Kauffman Fellows is saddened to note the passing of one of the program’s founders, Michie Slaughter. Michie worked very closely with Ewing Kauffman at Marion Labs as head of Human Resources for many years. Kauffman Fellows across the world have shared reflections on the impact that Michie had, through the Fellowship program and beyond.
On my first day at Kauffman I was a big nobody and feeling it. I was a scientist transitioning to business and a rookie through and through.
He took me aside and told me that if I acted deferential that “those Harvard kids will eat you up.”
He said, be confident, you’ve got this; there are no points for not portraying the full measure of your value to the world. He took the time to reach out and that meant the world to me, and it was especially helpful advice being a woman in the VC business.
He always responded to my emails and took my calls over the years since we met. On my worst days (and my best) I fondly recall our first interaction and his thoughtful words.
It helps me find my game in tough moments. And in a short career trajectory that has taken me from academic post-doc to managing $1B in charitable investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I am well aware that mentor moments like this one with Michie helped me forge my path. I wouldn’t be what I am without it.
He will be greatly missed.
Michie and I talked briefly during that [fireside chat] event. I was surprised how much his ideas and manners resembled one of my partners, former CEO of Ambev/AB Inbev, Magim Rodrigues, one of the persons I most admire in the world. For that reason I am very sorry to hear that. From the 100+ people we met during the program, Michie is one of the few I truly remember 2 years after.
After completing my Fellowship, I wrote a blog post to help candidates for future classes understand the history and purposes of the Program. A big chunk of that post was taken directly from Michie’s presentation at orientation, the very first that my classmates and I encountered throughout our two-years together. I got several points of Program history wrong, and Michie dutifully contacted me through social media with corrections and additional color. It was as if one of the Founding Fathers himself had reached through the ether to correct an essay I had written on the history of the U.S. Constitution. Michie was a direct connection to the life and values of Mr. K. What he said to me and to my class that day, about the Program, venture capital, and how to serve the needs of entrepreneurs, has guided my career ever since.
I looked forward to seeing Michie every summer for our annual event. He always made it a point to talk to everyone on the team and thank them for their hard work and dedication to the program. I loved his stories, warm smile and his ability to make you feel like an old friend. I remember the first year that he was going to do his fireside chat with our Fellows. I was so nervous about making sure his travel and accommodations were seamless that I asked him if he would prefer a first class seat. I couldn’t believe when he told me, “No way. I fly Southwest and I am not picky about where I stay.” I knew right then and there that we going to get along just great.
As investors we live in a micro-culture that celebrates failure, yet none of us really know how to talk about our failures. We say it’s only through the scar tissue of mistakes that innovators find the resilience to succeed. But, we raise funds touting track-records with selective amnesia of the lapses of judgement, and decision making that led to failures. We humble-brag on panels, blogs, and twitter, but rarely post examples of things that are going completely awry. Michie knew how to talk about failure, and I bet that was a key to his success. I remember being struck by how honestly, patiently, and confidently he shared, his failure as a cattle rancher to a group of Fellows. He made no attempt to spin it—made no apologies, and didn’t even volunteer what he would have done differently. He just shared a piece of his life that didn’t go quite how he had thought it would and suggested that sometimes being an investor is like that. I aspire to be like that, to live in the integrity of my failures.
We all thank Michie for his impact on our lives.
The fireside chat with Michie brought me closer to Ewing Marion Kauffman. Not only do I remember Michie’s anecdotes, but most of all I remember how he shared such anecdotes: with a human warmth of someone who has lived life to the fullest and wants to share as much of it as possible. [For me] as a non-American, he definitely stole a grin when he said “if you have never seen a cowboy, here is one just in front of you, this is what I am today”—which, for a moment under the Palo Alto summer night, brought me back to the John Wayne films I used to watch when I was a kid. Thanks Michie for sharing.
What I most recall of Michie was his warm smile, and his teaching us fellows that building a first-class HR function focused on treating employees well is an important cornerstone in great businesses.
I feel extremely lucky, and very honored, to have had your father give the official “Welcome” to my class of Kauffman Fellows (Class 17), on our first official day in the program. All great companies, and great movements, begin with the origin story, and there was no better person to hear it from than Michie. Through him I learned about the values that he and Mr. Kauffman shared, and which they hoped that we would take forward into our careers as VCs and members of the very special community of Kauffman Fellows. Michie was incredibly inspiring, as:
- someone who had achieved an incredible amount, yet was so humble and down to earth about it,
- someone who was kind and open with his words and ideas,
- and someone who lived and breathed the values which we try to uphold to as we go about our own work helping entrepreneurs create great companies:
- Treat others as you want to be treated.
- Share life’s rewards with those who make them possible.
- Give back to society.
The Kauffman Fellows Program would not exist today without his vision and support in the early years, and for that, and my opportunity to be part of the KFP, I am eternally grateful.
Michie was one of the first people I met at KFP. His first fireside chat during our initial orientation meant a lot to me. I specifically remember him talking about making sure you always dealt with your business partners fairly.
He told us a story about how Marion had signed a contract with a typo in it that was really favorable to Marion, but would have really hurt one of their vendors (It might have been a landlord). When they brought the contract to the attention of Mr. K he immediately wanted to know the original intent of the deal. Once he determined the intent, he unilaterally brought the contract terms back in favor of the vendor. “Moments like that are how reputations get made, and you can take stock of someone’s real ethics,” Michie said. I remember that lesson well.
My memory if Michie is from our first module’s cocktail party…once he figured out that I worked in pharmaceuticals he wanted to know how all these tiny little biotech companies were able to out innovate the big pharmaceutical giants. My answer was that the tiny little companies remembered to focus on their most valuable asset…their people. He said, “Hmm…that sounds familiar.”
I am a member of the Charter Class of Kauffman Fellows, and Michie was one of the first people from the Kauffman Foundation that I met when I arrived in Kansas City. From that first meeting to the last time I spoke with him, I found Michie to be one of the most unique people I have every met. Each time Michie and I spoke, he always brought a perspective that helped me better understand the principles that Mr. Kauffman shared with him. He did so in his own way, with a “homespun” story or a witty saying that would bring his point home.
I especially remember in our first Kauffman Fellows module how he helped us understand the relationship between a mentor and mentee. Michie used clips from the movie “Bull Durham” to show us in just a few minutes what a truly effective mentor can do for his or her mentee (watch the bar scene in the movie, and you’ll know what I mean about Michie being “unique”).
Please know that I will always remember Michie as someone who had a deep impact on me at a critical time in my early days as a venture investor. His approach to business, from my perspective, was based on his profound belief that people are the key. In our first few meetings, I discovered that Michie’s approach aligned perfectly with my own. This gave me confidence that my involvement with the Kauffman Fellows Program, and people like him, would have a deep impact on my life.
Indeed, I learned much from Michie’s unique approach, and my life has definitely been enriched as a result. I extend my warmest regards to Michie’s family, and my heartfelt thanks for sharing so much of Michie with all of us.
former KF Staff
The things that stuck with me the most, that made me come away from Michie’s fireside chat inspired, was understanding what a man of integrity and principle Mr. K was. When times are good, it’s easy to say that one has principles, but if those principles are never challenged, they’re just words. It’s when times are tough, when there are difficult decisions to make (in Mr. K’s case, when doing the right thing went against his immediate financial interests), that one proves that those principles really are part of your character.
Mr. K’s generosity also reflects his character and principles—putting effort and funds into improving his immediate community in areas that he considered valuable to society. He, like men both before him and after him (Soros, Gates, and Buffett come to mind) found that wealth beyond a certain point doesn’t increase personal happiness or fulfillment, but rather that giving wealth away to improve society in some way does. Contrast this attitude with Larry Ellison, who used his wealth most recently to purchase the island of Lanai.
Without Michie’s fireside chat, Mr. K would just have been a historical figure, without any deep understanding of his life and character on my part. I do think of Michie’s talk every now and then, and am always inspired.
Michie was a great storyteller, and I loved his down-to-earth character that—judging by his stories—he shared with Ewing Kauffman.
I was particularly struck by his stories about Mr. Kauffman’s philosophy that “the common man can achieve extraordinary things.” I think that ties in well to the values of the Kauffman Fellows Program—namely, humility and hard work.
It was also refreshing to interact with Michie because of his emphasis on people—that business is all about the people. How you treat them, how you motivate them, how you inspire them. Here in Silicon Valley we sometimes get some wrapped up in the latest technology that we forget it’s great people who make great businesses.
He’ll be missed.
Of all of the great speakers we had, I will admit he was one of the most memorable.
I can’t say that I ever had the pleasure of personally meeting Ewing Marion Kauffman (EMK), but I did have the fortune of meeting Michie Slaughter, who as an exceptional story teller, allowed me the opportunity to understand what I would call “common singularity”…2 words that I put together in my mind, much like the new oxymorons that spring up in contemporary life (e.g. “coopetition” to refer to the seemingly confusing middle ground between cooperation and competition, or “Brangelina” (self-explanatory)).
“Common singularity” refers to the extraordinary or singular impact that common (or modest) humans can have on large groups of people.
To me, both EMK and Michie were men of common singularity: humble, approachable, simpatico, engaging, memorable men whose words, actions and history could have a tangible and enduring effect—especially in an age of fast-on, fast-off and short lived attention spans.
At first, the notion of a “fire-side chat” sounded cheesy, but halfway through the first baritone rendition of EMK’s [Ewing Marion Kauffman] heart trouble as a child (I have a strong cardiac history in my family as well) and EMK’s Navy days (I won’t hold that against him as an Air Force veteran), I wanted to go hiking and camping with Michie. His ability to tell a good story rivaled even the best Hollywood raconteur (and I’m sure Michie would have been paparazzi-worthy in a tux on a red carpet).
I only met your Michie a few times, but much like a comet, he had a singular and durable impact on me. His presence will be palpable and as durable as all of lives he has touched.
I had a one-on-one with Michie when Class 17 started. I told him that I wold like to help more people became entrepreneurs. He told me that I would be taking a big risk to do that because some of them are not right people for that. Now I am more careful doing that. 🙂
Michie was one of the first people that I remember listening to when I started the KFP. It was at the fireside chat, a great event that put the whole program in perspective. He was humble, generous with his time, and always helpful. Although I didn’t get a chance to engage with him a lot, any time I needed advice he was there for me, and I believe for the other fellows. Coming across someone like him is rare and it would be hard for me to separate his smiling face and friendliness from any memories I have from my first day at KFP.
My impression of Michie Slaughter was so memorable and seemed to encompass all that is good about the Kauffman Fellows program. He spoke with passion about his business, compassion for his colleagues, introspection for his past, and vision for the future. A true role model of what we can do to fulfill our own potential and nurture the potential of others. I feel truly grateful to have had that brief glimpse of Michie’s character—the image remains with me as a source of inspiration.
To the Kauffman Fellows: It is really an honor that you gave us this opportunity to remember Mr. Slaughter.
I still remember his talk, i.e., my first class at KFP. My first class was the first time I stepped onto the land of the United States and met all these fantastic people. I thought I would definitely fall asleep in my class, just seven hours after arriving, no matter who spoke in that afternoon—with my 15-hour jet lag and a two-day trip on my way there (my flight got delayed twice due to aircraft problems).
Amazingly, I didn’t.
Mr. Slaughter’s voice was soft, but the story he brought over to us was facinating. I immediately fell in love with Mr. K’s story. Michie’s understandings on Mr. K really inspired me. The authentic entrepreneurship from Mr. K is not only Mr. K’s. It is also a snapshot of Mr. Slaughter. He is the person accompanying and inspiring the “old” Kauffman Fellows, also us. To me, he represented the Kauffman Fellows Program. It was difficult for me to read it, but I did finish reading the thick book about Mr. K, after Michie’s fireside chat with Phil.
It was great.
Along my career down the road, Michie’s talk in that special afternoon, is forever my first class to understand Mr. K and the Kauffman Fellows. Thank you, Michie.
Michie was my mentor during my Kauffman fellowship and afterwards.
Michie was a rock: he had a quiet confidence about him and an absolute authority on people and how to manage them. During my first years in venture capital, I called on Michie to assist me through the transition from technologist into the new world of venture capital. Not only did we talk on the phone on numerous occasions, but he flew down to meet with me and the rest of the team. With his soft-yet-firm approach, he succeeded in teaching us all a thing or two about leadership and management. I still use several of these lessons today.
During our interactions, he made no judgments, and was slow with advice, taking the approach that I could figure things out for myself. I always appreciated the care and thoughtfulness he put into our relationship.
Michie Slaughter—Living Up To A Tradition
I was ushered into a room to be interviewed by a smiling but intimidating man, for a still-to-be-defined “Kauffman Fellowship” in a new institution still in its birth process. Notwithstanding, Michie was in charge. Whenever Michie was present, he was in charge.
He cross-examined me, probed and poked, bore down, tested my will to be there and to remain there. Then he smiled and told me that he understood that I too was from North Carolina. But was I a real Tar Heel? “Do you know where that nickname originated?”
I did. Stretching back for two centuries, North Carolina military units had distinguished themselves in battle. As forestry was one of North Carolina’s leading industries and pine tar a leading export, these soldiers were nicknamed “Tar Heels” for rallying their comrades and standing in battle as though tar stuck their heels to the ground that they held.
“Are you willing to live up to that tradition?”
Michie was addressing the uncertain future of the newly minted Kauffman Fellows Program. He wanted to bring together a group of people who would create together a real bond and fellowship, not just in name. To build a tradition. What he meant by his question was whether or not I was ready to stand and fight for the Fellowship and the Fellows? “I am.”
Well so was he. He led the Fellows Program through the founding years, and when the Kauffman Foundation decided to wind down and discontinue support of the fellowship, he asked me again if I was ready to stand and fight for it with him. We did.
Michie and I never spoke of how we felt about all of this. It wasn’t our “Tar Heel way” together, but he mentored me in a way for which I will forever be grateful.
Michie was a very special man who motivated and inspired many to accomplish great things, and he did it with a combination of warmth and toughness that is rare and exceptional. But of course Michie was a rare and exceptional man. And a real Tar Heel. He lived up to that tradition, and so have his Kauffman Fellows.
The Kauffman Fellows Program has completely changed my life. And I know that it has changed the lives of many others—from the nineteen classes of investors committed to the program, to all the entrepreneurs that have subsequently benefited.I fondly remember when Michie Slaughter came and spoke to my class and shared how the program first started. A truly humble and thoughtful leader, he of course understated his own contributions. But we all knew then, and still know now, that the program would not have been possible without him. For that, I am thankful.
Well, I remember being completely terrified to start the program. Everyone around me seemed so sharp, articulate, outspoken, and confident.
To be honest, I didn’t completely pay attention to what Michie presented because I was so nervous!
But afterwards Michie made an effort to say hi to me. He had this kind of warm welcoming presence that was very memorable.
Michie was the living personification of the values that inspired Mr. K and the creation of the Fellows Program. He, along with Dr. Jeffry Timmons, were our “true north” mentors and advisors. Whenever there was a question about the future direction of our program, Michie was always there as a cheerleader and supporter to remind us of the importance of entrepreneurship to the world and the impact our program could have. I have met many people in my life but few that have influenced me and inspired me as deeply as Michie.
My fireside chat with him about the founding of the program will go down as my single favorite session in the history of the Fellows Program. He will be sorely missed but always remembered. His legacy, along with Jeff’s, will continue to impact entrepreneurship for many generations to come.
I first met Michie when he interviewed me as a Finalist for the Charter Class of Fellows. He was CEO of the relatively new Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and I was surprised with the level of interest he took in the fledgling Kauffman Fellows Program. While I was very nervous with the two-on-one, tag-team interview format, he quickly put me at ease with his native southern charm and calm demeanor. It turned out to be a very enjoyable interview—one I distinctly remember almost 20 years later.
Michie subsequently became my assigned mentor, back when the Foundation had a formally matched staff with Fellows. Being in the same city, we often went to lunch where I sought out his advice on challenging situations. During these times I got to see the candid, tougher side of Michie, offering up advice like “if you want to be appreciated, get a dog.” I recruited him to serve on the board of an early-stage company and witnessed how principled he was in his decision-making, always focused on doing the right thing, and never one to compromise ethics or principle for short-term gain.
I kept in touch with Michie over the years, including recent times when his health issues represented a significant personal challenge. I was always amazed by his optimism and positive attitude, and how he kept active in so many activities. He was a man of many interests and talents, known as an accomplished executive, entrepreneur, investor, rancher, golfer, dedicated family man and advisor and mentor to many. He has positively impacted many in is life, including myself, and will be missed.