On April 8th and 9th this year’s 9 USA Eisenhower Fellows joined the 16 International Fellows for a two-day Opening Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia. (First shock – the hotel’s parking lot doesn’t take credit cards – can you imagine?). The seminar was a great way to get to know each other, with lots of work in small teams. I wish there had been even more time to get to know more people and I’m looking forward to seeing the International Fellows again at Microsoft next week.
The event opened with introductions (which were sort of overwhelming). Then we reviews of our own leadership styles and how to identify and work with others’ styles all within the context of leading change. Then the real fun started – each team of 5-6 was set up with a local organization to visit and analyze. My team got The Philadelphia Inquirer.
We took taxis up Broad Street to the 85-year old building. The newsroom couldn’t look more different from the offices I’m used to. First, of all it’s enormous, housed in the old print room. More telling, the average age has to be in the 40s at least, and there are piles of paper everywhere. They must print everything out
After a tour, we had the opportunity to meet first with people from the newsroom – the Deputy Managing Editor, a section Editor, and a religion reporter. It was fascinating to hear each of them talk about the passion they still have for their mission and the reality of the challenges that the newspaper, and papers in general face. I came away deeply impressed with each individual, but shocked at how powerless they seem to have decided to be in the face of their industry’s devastation. They seem to believe that it will be alright in the end because it should be. I agree that it should be, but I can’t share their optimism.
After meeting with the newsroom staff, we had the amazing opportunity to spend over an hour with the paper’s CEO Brian Tierney. Brian had a much clearer sense of responsibility and a vision for the future of the paper. Brian spent so long with us that we were late back for the afternoon’s read-outs and missed a number of teams’ presentations. But it was clear that every one had a great experience and got a lot out of it.
We had a brief break to make our way over to the Union League for photos (which took absolutely forever), then a presentation and roundtable discussion with Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin (President of Middle East Institute, former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and US ambassador to Pakistan and Laos).
She gave a fascinating talk comparing leadership styles of Presidents Bush and Obama – including personal experiences of the Rumsfeld-Powell dynamic – and answered questions about the situations in Pakistan/Afghan region today. After the roundtable we had dinner with some Eisenhower Trustees, Advisory Board members, and supporters. After dinner I headed back to get my car in the cash-only lot and – shoot – took about 15 minutes to find it. I have to get one of those iPhone apps that remembers where you put your car.
The next morning we talked about how to ask good questions. Pretty much all Eisenhower Fellows do is ask questions, so it’s a critical skill. We also did a great activity in which we each selected a picture to represent our view of the US from a huge set of random images. These were posted on the wall and later some of us explained why we’d selected what we had.
The best was Alejandro Alfonso Diaz (from Mexico)'s. He selected an illustration of a huge man sort of like this. I wish I had captured his comments – they went on and on and were incredibly insightful.
We also had a discussion about healthcare and the interactions between government, nonprofit sector, and private sector in the US. It was fascinating to see my European teammates who knew, intellectually, about our system struggle with the concept of no universal healthcare. Yes friends, it’s unimaginable that we allowed 47 million people without insurance. (To be political for a moment, I find it equally astounding that 40 million Americans have incomes of less than $425 a week for a family of four.)
Finally, the USA Fellows bid farewell to the International Fellows and headed over to the Eisenhower House. There we discussed all the logistical details we’d been dying to know (I list the main ones here because I’m sure that future Fellows would like to know):
What is the schedule like?
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.