July 28, 2010
On Monday, June 28, the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) summer 2010 business trip kicked off at the Faculty Club with a keynote address on entrepreneurship and leadership by Mamoon Yunus (MIT Mechanical Engineering, 1993 and 1995), President and CEO of Crosscheck Networks.
Yunus, who was introduced by Unatek CTO Charles Iheagwara (SDM 2010) after an opening statement by SDM director Pat Hale, saw a "gap" in the cloud computing movement and in 2004 founded Crosscheck to build technology that would scrub XML traffic in the cloud. Seeing gaps, said Yunus, is key to success.
"You can’t innovate in a vacuum," Yunus said. For example, after speaking at Harvard Business School he was approached by several MBA students who asked him, "‘How does one generate ideas? We know business, but are looking for ideas where we can apply our business skills."
"You have to keep your eyes open for gaps in an industry," Yunus told them. "The United States Treasury uses Crosscheck to inspect tax submissions from online sources such as Turbo Tax before allowing internal tax processing."
But seeing gaps is not enough. "You need partnerships," Yunus said. "You need to find ways to piggyback your product on an OEM’s product," as Crosscheck did with its XML Gateway product.
To realize those partnerships one must be able to present products to OEMs and investors in terms they can understand, which is why Yunus appreciated the courses he took at MIT Sloan. "When you’re a start-up," said Yunus, "there will be someone on the other side of the table who will challenge your numbers."
Yunus learned leadership on the fly. He distilled what he learned into three main points:
- Focus on creating core value; leadership will follow.
- Reduce personal financial risk; that frees you to make long-term decisions.
- Trust your team, but verify.
The trip continued on Thursday, July 1, with a panel discussion at the Faculty Club. The panel included:
- Ajay Mishra, Global Head of Innovations Management at Nokia Siemens Networks;
- Rob Kramer, Chief of Applications Development and Operations at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and
- Darren Hammell, co-founder and EVP, Business Development at Princeton Power Systems.
The panelists represented three very different enterprises: Mishra, a global giant; Kramer, a governmental provider, Hammell, a start-up. Consequently, their responses to the questions asked by Charles Atencio (SDM 2009), Jennifer Wang (SDM 2010), and Donny Holaschutz (SDM 2010), varied greatly.
On implementing and encouraging innovation, Mishra relies on robust information transfer processes to ensure new ideas reach Nokia Seimens’ decision makers, and that those ideas are swiftly analyzed. In Hammell’s operation, he needs to ensure he’s open to new ideas. At the Transit Authority, innovation is not a priority; instead, Kramer’s customers — bus and train riders — require operational excellence.
Mishra, Hammell, Kramer were aligned, however, on the personal qualities required for success.
"What made me successful," said Kramer, "is loving what I do. My mother wanted me to be a doctor, but I loved computers. My leadership rules: 1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; 2. Listen to your team and let them do things their own way – so they will take ownership."
Hammell boiled it down even further: "Never give up. And be optimistic. Things will work out if you keep trying."
Mishra ended the panel by pointing to the importance of personal commitment. "Decide to be successful," he said. "If you waste time, you waste everything. MIT’s System Design and Management Program gives you time to think about what you can do, aided by the best minds in the world."