Peter Bromhead: Coming to grips with business reality

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

"I understand you're a former alumni of Ernst & Young's entrepreneur programme," a professor said to me on a recent visit to Stanford University.

"I also teach entrepreneurship techniques, so I'm always keen to learn from others and accept advice to pass on to students," he continued, modestly.

Nothing puffs the ego of a non-academic prat like myself more than the opportunity to play at being the font of sagacity - particularly when the audience is a raggedy, bearded professor pushing a rusty bike with a chipped coffee cup dangling from the handlebars and eager to learn about the world outside the campus gates.

Where do I start? I mused, wondering how this rather unassuming gentleman had managed to land a job teaching business expertise in such a prestigious place.

We retired to a campus open-air cafe and while he munched on alfalfa sprouts - a salad concoction I sneeringly regard as the "pubic hair of vegetables" - I gave the scholar both barrels on the shortcomings of academic training.

I felt like a Zen master beating a pupil with a stick as I explained that it takes a couple of years to extinguish much of the theoretical nonsense taught to graduates coming to grips with business reality.

"Sometimes," I enlightened him, with a warm, avuncular smile, "there simply isn't time to chew on all that structural feasibility nonsense when you need a simple, common-sense solution to resolve problems.

"Instead of concept planning in board rooms, I prefer to be hammering something together with a factory foreman - simply to get things done," I explained, decisively.

"I can see why you've been successful!" said the professor, admiringly.

"You're what we call a doer and not a talker," he suggested, sipping on weak mint tea.

"I guess you can call me that," I responded, basking in his comments.

I found myself feeling sorry and benevolent towards my companion.

I imagined that like many intellectuals, he'd spent a lifetime teaching without experiencing the highs and lows of the commercial jungle.

When we parted, he was grateful for my magnanimous offer to keep in touch with advice.

It was only on the flight back across the Pacific that I read in Forbes magazine that the professor was worth a couple of billion dollars, thanks to entrepreneurial successes in the computer industry; a discovery that left me with an overwhelming desire to take my business philosophy and exit the aircraft - via the nearest toilet pan.

- NZ Herald

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