When Worlds Align: 2015 Year-End Reflections and New Year Greetings

1 January 2016, Los Angeles, California

“When Worlds Align:  2015 Year-End Reflections and New Year Greetings”

“Make sure they call you Professor Nguyen!” My friend Nhutrang said jokingly when I announced I would start teaching an International Business Management course in January 2016 at California State University in Fullerton.

My dear friends Phong and Nhutrang were hosting a holiday brunch at their home in the Washington DC area where long-time friends joined, some whom I had met during my first time in DC in 1993 when I started an internship on my 21st birthday at the Department of State.  Earlier that week, I had lunch with Ambassador Tomseth and his family, who was the Chief of Mission on my first trip abroad as an intern at the American Embassy in Vientiane, Laos in the Summer of 1994.  Over two decades later, it seems timely and appropriate for me to impart some of that knowledge gained from international and entrepreneurial pursuits to a group of millennial students and global citizens.

Sometimes and in distant lands, worlds align… as was the case on my first trip to Colombia in November to visit my long-time musical collaborator Juan and his family. Since we met in UCLA Extension’s music program in 2009, we have been writing songs together and released our last album “The Universe in Me” in 2012 (also when I closed the full-time operations of Planet LA Records).   After a three-year impasse, we are about to launch our defining effort and musical called “Lovers and Angels” about the City of Los Angeles on January 4, 2016 (click image below for a preview).

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It was also an opportunity to visit my Fletcher School classmate Jeroen who is now the Belgian ambassador to Colombia. The worlds of music and international diplomacy crossed in Bogota… leaving me feeling a bit nostalgic about a diplomatic career that could have been, and the hope of a creative legacy that has yet to be.

2015 also took me to other new countries including Sweden in April following an aviation conference in Germany and a visit to manufacturing facilities in Italy, as part of my work with global sourcing company Wessco.  While in Milan, I caught up with my MBA classmate Daniele who suggested hosting a reunion in Italy next summer. I also returned to Asia in July with my mother on a trip to Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, and to attend the graduation ceremony for the dual-MBA program between UCLA Anderson and the National University of Singapore.  During that journey while in my birthplace of the beach town of Da Nang, I woke up to the news that I was appointed to serve as vice president of the UCLA Anderson alumni network for a three-year term.

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My father wasn’t able to join us in Asia, though fortunately his health has stabilized since his major surgery.   His uncertain condition has been a constant reminder to appreciate and take every moment in stride.  In the Spring, my family traveled together to Seattle for the funeral of his brother, my uncle Ky who passed away in March.   We had a large reunion among my cousins, all of whom had children of their own – in contrast to my brother and I who have none.

As in previous years with Planet LA, I continued to facilitate synergies between artists, brands and causes by supporting partners including Whole Foods Market and their charity Whole Planet Foundation with an annual Pre-Grammy party and Summer Music Series.  The third annual party set records by raising more than $20,000 for global micro-lending programs and was attended by over a thousand industry guests.  Planet LA also showcased emerging and global artists during the SXSW festival, the Gibson Guitar showroom and with other partners.

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As I look back upon 2015, it was the first year in awhile where my diverse worlds came into balance, both personally and professionally.  My family was intact and distant friends still close. I was gainfully employed and could better serve my professional and creative communities, and alumni network.  For the first time in three years, I was able to write music again and will soon share this labor of artistic passion.  And, after selling my homes in DC followed by years of transitory living between family and friends, I found my own place again.

My footing has been restored after a prolonged journey defined by relocation, repositioning and reinvention.  Now, I am in a good position to share some of these lessons in a classroom and beyond.  Often times, it takes focus and perseverance to set worlds that collided back into harmony and alignment.

So thank you to my dear family, friends and believers for their unconditional support and faith in my hopes and potential.  Best wishes to all for a promising 2016!

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Summer Solstice & Birthday Celebrations

June 20, 2015, Santa Monica, California

“Maybe one of the birthday boys would like to join me for my final song,” Joseph Eid said in feigned surprised as he gestured me to join him on stage.   Moments before his set, we had quickly rehearsed a song together in the parking garage of Studio Maesto in Santa Monica.

I had reached out to him the day before as I was very impressed by his acoustic rendition of Pink’s song, “Try” and suggested we try “Try” at the joint birthday celebration I was hosting with good friends Christian and Javon which also supported an arts program for at-risk kids.

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“It’s been years since I’ve sang in public, so bare with us…” I told the full audience of friends, family and brand partners gathered in the courtyard of the studio.

It was three summers ago at the start of the Summer Solstice on my 40th birthday when I last appeared on stage with a group of artists friends to release an album I co-wrote with my musical collaborator from Colombia, Juan Andres Lizarazo. That was for “The Universe in Me” from our band When Planets Align which we started in 2009, and was the reason for the launch of Planet LA Records, our self-made label.

In June 2012, we released our last album just as we were closing the office of Planet LA as my former business partner Ben and I struggled to find a sustainable business model to support emerging and global artists.  Since then, Planet LA has evolved into a marketing entity focused on brand relationships with Gibson Guitar, Whole Foods Market and its charitable arm Whole Planet Foundation, among a diverse mix of partners from City National Bank, Teas’ Tea, Original Penguin and Uber.

“When there is desire, there is gonna be a flame

Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned…

I joined Joseph in the chorus of “Try” as most of the audience had never seen me perform live. Though, there were several steadfast friends including co-birthday boys Christian Rodrigo a talented actor from Spain and Javon Frazier a marketing guru previously at Marvel/Disney – who were there on that pivotal evening three years ago, when I wasn’t sure what I was “trying” to accomplish in the creative space or going to do from there.

Birthday2015-1Back then, artist friends Rebecca Sullivan and Nadine Ellman had also performed as they did three years later – and continued to stay engaged as Planet LA survived and evolved with a different focus after closing its label operations.

“But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die

You’ve gotta get up, and try try try…”

I sang the chorus several times with Joseph and percussionist Lucas, as the beat drove on, amplifying the professional and personal implications of the song.

Later that evening, as a surprise to our guests – several artists and our long-time producer Cartier Cutsinger and I announced a new project called “Lovers and Angels” a rock opera about L.A. Our composer Juan had returned to L.A. earlier in the year after a three-year absence to work on the project, just as I was getting settled again in a new place after years of being transient and “trying” to regain my sense of direction and balance.

The first song called “Summer Came Too Soon” is sung by Connie Lim, a talented solo artist. Juan wrote the catchy melody while I wrote the nostalgic lyrics, which is the trademark of our musical chemistry. I actually finished the song on February 14 upon writing to Juan’s melody, so decided it would be about love, of course.

We arranged for two dancers to interpret the song as part of the sneak-peek premiere. They swayed, and swept around the dance floor rhythmically in step with the opening verses:

“When Mercury is in retrograde, it’s time to appreciate and contemplate

As Venus glows, the moon slowly fades, the stars can guide the will of fate

When plump green jade begins to bloom, my luck accelerates maybe too soon

As seasons turn, perceptions can undo, as spring gushed forth, I met you…

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Then parted with the closing stanza:

Summer Solstice left me high and dry, like the receding Lunar tides

You came and went like constellations foretold

I learned from loss, you touched my soul…”

Here’s a preview:

 

I’ve always appreciated having a birthday at the start of the Summer Solstice, partly because of my fondness for the warm season and more so, for the bountiful possibilities of the longest day into night.

For me, life has always been about being able to savor every moment and realizing the potential of what actions may bring. Whether through professional ambition, creative drive or personal passion, I have been rewarded and humbled in my pursuits as “trying” in life or love can be wonderful, challenging and usually unpredictable.

But, “trying” and getting burned or learning from loss is often better than the “not trying” and missing out on the wonder of life’s upstarts, fits and flukes… whether on a long summer night celebrating birthdays and surprises, or throughout our impermanent and mercurial time on earth.

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From Bollywood Premieres to Hollywood Releases

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14 February 2014, Mumbai, India

“We had our wedding reception here,” Bappa mentioned as he and his driver picked me up in a bright red Audi from this hotel (ITC Maratha Mumbai).

As we drove past the airport, there was a huge billboard announcing the release of the Bollywood film “Gunday.”

“Dad has a super hit in this mega film by producer Aaditya Chopra,” Bappa explained.

The name of this Indian movie icon didn’t register, but should have since I represent Bappi Lahiri — India’s “Disco King!”  So unfamiliar, yet somehow makes sense like this overwhelming country! … MDN

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August 16, 2014, Los Angeles, California

“I am so happy to release my latest album ‘Bappi Lounge’ today,” Bappi Lahiri announced as I stood next to him at Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills, known for its majestic views of Tinseltown and the urban sprawl of L.A.

BappiLounge-FrontIt was the fifth album we have released together in less than four years since my label Planet LA Records has represented the prolific artist “Bappi-da” as he is affectionately known by millions of South Asian fans.  The first release “World, Peace, Love and Harmony” on September 29, 2010 was almost a fluke as I knew practically nothing about Bollywood.  My business partner and I were reluctant to take on such a daunting task, but we did it anyways.

“You are like my brother… I have so much music to share.  Someday I will get nominated,” Bappi has insisted, while I assisted him with Grammy consideration for each new release.  Every year since 2010, Bappi has returned to L.A. with his latest collection of contemporary and traditional songs, cross-over genres and unusual collaborations with American jazz greats, notorious rappers, Middle Eastern pop stars and Indian gospel singers, to name a few.

This time around, he came with his family including his son and producer Bappa Lahiri — who I met for the first time in February of this year in Mumbai, during a trip to India as part of my global studies with UCLA.  Bappa cued up the tunes as his father performed two new songs “Mystery” and “East Meets West” from the electronica-infused album.  The mellow lounge tunes held sway over the courtyard, keeping the conversation hushed.

BappiRelease-pic2“Now, I am going to sing my super hits,” he told the crowd, which was an eclectic mix of Grammy staff, a former member of The Supremes, Bollywood fans and my classmates and alumni from the UCLA Anderson-NUS global executive MBA (“GEMBAs”) who were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Asia-Pacific program.

“Oh La La… Oh La La!” Bappi belted out.  The song’s fast tempo and catchy chorus quickly changed and uplifted the mood.  The song was a huge single off the popular Bollywood film “The Dirty Picture” — which led to Bappi’s resurgence in recent years.  His duet partner on the song, Shreya Ghoshal has over 21 million Facebook fans (more than Madonna’s 19 million likes)… India’s “Disco King” was back!

As Bappi sang to the dance track, I pulled the audience towards the stage, starting with my Indian classmates, then the rest of the global contingent joined the party.  I knew well from working with creative talent that many of them feed off the energy from the crowd.  Many artists are brilliant because they are egocentric.

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Bappi  began to sing with vigor as the crowd danced around him.  He kept going beyond his scheduled set with encore numbers including his 80s megahit “Jimmy Jimmy” which has since been covered by M.I.A. (a female rapper of Sri Lankan origin who sang with Madonna during half-time at the 2012 Superbowl, and caused a mini scandal with her middle finger).

“Thank you, thank you,” Bappi repeated as he placed his hands together in a namaste-style prayer, signifying the end of his performance.

As my classmates and industry colleagues surrounded Bappi for a group photo in front of the UCLA-NUS step-and-repeat banner… I felt deep inside that somehow, my seemingly impracticable foray in the music industry in recent years — followed by an academic restart in B-school since last year, was beginning to make sense.

BappiRelease-pic1This evening involved many moving parts and dots to connect, marked by years of trial and error.

For the most part, I believe it was a memorable experience for every star and guest that danced and smiled that night — which made it worth the overwhelming effort expended since I began on this passionate journey… five Bollywood albums and counting!

*  *  *

A Record Snowstorm and Flurry of Perspectives in Tokyo

8 February 2014, Tokyo, Japan

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“… the snowstorm began late in the evening as I left R2 Lounge in Roppongi where old friends, creative colleagues and current classmates gathered, celebrated and cross-pollinated in the midst of the Tokyo winter.

It’s been nearly four years since my last trip, and my Fletcher friends from the mid-1990s remarked how astonishing my network had evolved since we last met in 2010, with entertainers and MBA students now among the mix.  Perhaps the coming Spring and future visits will yield a flowering of new perspectives.  MDN”

*  *  *

7 February 2014

Tokyo, Japan

“You know so many salary men!” my former colleague Sayaka Shiomi said with exaggerated surprise.  She had supported me during the founding of Planet LA Records while we were students in the UCLA Extension program on Entertainment Studies between 2009-2010, and recently moved back to Tokyo to carry on with her career as a music journalist.

Sayaka was referring to my Fletcher alumni friends in dark suits at the Japanese trade and defense ministries, as well as recent MBA colleagues who worked for Japanese insurance and construction companies.  She, on the other hand, was wearing her trademark leopard print skirt which matched her fuzzy purse and seductive name cards.

Earlier in the evening – my Fletcher friends and I exchanged our new and updated business cards at Sushi Zanmai, a fantastic restaurant next to Tsukiji seafood market in the Ginza district.  I would often stay at a hotel in Ginza like I did this past trip just to have sushi for breakfast in Tsukiji, or sometimes observe the record-setting tuna auctions in the early morning hours.

Since we last gathered in 2010 during a Fletcher alumni dinner, most of my Japanese friends had more elevated titles:  Director, Vice President, Head of Unit; and most were still working at the same government ministries and corporations.   My business cards this time were no longer black and white with raised ink as issued by a traditional law firm, but had a unique Planet LA logo as founder of a music entity.  They must have thought I had a serious case of confused identities, and commented on the flexibility for career changes in America compared to Japan’s traditional employment for life.

After dinner at the hip R2 Lounge in the entertainment district of Roppongi – Tokyo’s version of Hollywood or Times Square – the distinct groups from my past and present mingled uncharacteristically but in good fun.   Japanese suits and rebellious rockers, fighter pilots based at the U.S. Embassy, a dash of French and Italian expats, along with a Ukrainian girl who had become a Japanese citizen – found common ground despite bureaucratic rigidity and creative frivolity.

Some of us continued on to a live music venue called Red Shoes in Aoyama until past 3am as the largest snowstorm in a decade hovered over Tokyo (which ended up canceling my flight).  The restless conversations continued on as we ended the evening at one of the city’s all-night, yet elegant watering holes called Bar Deuce — savoring whiskey cocktail nightcaps turned champagne breakfast elixirs until the patient manager politely told us he was closing around 8am.  By then, daylight revealed a vast megalopolis covered in a new snowy coat.  So chill, cleansing and enticing like the evening that would not exhaust itself until dawn.

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“Conscious Capitalism” and Lessons from the Bangladesh Factory Collapse

Washington DC, May 4, 2013 and United Airlines, Flight 802 (LAX to Singapore), May 14, 2013

“Wal-Mart and other Western retailers share some of the blame,” my friend Hussain said as we stayed up late talking about D.C. politics, global affairs, and tips on M.B.A. programs.

“Their focus on maximizing profits has squeezed suppliers to cut costs in dangerous ways, creating unsafe working conditions,” he added.

We were discussing the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 13, 2013, which injured over 2,500 and killed 1,127 workers.  The factory is one of over 5,000 in the country, which is the world’s third largest exporter of clothing after China and Italy at $20 billion in exports annually, and employs over 3.6 million workers earning a minimum wage of less than $40 a month.

Hussain had just returned from Bangladesh a few days ago, though as a son of a distinguished diplomat, he had spent much of his life abroad including grade school in Geneva, university studies in the D.C. area then graduate studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the Boston area where we were classmates in the mid-1990s.  In the graduate dormitory Blakely Hall where we and about 60 students lived while at the Fletcher School, I remember seeing pictures of Hussain and his father, the former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States, taken with world leaders including President Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

After the Fletcher School, Hussain collected more graduate degrees in law and business with a J.D. from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. from New York University.  Our conversation veered towards M.B.A. programs and corporate profits in the age of globalization,

“Well, multinational corporations are not only driven by profit… they can do good,” I noted, given my work on international trade matters for over a decade, including at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, and private law firms in D.C. and L.A., and more recently as an entrepreneur in the entertainment space.

Though, unlike Hussain – I had not received in-depth training on corporate behavior and financial analysis – and decided recently to enroll in the UCLA Anderson School of Management – National University of Singapore Business School Global Executive M.B.A. program, starting this month.

“Consumers are more aware of product supply chains, look at Whole Foods Market and organic producers – it’s not all about the lowest price,” I explained, given my partnership with Whole Foods over the past several years.

I had also been reading “Conscious Capitalism” by John Mackey, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and Raj Sisodia, leaders in advocating more benevolent business philosophies.   In the book, the authors write that: “Conscious businesses think caringly, creatively, and strategically about the environment.”

Mackey also noted that Whole Foods Market from early on developed a strong partnership with their suppliers – and not just based solely on profit margins.  In fact, the original store established in 1978 in Austin, Texas was on the verge of closure after a serious flood – and it was the suppliers that urged the specialty retailer to rebuild and provide shelf space for organic and natural products that struggled to find distribution in other grocery chains.  Now, Whole Foods Market has nearly 350 stores in prime locations like New York City’s Time Warner Center who I met with earlier in the month, and a market value of nearly $20 billion.

Since 2010, I have fostered a collaboration between my entertainment entity Planet LA Records, Whole Foods Market and its charitable organization Whole Planet Foundation by raising awareness with artists and brands during the SXSW festivals, Grammy Awards week and music events.  This has exposed me to partners who have business models and value chains that are mindful of product sourcing, sustainable practices and equitable standards of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – sometimes referred to as the “Triple Bottom Line” of people, planet and profit.

Interestingly enough, Whole Planet Foundation collaborates with many of these suppliers in the over 50 countries where it has global micro-lending programs averaging $160 per loan to mostly women entrepreneurs and households with an impressive repayment rate of over 90 percent – creating stronger bonds between Whole Foods Market as the retailer, its over 50,000 suppliers and the millions of American and other consumers that support them.

Some promising examples include Sambazon and their preservation of Amazonian rain forests and support of small farmers of acai berries; VOS Flips and their sourcing of natural rubber products and matching donations of slippers; Nika Water and their donation of all profits to clean water and other causes; Mrs. Meyers cleaning products made from non-toxic and essential oils; Justin’s Nut Butter and their sourcing of sustainably-harvested cacao for their chocolates; Wear Pact clothing made with organic cotton in sweatshop-free facilities, and many others.  These are profit-driven businesses with unique stories and charitable aims, which can prosper in the age of “conscious capitalism.”

In fact, the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh has spurred widespread social media and other demands for preventative action – importantly, among the world’s leading clothing brands like H&M, Gap, Zara and other major retailers.  In the wake of the disaster, a coalition of private, non-government and public interests have formulated legally-binding agreements aimed at improving safety conditions in the factories of Bangladesh.

Earlier this month, some of the largest retailers including H&M (the biggest buyer of clothes from Bangladesh) and Zara have reached a critical agreement aimed at improving labor and safety conditions, though have argued that such agreements would only be effective if a substantial threshold of global suppliers also align their practices.  Some U.S. companies like Gap and Wal-Mart have argued that strengthening “best practices” and self-enforcing agreements are preferred, while others like Disney have suspended supplier relationships in Bangladesh in favor of suppliers in countries like China and Vietnam.

Having been born in Vietnam which also offers cheaper labor and less enforced standards – I can certainly empathize and support poverty alleviation and economic growth despite the costs.  Like the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America in the late 19th Century, rapid development certainly took a toll on the populace and the environment – and conditions were pretty awful for the working poor before an expansion of the middle class.

Given the speedy actions among a handful of key multinational retailers – spurred by swift public outcry to the Bangladesh factory disaster that killed over a thousand exploited workers, there is hope that businesses are not only driven by the bottom line.  In fact, these twin objectives of better standards and higher profits – often requires greater harmony between the trinity of the modern business model:  sensible suppliers, benevolent retailers and aware consumers.

On a personal level, and as I write this on a United flight from LAX en route to Singapore as I embark on my M.B.A studies this month – I hope to contribute to the global business dialogue in a profitable, as well as meaningful manner.

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Déjà Vu in Singapore and Los Angeles: Re-Learning and Renewed Opportunities

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17 December 2000, Singapore

“…  yet another déjà vu along the Equator — and another return to the self-proclaimed Switzerland of Asia.  Since my last trip over two years ago — the city has become more affordable owing to both the strength of the dollar and my own rising income.

And, new additions — malls, of course — and the first child of my friends Ron and Annemie — Otis!

Now, as he ran barefoot in the grass while gurgling his first phrases of Dutch and English — he will soon grow, and quickly.

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As the Millenium marches on — we are all bound to evolve… MDN”

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March 21, 2013, Los Angeles, California

We like entrepreneurs.  They add a lot to the peer learning of the program.”  One of the professors in the interview committee said over a speakerphone from Singapore.

Based on your credentials and our discussion today, we intend to grant you admission,” another professor added.  “Congratulations, you will receive a confirmation shortly.  We hope to see you when the program starts in May in Singapore!”

As the call with the UCLA-NUS (University of California, Los Angeles and National University of Singapore) Executive MBA committee ended, it felt like déjà vu — though not in a circular and redundant sense, but rather as if being lifted up a spiral path, which would finally allow me to move upward and forward after a challenging three years as an entrepreneur.

Over two decades ago, I began my university education at UCLA and graduated in 1994, then went on to do a Fulbright Fellowship at the National University of Singapore from 1994-1995 before my graduate studies.  I find it rather coincidental these two institutions have linked their renown MBA programs, and that I would be returning to both soon, for a second round of training.

In fact, the start of Spring had been particularly eventful, and earlier the same day I was offered a job with a global media company I had been interviewing with over the past month.  I had more meetings with their executive team, who told me they were ready to welcome me on board starting May 1.

After an incredibly difficult year in 2012, in which I had to reassess my career and life ambitions (coincidentally upon turning 40) — I actively took steps towards re-learning and re-focusing.

Last year, my business partner and I closed the offices of our start-up Planet LA Records in June 2012 (a week after I turned 40; something about that milestone…).  I then applied for new positions and with MBA programs in L.A., as well as the Midwest, East Coast and options abroad — which might have taken me back to Asia or Europe, where I had lived and spent much time in my previous profession.

Many who I encountered were often intrigued or perplexed by my background and transition from a decade-long career in international trade and at global law firms in Washington D.C. and Geneva, Switzerland — to working with musical artists and events in L.A. and cultural hubs like Austin, Texas.

“Why Music?” was a common question I was asked by interviewers.

Music icons and independents alike in the industry would find that a challenging question in the digital age.  As I have learned firsthand, it is extremely tough to be profitable, or even sustainable in pursuit of a musical career.  Many artists and their supporters do it out of passion and to establish a creative legacy, and not because of any predictable or financial returns.

So, how did I answer this question?  And what does my future look like in 2013 and beyond?  At least, according to my Facebook post today about the pending career and academic changes, 111 friends “like” the news and are curious to find out.

… The answer is, as expressed in the postcard I wrote above from Singapore in 2000:  “We are all bound to evolve.”

As I or we age, grow from pitfalls and progress, learn and re-learn from classrooms and life lessons, and take second chances and seize new opportunities — we must constantly evolve in our perspectives and through our actions.

For instance, a week ago, my team from Planet LA and I returned from Austin, Texas after our fourth consecutive year of showcasing artists during the annual SXSW festival (a leading music and branded-entertainment event).  On the first trip in 2010 after Planet LA started, we brought on tour three bands from L.A. and showcased them at local venues and a suburban Whole Foods Market cafe I reached out to weeks prior, and with no sponsors involved.  On the second trip in 2011, we showcased a dozen artists in front of the same Whole Foods Market and had two in-kind partners offering free snack bars and drinks.  While in town, we saw the posh Gibson tour bus pass by and had joked how cool it would be to go on tour with the bus someday.  A year ago in 2012, we partnered with a collective group to showcase over three dozen artists (including now well-known bands The Lumineers and Imagine Dragons) at the Whole Foods global headquarters in downtown Austin with dozens of brand partners and sponsors.  This year, our showcase with the Whole Planet Foundation on March 10, 2013 attracted a record-breaking, capacity crowd on the main rooftop plaza as we featured leading artists and sponsors in support of Whole Planet’s annual prosperity campaign.  Also this year, our brand partners at Gibson Guitar reserved their national touring bus for the event which was parked next to the Whole Foods Market the entire day.

We are all bound to evolve.

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Honestly, I don’t know whether that means I have figured out the answer to: “Why Music?”

Given the challenges and despite the progress, perhaps the time is near to suspend Planet LA after three years, and hope that its innovative business model will transform and live on in a renewed capacity.   I do know that I have gained valuable skills and brand networks that I intend to leverage in a new position soon.   Moreover, I recognize that I have additional and critical tools left to gather and sharpen in my toolbox, and must go back to school.

Interestingly enough, it may well be déjà vu academically and professionally — as I prepare to return to the classrooms of two familiar institutions with UCLA near home and NUS in Singapore, and reinforce my abilities to lead in a global setting and creative environment.

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No Medals for Austria in London: Measures of Achievement…

5 February 2000, Vienna, Austria

“… a new lunar year, a new country.  I’ve arrived to find a quiet city grappling with its dark past — no firecrackers are bursting through the night to ward off uneasy spirits — though plenty of police sirens are flashing as they rush off to control the demonstrations against a dangerous new government.

I write this from my Fletcher friend Rainer Staub’s family cafe — which has a rich intellectual tradition.  The tables around me are abuzz with discussions of past and future, mingled with nostalgia — and brewing once again with dissension.

The celebrants of the lunar calendar believe the first day is indicative of the year — which implies that Austria is about to face intriguing times… MDN”

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August 12, 2012

With the end of the London 2012 Olympic Games, there have been many replays of the sporting highlights, and with it reviews of the memorable moments and disappointments.

One athlete — American swimmer Michael Phelps, became the most decorated Olympian of all time, with four gold and two silver medals in London, retiring from competition with 22 total medals at the age of 27.  Another standout, Usain Bolt of Jamaica defended his titles from Beijing as the fastest sprinter ever and in doing so, became a self-professed legend.  Still, others like Oscar Pistorius the double amputee from South Africa didn’t win any medals, but proved he could compete with able-bodied runners in the 400 meter races — and in doing so, fully embodied the spirit of the Games like no other athlete.

Although most athletes will leave London without medals, records or much attention given – these men, women and teams were all Olympians and are a special breed of achievers.  Many will retire while some might aim to train harder than ever in preparation for Rio in 2016, and to try to secure their legacies as the fastest, strongest or most skilled in their sport.

In review of the numbers, over the past two weeks from July 27 to August 12, 2012 — around 10,500 athletes from 85 countries took home 962 medals in 36 sporting categories, ranging from a leading U.S. total of 104 medals to first-ever medals for tiny countries like Grenada and Montenegro, and developing nations like Gabon and Guatemala.  Notable among industrialized nations, Austria and its 70 athletes were unable to win any medals in the Summer Games, down from 3 in Beijing in 2008 and 7 in Athens in 2004 and the first time since the Tokyo Games in 1964.  Despite its wealth, Austria was bested by countries in 21 sports where it competed ranging from equestrian, shooting and synchronized swimming.  Though, Austrians usually perform better in winter sports and are expected to medal in Russia at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Perhaps for the next Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016, Austria and other countries without medalists in London should consider offering their athletes generous incentives like the United States, which provides bonuses to medalists ($25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze)… or more lucrative payouts like in Russia ($135,000 gold, $82,000 silver, $54,000 bronze) and even higher in Italy, which pays gold medalists $182,000; and reportedly higher in Kazakhstan at $250,000 for gold, and in Singapore at $800,000 for gold. Singapore has yet to win gold, but perhaps its bonuses will create a gold rush to the wealthy island country… of Chinese divers, Jamaican sprinters, American beach volleyball players, Russian rhythmic gymnasts, and the like.  Though, medals don’t always amount to a price as proved by host nation Great Britain which pays out $0 for medals, and still achieved a glorious haul of 65 medals, 29 of which were gold and its best overall performance in a century — that money didn’t necessarily buy.

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August 12 marked the end of the London 2012 Olympics, and on a personal level has been a landmark date for me.  Fourteen years ago on August 12, 1998, I started my first “real job” at White & Case LLP in Washington D.C. after almost two years of internships, short-term work and study in Geneva, Switzerland focused on the newly-created World Trade Organization (WTO).

Seven years later to this day on August 12, 2005, I left my job at White & Case in a desire to relocate back to Los Angeles to spend more time with family.  I began a bi-coastal career still focused on international trade with Bryan Cave LLP – though with a gradual and rather unexpected transition towards becoming a musical artist and entertainment entrepreneur with the launch of Planet LA Records.

In the past seven years since 2005, my personal journey may not be the same as an “Olympian” – but did involve training and new skills, a test of patience and endurance, and attempt to leave an imprint and legacy.  Moreover, I gave my best effort at the greatest of costs, and in doing so, have few regrets in light of the measures of achievement.

Like athletes, many creative types invest in their passions and natural talents as a career — and often without much security or guarantees in return, whether in the form of cash, medals or attention.  In the past several years, I have interacted with so many performers and dreamers… most of whom are unlikely to ever become legends in their quest, but still gain great satisfaction from making the effort.  As a result, I have gained a more humbling and compassionate perspective on human nature, and what drives people to the brink of success and failure.

Today on August 12, 2012, my own journey seems to be heading full circle as I seek to connect the two disparate and separate paths.   Perhaps, the pursuit of a so-called “dream career” on my own terms may have run its course, and I might have to “retire” and return to a more stable and mundane way of life.  Entrepreneurial zeal can drive dreamers to create innovative models, but they face great risks in being able to sustain these realities.  I have been innovative in approach to artist and brand partnerships — but despite being highly productive, have yet to find a sustainable model.   This is a lesson I have learned the hard and fast way in the most recent era.

Over the next seven-year cycle, my best hope is to retain this imagination and utilize these skills in a setting that is the best of both worlds, global in nature and creative in focus… whoever may be in charge, or wherever on this planet.

Like the Olympic athletes who competed in London, whether as medalists or not — their time in the limelight is over for now… but their stories can inspire a generation to dream on, and face up to the measures of achievement based on society’s demanding expectations, and on a personal level of integrity.

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