A Walk in the Woods

I took a walk in the woods today, in a small park not far from home. Some pictures were there for the taking, so I did. Rusty, a bit perfunctory, but serviceable toward heeding a “just do it” cry from the spirit. I thought I’d share them to get back into this habit too… something too long in the making.


When Things Go Wrong

Many of you know that I enjoy photography. Others are aware that I have more than a passing interest in business.

Both of these fields, along with most everything else in life, have in common the fact that on occasion, despite all efforts to the contrary, things can go wrong.

A small story follows…

Following an intimate Christmas at home (just the two of us, on LI), I suggested to Ellie that a day trip to NYC would be a pleasant way to spend a rainy Saturday. She agreed, and yesterday off we went.

Our first destination: Bar Boulud (completing our circuit of the empire of the currently putative reigning king of all things culinary in NYC). Brunch met my expectations better than Ellie's. I'm a fan of charcuterie, El — not so much. But that's not my point here, so on…

The day was wet, windy and cold. Impossible to be comfortable outside.

So, on finishing brunch, we sought an indoor venue for the balance of the afternoon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was our choice.

We arrived to find the grand hall chock-a-block with fellow weather refugees, but pressed on, figuring that we'd be able to find a quiet corner. Wrong. Hot and crowded here, and here, there and there.

Arriving at an out-of-the-way mezzanine gallery with an open bench, I set myself down for a few moments rest, and a photo opportunity. Pleased to find an evolving scene with agreeable views, I clicked away.

Rejuvenated, we moved on, and I kept shooting, thinking that despite the heat and crowding, a nice album would be a resulting record of our visit.

Wrong again. Turns out that on Christmas Eve, in handing the camera over to a gracious fellow diner to snap our photo…

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…he planted a large, barely transparent, fingerprint that covered the southeast corner of the lens.

Every shot that I took yesterday carried that watermark, the raw images unusable.

With a bit of Aperture, Photoshop and IMovie hand waving however, combined with a soundtrack graced by the playing of genius by another, it proved possible to produce something passable. See below.

My point: Things ALWAYS go wrong. Usually unexpectedly and badly wrong.

Your test: will you find a way through to a positive outcome, or something less?

Customers expect you to screw up; they choose their key partners based on which rise to the occasion and make things right in the end.

Team members don't expect perfection; they hope for grace and perseverance following setbacks.

Thoughts for a Sunday evening in December…

Met Sunday from Richard Bravman on Vimeo.

Downtown Sunday Morning

We're sort of uptown types by nature, but this weekend Ellie and I spent time in the lower reaches of Manhattan.

The original idea was a change of pace stop on the way back to CA yesterday. Plans for returning to our west coast home changed when, over the weekend, I decided to accept an offer to join a company based in NYC. (Pending formal announcement, I'll need to be coy and ask you to stand by for full details.) As I write this post, I'm sitting in a Starbucks, an hour or so away from starting my new adventure.

Back to the weekend…

Flatiron-building  We decided to keep to our plans for a NY night in the Flat Iron / Gramercy Park area, now repurposed as a mini-celebration. As it turned out, we did so early in the evening with good friends and former colleagues at both Symbol and Intelleflex, Steve and his wife Pam (a couple of very special people), and later with my brother John, passing through NY doing a bit of fund raising for Stanford, where he serves as Vice Provost, responsible for the undergraduate program. (He's pretty special too.)

Venue for our dinner with Steve and Pam was Craftbar, Tom Colicchio's informal spot on lower Broadway. Based on this, our first visit, I can recommend it heartily: great food, service, atmosphere and vibe. We had a terrific time…

…As we did later that evening with John, back at The Rose Bar in our overnight spot, The Gramercy Park Hotel.

I'm sure that readership clever enough to be on this blog can read between the lines (new job to celebrate, long dinner with great friends, late night toasting with family…) and figure out that Sunday morning was slow and fuzzy in arriving.

So, sometime around 11:00, a walk in the bracingly cold air seemed like just the thing to usher in a return to clarity. We pointed ourselves south on 3rd avenue, eventually ending up at DBGB, Daniel Boulud's latest restaurant. Named with a tip of the hat to a long time fixture in the neighborhood, the underground rock club CBGB, and specializing in all things sausage, the place has been a big hit since opening mid-summer.

Ellie chose an incredibly creatively prepared and presented upscale hotdog; I went with a sausage done in the style of Tunisia. Great old blues songs were played one after another. The place filled with an ecclectic collection of folks, united in their obvious enjoyment of the experience.

This all played out in room set as a stage to simple foods, prepared with imagination and skill. The kitchen was open to view, and the room was ringed overhead by copper cooking pots, each accompanyed by a small plaque bearing the name of the famous chef who gifted it to Daniel Boulud for placement here.

The manager, (who we know from his earlier service at another Boulud establishment) explained that they make it a practice to seat those chefs immediately adjacent to "their" pots when they visit. I smiled and told him how that reminded me of how my friend Steve is notorious for something similar: seating his guest following a round at his club at a table facing a board displaying plaques commemorating past club champions — his and his son's names prominent among them, where they can't possibly be missed.

I recorded a bit of the DBGB scene, as well as sights on the walk back to the hotel, and set them into a brief video, which will serve as a punctuation to this post. Turn up the sound, and please enjoy…

Catching Up

Sunday afternoon, late, dusk. Time for a bit of catch-up on the past week's goings on, (during which I did more living than blogging). I'll do it summary style this time:

Next phase of career coming into focus. Most likely trajectory will find me rejoining old friends on a new mission, to help lead the transformation of a grand old company into a compelling new one. On final approach; ETA two or three weeks.

Visit through NYC terrific…

Began with crafty cab driver whose very purpose for living was to gain a car's length advantage over adversaries at every possible opening, real or imagined. Drivers of vehicles many times our size were left cowering.

Continued as we checked into favorite UES haunt, to hearty greetings, personal touches and postcardCentral Park 11 09 1   views.

Warmed further by smiles of mutual recognition exchanged with a piano man of long acquaintance.Chrisgillespie

Have a listen…

01 I've Got A Crush On You

Further still by the visit of fellow with whom I shared a very noisy foxhole during the SBL campaign, and by the sage advice he shared.

Further yet as we retired to a magical place to wine, dine and be entertained by a showman more people should know.Steve Tyrell

After good byes, a nightcap with accompaniment by the evening's third entertainer.

Loston Harris

Pause for sleep.

Morning brought coffee, fresh berries and the NYT, all blessedly late.

Haircut and shave (indulgence, served over the good natured banter of 40 year veteran barbers of Italian descent), then productive conference call.

Upside of being "in transition": you can find yourself DONE at 11:45. I was.

Walked uptown, bought a couple of books. Downtown, some tea, a couple of tea sets (for east coast digs).

After channeling The Thin Man for a bit, decided to take my camera for a walk in the Park. Results were satisfying.

Central Park 11 09 6

Piano man again. Gave him one of two books I purchased (the one about Pops). He gave it back, asking for dedication. I complied.

Dinner at another "local". Al Roker and guest just off to my left. (Saw Matt Lauer earlier.) Season's first truffles (over scrambled eggs).

Secured rented transportation on Thanksgiving morn, and headed east, bulging with luggage.

Met at former family estate by young man who, in my estimation, is the best son a father could have.

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TDay Dinner with all the fixings at a golf club that gets it right every year, (and where I may actually get to play a round next year!)

Son's TDay+ party provisioned by mom. Off he went by sea and land, into enemy territory (MA).

Saturday: up early, bio-reading, tea. A bit of seaside photojournalism.Short Beach 4   Meeting with a small, talented team looking to turn adversity (being laid off) into opportunity (a promising start-up idea). I may have helped, a little.

Woke early again today. Rose quietly, tip-toeing so as not to wake Ellie.  Descending stairs, noticed I must have left lights on last night. No. Ellie was sipping coffee, watching old movie.

More tea.

Browsed online instantiations of old media (there really IS a way forward; don't they see it?). Came across article on HDR photography. Bought HDR software (impulse indulgence). As it downloaded, received Google Wave invite. What to do? One tab for each, I multi-tasked for an hour or so.

Still early, I asked Ellie if she would like a road trip. Nods later, off we went. Sag Harbor. The American Hotel. Bloody Mary, Paté, Lobster BLT, HDR experiments….. double espresso, home.

That's pretty much it. Later.

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Big Sur Road Trip

It was a great day for a top-down photo road trip to Big Sur. (It's amazing how much you can pack into a day when you're up at 3:15…)

Ellie and I visited CA for the first time in 1978, for our honeymoon, and fell in love with this stretch of coastline. Play the "Point Sur" mood music (Credit: Martin Headman Trio) and take a look at the gallery, fresh with today's views, and I'm pretty sure you'll see why.

Point Sur

Scene in Milano

Ellie, her cousin Ida, Ida's husband Edo and… a giant planter in the form of a Fiat. Perfectly normal for a Saturday in Milano, from what I'm led to believe.

Milan Scene

Gold Standard for Customer Service

Driving into NYC a couple of years back, my mobile phone rang. On the other end was the Customer Services Manager of The Carlyle Hotel, my destination that evening. She begged my pardon for calling without prior notice or invitation, and then asked if I would kindly provide her with my wife's middle name. After a brief pause to puzzle as to the reason, I replied (it's Rae Ida), she thanked me, and Ellie and I continued our journey.

Upon arrival, about an hour later, the purpose of her mysterious query was revealed. Because on the bed, in crisp white linen, were monogrammed pillow cases — Ellie's on her side ("ERIB"), mine ("REB") on the other. I learned later that that particular evening marked the one hundredth time I enjoyed their hospitality. The VIP pillows… a small sign of recognition.

The same arrangement has greeted me on every stay since.

How much did it cost to produce those pillow cases? How much did it buy in loyalty (and now, PR)? Do the math, and ask yourself, "Am I really doing everything possible to recognize and serve my best customers?"


Dispatch from Maui

Some random observations from our time in paradise:

  • Peter from Westchester, discernible accent from one county to the south, golf partner, who commented on the first tee that he couldn't get over how beautiful it is here. Seeing it fresh through his eyes… he's right.
  • Mark, larger than life character with physical proportions to match, honeymooner from Atlanta, who tells everyone he meets that he's here on a mission to make a baby. (Told me that on his first night on island, further noting that his bride was in their room exercising to a "Buns of Steel" DVD.)
  • An older couple who, during our first chat, explained that they had just joined the Neptune Society, and were trying to decide whether to plan their end-of-life ceremonies in Oregon or Switzerland… and leaning toward the latter (because of the chocolate and red wine offered on the day).
  • A younger couple who consumes prodigous quantities of food at each and every available service in the Club Room; skinny as rails, hard edge to them; Meth?
  • The blank white screen on my IPhone, after it was swept to a hardwood floor by my gesticulations over some story or other. Related: the look of loss on my face when I confronted the reality that I would be IPhone-less for the next 5 days.
  • A pool attendant hawking CDs of his Hawaiian easy listening musi. We bought one. (It's actually not bad.)
  • Tears in my wife's eyes, while explaining that she felt badly about not buying an anniversary card for me (with me thinking that hers was an indescribably kind-hearted act, staged when she realized that I, once again, had committed that act of omission myself).
  • A sizable gash in my head formed by the abrasive action on my scalp of a sharp-cornered, ceiling-mounted DVD player in the SUV that transported us from the airport to our hotel. Brilliant design, thank you Lincoln.
  • Noting the great WiFi coverage throughout the resort, including poolside, while remembering a trade magazine editor in 1993 challenging me with the question, "but will wireless networking ever go mainstream?"
  • Resort traffic pretty slow overall, only 20% of lounge chairs around pool occupied… but 100% of cabannas with HD flat panel TVs, refrigerators, etc., booked out.
  • A horsedrawn carriage, in the rain, at sunset.
  • Erin, the Club room attendant, talking about the adventures she wants to experience before settling in to adult life.
  • The beautifuly arc of my Kapalua logo Calloway Tour-i ball as it drew gracefully with the trade winds and found its way to the middle of the third green on the Bay Course; the arc of the same ball as it sliced over the thick hedgerow marking the OTB boundary bordering the right side of the the 9th fairway. Golf.

Kapalua Bay

Maui and Transition…

In Maui for the next week. Occasion: our 31st anniversary. Opportunity: use the downtime to think about what comes next in my career.

Intelleflex, the company I've led for almost four years, will almost certainly be sucessful in the end. It has a coherent and differentiated strategy connecting our unique capabilities with unmet high value customer needs. Together with attracting a strong team and creating a culture of execution and customer success, that's how you build a great company: solve customer problems they care about in ways uniquely tied to your sustainable advantages.

In order to secure ongoing funding support in this very tough economy however, we've had to cut it back to where Intelleflex is essentially an engineering team working on a second generation product set. Full stop. Back in January we eliminated our sales, marketing and business development teams. I've been handling those functions, in minimalist maintenance mode, ever since.

We also slashed expenses everywhere possible, including in our own compensation. I'm now working for less than I received for my first junior engineering job, in a 5 person start-up, in 1978.

Our plan is to remain in this posture until the new products come on line around May of next year, when we'll then slowly expand. Market focus will remain largely centered on a handful of strategic customers.

Last month, after wrestling for some time with how to balance company interests with my own, I effected a change in role that allows me to keep faith with my commitments to investors and team, continue to help guide Intelleflex to success, while moving on to seek new opportunities that align to my experiences, skills, interests and financial goals.

With Board approval, I became Executive Chairman, and handed over president and CEO responsibilities to Peter Mehring, formerly our Chief Product Officer. That transition now almost entirely complete, I'm beginning to turn my thinking to the future.

This week on the beach is therefor most timely, allowing me the opportunity to clear my head and get focused on what comes next. The change of scenary and open calendar help. Time to talk things over with Ellie does too.

But I'm also finding that another project, started recently with no focus on career planning, is also adding powerful perspective… But you'll have to wait for tomorrow's post to learn about that. Because now, I'm going to walk out onto our lanai, have a cup of coffee, and take in this view…

View from our lanai

Monterey Motor Week(end)

Depending on your point of view, and urgency of need to navigate area roads, August each year either brings heaven or hell to the Monterey Peninsula.

If you appreciate fine automobiles, and the culture surrounding them and their enthusiasts, you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to be than here for the week leading up to the Concours d'Elegance, a fixture at Pebble Beach since 1950.

If you're a harried local resident trying to get from point A to point B, the long traffic jams (peppered with Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the like) are an annual pain (worse than the AT&T golf event in February).

I fall decidedly into the former camp, so this past weekend was a treat all the way, from The Quail on Friday to the Rolex Historic Automobile Races on Sunday. As a bonus, we caught up with some old friends, and made some new ones. Read on.

The weekend started, very well indeed, with The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering. Conceived to fill the void left when the Concorso Italiano outgrew its venue at the Quail Resort some years back, the area's newest major event has become in the opinion of many (well, at least mine), the premier one of the lot. Designed to be small, exclusive and top shelf, it has succeeded wonderfully, selling out each year. (We reserved our tickets in January.)

View from the entrance gate We arrived shortly after 10:00 am, with the festivities already well underway to the sounds of a small band playing selections chosen to match the Italian, Mexican and German food soon to be served. Have a listen. (There's an App for that.)

While lunch was served starting at noon, Martinis, Champagne and tequila were flowing from the opening. Thoughts of recession receded…

While we were seated enjoying the organizer's thoughtful and entirely sensible priorities, an announcement directed everyone's eyes skyward, to a choreographed fly-over. It was nice, very nice, but nowhere near as thrilling as a couple of years back when the equivalent kick-off featured assorted spins, inverted dives and forced stalls that seemed to be taking place at tree-top level, just above the tents… and our heads.

Blog Photo 2 A hefty fine later, a more stately and elevated display has been the order of the day ever since.

As the planes departed the food arrived. We shared our table with a collector and restoration hobbyist (serious variety) from the LA area, with whom we struck up a nice and educational conversation. Fresh from a win and a second place finish for two of his cars shown the prior weekend at yet another Motor Week event, he was still grumbling (in a rather good natured way though) about "amateur judges" and the second place finish. He was clearly used to winning, and proud of his '86 Porsche Turbo ("which won best-in-class two of three prior years at THE Porsche event of the year").

When I asked about the subjective nature of the whole business, he explained that many judges (but not the very best) carry a prejudice tied to "their thing": some undisclosed fine point esoterica of car fit, finish or provenance, that is their basis for sorting out the best from the rest. How like the situations with critics more interested in displaying their intellectual prowess (or politics) than offering balanced appraisal of an artist's work, or reporters spinning a story's facts to fit an angle? Human nature does indeed have universal themes.

Finally, I asked whether the goal for cars shown at his level is for them to be presented as they would have rolled out of the showroom. "No, better, always better," came the reply, with passion. "For example?". "All the grooves, on all of the screw heads, line up perfectly," came the answer. Oh.

Well informed and well fed, I wandered off to take in the rest of the show.

Blog Photo 7Ellie lingered in a front row seat, taking in the entertainment. My wife likes cars too, but it was only the beginning of a long weekend…

… featuring last minute house guests, impromptu parties, loud and dusty race tracks and a less-than-perfect husband. I'm very lucky, as it turns out.

Two sightings warrant attention…

An "in-character" gentleman engaged in vigorous debate with another enthusiast:

Blog Photo 8

Cars of a certain age at this event demand The Full Monty treatment, including period costume (and often hairstyle, manner, attitude…). Delightful. What do you think they were arguing about? Proper tire inflation? The merits of Herbert Hoover's politics? Who knows?

It always happens to me at these events. One of these machines becomes an Object of Desire.

No different this year, where it turned out to be the updated and steroids-drenched version of a car I previously owned. W12 engine and 195 mph not enough? Meet the Bentley Continental Supersports — 240 pounds lighter, and with a wider rear posture, tightened up gear ratios and a fair bit meaner bearing than its more gentile relative. 60 mph arrives precisely 3.7 seconds after "go" and the needle touches 204 before all is said and done.

Blog Photo 9

Everyone needs at least one shameless, purely materialistic aspiration to get through Mondays. I've found mine. Onward…

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