And, the less than great bosses…

One of my more frequented posts is a “Tribute to a Great Boss” which I believe many folks check out as they want to see the attributes of someone who does the job well, as so many do not. This boss is also very humorous, so his many sayings are worth the read.* Yet, even though he was the best boss I ever had, he was not perfect. Nor are the many other bosses I have had the pleasure of working for. Some of their imperfections stood out more than others, but I have been blessed not to work for any screamers or tantrum throwers, which unfortunately exist.

My second favorite boss was a terrific story-teller and was supportive of me and others. His stories were so riveting, we would end up correcting them as he retold them again and again to new audiences. Our office flourished under him and the three years we worked together were memorable. Yet, his Achilles Heel was impulsive decisions and he left his role out of frustration, a decision he later regretted and put a strain on his marriage which ended in divorce. We missed him greatly after he left.

My favorite story of his is when he arrived at a meeting with someone he had not met before the administrative assistant had arrived. He was waved in and the guy proceeded to tell him about a legal problem. My boss is a great listener, so he is taking notes and is rapt with attention. When he finished his story, the guy said “What do you think I should do?” My boss said, “I think you should hire an attorney.” The guy looked at him and said “Who are you?” The guy had mistaken my boss for an attorney he had a meeting with next.

On the flip side, my first boss out of college was a great salesmen who was promoted to management, a very common mistake. Great salespeople do not necessarily make good managers. He was not an exception to this rule. He went out and bought 23 management books and read them all. One of his rules was to have a “quiet hour” from 9 am to 10 am, so no client calls or internal meetings could be had. Now, mind you, our business was to consult with clients, so not taking a call from them during that hour was not good for business. Eventually, the other senior folks in the office suggested he cease this practice. Unfortunately, he was asked to leave about six months after I got there, so the company lost a great salesman. We missed his excitement and passion to go see people.

I also had a boss that was a very good subject matter expert, but whose people’s skills left something to be desired. I learned a great deal from him both good and bad. I learned the subject matter in a practical way and he taught me how to dive into new things. Yet, I also learned how not to act as some of his mannerisms would make you feel awkward. He was like our Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” He is very smart and we remember him fondly in spite of his mannerisms. One of his shortcomings was small talk at client meetings. You wanted to make sure the meeting stayed focus on the issues. He was excellent with the issues. One of my favorite stories about him was in a client meeting when a key contact of our client was arguing over a legal issue with someone in the client’s general counsel office. My boss used both hands to inch the legal plan document over to the attorney and said what was written here says otherwise winning the argument for our contact. To see him push the document slowly over to the attorney was priceless.

One of my least favorite bosses was on the arrogant side, but he also was cheap. He would spend the company’s money on himself, but he would be quite frugal with his own money. An easy example is we would have year-end holiday parties at his house, with a secondary purpose to stock his liquor cabinet, as he would over order supplies. In spite of these traits, he had a congenial side and he contributed to our success, so we tolerated his behavior. We had a great run under his guidance, but it was more due to the caliber of people we had working under him. Yet, he would tell others in the firm how he harnessed these horses underneath him to achieve the success we had. That was a stretch.

Through my earlier years, I worked with a mentor who was one of the best consultants I ever worked with. He was never my boss, which is good, because he would have been horrible at it. He was a great consultant because he did not tolerate anything less than perfection. Unfortunately, no one is perfect, so he would have had issues with lesser talented people. I had to redo a lot of work at his suggestion. Yet, not being my boss, we could tease him about some of his habits to work very well with him. He was not my boss, but he had a great influence on my life and career. He is a lot like the final person I worked for at a small firm. He also pursued perfection on client issues and had a great reputation, but he was not a very good business person around time and expense management.

Each of these bosses I remember fondly to varying extents. I learned a lot from each, but none could be construed as perfect. Of course, neither could I.  I guess one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out is recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your boss and manage up. If you need face time to ask questions, schedule it. If your boss does not take the time to communicate well, help him or her using words comfortable to you. Also, where you can, discuss possible solutions and not just the problem.**  If you help this navigation process, then you can survive and flourish. And, don’t ever work for a screamer. If you do, keep your resume up to date and begin searching for a new job in case nothing is done about it.

* You can check out this post with the attached link: http://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

** There is a great article called “Who’s Got the Monkey?” which will help you in managing up through offering possible solutions rather than passing the problem back to your boss.

Houseful of kids – we love the chaos

We always wanted to have a house where our kids felt comfortable in having their friends come over. Well, we have that house, and at times we laugh at the chaos, but would not have it any other way. My wife says we provide a soft place to land, but in essence we provide a haven where we do not judge; we just ask questions and listen. So the kids and now young adults keep coming by and it makes our lives and that of our kids much better. But, we have to be pretty flexible to make it happen, as gatherings often happen without much planning.

Our kids have benefitted, as they tend to be more introverted than extroverted, except with their friends. So, by having friends in our house for a weekly night of role-playing games or just impromptu electronic gaming or movie watching, makes them feel even more comfortable and inclined to ask others to do things. Plus, twelve years ago, we built a pool adding to a hot tub we already had. The final straw in the decision to build the pool was a friend said if you build a pool you will get to know your children’s friends. What is interesting, the hot tub is the final destination as kids will sit on the side, with some in the hot tub, and end the party with conversation and joking.

Another benefit for our kids is it gives them safe place to be themselves. We fortunately have a game area upstairs where they can gather. The greatest joy we have as parents is hearing our kids laughing with their friends through closed doors. Plus, they share their friends, so sibling rivalry is minimized. My middle child has benefitted greatly as he leads a role-playing game and has done so for over four years. Half the time, the kids are just hanging out, but he has kept it interesting enough that they continue to look forward to it. This has helped him be better organized and pursue his creativity. The sad part is with him at college, we don’t get to have the many friends over to play and make our house louder and more fun. So, as the summer ends and everyone heads back to college, it will get quieter.

Parents that have this kind of house probably have a smile on their face as they read this. If you are reluctant to have one of these houses, don’t be. The joy and camaraderie will far outweigh the negatives of less order. Plus, you and your kids will benefit. We know our kids’ friends and they know us. It is delightful. Trust me on this.

 

A few financial odds and ends – companies need to invest their cash

I was reading this morning that Berkshire Hathaway stock is now worth $200,000 a share. Of course, investing with Warren Buffett’s guidance has been very fruitful for those who did so. It was noted that he very seldom will repurchase shares from the market preferring to use the funds to invest in his portfolio of companies’ growth. This premise is very telling as I have been a believer that a company repurchasing shares of its stock is sign of weakness and not strength. The fact the Oracle of Omaha has done it only infrequently seems to support this belief. *

Why is it a sign of weakness? To me, it usually means the senior management cannot think of anything better to do with their cash. It also means senior management may be propping up Earnings per Share (EPS) by reducing the denominator, since they cannot improve earnings in the numerator. A higher EPS ratio means they may make their bonus targets. This sounds less than altruistic, and it is, but is also not uncommon. So, if you see a company doing this, you may want to reconsider whether you want to invest in them long term. With that said, there are some more legitimate reasons to do this, but I wanted to offer these thoughts for consideration as you do your homework.

Right now, many companies have been sitting on cash. My thesis is if you cannot think of anything better to do with it, then give it to me through dividends. With interest rates so low, a steady dividend payor tends to be a brand name, highly capitalized company and provides a nice yield. Since the higher dividend payors are more solid companies, it is a way to replace those low paying fixed income investments and retain a modicum of safety. (Please note equity investments are not secure if a company goes belly-up, but my point is solid brand names who are highly capitalized let you rest a little easier. In bankruptcy, fixed income investments are prioritized as debt, so you may still get some money back). Yet, a good investment need not be a high dividend paying company.

I have seen several CEOs cite uncertainty over Obamacare or the tax code as a reason not to invest their cash. On the flip side, I have seen people like Buffett say, uncertainty like those reasons has never gotten in the way of a good idea. Saying it another way, those excuse makers are just that and, their Boards of Directors should be questioning that strategy. Invest more of your cash in your business. You cannot shrink your way to greatness and you cannot just sit on the sidelines. While you may be cutting expenses in some areas, you still need to invest in the higher growth areas in your company. And, even your more mature businesses who are the cash cows, need investment to be maintained. The key is to manage this yin/ yang balance. If you don’t, you may step over quarters payable next year to pick up nickels today. Then, you will wonder why you are not growing.

Finally, do not forget your most important resource, your human capital. Wages have been suppressed during the downturn and people do not have short memories on this. Now that the economy has picked up, people are voting with their feet as company loyalty was killed by the companies themselves. There is a story in New England where a family grocery company fired its extremely successful CEO for investing too much in his people. This company had great performance, paid its people well and had some of the lowest prices in the business. Yet, a disgruntled family member who controlled just over 50% of the shares wanted a huge dividend and fired the CEO when he said no. Right now, this very successful company has grounded to halt as all the employees and many customers have stood by the fired CEO. I have noted before the Nordstrom model which inverts the pyramid, placing customers at the top, followed by those who interact with the customers and shareholders at the bottom. If you treat customers (and those who support them) well, then the shareholders will make more money.

The ending to this story is still being written. But, at the end of the day, you must serve your customers well. You must pay attention to those serving your customers. You must invest in your business to serve your customers in a sustainable and efficacious way. If you sit on your cash, you may just end up with less of everything.

 

* These opinions are those of an investor. I also do not own any Berkshire Hathaway stock. I am not a financial advisor or investment consultant or broker. So, please do not rely on my opinions to make decisions. Do your homework and speak with an advisor to get legitimate counsel from someone who knows more than me and is registered to give advice.

 

 

Every rose has its thorns – a few miscellaneous thoughts

With the world in justifiable tither over events in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Ukraine and West Africa, I want to highlight a few news stories, including some of the above, that need some airing.

Guns and roses - the Center for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the top ten states for gun deaths – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Alabama, New Mexico and South Carolina.  It also noted of the 32,351 gun deaths in 2011, about 20,000 were suicides, the number one gun death cause in all but one of the top ten states. Two statistics struck me. First, homes that have a gun have 3x the rate of suicides than in homes without a gun. Second, the states that have the most lenient gun laws have the highest rates of violent crime which is the opposite of what lax gun law proponents state.

When you add this to the Journal of Trauma and Medicine’s data that we dwarf the civilized world in gun death and child/ teen gun deaths, it paints a picture we need to deal with in a more orchestrated way. The issue revolves around several factors – lack of civil discourse, poverty, crime, entertainment violence, mental health issues, but make no mistake, it includes access to weapons as well. Dealing with this issue like parents should is needed. It is long past due. We should use James Brady’s death as a lightning rod to do something.

Where and to whom you born matters more than it should - The American Dream does not exist for many Americans as we continue to slide in socio-economic class mobility. Warren Buffett says “I was born lucky. I was born a male in a white family.” Buffett notes he had opportunities others did not have. An increasing number of the top Americans have inherited their wealth than earned it, so we have our own brand of aristocracy. But, of the top 400 wealthiest people in our country only one person is of color – Oprah Winfrey.

We have a poverty problem in our country. This is not talked about enough. There are some who believe those in poverty are less virtuous and do not work very hard. That is total bunk. In my work with those in need, I witness very pious people who only have their faith. I also witness people working multiple jobs, but they still lost their home. Yes, there are some sycophants, but they are very few in percentage. We need to help people in need with increasing the minimum wage (the average minimum wage earner is age 28) and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. And, keep the Affordable Care Act as it is helping people in need as well as the economy through enhanced spending of those who now have healthcare insurance. But, let more people know about the subsidies therein, as many do not know they can get a subsidy.

Democrats need a better press agent on jobs and economy - I reported on this last year with respect to jobs, but a non-partisan study was reported on by PBS Newshour last week that indicated the data is pretty overwhelming. The economy and job growth has measurably done better under Democrat White Houses than Republican ones. Even explaining away some of the timing issues, there is clear light of day between the performance of the economy and job growth when a Democrat President is in the White House. Obama takes a lot of crap about many things, but the job increases, economy and stock market have done pretty well on his watch.

Republicans use campaign rhetoric of the “failed stimulus” but per six econometric firms the stimulus bill did not fail. It was just not enough. We have chance right now to do what we should have done four years ago – invest in our sagging infrastructure. Per former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, there is no better jobs programs than investing in our infrastructure. We can still invest while we make cuts in other areas, but we need better roads, improved bridges, deeper ports and better internet and power grids.

ISIS is bad news no matter what religion you are – These guys are thugs and the worst kind of terrorists. To kill innocent people the way they do demeans any religion including the one they blindly profess. The Sunnis that sided with them early are scared of their dangerous bedfellow. Yes, the US screwed up when it went into Iraq under false pretenses. Yes, the US screwed up by bringing all of its soldiers home. But, this enemy of organized, peaceful religion is worthy of the attention of all leaders, including ours,  who want peace in their countries. So, the US and others need to help people who want to live and worship in peace. And, we need to make sure we do it in the right way supporting those who are trying to put down this group in their own countries.

No matter how justified Israel believes it is, it should not be killing so  many innocent civilians - I understand the right to defend yourself. I understand the Hamas may be hiding among the civilians, but Israel’s position is poor when so many innocent children and adults are killed. The more they kill, the worse it is gets. This is not an isolated opinion as the United Nations and Amnesty International are saying the same thing. The violence needs to stop and reconstruction needs to begin. Killing children is bad policy no matter how justified you believe your position.

Putin is punishing the US by denying his people our food – This may be the most inane thing I ever heard. I know Putin controls the media, but people have to eat. And, if they don’t  eat, then this may bother them. Russia has damaged itself in the world economy as its leaders cannot be trusted no matter how many tigers Putin poses with. If I were a business leader, I would be very reluctant to do business with someone who is not trustworthy. Russia could have avoided all of this by letting the Ukraine President, its stooge, sign an agreement with the European Union last fall. Ukraine could have been business partners with both Europe and Russia and everyone would have benefitted. Now people have died and more will still.

Those are the thoughts of this Old Fart. I would love to hear your comments. Many thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

Just passed my seventh anniversary without a drink

People have reacted well to the post I published on my sixth anniversary of being alcohol free. Thank you. I hope it is helpful. I think the acknowledgement that I still want to have a drink resonates with some and surprises others just starting out on their quest. I think they are hoping the feeling would go away. It does subside, but it takes a day-to-day effort of saying “I am not going to drink today.”

Below is a link to the post. Please feel free to offer your comments or questions. I am just another imperfect person battling his impulses, which in my case, when I failed in the battle put me in bad place. I will shoot straight with you on what has helped me, much of what I included in the post. Best wishes on your quest. Don’t let anyone tell you it is easy.

http://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

 

 

When comedy reports deeper stories – kudos to John Oliver

When my friends used to tell me they got their televised news from The Daily Show, I encouraged them to also look to good news sources to balance that out. Jon Stewart does a wonderful job of looking at the issues of the day and casting them in a funny light. Since hypocrisies abound, especially in politics, there is ample fodder to make fun of. But, at the end of the day, it is comedy, right? Maybe, not just comedy.

John Oliver, who hosted The Daily Show while Stewart was mentoring his Middle East counterpart, has a new show on Sunday evening called Last Week Tonight. I have seen every one of the thirteen episodes thus far and he is funny, but also very insightful with a journalistic bent. Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour did a piece on Oliver recently where Brown noted the compliments Oliver is getting on the investigative reporting which underlies his comedy. In other words, Oliver is reporting stories in the US and around the globe in a fairly robust manner and mocking the hypocrisies of leaders and public figures and highlighting the marginalization of others. He and his staff are doing their homework to get it right.

To give you a sense of what he is reporting and making fun of, here are a few examples:

- He noted how Uganda’s legislature passed a law that condemned LGBT behavior and created open season on gays, lesbians and transgender people. These people were being physically brutalized, fired from their jobs, and put in jail. It turns out an American evangelist helped sow the seeds fomenting laws to promote violence, actually speaking for five hours in front of their legislature. Plus, the Ugandan proponents were spreading vile misinformation to fan the flames. After this show went viral and the US condemned Uganda for these laws, they just last week said the laws were unconstitutional as a quorum was not present for the vote.

- He noted how the dietary supplement business has greased the skids to avoid being regulated over the years. They contribute heavily to two Senators (Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkins) campaigns, who jointly promoted legislation to protect this growing industry from FDA scrutiny. He also shows the hypocrisy of Dr. Oz who shamelessly plugs dietary supplements as “magical cures” and “miracle drugs” without the supporting science. He noted with Oz being a medical doctor, he is far worse than a regular salesperson as his credentials and passion validate the drugs. The story occurred when Oz was grilled by a Senate Committee back in June for this issue.

- He put the climate change debate in its proper proportions, when he invited two experts on his show and then stopped them and had 96 experts join the climate change is real and man-influenced side and 2 experts join the climate change denial expert. This provided a visual comparison of the argument for all to see, with 97% of scientists favoring one side and 3% favoring the other.

- He noted on his most recent show the troubling concept of “native advertising” in online and print publications where advertisement copy is presented and integrated into the news. He notes it is flagged, but the purpose is to mask the “flags” and make it look like an actual news story. He called several publications on the carpet for their move down this path, including Time Magazine and the New York Times. He noted the wrongheadedness of blending the two together, chastising those who said it would not make a difference. In short, of course it will.

Each of these stories is reported on in varying degrees in real news shows and Oliver is good to show footage of their coverage. Yet, given the nature of the show, he is able to dive further into the issues and note how the common person could look at this and say something is simply wrong. Again, I would ask that you pay attention to reputable news sources that are not spin doctored versions of the news and who disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. Also, watch out for the native advertising.

But, Oliver’s show is worth the watch. You definitely will learn something you did not know before. You may want to avoid watching with young children, as he is not bashful.

 

Quiet heroes

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the invisible people at work that quietly go about their business and don’t strain their arms patting themselves on the back. It got me thinking about public figures who do their work in a dignified manner, not calling attention unnecessarily to what they do. Permit me to highlight a few.

In tennis, the bad boys of tennis seem to get the notoriety. These are the ones that throw tantrums, racquets, and verbal abuses of line judges. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe could be quite the jerks on the tennis court and no one should emulate that part of their game. On the better side, Arthur Ashe was a class act as well as being an excellent player. The same could be said for Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer who seem to go about their business in a professional manner. These last four each have had more success, but they also achieved it without being a jerk on the court.

In football, it seems a player needs to draw attention to each good play they make, yet seem to be silent when they screw up. It need not be that way. Herschel Walker may have been the most gifted college athlete to ever play and was a very good pro player. Yet, when he made it to the end zone, he acted like he had been there before. He was not big into histrionics as it was not his nature. I also recall the time he was out jogging and he came upon a couple who had wrecked their car and the doors were jammed. Walker came up and after learning of their dilemma, ripped the door off the hinges, so they could get out. Once he confirmed they were alright and the police were on their way, off he went. He never made a big deal of it until a reporter later got the story and confirmed its truth.

In baseball, many know the Jackie Robinson story as the first African-American major league player and, if you don’t, please check out the movie “42” which came out last year. And, many may also know the name Hank Aaron, who before the steroid era allowed another player to pass his record, he had hit more home runs than any other player, including Babe Ruth. But, as the African-American Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record, the death threats mounted. It was similar to Robinson’s plight in 1947. Aaron always carried himself with a quiet grace and dignity. He did not brag much about his prowess and the tremendous Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, seemed to get more notoriety. But, in the end, neither Mays or Mantle could come close to Aaron’s records.

In politics, the narcissistic group tends to draw attention to themselves. The first rule of being a Governor or Mayor is to show up whenever there is a business opening, relocation or groundbreaking, even if you have little to do with the event occurring. But, the people who come to mind that served with quiet grace include folks like President Jimmy Carter, Senator Bob Dole, Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, NC Governor Jim Martin and new Senator Elizabeth Warren to name only a few. None of these folks are without faults, but they seemed to go about their business in a very gracious and professional manner.

I mention these stories, not to say you have to be less exuberant. You do not get to the positions these people have held without being confident. As a former manager of people, I have witnessed and shared with others, the more arrogant you are, the less team-oriented you are, the more difficult to tolerate you are, then you better be that much better. Because if you are not, most people will not tolerate your BS too long. Steve Jobs could be one of the biggest jerks around, but he was tolerated as he was showing people a new path forward. Yet, many chose not to work with him. The ones who had success seemed to have experience in “handling” his moods and condescension.

You can be quite accomplished in your endeavors without being a jerk. The people I mentioned are all very talented and successful people. So, my suggestion is to be confident, but work well others and share credit. Be a class act and good things will happen. And, per an earlier blog post, do not mistake kindness for weakness.