All posts filed under: Resilience

Joining Genzyme

Biotechnology had taken off first in California’s Silicon Valley but there were now half a dozen biotech start-ups in the Boston area. Nobody had a reasonable business model yet. Thanks to Bain’s incredible network around Boston I landed interviews with three promising start-ups. Henri, the newly arrived President of Genzyme, offered for me to become their Chief Financial Officer. It paid less than half of what Bain paid. In fact Loretta pointed out that I was making more money working part time as an independent consultant. But if Genzyme succeeded it would more than make up for the difference in stock options. It would require more stressful 80 to 90 hour weeks. Making short work of my role as a family centered householder. But luckily Bain had taught me how to work that kind of schedule. I would start on February 13, 1984. The week before starting Henri called me at home to confirm my starting on Monday. He asked me to fly to London that Sunday evening and join “Sam”, Genzyme’s Chairman of the …

Jim Sherblom in 1961

Small town boy

Each of us comes from somewhere, for me that is Rhode Island. RI is a very small, densely populated, state along New England’s rocky coast. It has more coastal water views per capita than any other state, more economic disparity cheek by jowl, with poor fishermen and sailors routinely passing by the glittering Newport mansions. RI has a very part time state legislature, and the state house is within an hour’s drive of every part of the state, so residents can drive to the state house of an afternoon to discuss issues with their state representative. The sense of living in close proximity to power, economic disparity, and the prevalent rocky shores of RI play a significant role in the unfolding of my story. I was a skinny, boisterous, energetic, boy with a buzz cut, and a pronounced RI accent, struggling to make my way in the world. In order to survive and thrive in a turbulent world, I became a storyteller. My story begins on a sunny Saturday in 1961 in Newport, RI. Nature …

First Day at Bain

At the age of 24 was so excited about starting my first professional job at Bain and Company international strategy consultants that I barely slept the night before. Was about to begin my dream job but worried they may have made a mistake in hiring me. What did a small town working class kid understand about international business? Bain had hired me straight out of Harvard Business School with no experience working for or with large corporations. Even dressed in the white shirt, tailored blue suit, and red tie of a strategy consultant was scared to death. Still worried I might arrive on the first day and they would take me aside to explain my job offer, signed by Bill Bain himself, was a clerical error and they hadn’t really hired me. Was afraid they would quickly discover I lacked sufficient work experience to do this job. Even though my lack of corporate experience had been clear on my resume. They could reasonably decide I was too young or too unsophisticated to command the respect …

Harvard Business School

Rented a room in a boarding house occupied by Harvard graduate students in Allston, about six blocks from campus, to save money. Loretta arranged her classes so she could get all her work done between Monday and Thursday, leaving her free to drive up on Fridays to join me in my Friday afternoon classes and then for us to have the weekend together. Of course studying with the business elite caused some cognitive dissonance with my small town working class worldview. It assumed a level of privilege setting them apart from average people. Was both abhorred by and lusted after status. Walking to campus passed by a poor black housing project at the edge of campus. One snowy evening kids were out throwing snowballs at passing cars as I walked past with my case notes and briefcase. Became the target of their snowballs, of their anger, and soon was being pelted with ice and rocks as well. This privileged white guy, briefcase in hand, became a target for the anger of these poor black public …

Salvation

Just before school ended I met a remarkable woman who attracted me immediately. Loretta sparked something in me. She was a Chinese American freshman, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who decided to run for treasurer of the Yale Political Union. Loretta thought of herself as a secular humanist, a California girl, yet had her father’s Chinese Taoist orientation to life and her mother’s hard headed Shanghai commercial acumen. She was running against a rather annoying liberal who initially had the support of the Party of the Right. Loretta was fearless, having been a California extemporaneous debater. She was smart, articulate, and sincere. She was also attractive and full of life! When she spoke to the Party of the Right caucus she won my heart. My rhetoric swung some votes her way. She won the election in a landslide. Asked her out on a date but she had other plans. We went our separate ways for the summer. Yet it seemed everywhere I went on campus Loretta was there: walking between classes, at the library or …

Selling Books

My Yale financial aid package assumed drawing on my savings, work study 10 hours a week while at school, working every summer, and my parents contributing $1500 each year, totaling cash payments of $5,500 each year towards my Yale education. However with my unpaid internship at the law firm and political activities I hadn’t any paid work my entire freshman year. My parents contributed nothing. I had dug myself into what felt like a deep financial hole. Didn’t have enough money left to pay for my sophomore year. Perhaps could earn $2,000 my sophomore year working at the law firm but even using up the last of my savings would still need to net $2000 of additional savings during the summer or take a semester off to earn money. And if I took a semester off might never return to Yale. Staying at Yale would mean finding a temporary summer job at the age of 18 earning at least $6 per hour (equivalent to $29 per hour today). Such jobs did not exist for teenagers …

Surviving Yale’s Maelstrom

Father drove me to New Haven with all my clothes and possessions, except my books, fitting in one large and one small suitcase. Had never been away from home for any extended period of time. Father still had strong reservations about my college choice. He said the only person he ever knew to go to Yale, the smartest person he knew, flunked out his freshman year. Told me not to be afraid to come home when I inevitably flunked out. He shook my hand and headed home. Determined then and there to graduate from Yale, or die trying, or else move to another part of the country. Was completely alone for the first time in my life. Was thrilled. Was terrified. Perhaps my Dad was right, with no idea what lay ahead of me, the next five years would shape me in ways the University of Rhode Island never could have. Would never return to Tiverton, RI again except for infrequent visits. In high school I had won the WALE Radio Outstanding English Student prize, …