Sunday, March 28, 2010

And We're Out!

The fact that I'm writing to you on Sunday evening at Louis Armstrong airport ought to indicate that the Haas team survived Friday, and for that matter Saturday and Sunday. After a week of crawfish, too little sleep, controversial speakers and mint juleps we're out of here. Back to our homes devoid of grits, fried green tomatoes and people whom you're sure are speaking English but remain completely unintelligible.

Let's break down the exodus.

After the all-night marathon that was Thursday night one might be curious about how the Berkeley team held up. Here's how it went...

Two of us, myself included, peeled off at around 4:30am. Jim Coulter of TPG was set to present the next morning at 9am, leaving precious few hours to catch some much needed rest. Jim's a man who's not to be denied, so our team's approach was to make sure at least two of us got some rest thereby ensuring at least partial representation at 9am. Sandeep and I made it. Assembling downstairs way later than the expected 8am shuttle departure, we nonetheless made it over to the World War Two Museum theater by the appointed hour. Mike, our intrepid leader and one of the many who slugged it out well through the dawn to 7:30am, joined us. He's man made of some tough stuff.

But here's the problem. When we arrived at the WW2 museum we stumbled upon the ruined leftovers of a breakfast enjoyed. Bacon, biscuits and scrambled eggs lay warming in their trays, but the most sought after item had run dry. Coffee. Precious, precious coffee. All gone. Not a drop. I grabbed the urn by the handles and tilted it forward in desperation, hoping to extract a thimbleful more. No luck. I'd have to settle for decaf.

About ten years ago I attended a dance music campout up in Willitts in Northern California. After a night of moving my body to progressive house beats I got in line for the breakfast. Moving down the stations I made it to the coffee. There was plenty and my cup was filled. The person in front of me questioned the server as he poured the live-giving liquid into my mug.

"Do you have any decaf?" he asked.

"I've got a better idea," retorted the server, "how about I give you some pot to smoke that won't get you high?"

Well put. There's no way to improve upon the statement by adding any further commentary.

Only decaf?!?! That's a desperate situation. Jim's an engaging speaker and you probably don't need me to tell you that. His private equity credentials are without peer and when a man of his stature gets up to speak paying attention is the best thing to do. But paying attention without adequate sleep and only decaf coursing through one's veins is something that belongs on a Japanese torture show. I looked at Mike. He'd had far less sleep than even me and yet he shrugged off the lack of stimulants as if this was all part of a normal day. Jim started speaking.

Then comes the realization. When Jim Coulter speaks stimulants are irrelevant. He's a captivating speaker whose command of the stage equals his command of business concepts. He laid out the entrepreneurial tableau for the audience, and he's eminently qualified to do it. Perhaps most striking of his comments was his firm's avowed mission to reject the assholes, even when their more craven corporate minds might pressure them to do otherwise. This is a refreshing thought, and in the wake of the turgid financial mess through which the world has slogged it represents the direction that many of us wished Wall Street had taken years ago. For many of us the financial industry as a whole has for too long been held under the sway of the assholes. With the industry in disarray there's a good chance that the Jim Coulters are the force of the future rather than the Gordon Gekkos. Okay, Jim's a real person and Gekko's a fictional character and that's where things start to fall apart but you get the idea.

The remainder of the Haas team streamed in at a steady pace. Each looking terrible and each still somehow managing to tap their last drops of adrenaline. The panel presentations loomed in the afternoon and Anoobhav still felt short of practice. Carmie-C, leader of the pack, seemed more calm, but there's a good chance that calm was really just a manifestation of extreme exhaustion. They soldiered on.

The short of it all was that we did in fact make it through the day. It's easy to get nervous when pitching a five minute presentation to a room filled with the likes of General Wesley Clark and the afore-mentioned Jim Coulter. To their credit, Anoobhav and Carmen kept their bottle. Most sane people would have been overwhelmed by a sense of intimidation and I wouldn't have blamed either Anoobhav or Carmer for leaving something warm and sloppy in their underpants. Of course they didn't. They kept their cool and in spite of their extreme exhaustion, managed to represent both our entrepreneur and Haas in a positive light.

And did we win? No, that honor went to Cornell. Although it should be pointed out that at no stage was the week ever about winning in the traditional sense. All that I think any of us sought to win was the confidence of our entrepreneurs and the support of our peers. Anything beyond that was cake. Winning might also include seeing Sandeep shuffle his feet one more time and we were certainly treated to that.

As the sun set on Friday we piled into the bus and made our way over to the palatial home of James "Ragin' Cajun" Carville and Mary Matalin. Scattered amongst the hundreds gathered there were the team members who over the course of the week had looked New Orleans in its metaphoric eye and said yeah, I'll have me some of that. Roll call please...

Carmen "Team Momma" Chan

Anoop "Heart to Heart" Mathew

Anoobhav "Problem Child" Singh

Vikas "End of the Day" Meka

Kenny "K-Dog" Do

Sandeep "Flash for Beads" Kohli

Rohan "Sassy Pants" Thompson

Mike "Stayin' Alive" Dansbury

I'm not sure any of us mastered the use of "y'all". See you next year.

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