Business Schools and Buffett

The last two weeks have been full of "B"s--business schools and Jimmy Buffett!

September 16th was the 8th annual Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Energy and Clean Technology Forum. We won an award at the elevator pitch competition last year and we were excited to be asked back to compete again this year. I love these forums as there is so much energy, so many good ideas, and so many great people throughout them. Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am, though, so I don't consider such events successful unless I come away with an award. Some people go into such events casually and speaking extemporaneously. I do not. I come to win and prepare obsessively for it.

I spent the plane ride back from Italy refining our message down to just the bare minimum and rehearsing it to ensure that it could be delivered in less than 90 seconds. In my IMD marketing course, we learned that branding is about sacrifice; people can only absorb a few messages. Nothing could be truer about elevator pitches; they are like branding statements for your company or idea. There were many things I would have liked to have included in the pitch but there just wasn't enough time. In many ways, this is similar to the "How do I spend my time?" challenge with which the entrepreneur is faced every day: distilling the top 3 most important things from the top 30 really incredibly important things from the top 300 really very important things. For this reason alone, I think periodic pitch preparation is a helpful exercise in prioritization.

If you would care to see the fruits of my labor, a video of it is available at The BusinessMakers Radio Show's review of their favorite pitches from the event. Looking back at it, I clearly rushed delivery a bit and didn't pause to "plant" my points as much as I would have liked. I welcome additional feedback as well!

Long story short: we won an award again--2010 Rising Venture! I am once again supremely humbled, honored, and thrilled to have won. There were some great pitches and it was exciting just to have been counted among them. As was the case last year, the whole event was a very good one and we made several new very interesting contacts.

The following Sunday I had to shift out of Rice business school mode and into IMD business school mode as we hosted the very first event of IMD's new Houston Alumni Club. It turns out that there are 500+ IMD alumni in Houston so I and a few other "enthusiasts" thought it was criminal not to have some kind of organization to bring us together.

Our first event was a simple networking and brief talk event. IMD professors Don Marchand and Michael Wade were in town for a Shell program so they came and talked with us about their research. The rest of the evening we sipped wine, networked, and discussed the future direction of our nascent organization--it was a great first step!

Then last weekend Katie, I, and my favorite wingman made a very quick (~48 hours) trip to Paris for the Jimmy Buffett concert. It was marvelous and exactly what I had hoped it would be. We spent most of our time walking around Paris, eating, dropping into museums, and drinking great wine. Friday night we tailgated with 96-point Bordeaux (Chateau Pontet-Canet 2005, way too young but still delicious) then made our way to the concert. The total attendance was maybe 1,000 people and, because everyone there was a big fan, it was basically one long, glorious sing-along. It was so much fun, as was the after-party at O'Sullivan's!

Now we're back in Houston with no travels abroad planned until our wedding in May. We came back just in time too; the weather is gorgeous! As Jimmy Buffett would say, the weather is here; wish you were beautiful!


Wedding in Italy

No, not my wedding! Last week Katie and I attended an IMD friend's wedding in Italy, which was absolutely marvelous.

The day before we departed we attended the Rice-UT football game at Reliant Stadium. There was just a splotch of Rice blue in the very UT burnt orange crowd but we cheered disproportionately loudly. The Owls gave us something to cheer for too, scoring first and outscoring UT in both the first and fourth quarters. A few key mistakes led to a 34-17 loss but overall we felt pretty good about our performance against one of the top teams in the nation--this should bode well for the season to come!

Sunday we departed for Bari in Puglia (the "heel" of Italy's "boot") via Milan via Newark. Both our Houston-Newark and Newark-Milan flights were on older Boeing 767 planes with two significant disadvantages: 1. Their entertainment systems are fixed, offering just a few movies at regular times and 2. They have special power ports that require a special adapter to use. I had become so spoiled by the 777s flying back and forth to Geneva (offering hundreds of on-demand movies and normal power outlets) that I was already in a sour mood when I realized that I would only have a few hours of laptop time and that I wasn't interested in any of the movies. Shame on me for not checking on this in advance, though.

On the international leg, Continental forgot my vegetarian meal request (At least they remembered Katie's.) so that left me with an even worse impression from the flight. Then Milan Malpensa airport lost Katie's luggage so that she arrived in Bari without any toiletries or changes of clothes. All-in-all, not one of our best flight experiences.

No matter, though, we were determined not to let it affect our trip. We swung by a clothing store outlet near Bari and picked her up some essentials then drove North to Lucera, where the Italian side of my family lives. We spent two days with my Italian cousins and it was a grand time. Touring around Lucera (which is older than Rome and has tremendous ruins of a castle and anamphitheater), eating, clothes shopping for Katie, eating some more, and just catching up with family. Oh, and eating even more! No matter how short it is, it is always a special experience to spend time with this distant family. These are my humble roots and it is important to stay connected.

Wednesday we drove further North to Tuscany to check out a venue we are considering for our own wedding. It was everything we hoped it would be and it had a few surprises for us--like a ping pong table and volleyball net on the premises! We spent the night there just to be sure but it is clearly the right choice.

Thursday we turned back around and drove South to Fermo, where we met up with dear friends from IMD. They weren't going to be able to make it to the IMD wedding so we were very excited to be able to see them regardless. We spent the night with them and their family and, once again, ate very, very well. It was our first time in that region (Le Marche) and we were very impressed. Mountains on one side, the Adriatic Sea on the other, rolling green hills in between . . . Le Marche has it all!

Friday we returned to Bari, where we were informed that Katie's bag had finally arrived--better late than never! We settled into a villa we were sharing with other IMD friends, including GIVEWATTS founder Jesper Hornberg. Friday night there was a dinner hosted by the bride's family but we turned in early, knowing that we would need our rest for the late, late festa the next night.

Saturday was unfortunately rainy. The wedding was supposed to be on the beach so the bride and groom audibled to a nearby indoor venue which was quite lovely. The ceremony was nontraditional and featured two IMD friends as officiants. After the ceremony we relocated to a beach club for the reception. This place was awesome! Course after course after course of food was served and the music had all been requested in advance by the bride, groom, and guests. Nourished by great food and buoyed by great music, we danced well into the morning.

I had been asked to be the Master of Ceremonies so my job was to ensure that the program of the reception was followed ontime (at least within the bounds of Italian standards of punctuality!) and to make announcements in English and Italian throughout event. It was a real honor to be asked to serve and I hope my performance was sufficient for their special day!

Finally, after a resounding chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody (a promise I had made to the groom), Katie and I departed around 4 AM. We heard that many people stayed until 6 but we needed to be up for a flight relatively early. Our return flight wasn't much better (again a forgotten meal request and we were passed over for upgrades for some reason that Continental still can't explain) but at least both of our bags arrived. All-in-all it was a really, really excellent trip!