Michael Gabriel ’80
Author Michael Gabriel ’80, former Executive Vice President and CIO of Home Box Office, sat down with Pace Alumni Relations to discuss his Pace experience and his transition from entrepreneurship to the corporate world to his latest venture: a book and app entitled The Relationship Barometer.
How did you make the transition from working in the corporate world to becoming an author and entrepreneur? What different challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?
After graduating from Pace in 1980, and working for a few Fortune 500 companies (General Mills and Pepsi Cola) as a computer programmer, I became frustrated with how long it took to get things done, and how corporate structure and policies seemed to inhibit productivity. After a few years working at a consulting firm, I decided to branch off as an independent consultant and then became part of a pre-Internet start-up. We were one of the first companies in the world to make bar code printing and scanning on PCs and local area networks (remember Novell?) available to fashion retail storeowners. This was at a time when IBM released its first PC with a memory of 64K and hard disk of 10 megabytes, and you needed to work out at a gym to carry the first Compaq portable PC! We also used handheld laser bar code scanners, and we were building computers around the same time that Michael Dell starting doing the same thing. He had the insight to extend his reach to everyone, while we were narrowly focused on fashion retail stores.
After that venture, which had a frenetic pace that consumed me seven days a week for a number of years, I gained a renewed appreciation for the resources and structure of the corporate world -even more so this second time around. After a successful career, where I rose to the position of Executive Vice President and CIO of Home Box Office, and where I was able to help lead the industry changing HBO GO product, my entrepreneurial instincts were re-awakened. The transition this time was even more of a change, as I went from having all of the resources that I needed at my disposal to having to handle decision making on every aspect of my new company, covering everything from market research to product development and support, legal, designing logos and artwork, marketing, and public relations. I gained an even greater appreciation for the vast resources a corporation provides, but at the same time have really enjoyed making the decisions that will decide my own company’s future. I also regained a much deeper appreciation for all the things my former executive assistant did for me. When I told her that recently, she said, “Finally!"
What inspired your book, and what inspired you to create an app to accompany your book?
In trying to understand what happened with my marriage, and whether the problems could have been foreseen and avoided, I began to formulate the insights, tools, and framework that culminated in my book, The Balanced Relationship Barometer. It’s all about knowing yourself, and what will truly make you fulfilled in your relationship, based on building awareness and seeing trends of your personalized needs and experiences. This approach has been validated by hundreds of people in different stages of healthy as well as unfulfilling relationships. Most relationships start out well, and that’s why they continue. But something isn’t working for a majority of the population, as the chances of staying married and not getting divorced are about the same as a coin toss. Great odds for Powerball, but not for one of the most important decisions we can make in selecting a life partner.
My goal for the book was to help tilt the odds more in our favor. We all know that many people who read self-help books just place them on the bookshelf soon afterwards unless they are simple concepts to use. I wanted to make this approach easily accessible to people, and available to them all day long wherever they may go. So, given my technology and innovation background, I decided to make the book come alive by developing a simple mobile app, Relationship Barometer, which can be accessed via the user’s mobile phone. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the simplicity and user interface of the app, and for the simple weather icon metaphor we use to convey positive (sunny) or negative (stormy) experiences, need fulfillment, and an overall forecast of the direction their relationship appears to be headed based on their own relationship goals and experiences. The app allows people to show how their experiences support their needs and values, or not, as well as to continuously learn more about what they are really looking for in a relationship.
Do you envision any additional products in the Relationship Barometer’s future?
There are a few logical extensions to the core product that I believe could be successful, but I am not able to divulge any details at this time. Hopefully more to come in the near future!
Was there anything/anyone in particular during your time at Pace that impacted your career decisions?
Definitely. I actually started off as an accounting major, and although I loved the clarity of debits and credits, those early classes didn’t leave much room for my creativity, as entry-level accounting is more transactional, for good reason, in terms of building a solid foundation. That foundation was a key part of my career progression, as I remembered those lessons and it helped me become the Director of Financial Systems at NBC, reporting to the Treasurer, and then VP of Financial systems at EMI Music.
But in my second semester I also took my first computer programming class. The logic just came to me naturally, and Professor Gerald Wohl recommended I apply for a job in the computer lab. One thing led to another, and I subsequently switched my major to M.I.S., Management Information Systems, with a combined focus on information technology as well as business classes. I believe Pace actually had one of the first M.I.S. programs in the country, and I really enjoyed the curriculum.
Other professors who had a deep influence on my education, and helped structure the development of my thinking, were Professor Ivan Fox, who went on to become Chairman of the Law department; Professor Rudy Jacob, who is the current Chairman of the Accounting Department; Professor Richard Schaake, who I worked for and was Chairman of the Economics Department at the time; and Dr. Andrew Varanelli, who became the chair of the Undergraduate Management department and focused strongly on technology. I was fortunate to have some of the existing, as well as eventual, educational leaders of Pace as my teachers and mentors. The Pace faculty made a huge difference in my education, and the opportunity to have close contact with them clearly influenced my success.
What’s the best piece of professional and/or personal advice that you took with you from Pace?
That you need to go with your passion, and what resonates with you, both for your education as well as for your career. You will need to continue to learn, and to pivot and adapt based on that learning, which will need to be applied at many points of your life.
What advice would you give current students and recent alumni?
I would tell students to utilize all of the diverse resources Pace provides, from career placement, to the internships that they facilitate, to the contact and guidance they have access to from the Pace faculty. The ties that Pace, through their faculty, Board and alumni, have to the business community are a tremendous asset, and the connections and experiential learning that internships provide are crucial to helping clarify what you like doing, as well as the type of company culture that suits you. I’m proud to be an alumnus of Pace University, and of the direction the University is taking to continue being a leader in providing solid educational and employment opportunities.
You can learn more about The Relationship Barometer app and book HERE.