Monthly Archives: November 2015

Thanksgiving Thoughts

M Squared alumni may remember this message, since I was often asked to repeat it year after year.

When my son, Kevin, was in 1st grade, his class made a quilt of all of the boys’ notes explaining the things for which they were thankful.  Looking at the 20 scrawled missives, its amazing how many of the boys were thankful for vegetables. The funniest was the son of a liberal, syndicated radio talk show host  who was thankful for “food, his family, the government and the Pentagon.”My favorite, of course, was Kevin’s, and it went like this:

“I am thankful for books, my friends, my family, my voice, my food, markers, my brain, and toys.”

His litany of thanks is so complete, it can suit all of us. To paraphrase him, may we all be thankful for knowledge and the wisdom of the ages; for the people we love and care about who are so central to our lives;for the ability to articulate ideas and/or celebrate in song; for the abundance we are so lucky to share – especially in our country; for all of those things that make our world colorful and alive; for our own ability to create the future; and for the wonderful things that bring us enjoyment and fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Jennifer Lawrence, you are forgiven

Several years ago at my kids' urging, I read The Hunger Games  books and loved them. Not only were they a good read, I saw a wonderful connection for ReSurge.  In the final book, The Mocking Jay, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen is engulfed by flames during a battle. In her world, Panem, they ease her scars and suffering by replacing her skin, because they can

In our world that doesn't happen.  In fact in most of the developing world, there is no acute care for burns.  Burns kill more women in Africa than HIV and malaria combined, but the first world does not know this.  If untreated, a burn scar will contract; a child burned at the elbow, for example, will never be able to move his joint again.  A plastic surgeon is needed to release the contracture and add in a skin graft to enable mobility. The photo below is an untreated contracture.

Similarly, I have seen  a young woman in Vietnam whose face fused to her chest after a cooking burn went up her torso.  When our doctors released that contracture and she could look into her mother's face once again, there wasn't a dry eye in the recovery room.  Burn victims go though so much, but there can be happy endings.  Although it took years of surgeries, a boy in Bangladesh who once could not move his arms is now  a young man en route to a career in healthcare thanks to ReSurge.


I had visions of a great Public Service Announcement (PSA) that would play before the movie.  Jennifer Lawrence could look solemnly into the camera and say "In Panem, they could replace my skin, but in our world we need reconstructive surgery to transform lives. " The challenge was making the connection to Jennifer for her to see the affinity between ReSurge and the climax of the trilogy.

Through WPO, I was able to get to the President of CAA, Jennifer's agents.  He couldn't make it happen, but he agreed to set me up with the CAA Foundation, the channel through which his stars coordinate philanthropic efforts.  There were several conference calls, and after each one the participants seemed increasingly in favor of the idea.   Finally,  the  foundation was willing to intercede for me with Jennifer's agent.  I begged to be able to talk to the agent directly, since I knew I could sell the concept better then the well intentioned foundation staff could, (CEOs are great sales people after all...) but they assured me they were the ones that had to handle those discussions.

Ultimately, it never happened.  It was not clear to me whether the agent passed on it or whether Jennifer did, but I was crestfallen. Yes, I was asking a celebrity to lend her name to something, but the connection was so explicit, the potential reach so global, and the impact it could have had on the visibility of this issue in the world was so profound, I just thought it would happen.  (CEOs are often optimists too...)

So part of me was not enthusiastic about going to the final movie in The Hunger Games saga. Imagine my surprise, when that moment I had envisioned for so long was nearly left out of the movie.  You got a sense that Katniss was injured, but no mention was made of the massive conflagration that incinerated her skin and the subsequent medical procedure to replace it.  To make sure I was not crazy, I went back and reread the ending after the movie, and yes, my recollection was accurate, but artistic license had eliminated this element of the story for moviegoers.

Ironically, the fact that the directors chose to minimize the burn back story is illustrative of the global burn crisis in reality.  It is a grim subject that is neglected in many ways by the global public heath system.  The pictures aren't pretty and in fact can be quite painful to see, as aptly demonstrated by the first photo in this post.  Many foundations are not interested because burns are not "a disease state."  Building awareness of the issue remains a challenge, despite the fact that every 3 seconds someone is severely burned.

So maybe Jennifer and her agent knew the filmmaker's direction nullified my PSA idea. Maybe it wasn't the cause to which she wanted to attach her name. That said, I am hopeful that at some point we will find a celebrity willing to use the power of his/her stardom to help us combat this global health crisis. Did I mention I am an optimist?

The New Book via the Old One

To think about the new book, I need to go back to the old one,  A New Brand of Expertise; How Independent Consultants, Free Agents and Interim Managers are Transforming the World of Work.  The title is a mouthful, I admit, but it wasn’t my idea. That idea came from the publisher.


Speaking of ideas, it wasn’t my idea to write a book actually.  In 1998 I was visited by a British CEO, Dennis Russel,  who ran a business somewhat like mine in the UK. He sought me out specifically because he had written a book entitled  Interim Management about this nascent industry of brokering the expertise of senior executives.  He wanted to publish a US version, but his publisher said he needed a US co-author.  Once I read the book, I understood the publisher’s constraint.

Although we were in the same industry, his book did not speak to my marketplace.  His book was far more about the tragedy of British Managing Directors (MDs) who needed to find a new purpose in life.  The MDs came off as somewhat pathetic fellows who were cut down in their business prime of life and needed to craft an alternative.  I say” fellows” deliberately, since Dennis apologized in the book for using only male pronouns.  It made sense, you see, since no MDs in those days were female.

The US story and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area story was one of empowerment and success.  My MDs, the independent consultants with whom we worked, were not folks who needed a shot in the arm after getting laid off from a financial firm.  Rather, they were competent, pedigreed individuals who made a career choice to go into business on their own.  They were relatively evenly split male and female, although certain expertise areas could have a higher concentration of one gender or another.    This was not a business by default but rather one by design.  The stories I told were of incredibly accomplished individuals who were best in class at what they did.  Additionally many of them pursued other interest at the same time; our consultants were playwrights, pilots, sculptors, musicians and entrepreneurs who were crafting a professional life that enabled them to pursue all of their goals, not just business ones.

It didn’t take me long to agree to be the coauthor. In M Squared I had the perfect laboratory to do my research.  I could do deep data dives on our network of 12000 consultants, and I could also select several consultants to profile in a far more in depth way, capturing their stories, and adding the essential dimension of authenticity to what could be a rather dry business book.

It was an interesting process. My editors at Butterworth Heinemann kept quitting — not due to me but by happenstance.  Later, an Inc. Magazine editor for whom I had written several articles gave me hell for not pressing the publisher for a consistent editor.  “They help you write the book”, he  said in an exasperated tone, after the book was in final proof stage.  I guess I just didn’t need the help.

Ultimately, my book was very different than my colleague’s book because our worlds were different.  Now 14 years later, the world is different from what it was.  when I wrote the original book, social media were two words seldom found together in a sentence.  Linked In did not exist, so the online connectivity and access that is taken for granted today was not a factor in how that market operates.  The marketplace is now fundamentally different.  It needs a new book…

“Passing” retirement

There are those days in the San Francisco Bay area that are just too perfect for words.  This time of year, the air is cool and crisp and the Bay is a deep lapis blue .  It is on these mornings as I walk my dog in the Presidio and marvel at the beauty, that I wonder why I have done such a bad job retiring.

What is wrong with slowing down and smelling the roses?(Something I always try to do, by the way, and am often disappointed by the uninspiring aromas of some varieties, but I digress.) Although I love the puppy, there are days when I wish I didn’t have to do the hour long exercise walk with her.  After all, there are conference calls to attend to, emails to send, research to do. Nonetheless, I need to make sure the puppy gets her constitutional. As much as I start out begrudging the time,  often, as I get deeper into the woods and see the Golden Gate bridge in the distance rising out of the fog or glowing in the sunlight, I think, but for the dog, I wouldn’t be here. But for the dog I wouldn’t see a wonderful sunset or a coyote in the morning mist. But for the dog I wouldn’t be able to practice my best balance beam technique on the lovely  serpentine logs of Andy Goldsworthy ‘s wonderful installation.

As such, I guess I owe the puppy some thanks, for she is helping me appreciate my world.  I may still not have a passing grade in retirement, but she is helping me understand its allure.  Maybe one day I will get there…

Lucy and and Andy Goldworthy's logs

Lucy and and Andy Goldworthy’s logs

All you have to do is ask

I was driving out to a business meeting in the California Central Valley listening to The Last Lecture audio book. A wonderful book filled with life lessons that author Randy Pausch offered for his children and as his legacy,  I would not recommend it for long drives, since I frequently found myself brushing away tears as I changed lanes.

One of his lessons was that sometimes you just need to ask.  I had to smile because as he was telling that story which revolved around a Disneyland ride, the phone rang interrupting the passage.  It was the CEO of an interim management firm in Southern California.  I had called her last week and left a message explaining who I was and that I was considering reprising my book, and since she was in the space I wondered if she would be willing to be interviewed.  I was disappointed to have not received a return call, so her call while I was en route to Lodi was an unexpected pleasure.

We talked for quite awhile and she was highly supportive of my potential project.  Toward the end of our conversation she paused and asked a bit tentatively if I had thought about a co-author and would I consider her. At that point my mind raced.

One issue I know I will have in updating my book is that I know longer run M Squared.  M Squared had provided the laboratory for my work.  I had surveyed our network of consultants for data about this demographic .  Then I chose 16 of the most interesting and diverse consultants to interview in depth about their careers, motivations and aspirations.  This yielded rich stories that added depth and texture to my book.  I hadn’t been quite sure how I could gather those same insights.

Being a truthful person, I immediately mentioned this to my colleague, and she agreed that her network of over 50,000 consultants could absolutely be used for the project….50,000, I thought, that will certainly do.  This is clearly a partnership to explore.

Randy Pausch was right.  Sometime all you need to do is ask…

You never know why they want you on a Board

I have been on the Board of CPP for 16 years.  CPP Inc., owns the publishing rights to the Meyers Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI), the most widely used personality test in the world. During my tenure the company has expanded internationally, purchased three companies and bought the IP rights to two additional instruments.  The amazing growth has not been without its challenges, the most significant being the untimely death of the incumbent CEO  about 10 years ago.

The experience has been tremendous for me – I have learned so much about governance, publishing and organizational development.  It is no wonder I want to pursue more board roles. That said, I don’t know that I can replicate the process that earned me the CPP role.

When I was approached to join the CPP Board it was 1998.  M Squared had been on the Inc 500  list several times as well as the SF Business Times list of the fastest growing companies in the Bay Area.  I was experiencing that glow of a high growth CEO that was firing on all cylinders.  (Of course 2001 was right around the corner, but who knew that then…)  I presumed that it was my managing growth expertise that prompted the call. In my various interviews at the firm, we discussed future growth plans quite a bit, which further supported my notion as to why this opportunity came to me.

Several years later I discovered the truth. At a board offsite we were all sharing our stories about how we ended up there.  When I provided my rationale, the CEO laughed and said I didn’t quite have it right.

It turned out that he had seen me speak about my entrepreneurial journey  at the Governor’s Conference for Women in 1998.  In my remarks I spoke about the work I had done in the community, specifically my role as on the Board of the Hamilton Family Center, San Francisco’s (then) only homeless shelter for families.  I sheepishly admitted that I had been on that board for six years.  The president mused that if I could put up with all of the drama a homeless shelter had to offer, I could certainly put up with them,  and  since CPP was all about “making people better”, my humanitarian leanings played well.  Plus, what a bonus that my business was in the human capital space.

I was a bit surprised by the discovery of why I had been chosen, but gratified too.  It is wonderful to discover that all of our experiences contribute to our expertise, not just the ones that have the highest profile.  Maybe I will get my next Board role the same way…

Charles Handy would be proud

Goldman Sachs announced today changes to its Associate program with the goal of retaining more of these junior hires.  A senior official was quoted a saying that they do realize that they train these guys up for others to hire , but they still want to keep some percentage of these employees.  Charles Handy would love that statement.

Handy was a British organizational theorist who is second  behind Peter Drucker on the Thinkers 50 List of most influential business minds, yet few Americans have heard of him.  A former Shell executive turned University professor, he started writing about organizations in the mid 1970’s.

It was his book, The Age of Unreason, written in 1987, that totally supported the M Squared business model, but also  foretold not only the current gig economy, but also the travails of Goldman Sachs and its Associates program. In that book, he describes the organization as a shamrock, with one leaf being core employees, another being temporary workers, whose ranks would expand and contract,  and another being on call expertise.  In describing these three pools of talent, he suggested that large organizations, like Goldman Sachs, would become like the British army;  unskilled, raw talent would enter and be trained by the enterprise.  Some would be promoted through the organization to the senior ranks, but in the grand scheme of things,most would leave after some short level of obligatory service – service which made the individual far more marketable in the labor force.

So thank you, Goldman, for doing your part in enhancing the skill base of entry level employees, or more precisely, creating the Wall Street army.


3 M Squared wanna be’s

M Squared was/is a great business, although not everyone saw that at the time. Deploying a network of independent consultants in a just in time management approach was radical in 1988; there was an evangelical dimension to our sales pitch back in the day.  But over time, the world caught up with this innovative work model.  Now the gig economy is all over the press.  I laugh when I read that people think the issue of Uber drivers being contractors is new; we were dealing with that problem 20 year ago.

So I found it curious earlier this year when three different business groups wanted my insights about  new business propositions in the human capital networking space. One wanted to become the “common app” in recruiting, eliminating human intervention as much as possible.  Another wanted to create a staffing supply network on the African continent to facilitate oil exploration and the employment demands that go along with it.

The one I spent the most time with, though, was a VC led exploration of a “mom” network.  An M Squared for credentialed MBA moms who wanted to get back into the workforce.  The irony here, is that this value proposition was the inspiration for M Squared.  The exponential term initially stood for “Mother Managers”, but my partner Paula Reynolds, and I lost that early on.  You see many female professionals don’t want to be labeled as Mom’s.  Moreover, as one Genetech scientist said, I “I will measure your professionalism by my peer group, and there are no other women in my peer group.”

So I spent several days over several months with the VC led team,  who were amazing technology strategists who wanted to “disrupt” the human capital marketplace and find some “white space” with this new mom offering. That said, none of them had any staffing, recruiting or even professional services backgrounds, so my expertise did fill a void for them.  Since they were still looking for that “killer app” we discussed many different models for a new business.  As we discussed various options, either offshoots of the mom core business, or new directions entirely, I came to see some opportunities in this very crowded space.  These are the opportunities I am exploring now.



In the beginning….

…there was the Oxford English Dictionary. To retire originally meant to move to a position of safety and or relaxation.  One would “retire to he bedroom”, for example. In fact an archaic definition of retirement is “a secluded or private place.”

Retirement is now a modern concept of  “ceasing work “, but I don’t find that quite accurate.  Perhaps it does involve the termination of regular remunerative tasks for a long term employer, but it can also involve the exploration of new pursuits . That exploration process can require much effort and focus and yes, work. So, the “ceasing work” definition is really not applicable.

Clearly we need a new definition of retirement, and that is part of what I hope to discover through these posts.

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