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Michael Samway leaves Yahoo! for a new adventure

Michael Samway, far left, followed by yours truly, Ebele Okobi-Harris, and Michael Callahan

Michael Samway, far left, followed by yours truly, Ebele Okobi-Harris, and Michael Callahan

My friend and former student, Michael Samway, who has served as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Yahoo!, is moving on to a new adventure. Last week, Ebele Okobi-Harris, Director of Yahoo!’s Business and Human Rights Program, posted this tribute to Michael on the the Business and Human Rights Program blog:

Today, Yahoo!’s Business & Human Rights Program is taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to say farewell to Michael Samway, Yahoo!’s vice president & deputy general counsel, head of Yahoo!’s international legal team and founder of the Business & Human Rights Program. Michael’s dedication, commitment to human rights, and tenacity created and launched the first of its kind Business & Human Rights Program here at Yahoo!. After over a decade of leading with integrity and passion at Yahoo!, Michael is leaving Yahoo!  to set sail.  And that’s not just a metaphor—Michael and his family are actually going to sea – living aboard their boat, teaching their kids and remaining active in the social and human rights causes to which they have dedicated much of their time.We are thrilled for Michael and his wonderful family, and are so very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and learn from him.  We must admit, however, to being very sad to see him go. Michael has been a mentor, a friend, an inspiration, a voice of reason and a cat-herder par excellence. He also has, it must be acknowledged, truly spectacular hair.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him will miss Michael very much, and below are some thoughts and stories from a few people, both inside and outside Yahoo!, who wish Michael and his family all the very best in their new adventure.

BB King, I’m Moving On

Harry Wu | Founder and Executive Director, Laogai Research Foundation

Dear Captain Ahab:

I wish you will be great at your new job. When you catch the whale please inform me right away. It is very important to celebrate. But, be careful, safety is number one.

Bob Boorstin | Director, Public Policy, Google Inc.

Good bye to Michael, we’ll miss you so much

Especially your calm and deft lawyerly touch

Again and again you’ve earned your laurels

And proved you’re no pygmy without morals

When the fate of our global initiative lay on a roll of the dice

You swooped in and took command like Crockett from Miami Vice

When push came to shove, you stood up for what was right

And never let the goal out of your keen sight

And now your wisdom is clear through all the commotion

As you take your family out into the ocean

Far away from the rigors of business and the hassles it begot

No new cases for you, just loved ones and that big ol’ yacht

Sail well, our friend, may your direction be true

And remember — big hint — land is brown and sea is blue

Have fun, enjoy the breeze and lay back in the sun

We’ll read your blog, see you soon and envy all your fun

Nicole Kempton | Washington Director, Laogai Research Foundation

Michael Samway has literally transformed the fortunes of our organization, and made the work we do possible.  The Laogai Museum would not exist without him, but more importantly, the Yahoo Human Rights Fund would not have been able to help so many individuals in China without his dedication and hard work.  Although we’re jealous of what promises to be the adventure of his life, he will be greatly missed!

Dunstan Hope | Managing Director, ICT Practice, Advisory Services, Business for Social Responsibility

Michael has been an incredible inspiration to all of us involved in the Global Network Initiative. I remember Michael making an instant impression in our first exploratory meetings in early 2006. Michael’s commitment to protecting human rights and understanding how human rights risks and opportunities arise in the internet age shone through instantly and has been with us ever since. Michael’s calm but committed approach will be missed.

Ena Harris | Director, Education for Change

My wish for you is:

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”

― Bonnie Friedman

Enjoy life and love and family, Michael!

Chris Samway | Corporate Strategy & Business Development, Gap Inc.

My brother Michael has always been my moral compass, an inspirational role model in work and life, and a true friend and mentor. He can also play just about any Jack Johnson song you can think of on his guitar- which is cool. Yahoo!’s been lucky to have him.

Colin Maclay | Managing Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

I have had the great pleasure of interacting with Michael over the past four years in always unknown and often unfriendly territory. Throughout the ups and downs, he has been the consummate team player – deeply thoughtful and strategic in dealing with all manner of challenges; unfailingly (and ridiculously) modest when it comes to his substantial and diverse contributions; actively supportive of the personal and professional well-being of his colleagues both inside Yahoo! and elsewhere; and not only committed to the enterprise and willing to do everything he can to advance it. He has given a master class in both leadership and friendship to those around him. These skills will no doubt serve him well on the high seas, although I am certain that he will return both humbled and more able than ever – especially in otherwise arcane arts such as navigation, blues guitar, and relaxing.

Fair winds and following seas!

Richard Harris III | Director, Breakthrough Collaborative

Michael is a great dude. Besides being one of the few people in the world who went to Duke that I actually like, Michael has so many of the aspirational qualities that a great man should have: a sharp intellect, a great sense of humor, a beautiful family, the ability to make people feel at ease in eleven languages, fluency with a musical instrument, the right amount of gravitas to command the high seas but still look cool on a bicycle, sharp collars without the use of stays, and a broad and deep enough sports knowledge to “just have a beer” with anyone.

He is one of those rare people you meet who is really interested in your story about your garden, your trip, or how you were trying to get in the building to meet your wife that time. No matter who he’s with – lawyers, blues musicians, Igbo people, or the Faz wait staff, every group of people feels like he is “one of them”. He’s someone who can both listen and talk the right amount of time, so that you feel heard but feel like you learned a lot.

And above all, he’s a genuinely nice guy.

I look forward to getting to know you and your family better, and to our friendship growing after the boat returns. But for now, here’s to exciting travels!

Ferial Ara Saeed | Visiting Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University

Best wishes to a class act — Michael’s intelligent approach and sophistication will be sorely missed.

Jaleh Samway Bast

Miguel, you model hard work, motivation, commitment, and dedication.  You embody loyalty, kindness, brilliance, compassion, and integrity.  You were fortunate to have experienced yahoo! and yahoo! was fortunate to have experienced you.  Enjoy safe travels as you live this next adventure in your life, mom and dad taught you well. I love you. Me.

Eugene Y. Lao | Regional General Counsel, Asia Pacific, Yahoo! Inc.

Michael is an exceptionally talented lawyer, inspirational leader and principled human being, but above all, a dear friend. Replacing this uncommon combination of attributes is nearly impossible. Unless I get a smart dog.

The Miskas

Michael is the type of an individual that most of us strive to become – he is smart, kind, thoughtful, considerate, disciplined and determined to accomplish his goals.  However, his strongest trait is that he is a true “blues man/sailor” who understands and listens to not only his head and heart, but also to his soul.  Sail on!

Pierre Landy | Regional General Counsel, EMEA, Yahoo! Inc.

Thanks Michael for being such a great mentor and friend, not necessarily in that order!

One of my favorite things about you is your ability to delegate and completely let go, as evidenced by the note from you below:

“Pierre, this is entirely your call as to how you organize this conference – You are after all in charge of Europe. I just would like to suggest that you organize it in Paris, for two days, from Tuesday to Thursday, at a Hotel that costs no more than a 150 euros per night, with workshops every morning, a maximum of one team activity during the conference which should look like it’s a serious thing such as visiting Versailles, and then one guest speaker – for the rest, you’re totally free to organize as you see fit, so long as you check with me first”.

Bon vent!

Danny O’Brien | Internet Advocacy Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists

I think it was Buckminister Fuller who theorized that the craziest of visionaries are always prompted to follow the setting sun, and that’s why so many of them had piled up against the Californian coast, ambitious and optimistic but still not quite brave enough to throw themselves into the sea and sail off into the ever-receding future. I am delighted, and unsurprised, that Michael has escaped the iron grip of the land. Fair winds and following seas!

Jeff Krilla | Principal, Public Law & Policy Strategies, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State)

In my four years at the State Department when any internet-related issue would make it to the seventh floor, every senior State Department official would ask “What does Samway think?”   Now, every time I watch the movies “The Perfect Storm” or “Waterworld” I will ask the same question.

Many thanks, Michael, for your leadership, innovative thinking and compassion on the issue of Internet freedom.

I look forward to following the exploits of Team Samway on their seafaring blog as closely as I followed the BHRP blog!

Anchors aweigh!

Nicholas Crouch | APAC Senior Manager for Corporate Security & Safety, Yahoo! Inc.

I remember Michael and Jerry Yang shopping in an Egyptian antiques shop on the Middle East trip. As security we would always keep within earshot of the guys we were looking after. Jerry ended up buying some large piece of Egyptian art and haggled very successfully with the Egyptian shop owner who agreed on a pretty fine price. After Jerry had paid for his newfound treasure, the shop owner turned to him and said, “But how can you possibly fit this in your hand luggage?” Michael, being the astute humourist, quipped, “Don’t worry, he has his own plane”. A nanosecond later he realized that perhaps this choice of words was not the best as he was next in line to pay for his newly found Egyptian treasure. Needless to say Michael’s haggling was not as successful as Jerry’s. . .

Mark Bench | World Press Freedom Committee

While I’ve only known Michael through the Global Network Initiative for the last 3-4 years, it’s been sufficient to gain a great respect for his diligence, perseverance, and travel lust!  Because he lived with his family abroad–Chile for 2 1/2 years–and elsewhere, he’s gained a respect for other cultures and peoples.  His spoken Spanish is outstanding, so that if he’s ever caught in the wilds of the Latin American rain forests, I feel certain that he’ll be able to negotiate himself out with panache.  He’s as comfortable in the offices of some of the most prestigious law firms in the United States as he is encouraging a first year student at Georgetown.  We wish him, his wife, their son and daughter the very best on their seemingly quixotic sailing journey.  Perhaps their greatest task will be home [err--boat] schooling their children.  They will be citizens of the world, those lucky kids!  Keep reading good books and sharing titles with us.  We’ll miss you on the GNI, but will never forget your pioneering spirit and remarkable leadership in shepherding the organization through the shoals of getting us set up as a legal entity.  Bon voyage, good friend.

Arvind Ganesan | Director, Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch

The first time I met him, Michael told me about how he had done human rights work in Chile about a decade earlier and worked with this other person who was also very interested in human rights.  He asked me if I had ever heard of her, and said that it was funny he asked.  She works down the hall from me and has worked for me over the last five years.  When he finally came to DC, he got a chance to meet her after years.

Jennifer Samway

Hats off (or should I say on) to Michael for his amazing tenure at Yahoo! over the last decade.  His work has been both challenging and rewarding in many ways too numerous to recount in this short note of appreciation.  His dedication and commitment in upholding the highest standards for both himself and his team have been realized.  The trust and respect he has earned from his many co-workers has been demonstrated through all of the kind words, emails, farewell speeches, and thoughtful gifts that have been sent during his last few weeks at Yahoo!.

It has been a wonderful time for our family to be a part of the Yahoo! experience over the years.

We will miss the friendships that have been gained, but hope that you will all follow along with us in our new adventure out in the open water.  It is time for Michael to put all of those wonderful leadership skills he has developed to good use as captain of his own ship and destiny.

Thanks to Michael and Yahoo! for starting this adventure, now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. . .

Michael Samway, Sr.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of Mike.  Now that his corporate image is no longer a consideration, and as a dad proud of both his person and achievements — I’d like to share this with his colleagues.

Homa Samway

Michael always was determined to be a perfectionist and complete whatever he was doing/involved in and to do it right. He is also very kind, giving, and dedicated. I am a very proud mum and blessed.

Many, many thanks to Michael for his outstanding work at Yahoo!, his dedication to human rights, and his commitment and generosity to Georgetown University. I look forward to staying in touch with him on this new leg of his career!

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.