Category: My Rants

Over the Wall – Lessons in Leadership and Teamwork

By , November 10, 2017 6:48 pm

I work in Redwood City, CA. It’s a few miles north of Palo Alto, the home of Stanford University. Lucky for us, Stanford and Redwood City have partnered for an educational series and this post is about one of those events in the series.

On Thursday evening, I got the chance to hear about how an ex-Stanford football player with an unpronounceable name (Andy Papathanassiou) changed how things are done at NASCAR car races. He focused on the Pit Crews. He applied team management and discipline from football (coaches, practices, physical therapists, contracts, etc.) to Pitstops! Over the Wall refers to the rule that only 6 people can jump over the wall to perform during a pitstop. The efficiency and speed of that crew can make or break a race where winners and losers are separated by mere hundredths of a second. Continue reading to learn more…

Andy kicks off the talk with stories of how a football player got into NASCAR

What the Heck Does a Football Player Know about NASCAR?

The meeting started with Andy’s account of how he got into NASCAR, something he knew nothing about! He wanted to be in professional sports, but a ruptured disc made that impossible – he thought. During his recovery, he started watching TV and NASCAR. He was fascinated and decided to go to a race when it came to the Sonoma County Raceway. The way he got into his first event by dawning a red jacket and acting as a crew member was clever, hilarious and slightly illegal!

After working in the garage as a cleanup person he got a chance to propose a new idea to the CEO of Hendricks Motorsports. Incidentally, they are the owners of team Jeff Gordon, one of the most successful NASCAR franchises in history. He thought that athletes would be the best pit crew. After all, it was all about speed, strength, and discipline; all traits of a great football lineup. Up until then, the mechanics for the team got to be the pit crew on the “big day” as a reward. So basically they were sending amateurs in to do a make or break job. This seems ridiculous today, but in the past, it was the norm.

So a quick break here. Unlike other sports, a NASCAR race has up to 40 teams competing at the same time. Unlike football and baseball, there’s not a guarantee of a measured amount of time to compete. Even if you are performing terribly in football, you still get 4 quarters to up your game. A race can be over in minutes if your equipment fails and there are dozens of other teams to pick up the slack. So the name of the game becomes consistency and reliability. Once you have that down you have to focus on three (3) things.

  1. Identify bottlenecks – what is slowing you down. Get rid of it.
  2. Shore up weaknesses – the timing of a pitstop is gated by the weakest link. It doesn’t matter if 5 of the six people complete their task in record time if the sixth person goes slower than the entire pitstop is slow.
  3. Eliminate mistakes – you have to practice what you are going to do until muscle memory sets in. You can’t send amateur mechanics out there and expect peak performance every pitstop.

Every Sport Needs a Team

You should be getting the idea now, that this is about finding the best people for the job and then making sure they operate as a team. To that end, Andy started to recruit college athletes. After all, these people were going to be jumping over a wall carrying a spare tire and then slamming it onto the car as fast as possible while handling high power tools. Wouldn’t you want the strongest, fastest more coordinated people you could find? Again, the analogy to a football team is clear.

Initially, the team didn’t like it. The mechanics thought it sucked that they no longer got to go out into the pits on the big race day. One of the reasons this succeeded at all was that Andy’s boss, Mr. Henrick, had his back and made sure that he got to see his idea to conclusion. Fast forward and everyone’s attitude changed when they started winning races! Celebrating the win was even better than being in the pits during the race.

What’s the Point?

Crazy ideas are game-changing. You know that you have them in your head every day. You might be hesitant to tell people because they seem impossible, but you’ll never know if they’ll work unless you do something about it.

Four (4) Principles 

Athletes know that to succeed they have to adhere to 4 principles.

  1. Iteration – practice and repetition make things second nature. A football team would never try a new play unless they had rehearsed and practiced it hundreds of times. A tennis player improves their serve by thousands of practice sessions. Whatever you do, do it before you take it to market!
  2. Coaching – you need someone to provide constructive feedback, drive you beyond boundaries and tie the team together.  Coaches and players feed off of each other and you should seek a coach for all the activities you need to improve upon.
  3. Eliminate Distraction – focus on the thing that they can do next.  Athletes get booed all the time. Basketball players get heckled when they are attempting free throws. Fans yell at the opposing team. Your opponent may try to play mind tricks on you. Focus and block out these distractions. In business, someone will always doubt what you are doing. Focus.
  4. Attempt the impossible – push yourself. Incrementally improve over time it’ll add up to a lot. If you don’t at least try, you’ll never make it.

I left the event with a newly discovered curiosity for NASCAR (OK, I am fascinated with all things automotive), but also a renewed sense of wonder for how someone’s life can take an unexpected turn and work out so perfectly.

Also, I noticed that Andy had brought along a full on NASCAR car and placed it in front of the theater! It’s not often that you see a NASCAR car on the streets of Redwood City.

The Hendrick Motorsport NASCAR car in front of the Fox theater.

It was a great evening and a nice surprise to see applications of leadership and team principles from a new perspective. I’ll take some of these tips back to my teams at Equilar. I’ll also look forward to the next speaker series event from Standford! Take a look at the link below for details on this great program.

Stanford and Redwood City Programs


A year since I updated my blog!

By , October 9, 2016 1:34 pm

songcircularWith the popularity of social media, not much gets posted on my personal website these days. My friends pretty much follow me on Facebook and my professional associates follow me on LinkedIn. Those are really the only two outlets I use on a regular basis. These services combined with the power of a smartphone doesn’t leave much space for other mediums.

In fact, I’ve stopped carrying a dedicated camera and I use my iPhone 6S plus for everything. I’ve done the comparison and the camera in the iPhone is just as good as a DSLR from back in the early 2000’s (that’s the last time I got a dedicated camera). So now, everything is one that iPhone. Heck, with 64G that’s a lot of stuff I may never go through again.

As for the 1984 BMW 633csi I got last year. It is now my daily driver. All of the kinks have been pretty much worked out and I can confidently drive it anywhere. During the past year I have met a great community of enthusiasts who have helped me in the car’s restoration. Cars with a strong following like this will only go up in value. I had the same experience with my Porsches, Pantera and Ferrari. But anyone that knows me, knows that I get a hankering for another vehicle in short order. I’m not sure what is next but I do know that it’ll be a while as I am preoccupied with my job at

BMW 633CSi

The car one year later after numerous updates including all new suspension.

My work keeps me ridiculously busy. I am finally at a company that has a super solid business model and there’s still room for growth. I run Engineering, Products, IT and Marketing. It’s a lot to cover, but my past has had stints in each one of those areas. I am excited by the future and spend pretty much all my time working. It’s a profitable startup and that’s a rare beast in the Silicon Valley. OK, until next time. I hope everyone is doing well.

A 30 year BMW rises again

By , September 15, 2015 8:11 pm

There has been so much done to this car since the last post that I don’t even know where to begin. I have begun to put things into buckets depending on the priority required to get it usable as a daily driver. I’ll document some of those things here.

Getting it Licensed

The first order of business was getting the title transferred to me. Not an easy task when the registered owner is no longer with us and the car is an inheritance, but the title is not yet transferred. But before we can do anything is California, we must get it smogged. This required multiple trips to DMV as we have to get a moving permit (remember it hasn’t been driven in over 5 years).

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

The good news is that it passed smog with flying colors! All I did was put in fresh gas and drive it around the block a few times. It wasn’t without incident as a coolant leak happened during smog and then the radiator failed! I was able to make it home though.

New Radiator

Well, this was an obvious one after the smog incident. Not only did I put in a new radiator, I decided to replace key hoses, the water pump and also do another coolant flush while all the stuff was out.

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked...

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked…

New Wheels!

One of the more exciting developments is the new wheels that I got from a 5-series. I learned that I would need something called hubcentric rings as there was a 1.2mm difference in the central diameter of the hubs. At least the offset was correct and I loved the style. The new tires 225/55 x 16″ are much larger than the stock 195/70 x 14″. Not only was I able to get new wheels, but the spare was also part of the package!

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

The Interior

The next order of business was various parts of the interior. The faded leather was hard and losing its’ color. It was also beginning to crack and the speaker pods on the rear deck was unsightly. I got some leather dye and Groit’s Leather rejuvenator and after 3-5 treatments, the interior is taking shape quite well.

eBay score!

eBay score!

One of the issues with the interior was the peeling leather on the steering wheel. It was a pain to have to see and feel that every time I was in the car. I bid on an eBay auction and won the wheel above for only $35! What a score!

The Instrument Cluster

This is by far the most annoying thing. I have been struggling with it for weeks. Basically my gauges do not work. After much research, I knew that a printed circuit board was at issue and that the nicad batteries used had leaked acid and damaged the board. I tried many things including a bypass, but have met with limited success. In the process I replaced a broken odometer gear, got brighter lamps for night lighting and learned way more than I needed about the wiring diagrams of these cars. Right now I have a working speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and tachometer! Broken still are the temperature gauge, economy indicator and the service interval computer. Also my onboard computer is dead.

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Wallah! A working (mostly) instrument cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend's wor, I mostly have a working cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend’s work, I mostly have a working cluster.

Final cool picture – the original license registration

During all this madness, I was able to get finally get the new registration tags. I took the picture below as I thought it a milestone that I was able to get the original tags in view before putting on the new tags! It was a nice nostalgic moment.

The car will live again!

The car will live again!

So true to my word to the previous owner, I will get this car back on the road. There is still a huge list of things to tend to, but I should have it pretty much fully driveable in the next month. I plan to keep slowing fixing critical items and then one day I’ll be able to commute with confidence in this car.

Thanks for staying with me this far. The shark will rise again.

Women on Board!

By , May 27, 2015 10:09 pm

Gender diversity has been quite the hot topic in Silicon Valley. After Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, there appears to be a steady stream of talks, conferences and news stories about this topic. At our company, Equilar,  we are building a product that allows a company to assess their Board of Directors. One of the factors is gender diversity. Even with all this attention only 19% of Board members in US companies are women.

Aaron Dhir's book

Aaron Dhir’s book

Recently I attended a talk at the Stanford Law School entitled “Where are the Women: Strategies for Increasing Board Diversity“. The conversation included the Aaron A Dihr, the author of the book “Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity” and Deborah Rhode, a professor at the Stanford Law School. These are the notes and thought that me and one of my colleagues took away from the discussion.

Spoiler Alert: Trying to force gender diversity is extremely difficult. Similar to socio-economic movements like racial equality, it’ll take decades to radically change. In fact, it may take a new generation of workers to fully implement true equality.

At the current rate of adoption on corporate boards in the USA, it will take about 70 years to achieve a 50/50 split. hardly encouraging.


The Way in Norway:

One on of the interesting anecdotes was the state of corporate law in Norway, where companies are required to have 40% female board members or risk dissolution. Aaron used Norway as a case study in many of his discussion. Could forcing gender diversity by law enact change? In the early days of the law’s passage there were companies desperately trying to get women, any women, onto their boards. This gave rise to a few not so nice terms like “Trophy Directors aka Trophy Wives” and “Golden Skirts”. Even then, the women hired were those that would most likely vote with the rest of the board. So diversity didn’t really change the vote, but it did re-distribute power. Over time, the women started to engage more and challenge the status quo. Sixteen countries now have a quota, but the USA lags still.

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Stanford Law School hosts a talk about gender diversity

Interesting Anecdotes and Jokes:

Deborah indicated that women are thought to be more adverse to risk. If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, they might still be around today!

Much research has been done, but has not proven that diverse boards will perform better financially. This has been one of the key problems facing this movement.

There are only 2.8% women in the Fortune 500 boards. Why? Some reason offered are:

  1. Not enough qualified candidates
  2. Women are just not as interested
  3. Interested but not being selected.

Culturally we expect men to be better leaders. There’s an unconscious bias to look in socially similar networks. These happen to be closed networks. We need to look outside the traditional CEO/CFO titles for candidates.

The funny thing is that in a recent survey, 79% of respondents say that past CEO’s are not good board members because CEO are used to pushing to get their way. They are not as open-minded.

In a survey of the Fortune 500, less than 50% even talk about diversity in their proxies. When they did, they talked about diversity in experiences and not gender. Surprisingly one of the most well known and progressive companies, Amazon, openly says that they do not think about gender diversity at all. This surprised Dr. Rhode.

What can we do?

We as a society expect more of the BOD since the 2008 meltdown. Diversity will be a slow trickle down effect. If shareholders can force diversity disclosures on the ballot and the SEC can demand disclosure, that would be a beginning.

Another idea is to have tenure limits to force board refreshes at a set interval. As we pass through a few generations of BOD members, new thinking will emerge.

As we look for members for a BOD, look outside the traditional past CEO/CFO roles. Look to lawyers, accountants, academics and people who have been on non-profit boards. This will grow the available pool and will invariably include more women.

Look to examples of success in diversity. Surprisingly the NFL and Military are great leaders in this area. They have more than tripled the % of women coaches and generals in the past 10 years.

Not surprisingly, one of the goals of our upcoming product offering is to unveil relationships and broaden the pool of candidates for board members. During our Summit in June, all will be revealed!

The Power of a Mission

By , May 13, 2015 8:07 pm

Often times I am reminded that a job is so much more than something to do or a way to  make money. In order to really be passionate about what you do, you need to believe in your mission. In fact a recent story came out about how some of the nations best computer scientists (yes out of Stanford), normally do NOT take the job that pays the best. ( Why new Stanford Grads Turn Down $150K salaries) They want a mission. An ideal that they believe in.

Recently our company was working on a Mission Statement. That seemed so cliche and it was so difficult to get agreement, but we did. Here’s our mission:

Equilar Logo

“To empower, engage and enable executives throughout the world”

Ok, sounds aspirational, but why should our employees care? This post is my interpretation of our mission and why it’s important.

The Realization

The largest public companies in the USA are our customers. The data and the analysis that we provide are used to make sure that they can attract and retain the best management. These companies and their management have a disproportionate effect on their communities, the environment and the lives of their employees. We (a group of 100+) people sitting in Redwood City, CA are creating the intelligence being used to make these management hiring decisions. The right CEO makes sure their companies give back to the community. They get compensated based on their performance. We help to inform these critical decisions.

An Epiphany

When I was about 25 years old and a Systems Engineer for a company called Borland, we were meeting with the largest corporations in the world and explaining to them how they should roll out their desktop application strategy. They were moving from a Mainframe/dumb terminal type environment into the new world of desktop computers.

I remember sitting at a huge conference room at Coca Cola world HQ in Atlanta, waiting for their senior executives to arrive. One by one, the executives and their assistants made their way to the large mahogany table that was polished to a mirror shine. After a brief introduction from my manager, he turned to me and told the assembled group, “And now Song is going to explain how you can modernize your operations with desktop applications.”

I realized that no other industry in the world would an assembled group from a Fortune 10 company executives sit still to listen to the advice of a 25 year old kid! That was a great empowering feeling. I realized that I liked technology! I’ve been at it ever since.

So What?

When I learned what we were doing at Equilar, I had a distinct feeling of Deja vu. Here were are, a small company in Silicon Valley effecting the destiny of some of the world’s largest corporations! We help them create the best management staff and boards by making sure the compensation and incentives align with company goals. Many of our employees are right out of college. It reminds me of that moment in my career when I had the Epiphany.

So, take our mission to heart and realize that like a “butterfly effect“, we can make the world a better place with the product that we deliver!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

Goody bag to enforce mission statement!

If you are not an Equilar employee, check out our Career Listings!


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