Community, Leadership, Technology

Introducing the Commerce Forum

I am very excited to announce the launch and first event of the Commerce Forum. I am very thankful for MasterCard’s willingness to support this initiative.

There are many events in NYC that focus on products, often in demo day fashion. There are a few events with panel discussions focusing on general topics such as data or NoSQL. There are very few meetups, if any, that focus on individuals. My hope is that during these events, we will better understand the people who work in the wide field of commerce. It’s time for a different type of meetup – I hope you will join me for it.

The first event is planned for mid-January. Be sure to join the group to be eligible for a ticket!

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Technology

Is Your Body a Password?

Biometrics – data related to your physical body. Fingerprints, voice recognition, brain patterns… I have been seeing more and more biometric products in the market lately, often tied to wearables (Fitbit, Jawbone, and even Apple to name a few). I’ve even started to see clothing with integrated biometric sensors.

But going beyond the usefulness of inwardly insight, I am now starting to see biometrics replace the password. Look at Apple, a former employer of mine, with Touch ID. MasterCard, my current employer, even made a minority investment and product pilot in the space. But can this unique information replace passwords?

Traditionally, authentication has required two attributes: a username (which may or may not be public) establishing a user identity, and a password (hopefully known only by the individual) which allows access to that identity’s account. I would argue that biometrics replace the former of these two, but cannot solely replace the latter.

Think about it: what happens if someone steals or spoofs your biometric data? You can’t just log in and change your fingerprint or your retina image – they are forever unique to you (barring any unusual surgeries). Biometric identity will play a significant part of authentication in the future, but as a different type of user identification and part of multi-factor authentication.

What are your thoughts on biometrics and security? Tweet at me with #biometrics to let me know!

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Leadership

My Day with the Chief HR Officer of MasterCard

Human Resources. Unless you’ve worked in the field or worked with someone in the field, HR can seem like a black hole where decisions on promotions, raises, and layoffs are made. “Don’t mind the man behind the curtain,” so to speak. But unlike in the Wizard of Oz, many employees do not have the ability or the will to discover what the world of HR is really like. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so.

Last month, the Chief Human Resources Officer of MasterCard was kind enough to host me for a day at the corporate headquarters. I spent the day attending meetings with him and was sure to record my experience. The following is a log of my day. All names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals, when appropriate.

7:20am – I get to the global headquarters a little early and find a comfortable chair to check my email in. My day is supposed to start at 7:30am, so I want to make sure that my host has time to go though his morning routine.

7:30am – Time to meet Ron. I go into the executive wing and find his office. He is at his desk, probably checking on emails as well. He greets me, allows me to put my things away, and makes sure I know where the secret kitchen is “just in case.” We spend a good amount of time talking about my history, my professional goals, and where I see myself going. We also talk about company culture, especially as it relates to the new NYC office. He tells me about himself, a little of his professional history, and describes his role at the company. It is interesting to hear about the different constituencies he serves and he often is the one to deal with intra-executive tensions.

8:40am – A quick break. I take the time to write some of these notes and catch up on email.

8:50am – Ron shows me some slides that he has previously presented to the company’s board of directors. They outline the status of the company’s people organization, and some of where we are headed. It is interesting to see the amount of tremendous diversity in the company, but we still have more to do.

9:00am – Gregory comes in to meet with my host and discuss some exciting new recruiting programs in the works. Again, it was interesting to hear about the different constituencies involved and the tensions that can arise between them.

9:25am – Simil pops in to tell my host about a recent hire. The person’s title is Director of First Impressions and can be found at the front desk of headquarters.

10:15am – Our next meeting, Angelica comes in to talk about an upcoming TEDx style talk she was invited to give. She is planning to talk about the value of reverse mentoring. We talk about the difference in work styles between different generations, and the need to expect differences and find common ground.

10:55am – Email break with a tweet.

11:15am – We stealthily join a feedback call on a new online training program for people managers; stealthily because we don’t want to skew the feedback. The group on the call were all beta testers, and provided both very positive feedback as well as a few opportunities for improvement. Someone brings up one of my (many) favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

11:50am – Time for a walk. We visit the different HR folks around the office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my host knows each by name.

12:05pm – We grab lunch and chat about our travels. My host gets something healthy and I do not. Enough said.

1:05pm – We have a meeting with the head of employee relations who also acts as my host’s human resource business partner. Essentially, this person is “HR for HR,” which is an interesting dynamic in itself. I can imagine the experience being relatable to a doctor’s doctor.

2:10pm – One of the things our CHRO likes to do is have a little fun once in a while, so we took the opportunity to prank call an employee we mutually knew well. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t pick up her phone, so we had to leave a prank message instead.

2:15pm – We have a short meeting about employee engagement and an associated program being developed.

2:50pm – We call back the employee we pranked. She said she fell for it for a couple seconds, but then started to recognize voices. All well, we tried.

3:00pm – Ron has a call with a potential high-level hire. It is an introductory call to see if there may be any good fits. I silently listen in, and we compare notes afterwards.

3:50pm – Another email break. Unsurprisingly since he is a corporate executive, and I getting us ready for an upcoming hackathon.

4:05pm – An interesting meeting between us, the CHROs Chief of Staff, and the head of internal communications.

4:55pm – The conclusion of a great day. I say thank you, promise to keep in touch with my host, and head home.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience with MasterCard’s Chief Human Resources Officer. My experience taught me that there is a lot of planning and work that goes into running a people organization. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in running an organization take some time to learn how to manage and plan for a company’s most important asset – its people.

Continue the discussion by tweeting me with #HR!

 

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Community, Leadership

Remember to Change the World

Remember when you were in elementary school and wanted to be President, a firefighter, or in a similar public-serving profession? How good-willed, we were… So what changes as we get older? Or does it? I’m not talking about the effect of disappointed parents whose children did not become doctors or lawyers or scientists (though I am sure that this has an impact) – more so the result of the introspection one goes through thinking about one’s “purpose in life” (not to be confused with the question of the meaning of life).

Similar to the argument that Sir Ken Robinson gave with regard to creativity, this type of altruistic mentality seems to be pressured out of us as we get older. In our careers, it becomes all too easy to slip into the mindset of promotions, raises, and position as well as the power, prestige, or utility that comes with them. But these two goals need not be mutually exclusive, even (and I would argue especially) in a for-profit environment.

Consider the example of Apple (a previous employer of mine). Built very early into Apple’s OS were accessibility features that enabled individuals with special needs to use Apple products (later iOS, as well). These core features help break down societal barriers for certain individuals. Coca-Cola, a company that produces relatively simple products, completed a project in Dubai and in Pakistan and India focused on helping cultures and families connect. MasterCard (my current employer) leverages technology to open financial accessibility to those who previously had none or little, helping individuals and families do things that many (but not all) westerners take for granted. No doubt these projects and associated stories were beneficial to the core business of these organizations, as well.

All of these projects, technologies, and initiatives were not made in some corporate vacuum – they were done by individuals who realized that there were opportunities for corporate and social good. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but from time-to-time it is important to remember and imagine the possibility of doing more for the greater benefit. Ample opportunities exist to make lives and societies better, but success requires people with the will to pursue them. Be one of those people.

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Building a Corporate Culture

IMG_1249MasterCard opened an office in Manhattan this year. It’s not a bad space for a reinventing tech company. Right now we are in a temporary space which offers terrific views of downtown and both sides of the island (see pictures courtesy of my iPhone). The office is software and “innovation” focused – the teams in this office are working on cutting edge and/or high priority products and platforms, identical in mission to the final office that is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

One of the neat things about helping open a new space is that I have the opportunity to help shape the culture of the office. It is a unique opportunity normally reserved for organization founders or early members/employees. It is slightly different from a startup in that we are not just creating something from scratch or from previous experiences – we are creating a branch of an existing corporate culture. So how have we begun to do this? Two simple changes have made a significant difference:

IMG_1273The permanent space is open desk style, but even our temporary space is more open and clustered. This has lead to more conversations among employees in the office, which has helped break down any barriers that may have existed between technology and product teams. Collaboration has greatly increased among employees, even for projects not included in core responsibilities.

The office dress code is startup casual, though we certainly have some stragglers from headquarters who work in dress pants. For the most part, casual dress has lead to a less stressful environment. My hypothesis is that employees are more efficient if they are as comfortable as possible in their work environment. Anecdotally, the results in the office seem to support this.

We are in phase one of this cultural transformation, and I will certainly be writing more about it as we continue to build this office. Any tips or tricks to building a great work culture? Tweet at me with #culture, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

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Leadership

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Let me begin by saying that I am thoroughly impressed by the way that Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace) wrote this book. The anecdotal nature of Creativity, Inc. makes the reading highly enjoyable, and even emotional. But really, should we expect anything less from a co-founder of Pixar?

The story takes us through the origins and evolution of what would we would come to know as Pixar, from Lucasfilm to the stewardship of Steve Jobs and finally to Disney (everything is now Disney, in case you didn’t know). What Ed does an especially terrific job of doing is highlighting the internal struggle of individual and collective leadership at the company, and allows us as readers to understand the dynamics between those involved. While there are some parts of the novel that are somewhat superfluous or repetitive (one of the lessons of the book is to have a respect for candor), I consider myself a more informed organization leader now that I have read this book. The biggest takeaway I have from the memoir is the importance of candor. It is true that candor can sometimes be personally hurtful in the short term, but for long term success it is absolutely vital.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in organizational creativity and leadership. Now enjoy one of the many Pixar Shorts.

Have you read the book, or have insights into creativity enablement? Tweet at me with #creative, and let me know!

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