Humanity

Humanity, Caring, Gentleness, Consideration, Respect

Concepts that appear to be rapidly disappearing in the new Millenium.

It is several days before Christmas, 2007, I recently went out for a drink with a girlfriend who had been away for the week-end. I had been out of town working for a month, and we hadn’t seen one another for a while, wanted to catch up, and interestingly had purchased small gifts for each other during our travels. We ran into some other friends in the restaurant and found ourselves sitting ‘boy-girl-boy-girl’ at the bar, which gave us proximity and opportunity to speak with our other friends.

Normally I would use the word ‘Gentleman’, however following the gist of the conversation, the homily is sadly inappropriate, and his description must be simply that of ‘Person’.

He currently owns a condo in a very high-end building which is about to require monumental repairs, well into the millions, and the condo association has maybe $100,000 in its reserve account. Bad management, to say the very least, but weren’t the owner’s paying attention? A building of this size and age should be sitting on at least a million in reserve. Unfortunate, as it is a heritage building and spectacular.

The architecture is exquisite, the views can take your breath away, and the scale of the apartments, from a bygone era, all with high ceilings, fireplaces, and maid’s quarters.

There are approximately 60 units in the building, so the assessments could range as high as $750,000 for the larger penthouse apartments. Over 50% of the residents are older, retired, and living on fixed incomes. Meetings of the owners with the condo association over the last few weeks have been unpleasant, and frightening for some of the older residents, who clearly do not have the means to finance the massive repairs they are facing. Furthermore, the market value of the units has publicly known, so the chance to sell on the open market has virtually disappeared. To further add insult to injury, as many of them have been in their units for over 30 years, they would require substantial renovations to bring them up to a condition to render them marketable.

This person’s assessment of the situation?…….

He thinks they should sell out for whatever amount they can get and leave. I softly suggested that many of them will need to invest the capital as they will have to pay for moving and rent, that if they are old and frail, they may not be able to survive on the limited amount they would derive from selling in a depressed market. Mr Inconsiderate felt that as they had purchased the units decades ago, they would still be reaping huge benefits compared to the original purchase price, and should be thrilled with the profit.

It is cold, damp, and winter here. These people planned to live out their lives in these wonderful apartments, not be forced to sell and move in winter.

He seems to find nothing wrong in pushing them out to make way for ‘those with fat wallets’ as he put it.

This thinking upset me considerably, and struck me viscerally as what is wrong with the society of today.

His idea is that they should ‘get out’ and make room.

One wonders if we should bring back ‘debtors prison’ as well? If people have lost their jobs and are experiencing a temporary hardship, should they be thrown in the street? In prison? Should we add them to the millions of homeless we see wandering around, instead of allowing them some time to get back on their feet?

Are we better off with ‘tent towns’ full of homeless people, or should we find ways to temporarily help them to get back on their feet.

Think about it. It could happen to you.

First Impressions

Over the years, many people have told me that I should write a book due to the unbelievable number of anecdotes emanating from thousands of meetings and interviews. Every business book you have ever read on ‘Dressing for Success’  starts out screaming at the reader that one only has 3 seconds to make  a good first impression. Unfortunately, far too many people base their so-called great  instincts on first impressions. Over the years, the one thing that is  clear to me, is that they are usually totally wrong.

Growing up in England with an extremely well-connected and elegant  grandmother, I was constantly being chastened about my behavior, and told that a model child should be ‘Seen and Not Heard’, “Speak you are spoken to’ , ‘Say ‘yes, please, no, I beg your pardon’, and respectful of elders. This was repeated AD NASEUM, and was learned the hard way. Being high energy, precocious, and inquisitive were not welcomed. The smallest squeak, and I was dragged out of whatever restaurant, party  or private home, and delivered home, to consider my actions. Other words of wisdom included the very interesting moniker, ‘always treat everyone you meet politely and equally. You never know when the  man you believe is the gardener is the Lord of the Manor, and the upper-class twit with the attitude and holier-than-thou airs, is in fact the butler.

The other one I loved was ‘Treat your servants with kindness and the  utmost of respect as they know all your darkest, deepest secrets”. As  painful as was this learning experience, as useful it has become as an  adult.

Several years ago, I was in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and met an  older couple in their mid to late seventies. They allowed me to sit  with them, and after speaking with them for some time, they kindly  invited me to tea. They were the epitome of charming, but more  importantly, they were totally smitten with one another even after 50 years of marriage. They kept sneaking little touches and glances at  one another, the rub of a hand or arm, and the look in their  eyes. ..it was like being with 2 love struck teenagers. They were  absolutely charming.

Both of them were wearing clothes that were old and frayed. In the  course of the afternoon , they lost 19 pounds on the races, and  decided to leave before the last race and the rush for the car parks. They insisted that I look them up upon my next trip to London and join  them for tea.

Later on, I ran into some of my friends and was quizzed about my  relationship with them. I said that I had only just met them, but had enjoyed a thoroughly delightful afternoon in their company. Once the laughter had subsided, one of my friends asked if I had any idea who they were other than a ‘sweet older couple’ . I replied that  I had their names but little else. I was then informed that they reside in an enormous castle with artworks on the walls which most museum curators would die for.

There was no attitude, no pretention….they were totally unassuming and self effacing. I enjoyed every second I spent with them, the gift  of their gentleness and love makes me smile as I write. To continue in the theme….

I finally got to learn first hand the expression ‘flabbergasted’ or   ‘dumbstruck’ when in the company of another acquaintance.

We were on a trip together, and this individual regularly struck up conversations with total strangers in restaurants, shops, bars, always  talking about himself and his amazing ‘lifestyle’ . A bubbly  personality who is larger than life, and has an incredible ability to  create a buzz about himself.

People flock like flies to honey.  Entertaining stories about  international trips to exotic locales, island retreats, New York, Palm  Beach, private jets, eating in some of the ‘hottest’ restaurants and clubs in the world. Total strangers flock to be part of the ‘action’  total strangers pick up the tab in bars and restaurants. Invitations  are extended for even more fabulous parties. It is extraordinary how  highly successful business people and politicians are drawn in as if by a magnet, unable to stop themselves.

It is as if they all are hoping that some of this exotic lifestyle and  success will rub off. By being in the presence of such an amazing individual, it will somehow render them more desirable. The harsh reality of this individual, is that they are virtually bankrupt. A rented car, a rented apartment, no savings, credit cards  maxed out.

This example relates equally to both sexes, the fast talking merchant  banker in the $5000 suits and $120,000 car talking about his multi- million dollar deals. Lies in a room in a private club in one city, in a shack in the poor part of another city. Wears the most amazing  designer clothes….all purchased in Vintage stores for a fraction of  the retail price. The girls swoon over him, see instant husband  material, and can visualize their glamorous lifestyles with him jetting around the planet to their even more glamorous homes.

No-one pays the nerdy, pimply computer kid any attention. He is  ignored when he tries to shop, be it for clothes, a car, or in a restaurant. The service staff automatically assume he is broke, and they would rather serve someone who has the means. How wrong they are.  He is worth over $100 million and is under 30. …and he won’t forget.There are many urban legends about people like him buying a business  only to be able to fire the people who treated him poorly.

I recently interviewed a young Asian fellow for a technical computer  position. Upon shaking his hand and feeling the strength in it, I  looked up at his arms and shoulders, then inquired which Martial Arts he studied. He looked at me strangely, and inquired if because he was  Asian I was singling him out. I looked at him quizzically and offered  an answer that was totally unexpected. It was that due to the strength  of his handshake and the musculature of his arms and shoulders, it was  clear to me that he did. He then looked at me, smiled, and inquired if  in fact I had also studied Martial Arts. I told him yes, I had, that I  had looked at Jiu Jitsu, Karate and Kendo. We ended up having a very  interesting conversation about Martial Arts and Southeast Asia. It  turned out that he had only been to Asia for 3 days in his life, and  spoke virtually no Vietnamese, where I had spent considerable time  there, and had a much deeper knowledge and understanding of various  Asian cultures.

The last person in the world with which he expected to have a  conversation like this one, was with a white female.

He thanked me at the end of our meeting for what was one of the most  interesting 2 hours of his life. For many years, I have been visiting Palm Beach, Florida, during the  winter, and realized after many years that one of the things I like  the most is the lack of ‘attitude’ with the service staff in the shops and restaurants. As they are serving some of the wealthiest people in  the US, there is no way to know whether the person in the torn jeans is poor or worth millions, so they err on the side of politeness. It  is wonderful.

Perhaps it is time for most businesses to take a lesson from this tiny  town. All of us have experienced the wrath of the ‘clip-board’ gate-keeper from hell, been given a table next to the toilet, or left standing for ages when we are in a rush, so that the staff can finish their  personal telephone call to their best friend. I have taken to walking out of establishments that allow this type of  behavior. Over time, it has been interesting to note what percentage  of them disappear.

The longest standing restaurants and shops are the ones who recognize  their customers and treat them accordingly. As the person who pays  their bills.

Keep reading….there will be more on this subject……….

Short term Gain – Long Term Pain

Over the last few years we have been hearing repeatedly about the successes of ‘off-shoring’, which is the sending of low level work to third world countries who it is believed can perform the work equally successfully for a fraction of the money of local employees.

In the rush for short-term quarterly results, executives are forgetting the long term costs associated with their actions. They are seeking to show profits and their associated bonus cheques. Shareholders are pacified that their interests are being tended. Unfortunately, the long term results are devastating to the local economies.

By outsourcing to third world countries, their economies are growing exponentially at the same time as killing local markets. What is not mentioned, is that for every Head-office job lost, there are 5 local service jobs lost.

How is that possible you ask? Let me list the ways.

  • Restaurants 
  • Dry cleaners
  • Gas
  • Office Supplies
  • Office Space
  • Telephone services
  • Local merchants selling everything from cigarettes to candy bars

Are all affected.

The other issue which is not discussed, is that there is a difficulty with semantics.  So if a call-center is sent to China or India, the interpretation is not the same, and the client becomes frustrated and more likely to go to the competitor, who provides service locally.

Furthermore, no Senior Executive is going to admit to failure, so the disastrous stories are rampant, although we never do read about it in the press.

One local company in Software R & D for mobile phones off-shored to India because of a senior executive who wanted to bring jobs to the town where he  grew up.

Local software engineers with Bachelor and Master’s degrees, who knew the software, And speak both English and French lost their jobs, as it was deemed they were too expensive.With salaries in the low thousands, as opposed to nearly one hundred thousand dollars annually, and the associated overhead costs, it was sold to shareholders and executives as a cost effective choice.

A mere six months later, with deadlines not being met, and no end of software problems, the CEO was fired and the software engineers who had been let go were being contacted to return. The cost of this 6 month fiasco was in excess of $5 million ,not to mention angry clients. Had it not been that the Venture Capital partners were understanding, this company could have gone bankrupt.

This is but one of the many stories we hear in the Executive Suite.

Due Diligence please. 

 

Job Posting Boards – Company perspective

During an economic downturn, companies are constantly seeking new and improved ways to cut costs. However, one must always be careful that you get what you pay for. So, if you are looking for the best possible talent, it will absolutely NOT be found on a
Job board.

Job boards are for entry level positions, and job-hoppers.

Human Resource departments are always seeking out ways to grow their empires and show the executives how valuable they are, and by presumably doing all the recruiting themselves, they can cut out executive recruiters. Which, of course, is a total fallacy.

All of a sudden, human knowledge and experience has been reduced to a few key words. So, according to this, someone with 4 years of experience who never did any part time work,  is of the same value as someone who worked constantly in other endeavors.  Someone with 20 years of extraordinary knowledge and experience is passed over as he does not fit in the category, and may be missing a couple of key words. Semantics.

The other problem with this particular approach, is that what often happens is hat other skill sets are far more important than what was originally described. So unless a resume is written which totally fulfills the exact criteria of the ‘key word’ search, it is not considered at all. The most important issue, is the ability to think clearly and solve problems, and absolutely no computer search program can determine whether or not someone actually knows correct grammar, to speak well, think clearly or make decisions.

We recently ceased doing business with a local software R & D company. The company writes very complex code and develops a product sold internationally. Slightly over  a year ago, they hired a new VP Human Resources, a woman, who, interestingly enough, has no experience in HR, software or business. She was a translator. Very articulate, bright, and self centered, she temporarily occupied an HR position while the incumbent  was on maternity leave. With a new resume stating “Acting VP HR” she applied for new positions and landed this job. She charmed the President of the company who employed her, and Immediately set forth to re-organize the department and fire those who didn’t have the image she wished to present. One of the people had been with the company for years, and was highly competent, however, she is dowdy.
Her next plan was to eliminate all external firms. 

First she insisted that all current vendors reply to a lengthy “Request for Proposal” regardless of their previous successes with the company. This was her way of saying that she would only do business with those she liked, as no one else was aware of her selection criteria. Only a scant 2 months later, she announced that only one firm would be doing business with the company and all others should cease and desist calling any of the executives of the corporation.


One must mention at this point, that the company was growing and looking for over 30 highly technical people with security clearance. Her next step was to post all the positions on job boards on the internet. She fulfilled her goal of receiving many resumes, so many so, that she had to hire 3 more clerks in HR to read and process them. As this took place during a recession, the internet was flooded with people seeking employment. As the clerks were not seasoned IT professionals, they had the hiring managers review and interview dozens of potential candidates as opposed to actually doing their work, which resulted in them working nights and weekends to keep up. They did hire successfully, from her point of view, and due to the economic situation, they offered low salaries which people snapped up. She looked like a genius. All those new hires, no fees to outsiders.

Now, you are probably wondering why I am continuing to discuss this highly successful woman. One year later, over 40% of her new hires had left. After one and one half years, over 50% had left. At the end of year 2, the company was obliged to cancel a $20 million project as it was impossible to complete on time. The company paid severance packages, outplacement, and was put up for sale. Their credibility in the market ruined.

It is not the cost that is important but the quality. The majority of the people hired had only accepted the positions as they needed to pay the rent. They were offended at the low salaries and felt absolutely no loyalty to the company. As soon as something better came along, they resigned and moved on.

The company went from 5% turnover to 50%  staff turnover.

You make the judgment call. 

 

Learn to Read the News paper

“The sky is falling in, Chicken Little”……

“The world is coming to an end”……

“The economy is in a more desperate state than the 1929 depression”..

“200 killed in avalanche”…….

Have you ever noticed that there is never any good news on the cover pages of your local newspaper? It is always relegated to a tiny thumbnail article buried somewhere In the depths of incredible negativity.

A lot of the journalists and pundits create more of the messes we live than the actual events themselves by self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say it enough, it will come to pass.

Over the last few months, we have been bombarded with bad news, bank failures, bankruptcy filings by huge billion dollar multi-nationals, war, doom and gloom.

I, on the other hand, have been entertaining my friend’s by showing them how to actually read the newspapers. Page one of the business section is doom and gloom.

The thumbnail’s on pages 3 and 5 however, tend to paint a very different scenario.

A $41 billion corporate merger, another with share prices up 62% over last year, another company showing record profits with 31% over last year, bank dividends over 17% for the period, military deals in the hundred’s of millions, airplane sales for $600 million, and more.

“Job losses hit 129,000 in January of this year”…..8% unemployed………”

Now, lets look at that. It’s always about how you look at the numbers. If 8% are unemployed, that must mean that 92% are employed.

If one follows the stock market and the real estate market over a long period of time, one will notice that when the market is out of control, it will be corrected, then return to more normal growth.

Real estate is exactly the same. We have huge boom markets when everyone is investing heavily in real estate. When the charlatans come out of the woodwork and are selling their methodology to make a fortune in real estate, then you know it is the time to get out.

We had the crash of the Savings and Loans in the United States where many lost their homes and their shirts….what followed was a boom in real estate for another many years.

If one looks at real estate deeds of sale over a 100 year period, it is always up. They aren’t making any more land.

Technology stocks were the same……then we had the ‘dot. com bomb’  and prices dropped drastically. Similar to tulip futures !

So, take the high road, invest in good stocks or property and stay in the long haul.

Don’t listen to the experts. Listen to common sense. 

 

Trying to get perspective