All posts filed under “Inspiration

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Meeting Michael van Swaaij, Chairman (and former CEO) of Skype

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On Monday this week our MBA class had the opportunity to hear Michael van Swaaij speak to our class. He is the current Chairman of Skype, having previously served as CEO of Skype and Chief Strategy Officer (amongst other roles) at eBay.

First of all, I have to say that he was a fantastic speaker. I’m always impressed with speakers that don’t need the crutch of PowerPoint slides to make their point, and Michael was a very engaging speaker for 40+ minutes solid. (Before the Q&A.)

I want to quickly paraphrase a few of his top-level points:

  • If your first job isn’t great… don’t worry. Things will happen. To a group of MBA’s that will likely graduate during what will likely be an extended economic downturn, this was encouraging. While we may not be able to do exactly what we want to straight away, I did get the sense we’ll get there in the end. (And probably by a route we had never anticipated.)
  • Don’t focus on the press. Focus on the consumers. The press doesn’t reflect the reality that we need to live if we’re growing and innovating. The press is a lagging indicator of where industries are going. If you keep focused on consumers you’ll rarely go wrong.
  • Great products/services allow people to do something they’ve never been able to do before. Enough said there.
  • In growing a startup, you must hire well ahead of the curve. Companies and roles grow so quickly that the people you’ve got must be able to do the job above them, and likely the one above that. If they can’t they’ll hinder your growth. Unfortunately, few people want to have a job where they’re capable of doing so much more.
  • In high-growth startups, missing an opportunity is much worse than not taking full advantage of the opportunity. I’m not sure I 100% agree with every implication of this, but certainly do agree that you’ve got to grab every opportunity you can.
  • Leadership isn’t about you… it’s about the team. Enough said.

The Q&A portion was also enlightening and quite straightforward; unfortunately the most interesting bits were strictly off the record!

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What’s this photo about? Well, about 15 students have the opportunity to have dinner with the “Leadership Series” speakers after their talk. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to continue discussions with Michael and the Director of Judge Business School, Arnoud De Meyer (also a Fellow at Jesus College) at a beautiful room in Queens’ College.

First of all, I have to say that Michael van Swaaij has to be one of the most down-to-earth senior business leaders I’ve ever met. He’s had a lot of important jobs and done a lot of interesting things, and has come out of it a very wise man.

But what I really feel like looking back on our talks (where I didn’t take any notes) is how inspirational (yet down-to-earth) he was. Whether or not it was what he was saying, I came away with a feeling that we’ll be well-prepared for life post-MBA, and not to be too worried about it. We need to work hard, keep our eyes out for good opportunities and take advantage of them.

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[UPDATE]: The Judge Business School women have posted about this, too. Check it out here.

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Thoughts on Obama and leadership

It was clear to me quite early on Election Night that Nate Silver’s reputation was well-deserved, and Barack Obama was going to be the next President of the United States. As blue states were called quickly for Obama and it took quite some time to call red states for McCain, the result was even more clear.

I’m incredibly happy and proud for the United States to have the new leadership that we will soon have. It’s going to be an incredibly challenging time, and the next four years will not be easy for Obama or the country. But I feel that we have a wise, capable and visionary leader.

But I wanted to take some time to reflect on some themes around Barack Obama and his campaign. Fred Wilson posted his list of what he believes the country can expect from an Obama administration:

  1. A world class management team
  2. Honesty
  3. A steady hand
  4. Diplomacy
  5. Fairness
  6. Leadership

There’s a reason that “A world class management team” is at the top of the list, and it’s closely tied to “Leadership.” It’s clear from articles like “Near-Flawless Run is Credited in Victory” that Obama built a solid team. Not only that, but he had the confidence to push out a tremendous amount of responsibility to his organization. From a military outlook, it was an excellent example of what is called “maneuver warfare.” But there’s a great example of his management and leadership styles colliding in this video of his talk to his Chicago campaign headquarters just after securing the Democratic nomination. I encourage you to take 10-15 minutes to observe what Barack Obama is like as a leader:

Obama is clearly a charismatic leader. Just take a look at this incredible collection of photographs from the Boston Globe. And because I think they’re both still so meaningful, check out his New Hampshire concession speech and the video that was made from it. Even in defeat he lifted people up and inspired them.

Finally, I’d like to remind everyone that elections matter. I recently created a prediction market on Hubdub for something that I think will become very critical quite soon: Supreme Court nominations. I encourage you to register on Hubdub and predict for yourself!

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A touching story

The election is next week, and it’s clear from my previous posts that I’m an Obama supporter, and have been since he announced his candidacy in January 2007. (I’ve gotten a very good return on my investment in him at Betfair!)

For people that are interested in Obama, his grassroots/volunteer movement, or politics in general, I would encourage you to watch this short (2.5 minute) video. It’s a very touching story about an elderly volunteer in one of his Colorado offices.