Profiles: Dana Waldman
Chief Executive Officer at Collinear Networks
Giving Back to GGU in Every Way He Can
Dana Waldman is the principal of the consulting firm that bears his name, frequent adjunct professor in Golden Gate University's MBA and EMBA programs, and chairman of the university Board of Trustees. "It's been extremely gratifying to make a shift in my own life. I started teaching, then I was invited to join the Business School Advisory Board, and finally the Board of Trustees. By then I had a business life and a Golden Gate life."
Waldman started teaching a few classes at the Golden Gate campus where he had earned his degree back when he was a rising star at Loral, a defense company that had bought Ford Aerospace and would later be acquired by Lockheed Martin. Ultimately, he would take the skills he'd acquired and move out on his own, first to lead a large high-tech company, then as CEO of numerous start-ups, and as a consultant. I did that because I was getting pulled in many directions. I've been a turnaround guy, an investor, and a deal maker. I've done liquidation work. I've done a whole lot of things over the years all of which have been leveraging my experience. What I like to do best is to come into companies and help them reinvent themselves into higher growth markets. It's not a lot different than what I used to do in defense; it's the same skill set, and Ive been practicing that skill set for twenty-plus years. The first half, I was practicing it with a big company, now I practice it on lots of companies, but it's basically the same.
After graduating from Tulane with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Waldman came out west to work, eventually ending up at Ford Aerospace. Dana began to rise through the ranks, but while he had demonstrated a lot of natural acumen for business, the young engineer had no formal business education. The big boss took him aside and advised Waldman to formalize his skills and get an MBA to complement his engineering degree, adding, "Call Golden Gate." The next day Dana Waldman did just that.
At the time, Golden Gate had a facility in Los Altos and a cohort-based MBA program was starting. Twenty sleepless months later, Dana Waldman had his MBA. Although his office was still at Loral in the Silicon Valley, much of his work kept him commuting between Washington, D.C. and California. He remembers his biggest problem was communicating with other students about group projects. "Obviously now it's very easy to share documents, but back then it was a real challenge, so I always tell people that it was a great program but I didn't sleep for two years."
Reflecting on his program, Dana observes two distinct perspectives, which he calls the value at the time and the value with some distance. "At the time, I would say I was like a sponge. I was excited to soak up learning and to work on different skills that I didn't have at the time. I had good business acumen and by then I had accomplished quite a bit in my career, but I had not formalized a lot of the skills. It was clear to me that if I was going to continue to advance, there would be some basic blocking and tackling skills that I would need to master. But more importantly, I needed to refine my intuitive business acumen. I also wanted to make the program relevant to what I was doing at work. Each time I had a project, I tried to have some parallel to what was going on at work."
He recalls one business law project in which he decided to write a paper on intellectual property piracy, only to learn that his own company had no such policy in place. "So the next thing you know, I helped put together a task force to develop the company's policy on intellectual property piracy. So I think with an MBA program like the one we have at Golden Gate, where a lot of our students are working professionals, you get out what you put into it."
"The most important thing I got out of the MBA program was a new way to think. In business, you deal with complex multi-variable problems: organizational issues, political issues, technical issues, financial issues, all complicated problems that require you to hone your critical thinking skills. You need the ability to walk into a complicated situation and ascertain which are the top issues that must be addressed, how to put a plan together to address them and how to execute that plan. Those are skills you learn in the MBA program, and they really serve us well in business."
Now he teaches mostly graduate business students and corporate executives who seek his advice on how to guide their companies successfully. He consults with start-up companies as well as those who need to reinvent themselves as a higher growth market. "The work is interesting and crosses virtually all technology markets. I've run all kinds of things from space to voice recognition to optical modules to media and technology to social networking. You get lucky sometimes, but you also have to recognize when an opportunity is in front of you, and that sometimes is the hardest thing to do. Many times things that don't look like opportunities actually are. Then you have to do something about it -- take some action and work your fanny off."
GGU President Dan Angel got to know Dana early after his arrival in the Spring of 2007. Dana was tapped to be the alumni representative of the Presidents Blue Horizons Team. In just four months, that team of twenty people developed new programs for the university that have brought in more than a million dollars in new revenue. Dana was a big part of that success, so Dan called on his leadership again and again. Eventually Dana was invited to join the Board of Trustees where he served as chairman.