Rolf Kuonen: Interview VII – RealAcad Mondays

While it is still Monday in Hawaii, I’m pleased to present a ‘Real Leader’ interview from Frederic Kuonen, a RealAcader from Stanford’11.

Frederic is currently doing his Masters in Banking and Finance at the University of St Gallen, where he also completed his Bachelors in Business Administration. Frederic has had a stint at the in-house consulting department at Credit Suisse. He discovered his passion for entrepreneurship while studying business models of Swiss Social Enterprises and led a market entry project in cooperation with a Swiss e-bike sharing start up.

Frederic is well travelled and spent a semester in Hong Kong. He was also an avid tennis player and was among the top 150 ranked players in Switzerland (i.e. from the land of Roger Federer!). He also has a great sense of humor!

Below is the interview with a note from Frederic.

Rolf Kuonen, born in 1950, grew up in Leuk, a small town in Switzerland. After spending 6 years in a Catholic residential school he completed his high school with a major in Greek and Latin. He graduated from the University of Fribourg with a licence (Masters) in Psychology and completed a secondary education in Psychotherapy. After his studies, he worked in Switzerland in different therapy centers. Currently, he is the director of a state-owned therapy centre in Visp focusing on youth’s problems in school and life. Through his work, he acquired a broad knowledge about people in different life stages, as he ha treated hundreds of people so far. Additionally, Rolf is very passionate about the 3rd dimension and was a private pilot for several years.

I know Rolf because he is my father ;-). I interviewed him because I think he has a different perspective on leadership, as he doesn’t work in a corporate environment. Also, he knows how people think and behave from experience, and I thought it was a great opportunity to understand his ideas of leadership.


1. What inspires/drives you?

As a psychologist, I’m in contact with people every day. Usually they come with some problem they have in their life, which is sometimes extremely difficult. I cannot give concrete examples, but I’ve had young people who’ve lost both of their parents within two weeks. So, in these situations my job is to stabilize the person and be a safe haven for them. At the same time I will have to encourage the patient to find their own solutions to their problem. So what I do is empower people to use their full potential and thus overcome their difficulties. This is a very rewarding and satisfying feeling.

2. What has/have been the most defining moment (s) of your life so far?

When I was 12 year old, I was sent to a Catholic residential school. This was one of the most defining moments of my life. Even though the education was very good, I lived through a difficult and (often) frustrating period during these 6 years. The main reason was the closed environment in the presence of monks and priests. We were seldom allowed to leave the campus to visit Fribourg (a Swiss city nearby). Also, the values, strongly influenced by Catholicism, were very conservative.

During this period, I discovered a strong drive of freedom and an urge to revolt against the institutionalized authority. For example, we fled from school once in a while, caught a Taxi on the street and went to Fribourg to watch a movie in the cinema. These movies inspired me and we started to produce our own movies, which were very critical of Catholicism. I believe this experience gave me a lot of self-confidence and a strong independence versus institutionalized authorities as well as social obligations. This independence has had a strong influence on my therapy style. After several years of studies, I started developing my own therapy style, which is a combination of different theories, as I don’t believe in one ‘right way’ to do it.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

As a director of a therapy centre, I have to be a leader. Like with everything else, I have my own personal leadership style and I try to empower people. It’s the same philosophy as in my therapy. In my opinion, there are three important factors on how to be a leader.

1. Being authentic. For me, this means accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses.

2. Self-responsibility of team-members. I give my team the freedom to find their own solutions and this means I take time for them and support them if necessary. In my experience, when people are given responsibility, they begin to feel that they are taken seriously, which is very motivating. It’s like being a guide with regular control so they stay on the right path to achieve their goals.

3. Humility: While you have to be self-confident, self confidence, for me, means being humble when interacting with team members. Thanks to my experience, I sometimes know better but I don’t have to show that off. Being humble to me means being respectful to my team-members, encouraging their strengths and giving them time to speak up.

I loved the note about being authentic. It’s often forgotten. Thank you Rolf and Frederic.

More to follow as always on RealAcad Mondays..

Taco Roest: Interview VI – RealAcad Mondays

This week, on RealAcad Mondays, we have an interview with Taco Roest, thanks to RealAcader Vincent Jong, a very inspiring young man who is on his way to starting up a venture incubator in Germany. I have had the opportunity to work with Vincent over the past couple of months and I’ve met few people who ‘get things done’ the way Vincent does.

Vincent got to know Taco during his work at Deloitte in the Netherlands in 2005. The service organization in which Vincent was working had to be reorganized due to structural underperformance on the Service Level Agreements (SLA’s). Taco became the Senior Manager in charge and started a major transformation project which eventually took more than 2 years to implement. When Vincent approached Taco to find a role in this project, they quickly discovered a shared strong result-orientation and a passion for getting things done.

For the next 2+ years, Vincent worked directly under Taco and was given the responsibility to design parts of the reorganization, calibrate this with senior management, and implement the changes. Taco would provide regular coaching and step in when his seniority was required.

Their efforts resulted in a successful transformation of the organization and strong performance on the SLA’s. At the end of the project Vincent moved to Austria for his Masters, but they stayed in regular contact. In 2010 they even jointly created a talent development concept called Early Bird to offer the same experiences Vincent had to other students.

About Taco

Taco grew up in the Amsterdam region in the Netherlands. In 1998 after finishing his study, he started to work as a Consultant at Arthur Andersen where he became global project manager within a few years. After the Enron case, Andersen in the Netherlands was taken over by Deloitte in 2002.

In the new organization, Taco became line-manager and worked his way up to a senior manager position in 2006, responsible for Portfolio & Project Management within Deloitte in the Netherlands. Apart from managing a broad team of project managers, he has been personally involved in a restructuring of the Deloitte organization and successfully led a transformation within the service area. Recently he left Deloitte to setup portfolio management at a pension fund in the Netherlands. He still lives in the Amsterdam region, is happily married and a proud father of two sons.

1. What inspires/drives you?

I’m driven by work in a changing environment with a good mix of operational and strategic tasks, getting the mandate to start new initiatives and building and developing an organization using people, process, and technology. The trust and freedom provided by an executive plays an important role in this.

Furthermore, I am inspired by developing people, especially young people that are starting their careers. What I’ve noticed is that the challenges and choices that are presented to young professionals are often not provided with the right form of guidance to help them arrive at the best decisions. I enjoy interacting with these young professionals helping them develop themselves and finding out what is best for them.

But of course, work is not everything. I get a lot from my work, however, you have to also find a balance between your private life and your career. It is important to have a healthy private life, therefore I always ask myself why I’m doing things and what I get out of it. There will be moments in your career when things don’t go well and when you are not able to influence it in any way. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that work is not the only thing in your life.

2. What has/have been the most defining moment(s) of your life so far?

After my study, I joined Arthur Andersen, which has had an important influence on my development with regards to knowledge, attitude, and my ambition level. I was allowed to travel a lot and it was the first time that I was introduced to corporate work methods, the internal rat-race e.g. up-or-out performance appraisals. Many of the things I learned there made me who I am today.

Then, getting the first opportunity to do line-management in 2002 was also an important moment which finally allowed me transfer my knowledge and experience to other people and help develop them. I would recommend everybody that gets offered the opportunity to manage or lead to take that opportunity. If you haven’t done that before you are 35, you might never be asked again.

A final defining moment I experienced was in 2006 when I realized that. if you really want to get somewhere in life, delivering good results is not enough. I attended a training on “Understanding and Influencing”, which taught me many new things on how people think and different ways you can interact with them. It also taught me to switch between process and content in interactions, which can have an immense influence on the emotional impact of discussions or confrontations.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

Learn how to motivate yourself and be proud of your achievements. To be a strong leader, you should not be dependent on the motivation of others to get you going. Then, start with selecting the right people and motivate them, and help them motivate themselves.

Be aware of the balance between IQ, EQ, and PQ, being respectively the intelligence, emotional, and physical quotient. The emotional and physical aspects are often overlooked. Usually people who don’t perform well at work also have something going wrong at the emotional and physical levels. Be aware of this for yourself as well as for the people you are leading.

Finally, make sure you find out what you like to do. Develop yourself independently but find time to look at yourself critically. Develop a feeling for momentum and have an eye for opportunities. Manage the expectations of your subordinates, bosses, clients, etc. and success will come over time.

I think there’s a very deep point there about the emotional and physical aspects getting overlooked. A stable and happy personal life generally has a massive impact on our work life and being physically fit goes a long way in keeping us energized during the day.

Thank you Vincent and Taco. Have a nice start to the week, folks. 

More to follow on RealAcad Mondays.. Smile

Shana Kad: Interview V – RealAcad Mondays

This week, on RealAcad Mondays, we have an interview with Shana Kad, a very inspiring life coach thanks to RealAcader Cecile El Moghazy. A bit about Cecile before we begin – I had the good fortune of spending a week with Cecile at my RealAcad in Stanford this year.Cecile is a very talented and smart person living in Dubai with her husband and working with the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADIA. She hails from Luxembourg and identifies herself as half French and half German. She previously worked with McKinsey & Co. and studied at HEC, Paris with a CEMS Masters. Cecile is an avid traveler and has traveled to 65 countries and speaks 6 languages. She is tons of fun and a great person to have around. And I’m confident we will have Cecile interviewed for RealAcad Mondays in the weeks to come. :)

Cecile’s description of her first meet with Shana is as follows.

“I met Shana as a potential client. I was asking myself questions about my future, my career, and the meaning in my life. Shana immediately impressed me with her radiating positive energy. Every sentence, every word is meant to cheer you up, make you understand there are no limits to what you can achieve except the limits you develop yourself through your ‘self-defeating” thoughts. Her work includes several Neuro-Linguistic Programming tools . Shana coaches working professionals looking for a greater meaning in their career, but also teenagers and mothers struggling to balance their work/ family life. All in all, Shana is a truly inspiring person for me because she gave up her well-paid corporate career to invest herself fully into her passion, i.e. helping people having a fuller, happier life.”

About Shana:

Shana is from the UK and came to live in Dubai more than 3 years ago. Through NLP life coaching, Shana helps people change their lives, perceptions and relationships – giving focus where none existed. She says, “Neuro-Linguistic Programming focuses on re-training your mind to interpret things in a positive manner and to ‘think’ differently day-to-day. It addresses the unconscious mind and helps people perceive situations, behaviors and emotions in a new way, and understand the direct control and effect these perceptions have on their lives”

Shana used to work at IBM where she managed a team of more than 30 women. She coached them and was able to make a real difference to their lives. The tragic loss of her sister to cancer made her question her own life and the legacy she would leave for her children. She sought out training to qualify as an NLP Master Life Coach and knew instantly that this was her life’s calling. She set up her own company, Life Effective Coaching, and now runs one-on-one coaching as well as Group Inspiring Workshops, on topics such as careers, relationships, emotional problems, depression, body image, addiction and anger management.

Over to Cecile’s questions..

What drives you/ inspires you? 

What really inspires me and drives me is that feeling of unlimited choice and making every day, every minute count.  To know my life’s purpose and my passion works to help others be all that they can be. I am inspired by the change I see in my clients, when they simply focus on what they WANT and move towards of life of meaning. I am inspired by the subtle miracles of our own thoughts each day that lead us to greatness and truth.

What has been the most defining moment of your life so far?

The most defining moment of my life is when I stood up for what I believed in without fear of failure or ridicule. The day I stepped out of my comfort zone of a well paid job and my 9-5 safe routine. The day I took charge of my life and decided to live my passion of coaching others to live there life’s purpose and embrace fun and growth. I decided I wanted to leave a legacy for my children that kept them inspired years from now. I decided I wanted to make a positive and sustainable difference.

What advice would you have for future leaders?

Work from your heart, learn from others and never be afraid to ask for help. Model excellence and walk your talk.  Turn Anxiety into Faith and Fear into Excitement, as life holds much adventure, if you care to take part.

I love Shana’s crisp and meaningful answers and I’d like to say a big Thank You to Shana on behalf of RealAcad and the ALearningaDay community for making time for us.

And of course, Thanks Cecile. Wishing everyone a great week!

More on RealAcad Mondays..

Joanne Wilson, Angel Investor, Real Leader 4

Today’s ‘Real Leader’ interview is a very very special one. Regulars here need no introduction to Joanne Wilson. I’ve mentioned her and her cool blog more times than I can count. I started becoming a regular reader on her blog thanks to an interview she’d done with Mark Suster ages ago. And it’s thanks to her blog that I became a religious regular on Fred’s blog and that’s been an incredible learning experience as well.So, in short, I was greatly looking forward to connecting with her and I was really hoping that she would say ‘Yes’ to an interview request for this ‘Real Leaders’ feature and she did. I am so glad! And I could barely conceal my excitement during the call. We had a fantastic 25 minutes where I fired a volley of questions and her answers were full of insight, energy and optimism. Not unexpected at all. But, still amazing. I also realized how thankful I am to this feature as it gives me an excuse to connect with all these ‘Real Leaders’ around the world. Many more to follow..

Excitement aside. It’s time to move to the interview.

Bio: As this is the first question of the interview as well, I thought I would write in a short description of Joanne as I know her. Joanne Wilson a.k.a The Gotham Gal has had many careers – buyer at Macy’s, spearheaded sales at start-ups, dabbled in many business like e-zines and even housing, chaired not-for-profits etc. She is currently an angel investor in NYC.

But, first and foremost, Joanne’s most important job is being a Mom to 3 terrific kids. Her best friend is her husband, Fred – another role model investor and blogger, who I hope to interview soon as well. She has a range of interests including food, travel, art and theater. Do click here for more on Joanne.

The good news for this interview is that I have videos for you this time. I’m still getting the hang of how best to do these videos and this is just a screen recording of our Skype call. So, please ignore some amateurish work, especially towards the end. I take full blame for that. Any suggestions on how I can do this better are welcome.

The total length is about 22 minutes and I hope you enjoy watching them. The transcript is below.

Part I

Part II

How would you describe your story/path?

I’ve had many many careers. I actually think the next generation will have many many careers. No one will stick with one company for thirty years. Leaving the first company was, of course, the hardest thing. But, once you leave and realize you can get a new job somewhere else, it’s kind of empowering. And you say to yourself – if this doesn’t work out, I can go somewhere else!

I’ve been in a variety of verticals because it just ended up happening that way. I’ve been in retail, in wholesale, in the beginnings of the internet, in sales, in helping grow companies and really came back with all of the knowledge I had and the career I’ve had including raising a family and building homes to investing in companies and help entrepreneurs navigate the world as they grow their companies.

And I like it because I like helping people succeed in their dreams and it’s fun to have a bunch of things all going on at the same time and being involved in a little bit of every one of them, which I really enjoy.

And I learn every day, which is great!

What were your motivations to move across so many verticals?

At the beginning, it was just sparked by interest. I got a job out of college in Macy’s training program as I wanted a job in retail. And then the company changed and went private and they weren’t exactly handing out stock options, it didn’t make sense for me to be there. It was basically stock at the top and ‘we’re going to make you work twice as hard’ below. At that point, Fred had just started becoming a venture capitalist and I knew enough to know that continuing was not smart.

And, so, I jumped ship. That was more evolution (of thinking). All of the decisions I made in the post was definitely family oriented.

What is it that drives you/ inspires you/ gives you energy when you wake up in the morning?

I think I’m really inspired by the entrepreneurs I get to meet every day. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule in practice.

Tomorrow is a perfect example. I have a meeting at 10, 11, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. I’m going to see 7 businesses tomorrow. If you see enough of this stuff, then you can see the whole landscape and see what’s happening, where the economy is going, what kind of business people are getting into, who’s good, who’s not good, what makes sense and what doesn’t. At least from my perspective. It doesn’t mean that I’m right but from an intelligence point of view, it’s gratifying.

You know, I’m not sitting around making cookies all day, though I do that many times too. It’s intellectually stimulating.

What relationship do you have with all these entrepreneurs? Is it as an angel investor or is it different at times?

There’s many of them that I’m friendly with where if they wanted to pick my brain or have a coffee with me, I’d be happy to do it. But, the majority of them that I end up with ask questions like -‘Can you be my mentor? Would you get involved? I would love to see you once a month.’ For the majority of those, I decide whether to invest or not. And I invest at the very very beginning – not the seed round, but the angel round. And then I spend a lot of time with these people.

I’m not the one that says – ‘okay, we need to talk, we haven’t talked in a week’. But I’m always available. If I had an entrepreneur that called me every single day or shot me an email every day with questions, I would call them, I would get back to them, I would help them. If I don’t have the answer, I would find out the answer, if they need to know something that I don’t know, then I’ll find someone in my rolodex who can help.

So, generally, I end up becoming involved in these companies.

What has been the most defining moment of your life? Or a couple of defining moments?

Well, I think having kids is pretty defining! And, each time I was able to get into a new business. People say, ‘oh my god I have been home and haven’t worked for 10 years. I don’t know what to do’ , particularly women. But, I’ve seen these women go to meet ups and before they know it, they’re in the industry. They know what’s going on, they know the people. They’ve either started companies or work in the company.
That’s pretty empowering.

Having my childern is the most defning momement. I’ve known my husband since I was 19 yrs old. So,that was more of an evolution that started met him in college and continued in to life.

There was a point when we were forced to live in the suburbs due to financial difficulty and that was definitely not the place for me.
Things changed and we were able to move back to the city and that was a major defining moment for us.

(I didn’t ask questions here but, in retrospect, I realized I’d read about this earlier in Mark’s blog. For more context, please do check this interview out)

Having read your blog, I know that woman entrepreneurship is a topic close to your heart. Could you tell us more?

I think its very important for women to be entrepreneurs for a variety of reasons. First of all, we always hear that there aren’t enough women in corporate offices at the top level, not enough women CEOs, not enough women in technology, not enough on boards of directors etc.

Let’s say I find 100 women entrepreneurs, now we have a 100 women CEOs. So you can change that.

Second is that women have childern. They are the only ones who can! There is more of a partnership in the last couple of generations be it picking up groceries or changing diapers but at the end of the day
women speak in terms of we, men speak in terms of I. Women have this innate nurturing quality. If you can be a woman entrepreneur at any level, its empowering for your children, particularly for your daughters to see that you can figure out how to balance your life.

And if you run the company, you run the show! If you need to go home, go to a basketball game, take a 2 week vacation or be home with your kids, no one is telling you “You cant do that because you dont have 2 weeks vacation”.

I’d like to see all women be entrepreneurs, be it from doing a startup that becomes a multibillion dollar company to a 20 million dollar company or a bakery down the street. I think its better for the economy, for the families and for the community.

The US is going through a tough time. (And, of course, Europe looks to be in deep deep trouble!) In many ways, the world still looks to the US when it comes to entrepreneurship. Do you think , these frequent ups and downs in the economy have changed what entrepreneurship means?

I think the youngest entrepreneurs, ones younger than 30 are looking at their parents and saying “My Dad worked for that company for 30 years and then they laid him off”. I think many people in the new generation are saying it isn’t all about financial success. Of course, you have to put a roof over your head and food on your table, but its also about happiness. And about what am I am passionate about, what I want to do and how I an going to create my own life. And then you read about all these startups, you see the “Social Network” movie and you say. “Hey you know what,I can do that”.

But I think the caveat here is that when people are funding all of these companies, they are not really hand holding them. Many of these companies need to stand back and say ,”I’ve been acknowledged and given money to start something up, I can make a 3 million dollar company.” or “This business is exploding. This could be a 50 million dollar company”

There are all these different levels, and that is something that is going to get flushed out. Everyone who has a business right now thinks they have and want a multi billion dollar business. Maybe that will change a bit. If you are an entrepreneur and you love what you’re doing and can pay for your lifestyle, get up every morning and feel passionate about it what else could you ask for?

How do you manage yourself and your energy? Any tips and tricks that you may have for us would be great.

I don’t have an assistant. I do everything myself from the meetings with entrepreneurs to the evening outings to dinner parties to my children to managing my house, I’m in the middle of 2 major construction projects right now.

This works because I’m extremely organized and I keep lists. I get things done as soon as they come to my desk. One example is with my calendar. One of the reasons my calendar works is because if I email you today and say, ‘lets meet how about Nov 9 at 2 pm’, it goes into my calendar right then.

So, even if it takes 3 days for you to get back to me, you are already on the calendar. And that’s settled.

If I have 2 days in a week that I spend on personal time or real estate projects, they are blocked out on my calendar. I try to work only 1 night between Mon and Thu, although that doesn’t always happen.

And well, at times, it doesn’t all work as per plan. I had a conference call on Thursday afternoon at 5 pm while I was making dinner. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do!

What would your message be to all readers – especially give they would like to be leaders – if not leaders of companies and communities, definitely leaders of their own families.
I’ve always said this even when people worked for me when I was 22 , follow your heart. If you get up every morning for 2 weeks at a job and you think “This is the worst”, move!

You have to be happy and healthy. Life is too short. There is no reason to be in bad relationships, in bad jobs. It’s up to you.

If more people grabbed opportunities and  rocked their boat on a daily basis, it would be a much better world.

Firstly, credit to a close friend of mine and RealAcader, Snigdha, for helping with most of the transcription while taking some time off her holiday in Singapore (Id Mubarak to everyone!). I ran out of time this morning! Thanks Snigdha!

I’m sure I’ve made a few more mistakes as I’ve posted this since I’m just heading out for lunch. Will make more changes when I’m back on blog in the evening. Do feel free to point them out in the comments..

Overall, this 25 minute phone call was fantastic. I was full of energy and possibilities right after and we have Joanne to thank for that.

A couple of things stood out – the calendar suggestion as an immediate next step that I went about implementing for a bunch of calls that were being scheduled.

But, the line that inspired me most was the  ‘Let’s say I find 100 women entrepreneurs, now we have a 100 women CEOs. So you can change that.’

I’ve blogged a lot about the butterfly effect i.e. the massive potential effect of our positive actions on the world, of working within our circle of influence and making a difference in this world one day at a time. But, that line summed it all up. Every day we get better. And every day we change the world, one way or the other.

Thanks Joanne.

More on RealAcad Mondays

Joeri van Geelen: Interview III – RealAcad Mondays

This week on RealAcad Mondays, we have another guest contribution thanks to Youssef.Youssef is a RealAcader from the 2nd Stanford camp this year. Youssef has already run a speed-chess competition venture in Morocco and even had the honor of playing a game with famous Russian Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.Youssef is greatly inspired by Joeri – Joeri is a 24 year old clean-tech entrepreneur in China. Joeri and Youssef first met in France at a regional event of the CEMS prestigious Master. Joeri has a varied range of experiences at Siemens Wind Power, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. He has completed his Master in International Management from the Rotterdam School of Management and from NHH (Norway) as parts as his CEMS degree.

1. What inspires/drives/motivates you?

Challenges motivate and drive me. I always look for new personal learning and growth opportunities, since they encourage me to go the extra mile.
My entrepreneurial mindset usually drags me into new and creative avenues that present uncertain and complex situations, yet inspiring and exciting at the same time

2. Looking back, was there a defying moment/experience in your life?

Here, I will refer to my first study abroad period in Nottingham, UK. For the first time I started living entirely independently of my peers at home and enriched my life by thinking across borders and cultural boundaries.

The experience shaped me to become the person I am today, and has opened my mind to anything undiscovered. Basically, I thrive in an international atmosphere since it presents a rich and diverse chemistry, bearing most potential for added value in many ways. The study abroad experience has thus given me the international edge that has had a long-term impact on all decisions I make, and has made me a more ‘all-round’ person.

3. What advice would you give to future young leaders?
Recently, I found exactly the industry and type of people I would like to surround myself with. I would advise young leaders to follow their heart before listening to their brain’s impulse.
I believe that everyone becomes most successful, according to his or her own definition, when doing what one loves and is passionate about. Why? Because it eventually makes one a more happy person, which positively enhances one’s energy level, which in turn boosts personal and societal success.

The aim going forward would be to have a nice mix of youth and experience. And it was nice to have that youthful, thought provoking and idealistic view from Joeri..

And, on personal reflection, there is definitely big room for improvement in the preparation of this feature from my side – as is evident with the lack of photo and bio. I’m still getting used to this on my schedule and need to be better prepared. I hope to do better in the coming weeks..

I’d love to hear from you guys if you have any other questions you feel we should be asking.

More on RealAcad Mondays

John Rubedeau: Interview II – RealAcad Mondays

Picking up from last week’s RealAcad Monday, we have an interview with Professor John Rubedeau here thanks to Justin Yiu, a fellow RealAcader from Stanford’11. I was at the camp with Justin, who is now just starting out on his career as an Actuarial Analyst. Justin just graduated from the University of Michigan and is a wonderful presenter, a basketball star, huge Kobe Bryant fan and a great guy.

During our time together, Justin spoke of his admiration for his English Professor, John Rubedeau. He spoke of John as a fantastic teacher who inspired his students to think different. And I am very glad Justin took time off his busy schedule to interview John. I couldn’t help but smile as I read John’s responses to our questions.

I am very excited about this interview for many reasons. This is a first for this blog on many levels and I look forward to your comments, feedback and suggestions for questions for future interviews.

Bio: John Rubadeau is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Michigan. Before his teaching career, John was a social worker for the Red Cross in Europe. He obtained his doctorate at Georgia State University and began teaching at the University of Michigan in 1987. Through his inspirational lectures, he hopes to makes students love the English language. John won the Golden Apple in 2005 which is awarded to the faculty member who best inspires and engages his students through the course’s subject material. During his free time he writes books, catches up with students, and plays with his two dogs.

1. What inspires/drives you?

What drives me is that I have been fortunate enough to find a career that I love. I so enjoy going to class every day, anticipating my happy interactions with my students. The real joy I get is preparing them to enter the real world where knowledge of written English is paramount to their success. I feel that I have a certain storehouse of knowledge that very few people have, and I take great pleasure in transmitting that knowledge to my students.

As we progress in this technological age and people are getting away from reading books and writing, I see that the skills that I have learned are becoming increasingly more valuable in the marketplace of idea, and I get a great joy out of helping my students progress in their careers.

2. What has been the most defining moment of your life so far?

This is probably not what you’re looking for, but the most defining moments of my life are when I discovered, first through experience and then through voluminous amounts of reading, that there could not be a providential God. Raised as a firm believer in the Roman Catholic Church, one who believed that praying to God would serve as a way to communicate with him, I was, over ten years, made aware that if there is a God who answers one’s prayers, then there must be a God who does not answer one’s prayers.

So, with an alcoholic father, a mother who spent the last five years of her life as a vegetable at a public welfare hospital, as a father who lost his first and third sons at eight and a half months, and a man whose wife died when she was thirty, I lost my faith. And this loss of faith has changed my life, surprisingly, I think, in a much better way. I suppose frequent death between the ages of twenty and thirty would affect any person’s view of life.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

I’ve never aspired to be a leader, so I feel ill-prepared to offer anyone advice about leadership. I do not have a high opinion of those who would lead others. I think it’s a character flaw. I’m always reminded of the great English axiom, “Politicians (substitute here the name of any person in any profession) are like soap in the tub; the scum always rises to the top.”

John on teaching for over a quarter of a century at the University of Michigan
 I reflected on my life and come to the conclusion that I could not have designed a better life for me than the life I’ve lived.
I would like to be able to say that at the end of my career as well. :)

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Mom: Interview I – RealAcad Mondays

Starting this week, we have a new feature coming up on this blog – RealAcad Mondays.As many of the regulars in this little community know, I am an active and proud RealAcader and have blogged about it a few times (There’s a video here that may help for those who have no idea what RealAcad is about). And over the past couple of months, we have been considering launching a feature called Learning from the ‘Real’ Leaders – wherein we would interview all those wonderful people who inspire us. And I am pleased to bring this feature to you right here on this blog!

Over the next many weeks, months and years, I hope to continue this feature with an interview every fortnight (or even weekly if we can manage it!) from people who inspire me/other RealAcaders/you (if you are up for it!). I think it would make for a phenomenal learning experience understanding what drives people who inspire us.

To get the ball rolling, I have here an interview with Mrs.Swapna Nair (better known on this blog as ‘Mom’).

An Introduction:

Of all the people who have inspired me in my life, my mom has ‘tenure’ of sorts. Aside from the tiny detail that she’s the first person I ‘met’ on this planet and the other tiny detail that she got me started on my journey here, she has been a source of continuing inspiration.

She has always taken what she has done to a whole new level. As a teacher, she was consistently chosen as among the city’s, the state’s and the nation’s leading teachers giving her opportunities to visit the United States and Singapore on various programs. In fact, it was after her 1st program thanks to which she spent a month in California that she decided that I should study make it a point to study abroad and get exposed. And, thanks to her push, I did.

Aside from being a teaching superstar, she is, in my mind atleast, the true traveler. There may be many who have traveled to many more new lands, but few I know match her curiosity, openness to culture, love of history and love of new cuisine. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from my Mom is her openness. The adage ‘The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one’ is one she epitomizes. Forever open to trying new things and new technology, she is now at home with an Android phone (soon to be converted to iOS :)), an iPad and has her own blog as well. Probably most importantly, she has always been comfortable around people who know more than her because she is the ideal student in many ways – always eager to absorb and forever humble. It’s that quality that makes her the outstanding teacher that she is.

An amazing storyteller, a great poet, a very passionate person with a great sense of humor, she has been adding joy and learning to the lives of her students for 22 years now. And all the while, she has been a fantastic mother who lead our family through some very dark moments and also been an extremely cool Mom and friend to all my close friends as well. Quite a person, quite a story.

I feel it is fitting that we begin this interview with a teacher – for it is a profession that truly deserves the highest respect.

And like everything else, her answers to my 3 questions touched me. Thanks Mom, for..everything.

1. What energizes/inspires you?

Each day as I enter the school I work in, I am energized. The eager faces of my students, the challenges awaiting me boost my energy levels. Each day is different. The experience of teaching the same subject to different groups is amazingly different and varied. The challenge of accepting each child as he or she is adrenaline to me. Each mind is an enigma. Each little heart holds abundant treasure. I feel so magical when I am in their presence.

2. Looking back, what has been the most defining experience in your life?

The most defining moment in my life is definitely the birth of my son. When I held him first a new vein of life surged through me. I was born again, in a new role,. The role of a lifetime, being a mother! Every moment has been a poetic journey so far. The roles have reversed. Today he is my mentor. I am once again in a new role, his disciple.

3. What is your advice to leaders who will be reading this?

My passion is teaching and every waking moment I decide to be the most inspiring teacher. Each day I learn something new. This excites me. I have realized that to ‘learn’ we must be like a sponge ready to absorb. Some may be positive while some maybe negative, nevertheless it is ‘learning’. Learning can come from anybody. It may be from a child, a colleague, the the elevator guy, a vendor….

Somewhere, sometime the learning will come of use.

Leadership is also often about delegation of work. This builds the team. If every leader can nurture and train future leaders, it is the sign of positive leadership.

A doctor cures, an engineer builds, a trainer trains, a teacher teaches while a leader inspires!!!

Looking forward to your thoughts and feedback on the first edition of ‘RealAcad Mondays’ in the comments. I am hopeful these will become 5-10 minute video clips in the future. One step at a time, though. :)

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