June 2024 – A month of colleague reunions

The month of June, 2024 has turned out to be a time for reunion with colleagues. One of the most rewarding aspects of a professional career, in my opinion, is the relationships one is able to establish. Such relationships tend to be deep and meaningful because they are formed as a result of working with others toward a common goal. During the process, it is natural to share other aspects of life – celebrating, sometimes grieving, or just spending time together. The reunions I experienced this June reminded me of the times I shared with some special people, and made me appreciate even more how these folks have enriched my life.

First stop: Milan, Italy

My June reunions actually began at the end of May with a trip to Italy. Kishna and I traveled there to attend a wedding (more on that in a moment), but prior to that event we spent a few days in Milan visiting friends Tony and Gianna Genovese. Tony is one of my earliest colleagues – I met him on my first day of work at Bell Labs in 1976. I was the new guy in the group, and Tony invited me to his home to meet his lovely wife Gianna and share a delicious Italian dinner. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Tony was born in Milan, and he and his parents migrated to New York when he was a child. Tony and Gianna now share time between Milan and New York. I’ve always admired Tony’s talent for architecture and design as well as his impeccable style choices in clothing and furniture. Trying to emulate Tony’s taste for such things has cost me dearly over the years!

Kishna and I had a delightful time hanging with Tony and Gianna. We spent hours talking, shopping, walking around central Milan, and experiencing the tradition of aperitivo (“happy hour”) at local restaurants. As usual, I brought my folding Brompton bike with me on the trip and enjoyed touring the city on it. Bike infrastructure in Milan isn’t as good as, say, Amsterdam, but it’s coming along. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Tony and Gianna and can’t wait to return.

The wedding of Malia and Abhay

After three days in Milan, it was time to make our way to Lake Como for the wedding of Malia Taqbeem and Abhay Dhaliwal. Malia was a student in my IOE 422 Entrepreneurship class during my early days teaching at University of Michigan. She was an exceedingly intelligent, beautiful, personable young lady, and she did very well in the class. So well, in fact, that when she applied to be my teaching assistant, I jumped at the chance to hire her – not just once, but for two successive semesters. Malia introduced me to her dad, Ehsan, a successful auto industry entrepreneur and a leader in the Bangladeshi American community. That was the beginning of a sustained friendship and professional relationship, as Ehsan has contributed his advice to my Urban Entrepreneurship class and has hosted the class on several occasions in the Bangladeshi community of Hamtramck, Michigan.

With the bride and groom at their wedding in Lake Como, Italy.

The wedding was spectacular. I was so happy to witness this important occasion in Malia’s life, and to meet her husband Abhay and his family.

Reunion of Bell Labs “O.G.s”

Picture this: It’s the mid 1970s, and for the first time blacks are joining the ranks of America’s elite research and development companies. One of the most elite such companies was Bell Laboratories, the place where much of today’s telecommunications and computing technology was invented. I began my professional career at Bell Labs on August 9, 1976. The ultra-modern building I worked at in Holmdel, New Jersey was home to several thousand of the country’s top engineers and scientists.

On June 22, I co-hosted, along with Wale and Jackie Akinpelu, Marian Croak, and Dean Harris, a reunion of what I refer to as the Bell Labs “O.G.s.” This group includes the pioneering “first wave” of black engineers, scientists, and administrators who began work at Bell Labs in the immediate aftermath of the 1960s civil-rights movement. The group also includes employees of other backgrounds who were our friends, mentors and supporters. Working with our Bell Labs colleagues, this group made history and delivered significant technical advances and products. Together, we proved that blacks could contribute and lead at the forefront of the global technology industry. My work at Bell Labs is one of the main experiences that convinced me that I would be successful in forming my own world-class technology company. I would probably not have succeeded without the expertise and contacts I developed there. Most important, Bell Labs is where I met my co-founders Steve Moore and Charles Simmons!

It was great to hang out and reminisce with so many former colleagues. We shared great conversation, good food, and lively music during the three hour reunion event. Thanks to the incomparable Barbara King for the live music, and to Charles Nicholas for the impromptu vocal performance!

If you want to see the Google Photos album for this event, just click here. If you were at the event and would like to contribute photos, please email them to btl.holmdel.og@gmail.com.

Fun fact: The television series “Severance” was filmed at the Bell Labs Holmdel facility where we worked years ago and where we held the reunion event.

One last reunion

The end of June brought one more, unexpected, reunion. While I was at the Bell Labs event in New Jersey, I learned that my University of Michigan classmate Nick Harris had died. A few days after returning from New Jersey, I flew to Austin, Texas with classmates Earl Howard and Ellis Adger to attend the memorial service for Nick. On the morning of the service, I posted a short tribute to Nick, which you can read here.

Fellow Michigan Engineer and friend, Nick Harris.

Though the memorial service was a sad occasion, it was good to be with my classmates and to spend time with Nick’s wife Juliana and their family. During the service we definitely felt Nick’s presence as we laughed about his engineer traits, and successive fellow engineers rose to speak about and identify with those traits.

Several years ago, Nick, Ellis, Earl and I attended a U-M football game, and we took a picture together at the Black Pearl restaurant in Ann Arbor. Nick’s wife said she and Nick loved that picture, so as a final gesture of friendship for Nick, we took one more picture of the four “amigos,” this time with the picture of Nick.

I returned from Austin realizing that, even in sadness, we can treasure what our colleagues have contributed to our lives.

One thought on “June 2024 – A month of colleague reunions

  1. It was great meeting you in February in Middletown, NJ for AT&T’s Black History Month program.

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