Slumming It?

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I started to read Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872):

This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or philosophical dissertation. It is a record of several years of variegated vagabonding, and its object is rather to help the resting reader while away an idle hour…

Walking over to get mid-afternoon coffee (on a wonderfully sunny day) on Stanford Campus a few years ago, Al Roth asked (cheekily):

Did you fly in a Private Jet or were you slumming it in First Class?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So:

To

ALVIN E. ROTH,

Of California

An Honest Man, a Genial Comrade and a Nobel Laureate,

THIS POST IS INSCRIBED

By the Author,

In Memory of the Fun Time

When We Two

WERE MID-AFTERNOON COFFEE DRINKERS FOR FOUR WEEKS.

A large part of Roughing It is about Mark Twain’s time in Nevada, Utah and California. So here we go.

***

The Hangover is a comedy film (starring Bradley Cooper), with a worldwide gross of over $467 million. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

I have been to Las Vegas many times. A memorable stay was at the Palms Casino Resort, in their Playboy Suite ($25000/night, plus taxes) during SAP FKOM (“Field Kick-off Meeting”) in January. As the name suggests, the event gets the sales folks fired up to exceed the year’s quota of software deals. As a partner to SAP, SmartOps was on the agenda. As CEO of SmartOps, I was there with my pre-sales consultants, sales leaders, marketing group, SAP channel partnership lead and product management folks. 

For some years now, we had realized that to win in the hyper-competitive world of software sales, you need more than (a) proprietary super-fast algorithms, (b) good looking software that is easy to install, use, maintain/upgrade, and, this is important, (c) even demonstrable tremendous ROI with (d) impeccable customer references. 

We had all the above. As we say in mathematics:

These are necessary conditions, but not sufficient.

After 8am-6pm days of sales strategy and product updates at FKOM (and other such SAP events), the evenings are crowded with competing lavish receptions and dinners, by SAP consulting partners (Accenture, Deloitte…) as well as technology partners (Oracle, HP, Micro-strategy..). 

How can we win in this “non-rational” game?

I decided that we would go over-the-top and outflank everyone, and within a couple of years, we became very, very well known for having:

The Best After-Party at SAP Events.

It was very selective, super-exclusive, by invitation only. We had security and bouncers outside our venues. Beyond ID checks that had to match the guest list, invitees were sent SmartOps wrist-bands (that we found out were being counterfeited!), and getting invited to our party was a sign of “having arrived” (with uninvited folks, VPs at SAP even, getting violently angry when they failed to enter our venue). 

Oh yeah!

Without giving away too many secrets (“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” as Laura Bush also said on Jay Leno), the Playboy Suite, on the 32thfloor, comes with a cantilever swimming pool with glass balcony overlooking the Vegas Strip.

Now for the real fun part. 

The next morning at 8am, I was at Starbucks, when I saw Shai Agassi (CTO of SAP, and member of their executive board) walk in alone and stand behind me. Should I introduce myself? Or give him space to enjoy his morning coffee in solitude. As CEO, I felt that it was my duty to take the initiative and do the former. But, as a man who loves savoring his first morning coffee without company, I felt hesitant. As I opened my wallet to pay for coffee, he saw my business card:

You are the CEO of SmartOps?

You have heard of us?

I am here because my 8am meeting got cancelled. Evidently many on my senior staff are still nursing a hangover from your after-party.

Oh. Sorry? 😏

What do you guys sell?

Enterprise Inventory Optimization (EIO) software. It is to optimize Global Supply Chains using advanced stochastic algorithms that I developed as a professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Can I have your business card? 

Absolutely. My name is Sridhar Tayur.

Very nice to meet you. You are not what I expected.

The next year at FKOM, SmartOps reserved the Hangover suite (without the Tiger 🤷🏽‍♂️).

***

The Queen of Versailles is a documentary film by Lauren Greenfield and won the US Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

In the fall of 2011, I received an invitation from Art Geoffreon, to give a Marschak Lecture (at UCLA). 

Jacob Marschak was an American economist. His doctoral students include Leonid Hurwicz (Nobel 2007), Harry Markowitz (Nobel 1990) and Franco Modigliani, who was at GSIA for many years (Nobel 1985).

I requested that my talk be scheduled during Sundance Week (in January, which is a “dead month” as I have written before, and also because I could fly to Salt Lake City from LA, and drive to Park City), rather than in Q4 of the year, as I was going to be, as SmartOps CEO, 100% focused on deal closings. 

Beyond the usual reason to be happy about such an invitation, I particularly excited about the Marschak Lecture because as an inventory theory researcher, I have written in Planned Spontaneity for Product Availability:

At that time, stochastic dynamic programming was not fully developed, so they [Arrow and Marschak] recruited a newly minted math PhD student from Princeton named T.E. Harris (a student of William Feller), and we get Arrow, Harris, and Marschak (1951). This paper was considered as the beginning of what may be called modern analysis of inventory systems. The seductive mathematical elegance of these stochastic, dynamic, discrete time inventory models attracted more newly minted math PhDs (such as Karlin and Scarf) from Princeton. This was not without some undesired consequences. Hadley and Whitin, in 1963, write in Analysis of Inventory Systems:

At one extreme a considerable amount of work is concerned strictly with practical applications, while, at the other extreme, work is being done on the abstract mathematical properties of inventory models without regard to possible practical applications.

So, where is such a comprehensive modellng framework that we require (as discussed earlier) and a computational procedure that allows for staged optimization accommodating the needs of various decision makers? In 1991, I could not find one. That was bad news for the IBM executive looking for answers. There was, however, some consolation for me, as his parting comments were something like:

If your model were more realistic in capturing our capacity constraints, changing patterns of demand and supply, and could account for the fact that we have common components that are shared by many products whose demands are correlated, and that these are produced and distributed using a physical network with shared resources and multiple production choices, it would have been so useful. We could have done so many interesting what-ifs and decided how IBM could compete better. Call me when you get there.

This was great news for a new assistant professor about to join a university. One could not have asked for a better research plan.

Two decades later (as I wrote in Trillion Dollars of Inventory), here I was giving the Marschak Lecture about Enterprise Inventory Optimization

After my talk, and meetings with several faculty and PhD students, Art and Chris Tang took me out to a wonderful dinner, in Santa Monica.

The next morning, I flew to Salt Lake City. It was a well-attended Sundance, covering a wide range, from Spike Lee (who had a sold-out afternoon session on independent film making) to stars like Brit Marling (whose movies have premiered in Sundance, Sound of my Voice, Another Earth both in 2011) and Jennifer Lawrence (recall Winter’s Bone, winner of Sundance Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film in 2010). 

After Sundance, I returned to LA, and spent a couple of days at SmartOps office (on Manhattan Beach), companion to our other West Coast office (in Los Gatos). While the Silicon Valley office concentrated on Hi-Tech (Cisco, LSI, Micron), our LA office focused on other industries. An important deal there was Neutrogena, notable for two reasons:

  1. It was the start of our J&J take over: J&J Consumer, then J&J Medical Devices, then J&J Pharma. First limited in scope to North America, and then expanded to include Rest-of-World for all business. I am not  giving anything away by stating that the total deal size at J&J was well into eight figures. 
  2. It was the first in the (then) very new Business Model that is now called “cloud, subscription” model, a drastic change from the traditional (then, and now really obsolete) enterprise software model.

Of course, in parallel, we were closing other deals:

Monsanto, Schering Plough, Merck, Wyeth, Pfizer, Estee Lauder, Honeywell, Medtronic and so on

and while the heavy lifting was indeed done by SmartOps teams, I had to “pop-in” for executive meetings and such. 

How is that feasible? 

Let me give an example day.

935 am. Leave home after savoring nice Italian coffee in solitude.

945 am. Drive up to Hawker 800 at Hanscom Field (in my Aston Martin), ten minutes from Weston (where I was living at that time). 

Movie buffs might remember Hanscom Field from:

Angels & Demons is a mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, based on Dan Brown’s 2000 novel of the same title. It is the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code, also directed by Howard, and the second installment in the Robert Langdon (fictional Harvard professor played by Tom Hanks) film series. The film grossed $485 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics, who considered it an improvement over its predecessor (which grossed $760 million worldwide).

11am-130pm. Meeting and lunch with J&J Consumer (NA) at Skillman, NJ.

Back on the Hawker 800 to Islip, NY. (Long Island.) Limo pick up as I got off the plane.

330pm-530pm. Meeting with Honeywell (Automation and Control Systems) in Melville, NY.

Limo drives me to the Hamptons.

6pm- 8pm. Dinner with Estee Lauder (Hi John C!) head of global supply chain at a wonderful restaurant (with a fabulous wine list).

830pm. Back on the Hawker 800 to return to Hanscom. 32 minutes including take-off and landing time. Aston Martin brought already next to where the plane would stop.

925pm. In bed, at home, watching the next episode of White Collar (with a fine cast led by CMU alum Matt Bomer).

What I am saying is this:

I did not have the luxury to be Slumming It!

2 comments

  1. Fun! And I want to come to your next FKOM party!

    1. End of that era with SAP acquisition of SmartOps. Need to create a new reason for throwing super-fun parties!

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