Category Archives: Guest Speakers

What would I do differently?

Mike McCarter, TMMBA Class of 2014
Mike McCarter, TMMBA Class of 2014

I always knew someone would ask me this question.   I’d supposed it would happen sometime after I graduated.   Or maybe the question would come from my children someday when I was old and gray– I certainly didn’t expect it in the last quarter of the program, but there it was.   The TMMBA Program Director, Tracy, asked the question;  “If you could do this whole MBA thing over again, what would you do differently?”

OK, so maybe she didn’t ask the question exactly like that.  She may have actually said something closer to “How’s it going?” or maybe just “Hi”.   Regardless of what had prompted Tracy’s inquiry that day in the hall, she deserved to know the answer that had plagued me for a solid month.

Here’s the background.  About a month earlier my team and I had set up a meeting with the executive director of a local non-profit to talk about a social media project.  We booked the meeting to occur a couple of hours ahead our Wednesday class session– and miraculously it finished up a bit early!   After treating myself to a second helping of taco buffet, I had found myself in the rare-yet-luxurious state of not having any plans.   I recall mingling in the buffet area for a while and then ambling into the Tech @ the Top room after hearing some mention of cheeseburgers in there.

Shortly after I found a seat, Tracy shut the door and introduced Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network.   Then it all clicked for me.   Five minutes earlier I had been joking with this guy at the taco buffet, wondering if he was going to take the last chalupa, and now I find out he is a legendary entrepreneur?!  The next hour flew by like it was fifteen minutes.   I learned about how Ben had quit a perfectly good job to see if he could parlay a funny cat picture into an multimillion dollar internet humor juggernaut (spoiler alert:  he did it).   Ben gave a fast-paced presentation followed by a wide-open Q&A session.  I got an incredible view into the mind of a truly creative entrepreneur with a street MBA and a truckload of wisdom.  More importantly, I got to ask Ben as many questions as I wanted about being an entrepreneur and scaling a company, which is a topic that interests me greatly.

from icanhascheezburger.com

A few weeks went by and I still found myself reflecting on Ben’s presentation and several impactful things he had shared.  I figured this must have been an anomaly– of course they couldn’t all be that good, right?  I secretly hoped so, because I’d been ignoring Tech @ the Top emails for over a year.  With small kids at home, a demanding job, a couple side ventures and an MBA-in-progress, I felt like I couldn’t afford to take on anything else.   Nonetheless, when the next Tech @ the Top Speaker Series event came along there I was, privately hoping that Jens Molbak, founder of Coinstar, would flop and confirm my anomaly theory.

Of course Jens didn’t flop, he was brilliant.  I still don’t know how he crammed it all into one hour, but we learned how he started Coinstar as a secret project during his MBA.  Jens told us about how he had interviewed 1500 people in front of grocery stores to refine his idea.  We sensed Jen’s pain from the continuous rejection by VCs.   Then we learned about the eventual revelation that enabled him to not only get seed funding, but ultimately raise $200m in VC investment (hint: it wasn’t about selling his idea better).   In less than 10 years, Jens succeeded in taking Coinstar public, caused the Mint to stop making coins, and enabled the donation of millions of dollars to a litany of charitable organizations.    As with my prior Tech @ the Top experience, I was blown away by the openness and accessibility of this inspiring entrepreneur.

Tech @ the Top Speaker Series - Jens Molbak

So there it is.  Not the answer I’d expected it would be, but true nonetheless.  If I could do it over again, I would go to every single Tech @ the Top speaker.  The absurdity is that I was already there on Wednesdays anyway– how hard would it have been to forgo that extra trip to the buffet and open my mind to meeting a new entrepreneur or business leader?  I’ll never know, but what I do know is that I missed the opportunity to get direct learnings and close interaction with senior executives from Costco, Docusign, Concur, Outerwall, PCC, and many others.    Here’s my advice to future Foster MBA students:  skip that extra chalupa and go to Tech @ the Top!

Don’t be a Paper MBA

By David Lam, TMMBA Alumnus, Class of 2013

Don’t be a Paper MBA: Attend a Tech @The Top, career networking, or professional development event

Do you want to be a stronger business leader or is your choice to be a Paper MBA?  The TMMBA program has nearly monthly events that can help you stay relevant and are often invaluable opportunities to get connected to recognized business leaders.

Get Connected

Whether you are still in the classroom or have since graduated, opportunities to connect to recognized successful business leaders are invaluable. Interested in an insider’s account of established internationally recognized companies or perhaps prefer hearing about the local startup scene? The TMMBA program has an excellent variety across that spectrum from Walt Disney and Yahoo to WetPaint and LiquidPlanner. Thinking about partnering or career opportunities with a local company or subsidiary? Attending these events can really boost your network beyond what would normally be available to you. Cold-calling the CEO is very different to following up an earlier exchange at a recent TMMBA event.

Stay Relevant

I worked in Japan for a decade and had to be especially wary of ‘paper drivers’, particularly as a motorcycle was my primary way of commuting. This is a well-known phenomenon in Japan and refers to those who have received a license to drive but, since becoming certified, either had not or have very rarely actually gotten behind the wheel. My personal experience of passing the practical driving test in Japan was specific to a motorcycle license but it was an extremely grueling not to mention expensive process. Despite passing this very difficult practical driving test however, those who did not practice their new-found skills were really certified drivers on paper only. On the rare occasion when they do drive (and often long after passing the practical exams), these paper drivers were a danger to both themselves and others around them.

MBA graduates (and current students) have a similar risk.  Granted, the risk to life and limb for MBA graduates who do not continue to develop themselves is less than that of a paper driver, but the hard-won skills learnt in the classroom can also quickly deteriorate.  Graduating with an MBA is a grueling process that begins even before entering the classroom. From the GMAT and overall application process thru to the many, many months of countdown towards that blessed graduation date. It is clearly a significant investment in time and money. In choosing to undertake an MBA, is your goal to become certified on paper only and go no further to develop as a stronger business leader?

Attending the TMMBA events or workshops are an opportunity to learn from current and real-world applicable lessons. Often the talks are surprisingly open with many insights that can be gained, and are never dry case studies.

Avoid the risk of becoming a Paper MBA; continue to develop your business skills, stay relevant and get connected. Subscribe to the calendar at: http://www.foster.washington.edu/academic/tmmba/Pages/Tech-at-the-Top.aspx.

Other relevant events at: http://www.foster.washington.edu/academic/tmmba/pages/cal.aspx

Hope to see you at the next Tech @the Top or career networking night!

TMMBA Week in the Life: David Ginsberg, Day 3

David Ginsberg, TMMBA Student, Class of 2014

Today’s schedule makes the last 2 days look like a breeze. At work my calendar was filled with meetings for all but 30 minutes, including interviewing a new candidate for my team. Since this role will work closely with me I put some time and thought into devising a series of technical and behavioral questions to ascertain how the candidate might handle various likely scenarios and if there was a good cultural fit. I sent my analysis to my boss who said it was great feedback, very intuitive and in line with his own thoughts so I’m glad I’m able to add value to that process. I also had lunch with a former coworker who’s interested in Tableau. We went out for sushi & we had a chance to catch up, share experiences at our new companies and talk a bit about how he might fit in at Tableau. The buzz around my new employer is kind of blowing me away, I mean I knew I’d found a gem and made the right choice for me, but I have a fellow TMMBA classmate and former study group member who’s early in the process of interviewing for a role with us, another expressed interest tonight when I got to class and several others have also expressed interest. As I’ve become accustomed to at Tableau the day flew by and before I knew it I was on my way across the lake to the EEC.

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Arrived at the EEC and tonight we had a Tech at the Top guest speaker from Concur speaking on Fostering Innovation, so I grabbed a plate of Mexican food and headed into classroom 3 for the talk. Class started a little late tonight at 6:15 due to the guest speaker during dinner, and tonight we had a record 3 guests from Monday section join us (we’ve had Monday students join us for the last 4 weeks straight, but only one per night until tonight). Some of my classmates suggested they’re sending spies but I suspect word is just getting out that the Wednesday section is more fun. (As you can see we have a healthy friendly rivalry between the sections…in truth the whole cohort is made up of wonderful, smart, committed people and I like every one of them).

Tonight at the start of class we broke into 6 groups and were assigned positions to defend on the group case we’d turned in before class started tonight. My group was assigned the opposite position from the one my study group chose and wrote our paper on last night, so I had a chance to argue for the other position. Here’s a picture I took of us after we wrapped up our arguments in favor:

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I’m actually live-blogging (hear that CNN?) during class tonight, multi-tasking as we used to say in the 90s before everyone realized it was impossible due to the singular nature of attention. I better turn my attention back to the content of class…more in a bit.

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Tonight I took advantage of our break to reach out to a hiring manager about my classmate’s interest & got that ball rolling. I also noticed they also put up lights at the EEC:

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Class will end at 9:30 tonight, but I’m going to say goodnight now.

Is entrepreneurship for you?

Jeff Levy
Jeff Levy at the TMMBA & EMBA spring networking night

By Sara Jones, TMMBA Assistant Director & Class of 2012 Candidate

We recently had a networking night for students and alumni of the TMMBA and Executive MBA programs. Our speaker for the evening was Jeff Levy, an entrepreneur, coach, and mentor who has helped hundreds of individuals open their own franchise or small business. He’s also the co-author of Making the Jump into Small Business Ownernship (read an excerpt in this GeekWire post).

Jeff shared his entrepreneurial journey and views on what it takes to achieve small business ownership. He highlighted his personal challenges and achievements and the who, what, when, where, and why of entrepreneurship.  We followed-up with Jeff after the event with a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:

What is your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

There have been many times in my career where I felt pride and a sense of accomplishment.  These usually came after achieving something that no one thought possible. Probably,  the most significant moment was when my partners and I put together a $35million package to buy the three division from Flow International to form Safeworks, LLC.  No one, including ourselves, during the process, knew how it would exactly come together. We never gave up on our dream and made it happen.

It’s not easy to take a leap from being employed (and the primary earner) to being an entrepreneur.  When is the right time to start my own business?  Is there a strategy that would provide the least impact to my family?

You are very right that it is not easy to leave the comfort of a regular paycheck. However,  workers today function in what is called the “new career economy.” A paycheck is not necessarily a synonym for security. At the executive level it is not uncommon to be in a different job, or in career transition every 3-4 years. What you want to avoid is having to start a business when not working as a result of a layoff. That is a lot of pressure unless you have a good severance and possibly Self Employed Assistance Plan benefits provided by the State of Washington.  I think the best strategy is to work on the planning part of your business while you have the comfort of the regular check.  Give particular thought to the capital side of the business. Do you have enough money set aside to meet your living expenses for up to a year (or more) in addition to the capital requirements for investing in the business. Once funding is secure it still takes the difficult task of balancing your dreams versus your fears. My family has always been supportive of my entrepreneurial pursuits.  They believed that my early career success working for others would be transferable to my own venture. As my wife said. In her wisdom, you have made money for others, it is time that you do it for yourself.

With the dramatic changes in technology and impending talent war, what are the pros and cons of being a full-time employee versus self-employed?

I think that there will be a talent war. It actually exists today for certain software engineers and programmers.  I do believe the jobs of the future will be “newer and fewer”. No matter what the demand may be for talent in a salaried environment, I don’t think it competes with the benefits of being your own boss.  Clearly, I have a bias in this regard. Workers tend to get comfortable living at the level of their W-2 income and don’t do enough to create real wealth or to control the most valuable thing they have, their time.  I also believe that technology will create many more opportunities for self-employment.

What is the number one personality trait you see in successful entrepreneurs?

I think the # one personality trait is optimism. The ability to look for the opportunity no matter what the difficulty or the challenge may be.  There are certainly other very important traits but you asked for one. If you are a pessimist trying to go into business, game over!

What is the single biggest obstacle encountered by aspiring entrepreneurs?

Here I need the latitude to give a few obstacles.  You might think it is the lack of capital, but I don’t believe that is what holds entrepreneurs back although it might delay entry or slow down the ramping up of the business. My story is a good example of working the plan until you make it happen.  Raising $35m looked like climbing Mt. Everest. The two biggest obstacles are being close minded and not having developed mastery of basic business management skills.

Advocacy and engagement through social media

Sara Jones, Class of 2012

Tonight was the second session of our Social Media for Managers course. This is a new class in the TMMBA Program and one I was looking forward to. It’s both relevant to the work I do and a personal topic of interest. Our instructor is Andy Boyer, a Principle at Social3i Consulting and Co-Founder of Relaborate. He’s also a Foster Alum!

TMMBA guest speaker, Alonso Chehade
Alonso Chehade talking to the TMMBA Class of '12

Our first class on Saturday was an initial overview of our class project, basic social media strategies, and what platforms are out there. The class project is for each study group to pick a non-profit, small business, or cause and build a social media campaign around it. The idea is to teach by doing. It was harder than I thought to come up with a topic. My group finally settled on encouraging individuals to volunteer through a focus on more trivial benefits of volunteering such as free swag, free knowledge, free concert tickets ,etc. The hope is to reach an audience that hasn’t volunteered much in the past while being a bit humorous and lighthearted.

Each class session we are focusing on a different aspect of social media management and building that out for our projects. Tonight we talked about tools and strategies for blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and a few other platforms. We also had a guest speaker, Alonso Chehade, who talked about creating engagement.

Here are a few takeaways from class so far:

  • Social media needs to be tied to organizational goals and the bottom line. Have metrics to measure success of a campaign. It’s easy to get caught up in getting likes, follows, etc, but there need to be other measurements to ensure that your time and dollars are going to the right efforts.
  • Create engagement by being passionate, including people’s names in posts, responding to others, and asking questions to create a conversation.
  • People are motivated by Selfish Altruism. If we’re trying to get people to care about our cause, we need to think about what’s in it for them. What about our story will appeal to them? We shouldn’t just ask them to help, like our page, etc.
  • We can use the basic principles of Dale Carnegie to find success in social media engagement.
  • Find your social media superheros like Bill Sleeper, a 96 year old tech enthusiast who made headlines after he attended a local social media event, or Dan Dewey who was featured during Starbuck’s #everylove campaign.
  • A neat tool that I wasn’t aware of: www.followerwonk.com. I’ll definitely be using this one at work!

Over the next two weeks our groups are supposed to build content and launch our campaigns so that we have some data to work with during our next session on analytics. Now it’s time to create some engagement of our own.

What organizations or groups do you think have done a great job of using social media to support their cause?

Highlights from 2011

Sara Jones, TMMBA Assistant Director and Class of 2012

2011 was a busy and exciting year for TMMBA. As we embark on a new year and welcome the Class of 2013, I wanted to take a moment and share a few highlights, happenings and milestones from 2011:

  • We celebrated our 10th anniversary!  It’s hard to believe how much has changed over the past 10 years.  From curriculum improvements to increased networking opportunities and enhanced alumni continuing education and support, the TMMBA team is always focused on how to make this the best program possible and provide a great experience for our students and alumni.
  • TMMBA expanded the career resources available.  We added new and fresh content to the career resources that we provide to better help our students navigate the career development process. This includes new written materials, workshops on topics such as crafting an effective resume and LinkedIn, and content customized to the unique needs of the various career paths that students are pursuing. Here’s a LinkedIn tip sheet with a few takeaways.  In 2012 we will continue to offer new career workshops topics and individual coaching sessions for our students.
  • Students traveled to Munich & Istanbul on the International Study Tour.  There was record student participation in the 2011 International Study Tour.  Students spent 10 days in Munich and Instanbul  learning about international business through company visits and the exploring the rich culture in these two cities. You can read a brief summary of the study tour here and information about the various companies that were visited here.
  • One of our beloved professors joined the Libyan revolutionary government as Minister of Finance and Oil.  Ali Tarhouni had taught in the TMMBA Program for several years. His class was fun, engaging, and a favorite of many students. This past spring, he took leave from the Foster School to join the Libyan revolution. Students have continued to follow and discuss his journey through news stories of the revolution. One student shares his account of Professor Tarhouni’s last class session here.  He has now taken a role as special envoy to the US and returned briefly this month to spend time with him family and thank the US government for its support of the revolution. You can watch a video of his recent press conference and Q&A session held at UW this week and read about his experience as Finance Minister in this Seattle Times article.
  • TMMBA launched a Professional Communications course. Presentation and communication skills are essential for business leaders today. TMMBA recognizes this and has created a Professional Communications course to address this need. The class runs the entire duration of the TMMBA program with a different topic of focus each quarter. The course series kicks off during Orientation with an Etiquette Dinner and a class on the Elevator Pitch. Instructor Lorraine Howell shares her perspective on the importance of communication skills in this post.
  • Study teams switched it up at the half way point.  TMMBA modified the team structure so that groups changed after the 3rd quarter. Students get to practice their teaming skills with a new group, expand their perspectives, and make closer connections with more of their classmates. Learn more and meet a few teams.
  • Alumni tossed a disc on our first Ultimate Frisbee team. TMMBA expanded our athletic adventures beyond golf and created an Alumni Ultimate Frisbee Team last summer to compete in a local corporate league.  It was a great way for our alums to show their school spirit, make friends, and stay fit! I hope we continue to find new and exciting ways for our alums to stay connected and have fun in 2012.

These are just a few of my memories at TMMBA from 2011.  I’m looking forward to the year ahead – onward and upward!

The Power of the TMMBA Alumni Network

Photo of Tim CookeTim Cooke, TMMBA Class of 2005

What are the top reasons professionals return to school to earn an MBA?  I’ll speculate that the top two reasons are to help foster a career change and for acquisition of knowledge.  Whether you’re considering an MBA or have already graduated from the TMMBA program, I propose that you add a third reason for attaining your MBA: access to a powerful and growing network of networked professionals.

Rather than give you the top five reasons for considering your alumni network as a powerful resource, allow me to appeal to you through a simple story.

The TMMBA program sponsors many opportunities for graduates to connect including an event called Technology at the Top which features a technology executive from a local company sharing their perspective on a current topic or sharing insights and lessons learned from their own professional journey.

Like many of you, I mark evening events on my calendar weeks in advance with great intentions of attending, but as the evening draws close, many competing interest seem to rear their needy heads. Technology at the Top was no exception. I had both business and personal interests competing for that small 60 minute investment I intended to make. I did have a loose personal connection to that evening’s speaker, so rather than miss the opportunity to make add a network connection, I dragged myself to the meeting at the Eastside Executive Center.

Being in business development for twenty years has taught me that passive participation in events will not yield the return necessary to keep you coming back, so I listened intently to that evening’s guest, ready to pounce on any opportunity to engage. Forty minutes into the session, that opportunity came in the form a statistical presentation of where the company’s leads come from. My hand shot up and I let fly my sortie in the form of a deep probing question into how the company is tapping into their knowledge that peer influence is the number one entry point into their sales cycle. My reward was that familiar wrinkling of the brow and cock of the head to the side as the speaker thought for a moment and said, that’s a great question and a challenge we’re actively engaged with. Target acquired.

While the hook was set, the fish was not yet in the boat. At the end of the session I sprang to the occasion and stood in line for my turn to thank our guest. I mentioned the one common friend we both had that would forever bond us, then I started to reel by reminding him of the question I asked and letting him know more about R2integrated’s Influencer and Communities of Interest practice that seeks to identify top influencers and communities and then activate them. Whether he was genuinely interested or just wanted to get rid of me I’ll never know, but he immediately offered to introduce me to their Chief Marketing Officer.

By morning, the fish was in the boat in the form of a flattering email introduction to the CMO. I’ll cut the story short here to conclude with a few facts. We kicked off our first project with this client exactly one month after the email introduction. I don’t know about your industry, but for mine, that’s an incredibly short sales cycle. The first project has opened up the desire for a second phase and a project unrelated to the first. The initial value of the engagement was modest in the tens of thousands, but brought us a new local client whose CLV should reach into the millions as we help them to grow.

Would I have been able to close this customer without TMMBA? We’ll never know, but I do know that with the connections TMMBA affords me as an alum, my access to resources is much greater than without. 

So what is it for you? Are you looking for that next great career move? Are you looking for a business partner to join you on the exciting journey of a startup? Just looking for some new friends to discuss current business issues? Whatever your desire, I encourage you to resist the temptation to skip that next networking meeting. Jump in. You’ll never know the outcome if you don’t participate!

Going back to school is FUN!

Wei Huang, TMMBA Student (Class of 2012)

I never thought I being saying this but going back to school is fun.  Even when I come from work all tried and frustrated, I get re-energized when I come to class on Wednesdays.  I see my fellow students who are either studying up for the class ahead or just chatting away with each other.  And very often, I meet someone new and just chat away before dinner.

It is so nice to have dinner waiting for you.  I remember as an undergrad, I hate going hungry and I would always make a quick trip to buy food.  Here in the TMMBA program, food is just steps away.  We’ve had Chinese, Indian, Italian and American food.  All the food is served with veggies, fruit, and desert.  As you might already know, TMMBA has unlimited soda and ice cream.  If you are like me who works for company that provides free soda, you probably know how comforting it is to have that benefit.  Now just add the unlimited ice cream to that equation and it’s all that much better.  The ice creams and sodas are not just their to quench your thirst and appetite, it’s a great way to socialize.

When people ask me how I am doing in the TMMBA program, I get excited and tell them about the new things I learn.  The instructors and Teaching Assistants are great.  Although I’m not the best learner in the world, I always take something away from class that I can apply to real-world situations.

Another great aspect about the TMMBA program is the speakers who are brought in.  Most current was Kurt Shintaffer, who is the CFO from Appito.  It was great to hear how he got started in his company and it was even better to ask him questions.  I don’t know how often anybody gets to talk to someone in his position let alone ask questions openly.  It was a great experience.

We also had former students speak to us about their experience.  During our orientation, we had a speaker who was a student in 2005 speak about his experience at TMMBA.  What I got out of it was how he leveraged his MBA potentials in interviews to get to where he is at now.

So far the TMMBA program is a blast and I look forward to the many classes ahead.

Apptio – THE customer centric company.

Jared McInelly, TMMBA Student (Class of 2012)

I’ve heard the term “customer centric” from almost every company and at every executive speech.  So when we had the CFO of Apptio, Kurt Shintaffer, come and speak to or TMMBA class and tell us that they are “customer centric” I thought nothing of it.  But as he told us the story of the founding of Apptio, it quickly became apparent that these guys really mean it.  I’ve never seen a company as focused on their customers as these guys.

Kurt founded the company with his friend Sunny Gupta.  They had both just come off a nice exit from another start-up and they looked at each other and said “what now?”

“We knew a bunch of people in IT, so we started setting up meetings with them and asking them about what kinds of problems they faced as IT execs.”

From those discussions, a kind of theme started to form; everyone had issues with figuring out the ROI of their IT investments.  When they would have to justify budgets and costs to other groups, they had nothing solid to justify the need for their budgets.  As they met with more and more IT pros, they would ask questions and then tell them what they were planning to build.  These experienced, high level people could really tell them if they were on the right track.  Eventually they were ready to build a truly unique product that they knew at least 40 high level people needed.

Although Kurt and Sunny didn’t have IT backgrounds, their discussions led them directly to a problem that they decided they could solve.  They came up with a business plan which they then took to the Venture Capitalists.  Their pitch had enormous weight behind it because they could point to a big chart and say, “this Fortune 500 company has this problem. We know, we’ve talked to their CTO.”

Their previous successes at running a startup and providing a profitable exit for the VC’s made it easier for them to get funding.  They started Apptio with a couple of people, an idea, and a whole bunch of VC money.

These customer centric beginnings have continued in their company culture.  All of the executives meet regularly with customers.  They go on sales visits and follow up on the phone a week or so after to make sure the customer got what they needed.  Kurt also told us about a tough situation where they “over sold” the product to a big customer.  As a management team, they decided that it was more important to win this customer to their platform than to make money on the deal.  So they have embarked on an extensive project to design and build software for this customer.  And they are losing money doing it.

They continue to look to their customers for product validation.  As they build new tools or add functionality they can then go to other customers and say “we added such and such widget because Boeing really needed it, maybe you do too.”

According to Mark, “there is nothing better than peer selling.”

I found this customer centric style very interesting.  There are benefits here that are hard to measure in dollar amounts.  Apptio is providing products but really they are forming deep relationships with their customers.  I worry that at some point the company will get too big and the executives too busy to keep meeting with customers.  I think this is when product strategy seems to move away from what customers really want back to executive intuition and guessing.  So far though, these guys seem to have really hit on something that solves a serious problem in the IT world.  And they are doing it in an innovative-customer centric way.