It’s one thing to describe yourself on a bio or LinkedIn, but it’s quite another to do so on the requisite blog “About” page. The tone in a bio or on LinkedIn is expected to be a little braggadocio, a little larger than life, and full of those keywords that bio parsing software can recognize. But for a blog, especially one that I’m writing in my own “voice” and with none of the constraints, however modest, imposed by other publishing outlets, I’d like to tell you something about myself that goes beyond my professional bio, especially now that I’m moving beyond my half century career into entirely new territory. As you choose, you can find my professional bio here, my publications and my recent/future speaking engagements in the left margin of this page, and my LinkedIn entry here. For really deep background on my professional life, at least over the last twenty years or so, please contact Bill Kutik, the living historian of the HR technology industry, or Dave Duffield, whom I’ve known from his Integral Systems days.
I grew up in a large, orthodox Jewish, extended family in Springfield, MA. I spent summers at Camp Mar-Lin, on the Farmington River in Poquonock, CT, learning to ride, shoot, swim like a fish, live off the land, short sheet beds, lead successful raids on the boys cabins, and act/sing/dance in amateur theatricals directed by a former Broadway actress/dancer. Heady stuff indeed, with many (some valuable) life lessons. The big learning, over and above the self-esteem that comes from mastering new skills and constant encouragement, was that, to bring down a deer with a bow and arrow — as opposed to shooting at a target — you had to aim at where the deer would be when the arrow got there.
Springfield had great public schools. We were a test site for what are now more widely available programs for smarty pants kids. I loved being with the same group of neurotic over-achievers from 3rd grade right through high school. Rather than acting out in various self-destructive ways, my tendencies toward self-expression, questioning everything, geeky work habits, and other potentially unattractive behaviors were focused on learning — and learn we did. In advanced physics, we built a primitive computer (this would have been the early sixties, so we’re talking really primitive). In advanced English, we mastered the subjunctive along with the classics. Latin was de rigeur, and we delighted in speaking it to each other. Many of my classmates were lost way too young to Vietnam, drugs, disease or just the ravages of time and distance, but I remain close to many of them of whom I continue to stand in awe.
As an undergraduate at UPenn, I was determined to become a nuclear physicist in spite of working nearly full-time running my own typing service. But I soon discovered that I had been a sort of a big fish in the very small academic pond of Springfield’s Classical High School, which has since been turned into condos, overtaken by the dumbing down of public education and charges of elitism for its entrance exams and graduation requirements. I was not prepared for the sophistication of my privately schooled, well-traveled, far more affluent classmates, and working nearly full-time to pay my way didn’t help me to compete with them academically or otherwise. And nothing had prepared me for giant gentile athletes, but more on that below. The big learning at Penn was that I didn’t have the stuff of standout physicists and that most other physicists (nearly all male and even geekier then me) labored in relative obscurity at various R&D facilities or as professors. So I switched to English literature as my major, took a ton of natural sciences but also a little bit of everything else, and decided I’d better find another way to support myself after graduation.
There’s a lot to be said for a broad liberal education versus today’s greater emphasis on vocational training, and I couldn’t have asked for more than what Penn gave me. Working nearly full-time made it hard to participate in campus life, and a very limited budget meant I didn’t ski over Christmas or do Europe or St. Barts during Spring breaks, but living in Philadelphia gave me a my first taste of big city cultural institutions, and thus was formed my lifelong love of same. Theater, art, music, dance, great restaurants and architecture, all of these and more have continued to feed my soul and shape our philanthropy. I’ve since traveled the world, definitely making up for any lack of travel in those early years.
It was the 60s, need I say more? At Penn, I earned my street cred as a once-arrested protester, sang in dimly lit coffee houses and banjo clubs, and breakfasted with Cappy (now Candice) Bergen. I remember her as smart, funny, beautiful even at breakfast during exam week, and very kind although WAY above my humble station, but I’m quite sure that she wouldn’t remember me. While many of my female classmates were focused more on husband hunting than careers, I didn’t have that luxury or even, if truth be told, that interest. Marriage looked like a pretty bad proposition back then, at least to a young woman with more on her mind than babies and recipes — and that alone made me an outsider. Finding safety in numbers, I dated some pretty improbable gentile athletes and got engaged (as in the play Boeing, Boeing, I never really connected engagement with marriage) to even more improbable Jewish men. I reset my professional sights on an MBA and becoming the chairman of General Motors (or some other Fortune 500 company). My stepmom, she of blessed memory, always said I should aim for the stars so that, even if I missed, I’d at least get to the moon. Very good advice then and now.
But where to start my career? And doing what? Thanks to Penn’s placement office, I discovered that all the major banks and insurance companies were hiring Ivy League liberal arts majors to train as programmers for their newly founded Data Processing departments, and they were paying a damn sight more than publishers who hired female English majors primarily for their typing skills. So I took IBM’s programmer aptitude test and, with great scores in hand, turned down the thrills of IBM’s East Fishkill, NY facility, where little grey people at little grey desks (or so they appeared to me) were writing OS 360 for the high life of Boston and a programmer trainee slot at John Hancock Life Insurance. For the record, my programmer trainee class was roughly half and half, male and female. I wanted to go to Harvard for my MBA, but they didn’t have a night program (surprise!), so I became one of the first female students in 1967 at Boston University’s then quite new evening MBA program.
Those years in Boston (it’s a slow road to a full MBA when you’re working more than full-time running payroll operations etc.) were amazing; it’s a wonderful place to live and study. The big learning from that period, more valuable than my MBA or my programming experience, was that I could build a different kind of marriage with Ron Wallace. During a single week in the early seventies, I got my MBA, left Polaroid (my last Boston-area employer), got married, and headed to California. All these years later, Ron’s still the best decision I ever made, although I often wonder why he hasn’t run screaming into the night.
We spent several years in Silicon Valley, where I had several different jobs, never finding quite the right thing, and tried my hand at being a solo, then moved back East, to the DC area, in the mid-seventies, so Ron could study for his PhD and pursue his interest in satellite communications. Living in Fairfax, VA, I began the best job I ever had with American Management Systems, which felt a lot like being with my childhood gang of very smart over-achievers as well as like getting several graduate degrees. I owe so much to my AMS colleagues, especially to the founders. But it was Larry Seidel, my long-suffering boss for most of those years, from whom I learned the essence of management consulting, putting the clients’ interests first, general systems thinking, turning good ideas into rigorous methodologies, turning sound analysis into “take a leap” recommendations, and turning good into great business writing. I also learned how to live on the road without the road becoming home, to manage complex interconnected projects, to start and run a consulting practice, and so much more. Larry and I remained great friends until his far too early death at the end of 2007.
I would have stayed at AMS forever if they had bought into my vision of improving the practice of human resource management through great technology enablement, process redesign, etc. But I was running a large, profitable Federal HR systems consulting practice, doing more business development/client management than actual consulting, even as AMS’s having gone public changed its very special culture into something that no longer fit me as well. After nine years at AMS, it was time to move on, to return to the private sector after dealing with the Alice in Wonderland-style Federal procurement procedures.
Bloom & Wallace, my determinedly solo consulting practice, was launched in November, 1987, at the depths of that great recession, and the rest as they say is history. By then Ron was the mission manager for search and rescue at NASA (think EPIRBs), and it was his steady job and affordable health care coverage that allowed me the luxury of going solo. From 1987 through 2016, my work at the intersection of HRM and IT had a terrific run of great clients, interesting projects, valued colleagues, and more learning than my head could hold. The great learning of my career is just that, the great learning. I take very seriously the fact that we’re only as good as what we accomplish next, and I continue to rely, as I always have, on a circle of very smart, over-achieving colleagues and friends to keep me up to my best game even as, in 2017, I’ll be changing the focus of Bloom & Wallace pretty substantially. But that’s a tale for another day.
Ron is still very much The Wallace in Bloom & Wallace, the guy who makes it possible for me to do what I do. We’ve traveled quite a bit, made wonderful friends along the way, sailed the Chesapeake during our DC years and now the Florida waters in our American Tug 34 named M/V SmartyPants, continued our love of and support to the arts and education, and been blessed to share wonderful times with a wide circle of friends and family. I’m addicted to a particular type of British mystery, those written in the Golden Age as well as contemporaries in that wonderful tradition. Love of theater led me to the Board of the Florida Repertory Theater where I’m the second Chair. And someday I may write about where all the frogs come into the story.
But enough about me.