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Life 2.0 : how people across America are transforming their lives by finding the where of their happiness by Rich Karlgaard


Rating: (Recommended)


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For an offbeat take on following your bliss, pick up a copy of Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard’s new book, Life 2.0. Other writers have explored achieving a work-life balance, but no presentation is as enjoyable to read as Life 2.0, in which we follow Karlgaard as he heads from place to place across America in the small plane he learned to fly as part of him following his own bliss. Some readers will find more here about flying than expected, but I found that narrative disclosure added to Karlgaard’s ability to connect with the people and the stories he presents. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 8, “Sometimes, Material Success Is Not Enough,” pp. 120-131:


Would you have made this trade? You get to pocket millions of dollars before the age of forty. But you pay a high price for your financial success—your marriage fails. Worse, the person you most care about, your daughter, now lives on the opposite side of the country. Rick Randall knows the difficulty of explaining this kind of psychic torture to the 99.996 percent of people in the United States who don’t have millions of dollars lying around. (He grew up in a blue-collar family himself.) But in Rick’s mind, the journey from poor to rich doesn’t add up to much if losing your family is part of the deal.


So when Rick married for the second time and embarked on a new set of entrepreneurial adventures, he struck a far better trade. He has learned how to combine work and family in an incredibly creative way. Not only that, but thanks to technology he and his family live and work in captivating places and own two splendid homes for the price of one executive-style house in Boston or Southern California.


Let’s find out how he did it.



I departed the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield, late on the morning of August 9. I am slow getting away from my hosts, George Gilder and his wife, Nini. They live in a red farmhouse in a valley in a village called Tyringham, close to Stockbridge, where Norman Rockwell lived and painted.


George, a writer, economist, and futurist—a famous one for having written books such as Wealth and Poverty, The Spirit of Enterprise, Microcosm, and Telecosm—is my mentor. We became friends shortly after I cofounded a technology business maga­zine called Upside during the late 1980s. Then in 1992, at the beginning of the Web revolution, we convinced Steve Forbes to launch Forbes ASAP’ and in those pages George did some of his finest work. As we drank coffee and watched the dairy cows out­side of the Gilder farmhouse, I marveled at how George was able to pull off writing about developments in Silicon Valley, Singapore, and South Korea from a red house in the valley of the Berkshire Mountains.


It is nearly noon by the time I pull the Skyhawk’s nosewheel up and allow the miracle of air traveling fast over the wings to lift the plane over the Berkshires. Hard, jolting turbulence over the peaks somewhat wrecks the picturesque flight, but not com­pletely. This is indeed lovely country. I would prefer to fly as low as possible over the Berkshire ridges up to Vermont, stick it on autopilot, and look out the window, but the air bumps force me up to 4,500 feet, then 6,500 feet to find smoother air. I cross into Vermont, the college town of Bennington to my right, the Hudson River to my left.


I had e-mailed Rick Randall that morning from Gilder’s office. Rick agreed to meet me at Lake Placid Airport. I said I would phone him when I got there. This may sound like com­mon courtesy to the person picking you up, and it is. But I do this for more selfish reasons. I want the option of not showing up at all, or showing up very late, just in case the weather turns bad or I have problems with the airplane. This afternoon, I do have a problem of sorts. I have not brought the New York Sectional air map, which depicts Lake Placid Airport on it. No, that can’t be true! The New York Sectional is right here on the plane’s right seat. I grab the map, fumble with it, but can’t locate Lake Placid.


Where is it?


Oh, jeez—Lake Placid must be off the map. It must be on the Montreal Sectional! It is that far north!


Not having the New York Sectional map is a bit of a worry. That it is illegal is of minor concern. The bigger worry is that my onboard GPS map shows Lake Placid Airport to be in a bowl sur­rounded by the highest peaks in New York State. That almost cer­tainly means a tricky arrival. What to do? I push the throttle forward and climb up to 8,500 feet so I can get a better look. As the Skyhawk nears Lake Placid, the correct strategy reveals itself. I will descend into a valley, level off at 6,500 feet, then chop the power and drop rapidly into Lake Placid’s airport. While parallel to Runway 32, I see that I must make a base turn before reach­ing the end of the runway threshold, to keep from barreling into the mountainside rising abruptly at the threshold. I make a steeply banked turn left and keep it going round for a full 180 degrees, level the wings, line up on final approach... and see that I’m way too high. The choice now becomes (a) go around and try again, or (b) try a “slipping” maneuver—turn rudder one way, wings banked the opposite—to lose altitude fast and get down on the runway. I go for the slip. It works. Not a bad piece of flying for a rookie.




Rick picks me up in his Range Rover. Fifty years old, he talks in that quick caffeinated patois common among people in bigger cities. We drive through the village of Lake Placid, a stunner if you’ve never been there, a jewel of a Swiss-like village, nestled up to a small lake, which is not Lake Placid at all. “It’s Mirror Lake,” says Rick. “Lake Placid is much larger and over there, to the north.” Mirror Lake lives up perfectly to its name—glassy smooth, rippled only by swimmers and canoes. No powerboats are allowed. Normally I am for powerboats, on principal, because Republicans like me are known to derive a near sexual pleasure at the roar of fossil-fuel machines. Seeing Mirror Lake makes me rethink my position.


Soon we are driving along the village’s Main Street, past restaurants and shops, and around a bend. Rick’s home is on a lot that runs down to Mirror Lake. The home is large and rustic, with bright yellowish brown logs and stone and vaulted ceilings inside. A rich man, with false modesty might call it a cabin, but it was the kind of cabin similar to what millionaires own in Jackson Hole and Lake Tahoe. The place looks western to my architecturally uneducated eyes. Rick says it is Classic Adirondack.


We grab Cokes and head for his Mirror Lake—facing porch. I am parched and really would have preferred to suck down that sixteen-ounce can of Miller draft beer I saw in Rick’s fridge, but I stay silent. During the course of my flying adventures I have noted with some alarm that I have been drinking a lot of alcohol, starting earlier in the day than usual. My nerves are so taut in the airplane that I feel the need for a comedown on the ground. Also I’m thirsty as hell, because I don’t drink much fluid before or dur­ing flying, a strategy that helps me contain my squirrel-size blad­der during a three-hour flight. Thus I typically finish my flying very tense and very parched. Never has a cold beer tasted so good as when I’m safely on the ground after the last flight of a summer day. Problem is, my last flight of the day during these trips often concludes at 2 P.M. to avoid late-afternoon summer thunder­storms. That means I’m lusting for my first cold beer—ideally a tall one, poured into a big frosty mug, with maybe a shot of Jack Daniel’s on the side—at around 3 P.M.




I immediately like Rick Randall. He describes his childhood growing up in Appleton, New York, outside of Buffalo. His father was a tinsmith at a General Motors plant. Tinsmith! Must have been the last tinsmith in America. His boy was blessed with brains and ambition. Young Rick loved science and biology and wanted to be a veterinarian. He went off the University of Houston, calculating that the U.S. draft board might not be able to find him in Texas. Then Houston raised tuition for out-of­-staters and Rick came back to the State University of New York at Buffalo. He managed to escape the draft, and spent his sum­mers working at the General Motors plant to pay for college.


“The best business education I had was working on the GM factory floor,” Rick tells me. “It was very alienating. You’d ask yourself: ‘What does this part mean? Where does it go? What happens if it breaks?’ But you’d never get any answers from the foreman. It was a stupid way to run things. I could see the Japanese invasion of the auto industry a mile off.”


After college, Rick got a job teaching high school biology in Syracuse. “The salary was ninety-six hundred dollars a year. I was a good teacher—I knew how to connect and communi­cate.” During summers, Rick drove an ice cream truck. “I took a route nobody else wanted—the black neighborhoods of Syracuse. I drove the truck from ten A.M. to ten P.M. every day. Pure commission job. It went poorly at first. Then I realized the music coming from the truck was all wrong for a black neigh­borhood. It was ‘Turkey in the Straw’ or ‘Dixie’ or some damn redneck thing. I rigged the bell to make a jazzy beat. Pretty soon the business turned around, and I made more money that sum­mer than I did teaching for nine months.”


Around that same time, Rick’s first wife to be, Janice, was scheduled for a medical sales job interview. The job, if she got it, would put Rick’s teacher’s salary and ice cream truck driver wages to shame—$30,000 plus bonus! The day of the job inter­view, Janice was sick with the flu, so Rick asked if he might go to the interview in her place. During the interview Rick told the story about changing the jingle on the ice cream truck and was hired on the spot. Janice’s reaction? “She was pissed! I don’t think she ever forgave me.”


Rick is now remarried to a woman named Lori, and they have two children, Alec, nine, and Hailey, four. An hour into our interview on the back porch facing Mirror Lake, the three walk in, all bubbly. Rick excuses himself to talk to the children. Nothing could be more important to him.


Lori and kids have planned to watch a movie that night with another mother and children, leaving Rick and me to fly solo. We decide to walk into town. I don’t want to exaggerate, but Rick’s rustic/modern lakeside house, the sumptuous guesthouse where I have tossed my bags and will be staying tonight, his pretty wife and two children, the village of Lake Placid, the 75-degree light mountain air—the whole package—are as close to perfect as you can get on this mortal coil. Rick has really made it. At dinner, I hope to get the rest of the story.





The walk into the village from Rick’s is half a mile. We settle on an outdoor café called The Great Adirondack Steak & Seafood Co. Ah, cold beer; at last—more precisely, a dark brew called Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, which the menu calls strong. Ah, that’s the ticket! While I tipple my ale, Rick continues with his story:


After cheating his first wife, Janice, out of her medical sales job, Rick rapidly climbed up the medical sales rung, but soon topped out on commission. One night over drinks, he pressed a col­league for career-move tips. The guy told Rick, “If you get on the ground floor of a paradigm shift, it’s an elevator ride up.” Rick began poring over magazines and journals, looking for that paradigm shift. One day in 1979 he found it in angioplasty, just then getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Rick switched employers, joining U.S. Catheter and Instrument, which brought the angioplasty balloon to market in 1980. Within four years, the procedure took ofi and Rick got a sales manager position with U.S. Catheter in Boston. “My job was getting salespeople to go toe-to-toe with cardiologists. It all came together for me: my teaching, the factory job, the ice cream truck. I excelled.”


Not excelling was Rick andJanice’s marriage. They divorced in 1984. Rick says his ambition-fueled long hours at work and the traffic-snarled commutes of Boston doomed the marriage.


“A year later I got headhunted to American Hospital Supply and I moved to Orange County, in California. I loved Califor­nia, the lack of hierarchy. In Boston I was hampered by a lack of a Harvard or MIT pedigree. In California, nobody asked where I had gone to college. All that mattered was that doctors liked me.” Still, Rick says that moving three thousand miles away from his daughter Tess was the toughest decision he’s ever made. Tess was four years old when Janice and Rick divorced. He would not see much of her for the next eight years.


Single and focused, Rick thrived in California at American Hospital Supply and quickly got himself noticed by head­hunters in the medical device industry. In 1989, Rick was recruited for his first CEO job, at Target Therapeutics, which made catheters for minimally invasive liver surgery and later brain surgery Rick took Target from scratch to $15 million in sales and an IPO in 1992. He was a week short of forty years old and had made his first $5 million. But there was a huge hole in his own heart. Tess. With a shock, Rick realized that he had missed too much of her childhood—the entire grade school years—and no amount of success or money could get it back.


Rick moved back to Boston and learned that a CEO who had taken a company public was welcome anywhere, Harvard degree or not. He took the helm of another start-up in sports medicine, called Innovasive, and took it public in 1996, later selling it to Johnson and Johnson.





Rick was now rich enough to retire. But the working-class kid from Buffalo loved to work. He soon joined Vertical Group, a New Jersey hedge fund that invested in medical device compa­nies. There, Rick saw a large gap in the device market. “There is plenty of room for products that do only twenty million a year in sales—single products that meet a surgical need.” As Rick described it, big companies just don’t know how to get at this market. Venture capitalists are uninterested because of the small size and because start-ups can’t afford the long FDA approval process or the distribution and reimbursement costs.


To get at this market, Rick started Incumed in 1998. Its pur­pose is to incubate single-product start-ups, get the product through FDA approval, and then sell the start-up to a larger medical device company. One of Rick’s Incumed start-ups is called TranS 1. It makes catheters that permit high-tech spinal surgery done through tiny holes.


“This is a great, great field!” Rick shouts above the din at The Great Adirondack Steak & Seafood Co. “You have large pools of patients with back troubles, yet for whom surgery is still too invasive.”


As baby boomers age, and begin to lose their golf swings to stiff backs or their ability to pick up grandchildren from deteri­orated disks, they will flock to surgery, Rick believes. . . but only if the surgery is quick and relatively risk free. It can be, says Rick, if the surgical hole is small. Rick describes a small area of the body located between the tailbone and the anus, a perfect place to go in and relieve pressure on a nerve root from a com­pressed disk. Only the tiniest surgical instruments are capable of doing this.


I listen and order another draft of Wee Heavy Scotch Ale.


What about location. . . not your tailbone-anus thing, but where you chose to live and work? Rick says he and his fam­ily spend the school year near Wilmington, North Carolina, in a rambling house on a golf course development. Why Wilmington? “It’s a town that is perfectly sized for us. Three hun­dred thousand population. No long commutes.” When Rick remarried, he vowed he never wanted to miss his kids at bedtime. He had originally looked at Charleston, South Carolina, also small, but concluded it was too Old South, too Old Money. The agent told Rick, “If you like Charleston without the pretense, you’ll like Wilmington.”


“But,” I asked Rick, “if you like the piney woods and sea breezes of America’s coastal Southeast, wouldn’t high-tech Raleigh-Durham seem more logical?”


“Not for me. It feels too much like Orange County or Silicon Valley,” Rick says. “Long commutes. Plus, in a funny way, I think these places get parochial. When you work in odd places, as I do in Wilmington and in Lake Placid during the summer, you have more time to think. You can think independently.. . you can lis­ten to your instincts.” Rick says that with the Internet, he and his Wilmington colleagues can open up the world as a resource, tapping talent from Boston or Tokyo. “In Wilmington, I have a

couple of superb catheter designers I work with. The rest of the work we outsource. What I want is a high revenue-to-head count business. And I want my family by my side. And I can have both in Wilmington and Lake Placid.”




Six months later I caught up with Rick by e-mail. He was effu­sive. Things were humming.


“The new Start-up, TranS 1, is cooking. We just returned from our first spine trade show (North American Spine Society) in San Diego and I am happy to report we knocked it out of the park.” Indeed. Rick’s company was told it had the most novel and innovative procedure and product at the meeting. Between surgeon, corporate, and investment banker interest in the com­pany, Rick says he never had to wander more than thirty feet from the exhibit. “I relish these experiences much more these days than I did in the past. They do not always happen.”


I asked Rick about his family.


‘Alec is in fifth grade and Hailey is in pre-K at Cape Fear Academy We love Cape Fear and Wilmington. The schools measure themselves against other schools on a national basis. They understand Wilmington kids will compete globally, not just regionally a concept that I fear has not yet permeated the rural South in general.”


After graduating from Georgetown in 2001, his daughter Tess got a job teaching taught first grade at a private, mostly African-American school in Los Angeles. This September Tess moved to Seattle and is working for a nonprofit adoption agency. Her plan is to return to the University of Washington to secure a master’s degree in public policy, Rick says.


The update from Rick inspired me to dig out the notes I had jotted during our dinner at The Great Adirondack Steak & Seafood Co. Alas, some of the notebook pages were blurred and gave off an odor like ale—the pages were unreadable, in other words. So I asked Rick to clarify his back-and-forth life between Lake Placid and Wilmington.


He wrote back:

“You asked about the size of our properties. We have two acres on Mirror Lake, with a 3,500-square-foot main house and 1,300-square-foot guesthouse. Our Wilmington home is 6,000 square feet on 1.5 acres. Together, they cost about the same as one executive home in Boston or Southern California.


“The family still goes to Lake Placid from late June through mid-August. During the summer I work out of Lake Placid on Mondays and Fridays and spend Tuesday through Thursday in Wilmington.”


Rick’s typical working day in Wilmington affords him at least an hour more per day of private family time than he experi­enced living in Boston or the Bay Area. His commute is only seven minutes. The extraneous activities associated with day-to­day living are just so much easier to manage. His travel is still extensive—about 30 percent of his working time. New regional jet service to Charlotte, New York, Washington, and Atlanta makes the world readily accessible.


Rick travels the world preaching the TranS 1 gospel. The technology meets a huge unmet need for a minimally invasive approach to resolving lower back pain, he says. The current form of surgery is so morbid that when polled, most spine sur­geons say that they would not have the surgery performed on themselves. They would rather live with the chronic pain.


Early tests of TranS 1 have gone well.


“We have performed lumbar fusion of diseased disks with three patients in Brazil. All three patients had no postoperative sensation of pain in their lower back. They were treated five months ago and continue to live active lives with­out the chronic back pain they once had. They all had qual­ity-of-life scores well above what you would typically see a couple of months after spine surgery” Rick and his team will be in Brazil to start a more rigorous clinical study of twenty­five patients in two medical centers. U.S. clinical study work began in April 2004. The current lumbar fusion market in the United States represents 200,000 procedures annually, driving about $2 billion in product revenue. Rick wants a large chunk of that. “Three patients do not make a procedure or a com­pany,” he says. “But we are thrilled with the early clinical experience.”


I remind Rick of his previous observation that living in Wilmington and Lake Placid forces him to “shop the world” for talent.


“We are living it at TranS 1,” says Rick. “We find ourselves tapping into more paid consultants than I have in the past. The Internet makes this a more viable option. We have acquired spe­cialized laboratory equipment at tremendous savings on eBay. has been a source of finding and networking with quality people.”


Digital photography, procedure animation, CAD design drawings, literature searches, pre-op CT imaging assessment— all are communicated and manipulated over the Internet. This lets Rick and his TranS 1 team work effectively and efficiently from remote destinations. Rick says he doesn’t think he could have pulled this off in Wilmington back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “Part of the fun of jumping back into the start-up role again is the thrill attached to using technology to gain efficiency while reducing cash burn.”





Finally I ask Rick if he has at last found that elusive work-life balance. Managing a successful career in balance with being a dad is perhaps the most difficult thing he does, Rick says. There have to be sacrifices; there is no way around it. When employ­ees and shareholders are betting their livelihoods and personal wealth on you, you must be there and accountable. Being there for the family is not just a question of physical presence but of being focused and tuned in to the family members when you are together. This is what Rick says he struggled with in the past. When he lived in California or suburban Boston, the fast pace of the environment combined with long working hours and commutes made it very difficult for him to decompress and con­nect with the kids. He usually ate dinner after the kids and found himself putting them to bed before he had time to completely unwind from work.


But Wilmington and Lake Placid have been different on two fronts: His commute is a nonissue. He sees his kids off to school and sometimes drives them in a car poo1 in the morning. Sec­ond, the low-key more laid-back environments make it easier for Rick to shift gears “from work mode to family mode.”


“It is hard to explain, but there is a distinct difference in the environmental pace that helps to refocus my mind,” he says. “I feel more connected to the community and friends here than I have elsewhere. I still at times struggle with the transition but it is an easier environment in which to do it. Obviously, in Lake Placid it is much easier. I religiously work Mondays and Fridays in my home office on the phone or via e-mail. But by five-thirty I typically dive off the dock into Mirror Lake with the kids, and work is immediately behind me.


“Obviously maturation has helped as well. Having been through this before, I am somewhat more comfortable with the appropriate management of my time. I am more able to accept that it is okay to have a personal life and devote some time to it. My wife would assert that I am not completely reformed. . but. . . even she would admit that time, experience, and loca­tion have made me a better dad and partner.


“In summary I think technology allows us to reassess how and where we do things. We do not need to be geographic cap­tives to the industry in which we work. Stay tuned as we con­tinue with the grand experiment.”

For some readers, the stories of personal migration in Life 2.0 will mirror known experiences. For other readers, new ways of thinking about job location will emerge, following reflection about places to live that may have never been considered. The people Karlgaard introduces us to on the pages of Life 2.0 listen to drumbeats that may be silent for many readers. Whether you live in the location that’s best for you or not, reading Life 2.0 and reflecting on people who have selected places to life that you may never have imagined will help you define what living large or living small means to you.

Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: 2.0.htm


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