Travelogue: My 22nd HBS Reunion

There are two reasons that I write about my travels. The primary reason is to get my thoughts in writing before my memories start to fade (even my memory, though unusually accurate, fades with time). The secondary reason is because I love to share; I hope that people enjoy my stories and photos, and that they might find them useful as well as entertaining.

This trip was particularly eventful because it combined two major components: My 22nd HBS (Harvard Business School) Reunion, and a trip to Disney’s new Galactic Starcruiser hotel (which is a combination of a hotel, a theme park, dinner theater, and live-action role-playing).

While I’m sure there’s an overlap between business school and Star Wars/Disney enthusiasts, I have so much material that I decided it split this post into two parts.

Part 1 will cover my trip to Boston for my HBS reunion, while Part 2 will cover my trip to Orlando for the Galactic Starcruiser. Let’s begin.

My HBS Reunion

The story begins back in 2020. As the year began, I was planning to attend my 20th reunion, just like my 5th, 10th, and 15th reunions. But of course, that was also when we started to hear about a novel coronavirus that had caused an outbreak in China. As the year progressed, HBS cancelled the reunion and instead organized a virtual reunion via Zoom. In a foreshadowing of things to come, my class organized a series of virtual panels and meetups that were well-attended, especially a fireside chat with Stephane Bancel, our classmate who just happened to also be the CEO of Moderna. It was during that session that Stephane told us the publicly available information that it took Moderna’s team less than 24 hours to design their Covid-19 vaccine, and that he was confident that it would be effective and FDA-approved before the end of the year.

HBS also promised us that we would still have an in-person reunion when conditions permitted. At first, the school tried to organize a “blackjack” reunion in 2021, but the continuing uncertainty around Covid-19, as well as international travel restrictions, led to a further delay. But with widely available vaccination and a widespread desire to move on from the acute phase of the pandemic, HBS finally settled on offer a 22nd Reunion to my class, a 21st Reunion to the Class of 2001, and a regular 20th Reunion for the Class of 2002.

Since I was once again part of the Reunion Committee, I registered for the reunion right away and then shifted to helping organize content for the Reunion. The school gave us two afternoon time slots for alumni-organized panels and discussions, which we filled with a wide variety of events, ranging from a chance for people to share their life lessons, a look at the realities of helping aging parents, deep dives into the global supply chain crisis and cryptocurrency, a discussion of women in business where it seemed like most of my friends were speaking, and my own panel on the positive and negative impacts of venture capital on society (more on these events later).

At the same time, I started planning our personal logistics. Back at the beginning of the year, we decided that after our new (larger) house was finished, that Alisha’s parents would move in with us, since they had reached their mid-80s, and were starting to feel isolated in their home in Florida, since they could no longer drive and central Florida is about as unwalkable as regions come, thanks to heat, humidity, long distances, and of course, alligators (that last one might be a bit of an exaggeration). Looking at the calendar, we came up with what seemed like a clever and efficient plan:

Alisha would fly out to Florida (the Orlando area to be precise) and help her parents complete their packing and fly back to the Bay Area right before Memorial Day. The would move into the in-law suite in our new house, with their packed-up belongings following via moving truck. They would then have a few days to settle in before my parents came up to stay in our guest bedroom, since all wanted to be present for Marissa’s graduation on June 1. Then, since both Jason and Marissa would be adults, and would have Alisha’s parents around as backup, Alisha and I could relax after a busy first half of the year and go to my reunion.

Later, after a number of our friends from Boston decided that they wanted to take their kids to Disney’s new Star Wars-themed hotel, the Galactic Starcruiser, we suggested that we pick a date where Alisha and I could simply extend our East Coast trip and hop down to Orlando to join in the festivities.

Now obviously, the trip still happened–that is why I am writing this post. But the best-laid plans of mice and men gang oft aglay. After years of hearing my friends tell me that their construction projects blew past their deadlines and budgets…our project blew past its deadlines and budgets. (If not for the hard work, expertise, and connections of my friend Tim Hmelar, whom we hired as an owner’s representative, things would have been even worse.)

A series of delays in the construction process meant that the house would not be done in time, so we had to find a way to squeeze Alisha’s parents into our 1,300 square foot rental home, even though it was already pretty small for a family of four adults and a dog. Marissa graciously gave up her room (which, for legacy reasons*, was the master suite) and moved into a guest bedroom, which had been used as an office and storage room, but which we hurriedly partially cleared for this purpose. (To be clear, Alisha did almost all of the clearing; I am a very slow and inefficient manual laborer.)

  • When the kids were born, Alisha and I chose not to occupy the master suite so that our parents would have a place to stay when they visited. This was driven in large part by the fact that right when Jason was born, the company my father had worked for since my childhood was acquired, and their decision to close the Los Angeles office triggered a generous severance agreement under which it had to pay his full salary and benefits for an entire year, provided he not work during that time. This meant that my parents could stay with us quite a bit to help with Jason. Since we moved into a new home at that time, we decided to give them the master suite so they had more privacy and comfort, and we just never ended up moving out of the bedroom we chose for ourselves. So when the kids got older and no longer wanted to share a single room, we let Marissa move into the master suite.

With a full house, we certainly couldn’t accommodate additional guests, so I booked an Airbnb for my parents and sister for graduation. You can read all about my thoughts on the graduation here.

So as of graduation, the plan was for us to go on vacation, and after we returned, to have the movers put Alisha’s parents’ furniture and possessions in the new house’s garage, which would be done by that point. Easy, right?

It was after graduation that we discovered two unfortunate things. First, the moving truck made such good time that it would arrive before Alisha and I got back from vacation. Second, the garage door might not be ready in time to allow us to use the nThe ew house’s garage to store Alisha’s parents furniture and possessions.

We spent the last 48 hours before vacation arranging to rent a storage pod to be placed in our driveway, hopefully before the moving truck arrived. And all this was to take place while we were on our Wednesday flight to Boston (which, naturally, had been changed by Delta Airlines from a non-stop flight into a one-stop flight leaving at 5:45 AM with a layover in Detroit). Miraculously, this ended up being a blessing in disguise, because it turns out that Marissa, who was in charge of dealing with both the storage pod and the movers, had texted the wrong number when she reached out to the storage pod agency, and thus when we landed in Detroit, Alisha received a text letting us know that the pod was on the way, and that they hadn’t been able to reach Marissa. Fortunately, the layover gave us just enough time to alert Marissa, and find out that the pod had been delivered and set up in time. Then the next day, the moving truck arrived and offloaded its cargo, which we will eventually have to move to the new house. Whenever it is ready. Hopefully soon.

Not the best way to start a relaxing vacation!

Spoiler Alert: Fortunately, things worked out decently. Back to the trip!

When Alisha and I arrived in Boston, the first thing we did was check the nearest Dunkin Donuts for her favorite Glazed Munchkins (donut holes). No dice; the store had run out some time prior. This turned out to be a theme–we visited Dunkin Donuts at least another three times, and we never managed to get any of those Glazed Munchkins!

The next thing we did was look up the hours for our favorite restaurant in Cambridge, Izzy’s, only to discover that Izzy had just retired and closed the restaurant. Strike two.

Tamping down our disappointment, we hailed a ride to the Airbnb we had booked in Cambridge, near Central Square. We stayed with Paul and Larry, who are professional musicans that Larry described as “the gay granddads of the neighborhood”. They were incredibly responsive and helpful throughout our stay. For example, when I got up my first morning in the apartment and went out to pick up breakfast, it was raining. When I opened the door to the apartment, I found an umbrella waiting for me. I also asked for them to recommend a laundromat, since we wanted to wash clothes before traveling to Orlando. Paul and Larry ran a load of laundry for us, and returned the laundry carefully folded and ready to be packed.

Central Square had changed a lot since our days in Cambridge back in the 1990s. Once considered a bad neighborhood, it had gentrified considerably–Central Square itself now had an HMart and a Target, where we picked up supplies like snacks and water. But with the legalization of marijuana, the smell of weed being smoked was ever-present though not typically overpowering.

That night, we hailed a ride to Charlestown and had dinner with Alisha’s old boss and his wife. John and Irene are a prototypical Boston academic couple; John has a PhD and worked closely with various academics at Harvard, while Irene was the head of Harvard Medical School’s Dermatology department before she retired. Now in their early 80s, they’re still in fighting trim and look about 20 years younger than their actual ages. Must be avoiding the aging that comes with parenthood–my sister is nearly five years older than me, but looks a decade younger than me! We had a delightful dinner of high-quality Italian food. John and Irene executed an elegant dinner party dance, with each trading off cooking each course while the other entertained their guests. Each course was also accompanied by a chef’s explanation of the origin and techniques of the dish. It far exceeded my usual practice of finishing all the dishes at once and calling for people to come to the kitchen and serving their damn selves, or just giving up and ordering pizza.

The secret to great Italian food is keeping things simple and letting the quality of the ingredients do the work. We dined on antipasti, salad, a tomato-infused risotto, grilled swordfish and scallops, and some fine pastries from a nearby bakery. John rather sheepishly admitted that not everything was from scratch–he had bought the tartar sauce from a local merchant because he could never get his homemade sauce to taste as good. The merchant said his secret was simple–a great sauce requires a great mayonnaise.

Not only was the evening great fun, it was also a helpful peek 30-35 years into the future. Aging, however gracefully, brings challenges. John and Irene were considering when they should sell their beloved apartment (which I had visited over 30 years ago). While beautiful, it included five sets of stairs. While climbing up and down those stairs had helped them preserve their muscle and mobility, they also recognized that at some point those stairs would make the apartment unliveable for them. Not everything about aging was negative, however. Irene extolled the virtues of cataract surgery. Not only is it fast and safe (she said it took about 15 minutes, after which they sent her on her way) but she had been able to replace her clouded lenses with one far-seeing and one close-seeing lens, which meant that after a lifetime of wearing strong glasses and struggling to see birds while birdwatching, she now had perfect vision near and far, and didn’t even reading glasses. “Get cataract surgery as soon as you can!” she gushed. Her eyes certainly looked clear and youthful! Meanwhile, John had recently discovered the joys of prestige television. After decades of pooh-poohing the boob tube, John had undergone some lengthy (but not strenuous or painful) medical treatments and was surprised by the quality of programming on the various streaming services. He was particularly taken with Peaky Blinders!

Thursday began with my heading out into the rain with Paul and Larry’s umbrella to pick up a hot breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised by the affordability of our food; perhaps everying looks less expensive than living in Palo Alto!

Then we traveled to the Hult International School of Business’ Cambridge campus. My friend, the aforementioned Tim Hmelar, who, in addition to being a successful contractor has also written numerous books and at one point was the practice goalie for the San Jose Sharks, had invited me to speak to his class at Hult while I was in Boston. As everyone knows, I love an audience, and this was no different.

I used my classic Q&A technique, which is to write down all the audience questions up front, so that I can put them into an order that provides a smoother flow, rather than the random choppiness caused by the whims of whomever happens to ask the next question.

I have my arm around Tim’s shoulder

After the talk, Alisha and I walked a short distance to the old Cambridgeside Galleria mall, a place we had visited many times when we still live in Cambridge. We shared a Philly cheesesteak for lunch (not bad, but nothing too special) and then retired to our Airbnb. Things got much busier from there–I first traveled crosstown by myself to attend my 22nd Reunion’s opening reception at the Fairmont Copley Place at 5PM.

In many cases, this was the first time in seven years or more than my classmates and I had seen each other. And since we hadn’t checked in on campus yet, we didn’t have name tags yet. Fortunately, if there’s any two things HBS alumni know what to do, it’s to drink alcohol and network, so it didn’t take long for people to fall back into old habits. It helped that thanks to my notoriety (both good and bad) most people were able to recognize me and helpfully provide their name (though in my defense, I usually knew those names).

Now one of the interesting things is that I feel ambivalent about such events. On the one hand, as a 110% extrovert, I love talking with people, and the entire Reunion had be nearly vibrating with energy and excitement. On the other hand, I think parties are generally inefficient and frustrating. I hate having to guess when someone I’m talking with wants to move on–too early, and I’m being rude; too late, and I’m a bore.

For this event, I settled on a simple hack. I stayed near the entrance and greeted people when they arrived, directing them to the locations of the bars and buffets inside. This offered three major advantages: First, it made me highly visible, letting people know that I was at the reunion so that those who wanted to speak with me knew I was around. Second, it made interactions efficient. The entrance is a transitional place, which means that people instinctively get to the point and then move on. Finally, it allowed me to be helpful, which confers status and likeability.

I needed this hack because I couldn’t stay long. I got to the reception right at 5PM, but had to leave shortly after 6 so that I could get back to the Airbnb to pick up Alisha, and then proceed to the home of my friend Zeynep Ton for a Silicon Guild author’s dinner starting at 6:30. We were a little late, but we had a great evening. Among the highlights, we had an amazing Turkish zucchini soup that Zeynep had eaten as a child, and made regularly for her family and guests. The recipe is as follows:

Heat some olive oil in a pan, and cook chopped onions, sliced leeks, and cubed zucchini until some carmelization sets in. Then add chicken stock and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The result is somehow creamy and delicious, despite having neither cream or potatoes. I can’t wait to get home and try to make some!

We also had a lovely pan-seared halibut; one of my personal rules is to have great seafood whenever possible because I am not very good at cooking it at home.

During and after dinner, we had a wide-ranging conversation, including a series of “How I Met Your Mother” stories. I thought the story of how Alisha and I met in a pool hall was good, but it’s tough to beat a story that involves an ex-boyfriend flying in with a ring to “save” an innocent young girl from a “Latin Casanova”, or another one that includes the direct quote, “Who is this rich American asshole who thinks he can buy my daughter’s hand with his money?”

You can see a picture of the dinner menu and the diners here:

We don’t always have this level of formality!
From left to right: Amy Edmondson, Morra Aarons-Mele, some guy you know, my wife Alisha, Zeynep’s husband Carlos (who overlapped with Alisha at Harvard), Safi Bahcall, Allie Chipkin (our talented and tireless Silicon Guild Chief of Staff, Robert Livingston, and our hostess, Zeynep Ton

The next day, Friday, marked the official start of the Reunion. I have to admit that we slept in after our late dinner the night before, and I skipped the Dean’s welcome, but still arrived in time for the first faculty lecture. Professor Ethan Bernstein and his co-author Michael Horn talked about “Turning the Great Resignation Into the Great Attraction” using the late great Clay Christensen’s “jobs to be done framework.” The key insight is that employees “hire” jobs for specific reasons.

Ethan is a masterful professor, and I’m looking forward to the book. I am only a little disturbed that he was in the MBA class of 2002, which meant that he was two years behind me in school! But I was also jealous that he could teach at HBS during his own reunion!

After that, it was time for lunch, which included some eating and a lot of socializing!

My old friend Brian Karpiel is one of several of the small but mighty group of those I know from both Stanford and HBS!

After lunch, nearly everyone proceeded to the newly-constructed Klarman Hall, which is a magnificent high-tech auditorium, for a fireside chat with my friend Professor Karim Lakhani and my classmate Stephane Bancel of Moderna. It was a fascinating conversation, because it reinforced just how remarkable Moderna’s approach is. By focusing on being a technology platform rather than developing individual molecules, Moderna is almost totally unlike a traditional pharma company. For example, once Moderna downloaded the SARS-Cov2 genome, the vaccine design was ready in 10 minutes because it could leverage the platform Moderna had developed for another coronavirus, MERS. The only reason it took longer to start manufacturing and testing is that Stephane told the scientists to double-check their work, since it had to be correct. That same design–completely unchanged–is still the only one Moderna has used for its Covid-19 vaccine.

After the Moderna session, Alisha and I hit the Target for more supplies, and visited a thrift store before getting dressed for my class gala at the Harvard Club of Boston.

Many folks probably know that I dislike formal clothing. I always try to find ways to cheat, like my beloved Uniqlo travel blazer, which never wrinkles. Formal clothing is uncomfortable and bulky. But for special occasions, fancy duds do really add something.

When we got to the event, I started off just milling about and meeting people at random. Unlike the opening reception, the gala is so large that the greeting method doesn’t really work. Fortunately, I found another great hack at the event.

One of the things the organizers had done was hire a photobooth company. Rather than the typical three-photo strip, this photobooth put together a three-photo postcard that you could both print and email to yourself. After Alisha and I took a set of photos, I realized this was a perfect bit of stage business for the gala.

What I did was start pulling individuals and groups of people over to the photobooth, explaining how it worked, and helping them claim their photos. As with the greeting strategy, this gave me a structured, relatively efficient pretext for interaction with the added bonus of ending up in nearly every party’s pictures.

The photobooth operator, Tyrell, was a fellow Harvard grad (he was a graduate of the education school who was an assistant principal, but was drafted to help his wife’s photobooth business on weekends–I didn’t ask if he’d ever worked one of his own proms!) and quickly saw that I was his best marketer, and eagerly partnered with me to round up business. At one point, he asked, “How do you know so many people?” My response was that A) HBS alumni know a lot of people and B) I have an usually good memory, so I know an unusually large number of people.

You can see the entire collection of photographs below:

Whew, what a tiring night!

Given how busy our trip had been, and because we needed to save some stamina for the Galactic Starcruiser, we concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and quietly slipped out around 10:30 PM, rather than trying to close down the event.

After a reasonably good night’s rest, we got up on Saturday morning and proceeded to campus for breakfast. I attended two classes before lunch; “Deeply Responsible Business Leaders in History” with Professor Geoffrey Jones, and a series of short seven-minute presentations from six young faculty members on topics ranging from Segmented Arbitrage to the Ethnography of the Contemporary Art Market.

I was delighted to learn that Professor Jones had an upcoming book on responsible business, which is a topic that is near and dear to my heart (and where I plan to write more). The tough part of Professor Jones’ message is that he couldn’t find many examples of what he considered “Deeply Responsible” companies among publicly-traded companies. An opportunity for growth, I suppose!

After lunch, it was time for the alumni-generated content.

At 2:30, I went to my friend John Wu‘s fireside chat about cryptocurrencies. It was at this point that it became apparent that HBS had badly miscalculated. We had three panels running simultaneously, each in a room that could accommodate 90 people safely. John’s crypto panel was almost immediately overflowing. I managed to get a seat thanks to my friend John Majors, but Alisha was not so lucky. She tried to get into every other panel but was turned away from each one, as were many others. She smartly parked herself outside the classroom where many panel would take place during the next session so that she could guarantee herself a seat.

While this was a pain for many, it was good for me–like HBS, I hadn’t expected much attendance. I had, in fact, warned my panelists that I had no idea how many people would show up, especially since we overlapped with the extremely popular “Women In Business” panel. Over the previous day, numerous friends had told me, “Sorry, but I can’t attend your panel–I want to see the Women in Business panel.” And I couldn’t blame them. Imagine my delighted surprise when panel attendance was at capacity!

Back to the crypto event….

John is a crypto pioneer and the President of Ava Labs, the sponsors of the Avalanche token. Of course, we classmates went to go heckle him. When Professor Ethan Bernstein (who was the teacher for this class) asked for questions, my first question was, “John, I know everyone here has the same question: How do you continue to look so young and handsome? Is this a “Picture of Dorian Gray” situation, or did you find the Fountain of Youth?”

John really looks eerily unchanged from our school days. When I showed a picture of him to my daughter Marissa, who just graduated from high schook, her reaction was, “Wow, he’s hot.” She then showed his picture to her friends, who agreed and marveled at his appearance. Marissa then asked me, “How much younger is he than you?” When I said that John was actually four years older than me, she just said, “Wow, what happened to you?”

You can judge for yourself from this close-up picture:

That handsome SOB!

We had a great discussion; the top quote I heard from John was, “Crypto is a giant Petri dish of innovation and fraud.” True. True.

After the crypto event, I hustled over to a memorial session for classmates who had passed away. It was a solemn but heartfelt affair, organized by my friend Wes Owen, who had lost his wife Meg Berte Owen, and Susannah Gustafson, who had lost her husband Jared Gustafson; Susannah and Jared were part of my original study group, along with Anu Goel, so I had spent a lot of time with them back before they were married. I spoke up about my friend Ranjan Das, as well as my sectionmate Vimpi Juneja. Our other lost sectionmate, Christian Checa, received a warm eulogy from his fellow Latins. At one point, Luis Valdich said he would have to keep his comments brief because he needed to get to a panel, at which point I interjected, “You don’t need to worry about that, since I’m moderating that panel, and they can’t start without us.”

After the memorial, Luis and I did in fact hustle over to my panel on the positive and negative impacts of venture capital on society, where we were joined by our classmates Stan Reiss, Antoine Colaco, and Laura Maydon. The session began as a classic panel, where I played the role of moderator and asked questions of the panelists, before quickly degenerating into a classic HBS discussion. I would ask if anyone in the audience had a question, and someone would make a statement that had no trace of a question in it. I figured we’d roll with it, though I did step in when two audience members began to debate back and forth while the panelists sat silently, and received a nice round of applause from the audience. (“Sounds like you two will have a lot to talk about after this session ends!”)

Despite my fears that we’d struggle to find an audience in the final time slot, we had to turn away audience members, and had a blast.

From left to right: Luis, Antoine, Laura, Stan, and some guy. The curly-haired head in the lower right is my friend Matt Breitfelder, and the curly-haired head to the left of him is his son!

Since that night’s event was our Section D dinner, which meant I didn’t have to dress up, Alisha and I joined my friend Sarah Endline on the HBS bus for catch-up drinks in Back Bay, after which we walked with the Women of Section D to our dinner at Ostra. This was a special treat because Sarah is Class of 2001, which means we don’t normally get to see each other at reunion (though of course I did see her at SXSW earlier this year).

Here is a photo from the “Women of D” panel:

From left to right: Lockie Andrews, Gabi Carvalho, ???, Saleena Goel, Elise Wolfgram McDonald, Margaret Molloy, Christa Sober Quarles

Typically, the Section Dinner takes place on Friday night, with the Class Gala serving as the Saturday night capstone for the reunion. I preferred the reverse order of this unusual reunion: What better way to finish off the reunion than spending time with the group you spent the most time with during your time at school? Alisha also notes that it’s better for the partners and spouses as well, since they get to see people they know, rather than being reduced to being introduced to a series of near-strangers.

Naturally, we had a ball, with lots of laughter and hugs (and air kisses for the Europeans and Latins). Before we left, we assembled the troops for a group photo.

Go Delta House!

The next day, Alisha and I packed up and had brunch with John and Irene before heading over to my friend Patrick Cheng Song‘s house for a BBQ. Cheng and I are old friends from Stanford, but normally don’t get to see each other since he’s part of the Class of 2002. Cheng knows how to throw a party; he cooked sous vide kalbi and ribeye steak, which meant that the meat was insanely tender and delicious. (He also used fish sauce to simulate the effects of dry aging, a trick he learned from former Microsoft CTO and my fellow Mirman School alumnus Nathan Myhrvold.)

Cheng was also hospitable enough to let me invite my old friend Chris Musto to the BBQ, and we spent a fantastic afternoon and evening feasting and sampling Cheng’s whisky and bourbon collection before Alisha and I headed to the airport to fly to Orlando for our Galactic Starcruiser adventure.

To be continued….

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