I think Silicon Alley Insider (SAI) is crackadelic. It is my #1 source for keeping my pulse on everything and anything going on with businesses in today’s digital-dog-fight world. Their style is bullshit-free rapid fire reporting — just how I like it. It’s like an all-you-can-eat fast food restaurant but the quality of what you consume is hot, fresh and energizing.
Last week SAI had an edgy piece called Magna Cum Lousy — Where Today’s Bad CEOs Went To School. The story is brought to life via a slideshow. There is a slide for each school including the University of Chicago, NYU, Columbia, U Penn (Wharton), Princeton, Dartmouth, MIT, Yale, and Harvard. Each slide highlights a list of the fat cat graduates who are responsible for the current economic shitshow the world is facing. The lists includes prominent bankers, politicians and regulators, all of whom had their hands on the wheel when the USS Titanic hit an iceberg the size of Mars. Notable titans include MIT graduate and Former Merrill CEO, John Thain, NYU graduate and Former Lehman CEO, Dick Fuld and the “Decider” himself, Harvard’s George W Bush.
I can’t help but chuckle when I see something like this. For the record, I went to a less than notable state school. Back in the day, it was called Southeastern Massachusetts University and has since been renamed the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. I grew up in a single working mother household long before single working mothers were a common thing. My Mom worked like a dog to raise three kids on a secretary’s salary. She would take the bus into Boston five days a week from the suburb we lived in, work her tail off, and then ride the bus home at night. By the time she got home she was exhausted. She didn’t have the education or energy to keep tabs on my school work. As such, school just wasn’t a priority for me. At the time, I didn’t know it needed to be. I’m not even sure my Mom saw all my report cards because I used to make my sister stand by the mailbox and grab them before my Mom got home from work. I think the only reason I even got into college was because I could play basketball.
My Mom may not have taught me that education mattered, but what she did teach me I have found to be far more valuable than the imparted wisdom of an Ivy League school. She taught me that everyone matters, particularly those who are less fortunate than me. She taught me to always stand up for the underdog…probably because she was one herself. She taught me resiliency and as Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” She taught me — unknowingly and through her own actions — my work ethic will always say more about me than I can ever say about myself. And she taught me that everyone in life needs a break and to give opportunities to those who have had to push a boulder up a hill for most of their life, something she knew how to do all too well.
Why the eff am I telling you this? Because I never seek out the best educated person when I am looking to hire. As a matter of fact, I usually look for the person who went to a state school — someone who never had anything handed to him or her. Someone who has student loans up the ying yang. Someone who doesn’t have an endless list of prominent alumni to call to help get a plum job. Someone who just needs a chance and will deliver beyond my wildest dreams because the opportunity I just gave him or her is something they have dreamt about for a long time.
Every time I hear the line from nineteenth-century American poet Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” I can’t help but think it’s how I approach hiring and how I live my life. As she so eloquently wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” It’s ironic that these words appear on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, a stone throw away from where so many of these greedy CEOs sought “the best of the best” in their hiring and then brought them and their families to the bowels of hell.
Disclaimer: I realize the majority of graduates from the prominent schools cited above are nothing like the fat cats listed in the SAI slideshow and many come from modest or challenging backgrounds themselves. This is yet another example that we should never judge an entire category of people based on the extreme actions of a few.