Roth IRA, Invest to Pay Less Taxes

by John Holland, South Shore Investment Advisors, Charleston, WV

Social Security was intended originally to be a tax free benefit for retirees in America. Over the years this has changed for the majority of us.

Income Thresholds
There are two separate income thresholds for filers that will determine whether they have to pay tax on their Social Security benefits. Here is a breakdown of the categories:

Income Percentage of Social Security Taxable
Single, Head of Household, Qualifying Widower and Married Filing Separately
(where the spouses lived apart the entire year)
Below $25,000 All SS income is tax-free
$25,000 – $34,000 Up to 50% of SS income may be taxable
$34,000 and up Up to 85% of SS may be taxable
Married Filing Jointly Below $32,000 All SS income is tax-free
$32,000 – $44,000 Up to 50% of SS income may be taxable
$44,000 and up Up to 85% of SS may be taxable

When calculating your income you must include ½ of your social security benefit and all of your interest and dividend income. This includes tax exempt interest from municipal bonds and distributions from IRA’s or 401k retirement plans.

As an example, let’s say Jim Johnson withdrew $19,500 from an IRA and had $2,000 of interest income. He received $16,000 from social security and had $1,500 of gambling winnings. ($19,500 + $2,000 + $8,000 + $1,500 = $31,000). Jim is single so his social security benefit will be 50% taxable.

You can see that if you’re married and your spouse receives social security as well as distributions from a retirement plan, your tax liability will start eating up your social security benefit pretty quickly.  If both husband and wife receive just $2,000 a month from an IRA they will easily be in the upper threshold paying taxes on 85% of their combined benefit.

There is currently a loophole that exists called the Roth IRA. If you’re over 59 ½ and your Roth has been established for at least 5 years, you can take tax free distributions from it. Under current law these distributions don’t count when calculating your social security taxability. You can take a distribution of any size from a Roth and owe zero taxes on it and zero taxes on your social security. Let’s do another example.

John Doe has a Roth IRA with a balance of $1,500,000. He’s 65 years old and the account has been established for more than five years. He starts taking a $100,000 annual distribution and he receives $24,000 each year from social security. His income tax will be zero. The Roth IRA distributions are tax free and don’t count towards his social security income threshold. John will receive $124,000 annually in retirement benefit with zero tax liability. Of course these tax laws could change in the future, but today a Roth IRA is the best retirement vehicle available.

If your single and make less than $107,000 you can make a full contribution to a Roth and if you’re married the limit is $169,000. If your annual income is higher than these limits you can still convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. Of course you have to pay taxes in the year you convert the assets and I believe you should do this while the Bush tax cuts remain intact. I believe these tax cuts will be repealed in 2013 and replaced with higher marginal rates.

If you are an equity partner in a small business, this might make even more sense if we let your company pay the taxes (as an executive bonus or alternative form of compensation) on the money you move out of our existing retirement accounts into a Roth IRA.  It can be done gradually dictated by cash flow coming from the business.  If it is done before we lose the tax breaks it could make sense.

No matter if you’re 25 years away from retirement or 5 years away you should consider a Roth IRA for at least a portion of your retirement income. The tax free benefits in retirement are too great to ignore.  

John Holland e-mail: hollandzjr@aol.com

Good advice for the younger generation, especially with all the hype over social security.  If you’re a small business owner and you’re worried about higher capital gains taxes into your retirement years, there’s some good advice for you here as well.  Subscribe – Comments welcome. Pass it on.  : http://wp.me/p1nHZg-Dr

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Free Wheeling for Honduras Orphanage by Carl Gallo

Michelle and Sarahé with Carl
Michelle, Paola,
Dania and Julani
 with Rachel
from our group.
Click on image
for full size.

Free Wheeling  for Honduras Orphanage

by Carl Gallo

I was greeted with temperatures around 109 degrees in Telgucegapita, Honduras (weather).

We had no running water, and certainly no air conditioning, but I was also greeted with smiles and hugs from little girls such as Michelle and Sarahé with me in picture.

We ate rice, tortillas and refried beans every day, but we had the privilege of having food and breaking bread with those same children.

We sat on the floor and ran in the yard and went swimming in a river that we in the States would snub our noses at, but sitting, running and swimming was never so much fun as it was with those little, giddy girls.

In the picture to the right (click on thumbnail) notice the barbed wire at the top of the concrete fence that boarders the home in the background – along with a guard dog, that is their protection against intruders.  For more information on crime in Honduras.

This was my first trip getting down and dirty to a country such as this, and I hope it is  not my last.

Dania facing the camera, with my wife, Kathi in the background

I have been thinking long and hard about how I can help…what can I do to make a difference every time I re-visit Honduras and the orphanages?

Besides bringing supplies and clothing and offering financial assistance, I want to start a bicycle ministry.  Free bikes, with multiple seats, where both the father and mother could pedal. Tike bikes, tires and repair services.  Doesn’t that sound great?  Todo para la Gloria a Dios!

I don’t know how to go about doing such a thing, but you could bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be making some phone calls to find out.  I’ve had a couple of chats with a Christian bike enthusiast who has great experience in manufacturing and has connections with bike part importers.  Carlos Byrne – fluent in Spanish and English and he wants to help.  On the surface, our game plan is to set up an assembly operation in Honduras and train the older boys at the orphanage to put them together.  We’d order the bike parts from China and have them sent to Honduras.  Simple, cruiser bikes – just 2 styles…unisex adult and child.  No gears, one speed, fat, knobby tires for the rough terrain, fat, cushioned seats, all the same color.

I’ll keep you posted.

Salud,

Carl L. Gallo

For more about the Honduras orphanages they are under one headship:

There are actually two orphanages with whom we are associated – the first is a small group of only 10 to 15 girls. http://eternalfamilyproject.org/.  The second is about 90 children, both boys and girls – http://wwh2h.org/

The Gallo family:

Carl and Kathi Gallo have six children of their own, and one granddaughter 6 months old.  Their four oldest children are adults, leaving them with two high school students at home.  Kathi does a wonderful job hosting and feeding Mission teams of 4 to 14 at a time from around the world at their home, 4 to six times each year. They are constantly looking for opportunities to leave this world a better place.

Find What You Love,” Steve Jobs’ at Stanford University

A young Steve Jobs

A “cat” with at least 3 lives!  What a great message for our future leaders of this great country!  Worth the time to read and let this message sink in!  A great commencement address by Steve Jobs!

Steve Jobs, who stepped down as CEO of Apple Wednesday after having been on medical leave, reflected on his life,
career and mortality in a (YouTube video) well-known commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.

Here, read the text of of that address:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.  That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an nuexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

Journal Community

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed.  Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking  backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started?  Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out.  And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day.  Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.  It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous.  Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

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.

Like Fine Wine…

Silver Oaks Vineyard

The unemployment jobless rate has jumped for those over 55 from 3.2% to 6.8% since the 2007 recession began.

This is an opportunity for small businesses looking to reduce the risks normally associated with hiring.

As an employer, you might consider “like fine wine, the over 55 candidates should be getting better with age.”

Rule Number One: “Ready to drink.”  Most wines available today are ready to drink (0ver 90%).  If the price is right drink it now.

Heard recently from someone over 55, unemployed, highly qualified and experienced in their line of work.  Someone whom I hold in high regard,

“I feel like I’m letting my wife, my kids and my grandkids down.”

This alarming revelation from someone heretofore has exuded confidence, success in; and dedication to; his family and his career like none other.

Over 55 and unemployed, most workers are eager to reenter the workforce.

Rule Number Two: “Taste it.”  There are many experts out there that will tell you what wine to drink and when.  My local wine shop agrees to a point but is adamant about one thing, “it comes down to you and your own personal tastes and preferences.”  The expression, “look good on paper (label)” is a common misnomer.

If you are hiring and you are a “seasoned professional” yourself, you don’t have to look over your shoulder twice to find someone with whom you can relate in the over 55 crowd.  Put these new hires through a probationary period.  They will understand they need to “earn their stripes.”

Rule Number Three: “Preservation of a good wine requires proper resources and planning.”  If you can’t afford to wait and don’t have the proper means to store your wine, drink it now.

In business, when hiring I like to use the expression “hit the deck running.” If you can’t afford to mentor, shadow, train or hire an apprentice or wait for a new hire to become productive, generate revenues, replace intellectual property, hire experience.

Rule Number Four: Price doesn’t dictate taste or value: There are winemakers out there ranging from Cameron Hughes (CH) to garage winemakers who produce excellent wine at excellent values. Famous high end growers in Napa, Sonoma and other areas sell their surplus to winemakers like CH who produce great wines at great values.

Look for experience first. College degrees, certifications, etc… is no substitute for the real deal. Many of the over 55 crowd have been “through the war.” “The proof of the wine is in the tasting.”

Some great reference sites:

http://www.staythirstymedia.com/201107-059/html/201107-sipprelle-washington.html

http://www.staythirstymedia.com/201107-059/html/201107-cavaliere-starting-over.html

http://politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2010/08/teens-vs-geezers-in-us-job-market.html

Rejection wasn’t my strong suit!

The difference between Fred and myself?
Fred knew when he was lying.

My first job out of college was to work for ACME Forms.  My Dad owned ACME. Dad was the only full-time employee.   Business was good.

I joined my Dad as a sales rep in 1974. We were a force of two.  My Mom was the part time administrative support person and the mother of six.   I was the future.   It was a shaky start.  My job was to get new business.  I used the phone to solicit appointments.  I can remember my voice quaked and my message was ill-prepared.  After exhausting all legitimate leads I was proffered, by phone, I hit the road.

My first cold call, “cold “ being the vernacular used for an unsolicited visit on an unsuspecting business to make a sales pitch.  I was a major contributors as to why there are so many “No Solicitors” sign on doors.

Like the polyester plaid I was wearing, rejection isn’t my strong suit.  I have to admit there were days I could not face the day ahead without becoming physically ill, cramps and vomiting, anticipating the rejection that inevitably lay ahead.

For better or worse, most of the businesses I “solicited” on the south side of Chicago, were unaccustomed to a 21 year old young man in polyester and a “pleather” briefcase showing up at their door.  My first “sales call” and I use the term loosely, required considerable surveillance.  I drove around the block several times. In the end, it was a relief to just to be dismissed.  To hear a simple “no thanks” was a victory, of sort.  I had broken the sound barrier.  I had made contact with the other side.  Soon, I was making 20 cold calls in a day.

Thankfully gas was 30 cents a gallon!  My father would get a call from someone I had visited and he would say, “Yes, that’s my son, he’s like manure, he’s spread all over the place.”  The message was loud and clear, I needed to take the next step, get to the next level.

Speaking of manure, here’s a great joke from Ronald Reagan, only takes a minute, during one of his speeches.  Precious really.  Good clean fun!

I needed to convince my prospects I wasn’t just another pretty face in plaid polyester.  My contacts were bewildered, annoyed, amused, indifferent or thankfully, on rare occasion, sympathetic to my pitch.  It’s simply amazing.  I became accustomed to the word“no”.   I managed to solicit a cadre of variations   theme to the extent I began to expect and anticipate the response.  I learned to take a “no” and solicit another.  As my skin thickened and the manure piled higher, I was able to garner a “maybe” here and there and occasionally a yes!  It was the “ying and the yang” thing, “Yes means No” to the extent a Tibetan monk would have been proud.

Later, as a regional director at a large corp. at the sage age of 28 years, where I managed more than 70 neophyte sales reps in 10 states, I became well known for the expression, “lose more orders”.  My mantra was the more orders you lose, the more opportunities you have to win.  Spread that manure!  Well not exactly…

Anyway, my dad fired me.  he put me out of my misery!  His too.  He said I needed more experience.  He was right.  I was keeping him too busy  spinning his wheels.  At the time, I was devastated.  I finished the blueberry pancakes my Mom had made me.  I left town to seek employment.  I stayed with the in-laws while looking for work.

I painted their house for $70 bucks, but I painted their windows shut, so we were even.  I found a job right before I was evicted.  But there’s more to the story…

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“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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