I am a native Californian whose character and values are a product of the Carlsbad community and ultimately refined by a host of business and globally-lived experiences. I bring to the table a fresh set of eyes to address my hometown issues that combine an unparalleled combination of unique multicultural perspectives and in-depth local knowledge.
Where there was virtually nothing but open space and tomato/strawberry fields between my backyard on Steven Circle all the way to Palomar College. My neighborhood was populated by children in almost every household so there was never a lack of friends for pickup games of football, baseball....or rock fights out in the canyons. We played baseball at Chase Field and spent our summers at what was then the Boys Club. That Boys Club association popped back up in my life approximately forty-eight years after the picture below was taken and I think published in the Carlsbad Journal.
Around 2015 Greg Nelson spearheaded the publishing of a book called "50 Years of the Carlsbad Boys & Girls Club." That picture was used for the book's promotion and, at first I didn't even notice it. It came to my attention a 2nd time and what caught my eye was the shirt. I thought, "I had a shirt like that when I was young." It was only then that I looked more closely at the picture and realized it was ME when I must have been about 7 years old, around 1967-8, with a community leader at the time, Tony Mata. My education commenced at Buena Vista, with a brief stop at Magnolia, before going on to Valley Junior High and Carlsbad High School, where I had Buddy Lewis as a teacher before he became the Mayor of Carlsbad.
When my father, the late Dr. Tom Curtin, served on the School Board, he was one of the few Ophthalmologists in North County so I grew up with a generation of kids for whom he was their eye doctor.
My father had been a member of Carlsbad Rotary for as long as I could remember and one of Rotary's most successful programs has always been its Youth Exchange programs. My family hosted a number of students for a short time each year and that was how I was introduced and, indeed, became infatuated with foreign cultures. So, at 17 when I graduated, I had saved enough money to promptly go to Europe and travel for months visiting all the students I could that I had met over the years. I came back to the US but my desire to live in Europe had only been heightened by my first post high school year experience there. So, I managed to find a student exchange program and I spent the next year living with an incredibly wonderful family in a city in Finland, on the border of the Soviet Union. That was an exceptionally formative experience to live on the East-West divide during the Cold War and to actually be able to visit the Soviet Union as an American and see with my own eyes what I'd only been able to read about previously.
Ready to embark on my university education in a way that I would never have appreciated had I not had that international experience that forever altered my perspective on life. I attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and got degrees in European Studies, Political Science and History. Down the road in 1992, while working at Hughes Aircraft, I earned an Executive Education Certificate in International Business from the University of San Diego. At LMU I was first exposed to an African author that would later figure prominently in my life. On a course reading list was Chinua Achebe’s internationally acclaimed novel, “A Man of the People.” I immediately took to that book because I felt an instant affinity to the title, as I had already in my young life considered myself “a man of the people.” During this time in LA, because of my Finnish language and cultural experience, I worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee at the 1984 Olympics as a Liaison for Finnish Olympic Team, which was an obviously unique and interesting life experience.
While attending LMU, I got a job with a startup airline that would soon start flying out of nearby LAX, Pacific East Air. I remained with the company through its entire lifecycle, from birth to death, one week shy of their 2nd anniversary. I was fortunate in a small airline to perform almost every possible job except for flying and maintaining the planes, so, in a very real sense, I received a crash course in the airline business. Also while in Los Angeles, I met a woman from Carlsbad with whom I had gone to school and we ended up getting married even before I graduated. We knew we wanted to have children early in our lives so I managed to get a job with great benefits at Hughes Aircraft Company in Irvine. At the time, Hughes was the acknowledged leader in global defense electronics, and it was a unique company in the Defense industry. It was there that my insatiable curiosity for advanced technology was nurtured because, on the peripheries of its established Defense business lines, it was an endless series of laboratories that existed because of Howard Hughes' infatuation with inventing new technology. I was fortunate to be put through a Management rotation program that afforded me practical experience in different areas of the company on an annual basis. During those years at Hughes, we were blessed with two wonderful children.
I pursued an opportunity to join a subsidiary of Hughes that had been spun off in order to attract a commercial joint venture partner. Hughes was known for its technology but we were acutely aware that, to be successful, we had to partner with an established electronics firm with expertise in high volume, low cost manufacturing. After more than a year of road shows with every major consumer electronics firm in the world, we consummated a joint venture with JVC that resulted in Hughes-JVC Technology Corporation, which was based in Carlsbad. I spent the next couple years as the International Sales Manager for the joint venture, setting up worldwide distribution. I was eventually lured away by a headhunter and hired as the North American Division Manager of Mitsubishi’s Large Screen Video Display Division, headquartered in Atlanta, GA. In a sense this was a dream job for any sports fan as the customer base for the product consisted entirely of sports stadiums and arenas. In looking to dramatically expand the market, I worked with an outside partner developing an ambitious plan to capture most of the college football stadium market. We took the plan to Tokyo to pitch Mitsubishi Electronics headquarters since it required a considerable internal financial commitment that would be offset by ad revenues. Mitsubishi ended up passing on the deal and, within a few weeks I resigned from Mitsubishi and brought the deal to Sony and within a week they committed more than $120 Million to the project and we raised $3 Million in venture funding to launch GameDay Sports Network in 1995. As a co-Founder and V.P. of Operations, we began in earnest to build out the network. GameDay Sports Network was subsequently acquired in 1999 by Microsoft co-Founder Paul Allen’s Action Sports Media.
I was invited to give a lecture on “Management Issues Related to Multinational Joint Ventures” to the Finnish Institute of Foreign Trade IBE Seminar. I had met Esther Dyson following the publication of her bestselling book, Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age. Esther was one of the most influential women in the world during the early internet era and she became the founding Chairperson of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is a global nonprofit responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the Internet, ensuring the network's stable and secure operation. Soon thereafter, Esther invited me to join the ICANN Board as a Member-At-Large. It was during this collaborative period that Esther suggested I take a look at one of the companies in her investment portfolio. Esther was also the Chairperson of her boutique venture capital firm, EDventure Holdings, which focused on startup technology companies in Russia and Eastern Europe. EDventure Holdings was in with a consortium of international VCs and had invested about $40 M to date in Trustworks Systems, an end-to-end network security software company, whose technology came out of the former Soviet Union’s low level space communications program. Though the company’s headquarters had been moved out of Moscow to the Netherlands, there were still approximately 100 programmers in Zelenograd, a formerly closed military suburb of Moscow. Esther felt that my Defense industry background, combined with my global experience would be a good fit to chart the company’s course through the post “dot com crash,” so, following extensive interviews, I proved to be acceptable to all the VCs involved and moved to the Netherlands.
I tremendously enjoyed life in the Netherlands
So when my contract was up I already had my next gig lined up. I was hired by a new set of VCs, led by London-based 3i, to take over Wellance B.V., a struggling secure document exchange company that, early in its history, had secured a pilot installation with a prestigious anchor customer, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. I was tasked to assess the remnants of the company and product after $20 Million in investment capital had been burned. I slashed costs to buy time to explore a trade sale. The M&A market for software companies was depressed at the time, so a proposed trade sale yielded no interest at any reasonable price. In the end, I wound down company operations without litigation and maximum possible shareholder return.
Was with Tele-Holding International, the leading provider of audiotext services in Europe and the Middle East at the time. I was brought in to review operations at its newly acquired, but financially ailing equipment provider subsidiary in the U.S. After a thorough on-site review of operations, I worked with both management teams to bring about necessary changes to more efficiently align processes and relationships in support of group-wide operations and corporate goals, resulting in a revenue increase from $1M to $7M in less than 2 years. Though I’ve maintained an almost constant stream of consulting and advisory roles since that time, I functionally retired in 2003, when I was invited by an African businessman friend to go on a trip to sub-Saharan Africa. I had been on every continent on the planet except Antarctica, and visited most countries, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, and now I had that opportunity. We spent the first month in Ghana meeting with a number of federal Ministers, including then- President Kufuor, and discussed possible projects for my friend’s companies.
We started down the same path, but after a few weeks my friend was called back to Europe. I was fascinated by what I was experiencing so I opted to stay. Of all the places I had been on the planet, it was clear to me that sub-Saharan Africa needed more help than any other place I’d ever been. The culture was so vastly different from anything I’d ever experienced and, for the first time in my life, I experienced life first hand as an extreme racial minority, which indelibly impacted my perspective. Over the next few years I assisted the Secretary General of NASME (Nigerian Association of Small/Medium Enterprises) in developing training programs and policies for the enhancement of sector capabilities. I worked with numerous individual businessmen to advance their financial management capabilities and international business acumen. And in my privileged position as a white foreigner, I stood up with my African friends against police and bureaucratic violations of civil and human rights. In the process I was shot at and illegally detained, so I have experienced the struggle for democracy and human decency firsthand. Along the way I made lifelong friends. One of them was a regular tablemate at a place I visited most evenings, the Eagle Club, which had originally been a private club for English Colonial Officers. After independence from England, the club had been transformed into a club for Nigerians and early in my stay I had been invited to join. At the “table” I had been invited to join sat some highly educated folks, each providing a unique window for me to view various aspects of Nigerian society. The nightly discussions and debates about every imaginable domestic and international topic were some of the most fascinating times I had in Africa. One of our regular tablemates who became a lifelong friend was the Chief-of-Staff to the then Governor of Lagos State. Tunde Fashola was a young, but already highly accomplished attorney, who would later become Governor of Lagos State himself and the current Federal Minister for Power, Works and Housing. Bear in mind that Lagos, the capital of Lagos State, according to UN data is forecast to be the largest metropolitan area on earth at 50 million inhabitiants by 2050. So, the Lagos State Governor who I knew during my stay, Bola Tinubu, is now one of the two main contenders for President in next February’s Presidential election in Nigeria.
I finally had to come back to the US for a needed surgery in 2007. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was back in Carlsbad for good.
After a lengthy period of rehab following the surgery, I embarked on a life of service in retirement. I was drawn to Rotary, in part because it was something I could share with my aging father, but also because of Rotary’s global focus on polio eradication. When I had arrived in sub-Saharan Africa years before, I saw what I thought was an unusually large population with birth defects. I didn’t realize at the time that I was looking at polio, a disease I had never really seen before. When I thought back on my life in the developed world, I had known a few older people that had some residual physical effects from exposure to polio as a child but those were largely invisible to me, unlike in Africa where you could not escape seeing it all around you. Rotary International committed in 1987 to eradicate polio from the planet and today, thanks in large part to the efforts of Rotarians worldwide, polio is endemic in only 2 countries in the world: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Because it’s a non-religious, non-political organization dedicated to service, simply to doing good in the world. I’ve been President of my Club for 2 years and, following that, I was an Assistant District Governor for the next 5 years. That service ended a couple years ago so I’m back to being just a regular Rotarian. In 2014 I noticed that the City put out a notice about the upcoming Carlsbad Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Academy starting in 2015. It seemed like a great way to give back to my city and local community, so I ended up getting selected for that Academy class and completed the training. This was a year after the “Poinsettia Fire,” so we haven’t had a large-scale activation in the city since, but we constantly train for the inevitable and I’ve always tried to participate in the CERT community outreach efforts at our Village Fairs and other community events.
Since coming back to Carlsbad, I was reunited with one of my “first loves,” the ocean. I hadn’t surfed since I was a kid, but I still loved the thought of it, so I saw an opportunity to participate in the sport in a different way – I became an International Surfing Association Certified International Surf Judge, starting at Level 1.
At my age, I also rediscovered something I had loved earlier in life also, fishing. I happened upon a surf fishing online forum and I was “hooked!” For years, I’ve spent many an evening walking every inch of Carlsbad beaches surf fishing and have caught almost every species imaginable. This one was probably my Personal Best, a 20 lb. Halibut.
Another volunteer activity that had kept me busy is serving on the Board of the San Diego Section of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 95 corporate members, AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. I have been a longtime member of AIAA and a few years back, I noticed that the San Diego Section was looking to replace a longtime member on the Board who had served as the regional Public Policy Director, so I took on that challenge.
Coincidentally, I had become more active in the AIAA community the last couple years because I always had figured I had one last startup in me and I had become extremely interested in the challenge that Space Debris posed to the future of space travel and operations. If I was going to work full time again, it had to be on something that really made a global impact, and I thought that the Space Debris problem had all the attributes I was looking for. I had been working with a couple of Physicists, one of which is a real “rocket scientist” out of MIT, on possible solutions for addressing the growing problem of debris that’s littering earth’s usable orbits. It’s an exceptionally complex problem to address, but we had come up with a few ideas that we were working on. This would take a few years of R&D to prove our ideas and events in Carlsbad had overtaken Space Debris on my priority list. Without any competitive solutions on the horizon, I decided that I could put the startup on hold and do the previously unthinkable – run for Mayor of Carlsbad.
And, when I’m not doing all that, I’m the “Grandpa” to my adorable granddaughter, Runa!