New Normal: An inspirational talk with Ray Lane

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I have been doing video interviews with a number of CIOs, software executives and practitioners about acrobatics they have been seeing in various vertical sectors during the COVID-19 crisis and the “New normal” they can expect as the economy wakes up.

This time it is Ray Lane who has had a remarkable career as exec at Oracle, Booz Allen and EDS, in board roles at HP and Carnegie-Mellon U, as investor at the iconic VC  firm, Kleiner Perkins and now with his fund, GreatPoint Ventures. And I am just scratching the surface of other stuff he has done over his career. In the video below, we talk about leadership and acrobatics during this crisis, global trends and re-opening the US economy.

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Listen to what he says because he is so generous.

He is generous to entrepreneurs. He says he likes to invest in the “jockey, not the horse”. When I asked him about acrobatics he has seen during this crisis he pointed to the CEO of one of his portfolio companies, Farmer’s Fridge. They sell fresh salads and snacks via kiosks in corporate cafeterias and airports. That market evaporated as travel dropped to near zero and everyone started working at home. The CEO could have furloughed most of his employees. Instead he started delivering food to hospitals and schools, which have struggled to find wholesome food as their cafeterias and meal services have shut down. The revenues are back to near prior peak. He also talked about Beyond Meat which is picking up on shortages in the meat supply chain.

He is generous to his partners – calls them operators. They certainly have that serial startup experience. He modestly calls himself a slouch in comparison. Actually, he is a Polymath – he mentions in passing the dinners with his family during the quarantine. He does not mention he is an accomplished fisherman and hunter, and could fend for his family anywhere, anytime.

He has been very generous to me over the years. The start of our relationship was rocky. I was a Gartner analyst, he was an Oracle executive. That pair, even in today’s world, is not cuddly to each other. But he saw beyond that and has made time for me often, for my books, or just to have a glass of wine every once in a while.

Listen to him because he is positive

While many of us have been miserable during the quarantine, and he is empathetic to those who have to manage young kids while trying to work from home, he talks about how much more productive he is on his Zoom board calls, in his recruiting and his meetings. He talks about having much more time for family and dogs. As he says, “what we are experiencing today, I hope that we can make 50% of it permanent”

He talks plenty about leadership traits he has used effectively over his career and what he looks for in his entrepreneurs. He talks about the big markets in IT and in wellness that he continues to be excited about and invests in. GreatPoint’s slogan on its website is “Make no little plans”

Listen to him because he is a patriot

When I asked him about global trends and politics around the pandemic, he invoked the US dependence on foreign oil in the early 2000s, and how domestic horizontal drilling changed that. I had written about his cleantech portfolio at Kleiner Perkins in The New Polymath. His investments would have done far better if oil and gas prices had stayed high. But fracking delivered energy independence to the US over the last decade. And he believes we can do the same with our other global supply chains now with similar innovations. He says funds which raise money this year and next will likely be the best performing this decade. You should hear his reasoning.

Ray ends the session with a timely message:

“..look if we are going up the open up our economy again the responsibility now transfers from the government to us…Get out …get back to work… bring all of these great technologies that we have seen during the COVID crisis ..bring them forward. I think you can operate in the month of May being socially responsible but let’s get the economy going again.”

I have known Ray for a while and he is no fan of big government, but both in the video and the conversations prior, I could hear his respect for leadership of many state Governors and the President during this stressful time. In our political divisiveness, we likely won’t thank them much. But in the private sector, as he says, we do need to grab the baton and get us out of the mess we find ourselves in. With his investments in healthcare, he has access to some of the best medical resources in the world. When he supports the economy opening up, he is fully aware of the health risks and wants us to be smart. As he says, leadership is about tough decisions around risk and reward.

And by the way, most C level executives I have been interviewing around the country are all talking about similar prudent opening of their facilities. They will continue with work from home wherever possible. Where physical locations need to be open ensure distancing, temperature checks, enhanced hygiene routines.

My wife saw the video and said wow, he is energetic for someone in his 70s, and you in comparison look a little subdued. Truth be told, I am nursing a chipped front implant that cannot be looked at till Monday morning. I was afraid I would cause it more damage if I was more animated:) Seriously, though, even if I had been 100%, I would have been quiet out of respect for the man.

Enjoy.

(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

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