Mt. Baker from the sea (West)
“Trees grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.
All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” John Muir
Gordon graduated from the University of Washington in Metallurgical Engineering and first worked as a production manager for Proctor & Gamble. He did applied research on high performance metals development for the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle (for SST and 747 key components), while earning a MS degree at UC Berkeley in Materials Science.
He became a Professor of Management and Organization at UBC in 1970 (in the Sauder Business School), after completing a Ph.D. in Business at UC Berkeley. He primarily taught MBA students the following courses: Organizational Development, Team Building, Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate and Corporate Reorganization. The M&A course was created specifically for UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of business and added to UBC’s MBA offerings later.
His research is published in many important journals and book anthologies. Journals include Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, and Strategic Management Journal. The range of the empirical articles go from small group psychology of change to key factors that drive successful corporate acquisitions. These were published in key journals and book length anthologies on particular emerging topics. His more analytical-theoretical work includes leading edge ethics issues in organization change and the applied behavioural sciences. He authored an award winning book, published by for Wiley Interscience and entitled Experiential Learning and Change: Theory, Design and Practice. He served 7 years on the board of directors for UBC’s Centre for Applied Ethics. He was President of The Western Academy of Management,,an association of Professors from Texas to Manitoba to theWest Coast And he also was a member of a group of Professors who created the Code of Ethics for overall Academy of Management.
During his time at Sauder, Professor Walter taught many Executive Program participants for the School’s Executive Programs and directly for companies at a host of alternative venues. These included Negotiation and modern Leadership. He also taught Organization ‘Theory’ (structuring, economics, design) for PhD students, MBA’s and undergraduates. Further were the M&A inspired courses, Leadership and more specific speeches and courses for other Universities and business groupings around the world. He left UBC to become a full-time Hi-Tech Startup investor after 30+ years as a professor.
Gordon was one five founding investors in BC’s E-Fund and served as a Director and Corporate Secretary there from 2010 to 2019. E-Fund is a Hi-Tech investment fund supporting startup companies and investing in them. Gordon has been a full-time businessman for two decades where he has primarily concentrated on Hi-Tech investment and developing entrepreneurial companies. This continues to be one of his business interests. However, he continues to practice his profession, as outlined in the next column.
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Gordon’s primary expertise and consulting talents surround change management at many levels, from large corporations to human psychology. A truism is, “Change comes slow but hits hard”. How change will hit is very difficult to predict, which is a big reason why it hits hard. Anticipating, facing and adapting to changing situations is easier said than done. But it is better to engage early than endure a later crisis. Best to get help before or when “it” hits the fan. From the failure of the Maginot Line for defending France in WWII to Warner Brothers giving away the early Atari lead in nascent video gaming industry and being squeezed out.
Here are some specifics about Gordon’s experience and talents.
- Executive Coaching and group facilitation (e.g., for strategic planning and company development) and also as ‘Chair’ of 13 Presidents in TEC 104 (The Executive Committee, Canada).
- Executive career transition strategy and planning.
- Strategy implementation: From resource flows to tactics, to adaptation moves in marketing/sales and corporate organization.
- Organizational diagnosis, design, redesign, and re-engineering.
- Reorganization: From downsizing to turnaround.
- Mergers and acquisitions: Planning, sequencing implementation phases, and meshing issues.
- Implementing improved management policies and procedures (a managerial and work-flow processes focus)
- Crisis intervention, within related strategic planning and team-building activities.
- Hi-Tech investing and “follow-up” functions such as CEO coaching, organizational problem solving, strategy and tactics retreats.
- Note that follow-up to HiTech investing is documented to be as important to investment performance (ROI) as are due-diligence, the investment decision and term sheets.
Gordon is no longer an engineer but he sees engineering’s intense problem-solving focus to work well in illustrating the purpose of all professionals. Quite simply, professionals are problem definers and solvers. Effectively addressing organizational dysfunction often requires identifying and addressing a key obstacle – one that can neither be pinpointed or addressed by organization insiders.
We generally seek tools, especially along the path of least resistance towards our goals. But obstacles, setbacks and crises arise continually in all lives. It follows that no organization, society or individual is immune to the consequences of ignoring or avoiding obstacles and problems. Hence the ‘obstacle’ becomes the ‘path’ that must be taken. An outside consultant is often a prerequisite to doing this effectively and ethically. The skill of smartly dealing with obstacles is Gordon’s lifetime quest, a skill that many do not develop and do not want to invest the effort and resources to develop. It is not really a skill, it is the meta-skill.
As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote 140 years ago, “On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain; either you will reach a point higher up today or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” Such a strategy of face it and master it for an individual’s career/personal life is now standard for sophisticated businesses, Again te mountain metaphor. And “Mastery is the minimum”. It is expensive in energy, attention and resources. The costs are often hard to justify or even endure. But bigger costs await the avoider.
Such dynamic factors underlie tendencies to turn a blind eye. Not turning a blind eye seems simple – simply face the obstacle or an underlying problem. Sadly, facing-it seems to go against much of human nature, as Nietzsche wrote in Human all too Human. Using Nietzsche references is because the modern behavioural sciences are now so far down the scientific research path that the relevant ones would not be recognized by but a few.
Assuming one overcomes the above avoidance tendency (or one finally awakens when the otherwise inevitable crisis arises) a change agent’s job is to apply her/his more specialized skills instead of the default, common sense, path-goal tools that are often assumed to be sufficient. Change agents ease people and organizations into facing ‘it’ and/or help them constructively cope with the mess that has resulted and begin to develop better meta-skills.
Hence some Gordon’s motto for all levels of application can be summarized as:
Accept – Adapt – Advance
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