Book Review: Private Empire by Steve Coll

Before I give a few thoughts on Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, I want to share the merits of the investigative book’s author, Steve Coll. Mr. Coll is a two time Pulitzer-Prize winning author so I had high expectations for his writing. Private Empire certainly fulfilled my initial bias. With experience writing and leading The Washington Post and the New Yorker, Coll’s narrative about ExxonMobil’s obscene power is both entertaining and informative.

The book is coincidentally released in conjunction with Fortune 500’s 2012 list of largest corporations in America. And who was #1? You guessed it: ExxonMobil. It beat out Wal-Mart. The oil giant achieved $452 billion dollars in revenue in 2011, which is a 27.7% increase from 2010. Part of their surging revenue is due to the company’s increase in fracking, the other is contributed by the rising oil prices.

The first chapter opens with a climactic illustration of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Coll sews Exxon’s corporate expansion into the storyline, which follows the ill-fated oil tanker’s captain. When the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, found oil spilling from the tanker that he had left to his third mate, “he knew that ‘the world as i’d known it had come to an end.'” That was certainly an exciting opening to the book.

I love that the author has extensive quotes from people involved in Exxon. It makes the book read much more like a story than an informational piece. Coll’s language helps put you in the position both as an insider of ExxonMobil, which wants you to sympathize with its corporate agenda, and as an outsider who despises the unfair influence the company has on America and the rest of the word. Throughout reading the book, I found myself Googling images and searching for additional details of some of the unbelievable injustices Coll accuses ExxonMobil of conducting.

In a latter chapter, Coll connects the role ExxonMobil played in the 2008 presidential campaign. Coll claims that Obama criticized ExxonMobil in order to appeal to the average American, who looked down upon the money-hoarding company. However, while Obama spoke about American energy independence, Coll notes that Obama didn’t think it was actually possible nor to the best interest of the country. It will be interesting to see how oil plays into the 2012 elections.

Private Empire is a relevant read. It’s dense, but has enough controversy and shocking facts to be keep you turning the pages.

Dell Social Innovation Challenge Finalist!

Nanoly is 1 of 5 finalists selected out of over 1,500 submissions for the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. I couldn’t be more excited!

Dell’s Social Innovation Challenge aligns precisely with Nanoly’s social mission. Our team is motivated by our goal to bring vaccines to places in the world that traditionally do not receive proper immunization access. This competition is an incredible opportunity for Nanoly to demonstrate our global impact!

The finalist competition is in Austin, Texas from June 8-13. My teammate Peter and I will be traveling to Austin to present to a panel of judges. We’ll keep you updated!

Jack Larson Scholarship for Entrepreneurs

I’m thrilled to receive the 2011-2012 Jack Larson Scholarship for Entrepreneurs! Here I am standing next to Mr. Larson with the other recipients at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship‘s Annual Award Dinner.

A little about Mr. Larson:

In 1994, Mr. Larson founded Career Education Corporation, currently one of the largest for-profit education companies in the United States. Under his leadership, the company’s annual revenues surpassed $2 billion in less than 12 years, and achieved a compound annual growth rate of 44 percent in the last five years. Mr. Larson has recently been named as one of the first inductees to the Hall of Fame at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Haas School of Business Undergraduate Leadership Award

As a recent graduate of the Haas School of Business, it was an absolute honor to receive the Haas Alumni Leadership Award. The Haas community has made such an impact in my decision to pursue entrepreneurship. I am truly thankful to the Haas Alumni Network San Francisco chapter for this scholarship award, especially Mr. Aaron Mendelson, who is the president of the chapter. The award reception was hosted at the incredibly beautiful Autodesk Gallery venue in San Francisco. Doug Leone, head of Sequoia Capital, was the keynote speaker. He shared a very insightful talk on entrepreneurship and venture capital. It was a great way to conclude my studies at Haas!

Speaking about the incredibly positive impact of the Haas community at the Haas Alumni Leadership Award reception

With Doug Leone, head of Sequoia Capital, who was the keynote speaker at the award reception. He is probably the smartest and coolest venture capitalist I’ve ever met.

The award reception was hosted at the beautiful Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco.

Haas Alumni Leadership Award Presentation