Bright Lights, Big City (The Sequel)

It's only been a few weeks, but I’m in Tokyo’s rapture. The energy, order, beauty, cleanliness and sizzle of this city of 14 million is enthralling.

One of my first thoughts was about my decade living in New York City (NYC); an experience invaluable living here. I left the Big Apple 11 years ago, so the endurance a NYC requires wasn’t top of mind. The stamina needed was a bit of a surprise during the beginning moments in Tokyo, although I quickly felt comfortable with the rapid pace of the world’s largest city.  The walking and enormous subway system alone is hectic, but if you’ve never had this type of lifestyle, the acclamation could be difficult.

We hit the ground running after arriving on a Saturday morning. Time waits for no one. During the weekend, we explored our area of Shibuya and bought some basic needs for the apartment. We went to a local park, had dinner out, went swimming, visited a playground and soaked in the newness and uniqueness of Tokyo.

Colossal is another word for this place, as some streets are packed beyond belief and as far as the eye can see. Watching 500-800 people on a street corner has not been an uncommon sight. The walking was tough on the kids initially, as not only did we walk more than they are used to, but the temperatures were humid and hot (23c/74f to 26c/82f). 

Takeshita Street in Tokyo
Some of the subways are so far underground that you can walk inside them for 10 minutes - before you get on your train. And the Tokyo trains are everything NYC is not; on time, super clean, air conditioned and orderly. They can be ‘face to face’ packed at times, but if you miss a train, the next one is sure to be 5 minutes later.

The cleanliness of the entire city is almost unreal. I don’t know how they keep everything so spotless.  During our June visit, I saw a worker tidying up a perfectly clean and empty subway car. That picture painted a thousand words about Japan.

After three visits to a store, my lovely wife cooked a delicious chicken curry stew for our first Sunday night dinner. In addition, one of the few appliances we have is a rice cooker, which we managed successfully, although never expecting it to take 50 minutes. It was perfect though.
The food here is outstanding, as I expected from Japan’s stellar reputation. The Japanese have the globe's best longevity (88 for women and 83 for men), and the way they eat is a big reason why. One can buy very good sushi in a local supermarket and eating simple food out is much cheaper than cooking food at home.
Yoyogi Park on a Sunday
Across the street from our building is a large sports complex with a gym, swimming pool, track and soccer field – which is a great luxury. The 2 pools were a boatload of fun with the kids on Sunday, although they have a lot of rules, including everyone wearing a cap in the pool - even bald guys.
After the first 3-5 days, reality started to set in when my wife was getting ready to begin her new job and the kids were starting at their International School.  Needless to say, our children were extremely tired after day one, but their optimism about this new atmosphere made us feel good about our school choice. There are 330 students and 50 nationalities; and they get 50 minutes of Japanese everyday.

I’ve kept my running up during the first two weeks, which helped me to get over my jet lag. I visited a friend in Seiju (35 minutes by train) for a 5k, which will be even more picturesque in the spring, as the cherry blossoms span the whole length of the small river running path we took. Exploring is a vital part of getting to know a new city, so I plan to do as much as I can.

Meiji Jingu (Shinto Shrine)
We’ve also met quite a few Swedes here, which give us that touch of familiarity. In addition, the expat community is strong and I’ve had numerous conversations with people from all parts of the world.  The majority have been lively and interesting, which has been refreshing. My son had his 2nd Sunday of soccer practice already, which he is happy about as he loves the game and the club has an international flavor.

A few invitations for dinner and brunch came our way promptly. Gaining insight and tips about Tokyo from folks who have been living here much longer than we have is important. I also had a friend visiting for business, who invited me to a wonderful rooftop bar. It had magnificent views of the city! Although I was supremely tired that Friday night, I made sure to push myself out the door at 10:30pm, as I hadn’t seen this former colleague in 13 years.

Andaz Tokyo Hotel
Finally, a rare ‘wow’ moment hit me as I was visiting Costco with a long time USA friend. She has been living here for 18 years. As we were walking the enormous aisles, I couldn’t help but wonder….”what are the chances of two east coast USA expats being on the outskirts of Tokyo shopping together?”  A wave of gratitude ran through me.

This is the third country (Sweden and Serbia being first) I’ve lived in outside of my birthplace in the USA. I never imagined having the opportunity to live in such thrilling and/or interesting places around the world. I’m thankful.

It's crystal clear that Tokyo is a city like no other and I can’t wait for it all to unfold in the next 3 years.

I don’t foresee any journey equalling the Manhattan magic, but Tokyo is on track to be a worthy sequel.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Tokyo at Night

Thank You ‘Pearson Education’ Family

My first year at Pearson (2007) was a combination of 'information overload' as a new employee and 'blissful fatherhood' as my wife and I welcomed our first child. I began work two weeks after our son was born.

During 2007 and 2008, I was away from work for 4 months, as I had the privilege of being on parental leave with my young son. It wasn’t easy balancing a new job and baby, although I made some good progress and had an exciting beginning with both.

In those early years, my Nordic colleagues were there for me with a helping hand, which I appreciated. Any success I had was due in large part to the guidance and support I received from our team.
2009 was a magical year in many ways. It began with seeing one of my Dutch colleagues receive an award on stage in Lisbon, Portugal. His joyful smile after winning inspired me that night and I vowed to be on that stage the following year.  
I wrote about it in an article called "Inspiration from NOT Being Called on Stage".
Fortunately, I had my best year at Pearson, winning the '2009 Rep of the Year' in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMA). What made it even more special was that I stopped working at the end of August in 2009, as I began my second parental leave (5 months) with our daughter. I made it to that stage in 2010, this time in Monte Carlo. The aforementioned colleague was one of the first to congratulate me on winning EMA’s top sales award.
More Pearson excitement came from meeting and getting to know my European colleagues during those years, especially the ones in the UK (as we had numerous meetings in England) and those in Holland, as we went to Amsterdam for three consecutive years for a summer conference.
In addition, our annual January conference (4-5 days) often took place in a nice European city, where I had a chance to network and learn from employees from a wide range of EMA countries. Those times were invaluable.
At the conference, we worked hard during the day, yet always had good times at night, whether it was with our Nordic team or a combination of colleagues from EMA. The Gala Dinner (Awards and Dancing) was something everyone looked forward to and it only disappointed in the rare times when our hotel ballroom had to turn the music off before 2am.
Being on ‘The Sales Leadership Council’ was an early goal for me also, as our team often had strong representation on this group of ‘top sales performers’, including four Nordic colleagues in 2007 before I started. For those chosen, it was an all expenses paid trip to a lovely city in Europe. It was a combination of work and relaxation, with each person allowed to bring a guest.

I qualified for the council the first year I was eligible in 2011 - the location being Sardinia, Italy, which was a fabulous 3 day weekend!  It was a joy to spend time with Pearson’s top performers and listen to their sales strategies for winning business. In addition, a group of high level managers were in attendance each year. The intimate setting of 50 colleagues provided a great way to get to know these managers.

Our EMA team had some wonderful print and digital success over the years, and the Nordics were an integral part of that success. I’m grateful to have played a part in increasing Sweden’s sales during that time, as well as the quality relationships I built with my colleagues in EMA and the Swedish universities I worked with.

Of course there were some frustrations, setbacks and disappointments, but overall my Pearson Education experience was fantastic. The ‘thrill of the sale’ was my daily inspiration and I was often motivated to be even better after seeing the strong efforts put forth by my Nordic colleagues, along with those I was close to in the UK, Holland and throughout EMA.

I’m full of gratitude for my almost 9 years at Pearson. Our Nordic team had a boatload of success, but I realize that it wouldn’t have been as good (or fun) without the support and care of numerous EMA colleagues that I was fortunate to work with since 2007.

Thank you Pearson Family. I wish you nothing but success as our family embarks on our next journey in Tokyo, Japan.

Keep Closing!

The Nordic Team in Stockholm - June 2015

Overwhelmed with Love, Help and Support

On Tuesday, it will be 4 months since my dear mother (Isabella Payne) died. In that time, I've been overwhelmed with support from all angles - close friends, old friends, colleagues, charities, people I didn't know well, some I didn't know at all and of course my loving wife and family.

I'm not easily impressed, although I was touched by all the love given and help offered; especially by some friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade.  I couldn't use the majority of the support, but just the fact that it was put forth so genuinely was of great comfort.

In addition, many of the wise words, advice, emails, letters, cards, texts and video's as I was going through this surreal experience helped immensely. I was also glad to see the thoughtful donations given to my mom’s favorite charities, including the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and American Diabetes Association.

One of the most memorable moments occurred at my mother’s Memorial on May 11, which was attended by approximately 250 people. Numerous individuals whispered in my ear; telling me what my mother meant or did for them.

Through it all, my caring cousin, Andrea Nolley, was there for me. She was my rock in the USA before my mother died, during her sickness and the 4 months since she passed. I'll forever be grateful for all that she did and continues to do. My mother loved her like a daughter.

Living in Sweden presented a huge obstacle to getting all the estate particulars done in the USA, but since my mother was very organized, the main tasks (financial part/house cleaning) went smoothly. She had a will and was with the same lawyer for over 25 years, which made the process much easier.

The final piece of the estate puzzle (closing on my mom’s house) was settled a few weeks ago. I sold it to a family friend and couldn’t be happier to have the house in the care of someone we know.

And how fitting that after everything was done in the USA, I received a beautiful hand drawing of my mom. What a lovely gesture from a talented artist and good friend.

Thanks to everyone who supported me and the many that offered help. Your kindness warmed my heart and was crucial in helping me navigate a most challenging summer. My appreciation is high for each and every one of you.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

1982 - The night I scored my 1000th point in High School. I presented the game ball to my mother.

Happy Birthday IGP!

As my family was boarding a recent flight back to Copenhagen, my 6 year old daughter started crying. She told my wife "I miss Grandma". 

She remembered that we were supposed to be visiting my mother this past week. It would have been the first time the kids enjoyed the warm east coast of America during the beginning of summer. In addition, we were going to celebrate Grandma's birthday and mine. 

Because we live in Sweden, my daughter has had less than ten visits with my mother, although the emotion she felt warmed my heart. She loved her Grandma. 

My mother died almost two months ago. It was a hectic time as her illness took a dire turn for the worse, but thankfully I made it home for her final 24 hours. Writing about that experience was something I needed to share.

During the last 60 days, I've been reflecting on my mother's Memorial Celebration, which took place on May 11, 2015. Those two hours have comforted me immensely and helped to ease the pain of losing her.

Once my wife, cousin, uncle, aunt and I were seated, I noticed that only 30-40 people were inside. What I had forgotten about is the tradition of guests arriving to greet those family members in the front row. 

The loving words I heard weren't unexpected as I knew my mother loved deeply and gave with all her heart. What was unexpected were the private stories whispered in my ear; some from people I had never met before. 

One was particularly memorable as a woman I didn't know, told me how much she appreciated Mom faithfully visiting her dying mother and doing whatever she could to help ease the burden. That was classic IGP (Isabella G. Payne), being there for those in need.

I noticed that the place was filling up and there was still a long line of greeters.

Throughout, there were an inordinate amount of people from one of my mother's favorite charities - The Central PA Food Bank. She volunteered there for 17 years. I greeted at least 15, including one woman who wrote me the most beautiful personal note about her friendship with Mom - words I had someone read at the Memorial. 

The people kept coming. It was starting to get warm (86f outside) so I had them crank up the air conditioner. A cool atmosphere is critical for times like this. All the hand held fans disappeared.

It was a good thing the place was able to expand, as they needed to slide panels away and bring in more chairs. By the time the greeting line ended, it was standing room only. There were approx 225 people there.

The celebration started beautifully as Mom's good friend and Pastor (Thornell Strawn) set the tone. He gracefully paraphrased what my mother had told him during her last hours.

"If they are expecting a funeral, tell them to go Home. I want it to be a celebration". 

And a celebration it was, led by Pastor Strawn. He ran the program flawlessly and was relaxed, warm and in the moment.

There were two singers selected by my mother. One a man (Mario Witt), who sang a favorite song of Mom's. The other was by Alice Penn, who has a lovely voice. Both songs joyfully lifted the room higher as music often does. I wish they had sung two songs each.

3 people spoke. 

Mom's good friend Mary Alice Crosson began and celebration was on top of her mind. She was witty, sincere and captured the essence of Mom as a friend. The crowd was smiling during her 10 minutes; a speech she did without notes.

My dear cousin Andrea Nolley was next. She was like a daughter to my mom and knew her as well as anyone. In my absence, she looked after her better than I ever expected. I'll be forever grateful for that act of love. 

Her speech was eloquent and moving. The audience was listening intently and she couldn't have honored her Aunt any better. Not long after, My wife Matilda mentioned how impressed she was. Andrea was a hard act to follow.

I was third in line and talked about motherhood and the lessons/values Mom instilled in me. 

A passage is below.

"As a mother, she was primarily about 3 things….Love, Discipline and Dedication. She taught me well and provided many lessons along the way. I affectionately called my mother IGP (her initials) sometimes, and IGP was very focused on making sure that she raised a good son. She was no nonsense and uncompromising on the values she wanted to instill in me, yet she always surrounded me with fun, happiness and love. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood."

I ended the talk by reading a favorite poem I had written for her almost 15 years ago to the day. I held my emotions together as I knew I would. It was only the last few lines when I felt my insides begin to quiver and my lips start to tremble.

Mom's eulogy was given by a deacon (Joe Robinson) at my Mom's church. I had heard him speak numerous times and he never disappointed. Mom had asked him to do this five years ago.

His story of Mom's giving nature was superb. He compared her experience to a woman in the bible and provided a powerful lesson. I have no doubt he inspired many to rethink how they give to the world. In addition, he talked about how focused and diligent she was in rising to important jobs during her 35 years in state government; something not easy for a black woman to do back in those days.

And the spirit of the moment caught him more than once, often speaking extemporaneously and with a fiery passion. It was obvious he put an immense amount of thought into the eulogy, which I appreciated. At one point he said to the crowd "I'm almost finished", although I was hoping he was not. My hope was fulfilled as his wonderful words kept dancing, much to my delight.

After the Memorial, we invited the crowd to enjoy a meal at the room above. It was the perfect ending to what was a magnificent celebration...exactly what my mother wanted.

In the week after, Mom's 84 year old Brother (Stewart Robinson) said to me three times how impressed he was with the Memorial. That felt good as Andrea and I wanted it to be special for Mom's siblings. 

My Mom would have been 78 years old today (June 28). The physical is gone but her spirit of love, compassion and giving shines brightly.

Happy Birthday IGP.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Donald, Isabella and George Payne - 1977 (Grandfather's 70th Birthday)

A Dying Mother Waits For Her Only Child

"I would STRONGLY RECOMMEND coming home immediately with plans to stay 2-3 weeks until the end. She loves the Lord and has made it clear that she is ready to go."

Those words from my mom’s friend (a church deacon) came to my smartphone in the late afternoon of April 29. It was clear that she was in dire condition.

My mother had been struggling with a new cancer treatment, although nobody expected her to deteriorate this quickly.  Despite living in Sweden and being a 9 hour plane ride away from Pennsylvania, USA, I felt a sense of calm. I had an immediate faith that she would wait for me. Fortunately, the plane landed early the next day and my ride arrived on time. The traffic and weather weren’t ideal, but after a 4 hour drive, we arrived at the hospital at 8:30pm on April 30.

Seeing my mother gave me immense relief and she lit up! She was alert and looked better than I expected. The stress of all day travelling slipped away from my body as I had made it safely and she had waited. Our embrace warmed my heart.

Below is my cousin Andrea’s account of when I entered the room:

"She knew that her prayer had been answered - to see her son one last time. She knew that her faith had made it possible. Her smile stretched from ear to ear and her eyes were like saucers! Her life was complete."

Mom and my cousin Andrea

Along with my cousin, some of Mom’s closest friends and family were there. It wasn’t long before I showed her a card that my daughter Nova-Li made in anticipation of Mother’s Day. She commented on how nicely drawn the picture was. I also noticed the 2014 Xmas card of my family on the wall - the only picture in the room and one that probably gave my mom strength. She adored her grandchildren and loved her daughter in law.

After a few hours, everyone was gone except Andrea and me.

Before I arrived, Mom told Andrea to make up a bed for me at her home. She was frequently thinking of others. Despite my mother’s insistence that I get a good night’s sleep at her house, I never considered leaving her room for an extended period of time. Andrea stayed with her the previous night and the room was big enough to accommodate both of us that Thursday night.

Mom had a comfortable night of sleeping. Having us there made it easier as she mentioned how Andrea being there Wednesday night had put her mind at ease. The toughest thing for my mom when she was put into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), was the constant 24 hour care of the ICU team, although she realized they needed to monitor her closely. She wasn’t in pain, but found it hard to adequately rest or sleep due to all the various treatments.

Friday started well and Mom ate a good breakfast. Her spirit was positive. At this point, I was severely tired and in need of a good shower. I cleaned up at Mom’s house (only 5 minutes away) and got some breakfast. I was back in less than 90 minutes. Andrea did the same when I returned.

The day was filled with numerous people stopping by, many who cared deeply for my mother, including three friends of mine who hadn’t seen her in quite some time. Mom asked that we not have too many visitors, so we made sure the crowd was never too intense.

Some people sang her hymns while others read the bible.  Being a religious woman, these moments touched my mom. Many came by to pay their respects or simply be by her side.  There were a good flow of people throughout and it never became too much to bear for anyone. She enjoyed the comradery. I asked my friend Sean to pray in the afternoon and he delivered a beautiful one with her. I could see that she was moved. There were times when my mother was sleeping and in those cases, someone was usually there to hold her hand.

In mid afternoon, Mom’s energy was in full force and she decided to make some improvements to her memorial program. She couldn’t have been more lucid, as she was able to give key points to me and the pastor about what she wanted to change, despite having a breathing mask on. After she was done, she said these words (more than once) with about 10 people in the room:

“If people plan to come to a funeral, tell them not to come, I want it to be a celebration.”

Those words were classic IGP (her initials) and what I affectionately called her sometimes. She never wanted anyone to be down about her death, but to think about her and the life that she lived. I had heard her say those words on many occasions.

In the next hour, we had a wonderful moment, courtesy of family friend Delmar and his brilliant idea. He suggested having a Mother’s Day celebration for my mom a week early.

Andrea and her sister GiGi got cards, a ballon, a cross and an angel pin. All who were in the room wrote messages and signed the cards. When we entered the room, Mom was curious about who thought to do this.  We each took turns reading our messages to her. She was in tears often, happy throughout and was immensely touched. It was a loving moment of honor and celebration.

Considering the circumstances, the day couldn’t have been better. It was 5pm. She ate some dinner, although it wasn’t long before she was resting again.

Shortly after, my mom was in hospice care, as there was nothing more to be done. Her health wasn’t going to improve. She looked intensely in my eyes and I could see that she knew the end was near. It was a powerful moment. My mom had been prepared for this day, thus the aforementioned message to the deacon that she was ‘ready to go home’.
Close friends and family, including several from the church were with her all evening until about 10:00pm. She hadn’t been alert all night. Everyone left soon thereafter, with only Andrea and me remaining. We prepared for another night of sleep by her side.

As I was dozing, the nurse called us up to Mom’s bedside. She told us that she was slipping away. Andrea and I held hands and watched her take her last breath. It was 11:24 pm on May 1. At that moment, I was so happy to have my cousin there. She had looked after and cared for my mom in ways I never expected. I was full of both sadness and gratitude.

The day had been surreal for me, yet I remembered what my friend Dee in Sweden had told me before I left. He said to “be in the moment George”, which I did to the best of my ability.  When one is losing a mother, there is no preparation for that. So much was going through my mind, but I did stay fully present.

The toughest thing I ever had to do was saying goodbye to my mother. We were very close and enjoyed a wonderful relationship. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother or childhood. She made me the man that I am, including the invaluable lesson of giving, which inspired many who came into her life.

It was almost unbearable to be alone in the ICU room, knowing that I would soon leave my mother’s body for the final time. I don’t cry easily, although tears were abundant. There has been lots of good in my life, although one of my greatest gifts was having Isabella G. Payne for 77 years.

It was a blessing to be able to spend time with my mother during her last 24 hours. One of her final acts of strength was waiting for her son. I will always be grateful for that.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Mom and I  in Sweden

Boost of Energy on my 11th Year in Sweden

I received an inspiring call this morning from an expat living in Sweden, who after many years of dire struggle, has finally turned the corner and is now in a calmer and more positive place. I've been a shoulder to lean on or ear to listen to, all the while, attempting to keep his spirits high. He never gave up, stay focused and kept positive throughout, which I admired. His call came on my 11th year anniversary (April 16, 2004) of being in Sweden, which was a great boost of energy.

Some expats have his type of struggle, while others have a smoother one like mine - a disheartening first few years (common), but a very good overall experience. Many are somewhere in the middle. Every situation is different of course, but there is a unique struggle about Sweden, outside of the normal challenges of moving abroad.

For those who haven't read my 2009 blog - "5 years in Sweden", I encourage you to do so, as it will give you some insight into being a new expat here. I wrote it in order for future expats to gain some important knowledge before they move to Sweden, as far too often, many come to this Nordic country unprepared for the reality.  It's still my most popular blog and one I'm proud of.  A passage and link are below.

"During the job hunting process in my early years, I rarely received an interview from a Swedish company. When I did, it was clear that I was not going to be a finalist for the job. Ironically, one of the few and best interviews I secured occurred before I moved. It was from a top non-profit organization that did fundraising work with corporations, much along the lines of the fundraising work I was doing in NYC."

After a bumpy start, Sweden has exceeded my expectations, for which I'm very grateful. There are lots of things Sweden can do better and numerous things I can improve upon to make my journey even sweeter. Every year, Sweden and I are moving closer together.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Friend Greg Poehler's TV show about being an ex-pat in Sweden

Be Like Spieth?

Before hole #17 at the Masters Saturday, I was ready to coronate Jordan Spieth with the coveted Green Jacket. He had been masterful up to that point. I had a special tweet prepared and ready to send, although history has taught us not to be premature.

With an impressive 7 shot lead going into those final two holes, all he needed were pars on both and the 2015 Masters was essentially his. At worst, he would have had a 6 shot lead going into Sunday, which is ideal for a young man in search of his first Major. If so, I wouldn't have worried about a similar ‘6 shot lead’ collapse that Greg Norman displayed in 1986.

It was Spieth’s first ‘moment of truth’ at Augusta at #17. I expected his nerves to show and he didn’t disappoint. He stumbled badly throughout the hole, missing what should have been an easy bogey for him, and carded a double bogey. Instantly, that 7 shot lead was down to 5.  
He made a valiant effort on #18, with a great chip shot, to save par and probably put his mind at ease somewhat going into the final round. Justin Rose birdied hole #18, so Spieth's lead for Sunday was only 4.

Game on.

Patterns are important in most facets of life and here are Spieth’s:

--  Round 1 – 64
--   Round 2 – 66 (36 hole scoring record)
--  Round 3 – 70 (54 hold scoring record)
--   Round 4 -- ?

Yes, he’s gone downhill each day, but he has set two Masters records in the process. He should feel good, but those final holes on Saturday have to linger in his young mind. Instead of slamming the door shut on Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, he left it half open.

To be fair, he’s only 21. His success on the PGA tour thus far has been spectacular for someone his age. These three days at Augusta will only be a footnote though, unless he wins today.

I don’t think he will. Here are a few reasons why:

1)      Phil Mickelson is a difficult 5 shots back, but has won the Masters three times, and has five Majors in total. That comfort of knowing how to close at Augusta will be invaluable. Look for Phil to be one of the last men standing.

 2)     Justin Rose has been super on the back 9 holes at Augusta. He should be at ease as well, despite never winning here. The comfort of having won a Major already should make him an aggressive player today. Since he is paired with Spieth, that intensity may be a distraction.

3)     Tiger Woods and Rory Mcllroy play two groups behind Spieth and they have nothing to lose. Woods is legendary and Rory is on that path with multiple Majors already, so they should attack the course fiercely. The roars from their crowds could be another distraction.

4)      Spieth would still be in college if he didn’t turn professional and this type of Sunday pressure is tough for anyone with a three day lead, including seasoned veterans. How will he handle the challenge? And let’s not forget Rory’s choke in the 2011 Masters at a similar age.

5)      No guts, No glory – Will Spieth have the guts to not ‘play if safe’ by hoping that a round of even par (72) will bring him Masters Glory? He should be aggressive and go after the gold.

6)     The Golfing Gods can be incredibly cruel at Augusta. Ask Chris Demarco (2005) or Rocko Mediate (2008) or Len Mattiace (2003) or Ray Floyd (1990) or Hubert Green (1978) or Ed Sneed (1978) or Scott Hoch (1989).

With all the aforementioned potential disruptor's, the best Spieth can hope for is even par (72) in my opinion. That could be enough to win, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Here’s the tweet I have waiting:

With Michael Jordan, they said “Be Like Mike”

There’s a new Jordan in town, his name is Jordan Spieth.

“Be Like Spieth”

I hope Jordan Spieth proves me wrong, as I would like to see him win and send that tweet.

Enjoy what should be another great Masters finish. I’m excited.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

One of many fun golfing days in Sweden

Duke Won (So Did I)…And An Act Of Kindness

I take the annual NCAA ‘March Madness’ College” Basketball Office Pool very seriously. I love the sport, played at the Division 1 level and enjoy competing, so this time of year is a joy for me.

I’ve participated in one in New York City for 13 years. On average, there are 80 bracket sheets that people fill out each March in our pool, with points assigned to each round. The person who gathers the most total points wins a substantial cash prize.  I’ve come in 1st place 6 times in those 13 years, including a 3-peat from 2003-05.

Despite my success, I made a big mistake with Duke in 2010, which I vowed would never happen again. I didn’t have them winning the championship on any of my sheets that year and it cost me, as they won the title. Typically, I have at least one sheet with Duke University as the winner.

I learned a valuable lesson as one can never doubt a team with a leader like Duke's Coach K – one of the most accomplished coaches in any sport. If I had only 1 sheet with Duke winning in 2010, it is likely that I would have won the top prize that year. That loss still bothers me.

In 2015, I didn’t feel Duke would win the NCAA title, but 2010 was swirling in my mind. They had talented freshmen this season and a great big man, although like many, I thought this was Kentucky’s year to go 40-0. On other sheets, I had Kentucky and/or Wisconsin winning, but I made sure to fill out one bracket sheet with Duke as the champion.

That sheet (at the bottom) won the top prize easily, with 76% of games chosen correctly. Even if Wisconsin had won, I would have taken 2nd and 3rd place, which combined was a substantial prize, yet lower than the 1st prize.

Almost immediately, I decided to provide a kindness.

My competitor needed Wisconsin to win in order to claim the top prize. If Duke was victorious, he wouldn’t have won anything. Since I’ve been fortunate over the years (having never lost when final game decided top prize outcome), I offered him a deal.

If Duke won, I told him I would give him 20% of my winnings, and if Wisconsin won, he would give me the same percentage of his winnings. That way, he was guaranteed to win a decent amount of money.  I was going to win a large amount either way, so I didn’t want him to have a feast (top cash prize) or famine (Zero) scenario going into the Final Game. I’ve seen others lose that way and it isn’t fun. He gladly accepted

I’ve also written two posts (below) on how one can improve their chances for winning in their own NCAA office pool. It doesn’t give away my strategy (I have a formula), but it does present common sense tips for filling out a successful bracket sheet.

The mistake most people make in office pools (including mine this year) is picking the favorite as champion, especially if it is an overwhelming one like Kentucky was this year. It’s best to be unique and enter an unlikely but possible scenario, especially if one is only entering one sheet.

Even if Kentucky went 40-0, the chance of one being victorious in my pool was slim as there was too much competition. 50 sheets had Kentucky as champs. I had Kentucky winning on several sheets, but would have won 6th place; a small cash prize which would have only covered the entrance fee.

Only 5 players picked Duke as Champion.  I knew my odds of winning were good when I saw that.

I can’t wait until next year to defend my title.

Happy Gswede Sunday (a few excited days early)!

My 2015 NCAA Bracket Sheet - 76% correct

A Perfect UVM Moment (Made Unforgettable)

It was a beautiful and amazingly warm September evening at the University of Vermont, and it seemed like everyone was out in downtown Burlington. Some streets were blocked off in order to control and maximize the fun for students. It was the beginning of my senior year in 1985.

My apartment was only 200 feet from the core of the school’s bars and nightlife, so it was easy for me and my roommates to quickly partake in any scene, which was a nice perk. Some friends and I were enjoying ourselves to the utmost, until I lost them and found myself alone and in the heart of downtown -  the corner of Church and Main Street.

I looked up with appreciation and gratitude, and said softly to myself….”Life is Good”.  I remember that perfect moment like it was yesterday. I was fully present and very thankful. Tears almost came to my eyes.

I was a scholarship athlete, with a diverse group of friends, doing well as an English Major and had supportive parents. The school sizzled at the highest level my first three years and I soaked up many aspects of a fun university. There were memorable events, people and situations – occasions that still pop into my mind randomly.

It had been a wonderful ride at a popular university, and outside of my time on the basketball court (the opposite of glorious), it was terrific. My UVM expectations were exceeded as I wrote in this 2014 article.

Then the aforementioned moment became even more perfect.

On that same corner, I saw a young woman who almost made me lose my cool. She had a sweetness about her and a lovely smile; her beauty radiated. If I could have frozen that moment before we talked, I would have, as it was powerful. It was clear from our conversation that I would see her again.

She had a confidence and maturity I admired, particularly for a freshmen. While getting to know her, it was clear to me that she would be successful and create the life that she wanted. After reconnecting with her in 2008, it was no surprise to hear how her life had unfolded. She wrote fondly of her kids, husband and journey, words that left no doubt about her happiness.

I’ve been fortunate to have a great life and family as well, with a full load of fantastic moments, although that early memory is one I will never forget.

The Forgettable UVM Basketball Years - 1984 Team Picture

The “Give and Take” of Networking

For those interested in maximizing life, networking should be a constant, especially in Sweden, where it can be invaluable for increasing employment opportunities and progressing on a social level.  I've stepped up my game lately by hosting an expat event a few months back and engaging people more deeply. 

Several weeks ago, I met an expat dad and we had an easy conversation; our flow was superb. He has an interesting life and dynamic background. Like me, he’s married to a Swede.

As with most expats, the subject of jobs usually comes up because of the difficulty of finding quality work in Sweden. He mentioned that he applied for one at a company where I knew an influential employee. I told him that I would talk to my contact for him. He was thrilled.

I told my contact that I only met this dad twice, yet had a good feeling about him. I asked her to put in a good word. She immediately wrote an email to the hiring manager, which impressed me. He quickly got a phone interview and had the face to face not long after; something that would have never happened so fast without the connection; maybe not at all.

I invited the dad to lunch earlier this month at one of my favourite places in Lund. As I expected, his interview was very positive.

I've done a lot of networking 'good' in my almost 30 year career, which I’ve enjoyed immensely. If I can help someone along my networking path, it makes the experience even better.  I never expect anything in return although sometimes, people have thanked me in nice ways, which I appreciated.

But…if I should need that dad's help down the road, I will not hesitate to ask him and I have no doubt he will help. A good networker usually finds a way to reciprocate.

Never be afraid to engage those you have helped in the past. Be politely persistent if you must, as sometimes people forget about what you have done for them. I've seen friends unwilling or hesitant to call in a favor after helping someone, which never fails to puzzle me.

Wise networking isn’t easy and sometimes requires a gentle balance of 'Give and Take'.

Give as much as you can and the good will often come back your way. It has for me in a variety of beautiful ways. Do 'Take' when you have a need though, as I've yet to see a person I've helped, not return the favor in some form or fashion when asked.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Happy Networking!

How's your Team?

The San Antonio Spurs have 5 championships and 17 consecutive years of making the basketball playoffs; the longest current streak by far in the NBA.  The high flying Atlanta Hawks are a distance 2nd at only 7 straight playoff appearances.

Why are the Spurs the envy of many?  Great team chemistry, Family oriented, Integrity and a Strong infrastructure come to my mind. 

Yes, they got lucky with having a great “Hall of Fame” player (Tim Duncan) and one of the best coaches (Gregg Popovich) on any level, but that alone can't give one success. Also, luck usually comes to those who are prepared for it, not those who wish for it.  In addition, they have the wisdom to draft and develop foreign born players, which has been integral to their success.

Most I know, who consider themselves successful, not surprisingly, have a good/great team (family, friends, mentors, colleagues, etc) around them. Most importantly, they have a strong infrastructure and leader, with an inner circle that offers members the opportunity to thrive. A few have spoken lovingly to me about how fortunate they are.

From my experience, those who aren't where they want to be in life or are struggling, usually lack that coherent teamwork and/or infrastructure - typically having close connections or family or friends who bring them down or don't add value. In my opinion, people who don’t add value or fail to enhance your life, shouldn't be in your world, no matter how good the convenience or short term pleasures might be.

For 2015, my hope for those with strong teams is to monitor them with an eagle eye, especially if you are the leader. Never take that blessing for granted.  If you are lacking a decent team, DO something about it!  Good teams don't magically appear and take lots of intelligence, wisdom and hard choices to build properly. 

If the foundation, focus, makeup and harmony of your current team isn’t at least close to good, life will more often than not, continue to disappoint, just like the Spurs opposite, the NBA’s New York Knicks – a franchise in massive disarray for the last 12+ years and counting. 

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Magic and Dr. Buss - The start of many great Laker teams!

My 2 Minutes with ESPN Icon, Stuart Scott

In the late 90’s, I was living in Manhattan. One night found me walking down the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden; something I did hundreds of times previously as a sports advertising executive at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Coming towards me one evening, during the 1998 NBA All-Star game festivities, was the man who many felt was singularly responsible for making sports cool on TV. He was well known at the time although his fame and impact would skyrocket in the decade after.

Never afraid to approach celebrities, I walked directly to Stuart Scott, and he couldn’t have been more gracious; looking me in the eye and shaking my hand. I told him how much I admired him on SportsCenter and to “Keep making us proud”.  He was very appreciative and gave me a few minutes of chatter, despite the mini chaos surrounding his being in the general public hallway.

I’ve been around or met numerous celebrities, but rarely found the need to share my appreciation of their work. With Scott, I felt I had too. He was an original from the start and always seemed to be having massive fun on the air; a combination not often seen and one I admire.

When he first hit the TV screen in the mid 90’s, there was nobody close in style or presence. There were interesting people doing sports on TV, but nobody like him. On SportsCenter, his ‘Urban Cool’ and ‘Hip Hop inspired Delivery” was something to behold. Whether one liked him or not, his boldness in doing the show his way was undeniable.

He was a trailblazer and Stan Verrett, who worked with Scott, said this about his path: "He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves." 

While many sports fans enjoyed him on TV right away (like me), I remember thinking at the time, that his style could turnoff or offend some viewers. I give ESPN a lot of credit for hiring someone so different than the norm, although it surely was a big risk.

In the beginning, Scott received hate mail, although some of his former colleagues admitted that it never affected his work or desire to stay true to himself. Once Twitter became popular, he would share some of the hate tweets that came his way. He wasn’t shy in responding to the haters, although he usually did so in a respectful, positive or funny manner, which probably infuriated them even more.

Not surprisingly to me, Scott was a big hit on ESPN, despite the early grievances. The hip hop generation was blooming (and would explode) and that market loved him. He took ESPN to another level. What might have gone missing when we heard his “BOYAA” description of a play or his cool references from popular songs, is that he was a very good sports announcer.  The substance of his delivery was fact-filled and enlightening. I did my best to see his 11:00pm SportsCenter whenever I could.

Scott died on Sunday January 4, 2014. It was a sad day for me and many in my inner circle, as he had a big impact on how we digested sports. In addition, many top celebrities (inside and outside of sports) displayed incredible affection and love for him. Many of his ESPN colleagues brought tears to my eyes, when they so eloquently talked about what he meant to them, sports fans and ESPN.

His former co-anchor gave this touching tribute (Rich Eisen on Scott) on live TV:

Even President Obama released a statement:

“I will miss Stuart Scott. Twenty years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those twenty years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family – but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on SportsCenter were there. Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us – with courage and love. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

He was only 49, yet according to many who knew him, packed more fun, sizzle and joy into those years than most do in a lifetime. He inspired me, including the public and courageous way he fought his cancer.

RIP Stuart Scott. After a hard day at work, there were few things more satisfying than watching you light up the TV screen at 11pm. Thank you.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

 In the early days with Rich Eisen