This year however was a bit different than the four years prior. First of all I was set up to do five classes in one day at the two Universities -three at Harvard and then two at MIT. Even just physically, it is difficult to get "up" for each of five classes in about 8 hours of duration, as well as navigating through Cambridge across the river (Charles) and between these two schools. But perhaps more interesting is how the day started and ended.
Typically I arrive on the Harvard campus about an hour before the first class. This was no exception. I was greeted by Matthew O'Connell, Professor Noam Wasserman's assistant. He ushered me into Noam's office where we touched base about the logistics for the upcoming day. This year, Magnus Thor Torfason, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, was joining in the fun and has been teaching a 3rd section of Founders' Dilemmas at HBS. Our cordial conversation started off as usual with Noam mentioning innocently along the way that a partner from Northbridge Venture Partners would be attending the class as a guest. Apparently Noam had not put together the name, Michael Skok with the case itself and was unaware that Michael was actually the Board member at Active Endpoints that had at the end of the case been the lead board member who fired me. Awkward was an understatement. Noam asked whether we should make different plans. We both agreed that we would proceed as usual with Noam making me promise not to change anything about the way we had gone about presenting the case in the past. For the uninitiated, the case ends with me playing the role of Michael as the student plays me, negotiating his role as CEO.
In any event, the class went on as planned. I was quite aware of trying not to hold anything back and when it got to the time where I played my board in a mock phone call with the student, I gave as real a rendition of what actually happened as I could.
So how did Michael react? He paid what perhaps could have been the ultimate compliment to me and to Noam the author of the case. He said that he emphatically believed that what we had portrayed was completely authentic! In the event that I have not, over the past 7 years, been able to vent my emotion over what happened that infamous spring, I now am over it!
And so you ask, how did the ending top that?
In the last class which took place at MIT, I was finally and comfortably situated in the classroom in advance of the class. Professor Matt Marx and I had decided that I would not be introduced to the class until about half way through when the students had (incorrectly as always) voted on what they expected the outcome of the Active Endpoints case would be. Shortly after the class started, while interrogating my actions at Metaserver, my first venture as CEO, one of the students who was exasperated by the stupidity of one of my actions blurted out: "Les needs to put on his big boy pants" in order to become more mature in my approach.
When it came time for the vote and the class all voted as usual that I would save the day, Matt innocently points to me in the back of the room and asked whether or not the class was correct. When I answered, I suggested that I would have to pause for a moment in advance and "put on my big boy pants" first. The class erupted in laughter. And the student who had made this statement was embarrassed. But it was all in good fun and education as I took the floor and answered the eager questions from the students.
Afterward, by the way, I told the student to make sure he never backs down when he has thoughts like he did. Because, although it might have been awkward to hear, he no doubt was correct!