While earning my MBA in Sustainable Solutions at Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), I realized that I am a systems thinker. I spend a lot of time circling around a problem. So much so, that my peers often tell me to “Get to the point, Diane.”
As a prospective student at BGI, I sat in on an accounting class. The professor asked me to help a student analyze a bankruptcy case study using Excel. I started putting numbers in boxes, figuring out the quickest and most cost-efficient way to solve a complex problem. The other students talked about the case study, without numbers. The discussion included so many factors – relationships, health, passion, age, gender of the people at the company involved in the bankruptcy. A lightbulb went off in my head – Finance is linear and our world is a system. An Excel spreadsheet is only a small piece of the puzzle, not the answer
I used to define myself as a Finance/Accounting Professional with an excellent educational background. Now
- Syracuse University (1965) – In my Accounting courses, I learned to fill in forms and play games with numbers. In Anthropology and Public Speaking, I learned storytelling and gained an appreciation of other cultures.
- Harvard Business School – Corporate Finance Executive Education (1982) – I learned about OPM (Other People’s Money), the strategy that brought the Global Financial Markets to their knees in 2008.
- University of Pennsylvania – Organizational Dynamics (1999) – I learned that student’s work is only valued when it follows a structured academic path. My Master’s thesis – A New Model for the Creative Use of College Endowments to Reduce College Tuition would have prevented today’s student loan crisis. Penn had no mechanism for “the administrators” to listen to students.
- Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) (2013) – I learned the importance of social media to listening deeply and delivering my message.
I was born in Boston to James Freaney, a first generation Irish immigrant, and Dorothy Biddle, a Canadian immigrant; Dorothy’s mother and father immigrated from England to Canada before her birth.
I attended public schools in Weymouth, Massachusetts, qualifying for the advanced math program in high school. I didn’t particularly like math, but I loved my classmates and their intellectual curiosity about so many subjects.
I learned business from my father, a small businessman working in garbage and sewers. My father and I did the payroll together every Wednesday night at the kitchen table after dinner. I learned to value employees and their importance to the success of the business, that income had to be more than expenses or my father couldn’t pay the mortgage on our home. I understood the importance of balance so the system worked for everyone.
I left Boston to go to school in Syracuse University, moved to New York City to work for a “Big 8” accounting firm, one of four that hired women at the time. Later, I moved to Philadelphia where I raised my daughter, and then to Florida to care for my parents.
In 2016, I will become an Oregon resident. Since 2008, I have been splitting my time between Florida and Portland. My original intent was to take what I learned in Portland back to Florida and create change in the system. However, two unnamed Florida residents who believe they are qualified to be President of the US, have finally convinced me that I belong in Portland.
I learned the importance of neighborhoods when I was 22 years old and visited Heather Holland, my penpal age 10, and her family in the West Country in England. I met Uncle Jack, a boarder who came from London to live with Heather’s family during the World War II. Uncle Jack proudly showed me his flat in Council Housing, an affordable housing model superior to anything in the US today. Heather’s mom lived across the street in the house Heather in which grew up until she died.
Heather and Dave moved to Bristol to work for the post office shortly after they were married. They still live in the same house 50 years later. Their son, Paul and daughter, Melanie both worked for the post office. Paul and Melanie and their families live close. Heather and Dave are frequent caregivers for their grandchildren.
I learned the importance of the pub at the corner, to meet neighbors for a coffee in the morning or a pint in the evening. I searched for a place to meet neighbors for many years and finally found the coffee shops, pubs and martini bars in Portland.
I often say “I hang out in bars.” Portland bartenders and baristas are conversational match makers. They know their customers come in for more than coffee or a drink and always introduce you to the person next to you or someone who may share your interest.
About My Philosophy
I have been seated at the table – rather, more accurately, been seated behind the white men seated at the table and told to hold my tongue – at the launch of some of the most radical new business models of the last century.
I have had a front row seat for every new finance and/or economic theory that came down the pike.
This is a dubious honor. I have watched these same new business models crash and burn, take jobs, destroy families, make ghost towns of cities, compromise our health and well being, and rob us of our happiness. With the economic meltdown of 2008, I watched as my retirement fund plummeted 42% percent from the top of the market in 2007 to the bottom in 2009.
I arrived in Portland on December 1, 2008, on a mission to find out why Portland was a favorite of Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of The Creative Class. A week later, the snow began to fall and continued for three weeks. The whole city shut down. This response to snow was a far cry from the northeast cities where I had lived – Boston, New York, Philadelphia. There was a lot to learn in Portland, Oregon.
As I watched the snow fall outside my window, I thought about what was happening to the financial system, to all the money I had that was supposed to be there until I died.
I slowly began to realize that I had to leave the Wall Street system and start investing My Own Money. I trusted myself; the experts had failed me. In 2008, I still believed that financial markets would recover. I reduced my expenses by 60% and took contract work at 10% of my previous fee level. I am grateful that I have always been a saver and lived below my means so I was able to support myself without taking money from my retirement fund.
In 2013, my retirement investments recovered to the balance I had before the meltdown and I began selling my Vanguard mutual funds. I hyperventilated for a week when I sold the last mutual fund. I began investing My Own Money in my community, and founded Rooted Investing LLC.
About This Blog
Systems are concentric circles, often overlapping and ever-changing. Linear solutions to systems problems produce unintended consequences like the problems our financial and economic system experiences today. Applying Band-Aids by tweaking policy isn’t working.
My solution is always to flip the problem on its head and invite all the stakeholders to sit in a circle and talk about their needs. Administrators – lawyers, accountants, – are not stakeholders. Administrators do not create value. In a systems world, administrators are non-native plants that threaten the integrity of the system. Systems need to rid themselves of administrators in order to thrive.
My intent with this blog is to speak my own truth, to listen to your truth and to create together the world we want to live in.
I welcome debate on my blog posts. Please be thoughtful, clear and concise in your comments. I learn something new every day from the people with whom people I connect. If we both listen deeply to each other, the best solution will emerge.
Thank you for listening.