Beyond A Board Room

The Long View

It’s been a while since I posted anything to this blog. Much has happened in the last 15 months. We have had a presidential election, and have begun the 2014 election cycle. This endless focus on elections has turned our nation’s focus to the short term. While events will always demand our immediate attention, too often, our politicians rarely have a long view regarding policy and strategic direction. A long view is built on principle while the shorter view seems to be built upon polls.

This focus on polls seems to have become a poor substitute for leadership. This has become glaringly obvious in the last few days as President Obama spoke of drawing a red line regarding Syria. The President, and his Secretary of State, have vociferously stated that the Assad government has used sarin gas on its citizens. Concerned that he got too far out in front of the public and Congress, President Obama began consulting polls searching for a way to co-opt others about his statements regarding a limited strike on Syrian targets. The President has called Congress back early from their long vacation so he can shift the responsibility for any decision to strike Syrian targets to Congress. Should Congress fail to vote for a limited missile strike on Syrian targets, the President will most assuredly take to the airwaves and blame Congress for America’s unwillingness to take action. Should congress support the President by voting for a limited response to Syria, the President will gleefully state that his position reflects the will of the American Congress and public. This “have it both ways” approach to leadership has been the hallmark of this President’s “leadership.”

This President submitted only one budget to Congress during his first four years, this voted down by the Senate 97-0. While failing to complete his constitutional duties to submit a yearly budget, the President has increased the size of our national deficit to record levels. The Affordable Health Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare”, was produced by Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi. President Obama prefers to let others take the lead, and then take credit if things turn out well. Witness the credit the President has taken regarding Osama bin Laden.

During his campaign against Senator McCain, candidate Obama spoke of his vote against the Iraq war. He pledged to end the Iraq war, a task he has yet to complete. Now that he is President, he is now asking the American public and Congress to take what could be, the start of another war. While no one can predict what will take place should we strike Syrian targets, it is likely that this action will be perceived by some in the Arab world to increase their attacks on Americans and American interests. I hope in the days to come, the President and Congress take a long view considering what may happen if we once again act as the world’s policeman.

While past Presidents have taken unilateral action, it seems a better approach if President Obama follows the lead of President George H. W. Bush and builds a large widespread international coalition before taking action against Syria. Quick action always seems to produce unanticipated consequences. Let’s hope the public and Congress take the long view regarding taking action against Syria.

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Tips for the Departed

 

 

A successful manager or executive always has to manage multiple priorities, yet staff development is always a critical function of the managerial/executive role.  There are many things about which you can get excited as an executive, but few events are more exciting than when one of your colleagues is able to move up and out in the organization.  It is always gratifying to see others do well and continue to move up the ladder while they pursue their personal and professional goals.

I have been very fortunate throughout my career to work with many who have “left the team” and moved on to new or greater responsibilities.  I have always attempted to share some of the practices I have used as I took on different responsibilities in my career in the hope that these tidbits will cause a departing colleague to think perhaps in a new way as they begin their new responsibilities.  Over the years, I have shared hundreds of observations and comments, but today, I will enumerate just a few.

Listen – as you move into new responsibilities, listen to those who have held the position before, and to those with whom you will interact in your new position.  Meet with as many people as practically possible in your first few weeks seeking to understand their roles and responsibilities.  Everyone loves to have the chance to share their story or share their insights.  Seek the perspectives of others, as this will give you context which is essential for you to be able to do an outstanding job.

Share ideas – Your responsibility is to help your firm become the very best it can be.  That always requires individuals to share new ideas and perspectives.  You should never hope to have your new boss or colleagues agree with each of your suggestions, but you do have a responsibility to help improve the firm on a continuous basis.

Turn the spotlight on others – Seek to find those around you who are doing great work and find a way to elevate their accomplishments.  It is the right thing to do.

Seek balance – New positions require you to begin a new learning curve from the bottom.  You will, for a period of time, find yourself working harder than before as you seek to understand your new responsibilities, your new colleagues, and the context in which you will operate.  Ensure that you allocate time for your family, friends, and yourself.

Listen –  This has been mentioned before, but you can never listen enough.

Remember – Keep in touch with those with whom you used to work.  They will continue to have a different view on the firm, and can help you understand new situations because of their perspective.  Keep in mind that it is harder to develop friendships than it is to lose them.  Be a good friend.

Seek out a mentor – This individual should have experience, perspective, and wisdom, and should come from outside your new area.  In this manner, you can be assured that there will be less bias in the advice you receive.

Be a mentor – You have just moved up or on in the firm, now help someone else do the same.

Listen –  Did I mention this before?

Keep confidences – You will gain new information in your new role, some that can be shared, and some that cannot.  Know the difference and behave accordingly.

Respect everyone – Each individual has a unique perspective about the firm, and can help you shape your own personal views or beliefs.  Also remember that those you pass on your way up, may be the same folks that you see later in your career.  Developing great working relationships with as many folks as possible should always be your goal.

Listen –  Perhaps I have mentioned this before.

Act – Act in the best interests of your firm.  Be decisive when the situation calls for this behavior.

Ensure that your actions avoid “C1 Risk” –  Do not do anything that you would not want to read about on the front page of the C Section of the Wall Street Journal.

Be thankful – Appreciate the opportunity that you have been given.  Acknowledge the role that others have had throughout your career.

While there are many other tips that could be given, keeping these in mind will ensure that you develop great relationships, make good decisions, and have a well-balanced and rewarding life.

 

Image and blog copyright 2012

I left my heart in San Francisco

Few cities in the United States, perhaps even in the world, are as memorable as San Francisco.  San Francisco is most difficult to describe, but it is certainly a most spectacular place.  The hills and architecture make San Francisco memorable for all who travel there.  Trying to adequately describe the uniqueness of this beautiful city is like trying to fly a fighter jet through a needle.  It simply cannot be done.  So today, I share with you with some images of San Francisco taken on my recent trip to this city by the bay.

Gotta love this weather!

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A few days ago, spring officially arrived, signaling the official end to the winter of 2011-2012.  We here in northeastern Indiana, must consider ourselves fortunate with the mild temperates and relative lack of snow and ice we received this winter.  While I am not crossing places such as Florida, California, Arizona, and Hawaii off of my travel list, if we could ensure that each successive winter were as mild as this winter, I might find myself accumulating fewer frequent flier miles in the future.

Over the last few weeks, I have watched the emergence of tulips and buds on the trees, which gives me hope that the potential for snowfall is almost nil.  I know there are those who lament the lack of snow this season.  These folks have missed out on good skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, and other winter sports.  Yet, as these folks experience disappointment, bicyclists, joggers, gardeners, baseball and soccer teams each welcome the advent of the wonderful weather we have been experiencing.

Squirrels can be seen running, birds can be heard chirping, and the streets of our neighborhoods are full with those who have elected to take a walk with a friend or loved one.  Golfers too, are seemingly ecstatic with our wonderful weather, having hit the links relatively early this year as they seek to improve their games in time for summer golf leagues.  Can Opening Day for the TinCaps at Parkview Field be almost upon us?

Enjoy each day!

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blog and images copyright 2012

Room for more

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For the last several years, the Indiana University men’s basketball program has had difficulty.  This difficulty was brought about because Coach Kelvin Sampson could not refrain from using his cellphone to call potential recruits, which resulted in sanctions from the NCAA.  This, of course, was shocking to all who have followed the storied Indiana University men’s basketball program for years.

When news first emerged about Sampson’s transgressions, there was loud denial, as IU loyalists could not believe that Indiana University would ever be sanctioned by the NCAA.  After all, this was a program that had been brought back to prominence by none other than Robert Montgomery Knight, who won games, graduated players, and often spoke of the difficulties in college sports.

Indiana University, already financially reeling from payments to Cam Cameron and Bob Knight, was now faced with having to make a payment to Coach Sampson.  Fortunately, an anonymous donor came forward and paid Coach Sampson $700,000 to leave Indiana University, and then the search was on.

After interviewing a number of potential head coaches, the university determined that Tom Crean, the head coach at Marquette, would take over the program built by McCracken and Knight.  For the first few years of Coach Crean’s tenure at Indiana University, wins were hard to come by.  Crean had to rebuild the program from the bottom up, and did not have the caliber of players needed to win basketball games in the manner that the fans of Indiana University expected. Yet, everyone who continued to follow the Indiana University men’s basketball program during Coach Crean’s first few years respects the true student athletes who put the Indiana jersey on their chest and and competed.

Coach Crean’s early IU teams competed mightily, but found winning difficult.  After all, this became a program that was recognized for its losing streak on the road.  Yet, slowly, and surely, and with a grand plan in mind, Coach Crean taught and mentored the young men who were proud to wear the cream and crimson jerseys of Indiana University.

Coach Cream methodically began visiting Indiana high schools, developing relationships with high school coaches and players throughout the state.  He began to also attract the attention of some out of state players as well, and slowly but surely, he rebuilt the Indiana University men’s basketball program.  The successful recruitment of Cody Zeller will certainly be remembered as the turning point for the Indiana University men’s basketball program.

This year’s Indiana team ran off 13 straight wins, and with this run, built up enormous excitement for Indiana basketball that hadn’t been felt at this level for years.  The team won in Evansville, getting the “can’t win a road game” monkey off their back, and then followed up later with a win at North Caroline State, who ultimately became a Sweet 16 team in the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament. This team slowly and methodically began to develop a track record of success, and a belief in each other that enabled them to knock off number 1 rated Kentucky with a last second shot by Christian Watford, knock off then number 2 Ohio State at home in Bloomington, and eventually, beat the number 5 Michigan State Spartans in Bloomington as well.  Teams began to loathe having to travel to Bloomington to play this year’s Indiana Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers, with their incredible year-over-year improvement, were invited to play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champtionship Tournament, and won their first two games enabling them to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in many years.  Last evening, and into early morning, they faced again the number 1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.  In a game marked for its speed and great shooting (and over 35 foul shots taken by Kentucky), Indiana finally lost by the score of 102-90. This magical season came to an abrupt end as it does for all but one team.

As we reflect on this season, who will ever forget Cody Zeller dunking over the heads of opponents,  Jordan Hulls hitting 3 pointers with unerring accuracy, and Victor Oladipo’s fabulous athleticism, smothering defense, and slashing dunks?  Who can forget the play of Will Sheehy as he hit the winning shot to beat VCU in the tournament?  Who will forget the names Jones, Elston, Moore, Able, and Pritchard?  Certainly no one from the vast Hoosier Nation will ever forget.  And so, to Coach Crean and all of the players on the Indiana University men’s basketball team, a hearty “well done and thank you!”

The fans of IU’s men’s basketball program will take a few days to get over this morning’s loss, but very shortly each fan in the Hoosier Nation will begin speculating on just how good next year’s team will become with the addition of the spectacular recruiting class put together by Coach Crean. Teams across the country now know that Indiana University men’s basketball program is back among the elite programs in the country.  No longer will teams believe that they can easily beat the Hoosiers, rather, they will prepare for a battle each time they know they will be facing the Indiana.  I’ve got to tell you, this feels good.  Very good. The program’s stature has been restored and the pride in the IU men’s basketball program is exceedingly high.

Thank you Coach Crean for coming to Bloomington.  Your leadership and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated by the students, and the rest of the fans of the basketball program.  I want to personally thank all of the players who have represented Indiana University men’s basketball over the last 5 years and acknowledge your important role in restoring the luster that is the hallmark of the Hoosier men’s basketball program.  Finally, I want to acknowledge the fact that each time I visit Assembly Hall, one thing is perfectly clear – there is room for additional National Championship banners.

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blog and images copyright 2012

Isn’t it strange?

This weekend, the Occupy Fort Wayne crowd was evicted from downtown.  Thankfully, the event took place without  altercations or arrest.  It has always seemed strange to me that folks have been so committed to staying in tents to protest, but have never really been able to cogently articulate what they are protesting about.

Sure, there have been calls to clamp down on banks who have not always acquitted themselves well during the foreclosure crisis, yet, the Occupy folks never seemed to get around to protest the actions that put this financial crisis in motion.

Home ownership has always been a part of the American dream, as has a good education for children, and depending upon your preference, a Chevrolet or Ford in the garage.  I think we can agree however, that another part of the American dream dictated that we work for each of these things, not rely or depend upon the government’s largesse to get them.

President Clinton, one of our most articulate and knowledgeable presidents, decided that it was important that every American be able to have a home.  To that end, he proposed and passed legislation to demand that banks loan to folks that banks had for decades considered poor credit risks.

Banks, realizing that they were beginning to accumulate bad assets, were approached by investment bankers who turned these mortgage loans, or “bad assets” into bundles of loans.  This process is called securitization, whereby the investment bankers aggregate large amounts of mortgage loans, and take slices of loans of varying amounts and from various geographic regions, and bundle them together.  These “new” assets presumably represented a better spread of risk, and then were offered to pension funds and insurance companies for purchase after the rating agencies gave these new assets the equivalent of a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”  We know now, that in numerous instances the rating agencies did not do their job, and gave “bad assets” the financial equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” The banks, with the help of investment bankers, had effectively taken bad loans and sold them to others for a fee, effectively turning bad political policy into an income generating business.

As many of the original mortgage loans were written on a variable basis, as interest rates shifted, homeowners were faced with house payments well beyond their ability to pay. This process started out slowly, but began picking up steam in 2008 and 2009, causing massive foreclosures throughout the country.  Insurance companies and pension funds who normally purchase large amounts of real estate to balance their investment portfolios began seeing large amounts of defaults, as homeowners could no longer meet their financial obligation on their mortgage.  Investment houses, leveraged to the hilt, began to quickly feel the pain as well, as the loans began backing up through the financial system.  As a result, highly leveraged firms went out of business, were sold for pennies on the dollar, and in some cases were allowed to fail by the government, while other firms were bailed out.  This picking and choosing of winners was a phenomenon most Americans had not witnessed before.

Throughout this process, Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd were both warned about major potential problems with both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Yet, both politicians turned a deaf ear to the warnings from the White House and others throughout government, and allowed the mortgage problem to continue to expand.

Years later, after the malady of the financial crisis hit epic proportions, the two gentlemen who were warned that problems were brewing and did nothing, penned the new financial regulations under which banks and much of the rest of the financial system are now regulated.  Only in America can those who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to warnings of major problems come out smelling like a rose and have “reform” legislation named after them.  Why didn’t these two esteemed gentlemen watch out for all of us when they were warned in the early 2000’s?  Isn’t it strange that both of these “saviors” of our financial system both coincidentally decided not to seek elective office again, citing too much partisanship in government. Both of these gentlemen had spent most of their adult lives making our lives “better” through their public service.  Seriously?

While there are no easy answers to the financial crisis, and enough blame to go around,, it was not the market that caused the problems, rather it was government’s interference into the markets that caused these problems.  Today, businesses cannot borrow money in the manner in which they have historically.  This is the  result of the Dodd/Frank legislation.  Also, as we have watched our national debt increase at a rate never seen before these last few years, and regulation upon regulation heaped upon businesses, we have seen a slow recovery.

Now, we have 99 weeks of unemployment insurance.  The jobless rate is artifically low because hundreds of thousands have given up searching for a job, and are not counted in the unemployment statistics.  “Shovel ready” jobs never materialized, and even though we are seeing signs of economic improvement, we should be mindful to know that this happens in almost every election year.

Our personal share of the national debt increases each day.  Our “leaders” are no longer leading, except to the next television show to share their daily talking points.  Our country requires true leadership in these times.  We need leaders who will tell us the truth, stop the earmarks and entitlement mentality, and put this country on the road to true economic recovery.  It is not good enough to insist that we are not as bad as Greece or Iceland or some other country.  It is only important that we deal with the economic reality that confronts us.  Should we not do so, in time, we will no longer live in a country where home ownership, a good education, and a Chevrolet or a Ford in the garage is part of the American dream.

This election year, we should all do two things – we should think differently and we should demand better.  If we do not, it will not be strange to see more Occupy tent cities throughout our country as people protest our staggering economic debt.

blog and image copyright 2012

80/20 and 90/10

Throughout my professional career, I have frequently been asked to speak regarding the keys for success.  Unless your family name is on the entrance to your office building, you must find a way to distinguish yourself in the workplace.  While it would be arrogant to believe that I could boil the keys to success into a short blog post, I do believe there are a few things that are immutable laws for success.

First, I believe that 90% of success relates to timeliness – showing up for work on time, finishing your work assignments on time, and generally behaving in a manner that demonstrates a highly consistent work ethic.  How many times have you called in sick because of being out too late the evening before a work day?  How often have you failed to show up for work because you felt a tad poorly, but really could have made it in to work without causing an epidemic?

The next number relates to an important component of success, and that is volunteering.  After you have established yourself, and this does not take years, I believe you should volunteer for new assignments in different areas of your firm. Volunteering for different assignments enables you to learn about new areas of your firm’s business, interact with different folks, all while being seen by others in upper management.  Each time you volunteer you are adding to your skill set and adding both breadth and depth to your knowledge base.

There is an axiom in business that 80% of the time when management is presented with a new opportunity or obstacle, 20% of the team is chosen to work on these new assignments.  This group is almost always composed of those who have proven reliable and dependable, and who also have broadly developed skill sets and experiences.  This group consistently is presented with the opportunity to work on new initiatives and issues.

Routinely, I have had individuals speak to me about how unfair it is that the same group of people are always chosen for new tasks.  I have always responded to these comments by saying that I have always chosen folks for these duties who have proved to be dependable and also have a broad understanding of the business.  These individuals are able to look at both opportunities and obstacles through multiple lens as they have worked on a variety of projects throughout their careers.  Business loves predictability.  Choosing those who time and again have demonstrated the capacity for making good strategic decisions while meeting deadlines is just wise.

So the next time you think it acceptable to stay home because you are a little tired, remember that there are a few folks who are working at your company that have demonstrated their reliability and are probably working on a new project strengthening their skills and learning more about your firm, its business, and its customers.  So rather than roll over and blame others for your lack of opportunities, think about taking an aspirin before retiring for the evening and set your alarm clock for early the next day.  And after folks at the office get over the shock of seeing the new you, raise your right hand and volunteer.  It will be good for your firm, and will serve you well in the long term.

blog and image copyright 2012