In the next few blogs, I'll be recounting my wide-ranging conversation with financier and philanthropist Michael Milken, who shares his thoughts on synthesizing knowledge, real-world problem solving, his core values and how he sees the world going forward.
Part of my mission in writing BOLD is to share what I've learned in my interviews with some of the most successful people on the planet. This includes CEOs who've done world-changing work, like Michael Milken.
Before approaching these individuals, I asked my community of friends, acquaintances, colleagues and followers what they would ask if they could sit down with the most powerful people in the world, and ended up with questions involving how they deal with overwhelm and how they create opportunities. With Milken, who is committed to addressing the world's biggest problems and works constantly to solve some of the planet's boldest challenges, I wanted to find out how he creates wealth and opportunity.
I caught up with Milken at his Milken Global headquarters in Santa Monica, California. He shared with me the way he thinks about the global issues, risk and taking on new areas of opportunity.
One of the first things I asked him was something that goes to the heart of the entrepreneur: How does he think differently from other people? His answer was that you must be aware of constant change, and he used a financial framework to clarify his message.
"When I teach grad students or college students and ask them about their strengths and weaknesses," Milken explained, "one of the things that I talk about is something as mundane as capital structure. That is, the idea of how you finance your company, how you finance an industry. This was a real focus of mine in graduate school. The right capital structure for one company isn't necessarily right for another company. And the right capital structure for one industry isn't always the correct one for another industry. So if you're an entrepreneur, the questions are, how do you finance your company, how do you build your company from that standpoint? The right capital structure can change every day, every minute, based on many factors in the financial market."
To get students to visualize what he means by these constant changes, and to be aware of individual perspectives, Milken does an exercise with them that shows them how points of view and interpretations of what's before them can differ.
"I start with a portrait artist," he described. "I give all the students their own little drawing pads. The portrait artist draws a line. Everyone can copy the line. Then he draws another line and everyone can copy that line. So, line by line, everyone is copying. At the end, the portrait artist has done a beautiful portrait. Then you ask the students to all turn around. Now, they've copied every line, line by line… and you end up with a bunch of stick figures."
The idea behind this exercise is to encourage self-discovery, explained Milken. "What I show them is that even if you copy line-by-line, you cannot reproduce what someone else is doing. So why bother to look at someone else's capital structure at a particular point in time and say that that's the right capital structure for me? For example, technology companies or companies with significant business risk need to be financed by equity, not by debt."
The trouble with interpreting change is that it requires us to assimilate diverse facts. Here too, Milken has a strategy for success: "I always try to think macro/micro, macro/micro. Your micro is testing your macro hypothesis. Most people only do one. That is the challenge."
Along those micro-macro lines, Milken feels another challenge is to try to think not only in real-world situations, but from the perspective of someone other than yourself, and to synthesize what you've learned and experienced.
"When you're growing up or going to school," Milken said, "you have a tendency to constantly study facts. But most people cannot assimilate diverse facts. They might be looking at symptoms but not the cause. I think that is one of the keys when you're going to go do a project. What I've always tried to do is ask myself, 'What is the cause, what is the issue? Let's not solve a symptom, let's try to solve the cause.' Most people talk to you about symptoms not causes."
This is powerful stuff -- few people take the time to think through issues from different angles.
I asked Milken to outline some of the core factors that he feels have contributed to his success.
1. Attention to detail. "I don't know anyone who has ever built something of significance who doesn't have enormous attention to detail, or who has someone else working alongside him who has enormous attention to detail," Milken explained. "There are so many great ideas, it's just a question of whether you can execute them or not."
2. Constantly thinking, observing and trying to figure out what the problem is. "When I try to tell people that more than 50 percent of all economic growth has come from bioscience, they look at me like, 'What are you talking about? How many jobs are in the biosciences? Why are you saying that?' What they don't realize is there's been an unbelievable extension of life in the last century, and an enormous growth in population," he said. "People who were dying at a very young age are living longer, and they're going to think more about investing. They're going to be interacting with multiple generations. Knowledge is going to be passed down in many different ways. What they're going to do in life as consumers will be totally different. So, if you'd known that that East Asia was going from a life expectancy of 45 years to 73 years in just 50 years, you would have been a heavy investor in that part of the world. There are a lot of things that people don't really understand until you give them the link."
3. Creating opportunity for others and for future generations. "I have a fundamental belief that there cannot be a good environment for my children or my children's children or even for me unless every single person had an opportunity," Milken said.
This belief is rooted in Milken's childhood. When he was young, the American dream, following the launch of Sputnik, was space, and becoming an astronaut. When he was 11 years old, Milken wrote the president saying he wanted to work in the space program. "I didn't get a letter back, but I was ready for the challenge of trying to solve that issue," he explained. "The idea of that infinite space, space travel and the opportunities was so inviting to me and so exciting that I could use my skills and my gifts to solve that problem."
But that excitement stayed with him. At Berkeley, where he was a math and physics major, it was a time of unrest concerning civil rights. Milken met a young African-American man who wasn't part of the American dream, whose father didn't have access to capital. He realized, as with the launch of Sputnik, that he wanted to do something: he wanted to help people have access to capital. "It was another civil rights issue," he remembered. "Let's get money into the hands of people with ability. In life, you don't always end up where you start from. The core issue of seeing a fundamental problem that could change society shifted my life."
4. Passion. "Life is so fleeting -- how can you really attack something successfully without passion? And that passion has to first start with studying the subject and understanding the issues," he said. "A lot of people have passion for things. They might be for causes that are dead end or aren't going to work. So, first you need to understand that passion has to start with research and understanding what the issues are."
For Milken, and his realization that he could change the world by making capital accessible to others, he began researching business, credit and capital markets. "I had a passion to solve a problem, but I first had to make sure I understood credit as well as anyone and then I could go out and try to find solutions. Most people's lives are changed by passion."
In my next blog, Michael Milken outlines how to create a climate for change, and where to invest.
NOTE: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a "contributing author" for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
Go forward - there is certainly more than just a well known brand name (I don't want to name other car manufactures that are in the full-electric field) but lack to follow through with customer service, and adjacent functions (other than production)
The New Yorker weighs in on the New Jersey ban.
- Lean Consultant (self)Process Consultant, 2008 - 2011Process & lean consulting in supply chain management, and operations.
- BMW AGProcess Specialist Logistics, 2003 - 2008Specialist Production Control / Vehicle Distribution / Material Logistics.
- City of Dresden/ QAD GmbHProject Manager, 2002 - 2003Project leader, leading a team of 15 staff members.
- Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AGIT Coordinator, 2001 - 2002Boundary spanner bringing the diverse IT systems together.
- Kombiverkehr GmbH & Co. KGProject Manager, 1998 - 2001Project & quality manager for various projects.
- Jazzclub TonnePhotographer, 1997 - 1998
- Greek Power CorporationInternship, 1991 - 1991Internship with AIESEC.
- Landesbank Rheinland-PfalzReal Estate Clerk, 1988 - 1988
- Worcester Polytechnic InstituteSystem Dynamics, 2008 - 2012
- MIT Sloan School of ManagementBusiness Dynamics (Executive Education), 2007 - 2007
- University of Applied Sciences Dresden (HTW Dresden)Innovation Management, Project Management, Office-Communications, Production Logistics, 1995 - 1997
- University of BambergInternational Trade, Financing, Economics, 1990 - 1995
- Johannes Gutenberg University of MainzEconomics, 1988 - 1990
- Rabanus Maurus Gymnasium Mainz1976 - 1985
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