School Pride Continued

No sooner had we returned to the US than we traveled to San Antonio for more IMD action - but this time closer to "home" turf! The Academy Of Management's annual meeting was being held there in several venues along the River Walk. The AOM is the preeminent academic organization for scholars in the fields of business and management. As such, many IMD professors, including IMD's president, were in attendance - along with 10,000 other management profs! I had been asked to participate in the session of one of my former IMD professors and jumped at the chance.

Katie and I arrived Saturday and spent the afternoon strolling along the River Walk. Although my brother attended university in San Antonio and I visited quite often, we never really spent much time in this part of town. Katie and I were enchanted by the canopy of trees, the fun restaurants along the river, and - above all - the lower temperature down in the shade! What a fantastic environment they have created!

Sunday morning was my presentation in the San Antonio Convention Center. Our session, led by Maury Peiperl and Suzanne de Janasz, focused on social value creation. Specifically, is it possible for organizations to to embed it in their philosophies/cultures? Or will it always be bare-minimum-box-checking?

We began with research by IMD professor Francisco Szekely, who had been my leadership coach during my MBA year, on Corporate Social Responsibility efforts by large corporations. The conclusion was that generally these have been ineffectual and are not being approached correctly at all.

I then followed up with my case study of Smart Office Energy Solutions, which we have designed from the ground up to have social value creation inextricably embedded in its DNA. It would be absolutely impossible for us to achieve economic success without also doing some good - and the more of one we achieve, the more of the other we achieve. Furthermore we create that same alignment of economic and social value for our clients, suppliers, employees, and investors such that this "good capitalism" spreads virally. My conclusion therefore was quite optimistic: that capitalism can align with social good but we need business leaders to search out business models that feature that alignment.

Our final "practitioner" (as we non-academics are called) was Lynellyn Long, who concluded with a much less optimistic "reality check" based on her experience in human rights activism, working with non-profits, NGOs, and governments. Her conclusion was that yes, perhaps it can be done but that Smart Office Energy Solutions is by far the exception to the rule and that the current landscape for corporate social value creation is actually quite bleak.

Finally we launched a session-wide discussion about not only these topics but also, more pointed for the business school professor crowd: how can social value (or attempts to align it with economic value) be taught to future generations of business leaders? The discussion was quite lively as we had a packed venue and I was encouraged by how much interest there was in the topic. Regarding social value pedagogy, I get the feeling that it may be like entrepreneurship, for which the consensus is that it can't be "taught" theoretically; instead it has to be developed experientially. That corresponds with my own experience; I certainly didn't develop a passion for using business to "do good" in the classroom!

I was really honored to be included in this session and it felt good to dip a toe back into the pool of academia. Who knows, maybe some day in the future I will expand my academic pursuits - in the meantime, though, I'm focused on getting things done! In addition to the session, it was a good chance to catch up with other IMD professors, including the few minutes I spent psychoanalyzing Jack Wood over coffee - I thought I was turning the tables on him but he was probably actually just gaming me the entire time! And on top of it all, it was a lovely 30 hours or so in San Antonio with my beautiful bride - tough to beat that!


School Pride

These last two weeks have been full of involvement with my university (Rice) and MBA (IMD) almae matres. After the Finnish wedding (which was itself an IMD connection), Katie and I spent a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland before returning to the US. Being in Switzerland always brings back memories of times at IMD, partially because Switzerland just doesn't change (Even the ads at the airport are the same!) and partially because Switzerland is just so different than Houston!

On our first afternoon we returned to the park where I proposed and celebrated our one year proposal anniversary / three month wedding anniversary. It was a grand mini-vacation and excellent welcome back to a place we love. Monday evening we had fondue (How Swiss!) with IMD friends at Le Chalet, overlooking Lac Leman. The sun was setting, lighting up the mountain faces with soft rose colors, while the moon was rising - absolutely beautiful!

Goodness, though, if we thought Finland was expensive, it was nothing compared to Switzerland! Switzerland has always been pretty costly but now, with the incredibly strong Swiss Franc (vs. the dollar and the Euro), it is more extreme than ever. Our modest picnic lunch, assembled at the grocery store, cost more than $60!

Tuesday we just kind of hung around Lausanne and caught up with other friends there. In the evening we divided up: the girls had a ladies night at a wine bar in Flon while the guys had male bonding at the Croix d'Ouchy - an old favorite. It was fun to see several classmates I haven't seen for some time.

Wednesday I gave a presentation at IMD on using social media for your own personal branding. I gave the same presentation last year but practically rewrote it from scratch this year due to all the changes/advances in the social media world during the last 12 months. The students seemed receptive and I hope it was valuable for them as they pursue their career searches. This was followed by an incredible dinner at Beau Rivage with our most gracious hosts - also IMD classmates. Beau Rivage was the site of our graduation so the IMD connections continued.

Early Thursday morning we hopped the train to the airport and returned to Texas, where the scholastic links rolled on - but that will be the subject of my next post.


Finnish Wedding Part 3

Saturday also began with a very late start (after briefly waking up for the amazing breakfast buffet). It was raining a bit so we didn't venture too far but we did walk around and see the Church in the rock, which was very cool. Again we bumped into our classmates while we were walking around town and, while we were having lunch, we witnessed a SlutWalk protest - hundreds of Finnish women (and some men) dressed outlandishly made for a "unique" cultural experience!

Saturday evening was the wedding itself, a positively lovely affair. After a short civil ceremony we were treated to more excellent Finnish cuisine for dinner: lots of raw meat and fish, but also delicious vegetarian options. The wine was very well paired with the food too. As we ate there were some toasts, mostly in English but also in Finnish. They were clever and poignant and paid great tribute to the happy couple. When Tuomas delivered his toast in Finnish to Emilia, it reinforced something we all learned at IMD - that only a very small part of communication comes from the actual meaning of words. Even though we couldn't understand his words, the heartfelt homage to his life partner was clearly evident.

Before we transitioned completely from sitting to dancing there was a brief bit of drama. It seems that someone kidnapped the bride! In order to earn her back, Tuomas had to answer trivia questions about her and then dance a traditional Texas line dance! At first his performance was not deemed enthusiastic enough so he gave it another try, pulling out all the stops, and won her back - what a great tradition!

Then the dancing started and it was a LOT of fun! The DJ played everything from 80s staples to contemporary Finnish music, to everything in between - including Finnish covers of classic songs. Despite the cool weather outside, it got very, VERY warm inside so I had to alternate between dancing and cooling off outside. Eventually the best man made an announcement that it was time to stop drinking . . . and start getting wasted - what a great sentiment!

As Katie and I were dancing with one of my Chinese classmates, having a blast, it reminded me of a failure of mine from the IMD year. I was so focused on academic achievement that I missed many opportunities to bond with my classmates, foregoing parties to work, for example. It is so evident to me now, though, that my classmates were IMD's greatest assets, and relationships with them are the greatest benefits that I took from the program. This is now the top piece of advice I give to incoming students: to take time to get to know their peers. In my case I am now finally doing it at, for example, weddings like this one - better late than never!

At 1 AM we had to relinquish our venue so we all hopped on a bus to The Tiger, the self-described classiest club in Helsinki. There we had some tables reserved and kept the dance party going until 4 AM. As the club closed, Katie and I walked back to our hotel under the early sunrise and relished in the denouement of what had been an incredibly fun night.

Sunday began with brunch at an island mansion. Our party was noticeably diminished in size, partially because some people had already departed, but also because many people were still suffering from the previous night. Those of us who made it out were treated to excellent recovery food and a great view of the bay. Afterward Katie and I ferried over to Suomenlinna, the world's largest sea fortress, for some touring and sight seeing.

Sunday evening featured a final, casual dinner with the wedding couple and then Monday morning we were up eaaaaarly to catch our flight to Switzerland. Somehow it is easier to get up at 4 AM, though, when the sun is already rising. As we waited for our airport ride, I breathed in and took one last look at the gray, early lit skies above the train station and savored my most "canonical" view of Finland. It was a short trip but a fantastic introduction to a great country and great people! Many congratulations to Tuomas and Emilia!

Finnish Wedding Part 2

Friday began with an amazing breakfast buffet at our hotel. It was a veritable smorgasbord of Nordic staples: pickled herring, mustard herring, marinated salmon, little pancakes, organic spelt/barley porridge with lingonberries, eggs, freshly baked bread, cheese, pastries, nuts/seeds, and fresh fruit. None of this wimpy continental breakfast for us - these Finns know how to start the day off right!

To be more precise, Friday actually began by waking up at 4:30 AM - my body was still getting used to the new time zone. Normally I might be able to roll back over and go to sleep in the dark. However, it was already very light out! This far north they have very little actual darkness in the summers. While we were there the sun generally set ~11 PM and rose ~4 AM - I can't imagine what it was like back around the summer solstice!

Because of this early morning wakeup, we found ourselves spending the rest of our morning after breakfast napping instead of exploring the town - oops! We roused ourselves in time for the first event of the wedding weekend, though: soccer! We walked down to the south end of the peninsula (Helsinki is incredibly walkable and there is public transportation to take you anywhere that's out of range.) and met the families of the bride and groom in a beautiful green park.

The groom's side would be playing the bride's side in a "friendly" game of soccer in the park. However, it was immediately evident that the bride's side was very sporty and pretty competitive to boot! Having not played soccer since I was ~5, this made me a little nervous. Also, I didn't have any cleats, just the Vibrams Five Fingers that I had brought for walking/jogging, so changing direction might be hard. Oh well, even if I made a fool of myself and totally let Tuomas down, I would at least get some good exercise!

Before the match started we energized with Finnish home cooking and plenty of beer - my kind of pre-game ritual! Then the match began on a [fortunately] shortened field. Long story short: I managed to score three of our five first-half goals - two kicks and one header - so hopefully I acquitted myself well. They were mostly blind beginner's luck, but I'll take them! The highlight for me, though, was a jumping scissor/bicycle kick to clear the ball out of our side. It just went out of bounds but at least it connected and it felt pretty cool! The groom's side had more people than the bride's side so I sat out the second half and got to know some of the other attendees - including two other Houstonians, one of which was a Rice Owl!

Afterward we continued to drink and threw around a REAL football as well. Both the bride's and groom's sides were full of Finns who play American football - both full contact and flag varieties. How awesome is that? Finally we disbanded from the park and several of us went for a late lunch at a cafe overlooking the bay. The weather was beautiful so we were happy just to relax and soak it all in. Walking around in the afternoon we bumped into some other IMD folks. Helsinki is small enough that it isn't uncommon just to bump into people you know--even when you're not from there!

Dinner that evening was organized at The Sea Horse, a traditional restaurant near the wharf that serves classic Finnish fare. We began with cocktails and Katie and I both tried ones that we thought we could never find back home. She had one that was like a kir royale but with rhubarb liqueur. I had a martini-like drink with blueberry liqueur - they were both delicious!

To eat, I tried the traditional Vorschmack  while Katie had a very creamy mushroom soup. Then, for our main courses, we both had freshly caught local fish . . . for the third time that day! Dinner was delicious and was followed by some drinks at a local bar. Once again it was good to catch up with IMD classmates but this time it was also great getting to know some of the Finnish friends and family of the wedding couple. We called it an evening by 1 AM as we needed to rest up and bring our A game the following night!


Finnish Wedding Part 1

Katie and I went to Finland for the first time in our lives for the wedding of two IMD friends and we absolutely loved the place! A cynical MBA friend of mine once advised me that the best benefit of business school was that it provided many travel opportunities for weddings of classmates. As international as IMD is, it really takes that benefit to the extreme! This was our third wedding outside of the US in the last 10 months but the first in a place that was totally new to us.

We arrived Thursday in Helsinki, where we were immediately impressed by the architecture. Many buildings were designed by famous artists and were both unique and beautiful. We were also astounded by how many and how well people spoke English. In fact, not only did they speak English better than many Americans, they were incredibly hospitable, nice, and gracious - which was a good thing, because everything was very expensive there! Still, given the quality of the people, buildings, and open spaces (many parks, plazas, sea views, and tree-lined promenades), you clearly get what you pay for!

Thursday evening we met up with other IMD couples for dinner and it was great to see people from Finland, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, India, China, Hong Kong, Romania, New Zealand, and France. In all there were  eight alumni from the IMD MBA Class of 2008 - nearly 10% of our class - and amazingly I had only worked closely in a group with one of them. Accordingly, in addition to celebrating the wedding of our classmate, Tuomas, and his awesome bride, Emilia, this weekend turned out to be a great chance to bond with other classmates as well. Dinner Thursday evening was a great way to kick that off!

While we were at dinner, we bumped into an older gentleman who had noticed us talking about IMD. It turns out that he was an MBA graduate from 1988. Small world! Or rather, global network!