Interviewed by Sarah Drury, MSIM ‘17
Let’s start with the basics. Who are you and what do you do?
I am a professor here at Tufts University. I teach in three programs: the MSEM program (M.S. in Engineering Management), the MSIM program (M.S. in Innovation & Management), and the undergraduate ELS minor (Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies).
How long have you been teaching at Tufts?
What is the thing that you like most about teaching?
I’m a practicing professor, so I have two companies that are closely aligned with what I like to focus on at Tufts. One is called J. Locke, which is a merchant bank. This means we will invest our money in companies with unique potential, and then provide critical strategic and operational support to help them optimize their opportunity. I’m also a member of Launchpad Venture Group. Launchpad focuses on early stage start-ups – primarily high-growth, low-capital intensive companies that we believe can utilize our expertise. I love being able to bring to students a combination of rigorous academic training with real world applicability. When I see my students becoming excited about how new concepts can be actually applied, it is exhilarating. And when I see them having one of those “ah ha” epiphany moments, one that might have an outside chance of changing how they see the world, it truly makes everything I do worth while.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your professional experience?
Every great lesson I have learned has come from a mistake I have made. The successes tend to get catalogued after you celebrate them, making you vulnerable to forgetting why you became successful in the first place. But, when one makes mistakes, I think you have two choices. You can ignore the mistake and rationalize around it, or you can really understand what caused the mistake. It is from some of the tremendous mistakes I’ve made (I actually had two companies of mine go into bankruptcy) that I learned how to avoid the miss-calibrations that can lead to financial distress. I was really fortunate to have another opportunity to invest in and manage even larger companies. I think those mistakes I made early allowed me to become a much more talented investor and operator going forward. In fact, my two early bankruptcies were subsequently followed by four successful public offerings and the sponsorship of fourteen discretionary institutional private equity funds. I try to bring these types of lessons to the classroom as a way to explore and learn. I find that students are fascinated by what really happens when one leaves Tufts.
What is the hardest concept for students in your classes to grasp?
There are two angles to this. My class tends to be much more technical than many of the other classes, but in order to do well, you have to really dig deep. You have to both master the concepts and then actively apply them. The larger and more significant item is that academia reinforces certain types of intelligences. College courses tend to be scientifically, logistically or linguistically oriented. If you think about getting into schools – tests like the GRE, ACT and SAT reinforce for this type of aptitude. As soon as you leave school, however, people are looking for interpersonal skill sets like your capacity to influence others, and leverage their expertise, because we know we can’t do everything ourselves. Working on situations that have ambiguity, and where team leadership and collaboration are necessary to move “the ball” forward, helps reinforce these critical skills.
What would you tell 22-year- old Frank?
There are only certain periods in your life where you can really experiment and try things. At 22 I didn’t have any assets, so the idea of experimenting, making mistakes and losing was, in hindsight, a low risk proposition. This is because I wasn’t going to lose a lot of money since I didn’t have it. What I’m glad I did was to try a lot of different things – almost like throwing spaghetti at a wall. A lot of it didn’t stick, but it taught me early on what things I don’t have a passion for, so I could then shape my future around what I truly love.
If you could have invested early in any company, which would it be?
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
I only get to pick one?
You can have a dinner party if you think that’s more fun.
It would probably be one of the founding fathers. I’m going back and forth between James Madison, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. This group of people accomplished something very entrepreneurial. They were looking at a restrictive governance under England and said, how can we do this differently? What they accomplished through the Declaration of Independence and what followed survived them by more than 200 years. We still use their principles and the institutions they created today. If you look at what the United States has accomplished relative to all the other countries around the world, it’s this sense of entrepreneurialism and independence; the sense that we can do it, which has allowed us to grow at a much faster rate than all other countries.
What is your favorite invention of the last century?
My favorite invention of all time is the printing press. I think it is the invention that has had the most to do with changing how the world developed. Before the printing press, information was disseminated in very close circles, predominantly by the well-educated patriarchs that were associated with the church. As soon as the printing press emerged, it allowed for the mass production of information. I think the closest thing to it in the period we live is the internet. It is doing the exact same thing: establishing and transmitting information about comparative ideas, policies, cultures, the way other societies live, and what is possible and not possible. I look at the internet as version 2.0 of the printing press.
iPhone or Android?
Italy or France?
Good question. I’m going to say Italy.
What is the last song you listened to?
Oh on my way here, Stairway to Heaven.
Many thanks to Frank Apeseche for taking the time to speak with us.