I have had the opportunity to do lots of fun things in the past few months and going skiing this past week with Howard, Razmik and Frank in Meribel, France (map) was one of them. Howard Shao co-founded Documentum with me in 1990 and recently retired from EMC in January. I missed Howard’s massive retirement party while I was in Davos and it was good to be able to catch up with him in France. Razmik Abnous is now CTO of EMC’s Content Management and Archiving Division and it was Razmik who won the apartment that we stayed in as part of a charity auction. Frank Chao joined Documentum when I left for the UK in 1995 and now heads up the product development organization of the same division. Howard, Razmik, Frank and I used to work very closely while at Documentum and in some ways it seemed like nothing had changed.
Also joining us was two of Razmik’s friends, George Aviet and Robert Petrossian. George, Robert and Razmik are Armenian as am I being one-quarter Armenian. George, Robert and Razmik have been friends for a long time and all of them are very personable. Robert was most recently CEO of Siderean Software. George owns Chez TJ in Mountain View, one of the few Michelin star restaurants in the Bay Area. George has some amazing and horrifying stories to tell and I am impressed that he has such a positive outlook on life. Chez TJ is close enough to Google that George was complaining about the culinary brain drain that the Googleplex is creating as they pay for everyone's food.
Meribel is the central of the Three Valleys of the Savoy region of France. I had not been skiing since going with Howard in 2000 and prior to that, I stopped skiing in Tahoe back in 1986. Howard has been training as an expert skier for the last few years and has even qualified as a ski instructor because he wanted better discounts on ski equipment. (Awfully expensive way of getting a 20% discount!) Razmik owns a house up at Tahoe and has been skiing a lot lately. George was a pretty good skier and always seemed to be at the front. Razmik assured me that Robert was at about the same level as me, but he seemed to be able to do a lot more and better skiing than me. Frank skis once or twice a year, but we seemed to be about level, probably because we have been working too much and have not had as much time to work out.
While we were there, the weather couldn’t have been better. There was a heavy snowfall the week before and we had nice sunny weather the whole time. The first day we probably overdid it going over to Les Menuires for the day and doing what was for me the long traversal back. On Tuesday, we were joined by the Directors of Marketing and Development from AskOnce, the search aggregation engine that Documentum purchased from Xerox a couple of years ago. These guys were really good, ski all the time and raced competitively. I was really sore that day and going down the red runs was extremely difficult for me, so I couldn’t really keep up. Everyone except for Frank and I went off to Val Thorens which was higher and had better snow.
Somehow I was picking up some of the hints that Howard was giving me and the rest of us. I think everyone learned something from Howard that made them a better skier during the week. I took Wednesday off, which gave me time to reflect on what I was doing wrong and to let my legs recover. Everyone else skied the upmarket, but relatively easy Courchevel that day. On Thursday, we skied Val Thorens, which was one of the best. Howard described it as the desert day - cover the best parts. On Friday, we took it easy in Courchevel.
The evenings we talked and ate great French food, particularly the Savoyard food, which is similar to Swiss and rich with meat and cheese. We tended to crash out in the evenings from sheer exhaustion and is good sign of middle aged men acting their age. Somehow we all ended up spending too much time on our laptops keeping up with email and such like the workaholics we are, even Howard who is supposed to be retired. A couple of evenings, Howard would show us pictures from his round the world skiing adventures. Howard’s objective is to be skiing all the time, including the North American summer by going down to Chile. Now that Howard is retired he plans to go Heli-skiing in Alaska off 50 degree pistes, fly Buccaneer low-altitude fighter bombers, MiG 29’s Russian fighter jets and sip Champagne on the South Pole. Later in the summer, he will be taking his family on a European vacation. He will be retired, but busy. Howard still has a lot of energy, so I can’t imagine him being retired forever.
During dinner and back at the flat our conversations ranged from vacations, to politics, the war in Iraq, schools, kids and the local women after being egged on by George. Some of the discussions were very philosophical and I miss having deep discussions like that. We didn’t talk about content management much except for the last day and I’ll cover that in another blog. There was some general curiosity around open source. Overall, we just had a great time. I wish we had done this back when I lived in the bay area and was much younger. I guess we were just too busy in those days.