Friday, July 31, 2009

Mini-Review of "The Hurt Locker"

A few days ago I was on the phone with John Campbell and his wife, Susan Bird. They are the founders of MyVetwork, an organization I have written about here in the past. (

In the course of our conversation, Susan asked: "Have you seen 'The Hurt Locker' yet? Given your constituency and the number of people you know who have fought and are fighting in Iraq, you need to see this film."

Since Susan is someone whose opinion I value greatly, I went to see the film the first time I could squeeze it into my schedule. I am so glad that I did. This is a remarkably well done movie, based on the experiences and observations of journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal. Director Kathryn Bigelow, has masterfully realized the vision in Boal's screenplay - an unblinking, blunt, vivid script based on reports from his 2004 stint in Baghdad as a reporter embedded with a bomb squad). The film focuses on the unit's final 38 days in Iraq, and provocatively examines the interface between bravery and obsession, and the ratio of risk and responsibility that the members of this bomb squad assume.

This film is likely to garner multiple Academy Award nominations, and adds some significant insights into the ongoing conversation about the current wars in which our troops are engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a film that should be seen and then discussed.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mini-Review of "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

Sara, you had me at "elephants"!

I can't explain it, but I have carried on a life-long love affair with elephants. I think the infatuation began with the annual trek to the circus. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of making the long drive - many years before the ideas of I-95 or I-93 had made their way from the draftsman's drawing board to the civil engineers - from Newburyport to Everett, where we would park the Chevy and take the "El" to Boston. (The elevated train ran in those days from Everett into the city approximating some of the route of today's Orange Line.) We always parked by the infamous sulphur pile by the Monsanto plant, and the smell of sulphur would burn my nostrils until we walked into the old Boston Garden and made our way to the circus menagerie and elephant row. It may have been that the sweet cocktail of scents - elephant sweat, hay, sawdust and elephant dung, cleansed my olfactory system of the damage that Monsanto had done to it, but to this day, there are not many smells that bring back such powerful memories and warm emotions as "eau de elephant." I could stand for hours on end watching them sway back and forth and swing their trunks from side to side. They would reach for the peanuts that we proffered, taking them gently with the "finger" of their trunk. The love affair deepened when my family went to Benson's Wild Animal Farm in Hudson, New Hampshire, and I had a chance to ride on the back of an elephant.

So, when I learned that Sara Gruen had written a novel about circus life in the 1930's with plenty of emphasis on the elephant acts, I knew I had to read this book. I was not disappointed. She wonderfully lays out the results of her meticulous research into the ethos of the small circuses that traveled the country by rail before and after the Great Depression. Gruen, in her debut novel, wields her pen like a lion tamer's whip, keeping in check and in motion a motley cast of characters facing a dizzying assortment of challenges and dangers. She tells the story through the voice and faltering memory of ninety-year-old (perhaps ninety-three, since he is not quite sure any more) Jacob as he recounts his days with the circus, where he began "carrying water for the elephants." It is an epic tale that is deeply moving and richly evocative.

The plot twists and turns in this wondrous story kept me engrossed and intrigued. I loved this book, and will watch for Gruen's next offering.

Enjoy "Water for Elephants."


Intersection 2.0: "The Heart of a Leader" - Registration Is Now Open

By popular demand, as a follow-up to last spring's White Rhino Intersection, we are pleased to invite you to attend:

Intersection 2.0 (A White Rhino Event)

The theme for the weekend will be "The Heart of a Leader"

Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15

Microsoft Research and Development Center

1 Memorial Drive

Kendall Square

Cambridge, MA 02142

Featured speakers will include:

Richard Banfield founder of "Fresh Tilled Soil"

Doug Crandall, author of the book being written about Wounded Warrior, Scotty Smiley

Diane Darling author and founder of "Effective Networking"

Scotty Smiley, West Point Instructor who was blinded in an IED explosion in Iraq.

Andreas Widmer, co-founder of The S.E.V.E.N. Fund and personal body guard to Pope John Paul II

The weekend will feature excerpts from "Les Miserables," presented by performers from Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. Characters from "Les Miserables" will be used as examples of different kinds of male and female leadership role models.

Saturday evening will conclude with a concert by acclaimed folk and blue grass artist, Jake Armerding.

Register early to take advantage of the reduced early registration fee available through September 15, and the reduced student rate that is available only to the first 25 students to register.

Registration Link

The first event, White Rhino Intersection, was offered primarily to Boston and Cambridge area residents. This fall's event is being offered to a wider audience. We have already heard from participants who plan to come from Singapore, Seattle, Houston, NYC, D.C., Philadelphia. In order to accommodate more attendees, we have been able to secure the use of the gorgeous conference facilities of Microsoft's Cambridge Research and Development Center on the banks of the Charles River at 1 Memorial Drive. The site commands a spectacular view of the river and the Boston skyline.

Feel free to pass this article and registration link along to anyone you feel may be interested in attending.

Looking forward to having you join us.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Paradise Lost - "Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy" by Carlos Eire

My friend, Matt Nelson, is one of my heroes – for a variety of reasons. In the first place, he graciously came to my rescue and on very sort notice filled in for another friend who had promised to help me drive a Penske rental van the 2,800 miles from Manchester, New Hampshire to Tempe, Arizona. The van contained the worldly possessions of my son Scott, who wanted to move to a warmer climate and leave New England winters in his wake. Matt proved to be a wonderful driver and companionable fellow traveler. We had lots of time along the way to talk about books that we had recently read and were now reading. During our westward odyssey, we swapped books. I gave Matt my copy of Donovan Campbell’s New York Times bestseller, “Joker One,” and Matt gave me Carlos Eire’s memoir: “Waiting for Snow in Havana.”

Eire’s book about his childhood in Cuba and then as a refugee - one of the 14,000 “Operation Peter Pan” children - won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003. I can see why. It is a stunningly beautiful and hauntingly painful memoir of paradise list. It is a tale of an evanescent idyllic childhood in a tropical island that no longer exists: pre-Castro Cuba. The book is full of pastel images, written by a man looking through the eyes of a child. The child’s wonder and innocence and awe can still be felt and heard underneath the adult author’s anger and bitterness over the fact that, in claiming to rescue Cubans from the despotism of Batista, Castro destroyed the very soul and fabric of vibrant Cuban life.

This was a colorful boy’s life filled with green lizards, tangerine sunsets, turquoise waves, and a black abyss. In a passage emblematic of the exhilaration and danger of life in Cuba, Eire describes the spine-tingling times when his father would drive along the Malecon on Havana’s waterfront during a tropical storm and allow the tidal waves to wash over their family sedan. That picture serves as a metaphor for what happened to Carlos and his family – the fluid forces of Castro’s Revolution breaking over them and changing the course of their individual histories.

The adult Eire writes with a wry and sardonic wit. This passage captures the voice with which he looks back and tells the tale of his boyhood:

“I find out about my uncle’s arrest while I’m watching the war on television with my favorite empress, as ever. She is silent, as she always is in the daytime. . . And our mother and father rush through the room on their way to the front door, pausing briefly like sprinters out of breath. Marie Antoinette says to both of us:

‘You uncle Filo has just been arrested. They came and took him away last night, and the same thing might happen to us. So, if we don’t return, or they come for us later, and you don’t see us for awhile, don’t worry. We’ll be in prison. And don’t worry, they’re not arresting any children yet. Bye.’

. . . King Louis and Marie Antoinette [the author’s father and mother] zip down to Filo’s house to comfort his wife and daughter, and to do whatever it is you do in a situation like that. But what do you do? There were no greeting cards for such occasions then, and there are none now. Imagine having to come up with the text for such a card:

‘So sorry to learn of your dear one’s arrest. Our thoughts are with you as you await word of their fate. May God smile on your worries and grant you the courage to bear the suspense.’

And what would you do for an illustration? An empty armchair with a cigar still burning in the ashtray? A face with a huge question mark over it? An anxious looking person sitting by a phone?” (Pages 289-290)

Eire is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University. His recreation of his childhood in Cuba and in exile in America adds to our understanding of all that was lost when The Maximum Leader deposed Batista. Eire’s look at the Bay of Pigs fiasco through the eyes of a Cuban child is particularly poignant.

This is a story that demands to be read, penned by a writer who possesses wondrous literary artistry in his adopted language.


Thanks, Matt!


The Spirit of '76 - West Point Grads from the Class of 1976 Serving as Generals

Saturday's Wall Street Journal contained a fascinating article about the remarkable number of graduates of the West Point Class of 1976 that have achieved the rank of general officer.

In the picture to the left, Iraq Commanding General Stanley McChrystal, USMA 1976, is standing second from the left

Here is Yochi J. Dreazen's article.

WSJ article



Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Unrivaled Look at Lincoln’s Cabinet: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I had been planning for some time to read “Team of Rivals,” by Cambridge’s own Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. This volume was on my ever-growing list of “books to read.” The book got bumped to the top of the list after I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Ms. Goodwin.

Last week, when I reviewed Linda Robinson’s “Tell Me How This Ends,” I mentioned that I had heard General David Petraeus speak at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. During his speech and the subsequent Q&A session with David Gergen, he alluded on several occasions to the writings of Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was sitting in the front row, just in front of me. So, it was natural for me to be able to speak with her during the mingling time that followed Petraeus’ presentation. During our brief conversation, I learned that she had just finished the research portion of her next book – a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. I left the Kennedy School that day determined to procur a copy of “Team of Rivals.”

I thought I knew quite a bit about Abraham Lincoln, but Kearns research and writing in this book shed new light on many aspects of his life and presidency that I had been unaware of. For me, there was a special familial treat in reading about Lincoln’s bumptious and contentious cabinet. Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury was one Salmon P. Chase. Chase and I are descended from a common ancestor: Aquila Chase, who settled at the mouth of the Merrimac River in the 1640’s. Chase later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I remember as a child being in awe of seeing his face on the $10,000 bill as we toured the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. (The $10,000 bill was removed from circulation in 1969, so you won’t be asked to give change for one anytime soon!) In Goodwin's book, as well as in Gore Vidal's earlier work on Lincoln, Chase emerges as a self-righteous, self-serving curmudgeon who was often at odds with Lincoln and other members of the cabinet.

I have written often – in this space and elsewhere – about the power of narrative. So, I was struck by a passage in which Goodwin recounts the early influence on Lincoln of his father’s story-telling abilities:

“Night after night, Thomas Lincoln would swap tales with visitors and neighbors while his young son sat transfixed in the corner. In these sociable settings, Thomas was in his element. A born storyteller, he possessed a quick wit, a talent for mimicry, and an uncanny memory for exceptional stories. These qualities would prove his greatest bequest to his son. Young Abe listened so intently to these stories, crafted from experiences of everyday life, that the words became embedded in his memory. Nothing was more upsetting to him, he recalled decades later, nothing made him angrier, than his inability to comprehend everything he was told.

After listening to adults chatter through the evening, he would spend, he said , 'no small part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of some of their, to me, dark sayings.’ Unable to sleep, he would reformulate the conversations until, as he recalled, ‘I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I knew to comprehend.’ The following day, having translated the stories into words and ideas that his friends could grasp, he would climb onto the tree stump or log that served as an impromptu stage and mesmerize his own circle of listeners. He had discovered the pride and pleasure an attentive audience could bestow. This great storytelling talent and oratorical skill would eventually constitute his stock-in-trade throughout both his legal and political careers. The passion for rendering life experience into powerful language remained with Lincoln throughout his life.” (Page 50)

What a marvelous picture of the origin of the headwaters of the river of eloquence that flowed from Lincoln’s mind and mouth and branded the 16th President as one of the greatest communicators in history. I once heard a great Black preacher talk about making complex concepts accessible to even the most humble members of the congregation: “Sometimes you just need to put the cookies on the lower shelf so all the folks can reach them!” Lincoln knew how to put the cookies within reach of everyone.

Another significant early influence on the inchoate leader was the power of reading to turn the prairie-bound lad into a vicarious world traveler:

“’There is no Frigate like a Book,’ wrote Emily Dickinson, ‘to take us Lands away.’ Though the young Lincoln never left the frontier, would never leave America, he traveled with Byron’s Childe Harold to Spain and Portugal, the Middle East and Italy; accompanied Robert Burns to Edinburgh; and followed the English kings into battle with Shakespeare. As he explored the wonders of literature and the history of the country, the young Lincoln, already conscious of his own power, developed ambitions far beyond the expectations of his family and neighbors. It was through literature that he was able to transcend his surroundings. (Page 51)

Lincoln’s humanity emerges indelibly as sketched in the inimitable words of the Abolitionist, Frederick Douglass:

“Finding a large crowd in the hallway, Douglass expected to wait hours before gaining an audience with the president. Minutes after presenting him card, however, he was called into the office. ‘I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man than in that of Abraham Lincoln,’ he later recalled. The president was seated in a chair when Douglass entered the room, ‘surrounded by a multitude of books and papers, his feet and legs were extended in front of his chair. On my approach he slowly drew his feet in from the different parts of the room into which they had strayed, and he began to rise.’ As Lincoln extended his hand in greeting, Douglass hesitantly began to introduce himself. ‘I know who you are, Mr. Douglass,’ Lincoln said. ‘Mr. Seward has told me all about you. Sit down. I am glad to see you.’ Lincoln’s warmth put Douglass instantly at ease. Douglass later maintained that he had ‘never seen a more transparent countenance.’ He could tell ‘at a glance the justice of the popular estimate of the President’s qualities expressed in the prefix “honest” to the name of Abraham Lincoln.’” (Page 551)

The section of Goodwin’s book that treats the events of Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth left me in tears. As most students of history know all too well, when Lincoln had breathed his last and had finally succumbed to the assassin’s bullet, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, uttered the words: “Now he belongs to the ages.” How grateful I am to Goodwin for making the humanity and greatness of Lincoln accessible to our age – to our generation. For the very character traits and skills that allowed Lincoln to hold together bitter rivals and mold them into a team to heal our nation in a time of war and economic turmoil, are the very same gifts that our leaders today must bring to the table.

This is a book for our time. If you have not yet read it, bump it to the top of your list. I am glad I did.



Friday, July 24, 2009

Potpourri - Link Now Works to Alex Speier Article + "The Vet Effect" and MyVetwork

The original link to the Alex Speier article about the 2004 Red Sox - Yankees brawl was defective.

Use this link to access the site:

Speier article


The Doug Raymond article reminded me of a phrase that I have been hearing a lot lately: "The Vet Effect," The Vet Effect relates to the special brand of leadership that our military veterans bring to the table in their post-military careers in the private sector and the service sector. An organization that I am very proud to be affiliated with is working hard to leverage this "Vet Effect" phenomenon for the benefit of the men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces, as well as on behalf of their families and the civilians who support them. Check out the work that MyVetwork is doing, and create a profile to add your voice to this growing movement:

MyVetwork Link


The Day That Changes Everything - Looking Back on the Brawl of July 24, 2004

In this morning's Blog on, Alex Speier offers up a wonderfully thorough and insightful deconstruction of the game that changed everything between the Red Sox and the Yankees franchises.

I was at Fenway Park on the night of July 24, 2004. The Red sox were trailing the Yankees in the AL East race by 9 and a half games, and looked to be slipping out of contention for the playoffs. Along came an errant slider from Bronson Arroyo that clipped A-Rod on his shoulder. He took offense, and started mouthing off at Arroyo. Varitek would have none of it, and the Captain interposed himself between the young pitcher and the mouthy Superstar. After a few F-bombs were exchanged, the Red Sox catcher greeted the Yankees' prima donna with what has been described aptly as "a Wilson sandwich"! The brawl was on, and the baseball world as we had known it was knocked from its accustomed orbit.

Take the time to read all six pages of Speir's wondrous recounting of that rainy night in July.

Speier article

I will be at Fenway tonight. The Sox are slipping behind the Yankees once again. The Orioles will be sitting in the opposing team's dugout. We need a spark! Happy Anniversary!


Go Sox!


Sunday, July 19, 2009

"How the Army Prepared Me to Work at Google" by Doug Raymond

My friend, Doug Raymond, is a senior executive at Google. He is a fellow contributor to Harvard Business Publication's FrontLine Leadership forum. In a recent article, Doug speaks eloquently about how his service in the Army prepared him for his leadership role at Google.

FrontLine Leadership Article

Doug's description of the the connection between his experience as an Army officer and his leadership at Google is instructive. I trust that this article will serve as an additional step in educating the public that military leaders are not monolithic in their approach to leadership; they bring individuality in terms of communication style, personalty, decision-making style and approach to consensus-building.

I urge you to read, as well, the thoughtful comments that follow Doug Raymond's article.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Tell Me How This Ends” by Linda Robinson – General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq

A few months ago I received a wonderful gift. In anticipation of the likelihood that I would soon have an opportunity to meet General Petraeus, my friend, retired Major General David Harris, sent me a copy of Linda Robinson’s carefully researched book, “Tell Me How This Ends.”

Ms. Robinson has done a masterful job of presenting both the disastrous first few years of U.S. involvement in Iraq, beginning with the invasion in 2003, and the far more successful time following “the surge” under the leadership of Petraeus. The picture that Robinson paints in this book is consistent with the themes that I heard Petraeus speak about when he was at Harvard’s Kennedy School a few months ago.

Of the many worthwhile passages I could have selected as excerpts to share, I have chosen one that highlights the stress of extended deployments, and one that talks about the more recent successes experienced by our troops and their Iraqi counterparts.

“The end of their fifteen-month tour was finally in sight for the Blue Spaders. They were the first active-duty unit to serve the extended tour, and the extra three months in Baghdad’s most violent neighborhood had taken its toll. Nearly every day of their 443-day tour was a combat patrol. Of the battalion’s 800 soldiers, 35 had been killed in action and 122 wounded, three times the casualty rate of 1-26’s previous deployment to Iraq in 2004-2005. It was the highest casualty rate any battalion had suffered since the Vietnam War. Six soldiers had lost one or both legs, and many more suffered lifelong injuries. Thanks to Doc Welchel and the medics, many wounded men had survived, but there were grievous injuries, including ones that would not surface for months. Many traumatic brain injuries caused by bomb blasts were not diagnosed until later.

Chaplain Choi believed the extra three months had caused an exponential increase in stress and fatigue. ‘I’ve only got twelve months of Iraqi patience,’ Padgett joked. The battalion had lived in dangerous Spartan outposts with none of the amenities most. U.S. soldiers in Iraq took for granted. To help the men cope with their grief and prepare for the transition from war to home, Choi and the new battalion commander launched Operation Healing Heart, a program to treat the whole person with physical, spiritual and mental activities. He organized weight-lifting and other contests and card- and-video-game tournaments. In between patrols the soldiers played soccer and basketball in the walled city streets outside their ministry buildings-cum-barracks. Choi conducted Protestant services and found a Catholic priest to celebrate mass.” (Pages 210-211)

It is clear throughout the book – and Robinson’s conclusions are echoed in other accounts I have been reading – that part of the reason for the turn-around in Iraq was the broader, more holistic view of counter-insurgency that Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker together brought to the table.

“No single silver bullet accounted for the marked decline in violence in the last half of 2007, which reversed the upward trend for the first time since the war began. It was the result of many important innovations in both strategy and tactics that would likely be incorporated into future doctrine – if the army continued to embrace counterinsurgency and stability operations. The measures included the increase in troops, their dispersion, various population control measures, more precise counterterrorism measured enabled by better intelligence, and, most of all, the outreach to the armed antagonists and their constituents. . . . Most important, each battalion and company made it a priority to develop relationships and reach out to the ‘reconcilable’ antagonists, their supporters, and the fence-sitters. These were inherently political activities that produced political effects that Petraeus massed rapidly to pressure the Iraqi government to in turn take political action that would affect the war’s strategic level. . . .Petraeus waded into politics as no general before him had done and directed his troops to do the same.” (Page 324)

The work that Robinson has done in collecting data, stories and insights makes a very positive and valuable contribution to our appreciation of what has been happening in Iraq. Her writing makes clear the arc that our involvement in Iraqi has followed from 2003 until the present time. The book has broadened my understanding. I recommend it strongly.


Intersection 2.0: "The Heart of a Leader" - Save the dates of Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15

A number of readers of The White Rhino Report attended the initial White Rhino Intersection event in Cambridge last spring. By popular demand, a follow-up event has now been scheduled for November. Here is some of the preliminary information.

Intersection 2.0 - "The Heart of a Leader"

Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15

Location: Microsoft Research and Development Center
1 Memorial Drive
Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA

Speakers will include:

Captain Scott Smiley - "The Wounded Heart of a Leader"

Andreas Widmer - "The Leadership Heart of Pope John Paul II"

Richard Banfield - "The Heart and Mind of a Business Leader"

Diane Darling - "The Networking Heart of a Leader"

The event will also feature a concert by renowned folk and bluegrass artist, Jake Armerding

Characters and music from "Les Miserables,"featuring students from Boston Conservatory, will be presented throughout the weekend to highlight a variety of male and female models of leadership types.

Please save the dates on your calendar.

Registration information to follow.

For questions, contact Al Chase:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mini-Review: "Guernica" - a novel by Dave Boling

When I learned that Dave Boling had written a novel about the famed Spanish town of Guernica, I was eager to read the story. I have a close friend – an adopted daughter of sorts – whose heritage is partly Basque. I was eager to learn something about her roots. I was intrigued to learn in the first few pages of this gripping novel, that Guernica has long been the capital and spiritual center of the Basque region than spans the border between Spain and France in the Pyrenees.

In much the same way that Picasso captured the world’s attention and outrage as he depicted, in his inimitable style, the ravages that the German bombing in 1937 inflicted about the city of Guernica, Boling limns a portrait of the suffering of the inhabitants of the town. By focusing on the everyday lives of the members of several Basque families - fishermen, carpenters, members of the resistance against Franco, a priest, a blind soap maker - Boling paints a vivid picture of the vibrancy that was Guernica before the bombing. Three quarters of a century after the bombs fell on the heart and soul of the Basque region, the novel helps us to remember what was lost and what is still worth preserving.



The Straight Pitch on All-Star Tim Wakefield and His Knuckleball

Because I do not have to try to hit it, I love watching Tim Wakefield throw the knuckle ball. My usual seats at Fenway Park are in the grandstands right behind home plate, so I get to see the pitch dance and dart and drive opposing batters to distraction. If you are a baseball fan at all, you are aware that tomorrow night, Wakefield will make his first All-Star appearance at age 42. The only other player to make a first appearance with more years under his belt was the ageless Satchel Paige.

Wakefield's story is an inspiring one - not just because of his non-traditional path to success, but also because of the character of the man. Wakefield the man is as straight and true as his pitches are erratic. In today's Boston Globe, Adam Kilgore has written a very moving story about Wakefield's journey. The story brought tears to my eyes, and I felt I wanted to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report.

Globe article


Go Sox!


Monday, July 06, 2009

Reflections on a 4th of July “Day in the Life”

(Photo courtesy of Craig Collins)

A few months ago, my good friend, Mark Sohmer, wrote a hilarious parody of a typical day in the life of The White Rhino. The account I am about to chronicle for you comes eerily close to Mark’s tongue-in-cheek diary and veers perilously close to self-parody, but reflects the actual events, thoughts and feelings that I experienced during a full and memorable 4th of July in Boston and Cambridge.

Having had some wonderful recent opportunities to spend time with family, this 4th of July celebration for me was to be spent with friends. I began the day early by stopping by my office in Kendall Square to catch up on some e-mails before meeting my friends for breakfast down the street at the Residence Inn. The first e-mail I opened was from LT Court Harris in Iraq. In his message, he was musing about how much he would miss celebrating “the 4th” at home in the U.S.:

Al -

Happy Fourth of July! Don't know where in the world you are, but I hope you get to celebrate with family and friends. I've come to realize that although Christmas and Thanksgiving were tough to miss, I think this holiday will be the hardest. There's something about beer, burgers, fireworks, the meaning behind the holiday, and the
Chicago summertime that can't be beat. I trust that you will no doubt celebrate enough for the both of us.

There it was – at the beginning of the holiday – a poignant reminder that the gift of freedom is never free, and men and women in our military continue to pay the bill for the Bill of Rights.

Then I opened an e-mail from my friend, Rasul Damji, whom I would be meeting shortly for breakfast. Rasul had passed along a link to a mesmerizing YouTube video of Morgan Freeman emceeing a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence from Independence Hall, offered as part of an article in The Leaders Notebook:

I watched the video and then had to sprint down Broadway in Kendall Square to meet Rasul and his family. During my few moments in transit, I was struck with the poignancy of the fact that my friend, Rasul, had sent me this link to a video about the Declaration of Independence. I am very familiar with Rasul’s remarkable story and pilgrimage to make a home in the land whose birthday we would be celebrating together on this 4th of July. He was born in Tanzania to a family that was part of the Indian Diaspora. Rasul’s grandfather in Tanzania had a close friend - a man by the name of Mohandas K. Gandhi, someone intimately acquainted with the struggle for freedom and autonomy.

As soon as I had greeted Rasul and his three children at the Residence Inn and we had settled around the table to share breakfast, I asked him the question that had been percolating in my mind since I had watched the video from Independence Hall:

“Rasul, as someone who has had to fight hard to become a citizen of the U.S. and make a life for yourself here, what kinds of emotions do you have today as we celebrate our nation’s birthday?”

Rasul’s sons and daughter joined me in listening to Rasul’s response, recounting his days as a student at Boston University and a career path that would eventually lead him to some of the highest echelons of the telecommunications industry, including top leaderships roles at Lucent, AT&T et al.

As we were finishing up our breakfast, I noticed that the woman clearing our table was from Eastern or Central Europe. She had a classic Slavic face. “Do you mind if I ask where you are from?”

“I am from Bosnia.”

“From Sarajevo?”

“Yes,” she answered with a broad smile.

“Kako ste?”

She was pleased and shocked that I was able to greet her in her language. On this 4th of July morning, I had encountered yet another person who values the liberties many of us take for granted, for she had escaped a war-torn land to immigrate to the Land of the Free.

When we finished our breakfast, we still had an hour before the gates would open at Fenway Park – our next destination.

I asked, “How shall we travel – by T or shall we walk?”

Rasul was eager to walk – his children a bit less eager at the prospect.

I decided to have some fun.

“Rahim, go on your iPhone and pull up the GPS and tell us how far we will have to walk.”

In a flash, he was able to proclaim: “It’s only 1.8 miles; let’s do it.”

“Great idea,” I said. “It is a gorgeous day, we will be able to walk through the MIT campus and you can show your brother and sister all the sights of where you may be coming to school in a year. We will cross the Mass. Avenue bridge, have a perfect view of the Boston skyline and the barge that will give us tonight’s fireworks display. And, along the way, we may just meet someone interesting.”

Our peregrinations brought us through the heart of the MIT campus and up Mass Ave. to the bridge. We began to notice that the span of the Mass. Avenue Bridge was marked out in something called “Smoots.”

“Rahim, please go back on your iPhone and Google to find out what a Smoot is.”

Based on Rahim’s on-the-fly research, we learned that during an iconic period in MIT history, a student project/prank led a group of undergraduates to take one of their classmates, a young man by the name of Smoot, and turn him into a unit of measure. They laid him out on the bridge, and measured the length of the span using his body as a yard stick - or rather – a “Smoot stick.” Young Smoot stood a Dustin Pedroia-esque 5’ 7.” So, a Smoot measures 5.58333 feet. By the time we completed our Smoot research, we had gained the Boston end of the bridge, and turned onto Beacon Street and headed to fabled Kenmore Square. We were joined by other members of Red Sox Nation who likewise were responding to the gravitational pull of Fenway Park and making their way towards Lansdowne Street and the Green Monster.

At Kenmore Square, we had a long wait for the “WALK” light. I noticed a young gentleman in a Red Sox cap. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, I yelled to him,

"Go Sox!"


“I said, ‘Go Sox’!”

“Oh, I am not from around here. I am from Cincinnati.”

"What brings you to Boston wearing a Red Sox cap?”

“I was just drafted by the Red Sox, and I am here trying to figure out if I should sign with them or accept the scholarship to play in college.”

“When do you need to decide?”

“By mid-August.”

“Here is my card. As a life-long Red Sox fan, I think I represent Red Sox Nation pretty well. Will you promise me that before you make up your mind, you will give me a call and let me have the opportunity to tell you – from the vantage point of the Red Sox fan base – what it means to play baseball in this town?”

“Yes, sir.”

As Luke headed off in the direction of the players’ entrance, I turned to the Damji family, who had been listening in on the conversation.

“Remember I told you at the hotel that we would probably meet someone interesting?”

Before entering Fenway Park through Gate A, we stopped at the cart of my favorite peanut vendor. The same family has been selling freshly roasted peanuts in this location on Yawkey Way since the Park opened in 1912. A word to the wise: the peanuts sold here are much better and much fresher and cheaper than those sold inside the park. On your next visit to Fenway, stop by and tell them that The White Rhino sent you!

Although Rasul and his family live in New Jersey in the heart of Yankee Country, he is a diehard Red Sox fan, and he is raising his kids in the same way. His years of study at BU made him a Red Sox fan for life. Each summer, he brings his children to Boston for at least one Red Sox game, and I usually join them for the experience.

We saw an exciting game, but one which the Red Sox ultimately lost in the 11th inning to the Seattle Mariners. After the game, we separated – the Damjis headed for a dinner engagement in Harvard Square, and I set a course towards Beacon Hill to meet my friends, John Campbell and his wife, Susan Bird. John and Susan are the Founders of a remarkable new organization that I have mentioned previously in The White Rhino Report: MyVetwork combines features of LinkedIn and Facebook to create an on-line community for military veterans, their families and those who want to be of support to them. I have been pleased to play a small role in connecting them with individuals in my network who are helping them to grow MyVetwork into a nation-wide movement. John and Susan, based in the NYC area, were in Boston for the long weekend to visit family and friends and fireworks. Over a delicious dinner at the Beacon Hill Bistro, John and Susan filled me in on some exciting developments in the growth of MyVetwork.

As we chatted about the work being done by a group of energetic young officers and veterans, we talked about my friend and protégé, LT Rajiv Srinivasan. Rajiv and his unit from Ft. Lewis Washington are only days away from deploying to Afghanistan.

So, during dinner, we spontaneously decided to call Rajiv to wish him a “Happy 4th. The immanence of his upcoming deployment served as another reminder on this holiday that the 4th of July is about much more than fireworks and burgers.

It is getting late and I am running out of steam, so I will “cut to the Chase”! John and Susan invited me and the Damji family to join them on the roof of the Beacon Street building where they were staying to watch the fireworks from a fantastic vantage point overlooking the Esplanade. We could hear the Boston Pops and Neil Diamond, and had a ringside seat for the gorgeous fireworks display. I felt like a kid again. The owner of several Boston restaurants was with us on the roof, and had ordered in some goodies form one of his restaurants that he shared with the rest of the crew, so it was a special evening “up on the roof.”

What a day – one of reflection, celebration, fellowship, fun, friendship – and lots of sobering reminders of how blessed we are to live in the comforting shadow of those who so many years ago put their names on the parchment and put their lives on the line.

God bless America!


Friday, July 03, 2009

Stepping up to the Plate – the Next Phase of Sam Horn’s Career

Any fan of the Boston Red Sox knows the name of Sam Horn. He was a “Big Papi” type slugger for the Red Sox long before David Ortiz came to Boston. In 1987, Sam set the all time major league record by hitting 10 homeruns in first 82 at bats. Sam is the inspiration for the website, The sight has attracted up to half a million unique visitors per day, and is one of the best known player-based sites and chat rooms in all of baseball. Sam is also familiar as a broadcaster who has appeared frequently on NESN and a variety of other TV and radio outlets in the Boston area.

Sam is currently looking for his next full-time job somewhere in the greater Boston region, and I am determined to help him to discover the best place to use his talents. I solicit your help in this process of discovery, and invite you to “step up to the plate” and help Sam to identify opportunities to explore.

I first met Sam in person when he began making appearances at Autograph Alley several seasons ago. A few weeks ago, we happened to enter Fenway Park at the same time, so we walked together towards Autograph Alley at the far end of Yawkey Way.

“Sam, when you are not signing autographs here, what are you doing these days?”

“Funny you should ask. I am just beginning a search for a full-time position. What do you do?”

When I told Sam that I was an executive recruiter, his eyes lit up. I offered to meet with him to learn what he hoped to do in the future. To be honest, I was not sure how that meeting would go. I have known a number of professional athletes who had few marketable skills beyond their extraordinary athletic prowess. I was eager to learn what else Sam brings to the table. I quickly discovered, much to my delight, a very bright, energetic, articulate communicator who is knowledgeable in a broad variety of fields. Not only does Sam know about and care about the world of sports, he also is passionate and knowledgeable about the worlds of media, business, public affairs and community relations. Sam has a lot to say and a lot to offer.

As a next step, it made sense to garner feedback from a group of successful young professionals I know well. So, recently a group of us gathered for lunch at the Legal Seafood in Kendall Square. In addition to the delicious fish that Legal always offers, on the menu was “Sam Horn’s Future”! I am pleased to share some feedback from those who were in attendance at our luncheon gathering.

Here are some thoughts and reactions from Dan Allard of Fresh Tilled Soil:

“Before I was able to have lunch and meet Sam Horn, I only knew of his baseball playing career and the website which bears his name. I came away from the lunch truly excited about what Sam could bring to a company or multiple companies who need to utilize a well spoken, gregarious, motivational speaker. I could feel - by just listening to him speak - his desire to succeed and can understand how he became a major league baseball player. Working in sales, as I do, I would want to be able to speak with Sam on a regular basis to discuss people's personalities and for a "pick me up." Sam could also be a spokesman for products as well.

One other area that I was affected by what Sam said was about his desire to help people. Sam would also have much success if he were working with under privileged groups and people in disadvantaged communities. Granted, it is hard to monetize these types of relationships and jobs, but people say, ‘If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.’ Sam would experience much success helping the less privileged.”

Ravi Kudesia of Micronation, Inc., offered his reactions to Sam in bullet point form:

Sam Horn is halfway in between the past and the future

• In the past, he was an accomplished and successful athlete.
• In the future, he will be a motivational leader in the corporate world.
• This leaves us with the present – the point of personal and professional transition.

Why this transition should not be a challenge.

Sam is:

• Articulate – Strong speaker; can communicate on a relatable level
• Discerning – Sports analyst; able to provide meaningful commentary
• Entrepreneurial – Outgoing; not somebody who is meant for a cubicle
• Motivational – Focus on self-betterment and helping / training others
• Opportunity Oriented – Wants to help the underprivileged prove themselves
• Positively Regarded – Well known and well regarded by his community
• Relationship Oriented – Works well with other individuals and judges character well
• Team Player – Sports and other environments show strong teamwork skills

Potential areas to investigate:

• Corporate Responsibility Spokesperson – Not a 9-5 job, the ideal firm would focus on the underprivileged in its outreach programs. It’s more emotional work than busywork and is high visibility to improve the personal brand. It also builds off of his general goodwill.
• Human Resources Manager – This would work especially well at a sports-related firm, which makes for an easier transition while opening up the gateway for more corporate jobs down the line. Builds off of his human and communication skills.
• Motivational Speaker – Also not a 9-5 job, but will draw on previous sports experience as well as previous speaking engagements. Also draws on goodwill, builds the brand and helps him network for future jobs.
• Sales Team Leader – Sales is not about college education, but about emotional and human knowledge, which are Sam’s skills. The job does require more oversight and organization than the speaking jobs.

It is clear that Dan and Ravi and the rest of the group saw in Sam many of the same strengths that have jumped out at me as I have come to known Sam Horn.

The two areas where it would seem to me that Sam would be able to make an immediate and significant contribution would be:

1. Serving in the capacity of Community Relations Officer for a corporation or consortium of corporations seeking to improve their image and reach into Boston’s diverse neighborhoods.

2. Selling a product or service to take advantage of his considerable communication and persuasive skills.

If you would be willing to join me in thinking about the best places where Sam may be able to make an immediate contribution, Sam and I will be grateful. Sam is ready to hit some homeruns for his next employer.

I will be happy to make available copies of Sam’s resume to anyone who has ideas.

Go Sox!

Go Sam!