Friday, November 17, 2006

Of Luck and Timing.

I now find myself comparing the West Coast to Southern Illinois and attempting to find answers and insights into my life. A statement that I wasn't ready for when I first moved back to Southern Illinois was "how lucky" I am. I figure I have been told I'm lucky, by maybe 200 people in Carbondale since I moved back to town. Never have I been told I'm lucky on the West Coast. Kind of interesting isn't it?

One result of writing this blog as been that I am not longer told I'm lucky. After reading my ideas about management of SIUC, I guess you guys have figured out that I know a lot about management. I'm fairly sure that if SIU was managed by someone with my skill level it could be turned around, to bad almost no one with my management skill level has a PhD and is looking for a job.

I was on a SIU search committee a couple of years ago. I realized that I have hired and managed more people then everyone else on the search committee combined. Looking back I'm not sure how I did it, but in each of 1997 and 1998 I phone screened around a 1000 people each year, interviewed 250 or 300 in person and hired over 100 people. I never intended to become such an expert on resumes, but there you go. Made a lot of money hiring all those people, but I wouldn't want to do it again. So, if you can interview, hire and manage over 100 people a year and make money while you do it are you lucky?

We were lucky at my little Seattle based company, but how many people on Earth could have done it in the same situation? Almost none.

One of the really lucky things that happened in my life is that I had the good fortune in 1998/1999 of being offered a buyout of my little company and having partners who I hated at the same time. I sat down and figured out that my little company was in great danger of getting squished like a bug, because of a number of factors. This is what great timing is about, imagine realizing that the "dot com" stock bubble was about to burst, owning a bunch of stock riding the bubble and having time to sell it? Of course, my timing was good, but how many other people were smart, lucky or strong enough to sell? Almost no one it turns out.

If you were investing over 100% of your net worth in a house in a boom market today, would you sell? Would you be smart enough to know the right answer before it was to late? Smart, lucky or good timing?

I been back on the West Coast again of late and have found that no one tells me I'm lucky there again. My brief description of who I am makes people smile and I think they suspect I'm smart. I'm not sure there is a lesson there for you, but there sure is one for me.

Of course, I don't want to lose everything and start again from scratch. But, if I did I'm fairly sure I would do well again. I like the work and I'm good at it.

Let me leave you with this quote, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Your comments are always welcome.


sthorne said...

And here I always said "The harder I work, the behinder I get."

Jonathan Bean said...


You really ought to contribute your business plan and other info. to

I based a business history exercise on the archive and students must do follow up research. It would also be interesting for them to look up and contribute info. to the archive on a SIU alum's firm.

Yes, you are a smart manager and a reflective blogger. On the smart management part, you'd love some of the panels at the conference I am attending:

One chap left Duke to create a for-profit college. They talk about "customer service," no tenure but stock options -- they were flooded with applications from really talented professors at places like Johns Hopkins who wanted to teach at a school devoted to liberal arts learning and the sciences. It's called "Founder's College."

Other entrepreneurial ideas here. There is a storm coming and the big, leaking ships that aren't moving will be swept away. More later.

Up at U of I, they have created a new Academy of Capitalism that is really exciting. It all started when a rich donor, whom I met here, was invited to listen to the new president's inaugural address and it started with "we need to be more diverse to meet the diversities of our increasingly diverse world, blah, blah." He thought to himself, "My God, can't they do something original?" His idea was to elevate economic literacy through the academy -- God knows, it is low, low, low.

We need something like that at SIU.

Anonymous said...

Peter's "luck" is really his albatross.

Any fool could go to California, throw money at bright people, and accomplish something.

Would be a greater thing by far, to stay in Southern Illinois and accomplish something significant.

John in Sammamish said...

I think the quote is attributed to Samuel Goldwyn