Guest post by Staci Stratton, Evening MBA 2014 She attended the MBA “Perspectives on Leadership” Speaker Series. The speaker was Colleen Brown, CEO of Fisher Communications.
Colleen Brown shared her thoughts on leadership and her personal journey to becoming CEO of Fisher Communications. She talked about how we are a combination of both predisposition and learning how to be a leader. She also said in many cases leadership arises out of necessity. For Brown, she was the eldest girl in her very large family and took on responsibilities like grocery shopping and laundry very early on. She said these experiences helped her to develop a “get it done” attitude she still has today.
She also shared her four important characteristics of leadership:
Character: understand who you are and why you are who you are.
Resilience: develop, if you haven’t already, the ability to get back up after rough periods, mistakes, etc.
Commitment: be committed to who you are and what you believe in. It has the effect of being contagious to others.
Continuity: develop consistency and continuity in your behavior, as this helps your people to know what to expect from you-no surprises.
Brown feels the most important decisions you make on a day to day basis are about PEOPLE, which is why it’s so important to know yourself and be consistent in your behavior.
Watch highlights from Brown’s talk. Here she covers the importance of consistency, Aristotle’s leadership insights, and how to minimize office politics.
The next speaker is Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks, on December 6. Learn more.
Today the Foster School held a naming dedication for its newest facility: Dempsey Hall. The building is named after Neal and Jan Dempsey, who have been incredible supporters of the Foster School. Neal is a 1964 alumnus of the Foster School and has been engaged in myriad ways over the years. He has served on the Foster School Advisory Board for more than two decades and is a past chair. Alongside Mike Garvey and Ed Fritzky, he co-chaired the successful Foster School capital campaign that raised $181 million between 2000 and 2008. He has also given over $10M to the Foster School.
Dean Jiambalvo said at the dedication, “Neal is action oriented and unwavering in principle.” When Neal spoke, he called the next generation to action and encouraged them to give their time, energy, and money to the Foster School. He asked everyone in the crowd to raise their hand if they agreed to give back to the Foster School. Everyone’s hands were in the air. Neal took it a step further and shot of video of everyone with their hands raised–proof they would do what they said. He said it’s been a, “fantastic road to the finish line.” And he looks forward to seeing the next generation of supporters give back.
How a UW technology becomes a startup and its developer an entrepreneur, with a little help from a lot of friends around the Foster School and beyond
It began with a problem. A glaring inefficiency of the modern hospital that is as pervasive as it is puzzling.
In this age of digitized everything, the status of virtually every patient in virtually every medical department in America is manually tracked by erasable marker on an overcrowded white board.
Such a simple, central organizational hub works great as a framing device for the bustling casts of ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and other fictional hospital dramas. But in the real ward, it makes for a shockingly outdated nerve center—error prone, incomplete, and far too taxing of staff time better spent on patient care.
Ben Andersen (TMMBA 2012) understood this completely when he took up the challenge of modernizing the tracking system in the department of surgery at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. Before enrolling in the Technology Management MBA Program at the Foster School of Business, Andersen was a perceptive young IT guy working on the informatics team at Harborview, a branch of the UW Medicine Health System.
Fast forward a few years and his one-off solution has become a nascent company called PatientStream with broad ambitions in the $2.5 trillion health care industry.
Andersen’s jump from developer to entrepreneur is a study in technology commercialization at the University of Washington—of an innovator who is educated, mentored, focus-grouped, funded, challenged and championed by a fabric of experts and entrepreneurial organizations around and affiliated with the UW at large and the Foster School in particular. Complementary nodes in an ever-expanding network.
When Harborview opened a second surgery site four years ago, coordinating patients and medical staff on twin white boards proved unwieldy, to say the least.
The job of finding a solution fell to Andersen. He first sought an off-the-shelf fix, but found it didn’t exist. So he offered to custom-build a solution. And his entrepreneurial manager, Peter Ghavami, gave him the green light.
Andersen immersed himself in activity around the white boards. “I wanted to capture their language, every mark they made,” he says.
His solution was deceptively simple: an electronic patient tracking and operations management system that drew and displayed information from existing hospital systems on a flat-screen television (or any networked computer). A digital white board.
It was useful. More importantly, it was usable.
“Normally when we roll out a new system, there are groans and moans and no one wants to learn it,” Andersen says. “When we implemented the digital whiteboard, after about five minutes of training they said, ‘That’s it? I can do that.’ Support calls were almost non-existent.”
The Electronic Whiteboard (EWB), as Andersen named the digital display system, worked from the start. Easy to use. Effective. Efficient. Patient waits fell markedly. Accuracy increased. Medical staff no longer had to cruise the white board all day to track their schedule. And administrators could view instant metrics on operations and performance.
Word spread quickly. Other departments began clamoring for the EWB, first at Harborview, then the UW Medical Center. Today, over 50 departments throughout the UW Medicine system are running on the EWB.
“When I began getting request after request from other departments, I realized that this is a need that’s not being met,” Andersen says. “Maybe this deserved to be in other hospitals as well.”
Andersen had founded a company before. It was the right-place-wrong-time story of a workflow management firm serving property management/landscaping companies—launched unsuccessfully at the start of a historic housing crash.
Delivering a kindred tech solution to the health care industry, he knew, would be exponentially harder.
But Andersen held a few advantages. He had an author’s knowledge of the software and a proven track record of implementations in real hospitals. And he was enrolled in the Foster School’s TMMBA Program where he added a full suite of management skills that would be essential for a software developer to make the jump to CEO.
Suresh Kotha’s technology entrepreneurship class, in particular, was pivotal to Andersen’s ambitions. The course helped discern whether the opportunity and technology were market-worthy, yielded a working business plan, and, most importantly, demystified the entrepreneurial process for Andersen, equipping him with the requisite confidence to start a business.
“I build my course around the premise that there is nothing special about entrepreneurs—they are not some superior beings,” says Kotha, the Foster School’s Olesen/Battelle Excellence Chair in Entrepreneurship. “They simply have the skill set and confidence to do it. And these can be developed.”
Andersen got one more essential from the TMMBA Program: a team. He assembled an entrepreneurial A-Team of classmates expert in each function that would be critical to developing the business: Marc Brown on sales and custom support, Jason Imani on marketing, Anoop Gupta on technology, and Glen Johnson on finance.
Andersen found the experience exhilarating from the opening investment round, a kind of entrepreneurial trade show where 36 start-up teams fast-pitch to more than 200 roving judges over four crazy hours. “The pitch we started with and the pitch we ended with were radically different,” Andersen says. “We learned to key in on the part of the story that made their eyes light up.”
In a word, traction. More than 50 installations across three medical centers, each one delivered on-demand. Andersen polished the narrative until it was irresistible. “Ben started with a very real problem, came up with an elegant and efficient solution, and demonstrated a tremendous capacity for making people understand what he was out to do,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Buerk Center. “He has a compelling story to tell.”
That story took Xylemed to the final four, where it won the $10,000 second prize. “The money was great,” Andersen says. “But much more valuable are the connections that we made.”
“That’s a wise assessment for an early entrepreneur to have,” says Aaron Coe (MBA 2003), one of those connections. “There’s great value in connecting with people who add knowledge, add perspective, and challenge assumptions.”
Coe, a Foster MBA grad who helped launch 2003 BPC champion Nanostring and had an even bigger success with a pharma company called Calistoga, coached Xylemed before the semifinal, then later secured them a spot at the Technology Alliance’s Innovation Showcase.
There were many others. The team’s semifinal judges included investor Greg Gottesman of Madrona Ventures and serial entrepreneur Terry Drayton of Rainier Software and HomeGrocer.com. Both opened their personal networks to Andersen. “I’ve been amazed at the caliber of people who approached me and offered their help,” he says.
It’s no surprise to Bourassa-Shaw. At the end of the day, the Buerk Center is in the connection business.
The UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) is in the licensing business. When Andersen’s digital white board first reached the inbox of Angela Loihl, associate director of technology licensing, she shopped it around to a variety of software and health care companies. It’s a common corporate strategy to cherry pick R&D out of university labs, and C4C has negotiated more than 100 licensing agreements of UW intellectual property since 2005.
Recently, Loihl says, an increasing number of faculty and staff are expressing interest in launching their own ventures around their innovations and discoveries. So the C4C has evolved into a hybrid transaction/partnership model—a kind of bus dev team for researchers and innovators.
After the digital white board found no initial takers, Andersen—by this time well into the TMMBA Program—began changing the conversation. What if he sold the software himself?
And while Loihl oversaw the negotiation to license Andersen’s software, she also served as advisor, advocate and fan. “It was obvious that Ben had been taught well at the Foster School,” she says. “He came to us prepared, asked the right questions, and knew exactly what he wanted to get out of every meeting—in the nicest possible way.”
The kind of entrepreneur you want to root for.
Today, Andersen is a recent Foster grad, a former employee of Harborview, and a full-time entrepreneur. He has rechristened his company PatientStream, a name that sounds less like a pharmaceutical and more like a software company that tracks hospital cases. He’s incorporated the business, finalizing license negotiations, developing a mobile app, seeking investors, and closing in on several key hires.
Even on his own—his TMMBA colleagues have returned to their lives and livelihoods—Andersen is still breathing the rich air of the UW’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Success in the Business Plan Competition earned PatientStream a spot in the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator, a resource that provides expert mentoring and advising, work space in the Buerk Center’s new Herbold Innovation Lab, and a chance to earn up to $25,000 in additional seed funding if Andersen can achieve several important milestones over the next few months.
He’s pitching for considerably more money from the newly instituted W Fund. The public-private partnership aims to invest nearly $20 million over the next four years in promising start-ups spinning out of the UW and other research institutions across the state.
For PatientStream, a business that needs to act fast and first, a small slice of that pie would be a veritable feast.
Time will tell whether his company’s promise is proven on the open market, in the notoriously difficult-to-crack health care industry. But Andersen has a viable technology, a running start, an ever-expanding network of powerful allies, and a robust entrepreneurial education, in and out of the classroom.
“Between the incredibly rare opportunity to develop a technology in a hospital IT department, the skills and confidence that the TMMBA Program gave me to start a company, and the networking that came out of the Business Plan Competition,” he says, “the past few years have been a perfect storm.”
Perhaps the most telling testament to Andersen’s growth was his preview presentation of PatientStream, by all reports outstanding, to the newly formed W Fund investment committee—an intimidating collection of the region’s premier entrepreneurs and investors.
“To go in front of these guys as a young IT guy and hold your own is pretty impressive,” says fund investor Dave Marver, the former CEO of Cardiac Science. “Ben wasn’t intimidated in the least.”
Inventor of mammoth machines, reinvents himself in the Foster EMBA Program
You could call John White (EMBA 2012) many things. Inventor. Entrepreneur. Scholar. Philanthropist. Restorer of rare antiquities. Teller of rousing tales.
How about Renaissance man?
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Let’s not get carried away. We’re talking about a uniquely American icon-in-the-rough, more rock-and-roll than lute and lyre. A tall-walking bear of a man who ran off to join the carnival when he was 14, enlisted in the Marines at 17, and made his bones in the heaviest of industries.
White is the founder of American Piledriving Equipment, the world’s foremost manufacturer of vibratory hammers that drive the foundations for the massive structures of modern civilization—skyscrapers, statues, stadiums, oil rigs, wind turbines, bridges. Especially bridges.
He’s been enthralled by these abiding symbols of human ingenuity ever since he was a kid in West Seattle, when an old neighbor would regale him with tales from his days flying bombing runs in World War II. “He said he could never take out the old Roman bridges in Italy and France,” White recalls. “They were just too solidly built.”
White’s role in the advancement of transport construction began humbly enough. After his stint in the military and a spell at community college, he was hired as a mechanic by Pacific American Commercial Company, fixing pile drivers from around the world that were surplussed after the construction of the Alaska Pipeline.
Eventually, he became a walking encyclopedia on the subject. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” he says, “but I was, perhaps, the only person on the planet who had been exposed to all of these hammers.”
North Carolina-based International Construction Equipment sought his expertise to coax its shoddy pile drivers to work on the West Seattle Bridge project in the early 1980s, then hired him to manage its west coast operations. But White eventually wearied of trekking from southern California to northern Alaska to install and service hammers that were always breaking down. “When you’re up in Prudhoe Bay, you don’t care how much you saved if the machine doesn’t work,” he says. “So I set out to make the world’s best pile driver.”
Build a better hammer…
After White left ICE, he founded APE in his White Center garage. His first creation was a small hammer that used vibration rather than concussion and heavy tungsten rather than steel to drive piles in tight spaces, a design perfectly suited for Boeing’s seismic retrofit of its facilities in the late 1980s.
White received his first patent in 1992. And the next day he was introduced to Pat Hughes (BA 1957), owner of several rock and gravel companies in the Northwest. They became partners in APE—White president and Hughes CEO.
“We were a great team,” White says. “Pat was an incredible mentor; working with him was like being enrolled in the Pat Hughes School of Business—an extraordinary learning experience in the real world. He said to keep on inventing. And 40 patents later, we were the world’s largest manufacturer of vibratory pile drivers. We revolutionized the industry.”
White designed progressively bigger and more efficient diesel impact hammers, best on land, and vibratory hammers, more effective and environmentally gentle in water. Locally, APE had a hand in constructing Safeco and Century Link Fields, the new waterfront Great Wheel, and is working on the new 520 Bridge. It helped build bridges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repaired the Haitian port after the 2010 earthquake. APE now dominates the vibratory hammer market in North American and parts of Asia, and is a growing presence in Europe and South America.
For China, a nation setting new standards for mega construction, White designed the largest pile driver in history. Today his OctaKong, a 500,000-pound vibro hammer, is driving 72-foot diameter steel piles deep into the South China Sea to support the 31-mile Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
Reinventing the inventor
Despite being president of APE, White was always more comfortable in his role of inventor. In 2010 he decided it was time to learn the management and financial side of business. So he enrolled in the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.
Three decades removed from his last classroom experience, White found he was a pretty good student. He soaked up faculty wisdom, polished his interpersonal skills, and grew into the heart-and-soul of a tight-knit class (after studying Ernest Shackleton in a leadership course, White bought his colleagues each a replica bottle of the legendary Antarctic explorer’s recently recovered stash of whiskey).
He also learned that he was ready—and able—to navigate his own future. “It didn’t matter if I was CEO of an antique store,” White says. “After 20 years as second in command, I wanted to run my own ship.”
He sold his stake in APE toward the close of the program, “the hardest decision of my life,” he admits. “But I was born in the EMBA Program. The Foster School has given me the tools and the confidence to do something new.”
White has wasted no time.
Since graduating in June, he has been testing the waters on an innovation that he worked on in the EMBA’s capstone project. This elegant twist on geothermal energy uses a long, hollow screw of heat-conducting steel to deliver the ambient temperature of ground water to an above-ground heat pump—enabling vastly more efficient heating and cooling, and a tidy installation.
White also launched Crazy Horse Motorcycles, manufacturing distinctive “V-Plus 100” curvilinear engines—you may have seen them powering the rides of the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper,” in a stroke of guerilla marketing—and genuinely all-American-made retro bikes sized to fit the big-and-tall market (of which, at 6-foot-4, White is a member).
And he’s bought a house. Well, not just a house. A kind of lost museum, really. White found the historic waterfront residence of Hollister Sprague, Boeing’s first attorney, shrouded in vegetation atop a bluff in Seahurst. Inside was a veritable trove of period furniture, books and music, and a Prohibition-era hidden hooch-running tunnel. In a grand ballroom inspired by the chancel of a Scottish church, he found three grand pianos (a pair of Steinways and a Bosendorfer) and a legendary 1931 pipe organ—the console operated percussion, harp, flute, glockenspiel, voix celeste, and a veritable orchestra of other instruments.
White is sparing no expense to restore this unique, historic residence to its original splendor. “It’s going to be incredible,” he muses.
The measure of an MBA
Since departing APE, White has made one other significant investment.
Midway into a life spent building things to last, it occurred to him that he could help build the school that had unlocked his future to endless possibilities. Just before graduation, he donated $500,000 to Foster—the largest student gift in the school’s 95-year history.
When Neal Dempsey (BA 1965) spoke at this year’s EMBA commencement, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist offered three kernels of advice that struck White—transformed by his days at Foster—as both inspiration and summation. Do something that scares you. Welcome change. Give back.
“Now I’ve done them all,” White says. “But it was his last point that resonated most.”
John White’s father worked as an electrician for Boeing when the company lost funding for the Supersonic Transport (SST) program. “When I was 14,” White recall, “my dad lost his job.”
The power got shut off. Eventually his parents lost their home. “It was depressing,” he says. “So I decided to go get a job.”
The uncle of a friend happened to run an arcade in a traveling carnival. It turned out that White was more mechanical than his friend’s uncle, so the carnival management kept him on.
His job was to set up and service the arcade games, mostly pinball machines. In the evenings, he’d help the carnies set up and run the midway. For three itinerant years, the job led him on a grand adventure across Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta.
All the while, he says, he sent back whatever he could of his $90 a week salary to help his parents. “The reason for my leaving was sad,” he says, “but the job was a lot of fun.”
His interest piqued by the stories of his childhood neighbor, John White has become an enthusiastic student of classic construction technique.
“I was inspired to go and see these bridges myself,” he says. “So eventually I had the chance to travel to Italy and France and see these structures that my neighbor could never take out. When you see them in person, they are absolutely amazing.”
At the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct in southern France, White jumped the barrier to get a closer look. “It’s built with boulders bigger than Volkswagens,” White says, “all sitting on foundations of wood piles driven into the Gardon River. When they studied those piles, they were as perfect as the day they were driven. That’s why the bridge probably hasn’t dropped an inch since it was built.”
At another ancient site, the Circus Varianus in Rome, he served on a team that studied the foundations of this ancient race track built in 81 A.D. and still standing tall as the surrounding ground has sunk over the centuries.
“It’s sitting on 30,000 wood pilings,” White reports. “Each one of those was labeled with a serial number and species. They knew the center was soft, so they cut the tip off center, then burnt the tip to make it extra hard. They also cut the piles in octagonal shape to increase the surface area and create friction against underwater soil—just like you’ll see under the piers on the Seattle waterfront. And platoons of men drove them into place with giant manual drop hammers of stone or steel.
“We learned a lot from the Romans.”
Hammers of the gods
In 2004, John White was summoned to China to meet with the country’s 78-year-old master pile driver, a Mr. Wong, about an ambitious new project.
The meeting began with Mr. Wong asking Mr. White, “What’s the largest pile you’ve ever driven?”
“Now, I was feeling a little cocky,” White says today. “I told him that APE had just driven a 10-foot diameter pile in Houston—which I knew, at the time, was the biggest pile ever, at least in the western world.
“Mr. Wong looks at me and says, ‘So that’s the biggest?’
“I say, ‘Yes, sir.’
“Then he pulls out a picture and slides it to me. It’s him in 1952, three years before I was born, with four electric Russian vibro hammers hooked together, driving a 15-foot diameter concrete pile. I nearly fell out of my chair.”
When he recovered, White noted that the process must have been pretty slow. “He says, ‘Mr. White, that’s why you’re here. Because I want to drive a 40-foot diameter concrete pile.’ I thought he was crazy.”
A few years later, the request came for a hammer to drive a 40-foot pile. White connected four of APE’s “Super Kong” hammers to get the job done.
That was 2006. Then a new project arose, of almost unimaginable scale. “They asked how big a pile can we drive?” White recalls. “I said, ‘As big as you want.’ ”
This time, China wanted to hammer piles measuring 72 feet across.
White’s response was the OctaKong, his grandest invention and the largest piledriver in history. Today the 500,000-pound vibro hammer is driving steel piles the size of missile silos into the South China Sea to support the 31-mile Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
“And that’s not even the biggest project in the works,” White says. “Now my son David is working on a hammer to drive 105-foot diameter piles.”
Crazy… like a fox
Crazy Horse Motorcycles is a little company. If it didn’t inhabit the tough-guy world of polished chrome and roaring engines, you might even call it a boutique company. Just John White, a few machinists and an assembler, manufacturing engines modeled after the classic Indian Motorcycles and a limited line of original bikes built for tall riders.
But how to go from boutique to blockbuster? White is deploying a number of innovative marketing tactics learned in the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.
“In the EMBA we talked about how to market a product when you’ve got no money to market, looking at cases such as DaVinci vintage clothing that built its brand by providing bowling shirts for actors Charlie Sheen and James Gandolfini.”
So he began providing Crazy Horse engines to Paul Teutul Jr. (of Paul Jr. Designs) whose award-winning custom motorcycles are featured on the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper.”
“Every time he builds a custom bike, it has our engine in it,” White says. “We’re now very well known around the world.”
As with most archaeological finds, John White discovered his grand “fixer” thanks to a heavy dose of serendipity.
White had signed up for last spring’s Executive MBA study tour of South America. As a side trip, he planned to join in the trek to Machu Picchu, the legendary lost Incan city perched high in the Andes of Peru.
To train for this grueling ascent, he often hiked the steps of Eagles Landing Park, a sliver of greenspace leading from high bluff to seashore in Seahurst, on the edge of Burien. While catching his breath on the beach one day, he looked up and caught a glimpse of a sprawling house that was covered in vegetation.
“You couldn’t even see it from Google Earth,” he says.
Beneath its botanical shroud lay the surprisingly well-preserved 7,400-square-foot residence called Forestledge, the long-vacant Sprague mansion.
And it was for sale.
Owing to its outward condition, White purchased his dream home at a remarkable discount.
Now, just as Machu Picchu was gradually reclaimed from the encroaching forest after its discovery in 1911, White has set out to restore his own lost palace—and the treasures within—to its original grandeur.
The job also serves as a diversion from his early retirement from the piledriving business. “I’m using it as my therapy,” he says.
What about that angry gorilla?
APE had been represented by a conservative corporate logo for years. But what about the other emblem, that ferocious face of the angry gorilla?
“One day we hired this kid to help us in the shop,” recounts John White. “During a break, he drew a gorilla on a napkin. Two days later he was gone and we never saw him again. I thought it would be fun to put the gorilla on a hat. And everybody wanted one. I couldn’t believe it. Now we have an entire APE clothing line featuring the gorilla logo, and we painted the logo 40-feet tall on the side of our headquarters in Kent, WA.
“It all started with some part-time kid doodling on a napkin.”
What do a sports bar and fishing boat have in common? If you’re Erik Petersen, quite a bit.
Petersen, an alumnus of the Executive Development Program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, manages fishing boats for Iquique U.S. by day and is owner of the Fremont Dock by night and weekend. As a fourth-generation member of the commercial fishing industry, it’s in his blood. He grew up on fishing boats and worked on one in Alaska with his father during the summer between high school and college. His ownership of a sports bar is more recent.
In 2011 he became a silent managing partner in the Fremont Dock, and when it became for sale, he bought it. The Fremont Dock reopened in September, and business has been good ever since.
Petersen has been able to apply what he learned in the EDP, not only to his work at Iquique, but also to the Dock. The program emphasized maximizing return on investment capital (ROIC) and he’s applied that concept to both of his jobs by running lean businesses. He is relentlessly focused on maximizing profits and reducing waste and costs by tightly managing inventory and purchasing.
Petersen’s motivation for enrolling in the EDP was to gain more skills and advance his career with a minimal impact on his time. He credits the EDP with “changing his frame of mind.” At the beginning of the program he said he went from learning how to think strategically to thinking strategically in his day-to-day work activities. An example of this is leveraging the network that exists in the program. It didn’t take Petersen long to find connections between his classmates and his businesses.
The Fremont Dock is family owned and operated. Petersen’s wife, Sara, manages it and his brother and parents also work there. His 5-7 year plan is to establish and expand the brand to other waterfront towns and neighborhoods–à la Ballard Dock, Edmonds Dock, etc.
“I’m passionate about never stagnating and constantly improving,” Petersen says.
It’s a mantra he applies to both Iquique U.S. and the Fremont Dock.
Foster Alumna Courtney Thompson brings home silver from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games
“I have a chance, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
So said Courtney Thompson (BA 2008) back in 2007, when she was first training with USA Volleyball in hopes of making the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Many assessed that chance as slim.
Despite a stellar career at the University of Washington, Thompson was considered too short to compete at the international level. Not fast enough. Technique needed work.
She’d heard it all before. And, as before, such sober appraisals became fuel for the fire. “My entire career I’ve felt like the underdog,” she says today, donning her silver medal from the London Olympics. “I’ve always had to prove myself—but that’s a comfortable position for me.”
Thompson wasn’t always a longshot. As a kid she played—and excelled at—every sport that would have her. Baseball. Softball. Hockey. Soccer. Basketball. In middle school, she took up volleyball.
Topping out at 5-foot-7 in a sport of giants, Thompson was never going to dominate the game’s martial lexicon of attacks, spikes, cuts and kills. So she became the catalyst, the quarterback, the setter. She graduated from Kentlake High School student body president, valedictorian, and captain of three state championship volleyball teams.
The collegiate powers, however, were not interested.
Their loss was the UW’s gain. Jim McLaughlin, first-year coach of the perennial also-ran in the mighty Pac-10 Conference, saw in Thompson precisely the kind of overlooked gem that would deliver Husky volleyball to the nation’s elite.
“I just got a vibe (the first time I saw her play),” McLaughlin told the Seattle Times in July. “I watched her energy. I watched her drive. I watched her compete… Those things outweighed her height and her blocking ability.”
Sure did. After four years of voracious learning, inspiring leadership and infectious intensity, Thompson became the most-decorated student-athlete in school history. She rewrote national and conference assist records, was a three-time All-American and Academic All-American (carrying a 3.55 GPA at the UW Foster School of Business), and received the 2005 Honda Award, honoring the best player in college volleyball. More importantly to Thompson, her teams reached three NCAA semifinals and won the 2005 national championship.
The Olympic dream
The international game was different. Difficult. After failing to make the team for Beijing, getting to London was going to take superhuman dedication. “I decided that either I walk away and say this wasn’t meant to be,” Thompson recalls, “or I’m going to do absolutely everything I can to make it.”
As usual, she opted for absolutely everything.
From fall to spring she played professionally—relentlessly—in Switzerland and Puerto Rico, delivering league championships in both (she’s off to Poland this fall).
Summers were all about making the world’s number one volleyball team. Competition was fierce. But Thompson clawed up the depth chart. She finally cracked the first team at last spring’s FIVB World Grand Prix, sparking a US comeback victory in the gold medal match.
A month later, she was named to the 12-woman roster headed to London, a moment that rendered the usually effusive Thompson “speechless… I wanted to shout, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t do either or anything in between.”
That USA team marched undefeated to the gold-medal match, with Thompson stepping up from a reserve role to lead a three-set sweep of the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinal. The Americans’ magical run ended in the final, though, by a galvanized Brazilian squad.
The long road back
Thompson was disappointed, but hardly devastated. “You wake up the next morning and think, did that just happen?” she says. “But then there is a huge satisfaction in knowing that we’d done everything possible to prepare. And when you go play, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s what makes sports so fun.”
Thompson has off-court aspirations. Coaching or athletics administration, most likely. But first she has some unfinished business. Another four years and countless odds to overcome lie between her and Olympic gold in Rio. As ever, she’s looking forward. For Thompson, the journey has always been as sweet as the destination.
“Some people train for the big moments. But I love playing this game and being with this group of girls every day,” she says. “The past four years were an incredible experience. I’ve grown a lot as an athlete and as a person. But what really motivates me is how much more I have to learn. I just want to do it even better next time—and enjoy every second of it.”
Kien Ha describes himself as a risk-averse entrepreneur. And given that restaurants are notoriously risky start-ups, Ha went with a concept he knows well – shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot dining, is a trendsetting phenomenon that has long driven technology transplants from California to expect its healthy, simple, and affordable food on almost every street corner. Ha’s discovery that Washington is the fourth fastest growing state for Japanese-style restaurants convinced him to launch Shabu Chic at the UW’s 2008 Business Plan Competition.
Open Friday through Sunday in Seattle’s International District, Shabu Chic boasts fans who are true devotees talking and sharing photos of the restaurant and the unique food presentation. Yelp gives Shabu Chic a 4.5, and the restaurant got 200+ Facebook “likes” when it posted the possibility of adding a Kimchi sauce in the fall. “Word of mouth has been great,” Ha says. But once a customer is in the door, he relies on wait staff training and social media to share little morsels of Japanese food history along the way.
Still working part-time as an advisory manager for a Seattle accounting firm, Ha is content taking things a bit more slowly than his tech entrepreneur peers. “Most restaurants fail in the first year because they’re under-capitalized. Having no outside funding from the outset has kept us on task and deliberate in all that we do,” he said. His hope is to break even in year two, make a profit in year three, and go full-time with a second location.
Ha sees tech start-ups and restaurant start-ups in the same light. “Whether it’s a tech or food,” he says, “you have to own everything from end to end.” By serving Seattle’s unmet shabu-shabu need, Ha is developing a market for something people in Seattle never knew they’d love. An entrepreneur’s dream.
Executive MBA helps Seattle entrepreneur survive—and thrive
Like many successful serial entrepreneurs, Kevin Conroy’s career has had big ups and big downs. He grew up in California, earned an undergraduate degree and went to work for a large company. But he had an itch to branch out on his own. Launched in 1990, his first venture grew quickly, but hit a wall and eventually failed.
“I didn’t have the skills to make the right changes when the economy shifted,” he explains. “We didn’t understand the headwinds of the economy and the things that were deeply impacting our business that we had no control over.”
He was determined to learn from his mistake. In 2000, he started Blue Rooster, a technology consulting firm, as a one-man operation. Realizing that the crash of his first business was related to gaps in his education, Conroy (EMBA 2004) enrolled in the University of Washington Foster School of Business Executive MBA Program in 2002 and never looked back. Courses in economics, finance and strategy filled those gaps and helped him build a solid foundation for his new business.
Blue Rooster grew steadily. But when recession hit, it threatened to undo everything Kevin had built. That’s when he reached down into the bag of business tools from Foster and connected with his alumni network for advice, shifting his strategy to respond to conditions over which he had little control.
“We changed quite a bit when the downturn happened in 2008, and our change as a company came about from the EMBA Program and all the things that I learned there,” Conroy recalls.
Blue Rooster not only survived, but thrived, tripling its business, growing to 50 employees and attracting a long list of Fortune 500 companies as clients. Now Conroy is nourishing the entrepreneurial spirit in those big companies, in his local community and at the Foster School, where he regularly serves as a judge in business plan competitions.
Today Blue Rooster is headquartered in a stylish, corrugated-steel building in Seattle’s Fremont district that also houses another of Conroy’s ventures, Five Zero Nine Wine. Blue Rooster’s open-plan office space features high windows that look south to the neighborhood’s working waterfront on Lake Union and the city’s downtown skyline.
Conroy is excited about what’s happening in Seattle and sees himself as a partner with the University of Washington and Foster School’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in promoting entrepreneurial activity.
“Small business is the engine of job growth,” he observes. “This area—the University District, Fremont, South and North Lake Union—this is really a hub for new businesses, and whatever we can do to keep that going and growing is very important.”
“That great business philosopher Confucius said, two thousand years ago, ‘What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. But what I do, I learn.’ And that’s what entrepreneurship education is all about,” says Dooley.
Watch the 17-minute video and catch lecture highlights below.
Top 5 skills of a successful entrepreneur:
Do something. Try something. Many successful entrepreneurs have been fired or let go from a former employer and have to act quickly to pay bills. So they start a business without having written a formal business plan, but have a sketch on the back of a napkin.
Beg, borrow or convince people to give or loan resources. Entrepreneurs must figure out how to get resources, assistance and seed funding.
Embrace surprise. Juggle the unexpected and shift gears quickly by seizing opportunities.
Minimize the downside of risks. Great entrepreneurs do not take huge risks. They reside in a state of “heads I win, tails I don’t lose too much” in starting a new business.
Be an effectual thinker. Through entrepreneurial education, emerging entrepreneurs learn to realize they are the pilot-in-command. They are running and starting a business and by trying a business idea out, they may fail. But they will learn from mistakes and can continue moving forward.
More entrepreneurship advice, insights from Emer Dooley’s TEDx lecture:
“Entrepreneurial thinking is a way of looking at and thinking about problems, but very much about doing something about problems.
“There’s this myth about entrepreneurship. Who pops into your brain? It’s Gates or Bezos or Richard Branson. But there is no one type of person that’s an entrepreneur. When I think about the characteristics of an entrepreneur, they can be incredibly gregarious. They can be really shy. They can be these big, big picture thinkers or they can be these obsessive control freaks.
“If you’re a loud-mouth like Ted Turner, it’s natural. You’ll start CNN. If you’re a geek and you’re afraid to approach girls directly, what are you going to do? Start Facebook. If the only way to be an entrepreneur was to be born one, Colonel Sanders would never have started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was in his 60s and on Social Security.
“There’s the strategic approach or the entrepreneurial or affectual approach. An affectual entrepreneur is someone who thinks they can affect their own world. What can I do with the resources I have at hand? Not, what is the end goal and how do I get there?”
After 11 years of teaching entrepreneurship to UW business, engineering and computer science students, Emer Dooley now serves as strategic planner, board member and faculty advisor for the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
More of a job creator, the 1999 BA graduate of the University of Washington Foster School of Business has been one busy entrepreneur since being the last contestant “fired” on national television by Donald Trump in the season six finale of “The Apprentice.”
Sun’s latest venture is Pirq, a clever twist on the buzzing “daily deal” industry that was pioneered by Groupon.
Pirq’s innovation is a smart phone app that identifies instant deals offered by businesses—initially restaurants—near your location or destination. Simply activate the virtual coupon and redeem on the spot for up to 50% off the total bill. Instant gratification.
Sun says it’s a win-win. Customers pay no upfront charge, endure no waiting period, swallow no pre-purchased coupons that never get used. And businesses get the opportunity to offer more targeted deals and the flexibility to avoid being crushed by oversold daily deals.
“Pirq shifts the way we discover and get deals by letting our smart phones help us find instant, relevant savings wherever we are—in a way that benefits both consumers and businesses,” said Sun.
UW alumni exclusive deals
Pirq recently raised $2 million in venture capital funding and is expanding rapidly from its home market of Seattle. Sun, the company’s CEO, has been busy making exclusive partnerships with a variety of organizations. The newest is with the University of Washington Alumni Association, announced in May 2012.
UWAA members have only to enter their member number when downloading the free Pirq app to become eligible for exclusive offers unavailable to the general public. What’s more, Pirq will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from each member transaction to support the UWAA.
“Pirq is an innovative business founded by a UW alum, and it provides our members with relevant benefits they can access through their phones while generating support for the UWAA,” said UWAA executive director Paul Rucker, in an interview with GeekWire. “Members will absolutely enjoy saving money with Pirq and… we’re thrilled to be working with Pirq.”
Life after Trump
Given his adventures since “The Apprentice” wrapped, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Sun would have been better off as a foot soldier in Trump’s gold-plated, real-estate empire.
After his televised dismissal, Sun leveraged his new-found celebrity to launch and host his own international TV show. “Sun Tzu: War on Business,” a co-production of the BBC, MediaCorp and CCTV, was broadcast in 20 nations across Asia in 2009-10. In each episode, Sun counseled motivated-but-struggling entrepreneurs on lessons from “The Art of War,” the iconic writings of the ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu.
Returning to business of his own making, Sun founded GeoPage, a location-based search company that helps people find restaurants, hotels and attractions in their vicinity. GeoPage built the platform upon which Pirq now operates.
Sun also is an active angel investor and strategic advisor to a number of start-ups. He serves on the board of United Way of King County and the King County Scoutreach Program, as well as Seeyourimpact.org, an organization that solicits micro-donations to support children in the developing world.