Month: July 2006
I put a webcam up at my place in Homer, Alaska. You can access it via my about me page or – thanks to Rob Shurtleff (who recommended the webcam to me in the first place) – on Zeitcam.com (it’s listed as the Homer Webcam and there’s a pretty neat time lapse option.) It turns out there’s a second webcam in Homer pointing at the Augustine Volcano. As you can see, it’s been a shitty weather day here, but I managed to pound out a 15 mile run, finish off The Stolen Child, and enjoy The Devil Wears Prada. In case you are curious, the camera is a StarDot NetCam Megapixel – it’s a remarkable device that includes a Linux server and an Ethernet Port.
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Last week, a private equity group led by KKR, Bain Capital, and Merrill Lynch announced that they were acquiring HCA for $33 billion. HCA is the largest hospital operator in the United States, owning or operating 176 hospitals, 92 freestanding surgery centers and facilities for outpatient and ancillary services in 21 states, England and Switzerland.
Stan Feld (my dad – a retired endocrinologist and – among other things – the inventor of “the neck check“) – who has been writing a blog for several months titled Repairing the Healthcare System – sees this deal as another step backward. He’s spent the past few months deconstructing the problems with today’s healthcare system in the US and is starting to put together the building blocks for his solution. He shines a light on some of the potential second order effects of a deal like this which he concludes:
If I am correct, rather then decreasing the cost of care through efficiency of care and an increased quality of care to decrease complications of chronic disease, we will see an increase in cost of care.
The deal is far from done and there’s plenty of chatter about other potential syndicates forming to make an offer along with the predictable shareholder lawsuits to block the deal, presumably with the goal of increasing the price on the deal. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the largest private equity deal to date will undoubtably be interesting to watch unfold.
About an hour into Superman Returns, Amy leaned over to me and whispered “The Matrix wrecked everything.” I yawned about 20 times during this two hours and thirty four minutes of this movie – it’s was as boring an “action/adventure” movie as I’ve seen in a while. We are in movie hell this summer up in Homer – we walked out of Nacho Libre after 20 minutes and stumbled through the disappointing Click. So far, only Cars has been satisfying. When is The Matrix IV coming out?
Colorado saw two big acquisitions this week – both in the telecomm (which – in my universe – includes what used to be called cable) sector.
On Friday, Time Warner Telecom announced that it acquired Xspedius Communications for $531.5 million. Colorado VC Meritage was the first round investor in Xspedius and will get a nice return from this deal when it closes. Congrats to my friends at Meritage.
Also – on Friday – we were reminded that the sale of Adelphia’s assets have been finalized. Adelphia officially goes away on Monday, with some of it going to Comcast and some going to Time Warner. This has been a massively non-trivial exercise for the turn around team lead by Bill Schleyer and Ron Cooper (previously head of AT&T Broadband until it merged with Comcast in 2002) – I’m betting there are a lot of people that are going to take at least a week off. Congrats Ron and crew for salvaging this mess.
While it’s hard to categorize Liberty Media as a telecom company, it most definitely is a Colorado technology / Internet / media company. Liberty Media also bought up a company last week, announcing that they’d acquired BuySeasons, which calls itself the largest online custome retailer.
As usual, Silicon Valley and most of the tech blogosphere paid little attention as this was overshadowed by the massive acquisition of Mercury Interactive by Hewlett Packard for $4.5 billion. Ironically, Mercury has a nice presence in Boulder as a result of their acquisition of Freshwater Software in 2001 for $147 million. I hope my friends at Mercury are enjoying the nice increase in the value of their stock options – hopefully they were all granted at appropriate prices.
Niel Robertson has a hilarious post up of an article he wrote for the New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs section. He got rejected by them, but not by me. Awesome Niel.
Peter Rip of Leapfrog Ventures has a what I think should become a classic entrepreneur post on business models. He gives some context about the term (and why it’s often annoying, as in “what’s your business model’ – c’mon – can’t you think of a deeper question?) He then decomposes the way he thinks about it, ending with a superb chart (that Peter acknowledges it likely incomplete.) While you might not think about this the same way Peter does, it should stimulate you to “think about how to think about” your business model.
Pascal Levensohn – the founder of Levensohn Venture Partners – wrote a comment to my post title The Agenda (in the Board of Directors series) that I wanted to promote to a full post (since I expect only some of you read comments.) Pascal linked to a presentation he used to moderate a panel on Best Practices for Running a Board Meeting. Excellent stuff.
The Agenda. This little one page document sets the tone, pace, and content of your board meeting. It’s fundamental to the success of a board meeting, so you’d think it wouldn’t be as screwed up as often as it is. As Jim Lejeal and I continue our Board of Directors series , we thought we tackle this subject next.
Once you’ve attended a number of board meetings, we expect you’ll reach the conclusion that a good agenda can make a big difference in the quality of a board meeting. The most common mistake is that there isn’t an agenda; the second most common mistake is that when there is an agenda, it’s not followed. We’ve found the latter to be the more pervasive – it’s easy to put together a boilerplate agenda and use the same one meeting after meeting, but the board meeting itself covers a different set of issues and travels down a path that would cause an observer of the meeting to think the agenda and the meeting existed in parallel universes.
A good agenda is one page long, has each topic clearly articulated, and lists the length of time expected for the topic and the person responsible for leading the discussion. There should be no surprises in the board meeting – the agenda should be clear about what is being covered.
We suggest that – as a starting point – you destroy the boilerplate agenda that your law firm gave you and start from scratch. Ask a few of your board members for sample “good agendas” from other boards meetings for boards that they think run well. Use this as a background, but create an agenda that is specific to your board meeting. Create a new agenda for each board meeting – don’t fall in the rut of copying the last meeting’s agenda.
Order the agenda so that the topics that are the most important to address in the meeting are covered first. A common mistake is to save the important topics for the end of the meeting. This is often done to facilitate a closed session of the board to address these topics. However, board members often have time constraints (other meetings, planes to catch) where they have to leave around the time your board meeting is scheduled to end. By putting the important issues last, you run the risk of having half your board leave mid discussion of the company’s pressing issue – or worse – you unneccesarily rush through the issue, raising the risk that the issue at hand isn’t properly vetted or understood by your board.
Circulate the agenda to your board in advance and get feedback that you’re covering topics that you and your board feel ought to be discussed. If your board has a Chairman or a lead director, enlist him to help you with this. A side note to all you frustrated board members out there who feel that management doesn’t cover the pressing issues you’d like to see covered in your board meetings: an agenda circulated in advance of the meeting is your opportunity to schedule the topics you’d like to see addressed.
Assign time blocks to each item that are reasonable allocations of the meeting time. Stick to the time constraints. If your board culture is to involve members of management in the board meeting, review the agenda with your team and discuss the time constraints in advance. It’s frustrating when a discussion on say – Marketing – that is assigned 10 minutes (often 9 minutes more than is necessary) is allowed to consume 45 minutes of your meeting. Schedule breaks and stick to the allocated time.
Don’t simply copy the flow of your board report on your agenda and spend your board meeting talking about what you’ve already delivered to your board in written format. While portions of your report deserve discussion in your meeting, performing a page-flip-read-and-review of your written report is a huge waste of time (and nauseating to your board members that can actually read.) Presumably your board has already thoroughly read your board report (if you don’t think they have, make sure you’ve set the expectation that you expect them to do this) – they don’t need you to re-read it to them in your meeting. Give your board time to ask questions and discuss any issues in each operating area of the business, using the written text as a backdrop.
With respect to the financials, you should ignore what we just said above. A financial review should be performed at every meeting along with a page-flip-read-and-review of the primary financial statements regardless of how well your board has studied the financials in advance of the meeting.
Make sure that you’ve allocated time for your voting issues and identify what these items are in the agenda to ensure you vote on all of them.
Finally, pay attention to the silly little details. Include the time and date for the meeting on the agenda. If you have the potential for board or management team members to call in, including the dial up number (if it’s a toll free number, include a local number for the board members calling in internationally.) Include the contact info for someone at the company that can assist any board member with directions or logistics in case they have difficulty getting to the meeting or dialing in. Include information for meals if you are having them.
When we started this point, we talked about a “good agenda.” Your board agenda doesn’t have to be “great” – “good” is fine. However, a “good” agenda can help you with the ultimate goal – that of a great board meeting.
Lucy Sanders – the CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology – was a key participant in last week’s Microsoft Annual Faculty Summit. InformationWeek has a good summary of the meeting – and the issues – up on the web in an article titled “Funding Innovation Where It’s Incubated.”
The basic message – as stated directly by Dan Mote (president of the University of Maryland) is that “”Students do not see opportunity in our field [IT and computer science]. And it’s not just kids in poor districts–even the rich kids don’t get jazzed about tech. That’s going to be a problem as computer companies hunt for the next generation of workers.”
Lucy – who is one of the most insightful and articulate people I know when discussing this issue – added “Part of the reason the U.S. isn’t grooming enough future computer jocks could be that the discipline mystifies lots of kids. Computer science is a stealth profession – no one really knows what we do. Instead of teaching how computers can help solve practical problems, schools’ coursework couches things in terms of technologies – Java and C vs. business and medicine. That’s just the wrong way to approach it, [Education needs to get] away from the notion that computing equals programming.”
Google is having a similar summit in a few days. I’m glad major software companies are thinking hard about this and getting engaged. We’ve got to figure out how to get our kids to get re-excited about computer science.