Monday May 19, 2014

Own the Problem

Most if not all of my blog entries since taking the role of global VP for Oracle's Education and Research Industry team have been about, well, Oracle and/or Education and Research.  Today, however, I want to use this space to pay tribute to someone who's made a significant impact in my life and career, and also to talk about role models and the important place they hold in our societies as managers, mentors, and advisors.

To provide some context, my boss of three years is retiring.  I've had a lot of bosses.  In fact when Juan (Rada, the individual in question) announced his intent to retire at the end of our fiscal year (May 31) I tried counting all of my bosses since college.  I've only worked for three companies (Apple, Sun, and Oracle) + a little time in a university IT organization (the medical school at the University of Tennessee), but by my count I've worked for 15 different bosses since taking my first job out of college in 1988.  That doesn't include bosses during part time work in high school and college (I held a job of some sort since the 10th grade).

All of my bosses had the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses; some were much better than others in terms of being mentors and coaches; some were just successful people as individual contributors that were promoted (without really possessing strong management skills); like most people I've had a small minority (but still significant) that made my life a living hell.   But across that entire portfolio, good and bad, I can confidently say that I've learned something from every experience.

However the last three years have been for me (and I expect for most of my colleagues in Juan's orbit) an extremely rare mix of development, learning, growth, and broadening of perspective that I think only a few of us are privileged to experience.  Juan has an incredible array of experiences, coming to Europe as a political refugee from a country he will now spend part of his time in retirement assisting and advising (Chile), he has been one of the preeminent leaders in all things "industry" at Oracle.  He has understood the vast treasure trove of IP that can be brought to bear on industry problems, and how to maneuver through a large complex organization to bring those solutions to life.

Granted my circumstance my be somewhat different than the others on Juan's team, but I can certainly say I've grown more professionally in the last three years than in the previous 10.  Some of that growth came from new challenges presented by the role - this is the first global position I've held in education since entering the field 25 years ago - but much of what I take away comes from the exceptional perspective (taking the long view), patience, and people skill that Juan has taught me by example.

It's no secret that Education has been at times a challenging industry at Oracle - where financial services, media, telecommunications, and other industries with large concentrations of spend in small numbers of customers abound.  In his most recent role, Juan's industries included government, health care and life sciences, utilities, and education, and on a pure global revenue basis education was # 4 of those five sectors.  Nevertheless, Juan understood the criticality of succeeding in education, given the importance to our society as well as to Oracle (as education represents 8% of GDP globally, which puts it just behind healthcare and just above military spending).  Time and time again, when I would hit a roadblock and want to give in to my fatalistic tendencies, he would (subtly) help me see a different path.

I guess what I'm most grateful for is being given the opportunity to do this job in the first place.  Three years ago this role didn't exist, and Juan went to extraordinary lengths (there was considerable pressure at the time not to create the position) to invest in a global leader for education.  I am my own worst critic when it comes to stuff like this, but thanks to an amazing (small) team, I believe we've made progress, and we can look Juan in the eyes and say that, while there is still much more to accomplish, we've made demonstrable progress.

Juan's parting words to me and my colleagues at a dinner we held for him celebrating his years in Oracle were "Always act as if you Own the Problem."  Those words will live in my thoughts and actions for many, many years to come. 

God Speed, my friend.


Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.


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