22 November 2009
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my first boss, Tom Poole, who died a year ago. A quiet, unassuming Down Maine’r, as a young man Tom left the Pine Tree State first to fight for our country and then to make his mark on the business world. In his retirement, he returned each summer to his cottage in northern Maine.
Tom taught me four lessons — about hiring, making unpopular decisions, buying a cottage (in Maine!), and taking vacations — that have had an immeasurable impact on my life and, by association, the lives of many around me. Each lesson has its own story which, Read the rest of this entry »
31 October 2009
I agree with venture capitalist Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners who recently stated that building companies demands great passion, vision and intelligence but “it also helps to have done it before.” He goes on to say that what the marketplace really needs are “senior successful serial entrepreneurs” to serve on the next generation of entrepreneurs’ boards, to open up their rolodexes, and to share what worked and what didn’t work. He ends by noting that, “such mentorship is difficult to find.”
I would like to build on that suggestion; rather than having these serial entrepreneurs simply serve on boards, I suggest that in some cases they should actually serve as the startup’s interim CEO while the company is getting off the ground.
Every startup has a myriad of details and actions that need to be done. Rather than having a board member who simply advises, “You need to do this; and you need to do that,” in many cases the startup would be better served by Read the rest of this entry »
6 June 2009
In an earlier post, I give my view on the six things it takes to be a good interim executive. In another, I discuss the four cases when, in my view, a business should consider interim executive management. Today I was asked, “Why does interim management work?” Here’s what I said.
No Ulterior Motive: For the interim executive, it’s never about “What’s in it for me?” Or, “What’s the impact on my bonus/options/future job.” Rather, it’s always about, “What’s best for the company? What’s the best way to fix this up so I can move on?”
Key Players Engage: It’s never me that turns a place around. Rather it’s key players – many of them junior managers or individual contributors – who are the ones who make the biggest impact. (In this post I talk about how, in the first week on each assignment, I figure out who those key players are.)
Prior Knowledge: I never cease to be amazed how often I’ll use something that someone taught me, often a long time ago and / or often in a seemingly very different circumstance. This prior knowledge from so many varied situations is key.
2 June 2009
My very first interim assignment a decade ago was at E Ink, the maker of Amazon’s Kindle. I am pleased to see the company was successfully sold and will remain in Boston. Congratulations to Russ Wilcox and the great team at E Ink
Here’s what I say about E Ink in my resume:
“Reporting to the CEO, Jim Iuliano in an interim role as General Manager of a 22-person group within a 100-person Atlas Venture funded company that originated out of MIT. Was charged with determining why divisional revenue targets had not been achieved. Although I possessed no prior knowledge of the product space (electronic, centrally controlled signage) or the target markets (retailers and consumer package goods companies), within weeks determined that success could not be immediately achieved with the current product in the existing markets. Created and managed four SWAT teams which rapidly conducted exhaustive research to find a new market opportunity for the Company’s technologies, the Ink-In-Motion line which is still in use today. Currently, E Ink’s technology is the display in the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader wireless reading devices. Eink was sold for over $215 million.”
27 May 2009
David Brooks’ NY Times Op-Ed piece, “In Praise of Dullness” provides data from numerous studies as to what does – and does not – make a good CEO. He reports that traits that are NOT associated with being an effective CEO include many things that seem counterintuitive, including: strong people skills, being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator. He contends that warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as CEOs.
Rather Brooks reports that organized, dogged, anal-retentive, and slightly boring people are more likely to thrive as CEOs! Studies show that traits which correlate well with CEO success include emotional stability and conscientiousness; being dependable, making plans, and following through on those plans. He concludes with, “The CEOs that are most likely to succeed are Read the rest of this entry »
11 May 2009
We have an important potential client visiting tomorrow so I’ve lassoed the troops and we just cleaned the office. One of the younger guys asked, “Des, this company will be buying our technology, not our office space. So tell me again why we’re cleaning the office before they arrive.” To which one of the other guys said, “Tell them your story Des.” Here goes.
My first job out of school was working for a large computer company. A few years into the gig, I had an assignment on the New England District staff, one of five guys working for the District manager who managed two dozen Branches.
One of our tasks was for the District Manager and his staff to go to each branch once a year and do an all-day review of everything: sales forecasts, accounts receivable, quality of service, installations, inventory etc. The first time I did one of these reviews, when we arrived at the office, I headed straight for the conference room for the presentations to begin.
But the boss said, “No, Des, we start in the back room at the loading dock, Read the rest of this entry »
23 March 2009
This past weekend was our third trip to Pittsburgh. We fall in love with the city every time. Fellow Bostonians, here are six reasons to consider Pittsburgh for your next weekend getaway.
- Cheap, easy flights. Plan ahead and the 1 hour 10 minute flight can be had for $55.
- Cheap, luxurious hotels. The historic Renaissance Hotel in the center of town is offering weekend rooms at $100 a night. Walk across the river and catch a Pirates game at beautiful PNC Park where standing room tickets are only $8 and the food is great though, as The Onion reports, the baseball could be better. Or visit one of the four Carnegie museums, including the seven story Andy Warhol Museum.
- Cheap, easy driving. A rental car for the weekend can be had for $90 all-in, and parking in city center is only $5 a day. And the last mile of the 20 mile drive from the airport is stunning, causing the NY Times to say Read the rest of this entry »
16 February 2009
During my first day of each interim CEO / COO assignment, inevitably I’m invited to what I’m told is an important meeting. And inevitably I refuse. Agreeing with the points made by University of Chicago professor Reid Hastie in his NY times article, “Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time,” one of the first things I change at each company is the plethora of ineffective meetings.
The tactic I use is simple; I refuse the very first meeting to which I’m invited – no matter how important the subject may appear – by stating that I’ll only even read meeting invitations that include three things. 1. The objective we will achieve by the designated end time. 2. The agenda we’ll rigidly follow during the meeting. 3. The homework required of each attendee before the meeting starts.
The objective can’t be “to discuss…”; it needs to be a decision or an action. Not “We’ll discuss why sales are 20% below plan” but rather Read the rest of this entry »
29 November 2008
Friends occasionally seek my advice on raising venture capital, knowing I’ve been involved with a range of VC financings – from seed, through A, B, and C rounds, to investments by a “strategic partner,” to venture debt financing, through to trade sales.
Today I pass along four sources of advice – with a bit of my own advice thrown in for good measure – ranging from advice for the person wanting to plan for all their VC rounds as they are just starting out (analogous to the plan-ahead friend seeking advice on the process of finding that perfect person to marry,) to advice for the person just days from making a big VC pitch (analogous to the last-minute friend seeking advice the night before he’s going to propose!)
So whether you’re the long-range planner or the last-minute proposer, maybe you’ll find one of these right for you.
“Raising Venture Capital for the Serious Entrepreneur” by Dermot Berkery
Dermot’s advice is for the long-range planner. Dermot was the first person my wife Jules and I met when we landed in Ireland on the first of April 2001. Gratefully, he didn’t immediately laugh when we told him our plan to move to Ireland without jobs – “On spec?” he asked – with our 6, 9, and 12 year old boys. Rather he copped on right away that this was not an April Fools Day joke. Months later, a fellow Irish VC described Dermot thusly: “Des, Dermot’s an oxymoron because he’s both a Read the rest of this entry »
4 June 2008
I don’t think I’m a ‘new car snob’ – I’ve driven plenty of old cars, but each I acquired new. So why – 35 years after my first car, a showroom-fresh Toyota Crown – is this used, full size Buick LeSabre sitting in our drive? Two reasons. First is our family’s April Fools ‘perfect storm’; the first week of April four things happening that decreed our small Volvo S40 – augmented with an antique 1964 Rambler Ambassador – would no longer suffice: My work location moved from just blocks from our Lexington home to downtown Boston; My wife’s new venture took her out of public transit and into a car; Our middle son got his license; And our oldest son returned home from college. (Not to mention that a month earlier we adopted two large greyhounds.) Clearly we needed another car! But why not a used Honda or Toyota, the ‘kids car’ of choice for most Lexingtonians? The second reason for picking a Buick is the warning we received at Skid School, which both sons have now attended. In addition to teaching young drivers how to ‘handle the unexpected’ at highway speeds, Skid School teaches – lectures, really – parents that young drivers should only drive cars equipped with both ABS and side-impact airbags. Although few used Hondas or Toyotas available for under five grand have both safety features, American Caddys and Buicks have been so equipped for years. So, no, we don’t have distant, ancient relatives visiting us for the summer; that old bomber in the drive is our ‘new’ car!