Vele’s Thoughts

Vele discusses investing in Macedonia, technology, digital photography, business and international affairs

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      Vele Samak works as the Minister for Foreign Investments in Macedonia. The views expressed here are his own personal views and not official news or opinions of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia.

Archive for November, 2004

Pardon me, do you have any CO2?

30th November 2004

Yes, I do, in fact, just look at my exhaust pipe! My SUV’s exhaust, that is, or my 2002 ML-500 exahust, which at best gets 18mpg, and apparently spews over 350g/km of CO2. Over the course of a year, I’m spewing couple of times the weight of the car in CO2. So, yes, our cars are one of the biggest CO2 polluters, and CO2 is the leading cause of global warming. Why do I care?

Because at Wharton, we can make even mundane, intangible and socially responsible ideas into a good business that makes a profit and does something good. Yes, a class in operations called: Problem solving, design and system improvement, by Prof. Karl Ulrich, is precisely a business in reducing CO2. I’m not talking about your run-o-da-mill b-plan types or cases. This is a real business and I have a few shares in my name. What’s the idea? We help individuals offset the CO2 emissions from their cars by buying carbon dioxide credits on the markets and helping finance energy projects that use renewable sources or reduce CO2 emissions. Simple and yet brilliant. Take it from me, who’s not terribly environmentally conscious, to tell you that yes, a market-based mechanism can reduce CO2, help the environment and have a bigger impact than waiting months in line and paying a premium for a new hybrid vehicle.

Before I go off, you should check out Terrapass.com and if you are a car owner buy yourself a pass and then tell your friends: “My car is a zero emissions vehicle. Look how I did it!” For about $50 per year you can offset the annual carbon dioxide emissions of your car with Terrapass and get the certificate and recognition to prove it. Terrapass turns around and buys CO2 offsets from energy companies that are forced to use renewable sources or reduce actual CO2 emissions in a verifiable way, or we buy them from the carbon offsets market, such as what’s happening on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The beauty here is we don’t have to finance everything, just enough to make the alternative energy projects economically viable for power companies to reduce their CO2 emissions. Since this works worldwide, your car’s impact is offset immediately. Take that you hybrid-lovers! (this in jest, of course, I think hybrids are great and would love to see a sporty suv hybrid that I can afford now)

Any questions?

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US Recognizes Macedonia correcting historical injustice

30th November 2004

Well, this happened few weeks ago, but it’s still quite important to note the significance of this event. In one of President Bush’s first foreign policy decision post re-election, he corrected an injustice that’s been done to Macedonians over the years by recognizing Macedonia under its consitutional name: Republic of Macedonia effectively legalizing a practice that’s been increasingly used by State of Department officials. For Macedonians around the world this was a vindication of a decade long pursuit to stamp out injust policies coming from official Greek resistance to us MAcedonians using the name that we have all used forever. The Greek argument basically boiled down to going to a DMV and someone refusing to give you a driver’s licence because their friend had the same name as yours. That’s all!

Greece was caught by total surprise and will continue to push for a reversal or reinforce weak hands. For Greece this will remain an endless battle to preserve something that is completely intangible and self-created only to maintain some sort of non-existent fear of armed Macedonian marching across the border to Greece, pillaging, killing and conquering lands. Oh, boy, the ridiculousness of that. A country with barely 30k draftees attacking Greece, whose entire military strategy has been to fend off an invasion by Turkey, the biggest European army, being part of NATO and posessing modern military hardware with 2.5 years of mandatory military service. Yeah, that’s gonna happen…

For Macedonians, this isn’t just a victory but rather a correction of a long-standing injustice to deny our identity. That’s the bottom line. Nobody in Macedonia cares about Greece or Greeks, much less Alexander the Great. We just want to be left alone and not denied for once. Perhaps other neighbours will get the message now…

The corollary to this is Macedonian-EU relations. Because of the consensus-based politics in Europe, Greece will continue to wield power and prevent any kind of Macedonian entry into EU and/or NATO, primarily because of the name. This is not so much of a problem. The EU hasn’t been kind to new members and it’s new policies will treat the eastern european countries as second class citizens. It’s appetite for new members has reduces drastically. NATO is another issue. The ability to defend ourselves from invastion or regional instability is paramount for Macedonia. NATO’s policy of cooperation has been to dicatate the growth, size and capability of the Macedonian Army even before there are any guarantees of defense, much less guarantees of membership. Now, with Greece a most definite veto on any membership, Macedonia will have to re-examine its relationship with Nato and especially its level of accepting military dicatums. It means Macedonia has to develop a strategy to defend itself through stronger bilateral alliances that maintain the Balkan balance of power. It is this balance, through support of foreign powers, that has held peace on the Balkans for a long time. US is one example. Turkey, which recognized us first as Macedonia, is another example. Being part of a US-based alliance system makes a lot of sense for Macedonia. It also gives Macedonia, a marginal resource on the Balkans, a lot of bargaining power in structuring its alliances and creating its defense and growth systems. IMHO, this is the right strategy to pursue before any EU/NATO accention talks. I doubt the Macedonian gov’t is thinking this far along, unfortunately.

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Memories of Mary Kay

8th November 2004

Ah, Mary Kay must be a b-school professor’s favourite video. This video from 60 minutes is so cheesy and funny that you can almost write a book on the gazillion topics embedded in there. So to paraphrase William Shatner: but why!?

We reluctantly watched this in today’s class on Strategic Implementation, thoroughly amused and bored, with memories of last year’s sketch. As part of a core course on managing people at work, one that’s consistenly the least favourite of Wharton MBAs, each team had to perform a sketch on a case revolving employee situations: there were ciscos, and some airlines, and …ok, I forgot, but my learning team was assigned the glory of Mary Kay. So we did this ridiculous sketch on Mary Kay’s recruiting tactics and how they fared in China in the late 90s. Awful…makes me want to puke…

Why bring painful memories? Strat Implementation is one of my favourite class and there’s no need to bring up Mary Kay in there….

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Dinner with Bruce Chizen

8th November 2004

What’s cool about Wharton is that I was one of a lucky 30 MBAs chosen to attend a dinner with Adobe’s CEO Bruce Chizen last week. Well, I wasn’t that special, I just won my first lottery that’s part of the Leadership Lecture series at Wharton. The students who coordinate this bring top leaders from the country and overseas to speak on a variety of issues, and also about their leadership. Afterwards, lucky 30 or so get to dine at the Inn at Penn with the person. Selections are random and also, you only have 1 opportunity in your two years at Wharton to attend one of these diners. I was lucky enough to drop my name for the first time and win. Yey!

Bruce spoke with his partly recognizable Brooklyn accent on Adobe’s turnaround since the late 90s and now Adobe’s main push in the enterprise space with their Intelligent Document Business Unit. I’m a long-running Photoshop user and I was quite excited to learn a few things about how they approach the education market, government businesses and especially the enterprise space with the Adobe Policy Server since I worked on a competitive product at Microsoft this past summer. What stood out is the effort that Adobe takes to avoid getting in Microsoft’s path. They are literally obsessed at making sure that Microsoft is ignoring them, but not too much, because they are partners afterall.

Bruce earler told of a very interesting story how he got to Wharton that day: he was stuck on the 41st floor in the elevator of a hotel in Manhattan. He had to climb out of the escape hatch and onto the next elevator to escape after a 2-hour ordeal. Wow…the road to Wharton is treacherous for CEOs. I usually thought it’s the other way around…whew!

I’ll post more on this on the Wharton Tech blog soon,

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Two good movies…Ray and Team America (aka Baka-laka-daka Street)

8th November 2004

Finally, a short break to catch a movie with my wife. In fact, we saw two this weekend that we both agree are good ones: Ray and Team America: World Police. You must be wondering how can you put these movies on the same level. My criteria for good movies is simple: the movie delivers an enjoyable performance, especially one where I can empathize with the characters. Ok, so this is a stretch for Team America, but it delivers on the first count. Trust me!

Ray is an awesome movie and Jamie Foxx delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. If you wonder how can a funny comedian, often compared to Jim Carey, deliver this, you are in for a treat! Jamie Foxx shows incredible range in his acting skills to make this movie a complete standout on both of my counts above: it’s enjoyable, even tear jerker at times, and gets you as close as possible to the character. I say as close because there is absolutely no way to truly understand what it’s like to be a blind man. You can begin to comprehend the difficulties and even imagine it, but not quite understand unless you’re blind too. And this is where the movie delivers because it uses clever imagery from Ray’s childhood and upbringing to deliver a complete picture of who was Ray and what it means to be a successful blind musician but not a crippled one. That’s the point made throughout the movie. Ray was a street-smart person who was tough on everyone, especially himself, and never accepted any pity from noone. He was also a humorous smooth-talker that was a magnet for the ladies. This made Jamie Foxx a perfect actor for the role, with his youthful, comedic and smooth demeanor that worked well to show Ray in it’s full glory. Oh, yeah, Jamie Foxx is an accomplished pianist who got Ray Charles’ blessing for the role before Ray passed away. Wow, I sound like a movie critic…go see Ray!

Moving to a more serious stuff, Team America delivers big time. I still burst laughing just by reminiscing some of the scenes as I write this. My favourite one that’s been played on the trailers: “I got two terrorists going down on baka-laka-daka street.” This movie is as funny as anything Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done. Clever and elaborate like any South Park episode, with not so subtle critiques of terrorists, US actions abroad, Hollywood liberals and Government honchos, oh yeah, and sex, plenty of it! There’s an elaborate sex scene with the puppets that will make you laugh so hard you’ll need an ambulance. Oh, yeah, and my favourite song “We need a montage!” from South Park…how funny is that, making fun of your movie in your movie. This is one funny movie, go see it!

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