August 24, 2019

William Joern Taught Me to Choose Wisely

"Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely."
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

My friend and colleague, William Joern, who recently passed away at the age of 80, taught me many valuable lessons including each person has the ability to choose their own attitude, happiness, optimism, kindness, giving, and respect.

I first met Bill in 2009 at an event hosted by Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The event featured a panel of academics discussing how technology can improve the lives of those people living in developing countries. I was planning on attending the event with a friend. When my friend said she was unable to attend just a few hours before the event because of a work commitment, I decide to attend nonetheless.

I asked a question during the Q&A portion of the event and upon the event's conclusion, Bill introduced himself and expressed his appreciation for my question. Meeting people like Bill at events and conferences reinforces the saying, "90% of life is showing up."

Despite being 35 years my senior, Bill and I found mutual appreciation for each other. He spent most of his childhood in the Omaha, Neb./Council Bluffs, Iowa area; whereas, I am from Denver, Colo. We both attended a Jesuit institution of higher education (Bill went to the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts to study history and political science and I studied philosophy at Seattle University). And we both worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, and sub-Saharan Africa at different times during our respective careers.

Bill Joern (front row on the right)
at the Afghan-American Chamber of
Commerce's Business Matchmaking
Conference in Washington, DC
At the time of meeting Bill, I had a business idea of creating applications for mobile phones that will help people in developing countries. During the weeks following our first meeting, Bill provided assistance as I prepared to present "Investment Opportunities in Mobile Applications" at the U.S.-Uzbekistan Investment Summit in New York City. Another bond Bill and I shared is he served on the board of directors of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce and I was a board member of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

While he regularly understated his professional experiences, our relationship provided me with the opportunity to learn from Bill's expansive knowledge. He also demonstrated his passion of being a lifelong learner. Despite having little knowledge of information and communication technology (ICT) and limited experience of using a computer beyond checking email, reading news articles, and watching online video of the Holy Cross Crusaders football team (he played for the Crusaders from 1959-1961), Bill understood the potential benefits of ICT tools such as mobile phones could bring to people worldwide. He also comprehended that although the mobile phone is a useful device, developing localized content is essential to delivering the full value of mobile technology.

Bill had experience working with a business that delivered foreign language programs and I had experience working with some of the world's biggest technology companies. We also understood the business opportunities that an economically rising China could provide for any business that developed localized content for mobile devices. Bill recommended that I meet Steve Drake of Silver Spring, Md., who possesses an impressive resume as a communications executive including many years working in China. During our first few meetings together, Bill, Steve, and I pooled our respective expertise and refined the concept of developing localized content and services optimized for mobile phones and portable computers, providing instant access to valuable, life-improving knowledge.

Similar to my experience of first meeting Bill, I developed an instant connection with Steve who understood the opportunities and challenges of international business. And like Bill, Steve knows the value of learning and teaching new ideas and concepts. It seemed natural for the three of us to form a company (ROI3, Inc.) where our mission was to empower people in emerging economies through innovative, technology-based solutions​. In doing so, I learned the importance of having a shared vision for the company's product and mission. It is also important to define the roles for the founders including equity ownership early in the company's existence.

Leading a startup is stressful dealing with a steady barrage of challenges to overcome and problems to fix. During the most stressful days, Bill's positive attitude, optimism, kindness, and respect were sources of comfort. I also appreciated the generosity of his time. And when a decision was made earlier this year to change the course of ROI3's strategic direction, Bill provided his support. His optimism for our company provided the confidence and clarity I needed to stay focused on the long-term vision and goals.

Bill (far left) with our colleague,
Jingyan Zhang (second from right)
and her parents,
and Steve Drake (far right)
But it was Bill's friendship that I valued most. We often had differing political views, but always respected each other and took time to learn from one another. Bill taught me the meaning of empathy.

We were fans of various sports including American football (although I overlooked his flaw of supporting the New England Patriots as I am a lifelong Denver Broncos fan and adopted the Seattle Seahawks as my home team). Yet, Bill never gloated after each of New England's three Super Bowl wins (including the Patriots' win over the Seahawks in 2015) during the ten years I knew him.

He appreciated my thoughts about the latest announcements by global tech companies and I sought his opinion about public policy and legislative proposals, whether they were introduced by local, state or federal governments.

Most importantly, Bill and I saw each other as friends first and colleagues second.

Bill, while you may not have realized it, you made a difference in the lives of many people. You provided a sense of calmness when I needed it by helping me analyze a problem and formulate a solution. And when decisions were made about our company that you did not agree with, your respect and support were steadfast. You taught me that attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. And the choices I make will make me who I am. I will choose wisely, my friend.

Thank you and God bless.


The obituary below was published in the Washington Post on Sept. 4, 2019.


A former executive with the D.C. based International Center for Language Studies, passed away at his apartment in Northwest Washington on August 18, 2019. Mr. Joern was born in Omaha, Nebraska and grew up mostly on the east coast and Council Bluffs, Iowa. He attended Creighton Prep in Omaha and was a 1962 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA where he played lacrosse and quarterback and safety on the football team. Following college, Mr. Joern taught for a year at the Jesuit High school in Baghdad before returning to Nebraska where he began a career in management with several firms and state agencies, mostly in the healthcare sector. In the late 1970s, he moved to Washington, D.C. and continued his career in business management with several companies until 2008. Before and after 2008, during his time in DC, he was active on a number of boards including the Nebraska Society where he served a term as president, the Afgan-American [sic] Chamber of Commerce and ROI3, Inc. where served as Executive Chairman. He is survived by a sister, Judy Ryan, of Loveland, CO; and two brothers, Steve Joern of Wyckoff, NJ and James Joern of Schroon Lake, NY; as well as by numerous nieces and nephews. A memorial donation can be made to Creighton Prep, Alumni Director, 7400 Western Ave., Omaha, NE 68114, designate: "Creighton Prep Fontenelle Class of 57 Fund". A Memorial Service will be held in the near future.

August 12, 2019

Report Explores How Finance and Procurement Executives Should Adapt to Technology Innovation and Shifting Dynamics of Global Trade

"Technology innovation and the shifting dynamics of global trade are challenging businesses in every sector to adapt," says a report written by The Economist Intelligence Unit. "This pressure is felt as much by the finance and procurement functions as any other, and their preparedness for emerging trends will greatly influence their organizations' ability to thrive in the future."

Sponsored by Basware, a Finnish software company, Whats now and next for finance and procurement? Automation, digitization and the future of global trade "examines which emerging dimensions of three broad trends—automation, digitization, and shifting trade winds—finance and procurement executives expect will affect their companies most; what their impact will be; and how they have prepared. It is based on a survey of over 400 finance and procurement executives in the US, the UK, France and Germany, as well as in-depth interviews."

The report's key findings include:
The biggest impact of automation will be on internal processes. Respondents expect the automation of payments, procurement processes and supply-chain management to have the greatest impact on their organizations, ahead of artificial intelligence (AI) powered decision-making or decision-making within other key finance and procurement processes.
This will reduce companies' headcounts. The most commonly cited impact of automation is a reduced need for staff, as identified by 36% of respondents. A smaller headcount will be performing higher skilled tasks, with nearly as many respondents (34%) believing that automation will free up time for them to focus on more strategic initiatives.
Headcount will be counterbalanced by increases in technology investment and digital initiatives. The most common way for survey participants to prepare for automation is to increase their technology budgets, a strategy adopted by 39% of respondents. This was also true of digitization.
Digitization will reduce overall costs but also intensify competition for talent, respondents believe. Just under a third (32%) expect digitization to bring down costs, the second most commonly expected impact, but almost as many (31%) agree that recruiting employees with specialist digital skills will be critical to unlocking digital transformation in their organizations.
China-US trade relations and post-Brexit trade negotiations loom large. These are seen as the two most impactful trade trends by a majority of the finance and procurement executives surveyed. They expect trade dynamics to have negative effects, most commonly an increase in procurement costs (35%) and greater supply-chain complexity (29%).
This is forcing companies to look further afield for growth. The most popular way to prepare for shifting trends in global trade, the survey shows, is to develop alternative sourcing options (37%). Securing alternative sales leads/ markets (32%) is another common response.
Companies cannot predict the future but they can prepare to adapt. A common thread linking preparations that companies have taken for automation, digitization and global trade dynamics is the ability to be responsive to whatever fate may throw at them.
The report concludes that "[t]he confidence among finance and procurement executives in their ability to adapt to automation, digitization, and global trade trends is encouraging. Although no-one can predict the future with certainty, the survey reveals that these functions have at least considered and, in many cases, made explicit preparations for potentially disruptive trends ranging from robotic process automation to Brexit."

Importantly, "while companies cannot predict the future, they can prepare themselves to be responsive to whatever fate might throw at them."

How should finance and procurement executives prepare for the most important trends shaping their future?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.