Virginia Military Institute — the BEST Mentoring System in the World

Mentoring is/was a fashionable topic amongst the venture capital and startup Illuminati for years. I have written about it for a long time. A good mentor can make a mediocre founder into a winner.

Full disclosure: I run a CEO coaching/mentoring business called The Wisdom of the Campfire and have for a dozen years. I take clients only by referral and personal introduction. I do zero marketing and do not even have a website.

Everybody in startup world had to have a celebrity CEO coach. This was caused by two specific conditions:

 1. Venture capitalists know next to nothing about actually running a business. More than 75% of their investments fail, so what does that tell you?

 2. Young startup founders/CEOs have had zero training in leadership the lingua franca of building even a lemonade stand. Continue reading


In The Company Of Good Men — VMI Class of 1973, 50th Reunion

The test of every relationship is this:

Does it inject energy into your existence; or, does it hijack, kidnap energy from your life?

This is true of personal friendships, marriages, business alliances, employees, mutually owned vacation homes, hunting leases, co-oped airplanes, and all situations in which we flawed humans engage with others of the species.

It took me some time to discover and understand this, but it has served me well for many years. I consider it revealed wisdom.

Which brings me to the subject of wisdom itself. I have said this before:

Wisdom is the exercise of good judgment over a protracted period of time. It must be earned.

Good judgment is the product of experience. It must be done.

Experience entails the exercise of much bad judgment. It must be endured.

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Oddities in the Southern Muse

So, a chap and I are comparing notes on relative college experiences. He went to some placed called Harvard, supposedly a school of some note, but I cannot personally vouch for it.

I tell him I went to Virginia Military Institute, a place founded on 11 November 1839 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia — an idyllic slice of Southern charm — at the height of the Vietnam War.

VMI men ran World War II in the person of General of the Armies George Catlett Marshall, the man Churchill gave the most credit for winning World War II calling him the Architect of Victory.

Stonewall Jackson taught there and Rob’t E Lee is buried on the edge of the campus in Lee Chapel. In the Wave of Wokeness that has swamped the land, Stonewall has gone MIA.

VMI men and, now, women, have fought with distinction in every American war since 1839. We are a handy bunch to have around when the feathers hit the fan.

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RIP Colonel Donald K Jamison

I was blessed to have a wonderful father who shaped me and made me into a young man, but he then sent me to Virginia Military Institute to finish off the job.

I was lucky. I was studying civil engineering and my faculty advisor was Colonel Donald K Jamison.

Colonel Jamison was a civil engineering professor for 40 years, the Department Head for much of that time, the tennis coach, and a mentor (faculty advisor) to a series of very lucky cadets.

He was a friendly face, a port in a storm, but a man who treated you like a man.

We used to get our grades six times per semester during our Rat year. The first time I got a grade in calculus, I got an F.

I had to report to Colonel Jamison to review my grades. All of my grades were good, except for calculus. I just didn’t get calculus. I was trying, but it just wasn’t sinking into my head.

“You’re going home and you’ll never be a civil engineer, won’t get an Army commission if you fail Rat calculus.”

Those were the words he delivered to me. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t scold me. He just laid out what was going to happen.

The draft was on in those days and it meant something else — being drafted when my student status was removed.

I got some help in calculus — assisted by my first class dyke (mentor) who got someone to work with me — and I figured it out in a week. I finished the semester with an A. Once I figured it out, it was easy.

I ended that year #1 in the class academically, which was one Hell of a surprise to me.

“I knew you’d figure it out,” Colonel Jamison said, when I brought him my final grades (which was at the beginning of my second year).

Colonel Jamison inspired confidence in a wiseass 18-year-old who needed that kind of inspiration. After that, I knew what I was capable of and performed at that level.

I got a job in the Fluid Mechanics Lab grading papers and assisting cadets–arranged by Colonel Jamison. That meant I could study in the quiet lab. Colonel Jamison came around at least once a week to check on me. I studied in the same place for four years. He checked up on me for four years.

About fifteen years ago, I wrote Colonel Jamison a letter thanking him for the interest he had taken in me. He remembered every element of my cadetship including an odd discussion as to whether I should jump from the fourth stoop into the laundry truck that was located in the archway four floors below.

Only VMI guys will understand this: I suggested that I would be “out of the Ratline” if I did that. He would say, “Technically, you will be out of the Ratline, but you will have to come talk to me.”

Thank you, Colonel Donald K Jamison for all you did for me. Thank you, VMI, for having attracted such rare men of talent, character, and commitment. This is the secret sauce of VMI.

There are few institutions left in America that teach, develop character. VMI continues to be one of them.

Godspeed, Colonel Jamison. Thank you.


Where Are We From?

So, a pal of mine asked me, “What has shaped your life? Where are you from?”

We were drinking coffee, I swear. He was also a trade school grad (what one calls a fellow military school graduate).

So, I said, “I won the lottery on parents — both of my parents were World War II veterans — and I went to Virginia Military Institute.”

VMI is one of those places that develop you. One of those places that holds you down and stuffs you full of suffering and character. Suffering builds character.

First, they dissassemble you, then they reassemble you from the broken parts, then they fire you in a hot furnace, then they test you, then they throw you out into the world — armed and dangerous — to put to work what they’ve taught you.

Same thing they’ve been doing for almost two centuries.

Come graduation, there will be far fewer graduates than when you matriculated. It is not for everybody and not everybody can make it. It is a stern, unforgiving test and if you graduate you will know that you have accomplished something hard. That hardness will be in you.

You will never have an association as that of your Brother Rats — men who have been through the same furnace and emerged intact.

It all starts right here. From this point on, VMI owns your butt. I was the first Rat — the lovely term they use to refer to freshmen after they shave your head — in my class to “sign the book.”


This is also your last look when you leave. It will still be there fifty year later when you come for your 50th Reunion.

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Real Men

I have been fortunate in life. I have enjoyed the tutelage of extraordinary teachers and had the example of great men starting with my father.

Leonard C Minch, 97, Rest in Peace

One of those men was the boxing coach at my alma mater, Virginia Military Institute. Every cadet took Rat (freshman) boxing. I hate to admit I enjoyed it, though I did bleed more than a little. You will note that the boxers are not wearing headgear. Coach King did not fool around.

The man on the right is Coach Clark King. This picture was taken a few years before I matriculated at VMI, but it could have been my class. That’s exactly the way we looked.

Coach King taught you technique, how to land a punch, how to take a punch, but he taught us all something more — he taught us how to be men, to defend ourselves in a hard world. The Vietnam War was going on at the time.

What I did not know was that Colonel King was a World War II Marine and had been awarded the Silver Star for heroism at Iwo Jima as a Second Lieutenant, platoon commander. The attached citation tells the story.

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These are the kind of men who taught us back in the 1960s. The kind of men who formed us and fired us in a hot furnace called The Virginia Military Institute. I am happy to report that the same transformation is underway as we speak. One of my Brother Rats is the President of the Board of Visitors. The school is run by an incredibly competent leader, General Peay. It is an infinitely better school than when I matriculated.

I am eternally grateful to these men and to my father who nudged me in that direction. [Thanks to fellow alumnus Dee Shannon, for the Citation for Clark King’s Silver Star.]

Real men. I am proud to have been in their company.





The Curious Case of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

Hello, dear readers. It is a gray, warm (70F) day in the ATX. Today, I speak to you of the curious case of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

If you don’t know who Governor Ralph Northam is, then you may stop reading right now, go to Sbux and contemplate the prospect of Howard Schultz as our next President.

Image result for images ralph northam

If you are acquainted with the subject, then read on. [BTW, you are looking very sharp today. Lost weight?]

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The Battle of New Market

Big Red Car here on the anniversary of the Battle of New Market on 15 May 1864. It is a touchstone of the Virginia Military Institute whose cadets stormed Yankee artillery batteries with bayonets across a muddy field which came to be known as the Field of Lost Shoes.

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A vignette from a painting which stands in Jackson Memorial Hall at VMI depicting the successful bayonet charge of the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets on 15 May 1864 in New Market, Virginia whereat they captured Union artillery batteries thereby driving the Union forces from the Shenandoah Valley.

The cadets lost 10 KIA and 47 WIA, but drove Yankee general Franz Siegel out of the Valley of Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley was the “breadbasket of the Confederacy” and its loss would have doomed the South.

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