Connecting the Dots in Unexpected Places – My MBA@UNC Immersion Weekend Experience

by on April 5th, 2012

Who would ever think that a tech Giant like Google could be compared to a drug and rehabilitation facility? Although disparate in their mission, size, and structure, I learned that you can connect the dots in the most unlikely places. This was just one of many takeaways from our recent Immersion Weekend in San Francisco.

The MBA@UNC leadership team pulled together some phenomenal content that allowed us to cover the following in three short days:

  • Discuss venture capital with some of the Bay Area’s key leaders including Tim Haley of Redpoint Ventures and Dan Rosen from Highland Capital.
  • Learn about disruptive business models direct from Joe Kennedy, CEO of Pandora.
  • Study a case with an MBA@UNC professor on Samasource’s innovative business model of providing work (not aid) in remote areas.
  • Invent a new product now posted on Quirky.

But my personal highlights were the bookends of Day 1, which started with a visit to the Google campus in Mountain View and finished with a Q&A at the Delancey Street Foundation.  We all know Google’s story, but Delancey was new to me.  According to its website, Delancey is “the country’s leading residential self-help organization for substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom…  [The] average resident has been a hard-core drug addict for sixteen years, abusing alcohol and multiple drugs and has dropped out of school at the 7th grade and has been institutionalized several times.”  To sustain operations, Delancey residents run 12 independent enterprises.  The graduation rate from Delancey is higher than the traditional prison system.

So here’s what pulled my heartstrings.  Delancey believes in empowering the people, and when people are empowered, they will surprise you by doing great things. Sounds like Google. Delancey believes in letting people try something, even if it might be result in failure. Again, sounds like Google. I could name 10 other parallels of shared qualities between the two organizations. It was uncanny.

The light bulb in my head lit up when I connected the dots: These two completely unique organizations leverage the same qualities for success.  I can totally take this back to work with me.

I work in the technology industry so I’m going to take the advice the VC guys gave me: When evaluating software, look at new entrants, not just large incumbents. Try new things and allow myself to fail sometimes. With this, maybe I’ll also find some amazing results.

Thanks to the MBA@UNC immersion planning team for helping me connect the dots and for pulling together this truly phenomenal agenda.  Next Immersion Weekend for me: Sao Paulo in September!

About Brian McGrath: After 12 years working in management and technology consulting, Brian went through a major career transition in 2011.  While he loved consulting, Brian needed a career that better aligned to raising his two daughters.  Now, Brian’s career is focused on running a global eCommerce technology platform .

Along with his wife, Brian also owns a small business called Tiny Giraffe where they make wooden children’s blocks that are sold globally online.  Brian lives in central New Jersey, and splits the work week between New Jersey and New York City. His undergraduate degree is in math and economics from Northwestern University.

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