Sustainable World. The panel was entirely made up of engineers and the audience was entirely engineers … except two of us MPA students. It was very intimidating hearing about them discussing various polymers of which we had no clue of their existence much less their properties. Apparently these students have a big advantage over us with their knowledge of chemicals, considering BASF is essentially a chemical company. The next event was a stadium tour, during which our guides told us about their issues with waste management. Their focus seemed to be only on waste management problems, while our solutions did little to address that.

ConcoursePoster_#2_Sec120But, we pressed on, confident in the power of our ideas despite not having the technical knowledge that is certainly common among our competition. What we do have is a business ingenuity that enabled us to come up with feasible solutions that are easily implemented and have a measurable impact. We used the skills we have learned in economics, finance, and accounting to estimate the results of our proposals. We also used our branding and presentation skills to develop a persuasive format through which to deliver our proposal.

We find out Friday if we are invited to the finalist round, where we will present and defend our ideas in a “shark tank” environment. We’ve had fun putting it all together, and we’re proud of our accomplishments, but it would be great to get to write a “Part II” to this article about our preparation for the finalist round!