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“Never be late!”

Mom didn’t just say those words, she said them often and with the urgency of a drill sergeant — leaving me almost no choice, but to comply. It was one of the earliest life lessons that my mother taught me, and one of the most important. She didn’t feel it necessary to explain why I shouldn’t be late, just, “Never be late,” (and I’m translating from Korean because to this date she refuses to speak to me in English even though she can fully comprehend it and speak it). That word, “never,” which is transliterated as “jul ddah” weighed on my head like a roomful of dining room furniture.

Mom’s rules were carved in stone like the Ten Commandments. She ran a tight ship. In elementary grades, the night before school, she had both my sister and I pack our school bags and lay them right by the front door so to ensure that there would be no last minute scramble in the morning. We had no time for that on a school day morning. Looking back, I’m surprised that she didn’t have strobe light flashing above them.

Mom made it clear to me at an early age that it was discourteous to make someone wait for me especially an adult or someone of authority. On one occasion the bus that was to take me to my piano lessons was running late. When it got to my stop, I jumped out, and sprinted to my piano teacher’s house in mortal fear. I huffed and puffed as I forced myself to take the staircase up to the apartment where he lived with his mother. There would not be any actual consequence for being late. He was the most mild-tempered teacher I ever had — a kinder, gentler version of the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. He never even raised his voice in annoyance when I came without having practiced. When he asked me why I was out of breath, I just smiled.

With the “sword of punctuality” hanging over me, I would automatically calculate how much time I needed to prepare, find the right pair of shoes, drive to a particular location, etc. Little did mom know that she was doing a great service to my future husband. I don’t think I ever made my husband late because I took too long getting ready. Mom has yet to be personally thanked for instilling this trait in me, by my husband, but Mother’s Day is coming….

I’ve come across a shockingly-large number of individuals who either never learned that being prompt was serious business, or who had the congenital inability to be on time, or just plain oblivious to the whole issue of time. I had one friend in high school who without fail always ran late. Whenever I used to go over to pick her up, it was at that exact moment she was getting started to get ready — whether it was styling her hair or jumping into the shower. And she never apologized for keeping me waiting or making me late. Of course, now I realize that I was the fool for waiting for her.

And that brings me to today’s lesson: society as a whole has become more self-absorbed, less polite and the following incident highlights just that! I saw this email from a NYU Stern School of Business student, complaining to a professor, after he had been asked to leave for being an hour late to class. Check it out… and the response from the professor.


Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:15:11 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Brand Strategy Feedback

Prof. Galloway,

I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6pm Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.

As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.

I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.


MBA 2010 Candidate
NYU Stern School of Business

The Reply:

—— Forwarded Message ——-
From: scott@stern.nyu.edu
To: “xxxx”
Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 9:34:02 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback


Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.

Just so I’ve got this straight…you started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which “bothered” you.


You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.

In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause…REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:

xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…

Again, thanks for the feedback.

Professor Galloway

No doubt Professor Galloway would have bought a drink for my political economy professor at Columbia. That class started at 9 am and it was tough getting up to Morningside Heights at that time of the morning from Brooklyn. The 1 train that used to bring us to the 116th Street stop was notorious for being unreliable. Lots of students used to be late. But, you know me: I wasn’t one of them; luckily. The professor finally got so fed up with the students walking in late, he later decided to lock the classroom door promptly at 9:10 am!

Anyway, I personally would like to shake Professor Galloway’s hand because in the real world lateness is rarely acceptable, and it’s just plain rude.

Thanks to the Deadspin for reporting this. Go there to get more information on the background of Professor Scott Galloway.

And… “Never be late!” Don’t make me get mom to speak to you about this.