Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's cold in Ithaca son

8 colleges in 5 days, starting in Ithaca New York. I check the weather as we leave Manhattan, and then don't pay attention to the results, thinking it can't really be 28 degrees in late March. Sebastian refuses to take even a sweatshirt claiming he does not get cold.

Monday morning and we were at Cornell. It’s 18 degrees outside and all I had was a thick sweatshirt. “Don’t worry Mom, just wear layers”. 3 t-shirts, a sweater and the sweatshirt later and he's right, except for my ears. Wow. Biting cold.

Cornell is a beautiful campus in brilliant sunshine. The whole group of parents and teenagers (in varying degrees of enthusiasm) walked briskly between elegant and inelegant 19th century buildings and I was impressed that Cornell took in women 100 years before their Ivy League peers. A good sign in my mind. But it is clearly hard to get in, and it’s a large school which is a new concept for Sebastian.

But Monday was as much about sight seeing as it was about colleges. 2 hours to drive to Clinton NY to see Hamilton College. There is no freeway for the Ithaca-Clinton route, it’s all back country roads between farms and we lost count of the abandoned large Victorian houses on the way. Ghostly and sad to see the skeletons of what was great affluence, now abandoned.

Hamilton was just as cold and windier. But the tour guide in this case was not interested in showing off any academics – the tour was all about sports, food and social life so we were in the warm. We saw only one classroom. Hamilton is smaller than Cornell, has a new water polo team, and certainly sounds more fun if you are 17.

Our 4.5 hour drive across upstate New York, across Vermont and into New Hampshire created plenty of opportunity for discussion about the merits of one school vs. another.It must be hard to be trying to chose a school when both your parents went to Cambridge - in a different time when I am sure it was easier to get in but even so sets the bar very high. Good thing he's a hard headed kid who is going to find his own way with or without my help.

Next stop Hanover New Hampshire. Current temperature 15 degrees as I dress this morning...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Short skirts, politics and gender bias

Each year we get closer to equality, and yet we still take steps back.

This week Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to chip the glass ceiling of American politics, died. Ferraro was the first woman on the Presidential campaign ticket and the first to show that a woman could handle the ferociousness of a presidential campaign. It was an exciting moment in the U.S. which was then, and still is, so far behind other countries in a woman's ability to hold the top political office.

More than twenty five years later Hillary Clinton put major cracks into the glass ceiling with her campaign for President (and I still wish that she had won). As Secretary of State in just 15 months she has out traveled all her predecessors and shown us how strong, smart and wise she really is. Who now could doubt that a woman cannot lead as well or be as effective as any man as President of the U.S? As Hillary said in this week's People magazine (yes even I read People at the barber shop waiting for my son), equality for women is the great project for the 21st century.

But it's two steps forward, one step back. Women are still objectified every day in ways men would not tolerate. Take Bill Maher's reference this week to Barbara Bachmann and Sarah Palin as "two bimbos". Lord knows I hate their politics but just because they are attractive women does the press need to show a continuous gender bias against their intellect?

The bias that women cannot be good looking and smart is so insidious even women do it. Last week at SxSW a tech PR firm, Fresh Ink, put out cards with tips for giving speeches, including “A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the topic, yet short enough to be interesting.”

Violet Blue's opinion piece in ZDNet said it all. It's sexist, offensive and an attitude that continues to set us back. The women led PR firm responded to the criticism with a blog post that attributes the quote to Winston Churchill and that we should not take ourselves as women so seriously. Seriously!? PR is still a pink ghetto and I coach young women not to go into PR because they'll never get back out to a line management position on the path the C-suite.

I do believe that, in the moment of sexist behavior towards me, humor is the best way for me to defuse it, but our society is still so gender biased it horrifies me that women would perpetuate the attitude themselves. As Violet said: "But tech (and tech media) is still an old boy’s network. And if you think it’s not, then you’re not paying attention."

We need a woman to win the Presidency and smash the highest glass ceiling , just as we need more women CEOs and more women in the board room. And as a society we need to put gender bias behind us - it demeans us all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top 3 excuses people give for being late for an interview with me

Today's is a doozy. Interviewing a sales candidate who is supposed to be here at 10am but...

Top 3 excuses I have heard for why a candidate is late:

1. I overslept and missed the plane, missed the ferry, missed the train etc - lame in this day and age of cellphones with alarms

2. I couldn't find your office - lame in this day and age of Google maps

and my new favorite

3. I am getting a ticket right now and will be late. He sent me a photo as proof. I like this guy already.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A tale of three mugs

When I first started commuting to New York for FirstRain I rented a little apartment to save money vs. hotels. Bare and basic but cheap in Midtown - and the start of a journey narrated by china.

One of my first personalizations of the tiny apartment was to buy 3 mugs at the local Starbucks. One green - said "Friendship"; one purple - said "Prosperity"; one red - said "Love". They were hefty mugs with a good feel in the hand and on the lip as I would sip my morning coffee. And they captured hopeful sentiments for the future.

The first one to break was Prosperity. I dropped it at the end of 2007, unintentionally in sync with the world markets. Purple china (the original color of wealth because it was the hardest dye to make) smashed onto the floor with the cockroaches whom I shared my second apartment with by then - I was experiencing the West Village without realizing in advance the wildlife that would share my 1896 brownstone.

The second mug to break was Friendship. Dropped by my daughter on the floor of my third apartment on the Upper East Side. At least by then the floor was wood, clean and I didn't share it with bugs or birdsong it was so high up. I am blessed with my best friends, but some friendships broke in the last 3 years. As I drove myself and my company hard thru the recession I certainly learned who my real friends are. Hard times and difficult decisions brought out the best in some and the worst in others.

But Love lasts. It's the last mug standing, and my favorite. I cupped my hands around it today before heading home from New York. I have more and more love in my life - if possible it grew in the last 3 years. I love my kids more each day and appreciate my bossy, needy, hurly burly and furry family so much. I'm going to continue to take great care of my red Love mug.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thrilling -- Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo -- Review

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph is a deeply thought provoking play - now playing in New York.

It is the story of men, women and a tiger in 2003 after the US invasion of Baghdad. Some are alive, some are ghosts, and most of those alive are dead by the end of the play. Tiger, played by Robin Williams, is the first to die, and the last to speak. He is eerily still as he debates his nature and why he is a ghost. Each character develops once they are dead, increasing their realization and knowledge, but getting no closer to God or a reason for why they are still present.

Like the LA Times (who reviewed the earlier run in LA), I found Hrach Titizian's performance as Uday Hussein the most shocking and riveting. Funny, sleazy, profoundly violent. He comes onto the stage in an explosion of charisma, carrying his dead brother's head, and torments Musa (played brilliantly by Arian Moayed) who was Uday's gardener and is now a translator for the Americans. Every minute Hrach is on stage you cannot take your eyes off his intensity.

Arian Moayed as Musa (seated) and Hrach Titizian as Uday

The primary setting for the play is in a topiary garden, filled with now neglected large topiaries of a giraffe, an elephant, an eagle, a horse. Previously tended by Musa, the garden is now the site of the hauntings. As the characters question why and seek answers and God, the garden is a beautiful allegory for the seeking of meaning. You can imagine what a haven it was for Musa and his young sister (subsequently raped and killed by Uday) and why each of the ghosts ends up there in the dark.

All of the actors except Robin Williams had been with the previous production. Their timing and comfort in their roles is flawless and contributed a great deal to the intensity oozing from the stage. Robin was, of course, terrific but he did not seem connected to the other characters. Maybe this is intentional, maybe he needs more time with the actors who are clearly close.

When the curtain dropped on the first half I was shocked - I thought the actors had only been on stage for 20 minutes - but it was an hour. The second half flew by as fast. As the LA Times said "The sweep and boldness of vision, bringing together cultures, species and even the living and the dead, is thrilling...". It was truly thrilling to bathe in the play and the actor's craft.

Robin Williams with the author Rajiv Joseph

Glenn Davis (seated) and Brad Fleischer --
as the two American soldiers out of their depth in Bagdhad

Monday, March 14, 2011

Overly aggressive prosecutors again

Being charged with a crime ruins your life. No question, whether you are innocent or guilty your life and career are put on hold and all focus goes to defending yourself. And, in our society, whether right or not, people are assumed guilty until proven innocent. I blogged on this recently and my convictions were confirmed by the vitriol in the comments - a "white collar worker" or an "executive" is absolutely assumed to be guilty. (the comments were not that surprising given that I blogged about it in the HuffPo)

Which is why it is so wrong that prosecutors can get away with pursuing someone for a crime when there is simply not enough evidence to charge him and ruin his life - and have no consequence themselves. We have just had another such example in Silicon Valley - the case against the former CFO of Network Associates. As reported by the San Jose Mercury:

In a remarkable ruling, a California federal appeals court has set aside the conviction, prison sentence and $200,000 fine assessed against Prabhat Goyal, the former chief financial officer of a Silicon Valley software firm who had been found guilty by a jury of charges he misstated revenue and lied to auditors.

The court didn't just reverse the case for a new trial, it threw it out completely. The author of the ruling, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Clifton, wrote in the December decision, "Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, no reasonable juror could have found Goyal guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any of the charges against him."

In other words, there was no evidence of a crime.

The case, another in a string of imploded federal prosecutions, makes Goyal the latest victim of overzealous prosecutors.

Given how devastating being prosecuted is why is there not more public outrage when prosecutors step on ordinary Americans rights to advance their political agendas?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Disney and Tyco take on ISS on compensation

From my perspective - as chair of one compensation committee and a member of another...

As Say on Pay and executive compensation is becoming a bigger part of shareholders review of companies practices a new area of contention is developing between companies and ISS -- whether companies will bypass ISS and communicate directly with their shareholders about ISS recommendations.

The relationship between ISS and companies is contentious at the outset. ISS reviews each public company's reports (like the MD&A and the CD&A) and then makes recommendations to shareholders on whether to vote for or against management recommendations in the annual proxy. Many larger institutions have a policy of voting with ISS recommendations - and the decision is often made by the governance group of the institution, not by the portfolio manager holding the stock, so the ISS recommendation holds a great deal of sway.

At the same time ISS charges companies for their software package to predict what score ISS's methodology will give the company - and hence whether ISS will recommend a for or against. It's a conflicted business model, to say the least.

Now we have increasing regulations and scrutiny on executive compensation and ISS is weighing in - and until recently when ISS made a mistake or a questionable judgment all companies did was go to them, point out the mistake, negotiate changes and hope ISS would change their recommendation. Companies were handcuffed. Until Disney.

As you can see below Disney is taking ISS on publicly and communicating directly with their shareholders. Tyco are also taking them on directly. Tyco's 2/22 filing starts out "ISS’s premise is that Tyco’s executive compensation program does not align the pay of its CEO with company performance. This is clearly not the case." Frontal attack.

It's going to be very interesting to watch what happens to ISS's credibility in the next 12 months. Their whole business model will break down if companies decide to aggressively bypass them - based on their competency on compensation - and work directly with their major shareholders on the new compensation rules.

The Disney letter to shareholders is as follows: Commencing March 2, 2011, The Walt Disney Company sent the following communication to certain shareholders. We write with respect to the ISS Proxy Report you may have seen regarding the proposals to be voted on at The Walt Disney Company annual shareholder meeting. We take serious issue with ISS's recommendations against the Company's position on the advisory vote on executive compensation and the shareholder proposal regarding performance tests for restricted stock units. We set forth below why we believe the two negative ISS recommendations are unwarranted.

1. ISS's recommendation to vote "against" the advisory vote on executive compensation relates to a practice that no longer exists. The recommendation appears to be grounded on a concern that the Company "recently extended excise tax gross ups." Bu
t, in point of fact, the Company's Compensation Committee has adopted a policy, fully disclosed in the proxy statement, that prohibits excise tax gross ups in any future agreements with executive officers, or in any material amendments or extensions of existing agreements, unless the provision is submitted to approval by shareholders. The "recent" extension of a gross up that ISS refers to (which would not be permitted under the new policy) occurred over a year ago, was fully disclosed in a Company filing on January 8, 2010, well prior to last year's annual meeting and prior to last year's ISS proxy report, which made no mention of it. Subsequent to that time, the Compensation Committee, in response to feedback from shareholders, adopted a policy that would prohibit tax gross ups as outlined above. For that reason, we urge that you vote in favor of the advisory vote on executive compensation.

2. In its original recommendation to support the shareholder proposal regarding performance tests for restricted stock unit awards, ISS made frequent reference to what it argued was the short-term nature of a one-year earnings per share component of the Company's current performance test. In point of fact, however, the EPS test is a three-year test. ISS acknowledged this mistake in the introduction to its update, but the body of the report (which relied on that error) and the rationale supporting the recommendation remained unchan
ged. Again, we believe that, on the basis of a corrected record, ISS's rationale does not hold. The three year EPS measure is an integral component of a long-term performance test that was designed to tie vesting of RSU's to the attainment of long-term performance metrics.

For the foregoing reasons, we believe ISS's recommendations are unwarranted and urge you to vote "for" the advisory vote on executive compensation and "against" the shareholder proposal relating to performance tests for restricted stock units.

If you have any questions, you may direct them to Lowell Singer, Senior Vice President - Investor Relations, at 818-560-6601.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Desert challenge - iPad beats MacBook Air for the first time!

I am so dependent on technology I go crazy when it doesn't work for me. This weekend we went to Death Valley for 48 hours. Our only objective was to be with my parents (both fighting the cancer fight), relax, admire the natural beauty and eat & drink.

But I have a board meeting on Tuesday and, as is always the case, I had not managed to get my package complete in work time and knew I had to finish it from the hotel in Death Valley before my companions woke up. But despite my cleverest strategies I could not get the package sent.

The hotel wifi would not allow me to send the attachments. I manipulated slides to make them smaller - no joy, uploaded them to dropbox, then downloaded them from dropbox and tried sending them from my iPad via the cell network - no joy. There was no Verizon coverage so my Verizon aircard would not work - hence moving to the iPad. One file went thru! this was the moment when I praised my iPad (and AT&T) and cursed my Air (and hotel wireless anonymous).

But my victory was short lived. Only one of the three files went thru so then I resorted to deep breathing. Relax, there was simply nothing more I could do. Now I sit in Las Vegas airport, back in the hubbub, and my files sent in a split second. I guess I am back.

Snow 11000' above Salt

Flowers fighting for life - marginally less stressed than me

The happy bunch

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Insider trading between Rajat and Raj - you really can't make this stuff up

Sometimes news comes along that is so out of line I would believe it was fiction unless I saw it with my own eyes - you just could not make this stuff up!

Today Rajat Gupta - a highly respected former McKinsey senior partner and former board member at both Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble was charged by the SEC with insider trading. What is astonishing about this charge is the SEC's press release reads like a soap opera.

For example - Rajat is on a Goldman Sachs board call discussing clearly material events (Berkshire Hathaway's investment in Goldman), within one minute of the end of the call he calls Raj. With minutes to go until the market closes, Raj buys 175,000 shares of Goldman, which he then sells the next day after the news is public.

Seriously! A Hollywood script writer could not have made this stuff up and been credible. Thanks to Business Insider for the minute-by-minute analysis of the calls placed between Rajat and Raj and the subsequent trading by Raj's firm Galleon. It happened more than once!

I won't take a position on whether Rajat is guilty or not - in the US he is innocent until proven guilty - but the optics are terrible whether they were talking about business tips or cooking recipes. And as a board member you are wise pay attention to both substance and optics because it is so easy to be misunderstood with 20-20 hindsight.

The hidden Jew in my house

The impact of Jewish culture is powerful, even when it's unconscious.

My husband Bret is half Jewish. His father came across from Eastern Europe as a child refugee sometime during the First World War but by the time Bret was born in 1958 there was no sense of Judaism or Jewish culture in his father's life. The family was raised atheist and to the extent that there was a culture in the home it was his mother's Swedish culture.

And yet...

Today I have two very close friends who were raised as Jews in New York and Boston. And the similarities between these two men and my husband are striking - something I have only really begun to see and peel back although they have been my friends for years. They look similar (same height, similar curly hair), they have similar bright senses of humor and big laughs, they are really smart... etc. Now maybe you are thinking I have a type I like and whether friend or husband I am drawn to the same type of men. Maybe, but there's more.

There is a joy around food, drink and sharing that is palpable. "Let me order dishes to cover the table at the restaurant so you have the pleasure of many things to try and plenty of food. Let me order a red wine and a white wine to be sure everyone has what they want and there is more than enough. Let me cook all day long, many more dishes than we need - let me keep your glass filled." Bret is a delightful, gregarious entertainer and when I watch him with my two friends Mr D and Mr E I see his reflection in them and it's a deep cultural training.

Bret learned at his father's knee. His father cooked, his father entertained, he ordered food for guests in restaurants -- he trained Bret, and instilled him with his culture, irrespective of his religion. Sadly he died when Bret was a teenager so we could never talk with him about it with him but the older we get and the more we watch our kids reflect what we've modeled for them the more I can see Jewish culture in their behavior - very unlike the English control and precision I was raised with. I like it!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Deeply nerdy Dad

My kids think my husband Bret is as nerdy as it gets. A frequent jab in our house is "Dad, your pocket protector is showing".

He was so proud when he found this video - a Dad much nerdier than him - and a truly delightful way to spend 5 minutes.

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Sheen and Gadhafi - brothers in addiction and delusion

Speed reading my way through the news today I was struck by the similarity between Charlie Sheen and Moammar Gadhafi. Odd you say - Hollywood royalty and a North African dictator - huh?

But to my reading they are brothers in addiction and delusion.

The addiction is obvious - One is addicted to power and wealth - he controls 98% of the wealth in the world's 12th largest oil producing country, the other is addicted to who-knows-what chemical substance(s) and the spot light.

The delusion is even more interesting. Gadhafi (from CNN) "They love me, all my people with me, they love me all. They will die to protect me, my people." -- as his people arm, march and Tripoli and prepare to die for their freedom. Sheen (ref CNN again) told NBC's "Today Show" that he has "tiger blood and Adonis DNA."

"I'm tired of pretending like I'm not special," Sheen said in that interview. "I'm tired of pretending like I'm not bitching a total freaking rock star from Mars. And people can't figure me out. They can't process me. I don't expect them to. You can't process me with a normal brain"

Both are clearly nutty as a fruit cake - one made so by years of absolute power and isolation from normalcy, the other by years of drugs and also isolation from normalcy. Forcefully hanging onto position and power - Gadhafi's using guns, Sheen's using lawyers.

Courtesy of Steve Kelley:

It's sad though that no matter how funny their rants are in the abstract, one or both may die before their ranting is done.

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