May 11

Meeting Paul Tumpowsky

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Paul Tumpowsky, the chairman and alum of InSITE when he spoke to the InSITE DC group. As someone who took an untraditional path to entrepreneurship, three of Paul’s comments stood out to me:

“Always challenge your core motivations.”

I began facilitating clinics for low-income communities when I was 17, starting in the Bay Area and continued to Ecuador without questioning that I would make the most impact as a public health practitioner. At 21, I realized that Coca Cola was half the price of water in the region that I worked, and that the clinics we built couldn’t “end poverty in Ecuador.”

While increasing access to primary care is the most direct way to improve health, I had assumed it was the best way. The unfortunate reality was that the organization I worked for lacked the funding and vision to effectively scale. As a result, I became interested in strategic management, changed my track to consulting, and enrolled in an international affairs and business graduate program.

Only through challenging my initial assumptions did I see that I could make a bigger impact by financing and advising organizations like the ones I previously worked for.

“Networks are two things: nodes and the relationship between those nodes.”

As someone who took a non-linear path, I can attest to the power of cultivating relationships. However, while people have inquired about my background, intrigue alone was never enough.

As Paul said, sincerity creates the bond, but tenacity keeps the connection going. Most relationships are a two way street and those who share a genuine interest in continuing the conversation usually do. While it may seem obvious, it’s very difficult be open, vulnerable, and persistent simultaneously. However, my best relationships have required all three.

“You can only score if you play offense.”

I am a keen believer in the Traditional Match Algorithm (TMA). The Nobel Prize experiment originally tested how stable marriages are made, but its takeaways apply to all types of matching.

The TMA can be set up in two ways: either the men propose to women, or women to men. In the former case, each man will propose to the woman he likes the best. She then considers every proposal (if any), and retains the one she regards as the best (but defers acceptance) and rejects the others. Men rejected in the first round then propose to their second-best choices, while women keep their best offer and again reject the rest. This continues until no other proposals are made and the women accept their best offers.

The results were significant: in all cases, the group that proposed always ended up with a better outcome, regardless if they were men or women. This statistically proves that the only way to get your best option is to actively seek it.

I came away from our conversation with Paul with a more focused vision of how to pursue the unpredictable, entrepreneurial path. Thankfully, a bit of self-awareness, a robust network, and assertiveness can go a long way.

Jennie Tian is a Masters in Foreign Service Candidate at Georgetown University and an InSITE Fellow. She has experience at Frontier Strategy Group and the U.S.Department of State.

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