Proud graduate of the TRIUM global executive MBA from HEC-Paris, the London School of Economics, and NYU-Stern. Click here for perspective on TRIUM.


Member of the Academy of International Business (AIB).

Longtime member of the Washington DC chapter of the World Affairs Council.


Improv Approaches

people you will love to meet: michael thomas

Taming and riding the bucking bronco of the customer ecosystem is not for the faint of heart. Enter Michael Thomas. 

Michael is the national president of the CRM Association of America and worked on the social media strategy for Neighborhood America, after co-founding CRM Essentials with nationally-renowned CRM expert Brent Leary, with whom he is great friends. [You can read more about Michael on LinkedIn here, or at his site here.]

Now a Social CRM consultant at New Fire Social Media, he is working with partners and clients to leverage one of the biggest trends in customer management: the power of people connected by technologies, common causes and mighty rivers of information (and misinformation). 

1. How do you know me?

MT: Through the CRM Association, where we've both served in executive roles, along with great people like my friends and colleagues Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary, as well as Michael Maoz of Gartner, Bob Thompson, Ginger Cooper ... the list goes on and on. We're the only national association dedicated to customer management topics and trends.

PW: Yes, the CRM Association has been a great platform for focusing vendors, thought leaders and consultants, in my view. What you've done at the organization has been to solidify some partnerships and to professionalism in the sector. And I think what the Atlanta chapter has done is remarkable - the conferences have been incredibly well-attended, by all the right people, and with great speakers and sessions.

MT: That's nice of you to say, and you're right, the Atlanta chapter is really vibrant and we're proud to have them in the association, along with our other chapters on the West coast and the Midwest. It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but the results are gratifying.

2. What kind of impact do you want to make through your work?

Michael is a social media expert. And as an expert, he has his own avatar. If you think this is a little strange, then you've got some catching up to do. MT: People come to me when they're not sure of the direction they want to go in. I want to give credible, insightful advice about what needs to get done, and why.

3. What's the most beautiful or exciting thing you have done or produced?

Three incredibly wonderful kids who are genuinely good people.

4. If you work best in small groups, tell me about a small group you've worked with successfully, how people contributed to the work, and the product of that work.

MT: Smaller groups let me get targeted help from specific talents. Small groups encourage people to express and leverage each other's strengths, and so they can be really powerful.

One of Michael's favorites is a theater of the absurd piece considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century.

PW: Yes, I find that smaller groups let even the quieter participants (the Myers-Brigg introverts) participate because they don't get squashed by the sheer number and noise of the extraverts.

MT: Smaller groups can really come together. I am a big picture guy who can articulate the "so what", but I always need the talents of people who can break it down and execute the details. In small groups, the power is just easier to access.

5. If you work best in large groups, tell me about the secrets to getting these groups to work together, and describe a memorable product of that work.

Bigger groups require a different kind of leadership from me. It's about displaying passion and motivating people. Understanding, respecting and recognizing everyone's contribution keeps projects moving forward because it keeps people dedicated to the process.

6. Talk about any or all of these that matter to you: exercise, music, art, travel, friends, weekends, your inspirations, your pet peeves.

Exercise is very important to me. It's my solace, my motivation. I have run marathons and  triathlons.  It all helps me understand the role that mental and physical fitness plays in my life.

Music is the great equalizer, isn't it? And my musical taste spans through so many genres. I was in music growing up and was blessed to have teachers, parents and friends who opened my eyes to the infinite beauty of music.

Friends are vital, absolutely necessary to my spirit. But on the weekends, I love being with my family. They inspire me.

My pet peeve? Close-minded people who try to impose their beliefs on others.

7. What's the biggest threat to the world today?

Ignorance and apathy. Did I say that clearly enough?

8. What's the greatest hope for our world today?

Children and how we guide them. 

9. Do you have a favorite TED video?

I've got to check out TED! I'll get back to you.

10. Books or movies that influenced you before you turned 20; between 20 and 30; most recently.

"Waiting for Godot," and Sidney Poitier's book, "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography." And I love Poitier's movies.

I love reading about the Vietnam conflict and I have such feelings for both sides and how so many deaths were senseless. We tend to repeat history.

11. Name one of my LinkedIn contacts you'd most like to meet.

So many! But I would start with Daniela Guido [PW: Daniela's LinkedIn profile is here]. Social Influence Marketing is the craze!


People you will love to meet.

I have just sent out invitations to a small group of people from my LinkedIn account. This is not intended to promote LinkedIn (as if they needed that). Instead, I'm promoting my friends and colleagues, who are the most interesting, amazing people I've met (or, in a few cases, I've been wanting to meet).

I've asked the group to answer questions along these lines, so I can shape an interview with them that I guarantee will be fascinating. I answer the questions myself below, but expect that my colleagues will easily outpace my answers.

Breaking news: I'll have two colleague profiles up at the end of next week, and another two at the end of next week.

First batch: One is a successful pharmaceutical executive who runs marathons and meets up with me in Barcelona, Florence and -- well, wherever we can. He was in my TRIUM EMBA class (2006). The other is a global executive focusing on managing non-profits. A great guy, he worked with me in the International Section of the American Society of Association Executives, where we both advised members on globalization concerns. 

Second batch: A consultant and thought-leader in Social CRM, a father of three, and a colleague of mine at the CRM Association of America. And, a venture capital guy whose background, intelligence and hobbies keep you on your toes!

1. How do you know me?

How do I know myself? Usually I see myself most poignantly when reflected in my mistakes, most surprisingly when reflected in my relationships, and most rarely when I succeed. I have written a lot of articles, so many that I sometimes find them by accident on the Web; just reading back through them helps me know myself. Sometimes, I'm actually interesting, it turns out!

2. What kind of impact do you want to make through your work?

I took this picture of the Bund (Shanghai) from the balcony of Jean-Georges, the Shanghai outpost for the great New York restaurant. Don't be fooled. These lights go out around midnight because Shanghai needs to lower its electric bill.Customer experience management includes developing customer strategies using cognitive science. I call that part, "Creating an emotionally intelligent enterprise." It's a marriage of science, art, management and analytics. The risk: companies will use this "emotional intelligence" to manipulate customers. The opportunity: companies will see that their customers will rebel if they are manipulated, so companies have an obligation to actually run a decent, values-based organization that delivers relevant products and services to human beings - not just "customers" or "consumers". 

3. What's the most beautiful or exciting thing you have done or produced?

I composed, arranged and conducted a show a couple of decades ago with an extraordinary orchestra and world-class performers. That was pretty close to amazing. I also worked with some teams to create some stunning marketing and communications materials. For a friend I recorded some jazz duo work with Dave Wundrow on bass that turned out well. I produced an album for a fellow pianist in Nashville several years ago and I snuck in to record "You Are Too Beautiful" (one take). But the most exciting thing I have done, something that has had a deep personal and professional impact, is to undergo the suffering, thrilling experience of the TRIUM executive MBA program. It's not about the MBA, it's about the profound changes ahead, and the new friends I made. I can crash on a couch in Australia, stay with friends in Paris, throw together an intimate party in Shanghai. That's amazing.

4. If you work best in small groups, tell me about a small group you've worked with successfully, how people contributed to the work, and the product of that work.

I'm working with YourMusicOn right now. My best work ever has been while working with the CEO, Daniele Calabrese. I also greatly enjoyed the TRIUM final term project, a turnaround plan for a major Russian insurance company - a company that was identified as a takeover target by a member of my group, purchased, and, in fact, turned around. A huge, multi-million-dollar success story.

5. If you work best in large groups, tell me about the secrets to getting these groups to work together, and describe a memorable product of that work.

Leadership is hard. It's really difficult to manage large groups that are isolated geographically, which I do more frequently because the Internet makes it seem possible to manage large teams. It's possible, but not easy. All I can provide is advice based on hard lessons learned.

6. Talk about any or all of these that matter to you: exercise, music, art, travel, friends, weekends, your inspirations, your pet peeves.

I love, even need, to work out regularly. I wish someone had told me when I was young that being "athletic" was more about spiritual well-being than sweating, falling, ripping, tearing, and so on. 

Bill Evans was one of the top two or three jazz pianists of the 20th century. His left hand harmonies baffled and thrilled a generation of musicians until they figured out what he was doing.Music is essential to me. I played jazz piano six nights a week when I was building a computer company twenty years ago. I love Bill Evans; listening to his "Beautiful Love" recording takes me back to the time when I was 14 years old, lying on a dirt-colored, well-vacuumed carpet in my living room with that recording playing inches from my ears. 

7. What's the biggest threat to the world today?

Overpopulation. The other major issues flow from this: energy, food supply, GMO, green tech, mass migrations, water management, the indebtedness of developing countries. 

8. What's the greatest hope for our world today?

The Internet, combined with ethical global citizens. The Internet is our planet's nervous system now. It can communicate the sickness of the planet, and the successes of our remediation, instantly. If we can see things better, faster, that's great; if we can learn how to fix problems better, faster, then we may have a chance to pull this off. We must not be remembered as the species who pillaged this amazing world.

9. Do you have a favorite TED video?

JJ Abrams' mystery box.

10. Books or movies that influenced you before you turned 20; between 20 and 30; most recently.

Before I was 20: Asimov's science books, his guides to the Bible, Don Juan, and Shakespeare; John Brunner's apocalpytic novels; Sherlock Holmes; A Separate Peace; the movies Jaws, Harry & Walter Go to New York, the Love Bug, Gone with the Wind; The Wizard of Oz.

Between 20 and 30: Everything (EVERYTHING) I read at Davidson College, with a special shout out to Plato, Aristotle, Erich Fromm, Dostoevsky, Chinua Achebe, Descartes, James Joyce, Soren Kierkegaard; A Different Drum (Scott Peck); the movies The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Truffaut's Day for Night, Jaws (again), The Exorcist.

Most recently: What's the use? I'm voracious. I'll create a section on my site for an Amazon list. Stay tuned. (But rest assured, Jaws remains one of my favorite movies even today.)

11. Name one of my LinkedIn™ contacts you'd most like to meet.

Jerome Guilbert. That doesn't really count, as I've met him twice already in Paris. But every time, he strikes me as playing the same role that I aspire to play. Think back to your Joseph Campbell hero's journey: along the way, the hero meets a special person, someone with magic powers and knowledge. With that person, the hero finds his way, using that special knowledge when it is needed to make right what was wrong, to escape, or to return home to his true love. Jerome is that kind of guy.