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Camp Helps Teen-Agers Get Down to Business : Commerce: Part summer camp, part pre-MBA program, weeklong activities at Ojai school give youths a look at world of making money.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sixty-two Ventura County teen-agers, most from public schools, are spending this week at the resort-like campus of the exclusive Thacher School in Ojai.

But instead of enjoying the school’s tennis courts, horse stables and mountain trails, the students are hard at work crunching numbers, attending lectures and participating in workshops.

They are learning the art of making money--enough money, in fact, that they may one day afford to send their own children to a preparatory school such as Thacher, where tuition alone runs about $11,000 per year.

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Called California Business Week, the six-day camp, sponsored by a local nonprofit foundation, aims to give young people from around the county a head start in understanding the ins and outs of the world of commerce.

Launched last year, the business camp costs each student only $25 because local companies pick up the rest of the $250-per-person tab.

Despite the reasonable price, spending the first week of summer vacation in classrooms and lecture halls may seem an unlikely choice for high school students. But many of the teen-agers said they think the camp will help them achieve their future goals.

“I want to be rich,” said 17-year-old Tyler Lakotich, a Newbury Park High School senior. “I am going to be rich, and I figured I might as well learn the easy way to do it.”

The business camp schedule for Tyler and the other students is, however, anything but easy.

Breakfast each day is at 7 a.m.

And except for breaks for lunch and dinner, the teen-agers are on the go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., attending talks by Ventura County business people, from corporation executives to small business owners, on topics such as “The American Economic System” and “Profit: The Motivation.”

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In between lectures and workshops, the students divide into teams to plan the financial strategy of make-believe companies.

Each company is run by a team of two to three students, who compete against two other student-run businesses that manufacture the same product.

On the first day of camp Sunday, the teen-agers picked the products they wanted to produce. And because they knew that they would not actually manufacture the goods, they let their imaginations run free.

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One group decided to manufacture fog-resistant glass. Other students chose to make X-ray glasses that could be adjusted to allow the wearer to look through human beings or just through their clothes.

As with many real-life companies, however, the students at Business Week are less concerned with what they make than how much money they earn.

Once a day, each team of students makes financial decisions for their company for a certain, undefined period of time: How much will their firm spend to manufacture their product? How much will they pay to market it? And at what price will they sell it?

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In the evenings, a volunteer plugs the teams’ financial figures into a computer program. And the computer spits out data showing how the students’ various decisions would have impacted a real company’s performance, including the bottom line: Would the firm’s income have gone up or down?

The goal of the make-believe companies, business camp teacher Norm Kalisher said, is to show students how one financial decision impacts another, how marketing affects sales, for example, and how pricing decisions are reflected in net income.

“They’re trying to juggle all the variables,” said Kalisher, a Port Hueneme bicycle shop owner who is one of nine volunteer staff at the camp.

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Most of the students are unlikely to use the information they are learning at the business camp until they are out of college and far enough along in their careers to have managerial responsibility, Kalisher said.

Nevertheless, he said, the teen-agers benefit from learning how tough it can be to make a profit in the world of business.

“They’re not going to use it right away,” Kalisher said. “You’re not going to take a 16-year-old and put them in charge of marketing budgets.”

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He added, however, that “they have an idea that when they go into a grocery store and buy a gallon milk for $1.99, the store makes half a penny on it.”

Giving teen-agers the opportunity to learn about running a business from people like Kalisher, who spend their lives at such work, is one purpose of the business camp, said Ken Gerhardt, a retired engineer who helped found the Ventura-based California Business Week Foundation.

For their part, many of the teen-agers said one of the camp’s highlights is the speeches by county business people about their personal ups and downs in running companies.

Some students said the talks are showing them the real-life risks involved in making a lot of money.

“I came here to see if I wanted to go into business,” said 15-year-old Dustin Reed, who will be a junior in the fall at Ventura High School. “It’s actually making me more indecisive. They’ll tell us they were bankrupt and a million dollars in debt and now they’re millionaires. I don’t know if I want to go down that road.”

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