$22K in 1992

$22K in 1992

My sister recently sent a package of old school pictures (my bangs were pretty awesome in the 80s if I do say so), cards and mementos—personal belongings from my father who passed away four years ago. Among the items, a small piece of paper from Emery Air Freight. The 1992 W-2 from Emery, an embattled cargo transportation company that ultimately folded, reflected his occupation as a truck driver and his annual salary—$22,614.62.

Folks who understand the history of Waymaker understand that the purpose of the company is a personal and a spiritual quest. We started this company to help communities embrace the change and the culture we know technology and innovation-based growth require. We want them to experience the hope of knowing that they have the power to create the prosperity that was once promised, albeit in a different form, as the American Dream. Ignore the change and opportunity to embrace technology and risk being left behind—something our family felt very personally as we watched our father struggle to keep the family farm and later, keep food on the family table.

The pay stub served as a poignant reminder—not just of the struggles from the past but more importantly, as a proof point about how incredibly quickly communities, and individuals, can create transformative change that alters their trajectories.

Working in smaller communities in the Midwest these past two years has been a reminder of how terrifying embracing the future can be. And how fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt can torpedo the best of intentions and future plans. Due to a series of decisions my dad made in the late 80s and early 90s, it’s safe to say he never truly embraced change, was terrified of the fast-changing world that surrounded him and, and unfortunately, never fully recovered from losing his path.

What’s been the most inspiring, and uplifting, are the amazing stories of the individuals, and communities that Waymaker has served– those who have thrived as a result of facing their fear, saying yes to education, training, retraining and essentially, the 21st century, even in the face of daunting uncertainty. In the last three years, we’ve had the honor of working with:

  • A young man from Michigan whose father left his long-standing career in retail to get his degree in computer engineering
  • A leader in Dallas who suffered repeatedly from racial discrimination but still rose in the ranks of executive management to become a very successful CEO
  • A young lady—and there are lots of these inspirational stories—who was the first to get a degree in her family and went on to become a successful entrepreneur on the West Coast

For every amazing anecdote like these, however, there are millions of individuals in the U.S. who have truly been left behind by global change. My father, a fourth-generation farmer turned truck driver, essentially got caught in a number of shifting winds that forced the direction and confidence out of him. Global competition in farming meant lower commodity prices, technological changes meant higher production with fewer required producers, rising equipment and land costs translated into scaling challenges. Add the fact that my father never graduated from high school to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for financial calamity.

Despite the challenges in his first chapter, he showed up for work early every day at Emery, brightened the lives of those he worked with and earned an amazing reputation within the community (and along his route) as a kind-hearted, generous man.

While I’m proud of the heart that he led with, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had he been more open to education and learning? Had he been just a little more open to embracing change? Had he said yes to the uncertainty and stepped out just a bit to learn from others, and to start to take the baby steps we know are required to lead us to the easier, bigger steps toward risk.

At the very least, I wonder what kind of pride and sustenance a wage greater than $10.00/hour would have given him, and what a fantastically greater variety of options it would have provided him in the remaining decades of his life.

It’s Happening

It’s Happening

It’s taken a while to get here. Admittedly, I was isolated, extremely, while living and working in Austin’s tech bubble. But the last three years has allowed me to not only dive deep into a number of different industries but to understand from CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs about the challenges technology adoption and integration will be bringing to the middle part of the U.S. in the coming years.

The pace of disruption seems to be picking up…I’ve fielded an increased number of calls from founders and executives who have either been jilted by acquisitions or management changes affiliated with innovation; been invited to help companies manage change, speak on the topic of innovation and, most recently, to help CEOs define innovative pathways for their organizations. All calls begin with, “we know you help communities manage and lead change but…surely the techniques are the same?”

I chalk the inquiries up not to Waymaker’s exposure but to an increased need in the market. Industries that have been more protected from implementing new technologies are facing increased pressure from boards, consumers and Wall Street. Parts of the country that have been isolated (with the exception of job losses in manufacturing) globally are also starting to feel the pinch.

Is leading transformation for a community the same as for a company? Yes and no. Change management for both starts at the top. Vision, leadership engagement and communication are key factors in the success of efforts both arenas. Breaking down silos is also a common thread. Ensuring departments—or institutions—are all communicating with one another and partnering for shared success is also key. Communication and defining a narrative for an organization are also key within a community effort. Engaging employees—or in the case of a community, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and future entrepreneurs—is a critical step within the process. Perhaps, however, the most challenging aspect of any change effort, regardless of whether it’s within an organization or community is culture (you knew I was going to say that right?). The topic of culture is how almost every successful leader I know spends the majority of her or his time…defining it, refining it, managing for it, removing barriers, celebrating successes.

In the coming weeks, Waymaker will be taking the question of culture, innovation, and change through technology to our network. In the interest of finding common ground, defining a shared vision across geography and industry and, quite simply, to let others know they are not alone. We hope you join us on this adventure and participate when and however you’re able. You’ll be helping us define the product and hopefully in the long run, join an ever-increasing network of humans faced with the same challenges and opportunities around some of the most fascinating topics of our time.

Is it too late for Middle America?

Is it too late for Middle America?

For the past 18 months, I’ve been giving Steve Case’s book, Rise of the Rest out to future and current clients. Mr. Case is best known as the founder of AOL but in years past has continued to provide his view into the technology industry’s crystal ball. There are few I trust more to weigh in on incoming technological waves. You can imagine that as his book title attests, his belief is that the middle part of the country, long overshadowed by the invention, innovation, and entrepreneurialism on the East and West coasts, will soon come into its own. And as you also might imagine, I not only drank the Rise of the Rest Kool-Aid but dunked my head in for a nice long soak. Lately, however, I’ve started to ask some questions—mostly around geographically and cultural readiness.

For the past 18 months, I’ve been fortunate to have visited with folks in a number of markets—each with its own personality, history, and agenda: Ann Arbor, MI; Kenosha, WI; San Antonio, TX; Cambridge, MA; Dallas, Waco, TX; Nashville, TN; Chicago, Lincoln, NE; St. Louis, MO; Detroit, MI; Denver, CO; Milwaukee, WI; San Francisco, Portland, Austin, just to name a few.

It’s solidified my belief that there are Tech 1.0 cities and Tech 2.0 cities. In later posts, we’ll talk through some identifying characteristics of each but namely, my concern is for that of 1.0 markets in the middle part of the country.

Granted, my Middle American experience as it relates to readiness has been mixed. I would say that roughly half of those in Middle America has been open, ready for change and hungry to not only compete but transform. But the curiosity and my concern come from the other half that is not. Folks in the center part of the country pride themselves on being risk-averse, careful and slow to embrace change. There doesn’t seem to be a desire to not only get caught up on what the global economy has accomplished in the last twenty years but to surpass it and prepare for the future.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the opposite of the characteristics required to lead innovation economies.

But here is the true problem: as communities discern whether or not it makes sense to jump on the innovation bandwagon, other cities, including those on both coasts, are readying to double down on investment. The more advanced markets (i.e., Boston) have made those commitments already.

If 2.0 markets, in realizing the benefits of innovation-driven activity, are doubling down to compete on a whole new level, and the U.S. continues to see the rise in urbanization (younger populations leaving rural areas to seek opportunities in urban markets), what will this mean for communities still on the fence about positioning their markets?

I am compassionate for these communities. I often joke that they are “my people” having been raised in a very rural area of Illinois. There is nothing more powerful than the drive to help your tribe.

However, I’ve also come to realize that a certain minimal amount of courage is required to jump out of your comfort zone. Time will be our truth-teller in this case but may we see more and more Middle American communities using their courageous selves to indicate that they are ready to change. The future of their economies depends on it.

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

The Impact of Technology: Massive Hurdles or Massive Opportunity

In case you haven’t heard, our country faces some massive hurdles in the coming decade. Outside of the trade tariff and Congressional infighting headlines gripping our day today, there are some pretty serious issues coming down the pike that our country will have to face one way or another— issues that will make or break us in the decades to come.

While we have much to look forward to as it relates to the technological revolution, we have some pretty ugly realities— including some of the topics covered at this past week’s TEDC conference. CEO @Carlton Schwab has a stellar reputation for a reason. The conference featured many of his followers and some driven and passionate leaders that shared knowledge on workforce and demographic trends, tax incentives and abatement direction in the State of Texas and advice on how EDOs should be thinking about talent.

It was refreshing to be in a group of big thinkers and visionary planners— all driven by a passion for serving others and by the challenge of making economic prosperity accessible to all. It was also a delight to be stimulated by so many data-driven conversations, a new shift within the industry in recent years.

While this was my first conference, I’m already looking forward to the next fall gathering. What we didn’t have time to cover included some of the most critical topics referenced above: how EDOs can and should be positioning for increased automation in manufacturing (an industry responsible for 8% of U.S. employment), how to engage industry in helping us address pipeline and STEM training gaps, how to get business leaders involved in policy issues that affect their company’s bottom line (i.e., immigration), how to address and foster our country’s declining rate of entrepreneurialism.

What is happening in technology will most certainly directly impact EDO leaders. Our aging population is well, aging, and not adequately skilled for 21st century occupations; our incoming workforce lacks fundamental skills business leaders say are required to be successful in today’s global economy; our K12 education systems are all systemically broken, not to mention culturally not ready to shift; current immigration policy severely limits those from outside the U.S. who seek educational and entrepreneurial opportunity; regardless of trade tariffs, our country lacks a cohesive vision articulating our future technological competitive focus areas and investment.

While I’m by nature an optimist, I’m eager for our trade associations and policy groups to amp up the dialogue and work required to get us to where we need to be. I regret while in Austin, I wasn’t a more aggressive leader in tackling some of these tough topics.

I look forward to continuing to learn from my Texas eco-dev compadres but also look forward to holding our own economic leadership feet to the fire.

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

Engineers: The Next Power Leaders

It used to be that the engineering crowd was often left out of critical strategic or vision-setting conversations. Ask any CEO about the future of business, what it takes to build a company, successfully grow a company, etc., and they’ll have answers and lots of very strong opinions. Technical leaders, trained for years in pattern recognition, problem solving, applied sciences and math, have had answers about the future but not necessarily a seat at the table. Thankfully, smart(er) CEOs today are changing that. More and more you’ll hear about specific strategic advisory functions CTOs take within the C-suite. The speed of digital and innovation disruption have necessitated it.

This particular trend was front and center this week while attending Voltage Control’s hashtag#ATXCTOSummit19 Tuesday. More than 150 CTOs discussed topics you might predict: machine learning, the challenges of scaling, and some new dialogue regarding an Austin diversity and inclusion initiative (https://lnkd.in/es_sN3a). It gave me great hope to watch this group of humble leaders lead discussions with a genuine intention to make the world a better place. It also gave me great hope knowing that our dependence on this category of competent leaders will only continue to grow.