The only thing better than having dinner with a beautiful woman…

…is having dinner with two beautiful women. Feel free to quote me.

The last two weeks have included the opportunity to take part in a number of events at Mike’s and my alma mater, The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. USC excels in teaching international business, and we are currently hosting an excellent intern from the IMBA program in our Shenzhen office, so I freely admit I am shopping for next year’s intern(s).

Aside from the obvious ego boost of being asked to speak at your alma mater, it gives me enthusiasm for the future. The class of 2013 has some real ringers, students I expect to read about in the business journals a decade hence (and a few who might make the police blotter for public intoxication between now and then, much to my gratification – Go Cocks). To Aaron, Clinton, Frank and the young man with the extravagant hair who had the insane idea to eat a chili dog and then take hot sake shots at 4:00 AM, study hard. You have quite a task to live up to trail blazed by Admiral Goodtimes, aka Mike Bellamy, and I circa 1997, but you are well on your way. Make us proud.

These two weeks of travel also included meeting an amazing entrepreneur, Doreen Sullivan of Post No Bills. It is hard for me to briefly describe what they do (hell, it is hard for me to briefly describe what I do), but it is far above slapping logos on coffee mugs. I expect we will be doing plenty of business together in the future. A very dynamic woman with a very exciting company.

This week I was contacted by a student I’d met earlier in the year. She wanted my input on a project for one of her classes. We had a very enjoyable lunch, which put me in the mind to cogitate on three subjects much on my mind of late.

The first is the higher education bubble (much discussed by Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, if you care to follow along). I’ve debated whether the bubble is real with the folks from my undergraduate alma mater, but there is no denying that the price of school has risen far faster than the rate of inflation. I was very surprised to hear what this young lady was paying at a state school.

The second was the (sadly) trendy, politically correct nature of some of the classes she’s being required to take. Sustainability in a business program? Really? Like every person able to read doesn’t already know “green” products are all the rage? I know all the schools are doing it, but this strikes me as the B-school version of the “fill-in-the-ethnicity-studies” programs at the undergraduate level. Let’s keep to the rigor of the old core, shall we? I am not picking on USC, just pushing them to shuck the academic fads

The third was the advice this young lady had been given. Most people were advising her to specialize, to focus on one subject, be it finance, marketing, etc. I gave her the opposite advice. I have always striven to be a generalist. I shared with her (a badly butchered version of) one of my favorite quotes from Robert A. Heinlein. Here it is in full:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Specialization is for insects. What an amazing line. If there is quote that sums up the need for an entrepreneur to have as broad a knowledge base as possible, that’s it.

Our lunch stretched into the afternoon, then into the evening. My lunch companion is a very impressive young woman, Chinese but having spent half her life in the USA, her English is flawless, and there is obviously a great deal holding her ears apart. We had a grand time discussing the vagaries of doing business in China, the diversity of the cuisine, the peculiarities of regional culture, etc. Doreen of Post No Bills joined us around beer:30 and made an impromptu introduction to a struggling young entrepreneur with the single most amazing product concept I’ve experienced all year. The next hour was spent discussing branding, funding, IP protection, etc. We closed with a late dinner with the ladies (hence the title of this post), the final statement on the evening from our young student being, “I’ve learned more in the last nine hours than I have since I started school here!”. Mission Accomplished.

That is how we roll at PassageMaker and it is the reason I am so passionate about what I do. At 1:00 PM on Thursday, I thought lunch would be over by 2:00 PM. By 3:00 PM, I knew I’d found next year’s #1 intern candidate, and by 7:00 PM I had a new client with a product that will shake its industry to the core – an industry in which I have not one iota of experience, but the difference is I know how to learn and learn fast. That is core of how PassageMaker operates – it has to be as our clients are so diverse – and I will credit USC with helping us hone that most critical of skills. And by the 4:00 PM Friday, I had investors interested enough to schedule a meeting to meet the inventor with less than week’s notice.

Get an MBA to climb the corporate ladder? Nah, not for me. Specialization is for insects.


I’ve had a number of opportunities lately to interact with college students recently, both bachelor and graduate levels. Going back to my thoughts on child labor, and the generally miserable state of the US economy, a couple things stuck out.

I was invited to participate in a “business etiquette dinner” for graduating business majors from one of my alma maters. They asked me to wear “business attire”, so of course I showed up in boots, jeans and a leather jacket. I made the point when I introduced myself that when you own your own business, you can dress anyway you want. No ties at work is one of my rules for life. Someone better be getting married or have died before I’ll wear a tie (tuxedos don’t count). Life is too short for superfluous neckwear.

The point of this dinner was to teach the future business leaders of America not to pick their noses in public, don’t order the lobster on a job interview or get hammered on the boss’s wine. I suppose this is all valuable advice, though I am guessing everyone at my table already knew which one was the salad fork.

In my gleefully subversive way, I enjoyed telling them about “table manners” in China (there aren’t any) and loading them up with alcohol-besotted China stories – like the time a friend stripped off his shirt and did The Worm down the middle of the banquet table. Very athletic guy. He got the job, in case you were wondering.

However, the one rather shocking thing was that not one of these “business” majors had held a job before. And nearly all of them wanted to be bankers or lawyers. I weep for the future of this country. I told them they should consider entrepreneurship, making things for a living and an international career. Maybe one of them had some glimmer of what I was talking about.

Do something you love, and it will never feel like work. Don’t work for the Man; BE the Man.

I learned a great deal about business in undergrad and grad schools. I am not belittling the value of courses in operations, accounting, marketing, finance, etc. Some of those subjects, like accounting, I have no idea how you would learn them without a classroom setting. But I also know that I absorbed what I did in the classroom because I already had a frame of reference and life experience to make it relevant. I don’t know how it comes across as anything but theory otherwise.

I am not sure how successful they will be finding employment in a few months time. I haven’t watched Andy Rooney in years, but I expect their humility will have a lot to do with that success.

Much is being written about education as the next bubble. I know that spending tens of thousands a year to get a degree before you’ve ever put in 40 hours anywhere seems less sensible than ever. Work for a year as manual labor before blowing $100,000 of your parent’s money (or taking on the debt – gak!) for crying out loud. I worked in a factory and a brewery before heading off to school. Best learning experience I had before grad school.

The graduate students were far more impressive, as one would expect. All I spoke to had work and overseas experience. Their program requires them to get an internship, and they were all already looking before the program even began, especially the China trackers. We are lucky enough to have a student from Mike’s and my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, starting in Shenzhen this week. It is a big moment to grow a company such that you can offer an internship – when we went to school there, nearly all the internships were with companies like GM or Delphi.

Tired and late – nearly 2 AM – 10 years out from my MBA and I am still working 18+ hours a day (and loving every minute of it). But then, I’ve got plenty of practice.