I spent the last few days of my time in Philadelphia in my closing seminar, which happened to also overlap with the Eisenhower Fellowships Womens Leadership Conference. On Thursday the USA Fellows joined the 19 International Fellows for a day of leadership seminars. The International Fellows are an extraordinary group I wish I had more time with them. I did get to have lunch with Jane Shaw, Chair of Intel. She was awesome, and hearing her story made me realize some key points about how to be great. Ill write more about that in my Fellowship summary post after this is all done.
Friday was the conference, and I had breakfast the with a small group and Christie Todd Whitman, preparing for a panel. The conference was good, although I had to hop out continually for conference calls, and I was one of only three people with laptops open! Mostly I enjoyed meeting people, including Lisa Nutter, the Mayors wife (or re-meeting I guess we met once in the early 90s) and Director etc Aaron Posner.
Getting to China
I flew Saturday non-stop from Newark at noon to Beijing arriving Sunday at 2p. I slept on the plane for about five hours, which set me up well for the adjustment. I breezed through the Worlds Best Airport (said Conde Nast Traveler in 2009) Beijing Capital International.
I couldnt find my driver so I took a taxi to my hotel, the Hilton Wangfuging. I stayed here last visit too, its a nice hotel in a great location and Eisenhower gets a good rate.
Its chilly here, but no more than Philly or NY. Everyone talks about it though.
Beijing Startup Weekend
After settling in and managing to stay awake I headed over to a Startup Weekend run by my friend Andy Mok. 30 people pitched ideas on Friday, the top 8 took the weekend to develop their idea and presented. I was falling asleep so I didnt stay through the judging process, but there was a mix of really smart stuff (sms-based virtual currency for distributing aid), lots of so-so ideas, and some copycats. Theyre very popular here. One of these was a guy from Microsoft who wants to clone Ari Jacobys Solve Media. I was most intrigued by the idea of creating a virtual currency using SMS to distribute aid in disaster relief from Joey Renert (I am going to meet with him Friday). Presentations and the conversations were in a mix of English and Chinese, and the entrepreneurs could have been in NYC or SF. Only one team didnt use a Mac or iPad to present. Everything moves fast in China, and I think that Apple is going to take this place by storm (see the iPhone 4 line in the preceding post).
I managed to stay up until 10p supposedly thats the first step to zone switching successfully, woke at 3 but stayed in bed until 5, then got up and worked out, supposedly another step to switching successfully.
Breakfast in Chinese hotels is an extraordinary thing. I started to take pictures of all of it but was told that its not allowed theyre afraid youre going to go into business and copy the buffet set up! Never mind that every hotel has one. Anyway, heres what I got before getting in trouble:
Thats the dim sum station. There are also stations, as big, for:
Well-fed, I went down to meet Jack Perkowski. Jack is an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur-turned investment banker. in the 90s he built an auto parts business in China called ASIMCO. Now hes building JFP Holdings. Jacks main point/lesson is that to be successful in China, foreign companies need to truly localize, and most dont. Truly localizing means that Chinese managers need to have the authority to make the decisions. ASIMCO was a collection of majority-held joint ventures with Chinese parts manufacturers. The initial plan was to hire western industry veterans, which failed miserably. Plan B was to hire experienced Chinese managers, which also failed miserably (mainly because they came from state-owned enterprises). Plan C was accidental, but turned out to be the winner: hire new China managers managers who were Chinese but had worked in true capitalist companies. Jack believes that Chinese managers look at costs differently their gut reads 100 yuan like $100 (its worth about $15), and they operate that way. Wu Hai called foreign managers wasteful and I think this is behind that. Jacks story is told in Mr. China and Managing the Dragon.
After meeting with my able coordinator from CEAIE, Claire Zhang to go through my schedule for the week, I headed off to have lunch with the head of Morgan Lewis & Bockiuss Beijing office. Unfortunately, he was called away on an urgent client matter, so I met with the marketing person instead. We had a delightful Szechuan lunch. The biggest law firms in China are local theyre the only ones allowed to go to court. There are a few foreign firms that came here early and have good sized practices. Others, like Morgan Lewis, that came later are very small only 2 attorneys in this case, in a firm of over a thousand.
In the afternoon I had coffee with Bill Bishop, who co-founded CBS MarketWatch and has been in China since 2005. He is an angel investor (although not in China) and man-about-the-startup-scene. He confirmed and amplified my conclusions about how difficult it is to do business in China as a foreigner. Even though relationships and Government connections are less important for Internet businesses, only a couple of foreigners have succeeded. (Bills girlfriend has recently opened the first cupcake shop in Beijing another copycat!)
My dates were set and I got plane tickets and hotels this week! Weve made a major change and (m going to China twice rather than split between China and Korea. Although Im disappointed that I wont get to Korea, it makes more sense to concentrate my limited time in one country. Ill fly direct from Newark to Beijing on August 14th, spend a week there, then fly to Lhasa for a couple of days, and finish in Shanghai on the 24th-28th. In November Ill go back to Beijing and Hong Kong.
I'm thrilled that Dr. Carter Tseng, co-founder of Microtek, has agreed to help with my program in Beijing.
Logistically, Im applying for my visa, connecting to schedule meetings, and trying to figure out how to coordinate my meeting efforts with my program coordinator in China. Its all getting very real now!
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?
On Monday a big group of Eisenhower Fellowships staff and Fellows met with Mayor Nutter. The main goal was to introduce him to the program, enlist his support, and offer ours.
I've known Michael (as I cant help but think of him) for something like 20 years. I was a Democratic Committeeperson in his Ward in Overbrook when I was in my 20s. He was extremely helpful to our community group as we successfully stopped a private golf club from being paved over, and I helped him deliver votes for President Clinton. In the four years I worked with him, I gained enormous respect for those in public service including politicians through his example. He was tireless, attending breakfasts and evening events almost every day. He was smart, thoughtful, hardworking and completely authentic an impressive guy overall. And his ethics were unimpeachable.
On Monday, I received an official letter from the Mayor congratulating me on my Fellowship, with a nice personal note: Congratulations It would be great to see you sometime soon! Clearly, he had no idea I'd be showing up to see him that day! Ive only run into Michael a few times since we worked together, and he always remembers me, which is astonishing given how many people he must know. So it was fun when he came in, went around the room meeting everyone and gave me a smile, a hug, and a kiss. Sitting down he said something about not having seen me in a while, and I made a joke about the note. At the end of the meeting (more on that in a second), he came over and made a point of showing me Im in his Blackberry with the wrong name and number, but youre still in here! It was really nice.
The meeting itself was enlightening. The Mayor was happy to help and suggested a number of ways we could contribute so our mission was accomplished. For me the interesting part was his discourse on the realities he deals with. He was incredibly candid. The experience was 180 degrees from dinner with President Fox. We got a real feel for how difficult it is to manage a city today the % of budget in the 7 areas that no one wants cuts, the challenge of dealing with constant emergencies (that day it was a rumor of another flashmob), the unreasonable constraints the public wraps around government employees (e.g. all travel is assumed to be a boondoggle), I came away with a deeper appreciation of the mess were in and a deeper respect for the Mayor. Im doubtful that true success is possible, but Im glad hes sitting in that chair trying hard.
Finally, as at every Eisenhower event, I met more great fellows, including Sister Mary Scullion and Gail Harrity. I cant imagine how many cool people there will be at next weeks Opening Seminar, when Ill meet this years International Fellows and enjoy a day and a half of leadership development. Im looking forward to both!
President Fox was in town to speak to the Wharton Hispanic American MBA Association (WHAMBAA). They had a reception with him, then he joined a group of about 30 business leaders for dinner. The group was interesting for me because it was so different from those I usually interact with, mainly they were from traditional industries. Everyone had name tags with just their name and organization, e.g. Lucinda Holt ClickEquations. We all hung around, chatted, drank and enjoyed beautiful little hors doeuvres while we waited. My first faux pas of the evening was asking Brother McGiniss of La Salle University what his role there was. Hes the President Doh! Everyone here is the President.
My second awkward moment was meeting President and Mrs. Fox. I was about 2/3rds of the way in line, so I thought that I knew what to expect, but I wasnt ready when he took by hand and leaned in to kiss me. Both cheeks, European style. Then I wasnt ready again when Mrs. Fox, who is about 5 tall, did the same thing. Oh well, at least I used the correct salutation with each of them and knew which (of the very very many) utensils to use.
There were about 30 people in attendance, at three tables of 10. I lucked out and was seated at the main table with President and Mrs. Fox. I have no idea why. There were men who ran huge water treatment and engineering firms on either side of me, the founder of a huge money management firm in Chicago, Managing Partners from two major law firms, and two others (who didnt make much of an impact on me, I guess!) filled out the table. I enjoyed talking before and after dinner with the engineer. Amazingly, we grew up just a few blocks from each other in a crummy neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Living in a world of technology and venture capital Im used to being a small minority as a woman and that wasnt any different despite the industry diversity. The only other women were Mrs. Fox and Anne Gordon from Dubilier & Co., past Managing Director of The Philadelphia Inquirer (and Eisenhower alum).
Dinner was, candidly, much less interesting than I expected. While the other two tables talked raucously, we listened to the Presidents story about his flight delay (the universal topic, travel stories), which was very funny and he told it very well. Then he asked each of us in turn what we do and used whatever we said or asked to riff for a while. Im not deeply familiar with the politics of Latin America, but the conversation didnt get very deep. I was longing for someone to really engage him, but that clearly wasnt what we were to do, so we didnt. I would have loved to have had a real discussion about the paradigm of large government and NGO projects I think its totally broken and he clearly believes in it. The perspectives from that group would have been fascinating but we were there to bask in the presence, suck up, and be hit up (quietly and tastefully) for donations to Fox Centro.
The whole experience was tremendously educational for me. And now Im just a single small degree of separation from Fidel Castro and the Pope! I wonder if theyre on LinkedIn.
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.