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…).

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

 

Leading by f*ing up

My brilliant friend Morra Aarons-Mele, creator of the podcast “Hiding in the Bathroom” and author of a book by the same name subtitled “An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You Would Rather Stay Home),” recently posted the poignant question “How do you stop obsessing over a f-up?” on Facebook.

I responded to her post:

Here’s how I TRY to put f-ups behind me. 1. Write it down 2. Identify lessons learned, if any. 3. Share my mistakes with team members and mentees.

 At our company The Loyalty Group, we hosted annual Experience Sharing Conferences with the management teams of our sister companies from around the world. A highlight was always the presentations by each CEO on the biggest mistakes made over the past year. One of our Operating Principles was “Learn from you mistakes, don’t dwell on them. Identify the lessons learned, share them and move on.”

Morra’s question and several recent experiences with leaders who seem hesitant to ever admit – much less promote – their mistakes stimulated this article.

Here’s what you can do to use your mistakes to add value to the missions you pursue and the teams you lead:

  1. Be ruthlessly self-candid about the mistakes you have made. Recognize them.
  2. After you recover, think about the lessons learned. What – in hindsight – could you have done before the moment of your mistake to have prevented it?  I have often found this simple matrix from Chapter 3 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People helpful:

 

In his book, Covey makes the important point that leaders often find their days consumed with responding to and managing both work and personal “emergencies” and “crisis.”  They live in Quadrant 1, spending their time on critically important and urgent issues.  His more important insight is that many of these crisis could have been avoided if leaders focused more on and invested in Quadrant 2 activities and issues:

One of the challenges of this paradox is – in most cases – if you don’t invest in Quadrant 2 initiatives today, you likely won’t lose a customer, key employee or experience other professional or personal pain today.  E.g. If you don’t get some exercise today, it’s unlikely that will lead to a heart attack.  Another challenge is we often find it difficult to find the time to prioritize Quadrant 2 activities because we end up spending all of our time putting out Quadrant 1 fires.  This analysis may be helpful as you think through the lessons learned from your most recent mistake. One of our insights was that we needed to make Quadrant 2 initiatives mandatory and – on the rare occasion  when all else failed – give them same “nights and weekends” priority we would Quadrant 1 emergencies.

  1. Share –  and even consider promoting – the mistakes you have made with your colleagues, the teams you lead and the people you mentor. In order to successfully do this, you need to both lead by example – share your own mistakes – and ensure you have created a consistent culture and a work environment where employees feel safe sharing their own mistakes.  One way we did this at The Loyalty Group (now Alliance Data’s LoyaltyOne division) was to incorporate the company’s 10 Operating Principles into to our bi-annual employee feedback survey.  One section of the survey asked employees to rate their manager’s performance re “leading by each of the Operating Principles” over the past six months on a one to 10 scale.   And we put some teeth in our commitment to leading by our Operating Principles by basing 10% of all managers’ annual bonus on their team members’ responses to these questions.  Perhaps more importantly, I am sure we fired more managers for not leading by our Operating Principles than for any other reason.
  2. Continuously analyze the root causes of mistakes and make sure you are investing in training, capabilities, programs and other resources to decrease the probability of repeating them.
  3. Although we all try to not make the same mistake twice and thereby modeling Einstein’s axiom “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different results is the definition of insanity,” mistakes will inevitably happen.  Sometimes more than once.  If this happens, repeat steps 1-5 and keep moving forward.  I’s OK to cut yourself some slack.

Please share your experiences with learning by and leading from your mistakes.

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

 

Year Up

Thanks to Vanessa Kirsch and Kelly Fitzsimmons of New Profit, I met Gerald Chertavian and got involved in creating Year Up in early 2001.

Year Up is the innovative workforce develop program founded by Gerald and Kate Chertavian that recruits and trains low income urban young adults for entry level middle skill jobs and places successful program participants in internships with America’s leading companies.

Started in July of 2001 with an inaugural class of 22 in Boston, Year Up now serves over 3,700 students a year in  17 offices across the country.  Over 85% of Year up graduates are working at leading US companies including GE, State Street, Bank of America, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Fidelity, Putnam, American Express and several State and Federal Government Departments.

Please visit the Year Up web site to learn more and get involved.  All Year Up students work with a mentor and mentoring is a great way to get started.

Hotels.com uses Web 2.0, great service and rewards to score a Collaboration Evangelist trifecta

Net: Hotels.com provides great consumer value, excellent web and phone customer service and has one of the most rewarding loyalty programs I have seen.  The company shows how applying the philosophy and applications of Web 2.0, good customer service and a well designed and implemented rewards program can create customer loyalty.  Why book anywhere else?

Read more

Amazon Kindle 2 even better than the original

Net: I loved the original Kindle and the Kindle 2 is even better.  Thinner, more durable, faster user interface and improved battery life.  It pays for itself in 6 months if you switch from buying the paper versions of the Boston Globe, NYT and WSJ to the KIndle versions.  If you click on the link below to buy one, 10% of the price will go to the nonprofit job training program Year Up.

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

Last summer my wife bought me an Amazon Kindle for our anniversary.  I was so impressed with the device – and felt that it was so poorly marketed – I wrote a long email praising the product and sent it to everyone on my email list.  I had never done this before for any product or service.  I turned the email into a blog post and posted it on Collaboration Evangelist under the CHU Recommends section.

The post was titled 4 Reasons why the Amazon Kindle e-reader is one of the best devices ever, will help you lose weight, save money and lower your stress level. I won’t repeat all of the praise for the Kindle here; the main points I emphasized were:

  1. Although Amazon markets the Kindle as an electronic book reader, I find its real value comes from reading newspapers and blogs.  The Kindle automatically and wirelessly downloads newspapers and blogs to the device.  So anywhere in the country I wake up with the latest versions of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe and the 10 blogs I follow on My Kindle. You never need to connect the device to your laptop.
  2. It is very readable, even in bright sunlight.
  3. The battery lasts for days.
  4. You get new content by searching right from the Kindle, purchasing with “one click” on the device and are billed through amazon.com as if you made an online purchase.  No need to enter passwords, credit cards, etc. on the Kindle. Books download in 60 seconds.
  5. It’s incredibly light, about as heavy as a Blackberry.
  6. It’s a great value, as long as you cancel your paper subscriptions.  Although the Kindle 2 is slightly more expensive than the original at $359 and the cover is sold separately for $30, it is still a great deal.  Breakeven is less than 6 months if you switch from paper to Kindle versions of three newspapers.  Books cost about $10; blogs are around a dollar a month.

Read more

Customer service disaster non-recovery; Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco doesn’t get Web 2.0, earns first CHU “Un-recommends”

Net: Despite the fact that user generated ratings and reviews have been a mainstay of the internet since at least 1999, many large businesses fail to provide an easy way for customers to provide feedback and do not monitor and respond to customer comments on the Web.  I recently experienced this first hand from the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. It is the first experience bad enough to earn a ” CHU Un-recommends.”

In our page Six Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses, we emphasized the following points under Imperative Four: Build, Activate and Support your Communities:

  • If you don’t provide a place on your site for customers to ask questions, it is highly likely that at least some of them will go to a third party site where they will be prime targets for your competitors’ marketing efforts.
  • Whatever you do, make it incredibly easy for employees, business partners and customers to provide feedback. And go the next step by proactively asking for feedback. Then, make sure you authentically respond to their feedback.

A few months ago in the post A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?” I wrote about several positive experiences where businesses seized the opportunity to turn service failures into brand building recoveries.   This post is from a different perspective.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning to attend Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University reunions in Washington, D.C.  I went to Hotels.com to find a hotel room for the weekend.  They had what looked like a great price on the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in a perfect location.  I have stayed at other Kimpton properties and always had good experiences, so I booked the hotel.  [Hotels.com is a great business and will be the subject of a future post.]

I flew to Washington early in the day so I could take my fellow alum and Microsoft uber-lawyer Steve Crown to visit Year Up, the innovative work force development program founded and led by Gerald Chertavian, for lunch.  We had a wonderful tour and Steve had a great session with several students, sharing experience and advice from his years of success and answering all of their questions.   After our visit to Year Up, I went to check in at the Hotel Monaco.  My wife Patty was arriving later in the evening.

A Beautiful Building

The Hotel is in a beautiful historical building that used to be a famous Post Office and appeared to have all of the usual Kimpton features – cool lobby, interesting bar, water bowl for dogs, etc.  I checked in and went to the room.  Although we had reserved a “deluxe queen,” room, it was very, very small.  It felt like there was less than 12 inches of space from the side of the bed to the window or the wall and a small desk was crammed into an alcove.  The room was a fraction of the size of the rooms we have had in other Kimpton properties.  Not exactly the venue nor the ambiance I had envisioned for a romantic weekend in DC without our kids.

 

 

The King Room

No problem, I thought, I’ll call the front desk and get a better room.  All seemed good when the desk staff offered to move me to a “deluxe King” on the “first” floor.  It turns out that the first floor is subterranean, i.e. it’s the basement.  My initial concern was that the room would be noisy, being so close to the street.  The front desk clerk assured me that they were quite quiet, and it turns out that is true.  But as I descended the stairs to the “first floor” I started to notice a bad odor.   Despite my attempts to simultaneously act like a two year old and ignore the smell and try to convince myself that Patty wouldn’t notice, it was clear the first floor smelled like a damp basement with a mildew problem.  Nonetheless, I powered on to the room.  The room was actually nice, with a huge bed, high ceilings, decent bathroom, and more room for the desk.   The architect had done a great job making the half-windows to the sidewalk seemed larger than they were and let in a lot of light.  Best of all, the room was not noisy at all.  I thought I could still smell something but rationalized that the odor was just coming from the hall.  I cranked the AC on high, ran around the corner to get some candles to complete the romantic ambiance I was determined to create, and took off for the Rhodes event.

The event to honor Sir Collin Marshall, who was retiring as the Warden of Rhodes House, was held at the British Embassy and it was wonderful.  By the end of the event, Patty had arrived, checked into the hotel and met me and several of my classmates at a Georgetown restaurant.  The food was great, the company even better and we stayed at the restaurant until almost midnight.  On the way back to the hotel Patty said, “Did you notice our room is in the basement of the hotel, the hallway smells like dog pee and our room like mold? ” I briefly considered returning to my two year old mindset, but chose to say something like “maybe a little, but I bought a lot of candles” and quickly change the subject.

 

The candles and the AC helped cover up the smell, and we decided to not try and change rooms again given that the front desk told me the hotel was sold out with two wedding parties.  The next day, Patty discovered there was mold on the bottom of the shower curtain.  A definite first for me in a “four star” hotel or for that matter, any star hotel.  In addition to the smelly hall and room mold problems, the on-demand movies in our room were very fuzzy and the engineer on duty could not fix the problem.  And whoever cleaned our room on Friday night forgot to remove the mold, but did remove our wine glasses and did not replace them.  All in all, a pretty bad experience. Read more

Amazon Kindle

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

4 Reasons why the Amazon Kindle e-reader is one of the best devices ever, will help you lose weight, save money and lower your stress level.

My wonderful wife gave me an Amazon Kindle for our anniversary recently and I believe it is one of the best devices I have ever used; so good that I want to recommend it to everyone I know.

So what’s so great about the Kindle and why should you try one? Four simple words:  Content, Functionality, Portability and Value.

Content:

Every morning when I wake up, my Kindle has the latest copies of The New York Times, Boston Globe, WSJ, and Washington Post.  It also has the latest posts from the 5 tech/web 2.0 blogs I follow and several political blogs. I have also downloaded several books and the Kindle will open to the last page I read, but I primarily use it for newspapers and blogs.

I recently showed the Kindle to Ken Dec, one of my partners in Underwood Partners. Ken is a marketing/branding genius and instantly recognized that Amazon has been marketing the Kindle as an e-book reader, where as I (and probably most of you will) use it primarily as an e-paper/blog reader.

Functionality:

Readability:

The Kindle is about the side of a medium paper back, although much thinner: 7.5 inches tall x 5 inches wide x 0.5 inches think.  The reading screen is about 5 x 3.5.  One of the reasons the Kindle is superior to other readers I have tried is that they have come as close to possible to replicating black ink on white paper (the most readable combination). Although the screen is not back-lit and therefore requires some light on planes, in bed, etc., you can read it in bright sunlight without any difficulty – say while your 9 year old son is warming up for a soccer game.

The Kindle has multiple font sizes, which can be changed by clicking two buttons once.  I found this to be extremely helpful the second day I had the Kindle when I took it to a hotel exercise room and found I needed to increase the font size to be legible on the recumbent bike (re: the “lose weight” comment above).  It’s also a god send if you forget your reading glasses.

Turning Pages:

To turn pages you push a bar on either side of the Kindle to go the next or previous page.  A “back” button takes you back to the pervious section you were on.

When reading newspapers the menu button will bring up a drop down window with several choices: front page, sections list, articles list.  This enables you to go to the section you want (e.g., Sports) or scroll through all of the articles in the paper or within a section.

Downloading Content:

One of the best features of the Kindle is you can download content anywhere in the country as long as you have any signal on the Sprint network.  Amazon calls their network the “Whispernet” and it truly works almost anywhere.  Newspapers, blogs, magazines all update automatically whenever there is new content and you have the “connect” switch on.  Although you pay for content (see below), you do not pay for the air time and don’t have to log onto T-Mobile or any other pay site. It literally works everywhere – even in my Dad’s nursing room home in rural West Virginia.

To add content you select “Shop in Kindle Store” from the menu and have your choice of 190,000 books, 26 newspapers, 18 Magazines and 940 blogs. All newspapers, blogs and magazines have a two week free trial, and books allow you to read a section before purchasing.  Books usually sell for $9.99, newspapers $9.99 per month and blogs a dollar or two.  All cost less than their paper versions. The download time is amazing – 200 page books in a minute or two.  All payments are made through your Amazon one click settings, so you don’t waste time entering credit card numbers and billing addresses.

Underlining and writing notes on pages:

When I was CEO of Loyalty (and before kids) I read several books a month and would underline important passages, making notes in the margin of business related books.  Our receptionist would type up the notes and sections and I would share them with our senior management team and clients.  The Kindle lets you do this without the receptionist.  With a couple of clicks you can highlight sections and also type notes using the keyboard at the bottom of the Kindle.  You  can then email or print the sections from your PC.

Portability and stress relief:

The Kindle weighs just 0.6 lb; slightly more than my Blackberry which weighs 0.5 lb.  With its small width and size it is easy to fit in a briefcase or just carry with you anywhere.  So here’s how it reduces stress. Carry it with you always and you can blast through a few articles or blog posts if you are:  waiting for the person in front of you at the grocery checkout lane trying to find her coupons, checkbook, etc.; so far, flight attendants have not yet figured them out so you can read during take-off and landings; the 15 minutes the traffic police keep you waiting to give you a ticket – no problem; your best friend who is always late for breakfast, let him take his time; etc., etc., etc.  And guys, the Kindle makes it easy to take 5 newspapers to the bathroom with you.

I also found it to be highly functional in my favorite NYC restaurant (Wild Edibles,3rd & 35th) where I was able to read despite having covered the 18″‘ square table with three appetizers,  drinking a beer  with one hand a eating sushi with the other, needing only a 5X7 inch space for the Kindle and one finger to navigate. It also came in handy after shoulder surgery when it would have been impossible to handle a broadsheet traditional paper.

Value

The Kindle costs about $350 from amazon.com and I assume you can try it and return for a complete refund if you don’t like it.  They can also be found on craigslist for around $200, but not often.   Even at the full price, the payback on the difference between the paper price and the Kindle price of the NYT, WSJ and Boston Globe is less than 6 months.

Improvements

The only things I would like to see on the Kindle are an easy way to forward articles to friends and colleagues and some kind of backlight, although traditional clip on book lights can take care of this need for now.  Without a “tell a friend” button, the Kindle lacks one of the basic Web 2.0 imperatives of making it easy for consumers to share/evangelize with their friends.  Look for that in a future version.

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up