Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts

I just finished reading Founding Mother – The Women who Raised our Nation by Cokie Roberts.
Founding Mothers gives a totally different perspective on the revolutionary era and the women who were a part of it. Here are a few tantalizing tidbits from Founding Mothers.

  • Eliza Lucas Pinckney was the mother of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney both of  whom were key figures in early American politics. In 1746 when Eliza was 16 she was left in charges of her family's plantations in South Carolina. She ran them for many years and figured out how to grow indigo commercially in South Carolina when no one thought it was possible. She led a long and heroic life and when she died in 1793 at about 70 her friend George Washington, at his request, was a pallbearer.
  • Not the only, but the most famous woman who fought as a man in the American revolution was Deborah Sampson. She served in the army for three years, fought in several battles and was only discovered after became very ill and almost died. She was eventually granted a soldier's pension by congress and after she died her husband received a special survivors' pension.
  • The British General Cornwallis said that even if he destroyed all the men in America, he'd still have the women to contend with.
  • Peggy, the wife of the infamous American traitor Benedict Arnold was an active participant in Arnold's spying for the British. She claimed innocence and escaped persecution.
  • Elizabeth Monroe the wife of James Monroe, the future president probably saved the life of the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. The Marchioness was in jail during the French revolution when James Monroe was an American diplomat in Paris. Adrienne Lafayette's mother and grandmother had both been beheaded and she was expecting the same fate. "Elizabeth Monroe, in the official American carriage, went to the prison where Adrienne Lafayette was held and asked to speak to her. That show of interest resulted in the Marchioness's release."

I've added Founding Mothers to my list of books read in 2009. I'm working hard to finish the traditional books in my reading pile  so I can start using my Kindle 2 when it arrive in the next day or two. I can't wait!

Lessons Learned When I was fired by Carol Bartz

I admire Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo. A week or so ago I sent an email to reporter Kara Swisher who has been covering Bartz at Yahoo about the time I wasfired by Carol Bartz. Swisher published it on her blog here.

I was in my early 30s and had never failed at anything in my life. I had a Computer Science degree and had been a programmer at Boeing and Sperry Univac. I had managed groups at a small Medical Information System company and at Digital Research, the makers of CP/M the fist PC operating system. I had taken a job at a young Sun Microsystems as a manager of the US Answer Center, the group that supported all of Sun's software products. My organization consisted of 35 fantastic people. But all was not sunshine and roses. After two years Sun was growing quickly and I had grown my group to well over one hundred people. On top of that we had just released a new Operating System, Sun OS 4.0, and it was full of bugs. the Answer Center was overwhelmed with  calls and we were failing. I was failing.

A sales person went on a customer call and the customer used the speaker phone in the middle of the table to call the Answer Center. He was put on hold for over 30 minutes. We had a lot of very angry customers. These customers were paying big bucks for their support contracts. It was so bad that when I met a new VP of Sales at an all hands meeting he said  "So you are the eye of the storm." … not a great way to be known. Although I was in way over my head and didn't know what to do to get out of this mess I liked Sun and wanted to stay with the company. It is was an amazing company full of amazing  people.

So when Carol Bartz was named the new VP of the services organization and she scheduled a meeting with me I was not really surprised when she said "Marion, we are not going to take you out and shot you but you are not going to doing this job any more.". She said it directly and with compassion. I had to find a new job. Luckily I found one at Sun. But as I said earlier I was devastated. I cried for a week.  I was totally knocked off my feet.

For years after this experience I spent time thinking about what I could have done differently, what I should have done to succeed. Even though the support situation was an enormous mess and pretty much all of the management in the service organization was replaced there had to have been a way to succeed. 

It is a measure of the magnitude of this experience in my life that I am writing this post today. I thought I would share with you my lessons learned from the experience.

Lessons learned

  1. Sometimes good people have to go – I probably  could have been coached to success and I know some of my peers who were fired could have been successful in the Bartz organization, but what was needed at that place and that time was focus, action, and a clean slate. By cleaning house Bartz sent a message that could be sent no other way. At the time I didn't think anyone could be successful in service at Sun but Bartz was and her first step was to start fresh.
  2. You need a team who will work together as a unit – At the time I had two people, Sharon and Bernie, in my management team who hated each other. They were each good people but together they drained energy from the team. I should have got rid of one of them. We needed a cohesive team focused on results and working on team building defocused us from working on solving our problems.
  3. Measure, Measure, Measure. You Manage what you measure. – We had a horrible home grown call management system with virtually no reporting. I should have hired someone to just focus on reporting and then we should have managed to the results. Everyone including product development should have been able to see the spike in calls and the reason for the spike.
  4. Ask for help up the line. – When I asked my boss for help he said he didn't know what to do. I should have taken my metrics to his boss  and his boss. It was not only my problem but it was everyone's problem. They needed to help own it.
  5. Always have a war plan – In hind sight I realize that we were under attack. I should have had a war plan in my drawer developed by me and my staff that we could pull out if there was a big buggy product release. Having a plan is very important.
  6. In time of war treat the situation like a war – I tried to manage my way through the problem in business as usual mode. Instead we should have been in war mode. All hands on deck, calling for reinforcements, putting other priorities on hold while we repelled the attack.
  7. Leadership – I should have called an all hands meeting and asked people to rally around. Everyone needed to know that we were at war and everyone needed to go above and beyond. I needed to lead the forces. Lincolnesque war time leadership was needed.
  8. Communication – The whole company needed to know that we were at war. Much later in my career at Sun my boss (he came from the Department of Defense) had daily red alert calls that all the VPs attended. Most people hated these calls but they did the job and focused on our failures. Support calls. are failures and we should have been treating them as such and making sure that the root cause was identified and eliminated.
  9. Life goes on – Even though this experience seemed like the end of world to me at the time. It wasn't. My daughters still went to school and grew up to be wonderful people. I got a new job at Sun and eventually became a Director in Sun's iWork Group. I had ups and downs but I fondly remember my almost 20 years at Sun.

I'd be interested in any ideas of perspective any of you who read this have.

Just Do It!

Interviews are always fascinating to me. Every time I watch a great Charlie Rose interview I say to myself Wow! I would love to have interesting conversations like that. The other day I listened to a Podcast interview that Dan Carlin of Hardcore History did with James Burke and my reaction was the same.

Several years ago my boss at the time had caricature done of each of his managers as a gift. The text of mine was "Just Do It!" which in fact is my motto. Any time I am faced with something I am not sure I want to do or something I don't know how to do  I believe the best thing to do is to just get on with it.

The beauty of the Internet and things like blogs and Podcasts is that with a blog it is very easy to be a writer, and in a similar vein it would be relatively easy to create a Podcast and become an interviewer. I am sure that 30 years ago Charlie Rose was not as good as he is today at creating interesting interviews. And good Podcasts take a lot of hare work and practice too.  So if I really want to be an interviewer I should Do It!

Of course I have lots of ideas like this and my problem/opportunity is actually focusing and doing it?!

For Sale – A Wonderful House in the Woods

Several years ago my very good friends Linda and Ray bought a second home in Foresthill about 20 miles north east of Auburn, California. It was a very nice house and they spent many weekends there. When they retired they sold their house in Sunnyvale and moved into the Foresthill house. Over the time they have owned the house they have updated it and fixed it up including putting in a gorgeous new kitchen.

Now they are ready to sell the house and move to a more permanent retirement destination. I can't say enough about what a wonderful house this is and how beautiful the setting is. Take a look at the listing or the Craigslist listing or the virtual tour. You will be getting an absolutely wonderful house in a gorgeous location if you buy this house,

John Quincy Adams – A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel

One of my goals is to read a biography of each of our presidents. I just finished reading John Quincy Adams – A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel. JQA was president number six.

I also have a goal to read 100 books in 2009. I may not make it but the list so far in 2009 is here.

According to Nagel, John Quincy Adams' presidency "was a hapless failure and best forgotten." Which made me think about how a man's life should not be judged by his time in office. Adams' life as a diplomat and secretary of state before his Presidency and as a congressman and anti slavery fighter after the presidency was very successful and included many substantial accomplishments and contributions.

Did you know that he can take much of the credit for the establishment of the Smithsonian Institute? In 1835 James Smithson, an Englishman, "left his entire estate, amounting to somewhat more than $500,000 in gold, to enable the United States of America to increase knowledge among its citizens." Adams worked for over ten years to keep the Smithson bequest form being "wasted upon hungry and worthless jackals." The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846.

Adams kept a journal of daily entries about his life for fifty years. Nagel says "Adams' Diary is rightly acclaimed the most discerning and useful personal journal kept by an American …… By joining so many descriptions of his inward state with innumerable astute reports on his larger life, Adams created a diary that deserves to rank near if not next to that of Samuel Pepys."

A Puiblic Life a Private Life is primarily the story of Adams life based on this diary. That is what makes the book so fascinating and different from other Presidential biographies I have read. You see Adams the man with all his warts and all his strengths. You see why he was so loved by his family and you can see how much he reviled those he perceived as enemies.

I very much enjoyed this book. Adams watched the smoke of the Battle of Bunker Hill with his mother, Abigail, from a hill near his house when he was 9. He lived to be 80 and died in the Capitol after trying to rise to give a speech against the Mexican American war. He traveled extensively both as a diplomat and privately. His view of the world during his 80 years grabbed my imagination.

In his introduction Nagel explains how his objective in this book is to illuminate the previously unexplored private side of JQA as well as his public side. Nagel says "Indeed, after completing this book I find myself not only admiring Adams for his many achievements but actually liking the man – despite his frequently exasperating behavior, now to be understood with sympathy." I couldn't have said it better myself!