London, 5 years gone

It has been an excellent week in London, most especially because of the opportunity to reconnect with London Business School colleagues during the MBA 2003 class reunion. I'd guess that about 1/3 of the class turned up for at least one of the events of the 3 day weekend reunion, mostly drawn from those still living in London. Some traveled from as far away as Japan, and a few of us came in from the US as well. (Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Stream A had the highest turnout.)

Many people have achieved great success in the banking, consulting, and other industry sectors in the context of large corporations. Those who came to London from afar and have returned to their home countries have risen to extraordinarily high positions (Asia in particular). But it was also great to see some of the class who have taken more of the entrepreneurial route. It's always nice to have a few kindred spirits.

Since most people have focused on their careers (and families - but more on that later) with one exception from Italy they haven't had time for political activism and were keen to hear my stories about what it was like to run for Congress. Although that seems like a lifetime ago for me, for people I haven't seen or talked to in several years it is the freshest thing in their mind. Though I'm desensitized to it, having it explained it dozens upon dozens of times, I suppose the history of how I ended up exporting cars to Senegal as a result of a visit to Iraq and a French media company is rather unusual.

The most incredible element though was seeing so many of my colleagues married and with beautiful young children.

Of course, I also very much appreciated the intellectual stimulation of being back on campus. As part of the reunion, there were several presentations organized for the alumni that I found very stimulating.

Sir John Egan, from the first graduating class of the London Business SchoolFirst of all was the talk given by Sir John Egan, a graduate of London Business School very first class over 40 years ago. Egan made his mark by turning around Jaguar Motors, a state-run company eventually purchased by Ford, and had a fruitful career in the automotive and logistics sectors.

When Egan began his remarks, his accent struck me. He retained a good deal of English inflection, but I suspected that he probably spent some time in the US. As his comments unfolded, he revealed that he had spent a good deal of time in Canada. But he did not explain that move as a routine, company-sponsored expatriation. Astonishingly, Egan explained that Britain in the mid 70s had become an absolute disaster. His income tax rate climbed to 83% (!!!) and he told us that he figured he had better leave the country while the getting was good, somewhat expecting that he would have to turn out the lights as the last professional to leave. I hope the US can right the ship before Murray Sabrin's admonition comes true, and high-income Americans begin to leave for greener, less taxed pastures.

Egan spoke with admiration of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the work that she led to improve the health of the UK economy, including privatization and deregulation. But he mentioned one particular element that I found quite telling - the introduction of secret ballots in labor union elections. Let's think about this - the UK improved its economy by giving each employee the right to vote in a private and protected manner - and yet today in the US, nearly 30 years later, the Democrats and their puppet-masters from the big unions want to approve the "card check" procedure, in which all manner of cajoling, threatening, and bribing can keep unions in power with little accountability from their members.

However, Egan expressed confidence in the central banking system and the ability of governments to manage the economy. He felt that the government finance organs of today, including the Bank of England, can better control inflation and prevent economic crises. We will have to part company on that matter, I'm afraid.

The following day, a 2-part lecture on the theme of innovation was given by Organizational Behavior Professor Lynda Gratton, and Strategy Professor Costas Markides. I found Gratton's talk to be very stimulating. She covered how companies can organize themselves and implement policies that foster innovation.

Among her most interesting points:
  • Compensation has practically no impact on innovation - she cited the case of Wikipedia or Linux, in which communities of unpaid volunteers create an extremely innovative environment
  • Cooperation is a learned behavior - it is a habit, not a skill
  • In a leadership role, undivided attention is the greatest gift one can offer
  • Happiness or satisfaction should not be confused with innovation
Following Gratton can the very entertaining Costas Markides, who gave a lecture entitled "The Traps of Innovation", chock full of examples and anecdotes on companies that had redefined who their customers were and what they really offered.

All the time, I was thinking about the political impact of these business theories on campaigns, and what steps could be taken to apply them to campaigns to make them more effective. After the talk, I ran into fellow blogger Mike Klein, a European-based Democrat operative in the midst of celebrating his 10 year reunion, and discovered that he had been thinking about these ideas for much longer. His approach flowed in the other direction - how to apply the qualities of successful political campaigns to corporate organizations. Mike is writing a book on this topic, which I look forward to reading and absorbing.

Nobody loves you anymore, BillOf course, my trip to London was not without other political serendipity. While window shopping on New Bond Street, I happened to run into former US President Bill Clinton, who was in town for some Africa-related charity work.
I was on the opposite side of the street, and took the chance to snap a photo (Clinton is in the orange shirt and the trousers that are too short).
I suppose I should have crossed over to say something, but I didn’t fancy getting pounded by the Secret Service for telling Clinton:
  1. Thanks for failing to identify terrorist threats both at home and abroad, enabling the pathetic minions of bin Laden to plot a major attack on America using box cutters
  2. Thanks for stretching our military too thin, cementing the impression around the globe that America is the world’s policeman
  3. Thanks for bungling the Israel-Syria peace talks that could have dramatically improved stability in the Middle East
  4. Thanks for completing eroding respect for the American Presidency with your carnal pleasures in the Oval Office
  5. Thanks for keeping Alan Greenspan around to further abuse the power of the Federal Reserve
Thanks for nothing, Bill!