Go West, Young Man!

Flag_map_of_Arizona 110px
About a year ago, I left Georgia Tech and embarked on a new journey as an innovation consultant by launching Boostphase. It’s been a fun and successful year — I’ve met some great people, visited some fascinating places, and paid the bills.

But I’ve found that I miss being part of a team… and I miss working on the sorts of projects that only a major institution can tackle. And I strongly believe in the role of the public research university as a knowledge hub to drive innovation, create value, and lead economic development for local ecosystems.

So, for a while now, I’ve been talking to the University of Arizona. It’s a top-notch research university, with excellent programs in astronomy, optics, aerospace, and energy — all long-standing passions of mine. They’re a member of the AAU (American Association of Universities), ranked in the Top 100 for the world for research, and the NSF ranks them #1 in physical sciences research among US public institutions.

The university’s $600 million research budget places them solidly in Carnegie’s top “R1” rank of graduate research universities. But it’s mostly from government sponsors; they’ve run a bit behind the leaders of the pack in terms of industrial and corporate partnerships.

That’s where I come in. Based on my experience at Georgia Tech, as well as my earlier private-sector careers, I think I can help strengthen the University of Arizona’s corporate engagement, extend their research program, and better align the university’s positive impact on Tucson, on Arizona, and the Southwest. And I look forward to learning how my experience will translate to a different set of circumstances.

So, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve accepted a newly-created position as “Vice President, Strategic Business Initiatives” reporting to the Vice President of Research, Discovery, and Innovation. I have a lot to learn, and a lot of people to meet. My official start date is February, but I’ll be commuting back to Atlanta for a month or so while Cissa and I get the household move organized. And, of course, I have family here, so we’ll still find opportunities to come back and visit.

We’re excited about living in Tucson! It’s obviously a completely different environment than Atlanta — culturally, economically, and physically. Things I’ve already learned about living there:

  1. You can’t get a driver’s license until you reflexively respond “But it’s a dry heat!” whenever someone mentions the weather. (Let’s see what I say after our first summer there…)
  2. I was born and raised in Atlanta, so I was weaned on Coca-Cola. In some benighted places, if you ask for a Coke in a restaurant, they’ll ask if Pepsi is okay. (My response: only if I can pay in Monopoly money!) In Tucson, if you ask for a Coke, they’re likely to ask “Is RC Cola okay?” I don’t know what the RC distributor is doing there, but they must be doing it right!
  3. Don’t confuse the University of Arizona (mostly Tucson) with Arizona State University (mostly Tempe/Phoenix). They’re arch-rivals. (The Wildcats beat the Sun Devils 56-35 this season… Go Wildcats!)

(Bonus trivia: Arizona and I share a birthday! I was born on the 50th anniversary of Arizona’s achieving statehood.)

There are some clients I can continue to help with Boostphase, so I’m going to keep that as a hobby for a while. But my primary loyalty for the immediate future is going to be the University of Arizona and the taxpayers of the 48th state. Wish me luck, and please keep in touch! (Really. I mean it. And if you have business contacts in Arizona, I’d love an introduction…)