Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Millionaires and Mailmen

A caller this morning complained he didn’t “get” the point of our segment with Millionaire Mailman, Don P. Baker. Baker, a postal carrier for 24-years, has delivered the mail in one of Houston’s more affluent zip codes for the past 6-years. In the process of getting to know the patrons on his route, he befriended them, and they shared with him the ups and downs of their lives…and their secrets for financial success.

You might expect some super-secret formula for wealth building, or perhaps an inside track on a mega-merger to generate fabulous wealth passed along to Baker from the people on his postal route. You might think he picked their brains for schemes to beat everyone else to the finish line.

But think about it—why would anyone give away an advantage in timing to a potential competitor?

Sometimes people move in a different dimension from the expected norm. Normal in America is conspicuous consumption. Normal in America is two cars in the garage, and a stack of payment coupon books on the cars, and double mortgages on the house. Normal in America is living beyond our means, and a savings rate close to zero.

What Don Baker learned from his postal route customers was simple. So simple that the speed skaters looking for the fast lane to wealth zipped right past the point: Millionaires become rich by avoiding spending their money needlessly. They’re frugal. They may have a Benz or two, but they drive a Chevy to the grocery store. They’ll buy nice stuff, but they catch it on sale.

The secret of becoming a millionaire mailman is no different from becoming a millionaire truck driver, bank teller, or radio host—it’s all the same. Spend less than you earn, save as much as you can.
Simple economics.

Good advice from millionaires or mail carriers.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Not Just for Yahoo's

Someone recently remarked that they liked my show, but felt they could get the same information from I received this criticism second-hand, so part of the meaning might have been lost in the translation.

Regardless, I refute the comment because first, I don’t use Yahoo for my content, and secondly, I think most of you are smarter than that.

Much of the material I share with you each morning comes from a plethora of sources: financial commentators, news services, press releases, and the fruits of my own curiosity following a down a story to its source. While I am not a financial wizard, and am sometimes mistaken for playing one on the radio, my root passion has always been in the journalistic side of things. Just as not everyone can manage the money of others’ effectively, not all are able to effectively tell a story about a stock, a company, a management style, or an event that can affect all of these. I just happen to be pretty fair at sharing the stories that involve numbers.

Tuesday morning’s line up will be altered from weeks past, with my return to a two-hour show length, 6a-8a, followed by Vince Rowe from 8a-9a. A couple of semi-regular guests will be on the show tomorrow: Nancy Zambell, an investment guru and financial advisor from Nashville, who is also regularly featured in The Money Digest, and Connie Rogers, Sr. VP of Wealth Management Services for Compass Bank.

One of those stories I ran across and have tracked-down will be told with the help of Professor Zhong Lin Wang from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prof. Wang has devised a sensor that can harvest mechanical energy and convert it into electricity. This is one of those cutting-edge, get-in-front-of-the-parade stories I like to bring to you on the show.

And from the cult of “the Millionaire Next Door” comes the wit and wisdom of Bill Wagner, and “The Entrepreneur Next Door.”

By the way…it’s put-up or shut up time. If you are interested in sponsoring my show on The BizRadioNetwork, let’s talk. I can tell your story, too. Meanwhile, I’ll see you in the morning on the Radio.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day and Automobiles

Ah, Memorial Day Weekend!

The Indy 500 on the tely, punctuated by pitches for holiday-themed sales on furniture, tires, apparel, and anything else remotely removed from the meaning of Memorial Day…and the traditional start of vacation season.

Memorial Day Weekend has become what its founders feared worst—a commercialized excuse for a day off in the workweek.

Regardless of what you’re planning, please take the time to acknowledge the sacrifices that have been, and continue to be made to insure our freedoms in this country.

Regardless of your political persuasion and position on the conflicts underway in the Middle East, the fact remains US military men and women are serving our country. We should honor their efforts, and respect the ultimate sacrifices that have already been made on our behalf.

As Memorial Day 2006 rolls past, gasoline in my neighborhood has dropped to $2.78/gal for unleaded regular, so the traditional Summer driving season has begun with a relatively painless price tag. Okay, so maybe it’s more like a dull toothache, but still not at the $3/gal that was being foretold by the doom-and-gloom crowd.

At The Clanton Hacienda, we like to celebrate the long weekend with family and friends, cooking out on the patio, or treating the Clanton women to hair cuts and shampoos and home made cookies. Hearth and home. That's a part of a memorable Memorial Day weekend.

The Clanton Family launched this driving season with a 2006 Lexus LX-470 lent to us by Toyota for the purposes of relaying to you how such a vehicle drives, handles, and impresses the neighbors…who by now, are so confused about who drives what at our house, we’re probably going to be turned in for operating a used car lot our of our driveway.

Would I spend $70,457 (window sticker price) for one of these, with gasoline flirting with $3/gal? Wrong question. If one can afford a $70K luxury SUV, the per-gallon price at the pump for fuel is not an issue.

Having had a mild fling with a couple of Hummers, and ongoing relationships with a few Jeeps, the Lexus is a delightful addition to this competitive field. If you’re a gadget freak, you will fall in love with this vehicle, with memory seating settings, and a robotic steering column that telescopes the wheel to greet you when the key is placed in the ignition.

Lexus' GPS Navigation system is also a nice feature, but the female voice prompts are a little devoid of emotion when advising to "turn here." My bride has mastered the art of navigational assistance, and my daughter is particularly adept at the skill, especially when practiced from the rear seating area. For 2007, might Lexus hire someone like Eva Longoria to provide the voice prompts to the maps?

"Turn here, baby."

There are suspension enhancements that allow the two and a half ton LX-470 to ride like a limo, and corner like a cat. All-wheel-drive coupled with 18-wheels is part of the combination, along with a hydraulic adjustable height control that lets you raise or lower the vehicle on the fly.

The coolest gadget on the LX 470 is the optional ($2,200) Night View System. A pair of infrared beams mounted on the front bumper project IR light ahead, which is picked up by a camera just above the center rear-view mirror. That image is translated by a computer and projected onto a heads-up display on the windshield, just above the dashboard. It actually works well, showing idiots on bicycles riding without headlights on a darkened road.

I call such people organ donors.

All of the amenities you’d want in a luxury coach are here in the Lexus LX-470. Leather seats, rear air and audio controls separate from the front units, and pop-down seating for extra passengers in the rear cargo area. The hydraulic height adjusters come in handy for this, lowering the rear deck to within hopping distance for the kiddo’s to easily climb aboard.

Nice way to start the Summer driving season.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Enron By the Numbers

Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are guilty.
Was there ever any question?
Only in the minds of two men.

18-counts of fraud and conspiracy, one count of insider trading against Skilling…six counts of fraud and conspiracy, four counts of bank fraud against Lay.

$60-billion in market value lost in Enron’s collapse.
$2.1-billion in pension funds evaporated.
5,600 hundred jobs and careers brought to a screeching halt.

5-days to deliberate.
$5-million: Bond required to keep Ken Lay out of jail on appeal. The money coming from pledges by his children.

64-years old: Ken Lay.
52-years old: Jeff Skilling.
With possible terms of 12-25-years, both men likely will spend the rest of their lives in lock-up.

Neither man admits he did wrong.
12 of their peers say that they did.
Maybe they weren’t the smartest guys in the room afterall.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Al Gore: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Former Vice President Al Gore’s docu-movie on global warming fears debuts today, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Ironically, there is an inconvenient counter-weight to his spin-fest: a new video from the Competitive Enterprise Institute which has tracked Mr. Gore’s own “carbon footprint.”

The CEI notes that the oracle of the environment is a big user of hydrocarbon fuels that produce carbon dioxide when combusted. Mr. Gore has continued to crusade for changes in the way the rest of us live, and his companion book by the same name also suggests ways that you and I can reduce our carbon footprint...but apparently not Mr. Gore.

In presenting his global warming, death-by-Power Point slide show more than 1,000 times around the world, the CEI figures Al Gore has burned more hydrocarbons than most of us average Americans…and actually made more of a contribution to the very problems he’s preaching about.

Myron Ebell, CEI's Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy, who's been a frequent guest on my show, says, "All the evidence suggests that Mr. Gore is an elitist who passionately believes that the people of the world must drastically reduce their energy use but that it doesn't apply to him."

Hey, when you're the inventor of the Internet, life has certain priviledges.

American Idolatry, Part Deaux

More people voted in the American Idol finals last night than in the last Presidential election—to the tune of 63-million-plus. That opens up all kinds of possibilities…perhaps Simon Cowell should produce the next Presidential Election…and yes, the White House could be won for a song.

Congratulations to winner Taylor Hicks, who is not planning a career in politics.

Was it me, or did the American Idol singers actually do a better job of staying on pitch than the professionals with whom they were paired?

Best duet: Paris Bennett and Al Jareau…the worst had to go to Taylor and Toni Braxton…and the strangest pairing was between Katherine McPhee and Meatloaf.

The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (insert icon de jour here) refused to be paired with any of the Idols, opting for a harmonious menage a trois with a couple of his own singing skanks.

Is the American Idol phenomenon legitimate?

Last year's winner, Carrie Underwood, picked up two awards earlier this week in the American Country Music Awards: Top New Female Vocalist, and Best Single.

Last night's audience share was up 14% from the previous Idol finale, with 28-million viewers.
You watch, some politician will figure a way to get in front of that parade between now and 2008.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

American Idolatry

I have McPheever.

In a shameless departure from our business-like demeanor, I’ve got to gush for a few seconds and share that I believe American Idol deserves every bit of the phenomenal popularity it has generated. In a world that has run amok with corruption and greed, violence and pain, and smoke and mirrors to negotiate at every turn, it is refreshing and inspiring to see teens, young adults, and not-so-young adults come from nowhere to center stage based upon their talent, grit, and some good, old-fashioned luck.

Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks are arguably in the tightest Idol run off ever…and they both deserve every ounce of glory they’re receiving right now.

They’re excellent musicians, entertainment perfectionists, and positive role models for millions of youth around the world that elbow grease and talent—in any field—will pay off if you work it hard enough.

It may be cheesy, but Simon Cowell and his production company have crafted a winning combination…may the chemistry continue.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NOAH, Nowitzki, and Naysayers

Of all the self-fulfilling prophecies in our culture, the assumption that aging means decline and poor health is probably the deadliest.
--Marilyn Ferguson,
The Aquarian Consp

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts between 13 and 16 named storms this year, of which eight to 10 are predicted to become hurricanes. As many as a half-dozen of those storms could be large, reaching Category 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5.

The Dallas Mavericks are moving on to the conference finals after Dirk Nowitzki converted a three-point play to tie San Antonio and force Game 7 into overtime, during which the Spurs were defeated 119-111. The Mavs take on the Phoenix Suns next in Game 1 tomorrow night.

Spurs’ guard Tony Parker was so deflated by the loss he had to be comforted by companion Eva Longoria.

Oh, waaah. Somebody call a wambulance.

Former Enronista Ken Lay is using the ignorance defense in his bank fraud trial. In today’s Houston Chronicle, George Secrest, one of Lay's lawyers, and not to be confused with a lay lawyer, said Mr. Lay just "never took the time to monitor his personal financial affairs," and didn't know he was doing anything wrong.

I believe this is popularly known as the "Doofus Defense," which has been invoked in the past for Mr. Lay's shortcomings. Lay has also said he was unaware of the shenanigans that brought down Enron.

Secrest says Lay "didn't pay close attention."
That may be the understatement of the decade.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Immigation, Crimaliens, and Diasporas

It’s going to be a Monday, for sure.

First rattle out of the box, we coined a new phrase: “Immigation.”
Immigation is what results when your Red Bull buzz starts to prematurely wear off…just enough to affect the tongue, but still sufficiently juiced to spring back from the mispronunciation and invent a new definition on the fly.

Immigation is the use of foreign water on crops and fields. Think of it as Evian for your flower beds.

I received another one of those mildly-interesting, but basically stupid e-mail forwards about illegal aliens over the weekend. My buddy, Vince Rowe, likes to call them "crimaliens." This e-mail illustrated the issue by comparing it to a person who breaks into your house, but instead of stealing from you, they wash your dishes, make your beds, and bringing along their family to do your yard and weed your flower beds.

I generally delete those silly things without another thought.

For this one, I hit the “reply all” button, and wrote that while the illustration was helpful in clarifying the illegal alien’s role, it did nothing to pose a solution to the problem. If all the time and energy that has been devoted to protesting and marching in the streets had been, instead , focused on some constructive solutions, both countries, and the border we share, would be in much better shape.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece yesterday by Carolyn Lochead that describes the migration of Mexicans and Central Americans to the United States as one of the largest diasporas in modern history…

Disapora is generally used to describe the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine following the Babylonians’ conquest of the Judean Kingdom in the 6th century bc and again following the Romans’ destruction of the Second Temple in ad 70, according to Wilkipedia.

Diaspora can also be used to describe the Jewish communities living outside either the present-day state of Israel, or the African displacement that seeded slavery in this country in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Now, we are witnessing history in the making, with this Latino Diaspora (how does that work, grammatically: Latino is masculine—vs Latina—but Diaspora would appear to be feminine; should it more properly be labeled Latino Diasporo??)

According to the SF Chronicle article, here are some statistics to ponder:
· 10% of Mexico's population of about 107 million is now living in the United States
· 15% of Mexico's labor force is working in the United States
· One in every 7 Mexican workers migrates to the United States

Steven Haber, the director of Stanford University's Social Science History Institute and a Latin America specialist at the Hoover Institution, suggests what we really long for is Mexico to look like Canada: stable and wealthy. He says, "That's the optimal for the United States. We never talk about instability in Canada. We're never concerned about a Canadian security problem. Because Canada is wealthy and stable. It's so wealthy and stable we barely know it's there most of the time. That's the optimal for Mexico: a wealthy and stable country."

The SF Chronicle notes that three-quarters of the estimated 12 million illegal migrants in the United States come from Mexico and Central America. How we treat them is going to largely affect how well they assimilate into our society.

Deepak Chopra wrote over the weekend, and I agree with his assessment, that immigrants are not just the key to the solutions to many societal issues in this country, but are also the “seeds” of a solution to cure the excesses of nationalism around the world.

I have stated in the past that the flow of immigrants across our border from the south is not likely to be stopped, but must be controlled.
The camel’s nose is already under the tent.
The train has left the station.
The horse is out of the barn.
Pick your own metaphor.

The Pew Hispanic Center figures Mexicans make up 56% of the unauthorized U.S. migrant population Another 22% come from elsewhere in Latin America, mainly Central America and the Andes.

How do you imagine this Hispanic exodus is altering the countries from which these people are coming? The SF Chronicle story noted the town of Tendeparacua, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, had 6,000 residents in 1985, and now has 600. Many towns now have no able-bodied men to do the work of maintaining and running the townships.

That’s the labor capital aspect.

The fiscal effects are even more eye-popping: In five Mexican states, the money migrants send home exceeds locally generated income, and in 2005, Mexico received a record $20 billion in remittances from migrant workers. That is equal to Mexico's 2004 income from oil exports. Mexican Tourism revenue dsoesn't even come close to that number.

The Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University figures the money Mexican migrants send home almost equals the U.S. foreign aid budget for the entire world. Which raises a novel idea: Has anybody considered it might be good for the fundamental interests of the United States ... to serve as something of a safety valve for those that can't be employed in Mexico?

What has driven this migration? It's the promise of a better life, and the large income differentials that exist between the US and Mexico. The border is acting like an economic membrane for financial osmosis…when a rural Latin American migrant can earn 10 times in the United States what he or she can earn at home, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why this is taking place.

Another interesting aspect of this 21-st century diaspora is where they’re winding up…and it’s not along the border. Hot destinations for new immigres are North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Iowa and Nebraska.

This may be why there is more public discontent over immigration than in the past, with a higher level of immigrant visibility in more locations around the United States.

History does repeat itself, and it’s instructive to observe how other countries around the world have dealt with similar circumstances.

Germany shared a border with less-affluent Poland. There was a time when France had the advantages Spain desired. Might the European unification be an example of a better way to integrate North American economies without disruptive migration flows?

What did the EU do to make their solution work? They invested billions of dollars to develop the economies of its poorer members -- at the time, Spain, Portugal and Greece -- that had been sending migrants abroad.

Notice how Spain has become an economic engine of Europe?
How ironic is it now to see the Irish having their gas pumped by Eastern Europeans?
Might a similar U.S. investment in Mexico be less expensive and more effective than a wall?

Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey correctly asks, “If, when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1994, the United States had approached Mexico and its integration into the North American economy in the same way that the European Union approached Spain and Portugal in 1986, we wouldn't have an immigration problem now."
Last week I wrote that good fences make good neighbors.
So do good neighborhood policies.
Sometimes you have to give a little to get a lot.

If we need a wall for national security, bring it on. (I’m not convinced that’s the right solution). A better solution would be an economic one that combines border security with common-sense practices that embrace the realities of this modern-day diaspora.
Immigrants are going to come.
They always have, and no wall can stop them.
We should instead construct an economic membrane that enables a healthy osmosis of culture, labor, and commerce.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Jesus Christ and Jimmy Hoffa

I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Once again, there just aren’t enough matters of substance to worry about in this country, so nearly everyone is up in arms over the movie release of The DaVinci Code, the fictional story of an imagined relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

Dear clue seekers---it’s a m-o-v-i-e---it’s a made-up story…and if you’re offended by the notion, don’t buy a ticket.

Stupid story of the week: The FBI is hot on the trail of Jimmy Hoffa’s remains. Don’t want to let that case get too cold. We’re at war with terrorists, and our Federal government wants to look for some guy who disappeared in 1975.

Hey, fallas, when you’re finished with this one, how about Osama bin Laden?

Second-most stupid story of the week: Wish I had a dollar for every minute Congress wasted this week debating the notion of establishing English as the official language of the United States, and then back-pedaled to simply acknowledge English as the common-language of this country.

The rest of today’s show will be performed in the common vernacular of Texan, with which some easterners, especially in New York and Washington, have some difficulty in fully understanding.

Here’s something to worry about if you live in Texas, especially along the Gulf Coast: Allstate Insurance is dropping its windstorm damage insurance coverage this Fall. Starting September 15th such coverage will stop for about 65,000 policy holders… watch what the rest of the insurance companies in Texas do…and how the state insurance commissioner reacts to this wrinkle before the end of the 2006 Hurricane Season.

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman wants more refining capacity…and the House failed yesterday to lift a ban on drilling on the east and west coasts, and the eastern coasts of Florida. Here’s a group that just does not get it. But what did you expect from the same batch of eggheads who’s solution for our energy issues includes $100 gasoline rebates?

The Independent Petroleum Association of America says studies indicate 362 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be beneath the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

That’s enough to heat 100 million homes for 60 years.

Don't even think about going after that.
Let's worry instead about the implications of made up movies about Jesus and the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa.

Important stuff.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Does Texas' New Tax Plan Add-up for Education?

I was traveling most of the day today…so did not have occasion to ponder and post on the news of the day…like the new tax legislation passed in Austin, after—how many—five special sessions?

It’s pretty interesting to listen to the criticisms of the nuances of this new legislation, particularly from the education industry (don’t kid yourself—the school business is BIG business), which is apparently ignoring the $2,000 raises teachers won, and instead harping on all the new stuff they’re going to have to teach…like math and science.

Next year’s seventh graders will, by the time they are high school seniors, be required to complete four years of math and science in order to graduate.

Remember how the gloom-and-doomer’s have been crying “woe is we” because our high schools have been churning out functional illiterates? Remember how countless leaders and politicians have decried how American students are falling behind the rest of the world in science and technology? So when the State Legislature says teach ‘em four years of math and science, and you’d think they’d hair-lipped the Governor.

David Anthony, the Superintendent of Cy-Fair Schools, is quoted in today’s edition of the Houston Chronicle, griping that there are a lot of “logistics that haven’t been thought through.”
Apparently, teachers are now concerned there won’t be enough labs to go around. Next thing you’ll hear is that since they haven’t been able to teach the kids the current curriculum, how can they be expected to beef up the lesson plans?

Last time I checked, you could teach a pretty effect math class with a black board and a couple of pieces of chalk. If you want to go high-tech, use colored markers on a dry-erase board (and the image is crash-proof!)

Interestingly, today’s Chronicle also notes that while the passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (a.k.a. TAKS Test) were up fractionally, Texas students’s scores in math and science aren’t being misread for Mensa certification.

Teachers are already whining that because of the additional math and science class requirements, students will have to cut back on taking electives like art, football, and computer networking. (Glad to see they’re not picking on music education programs…or is that next?)

Why should kids not be able to learn math and science while also studying art, football, computer networking…and music? Is not art an expression of man’s perceptions of the universe? Why can’t those expressions include students’ observations of the sciences?

Is not music a poetic application of mathematics? (The best lesson in fractions I ever received was leaning to sub-divide rhythms.)

What teenaged sports fan can’t recite batting stats for their favorite slugger, or give you the standings and odds for winning of their favorite team? Is that not the perfect entrĂ©e to teaching and understanding the math behind statistics?

What skateboarder wouldn’t want to know about the basic physics of inertia, motion, friction and gravity?

The convergence of math and science in the realm of computer networking is so glaringly obvious as to render such comments as ridiculously stupid.

That students must forego fine arts and athletics electives for the sake of math and science is, frankly, pretty ignorant thinking for teachers.

Don’t get me wrong—I am the product of two career educators: My father was a band director and secondary school administrator, and my mother was an elementary school teacher. Both retired after working in the same school district for over 30-years. I have cousins my age who are now classroom teachers; I am well acquainted with the challenges they face.

But to pooh pooh plans for beefing up curriculums to improve the outcome of higher education is disingenuous for educators who truly want to see the next generation of Americans succeed and excel on the global stage.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Telephones, Euphemisms, and Exhibitions

Think of what would happen to us in America if there were no humorists; life would be one long Congressional Record.
--Tom Masson

No telephone records of any calls placed to The BizRadioNetwork have been released to the NSA.

Verizon and BellSouth are denying USA Today’s reports the companies provided customers phone records to the National Security Administration…so USA Today may have pulled a “CBS” on this story.

Is it just coincidental that there have been no attacks on US soil since 9/11, thanks to whatever steps the US government has taken? A point we can ponder without the daily distractions of dirty bombs, roadside IED’s, or attacks on shopping malls and outdoor restaurants.

There is a commercial running on the national networks these days for a pharmaceutical product that promises to cure certain frailties of the flesh that some find disagreeable to hear mentioned on the radio.

We received a few calls about that this week (which were not reported to the NSA), from listeners complaining about what shall be referred to as E-D ads. I understand your discomfort, and I propose that we simply color the story for what it is, euphemistically speaking.
From this point forward, we’ll call them Richard Fiasco’s…and you can draw your own conclusion…

Today was the first day of the ITEC Expo in Houston with our affiliate, BizRadio1320. The whole Hee-Haw Gang turned out for the fun. Kristina Ramirez even had her limo drop her off in front of The Reliant Center so she could do her reports live from the exhibition floor.
She’s such an exhibitionist.

Del Walmsley performed his show live from our expansive booth real estate in the expo. Lots of people came up to watch the show, and ask questions between segments. Funny, no one wanted to ask a question while he was on the air.

Meanwhile, our IT Manager, Shaw Wairegi, was in hog heaven, talking shop with the other exhibitors, and making his Christmas Wish List from all the neat toys on hand. Gracie Pavlicek, one of our Houston account reps, was also mining the floor for fresh ideas. Many of the exhibitors should be advertising on The BizRadioNetwork, as our audience is perfect for the goods and services that were on display here today.

Irrepressible Vince Rowe filled-in for Las Vegas-bound Daniel Frishberg this afternoon, with a little help from his friends. We literally closed down the show tonight, the last one’s to leave, after a long broadcast day on location.

Semper Gumby

I have adopted a saying I picked up someplace else—I can’t remember where—that has provided a certain “whatever” outlet to things that go differently than planned.

You’ve probably also felt the frustration that occurs when your best-laid plans are suddenly rendered useless by the whim of a boss, an un-expected change in direction from a supervisor, or a catastrophic alteration of your day.

Semper Gumby.
Always flexible.

With apologies to the U.S. Marines’ code of semper fi, “Always Faithful,” and the "do or die" motto of Marine wives' semper gumby mind set, such a simple, mental attitude of being flexible in the face of the ridiculous can sometimes be the only thing that keeps your sanity from snapping like an over-stretched rubber band.

In some situations, a snap-change of plan is just not the best idea.

If you have already surrounded yourself with the best, most-talented team you can find, you may find that you’re squandering their talent—and your time—by not better preparing your role as a leader before sending commands to the troops on the ground. If you’re wasting their time, you’re wasting your money.

Last weekend I was amazed to observe the intricacies of the pit crews working at the Houston Grand Prix. Controlled chaos is an apt description to the un-initiated, but as I learned how these teams of precision mechanics worked and flowed and depended upon one another to get a race car stopped, raised, changed, dropped, and on it’s way back onto the track in mere seconds, I gained a deeper appreciation for the teamwork and harmony that must exist in order for that squad to function.

Sometimes we’re in the pit crew, and sometimes we find ourselves behind the wheel of the car.

How we manage the expectations and talents of those who are scrambling on our behalf can very much affect how we run our race, and how we finish.

There is a place for flexibility in any organization—the ability to stretch and contract to fit the moment is a valuable trait to possess. But as managers, we also need to recognize there are a finite number of flex cycles possible in a given scenario before "semper gumby" becomes semper fiasco.

According to Gartner Research, 70% of organizations failing to correct the causes of employee unhappiness will find themselves on the defensive against litigation and PR gaffes as the result of poor quality service and business practices, mostly stemming from unhappy, over-flexed workers. Gartner says there are four main reasons for such disgruntlement, which no amount semper gumby can fully overcome, if not recognized and corrected.

One of those sources of dissatisfaction is from toiling in a “Get Rich Quick” environment, where workers are hired by entrepreneurs promising an initial public offering (IPO) within 12 months, or some future stake in riches to come.

With the big pay come long hours and a tunnel-vision focus on company growth. While both the bosses and the recruits do agree to exploit each other, such a relationship is unsustainable: IPOs stall, entrepreneurs run out of steam and inspiration, and the staff burns out.

Semper crispy.

While money makes the world go round, “Pay to Stay” behavior is another turn towards disaster. If the money’s too good to be true, it’s can be because management is weak, and employees' salaries are continually raised to make up for constant understaffing and old-school thinking.

The fallacy that employees can be kept content with higher salaries is a dangerous exercise in smoke and mirrors, and the resultingworker indifference to quality defects, service problems, brown-nosed backing of questionable strategies, can only lead to higher turnover, lost suppliers, lost buyers, and lost market position.

Semper loser.

Gartner describes the frenetic, random practice of a new idea in a new direction everyday as Fire Drill behavior. Constant changes in direction, continually altered priorities, and inconsistent performance metrics are distractions from the pursuit of opportunities, because of the impulsive nature of the leadership.

Fire Drills cause failure in completion of new initiatives, inability to drop outmoded products, ballooning costs and busted budgets, and a real sense of failure in accomplishing anything by employees.

Semper impulsar.

The fourth danger sign is when companies box-in their employees, sacrificing workforce effectiveness in exchange for operational efficiency. Do you talk about personal development and new opportunities, but when someone makes a move to pursue those opportunities, they are denied or delayed—why rock the boat?

Gartner suggests that if you’re seeing a greater reliance on outside contractors, noticing some subtle employee boycotting, and starting to hear negative recruitment feedback…you’re probably already having to deal with low morale, customer apathy, and shrinking market share, too.

Semper dud.

If left unchecked, the next exhibition of semper gumbiness you’ll use will be in finding another gig.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fast Wimmen in Cars

“How fast did you go?” my Bride asked me, breathlessly.

“I don’t know—I never got a chance to ask,” I shouted over the din of a passing Ford Mustang as it roared onto the track of The Houston Grand Prix.

The Champ Car Fast Lap team of professional drivers were giving VIP rides around the racecourse in a pack of bona fide, souped-up Mustangs for a taste of what it’s like to be propelled towards an oncoming wall at speeds measured in three-digits.

Welcome to the side show at the 2006 Houston Grand Prix.

Our drivers were part of the squad of official pace car drivers who escort the race cars onto the track and through their first warm-up laps before the race is officially begun with the wave of a green flag.

When the yellow flag is waved, signifying a problem somewhere on the course, the Pace Car Team springs into action, and onto the course to shepherd the race cars through the trouble spots.

As if.

These ladies are like “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Magnificient 7” all rolled into one.
Fearless but sensible.
Feminine but definitely not racy.

Allison Altzman waltzed me around the track in an honest-to-goodness stock racer: A 2006 Mustange GT/CS with a 5.0-litre, 500-hp engine harnessed to a T-56 6-speed racing transmission. This was the real deal, not just a souped-up street car.

Allison was born into a racing family and is now the SVP of Danny McKeever’s Fast Lane Racing School in Valencia, California. Danny’s her dad. Allison and her husband have two small children, who now implore their mom to time their laps as they run a go-cart around the family compound. Looks like this could be a three-generational trend.

Racing schools are popping up all over the country, as wanna-be race drivers give themselves the chance to live out their dreams of taking a fast car out on a skid pad or a test track to “see what she can do.”

But there is a more sober side to this speed business.
Education: It’s widely known that the driver education instruction our youth now receive in order to become licensed drivers is more all about passing the test and having the minimum required knowledge of traffic rules. Maybe that’s why more kids are killed in traffic accidents in their teens than in their twenties, after they’ve had a few years of practical experience.

It’s obvious that the State of Texas tacitly recognizes that the state-mandated driver’s ed courses are not adequately equipping youthful drivers for all conditions, because of the staggered levels of licensing now in effect.

What if you could put your youthful driver—or yourself—in your car on a skid pad? Not to see “what she can do,” but rather to determine how that vehicle will respond in an emergency situation. How much braking is required to lock up the steering? What would really happen in a skid—and how would it feel to steer out of it?

That kind of practical, educational experience is not being given in today’s driving schools, which is why many teens’ impression of driving is as just another ride at Disney.
There’s no respect for the laws of physics, inertia, and friction—because the extremes of those envelopes in their personal vehicle have never been explored under supervision and instruction.

Allison expressed to me a level of frustration because the school systems are turning a blind eye to the problem, and the insurance companies lobbying the states—who should have a vested interest in keeping accident losses at a minimum—don’t acknowledge the connection. Yet.

There are subtle changes happening for the better. In the meantime, Allison and her Sisters in Speed, tour the country giving thrill rides to race fans…and curious journalists and their wives.

Driving home the point (pun intended) that this is serious business…on the track and off.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Terminal

At first sight, the ship appeared to be an apparition from the past. A tall ship in the distance, perhaps, with rigging and masts silhouetted in the distant glare of morning.

But this was no ghost ship, but a freighter from the Orient, traveling halfway around the world to deliver its outsized cargo.

The Zhen Hua11 glided into the Bayport Terminal this morning under a brassy sun, with the latest technology in cargo cranes welded to her deck: Four gargantuan , quayside container cranes from the Shanghai Zenhua Port Machinery Company, each weighing 1,600-tons, and costing $7.5-million apiece.

It takes a lot of pull to get this much pull, and these will be the largest such cranes in operation on the US Gulf Coast when the Bayport facility becomes operational.

As the stately vessel plied its way against the wind towards the wharf, the Fireboat Howard Telepsen heralded its arrival with patriotic streams of red, white, and blue spray from its fire hoses. And just in case the neighbors hadn’t noticed, the Zhen Hua11 let off a few blasts of its ship’s horn as it passed the site where the cranes would be installed.

Three tug boats assisted the ship as it ran up to a turning basin from which it would re-approach and dock with the terminal wharf. It will take workers four more days to cut the cranes loose and position them correctly on the dock.

The neighbors won’t really notice.
These cranes will operate with a noise level around 80-decibels, slightly louder than a conversation with your office buddy, but less obtrusive than a passing automobile. At night the terminal will operate under the illumination of specially-designed lights that will all but eliminate reflected glow.

There’s been a lot of negative spin about this project from environmentalists, but the rare, brown pelicans flocking to watch today’s parade didn’t seem to mind. The Bayport Terminal will have a buffer zone around its perimeter, including a 20-foot tall, landscaped berm to block the sights and sounds of commerce clashing with the surrounding environment.

The ZPMC Cranes are 240-tall, and 100-feet across at the bottom. If needed, another 20-foot extension can be added to the arms of the cranes for those hard-to-get places on any cargo ship.

Once cargo has been off-loaded from the ships, Rubber-Tired Gantry cranes will load the containers on to trucks for land transport.

There are 12 Kone RTG’s planned for Bayport Terminal #1, which are now being assembled on site from parts shipped to the dock.

Don’t you just hate that…spend $1.2-million for a piece of new equipment, get it home, and the instructions say, “some assembly required.”