Jim Spadaccini – Founder & CEO, Ideum

Having founded the company in 1999, Jim is the creative director and CEO of Ideum, a multi-touch products and digital interactive company based in Corrales, New Mexico. He helps direct Ideum’s commercial hardware and software initiatives and provides creative direction for custom software and installation projects.

Jim was the principal investigator for the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Open Exhibits software and community initiative and a co-PI for the Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) project. In addition, he was co-chair of the NSF-funded Human Computer Interaction in Informal Science Education (HCI+ISE) conference. Additionally, Jim was a principal investigator on the NASA-funded Space Weather Mobile project and co-PI on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-sponsored project, Hurricanes and Climate Change.

In addition to his responsibilities at Ideum, Jim is active in the community and volunteers as a board member for the Friends of Chaco and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Before founding Ideum, Jim was the director of Interactive Media at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. While at the Exploratorium, his department was responsible for developing educational web resources and media exhibits for the museum floor. For his work at the Exploratorium, Jim received a Computerworld “Smithsonian Award,” an Association of Science and Technology Centers “Award for Innovation,” and three consecutive Webby Awards for “Best Science Site.”

Jim taught courses on design and technology at San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Multimedia Studies program for seven years starting in the mid-90s, and more recently, taught Technology-Enhanced Communication for the Cultural Heritage (TEC-CH) program at the University of Lugano, Switzerland. For more than a decade, he has taught courses on digital media and museums for the Cultural Resource Management program at University of Victoria, British Columbia. Along with his work in informal education, Jim has consulted with Apple and Adobe, and has developed promotional and instructional materials for a number of professional software authoring tools.

1. How do you define success?
I believe a lot of people think of success as something you just acquire or earn over time, and there you are, you’ve arrived! I like to think about being successful at different stages in life, and in our company’s development. I never thought of myself or our company as unsuccessful when there were only a few of us and we were struggling to make ends meet. I thought of us being successful for who we were and what we were at that stage of development.

Success is being able to work on interesting projects or develop interesting products. Success is getting to work with innovative people and partners on great projects. We’ve never really focused on the money, except as a way to do more, to take on bigger and better projects, and to develop new and more exciting products. For us, that has been really important. It has allowed us to grow the company with zero venture capital and debt. Because we don’t have to spend a lot of time or energy with funders, we can focus on the work, the creative process, and on improving our staff and workflow.

2. What is the key to success?
I think a lot of it is hard work and persistence. That is certainly the driving force when you find yourself in a situation when you don’t have a lot of collaborators. For our company, I think finding the right people to work with has been absolutely essential. I’ve been lucky enough to find people who can do things I can’t, and who can bring ideas that I don’t have. I can’t stress that part enough. It is not really about the individual. It is about having a great and diverse team in place. That and hard work makes everything possible.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Our company is now getting attention because we are growing and involved in very interesting, cutting-edge technology. While I am proud of what we’ve accomplished and where we are, I think. Unfortunately, our society defines success too narrowly. It is not always about money and the latest startups or new technology.

I have always thought of myself as successful. When I was a poorly paid teacher in San Francisco, California during the early 90s, I thought I was successful at that job. I think success is something you bring with you when you care about the work, and when you want to make a difference and create something meaningful. In that sense, I always knew I would be successful, because I worked hard at a job that was important.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
You really don’t have a choice. You always move forward. I don’t want that to sound negative, as some people feel that they are trapped in particular situations. I don’t view it that way. When I face adversity, I tend to work harder, try to work more closely with those around me, and try to work with others to constructively solve whatever problems have arisen.

A huge benefit of adversity is that, usually, there are more than a few lessons to be learned in these types of situations. Our products, projects, and processes have all benefited from what we learned over the years from a variety of unforeseen incidents or (unfortunately) self-inflicted mistakes and blunders. Knowing that can also be comforting. You feel like you are getting something positive out of a bad situation. It is also a way to bring closure and close off the negative feelings associated with a bad situation.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It is hard to choose one. Persistence and making sure you are always thinking ahead are probably the two greatest lessons I’ve learned.

Persistence is the continuum. It helps you day to day, but also means that you’ll benefit in the future from sticking with things. Our company benefits from relationships and contacts that we made in the early 2000s. We have gained experience through projects, big and small, over more than 15 years. The time spent comes back to you and it can help you find new projects, develop new products, and innovate.

Thinking ahead and planning for multiple futures is something I do every day in some way or another. Things won’t ever work out exactly as you plan, so that’s why I focus on “multiple” futures. In addition, it is not all nuts and bolts kind of thinking. It is not all about staff, space, products, and money. It is also about being the company for which you want to work. What type of work are you interested in pursuing? Who are you going to collaborate with? What new technologies or design challenges are we going to take on? Can we do more for the local community? All of this forward-thinking prepares you for what’s next. It has allowed us to grow organically and take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like to take on activities that are far removed from work. I love spending time with my family. Also, I enjoy gardening and have a vineyard with 135 vines. I’m just starting to make wine. I like to ride my bike and exercise. I think it is important to have some balance. It is easy to get wrapped up in work because I find it so interesting.

7. What makes a great leader?
I think great leaders help assemble great teams, find great talent, and inspire people. I also think a great leader provides the tools, the environment, and the collaborators for others to be successful.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
The best advice I have ever heard is to find something you are passionate about. Yes, it is a cliché, but it is true (which is also a cliché at this point). However, there are a lot of people who have jobs they don’t like. They do their work just for the money, and that doesn’t lead to long-term happiness. If you find something you love and work at it, if you are good at it, chances are that the money will follow.

The other bit of advice I would give is, when you go to an interview, don’t think about it as a one-way kind of process. Ask the employer questions. Learn about the work environment. Make sure it is a place where you want to work and a place that would allow you to grow. The type of company and work environment can be as important as the job itself when you are starting out.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Gary L. Easterling – President & CEO, United Federal Credit Union

Gary L. Easterling has been serving as president and CEO of the United Federal Credit Union since 2007. He has more than 30 years of credit union experience, most recently as CEO of Century Credit Union in Cleveland, Ohio, and Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio, where he held leadership roles in almost every functional area. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an M.B.A. from Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. His certifications include the CUES Institute’s Certified Chief Executive designation and CUNA’s Management School—Part I and Part II.

1. How do you define success?
Success is bringing your best to the game, the meeting, the event, the role, and the mission.

2. What is the key to success?
Aligning your opportunities with your skills. Stretching beyond past performance without stretching beyond your capabilities. Achieving your personal best.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
There are no guarantees, but I have always been optimistic. Success is the journey. There are as many challenges ahead as there are behind. Making a difference every day is living a successful life.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I don’t like losing, but more than that I don’t like letting people down. I usually am in roles that impact the lives of others. These people depend upon me. The prospect of letting them down and causing harm to them keeps me pushing forward regardless of the adversity.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It can be found in the Serenity Prayer. Learning to discern what I can change from what I can’t change and then summoning the courage to change what I can.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading, walking, golf, fishing, and most of all—time with family.

7. What makes a great leader?
Vision and humility. Having the vision to energize others and the humility to allow them to succeed and receive the accolades.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Take people with you on your journey. Help them succeed and let your contributions highlight themselves. Don’t get overly focused on getting credit. Don’t be lured into a battle for the spotlight. Those who can be the greatest positive influence in your life will see the truth; they don’t need your help. Stay true to your faith and values. No shortcut is worth it. There is no right way to do a wrong thing.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Usama Fayyad – CEO, Open Insights

Usama Fayyad, Ph.D. is the chief data officer and group managing director at Barclays PLC. He also leads Oasis500, a tech startup investment fund, following his appointment as executive chairman in 2010 by King Abdullah II of Jordan. He was also chairman, co-founder, and chief technology officer of ChoozOn Corporation/Blue Kangaroo, a mobile search engine service based in Silicon Valley.

In 2008, Usama founded Open Insights, a U.S.-based data strategy, technology, and consulting firm that helps enterprises to deploy data-driven solutions that effectively and dramatically grow revenue and competitive advantage. Prior to this, he served as Yahoo!’s chief data officer and executive vice president where he was responsible for Yahoo!’s global data strategy, architecting its data policies and systems, and managing its data analytics and data processing infrastructure. The data teams he built at Yahoo! collected, managed, and processed over 25 terabytes of data per day, and drove a major part of ad targeting revenue and data insights businesses globally.

In 2003, Usama co-founded and led the DMX Group, a data mining and data strategy consulting and technology company that specializes in big data analytics for Fortune 500 clients. DMX Group was acquired by Yahoo! in 2004. Prior to 2003, he co-founded and served as CEO of Audience Science. He also has experience at Microsoft, where he led the data mining and exploration group at Microsoft Research and also headed the data mining products group for Microsoft’s server division.

From 1989 to 1996, Usama held a leadership role at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where his work garnered him the Lew Allen Award for Excellence in Research from Caltech, as well as a U.S. Government medal from NASA.

Usama has published over 100 technical articles on data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and databases. He holds over 30 patents, is a fellow of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery. He has edited two influential books on data mining and served as editor-in-chief on two key industry journals.

Usama earned his Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is active in the academic community with several adjunct professor posts and is the only person to receive both the ACM’s SIGKDD Innovation Award (2007) and Service Award (2003).

1. How do you define success?
To me, success is about learning and gaining knowledge, so as long as you are learning (with depth of experience), you are succeeding.

2. What is the key to success?
Being clear and focused on what you are doing, always observing and understanding what is happening, as well as reacting deliberately and thoughtfully, because that allows you to evaluate if a situation is good or bad. Many people reach the wrong conclusion because they did not evaluate properly. Give it your all and a serious effort, and you will succeed. Most fail to succeed because they never try hard enough.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I am always maximizing learning, and by my definition, success then becomes easily attainable. How much you learn and how much you choose to analyze, understand, explain, and then reach insight, is all under your control. In my model, it is very difficult to fail. You fail when you don’t try hard enough. Life is too precious to waste my time on things I am not willing to try hard enough to achieve.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The certainty of two things: 1) things will always get better, especially if you are trying honestly and seriously, and 2) things can always be so much worse. People sometimes let things get to them and depress them. I try not to take it seriously. It is rare that your physical survival is at risk—compared to that, any situation is trivial.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Life is filled with so many great lessons. It is hard for me to choose a greatest or best. I never understand when people ask what is your favorite book or song, or “What have you…” Some great lessons include, in science for example, that simple theories and simple explanations are truly more likely to be correct. It can be demonstrated mathematically! Also, more generally, that the deepest and most elegant of learnings or theories can be found in the most mundane situations. So, always get your hands dirty with work and you will uncover amazing gems.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
These days, I truly enjoy sleep. I thoroughly enjoy “work,” and I hate to call it “work.” So, I have no spare time. Work is pleasure. Family and kids are pleasure. Being with good friends and companions is pleasure. Overcoming problems is pleasure. Skiing is pleasure. Chess is pleasure. Teaching others is pleasure. Teaching my kids is pleasure. Reading is pleasure. I wish I still had time to do science. I miss deep research in science. But then there is only so much time, and we choose what to prioritize. Come to think of it, I need to start exercising again.

7. What makes a great leader?
A great leader is a leader who leads by example. Great leaders understand that they are about enabling their team members to succeed. Hence, leadership is service, not glory and visibility. When people understand that, they realize that leading means sacrificing achieving their own goals for the sake of helping their team achieve theirs.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
I loved being a student. I did five degrees in university and I wanted to stay a student forever. Thankfully, I grew up. All of education is a beginning and not an end. It is preparation for what you are about to do. Find something that people really need and make sure you truly enjoy it. Passion at work will change your life, and passion will make work feel like pleasure. Work hard, give it your all, and great things will unfold.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Jeremy Geelan – Chairman & CEO, 21st Century Internet Group Inc.

Jeremy Geelan, a domain expert on the future of the future, is chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc., a collection of innovative websites and social applications, all of which reflect the fundamental importance of the Internet in 21st-century business, politics, education, entertainment, and culture. Core values revolve around the guiding principle of co-intelligence, in that “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Educated at Cambridge University and trained at the British Broadcasting Corporation, Jeremy’s professional stock-in-trade is to anticipate and explore alternative social and technological futures, and from among them, to pinpoint and then help showcase and evangelize only the most promising and productive alternatives. He writes profusely and speaks all over the world about cloud computing, big data, the Internet of things, and the trajectory of collaborative technology (which he calls co-technology) in the second decade of the 21st century.

He is the founding editor-in-chief of the following publications: Web 2.0 Journal, Social Computing Magazine, Cloud Computing Journal, and New Paradigms Journal—and served, since its inception in 2008 to the 13th Cloud Expo in November 2013, as conference chair and resident emcee of the International Cloud Expo series, which is widely acknowledged to be the largest cloud computing event in the world. He is also the winner of the Roundarch 2006 Interactive Experience Award, “given to companies and individuals that best represent the advancement of Web experiences through the integration of user-centric design and advanced technology.” Formerly president and COO of Cloud Expo, Inc., Jeremy is now an executive academy member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and a founding adviser to Kaazing Corp.

1. How do you define success?
Success is nothing more really than having a strong sense that the life you have lived has left the world around you a better place for having had you alive.

2. What is the key to success?
The key to success is to always, wherever possible, stick to doing what only you do uniquely well, thereby making yourself and your services indispensable.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
A sense of success is part nature, part nurture. I was born blessed with many gifts, and grew up in a family that called out achievements big and small, and inculcated in me a taste for piling them up!

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The knowledge that all things are ultimately possible and all hurdles, over time, surmountable. No one expressed it better than Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In February 2011, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the deadliest of all the cancers, and the one with the worst prognosis: a 5% survival rate after five years. It didn’t seem fair to me that I was suddenly not going to be 80, nor possibly even 60 years old. So I accepted major invasive surgery, and afterward, chemotherapy, trading two years of my life for the prospect of gaining 10 times that. The lesson: if the return on any investment is 10x, make it unhesitatingly. The worst that could have happened was that I died on the operating table, the best that I lived for 20+ more years. In that event, it looks very much as if I won the bet. Not many people have managed ever to kick pancreatic cancer in the butt; how about I tell you more about it in 2020?

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Marathon running and reading (though not at the same time)—and listening to music, always music.

7. What makes a great leader?
Great followers.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
You have arrived at the edge of a great and glorious cliff: beneath you, the most global job market in the history of humankind stretches out in every direction. It is yours to explore, it is yours to impact, and it is yours to astonish. What are you waiting for?!


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Ziad K Abdelnour – Founder, President & CEO, Blackhawk Partners, Inc.

Ziad K. Abdelnour was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where he earned a B.A. in Economics, summa cum laude, from the American University of Beirut. After graduation, he came to the United States, and earned an M.B.A. in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984. Since 1985, Ziad has been involved in over 125 transactions worth, in aggregate, over $10 billion in investment banking high-yield bond and distressed debt markets, and has been widely-recognized for playing an integral role in those three key market sectors. According to The New York Times, Ziad “made a fortune on Wall Street…as a junk bond salesman/trader during Michael Milken’s glory days at the powerhouse investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.”

Ziad is a prominent pro-Lebanon activist and lobbyist on behalf of a free Lebanon and has published, as early as June 2000, a research report entitled “Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role” that became the blueprint for a series of policies and activities that led to the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon back in 2005. Ziad, labeled the “Baasha of Wall Street,” publishes his own research report, “Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role,” which is a major force in shaping the U.S. Lebanon Policy debate toward freedom in his native land. Since 2001 and post 9/11, Ziad has been part of the right wing political establishment, and was instrumental in funding a number of projects, including the bestseller Funding Evil—How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.

Ziad K. Abdelnour is currently president and CEO of Blackhawk Partners, Inc., a New York-based private equity “family office” that focuses on originating, structuring, advising and acting as equity investor in management-led buyouts, strategic minority equity investments, equity private placements, consolidations, buildups, and growth capital financings in companies and projects based both in the U.S. and emerging markets. Blackhawk Partners is also a reliable trader and supplier of a wide range of commodities to industrial and financial consumers globally. The firm’s customers, around the world, rely upon Blackhawk as a source of metals, minerals, crude oil, and oil products. Ziad also serves on the advisory board of DPG Investments, a recognized premier multi-strategy global merchant banking, alternative investment, management, and advisory firm.

1. How do you define success?
Lasting success is stumbling from failure to failure with even more enthusiasm. Keep going like it’s your last day on earth, with a burning fire inside. You can bend, but never, ever break.

2. What is the key to success?
Happiness is the key to success. If you are truly passionate with what you are doing and are relentless in overcoming any obstacle that will come your way, you will be wildly successful. On the other hand, I know for sure that the key to failure is trying to please everyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Success is really all relative. If you brag about starting at the bottom and making it to the top, you are probably still closer to the bottom. There is no top for people really at the top. There is always more.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My desire to succeed and crush any adversity that comes my way. After all, the most significant opportunities are usually found in times of greatest difficulty. And if you want to be great, you must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Learned more than one lesson. One of the most important being that no one in the entire world cares more about your own well-being than you. You’ve got to look out for yourself first. Others being: Never give up, trust your instincts and always keep your integrity in check.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I practice intense sports, as it keeps me young and alert.

7. What makes a great leader?
The greatest leader is the one that gets his/her people to do the greatest things.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Never rely on the government or any company to earn a living. Build your own self and net worth, and then shape the world according to your own vision, working with the smartest people you can find who share your philosophy.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.