Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Oracle's Wisdom and Leadership for The Ages

"In the beginning...", said The Oracle

Last week I took Bill Gates advice and read Warren Buffett's 50th annual letter. Before I read it I reflected on other corporate letters that I had injested in the past which contained oft repeated tales of business cycles with promises of innovation, customer focus, superior performance, and future growth only to show something different in practice.

This letter was different. 

The candid, sharp, and humorous wisdom coming from the pages of Warren Buffett's "best annual letter ever" rightly earned Gates' high praise. Unlike the time many years ago when I attempted to read The Intelligent Investor in order to learn investment strategies directly from Buffett's mentor, I made it through the letter multiple times as if rereading a favorite novel.

As I read the letter I thought about what I might be like when I turn 84 - or 91 in the case of Charlie Munger. What would my legacy be and how would I secure it? My thoughts quickly morphed into a rapid stream of questions and queries about the impact of gender inequality and it's long-term effects on women's wealth and power. I wondered: 

Could Warren Buffett's wealth and power have been gained by a woman?

Of course this is a rhetorical question, but the context and sentiment are real. Based on what we know the answer to this question is 'yes' in theory and 'no' in practice - at least not yet. The artificial, historical, and persistent roadblocks that have stood in the way are moving - or are being moved - by changing times, through diligent effort, and with rapidly accelerating technological innovations.

As more women step forward to take the reigns of wealth and power, odds are increasing that there will be a female "Warren Buffett" at some point in the future - though the jump will be a long oneAccording to Forbes, Buffett's net worth as a self-made billionaire is $72.3 billion USD. The world's richest woman is Christy Walton whose inherited net worth is $41.7 billion USD (58% of Buffett's net worth).

NOTE: Making a distinction between inherited and self-made billions makes me slightly uncomfortable as there is an implication that inherited wealth may not be as productive as self-made wealth. Wealth at this level is an accomplishment that few will ever achieve no matter the source.


As I continued reading and thinking about the future that my daughter will inherit, I knew that I would take the time to review several of Buffett's annual letters with her as she prepares to take the reigns of her own life. 

Like never before the trajectories of wealth, business, and poverty can be altered in unexpected ways by women. The field of dreams is being reconstructed by technology and the knowledge economy so that the gates, ceilings, doors, and portals are wide open for all who want to play.


The World's Richest Women

The richest women in the world mostly inherited their wealth. However, the ceiling has been shattered by 17% of female billionaires including Elizabeth Holmes, a Millenial who at 31 is the youngest female self-made billionaire ever with a net worth of $4.5 billion USD. 

Each of these women have obtained immense wealth and power to be leveraged to build even more wealth and power throughout the ages - and so the story goes.


...I believe the chance of any event causing Berkshire to experience financial problems is essentially zero. We will always be prepared for the thousand-year flood; in fact, if it occurs we will be selling life jackets to the unprepared...
Warren Buffett's Annual Letter 2015 [p.34]


Wealth is wherever one finds it, but the largest share of billionaires have made their fortunes in finance, banking, and investments. According to Wealth-X, the year 2020 will witness a double-digit increase in the billionaire population due to rapid technology innovations and cutting-edge ideas. Currently technology magnates make up only 4% of the world's richest people.


Women, Investing, and Poverty

Women are the top earners of college degrees. Women continue to build businesses in record numbers. Women run their households either as the 'head of household' or as the CFO in a partnership. Women out live men. 

So what's up with women when it comes to investing - another of those nagging questions?

It's one thing to break through gender barriers of corporate leadership, but it's yet another to capture and keep the wealth that's earned after having done so. All of this the hard won advantages point to a need for sound financial education and strategies. Research shows that women are apprehensive when it comes to investing.


You can’t get rich trading a hundred-dollar bill for eight tens (even if your advisor has handed you an expensive “fairness” opinion endorsing that swap)

Warren Buffett's Annual Letter 2015 [p.28]


Here's what can happen later in life without keeping your mind on your money:

Nope - I'm not a financial advisor (far from it). I'm a mother who is looking out for the well-being of my daughter. I'm teaching her about asset allocation, saving versus investing, entrepreneurship, leadership, management, and business relationships. For her last birthday she received several of Robert Kiyosaki's books along with her first business building kit. 

Periodically I require her to play 'Cash Flow' or 'JA Success Park' on her iPad and sometimes we play together. I'm quite passionate about these topics for her and for me. I don't know where all of this will take her, but I'm certain that if she doesn't have this type of education she will struggle unnecessarily. Junior Achievement is next on the list along with a continuation in STEM engagements. 

She will have on her life jacket when the thousand-year flood comes.


The Oracle's Wisdom

There are huge gaps between gaining massive wealth on the level of Warren Buffett and poverty. Effective strategies can help to close those gaps over time. Elizabeth Holmes is off to a great start.

From building a strong corporate structure and culture to selecting and empowering the right kind of leaders to sticking with what works, The Oracle's Wisdom is leadership for the ages. Though it was hard to narrow down the list for this post, here are a few of my favorite notes from Buffett's 50th annual letter:

[1] Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices

[2] It’s hard to teach a new dog old tricks

[3] It is entirely predictable that people will occasionally panic, but not at all predictable when this will happen

[4] It is madness to risk losing what you need in pursuing what you simply desire

[5] Character is crucial

[6] My successor will need one other particular strength: the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency

[7] An incoming CEO should be relatively young, so that he or she can have a long run in the job


Thanks for reading my latest article. Now for the fun part - what have you learned from reading Warren Buffett's 50th annual letter? Comment, like, or share.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Unconventional Models of 21st Century Leadership

We're well into the 21st century and it's clear that the pace of change is accelerating in every possible way except perhaps our general acceptance of those changes. 

It's almost trite to say how much change there is in technology, in business, and in leadership. Still I'm going to say it - the pace of change is astounding!

Industrial Age models spell death to all who want to hold onto those rules and structures. There's nothing left to do except to tranform into 21st century models of leadership - or die.

A bit melodramatic? Not really. The churn rate and demise of companies that don't transform is accelerating.


US corporations in the S&P500 in 1958 remained in the index for an average of 61 years. By 1980, the average tenure of an S&P500 firm was 25 years, and by 2011 that average shortened to 18 years based on seven year rolling averages
At current rates 75% of S&P500 will be replaced by 2027

Innosight: Creative Destruction Whips Through Corporate America [i]


Source: Innosight (2012)


Out With The Old, In With The Bold

Innovative Apple Inc. is set to replace historic AT&T Inc. as part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) after the close of trading on Wednesday, March 18th. The implications of the shift are many. While I'm not an expert in financial markets, to me this shift signals a profound change in how we measure the future of our success and which companies get to design that future.

Hold on - this article isn't really about Apple (~39 years old) and AT&T (~130 years old) though the timing of the change couldn't be more perfect...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------'s leaders face extraordinary new challenges and must learn to think differently about their role and how to fulfill it

McKinsey Quarterly: Leading in the 21st Century [ii]


The question that I've been looking to answer is "what models of 21st century leadership are emerging as the most effective?" Here are a few examples of sharp contrast between "Old" (20th Century) and "Bold" (21st Century) leadership structures.



"Old" 20th Century Leadership is often referred to as autocratic. Can we agree that this model has run its course?

Unconventional Leadership Defined

CEO Ricardo Semler is the very definition of unconventional leadership. He recently gave a TED Talk on "How to Run a Company with (Almost) No Rules" where he explained methods that have been in use for 30 years within his company and charities. His vision is as intriguing as Apple's innovations and his results are just as dramatic when it comes to organizational elightenment - or as he would say - organizational wisdom.

Semler has done away with the "boarding school" mentality that requires individuals to check in or check out at specific times. He believes that individuals should be in control of their own time. In fact he doesn't even want to know what office you're working from or which days you'll be there. 

Employees at Semco set their own salaries based on data points provided by the company. They are also permitted to "buy back" their time while they are still fairly young with more time and less money in order to live meaningful lives rather than waiting until they are older with less time and more money. Future subordinates determine their future leaders. Board meetings have a few open seats for whoever decides to show up. Sometimes those extra seats are filled by members of the cleaning crew.

This is Corporate Democracy - and it's working...

Under Semler's vision, Semco has grown through tough times at 27.5% per year for 14 years and continues its growth trajectory. Semler credits the responsive company culture which is able to open and close areas rapidly for their strong growth. 

Netflix and Zappos along with multiple companies in Japan and Holland have implemented variations of the Semco model.


...leaders that succeed in te 21st century will be the ones capable of managing that paradox of need and want... is not about getting people to do what you want them to do, it is about enabling them to do what they want to do

Morgan Witzel, Centre for Leadership Studies [iii]


Companies with Two Heads

No - that's not a typo. Some companies such as Oracle, Whole Foods, Deutsche Bank, Samsung, and Chipotle really do operate with two or three CEOs. As with the corporate democracy model of leadership, multi-headed leadership structures are not applicable for every company. 

This type of company structure is designed to increase scope and capacity while ensuring decision-making coverage if one of the CEOs is unavailable. Challenges with these types of leadership models include client confusion, disagreements at the top, and the introduction of inefficiencies into the organizational structure.

It's been said that a house divided against itself can't stand. However, there are companies that are divided at the top and are working well.

21st Century Leadership Mantra 

Whether you're part of a fast moving corporate democracy, in a two-headed behemoth, or atop an autocracy, the 21st century leadership mantra - if there is one - seems to be: 

Move fast. Stay open. Be wise. Switch directions as needed. Globalize. Go social. Be great. Keep climbing!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BIG DATA is Really a Big Deal

If it's true that you get what you measure, are we measuring the right things?

BIG DATA has become part of our lexicon of new references. As we continue to explore who we are and where we're going, BIG DATA is our companion, our friend, and sometimes our foe. I speak of BIG DATA as if it is a living thing because it is.

The saying goes - and goes - that you get what you measure. I believe that you get what you get until you decide to measure what you want instead. Only then will you be able to effectively alter your trajectory with focus - aiming towards your goals. Whether you measure before or after, gathering and analyzing sufficient data points is how it's done. 

We're Not There Yet

On Monday Melinda Gates, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton hosted Not There Yet: A Data Driven Analysis of Gender Equality. The event highlighted 20 years of initiatives that have resulted in some dramatic gains in Health and Education, but show mixed progress in many other areas such as Economic Empowerment and the impact of Climate Change on the lives of women and girls.

The No Ceilings Full Participation Project brought to the forefront efforts that have been undertaken by the UN Women's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Four sessions have been previously hosted in:

Following the great work produced in Beijing, 5-year check points issued progress reports on Beijing+5Beijing+10, and Beijing+15. We're now at Beijing+20 with much of the work still undone on the Beijing Platform for Action. Promises made by many governments and organizations 20 years ago have been met with slow resolve, even slower action, or not at all.


A girl born today will be 81 years old before she has the same chance as a man to be CEO of a company ... and she will have to wait until she's 50 to have an equal chance to lead a country
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director


The data tells the story and provides the blueprint for how we should proceed. So what's all the fuss about data-driven action plans for gender equality? Answer - there's not enough of it. There's not enough data or gender equality. However, we do know enough to move forward forcefully towards a 50-50 planet by 2030. 

Ernst & Young has started an 80-year countdown clock to fast forward gender parity in the workplace. Others will follow their lead and it can be done.

We Need New Data - BIG DATA

Data combined with significant efforts have already made a dramatic difference in Health improvements around the globe. One significant example is that mothers are 42% less likely to die from complications of pregnancy than in 1995. This is a BIG accomplishment.

Additional data on health, education, economics, climate change, peace and security, and many other areas demonstrate that we're moving forward albeit slowly.


...the Gates Foundation is focused on health because we believe that a productive life begins first and foremost with having good health
Melinda Gates - The Gates Foundation, No Ceilings (2015)


More data is being gathered and consolidated by UN Women, World Health Organization, The Full Participation Project, and many organizations around the world. In some cases the amount of data is overwhelming. In other cases it's underwhelming. 

Collecting and analyzing BIG DATA on issues affecting women and girls helps to refine the blueprint for progress and will let us know how quickly we need to put our feet on the gas or whether a shift in strategy is required.

During the live streaming of "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project" I listened intently with my daughter at my side as one story after another demonstrated global challenges and ways that those challenges are being tackled. The highlight for her was seeing and hearing Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai advise the world to "Aim Higher!" on all educational initiatives.

...guarantee free education for 12 years for every child - every girl and every boy - to end poverty and violence go forward I say "Aim Higher!" and we will reach our goals
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, No Ceilings (2015)


We can see in the data that major progress has been made in Primary education. However, there's still a 24% gap for countries providing tuition-free Secondary education and an even wider gap at University levels. Malala challenged World Leaders to ensure that every child gets a solid education.

There is so much more to measure, study, and take action on in education and in other areas.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------- long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes - the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Beijing (1995)


Not surprisingly Secretary Clinton's message and the messages from all of the leaders who took the stage echoed the same sentiments each in their own voice, in their own way. It would be a shame for us to analyze these areas in 2030 with similar gaps remaining. 

We can do better and we will. Here's how.

"Aim Higher!" for Gender Parity around the world. We can do this!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Do We Have To Call It Work?

Since most of us don't like the idea of work, then why don't we call it something else?

Stats and reports keep coming to let us know that most people are 'under this...' or 'over that...' - or not quite ready for anything new when it comes to the 21st Century world of work. I'm a stats junkie so I can't help but read and digest the stuff if only to discount lots of it and move on. Many of the details or concerns raised in various areas are quite valid and deserve a second, third, or continuous deep look followed by introspective actions. 

The world of work is one of those areas.

While examining report details over the last few weeks, a question came to mind and it's sticking around. The question is around this idea of work. The question is:

Why does work cause so many of us so much angst? Could it be that we have our definitions or frame of reference all wrong?


Work is defined as the effort applied to produce a deliverable or to accomplish a task in exchange for services or payment


The definition seems straight forward and simple enough. As far back as the beginning of time, the idea of work has been embedded in our cultures and lives. We crave the opportunity to do work for something that is important to us or with someone who shares our goals or with a company or organization that values us. For some of us work is simply "all about the benjamins" which is alright I suppose.

Before I ramble on too much, here are some stats that made me ponder the definition of work.


Stat #1 - 72% of productive life span is spent working

Stat #2 - 70% of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work and are not reaching their full potential

Stat #3 - 71% of U.S. workers spend less than 10 years with their employers


This is a problem only if...

Stat #1 is a problem only if we don't want to spend our productive time producing results. If we enjoy what we're doing, we'll look forward to spending a majority of our waking hours performing designated tasks and activities in exchange for services or payment.

Stat #2 is a problem only if we're doing something that we don't like or are with someone that we don't like being with for a majority of our working days. If we enjoy what we're doing, then engagement will be automatic and we will crave growth and development.

Stat #3 is a problem only if we believe that everything should stay the same giving us the opportunity to remain stagnant in our careers and in our lives. If we accept that change is inevitable and important to our progress, then we will embrace it as part of the norm.

Defining how we spend our productive time in disempowering ways limits our desire to engage. The definitions that we use may even make a majority of us regret waking up on Monday mornings

We can change that.

A New Definition of Applied Effort

We often become masters at reframing unpleasant situations when it suits us. For example, if children don't want to eat spinach and we know that it's good for them, then we may tell them that it will make them stronger and smarter. Remember Popeye the Sailor Man? He made spinach seem cool. I still eat my fair share.

If we can do that for children, then why can't we do the same for ourselves and reframe the definition of work to suit us? When someone asks you where you "work", why not think - then say?

  • I add value as a Management Consultant for ...
  • I make a daily contribution in Operations for...
  • I deliver outstanding service to my customers and stakeholders in ...

Aren't these the kinds of statements that we put on our resumes or include in our work histories? If so, why don't we use these types of statements every day to help us reframe what we really do with our productive time? 

Perhaps Mondays won't seem so bad if we reframe the definition of work.

We add value. We contribute. We deliver.

I realize that simply changing wording won't completely fix certain complex work situations, but it can definitely produce a shift in attitude and perspective around work. If it helps even a little bit, then isn't it worth the applied effort?

I appreciate you taking the time to read my article. Let me know what you think by commenting, liking, or sharing.