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Special：Xing Talk-Celebrities Interview
I did my homework before interviewing Bill Brown, a Duke Law alum, and I was dizzied by his resume. He is ambitious and clearly an overachiever. After education in MIT and Duke, he practiced law for 10 years in the Big Apple, and then had a stellar career on Wall Street. Brown has held leadership positions at two most prestigious financial powerhouses: Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Last year, he became his own boss-started his venture capital fund and meanwhile taught at Duke Law, where his teaching focuses on business law, business planning, capital markets and corporate finance.
Zong: Bill, thanks for taking my interview. I have two words to comment on your experience. The first one is “versatile” and the second “restless”. Seems to me you always like to find something new and challenging.
Brown: “Curiosity” is a more accurate word to use. (A hearty laugh)
Zong: You studied biology and political science at MIT before attending Duke Law School. Just curious what did you want to do at that time?
Brown: I grew up in the mountainous region of western North Carolina. When I was 12, I saw a program on TV that sparked my curiosity in growing up to become a nuclear scientist. I asked my father, “How can I do that?” My father said, “you must go to a very good school.” “Like where?” I asked “MIT, but that's very difficult to get into.” From that moment in my life, I decided that I was going to MIT.
So I went to MIT. I was very focused on math and science, and I had not planned to do much writing or literature. I was majoring in biology, but as I started to take more courses, I realized there was more in the world than math and science. It was a political science course that opened my eyes. As we got deep into the political theory, we were no longer in worlds of black and white, but in complicated worlds where there no certain answers. That was very stimulating.
I also developed an interest in writing software. I enjoyed the elegance and the challenges. But software design was not viewed as real engineering when I was in school. Hardware was the big focus. Looking back, the mid 70s was the time that the software boom started.
Zong: Bill Gates founded Microsoft in the middle of 1970s and now he is Harvard's most successful dropout. Is this your regret in retrospect?
Brown: Perhaps. Maybe I missed a career in software, but MIT was a great place to learn so many other things. I took courses in art, in music, in urban planning and in creative writing. I would take course overloads, and I enjoyed learning.
Of all my pursuits at MIT, writing came as the hardest. In part, my decision to go to law school was because I wanted to improve my writing. The other draw was the nature of law itself. It can be both abstract and applied, it is key to building societies and it lies at the cross-roads of business, government and private lives. Fascinating!
Zong: I can certainly see that you are a very competitive person and you want to prove to people you are capable.
Brown: I have never accepted that I am not capable of doing something. Too often “aptitude problems” are merely “attitude problems.” If I feel that I am weak in something, I consider it as a call. I am my own biggest challenger.
Zong: That's a great attitude. Edison has a famous expression “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”