by: Bud Moeller
Facts: I was born in Washington, DC to parents of modest means. My dad was a U.S. government worker and my mom quit her job when I was born. My dad was of English and German descent and his folks homesteaded in Florida. My mom was full-blooded Italian, born in NYC.
We lived in the DC area until I was 4, when we moved to Germany (along with my sister, who was born a year after me). From then on, I only did 3rd grade and part of 4th grade in the U.S. The rest was all overseas!
I was a bright little kid. Started speaking at 15 weeks. My dad would trot me out with an encyclopedia volume when I was very little and have me read to guests. I was his favorite party trick! Here I am as a 1st grader.
Everyone wanted me to skip second grade but they let me make the decision. I said no. I wanted to stay with my friends. As a result, 2nd grade was miserably boring and I slacked off. 3rd grade was in Virginia (just outside DC) and I loved it because I was in a combined 3rd/4th grade class. I’d finish up our work and then do all the 4th grade work for fun! LOL Mid-way through 4th, we moved to Tokyo, Japan, continuing the international adventure.
Feelings: I was always very loved by my parents. I, in turn, loved others. I started liking girls in 1st grade. Had more girls than boys at my 6th birthday party!
I remember giving flowers to one of my classmates. I picked some random flowers, walked a few blocks to her house (I’m sure my mom trailed behind me), knocked on her door, and gave them to her. Neither of us ever spoke another word about it! LOL I liked meeting new people—had to since I was in 4 different schools from K-4. I was always very inquisitive, taking things apart. According to my baby book, at 21 months, I was mostly interested in assembling the vacuum cleaner and plugging in electric wires! I helped my dad build a few electronic devices when I was 7 or 8 and loved model planes and cars. Life was an exploration of things to me. I liked reading. I liked people. I also liked being in charge. When we’d have teams to play war or sports, I always wanted to be the captain. I remember printing off flyers to have me voted in as “General” of our army! LOL
Favorite memories: Learning German in parallel with English at age 4-5. Traveling to several European countries every summer for vacation. Taking the USS America and the USS United States across the Atlantic and dining in fine style as a little kid, even just ordering 3 desserts for dinner one night!
Coming to the U.S. just before 3rd grade and being introduced to McDonalds! The French fries seemed like they were a foot long to me! Learning to play baseball during my year in the U.S. but being forced to bat right handed (I’m left handed), making me hate playing the game even to this day! Flying through Anchorage, Alaska, taking off just 45 minutes before the devastating earthquake there. Learning enough Japanese to travel around Tokyo independently with no concerns. Swimming on the U.S. Embassy Swim Team (that’s me on the far right).
Findings: Is it really right to let kids make big decisions like skipping a grade? If I had been thrust ahead, it would have changed the entire course of my life, but for better or worse? No way to tell. Learning languages at an early age and living out of the U.S. gave me a perspective of being a World Citizen, comfortable anywhere with any people. It also put the U.S. in the global perspective—we’re not the center of the world, by the way. It also made me color and gender neutral—I probably have even more lady friends than guy friends, certainly here! And meeting people is easy and fun for me—probably a big reason I’m here! My parents fed my curiosity, loved me, and gave me running room.
Facts: Unless you saw me on the David Letterman show a couple of years ago or know me very well in real life, you probably didn’t know that I was a national TV star in Japan! For 3 seasons, I was a “Dennis The Menace” type character in an English-language sitcom.
It started when they needed a kid for a family setting, the feedback was tremendous, and the series got rewritten around me. Every episode was some sort of object lesson and full of trouble and mischief, usually caused by me! That evolved into me doing print ads, voice-overs on movies and TV shows (Godzilla, Rocket Boy cartoon series, etc.) as well as those language lab tapes you’d have listened to if you were learning English in Japan. I even had a band that got to play for parties and on TV once—covering a Rolling Stones song.
For 8th grade, we moved to London, England. I went from being a national celebrity to being no one. But I continued with music, starting a little band that played at lunchtime most weeks. For high school, we moved to a base closer to Oxford and I spent 9th-12th grade there. This was England during the late ’60s/early ’70s—the psychedelic era! Long hair, wild paisley shirts, etc.
I got along with everyone, fitting well into every group. I was a jock (double varsity letter, football and basketball—that’s how I got my back injury that just was surgically corrected, nationally-ranked skeet shooter, and bowler—all UK champ.). I was a nerd (President of the National Honor Society, Valedictorian). I was a leader (VP Student Government, lots of activities). I was a party guy (hung with the cool crowd—my best friends). I was always Mr. Social, crossing boundaries with ease. People are just people!
For college, I chose Georgia Tech, because of their strong engineering reputation and attractive package they offered National Merit Scholars. I selected Chemical Engineering as my major, since I had a perfect score on the SAT Math section and ACT Chemistry test. I loved Chemistry but wanted to apply it to solve problems. More on this in the next Decade.
Feelings: I never realized the TV thing was that big a deal. My Mom handled all my fan mail, gave me tons of things to sign every month, and I just enjoyed the fun of doing the show. Yes, it was strange to be stopped on the street for pictures and autographs, but Japan is a crazy place anyway. I just thought it went with the territory. Girlfriends were another constant theme but I only had 2-3 serious relationships in high school and then met Carol the summer between high school and college. We spent a lot of time at the beach then did the whole long distance thing for the next 4 years (she went to Florida State and later to the Medical College of Georgia). And this was in the era before cell phones, e-mail, etc.—all with letters, visits, and dormitory pay phones!
But cars also became a huge passion for me during this time. I nudged my dad into buying a high performance ’67 Mustang as our family car to take to England. It was a blast—and was the car I first learned to drive! I read everything I could get my hands on and became car crazy for life. We went to watch F1 and other races at Silverstone and I was hooked on open wheel racing too. In college, I had a ’68 Camaro. My first summer paycheck went to buy new wheels and tires! LOL
I also loved all the leadership stuff more than the academics, both in high school and in college. My uncle, a businessman, asked me after my sophomore year what I wanted to do and how much to earn as a living. I realized I’d be more satisfied in the leadership ranks than designing piping and pumping systems for refineries.
Favorite Memories: Traveling across the Pacific Ocean on a huge ocean liner and getting tagged by a 50′ wave! Tables, chairs, dishes, glasses, and people went flying across the room—I thought it was fun! LOL Driving across the U.S. in the new Mustang, seeing the beauty and isolation of the west (e.g., Utah, Wyoming, Montana). Racing against friends at lunch in high school (the Fox and Hounds game we created). Playing Pinochle with my Mom and friends, many times watching the sun come up! Watching the first moon landing on TV and thinking how cool that would be to do. Having a true “come to Jesus” moment in a car where all that saved me was a miraculous “hand of God” that picked the car up and put it straight on the road. From that point on, I believed in God.
Findings: Life changes and things come and go. You have to make the most of every experience and place that you’re at. You can’t mourn the past. Pursue the intersection of your passion and skills (more on that in Decade 3 too). That will lead to your best success in work and life. Myers-Briggs personality research says we’re basically formed by age 12. My personality was clear—competitive, problem solver, extrovert, leader, social, big picture view, thinker, driven for excellence. In their terms, I’m an ENTJ—also known as the Field Marshal personality. And I was fearless, probably due to having so much independence and encouragement. I traveled the streets of Tokyo and London alone (ages 10-13) without trouble. I had a pattern of success and my parents never led or shaped me with fear.
Facts: At Georgia Tech, I held leadership positions in every major campus organization and was elected President of my fraternity as a Sophomore, because we were nearly bankrupt, with a foreclosure notice tacked to the door of our house. Yes, we turned it around in 18 months and won a national award as a result. I also played college soccer and bowling.
I wanted to go to business school for my MBA, but even back then, all the top schools required 2-3 years of work experience. Armed with a leadership track record, great GPA, and rocking GMAT test score, I applied to the top 4 schools and got into 3. I chose to go to Harvard because of its global reputation and focus on general management and strategy. I was one of literally one handful of people who were admitted direct from undergrad school.
Carol and I survived the long distance relationship for the 4 years of college.
In the summer between graduating from Georgia Tech and starting at HBS, we got married in Carol’s hometown in Florida. A week later, we were in Boston starting our summer jobs! She graduated as a nurse and was the breadwinner while I was in school.
I enjoyed all the MBA disciplines and couldn’t choose between them. So, when I graduated, I went into management consulting, where you use a broad set of skills and disciplines to solve tough client problems. I focused on strategy around energy and environment issues, since my senior engineering project had been about converting coal to oil.
Despite my lack of work experience (again), I was hired into Booz, Allen & Hamilton (now Booz & Company), one of the world’s leading strategy firms. In the middle of the second oil crisis, I developed energy policy papers on alternative fuels and became an expert in advanced energy technologies. My client work covered global companies based in the U.S. and Europe. Seeing an opportunity to boost our energy business in the western half of the U.S., I agreed to move from DC to San Francisco at the end of this decade of my life. California is the beginning of another chapter!
My car craziness continued. We bought a Lotus when I graduated from business school. Then, at 26, I bought my first Ferrari (and I bought Carol a grand piano).
We had hardly any furniture in our house so put the piano in the dining room! LOL I also started some amateur racing and ended up being 4th in the country in my class! So I figured there might be a racing future for me. More about that in the next decade.
Just before the end of this decade, we had our daughter, Melaine! This was the transition from a couple to a family. Trying to balance work, life, and family is a challenge everyone faces, and we were no different.
Carol went to part time work after Melaine was born then she decided to stay home after we moved to California. Fortunately, I was promoted and my raise more than covered her lost income.
Feelings: Harvard was incredibly intense with a forced curve, which ensured that 5% -10% of the class would be asked to leave, in both years! There were a couple of suicides. People disappeared. It was grueling. But each of us felt we were failing so we were all about equal! LOL The only outlet I had for keeping my sanity was playing on the school Rugby Team! We were so poor we could have gotten food stamps. Every Saturday, we would go out for either pizza or cheesecake (but couldn’t afford both).
Solving the tough management problems for business was a rush and a great challenge. They only hire consultants when they can’t solve the issue themselves. Pressure! But also great psychological reward for cracking the code!
Favorite Memories: Being in the middle of helping solve the country’s second energy crisis through policy, strategy, and innovative technology. Being in a near-fatal head-on collision and, after reflection, realizing that we were too self-absorbed and not doing enough to help and serve other people. Discovering we had lost our BMW, Lotus, and Ferrari in a fiery cross-country transporter crash—so we arrived on the west coast with no cars! Made it a lot easier to give up material things—stuff is just stuff, it can always be replaced, and it’s not that important.
Findings: I am fearless and relentless to go after what I want, despite the odds. People and relationships are more important than things. The legacy you leave behind will be memories that others have of you, lives you’ve changed or impacted, and your thumbprint on important events. In contrast, no one will remember the stuff you left or the little bit of money that got distributed. Hard work and effort will pay off, at some point. And, without it, you’ll never achieve your full potential in anything you do. A baby totally changes your life, forever. It’s the ultimate responsibility, more challenging than any business problem!