Tuesday, March 27, 2012

About a-holes and good wine...

Yesterday afternoon was one of the rare moments of sharing wisdom I have had for a long time. I met NS, you see, a friend in recent years, who managed  for many years the R&D organization of a well-known US multinational with a reputation of only holding and exploiting market share leading products in any business they decided to pursue. NS is now past 60 and retired, meaning, he's sitting on the BODs of several companies, mainly focused on molecular biology and genetic engineering. For the rest he's having a good time enjoying 'retirement'. 
He told me about Biosceptre, an Aussie startup, with a promising technology for curing all sorts of solid cancers, moving into clinical trials for a set of their proposed products; it's actually those used to cure a category of skin cancers. The specifics are pretty hard to grasp unless you are an expert in molecular biology and cell chemistry, but it simply gets down to the fact that Biosceptre discovered that certain biomarkers (receptors sitting on regular cell membranes and found to be non-functional in cancer cells) get activated by attaching to them purpose designed antibodies, and by becoming functional again they initiate apoptosis (cell death). NS showed me quite a few pictures 'before' and 'after' applying the antibodies to the receptors of cancerous cells, and if those shots were genuine, my God, I still feel my skin shivering. Someone once told me that in about 20 years there won't be any deadly deceases left in the world (I mean, non-curable); by seeing those shots I'll start believing this. Good news for the generations to come. 
The best part of our conversation though was about NS's philosophy of life, and that happened over a glass of beer at the Place Luxembourg, in Brussels, in one of the square's packed caf├ęs, filled with EU civil servants after a day's 'heavy' toil.
"I live by two rules", NS sez. 
"Rule Number One!". 
I leaned forward. I was really dying with curiosity! 
"I don't work with ass-holes. Done it for too long; I'm sick and tired of them. So that's it!" 
I hardly had the time to react, and there he goes again... 
"Rule Number Two", he utters! 
"I only drink good wine! Not that cheap shit that pretends to taste like wine, neither the top expensive stuff that's only good for the show-offs. Just good wine. Good people drink good wine. Drinking good wine brings you closer to good people. Agree?"
I couldn't agree more. The simplicity of such words of wisdom coming from a man, whose life in the corporate hallways of his own company and many other Premier League business players was good for a couple bestsellers on management practices, simply overwhelmed me. Many of us who have been or still are active in middle to top management positions forget far too often to listen and summarize/conclude what we learned. I have personally tried to listen as much as possible, especially to those with more extended experience than mine. I feel lucky to have done this. On the downside, I also worked for a guy for (thankfully under) one year, a lot younger than me, who displayed a supreme arrogance pretending he knew it all. And he was much less exposed than even myself to corporate experience of any sort. He actually never worked in any large corporation, US or Western European. Nevertheless, he thought he knew it all. I hate attitudes like that!
The other interesting thing NS said was about the feeling many at top positions indulge, pretending they are better people than anyone else. "The fact I found myself at a certain position for a period of time doesn't make me a more capable person than anyone else with more or less the same qualifications", he said. "It's all about a few lines of position titles on a business card that we carry in our professional lives. The moment you walk out of your position and retire, it's all gone. You are just like anybody else". This statement is so fundamental... but unfortunately, many folks in corporate top positions (quite a few among them in their Peter's chairs indeed) think of themselves like the 'salt of the Earth'. They keep texting and emailing even in their sleep. I used to say to my folks long ago, "do you believe the world will stop spinning the day you pass? C'm on, get a life". Remember folks, humility never killed anyone. Trust me on this...

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