Admissions Essay On Diversity

I’m applying to head back to school in the Fall of 2013. They asked for 500 words on diversity.

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Growing up in Canada, I was exposed to prejudice against the french-speaking Quebecois. Notwithstanding this prejudice, I decided to attend McGill University, an English school in the middle of a French city. At McGill, I worked closely with Quebecois students. I was 21 when I graduated and began to notice that my friends didn’t align with my prejudices.

My next move was to the United Kingdom. I worked in the most diverse group of finance professionals in the City of London. There were six partners, one executive and myself. In the 90s, Private Equity was dominated by white men with accounting backgrounds. My boss, Jon Moulton, fit the profile of our peers, a 40-something accountant. However, he valued diversity and built a team that contained the only female partners in our sector. In addition to the Brits, the team was composed of a Singaporean, an American and myself, a Canadian.

My two-month internship was extended twice and I deferred Business School. At 25, I was given the opportunity to become a partner in the firm via a transfer to Asia. I still hadn’t put the pieces together on the role of diversity in my life. 

In 1993, I moved to Hong Kong and joined another unique team. Based in China, half the partners were Indian. We were responsible for a large geography and I worked in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and India.

By the late-90s, I noticed that the prejudices, that I first heard as a child, had followed me around the world. Marked by language, skin color, investment sector and nationality, tribal rivalries endured. As an English-speaking white-man from Canada, I passed through these communities. I was never an insider but I was tolerated and exposed to what the locals really thought.

Sitting here today, at 44 years old, I’ve learned what my first boss, Jon, must have seen. If the goal is performance then diversity, by its very nature, gives advantages unavailable to tribal, or homogeneous, competition. 

Ultimately, the attraction of working in finance faded because the game is emotionally void. We made a lot of money for our investors but we didn’t improve people’s lives. So, in my 30s, I shifted toward athletics. Just like the beginning of my business career, I gave myself a two-month window to try life as an elite triathlete and started down a new path.

My two-month trial ended with a top performance at a race called Ironman Canada. I returned to my firm in Hong Kong and negotiated an extended leave of absence. I never looked back and started a life that mixed coaching with high-performance sport. 

Helping others through coaching brought far greater satisfaction. Hopefully, my letters of recommendation will confirm my ability to improve the lives of those around me. This trait is the greatest gift that I’ve been given. 

By being true to myself, and working with others, I find that the my community improves. I hope to have the opportunity to bring this virtue to your university.

 

Love and Hate

The first time your kid tells you that she hates you can be traumatic. My wife will never forget when our oldest told her that she hated her. Not reacting is one of my strengths so, when it was my turn, my daughter’s hate flowed through me. As a father, I want to help my daughter accept her emotions and let them go. 

Quite often, people that are good with love (mothers, wives, daughter), close themselves to negative emotions, such as hate. That closure, between mothers and daughters especially, can lead to strange dynamics, especially when an unexpected trigger results in an outpouring of hate.

I have an ability to react slowly. Being slow to react makes me appear cold but has helped me deal with some very abrasive people (and challenging preschoolers).

A couple weeks after my non-reaction to my daughter’s hate, the conversation when like this:

Daddy, I love you

Daddy, I hate you

But, I love you more

There is a tension between the love and hate in our little girl. By acknowledging, and not suppressing, the hate, we helped her avoid making the hate her focus.

The other morning, we were walking into school and she saw a little buddy entering the classroom with his mom. 

Lex beamed and told me, “Daddy, that’s my friend.” 

The little guy immediately screamed, “I am NOT your friend!” Causing his mother to stop cold with a universal look of maternal horror. 

Lex shrugged and said, “it’s OK Dad, he’ll be my friend this afternoon.”

A home environment where we let go of hate is wonderful gift to pass to our children.

 

Identifying Corruption

Taleb writes that to see fraud, yet remain silent, makes us a fraud. It’s a powerful argument but, before speaking up, I like to think things through.

What should you do when you realize that your spouse, your boss, your business partner or your peers might be corrupt? Before taking action, I have some questions that I ask myself:

Look around and ask… Am I sure? – this question has saved me from many mistakes. Most of what I see in others in generated by something inside of me.

Look around and invert by asking… What is the likelihood that all these people are not corrupt? This method brings me clarity when faced with white lies and circumstantial evidence.

Consider the implications of no-action… If they turn out to be crooks, and I stick around, then what’s likely to happen to me?

Consider the breadth of corruption: is it local; is it in the leadership; or is it through the entire organization?

When I’ve been faced with difficult decisions, these questions have been extremely useful. I’ll share case studies over the next few weeks.

Skin In The Game

Sticking with the Antifragile theme, Taleb (and Gordon Livingston) write that honor flows from demonstrating courage when exposed to risk due to one’s beliefs. Taleb uses the example of enduring ridicule, and financial risk, for being true to his beliefs. 

Last summer, I listened to elites hammer on about the underclass not having skin in the game. This discussion seemed to lack justice but I wasn’t able to put my finger on an exact reason.

Having worked alongside the wealthy, I have experience with the problems of the rich. My move to the US gave me a chance to dig deeper into tax policy and I’ll be sharing some observations about that in future articles.

At the top of society, what does an honest person risk?

  • Size of main residence
  • Frequency, location and duration of vacations 
  • Number of years until retirement
  • Proportion of personal budget dedicated to luxury spending
  • Amount of capital passed to the next generation

Facing the above doesn’t require courage – no wonder extreme activities become popular in societies with wide income differentials.

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In Taleb’s worldview, meaning comes from exercising courage with regard to one’s beliefs. I tend to derive meaning from the pursuit of excellence, working on my goals and meeting my obligations to my family. There’s not much personal risk in the way I roll through life, but it seems to work for me.

I enjoyed the Antifragile book, so I’ve been considering how I might be fooling myself. I’ve come up with a few areas.

As a 4th generation, first born, white male… the world has been skewed in my favor since birth. Listening, to my peers complain about the burdens of sharing society with their fellow citizens, demonstrates an ignorance of my reality. Seeing older versions of myself complain offends something inside me – my time in Asia taught me that I rarely have anything to complain about.

There is a disconnect between my reality and what the public is told about people like me. My effective (US) tax rate is similar to what I paid in Hong Kong. Having lived in Europe, Oceania and Asia – America is a low-cost, and very attractive, place to live and work.

Taleb makes the point that seeking to change the human condition is folly and warns against seeking to remove greed. He advises regulation to protect our societies from the effects of greed. Examples would be getting rid of banks that are too big to fail and applying criminal sanctions for white collar criminals. There have been a lot of examples in the news recently. HSBC banking drug cartels and Barclays fixing global interest rates. If a small institution took these actions then their directors would be going to jail, or at least losing their banking license.

Remember that we only see a portion of the corruption in our societies.

  • What do the financial scandals tell us about that society?
  • What does the USADA report tell us about endurance sport?
  • What lessons can we learn from these real-life dramas to make better decisions in our own lives?
  • When faced with an ethical choice, do we take the money or remain true to ourselves? 
  • Is it possible to do both?

I’ve spent a lot of time considering the above and my latest book shared a road map for how I live.

Before we publish on Amazon, my editor asked me to include the human side of how I arrived at my framework. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing the stories that created my way of living.

Two Virtues

Last week a friend sent me an article about preparing heirs and I asked myself, ‘what virtues do I want to pass to my kids?’

Kindness and honesty immediately came to mind.

Why do these stand out and how does my life demonstrate these traits to my kids?

I have very few regrets in my life but those that stand out are due to a lack of kindness at the end of relationships. The other errors that I’ve made had to do with excess drinking.

I can’t teach my kids about how to treat ex-girlfriends nicely anymore. However, I have better avenues for leading by example. How do I treat the most important person in their life, their mother.

The other area, that’s often overlooked, is how I treat people that can be mistreated with little personal downside, service people and strangers. There’s no better prevention for entitlement than working on humility with strangers. This trait has brought goodness, and good business, to my life.

Thursday’s blog will focus on having skin in the game and touches on the decisions that have brought me the most enduring satisfaction. As you can tell from my most recent book, I’ve received psychic benefit from not “taking the money.” This trait runs deeper than finance and has been tested many different ways.

Rather than tell my kids “don’t lie” I’ve been implanting a mantra of “it’s better to tell the truth.”

Cycling gave me an opportunity to explain why and I’m waiting for when they ask me about my own life.

What am I teaching my family by the way I live my life?