Image of Ryan with a mountain and cruise ship in the background

05/19/2021

Ryan—an adventurous spirit cruises into 2A

By Forsyth Alexander

Image of Ryan with a mountain and cruise ship in the background

Image by Brandon Conboy

“I didn’t want to get complacent.”

Ryan Walsh was working as a client services analyst for a financial firm in 2014. He enjoyed asset management and helping customers, his earnings statements were solid, and he had plenty of time off. Many financial analysts in his position would have cruised along, enjoying the good life. But not Ryan. It was time to change things up before complacency set in.

And that’s how he and his wife ended up in Seattle, he as an MBA student and she in the speech pathology program, all part of a new adventure that would eventually lead him to 2A.

Choose your own adventure

Ryan comes by this sense of adventure naturally. When he was young, his mother struck out on a new path with her own medical transcription company, and Ryan learned a lot from her. His love of new and daring experiences plays out in every aspect of his life. It includes enjoying video games full of quests and excursions, and not only trying the different foods available in Seattle with his wife, but also introducing some of it to his two-year-old son. He and his family also take walks all around Seattle just to see what’s out there. Then, there’s his excitement over cutting-edge technology like IoT, digital twinning, and augmented reality (AR).

But his interest in technology is focused on how it can help people and customers. For example, he recently told me, “IoT is an incredibly exciting field – the use cases I’ve seen in my short time here have been incredibly varied, seemingly limitless, and have the potential to solve so many problems and improve people’s health, experiences, and lives.”

“Don’t just stand there, say nice things to me”

This quote from “Push,” by Matchbox Twenty, one of Ryan’s favorite bands, sums up how Ryan took his innate ability to relate to customers and their problems and applied it to his career. With MBA in hand, he embarked on a great adventure with a cruise line. He helped with the launches of the line’s iOS and Android mobile apps, co-branded credit card, gift card program, flight sales tool, and immersive cruises. He also designed and implemented organization-wide customer feedback management capabilities, including improving a web feedback program so that they could research and adjust ways of working based on customer expectations and needs.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Ryan led a cross-functional voice of the customer (VoC) team to understand how COVID-19 affected customer behavior and sentiment. This included researching booking, purchase behavior and willingness to travel. He also examined pain points, trends, opportunities, and potential business drivers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic eventually became too much for the cruise industry.

Welcome aboard, Ryan!

You can’t keep an adventure seeker like Ryan down. In June 2020, he said bon voyage to the cruise line and joined 2A as an embedded consultant, serving as the business manager for two different sales teams in the Microsoft IoT organization. He’s thriving in this role. “I’m assisting the field with reporting and insights, helping drive process and organizational transformation, documenting and communicating best practices so we can better serve our partners, and identifying compelling ways to tell our IoT story. Most of the time, we’re working on 20 different things, and I have to ruthlessly prioritize. I get to identify what’s most impactful and work on that.”

At 2A, we’re glad to have our modern-day Indiana Jones aboard as he designs great adventures for his IoT teams at Microsoft.

Back to the future, Part Lin

04/22/2021

Back to the future, Part Lin

By Forsyth Alexander

Back to the future, Part Lin

Image by Rachel Sacks

2A embedded consultant Lin Martinez’s three favorite movies are Back to the Future, Parts 1, 2, and 3. How she ended up at 2A has an intriguingly similar storyline. Lin came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 27. In 2008, she started working for a Microsoft vendor, happily collaborating with clients on clear scopes of work and then focusing on projects. In an interesting twist of fate, she met Renato Agrella, future 2A founder and partner. They bonded over their shared Latin American connection and established a friendly, professional relationship because they kept bumping into each other at events.

During this time, she also met Laura Templeton. Laura is now an ace 2A consultant, but in those days, she was a Microsoft consultant. Laura hired Lin for her contracts, and Lin switched projects. Little did Renato, Lin, or Laura know at the time what this would mean for Lin’s future.

Time for dancing in the streets—or the YMCA

Lin loves music, especially Juanes, Shakira, and Carlos Diva, and she also loves dancing. In a recent conversation, she told me about how, in Colombia, every holiday is celebrated with dancing and music. “In Colombia, we start the party in the day, and before long, everyone is dancing—sometimes in the street—and it doesn’t stop until very early in the next morning, after people run out of energy,” she told me.

So, when a move to California offered an opportunity to use her love of music and dancing in her career, she grabbed it. As a wellness coach in Redwood City, she learned Zumba, became an instructor, threw her heart and soul into healthy living, and began teaching senior fitness classes. This path led her to a role at the YMCA of Silicon Valley, which took her right back to Washington. There she became the Healthy Living supervisor in 2017 and the Director of Health and Wellness at the Greater Seattle YMCA in August 2020. Then, COVID-19 hit.

Making her way back to you, 2A

Running a health and wellness program during a pandemic became pretty much impossible, and the YMCA cut back on staff. But nothing keeps Lin down for long. Throughout her career changes, she had kept in touch with Renato. When he learned she was in the job market again, he offered her a position at 2A. That’s how she ended up back with Laura and back at Microsoft, helping its Dynamics 365 partner team tell stories through customer successes.

“It was amazing. I didn’t meet anyone in person, and I still haven’t, but we get things done anyway,” she says.

Her positive attitude: Es más fuerte, es más fuerte

In Juanes’s hit, Me Enamora, he sings, “Es más fuerte, es más fuerte,” which translates as “it’s much stronger, it’s much stronger.” This describes Lin’s positive attitude perfectly. When the pandemic kept her from her usual health and wellness routine, she found new joy in walking her dogs, Pinky and Hannah, on a trail near her house. Pinky and Hannah are never far from her side—sometimes you can see them in conference calls—and they keep her grounded and smiling.

“You never know what the future might hold. But if you work hard, help people, and enjoy what you do, something good will always be waiting around the corner,” Lin says. 2A couldn’t agree more—it was great that Lin was waiting around the corner to come “back to the future” and join us right when we needed her.

Image of an elevator with cacao beans, leopards, and exotic birds e

03/24/2021

Elevating Stories #7: A virtual tasting with CRU Chocolate

By Forsyth Alexander

Image of an elevator with cacao beans, leopards, and exotic birds e

Image by Thad Allen

It was Feb. 19, the day of our Elevating Stories and chocolate tasting with Karla McNeill-Rueda and Eddie Houston of CRU Chocolate, and my chocolate had not arrived. Knowing I was going to blog about this event, I wondered if I would be missing something elemental during this talk. As it turns out, the experience was as rich and rewarding as the chocolate I later received and enjoyed.

Caution: border crossing

Karla is from Honduras, a part of the Latin American world that is rich in oral storytelling. My partner has similar skills. He is descended from the pre-Aztec indigenous people who have lived beneath the volcanoes of Citlaltépetl, Iztaccíhuatl, and Popocatépetl in the state of Puebla, Mexico, for centuries, and who speak Nahuatl, an ancient language spoken by Mexicans and Central Americans. Everyone I’ve met from his village of San Miguel are amazing storytellers. My partner’s account of the harrowing trip he took to arrive in the U.S. is a beautiful tale of adventure, suspense, quick wits, and survival. As Karla kept us enraptured with the story of cacao, it dawned on me that it was about crossing borders, too.

We learned that cacao originated in the upper Amazon basin in the Andes; however, it didn’t stay there for long. Just as ancient Andeans left the area that is now Peru to move northward and as ancient people also made their way to the Andes, so did cacao. It was grown and adopted by ancient peoples from Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and other Latin American countries. Karla explained that, over time, cacao and the drinks they made with it came to have special meaning to the indigenous people. For some it was ceremonial; for others, it was a way to share a treat with friends and family.

So how did cacao and chocolate get to the U.S. and Canada? Karla said that the conquistadors fell in love with cacao while ravaging and pillaging Mesoamerica, so they took it back to Spain with them. Spain is where they began adding sugar to cacao to make it sweeter, and that was the predecessor for cocoa and, eventually, bar chocolate. When Spanish settlers traveled from Spain to their settlements in the U.S. and Canada, they brought their beloved chocolate.

As I watched everyone on the call try the drinks, I had an epiphany. The story of chocolate is the story of the Americas—one of crossing borders and sharing. Most interesting of all, however, is that the story hasn’t ended.

Coming full circle

I live outside of Clinton, N.C. (population 8,600), a place that for centuries has been dominated by a white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, tobacco-growing culture. Once perceived as dying, it is now thriving, thanks to Latin American wanderers. On our rural road dotted with family farms, our neighbors on one side are Puerto Rican, and our neighbors on the other side are El Salvadoran.

If you visit El Mercadito Hispano in Clinton, you’ll meet shoppers from Honduras and the Dominican Republic who came here under protected status to work and raise their families. The doctor who performed life-saving surgery on my partner in 2015 is part of a growing Venezuelan community. My partner’s masonry apprentices are Guatemalan. Mexicans from Chiapas and Michoacán work in construction and in the sweet potato fields. They have enriched this area with new traditions and new attitudes.

We are all chocolate

I think more people should get to know the story of cacao. It’s a great example of how our expanding cultural diversity is not a threat but a promise. It’s our nature to wander, no matter our origins, and chocolate reflects that. Think what would have happened if no one had migrated in and out of the Andes. We never would have gotten to experience the joy, wonder, and deliciousness that is chocolate. So, let’s hear it for the wanderers—past and present—who have given so much to this world, and for CRU Chocolate, which uses the history of cacao to shape our experience with chocolate.