Venture Capital Prefers US Market

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Venture Capital firms talk a good game when it comes to internationally diversifying their portfolio, but how aggressively do they really seek offshore investment opportunities? According to a recent study published Deloitte & Touche and the National Venture Capital Association apparently not very often. It seems that VCs feel that domestic investments are more attractive when contrasted to expatriating their capital abroad. While I don’t doubt that the US is a more mature, stable and certainly familiar market, I do question the study’s findings that it’s a more attractive market. In this blog post I’ll give the other side of the story from the perspective of someone who has been doing business internationally since the mid 80’s. 

The 2006 Global Venture Capital Survey polled 505 venture capitalists with 53% of the respondents stating that they are looking to invest abroad in the next 5 years. I have two questions: Why wait 5 years, and what in the world are the other 47% of the VC’s that were polled thinking? It is not just a cliché that this is a global economy. From a business perspective the world is getting smaller and smaller. For early stage investors with a strong risk tolerance it seems to me that venture capital firms are missing the boat. With the benefits of tax advantages, currency leverage, smart aggressive entrepreneurs and burgeoning economies why is there not more interest in going abroad? The answer can be boiled down to four words: Fear of the unknown… 

There is no doubt that history has proven ill-conceived foreign investments to be fraught with peril. However the operative word in the aforementioned sentence is “ill-conceived”.  I’m not suggesting that VCs not familiar with the intricacies of foreign markets should run off half-cocked and make foolish investments, but I am suggesting that they should not wait 5 years, or even worse, not consider foreign investments at all. Venture Capital firms need to get of the dime and immediately hire tier one talent with international experience, begin establishing key professional relationship abroad and start doing their market research. 

The upside in emerging markets is tremendous and the opportunities five years from now will certainly not be what they are today. VCs looking to maximize returns should be looking to make allocations to markets like India, China, Brazil and former eastern block countries among others. I am as patriotic as the next person, but the US is not going to be able to maintain the dominant financial position it has held for decades as the economies of these giant emerging markets continue to develop. Moreover the increased flow of funds into capital markets is causing increased competitive pressure to place funds here domestically, and with to much capital chasing too few quality deals valuations are rapidly escalating. Tight investment supply and strong money supply is just one of many reasons venture capital firms should be looking abroad. 

The bottom line is this…Those venture capital firms that make a first movers play into foreign markets will capture the best relationships, establish a foothold in the market with their brand and will ride the wave of economic growth abroad. 

Interview with Ecademy’s Penny Power

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Penny PowerWith the unprecedented growth and undeniable success of the Blogosphere, Rupert Murdoch paying $580 million dollars to purchase MySpace, Facebook’s valuation resting comfortably in excess of $1 Billion dollars, and venture capitalists tripping all over each other to fund social networking companies before the ink is even dry on their business plans there is little doubt that social networking is at the forefront of today’s business climate. I recently had the opportunity to interview Penny Power, the founder of Ecademy. Ecademy, founded in 1998 is not only one of social networking’s pioneers, but having in excess of 80,000 members in more than 100 countries worldwide and operating in the black, Ecademy is also the leader in social networking for business. In the interview that follows you’ll have the opportunity to hear the inside story on social networking and one of its hottest companies.

Mike Myatt: Tell our readers a bit about your backgroud?

Penny Power: I am 42, born in 1964, I have been married for 16 wonderful years, my husband and I work together, which is a dream come true. We have 3 children and live in the country side in Southern England. During my pre-children years I worked in the IT Industry as a Sales and Marketing Director. My childhood goal was to be in a vocational career, helping Cerebral Palsic children but that was ruined by lack of qualifications, how ridiculous! My belief in life has always been about helping others and making each day better for those I come into contact with, I have learnt that this can be achieved in any environment, not just in the caring professions!

Mike Myatt: What was the vision behind founding Ecademy?

Penny Power: In 1998 Thomas Power became a self employed worker, choosing to do so to focus on his passion toward the Internet, Thomas became a well known speaker and writer in Europe. Due to Thomas’ natural networking ability he had thousands of people that became his advocates and also needed his help in the exciting period of the Internet Boom. I suggested to Thomas on the 7th February 1998, whilst having lunch with all the children, that I start a place on the Internet where his contacts could all get to know one another and he could share his network with others. It was a hobby, a vocation and a joy, at this time it was not a business idea! Thomas came up with the name Ecademy whilst on a flight to speak in the US.

Mike Myatt: Social Networking is obviously much more than a business for you Why?

Penny Power: Ecademy’s funding bricks are based on passion. We say that I am the heart of Ecademy, Thomas is the brain and Glenn Watkins, who has been with us from the start, is the Nervous System, he is our CEO. The members are the pulse. When we first began I contacted the first 1000 members and got to know them. Thomas already knew them and Glenn built the site around their needs. Ecademy has always been about subscription. Ecademy cares deeply about the experience that the members are having, they are our customers, they feed us and they matter. We believe that Social Networks have a social responsibility, that the owners should look after them, protect them as much as they can, and ensure that by them being part of the network, their lives advance in some way, emotionally or financially, there must be a gain. Ecademy is a subscription based network, a member can only be a Guest for 14 days, after that they must make a commitment and become a paid subscriber. This allows us to ensure authenticity, which in itself, protects the members from fake identities, and it also ensures that those that do join are committed to being part of the community and contribute. We teach Relationships First and Commerce Second, that is true networking, not spamming or growing a contact list.

Mike Myatt: What would be the benefits a new member could expect from joining Ecademy?

Penny Power: It depends what they want. To begin they create a great profile of themselves that begins the process of building their reputation. The tools on Ecademy have been written to allow members to experience networking from whatever angle they choose. Members can join clubs and be part of a small network, maybe more intimate and focused. They can Blog, in order to raise their profile and share their knowledge with the community and outside Ecademy through the 60 minute Google Indexing we do with content. They can advertise in our MarketPlace if they just want to do push marketing or source a supplier. They can attend offline meetings, if they prefer face to face. Basically, if they are a professional person, who wants to get known and is willing to share their knowledge and create a great reputation as a good person Ecademy can provide the tools. The most important point is that we believe life is about giving in order to receive. The best Networkers are the ones that truly live by this value and by helping, they are needed, and by being needed they are respected, and this leads to advocates and business.

Mike Myatt: How is Ecademy different than other social networking sites?

Penny Power: There is a difference between networks and communities and there is a difference between contacts and relationships. Members say they belong to Ecademy, rather than they use Ecademy. They know we care about them, they have the tools to tell us if they are ever upset by another member’s behaviour, such as spamming, abuse, Scams, blatant selling, all these things put the power into their hands. Ecademy’s role is to provide an increasing Network Size and whilst doing this create the environment to allow safe social interaction and trust. We take this very seriously. It is my role to ensure that Ecademy feels good every day.

Mike Myatt: What inspired you to write “A Friend in Every City”?

Penny Power: Thomas! This is his 6th Book on the subject of Networking. He travels the world and has been so thrilled to have ‘A Friend in Every City’ he goes to. The world is getting smaller, and the need to learn and share thoughts across the globe is becoming easier. We believe in creating random friendships, that build you as a person, teaches you more than you could ever read and helps you to have empathy with the world. When Thomas travels, and many of our members share the same experience, he stays with members, he gets collected from the airport, he learns about the places he goes to and he makes friends, It makes him feel safe and it takes away the loneliness and isolation that staying away from your family can give you.

Mike Myatt: What has been the feedback from readers of “A Friend in Every City”?

Penny Power: We have had some wonderful stories from them, we have heard that the book has opened their minds and their hearts. We have heard it has taught the reader a great deal about social networks and we hope that as a result, those that read it learn how to utilise all the excellent social networks that exist on the Internet

Mike Myatt: Now that you’re a published author what advice would you give those considering writing their first book?

Penny Power: The most important thing to me about everyone’s lives is to discover why they exist, the unique thing that they have that makes everyone that they come into contact with, feel better for meeting them. Once you know what this, capture it, share it and live by it each day. Get into your flame and learn how to make that work for you, in your heart and in your pocket. That means emotionally with relationships and financially – in business. Then write about this. Share it one to many.

Mike Myatt: Who are your favorite authors and why?

Penny Power: Do you know, I do not read! I learn everything from people. I read Celestine Prophecy in 1997, and I guess that inspired me to create Ecademy, but, I am fortunate that Thomas is an enormous reader, infact, when we got married, I pledged, in front of the vicar, that I would never stop him from reading! He gives me so much knowledge, and I then interpret it and learn from it.

Mike Myatt: If you could offer our readers one piece of advice what would that be?

Penny Power: Be yourself, be proud of at least one thing about yourself, and connect with your heart not your brain! Skills are now ten a penny (English phrase!) but what is in your heart, your passion and your talent is unique. I believe that people remember people in their hearts, they are motivated to bring back a memory of you, only if you have made an impression of you in their heart.

Mike Myatt: What’s next for Penny Power?

Penny Power: Well now, firstly, let me explain that thanks to Glenn, our CEO, Julian Bond our CTO, Thomas, and our members, I have still been able to be a full time mum! Apart from 5 hours on a Wednesday, when our Fairy God Mother arrives, I am with the children all the time. They go to school obviously, and this allows me to do a lot of work, they also sleep! So I can work then. Ecademy as you can probably tell has been a huge journey of risk, discovery and joy. I have ideas for the future, and they reside around making Social Networks safer for Children, BUT, if I told Glenn and Thomas this, they would probably lock me up, Ecademy is quite enough and we all love it.

Private Equity vs. Venture Capital

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Based upon numerous requests from N2growth Blog readers and subscribers I will be publishing my advice and opinions in answer to your questions each Monday in a new series creatively named: “Myatt on Mondays“. Any questions related to the topic of business in general (Branding, Finance, Leadership, Talent Management, Marketing, Sales, PR, Strategy, etc.) are fair game. While I will do my best to accommodate as many requests as possible, the reality is that not all submissions will be accepted. Furthermore, because I am only going to publish an answer to one question each week it may be sometime before your answer is published (assuming your request is accepted). Therefore if you need immediate response, please mark your inquiry accordingly and I will attempt to contact you directly. Now that the ground rules are out of the way the first question I’ll answer is: “What is the difference between Venture Capital and Private Equity?”

The text book answer that would be given by most B-School professors is that venture capital is a subset of a larger private equity asset class which includes venture capital, LBO’s, MBO’s, MBI’s, bridge and mezzanine investments. Historically venture capital investors have provided high risk equity capital to start-up and early stage companies whereas private equity firms have provided secondary traunches of equity and mezzanine investments to companies that are more mature in their corporate lifecycle. Again, traditionally speaking, venture capital firms have higher hurdle rate expectations, will be more mercenary with their valuations (please see an earlier post on valuations) and will be more onerous in their constraints on management than will private equity firms.

While the above descriptions are technically correct and have largely held true to form from a historical perspective, the lines between venture capital and private equity investments have been blurred by increased competition in the capital markets over the last 18 €“ 24 months. With the robust, if not frothy state of the capital markets today there is far too much capital chasing too few quality deals. The increased pressure on the part of money managers, investment advisors, fund managers and capital providers to place funds is at an all time high. This excess money supply has created more competition between investors, driving valuations up for entrepreneurs and yields down for investors.

This increased competition among investors has forced both venture capital and private equity firms to expand their respective horizons in order to continue to capture new opportunities. Over the last 12 months I have seen an increase in private equity firms willing to consider earlier stage companies and venture capital firms lowering yield requirements to be more competitive in securing later stage opportunities.

The moral of this story is that if you are an entrepreneur seeking investment capital your timing is good. While the traditional rules of thumb first explained above can be used as a basic guideline for determining investor suitability, don’t let traditional guidelines keep you from exploring all types of capital providers. While some of the ground rules may be changing your capital formation goals should remain the same: entertain proposals from venture capital investors, private equity firms, hedge funds, and angel investors while attempting to work throughout the entire capital structure to seek the highest possible valuation at the lowest blended cost of capital while maintaining the most control possible.

WiMAX Anyone?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

If you’re not familiar with WiMAX you may want to take a few minutes to read this blog post because it is the next big thing in wireless broadband Internet access. WiMAX (Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access) is like WiFi on steroids. It is a second generation protocol that allows for increased bandwidth efficiency (download speeds up to 1.5Mb), improved interference avoidance and will provide access to much higher data rates over longer distances. Whereas WiFi has a range of 300+/- feet, WiMAX has a range of up to 30 miles for fixed stations and up to 10 miles for wireless stations. This is not a far-off reality as it is already available in many locations around the US. This is more than just a new technology advancement, as WiMAX will have a far reaching ripple effect on business and capital markets as well.

Does anyone remember Craig McCaw or wonder what he’s been up to lately? For those of you not familiar with Craig McCaw, he was an early cellular pioneer whose phone network caught Ma Bell asleep at the switch. McCaw eventually sold his cellular phone empire to AT&T for almost $12BB (that’s billion with a B) dollars. As you may have guessed by this introduction, McCaw is now well positioned to do the same thing to today’s cable, satellite and phone companies with WiMAX that he did to Ma Bell with cellular technology.

McCaw’s new company Clearwire founded in October of 2003 has now aggregated enough licensed radio spectrum to establish a nationwide network. In addition to having the licensing rights, McCaw has also secured powerful industry partnerships and funding (the most recent example of which is a $900 million dollar investment on July 5th from Motorola and Intel) that virtually guaranty that he will be successful in engineering his latest coup.

McCaw is already live and selling the service in many markets in Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina and is bringing more markets online with a high degree of velocity.

So, other than cool new technology that will improve your Internet experience what makes this so interesting? First of all, I’m just a big fan of Craig McCaw. It is a rare and admirable feat in business when David can conquer Goliath (and Goliaths’ don’t come much bigger than the telecomm companies), and McCaw is about to do it for a second time…You have to love this guy…

While McCaw is not likely to put Verizon, Sprint, etc., out of business, McCaw’s ability to bring a nationwide WiMAX network to the market may make it incredibly difficult for them to recoup their huge investments into the roll-out of their fiber-optic networks. If McCaw is successful with Clearwire it is likely that the stocks of phone companies and cable providers may take a substantial hit as analysts ding their ability to retain customers, increase revenue and recoup capital investments into new technologies.

While nothing is a slam dunk in the world of technology, I would strongly recommend keeping a close eye on WiMAX, Craig McCaw and Clearwire.

The Current Situation in the Mid East

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Let me begin by saying that I have no direct stake in this fight as I’m neither Arab nor Jew. That being said we all have an indirect stake in that conflicts in the Middle East have a direct impact on how we live and do business. If asked I’ll certainly give you my religious, military or philosophical opinion, but this is after all a business blog, and for purposes of this post I’ll focus mainly on the business impact of the current goings on in the Mid East.

If you paid attention to the economic news on Friday you’ll note that the price of crude oil briefly topped $78 dollars a barrel before closing at a record high in excess of $77 dollars a barrel. If you’ve refueled lately you’ll notice that this has translated into gasoline prices averaging roughly $3.00 dollars per gallon in the US. Fuel prices are now forecasted by many analysts to push $4.00 per gallon in the near future and rise perhaps as high as $5.00 per gallon by the fall. While my crystal ball is certainly no better than anyone else’s, I do believe that we all need to brace for the economic trickle down that is just now beginning.

As events in Lebanon and Israel escalated over the weekend, combined with heightened appearances that Syria and Iran are aiding Hezbollah and Hamas, the beginning of civilian evacuations, and with what was at best tepid commentary coming from the UN and G8 it is likely that we are in for a longer haul than what many analysts originally thought.

Here in the US we are now seeing auto manufacturers offering very aggressive incentives to continue to roll product off the lot. Sales of economy cars and hybrids are robust while sales of the models considered “gas hogs” are slowing rapidly. Businesses that have any direct and indirect correlation to transportation will likely consider price hikes if they haven’t already begun to raise prices. The housing markets trend away from suburban development and toward new urbanism will only likely continue as people attempt to reduce the cost of their commute time.

If the conflict in the Mid East continues to escalate with no clear end in sight we will all start to experience everything from increased prices at the check-out lines at grocery stores to general cost increases across the board for most goods and services. As the cost of living continues to rise and consumer confidence is shaken, reduced spending could cause an already fragile economy to sputter.

I’m not a dooms-dayer nor am I particularly bearish in my outlook, but I do believe in facing reality. Regardless of your religious, military or philosophical position, the current situation in the Middle East demands a global focus and an unequaled sense of urgency in bringing resolve to this matter. While as much as I’d like to believe there is an easy fix, I’m not sure if there is any permanent solution to the problems in the Middle East. However it is essential that to protect our economic well being that all necessary political, diplomatic and military solutions be brought to bear to restore a sense of stablility to the region as rapidly as possible.

As most of you know I am naturally an optomistic sort…That being said there are always opportunities that present themselves even in the most tragic of circumstances. Businesses that focus on alternative energy, government and military contracts, virtual communications and other sectors that can capitalize on an energy crisis will do well in the coming weeks and months ahead. 

Closing on a more personal note, my family and I have friends currently living in the region and want them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them. We also pray for the other people directly impacted by the current state of affairs in the Mid East, especially our troops serving in the region.

Interview with Phil Gerbyshak

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Phil GerbyshakOne of the requests I’ve had of late is to begin conducting interviews with Authors, CEO’s and other business personalities that would be of interest our readers. Well, ask and you shall receive….I first stumbled across Phil Gerbyshak on the blogosphere by posting a comment on an article he authored. An e-mail dialogue ensued, and a few weeks later Phil and I have learned that we have many things in common…A passion for personal development and learning, a love for baseball, and an admiration of Zig Ziglar among other things. My hope is that I will be the first one to put Phil Gerbyshak on your radar screen, and that you can follow along with what I believe is truly one of the rising stars in the personal develop business. May I introduce Phil Gerbyshak, author and speaker. On to the interview…

Mike Myatt: Where did you grow up and who were your earliest influences and why?

Phil Gerbyshak: I was raised in Crivitz, WI (population 996). My earliest influence was my first baseball coach, Wayne Baumann. He taught me to practice like you play, to work hard, play the game the right way, and no matter what you do, to always have a positive attitude. This is information that even now, I think about every day.

Mike Myatt: Personal development is clearly a passion of yours…Why?

Phil Gerbyshak: I firmly believe if I’m not learning, I’m not living, so I focus on developing myself as much as I can. I also realized that the only person I can truly motivate is me. So I try to be as motivated as I can, and I hope that rubs off on others and inspires them to take action and develop into the amazing people we are all called to become.

Mike Myatt: “Make It Great!” seems to be somewhat of a personal life statement for you…Please explain.

Phil Gerbyshak: Make it Great IS a life statement of mine, you are absolutely right. Make It Great! is my alternative to have a nice day. MAKE means that there’s activity behind whatever you do instead of just something you have in your hand. And GREAT is the alternative to nice. It means I’m not just settling for whatever is handed to me, I’m going out and getting it, developing it, and making it great, whatever IT is at the present time for me. I do everything all the way and Making It Great is the only viable alternative I see.

Mike Myatt: You just authored your first book. What inspired you to write “10 Ways To Make It Great”?

Phil Gerbyshak: I’ve read a LOT of self-development and motivation books. Some have really inspired me, and some have really confused me and left me wondering “How can I apply this to my life?” After reading about 50 books in 2004, I realized in early 2005 I had something to say about the self-development scene, so I started blogging about what I thought Make It Great! was. I also started thinking more about what has really been most successful for me and summed it up into 10 steps, 10 ways, that we all can Make It Great! I put together not just what has been successful (the theory) but also HOW we can do this, (the action steps). My book is set up with 10 theories and action steps you can take right now to crank your life up and really Make It Great!

Mike Myatt: What is your favorite quote and why?

Phil Gerbyshak:“You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want” – Zig Ziglar. I firmly believe that the more people you help, the more good you can do in the world. The more good you do in the world, the better the world is, and eventually, you will get what you want. There’s no such thing as an overnight success; helping as many people as you can is the fastest way I’ve found to be successful.

Mike Myatt: Who are your favorite authors and why?

Phil Gerbyshak:My favorite author is John Maxwell. Dr. Maxwell’s message is always on point about leadership and self-improvement, and he is always relevant. His book “REAL Leadership” is a favorite of mine, as it takes on Relationships, Ethics, Attitudes and Leadership, 4 topics that are in short supply in many folks normally thought to be leaders. I also love to read Tim Sanders’ books, specifically “Love is the Killer App.” Tim’s messages are always about likeability and love, and the more human side of leadership and life.

Mike Myatt: What are you currently reading?

Phil Gerbyshak:I’m finishing “Get Your Ship Together” by D. Michael Abrashoff and will be moving into “The 360 Degree Leader” by John Maxwell soon. I’m also going to be listening to “Inspiration” by Wayne Dyer, which is a great way to learn!

Mike Myatt: If you could offer our readers one piece of advice what would that be?

Phil Gerbyshak:Never stop learning! With podcasts, blogs, audio books, websites, newsletters and more, you have more information at your fingertips than ever before. Pick a topic or 3, and become an expert!

Mike Myatt: What’s next for Phil Gerbyshak?

Phil Gerbyshak: I’m currently doing some speaking engagements about self-improvement, leadership and motivation and I hope to do more in the future. I’m also going to be working on the sequel to my book, called “10 More Ways to Make It Great!”, and I expect to have it ready sometime in 2008.

To get a copy of his book or for more information on Phil Gerbyshak please visit his blog.

How’s Your Elevator Pitch?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

One of the first and most important professional communication techniques I was taught in business was the importance of developing an “Elevator Pitch” a very short statement describing what it is that you do. In fifty words or less (about 30 €“ 45 seconds) you should be able to communicate who you are, what you do, who you do it for and how people benefit from what you do.

What I have come to realize over the years, is that while even the most novice of sales people tend to have an elevator pitch, very few C-suite executives or entrepreneurs have adopted the practice. Moreover, most of the elevator pitches that I hear are not very effective and have obviously not been refined to the point of becoming a strategic advantage. In fact many times even if the professional has developed an elevator pitch, they don’t use it.

It’s almost as if there is some unwritten rule that once you’ve achieved a certain station in life that you can ignore the basic fundamentals of good business and coast along resting solely on your laurels It is the people that subscribe to this theory that seem to fall the farthest, fastest and hardest I would strongly recommend that wherever you are in your career that you always pay attention to the basics that made you the successful person that you are today.

I believe so strongly in the value of a good elevator pitch that I have developed nearly 20 different variations which allow for their appropriate use based on environment, audience, need, service line, time availability, context, and situation. This gives me the ability to make a quick assessment of the situation at hand and to put my proverbial “best foot forward.”

A well crafted elevator pitch will allow you to introduce yourself with credibility that engenders confidence while you are communicating a strong benefit statement that addresses a fear, need or potential painful situation Put simply, it sets the hook. Here is the technique that I use and that I teach to my clients:

My name is (name, title, company) I specialize in assisting (target audience) with (value proposition). This can normally be done in fifty words or less (if the introduction has already been made with significantly fewer words) which can then be followed up by a short example of how you can help someone achieve their goal, overcome their fear or avoid a painful situation Following are a few examples of my elevator pitches:

Version 1:  This is my informal version that I use when the introduction has already been made and I’m asked what I do for a living “I help people align their energies and efforts with their passions because it’s simply been my experience that most people’s daily actions are not in true alignment with their goals.” 30 words

Version 2:  “My name is Mike Myatt. I’m the managing director at N2growth and we specialize in helping executives build a dominant personal brand so that they can achieve both increased job security and maximize earnings ability.” 35 words

Version 3: “My name is Mike Myatt. I’m the managing director at N2growth and we specialize in helping executives who are not happy with their current situation by serving as a catalyst for positive change and growth.” 35 words

Version 4: “My name is Mike Myatt. I’m the managing director at N2growth and we specialize in assisting C-suite executives and entrepreneurs with growing their revenue, their talent and their brand.” 29 words

Version 5: “My name is Mike Myatt. I’m the managing director at N2growth and we specialize in taking executives who are spread too thin and show them how to regain control by maximizing their impact and leveraging their resources.”  37 words

Each of the elevator pitches above has a short story that provides an example in support the statement made and demonstrates how we’ve been successful at achieving the desired outcome with others. 

A good elevator pitch can be used as a personal or corporate branding tool that can serve you well in both business and social environments. It can serve as an introduction or calling card, an ice-breaker or attention grabber, the lead-in to a sales presentation, VC or private equity pitch, a networking tool or a myriad of other beneficial applications.

Create your elevator pitch today then practice it, never stop refining it, and most importantly, use it frequently.

Casting Stones

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

There has been much written about the life and death of Ken Lay since he passed away earlier this week. I have long made it a point not to sit in judgment of others as it is very difficult to properly connect the dots from afar. It is my belief that there are indeed at least two sides to every story and that what often times appears in the media as hard news can actually be editorial commentary that may or may not portray the reality of a given situation. Furthermore, just knowing someone who knows someone will rarely even provide you with accurate information relating to the actual events of a situation especially one veiled in controversy.

Regardless of how you feel about Mr. Lay I was truly disheartened at many of the things that I read relating to his death. He was after all more than a businessman he was a human being who was a husband, father, grandfather, church member and was active in his community. I always find it tragic when people’s lives are reduced to gossip and innuendo. Humans are imperfect creatures and I have yet to come across any business leader who can’t rattle off several decisions that they wish they hadn’t made. It just so happens that some mistakes are more public than others and for most people it is much easier to point the finger at those who have been in the spotlight rather than to deal with their own private indiscretions.

OK, I’ll climb down from my soap box for a moment and provide you with the perspective of others. I’ve read several different pieces written about Mr. Lay over the past few days, but I believe the following three individuals cover the topic at hand from every angle. While the comments below specifically address the life of Ken Lay, I would encourage you to take a step back and read the following commentary with the bigger picture in mind As you read the following comments think about your perspective on people as well as about how you choose to view life in general:

Comment #1, obviously written by a critic of Mr. Lay:

“Lay had recently been convicted of a plethora of felonies, and was staring at the realization that he would most likely be spending the rest of his life in jail. Obviously, this news makes that scenario moot, and I’m sure that there are numerous lawyers, jurors, and reporters who feel like they just wasted a good chunk of their lives during the recent trials.

The mainstream media seems to be flirting with turning Kenny-Boy into a martyr, almost portraying him as the victim of a stressful trial and prosecution. I believe this to be total crap. Whether Lay knew about every single corrupt practice at Enron or not, and I believe that he did, his company screwed over a ton of people, and as the head of the corporation the blame must fall on his shoulders. His rise from very poor beginnings in my home state, graduating from my alma mater, and eventually becoming the head of a major energy company are certainly commendable and impressive. The downfall of that fraudulent and crooked company, however, was criminal, and Lay deserved everything that he got. It’s a damn shame that he’s dead, because seeing him led away to prison might have given those that were burned by his sham of a company some peace.”

Comment #2, obviously written by someone who knew and respected Mr. Lay that provides the flip side of opinion #1 above:

“Ken Lay was a deacon at FMC Houston. There he chose to serve the homeless communion each Sunday. There he befriended the poor. There he gave money for food, clothing, and shelter. His gifts were with his heart. People who knew this gentle man would not recognize him by the media’s descriptions.

Ken returned to Enron to save the company from problems. He did not know Andy Fastow, the CFO was lying to investors with creative accounting. Why would he come back to a company he founded and take up and put on the mantle of a conspiracy that outdated him? Ken had a margin call an order from the bank to sell his Enron stock, because of declining capital value. That is why he sold the stock. Ken believed in the company, believed what Fastow was telling him.

Please go to Ken Lay and read the court transcripts, and view the meetings in which he is accused of touting Enron stock to investors. In those meetings he is straightforward, honest, and tells the accounting dept. “Vanilla is just fine ” meaning as I come back to lead, we need no creative accounting. Please don’t take your view of Ken from newspaper reports and a jury that did not understand finance.”

Comment #3, this opinion taken from the New York Times and falls somewhere between comments 1 & 2 above:

“Mr. Lay was fairly convicted of his crimes, but he was also a father and grandfather, whose family mourns his passing. He was headed for the penitentiary, but that did not have to be the end for him. He would have had an opportunity to use his personal skills to help other prisoners. And at 64 years, he might have had another shot at that third act after all. Michael Milken has devoted much of his resources to medical research since serving his sentence. What Ken Lay might have done we will never know. Chances are it would have been interesting.”

OK, back-up on my soap box…Wrongdoing is certainly wrongdoing and good intentions don’t justify deviant behavior. That being said, experience tells me that there is probably some truth in all of the above statements, but the bigger issue is not how we feel about Mr. Lay, but how we treat other individuals in general during both the best of times and in worst of times. Don’t allow yourself to be a fair weather friend or a gossip Rather understand that most of us are not privy to the inner thoughts of others and their motivations. We need to keep in mind that all people make mistakes and that mistakes don’t necessarily make you evil they just make you human.