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Star gazing at NorthStar

Star gazing at NorthStar


Collin Cohen, president of US wealth management outfit NorthStar Systems, says the last gadget he bought was a home planetarium. He takes Finextra's two-minute test.

Date and place of birth: 1963, Dallas, Texas
Menlo Park, California
Marital status:
BA from Stanford University and a MBA Harvard Business School
Career path:
From cutting grass to Xerox Memorywriters to consulting to private equity to an operating executive. Previous roles include executive vice president at Advent Software, principal at private equity outfit AIP and management consultant at Bain and Company.
Current posts:
Joined NorthStar Systems International as president in 2004.

What was your first job?
Lawn care, otherwise known then as cutting and raking grass.

Who is or was your mentor?
A close friend who I worked with at Bain and my wife. Both tell me what I should hear, not what I necessarily want to hear.

Which business leaders do you most admire?
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It is challenging to lead a small company. It is challenging to lead a big company. To be able to do both successfully is very impressive.

If you weren’t in your current job, which company would you most like to lead?
A major sports franchise, either NBA or NFL.

Do you read books on management theory? If, so which has influenced you the most? Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma and Solution, Larry Bossidy’s Execution, Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm. Change creates opportunity. The Christensen and Moore books are great reads on how to take advantage of those opportunities. But opportunity alone does not yield success. Execution is a critical part of that. Bossidy’s book focuses on how to deliver results.

Which competitors do you benchmark your company's performance against?
We have very few competitors right now, so honestly we benchmark against ourselves (“what can we do better”) and against our prospects' consideration to build instead of buy.

What has been your best experience in business?
Two clients I had at Bain in the early '90s—a large software company and a small biotech products division of a large health products company. The first client showed me the power of culture in an organization and the second client showed me the excitement of the entrepreneurial spirit.

What was your biggest mistake in business?
A couple of acquisitions I was part of…a lot of lessons learned on what to do and what not to do. Good acquisitions usually involve more preparation ahead of the deal. Bad acquisitions usually just have getting the deal done as the main objective.

What keeps you awake at night?
Small companies have plenty of challenges to limit sleep!

How do you relax?
Exercise, piano, spending time with my kids.

What was the last gadget you bought?
A home planetarium for the kids.

Favourite Web site:
Yahoo Sports.

Desert island disc/book:
Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond. This is one of those books that made me think about some things in completely different ways. I rarely read a book more than once (no time!), but this is one I could read again and again and still gain some insights.

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