Friday, May 30, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 39 - Encroachment?

Everyone likes to ask, “how are you and Patti handling you being home…is she ready to throw you out of the house yet?” Luckily for me the answer is, "not yet". What I have come to realize is that the clear lines we had prior on what each of our household tasks were is beginning to blur. Back in the day when we both were working we had defined sets of responsibilities. We used to say to each other that certain chores/areas had either a “P” or a “V”. As you can imagine, the “P’s” were mostly outside and structural. The “V’s” were inside or related to the recurring tasks; housecleaning, finances, etc.. And then when we moved to California and Patti stopped working she basically picked it all up while I went away and toiled through the day. But now that I am home and in and out of the house throughout the day, certain things are creeping back in to my set of responsibilities. And it comes subtely It is a “can you talk to the gardener about this”, or “can you be home to watch Louis”, etc. Not big things, but things nonetheless. The things that when people say, “I have never been busier” are part of what encroaches on all that time you think you are going to have. What I have learned, even in this short amount of time is that just like in business a well defined set of boundaries and shared responsibilities is the best recipe for conflict free accomplishment of tasks and objectives. So as soon as I am done with chasing the gardener down to find out why he is four weeks late on laying down the wood ships, I will have to set up a meeting with Patti. ;)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 38 - Poke in the Eye

Today was started at a breakfast with an entrepreneur who I respect highly. This is a guy who from a young age when he came to this country learned how to run businesses. He and his father started and ran a chain of truck stops in North Carolina while he was growing up. Later he came to Silicon Valley and in his six years here he has run, started and closed, bought and successfully sold a number of companies. Some with early and great success, others where there was the swift kill before taking money from others. While he was checking in on me over breakfast and how I am doing, he said something very profound and meaningful to me. He said, "Rusty, i know it hurts, but a poke in the eye was good for you". Yes, he is right, that does hurt on a number of levels, but at the end of the day, he is right. While success definitely begets success (which I have been blessed with many times over in my career) so does the learning one has when the ball didn't make it out of the park as expected. While failure is never desired, a poke in the eye heals and does do some good. Even better is having someone talk openly about it in a non-judgemental way. In the valley, you always hear, "you aren't good unless you have some failures to show along the way". While that sounds goods on the surface, there is still from most, that look on the face, the missing gleam in the eye and the rightful questions that come from the explanations of what could have been done better. Later in the day I was on the phone with another entrepreneur who I respect and invested money in his company, I lost it but would invest again in him. I was telling him about the poke in the eye and while we both agreed that no one wants one, having one doesn't mean a "black eye" and if it does it is only for a little while and like a real black eye it goes away with time. I haven't spent much of my time looking backwards or spending time on the "ifs and buts" but I will say that in even this short amount of processing time, that I would rather have had the poke in the eye than never to have tried and I hope that no one ever shy away from the opportunity step out and lead or found something because of what might be on the other side. We are born through procreation and to create is at the root of who we are. Let us all drop our guards and use our hands (and minds) and if that means we get poked in the eye...then just bring it on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 37 - Face to Face

Today was about flying back from the east coast. Headwinds at our nose the whole way, making it a 6.5 hour flight from Boston to San Francisco. On that long flight my mind just couldn't help but wander and think and observe what was going on around me. There was business occurring all around me with a scattered crying baby or two interspersed. Walking through the plane from the back to the front the I could see a sea of open laptops and I would guess that 80% of them either had PowerPoint or their Outlook open, doing business. What this tells me is that face to face in business is far from dead. People want to go to people and no matter how hard we try with telephone and video conferencing, nothing can substitute for the sit-down face to face meeting. Travel for the face to face meetings was something I have done for all of my career and while I don't miss the hassles of the airports, the impersonal customer service of the airlines, and most of all the randomness of the TSA upon check-in, I do miss the traveling to meet face to face with employees, customers or partners. These are usually great meetings because from the onset the other party knows you made a cost, time and wear and tear decision and you are spending all of this on them. There is a built in appreciation as the foundation for the meeting to be built upon. As we find more efficiency and productivity (which we should) and technology lowers the cost and barriers for non-travel dependent interactions, we should also cherish and relish in the moments that we do get to sit down with each other in the same room and do our work. These are human moments of interaction that we should not miss the opportunity to make the most of, lest they not be there in the future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 36 - Quiet?

You would think that quiet time would come easily when you don’t work. Wow, I am finding just the opposite. And this is especially hard for me as what I need is just that…quiet time. I am very much looking forward to our summer in Rhode Island for many reasons but for this reason in particular. I need to change environments to take out the noise of meetings, running around, meeting requests, etc. What I need is the two plus months of just hanging out and not putting anything on top of that recreational time. I’m not sure how someone can retire in Silicon Valley. Every conversation at a Starbucks is about who is funding who and what their next idea is going to be. This does not lend itself to quiet time and without quiet time there is no thinking time. I was with the founder of Apture recently and he told me the story of when he graduated from Stanford and needed the time to focus on building out Apture, that he headed to Argentina and did the work from there versus here. Just too many distractions and noise here. Writers retreat to their cabins to finish the book or play. It all makes sense. There needs to be a retreat for those who are just looking for the quiet time for decision making. There needs to be quiet places where one just goes to listen to themselves and to God. Yes, I know, you could call that church. Regardless, in today's world quiet has turned into a luxury.

Friday, May 23, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 35 - Conversation Imbalance

I have noticed in my conversations with friends and former colleagues just how obsessed we all are with work. Nearly every conversation carries some element of their job and work within the context. While not surprising, it is much more obvious when you don’t have anything to add back about your own job or happenings/challenges at work. It’s kind of like when at a party and you don’t drink and everyone else does. It is all so clear to you but not so much to everyone else. What I have found challenging for myself is that when I don’t have my own work-related response that the conversation can die off quickly. I might be overly sensitive but this week I found myself in conversations that went into a dead end and I didn’t have anything topical to bring them back and keep them on track. It was weird. Of course, I can relate many of the things to my past to the current conversation, but it is different for sure. Something as conversational as what does the summer vacation plans look like. As someone is telling you about how hard it is going to be to get a couple of weeks away, you just can’t say, “I don’t know why you don’t take the whole summer off like me?” :) What this means is that I have to be even that much more on top of what is going on in the business world and on top of the latest facts, happenings, etc. Of course, I could take the conversation in many different directions that would probably be better for all of us, but in all reality people really want to talk about their work. If they are struggling. it is therapeutic to talk it out. If they are on a work-high, they want to let others know. So, it’s okay with me if the conversation is a bit imbalanced. It’s just the way it is supposed to be…for now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 34 - Swimming Holes

Okay, this has been sticking with me and I must share. On Monday when I got to Austin, it was hot. I mean really hot. Like triple digit August Austin hot but it was May. I got out to Hank Stringer's house (Casa Stringer for me when I am in Austin and because of Hank and Liz's enormous hospitality) around 4:00pm and it was the hottest part of the day. Hank asked me what I had cooking and I said, "other than me, nothing, why?". He said, "if you have nothing going on, let's go down to the swimming hole". I had a pair of running shorts with me and I really didn't have anything to do, so I said, "Yeah, let's go to the swimming hole". And that is what we did. Hank, his son Jack and me walked downstream from his place to where his neighbor has dug out all the way down to the limestone and dammed up the creek enough that he has created about a 6 foot deep by 25 yards long real swimming hole. I had my phone/PDA with me and I laid it on a rock far enough away from the water that even if I had gotten a call, I wouldn't have been able to answer it in time and I took the plunge into the cold creek water. And while I was treading water to say warm I was all smile as I felt like, as much as I have felt since I was in eighth grade back in Indiana, that I was playing hooky from school on a early May day. I never was one much for playing hooky from work. I can count on my one hand the number of times that I snuck out of the office early to play golf and I can't ever remember going out to lunch and deciding to make an afternoon out of it. While I don't condone that behaviour, I must say that in the long-term scheme of things, playing hooky every now and then with business associates is not the worst of things. We lack camaraderie in business these days. More than that we lack the stories that we can tell over and over and reminisce against. Maybe a few more hooky days where you sneak out of the office and go to the swimming hole would create some bonds that could end up being lifelong. So, if you get the chance, Google map where your local swimming hole is and put an afternoon on the calendar to just go.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 33 - Two Ears One Mouth

I’ve written a lot about all the different pitches that I have heard over the past few weeks. What I have determined is that one of the most critical skills that must be strengthened during the downtime is your listening skills. What a revelation, you might be saying cynically, but it’s very true during this period and it is different than when you are in a job, looking for a job, selling yourself, etc. In those cases, it is easy to find yourself feeling like the time you have in an hour with a recruiter or someone from the other company, is that you need to be sure and get out as much as you can about yourself. Time is limited and you want to make the most of it. But in this stage when time is not limited you can take the extra hour to dig deep, ask questions, think before you speak, make associations across your former work to the possible work. Most importantly, you can let the other person talk more about themselves and the company/position they represent. And guess what, everyone wants to talk about themselves and if given the chance will do it. And at the end of the conversation they will either consciously or subconsciously like that you listened to them. That creates a positive halo over you. Today, I had a conversation with someone talking to me about a Board position and I found myself falling back into the talking vs. listening mode and all of a sudden, I felt uncomfortable. After a few minutes, I knew why. I have been in listening mode and I slipped backwards. Once I realized what I was doing, I just shut up. And from there, I could tell that the conversation started going better. I felt better and I could tell that the person on the other end of the phone felt better. Yes, listening is a skill. It can get more and more developed and the more we use our listening muscles the stronger they will get. There are plenty of opportunities to talk and it’s a pretty good guess that our talking muscles don’t atrophy very fast. So, this is the best of times for the use of two ears and one mouth.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 32 - Common Courtesy

Board meeting day. Once every other month I fly to Austin for a Board Meeting. I take these seriously, as I have been on the other end of the stick when a Director shows up for a meeting unprepared or late, hasn't read the material, wants the meeting to be over with before it starts, hurries through the presentations, spends all of their time on their Blackberry or email, and at the end of the meeting doesn't have anything much to add at all. Those who lead businesses need their Boards to be participative, active, prepared and provide value-added perspective and direction. If for nothing else, this is about common courtesy, which seems to be a waning "skill" these days. You see it every where don't you? From the parking spot derby that happens when the spot opens up, to the pushing and shoving during the boarding and de-boarding of the plane. I know that a lot of it has to do with our fast-paced, overly-scheduled lifestyles. One of the areas I am trying to work on within my downtime is to take the time to have the extra courtesy that once was common but today receives a raised eyebrow of marvel. Small things like opening the door for others, speaking to others on an elevator, wishing others to have a great day even when you don't know them. And, especially with the people I am involved with on the business front whether they be management teams, business partners, associates or friends. The extra kind word, the extra preparation, the extra question the shows you want to dig below the surface. The common courtesy that we should all strive to make a part of our everyday lives.

Monday, May 19, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 31- Real Purpose

Over this past weekend, I had a very good college friend, Tim Streett, come to San Francisco. He came out for the weekend to speak at Cornerstone Church, where Patti and I belong. I have known Tim since college and have followed his career and ministry since. When I listen to his testimony and what he is doing with his life to serve others I cannot help but be touched and impacted by his commitment to serve others before himself. His unselfish approach to life is to be highly admired. As I flew to Austin today for an ItzBig Board meeting, I thought of Tim’s calling. I thought of part of the mission that I put in front of myself when I went into this dormant period. I committed to myself that I would search for the significance in what I was going to do next. I look at what Tim does and all I can see is significance. I also can see that with each month, week, day, moment, Tim finds the significance in what God has put him on the earth to accomplish. Tim is a great reminder for me on this day that we need role models in our lives to keep us framed up in the right way. Tim is a great reminder for me on this day. A reminder that all things that I am tilting towards must be of significance or I will end up being back to wasting the precious days I have left. So, no excuses...and thanks Tim.

Friday, May 16, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 30- Slight Movement

Today I made some movement in what I am doing by deciding to join the Board of The people, the idea, and the need for the technology/product is so strong that I felt deeply that it was something which I wanted to be involved. But that is not what I want to write about. What I want to express is the feeling that I felt with the decision. With this decision I felt a very real inner excitement about what I can do and what this opportunity means. Of course it is a great thing to have in front of me, but what is really great is that since I have been saying no to so many good choices in front of me that making this decision is a multiplying feeling of satisfaction. This just reinforces to me that when someone is making career decisions that it is better to be in a place where you can step back and see the landscape and have multiple choices before making a decision. This runs counter to conventional wisdom where it is better to have a job when you are looking for one. That probably still holds true from a hiring or recruiting perspective but from the decision-making/candidate angle I don’t think it holds up any longer. Especially for those who know they will have multiple choices. It is hard to make decisions with all the noise, pressures, priorities sitting on our desk and shoulders. It is not until you can sit in the quiet of the morning or the stillness of the evening and let your mind drift that you can make the best decisions. And when it comes to those decisions that are going to effect time away from family, friends, ourselves, the risk of not making a good decision come with high stakes. I am glad I have found some quiet to date and I am looking forward to more over the next few months. And I am also glad I have made some movement that has come from this quiet period. If you have not found your own quiet time, do. An hour, a half hour, whatever you can find, will give you better decision making and better reflection on what is important and what is not. And when it comes to decisions on how you will spend the most precious resource we have; time, then taking the time to make the right decision is imperative.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 29- Rituals

This morning I went for a run with my buddy Greg. We get together for a run once a quarter when he is in the Bay Area. After the hour-long run I was driving back to my house for a shower before having to rush to the city and I was thinking about how in downtime or uptime (not working or working) the rituals that we have in our life are part of what keep us moving forward in our lives in a steady and predictable way. It can either be the big or the small rituals in our lives. For me, those rituals include a daily devotional time, exercise and even structured email time. And then during the week I make sure that when I am in town I go for a long run with John and Peter on Saturdays. Wednesday mornings are reserved for phone time with Hank and coffee with Terry and David. These meetings and occasions are part of the rhythm that sets a beat to life. I notice that when I let myself drift from the rituals that it is then that I start to feel frazzled, unorganized and unproductive. Work provides a framework for a set of rituals for most. Going to a place, having a set of hours for work each day and counting on that day in and day out can be the best way to set rituals. When you are not working the discipline to keep the rituals alive has to go up to ensure that they do not drift and begin to not be habits or real commitments. I encourage anyone who is going through a downtime period to work as hard as they can to either keep their rituals or if they do not have them, to find them and then keep them. Without them you might wake up wondering what happened to the time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 28- What's Really Going On?

Since I have the time to be on this “science fair project” I can take time out of the day and talk to those who I normally would have been too busy or too distracted to converse. Today, I talked to NYC taxi drivers and a limo driver who drove me from Manhattan to JFK. A month or so ago, I opined that our commuting habits and patterns would not change until gasoline prices hit $8.00 per gallon. That was not actually my theory, but Jeff Brown’s, but I agreed with it, so I have to be honest about it, that I also didn’t think that we drivers and consumers of convenience could change until the pain was much much higher. Maybe, Jeff and I are wrong because today I had two different drivers tell me that in the last week, that the commuter traffic outside of New York City has dropped significantly in the last two weeks. I might have not believed it other than today I drove from Park and 53rd to JFK in just at 20 minutes. Okay, no big deal, right…it was Sunday morning. If it was Sunday morning, then that makes all the sense in the world. But, this was not Sunday morning, this was 12:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon on May 14th. 20 minutes to JFK at this time? Doesn’t see right for midtown does it? The drivers both attribute that the rising gas prices are changing the way that commuters are moving in and out of the city. So, maybe we are already in the change and we don’t know it yet. The shift could be occurring and we don’t kow it just yet. What does this mean for me, well like everyone else, as you learn and know more, you need to adapt your thinking and behavior. Don’t be surprised that for the next meeting in the neighborhood that I show up on my Vespa.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 27 - Integrity

Integrity is sitting with someone who knows themselves and can identify what great skills they have and their weak skills that they have not mastered and then apply this knowledge to their job and come out the backend of the analysis, stating, “I love my job!”. Today, I had the chance to meet with one of those rare people. She openly spoke of what she was good at and did so, with the most humility, and in the same breath revealed her vulnerabilities to me, a stranger. She did so with all confidence, because she knew that her strengths far outweigh her areas of weakness. That is the integrity that so many lack in their work. That is in many ways why for nearly 25 years I have struggled with the HR profession and what we bring to the party as it relates to work and the pride we must have in what we do for the money earned. The night Senator Obama won North Carolina, he spoke of an America where workers would once again be proud of their work. He is right. If we could return to a place and time where we were proud of what we produced and we knew what we were good at and we didn’t pretend to try and be someone we are not, we might once again talk about an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and just get on with it. We have so complicated the workplace that I question if we can ever return to the time when we worked together as teams, we cared for the company we worked for, and we had a loyalty to those who helped us get to where we are. If we are ever to return, it demands us to have the integrity of the woman I met today. That is what we are missing. I was excited to think that I might be able to interact with someone like this going forward. That one hour, out of the 24 I had on this earth today, was redeeming, hopeful, and worth whatever there was to face in the other 23.

Monday, May 12, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 26 - Blustery

I was in NYC on Monday and as I woke and looked out the window I thought of those who on Thanksgiving morning have to hold and control the strings of Garfield, Snoopy and other inflatable balloon/floats. It was one of those mornings. The rain was coming sideways and the wind turning the $10 street vendor sold umbrellas inside out at will. If it had been January in San Francisco I would have not thought about it for a moment, but it was May in Manhattan and spring so wanted to raise the temperature by another ten degrees and allow the perennials to legitimately bloom and not worry about the next frost. Symbolically, the segue could not have been better. The weeks, the month, my first quarter of my 100 business days out, have been full of much bluster like from those who have sat across from me at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and proposed off the cuff or sometimes more thoughtfully, without follow-up, their ideas, dreams, proposals, or business plans. There are lots of blusterers in the marketplace. Knowing the difference between those who have something to follow through on and those who have not becomes a skill. It also becomes a skill to suppress one’s emotions and not allow yourself to realize either the high of the moment or the low of realization that the phone call or the “next meeting” never comes. To the blusters; please either stop or just hold it to yourself until either you have yourself covered by your partners, know what you can really offer, or just don’t say anything at all. Fortunately for me on this Monday, the people who I met with were 180 degrees away from blustering. They were the real deal, honest, forthright and people who I would want to associate with going forward.

Friday, May 9, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 25 - Definitions

Okay, I wrote about this a bit before, but I have to give it more airtime now because it just keeps coming up. What is the definition of this period? Is it "sabbatical time", "semi-retirement", or just an honest "unemployed"? It definitely comes up over and over as I talk to others about what I am up to these days. What happens is that other people want me to define it for them. It matters to others depending upon what stage of life they are in. Like physical conditioning, they want to project what they feel on you. The one that is most interesting to me is when someone desires to have you define the time as unemployment. That usually comes when the person I am talking to has been out of work for a while or more than once, not by their choice. It is very critical to be aware of how others are feeling because if you flaunt that you are not working because you choose to not do so, there is a certain animosity that comes with the territory. I am watching this carefully as I, in no terms, in any way want to come across as haughty just because I am able to take time away from working. So, I guess the definitions of this time is the same as the definitions that we have about our life. At any given time, with any given group of people, we define ourselves differently to fit the situation. While we more than often define ourselves by our work and the job title we hold, there are times when one starts with other adjectives like parent, Christian, athlete, married or single, etc. Like the English language our words are flexible in what they mean and how we use them. What I find most important right now is that I choose my words and definitions wisely and in consideratiof that all times to those around me. That way when I come out of semi-retirement, or off of of the sabbatical, or better yet, able to find more work; I can be accepted back into the world of the working with no hard feelings whatsoever.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 24 - Outside In

What has been very interesting to me has been the extra attention I am getting because I am now on the outside looking in. The question I have been trying to answer is what is the definition of "outside" vs. "in". It appears that because I am not actively pursuing other opportunities that it gives me an "outsider status" that brings with it unique credibility. What I find fascinating about this is that I don't see my perspective or vantage point any differently than before. But, what happens is that others see you as totally unbiased and objective. Objectivity is potentially very valuable for those who evaluate investments or depend on their own instincts/knowledge to make decisions. It will be interesting to see if when I start to commit to ventures if that objective credbility falls off. What I do like, while I have it, is the ability to evaluate and opine on lots of subjects and business opportunities. What I also enjoy is that people are reaching out to talk about themselves, their careers and get advice. Helping remains a part of the fun of this outside looking in period.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 23 - 21 Years

Today I was back in New Orleans (twice in two weeks…three times in the last decade…weird timing) to speak to the senior HR Team of Cigna Insurance. I was invited by John Murabito, the EVP of HR to come speak to his team. Nearly 21 years ago John and I met and we grew up together within the Frito-Lay HR organization. We both parted PepsiCo around the same time, he to Monsanto, me to EA. We both did well and he is now the senior HR executive in one of the largest corporations in the US. And here we were in New Orleans, him leading his senior meeting and me coming in as a guest keynote speaker and someone that these young HR team were looking up to as what they should be aspiring. How does the time fly that we end up being the people that we once admired and wished we could someday be? It is even more striking when after all of these years you can sit and talk about those that were ahead of us and we still put them on their pedestal. And now we inherit the roles and we take on the responsibility of being the generation ahead. We have become the ones to be replaced. What a great lesson that 21 years taught me today. We all have our time, our moment, and when we get the chance we must pass it to the next generation and then let them carry the torch. For me, tonight was a passing moment and I am thankful and proud that John chose me to help him develop and bring his team along. That in itself is part of the legacy that one can leave behind. And without the years in the bank and the jobs successfully done, there would be nothing to pass along. I feel tonight as that is part of the journey I am on, to pass along to others what little I have learned and even smaller the amount that I might mastered.

100 Business Days Out: Day 21 - Objectivity Mirror

Today a challenge was thrown out to me by an acquaintance who is becoming a friend. I have a number of people who I feel aligned to in one way or another who I meet with regularly once a month. I call it scheduled collaboration. It's a term that Hank Stringer and I coined back in the early 2000’s when we were working on our book together. Well, today, during one of these scheduled collaborations, my friend challenged me by asking, “are you looking at your skills sets like you look at others and use the same criteria to help yourself figure out what you should do as what you tell others to do?” What a great question and great challenge, because the fact of the matter is that it so much harder to look at yourself objectively than it is to look at others. Something about, “don’t worry about the splinter in another’s eye when you have that log in yours”? I am sitting with this challenge and need to find a way to look within the objectivity mirror to find an honest answer for myself. Why is that so hard?

100 Business Days Out: Day 22 - No Watch

I realized today that for the first time in a month I haven’t had my watch on my wrist. It’s in my briefcase, when I decide to carry it. I wondered to myself today why I haven’t been wearing my watch. What I realized is that I have been scheduling meetings and events with ample time to get to them early (my quote: “There is no stress in being early”) and then plenty of leisure time between so no rush if I run over. It’s pretty liberating actually. I always thought that back-to back was the way to go…get lots jammed in and don’t have downtime as that would be wasted. I was fascinated that Bill Clinton, when President, was scheduled every 5 minutes and I figured that a back-to-back schedule was the way to go. Now in hindsight I realize that when you are back-to-back what you are really doing is not finishing meetings well. In fact, you are finishing them poorly because you start to think 15 minutes before they end on how to wrap up this one and get to the next one on time. And then if you are late, well you know how that feels. I will not mention a CEO who I worked with once who would run so far behind that he would carry over meetings into the next day. That was a nightmare for all involved and made people feel very disrespected. I was more than once on the receiving end of waiting until 7:00pm for a 4:00pm meeting to start only to be told that it was rescheduled for the next morning at 7:00AM. I never wanted to be like that so I worked hard to get done on time, but I now realize that to truly be present and respectful I should have left time between meetings so that I could be fully in the moment for an entire meeting and then have the downtime between meetings to get in the moment for the next one. Not to mention, I wouldn’t have to wear a watch.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Vintage Style Power

I just returned from the 134th running of The Kentucky Derby. I have lost track of how many times I have attended the Derby. I think it is somewhere close to 25 but I do know that this was my 16th year in a row. I am always easy to find on the first Saturday of May: Section 116 Box D05. The Kentucky Derby is all about tradition and pageantry. Since 1875 when Aristides crossed the finish line under the shadows of the famed twin spires, each year up to 160,000 people make the journey to the same place to partake in this most spectacular event. Each year we dress to the nines on Saturday and in recent years men have begun to don their favorite hat like the women have done traditionally. This year I decided to bring out of the closet a vintage straw hat originally owned by Clay Powell of Richmond, KY. His wife Grace (Granny Powell to me) gave it to me when Clay died. I was in high school and while most high schoolers can’t imagine the future value of something like this, I did and I stored it in the Stetson box that she gave me with the hat. The straw boater was made by Wright Straw Hats and best I can place its’ circa it was made somewhere in the early 1900's. Wright Hats are based in London and i don't know how Clay would have gotten one back then but maybe he traveled to London at one time. As you can see from the pictures, the hat fits me as well as it probably could without it being made for my head. Typically hats this old do not fit men of today as our heads are larger now. I get this on authority as I did take the hat to a high-end hat store and the owner was quite impressed with the quality and condition of the hat. She was also surprised by how well the hat did fit me. So, I decided that this would be the hat for me on May 3rd, 2008. Throughout the day I was complimented numerous times on the hat and as I showed those who cared how old it was and let them hold it, the threads of tradition flowed through the hat itself. For me, it was beyond what I could imagine. As I stood on my chair before the post parade of the Derby horses and sang my Old Kentucky Home, what I felt was the tingle of being a Kentuckian, born in Richmond, Kentucky in 1962, wearing a hat given to me by another Kentuckian born 60 plus years earlier than me. Clay was a Pontiac car dealer. I never knew if he owned his lot or just had worked there, but by the time I was old enough to know him he had already retired. He loved his hats, his beer and he loved me like a son he never had. Clay and Grace are like Patti and me that with no children you wonder whatever will happen with those items that you cherished? Will someone care enough to keep them or will they just get tossed away, sold in a garage sale, or left to be cleaned away with the sale of a house. I wish there was a way to send a message to Clay that his prized straw boater was the hit of the Derby this year. It’s not every day that vintage has a name and a story. This straw hat does.

Friday, May 2, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 20 - Vacation Day

It was 1993 on the Friday before the first Saturday in May. I had just been promoted to Director at Frito-Lay. Back then, and for someone my age, that was a big deal. With the promotion, my boss Dave Zemelman (another one of the great bosses), had given me full-access to our new CEO, Steve Reinemund (who went on to become CEO/Chairman of PepsiCo and now is the Dean of the Wake Forest Business School) and Dave had asked for me to work directly with Steve on a number of items. One of them was that I managed the open position requisition process and once a week I had to take all of the open jobs in the company in front of Steve and defend which ones I thought should be filled and which ones shouldn’t. He had final say and approval but I was the process guy to make it happen. The people in the field or hiring managers counted on me to keep the process flowing and to get those approvals as fast as I could. So, that demanded of me to keep my calendar fluid and to be ready to meet with Steve once a week when he could. I didn’t want to miss a week for many reasons. Well, on this week in 1993, he couldn’t meet with me in person at all and we needed to do a phone call to at least talk about a few of the critical open jobs. His assistant Ramona set me up to talk to him at 1:30PM CST. On that Friday, at that time, I was in Louisville at Churchill Downs for Oaks Day, the day before the Kentucky Derby. Now, you need to know that in those early days with Steve at the helm, we didn’t really know how he thought about certain things and how those things would relate to how he thought about you as a person. What I personally didn’t know was how Steve thought about horseracing; how that fit into his value set and more importantly, how might that influence how he thought about me. Funny now all these years later that I was concerned about this, but back then, it was a big deal for this young turk trying to work my way up. Well, I will tell you that I was sweating bullets because the only place I could get to a phone was right under the public address announcement speaker. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if while I was on the phone the bugler would play the call to post or Mike Battaglia would be calling a race. I was sweating bullets. I got lucky, we were on and off the phone in a matter of minutes, it was between races, and he never asked where I was on that beautiful Friday in Louisville. Over the years since, I have done many a work call from Churchill Downs including one year when we had an EA Compensation Committee call on that Friday…I promised I wasn’t betting the company money. J More than one candidate has been offered positions or closed while I was standing in Section 116 Row D and last year, I was up at 6:00AM EST on the Friday before Derby doing a webinar off of my laptop with an IP headset and microphone while I was sitting in a stairwell of our hotel. But this year I went into the Derby weekend with the only calls expected being those of friends who might want me to place a bet for them. No conference calls, meetings, outgoing calls to be made, just The Derby. For me, this is might be the first pure vacation day I can remember and what better day to make that mark than the Friday before the first Saturday in May.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

100 Business Days Out: Day 19 - Linus Syndrome

Today we flew to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby and today was the first time since I can remember that had I chosen, I would have been able to go out of town without my briefcase and my laptop. Every since 1991 when I got my first laptop, I have lugged around one on every trip whether for business or leisure. The good news about this is that since 1991 they have dropped in poundage from 20lbs to less than 3 lbs. Good thing too that I was younger when that Dell was 20 lbs. So, last night, I went through my briefcase (a MountainSmith Office Backpack) and took out all of the stuff I didn’t need for the trip to the Derby. The one thing left on the desk was my laptop. I sat and stared at my laptop for at least 10 minutes weighing the pros and cons of leaving my laptop behind. In actuality, I really didn’t need it. All of my emails could be reviewed and responded to on my phone. And if I was going to do any serious writing (like keeping up my Bolts of Thinking Blog) I could handwrite and post on Sunday when I get back. Even if I needed to reference my calendar or the internet I could do so in other ways. But as I stared there and looked at the laptop, I could hear it saying to me, “yeah but, what about all of the time you are going to have on the plane…four hours each way…don’t you want to use me for something during that time...we always go on trips together…all around the world…don’t you love me can’t leave me”! I succumbed. My laptop is like an appendage. I swear sometimes I think it wants to graft to the top of my thighs. It wants to be there for me. Leaving it at home would feel like losing my wallet or leaving my phone. I packed it in my briefcase but gave it a sharp warning that the next trip it should be prepared to stay home in its’ docking station. But I know me, and it knows me too. Come my next trip, I will start to think about what could be done and how much time I would lose out on if I missed the chance to do some “work”. And there it will be, snugly tucked in between my accessory pouch and the magazines and books that while I want to read, I probably won’t get to. The Linus Syndrome is real…I keep my little D420 Dell Latitude security blanket right here with me at all times.

100 Business Days Out: Day 18 - No Boss

Yesterday afternoon I met with Erick Hachenburg, who I worked with at EA. He is now the CEO of MetaCafe. As we were sitting at Tamarine in Palo Alto he said something that stuck with me. He said, “You have no boss to answer to”. While in my status, that is blatantly obvious, the implications are profound when you allow the statement to sink in. It is true, I have no earthly boss (I have to make the distinction about earthly because I always like to think that I have a heavenly boss) right now and because I have no boss, it is that fact that ultimately leads to the freedom that you experience when not working. I have worked for great people. At SNOCAP I had a good Board and an awesome Chairman in Jeff Mallett. Serving a Board is different than having one boss, but the same feeling of accountability, need to communicate, and being responsive, was there just as when I had one singular boss. Larry Probst at EA was a great boss. His way of managing let me set an agenda for him and then he expected me to deliver that agenda with lots of latitude to do so. And he was great about never micromanaging and he set the boundaries between work and life as well as anyone I have ever seen. As such, he didn’t impose lots of stress or demands on me. But what I have been finding out about myself is that it never was a boss, the company, a board, peers or subordinates who brought on the stress. It was me who self-imposed all of it. The realization of “no boss” for me is the realization that the worst boss I have ever worked for is me. It has been me who has made me feel as though I was falling behind or not keeping up. It was me who laid the guilt trip on me when I wasn’t in the office by 7:30AM. It was me who caused me to worry about whether or not the project would go flawlessly and then criticize when it wasn’t perfect. It was me who demanded that the email inbox be always below 100 messages or I couldn’t go home at night. Why I couldn’t objectively see this before is beyond me. I have always been a “driver” and Type-AAA worker and I would shrug my shoulders and tell others that I am just the way I am, but down deep inside a lot of what drove me was the need to please and prove myself to others. So, when all is said and done, it is me who I needed to let loose of as the boss to get to where Erick said, “You have no boss to answer to”. In all honesty, that is going to take some time….

100 Business Days Out: Day 17 - Conditioning

A common question I am getting now is “are you running/working out a lot in all of your free time”? The answer, by the way, is yes. But, what I find fascinating about the question is that there seems to be a built-in expectation that when someone doesn’t have to go to work everyday that they should be in the gym a couple of hours a day and that this must be the period that you get in the best shape of your life. What I have found is that the question usually is rooted in the person who is asking and projecting themselves and their desires on you when they pose the query. It’s almost like if you were to answer, “Not really, in fact I am spending most of my extra time drinking and eating and I’m gaining lots of weight”, that you would be doubly failing. Failing yourself and failing them. There are lots of stories of first time marathons, triathlons, mountain climbs, etc., coming from those who are on “sabbatical”. I will admit that the same thoughts have gone through my own mind. At least in me some of that has to do with the need for goals and objectives to strive for, reach and exceed. And at the same time, get into better and better shape, so that when you see someone for the first time since you quit working that you get., “wow, you look great…10 years younger…all that exercise and sleep is treating you well”. Didn’t I write about self-worth once before? :)

100 Business Days Out: Day 16 - Three Square Meals

Let me start with this statement - I am not an eater. For me, food has always been about eating to live not living to eat. In fact, I would say that I have skipped way more meals than I have eaten in my lifetime with many a work day where dinner was the only meal of the day. Breakfast was always too hard to coordinate and the morning too rushed and full to stop and eat. Lunchtime was reserved for a run or working out. I might grab a Cliff Bar or maybe a salad occasionally and eat them back at my desk. I was also not a big fan of eating meetings. If I could avoid a business dinner I would. When I did lots of recruiting I always avoided eating with an interview. One never wants to be locked into a full meal with someone who might not want to spend that much time with. All of this rambling leads me to the fact that right now, I am meeting over meals more than I have ever done or want to do. It seems that that the natural time for most people to get together is breakfast or lunch so every day I find myself with a breakfast or lunch meeting and going from place to place to do so. I am learning how to eat lightly a number of times a day, which according to all of the nutrition books is what you are supposed to do anyway. I am also learning to look forward to these meetings and enjoying the time with someone over food. A restaurant executive once told me that sharing food with someone was the second most intimate thing we do with other human beings. Since I put sleeping in the same bed with someone pretty intimate too, I would say it is the third most intimate thing, but I do agree that if you don’t take for granted the time and the experience, the lunch meeting can actually be something special.