FEELING UKRAINE WAR-FATIGUE? 5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO GET BACK ON BOARD & SUPPORT FREE UKRAINE

Summary/ Net: 1. Keep smart, fight Russian disinformation and propaganda, and share with others. 2. Contribute to Operation Support the Front Lines in Free Ukraine. 3. Patronize Ukrainian artists and businesses. 4. Help Ukrainian refugees. 5. Write elected officials and candidates.

Read more

LEADING BY LISTENING – A LESSON FROM COACH K

LEADING BY LISTENING – A LESSON FROM COACH K

Near the end of Duke’s Sweet 16 victory over Texas Tech, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history listened to his players – who asked him to let them change from zone defense to play “man to man.”  He agreed and Duke went on to win and, after beating Arkansas and will play in tonight’s Final Four matchup vs. North Carolina.

Think about that for a moment – Coach K has been coaching college ball for 48 years – that’s more than five times the combined college basketball experience of his starting five players.  By listening to his players and changing his mind, he exhibited an extraordinary level of confidence in himself and his young team.

Read more

5 “NO REGRETS” ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE RIGHT NOW TO HELP UKRAINE.

5 “NO REGRETS” ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE RIGHT NOW TO HELP UKRAINE

Originally Published March 7, 2022 Last Updated March 9, 2022

This is a photo of Yaroslav Mudriy [for critical security concerns, his real name cannot be revealed at this time], with his niece Mariya and sister-in-law Olena taken in the strikingly beautiful 1600+ years old city of Kyiv when I visited them in 2006. Yaroslav and his brother Oleksa Dovbush [same security concerns] moved to Ukraine 31 and 30 years ago, respectively, and both became successful U.S. investors and entrepreneurs.  In addition to Mariya (who is currently a first-year student on scholarship at a prominent university in the U.S), Oleksa  & Olena have a 7-year old boy named Romchyk.

Like others in the Western World, I have watched with horror as the news and updates of Putin’s attack on the people of Ukraine unfold.  The good news is that Yaroslav, Oleska and their families are relatively safe as of this writing. (please see the post script below for Yaroslav’s moving account of his harrowing escape from Kyiv at 4 am on the morning of Saturday, February 26th and his 22.5 hour journey to a safe city in Western Ukraine)

I know many are asking, “What can I do to help?”

My article 4 T-Shirts in the Entrepreneurs Closet described the t-shirt slogans of my start-up Sports Loyalty International (SLI).  Our favorite was “No Regrets,” and its meaning was pretty simple:

 Our small team of entrepreneurs committed to each other to never say the words “would have, should have, could have” the morning after losing a sale.  Having a No Regrets mindset means doing your very best, seizing every opportunity, and “leaving it all on the canvas,” to use a boxing metaphor. 

As I struggled to find actions I could take to help Ukraine, I decided to apply the “NO REGRETS” philosophy to help Yaroslav and his fellow Ukrainians. I know I cannot control the outcome of this terrible crisis, but there are at least a few things I can do to try and help right now.   Here are 5 actions we can all take to support Ukraine:

  1. Contribute to organizations providing humanitarian support for Ukrainians still in the country and over 2 million who are now refugees in neighboring countries. Here are two of many opportunities:

  1. Sign The Petition for an International Tribunal to hold Putin accountable for war crimes. A coalition of civil society organizations, including the Ukrainian World Congress, the largest association uniting Ukrainian diaspora worldwide, the Free Ukraine Resistance Movement, and others, have launched a global petition calling for an international tribunal to Putin for the war crimes that are being and have been committed. The petition aims to collect 10 million signatures from across the world to send a strong message of support to all of the Ukrainians on the ground and add still needed pressure on our governments to start the legal proceedings at the ICC.

  1. Write President Biden, your Congressional Representatives and your Governor  asking the US and all states to stop importing Russian oil, increasing the production of US sources of energy and divesting/ stop doing business with all Russian based companies . For those of you concerned about both the economic and environmental impacts of US actions to boycott Russian oil and increase production of US (and other countries’) oil and gas, please read this excellent Washington Post articleHow to Beat Putin, For Real”  by Fareed Zakaria that refutes both of these arguments.

Write President Biden here.  Write your Members of Congress here.  Write your Governor here.

 

  1. Support the dozens of companies who have stopped doing business with and in Russia and stop patronizing the few companies still doing business there. Write their CEOs demanding they join those not profiting from trade with Russia.

 

5. Pray for Ukraine and that Western leaders are taking actions to stop Putin that we are not aware of. For those of us who pray, please pray for the safety of Ukrainians, for the end of this crisis, and that actions are being taken by our leaders confidentially. Although I am not qualified to have an opinion on this, it has been maddeningly frustrating to watch President Zelensky’s pleas for the US and other Western Nation’s air support, including planes and the declaration of a no-fly zone (which 74% of American’s support).  I take some comfort in the hope that our leaders are indeed engaged in actions to defeat Putin’s attack that we are not aware of.  Remember that on May 1, 2011, while President Obama was telling jokes at the annual Washington Correspondent’s Dinner – the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was already underway. (please note that this is not meant to suggest that the US or any NATO country are planning an assassination of Putin)

One final action – please share this with others and – for the extroverts among us – download this sign, print a few copies, and ask the local businesses you patronize to post it in their establishments.

Please send me ideas you have for supporting Ukraine to craig@underwoodpartners.com.

Slava Ukraini!

 

PS Here is Yaroslav’s account of his escape from Kyiv and his reasons for staying in his beloved adopted country Ukraine (written in the third person):

On Thursday Feb. 24 — as Kyiv was slammed by Putin’s deadly missile strikes, aerial bombardment, and long-rage artillery shelling — Oleksa and Romchyk left Kyiv by car.  Olena, with four cherished rescued cats, implemented another evasive prepared-plan. Yaroslav’s wife Nataliya actually had left Kyiv by car — along with four beloved rescue dogs and three rescue cats (and meticulously prepared survival equipment & supplies) — a few days before the massive invasion to a smaller city to help her terminally-ill 87 year old Father.

Yaroslav — along with his best-buddy rescue cat Ma’rco — made a firm commitment to stay in Kyiv — even in the event of a Russian invasion.  In fact, for two weeks he was solo-building an improvised “bomb shelter” in a guest bedroom (where Craig, Yaroslav’s best friend at Oxford slept during his week-long visit to Ukraine in 2006).  But, soon after the Russian massive invasion began at 5:16 AM Kyiv-time on Feb. 24, 2022, numerous well-armed, hyper-fit, confident, and cheerful soldiers began to assume combat positions in this 1916 architecturally/historically important building.  Yaroslav on several occasions gave them bags of food from his ample stocks.  (Most residents/neighbors left the building by Thursday afternoon…)

At 2:00 AM Kyiv-time on Saturday Feb. 26, the Ukrainian commander told Yaroslav: “Please leave immediately.  When asked “why?”, he answered: “Because we know, that they know, that we are here.”  Yaroslav left on foot at 4:00 AM with Ma’rco in cat-carrier in his left hand, a heavy backpack, and a bag full of irreplaceable original documents in his right hand.  As he made his 1st step onto the sidewalk, a ferocious firefight began (replete with machine guns, RPGs, and mortars) several hundred yards away behind the facade of one of Ukraine’s finest and oldest universities.

After a few kilometers of walking, and battered by abnormal physical activity for many days and no sleep for 70+ hours, Yaroslav had to stop.  Thankfully, Oleksa arranged for a good American Friend whom he met in the early 1990s, to come and pick Yaroslav up at 7:30 AM — just after Martial Law curfew had ended.  Yaroslav was kindly driven some 15 kilometers to the ring-road, where after a mere 8 minutes he hitched a ride that would take him, 19 hours and 600 kilometers later, away from embattled Kyiv!

Oleksa is adamantly determined to remain in Ukraine.  But, should the situation radically deteriorate, he will –for the sake of Romchyk – evacuate to Poland or Slovakia.  No matter what, Yaroslav is NOT going to leave Ukraine (and 2 months of daily calls/e-mails from the U.S. State Department to “evacuate immediately” simply fell on deaf ears…).

A Collaboration Campaign – 5 Observations From 8 Days On The Front Lines In Georgia

Summary: We drove over 3,000 miles last week from Boston to Atlanta, Jonesboro, Ellenwood, McDonough, Riverdale, Montgomery, Griffin, Lagrange, Oxford and Covington, Georgia and back home.  We travelled south to work door-to-door canvassing to help the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win their runoff races to represent Georgia in the US Senate.  The bulk of our time was invested in “curing” rejected ballots – mail-in ballots that had been rejected because the voter didn’t include the requisite ID or the Board of Elections reviewer decided that their signature did not match the one on file.

We realized that voter suppression was not only real, but much more insidious and painful than imagined.  Warnock and Ossoff won because their campaigns and the efforts of the Georgia Democratic Party were far superior to those of the Republicans, and because Stacey Abrams and her 2018 gubernatorial campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo provided the strategy and the intellectual, implementational and inspirational leadership to win the Georgia races and  flip the US Senate.  We also experienced the highs and lows of Wednesday, January 6th.  We woke to see data convincing us that both Warnock and Ossoff would win, were moved and inspired by the words and Memorial of Dr. King next to the  Ebenezer Baptist Church and then watched the horrific events unfold at our Nations Capitol throughout the afternoon and evening. As heartbreaking as those images and acts were, we remain optimistic about our future given both the impact of the leadership and work we saw in Georgia and the words of Dr. King who reminds us that “the moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends in the direction of justice.”

 “We came to Georgia to do GOTV work, we were blessed to have the opportunity to do civil rights work.”

The 5 Observations from 8 Days on the Front Lines in Georgia

Read more

Leveraging Your Greatest Sales & Marketing Assets – Intellectual Leadership

Net: CEO’s and other company leaders with a enterprise view of their operations are uniquely positioned to identify and share best practices in all areas.  This opportunity can be greatest in organizations that operate in multiple locations with a lot of entrepreneurial flexibility to pilot new ideas, especially in sales and marketing. One way to capture best practices if to identify your brand’s most compelling assets and challenge yourself and other leaders to make sure you are utilizing both your most powerful messages and the most effective 21st Century communications media for sharing them.

My education as a consumer marketer wasn’t always pretty.  Among other screw-ups (see Leading by F***ing Up), our launch marketing campaign for AIR MILES Canada was so bad it was featured in a popular case study taught at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivy School of Business.  But somehow we managed to correct, learn from and survive from our mistakes and went on to enroll over 70% of Canadian Households as active members in the program and the company (now the LoyaltyOne Division of Alliance Data NYSE ADS) continues to win awards as one of the most recognized and respected brands in the country.

One of the insights we had in our earliest days was to make sure we identified and leveraged every potential sales and marketing asset available to us.  That included assets like the phenomenal support of our partners like Canada Safeway, Shell and Bank of Montreal/ MasterCard and the opportunity to co-brand our start-up with these extraordinary franchises.  We also created opportunities for partners to share their co-branded marketing, data-based direct mail, email and social media marketing and the business results from these initiatives at quarterly MAB (Marketing Advisory Board) meetings.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend several inspirational Year Up Graduations, from Miami to Atlanta to NYC.  In addition to hearing the incredible stories of transformation told by the young adults we serve, I also noticed a number of “best practices” being implemented by our regional teams across the country. On the flight back to Boston, I took a few minutes to reflect on the most powerful assets available to all of us who work at Year Up that can be leveraged to communicate our value proposition to the organization’s stakeholders, including our corporate partners and potential targets, our investors, future employees and students.  Realizing that I have not always been the most thoughtful and strategic about leveraging these assets, I sketched out a small matrix to use as a kind of “check list” for our work:

The matrix forces us to think about the potential assets available to us when preparing for stakeholder engagement – Year Up Student Success Stories; the Value our Corporate Partners tell us they receive from working with Year Up; our incredible growth of the number of students we have served (from 22 to 4,000) and the corporate partners who have hired them (from 12 to 250+); and the endorsements of third parties, including leading industry groups, foundations, investors, academic institutions and others.  It also reminds us to use the most effective 21st Century communications media to share these assets.

We originally used this when developing a strategy to grow our partnership with individual companies, but more recently are also using it as we think about maximizing opportunities within industry verticals like finance, insurance, health care, technology and education.

If you are interested in learning more about Year Up’s assets and media/ communication opportunities, a few details follow:

  1. The voice and transformational stories of the young adults we serve.

Ideally, we would all be able to take at least one student with us to every Year Up stakeholder meeting, or better yet, to get every stakeholder or influencer to spend some time at one of our amazing sites with a few students.  But we don’t live in an ideal world and can’t always do that.

The good news is that we have several options for virtually bringing our students to stakeholder engagements, including the incredible student success stories produced by our marketing group, student pictures and quotes like the ones in our presentations and our screen savers and many incredibly powerful videos, including the 60 Minutes episode; our Cyber Security video that features CISO’s from leading companies like LinkedIn, Symantec and Salesforce and several students and the JP Morgan Chase video staring several AML and other alumni working at Chase and (then CIO) John Galante.  Our marketing team also recently developed a 90 second video “mashup” that combines clips from the GE Year Up Partnership video with those from Angel Navarez’ graduation speech.  It is one of the most powerful and efficient ways we know to explain what we mean by “Crossing the Opportunity Divide.”

  1. Year Up’s growth and track record of success

Although we are all used to seeing this chart, business leaders and other stakeholders often have the following reaction: “Wait, it looks like you continued to grow right through two recessions” – something most companies were not been able to do.

The leading nonprofit strategy consulting firm Bridgespan recently named Year Up as the largest, fastest growing and most successful youth serving organization founded this century.  That quote, when combined with a chart like the one below, almost always resonates with our corporate partners, business development prospects and other stakeholders:

  1. The world class brands and incredible support of and feedback from Year Up’s corporate partners

The privilege to use our corporate partners’ logos and – in many cases – literally co-brand Year Up with so many of the country’s largest and most respected companies and other leading enterprises is another incredible asset.

We have been able to do this since our earliest days and at times, it might be something we almost take for granted.  But those of us with entrepreneurial experience can assure you that most nonprofit and early stage for profit companies would die to be able to co-brand their enterprises with JP Morgan Chase, Salesforce, Harvard University, Facebook, Google, GE and so many others.

We recently added these charts showing the growth of two of our largest partners alongside the one above to demonstrate that Year Up has clearly been able to “serve our mission through the market:”

We also recently realized that we have been collecting Net Promoter Score (NPS) data as part of our Week 14 Internship Feedback Survey.  NPS is one measure of customer satisfaction that is used by many of our largest partners, including JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, AT&T and GE.  The NPS survey is deceptively simple, asking only one question: On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend Year Up to a friend or colleague?  The NPS score is calculated by subtracting the percent of “0-6” responses from the percent of “9 and 10” ratings.

Average scores are published annually for many industries.  An NPS of 30 or higher is considered positive.  The average NPS Score from Year Up’s partner intern managers is 50 and ranges from 30 to 59.  The chart below compares recent Year Up NPS scores from several partners with the average NPS score of 14 for the U.S. staffing agency industry over the past seven years.

Another powerful way to share the success of our interns, graduates and alumni is through relevant quotes, like these from the 60 Minutes Episode about Year Up:

  1. Third party endorsers.

Many highly respected third party experts, leaders, publications and organizations have endorsed Year Up’s model and results, including The Bridgespan Group, 60 Minutes, Harvard Business School, American Banker and others.  Although not all of these endorsements will have the same impact with each stakeholders, over our 17 year history, we have received an impressive number of awards, business school case studies, and articles in respected publications and you can almost always find a relevant third party endorser that will resonate and add gravitas to Year Up for most stakeholder groups – corporate partner vertical, foundation, investor or community leaders.

One way to think about how effective you are at using these four assets is to refer to this matrix that lays out your assets and the media you can use to bring them to life in the most effective way possible:

We are not suggesting that you share or present multiple media sources of each asset in every stakeholder meeting.  We are suggesting that you use at least one media type (e.g. data driven charts, corporate partner testimonials) for each asset during your initial meetings to understand which asset and format hits both the “heart and head bulls eye” of those you are pitching to buy your products and services and/ or support your mission. Once you understand what message and medium is most effective to your specific stakeholder, you can then tailor future communications to emphasize those assets and media that area most effective with him or her.

We would love to hear your thoughts on creative ways you have used the assets of the enterprises you have led and the media you have used to showcase them.

CHU

The Most Important Leadership Book I Have Read (and the shortest blog post!)

Net: One of the most important roles of leaders and managers is to “look for people doing things right and tell them.”

Like most companies, The Loyalty Group (now the LoyaltyOne division of Alliance Data) had Operating Principles.  Ours were:

  • Work together
  • Be at cause
  • Respect & challenge each other
  • Teach & learn
  • Have fun

One of my goals when seizing the opportunity to start a new company was to create a culture where we were we were all driven by the goal of creating the future first and doing what others found impossible while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.  I quickly learned that simply espousing these principals and putting them on the walls of our offices was perhaps necessary but terribly insufficient to create the kind of culture we envisioned.

After a few (painful) false starts we built these principles into several company processes and policies:

  • Recruiting – no one was asked to join the company before a senior executive (often me) had shared our Operating Principles with the potential employee and received their commitment to leading by these principles.
  • We hired an industrial psychologist to conduct an anonymous employee feedback survey twice a year. The survey included questions about our managers’ leadership style and asked employees to rate their managers on how well they modeled “leading by the Operating Principles.”
  • 10% of the bonus for anyone who managed one or more employees was calculated based on their team members’ responses to “leading by the Operating Principles” questions.
  • We probably terminated more employees for violating our Operating Principles than for any other reason.

Given the importance of our Operating Principles and our commitment to taking employee feedback seriously, the semi-annual meeting when our industrial psychiatrist presented the results was well attended and no one was checking email or otherwise “not present.”

Although over two decades ago, I still remember the first meeting we had with our psychologist to review the employees’ feedback like it was yesterday.  Our team member’s feedback was fairly positive until she came to the section on “communication.”  Although our industrial psychologist was a highly professional and buttoned down PhD, I believe her exact words were “you all suck at communication.”  She clearly had our attention as everyone on the management team was at least somewhat stunned at her proclamation.  We thought we were doing all the right things when it came to communication – we had monthly town meetings, a frequent feedback culture, shared company updates through email blasts, I had lunch with five customer service representatives every month and our leadership team “double jacked” in our call center several times a year.

Our psychologist told us we needed to read The One Minute Manager.  Published several years before our meeting, I had seen the book in bookstores but never bought it.  At that time, I was a big reader, but focused on consuming “serious” books published by Harvard, MIT or Oxford; books on strategy, leadership and customer service.  The One Minute Manager looked to be about 50 pages long and I didn’t think it could possibly add value to me or other leaders of our company.  But given her feedback and alarming “you suck” conclusion, I bought it at Toronto’s Pearson Airport that evening and read it on my flight to Montreal.

The book’s most important message was simple: Leaders and managers should make it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them.” This is especially important for entry level team members and anyone joining an “apprenticeship business,” like Bain Consulting in the 80’s, Loyalty or Year Up where, over the course of their existence, these industry leaders have developed approaches, processes and other practices to deliver their mission.

Looking for people doing things right and telling them is critical for at least two reasons:

  1. Team members, especially those new to the company or industry, often do not realize when they are doing something “right.” I remember this being modeled expertly by my Bridgespan colleague Susan Wolf Ditkoff when we were developing a strategy for the nonprofit Common Cents.  On one occasion, Mandy Taft, a relatively new member of our team (but with significant work experience prior to joining Bridgespan) had presented to our client.  As soon as we got in a taxi for LGA, Susan said to Mandy “you did a great job presenting this morning and let me tell you exactly what you did that was effective…”
  2. Thankfully, our industrial psychologist told us exactly what we were doing wrong during the meeting mentioned above at the Loyalty Group. Our leadership error wasn’t that we didn’t give positive feedback – it was that we almost always followed up a “great work” comment with something like “but, did you ever think about doing this…” or “what if we added this…”  Unbeknownst to us, a lot of our team members where hearing “she/he thinks I could have done this better.”  Immediately after this session, our leadership team made it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them” and also were more conscious of and thoughtful about adding constructive feedback – often separating the “plus” from the “delta” in Year Up parlance.

Although I believe LoyaltyOne’s specific operating principles have evolved over the past two decades, I’m pretty sure their spirit lives on and that they are one of the major contributors to the company’s extraordinary track record. Long after I handed over the leadership reigns to JS and BAP, the company continues to define what it means to “create the future while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.”  Few companies can match their accomplishments, including: 20%+ annual growth; one of the key drivers of the highest performing North American stocks; perennially selected as one of the best companies to work for, best companies for diversity, best companies for women,and best corporate culture.  I will forever be grateful to Sir Keith Mills who gave me the opportunity to play a small part in getting this wonderful enterprise off the ground, but the real credit goes to my leadership team members, every one of our associates and those that continue to lead the company into the future.

Love to hear your favorite leadership books or others that have had a significant impact on you.

CHU

 

PMC Collaboration Kicking Cancer’s Ass

Last weekend I rode CHUBike 160 miles in my 3rd Pan Mass Challenge along with 60 of my Year Up TEAM DMITRI! colleagues and thousands of other like-minded cyclists. The PMC is the world’s most successful athletic fund raiser, having raised over $450 million dollars for cancer research.

It may also be the best example of the power of collaboration I have ever seen. Started in 1980 by Billy Starr, an extraordinary social entrepreneur who still leads the PMC today, the organization not only raises more money than any other athletic fundraiser, it also leverages the support of thousands of volunteers and many corporate sponsors to raise funds more efficiently than any other nonprofit I have examined. By building a world class brand and recruiting and training 4000 volunteers, Billy and his uber talented team have increased their annual funds raised from $10,000 in 1980 and are on track to raise $48,000,000 this year . Check this out:

 

 

My friend and amazing PMC CFO Michelle Sommer was kind enough to share the above data with me. I was blown away by the way the organization leverages volunteers and corporate sponsors to enable them to contribute 100% of every dollar raised by riders to fund research to cure cancer. I was also able to compare PMC’s efficiency with that of other nonprofits. Again, blown away as, according to Quatrro’s 2016 NFP Benchmark Report, the average nonprofit with revenue greater than $2MM spends 21% on overhead vs. the PMC’s 9%:

It’s not about the data, it’s about people’s lives

Although I am clearly a “data guy,” I would ride the PMC every year I am able to help defeat cancer even if I weren’t so impressed with their efficiency and effectiveness.

Over the past three years, our Year Up PMC Team has been blessed to have Dmitri Itzkovitz as our “PMC Pedal Partner.” Dmitri was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor when he only 8 years old. He recently turned 14 and is one of the nicest and most courageous young men I have had the privilege to know. I have also come to know his father Daniel (see photo of Daniel and Dmitri taken during this year’s PMC at the top of this article). Through Daniel, I learned that only 4 percent of cancer research funds are dedicated to curing pediatric cancer. Sadly, I also recently learned that cancer is the second leading cause of death among young children.  We ride to change that. 100% of the money I raise and contribute goes to the Dmitri Itzkovitz Pediatric Brain Tumor Fund at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Click on this picture to virtually meet Dmitri:

If you would like to support my ride and contribute to this life saving research, you can do so here:

www.pmc.org/cu0007

or by mailing a contribution to:

Craig Underwood 83504-2
Pan-Mass Challenge
PO Box 415590
Boston, MA 02241-5590

 

4 T-Shirts in the Entrepreneur’s Closet

Net: A Year Up student recently asked me if I had any favorite any motivational words or slogans.  I told her about the 4 T-shirts we wore at Sports Loyalty International: Carpe Diem; Never, Ever Quit, No Regrets & Breakthrough.  After speaking with her, I realized they applied to my current role at Year Up as well.

My favorite “unsuccessful” company has to be Sports Loyalty International.  We had a great, fun, talented team; phenomenally supportive investors; an all-star advisory board; and what we believed was a uniquely transformative program and business model.  We also had cool T-shirts.

In addition to making the morning wardrobe choice a very easy one, the words on SLI’s 4 T-shirts became motivating slogans to our 8 person team and closest advisors.  Recently, while visiting Year Up’s Atlanta site with GE CTO and Year Up champion Adam Radisch, I met an amazing young woman named Ariel Terrell.

Ariel asked me if I had any favorite words or slogans that I turned to for inspiration and motivation.  She shared that she was planning to cover the walls of her basement family room with inspirational words for her kids. I asked the young lady how many children she had and was surprised when she responded “five.”  Ariel explained that she had adopted her sister’s three children several years ago when her sibling was unable to care for them and then had two of her own.  I asked her “When do you sleep?” and she responded “rarely!” This is one of literally hundreds of stories I could tell you about the grit and determination of our students.  They are the embodiment of the Year Up brand, the primary reason we have grown from serving 22 students in 2001 to 3,700 this year and my greatest source of inspiration and energy.

So, back to our T-Shirts.  I told Ariel about our slogans: Carpe Diem; Never Ever Quit; No Regrets and Breakthrough, and also shared a few inspirational quotes. On the plane back to Boston, I thought about these slogans and realized they also apply to those of us who lead corporate partner development for Year Up.

Carpe Diem

I probably first heard the phrase Carpe Diem in the movie Dead Poets Society.  I also heard it in my head over and over again when making the decision to accept the offer from Sir Keith Mills in 1991 to start the Loyalty Group in Canada. As entrepreneurs at SLI, we realized that every day was a gift from our investors.  They believed enough in our vision and our team to give us the opportunity to create a new type of loyalty program that had never been successfully developed in the world’s largest market. At the same time we were keenly aware – as are all start-up’s – that we had limited funds and therefore days to close the requisite number of customers to create an economically viable business before running out of capital.  To us, Carpe Diem meant seize the opportunity you have been given to create the future every minute of every day you work.    I have a similar feeling about Year Up.  I remind myself every day that I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to work in service to our amazing students and the opportunities corporate partners like GE give them to cross the Opportunity Divide.

Never Ever Quit

True confessions – we stole this from Winston Churchill’s “never, never, quit.” This was our mantra when three of us started The Loyalty Group in a Toronto hotel room in 1991 and became our business development rallying cry during the 8 years I was fortunate to run the company.  While in Canada, I was often asked to speak to business school students and share our strategy and leadership principals at other companies’ management team meetings and executive retreats.  A common question was “what’s the key to success when starting a business?”  Without hesitation, I always responded “creative perseverance.”

Creative perseverance is something I learned from my father who still holds the record for being both the youngest and the oldest person ever elected governor of a US state.  What most people don’t remember is that he actually lost three elections in between these historic milestones – an experience that would have eliminated the desire to ever run for elective office again in most human beings – but not him.  During his successful 1996 campaign, he didn’t re-use the slogans or policies from earlier attempts, but instead developed a platform around using technology to improve the employment opportunities and quality of life for West Virginians.  He adopted the slogan “A Leader for New Times,” secured the URL governor.com and created one of the first political campaign web sites.

The point of creative perseverance is to “never, ever, quit” but – equally important – it is to remember Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When I was Loyalty’s CEO It took me six years to land what became one of our largest customers and likely doubled the value of the company.  Every quarter I emailed the target CEO, but I never sent him the same message as the previous quarter.  I never wrote, “Hey it’s me again, asking for yet another meeting to talk about our loyalty program.”  Instead, I sent him examples of new innovations we had created to add value to other corporate partners: a recent case study on the ROI from investing in our program from a similar business; a new internet marketing application we had developed; a new database marketing product; the increased percentage of households in his store’s trading area that had joined our program; and our latest research showing the number of customers who would increase their spending at his stores if he joined our coalition. After literally six years of this water torture, he eventually succumbed and became (and remains) one of our most important customers.  At the dinner when we celebrated the signing of our contract, he said “you eventually became too logical to ignore.”

While I hope it never takes 6 years to convince a new corporate partner to hire Year Up interns and graduates, I recently realized that while I have diligently followed the mantra of “never, ever quit,” I have often failed to remember the importance of “creative perseverance.” Far too often, I emailed or called unresponsive targets with a message asking for an initial or follow-up meeting.  That actually worked in several instances as I secured meetings with leading companies after months of weekly requests, but – realizing my lack of creativity – I now wonder how much more efficient my efforts could have been if I included new case studies, articles, success stories, etc. from other Year Up partners in their industries.  One of the great things about Year Up is we have not only great “sizzle” – student and partner video testimonials, the 60 Minutes episode, etc., but also great “steak” – real quantitative studies and evidence of the value we create with our partners.  And with 3,700 students in 17 locations providing talent to over 200 corporate partners this year, we are constantly creating a steady stream of new “sizzle” and “steak” that can be used to accelerate our business development sales cycle.

No Regrets

“No regrets” is pretty simple.  At SLI, we refused to say the words “would have, should have, could have” the morning after losing a sale.  It means doing your very best, seizing every opportunity and “leaving it all on the canvas,” to use a boxing metaphor.  Although I loved the three years we worked together to try and get SLI off the ground, I had no regrets when we finally ran out of runway and investor patience. We gave it our best shot and used the full capabilities of our extraordinary team and partners.

But to be clear, “no regrets” does not imply that we never made mistakes.  One of our Operating Principals was “We learn from our mistakes, we don’t dwell on them.” I have always believed that I learn more from my mistakes than almost any other activity.  At The Loyalty Group, we hosted an annual “Global Experience Sharing Conference” where the management teams of sister companies from the UK, Netherlands and Spain would get together.  A highlight of these meetings was sharing “The 10 Dumbest Things We Tried Last Year.”  I recently realized I should be sharing the mistakes I have made over the last several months with the team members who work with me across the country.

Breakthrough

By definition, entrepreneurs are trying to create a product or service that has never existed before – otherwise, there would be no entrepreneurial opportunity.  Successfully creating a new product or service requires all of the above, but it also requires “breakthrough moments” when a prospective customer or investor “gets it.”  Although I realize some other experts disagree with me, I am a firm believer in “shooting all of the arrows in your quiver” when making sales presentations.  By that I mean using both steak and sizzle – data, testimonials, videos, etc. – as efficiently as possible when developing and implementing your sales and marketing tools and materials.  The logic for this is simple – you often don’t know which arrow is going to hit the prospect’s “sweet spot.”  Research tells us that using PowerPoint or other visual devices increases a prospect’s retention of your pitch by 30% vs just having a conversation, but it can’t tell you what form or medium will be most effective with an individual target.  There are several styles of learning and – unless you can get reliable inside knowledge about what forms will be most effective with your prospect – it behooves us to efficiently try all at our disposal.

At SLI, we developed what we affectionately called the “Blow Fish Strategy.” Initially there were just four of us competing against my former company The Loyalty Group – by then a billion dollar enterprise with an impressive 20 year track record – so we needed to develop low cost ways of making us look more substantial than we actually were. Our strategies included:

  • Buying low cost (i.e. $200) iPads from my former Bain colleague’s online retailer glyde.com, co-branding with SLI and our partners logos on a customer “skin”, creating a screen saver that looked like the iPad had been custom developed and programmed to only include our overview presentation, focus group videos of their customers saying they would increase sales if they could earn loyalty points and high quality images of their and other leading businesses displaying our point of sale materials.
  • Bringing on Toni Oberholzer and her “one wonder woman” creative firm OVO as a partner. Toni developed incredibly high quality loyalty program cards, membership kits, mobile apps and partner collateral for our business development meetings.  She worked under and delivered against ridiculous turn-around times and charged us a fraction of what one of the “big agencies” would have cost.
  • We figured out how to transform our presentations Toni’s brilliant creative into a hard cover Shutterfly books. We had these books individually produced with the names of the executives we met with and they arrived at their offices within 4 days of our initial meetings. Best of all – they actually cost less than having a presentation printed and bound with a plastic cover at FedEx!
  • Shout out to my Co-Founder Lauren Creedon for leading all of the above.

We found that individual aspects of the blow fish strategy worked well with different individuals.  For some, the creative mock ups “got them;” for others it was our videos of their customers’ voices or our program results from leaders in their industries from the Loyalty Group’s AIR MILES program.  In a few cases, we had “insider information” and knew – for example – to not share our focus group videos with the Vice Chairman of the Red Sox, who was more of a “numbers guy.”  But if not, we would live test each element to see what worked with each target executive and use their feedback to tailor our message.

Recently, several of my Year Up colleagues and I have realized there exists a “7 Step” business development process we need to progress through to reach our goal of becoming a significant strategic source of entry level talent for our corporate partners:

We also realized that progressing from one step to the next often happens after a “breakthrough” moment and that over our 17 year history, we have developed a number of “breakthrough accelerators” that can reduce the sales cycle between each step. Examples include:

  • A Year Up Champion changes roles or companies, e.g. David Kenny became General Manager of IBM Watson; Jeff Robison became COO of WorldPay.
  • An article is published about a Year Up Corporate Partnership, e.g. State Street and American Banker.
  • A new Year Up Corporate Partner video is developed. e.g. Year Up Cyber Security Curriculum developed in partnership with Symantec, eBay and LinkedIn.
  • The establishment of a cross functional internal Corporate Partner Steering Committee focused on maximizing the value proposition of their partnership with Year Up. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and others have done this.
  • Opportunities for Year Up executives to present at high level cross functional meetings, like GE’s CIO Council.

Those of us who lead our largest relationships our now collaborating with marketing and sales operations support to collect and share these and other best demonstrated practices to help accelerate our mission delivery.

Please let me know your motivating words and slogans – on T-Shirts, board room or basement walls or otherwise – and I’ll share them with Ariel and her five children.

Thanks

CHU

An Extraordinary Example of Collaboration Helps GE & Year Up Bridge the Opportunity Divide

I have had the great fortune to be a small part of the extraordinary success of Year Up over the past 16 years.  Year Up is the innovative workforce development organization started in 2001 by Gerald and Kate Chertavian that recruits, trains and places underserved inner city young adults in living wage careers with Fortune 500 companies and other leading enterprises.  Year Up started with 22 students in one Boston location and has grown to serving 3,700 young adults this year in 17 locations across the  country.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to play many roles at Year Up, including serving on the National Board for a decade.  My current role is working with a handful of large US companies: GE, Comcast, Liberty Mutual and IBM to identify and fulfill their needs for entry-level middle skill talent.

A few weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to share this video at a conference attended by 300 GE IT Leaders from around the world:

Click on this image to view the GE Year Up video

Even though I have been doing this for over 16 years – the video literally sent chills down my spine.  As I have often said, I am one of the luckiest men in the world and appreciate so much the opportunity to work with Year Up’s students and corporate partners every day.

Last weekend, I thought a lot about the series of events and extraordinary level of collaboration that led to the creation of this video and wanted to share them with you.

All roads lead back to David and Gerald

Year Up was started in 2000 by Founder & CEO Gerald Chertavian.  After graduating from Bowdoin, Gerald worked on Wall Street and spent every Saturday with his “Little Brother” David Heredia.  He quickly realized that David and many of his friends were smart, motivated and capable, but didn’t have the opportunity to realize their potential to end up in prosperous, meaningful, fulfilling careers.  After selling his successful internet company in 1999, Gerald dedicated himself to creating Year Up to provide the “David’s” of our country with the skills, experience and support they need to succeed.

Gerald Chertavian and David Heredia 1988

Our founding corporate partners

In addition to GE, Year Up has supplied talent to over 250 leading enterprises across the country. Without them, Year Up couldn’t exist.  Today, we benefit from a tremendous 16-year track record of providing real, tangible value to our corporate partners and can back that up with a 60 Minutes episode about Year Up that includes testimonials from Ken Chenault, the Chairman of American Express and Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.  But in the beginning, Gerald and I were void of any hard evidence that our model would work. Luckily for us and the 16,000+ students we have served, a few visionary leaders took a chance on our model and hired the first Year Up interns.

They included:

  • Phyllis Yale – then Managing Partner for Bain & Company’s Boston office
  • David Kenney – then CEO of Digitas
  • David Andre – then CIO of Upromise
  • Brett Browchek – then COO of Putnam Investments

With the initial support of these leading companies, we were able to secure commitments from enough companies to place our first class of students in their internships.

Founding Corporate Sponsors

Our extraordinary Founding Class of students

Without the grit and determination of our students, Year Up would not have made it to its second anniversary, much less to 17 cities.  The success of our students – from class one through those on internships today – is the real reason Year Up has been so successful.  Our corporate partners continue to hire Year Up interns and graduates and refer us to their colleagues at other enterprises because they have found that we have become a valuable pipeline of talent.

Year Up’s Founding Class February 2001

Our partnership with GE Digital and the creation of the video

The genesis of the partnership with GE Digital began in 2013 when our consultant Ed Solomon introduced Year Up to Bill Ruh, the CEO of GE Digital.  With Bill’s support, Alex Nguyen and Raul Cardenas became the first Year Up students placed at GE Digital in San Ramon in January 2014. Both had successful internships at GE and were offered and accepted full time positions.  Alex currently works as a software developer at OSU’s Open Source Lab and Raul has been promoted several times at GE and currently works as an Application Operations Engineer.

After seeing the 60 Minutes episode about Year Up, GE CIO Jim Fowler discovered that GE Digital had hired several students and graduates.  When GE made the decision to move their headquarters from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston’s Seaport area, Jim asked CTO Adam Radisch to consider placing Year Up interns in their My Tech Lounge at the new office.  Modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar, GE’s My Tech Lounges are walk-up help desks in attractive lounge areas where employees can quickly get support for laptop, tablet, phone and other hardware and software problems.

Last June, Year Up Boston’s Business Development executive Randi Kinsella and I traveled to meet with Adam to explain our program and discuss the opportunity to pilot our students in a GE My Tech Lounge.  Amidst Yankees memorabilia and moving boxes being packed for his impending move, Adam gave us 30 minutes to explain Year Up’s model.  We had a full presentation, but quickly made the decision to share only one slide:

Although he appeared supportive at the time, Adam later shared, “When I first heard about Year Up, I thought it was a second chance program for at risk kids, and probably not right for GE.  This slide changed my mind.  I decided to give a few students a chance in Boston, they knocked the ball out of the park and now I am Year Up’s executive champion at GE and want to help grow the program to as many divisions that need great entry level talent as we can.”

After returning to Boston, Randi and I met with Year Up Boston Executive Director Bob Dame and other Boston executives and worked with them to “match” the right students for an internship at GE’s new headquarters.  Adam had stressed the importance of strong interpersonal and communications skills when we met with him and our Boston team selected Angel, Cody and Ryan for this pilot program.  Guided by their incredibly supportive GE managers, Alex and Jesse, our three students were successful in their internship and all three received full time offers from GE.  At their graduation, Alex received the award for The Best New Supervisor and Angel was a featured graduation speaker.  From his remarks, I learned that Angel had originally turned down his acceptance to Year Up, but was contacted a week later by a staff member who convinced him to join the program.  If you listen to Angel’s speech, you will hear him give credit to his mom, his Year Up internship colleagues and the support of his GE managers for his success:

Click on the image to watch Angel’s speech

During our November monthly update with Adam, I shared some of the internal communications our other partners have developed to highlight their partnership with Year Up and asked him for an introduction to a GE marketing executive.  Adam introduced me to Jen Sampson, IT Communications & Engagement Leader for GE Digital.

Jen agreed to meet with us on the 23rd of December at Year Up’s Chicago offices.  While most of the country was winding down for the holidays, Roberto Zeledon, Year Up’s Director of Marketing, Randi and I flew to Chicago to meet with Jen, where we were hosted by Executive Director Jack Crowe.  As part of a short presentation about Year Up and our partnership with GE, we shared this JPMorgan Chase video that features CIO and Year Up champion John Galante and several of our graduates who have been hired by the bank:

 

 

Click on the image to see the JP Morgan Chase video


This video was the brainchild of John and my Year Up colleague Betsy Goodell, who leads our partnership with JPMorgan Chase executives.

After a tour of Year Up Chicago led by two students, Jen returned to her office.  Then, acting at what I now referred to as “GE Speed,” she emailed me less than an hour later and invited us to produce a similar video about GE’s partnership with Year Up. If we were able to create a short video by January 16th, Jen had already received approval from CIO Jim Fowler to “premier” it a their upcoming IT Leaders meeting in Phoenix, where 300 GE executives would be in attendance.

Within hours of receiving Jen’s email, Roberto confirmed with Year Up’s Brand Manager Kim Wheeler that we could create a video over the next 3 weeks, despite most people being on holiday between Christmas and New Year’s.  Kim and Randi managed the entire production of the video. I was visiting GE Digital in San Ramon and our Bay Area site when Gerald, our students and their fantastic managers were filmed.

Jen and Jim were also kind enough to invite us to have a Year Up booth at their conference outside the room where they showed the video. During the conference, we made over 20 GE executive contacts and are following up on new opportunities with 5 GE Divisions who have not yet hired Year Up students or graduates.

After hearing Angel’s graduation speech, I reached out to Ari (the social work intern who convinced him to join Year Up) to thank her for that fateful phone call.  She emailed me back, “As one of Year Up’s Co-Founders and head of Boston Student Services Linda Swardwick Smith always says ‘it takes a village to do this work’, and I’m very grateful Year Up and GE teamed up to form that village for these men, and again I’m honored to have been a part of it.”

Her email inspired this article, as it clearly took the entrepreneurial actions of many people to create our GE Year Up Partnership video. My primary reason for writing this was to thank all of those who helped it become a reality.  The more I do this work, the more I realize our success is driven by:

  1. Our students and alumni who make the sacrifices to join Year Up and power through their life challenges to demonstrate their capabilities during internship and graduate from our program.
  2. Our staff and instructors that teach, support and help our students prepare for internship success.
  3. Our extraordinary corporate partners who create the opportunities for our students to succeed.

What I do is relatively easy – I just observe, package and communicate what happens, connect students with partners and make the occasional inappropriate “ask” of our partners like, “Can I bring three of my friends to your internal meeting of 300 senior execs in Phoenix?”

Thanks so much to Cody, Angel and Ryan, to Jim, Adam, Alex, Jesse and Jen and to everyone at GE, our other partners and our team at Year Up who contributed to the creation of the video.

A Tribute to the Original Collaboration Evangelist

On the Monday before Thanksgiving [2008] my father, Cecil H. Underwood,  passed away.  The date was November 24th, nineteen days after his 86th birthday and twenty days after Barrack Obama was elected President.   My father was born two days before Election Day in 1922, elected the youngest Governor of West Virginia two days after he turned 34 and elected the state’s oldest Governor on his 74th birthday.  In my post, Why a Collaboration Evangelist, I wrote:

Perhaps it’s a “nature and nurture” thing, as I have always been a strong believer that teams of smart people with diverse backgrounds and points of view will always have a better chance of solving challenging problems and finding new opportunities to add value to any enterprise than the model where “one smart guy solves all the problems and makes all the decisions.”

From the nature side, I was born the day after my father was inaugurated as the 25th governor of the State of West Virginia at the age of 34.  One of the things he told me about that campaign was although they had only one paid staffer – his driver – the campaign was supported by 3000 volunteers. The campaign put all of their efforts into organizing and energizing their volunteer network to register and get supporters to the polls.  They spent the money they raised on the new technology of the day called TV advertising.  This strategy enabled him to become the first Republican governor in 25 years in a state where Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans   by 2.5 to 1.

The many papers around the world that carried the news of my father’s death described him as “a high school teacher who became a governor.”  While it is true that he started his career as a high school biology teacher and his last formal employment was as a Drinko Scholar at Marshall University, my father was always quietly teaching through his actions to those of us who had the good fortune to know and work with him. At his memorial service, I remembered my father by sharing some of the lessons he taught us by the way he lived and the way he led.  These included:

1. No obstacle is too high to overcome if you believe in yourself and are willing to work very hard to achieve your goals.

My father took on monumental challenges from the beginning of his career.  At the age of 22, he challenged a long standing incumbent to win the first of six terms to the State Legislature.  Twelve years later he was elected Governor.  But at the end of his first term he lost a race for the US Senate (at that time, Governors could not run for re-election) and over the next 36 years he ran unsuccessfully for Governor three times.

1956 Campaigning for Governor at 33 Years Old

1956 Campaigning for Governor at 33 Years Old

During this period, I remember thinking that maybe my father had “peaked too soon” at the age of 34, like an NBA team playing their best ball before the playoffs.   He showed me otherwise in 1996 when he was elected the State’s 32nd Governor.  During his second administration, more jobs were created, more roads were built and more school children and seniors were connected to the internet than during any other four year period in the history of West Virginia.

As I admired his work ethic and the successes of his second term, I thought he was the greatest role model for working hard and beating the odds that anyone could ever have.  But again I was wrong. Not wrong in the role model, but wrong in the act.

The most amazing thing I saw my father do was to come back from a paralyzing stroke he suffered in 2006 at the age of 83.  The entire left side of his body was paralyzed with the exception of his fingers, which he could move slightly if he wasn’t too tired.  At his discharge planning meeting a few months later, my sisters and I told Dad he needed to move to an assisted living facility to continue his rehabilitation.  He was none too happy with our proclamation and wanted to know what he had to do to live at home again. We told him he needed to be able to walk.

So, for the next three months, he did 5 hours of physical therapy a day – riding the stationary bike, lifting weights and doing anything else the PT staff at Charleston Gardens told him to do.  His efforts were rewarded as he indeed did walk again and was selected “Stroke Recovery Patient of the Year.” More importantly, he was able to return home for several years.

Read more