Tagged my Mukund Mohan, here’s my little contribution to the meme floating around the internet begun by Paul Gillin. In writing down my list of biggest influencers, the only parameter I set for myself is that the list must consist of people I’ve actually met, even if briefly. This knocks out a few thought-influencers, such as the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu, whose seminal book has influenced my thinking more than any other I’ve read.
It was instructive putting this together and seeing the big recurring theme (I’m sure you’ll see it). I hope you enjoy reading this list as much as I enjoyed reading Mukund’s.
1. Mom, Dad, and Ling ling (my fiancee): I’d call my parents’ story humble yet amazing. Both fled a repressive communist regime and settled in New York City, without a dime to their names and without knowing a lick of English. They found each other, and forged ahead together to create a new life in a strange land. Imagine the USA collapsing and having to move to Finland with nothing but the shirt on your back and a high school friend’s couch to sleep on awaiting you and you’ll get a sense of how daunting their journey was. They found each other, and found a renewed sense of community among others similarly displaced. After 2-3 years, they moved beyond living paycheck to paycheck and eventually raised two sons and bought their dream home. Most importantly, they learned and passed along to me that no matter what life is like today, your future is yours to create.
Ling ling’s story is similar – blue collar roots in a small town in China. She could have chosen the “safe path” and remained in her hometown, surrounded by familiar faces, and lead a familiar life. She instead decided China was fast moving to join the rest of the world, and she would do the same – move to Beijing, go to business school and focus on international business, and work for an American company. It was a risky proposition, but she always felt compelled to follow her ambitions. No surprise despite the cultural gap, she and my parents understand each each quite well.
So how do they influence me? All three are a daily reminder that the best is yet to come. Always.
2. Peter Drucker: Drucker is the original futurist – a guy who got it right nearly always in a field where batting 20% is considered brilliant. Drucker was an unlikely candidate for guru status – born into a humble family of Hapsburg civil servant in the village of Kaasgraben, Austria. He fled Austria to pursure a better life in Germany. When history dealt him nazisim, he fled again to the U.S. where he became a prolific author.
I own a copy of nearly everything Peter Drucker has ever written, and was fortunate enough to speak with him for a few minutes after a lecture he delivered during my college days. I learned more in those few minutes than in the rest of that year in college. Drucker impressed upon me the value of community as the primary driver of career success and productivity as opposed to mythical “efficiency”. This is of course considered common knowledge in the current age of social networks. The thing is, Drucker was writing about this 1939. That’s not a typo. He was also a standout in an age where management thinkers wrote obsessively about profits. Drucker on the other hand wrote about profit as not the primary goal, but an essential condition as a going concern fueled by doing the right things (i.e. serving clients internal and external).
So how does Drucker influence me? In his own words: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
3. Duncan Stewart: Duncan and his family are what I consider my “west coast family”. He gave me my first opportunity to move into my current career path, and believed in my ability to make it. He too moved to California to make his fortune after overcoming some difficulties earlier his youth. He’s one of the very best at knowing what makes people tick, and is someone whose “read” on any situation I have come to regard highly. He also has a knack for coming up with creative solutions. Some of my most memorable times both in the bay area and overseas have been spent with him and his family, and I can honestly say they played a key part in making California feel like “home”.
So how does Duncan influence me? He’s taught me to take the time to read people, and also to think creatively when faced with a seemingly intractable problem.
Honorable mentions (some I know more through writings, some personally): Amelia Baldwin, Guy Kawasaki, Mimi Stewart, Ross Mayfield, Jeremiah Owyang, Clark Wheatley, Ping Dai, Guiping Dai, Tim Ferris, Pedro Reyes, Javier Heredia, Paul Graham, and last but certainly not least, Mukund Mohan.