Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bleachers' Brew #202 Graduation Speech

This appears in the Monday March 28, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror.

Graduation Speech

by rick olivares

During my son’s graduation last Saturday, a youthful speaker talked about how she pursued what she loved and took up a college course that was opposed to what others expected of her. She refused to be a slave to the conventional and to join the rat race for commons. And she correctly noted that while the world has changed and rendered many of what came before as redundant or even obsolete, new jobs and ventures that were unthinkable 10 years ago have opened up and flourished. It’s a whole new world out there for the taking and it entails a paradigm shift to grasp the magnitude of what lies ahead.

As she spoke, I thought about others; people who have challenged conventional wisdom and cliché-be-damned, wanted to change the world. And it does make great food for thought.

At the Macworld Conference and Expo in January 2007 in San Francisco where Apple Inc. Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he ended his keynote address with a statement that said volumes not just about his vision but also of what set apart an all-time great from mere mortals: “There's an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.' And we've always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will."

That resonated with me just as much as when Michael Jordan revealed his secret about making free throws during a slump. His Airness said that if his short was short, he simply aimed for the back rim of the basket. That way even if the shot still clanged off, he would still be in a position to grab an offensive rebound. Being one step ahead with an already quick first step – that’s bleeping deadly. Armed with that mindset and iron clad will, Jordan turned out to be one of basketball’s greatest scorers and rebounding guards ever.

Sports is life, and conversely, life is sports. The same can be said as well for business. There is so much more to be learned not just from team captains but the captains of industry. Let me qualify that further – men who are trailblazers with a mindset to change the world rather than people who make cash on investments or a penchant for railroading small businesses while making it their own.

Recently, the BMW Oracle Racing Team of Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison recaptured the 33rd America’s Cup beating defending champion Alinghi 5, a sloop-built catamaran owned by Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, two races to none.

The 90-foot trimaran (a multi-hulled boat) used by BMW Oracle, nicknamed “USA-17” used the largest rigid sail of the world’s most famous regatta and won the best-of-three series. Ellison who plunked down a fortune to win the race quickly debunked his technological advantage: “We’d like this to not be a matter of who invested the most money but who sails the best. In the end, it’s going to come down to how good is your sailing team? How well do you call the wind? How good are your tactics?”

“What I have as a problem is that technology is deemed as a determining factor as opposed to skill,” he said.

When scientists of the University of Florida invented Gatorade, it did help its football team win a game against the Louisiana State University Tigers as it rehydrated the Gators in a match played in 102-degree conditions. The sports drink helps but by no means does it guarantee an automatic win. An athlete or a team still has to go out and win it.

Ellison’s words aren’t a paean to those who love the sport but the message of one who knows what he’s talking about and with a keen eye to the past.

In the year before Gretzky built a hockey dynasty in Edmonton in 1984, the big story was when the United States had its 132-year win streak at the America’s Cup snapped by Alan Bond’s Australia II beat American skipper Dennis Conner using an innovative winged keel.

Conner came back to win the competition in 1987 when he beat Kookaburra III, out of New Zealand that justified Ellison’s point of winning boiling down to ability.

Maybe more than ability, it also takes courage.

Ted Turner, three years before he came up with cable news giant CNN in 1980, was the original Captain Courageous before professional wrestler Christian Cage stole the moniker. The media mogul, who first made his fortune in outside advertising, actively competed in boat races and skippered the 12-meter yacht Courageous to win the America’s Cup in 1977.

After Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing team reclaimed the cup after an absence from America’s shores for 15 years, the software innovator, in a master stroke of marketing genius, opened up the competition, as is the right of every winner, to races across North America, Europe, and Asia that will culminate with the main competition. That will bring in more countries or yacht clubs into the race and increase interest. His coup de grace – massive television coverage. “No sport can be successful without good TV coverage,” he underscored.

The same goes for friends and colleagues.

Steve Jobs’ model for business is the greatest band in the history of music --The Beatles. Glowed Apple’s icon, “They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”

Art imitates life. And life, conversely, imitates art. And sports, it’s the same.

As for the lady who gave a talk during my son’s graduation? She stuck with her dream – of making music – and she works with orchestras from Asia and the rest of the world fulfilling a dream. She’s employed along with so many other musicians who stuck to their dreams in an unconventional company that scores music for films, commercials, and whatnot.

To celebrate my son’s graduation, we digested all that food for thought and more to go with some pizza, pasta, ice cream, and some drinks to wash it down.

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