Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dave Kearns

I am not sure at what age the obit page becomes a section that you check every day, but as I was going through the NY Times today I realized that whatever that age is, I was there.

I also realized that when I read of the passing of David T. Kearns, former CEO at Xerox that aside from the respect I had for him when I worked at Xerox, I was reminded that some of the passion I feel around the need to fix our public education system (e.g. Trickle Down Education) came from Dave. The connectiion was something I had not thought about for a long time.

I also thought that if I were to do a word cloud analysis of the topics in these postings over the past five or six years, words/phrases like "education", "business leadership", "executive leadership" and "value systems" would show up a lot, and in reading Tom Zeller, Jr's article on Dave my memory was refreshed again as to why.

Now for sure Dave Kearns was not the only factor in how or why I came to be so concerned about the challenges we face on the education front. 

Certainly my parents played a big part (my father was a teacher and  research scientist while my mother a voracious reader).  In addition, I was lucky enough to have attended Hopkins School in New Haven at a time when someone with my suspect commitment to study could still get in and it was not until I was well into trying to earn a living that I came to realize just how important those years we in saving my "educational" and hence my "economic" life, but I digress. 

In 1971, the only thing Dave Kearns and I had in common was that we both came to Xerox in the same year.  Of course, he was bringing with him a very successful track record from IBM and I barely had a record, much less a successful one.

In 1977 Dave Kearns was the COO and he became the CEO in 1982 and for anyone familiar with Xerox history over the years, to say that Xerox was in trouble would be an understatement.  The Japanese were eating our lunch big time or as Kearns said at the time in a Times interview: "We are in the proverbial soup."

To this day, I vividly recall Kearns' quote when he became the CEO and was asked how he would like his tenure to be remembered in years to come and he said " the one who beat the Japanese."

Easy to say, but very hard to do as this was back in the day when Japan was leading the world in product design and manufacturing efficiency and quality.  Heck, it was Edward Deming who showed them how, but back in USA we were too lazy to make the effort.

Dave Kearns did lead Xerox back from the brink, and as Zeller points out in the article, one of the key things was that Kearns saw "...the Japanese approaches to both business and education as models for American reforms."

For someone to keeping pushing for what they think is important takes an enormous amount of passion and energy.  Dave Kearns had both as I had the chance to learn personally when I was at corporate headquarters for much of the same time Dave was there.  I saw that energy and heard the passion on many occasions as we often ran side by side on treadmills in the fitness center in the morning.

Now I don't know if Dave's passion regarding education came out of that his experience during that time or not, I never thought to ask him, but whatever it was, it stayed with him long after he left Xerox and this is well detailed in the Times article.  He stuck with it for more than 20 years including during the years when he was fighting sinus cancer which is what finally brought his life to an end.

Leaders like David Kearns don't come along all that often.  It was a privilege to have known him.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trickle Down Education

I have never been one of those who keeps careful records, and when it comes to something about which you care a lot, while you may not always recall precise dates, you certainly don't forget that you have feelings about the subject and have voiced them.

Such is the case with the post you see below which I came across the other day when I was trying to clean up folders to create a bit more space.  As I read through it again, I was both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

Encouraged because the subject of putting some real effort into rejuvenating public education and getting it back on track actually appears like it might be getting our attention.  Pols from both parties are starting to talk about it a fair amount and for sure business leaders are raising their voices too.  Look what Bill Gates is trying to do about it.

I was discouraged because Friedman and others have been banging this drum to make this a national priority for a long, long time, and here we are six years later and not much has happened. 

I know as a country we have more challenges to deal with than as they used to say "Carter's got pills" but I can't think of a single challenge that if we were to make it a top priority would do more to benefit our country than fixing public education.  It touches us all.
A colleague here in the office gave me some plane reading last week as I was on my way to a conference in Chicago. It was a copy of a recent the NY Times magazine that comes with the Sunday paper. Tom Friedman had an article in it called The World is Flat. Pretty powerful stuff. Essentially he laid out the challenge facing our country if we are to remain competitive in a world which (thanks to cyber communication) has removed the barriers to the application of intellectual horsepower.
His point is that if we as a country (and that really means we as a business community) don't really get behind a genuine, consolidated effort to push up the educational standards soon, we are in big, big trouble. As he points out, by the time our students get through the 12th grade, they are last in the educational rankings of all the industrialized countries. Not a happy list to be on to say the least.

When you look at the achievement level of students coming out of the educational system in places like China, South Korea, and India, particularly as it relates to math, the sciences, and engineering, and then superimpose the degree to which they outnumber the U.S. in population, the issue seems pretty clear. Just to give you an idea, in China, he says, there are already more people using cell phones than the population of the U.S.

Bottom line, Friedman's point is that in the not too distant future, if we don't get things fixed in this arena, it isn't just going to say Made in China, etc., it will say "Designed in China."

I think he's right.  [Posted: April 18, 2005]

Monday, February 07, 2011

It's Not So Much The What As It Is The How

217,000,000 was the approximate number of "hits" that I got when I typed in "online profiles." When I "refined" the search to "online user profiles" it went up to about 461,000,000. So much for narrowing things down.

The whole thing kind of made we wonder if "profiles" would be in the running for one of the most used words these days. If not in the world, then certainly in the U.S.

I don't know about you, but to me it feels like every time you turn on anything electronic, someone wants your profile and given the hype around segmented and "personal" marketing efforts, it's little wonder.  It would not surprise me that as the technology continues to advance, pretty soon they'll want DNA samples!

Given the degree to which ExecuNet is part of the business and career networking space, we are certainly interested in profiles as well and talk about this with our members frequently as the member email below demonstrates: :

How do you "truly distinguish" yourself from the thousands of other executives competing for the same VP or C level position? All of which have strong LinkedIn and ExecuNet profiles\networks.
When all is said and done, doesn't it come down to a personal recommendation from a contact\friend\colleague who's in a position to stick their neck out for you?
As I thought about his question I also thought I was hearing that there was a fair amount of frustration built into it, meaning that while he recognized that "profile" was the buzz word of the week, he was really wondering why really put the effort into it if as he said "...when all is said and done" it almost always comes down to a personal referral.

Well, for sure that's true, at least in my experience both on a personal level as well as the data we have gathered in survey after survey. Upwards of 70% of the time, the change comes about as the result of networking aka referrals.

In trying to formulate a response that I hoped would make some sense and be helpful, what I tried to do was separate things into two separate but very much related issues.

What follows was my response:

It isn’t so much the “what” you can do that makes you stand out as much as “how” you make people aware of what you do and “how” it is going to help them solve problems that they need fixed. Most of which comes down to research that is focused on organizations you have targeted because you have a genuine interest in what they make and/or the services they provide.

Your research (much of which can and will be helped by expanding your personal and professional network) will help you to be really well informed as to what the key business issues are that they face. Once known, you can then market the “what” that you will bring to them as you network your way into decision makers in the company.

When it comes to the "what", a profile is certainly one example of a what. Other "whats" can be things like: a resume, a blog you’ve written, an online portfolio, your active participation in events and organizations, etc. They are simply a framework.
The "how" is the style and tone (visual and written) that helps someone to get a more complete picture of you as not just someone with technical expertise, but as a person as well.
To answer the obvious question of why this is so important, it's because when someone is hired and something goes south, 9 times out of 10 (maybe more) it isn't because the technical skills weren't there, it was because the "chemistry" wasn't what both parties thought it was going in, and "chemistry" is about the person! (As if we didn't know!)

Another way to think about this is to think back at how you have made changes in the past. Organizations hired you because you “stood out” from other candidates. Whatever those traits/skill sets that attracted them to you are still there. You need to find vehicles that will put those on display.

Your challenge in today's world is to utilize the "framework" alternatives available to you to so others can see who's really there, and when it comes to profiles, you can do that by going beyond the name, rank and serial number approach of here's where I worked, for how long and for what I was "responsible."
What they want to know is "how" you made things happen!
If someone had asked this question of you, how would you have explained it to them?