2008-12-31

Fight For Rice, Rice Fight On

The mighty Rice Owls completed one of their best seasons in school history last night when they beat the Western Michigan Broncos 38-14 in the Texas Bowl. We tailgated all afternoon with beer, sausage, and cheese. Cox and I, undefeated Champions of the Universe in two-on-two ocean football, added to our accolades as all-time undefeated champions in Cornhole. We threw the football around (sunny, 70-degree F weather) and listened to country music--what could be more Texas?

The game itself was great. Other than one interception, Rice had no miscues. Jarrett Dillard extended his NCAA record with a TD catch, James Casey proved and reproved his dominance, and MVP Chase Clement (who was unfortunately injured and couldn't play during the New Orleans Bowl of 2006) scored five TDs--throwing for three, running for one, and even receiving a TD pass from Jarrett Dillard, which was the icing on the cake.

Congrats to the Rice football team and especially to this talented group of seniors. Now it's up to the next generation to build on this tradition of success and continue making it something we can all be proud of.

Rice, fight, never die
Blue, gray, in the sky
Stand, cheer, drink more beer
Go, go, gooooooooo Rice!

2008-12-20

Houston

It is great being back in H-town. I just went for an early morning run in 70-degree weather around Memorial Park. True, Memorial is not as scenic as Lac Leman, but it is a welcome change that there are many other people out there running too--many of whom are pushing strollers and pulling along (or being pulled along by!) friendly dogs.

After living for a year in a 22 square meter closet (about 240 square feet) with barely a kitchen and very few creature comforts, it feels so nice to sprawl out in my nice, spacious Houston townhome. Not to sound like too much of a materialistic American, but it feels wonderful to listen to my juke box and watch HD football on my plasma with surround sound. Plus, a Nintendo Wii has magically appeared at my house and it has proven to be a lot of fun.

While that is all well and good, it pales in comparison to the feeling of being around friends I haven't spent quality time with in a year.  Skaggs and I threw the football around on Wednesday. Cox and I went out bar hopping until 3 AM on Thursday. I'll see the volleyball crowd and former roommates tonight at a Christmas party. There is so much catching up to do and I'm really enjoying it. Next week will be even better as I spend time with my family in Hot Springs--can't wait!

Today is special for another reason: my brother, who just successfully defended his PhD dissertation, is now 30 years old--and I'm not far behind him! Happy birthday, Nick, and go Navy beat Wake!


2008-12-16

Real World, Real Learning

I authored today's IMD MBA Diary and, although the content may be familiar to my readers, I'm reposting here for you:

Today marked the end of my first week of work back in the real world. That’s right, exactly one week after spending the day learning about the importance of taking our time to say goodbye and transition at our own pace, I dove head first into my next career. Many of my classmates are taking weeks or months off to settle their affairs, rest, and reflect on the year that has just passed, which I think would be marvelous. My employer is a startup, however, and startups can’t afford the same timing luxuries as big businesses. I am the Product Manager and our product officially launched last week, therefore I am needed NOW!

The company is called Poken – www.doyoupoken.com – and was founded by Stephane Doutriaux, a 2007 IMD MBA Alumni. We produce a keychain that connects you with people online as you meet them in the real world. Our first generation offering is funky and cool, targeting the young and the young minded. Future offerings will include a professional version to replace the business card, a platform for third parties to include our technology in other objects, and many other features that we hope will bridge the gap between the physical and online worlds.

I admit that at some points during my IMD MBA I questioned how “real world” was our “real learning.” However, having spent only one week back in the real world now, I can’t believe how applicable so much of our learning is. I am no stranger to start-ups; in fact, my entire career has been in technology entrepreneurship. Accordingly, much of this Poken experience is not new to me: the frenetic pace, the unstructured role assignments, the need to roll up my sleeves and get things done, etc. However, I really feel like I am seeing everything in a different light—in many different lights, in fact.

My IMD MBA has armed me with many “lenses” through which to analyze and act. With manufacturing in China, HQ in Switzerland, and customers around the world, concepts from Production and Operations Management are very helpful. As we seriously plan our international rollout in response to demand in Spain, Holland, the UK, the US, and South America, my take-aways from Marketing are key. The challenge of capturing ideas from within and outside of the company, prioritizing them, and managing their implementation is addressed by Innovation and Product Design.

I could go on and on, but it is clear that the most impactful IMD course on my new position is the Leadership Stream. Managing a team of Swiss, French, Americans, and Bulgarians, some of whom are on-site, some of whom work remotely, each of whom has different background, skills, and interests, is a challenge to be sure. But I feel more prepared to address that challenge than I ever have before. I am more aware of my own feelings and the effects my actions have on others. I am more cognizant of the subtle intra- and inter-group dynamics all around me. And I am more open to feedback about my performance, ideas, and—well—everything.

I came to IMD to develop myself as a global leader and now I have a chance to put that development to the test. While it is ultimately up to me to succeed or fail, I must credit the IMD faculty, staff, and—most of all—students for helping me prepare for it. Although I don’t have months to sit back and reflect on the IMD experience; I find it popping into my head in the middle of work situations. “Ah, this reminds of that time in the integrative exercise,” “Oh, this might be a good opportunity to leverage that concept from Entrepreneurship,” “Hmm, I wonder what that professor/classmate/guest speaker would think of this...” and so on. We really did pack a LOT into a very short time. If my first week back to work is any indication, though, it really was real world, real learning.

2008-12-10

In Transition

Last night was wonderful. On a whim, Asier (Basque) organized a get-together for those of us still in town at a local brew-pub. We stayed for hours and hours laughing, hugging, and goodbying. I should have done more of this during the year but, as they say, better late than never.

I believe I am the only one in our class who has already started work. At least one classmate starts next week, then a few in January, most in February, and some in March. Would I have preferred to take time really to rest, reflect, and transition? Absolutely. However, Poken said they needed me NOW and, after three very full days, I must say I agree. We are indundated 24/7 with demand from customers and business partners in markets we are not yet serving so it is a real challenge to keep our ongoing operations moving forward while still planning for the future--the very immediate future.

I transitioned in another way too last night. Upon my return home from the brew-pub, I was so close to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that I just sat down and finished it. What a book. What a series! Jung contended that Grimm's fairy tales contained all common archetypes for transformation and development. In every generation it seems that there emerge stories and myths that serve the same purpose in a more updated way. I believe the Harry Potter series fills that need for this generation. I still need time to digest and mull over everything that happened but my feeling is that this series is one that I will re-read over and over again. Now I can't wait for the remaining movies to come out!

So here I am with lots of transition in my life, but the family and friends I love are constant. They are the rocks that anchor me and the stars by which I set my course. Thank you all!

Pictures from the graduation, ball, and my first days at Poken can be found in my facebook album.

2008-12-08

And I'm Off!

No time to rest, no time to reflect, today was my first day on the job. It was hectic, unstructured, and wonderfully exciting--everything life at a startup should be. I've been through all of this before yet I feel somehow . . . "displaced." The same stuff is happening that used to happen at R7 or at Antmachine but I feel like I am viewing it all through several lenses: marketing, strategy, HR, and--of course--group dynamics. As events unfold in front of me, neurons are firing relating them back to theories, models, and my own practical experience. This isn't to say that I have all the answers--just that I have a more structured, yet intuitive, approach to processing this professional sensory data than I used to. Thanks, IMD.

As I sat at lunch struggling to keep up with the Swiss French being spoken by our CEO and a potential business partner, I woefully remenisced about the good times at R7. We played a game in which we were awarded points for sneaking in undetected The Big Lebowski references during client meetings. Just as I had this thought and resigned myself to the fact that people here probably didn't "get" The Big Lebowski, "Hotel California" by The Gypsy Kings began over the restaurant's speakers. While many of my readers may have no idea what in God's holy name I am blathering about, those who know and love TBL will appreciate it. Eight-year-olds, Dude.

2008-12-07

New Job

I have accepted a position as Product Manager for Poken. The company is based here in Lausanne and has created a small, key-chain-like hardware product that connects people on online social networks (facebook, linkedin, etc.) after they have “connected” (touched their hardware devices together) in real life. The goal is to bring a physical, real-world interface to online social networking. The current marketing strategy is aimed at teens with the prospect of moving to professionals (replacing the business card) soon. The company has three ways to make money: 1. Sell the devices at a margin directly to the users, 2. Let major companies purchase the devices and give them away to users as branded “toys,” and 3. Online advertising at the website that users use to manage their connections. The company has $2M of funding and is launching the product in stores in Switzerland right now.

I will be the Product Manager (collecting information from the target audience, creating a coherent product development roadmap, and managing the software and hardware development teams to implement it) at first, evolving in 6 months to either a COO role or a general manager of North America as the product expands to markets outside of Europe.

As many of you know, I agonized over this decision because--as with most decisions--there are both pros and cons.

The good:

International – the position is based in Lausanne, will require travel around the world, and involves managing global operations (manufacturing in China, software developers in Switzerland and Romania, sales and marketing throughout Europe initially and soon elsewhere)

Hardware – this will be a chance for me to broaden my software-only experience to include hardware as well

Growth – The company has a lot of momentum (Evidence: Poken made the front page of digg.com this morning) and I will have the opportunity to participate in its growth

Challenge – Developing an innovation/development process and prioritization methodology that is responsive enough to market feedback that will come very quickly once the product is being used by thousands or millions of people is an exciting order

The bad:

Social Value – I came to IMD to prepare myself better to help change the world; I’m not sure this company really satisfies that criterion

Risk – Companies at this stage statistically usually fail and I would be accepting below-market-value compensation along with that risk--after a year of paying tuition and not earning a salary

Distance – This would keep me thousands of miles away from friends and family in the US. I would own all of the US business partner relationships, which should create many opportunities for travel, but I would still be based far away

After much soul searching I decided that this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. I should have a chance to practice a lot of what I have learned at IMD and gain experience in ways that will prepare me to contribute even more to addressing the global energy challenge. Will Poken make me feel like I am somehow making the world a better place for the needy kids I held in Kenya? No, not directly. But will I continue to keep them in mind as I work and network and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that will? Absolutely.

Thankyou to EVERYone who has supported me throughout my career search. It isn't over--it will be an ongoing process of course--but you have all helped me through a significant career milestone. I won't let you down and I'll prove that to you immediately--I start work tomorrow!

2008-12-05

TJ is #1 Again

For the second consecutive year my high school was selected by US News and World Report as the top public school in the country (article). This year two of my alma maters have been ranked #1 and I am, once again, humbled. It is a great honor to have been selected for such institutions and not a day goes by that I am not thankful to have had the opportunity. Now, at the cusp of my next stage in life, I hope to be able to live up to the high standards set by my peers. While I can't promise results, I can promise to do what I've done throughout my academic, professional, and athletic careers: my best.

2008-12-04

With Honours

Yesterday we graduated and celebrated. The festivities began with a graduation ceremony at Beau Rivage Palace along the lake. Our guest speaker was Mr. Eitan Wertheimer, whom we first met when he was here with Warren Buffett. After his, MBA Program Director Benoit's, and IMD President John Wells's remarks, our classmate, Bevan Mckenzie (New Zealand), stole the show with his own address. Two months ago we elected Bevan as our class speaker and he did not let us down. His talk was witty, inclusive, and moving.

At IMD students are eligible for two diploma awards. "With Honours" is an academic distinction given to the top 9 students as measured by cumulative GPA. These nine students walk and receive their diplomas first. "Distinction in Leadership" is given to the top leaders in the class as measured by feedback from their groupmates throughout the year. I was honored (No superfluous "u" for me!) to receive both awards yesterday.

Yes it was great to walk among the first degree recipients, but what really made the experience special was being grouped with my favorite peers: Bevan, Daniel (with whom I shared two groups), Matt (with whom I interviewed for IMD last fall), and Lucy (about whom I blogged in the spring). I really admire these classmates of mine and being counted among them is a real thrill. I worked hard all year to achieve that status and I blogged several times about the failures I encountered along the way. Those failures, however, made attainment of these final successes all the sweeter.

After the ceremony and reception, we broke for the afternoon and returned to Beau Rivage in black tie for the graduation ball. It was a lovely affair and, although the DJ left much to be desired, dinner was excellent and it was a great way to say goodbye. Now it's time to start packing up and thinking about what will come next!

2008-12-02

Delinquent Blogger

I'm sorry to all my readers for taking so long to post an update. The last week has been very hectic for me between finishing school, career search, and preparing for the post-IMD tansition. Let me bring you up to speed in a few areas:

Classes
Last week we finished our second and final week of electives. Global Strategy changed somewhat as we moved to professor (and IMD President) John Wells, who focused on the need for strategic agility for long-term success. IAGD continued to be emotionally draining but we touched on some really significant--if painful--issues in group dynamics. Managing Change was replaced with Managing Information, taught by Don Marchand, who drove home the importance of focusing on people and information, not just on technology.

Electives really brought it all together for me. The classes presented many similar initiatives through different lenses. For example, to remain strategically agile (Global Strategy), it is critical to foster information sharing within your organization. Information sharing is facilitated by incentives and systems (Managing Information). Changing incentives and deploying information systems require major change management (Managing Change) initiatives. For change management initiatives to succeed, it is helpful to know what is really going on within your senior leadership team (IAGD).

Thanksgiving
The electives were excellent and really helped me finish on the right note. Another factor contributing to my happiness was a long, belated Thanksgiving dinner at my professor's house in Lutry. Corey was our faculty sponsor for the ICP and invited the whole team (+ guests) to his house overlooking the lake. He cooked for us, shared wine from his awesome cellar, and facilitated 6+ hours of merrymaking as the sun slowly set over the mountains. Best of all, we also got to play with his 2-year-old dog, who was most excited to to have visitors. She left so much black hai on my clothes that I was reminded of the infinite supply of white hair once provided by Ivan the Terrible, Nick's Samoyed. I will miss Corey and my ICP team a great deal but this was an excellent way to begin the process of saying goodbye.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

Harry Potter
Another reason that dinner at Corey's place was so nice was that I have a strong, positive association with Thanksgiving. I usually spend it with my relatives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which I really missed this year. It is always wonderful to see them, catch up, and get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. When I'm in Hot Springs, I'm so relaxed that I actually pull myself away from my computer and go to the movie theater.

In fact, it was in Hot Springs that I first saw Harry Potter and became hooked. Speaking of which, I finished the Half-Blood Prince and I am now making my way through the final book, the Deathly Hallows. IMD and Lausanne will always stand out to me not only as the place where I did my MBA, met life-long friends, etc., but also as the place where I [finally] read all the Harry Potter books.

Career Search
While I still have several opportunities in the pipeline, my only firm offer is with Poken here in Lausanne. It is a great opportunity with a company that has lots of potential. In that it is a start up, there is none of this "take your time, find yourself, and start in March" nonsense; if I accept with them I will start Dec. 8th!!! So, in addition to my other preparations right now, I am also soul searching and advancing my other opportunities to see, by the end of this week, if this is what I really want to do.

Graduation
Graduation is upon us! Our committee has put together a black-tie ball following our ceremony at Beau Rivage Palace, to which I am really looking forward. After that it's goodbye, which obviously encompasses some very mixed emotions: jubilation at finishing, excitement about next steps, and sadness at leaving a great year behind. This was the subject of an entire day of classes yesterday: how to say goodbye and move on in a healthy way. We'll see if I can put into practice tomorrow.