April 14, 2012

The Other Side of the Table

This looks just like the table I sat at in July 1998.

I just left my job as CEO of VietnamWorks.

After six years making VietnamWorks into the largest, most successful and most profitable jobs website in Vietnam I decided it was time for something new.

Why?  Because of an epiphany I had in 1998.

Between my first and second year of business school in 1998 I joined Lehman Brothers in New York City as a Summer Associate.  I worked in the Global Technology Investment Banking team.

My big project that summer was working on an IPO for a software company, Analytical Graphics.   As part of the process our deal team traveled several times from New York to Analytical Graphics’ office outside Philadelphia.

During one of our visits the co-founder and CEO, Paul, gave us a tour of the office.

Paul was an earnest man, very passionate about his work and the company.  As he showed us different areas and gave us demonstrations of the company’s software he greeted every colleague he saw by name.

“Good morning, Sarah!”

“Good morning, Paul!”

Each team member Paul greeted returned his “good morning” with warmth and enthusiasm.  From Paul’s voice and face I could see that he was proud not only of his software, but also of the working community he and his partners had created.  I could tell that his colleagues were proud of their work and proud of the company.

Then we sat down at a big conference table to review the prospectus and IPO marketing story.  Paul’s team on one side, our investment banking team on the other.

I looked at our team.  I looked at Paul’s team.  Then it hit me.

“I want to be on the other side of the table.”

I realized that, as investment bankers, we were just processing deals.  The Pauls and Analytical Graphics of the world were creating!  Creating products, creating teams, creating dreams.

I’ve done a lot of creating at VietnamWorks over the past six years.  But I haven’t yet created a company.

It was time for me to move all the way to the other side.  Time to feel all the anxiety and excitement of an artist sitting before a blank canvas.