Former Willamette MBA Dean and current Professor Debra Ringold hopped on a plane on Sunday, November 11 and traveled to Laguna Beach, California where she would serve as one of the very few academic professionals in attendance at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech D.LIVE Conference. From November 12-14, 2018, Ringold engaged in large-group presentations, smart debates, and insightful discussions as well as more intimate, small-group networking opportunities and lunchtime conversations.
As with the previous five, registration for this year’s premier technology event was limited to leaders and innovators in the world of both the creation and application of technology. Many attendees were veterans of the Conference and continue to attend due to the ever-changing context in which the discussions take place; there are always new things to learn within the technology industry. Months before the event this year, Ringold reached out to the hosts to request that she be allowed to register, explaining the immense impact she expected this type of conference would have on her teaching and, consequently, the learning outcomes of her students:
"After 15 years as an administrator, I am in the process of returning to the faculty. I am therefore revising each of my courses. Participation in your program would immerse me in today's executive thinking and inform my teaching for the rest of my career."
Lesson #1: Sometimes, you just have to ask (and say please).
"We would be thrilled to have you be a part of the conversation," the hosts responded after scouring her LinkedIn account, Wikipedia page, and publications list.
As an attendee, Ringold would have the opportunity to engage with leaders in business and technology, senior Wall Street Journal editors, C-suite executives from some of the country’s largest and most successful companies in an intimate and high-powered setting. She saw this as a great way to refresh her perspective on how today’s most successful leaders view technology and prioritize their activities to maximize the customer experience their companies create.
In a pre-Conference discussion, Ringold noted that the most attractive component of the Tech D.LIVE Conference was the opportunity for people at the C-Suite level to network exclusively with other people who have the same scope of work and priorities as themselves. For Ringold and other observers, this would mean an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the interests and priorities of the featured guests and speakers, including how technology will impact management and help these forward-thinking leaders better serve their consumers at each of their respective companies. And all this came with an important side benefit:
"I will learn how to be 'hipper'! Many of the 'big names' in attendance are people whose target audience is college-aged individuals. I am curious to learn how they think about serving their target market," explained Ringold.
Lesson #2: There is something to be learned everywhere you go, from everyone you meet, no matter who you are.
It took no time at all before the learning and growth opportunities she had anticipated were upon her. Ringold’s first event on Monday afternoon was a Town Hall discussion surrounding technology, democracy, and society. The presentation featured Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, as well as many other leaders in the world of technology as it relates to privacy, social platforms, security, data, and regulation.
On day two of the Conference, Ringold attended a lunch conversation featuring Nasdaq Vice Chairman, Bruce Aust. In his talk, "Public vs Private: Is there a Better Choice?", Aust reviewed the implications of public ownership on management and the effects that modern day technology has and will continue to have on this sort of transactional activity. This particular activity was a highlight for Ringold, as she sat at the lunch table in an intimate setting and engaged in this conversation about upcoming developments in the world of business.
Ringold also attended two sessions on leadership during her three days at D.LIVE. It was exciting for her to see that the lessons taught at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management are in line with the leadership mentality in some of the most influential and well-known companies in the world. She also found it an important reminder that these organizations, regardless of the product they sell, are purpose-driven. In other words, Ringold noted, the conversations amongst these high-powered executives primarily focused on one thing: consumer satisfaction.
"I got a chance to hear some of today's most interesting CEO's comment on their firms, the marketplace, and regulation. Every speaker, and I mean every single speaker, focused on consumer satisfaction. It was striking how many of today's organizations are driven by purpose and consider profitability to be a side effect or by-product of their focus on mission," said Ringold.
The featured guests and speakers included leadership from companies engaged in the buying and selling of technology, such as Samsung and IBM, as well as companies that utilize technology as the platform for their services, such as Instagram and Microsoft. And each had a unique experience to share: Instagram Co-Founder Kevin Systrom, an extremely successful entrepreneur with a net worth of $1.5 billion at the age of just 33, joined seasoned C-suite executives from many of the country’s largest and most reputable companies to talk about their successes and describe technology's role in each of their companies.
The remainder of the nearly 300-member crowd was filled with representatives from well-known companies such as Johnson and Johnson, The Mayo Clinic, and several large Real Estate firms. Additional participants absorbing the conversations alongside Ringold included Wall Street Journal journalists and Amy Wilkinson, an entrepreneur and professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the only other academic Ringold knew of at the Conference.
Despite the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of the Conference participants and attendees, Ringold described that she was surrounded by a mix of people who all had an appetite for understanding where technology will take us in the future and how it will impact all organizations on the planet. It seems this unique environment was ideal for idea germination, prompting Ringold to relate her experience to being a part of a think tank for three days. About her interactions and exchanges during her time at the Conference, Ringold explained:
"I got a chance to talk about the impact of regulation on companies' decisions to remain private or become publicly held firms with Bruce Aust, Vice Chairman of Nasdaq. I spoke with Yun-Hee Kim of the WSJ about her experiences interviewing CEOs. One of my favorite fellow participants was a cardiac surgeon from Mayo Clinic who was at the Conference to learn more about artificial intelligence."
Lesson #3: Never pass up an opportunity to grow.
Reviewing her experience at the D.LIVE Tech Conference as she returned home, Ringold is already looking forward to the 2019 Conference, stating that attending again will be worth any investment of time, money, and effort. She is proud to be able to enrich her students’ classroom experience by leading discussions involving technology and its impact on management. Ringold explained that most of the discussion topics at the D.LIVE Conference served as validation of what she and her fellow Atkinson faculty members have been teaching for over 30 years. She feels invigorated as she continues preparations for her next courses, as she will now be able to contemporize her existing knowledge and class lecture content through her experience at the D.LIVE Conference.
"The WSJ Tech D.LIVE Conference was great. I am honored that the WSJ invited me to spend three days with this remarkably talented, committed, resilient group of people. I am grateful to JELD WEN for the financial support that made my participation possible."