“If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I made a point to take my two young daughters to NYC shortly after 9-11 even though they missed the ascent to the top of the Statue of Liberty for security reasons, they were able to ascend to the top of the Empire State Building. 

“Today the World Trade Center is again the tallest building in New York one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden and more than 10 years after the attacks that brought them down.  It is still a work in progress: The hulking steel structure known as the Freedom Tower is still 500 feet shorter than it will be when complete.  But it is already a tribute to American resilience, a reminder that whatever devastation we face, we can still come back bigger and better than before.”  Aaron Vaughan

Tallahassee Fire Dept Extrication Team. Liberty Street across from Ground Zero

I can understand where the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is coming from.  I was young once upon a time.  I took sociology in college and a course called American Ghetto Environment, if you can imagine how “not PC” that course name would be today.  I wanted to help people who had a hard time helping themselves.  A Nelson DeMille character in the General’s Daughter reflected, while “Life’s Grown Soft, I’ve Grown Hard,” reflecting on growing up in a post WWII era.  Life was hard.  Today life is soft by comparison.  There are plenty of folks out there that deserve help.  I say “help” because I detest the word “entitled.”  To me the word entitlement defines a benefit given someone in need, not in want.  Our so called entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, other mandatory spending programs were programs designed for hard working people who need and whenever possible contributed to their own welfare. 

A lifetime of work experience allows me to say there are people who believe everyone regardless of work ethic and moral fiber are entitled to the American Dream and those who believe the American Dream is earned through a good work ethic and morals.  I am from a middle class family.  I was the second child of six.  I was always wanting but never needing.  If I wanted something I would find a way to get it.  Ok, I could pout with the best of ‘em for a nickel package of bubble gum and baseball cards.  Mostly I learned to earn what I wanted.  Since the age of 11-12, I always had an after school job, be it paper route, bagger or stock boy at a local grocer.  In high school I washed pots and pans in the cafeteria on my lunch hour.  Later, I was promoted to making and serving milk shakes and sandwiches to my fellow students.   If you have ever worked in a school cafeteria at age 16, worn a hair net, while serving sandwiches to your fellow students, in particular, the girl you had a huge crush on, you would understand the price you pay to earn a few extra dollars.

During college, I worked for a janitorial service from 4 – 7 AM daily at a local hotel to help supplement my $15 per week expense allowance.  Summers I worked on a crew with 3 occupational day laborers, landscaping and mowing lawns.  My boss was a machine operator and had a landscaping business on the side. 

He made me, the 18 year old college kid the crew chief.   I made less than my crew, but I wanted a job.  My crew was ages 18, 30-something and 40-something.  18 had a wife and a new baby.  He showed up for work every day.  If he didn’t want to work, he’d sit in the shade and smoke.  He outweighed me times-two and that was just his arms.  If I pressed him to pick up his shovel, he wanted to arm wrestle or place a lit cigarette between our forceps to see who would pull away first.

30 and 40-something worked 4 days a week.  My boss paid them on Friday.  They got drunk on weekends, nursed a hangover on Monday’s,  then dragged their sorry asses back to work on Tuesday. 

The summer break next year, I went to work for the local school district doing the same thing.  At the school district, I worked with 3  guys also.  One was a friend and fellow college student.  We worked our butts off.  The other two guys complained and cajoled us to slow down and slack off.  The experience wasn’t much different than the summer before.   To me acting busy was harder than being busy, but in the end there are no great gigs in the lawn care and landscaping business.  Did I mention the mosquitos were nasty?

Life is so much softer now, but we all have a responsibility to pull our own weight.  We have a/c, cell phones, flat screen TVs and cold beer on every street corner.  So what’s the big deal?  Go to work.  Get a job.  If you can’t get the job of your dreams you can still go out and earn a living.  If you want something more, go out and earn it.  I know some retired guys who worked hard all their lives.  Now that they are no longer working, they are willing to live (want) with less.  It’s habit forming, but we can’t all be retired.  So if you need something, go to work.  Work can be habit forming, too.  My experience wearing a hairnet left me wanting more. 

Coming into this election, there’s an underlying current of ill will.  Call it hate, dividing Americans. I have never before experienced such divisiveness before between conservatives and liberals, in my youthful 60 years of age.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”  

This quote should serve as a warning to all of us, especially this President, Congress and influential leaders.  We are at risk of a great divorce, with all the ingredients including hate, resentment and financial ruin.  Worst is how it will affect the children, many who call themselves Occupy Wall Street (OWS) the citizens of this great nation.  It’s always the children who get hurt the most.

Note from author on 11-27-2012:  Now that the election is over I feel more strongly than ever this message should resonate with anyone who is concerned about the future of this country.

Have You Hugged Your Building Custodian Today?

You cannot lead from behind!

Leadership begins with mutual respect.  The leaders I respect the most lead by example.  Politicians, pundits and the media can go around trying to divide people into haves and have-nots, but there’s really no divide between most of us. 

Small business owners don’t have a problem hugging their building custodian.  How about the lawn care person, the handy person, the painter, the delivery person; most of all the bug person, who you may feel at risk… to hug?  Hug, hug, hug them, anyway.   Many of the aforementioned live enriched, fulfilling lives with or without millions; and need not be classified otherwise.  Many of these folks are small business owners, too!  Like me.

I’m sure there’s a more PC way to describe some of your favorite “small business owners,” but here’s mine.  They probably fall off ladders.  They are probably mechanically deficient and they’re probably a danger to themselves and others, with a hammer.  OK, that’s just me… but most small business owners have a great deal of respect for those who wield a mop or a nail gun.

You’ll find small business owners in and amongst your family, and amongst your friends.  People you know and respect.  I’ve also come to learn, most small business owners, including me, are generally opposed to big government.  To them, big government prescribes life to be easy, convenient, comfortable and mindless.  To me government is the voice saying, “Eat your vegetables, go to school, do your homework, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, play golf, get cancer and die.”  I already have parents, thank you.  Small business owners know, even if you were to try to live such a mundane existence, government can’t save you.  They know there’s no such thing as a mundane existence.  There’s always going to be something that requires you to be extraordinary

Government isn’t extraordinary and it doesn’t make money, you do.  Government spends your money.  Frankly government spends money you don’t have and you are personally on the hook to pay back that debt.  You and your family, as citizens of the United States of America, now stand to own a piece of over $5 trillion dollars in debt in just the past 3-4 years alone.  This is the new normal.  Are you willing to double down on that much debt?

News flash!  For many small business owners like me, life isn’t easy.  Like most Americans who are willing, I have to earn every dime.  Still no one can speak for those of you who were dealt from a rigged deck, who live a life of marked cards.  Your life may include poverty, possibly abuse, neglect or worse.  To escape this life you may need or have needed to be extraordinary. To escape you may need or have needed extraordinary luck.  To escape you may need or have needed extraordinary help from other people, places including the institution of government and beyond.  You may need private investment, support from charities and organizations supported by those who have been more fortunate.  In this fashion, there are plenty of small business people, again like me, who support those in need.  What small business owners don’t need is more big government, big union and big business getting in the way.

Without free market capitalism, small businesses can’t thrive or even survive.  Many people disagree.  They think more government is the answer.  Where will the jobs come from?  Government?  Where will the tax revenues come from?  Rich people?  Hardly!   All the institutions that are getting a pass include big government, big union and big business.  So where do you turn?  Most small business people know how hard it is to make money and to pay off debt.  That’s what most small business people do.  That’s leadership.

So why are politicians, pundits and the media so hell-bent on dividing this country into haves and have-nots?  I say, it’s time to go dish out some hugs!  Start with the folks that keep me off ladders and off my roof.  Start with people who take away my hedge trimmer and my chain saw, too.  That’s just a scary movie to me.  You can start with a hug for me.  If I am still in one piece, I’ll hug back.

Recently I ran across this open letter to Romney called The First Four Years Are The Hardest… that echoes much of the sentiment conveyed here… a great read…sorry you had to come this far to get to this

Leave it at the Door

Leave it at the Door

They should change the expression from the Holiday Blues to the Holiday Reds

Tis the season we all go a little crazy spending money.  Debt can pile up.  It can pile up for your Company, too.  The expression, “those that help, help themselves.” is never more of a challenge than it is right now.

As a business owner, I’m here to say, “We’re all in this together.” There’s no one, no one, who will be more disappointed than myself, if I cannot compensate you fairly, provide great benefits and a bonus for this year. 

So it’s worth sharing just a few observations from a guy that’s been doing this a while…

·        The longer it takes to deliver our products and services, the less likely we are to get paid.  Customers go out of business, get sold, or change suppliers.  We need to deliver.

·        We carry a large sum in Accounts Receivable each month – that’s money our customers owe us.  Imagine the possibilities for all of you if we could cut our delivery time by one-third or in half?

·        These are competitive times.  We are good, we are very good, but we still have a great deal of competition.  That means we need “great references.”  Great references come from great products and great service.  Great products and great service have to come from you.

·        The longer we stay in business, now 20 plus years (imagine… some of you were still in diapers) providing our customers with great products and service, the more opportunities will present themselves.

Imagine… some of you were still in diapers.

So what it all comes down to, everyone depends (not for diapers) on you.  So when it is all said and done and with the all the best of intentions, “Look to yourself , look to your fellow professionals and then ask yourself, “What can I do to produce opportunities?”  Then go do it. 

No one needs you to be looking at your watch.  You don’t need someone to tell you just to show up and get less done.   And everyone is entitled to take time to commiserate, socialize and share their personal lives here at work.  It’s a healthy work environment.  Still you want your time to be well spent.  BTW no one wants you to bring your personal problems to work.  In a work environment that delivers great products and great service, no one needs to hear you’re less fortunate than the next person.  So take care of your personal lives and your personal problems first.  If you do, you will receive more support from your co-workers and from me.  There’s more willingness to help those trying to help themselves. 

You can’t get better at what you do if you’re too stressed, too tired or too sick to help yourself and your company professionally.  Help yourself personally first and second professionally.  For all of us here the best medicine is a healthy, happy and productive you. 

We all have the tendency to have good days and bad, lick our wounds, get down in the mouth and to think no one cares.  If you know me, you know I care.  I truly care!  I do, but I don’t employ a priest, a doctor or a shrink.  If you need professional help, go get it.   If you’re a part of the company, you’re a part of my family. 

Family pulls together and as my Dad would always say after I have had a bad day, “Just leave it at the door.”

Express “yourself.” Leave your comments, share or spread the word click on the Stumble Upon button below. Subscribe or come back often to visit.

Technology Can Drive Us Out of This Fog

Driverless cars, don’t worry there’s a BMW and Audi, too.

“Driverless cars,” what better message to tell government to get out of the way!

“This fog” being the deficit.  In fact we are in a fog and missing the “byte”when we as a country, look towards investing more in asphalt highways, in roads and rail and less towards technology, the information highway to invest in our future competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The future is technology and “smart or driverless cars” Yes, cars that drive themselves. 

Admittedly they have to “learn the course.”  Like on HWY 5 in LA bumper to bumper smart cars will drive at 80 mph during rush hour.  Think about navigating your iPad or reading your Kindle while your smart car drives itself.  Your commute can be cut in half because your car’s the ass who tailgate the car in front of you without getting flipped “the bird” or into a “fender bender.”  Who needs more infrastructure?

Currently we are chasing four economies in global competitiveness, including Number One, Switzerland.  Number Two is Singapore?  Number Three is Sweden and Number Four is Finland.  We’re Number Five.  Number Five!

Read my Blog post India Gets IT! Information Technology that is….  The message should be clear.  Most ground breaking technology (IT)  is spawned by small business.  I know.  I am the founder and CEO of an IT business who has spawned new products that include all the ingredients of a successful small business that can compete globally.

I consider myself a grinder, maybe a lone wolf.  Prideful.  A do-it-yourselfer.  Is that the definition of an entrepreneur?  It depends on who you ask.  Is that the definition of a small business owner?  More than likely the answer would be “yes.”  The difference between an entrepreneur and a small business owner?  None, until the entrepreneur, who is an idea capitalist who chooses outside angel or VC investors.

Everybody has heard of the IPO bubble in the early 2000’s where billions of investment dollars were squandered on ideas.  I pride myself by coining the phrase, “An idea is only worth it’s execution.”  The idea capitalist who decides to  forego outside investors, the grinder, the small business person, is more likely to sustain upticks and downturns in the economy.

We have a 14B deficit.  We have  over 9% unemployment,  We can argue how we might cut entitlements or raise taxes on the rich all day long.  The bottom line is all we want is our cake and eat it too. So I’ll let the experts argue what we need to do to stimulate the economy, reduce the deficit and add jobs.  Afterall they have all the answers, don’t they?

Unfortunately the answer is “no.”  Instead of idea capitalists, we have intellectual genocide where MSNBC pundits who have never had an original idea in their lives, interview (bait) Herman Cain about his 9.9.9 proposal and dismiss it with the age old adage that assumes “poor people” spend more of their  income? on consumer goods than rich people therefore a national sales tax is a burden on the poor.  Since poor people have little or no income how does this equate?  Herman Cain is an idea capitalist.  He is a grinder.  Given the opportunity, he will be successful in helping the US create jobs, lower the deficit and increase our global competitiveness.

The real answer is to increase small business competitiveness in a global economy.  The Obama administration wants to spend billions more on infrastructure.  All I can think of are traffic cones and hard hats standing in our way and in the way of the progress we are making in new technology.  Technology that solves the infrastructure problems and creates jobs.

“It makes little sense for the United States to turn away highly educated immigrants who seek to come here. It makes equally little sense to train talented foreign students in our universities but then fail to integrate them into our economy. Nearly 300,000 foreign students are enrolled in advanced degrees programs here, but the great majority will return home. We are casting away the fruits of our own investment. As has long been our American tradition, we should encourage the world’s innovators, inventors, and pioneers to immigrate to the United States and we should encourage those we train to settle and create jobs here.”  Romney for President (2011-09-01). Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth

 Visa Caps for Highly Skilled Workers

As president, Mitt Romney will also work to establish a policy that staples a green card to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering. These graduates are highly skilled, motivated, English-speaking, and integrated into their American communities. Permanent residency would offer them the certainty required to start businesses and drive American innovation.  Romney for President (2011-09-01). Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth.

Mitt Romney, Idea Capitalist

Are jobs coming back to the US?  Case in point.  A big business goes overseas to China  to make an integral component of a product going to market.  The product can be produced at 50% of the cost to produce the part in the US.  The product made overseas requires a delivery timeframe of 12 weeks as opposed to 4 weeks in the US.  The part is produced and delivered but not according to spec.  A US company, TJH Manufacturing, Zion, IL, with a stellar reputation is recruited to re-engineer and deliver the part in time for market.  The big business with the overseas propensity ends up paying four times the originally anticipated product cost.

My vote is for a “driverless government,” but first we have to put Congress and the Administration through the course.  Let’s start by teaching them the constitution.

If You’re Going to Lay Pipe, Why Not Do It Right?

How Do I Mix Oil and Water?

These oil spills can be prevented, not to be confused with the term “Oil Sands,”but do I have your attention?

You don’t.   Not unlike capitalists and environmentalists.  

But if you’re going to lay pipe, why not do it right (twice)?  The Calgary-based TransCanada’s $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline is the dubious answer.  The proposed pipeline is a major infrastructure project that would create 20,000 unionized construction jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and other revenues in the six states through which it would pass. How about we appease both sides of this controversy; the environmentalist hate it and the capitalists love it; by adding to the mix?  Add a water pipeline.  An irrigation pipeline.  Bury it right next to the oil pipeline.  Collect and dispense water from the pipeline as needed.

Send it down and dispense it through parched draught stricken lands and collect it from flood swollen, land dispensing and collecting water as needed, creating the most progressive irrigation system the world has ever known.  Where in the world are we experiencing droughts?  Think Texas.  Not to mention Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  Check out Wall Street Journal Business article called “Facing Up to End of ‘Easy Oil’” by Ben Casselmann, dated May 24, 2011.

The sweetest part of all… the oil companies and the Canadian government and Canadian corporations can subsidize it.  Just ask Exxon.  They’re spending millions to advertise it.  Ask Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.  He can hardly refuse a slam dunk.  Don’t forget our environmentalists.  Ask Margot Kidder arrested for protesting the pipeline.  Is she going to deny the drought and flood victims the relief from water?  Water, life giveth, life taketh away.

Oil Sands!

Oil Sands

Now it’s up to our State Department.  They need to decide before year-end (2011).  Move over Bill!  Maybe it’s time for Hillary to lay some pipe.  How do you mix oil and water?!  Wired  Magazine has some ideas.  Maybe we lay less pipe?

In any case, nothing is ever easy.  Unless you’re Bill.

 

A Suggestion On How The Government Could Help The Housing Industry

The housing glut has the entire economy in handcuffs!

Here’s a great approach to get the folks who “deserve” the American Dream a chance!  This proposal from Blair Rugh at Trinovus is a government stimulus plan that will work! 

A Suggestion On How The Government Could Help The Housing Industry

by Blair Rugh

I have a suggestion on how government could help the housing industry. I am reasonably confident that neither President Obama, his economic advisors nor members of Congress read this weekly newsletter. But when you write something that has a reasonable circulation you never know where it will wind up, so here goes.

Three facts we know for sure. (1) The U.S. housing market is in the dumper. Some areas are worse than others, but no area has been unaffected. (2) The volume of foreclosures has harmed low- and middle-income borrowers, particularly African- Americans and Hispanics disproportionately. Many of the people foreclosed upon had no significant asset other than their home. (3) The provisions of the Dodd Frank Act relative to underwriting requirements and loans that can be sold in the secondary market, market conditions and enhanced regulator scrutiny and criticism of all lending will make it much more difficult for future borrowers to get a loan. For good, bad or indifferent the actions of the government and the regulators make it significantly more difficult for the housing industry to recover. Until it does, it will be difficult for the economy to recover.

There are a lot of qualified people who still have a job and can afford a reasonable payment on a home but cannot or will not be able to purchase one because they do not have the down payment. In today’s world, for a working class family, it is virtually impossible to save enough for a reasonable down payment. The husband and/or the wife may both have stable jobs and a stable income but saving the $20,000 or $30,000 required to make a down payment that will qualify them for a loan that they can afford is almost out of sight. Today’s housing prices are as low as they have been in the last 10 or 15 years. If we can just get qualified people into the system, it would be a great advantage for them and if we can deplete the nation’s housing inventory at the same time it would be a great boon to an economic recovery.

Let’s lend qualified borrowers a reasonable down payment on a home purchase, say a maximum of $20,000. Were it mine to do, I would make it available only to persons who do not presently own a home. The goal is to deplete the existing housing inventory, which is not accomplished if someone who owns a home is just moving up. Second, I would limit it to homes that were built before a specified date, say June of this year. The purpose of my plan is not to spur new construction directly. That will happen if the existing inventory of vacant housing is depleted. I would not have the federal government do it directly as I am not sure at this point if the federal government can do anything efficiently. I would have the federal government provide block grants to the various states depending on each state’s inventory of vacant homes.

I would grant the homebuyer a loan that would be secured by a junior mortgage on the home. The mortgage would not bear interest in the initial years and then after a reasonable period of time would require interest at some reduced rate. The loan would be payable upon the sale or transfer of the property or at some reasonable time in the future, say 10 years after it was granted. That should provide the homebuyer sufficient time for the housing market to recover its value and to reduce the first mortgage so that refinancing is achievable.

If 100,000 people qualified for the program, the government outlay at the maximum amount of $20,000 per loan would be $2 billion. While that is a lot of money to anyone I know, the federal government seems to treat it as you and I treat pocket change. And more to the point, it is not an expense of that amount as if properly handled the bulk of the money will be eventually repaid. What I suggest has to be refined and better thought out, but I think it is a viable solution to the housing mess. Moreover, it will put qualified people into housing that they can afford. I am generally pretty conservative and against any government assistance programs. I don’t like social security, Medicare, food stamps or anything similar to those programs. I think government should provide everyone an equal opportunity and then let the chips fall where they may. In this instance, however, the government created the problem so I think it takes a government program to hasten the recovery. The purpose of the program is not to provide relief to anyone but to rescue the housing industry. If it has a collateral result of helping people that is even better. I know you can improve on what I suggest. Add your improvements, and if you think it is a good idea make your representative or senator aware of it.

Threadbare – Not just a pretty face – Reg update

Reg Update – Resume

Reg’s story Threadbare – Not just a pretty face.

Jobs in the retail profession and clothing business remain scarce in Atlanta.  I recently spoke to Reg who was taking an OSHA class for his not so temporary job.  He had taken a “temporary” supervisory job in construction to help with the Lepper household cash flow.  That was almost three years ago.  It requires a hard hat and steel toed boots.  Hartmarx evidently, doesn’t sell steel toed boots.  He bought the boots from Wal-Mart – $19 bucks.

There are blisters on every toe.  He’s up at 5 AM.  It takes an hour  to get to the job site.

It’s 6:45 PM,  so he’s just getting home now.

I hear some of our Congressmen and women are complaining about the hours they’re spending away from home and now they are complaining about how much they make.  They’re getting a steady paycheck and Cadillac benefits.

They won’t pull this economy up by it’s boot straps.  Reg and people like him will.

Maybe they need a swift kick in the keester from those boots I’m talkin’ about.

Maybe they should just go home and be with their family?

Meantime, Reg has been and is actively looking for work.  Sending out his (click on the link to Reg’s “resume“) doing  job interviews, volunteering his time for Career Ministry and consulting their members regarding many aspects of their search for new opportunities and careers.

Threadbare – Not Just Another Pretty Face

“When you bust through all the layers of brevity and you have shaken all the hands of hope, you can begin to share the depths of depression joblessness can bring.”

This pretty much sums it up if you are over 50 and looking for employment.

Reg – Not Just Another Pretty Face.

When I decided to do this story about my good friend, Reg Lepper I thought maybe it would help him by building on the social networking he had already begun on LinkedIn and Facebook.

As I began learning more from him about his 27 plus year career at Hartmarx, known for its Hart Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman suits, and for making President Obama’s inauguration tuxedo and topcoat, I realized the complex struggle he and his cadre of sales professionals and the plant workers endured.

The company and its United States subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in January, 2009. Workers threatened to occupy Hartmarx’s plant if the company’s creditor, Wells Fargo Bank, attempted to lay off workers and liquidate the company’s assets.

In August 2009, Emerisque Brands UK and its partner SKNL North America completed their purchase of Hartmarx.While Reg survived the bankruptcy of Hartmarx, the acquisition, ultimately of a foreign owned conglomerate based in India, many of his friends and fellow employees lost their jobs.

Not to be outdone Reg took it upon himself to write an impassioned plea, (click on the link “a letter to the President”) a letter to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama, the beneficiary of the afore-mentioned Hart Schaffner & Marx suits.  Fifteen (15) months after the acquisition Reg, too lost his job.

Like many who are unemployed, Reg wants to work.  He wants to support his family.  Like millions of Americans, there have been forks in the road and to make ends meet, he needs a job.  Reg is, as I describe him on LinkedIn.com business social networking site.

Reg’s now been unemployed for 7 months.  Not for lack of trying.  Reg has employed every means of looking for work.  Shunned by “head hunters” most likely due to his age, Reg is 64.  I can personally vouch for the fact he doesn’t behave or look a day over 30… OK so he looks a bit older, but he’s a firm believer in exercise, has been a long time distance runner.  Now his knees are telling him he needs to go shopping for a good bike – cheap!

That aside, Reg has been and is actively looking for work.  Sending out his (click on the link to Reg’s “resume“) resume doing  job interviews, volunteering his time for Career Ministry and consulting their members regarding many aspects of their search for new opportunities and careers.

Reg isn’t alone.  This is a nationwide plight affecting thousands of households across America.  If you are over 50 and unemployed in today’s economy, you could be facing many challenges including a mortgage underwater.  In such cases, how can you move to accept a job offer across the country?  What if you took a second mortgage out to pay for your kid’s tuition?  What if your kid is living at home because he or she can’t find a job or can’t afford to make ends meet on their own?

So is Reg’s story only about being a high income earner and over 50 an age related layoff?  I began to see there are many other dynamics in play.  Those dynamics include government and politics; how an increase in payroll taxes on corporate America has impacted US manufacturing jobs; and the shift in manufacturing jobs overseas.

Add TARP and “too big to fail”. i.e., Wells Fargo into the picture.  Let’s not forget the unions. Hoping to save their jobs and start a national movement, Hartmarx workers were pressuring Wells Fargo, the company’s main creditor, to approve the sale of Hartmarx to a buyer that would keep it alive instead of liquidating it and most likely putting its celebrated labels on suits made overseas, The New York Times’s Steve Greenhouse reported.tty face.

While I’m not going to rehash all the events which took place and detail the timeline I think it is interesting to point out there were a number of high profile players involved in the decline of the 124 year old company.

While researching this debacle 9 out of every 10 – news articles or posts reference corporate greed or the big bad bank, in this case Wells Fargo, as the culprit.

“That begs the question, “who buys Hartmarx suits?”

The answer is, “Wall Street bankers.”  OK, so who is demonizing Wall Street?  Obama and his posse, including Dick Durbin, Chuck Shumer and Barney Frank those who were championing the case for Hartmarx and union labor against Wells Fargo.

As reported by Progress Illinois:   The news of a potential liquidation (of Hartmarx) caused workers, union leaders, and members of Congress to spring into action to aid the company, which employs 3,000 people nationwide, including 1,000 in Illinois.  Rep. Phil Hare, who spent 13 years as a Hartmarx employee, described himself as “livid” at the bank, which accepted $25 billion in federal bailout funds. He went on to enlist the help of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Rep.  Jan Schakowsky, whose great-aunt found a job with Hartmarx after emigrating from Russia, called Wells Fargo CEO John Strumpf and urged him to keep the company running.  Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, meanwhile, sent a letter to Strumpf threatening to sever the state’s business with the bank if Hartmarx was ultimately liquidated.

Days after suit maker Hartmarx was sold to Emerisque and its Indian partner S Kumars Nationwide Ltd, SKNL a textile giant three US plants of the clothier have been shut down resulting in the loss of over 500 jobs.  Not a peep out of President Obama, then or now and the Hartmarx factory making his suits in Des Plaines… still open.

Obama, proudly flashing the Hartmarx label

While they may have saved some jobs, politicians and union bosses who should know better and who have voted consistently for more government and more spending weren’t helping the cause.  They may have acted like they are helping Hartmarx employees but their votes for higher taxes and more spending were helping to drive manufacturing jobs overseas.

Reg, on the other hand took it upon himself to champion the cause for Hartmarx workers.  He wrote a letter to the President and stirred the political “hornet’s nest” to get politicians pontificating and deserves a lot of credit for saving US worker’s jobs.

Let it be stated, from all accounts, Emerisque, a British private equity firm working with SKNL, has been doing all it can do to promote and keep the US plants open. In fact, Bud” McCullar, a partner at Emerisque called Reg and commented on how much he cared about the company and fellow employees.  Here’s a quote from Mr. McCullar on Reg’s LinkedIn profile.

“Reg is the consummate seller for an ever evolving apparel and consumer products segments.  From presenting to closing, ever the professional.”

There’s a great book called Built to Last written by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  A very dear friend of mine recommended the book to me.   She has been fighting breast cancer for the past 10 years or more.  Apparently she, too, is “built to last.”  Thank God.

The authors define their choice of successful companies’ continued success to be built on “core values” and continued innovation by trying many things through change and recognizing and staying with what works.

If you are the management (CEO) of a company large or small it is your job to see to it you take care of the bottom line and all that goes with it.  That would be principally “cash  flow” management.  Too often, cash flow management is lost on CEOs who are paid for short term gains which inevitably cause long term pain.

That’s why small business is the backbone (more than 70 percent) of the US economy.  For small business cash flow is king.  Our only short term goal is to stay in business, cash flow and grow.

Maybe if more corporate giants and Wall Street bankers had stuck to their core values we wouldn’t be in as big a mess as we are now in today?  Case in point, the merger and acquisition (M&A) frenzy in the 90’s.  Corporate giants, including banks, joined in the M&A rush, to the extent some industry experts were predicting there would only be 3-4 large bank holding companies left in America.

Hartmarx too, jumped into the fray with an acquisition in late 1996.  They added two more in 1998.  In late summer 1999,they added another.  Maybe these acquisitions were good for the company.  I’m not here to judge.  What’s intriguing about the acquisitions is the correlation with offshoring.

In the 1990’s Hartmarx began the offshoring of production facilities to control costs. During that period, they closed ten domestic factories and shifted production to the Far East, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

Someone should have written a book titled Built to “Be” Last – The Decline in Manufacuring Jobs in America – as American manufacturing companies began moving production overseas.

Now here’s the strongest argument yet to keep as to why there are fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs here in America.  If it were not for payroll taxes many more manufacturing jobs in America would have been saved.

While everybody was pointing fingers, blaming everyone but themselves for plant closings and lost jobs, you need not look further than, “it’s payroll taxes… (I’ll let you finish the sentence).”  Granted corporate greed is a factor here.  The problem is many large corporations are multi-national and feel the pressure from foreign competitors not burdened with the higher payroll taxes on workers.

Our government raised payroll taxes in April 1983.  The illustration here shows the investment US corporations began to make overseas according to PoliticalCalculations.com as “unintended consequences” of the payroll tax increase.

If you are a “for profit” company and it is your job to increase shareholder value, you are going to look for ways to lower your costs.  Increasing the payroll taxes on American workers was a major impetus to shift American manufacturing overseas.

We vote to place politicians in office to spend our tax dollars wisely.  They don’t.  On the other hand, we vote with our investment dollars to allow corporate “greed” to profit on the backs of American workers.  They do.

It’s time politicians wake up and reverse the course of lost manufacturing jobs by eliminating payroll taxes and adopting  the FairTax – see www.Fairtax.org.

Ultimately it is up to us as individuals to make the right choices.  This debt crisis is our wake-up call.  Let’s get back to our core values.  If you ask Reg it’s about God, family the desire to contribute his tremendous talent and work ethic to a company and a country “built to last.”

Made in the USA doesn’t have to be about politics or unions.  My good buddy Reg and many of those that have suffered the “unintended consequences” of increases in payroll taxes and lost  manufacturing jobs, will find no comfort here.

For more on Reg click here resume.

How fortunate am I?

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a sound?

I have been bowed over in anguish over a job lost; I have placed my hands over my face and head, elbows to my knees gasping for breath; I have barricaded myself behind closed doors.

So, I have often wondered, does a job lost make a sound?

If you have asked our government, technically the answer to both questions is , “No.”

I would have to agree.  Neither seen nor heard, you’re  on your own.

I have experienced both, the latter being much more traumatic, although both are deeply disturbing, I would have to say the tree was less personal and the lesser of two evils.

Symbolic in a fashion, like our government, the tree had been leaning.  It’s weight no longer sustainable, it roots no longer able to bear its growth.

I was deeply affected by the sight of the fallen tree in its magnitude.  It’s beauty and majesty held me in awe.  I often crossed it’s path, never imagining it’s demise.

Falling across a sidewalk, in a city park, the tree was swept away in a day; a series of sawing, grinding and chipping away.  At times the noise was deafening.  And then it was gone.

I, too, had moved on.  Picked myself back up.  Started a new venture.  Today I am rooted strongly, my business supported by faith, family and my business.  Supported by partners, fellow employees, suppliers and customers.

How fortunate for me, I am not a tree.

“We are golden”

“We are golden”, taken from the song Woodstock

The song is by Joni Mitchell and here are the lyrics

I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to yasgurs farm
I’m going to join in a rock n roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

——————

Mid-September we had the good fortune to visit Napa, Sonoma and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) which was a pleasant diversion from the repressive heat and humidity in Tampa, FL.  What a scenic smorgasbord!  The vistas afforded us along the PCH, were seemingly in relief of every hairpin curve, and unequalled by the last, were spectacular (more on the wine country and the PCH later). 

This post is all about the journey.  Our travels took us south from Sonoma on Hwy 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Good advice from the omniscient Charles allowed us to travel mostly rush hour free.  The journey began in Sonoma and took us through  a very eclectic part of San Francisco.

San Francisco didn’t disappoint its climatic reputation for chilling shades of grey.  Shades of grey were evident even in people’s faces.  People’s faces were nothing short of grim.  Granted it was early, in particular for students.  And their faces could be interpreted to be determined.  Somehow their expressions seemed to fall short.  Determined would include optimism.  There was plenty of time sitting at stop lights to people watch, up close and personal.  Their faces seemed short on both optimism and pessimism.  Instead, people seemed disenchanted if not just plain tired.  Maybe it was the houses, stacked upon each other; or the people getting in each other’s way, skilled at avoidance, but not in familiarity, which bred an absence of smiles.

Fortunately there was a change of face during our journey.  It was very similar to travelling over the Golden Gate Bridge.  People’s faces brightened measurably as we moved south from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. As we left San Francisco behind, traversed the Golden Gate Bridge we felt a mixture of emotion.  As we reached its apex, we enjoyed views of the city and the Pacific.  This brought us a sense of relief and optimism, looking forward to visiting the coastal cities of Monterey, Carmel and San Simeon; and the state parks showcasing majestic redwoods and the coastline along the Pacific Ocean.  “Back to the Garden.”

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

Business is improving, despite all the obstacles in this unpredictable economy that remain and those ahead of us.  This is largely self-fulfilling prophecy as our engine runs on premium personnel and our management team isn’t half-bad either.

We have invested a great deal in new products and new markets.  I’m a big fan of Alan Kay’s expression, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Klondike Bluffs mountain bike trail outside of Moab. In the background, Arches National Park and the La Sal snow-capped mountains (click on the photo for a better view)

This message comes somewhat diluted by events such as 9/11, and the BP oil spill.   Natural disasters are somewhat unpredictable but they are going to happen.  I have seen the raw and gut-wrenching affects as they unfold.  We are certainly not exempt from the fallout.

There’s little one can do in the moment but there is much that can be done to either prevent an occurrence or deal as effectively as possible with the results.  Unless of course, your government gets in the way.  That’s a whole other topic.

We believe we are as well prepared as we can be to limit the impact of most natural disasters.  Arguably we are and will be impacted on a financial and personal level as well.  To what extent will be born out by the actions, performance and lessons learned by others.  Certainly, we are far more fortunate.

There is still no consensus on when and where the economy will improve.  I spend a great deal of time measuring and evaluating circumstances as they may affect our business.

We can watch Fox News or CNN but our success or failure has little or nothing to do with the economy, politicians or other outside factors.  It has to do with you and me.  It has to do with the quality and functionality of our products and services.  It has to do with how we deliver our products and services!  It has to do with how we choose and treat our customers and our partners.

We are nothing to big business or big government in terms of our success or failure.  We are everything onto ourselves.  We will not succeed or fail due to outside influences.  We will only fail if we are cannot deliver excellence on all levels, products, customer service, implementation and ongoing support. 

Conversely, big business and big government need us to succeed, Their’s has become a global problem.  Because they have simply ignored the entrepreneur; unless, of course, the entrepreneur is holding the glass slipper.

Small businesses are mostly carriages of pumpkins and mice out there delivering the goods.

There are very few Cinderella stories.  Once delivered, the glass slipper still fits but we are working well past the ballroom festivities which has become just as intended, a fantasy.  We are soon  forgotten.  When the carriage and horses are stabled and the cats are away, the mice, small business people, you and I, will come out to play.  Small business can be very resourceful, if left alone.

Made in the USA

Made in the USA

Monday, October 19, 2009 at 9:16pm

“Made in the USA” isn’t about the Big 3 automakers…
It’s time to put the brakes on government spending. The road to recovery lies with the success of small businesses, not with behemoth car companies and big labor. If we were going to bailout anyone, we should have bailed out the car dealerships and auto supply companies to allow them to remarket, retool and invest in new technologies. We should be growing our tax base, which is only going to happen if we fuel the small business private sector. Speaking of which, why are we not doing more to grow and keep promising small business technology companies and their technology jobs in the USA, where our best talent and our best jobs can remain right here at home?

“You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.”    Henry Ford

We have Bill Gates and Microsoft, Larry Ellison and Oracle; and Eric Schmidt and Google, not to mention a plethora of phenomenal technology and software companies that started from nothing and today generate thousands upon thousands of high paying private sector jobs and tax revenues, all “Made in the USA.”

What’s more, most technology companies, in particular software companies, do little to harm our ecology (true green); they do not tax our ports, our roads, our bridges or our rail. This reduces our carbon footprint, while not adding to the tremendous and costly burden on the seemingly never ending and costly construction of our roads and our beleaguered transportation infrastructure.

Competition is increasing dramatically from foreign countries who wish to attract our talent, both foreign and domestic grads educated here in the USA, many getting their higher education with the help of US taxpayer dollars. The number of “propeller heads”, a.k.a., the savvy entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers “Made in the USA”, are leaving for a more favorable business climate or jobs overseas.

Our foreign competitors are offering much lower tax rates and hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives to technology business startups and to their highly paid – highly skilled employees. They are advertising a better quality of life, improved infrastructure and a lower cost of living. Our foreign competitors recognize what we increasingly take for granted, which is the huge tax and revenue potential from small business startups, in particular in the technology field; with their disproportionally high numbers and high salaries as it pertains to job creation. This is coupled with the minimal impact on their country’s costly transportation  infrastructure.

The now and next generation of Bill Gates’, Larry Emerson’s and Eric Schmidt’s may find our politics too ambiguous, too costly and too unimaginative to breed success here in the USA. There are hundreds of thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs right now who are losing the battle against a poor economy accentuated by high taxes and ever increasing regulation. There are hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurial ventures not even born yet that will never pass the incubation period.

Where should we, the United States of America, concentrate our efforts to keep our existing technology gurus and attract the next generation of “byte heads?” We need to provide education and programs that offer immediate and future tax relief to small businesses and their employees, like a payroll tax holiday. To do this we need to elect government representatives who want less government, who do less for Wall Street, who care less about big government and big union.

We need tech savvy, forward thinking, feet on the ground, “been there, done that” politicians who have missed a few paychecks like the rest of us and who want to do more for small businesses and the working class. Get started by offering existing small businesses and their employees, tax relief with a payroll tax holiday of 6 months or more. Offer new business start-ups, especially technology and software businesses who are Made in the USA and who are 1) less impactful on our transportation infrastructure; 2) provide green technologies; and 3) provide the high end wage earners, which is our future tax base, lower taxes and less government to stay and grow their businesses here in the USA.

“What’s right about America is that although we have a mess of problems, we have great capacity – intellect and resources – to do some thing about them.”
Henry Ford

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