IEEE Spectrum – Top 11 Technologies of the last decade

January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

January 8, 2011

It’s a cold and snowy Saturday morning – the Canadian winter has now finally arrived! I woke up a bit earlier than usual and went for a quick walk and boy it was beautiful! (see the picture posted below).

The January 2011 issue of the IEEE Spectrum arrived yesterday and the cover page shows the top 11 technologies of the decade. Why top 11, not top 10, you may ask? Well, Philip E. Ross, the editor, paraphrases the motion picture This Is Spinal Tap, “any top10 list can have 10 entries. Ours has 11.”

IEEE Spectrum January 2011 Cover

The top 11 technologies chosen were:
1. Smartphones
2. Social Networking
3. Voice over IP
4. LED Lighting
5. Multicore CPUs
6. Cloud Computing
7. Drone Aircraft
8. Planetary Rovers
9. Flexible AC Transmission system(FACTs)
10. Digital Photography
11. Class-D Audio

My first impression of this list was a kid at a candy store as I expected the Spectrum to include more technical and detail information about these technologies than, say the Time magazine – just because of a different target audience. Except for the last one – Class-D Audio, I was aware of the first ten. FACTs and cloud computing were the two things I really looked forward to reading more.

For my next post, I will include a brief description of each of these 11 technologies with a bit more on FACT and cloud computing.

Murray Hogarth, Founder/CEO Pioneer Group talk at MARS Entrepreneurship 101 Series

January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Podium at Entrepreneurship 101 series @ MARS

The Entrepreneur 101 series at MARS had invited Murray Hogarth, founder and CEO of Pioneer Group. It was a coincidence that I live a block away from a Pioneer gas station. This made the talk more interesting as I had always wondered about Pioneer. The story begins in the 1950s when as engineering student at Queens university, Murray worked in retail as a salesman. He must have done a great job as he was making quite some money and promoted to some higher position. In addition, he was part of the symphony orchestra group and he made sure to take all their uniform orders. He also successfully further consolidated his business by taking orders from other nearby universities. The lesson I take is specialize in an unserved niche market and be a big player in it i.e. rather be a big fish in a small pond. Knowing he was a much better businessman, Murray dropped out of engineering and went into business in his third year.

On Entrepreneurship:

Murray advised everyone to start early and know what to do. He says the series of elimination early on in his life led him to start Pioneer. As one grows older and more comfortable in their existing jobs (with the pensions and benefits), it gets much harder to take the risks to start your own company. From what I have read so far, this is often repeated as can be seen with the limited number of successful late bloomer entrepreneurs.

Another interesting point Murray raised about entrepreneurship is that it was synonymous with leadership. He said a successful entrepreneur will encompass all the leadership traits such as taking the initiative to begin, be very independent, a great salesman, the perseverance to fight against all odds (as business will eventually see challenging times), instilling confidence, having the emotional intelligence to understand and influence, to listen and understand. I fully agree with this interest comparison and reflecting back, it is very clear that entrepreneurs need to encompass these leadership traits to be successful. As if the list was not enough, Murray talked about Peter Drucker (one of my biggest influence – the “father of management” as he is often referred) and Peter said that great leaders lift people beyond their capabilities. Understanding Murray’s thoughts on entrepreneurship and the breadth of his knowledge on leadership and management, it is not surprising that Pioneer has become a successful company today. One take away message for me was successful entrepreneurs/leaders make us think not of our limitations but of the possibilities.

Other life-long lessons:

Some of the other key lessons he wanted to share with aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience were:
1. Remember that your graduation diploma is a passport to nothing. It’s not what your degree says, but what you have done that will interest people far more.
2. Unmet needs = opportunities. As said earlier, try to address the unmet needs for they are the opportunities that will help you shape
3. Finding these opportunities but not having to courage to act on it will just become another wishlist. Have the courage to address these needs!
4. Communicate both good and bad news upfront. Murray mentioned how when he knew he would not be able to make the next payments to his suppliers, he let them know beforehand. This honest upfront approach gave the suppliers some confidence to extend the deadline knowing Murray would make the payments as promised.
5. Make sure to have a vision for the company and the confidence to make it happen.
6. Hire only people who share and support your vision.
7. Be unique and different. Stand out in your business. In the 1950s, the gas stations were completely different from what you see today. The customer had to ring a bell and the attendant would come out to fill up the gas. Murray changed the environment completely and his vision is the reality we see today. He put his inventory outside, started snack express (made gas stations as retail stores), included free car wash, laundry, coffee shops, etc. Customers flocked to him as he stood out among the competition.
8. Another important lesson Murray shared was – as a small company, it is your strategic advantage to make fast decisions. And remember, the fast always beats the slow.
9. Be prepared to do anything for the company’s success. You are the CEO, the founder and also the janitor.
10. Understand your industry well. Murray had to open other business, or diversify, to cushion the oil price margins. Though he did not mention it in his talk, it should be remembered that he’s had to navigate Pioneer through various recessionary and inflationary periods – primarily the two big ones in the Reagan era and the early one in the 21st century. During the Q&A session, he was asked about impact of Peak Oil on his business. He once again stressed that Pioneer was a parent company with many other businesses such as chains of Tim Hortons and Wendy (more on this later), retail, real estate, car wash etc.

Other interesting pointers:

Throughout the talk, Murray did go into a few personal details. Some of the interesting events (ones I could make notes on) were:

1. In the last 50 years, Pioneer had fallen under hard times more than once and was in process of being bought as a business as a whole or just their best service stations. Murray never intended to sell these service stations so during the negotiations process (twice) to different buyers, both parties had included a 120 day clause. This clause was meant for the FIRA review process. As one of the heavily regulated industry, the federal government reviewed any big purchase/sale to further monopolize oil industry and the sale of Pioneer or its assets was also subjected to such review. If you are still following me, Murray made sure of two things. First, Murray made sure he also had the right to cancel any sale under the 120 day clause mentioned earlier. Initially, only the purchasing party had that clause but Murray inserted it into his agreement last minute. Secondly, Murray, with help of some connections, made sure the FIRA review process took more than 120 days. In both cases, the review process did take more than 120 days and Pioneer was never sold. It should be noted that the 120 days clause meant it gave him enough time to earn some income to pay out any outstanding debts.
2. One of Murray’s close friend, Ron, a policeman in Hamilton, had approached him and asked his suggestion about starting a coffee shop. Murray helped him but was not particularly interested being a business partner. In 1964, Ron opened his first coffee shop and today he is known as the co-founder of Tim Hortons [It shoudn’t therefore be a surprise that two of his sons are the major franchise owners of Tim Hortons and Wendys]. Similarly, Murray helped one of his friends to start his own transportation company (it might have been some other business, don’t quote me on this). Murray suggested a good financial advisor to help him and today his friend is the founder of Laidlaw transportation. Hearing Murray share these early experiences about his days in Hamilton, I cannot help but picture a booming town (after all, it was the Post-WWII period) with people eager to start their own businesses. However, it was and still is important that you were/are surrounded by the right people. Murray and his friends were. As the saying goes, you are only the average of the five people you meet everyday. Who are your five people? Reflect on it. I will be reading this post on Murray and will make him one of my five people.
3. In the Q&A session, he touched upon the issue of family succession (I believe he has five sons who are doing extremely well, including the two I mentioned earlier). Murray encouraged his sons to start their own business with a 50% Pioneer equity and a 50% bank equity. This meant Pioneer holdings could later sell their equity or still be part owner of that business (more diversification). Murray also briefly touched upon CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprises) and how it helps in dealing with such succession issues.

Murray’s final words for the evening were to “work hard and work wise”. And just like that, another usual Wednesday evening turned into an inspirational evening to remember. I have purposely avoided on providing any personal commentaries for I believe Murray’s story itself is motivational enough and will be up for different interpretations from different readers in various phases of their lives.

The Saltmen of Tibet

September 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

September 9, 2010

When my younger brother returned from his seven week trip to India, he bought this dvd along with him. It was given to him by the “Khimshang” Amala (house mother) – he had stayed in one of the khimshangs in Upper TCV.

I remember watching this documentary when I was younger but do not recall anything else. I was probably watching because my parents were watching it and they must have said it was very important.

SFT Canada Event : Art of Resistance with Tendor and Lhadon

September 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

On August 29, 2010, SFT Canada organized the Art of Resistance with SFT Director Tendor and Lhadon, head of the newly created Tibet Action Institute.  Like their previous visits to Toronto, this event was another success. However, while the past events focused on what SFT had achieved, the Art of Resistance discussed our present and the framework for our struggle in the next 10-15 years ahead. The event began with Tendor and Lhadon’s talk and followed by concert from some talented individuals, including a short skit by SFT Canada members. After the concert, the attendees’ appetite was matched equally by delicious authentic Tibetan food (thanks to all the amazing Amalas who volunteered). The final part of the event was the night party which, as always, drew a large crowd and both the SFT leaders and the Toronto Tibetan community members danced away into the night. For those people that missed the good food, music and most importantly, the talk, below is a quick summary of the main ideas (apologies if I missed some) sprinkled with some of my limited perspectives.

One of the most important takeaway message from this event was laying out the roadmap for our struggle for independence. This strategy, so far, includes increasing support in the T8 nations while looking towards using more technology to push our cause. The rationale behind T8 nations which includes US, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and India is to proactively bolster support in various government levels for our cause through simple yet effective actions such as writing letters to your MPs and visiting their offices. As mentioned by Lhadon, most of our actions in the past – be it demonstrations or protests, tend to be an effect of the Chinese government’s actions. While such immediate responses have been successful in exposing the basic human rights violation in Tibet, this method to wait-and-see alone will not be as effective than say, combing this policy while also taking a much more proactive actions as mentioned earlier. Our freedom movement could last next five or fifty years, it is very hard to tell. Drawing parallels with the British rule over India, Tendor pointed out that one of the Bengali writers wrote how the British rulers were building huge mansions in Delhi that would last another 200 years. The British believed their empire would last for the next two centuries and definitely did not foresee their empire collapsing in the next ten years since these buildings were being built around 1937. Hence, as the Chinese economy continues to grow and money pours in to “develop” the infrastructure (read roads and trains), the Chinese government may believe their authoritarian rule would last forever. We know history has shown something different. However, we should also keep in mind that we have to do our part and when the time comes, we have to take our chances. This is why having a strategy or a roadmap is so vital. When a result is not instantaneous or immediate, it is human nature to get disillusioned and lose motivation. Having an effective strategy changes this and instead, increases motivation as one understands and sees that we are heading in the right direction – towards independence. This may seem off – topic but this is also how people have successful lives. Constantly analyzing and reflecting on past actions while planning for the future, even if that means making sacrifices in the short run, will eventually lead to success (whatever your definition of success may be).

Personally, I woke up the next day, a beautiful Sunday morning feeling more hopeful and reenergized. We all can and need to play our vital roles in this movement. Go talk to your local MP or come volunteer at the next SFT event!

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