A Rant: Immigration Reform

Nov 20

In: Politics

This is a political rant.  You’ve been warned.

The President’s move on immigration, which he is announcing tonight, is politically brilliant, IMO. He immediately goes on offense to try to drive a wedge between minorities and the Republicans. I suspect he hopes this will better position his party for the 2016 elections, particularly when The Big Prize, the Presidency, is up for grabs.

I’m sure the political consultants have done their polling to show that this is an effective strategy. Moreover, the NY Times recently published this article, which is that the Hispanic vote for the GOP is a “nice to have,” not a “must have.” So, to score points with their base, Republicans can afford to push back on immigration reform.

That’s all fine for 2016, but I ask this: who is looking out for our nation’s long-term needs? I can understand short-term politics but what about long-term policy?

Maybe I was naive, but I really had hoped that the President and Congress could find some common ground on some important issues. But, he’s going on offense and now the Republicans are saying that his executive orders will affect other issues.

Frankly, we need leaders with a long-term time horizon, and we’re not getting it right now. Frustrating.

‘Future Forward’ Conferences & Irony

Nov 20

In: Entrepreneurship

IMG_2139.JPG

For me, today has been a day for conferences. In the morning, I attended Scott Kirsner’s “Future Forward” gathering, and, in the afternoon I spoke at the MIT Sloan CFO Conference. Serendipitously, the theme was “The Future Forward CFO.”

Two completely different events. Scott’s conference was in town and featured founders with a lot of edgy ideas, such as MegaBots (giant robots for paintball wars). Start-ups really pushing the edges. The MIT conference was at a hotel out in the suburbs and many attendees wore suits and probably aren’t the edgy founder type.

A day of contrasts.

As I thought about it more, moreover, I started to think that both constituents need each other. It is tempting to simplify the world and say that it is all about Kendall Square and young founders and social apps.

But, I think building a real company and a real business is a lot more than building a product. You need other DNA strands with which to complement founders. I’ve found that founders are indispensable to a company. Their energy, drive and institutional memory cannot be replaced. But, often, they need much help to grow a company.

IMO, founders who admit gaps/weaknesses are the ones who tend to do best. The ones who have all the answers usually find they do not, but then, it becomes very difficult, or it is too late, to change the company’s course.

It is a true irony: acknowledging weaknesses leads to a stronger team.

Peace, Jerusalem and A Cappella Music

Nov 15

In: Music, Personal, Politics

I recently was at a college mini-reunion. While there, they showed this very cool and moving video, a song called “Home,” which featured the Jerusalem YMCA Youth Chorus (click above or here) and YouTube sensation and Yale grad Sam Tsui. Micah Hendler, also a Yale grad, founded and directs the Chorus.

I ran into someone after, who said: “I was in tears by the end of that video.”

I love this song and that it features a chorus comprised of both both Israeli and Palestinian teens, striving to promote peace through a cappella music.

Some years ago, I went to Israel for business. I made a point of seeing Jerusalem. I’ve read a lot about the conflicts in the Middle East, but seeing the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall so close together really crystallized for me how difficult this conflict is. A true zero-sum situation.

I wandered the narrow alleys in Jerusalem, which itself is divided into “quarters” for Jews, Muslims, Christians and Armenians.

I don’t know if true peace in Jerusalem is possible. But, I laud and greatly respect those who keep striving for it.

If you want to support the Chorus, as I just did, click here.

From Brown, HBS and Senior Exec…to a B&B

Nov 9

In: Career management, Entrepreneurship, Food, Philosophy

(AveryHouse.com)

(AveryHouse.com)

Here is an unusual résumé: Brown University, General Mills brand manager, Harvard MBA, SVP at Darden (the large company that owns Olive Garden, Capital Grille and Red Lobster), and…bed-and-breakfast owner/operator.

That is the résumé for my close friend, John Hatton. You might think that he has lost his mind. You might think that this is a very expensive midlife crisis. But, if you know John, this all makes sense.

First, John is a fantastic chef. Not a cook, but a chef. I remember well a dinner he hosted when we were business school students. He invited a few couples for a fun and memorable meal when we were about to graduate. It was amazing. Flowers on the table. Menu cards at each place setting. Incredible wine. Impeccable course after course after course. I vividly remember to this day a tray of homemade tiramisu.

He recalls that, at the end of the meal, I was lying down on the floor, catatonic, patting my full belly, to the delight of the satiated and tipsy group. I of course conveniently forgot about that.

An evening to remember.

Second, John is very willing to pursue his interests. Before it was common, he and his wife Amanda adopted old greyhounds that were too old to race and would be otherwise destroyed. While many of us during business school fretted about consulting or investment banking jobs, John stuck to the food service industry, because that’s what he enjoyed. He didn’t listen to the “wisdom of the HBS crowd.”

Third, as a very senior executive for a very long time, I’m sure he has a nest egg banked.

Since graduation, John and I have kept in touch. It is always a joy to hear his voice. And, it was no surprise when he shared with me his thoughts to leave Corporate America and blaze his own trail. It was no surprise when he confidentially sent me a business plan to buy, renovate, and then run a bed-and-breakfast. It was no surprise that it is one of the best business plans I have ever read. And, now that the business is open, it is no surprise that its TripAdvisor ratings are through the roof.

I run into many HBS classmates. Most appear happy. Some look downright miserable. John sounds very happy. In true entrepreneurial expansion, his business has expanded. They bought the property next door and have opened an inn.

As I continue to think of that fun dinner party at John’s, to which he invited three of us and our spouses, we four friends all ended being entrepreneurs. Dave O’Reilly has been at biotech start-ups for decades, Jon Philips launched a magazine, John has his B&B, and I started Kepha Partners. Maybe it is all coincidence, but the four of us quickly, or eventually, became entrepreneurs.

There’s a stereotype that HBS graduates are heartless corporate robots. I’m sure some are like that. But, the people I know well are down-to-earth, thoughtful and very fun. Many are contrarians. Many are entrepreneurs, too.

So, the next time you’re thinking of a vacation, think of Avery House, and tell John and Amanda Hatton that you read about them at jtangoVC.com. Hope tiramisu is on, and if so, get seconds.

If not, I’m sure you’ll be very happy with the “crème brûlée french toast.”  See John’s blog post here and the pic below. With food, he is both artisan and artist.

 

french-toast

After the VC Conference at HBS

Nov 7

In: Personal, Technology and VC

I recently was at an alumni conference at Harvard Business School. Every four to five years, a bunch of alumni, who are VCs, get together. There was a large turnout from all around the country, and it was great to see again so many old friends and to make new ones.

For me, I left the conference with a lot of gratitude because of the people. Here are two of them:

  • Professor Bill Sahlman: I took his VC course as a student, and we have kept in touch. Bill was one of the co-chairs of the conference. I’ve gone to him during key moments in my career. For example, when I was thinking about leaving my old job to start a new VC firm, he was one of two people outside of my family with whom I consulted. It was great to see him. Thank you, Bill, for being there for me!
  • Jason Green, Emergence Capital: As I started to make plans for fundraising, Jason was one of the first people I called. He graciously took the call and helped me understand how challenging it is to raise an inaugural VC fund. He had some great advice. So, it was great to see Jason at the conference, to hear how well Emergence is doing, and to catch up. Thank you, Jason, for your awesome advice in 2006!

You’d think that b-school people would be arrogant and too busy to help. Honestly, I’ve never found that with fellow alumni and faculty. They’re always approachable and want to help. There is a distinct vibe to “do well and do good.”

I hope the school hosts another conference soon. It was fun and very rewarding.