The Wisdom and Memory of Chris Walker, “from the grave”


My friend and fellow CEO Clubs Lifetime Member, Chris Walker, passed away at the end of August.  Chris was brilliant, super successful in business, humble, generous, and perhaps one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever met.  There are not enough words to describe Chris, but in short, he was a unique and amazing person.

Here is a nice tribute to Chris from the International Dark Sky Association.

Chris was young at heart, and young in age.  He was only 66, but he had the strength and energy of someone 26.  He left the earth too soon, with so much more to do and experience, and so much more influence to have on it.  He wrote a touching farewell letter to his friends, filled with advice and wisdom.”  I took the liberty of highlighting some passages.

“This will be read at my funeral. I’m not sure when it will take place, or where. But you are invited. 


When I’ve gone to funerals, I thought too much time was spent trying to characterize the deceased or to recycle liturgy from the past. Now that it’s my turn, I’m asking your indulgence to explain myself straight from the horse’s mouth. After all, its my party and I’ll cry if I want to. As the song says, you would cry too, if it happened to you.

In saying goodbye to you today, I wanted to dispel some myths.

The first is that you can’t speak from the grave. That may be strictly true, but I always like to have the last word. That’s why I have tried my hand at writing. And here I have it both ways.

Another myth is that I would be late to my funeral. As an advocate for an overscheduled life, I heard this phrase often. However, I would call to your attention that I beat you all to it. For one of the first times in my life, I am early to a gathering. So there. Never be too smug about forecasting the future. 

I hope that this occasion is one for good fellowship. Only a few fleeting tears are allowed. This is a time for joy, to celebrate a life that I feel, looking back, was well spent. I suppose it would have been possible to make a few smarter decisions from time to time, but overall, I am well satisfied at how things turned out. All you can ask out of anyone is to play the cards they have been dealt. We live life forward, and the past is only a guide to what is to come. Like Harry Truman, I don’t regret very much and didn’t spend much time reviewing what-if scenarios. Every experience, whether momentarily pleasant or unpleasant, teaches us, and is valuable for that alone. I’ve learned not to let success or failure bother me too much. And remember, what goes around, comes around.  And in our lifetime typically. No reincarnation apparatus is necessary. Be nice to yourself by being nice to others. 

In truth, my life turned out to be more pleasant, and stimulating, than I ever imagined as a child. The reason for that was that the marvelous progress of our civilization has given capabilities to each of us that we could scarcely conceive when younger.

It was also my good fortune always to have the resources to do what I wanted, at every stage. I was born rich, I lived a rich life, and I died rich. Being rich means being able to spend your time as you please. What more can anyone ask for? Each of you is richer than you think, by the way. 

Now it is true that I didn’t live as many years as I would have liked, but to confess, any amount of time would have been too short. In the context of a 13-billion-year-old universe, any lifetime is immaterial. I learned that the best attitude was to want the right things, but not to want them too much. To stay alive is a desire, but doesn’t last forever. We do not choose to come into this world, and have quite limited control over when we leave. Life is a mixed game of skill and chance, and the chance element can never be eliminated. Death is the price of life, so don’t waste your time. 

For you the living, figure out what you want to accomplish and don’t put it off too long. Even if everything you can think of dying from is miraculously curable, you still don’t have that many more years. Time is passing more quickly as we age, don’t you agree?

I believe in double entry accounting for time. We lead life forward, but we must do a balance sheet measuring time and looking backward. Figure out your goals and how much time you have to accomplish them, and make sure you get started early enough to produce what satisfies your standards. 

As life progressed, I developed some guidelines.

The first is to have fantasies. I believe in them strongly. I also believe in fantasy fulfillment. Then moving on to the next set. I believe in desire, and satisfying desire. I differ from the Buddhists in this regard. The really important ones are internal and self generated. Establishing your own standards, learning more through the years, and raising the bar for the next round, is a good process for everyone. It’s really irrelevant what others are up to. I tried never to let the madding world distract me too much from what I believed in. Following where my mind led me, unfettered by conventional wisdom, was a good strategy. 

My mother said that when she hit 70, she was going to speak her mind regardless of what others thought. I adopted her wisdom earlier, and never regretted that attitude. 

My father’s best advice, which I also adopted, was to deal with people as individuals. Not by titles, nor the age, nor the appearance, nor the group identity. Find out what makes a person tick and deal with that reality. 

The world is composed of distinctive personalities. It takes work to dig out an individuals essence, but it is worth it.. Just what is going on with this person? When I am talking; what is being heard?

I enjoyed this world with a lot of variety built in. It’s endlessly entertaining if you live with the right spirit.  

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, I wondered all through my adult life whether it is true that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. There is much wisdom in that aphorism. Regardless, I felt the best approach in management and dealing with people generally, is to bring out the strengths, and overlook the weaknesses. What good does it do to complain about behavior or attitudes in others when they have so much to offer on the positive side?

We spend too much time in school studying the acquisition of power. We read books about one war after another. Power for what? The only real power we have, or should aspire to, is the power to lead a proper life by our own standards, and the power to help others achieve what is in their own best interest, according to their own standards. This is all. Anything else is hubris. 

Finally, I commend some time on the road. In the course of a lifetime I saw most of the beauty spots on our lovely planet. This took about three years worth of steady travel. Break it into bite sized intervals. But do it, even if it takes time or money you might hesitate to spend. 

It is a long way to the next planet, and so much to see here. I’ve always believed in staying somewhere until I felt at home, and only then moving on. How well do you know your home planet and its many beauty spots?

Mobility is godlike. Imagine the power to go wherever you wish either on your own power, or by taking advantage of the wonderful travel tools at your disposal. Everything you need can be brought along or acquired on the way! Be divine and move around. 

I was treated, as a total stranger, with marvelous care by everyone I met in the course of my journeys. They provided me with lots of precious moments and treasured memories. 

Another useful lifestyle habit was to split my time between the tried and true and the unknown. I use the 80/20 rule. 80% of my time was spent plowing the same fields, bringing in the harvest in predictable ways. The other 20% was devoted to journeys to unknown places with unpredictable outcomes. This constant openness to novelty made every day one I looked forward to.

In terms of material possessions, I decided to live rich and die poor. There are those who say that we arrive with nothing and leave with nothing, but that is not strictly true. In our Second Age civilization, and for those of higher order, every newborn is entitled to a fair start, either by private means or public. Food, basic education, and competent adult supervision are essential for a child. As an adult, though, I believe we must earn our living from the voluntary exchange of goods and services with our fellow man. The state exists only to facilitate this activity, not to replace it. I arrived with a lot, in the form of good parents, and left with nothing. Most of us will make a net contribution to society and that is why I am optimistic that our civilization will progress and that individuals in the future will be able lead more fulfilling lives. I want to publicly thank all those whose past inventions and achievements made the wealth of my life possible.

What is left over should be given away during your lifetime. Money means nothing unless it is properly placed. Giving away money is easier than acquiring it in the first place, but it still requires skill. Use the same skills you used to accumulate wealth when you dispose of it.  

Finally, as we close our time together, take note of your surroundings. Look for something you never noticed before. It is there, just waiting for you to touch it. That is the attitude I tried to bring to every day. 

I learned, not too late, that when doors shut, we see that others are open. In fact they were open all the time! Only I never noticed them! You have more options than you realize. 

Laugh a lot. Laughter is good for your health. The ability to inspire to laugh in others is among your most valuable talents. And laughing at the absurdity of some of life’s inevitabilities is our only practical way to protest. 

Having had a near-death experience in my midlife, I learned to be overjoyed at opening my eyes every morning and finding my senses still working. 

As the saying goes – 

Yesterday was history

Tomorrow is a dream. 

Today is a gift, and that is why we call it “the present.”

Thank you for coming to help me celebrate the end of my adventure. It is with great admiration and affection that I salute you, my friends, for the last time.”

R.I.P Chris.  Thanks for the memories.  You will be missed, my Friend.


InvestMaryland, Winning by Fueling Innovation + Creating Jobs

The State of Maryland is creating a $70 million investment fund to deploy into venture capital funds to stimulate innovation, spur economic growth, and create jobs.

This initiative is called “InvestMaryland,” and I am proud to have been appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley as a Member of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, which will provide guidance to and oversight of the program.

This is a groundbreaking effort by the State of Maryland, and I applaud all of the various business and political constituencies who made this happen.

The State plans to raise at least $70 million by auctioning off tax credits to insurance companies.  About 2/3 of these proceeds will be invested into private venture capital funds, and 1/3 will be given to the Maryland Venture Fund, which will in turn invest in emerging companies in industried such as information technology, clean energy, and life sciences, among others.

Maryland is not the first state to employ this idea.  Eleven other states already have programs similar to InvestMaryland.  The expected benefit from InvestMaryland, according to some, is the creation of 2000+ new jobs while supporting at least 200 businesses.

Here is the the link to’s article in February, 2011 which covers the announcement of the program.

I am encouraged by these kinds of initiatives and would love to see more states embrace these kinds of public-private efforts to stimulate capital formation, and help create jobs and nurture new technologies and emerging companies.

Thank you for reading.  Let me know your thoughts about the InvestMaryland program or other ways in which technologies and small businesses can be supported.  And please sign up for my Blog!

Featured image courtesy of sidewalk flying licensed via creative commons.

Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

A few days before Steve Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, my family and I paid a visit to Apple’s corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA.  My daughter Caroline, a huge fan of all products Apple, was the driving force behind our pilgrimage to this tech “mecca.”

We were able to walk around the lobby, which had a display case of the company’s 3 Emmy Awards.  Interestingly, these were the ONLY awards showcased in the lobby.  We talked to a few Apple employees and asked them questions about Steve Jobs.  His office is on the 4th floor (top floor) and he is known to walk around a lot and talk to employees.

Like most students of business, I have been mesmerized by Steve’s approach to business, as well as his personal and corporate success.  In many ways, he is the most accomplished business leader in the last century, having almost singlehandedly invented the PC industry and revolutionized 5 other industries:  cell phones, consumer electronics, film, music, and retail, while influencing virtually every other industry.  His roles at Apple: co-founder, marketer, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, creative genius, designer, architect, etc.

The most important role Steve plays, however, is also the least discussed, and that is his role as Apple’s Customer Experience Obsessor, a different kind of “CEO.”  (OK, I know that the word “obsessor” does not exist according to Merriam-Webster, but you know what I mean!)   Steve’s obsessive focus on customer experience is the prime reason for Apple’s immense success.

Here are 6 Customer Experience Obsessions that are core to Apple (please pardon the pun).

1.  Customers must fall in love at first sight – For Steve, the customer experience begins with the physical beauty and elegance of Apple’s products. Striking, amazing, revolutionary, simple, and most importantly, COOL!  Apple stuff looks great, they sound great, and they FEEL great.  They touch all the senses, and this is how customers get hooked on them.

2.  A child must be able to use it! – With Apple products, more than any other, product and user become one.  User interfaces, when introduced, have all been VASTLY superior to the competition’s far clunkier interfaces. For example, the original Macintosh desktop computer was truly revolutionary.  It had a unique “windows” GUI interface, and users interacted with the computer via a brand new device called a “mouse.”  And how about the original iPod, with its click wheel, the iPhone with its dynamic touch screen, and the iPad – they were so easy that young children could use them.

3. NO user manuals –  Who doesn’t hate user manuals?  All Apple devices come out of the box ready to use and in working condition, with NO setup or configuration required. This has become a hallmark of the Apple brand.  Peripherals are all “plug and play.” There is no need for user manuals because Steve knows that customers don’t want to deal with complexity.  They want their new toys to work right away with no brain damage, so he made sure his industrial designers delivered on this brand promise.

4. Make the buying experience easy, and customers will buy more –  Whether it’s downloading videos and music from iTunes, or buying a laptop from an Apple Store, the experience is easy, friendly, and even fun!  We all know how super easy it is to preview and buy media on iTunes.  And what happens when you go to an Apple store?  They are clean, well organized, and have lots of demos you can try.  Their salespeople are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and PASSIONATE.  And when you’re ready to buy, you don’t go to a counter.  Your salesperson uses an iPod touch POS device with credit card scanner, and the process is about the easiest retail experience you’ll ever have.

5. The products MUST BE RELIABLE – People often criticize Apple for having closed or proprietary technologies, and for overly controlling application development partners (iPhone and iPad apps).  While Apple surely makes more money and keeps competitors at bay this way, Steve’s real reason for this is QUALITY CONTROL.  Apple products work BETTER and are less buggy and less susceptible to viruses because of the seamless integration of hardware and software, their tight control over partnerships, and their use of higher quality components and awesome design.  And with reliable products come customer satisfaction and evangelism, which brings us to Steve’s 6th customer experience concept:

6. The Best Customer Service is NO Customer Service – Steve clearly understands this customer service adage.  The theory is that if you do a great job acquiring and delivering for your customer, you won’t have the need for customer service.  Of course, every company has customer service issues, but those that have the fewest issues are the companies who do a great job making their customers happy, and therefore have the highest customer satisfaction.  And Apple’s customer service is very good, especially for a consumer products company.

At the end of the day, satisfied customers are repeat customers, and they evangelize on Apple’s behalf.  Steve knows this and that’s why he focused on the entire customer experience:  the fun and low-friction buying experience, each product’s “WOW” factor, the user interface, product reliability, and good customer service.

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Winning by Un-Networking, the CADRE way

Have you ever wondered whether there was a better way to network with other professionals and peers?  Tired of getting business cards thrust at you and having to listen to dozens of elevator pitches at each networking event?  Frustrated at the lack of follow-up with someone you met?  Feel like you’re wasting valuable time going to the wrong events and talking to the wrong people?

Derek and Melanie Coburn may have found the better way!  They call it Un-Networking, and it’s practiced by the members of CADRE, the community of remarkable professionals that they founded earlier this year.

The idea for using the term Un-Networking came from one of Derek’s favorite business books, Un-Marketing by Scott Stratten. What Stratten suggests about marketing, also applies to networking. In the “typical” networking experience, most people approach others in a way that they would hate if they were on the receiving end. As David Siteman Garland says, a lot of professionals are looking for one night stands at networking events, instead of looking to connect with people with whom they can build meaningful relationships. Most people attending networking events are focused on themselves and what they can get out of it: Here’s my card, do you need what I’m selling, can we meet for lunch so I can tell you even more about how awesome I am, etc.? This approach doesn’t work for top-notch professionals.  Un-Networking undoes some of our existing habits and turns on its head what we have previously accepted as the “correct way” to network.

Un-Networking Lunches provide conducive environments for efficiently and effectively meeting other remarkable professionals who are also committed to developing mutually beneficial relationships. During each dutch-treat lunch of 8-10 CADRE members, each attendee has 5-7 minutes to tell the story about his or her business and how the group can identify potential opportunities. Lunches are moderated by Derek who, by intimately knowing each attendee’s business, can facilitate ideal connections and even chime in to add color to each person’s story.  Feedback sheets are filled out and turned in, and post-luncheon commitments are followed-up on and checked by Melanie to insure accountability.  This last part is key, as it’s the following up part of connecting that often fails.

And what is CADRE? “CADRE” is an acronym for “Connecting Advocates, Deepening Relationships,  Exclusively.”  CADRE is a group of 85+ (and growing) like-minded members who believe in giving first, helping others altruistically, and advocating for each other.  It’s a powerful concept that I have not seen before.

According to Derek, “The idea for CADRE really came about after I hosted a round table lunch in November, 2010. I did this regularly for my clients and strategic partners, as a way to add value within my wealth management practice. About five days after this lunch, which seemed like a huge success, I noticed that no one had really done any follow up. I couldn’t understand. So that evening, I sent out 35 emails re-connected the folks who had met that day. 15 meetings were set up, and at least five acquired new clients, either directly from one of the others, or via referrals. The light bulb went on.  I knew there could be real value in creating a business model that provided a system for helping successful professionals in following up with meaningful connections.”  I was personally so impressed by Derek and Melanie and their concept that I immediately signed on as a member and Advisory Board member, as well.  The experience has been excellent and very rewarding.  It is refreshing to get to know and interact with a group of A Players who believe in helping others, even before helping themselves.

The Coburns’ vision for CADRE is to bring together the best of the best, and adding as much value as possible for them. Derek says, “I feel like we are building a business from the outside in. Most businesses start with a clear offering, try to make money, and then worry about ideal clients, providing incredible service and building a great culture. We are starting with all of these and are excited about how it is unfolding. I recently read a book called Little Bets and it was all about trying a lot of different things within a business, and then build on the ideas that are successful. We are definitely taking this approach within our community. We are getting great feedback from our members as to what is working and what is not, and ultimately, they will mold the vision for CADRE.”

By revolutionizing the way networking is done and the way a startup can be grown, Derek and Melanie are certainly blazing new trails.  Judging by the tremendous buzz generated so far, as well as membership growth and member satisfaction, CADRE will be here for a long time.

What do you think?  Please share some of your best tips for networking and connecting. What works best for you?

Thanks very much for reading.  Please comment below and sign up for my Blog!

Featured image courtesy of Sean MacEntee licensed via creative commons.