On this Memorial Day weekend I am thinking about all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of Freedom. The world we live in is a dangerous one, fraught with men with evil intentions. But for the sacrifice of a brave few, those men would have their way on all. We can see it in places near and far, from the evil men who brutally tortured and killed a YPO family in Washington DC (Savvas Savopoulos) to the evil being inflicted on whole countries in the Middle East. Left unchecked evil prevails. We live in a the greatest country, a place where an individual, no matter if they were born into poverty and extreme disadvantage can do and be anything they set out to achieve. A country where the world’s people, seek out more than any other, to take refuge from evil, to build a better life for their family, to live free. We are all privileged and I give thanks to those who have made it possible.
This poem, by General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific during the great struggle against evil in World War II, has hung on my wall for 26 years. I can think of no better message to all of my children (sons and daughters) than that contained herein.
“Build me a son, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee-and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
After all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”
– General Douglas MacArthur
As we all enjoy the holiday weekend, including the many who come to town for the Indy 500 Sunday, let’s all take a moment and reflect on these words. Happy Memorial Day Weekend.
May 23, 2015
Savvas Savopoulos YPO Member
The Wallin Children May 2015
I had the opportunity to participate in Entrepreneurship @ Cornell last week. Besides it being enjoyable to get back to campus after a 15-year hiatus, I left feeling inspired by the people I met. This included my fellow speakers, attendees, the faculty and most importantly the Cornell students. Anyone worried about the state of America today and the next generation of leaders need only spend a week like mine to gain a renewed sense of optimism. More than anything, the drive to create new enterprises to solve new and old problems with innovative approaches and the sense that “no one can stop me” I got from so many individuals was gratifying. Cornell seems to be doing a better job than most university systems in coordinating across the various schools to support and encourage entrepreneurship. As Director of Entrepreneurship @ Cornell, Zach Shulman said, “I have 13 bosses. I report to all 13 Deans and they all support our activities.” The ability to cut across schools as diverse as Agricultural, Business, Hotel, Engineering, Industrial & Labor Relations, Law and support would be entrepreneurs regardless of their chosen field is powerful.
Jay Walker ‘77, a keynote and founder of Priceline.com and Walker Digital put the entrepreneurial bug in perspective by calling it a “disease”. Do you have it? If you do, you can’t get rid of it. He also made a great point that you don’t build a company with a group of people who ALL have the disease. That would not be successful. You need a team that can build processes, and get things done. That certainly fits my experience. As I said to some of the classes, we are glorifying the entrepreneur this week and it is a great thing. However, one does not build a business with all entrepreneurs. One builds a business with a team of people with complimentary skills and ability to execute. Every visionary who can articulate the future and see what no one else sees, needs someone pulling back asking the questions: that sounds great, but how do we DO that? What needs to be in place to make it work? What about these problems? One must have a balance and the how do you actually do what is being proposed way of thinking is critical.
Jay went on to identify 10 ‘superforces’ – Jay Walker shares 10 ‘superforces’ of the business future. At the opening night banquet, the superstar Mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick addressed the group. Mayor Myrick is truly a remarkable leader. He called all entrepreneurs the “annoying” people without whom, nothing would change. When I commented to Jay Walker that I’d like to see Mayor Myrick in higher office, he said something with which I immediately agreed… “We need fresh leadership doing good things at the local level. Let him do that now.” In the excitement for how good I think he is and his potential on a larger stage, its easy to forget that we need a whole bunch of Svante Myricks doing exactly what he is doing locally in this country. The Mayor and I got into a little twitter exchange after his talk above.
Leading into the celebration, I had the privilege of participating on the CHR Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable at the Cornell Hotel School. This roundtable was of the highest caliber and I really enjoyed learning from and debating the latest developments in hospitality and how technology is affecting everyone’s businesses. There are several people I met through the roundtable with whom I will remain friends far into the future. I presented the case for why today is better than any other time for new brands to reach their audience, which led the group to a discussion of the asynchronistic nature of startup/new brands vs large established brands. This applies to hotels and to beverage brands. The bottom line is using today’s technology, a new brand can communicate with its core following or “Tribe” directly, something that in the past was nearly impossible or cost prohibitive to do. Larger established brands have a much harder time competing at that level and by their very definition, cannot micro market as easily.
I also really enjoyed sharing stories of our entrepreneurial journey on the CEN panel on Friday with Panelists:
Jamey Edwards ’96, MBA ’03, CEO, Emergent Medical Associates
Carl Forsythe MBA ’82, President & CEO, Globe Composite Solutions
Smoke Wallin ‘88, CEO, Taliera
Jamey and Carl both brought great perspectives as we took turns telling stories and engaging with the audience.
The Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship hosted two panel/socials that promoted a group of entrepreneurs interacting with students. Both of these were a lot of fun as I enjoyed the panels and students!
Finally, I’ve had a half dozen follow up calls and discussions with student entrepreneurs since last week. These folks are pushing ahead with their various new ventures and represent the future of our country. I am pleased that I can play a small role in giving them input/guidance on their respective journeys.
I’m really looking forward to next week’s Entrepreneurship @ Cornell University! The energy building up to this is incredible as I’ve begun to interact with my fellow speakers and attendees.
Right now I’m thinking about my topics and the most important take home value I can deliver to the students, entrepreneurs and attendees.
Before I get to Ithaca, I’m attending the 72nd Annual Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) convention in Orlando, FL. Since I’m launching a new brand project, it will give me an opportunity to further discuss packaging, branding, sourcing and overall strategy with some of the brightest leaders in the industry. Last year at WSWA I kicked off the pre-launch of Sugar Skull Rum.
This is a cool brand that unfortunately got stopped in its tracks by certain partners before we could get beyond kickoff in a few markets. Time will tell where it ends up, but the early response was terrific! There are lessons in this one I will certainly share at Cornell.
Finally, although I rooted for Wisconsin at the Final NCAA game last week, I am looking forward to hearing Mike Krzyzewski- better known as “Coach K“- head of the legendary Duke University Blue Devils basketball squad, address our group on Monday morning. Not a Duke fan generally, but definitely hold Coach K in high regard and interested in his message on leadership and winning.
Here’s an outline of my upcoming Cornell visit:
Tuesday/Wednesday – participate in and speak at the Pillsbury Institute’s
Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable, Chaired by: Mona Anita Olsen, Ph.D. Assistant Academic Director of The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, Visiting Assistant Professor of Management & Organizational Behavior, Cornell University
I’m looking forward to my session with Cornell classmate Joe Tagliente, President, Lenrock and a fellow YPO’r. Our panel is called “Brand Activation Through Social & Mobile Apps and Development of A Social Mobile Company” The full program is here.
It will be catching up with fraternity brother (Sigma Nu) Zach Shulman, who I found out after committing to my visit is Director of Entrepreneurship @Cornell! Very cool!
Thursday/Friday are jam packed with the Entrepreneurship @Cornell Celebration.
In this I’m joining more than 1,000 alumni, students, faculty, and staff for two days of on-campus events including:
- Symposia on a wide range of topics including family business, social entrepreneurship, health administration and more!
- eLab Demo Day
- New Business & Emerging Technologies Showcase
- BIG Idea Competition and Cornell Venture Challenge finals
- Recognition of the Student Business of the Year
- Networking opportunities …and more!
I have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Olsen’s class called:
a topic with which I am intimately familiar!
Following class, I’m participating on a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs in what is dubbed a
The the rest of the day includes a keynote by Jay Walker (one of America’s best-known business inventors and entrepreneurs, has founded multiple successful startup companies that today serve more than 75 million customers in 15 different industries) and the banquet with special guest Svante Myrick ’09, Ithaca Mayor
On Friday I’m joining two other entrepreneurs in a celebration talk:
In between all this I’m visiting the Viticulture and Oenology department, with Prof. Gavin Sacks to learn about what Cornell is up to in the wine world and also to see what we can do to tie them into our 11th Annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) in Napa in June.
Finally, I’m paying a visit to the Friedman Wrestling center and Coach Rob Koll, 4 X NCAA champion Kyle Dake and first time champion Gabe Dean… and later meeting up with my old wrestling coach and Athletic Director, Andy Noel... this will entail its own post after we meet up!
I look forward to writing about my experiences and all the interaction with new and old friends! Cheers!
Leadership principles stand the test of time. To me these are defined by integrity, a strong sense of right and wrong, hard work, persistence and resiliency. Finally a commitment to a greater good or cause (helping others) is integral. Leadership is not popularity; good leaders will have times when they are more or less in and out of favor (see Sir. Winston Churchill). Leaders have a strong sense of their core principles from which they don’t depart, regardless of current popular opinion. Leaders are human beings and by definition are not flawless. That said, all true leaders have a sense of service – service to their organization or community and to other individuals – from which they strive to lift up organizations and people. I agree with Robert K. Greenleaf’s view on the topic.
In my travels, I frequently have the opportunity to spend quality time with extraordinary individuals in all walks of life. These include Business CEOs, nonprofit directors, education experts, entertainers, politicians and just ordinary people doing their thing. Many of these individuals are not interested in public leadership, yet in their very day-to-day actions, quietly provide outstanding examples of true leadership. In a recent interaction with one highly successful CEO, our conversation led to the question of political leadership and the level of vitriol in much of the public dialogue going on. Whether in race relations, economic and entitlement disputes, or combating terrorism, one need only turn on the television and flip channels to hear it on all sides of the political spectrum.
I grew up in a family of teachers and liberals. I was known back then as the “Alex P. Keaton” of my family (Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties) by many relatives. In other words, I was a conservative thinking person in a household of liberals. I grew up debating the issues of the day at the kitchen table. And while at family get togethers even today, we may disagree on approach, inevitably there is agreement on many of the problems in the world and that the status quo is unacceptable. There is no name calling or questioning of each others intentions, but rather a healthy disagreement on solutions. I’m struck by how rare this is in today’s public discourse.
For example, there is widespread agreement that America’s education system is failing our country, our communities and our kids. Teachers think this. Parents think this. Kids think this. CEOs think this.
See What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?
Why American Education Fails
The Failure of American Schools
The Graph That Shows How Badly U.S. Education is Failing
I view the bureaucracy and the statist entrenched interests as fundamental impediments to change for effective education. One can be quite liberal and agree with that viewpoint. Where there is significant disagreement typically are in the methods and approaches for changing it. Without addressing the solutions here (my point is leadership and constructive discourse not solving education in this post), the level of personal attacks and vitriol around the debate, is often times exacerbated by our public officials. The current fights around Common Core are bringing out some of this (see Who Is Fighting Against Common Core?). Common Core has brought conservative and liberal groups together in opposition (for very different reasons). In every state and locality, there are the powerful teachers unions who tend to oppose most reforms of any impact. In many cases they have captured the statehouses with members who pledge allegiance to them regardless of position (see Teachers union fights Cuomo’s school reforms). The debate in most cases is not a debate, but rather, a contest of sound bites to make political points, usually denigrating the opponents.
Back to my conversation with the CEO above, we reminisced about leaders in the past who seemed to be above the fray and always showed class and respect for their opponents. I mentioned President Ronald Reagan, whom I never had the chance to meet, but admired greatly. I have read and heard from those who knew him, that Reagan treated everyone with respect. He would speak to the gardener, as he would address a world leader. He was also willing to take tough stands regardless of the political winds. His advisors and speechwriters, the State Department and all around him reportedly advised strongly against any mention of the Berlin Wall coming down. When Reagan made his now famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate he overruled them all as he spoke that incredible call to action “Tear Down This Wall”. All agree it was a pivotal moment in the history of cold war, and it would not have come to be had he been willing to say what he thought was right at that moment. I remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan exhibiting these qualities and being willing to tackle tough issues regardless of the dogma of his party. He had an ability to reach across the aisle and collaborate with political foes on important issues.
Former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has this quality as well. Mitch served for a purpose, and it was NOT for the purpose of being in office. These were leaders in the true sense of the word. Individuals who would stand by their convictions in spite of opposition, but who never seemed to make personal attacks against individuals. They also served in the true sense of the word. I miss that.
I’m not saying there are no leaders today who exhibit these characteristics, but it is simply too rare. As long as personal attacks of motives and cult of personality (regardless of how bad the behavior) are accepted and even encouraged, this will remain the case. I fundamentally believe one can disagree on ideas and still have great respect for others. This is true in politics, business and life. As serial entrepreneur, Sir. Richard Branson posted today “The importance of good neighbors is often underappreciated. By fostering a healthy and respectful relationship, everybody stands to gain.” I have many friends who exhibit these qualities traveling to Melbourne, Australia this week for the Global Leadership Conference (GLC) for the Young Presidents Organization (YPO/WPO). In business and nonprofits, and community organizations, there are individuals exhibiting great leadership every day. I’d be interested in hearing your examples of people who exhibit the qualities of true leaders in their words and deeds.