Guest post by Isabel Draves
Well, I promised I'd be back with
more, and here I am. It was a true pleasure to go upstairs to dinner
last night after the reception, and have every detail taken care of.
Susan Bird made sure the tables in the "back" did not feel any less
important by speaking from the back of the room herself, and mixing up
the table numbers so there was no status in being associated with table
5 as opposed to 18. After dinner when we filed out there were swag
bags (I'll get to that later) and they had moved the coat check
upstairs - it was definitely a nice touch to be able to give our coats
when we walked in and get it back on a different floor when we walked
I didn't mention it in my previous post, but the main sponsor of the event was NYSE Euronext, and they didn't hesitate to give the assembled group of executives a warm welcome. Dinner was delicious, starting with a caesar salad, moving on to an entree of a sizeable filet mignon which was perfectly cooked and terrific, and ending with a chocolate cake bombe served with a layer of chocolate that had these crunchy little toffee crumbles dusted around the edges... but I digress. One of the speakers was talking about America's obesity problem during dessert so I wasn't able to finish it, which is just as well, as it probably had as many calories as the rest of the meal combined.
To take us into the evening we had a welcome message from Lisa Dallmer, EVP of exchange traded products at NYSE Euronext. Her introduction, given by Susan, was a stunner, when we heard about some snowboarding injuries (this is why I don't snowboard) that didn't keep her from going on a trip to Whistler. Lisa joked that the introduction was so glowing, she'd like to meet this woman herself!
The key points from her remarks were that although the recent past has been a challenge, the lesson learned is that trust is fragile. Without trust you lose lending and entrepreneurship, and the public loses faith in government. Lisa mentioned that although asset prices are up 50%, only 1 in 4 Americans recently polled expressed confidence in the economy (sorry, I don't have this data source). It takes years to build trust, but only a moment to bring it down. Her point was that the answer lies in "smarter regulation" - of course she advocated against "over-regulation".
To define her terms, she explained that where risks justify the need, regulation is necessary, however "one size fits all" regulation about the roles of ceos or board directors, given the differences in the sizes and styles of public companies, would be excessive. To my mind it's a tough time to make a speech that even touches on how to restore confidence in the economy (because everyone is still so raw and some people are being demonized), and Lisa handled it well.
After Lisa's welcome, Susan stepped back in to invite us all to
"enter into a conversation with the intent to be changed by it." What
if, she suggested, you thought of the other people sitting with you at
your table as your own dinner guests? What conversation will you have?
It's your party. I liked this approach, because mostly you're sitting
with strangers and it's hard to just jump into a group conversation.
Throughout dinner, different speakers both on video and at the podium
invited attendees to discuss conversational topics that they threw out
there. The one that I seized upon was Mr. Shelly Palmer's (he's the
president of the national academy of television arts and sciences in NY
and managing director of the Advanced Media Ventures Group) question,
"What if all the content of the traditional media industry were 100%
I'm paraphrasing here because I got too involved in the conversation to transcribe it, but I jumped in to start the discussion at our table by referencing the recently leaked Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Memo (want to download it?) that sneaks in third-party liability for average internet users' posting of copyrighted content. I couldn't remember exactly which treaty it was at the time, partly because it seems weird to tuck online copyright stuff into a counterfeit trade agreement. Anyway, it seems to me that companies that feature user-generated content are doing quite well checking things out when a complaint comes up and taking them down if they appear to infringe. But the new treaty proposes taking away the ISP's judgment to determine when to terminate accounts, by forcing automatic termination upon accusation without due process.
The obvious problem with this plan, which has been
proven problematic here in the US, is that it's an easy way to censor what someone
is saying without having any proof. As surely as a copyright holder
may not like it when someone parodies their work or excerpts it fairly,
these fair uses are protected by law and
deserving of trial. I have no problem with legitimately protecting
copyright but not everyone agrees on what fair use is and that's why we need due process.
Doing a little more research on the ACTA memo today online, I found the boing-boing article that neatly summarizes the problems. I was reminded that what the treaty proposes for sites that feature user-generated content aggregator -- like, for example, typepad, the blogging service upon which this very blog is hosted -- will create such a mountain of legal work that it would put all but the very richest content providers out of business. Of course, this is "great news" for any traditional media company with dreams to reclaim the virtual airwaves, which is why they have been lobbying so hard for it. But it ruins the Internet for the rest of us (and ruins it for traditional media too, if they would only recognize it - as some folks at my dinner table clearly did). The web would never have begun, or created such a huge part of our economy, if this treaty had been in place.
Of course much as I wanted to present my whole argument at dinner we
only had about 5 minutes to get into it, and 10 people who wanted to
say something, before the next speaker came at us with a new question.
With 30 seconds each, and me having hogged some of it, we barely had
time to hear opinions from Jane Friedman, CEO of the brand-new Open
Road Media and former President and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers;
David Cox, CFO and SVP of the Economist in the Americas; and Kay
Koplovitz, CEO of Koplovitz and Co. and the first woman to run a cable
channel, founder of the USA network and Sci-Fi Channel. I should have
been intimidated presenting my user-oriented social media perspective
to these heavy hitters but of course, thanks to Susan's exhortation,
they were all treating me as their personal dinner guest so I felt
quite at home.
By the way it was impossible for me to tell from Shelly's
deadpan presentation of his question, without knowing him, which side
he was on, but I did a little digging on the Internet and found a
couple of articles that provide some answers. Looks like he and I might have more in common than I expected from his question.
We had more speakers posing their "what if?" questions at dinner. I particularly enjoyed Maggie Wilderotter, Chair and CEO of Frontier Communications. They are providing a service as the largest provider of communications to rural areas. Maggie's message was that in a challenging financial environment it can be tempting to "ride it out", but this is a time for risk taking and sustained pressure on course correcting and getting the most out of people.
She credited her family dinner conversations at home for making her what she is today, and in particular her father for treating her and her sisters the same way she imagines he would have treated sons, had he had them. She asked us, "What if each of us made it a goal to sit down once a week with family for dinner conversation? What if corporate boards all had 3 or 4 women?" I loved that last comment in particular, because as we all know if a board decides to make a point of including a woman, it does just that, includes a woman. Stepping back for a moment to Susan's suggestion to "be changed by" part of the evening's conversation, this was instructive to me. Why have I felt appeased by hearing there is just one woman on a board? It's good to want more.
I think by that time Kay Koplovitz may have already stepped away, or she surely would have had something interesting to say, having founded a firm that raises capital for women entrepreneurs and written a book called "Bold Women Big Ideas". I hope I get a chance to talk with her again someday because she's one of the few top executive women I've seen who actually openly acknowledges that there is a lot of sexism out there (I believe most women prefer to deny it, knowing that complaining just makes them sound like they're not being a "team player").
I had a very nice conversation at dinner with Barbara Jeremiah, a
Pittsburgh native and former Alcoa executive sitting to my left.
Barbara is on a couple of boards herself and regaled me with stories of
staging an apartment for sale in NYC. When I complimented her on her
jacket, which matched her jewelry perfectly, she let me in on a secret,
a travel-ready clothing brand by Nina McLemore that sounds like it has
developed cultish attachment among a certain type of executive who is
"in the know". You too can sound as if you know this brand well by
pronouncing Nina "Nine-uh" as opposed to the more common "Neen-uh". After dinner, I rode the subway home
with Dale Bernstein of UnCommon Human Resources ("approaching business
transitions with uncommon sense"- great tagline!), former EVP of Global
HR for NYSE Euronext. We had a chance to chat about family and real
estate and fixer-uppers.
As I'm sure you've gathered by now, the whole affair was very personable, with a nice mix of personal and professional conversation, and the chance to follow up later and meet again. To top it all off, as we walked out the door we were given custom WF360 Build-A-Bears (Debra Perry gave me hers so I got two - need I mention that she is also on several boards, a credit risk management expert...) plus a swag bag stuffed with real goodies - a big box of godiva chocolates, anti-aging creams from Dior (not one of the women I met last night needed this though, so maybe they will give to their husbands?), Tamar's book, Susan Bird's "Smart Talk" authentic conversation instruction booklet, The Twitter Book, headbands for girls from Alex Toys, and the new RCA Small Wonder high definition digital camcorder from RCA, courtesy of Ameriprise Financial, rewrapped in tissue paper in a smart gold box.
What an honor to be included again at this wonderful event!
Postscript: these posts have been re-posted at my own blog at http://iz.typepad.com/
Isabel Walcott (Hilborn) Draves, 360 Leadership Summit Blogger