Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Service for the WSJ's John Wilke

I recently posted on John Wilke's tragic passing.

A gathering will will be held this Saturday, May 30, to celebrate his life and career. The service will be a music-filled fundraiser with all proceeds contributed to the education of John and Nancy’s two children, Robin and Jackson. It will take place at the American Legion Hall Post #8, 224 D Street S.E., in Washington, D.C.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. and music starts at 8 p.m. There will be a cash bar and a requested minimum donation of $50 per person. Limited edition Wilke T-shirts can be purchased for $50.

Additional information on the event and the college fund can be found here.

My thanks to the Gorkana Alert for the notification.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Crittenton Women's Union Honors Barbara Lynch with Amelia Earhart Award

Barbara Lynch is a James Beard award-winning chef and one very funny woman.

When she stepped to the microphone this past Wednesday to receive the Crittenton Women's Union's Amelia Earhart award at a luncheon attended by hundreds, the first words out of her mouth were: "I just have to adjust my bra strap."

That pretty much sums up the level of pretension that one can expect from this incredible food artist and entrepreneur, who is regarded as one of Boston’s, and the country’s, leading chefs and restaurateurs.

Each year, the Crittenton Women's Union (CWU) honors a woman who has exhibited pioneering spirit with the Amelia Earhart Award. Lynch certainly fits the criteria, as do many of the clients of the CWU. The organization helps low-income and at-risk women and families get out of poverty and into lives of personal and economic independence.

Before the award presentation to Lynch, one of the CWU's clients, Helene Gaudette, spoke movingly of her journey towards independence, with the critical assistance she's received from the CWU. Gaudette found herself divorced at age 23, with two kids to support. She planned to become an interior designer, but with help from the CWU's career and financial planning specialists, she learned that the average entry-level salary for an interior designer in Boston is $37,000. Budgeting exercises showed that she needed $65,000 to support her family. She's now enrolled in a radiology program at Roxbury Community college so that she can move into a better-paying field. She brought many of us to tears with her pledge to support her kids so that they do not want, and so that they grow up with a strong role model of a woman who's self-sufficient and in control of her own destiny.

Following the opening speakers, local radio and TV personality Ron Della Chiesa introduced an excerpt from a short documentary on Lynch. This award-winning film, Amuse Bouche, A Chef's Tale, is described as "a female, real-life 'Good Will Hunting,'" and outlines how Lynch overcame poverty, depression, violence and social stigma to rise through the ranks and establish herself in a male-dominated business with a 60% failure rate.

Following the film snippet, Lynch came to the microphone, waving the crowd -- which had risen to give her a standing ovation -- to sit down.

Lynch relayed her life story and lessons with humility and irreverance. She grew up in housing projects in the South End in a family with seven kids. (Her Dad died when he was just 32.) She noted that she was brought up understanding that everyone is equal - a philosophy that would inform her generosity to the community down the road. She's noted for her heartfelt philanthropy.

She was not a good student, and she worked for a time as a bookie in high school. (She confessed that she did not always place the bets!) But she had a home economics teacher "who saw something in me that I did not see in myself." She developed a love of cooking, at the age of 13, got her first kitchen job cooking at a local rectory. (At age 14, she found Julia Child's number in Cambridge and called her on a whim. To her shock, Child answered the phone, "so I hung up!")

She eventually talked her way into a job as a cook's assistant on a cruise boat doing dinner cruises to Martha's Vineyard. When she approached the owner, he said, "We don't need anymore servers," and she explained she was looking to cook. He asked her where she had cooked, "so I told that guy everything. Thank God he didn't ask for a reference." When the owner asked her if she'd made a certain dish, she invariably replied, "Oh yes," even if she'd never heard of it.

Two days before the cruise was to depart, the chef resigned. Lynch told the owner she wanted the job, and he took a chance on her. She took 25 cookbooks out of the library, stayed up all night, and learned how to cut up beef. "Heck, I learned how to order beef!"

She was on her way. During her early twenties, Barbara worked under some of Boston’s great chefs, including Todd English, first at Michaela’s, then at Olives and later Figs. After working with Todd for several years, Barbara traveled to Italy where she learned about the cuisine firsthand from local women. She returned to Boston and became the executive chef at Galleria Italiana, bringing national acclaim to the tiny trattoria when she captured Food & Wine’s “Ten Best New Chefs in America” award in 1996.

At that point, she knew she wanted her own restaurant, so she signed the lease for No. 9 Park, the day before she got married. Travel & Leisure proclaimed No.9 Park one of the “Top 50 Restaurants in America” in 2003. For two consecutive years, No.9 Park was named “Best Restaurant, General Excellence” by Boston Magazine and Gourmet included it as one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” in 2006. She now owns eight restaurants, with a ninth in the works. In fall 2009, Houghton Mifflin will publish her first cookbook.

Lynch noted that in reflecting on Amelia, she asked herself, "What inspires me? What still drives me?" Here are a few answers to those questions, along with some hard-won wisdom:

  • "If you want something, you can talk yourself out of being scared."
  • She describes working together with a team as creating a big mural. "Someone's working on a foot over there, someone's working on the head over here, but it all comes together."
  • "Companies have soul. They need nurturing."
  • "We need to look at risks in a different way. Sometimes, the adventure is worthwhile in itself."
  • "I believe in the mission of CWU - helping women to believe in themselves."

This marked the 25th annual Amelia Earhart Award Luncheon to benefit The Crittenton Women’s Union. The CWU was created in 2006 through the merger of two historic Boston organizations, the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union and Crittenton. Both were trailblazing organizations serving women and families since the late 1800s; they merged to create a stronger organization capable of achieving things that neither organization could do alone.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

What's Next in Tech - June 25

Cool events are popping up all over.

On the evening of June 25th, Scott Kirsner will moderate: "What's Next in Tech - Exploring the Growth Opportunities of 2009 and Beyond." You can register here.

This event aims to explore up-and-coming technologies that are expected to create future business and job opportunities. Discussion areas include mobile software, videogames, robotics, social media, clean tech and other fast-growing sectors.

Details: June 25, 6-8:30 p.m at Boston University's School of Management auditorium

Speakers will include:

- Michael Greeley, General Partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

- Mike Dornbrook, COO, Harmonix Music Systems (makers of "Rock Band")

- Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot Corp. and founder of The Droid Works

- Brian Halligan, social media expert and CEO of HubSpot

- Tim Healy, CEO of EnerNOC

- Ellen Rubin, Founder & VP/Product of CloudSwitch

- Bijan Sabet, General Partner, Spark Capital

- John Simon, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners

The event is hosted by Future Forward Events in association with The Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) and Boston University School of Management. The Twitter/blog hash tag for the event is #whatsnext09.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Xconomy Launches XSITE

We knew that XSITE was being incubated, but now it's been officially launched. Xconomy announced the event today, billing it as the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

From the site:

This full-day conference will celebrate New England innovation and showcase the panorama of transformative efforts underway in the region in such fields as energy, life sciences, robotics, cloud and mobile computing, and transportation-at universities, startups, and large corporations.

Xconomy has partnered with Boston University's Office of Technology Development for XSITE. The conference will be held on June 24, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can register here.

Here's the lineup of heavy hitters:

Keynote -- Juan Enriquez
, Founder, Chairman, CEO, Biotechonomy

Other notable speakers:
Phil Sharp, Institute Professor, MIT, Co-founder, Biogen, Nobel Prize winner
John Abele, Co-founder, Boston Scientific
Yet-Ming Chiang, Professor of Ceramics, MIT, Co-founder A123Systems
Jeff Nick, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, EMC
Mohamad Ali, Massachusetts Senior State Executive, IBM
John Maraganore
, CEO, Alnylam
Reed Sturtevant, Managing Director, Microsoft Startup Labs
Christina Lampe-Onnerud
, CEO, Boston Power
Tillman Gerngross, Co-founder, GlycoFi, Co-founder and CEO, Adimab, Professor of Engineering, Dartmouth
Mick Mountz, CEO and Founder, Kiva Systems
Carl Dietrich, CEO, Terrafugia
James Carey, Co-founder and Principal Scientist, SiOnyx
Maria Rupnick, Co-Founder, Zafgen, Instructor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Thomas Hughes, CEO, Zafgen
Noubar Afeyan, Managing Partner and CEO, Flagship Ventures
Jeffrey Ives, CEO, Satori Pharmaceuticals
Brian Shin, CEO, Visible Measures
Bill Taylor, Co-founder, Fast Company


Monday, May 04, 2009

John Wilke - The Definition of a Gentleman

I haven't spoken with Wall Street Journal reporter John Wilke in years, yet the news of his death moved me to tears.

Journalists are not always kind to PR people. Mr. Wilke was always a perfect gentleman in every interaction I had with him on behalf of clients. I haven't worked with him since his move to Washington, but I'll always remember how he coached me through a story on a Boston-area public company more than a dozen years ago. He listened, peppered me with polite questions, and then said, "Here's what I'd need to make this a great story."

We delivered what he asked for, and he wrote a wonderful story. That experience was one of the most instructive and memorable of my career.

John Wilke was a fine journalist and a good man.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Simmons Leadership Conference - We Can Change the World... teddy bear hug at at time." Maxine Clark

"Retailing is entertainment, and the store is a stage. When the customer has fun, they spend money."
Stanley Goodman, former chairman of the May Company

Maxine Clark, CEO of Build-a-Bear Workshop, opened the Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference yesterday with a high goosebump quotient.

There's a reason why Clark and her company have won of string of awards for innovation and leadership. She talks the talk eloquently, but she also walks the walk.

It's hard to not love a leader who has built a company on phrases like, "It's not just about building revenue, it's about building empires of character and value." And she's so genuine that you know it's totally sincere. She's not posturing.

Through its foundation, Build-a-Bear has donated more than $20 million to various kids' nonprofits. The company also has launched wonderful campaigns such as its Huggable Heroes, which is in its sixth year. This project recognizes kids who volunteer their time in a broad range of community service projects - in underserved schools, hospitals, nursing homes and disadvantaged neighborhoods. The nomination process (which is now closed) will culminate in the selection of ten noteworthy young people from the U.S. and two from Canada. Each will receive a prize worth $10,000 ($7,500 in scholarship funds and $2,500 from the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation to be donated to the charity of their choice).

Clark has had a long career in retailing, starting out at May and Company. In her third week on the job, she heard the chairman, Stanley Goodman, speak (see above) and she knew she'd found her professional calling. She held a series of increasingly successful positions, culminating in CEO of Payless Shoes. For a long time, she loved the job so much she felt she should be paying her employer, but eventually, she felt she was earning that paycheck. At that point, she knew it was time to leave.

She had a light bulb moment when shopping with a 10-year-old friend. It was 12 years ago, at the height of the Beanie Baby craze, and her young friend said, "These are so easy; we could make these."

Build-a-Bear started with one store in St. Louis (still the headquarters) and now has 400 stores worldwide, having sold 75 million bears to date ($470 million in revenues). The company is the tenth largest toy retailer in the U.S.

Clark set out to build a business with a heart. That sounds like a catchphrase, but in this case, she meant it literally. When kids build a bear in one of her stores, they get to pick out a heart for the bear when stuffing it. During the "heart ceremony," kids make a wish on the heart, and the wish stays with the bear for the rest of its life. You can touch the heart to your left or right elbow to make the bear left or right handed. Touch the bear to your head, and it will be smarter than the average bear.

It's little wonder that one of Clark's favorite lines is this one from Lauren Bacall: "Imagination is the highest kite you can fly."

It's tough to capture Clark in a short post, so I'll let Clark's words speak for her:

  • "What it takes to engage and retain a customer hasn't changed. It's still entertainment."
  • "It's one of my strengths - I know what I don't know. Some people may think that's a weakness, but it's a strength."
  • "A business is about passion, legacy, imagination, creation."
  • "We're about creating an environment so that great things can happen."
  • "When people have fun at their job, they work harder."
  • "It takes a village to raise a bear."
  • "If you're true to who you are and what you believe, that will endure."

Words to live by.