Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A $7 lunch and off-balance sheet assets

I'm working on some new product ideas especially for the Chinese consumer market and for some perspective I turned to my close friend, Allan, who was born and raised in Beijing. With his drive and intricate understanding of the markets, I am eventually handing all of my money over to him to manage, and if I ever need a board member, my first call is to him. Allan never agrees with me right off the bat about anything - he doesn't give me an inch of wiggle room. Allan, in his characteristically curious way, questions me incessantly on detail after detail. And I am deeply grateful for that.

Today, our conversation flipped from Chinese vs. American culture (a favorite topic of ours) to the state of our jobs to future plans and then to social enterprise. While everyone on the planet is gushing about the promise and bright future of social enterprise, Allan is skeptical. Today he forced me to take him through the concept of social entrepreneurship, step by step. The financials, the motivation, the benefits, the short-comings, the operational challenges.

Allan took all this information in and to wrap up, he got to 1 more very simple question and 1 very simple conclusion. Allan's last question: "Christa, are you okay with having a $7 lunch for the rest of your life as opposed to a $70 lunch like those guys on Wall Street?" My answer: "Yes, I'd prefer it that way." Allan's reply: "Good. Then you are a perfect candidate to be a social entrepreneur." Allan's conclusion: "Seems to me that there must be some off-balance sheet assets that must be accounted for." How true that is!

For the rest of the afternoon, I thought about the role of off-balance sheet assets that we must consider in every aspect of our lives; how we spend our time and with whom, our happiness, the amount we laugh everyday, and our sense of purpose are all assets that are tough to value in dollars. And yet, they are critically important - I would argue far more important than our salaries (provided our salaries cover our basic needs). These "other" assets, the ones we can't hold in the palm of our hand, are the stuff that make our lives worthwhile.

Allan and I trekked up to the castle that overlooks the Great Lawn in Central Park. I was grinning from ear to ear and Allan asked me, "What does that view mean to you?" I looked out at the people relaxing, smiling, and enjoying the simultaneously simple and complex act of being alive. A small oasis of hope in a city that is seeing its fair share of challenges. This view is off-balance sheet assets personified. And from that view, their value is very easy to see.

The photo is from

No comments: