Widgets Magazine

Amid financial problems, accusations embroil SSE

After its last CEO resigned following ethical criticism last year, Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) has come under attack again for internal inefficiency under its new CEO amid continued financial hits over the past year. The organization exceeded its budget last fiscal year and has changed funding policies to counteract these financial hardships in the future.

(GILLIAN BRASSIL/The Stanford Daily)

SSE is the funding and financial organization for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) leadership. SSE officers work to make financial decisions and raise funds for students through business outlets like the Student Store and Cardinal Ventures.

Among other questions about SSE accountability, the 18th Undergraduate Senate has cast doubt on current CEO Jelani Munroe’s ’16 capabilities. In response to recent criticisms, The Daily investigated these claims through SSE employee testimony and financial records.

The SSE board of directors

SSE has failed to act on criticisms of its internal accountability and work ethic, say sources on the SSE board of directors and the Undergraduate Senate. At a board meeting on April 29, 2016, the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team reported to the SSE board of directors that SSE team members lacked accountability and ownership. The SSE board of directors serves as an advisory board for SSE team members, while the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team is an external board of entrepreneurs that assesses performance metrics for financial enterprises like SSE.

“[There is] systemic lack of accountability, morale and motivation,” the consulting team wrote in their report.

According to one SSE board member, the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team presented the Board of Directors with a set of performance metrics for SSE, along with with observations and suggestions for improvement, during their meeting. These performance metrics showed that supervisors were not holding employees accountable for absences or poor work. The Daily was presented with these metrics by a board member present at that meeting.

The document explained that SSE did not take action to fix these metrics, while supervisors provided little to no feedback on employee performance and leadership had “no apparent consequences for poor performance, non-performance or even absence.”

The consulting team made a series of recommendations for improvement, including that SSE directors provide employees with clear job descriptions, reviews and consequences.

They also asked Munroe, the chief operations officers and general managers to make monthly quantitative charts for “all relevant measures of success,” meaning both financial documentation as well as accountability measures, and provide a brief explanation of that month’s results for each team member’s respective line of business. These charts and explanation were to be presented to all stakeholders in SSE, including all employees and the board.

Board members report that after nearly nine months, they have yet to see some of these metrics fixed, especially regarding records of quantitative data. Instead, Munroe was reported saying that he had a “general sense” that things were going well after being asked to present the board with some data.

ASSU senators raised questions about the data at their closed meeting with Munroe last week, according to several senators. Munroe did not present senators with financial records or metrics of improvement, raising further questions of Munroe’s capabilities.

“He is not inspiring confidence that he is making necessary changes, but is instead demonstrating an utter lack of ownership and accountability,” said one senator who asked to remain anonymous.

SSE employees

SSE employees also report a lack of accountability firsthand. The Daily spoke to former SSE employees who worked at the Student Store. The Student Store is one division of revenue for SSE and has seen its revenue slide over the past decade, according to private revenue data presented to The Daily.

According to financial records, the Student Store had a near 41 percent decrease in net income from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016, amounting to $56,927.

One former Student Store worker explained that many customers have moved their purchasing online but that organization in the Student Store has never been good to begin with.

“What goes on in the store is basically up to whoever opens and closes the store that day,” the former employee said.

There is no device or metric that shows when employees open the store, and management relies on the honest word of the employee in charge that day.

During opening hours, the student in charge of the store that day records what merchandise has been sold on an iPad application. The employee also provides discounts on items based on discretion, deciding whether the customer is a student or alumnus. The former employee The Daily talked to said that he did not recall formal training on providing discounts.

At the end of the day, the employee with the last shift closes the store, using the honor code for closing hours. They do not provide financial documentation for their work that day. The employee takes cash from the register and puts it in the SSE headquarters safe in Old Union, again relying on honor code to ensure that all of the cash makes it into the safe that day.

“It is not a very great system,” the former employee said. “We don’t really know what happens overall, just what happens when we’re working.”

Impact on funding decisions

With this lack of shared data, the Senate is having difficulty communicating with Munroe on the best plan of action for funding and sticking to the budget. The Senate is in charge of delegating funding to student groups and corresponding events.

As a result, executive financial decisions are made without quantitative data.

“SSE should be collecting Student Store metrics,” one anonymous senator said. “The consulting team’s findings were clear. Yet, here we are: nine months later without any new metrics. We are flying blind.”

Senators expect Munroe will announce his running for a second term at their closed meeting tonight.

Munroe declined to comment for this article.

 

Contact Gillian Brassil at gbrassil ‘at’ stanford.edu.