Lessons Learned from Holy Cross Intern Lauren Olney

August 4, 2009

I could never make it as a restaurant critic.  Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy fine dining as much as the next person and would have no problem doling out the criticisms when warranted.  It’s the delivery of high praise that would be more problematic for me.  There are only so many original ways I can imagine to describe a perfectly prepared filet mignon.

Writing another blog post about yet another exceptional Holy Cross intern poses a similar challenge.  For the past five years, S&A has participated in the college’s innovative internship program.  Although we provide a learning experience for a deserving junior or sophomore, it is the school’s alumni association that pays the student a stipend.  Without exception, every Holy Cross intern we’ve had has far exceeded our expectations and raised the bar for their successor.  Lauren Olney, our Holy Cross intern this summer, continued that tradition.

In years past, our Holy Cross interns worked primarily with my colleagues, as the general consensus around here is that an intern shouldn’t be subjected to my desultory ways.  My brain typically processes information faster than I can articulate what I’m thinking, and I’ve been known to get quite frustrated when someone can’t immediately read my mind.  Lauren isn’t easily intimidated and from the get-go displayed a certain grit and maturity that showed she was up to the challenge.  The fact that Lauren also is a stubborn perfectionist made us kindred spirits.

One of the challenges of working with Lauren is the incredible speed and accuracy with which she completes her tasks (admittedly, not the worst challenge for a manager to have).  I once gave her a project that I expected would take her an hour to complete.  Fifteen minutes later, she was at my door, finished assignment in hand, asking for another one.  I marvel at how quickly Lauren can navigate the web and mine critical research; she manipulates web resources with the panache and flair of a virtuoso conductor commanding an orchestra.

Lauren’s accomplishments here at S&A are quite impressive.  We have a client in a financial niche not readily understood by outsiders.  Not only did Lauren learn their business, she used that understanding to secure a profile story on the company in an influential trade publication.  Even Jeff, one of the best media guys I know, was in awe.  Lauren also came up with one of the best slogans we submitted to a client, though admittedly she had a decided edge in this department (her father is vice president of marketing at a major consumer company).

I grudgingly note as well that Lauren’s blog post on New Jersey two weeks ago has generated more traffic lately than my own blog posts.  Underscoring her endearing modesty, Lauren says her family and friends likely account for most of the volume.  (Kudos to the person who taught Lauren you should never upstage your boss).

Lauren also handles rejection well.  Lauren didn’t argue or complain after Jackie spiked a blog post after I had her rewrite it three times (Jackie’s concern was with the appropriateness of the theme for a corporate blog, not the quality of the writing).  The experience was no doubt highly frustrating, but Lauren learned first-hand that S&A’s strength is teamwork and mutual respect for the judgment of others (Jackie has the final say on all corporate blogs, including mine).

But what I’m most grateful about Lauren are the lessons she taught me.  Among them:

Daily Print Newspapers Have No Future

Lauren is quite knowledgeable and inquisitive, but she grew up in a digital world.  She dutifully reads the New York Times every day – on her iPhone.  And heed this Mr. Sulzberger: You try charging Lauren even a nickel to access your content and you will lose her as a reader.  Given that some 34 percent of people in Lauren’s age group don’t even follow the news, it’s hard to imagine that the print editions of newspapers will be economically viable in a few years.

Journalism Can’t Attract the Best and the Brightest

Lauren is a talented writer and editor, her research and analytical skills are extraordinary, and she works on her college newspaper.  Lauren also is quite resourceful: she had a Facebook account in high school when the site was supposed to be restricted to college students.  Lauren would make an exceptional reporter, but she isn’t considering a career in journalism because she doesn’t think she is “aggressive” enough.

With few exceptions, the best journalists I know get by on the dint of their intellect and integrity, not their aggression.  But the media’s reputation has been so badly sullied that journalism is now perceived as a business best suited for loud, self-absorbed individuals interested in promoting themselves rather than serving the public good.

Don’t Stereotype Generation Y

Young adults in the so-called Generation Y age bracket have been maligned for their supposed sense of entitlement, less-than-hearty work habits, and pop culture-punctuated speech.  Suffice to say, Lauren and all her Holy Cross predecessors distinguished themselves through their industriousness and professionalism.  Never once did any of our Holy Cross interns show up even one minute late for work and they always offered to stay beyond their scheduled departure times.  I’d match their writing and verbal skills against those of any generation.

Apparently some companies are turning to consultants now to help them better understand and manage the younger members of their workforce.  I have some valuable advice for these companies:  Your money would be better spent sending recruiters to schools like Holy Cross who attract top students with a seemingly very different mindset and work ethic than their headline-hogging peers.

If Lauren Olney is representative of our nation’s future leaders, the country will be in very good hands.

Good luck in your senior year, Lauren.  You will be missed!