Monthly Archives: September 2012

White Board Philosophy

White Board Philosophy

 Back in the Nineties, I would have many meetings in my office, as well as visitors internal and external, executives,  subordinates, and casual drop-ins, all marching through my space in a daily parade of corporate humanity. I got the idea of unobtrusively finding out their views on various issues that I was thinking about. In one corner of my office whiteboard, I would write a question and under it, list one or two possible answers. I never mentioned it, but as the meetings ended and people filed out, they would often stop to read the question, and then add a response of their own. They noticed, and wanted to be a part of the process. Here are 3 examples of my “Whiteboard Philosophy:”:

1. The Question: “A asks B a question. What might A really want?”

1 A is teaching B (Socratic Method).

2 A is testing to see if B knows the answer.

3 A wants to verify an answer already received from C.

4 A wants to flatter B; acknowledge his importance.

5 A is trying to establish rapport with B; to learn about B.

6 A is seizing the initiative, catching B off-guard, putting B on the defense.

7 A wants to report to D that B was asked.

8 A is asking a preamble to the real question, not yet disclosed.

9 A hopes to unnerve B; get B to over-answer and divulge something

10 A wants to intimidate or demean B

11 A is making a rhetorical statement; B’s answer is unimportant.

12 A really just wants B’s answer.

 

2. Bosses to Beware of:  In my experience, the worst type of boss was the boss who was unsure of himself and tried to cover that insecurity with bullying, a mean-spirited nature, and/or an inability to express themselves without resorting to tired old clichés. What bosses set off your warning systems?

1 Any boss who refers to himself in the third person.

2 Any boss who begins a meeting with some version of: “Look to your right. Look to your left. One of you won’t be here in six months.”

3 Any boss who introduces a difficult, stupid or unnecessary project and says: “Let’s do the job and have some fun.”

4 Any boss who accepts any kind of management praise by saying: “It’s not just me. It’s the little people.”

5 Any boss who uses nouns as verbs (“Let us solution that problem”), or uses trite clichés (“Remember: A fish dies by the head).

6 Any boss who uses a quotation from the movie “Patton,” or imitates the Patton speech in front of the flag. It is old, hackneyed, and (I think) treasonous.

7 Any boss who can’t establish a subcommittee without calling them “Corporate Seals,” “Company Ninjas,” or even “Tiger Teams.”

8 Any boss whose first response to a disaster is: “I wasn’t informed.”

9 Any boss who ever says anything remotely like: “I shouldn’t be involved in that …. At my level.”

10 Any boss who makes a simple instruction sound like it came directly from the Board of Directors, or a major shareholder vote.

11. Any boss who routinely blocks subordinates from exposure topside.

12. Any boss who delegates responsibility, but not authority.

13. Any boss who bad-mouths his predecessor

 

          3. Why Work Long Hours?  This is yet another of my whiteboard questions. This time, I wrote: “Why would anyone work extremely long hours on a regular and continuing basis?” The crowds responded:

                        1 Overtime: They want the extra money.

2 It’s an Emergency Situation (business-wise, war, famine, etc.)

3 They’re milking the System: They’re paid hourly when they should be on salary.

4 Ineffective: They’re in over their heads.

5 Type A’s with no family, no home, nothing else to do.

6 Fanatics, Zealots, Workaholics, people with a cause.

7 Slaves, prisoners, people under duress.

8 Means to an end: Power, prominence, promotion, continued employment.

9 Have unrealistic work loads.

10 Fear, Insecurity, etc.

11 They are concealing something from discovery

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How Things Got Their Names

Things (to be named)

How Things Got Their Names

I’ve been wondering lately about how things got their names. For example, why am I writing this on a “Computer” and not on a “Cabana?” That’s because, we’ve all agreed to call this electronic typing thing a “Computer.” Well, I figure that at some time in the distant pass, somebody must have gotten everybody together in the Garden of Eden, and had them agree on names.

This couldn’t have been an easy job. Leaving Headquarters to visit the Field is never easy, and often thankless. In business they say that the two greatest lies in business are: 1. “I’m from Headquarters, and I’m here to help you.” 2. I’m from the Field, and I’m glad to see you.” I’m sure there was at least one joint meeting early on that went something like this:

“May I have your attention, please? Can you hear me all right in the back? Pull in a little tighter, please. That’s it; now just a little more. Good!

You’ve probably seen me around here before, so let me introduce myself. I’m from Garden Headquarters. We’ve decided that it’s about time we got together and agreed on names for all the things we see around us. I don’t have to remind you that we’ve had some pretty nasty instances in the recent past. I’m sure you all remember a while back when the people in Garden East were calling the feeding process “eat,” while people in Garden West were calling it “club” after that thing with the bread they all enjoy. Well, the inevitable happened one day, when a man from Garden West was visiting his brother in Garden East, noon time rolled around, and – well – he did ask to be “clubbed.” It was really tough on everybody, and I don’t think poor Cain will live it down for a long time to come.

Now, let’s agree that we cannot assign all the names in this one meeting, okay? It would just be too confusing. So, to make it a little easier, we’ve developed two names to cover us until the whole process is complete. The first name is “Thing.” Can you all say that: “Thing.” Very good. Now when you don’t know a name, you call it a “Thing.” One more time: “Thing.” Excellent.

The second name is “Huh?” Will you all say that: “Huh?” Say, you’re picking all this up pretty fast. Anytime you don’t hear someone, or understand them, you say “Huh?” One more time now: “Huh?” Super. We don’t want to overwork these two names, but our experts at Headquarters estimate that the average person could get through up to 75% of their conversational day using only “Thing” and “Huh?”

Any questions so far? Any questions at all? Good. Let’s get right to the names.

Can you all see this? I’ll hold it up higher for you. This is a “Tomato.” Can you all say that: “Tomato.” Very good. A Tomato is round, and red, and has a little leafy thing (see how I worked “Thing” in there?) at the top. Any time you see one of these, it’s a…..Tomato! Well done.

Now, look at this one? Anybody guess what it is? It’s an “Apple.” Can you all say…you have a question? Sure, go ahead. Well, yes, it is round, and red, and has a little thing at the top, and I did say that was a Tomato but …. Okay, okay, hold it down, please. We’re going to settle that right now:

We’ll say this: If it’s round, and it’s red, and has a little thing on the top, and it’s soft, it’s a Tomato. But – if it’s round, and it’s red, and it has a little thing on the top, and it’s hard, it’s an Apple.

Are you all clear on that? You all look puzzled. Somebody ask the question. Okay, young man, go ahead and ask. Is that a Tomato you’re holding? Let me see, please. Okay, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but that’s a “Strawberry.” Yes, a “Strawberry.” I know, I know, it can be confusing. Let’s say if it’s round, and it’s red, and it has a leafy thing on the top, and it’s soft and it’s large – it’s a Tomato. But, if it’s round, and it’s red, and it has a leafy thing on the top, and it’s soft, and it’s small – it’s a Strawberry. Will that work for everybody? Hold it down, please. What was that question? If you leave An apple on the ground, and it gets soft, does that mean it’s a Tomato? No, it’s still an Apple. Well, yes, I suppose there could be a soft Apple, but …. please, let’s stay together on this.

Yes, sir, another question? You have two Strawberries? Hold them up and let’s see them. Can everybody see the two … oh dear, you’re jumping ahead of me again. Those are “Cherries.” I know, they’re round, and they’re red, and let’s not go through all that again! Let’s just say that if it’s round, and it’s red, and it has a leafy thing at the top, and it’s soft, and it’s small, and it’s sweet – it’s a Cherry. But, if it’s round, and it’s red, and it’s soft, and it has a leafy thing on top, and it’s small, and it’s sour, it’s a Strawberry. Okay on that?

No need to get hostile, people, we’re all in this together. A little courtesy, if you please?

I think it would be better if I checked some of this out with Garden Headquarters before we go much further. I had hoped to get through a couple of hundred names today, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it.

Suppose we all get together tomorrow. This time, you bring the things you’d like to have named and that way we’ll get the important things out of the way first. Does that make sense? Good. That seems fair… you have another question? Okay, go ahead. You have a thing with you today that you’d like to have named? Well, okay, but just this one time. Hold it up, please.

You know, this is funny. We have one of those back at Garden Headquarters, and we’ve already given it a name. That’s a “Cat.” Can you say that: “Cat”. You’re holding up a “Cat.”

How do I know it’s a “Cat”? Well, if it has short hair, pointy ears, whiskers, sharp teeth, pretty colors, claws, and it purrs, it’s a “Cat.” Any time you see a thing like that, it’s a “Cat.”

What? It’s hard to hear you from way back there. Do Cats come in different sizes like Tomatoes and Cherries? Yes, I suppose you could have a big Cat or a small Cat. Why?

You’re moving farther back and it’s hard for me to hear you. What? Behind me? What’s behind me? Oh, that! I’ve never seen one like that before, but that is definitely a “Cat.”

Yes, that’s one big Cat, all right.

You people have already named that big “Cat”? Good for you! Headquarters loves it when people take the initiative! What do you call it?

Good name! And how do you know it’s a “Tiger?”

Hey wait, come back…….!

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Arrogant Interloper

“Oh no,” you say. “Not an excerpt from yet another unpublished book?” I’m afraid so. This book is entitled: “Upside Down and Backwards: Events, Musings, Adventures and Rants from an (Over) Examined Life.” It’s a collection of essays written over many years of business travels and social adventures. You may find more on my blog: https://thejokesmith.wordpress.com . I may be found at Jokesmith1@aol.com .  Regards, -Ed M.

This first essay on Mr. Holmes is based on an event that occurred in the mid-Seventies:

Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Arrogant Interloper 

          “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read and I was hooked forever. The attraction is multi-faceted. It is the man himself, a logical being in an illogical world. The mood of the Victorian era as felt in the damp, teeming confines of gas lit London. The thrilling adventures of the world’s first forensic detective who pioneered what today we call Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). The memory of a time where Evil triumphed only briefly, and Justice always prevailed in the end. Holmes’ archenemy, Professor Moriarty, may have been the “Napoleon of Crime,” but down deep I knew he was no match for the Master of Baker Street.

Holmes always knew what was right. Others looked, but he saw. He based his deductions on observation, logic, knowledge, and a cultivated intuition. Occasionally, he’d take the reader down the pathways of his thinking so we could marvel at all we had missed. “When faced with a number of candidate solutions,” he once said, “eliminate all that are impossible and whatever is left, however improbable, is the answer.”

Of course, there are always contrarian views. David Willis McCullough wrote that “…much of Holmes’ appeal rests on the suspicion that he’s mad as a hatter.” McCullough may have a point, but it never stopped me from reading and re-reading the Sacred Canon of fifty-six short stories and four novels which constitute the revealed truths of Sherlock Holmes as recorded by his companion, Dr. Watson, and published by their agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

One day, more than a few years back, I read a newspaper article about The Speckled Band of Boston, a chapter of the world-wide society of Holmes’ admirers who call themselves The Baker Street Irregulars. They had scheduled their annual birthday dinner “…in honor of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, late of 221B Baker Street in London.” The organizer’s name was given. I tracked him down and wangled an invitation to the event.

The dinner was held on a dark and damp winter’s evening at The Tavern Club, one of Boston’s oldest and most prestigious private clubs. It is located one block and one hundred years off Boston Common, down an unfashionable alley, is unmarked, and housed in an aging Victorian mansion that smacks of what people once called “Genteel Poverty.” Just cross the threshold and that image, like the outside world, disappears. There is gentility galore but no poverty to be found at The Tavern Club.

Impressions: Dark, oak paneling smelling of age, care, and polish surround the reception area and lounge. Overstuffed club chairs circle a field stone fireplace which both illuminates and warms the bar area. Framed hunting prints decorate the walls, with an occasional grainy photograph of what looks like a college rowing team from the early 1900’s. It reminded me of an evening I spent at Boodles, the famous London private club (and keeper of the quality gin of the same name). An English business colleague regaled me with stories of what club life was like before The Great War went and spoiled everything. “We had one chap whose job was to wash the members pocket change so they would not have to touch any soiled money. Another chap ironed each newspaper after it was read so the next member could have an unwrinkled read as well. There was an attendant in the Gent’s Room who offered you freshly laundered and warm towels, while brushing your jacket, and offering a shine. Those were the grand days.”

I don’t know if people like that worked at The Tavern Club now but, given a 19th century system where 90% of the people existed to care for the other 10%, it might have been a reasonable idea at the time. In the absence of any opportunity, pressing newspapers sounds better than working in the damp and dangerous mills, like both of my grandfathers did.

The club’s collection of sterling silver attracted my attention. It was a time when restaurants were putting water in ashtrays to stop people from stealing them, and here were polished trophies of long ago regattas and races on display shelves around the main room, open to be seen and touched. What a pity that such trust is unique enough to warrant notice. I made my way to the main dining room where the Master’s birthday dinner was about to begin.

The attendees were a cordial bunch. They were mostly older men, business types and professionals, Harvard people. There were doctors, lawyers, educators, politicians, and a sprinkling of high tech people from the firms surrounding and feeding off the Cambridge brain trust. The Band makes for strange bedfellows.

The conversation was restricted to matters relevant in 19th century times. It was mostly about Holmes and his adventures and related trivia. Toasts were proposed while stories were exchanged and personal adventures shared.

“Have you visited the Sherlock Holmes Pub just off Trafalgar Square? It’s the very hotel in which Sir Henry Baskerville stayed, you know.” I did know. I had fish & chips in the second floor restaurant one night. I sat just this side of the glass wall through which Holmes’ room could be viewed. I remember everything was dusty. Mrs. Hudson was clearly not on duty that night.

“Have you been to ReichenbachFalls?” I had not. “There’s a plaque on the very spot where Holmes and Professor Moriarty tumbled into the cascade.”

We moved into the dining room. A place had been set at the head table for Holmes should he decide to attend. “He’s still alive and well, you know,” someone one volunteered. “He keeps bees somewhere down in Sussex. Another band member chimed in, “Quite right that he’s alive, you know. If he had died there would have been a major obituary in The London Times and nothing has been published so far.”

The logic was as good as the main course: Kidney pie, a Holmes favorite. Like the manure pie in the old hunting joke, I don’t think it could taste good no matter how well it was prepared. After dinner came coffee, brandy, cigars, and The Quiz. It’s The Quiz I want to tell you about.

The Quiz is a 50 question true/false, multiple choice romp through the flotsam and jetsam of the 56 short stories and 4 novels (“The Sacred Canon”). It is tough. If you don’t know the significance of “Rache”, who carried the book, “Origins of Tree Worship,” or where the Norwood Builder hid, you don’t belong in the game. You are out of your league. But – if you know all that, plus the secret of Bodymaster McMurdo and why the Noble Bachelor deserved to die, you may have a fighting chance. If you have a photographic memory, you have a very good chance.

I do not have a photographic memory, but I’m close enough to be mentioned in the same breath. I am constantly trying to forget business letters I inadvertently memorize as I read them. I know the second verses of more songs than George Burns on his best day. I can do Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs, a la Martyn Greene, until the cows come home. One of my biggest problems as a writer has always been deciding whether or not I just created something original or just recently remembered reading it. Tell me: Have you read this story before? Never mind; I really don’t want to know. Once, as a sophomore in college, I commented to my adviser that I might be an Idiot Savant. He thought about that for a moment, and then said, “I’m sure you’re half right.”

Bottom line: I know my Sherlock Holmes.

There is just one winner of the Band’s annual Quiz. That person gets a one-year custodianship of a silver Paul Revere Bowl sculptured exclusively for the Band. It is a beautiful thing with a legend and motto engraved upon it along with a facsimile of the loathsome serpent that gave The Speckled Band its name. Also engraved are the names of every annual winner of the quiz dating back to the dawn of recorded time.

I wanted that bowl. I coveted it. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I felt its silver coolness and marveled at its uniqueness. I could visualize it on my mantle and played through my head the several scenarios I’d act out with friends and neighbors who saw it and asked, “What is that?”

I began The Quiz. It was tough, but so was I. Fifteen minutes later I laid down my pen with supreme self-confidence. I was a sure winner with a perfect paper. I wondered how I’d get the silver bowl across The Boston Common without getting mugged in the process.

Eventually (yawn), everyone else finished The Quiz. The quiz master began reading the official answers. There was a chorus of groans punctuated with cries of “Damn!” and “Of course!” thrown in for good measure. We had gone through 48 of the 50 answers, and I had every one of them correct.

Then came the last answer: It had to do with how a certain character died in one of the stories. I had written “poison,” and even added “cyanide” for extra credit. It was the burnt almond smell that gave the poison away, as I’m sure you know. The Band’s official answer was “Apoplexy.”

“Apoplexy?” That went out with The Vapours. The Band was wrong!

There were no perfect scores, the quizmaster said, so the bowl would not be awarded this year. He asked if there were any challenges or protests. I bit my tongue and said nothing.

“Surely,” he said, “someone must have a challenge. Last chance: Speak now or accept the Band’s answers and be silent forever.” Heads bobbed this way and that as people looked around the room. I raised my hand.

“Well done!” “Good Show!” they cried. There was a smattering of applause. They asked for the detail of my challenge. I told them about that last question and why the character surely died of cyanide poisoning and not “Apoplexy.” A judicious “Hmmm” from the quiz master seemed to support the validity of my claim. I pressed on, making my point as clearly as possible.

The quiz master heard me out with what I now know what thinly disguised glee. He thanked me for my challenge; congratulated me on my knowledge and diagnosis, and applauded my courage in confronting the Band in its lair, so to speak. It occurs to me know that he said nothing about my judgment.

Turning to the Band, he asked if anyone would defend the Band’s solution. Two elderly and distinguished gentlemen rose and came forward to a smattering of applause, several nodding heads, and a couple of smiles.

The quizmaster said names and titles that sounded something like, “May I introduce Dr. Wilton Cabot Coolidge III, Dean of Pathology Emeritus, Harvard Medical College, and Colonel Robert Lodge Weston, retired Commandant, Massachusetts State Police. Gentlemen, you may begin.”

I tried to say, “I withdraw the challenge,” but the old gents were too quick for me. The doctor explained the differences between the symptoms of cyanide poisoning and Apoplexy in terms so crisp and straight forward that a functional illiterate could not have confused the two.

Then the Colonel examined aloud the clues described by the author in the crucial scene which made the cause of death only slightly less obvious than a train wreck.

By now, my brain was functioning again in full defensive mode. I made an unconditional surrender and withdrew the challenge. I earned a standing ovation this time, I think, for my good judgment.

There were more toasts all around, good fellowship reigned supreme, and the evening ended much too soon. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

And the Quiz, was it a set-up you ask? I think not. Everyone deserves a little serendipitous fun now and then, and I just happened to be theirs. I enjoyed the entire evening, dinner, even the Quiz and challenge, and – oh yes, I can always use the humility.

I do have one request to make of any medical practitioners reading this: The evening in question happened years ago. If there is any new research suggesting that Apoplexy might be brought on by cyanide poisoning, I would like to know about it. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on the Quiz, but I still want that bowl.

Just be sure of your facts, please. The Speckled Band of Boston plays rough.

As they say on TV: “But wait! There’s more!

This is a paean to Mr. Holmes written several years later. It too is included in my unpublished book,  “Little Matters of Small Import” as “Detectiverse.”  I got the idea from Alfred Lord Noyes (1880-1958) famous English poem “A Song of Sherwood,” which contained the haunting line “Is Robin Hood Awake?” It’s worth looking up on Google. 

For Sherlock – A Baker Street Memory 

A dismal night in London town, a world that’s turning upside down, no hope of help from kin or crown – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

For I heard the Professor’s plan, the Colonel saw me when I ran, but Holmes will help me if he can – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

Yes, I have heard the tortured scream, where Moriarty reigns supreme, and freedom just a madman’s dream – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

A spider crouching in his lair, with webs outstretching everywhere, and none with strength enough to dare – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

The fog swirls moist around my feet, at last I’ve come to Baker Street, perhaps it need not mean defeat – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

There’s someone standing in the dark, just there – beyond the HansomPark, his man – Moran! – to claim his mark – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

I see the man whom Evil made, the gaslight flashes off his blade, and now my hopes begin to fade – Is Sherlock Holmes awake?

A fist explodes in Moran’s face, a sack of bricks – he drops in place,

“My friend and I have watched your chase; Moran has little guile or grace,

His king, I fear, falls to my Ace; now join us for a partridge brace,

And tell us all about your case. Of course I am awake.”

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You Don’t Have to Hurt Yourself To Do A Good job

Yes, folks, it’s another unpublished book entitled “You Don’t Have to Hurt Yourself To Do a Good Job.” (once said to me by a smart boss who saw I was trying too hard). The book is a collection of some 1200 quotations that I have heard from parents, siblings, neighbors, bosses, co-workers, the military, the Church, and the rest of the world, over the past 70 years. I wrote them all down because I thought they were worth preserving. These are the thoughts from the people who guided me over many rough spots. I present the first 50 of them for your amusement and/or edification:

  • Part 1: It’s Personal:

You Don’t Have to Hurt Yourself to Do a Good Job

          (And other great truths of the business and social universe)

1. Return on Investment (ROI) #101: When an organization succeeds, the people who reap the rewards are not always the people who made it succeed. When an organization fails, the people who pay the price are not always the people who made it fail. –Harvey P. Newquist

2. Budgetary Success: If you exceed budget and succeed, there is forgiveness. If you under spend and fail, there is only death. -Jim Hands, IBM Events Management

3. Compensating Errors: When you screw up horribly in one direction, you’ve probably screwed up somewhere else just as badly. Stay cool and the problem may come out in the wash. -Random Observation

4. Sales Reports: People measure Sales because Sales is easy to measure. -Ray Fortune, Friend, Sales VP, Boss, Character

5. Humility: Don’t put yourself down. The world is full of people willing to do it for you. -Frank Keaney, Friend, Sales VP, Boss, Character

6. Office Equipment: Don’t trust your precious original document to any copier that takes it inside.-Vinnie DeAngelis, Administrator

7. Forecasts: The world is filled with big orders, all of them six months out. -Dick Weber, Sales VP

8. Urgency: Anything that must be signed fast should be read slow. -Random Observation on contracts that must be signed “today!”

9. Reality: Goals are always unreasonably high. Budgets are always ridiculously low. There is never enough time or resource. Get on with it! -Ray Fortune, Sales VP

10. Organizations: The primary purpose of every organization is to perpetuate its own existence. The secondary purpose is to recognize and develop people who share the primary goal, and to isolate and eliminate those who do not. The third purpose is the one you put in the Mission Statement. -Random Observation

11. Martyrs: The single characteristic shared by all martyrs is that they are dead. -Random Observation

12. Wealth: Nobody’s grandchildren ever seriously regretted how the old man made his money.-Random Observation

13. Charity: Before you send off that check to “The Ukrainian Three-Headed Orphans of Pessimism”, is there anyone in your family or neighborhood who needs help? -Random Observation

14. Work Ethic: You’re going to be there 8 hours a day anyway, so work steady and do the things that show. -Howard Quinby, Career Counselor

15. Work Sequencing: Prioritize your backlog and work it off in this order:  (1) Boss Imposed, (2) Organization Imposed, (3) Self-Imposed. -Leo F. McManus, Jr., Elder Brother & Career Counselor

16. Advancement: If you can’t be the brightest, most creative, or largest contributor, be the most loyal. Over the long haul, that’s probably the best approach anyway. -Dr. Michael Schneider, a Techie’s Tech, and one very smart guy

17. Back-Talk/Telling-Off-The-Boss: Don’t trade off 20 years of work for 20 seconds of satisfaction. -Leo F. McManus, Jr.

18. Balance: You’ve got to be content at home or content at work. Nobody can fight on two fronts.-Dr. Paul Ware, Cousin, Heart Surgeon, Life Counselor

19. Happiness: The pursuit of happiness is vastly overrated. Happiness comes when you’re on your way to achieving some other goal. -Random Observation

20. Underestimating the Competition: Be wary of toothless old lions. A toothless old lion can still gum you to death. -Peter Murray, Grammar School Philosopher

21. Accepting Responsibility (by the Boss): The Queen of Hearts never cried, “Off with my head!”-Stan Driban, Attorney and Wise Man

22. Prominence: How come you never heard of me until I was in my seventies? I didn’t want to peak too young. -Ed McManus (me)

23. Partnerships: No matter how big a business is, it’s never big enough for two. -Leo F. McManus, Sr., Father and Counselor Capo

24. Responsibility: If you knowingly and freely accept a job in a bordello, don’t act morally outraged when someone tugs at your drawers. -Random Observation

25. Focus: People at the top tend to deal with what they can handle. -Tony Nicoletti, Friend & Boss

26. Money: It’s very difficult to make a little money. It’s easier to make a lot of money. -George Rosen, NYC Entrepreneur

27. Customer Returns: We don’t make money taking the crap back for credit. -Herb Richman, Exec. VP & Boss

28. Meetings: Never hold a meeting in your own office. You can’t leave early. -A Lewis Rogers, Friend & Boss

29. Sales Compensation Plans: If you give people impossible goals, they will tamper with the measuring system. -Random Observation upon reviewing sales claims

30. Technology: Computers are things you sell. Nobody actually uses them. – Honeywell Manufacturing V.P. when asked, “Why aren’t your records on computers?” Circa 1969

31. Human Resources #101: Round pegs may fit into square holes if you hit them hard enough -Random Observation

32. Mutual Observation: If you can see the lens, the lens can see you. -Random Observation

33. Career Planning: My personal approach was to stick with people I trusted who said, “Come work for me. I’ll pay you 15% more.” -Random Observation

34. Grace: I won’t say he was clumsy, but when he tried to explain what he was doing, he got his thumb caught in his ear. -Wallace B. Haigh, Shop Manager

35. Misdirection: Watch out for the guys who point and scream, “Look at those mice!” while they sneak the elephants by. -Harvey P. Newquist

36. Employee Appraisals (once said of Ed McManus): Some people are worth what we pay them in entertainment value alone. -Michael R. Levy, Friend & Boss

37. Perspective: In 1968 I was on Valium, Maalox, and Vodka because of my business worries. Now, the company is gone, the building is a parking lot, and I wonder what bothered me so. -Random Observation

38. Vocabulary: Language is wonderful. You can call someone a “rectal aperture” or tell them to go have an “illicit carnal soliloquy” – and they’ll just laugh. -Random Observation

39. Honor: I passed the basket at my church until they put in an envelope system. I took that as a reflection upon my honor and quit. -Ned Woods, Father’s Friend, circa 1949

40. Management Prerogative: The boss can do pretty much whatever he wants, as long as it’s legal. Policy is for when he doesn’t care one way or the other. -Random Observation

41. Understanding the Function: The cabbie had a monkey wrench on the seat beside him. The lower jaw was missing. I said, “That’s broken. It won’t work.” “It works just fine,” the cabbie said. “It’s for hitting people.” -Random Observation

42. Impositions: Don’t impose on a friend’s profession. It’s okay to ask a tailor friend to help paint your house, but don’t ask him to make you a suit. -Leo F. McManus, Sr.

43. Experience: No one has 20 years of experience at anything. The good ones have 10 years twice. Most people have 5 years four times. The clods have 1 year –20 times. -Leo F. McManus, Jr.

44. ROI: One percent of something is better than 50% of nothing. -Joe Grammel, Friend & Financial Adviser

45. Decisions: When you have two choices, and neither is clearly better, go with the one that’s least lousy. -A. Lewis Rogers

46. Priorities: Every morning, the Lord gives you a loaded six-gun to get you through the day. If you plink away at rabbits, you’ll have nothing left when the bears come. -Harvey P. Newquist

47. Reference Point: Why are you calling me now? I said to call me mid-week and it’s only Wednesday. -Bernie Powers, Boss, Sales Genius, & Misguided Missile

48. Reference Point: I remember exactly when that happened! It was the year Thanksgiving fell on a Friday! -Bill O’Dowd, Father’s Boss, circa 1948

49. Fabrications: If you’re going to lie to me, dammit, look me straight in the eye and lie like a professional! -Bernie Powers

50. Priorities: It is harder to find a new family than it is to find a new job. -Babe Levine, Boss & All Around Interesting Character

Just think: There are over 1200 more.

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The Vicar’s Last Homily – and – Haversham Hardwick (The Hated)

 Little Matters of Small Import: This is yet another of my unpublished books. It is a collection of light poems on a wide variety of subjects, some previously published in newspapers or magazines, others not. 

The following two story poems are from the section entitled  “Detectiverse.” This is a series of story poems about such luminaries and subjects as Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allen Poe, Elizabeth Borden, The Lost Flying Dutchman mine, and other subjects that intrigued me enough to write about them.

“The Vicar’s Last Homily” was originally published in “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine” in the 1980’s.

“On Trial for Murder: Haversham Hardwick (The Hated)” sees light of day here for the first time

A Closed Room Murder Mystery: The Vicar’s Last Homily

            At St. Swithins, town of Hampden, where the lilacs bud and bloom,

There the vicar, Dr. Critchley, went into his private room.

Yes, he went into his study, closed and barred the sturdy door,

And was heard from, as Poe’s raven said (Poor Vicar): Nevermore!

 

            Detective Sergeant Saunders was soon called upon the scene,

By the sexton, Arthur Perkins, who had dreamed an awful dream:

Arthur dreamt he saw the vicar, with his hands atop his head,

Slumping forward on his writing desk, and looking rather dead.

Detective Sergeant Saunders got some stout lads from the town,

And by dint of axe and hatchet, hacked the sturdy portal down.

Then they stood there, struck with terror, for with hands atop his head,

Sat the vicar, Dr. Critchley, who was silent, cold, and dead.

The body was unmarked they saw, each hair in proper place,

Though they mentioned later in the pub, the glazed look on his face.

The vicar was a robust man, and never sick a day,

His death under such circumstance could only be foul play

The windows all wore shutters of a most secure design,

They looked for points of entry, but they couldn’t find a sign.

Just a study with a writing desk, a bookcase and a bed,

And the Reverend Dr. Critchley, who was definitely dead.

The roof and walls were English Oak, and Saunders tapped around,

           But the echoes were unblemished by a weak or hollow sound.

           The floor was quarried marble, and it made a proper tomb,

For departed Vicar Critchley, who had somehow met his doom.

And so Mycroft, town of Hampden, stood to take its shameful place,

As the scene of locked-room murder, and a national disgrace.

Then Widow Piggott, housekeeper, demanded to be heard,

And Detective Sergeant Saunders copied down her every word:

“The Vicar, bless ‘im, used that room to write his Sunday talk.

‘Eed go in there each Saturday at seven by the clock.

On Sunday morning ‘eed come out, and pause to smell the flowers,

Then off ‘eed go to Services, – and preach for several hours.

“Eed rant at this, ‘eed rave at that, he waren’t very good,

And no one paid him any mind, for no one understood.

They’d itch and twitch and fidget, and just look out at the sun,

And pray a private prayer or two that vicar would get done.

“That night, he wrote a little talk that made ‘im very proud,

‘So good,’ says ‘ee, ‘that just this once, I’ll practice it out loud.’

So you see, it waren’t murder when the vicar drew last breath,

Ee just read his ‘omily aloud, and bored himself to death.”

 Ed. Note: One of my long time pet peeves is the Sunday morning homilist who is incapable, or unwilling, to take the time and effort to produce an interesting short talk with a message. I have sat there many a time while the preacher drones on, thinking to myself about their experiencing an appropriate fate, like Vicar Critchley (Rest His Soul).

 

On Trial For Murder: Havasham Hardwick

(The Hated)

            Havasham Hardwick had money – in real estate, bullion, and jewels.

He earned it in sums beyond measure, through the hydrogenation of fuels.

Yes, Havasham had the equation, the Nazis had lost on the Rhone,

He made millions of barrels of petrol, by squeezing it out of pure stone.

You ask if this wealth made him happy. Had he loved ones and peace unabated?

I regret that I have to inform you – that Havasham Hardwick was hated!

            (If we hate what we fear is our baseline, then my point may be somewhat revised:

Just some of his friends found him hateful; by the rest he was merely despised.)

His partners all felt they were cheated, on monies invested or lent,

And no one would ever discover how much he had stolen and spent.

His parents still lived in the ghetto, financially stretched to the brink,

While his staff just grew more disenchanted, as he fell into gambling and drink.

His children were much disappointed, when he named “Fifi BonBon” his heir,

His wife was embarrassed and angered, by this tawdry and public affair.

So nobody found it surprising, when they found him on top of his bed,

In a fashion suggestive of murder – and totally, thoroughly dead.

He was shot fourteen times with a rifle, two arrows stuck out of his chest,

In his side was a bone-handled dagger, which had made seven holes in his vest.

The silk rope from which he’d been hanging, was casually coiled on his hips,

The coroner recognized poison, from the burnt almond smell on his lips.

The pool cue with which he’d been beaten, was found neatly hung on its peg,

And the marks of whatever had bit him, could be seen on his arm and his leg.

There were signs of a terrible struggle – like an army invaded the place,

And the body of Havasham Hardwick, with a pillow taped over his face.

Detectives swarmed over the townhouse, and much to the public’s dismay,

Reported an early opinion: His death had been caused by foul play.

They locked up his mother and father, an old spinster auntie named Molly,

His widow and all of his children, and Fenwick – the family Collie.

They brought in his staff and his partners, and all his associates too,

And as they learned more about Hardwick, they’d go arrest somebody new.

The suspects were clogging the prisons; the public was paying the bill,

For it seemed if you ever met Hardwick, you had ample reason to kill.

His uncle, Judge Frankfurter Hardwick, was assigned by the court to the case,

A man of impeccable honor, who had never been tinged with disgrace.

He quickly released all the suspects, called an end to the searches and strife,

For he said, without question or challenge, “Haversham took his own life.”

“A suicide, simply and surely.” Some cheering broke out in the stands,

“And Haversham Hardwick is guilty, of death by his very own hands.”

The chanting began in the lobby, “A Solomon brings us the law!”

The textbooks would quote his opinion: “I ruled as I thought as I saw.”

The verdict pleased all involved parties, all of them glad he was dead,

The court system’s honor and glory, preserved by this scholarly thread

They carried the Judge on their shoulders, to even more fame and respect,

And he smiled as he muttered to no one, “The dullards don’t even suspect.”

Ed. Note: Haversham Hardwick was inspired by the thriller novel, “The Formula,” by Steve Shagan, and the 1980 movie of the same name starring my favorite “Ebenezer Scrooge,” “General George Patton,” and many other memorable characters, the actor’s actor: George C. Scott. It was all about a Nazi plan to fuel their army by retrieving petrol from deep mine ore. It was a fascinating premise and, I understand, a scientific possibility.

           “What a great and dangerous way to get rich,” I thought. That led me to write Haversham….

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Merry Christmas from the Law Department

This is another excerpt from my unpublished book, “The Druids as Entrepreneurs, A Business Person’s Garden of Verse and Other Poisonous Growths.” I wrote it circa 1975 and it was published in a computer industry magazine, “Datamation.” It got picked up and used by several law firms, without payment or attribution (thanks, guys) and was even used as a Christmas Card by a state supreme justice. 

It can be found on the Internet, still without payment or attribution, but it’s mine and is a part of my saga of Binkley’s, Inc., the mythical manufacturing company.

 

Stave the Ninety-Three

Merry Christmas from the Law Department * 

*Note: Lulu the Lawyer presents a draft employee bonus plan to the Board with so much protective language around it that it sounds more like a disciplinary action then a recognition program. I day dream what it would be like if Lulu the Lawyer designed our corporate Christmas Card.

 

Merry Christmas from Binkley’s!

May Happiness and Good Cheer Be With You

Throughout This Holiday Season *

 

(Subject to the following Terms & Conditions)

 

I.          Though we, the “Greetor”, wish you well,

In our Holiday Entreaty,

We limit all your claims, dear friend,

Hereinafter called the “Greetee.”

 

II.         We wish you dreams of sugarplums,

And dancing Christmas lights,

But if these fancies come to naught,

You have no vested rights.

 

III.       In no case will we be at fault,

In implied claims of fitness,

And all writs of depression,

Must be sworn before a witness.

 

IV.       Although our approbations,

Are warranted full-free,

Of defects in sincerity,

There is no guarantee.

 

V.        We hope that you, your kith and kin,

Find Christmas viability,

But if you don’t, note now that we,

Decline all liability.

 

VI.       So if you don’t hear sleigh bells ring,

Or smell the fresh cut pines,

You have, Greetee, released our firm,

Successors and Assigns.

 

VII.      Whenever there’s a conflict,

These, our contract terms, will rule.

The Greetee then is on their own,

To have a Happy Yule.

 

VIII.     And if our heartfelt Christmas wish,

By counterclaim is marred,

We may, at our sole option,

Repossess this Christmas Card.

 

*Please sign and return white and yellow copies in attached envelope (Note: USPS will not deliver unless postage attached).

 

Accepted: _________________Date__________________

Aka “Greetee”

 

Witness: __________________Date___________________

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The Oracle and the Entrepreneur

I’ve written a book of business light verse entitled, “The Druids as Entrepreneurs, a Business Person’s Garden of Verse and Other Poisonous Growths.” In it, I tell the tale of Binkley’s Inc., the mythical manufacturing company, run by its autocratic founder and CEO, Calvin T. Binkley. It goes from department to department, telling little light verse stories about successes and failures, good ideas and bad, and all the people I met, including the heroes, varlets, doers, poseurs, and those who just occupy space.

It took roughly 40 years (1960 – 2000) of part-time work on airplanes, classrooms, and at the back of many extremely dull meetings, when I should have been paying attention. The book is about what I saw, felt, and learned. Here is a sample:

 

Stave the Twenty-One

Mr. Binkley’s Address to the Young Entrepreneur’s Club

 It’s called “The Oracle and the Entrepreneur”)

 

So you’re going into business, son,

And you have climbed my mountain,

To beg from me – The Oracle,

A sip from Wisdom’s fountain.

 

Come in my boy and be at peace,

Drink deep of Jasmine Tea;

And I will tell the secret of,

The Business Mystery.

 

For I have made it big, my boy,

I’ve tasted fiscal heaven.

(And then, of course, there was that time,

I went Chapter Eleven.)

 

Now the building blocks of Industry,

Since Neolithic Time,

Have been limited to just these Eight,

And they are called “The Prime”:

 

A Good Idea, Commitment, and a Dedicated Team,

Of Loyal, Competent people who would realize your dream;

Sufficient Funds to bring it off, a massive dose of Pluck,

And you have the magic recipe; the rest is (frankly) Luck.

 

(Before I vacate that last point,

A word to all beginners:

If the team you’re with was out before,

It helps if they were Winners.)

 

If you can’t avoid a partner,

Then there’s nothing you can do,

But I’ve never seen the business yet,

That’s big enough for two.

 

Now separate your private world,

From that of your profession’s,

Don’t mix your family, lives, or friends,

Or personal possessions.

 

If you must move from one dimension,

To escape your devils,

You’ll need a safe place to regroup,

So live on many levels.

 

Walk wide of Texas MBA’s,

In business they excel;

And if they say they’re “country boys”,

Turn tail and run like Hell.

 

Beware of Wall Street lawyers,

And their legalistic tricks.

I knew an honest lawyer once,

He died in Fifty-Six.

 

Take heed of the investor who,

With gold and jewels come laden;

He’ll help you like that Roman guard,

Helped out the Sabine maiden.

 

Be trusting of your fellow man,

Be open, honest, frank;

But it’s smart to sit in corners,

And keep money in the bank.

 

And now you know it all, my son,

Your consciousness is raised;

But stay and sit a moment yet,

Your eyes are somewhat glazed.

 

If Success was all that easy,

If Life was all that Fair,

Then every slob could quit his job,

And be a millionaire.

 

I’ve told you every Truth but one,

With this your outlook’s sunny:

If you ever get the chance, my boy,

Be smart – and marry money.

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Stories People Tell Me (#2)

“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things: Of ships and shoes and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings….” (Credit: Lewis Carroll, ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’)

This is a continuation of Stories People Tell Me (#1)

5. Mad Men: In the mid Sixties, and beyond, I got to go with my boss to Madison Avenue and meet the “Mad Men,” a current term for the aggressive and creative types who produce the advertisements that compel us to purchase the products of America. The products, which, as the movie title so aptly put it, include: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The “Mad Men” told stories.

5.1 One of my favorite stories had to do with a certain shampoo which years ago had peaked sales-wise. The company naturally wanted to sell more, but there was no place to go. They seem to have penetrated every market they could identify. They challenged their advertising agency to  come up with a  new plan to increase sales.

The advertising agency, after much thought and discussion, did exactly that. They came up with a way to almost double sales without new products, new markets, or additional expense. They did it with a two-word change to the label.

In the instructions section of the shampoo bottle label, they added these 2 words: “Rinse, Repeat.”

5.2. Once we were in the City for lunch. The agency took us to Tavern on the Green. It was in Central Park and was quite elegant, atmospheric, and expensive. Money was no issue as the agency would just add it to our corporate bill, in one way or another.

The big exercise/adventure thing at that time was SCUBA (e.g. “Self-Contained Underwater breathing Apparatus”) diving. The agency guys drank martinis and told wonderful stories of their great underwater adventures.

One of the guys was pontificating on diver safety: The need for a partner, equipment checks, awareness of weather and the diving area, and the importance of a sharp knife. attached to your belt or boot. I said, “A knife like that wouldn’t be much good against a shark now, would it?”

He replied, “Sharks sense blood in the water. The knife is not for the shark. The knife is for your partner. It buys time.”

5.3. Our advertising director, Bill,  had a drinking problem. That was a relatively common problem among these high strung, high stress guys. The company gave him a break and shipped him off for treatment and protected his job – all at company expense. One noon in the City, our mutual boss and I walked into a pub for lunch. I heard the boss take a sharp intake of air. There was Bill, sitting at the bar, drinking. He saw the boss at the same time the boss saw him. He immediately went into defensive mode: “It’s only white wine,” Bill said. “I can’t get drunk on wine.”

The boss looked at him and said: “Yes, Bill. That’s why they call those elegant gentlemen you see lying in the alley, ‘Wine-Os'”.

Bill paid his bill and left. He left the company soon after.

5.4.  The best presentation I’ve even seen was conducted by Leslie, an agency principal.Leslie was an amateur mountain climber of some fame, and one wall of his cathedral ceilinged office  was the rocky side of a mountain. It was made of real rocks, floor to ceiling. I didn’t see its like again until several years later when such climbs were in pricey exercise gymns and on cruise boat work-out areas. Leslie had it first.

As the presentation began, Leslie stripped to his dress shirt, slacks, and boots. He attached his climbing equipment. The theme was “Preparation.”

Then he began his climb. He called this phase, “Campaign Initiation.”

He ran into a few problems, halfway up the wall, which he promptly dealt with, calling them “Obstacles and Objections to be Resolved.”

He reached the top, sat on an outcrop of rock, and delivered  his words on “Success.”

Then, he repelled back down, while talking about “Follow-Up.”

Finally, he landed, removed his equipment and talked about our business, calling it “Asking for the Order,” while he asked for our order.

He got it.

6. Tom the Conservative: Back in the 1960’s, before casual work wear was discovered, all the men came to work in suits, jackets, and ties. They believed that management and clients both took their first impression from your appearance, e.g. “You are what you look like.” Tom was Vice President of planning for the Fortune 500 firm we both worked for. Tom was straight as an arrow. He had several degrees from prestigious universities, belonged to the right church and clubs, and was surely an Establishment Man on the way up. He was also a great guy, and when we sat down together, it was not economics we discussed. It was office gossip, corporate politics, and naturally – we told stories.

One day, I joined him for coffee in his neat office and noticed that showing between his tailored pants leg and his (five pound) black wing tip shoe was (horror of horrors!) a white athletic sock. I managed to check out his other leg when he changed positions, and on that leg we wore his standard, black, executive hose. One leg white sock, one leg black sock. I had to ask him about it.

“Oh, that,” he said. I have an allergy causing a rash on my left foot so the doctor told me to wear a white cotton sock for a while.

“Then,” I asked, “why didn’t you wear a white sock on the other foot too, instead of the executive hose?’

He looked at me in surprise. “If I did that,” he said with a shudder, “people might think I was wearing white socks with a business suit. This way, they know something’s wrong and will ask me, like you just did. Then, I can explain my situation and they will understand  and know that I am properly dressed.”

I thought that was wonderful, Establishment logic.

7.  Tales by Leo:

Brother Leo made a career developing and implementing management testing systems, interviewing and reporting on candidates being considered for promotional opportunities, and speaking and counseling top management on organization matters. He collected a lifetime’s worth of business anecdotes. Here are a few of my favorites:

7.1. Roland was a brilliant and somewhat eccentric senior engineer in one of Leo’s client accounts. He was not a people person, had no interest in a management role, and wanted to be left alone in his lab, where he performed beautifully. His management was savvy enough to let him be – but they did want Leo to have a chat with him over lunch and see if there were any issues that should be confronted.

Luncheon was always the same with Roland: He ordered hot soup, a sandwich, and ice cream. He ate them in this order: The ice cream, followed by the sandwich, followed by the soup. “Why did he do that?” they wondered.

When Roland arrived at the cafeteria table with his usual 3 items, Leo watched as Roland ate them in his usual order: The ice cream, the sandwich, the soup. In a roundabout way,   he asked Roland about his unusual eating sequence. Roland was mildly surprised by the question. “It’s only logical,” he said. “I eat the ice cream first so it won’t melt. The sandwich I can eat anytime, but I choose to eat it second. That gives the soup a chance to cool.”

Now it all made sense.

7.2 Robert was a hard driving senior executive with a successful track record who was being considered by the Board of Directors for the recently vacated CEO position at the firm. He seemed a shoe-in for the job. Unfortunately, he wasn’t selected. It went to a lesser qualified candidate who seemed to have some political connection with an important board member and it was he, not Robert, who got the job. Everyone waited for Robert’s inevitable explosion, recriminations, and heated resignation. The office staff even started a “Ghoul Pool” as to the day and hour it would happen.

Leo was on the firm’s consulting staff, and Roger called him into his office. “You know what happened?” Roger began. Leo nodded yes. “Everybody’s waiting for me to go off the deep end. I hear they’re even betting as to when it will happen.” Again, Leo nodded yes. “Did you buy a ticket?” Leo said no.

“Well good; don’t waste your money picking a date. It’s not going to happen,” Roger said. “I’ve worked too long and too hard to burn my bridges behind me. I will not trade 20 years of work for 20 seconds of satisfaction. I’ll go, but I’ll go on my time table.”

Robert was as good as his word. His record was well known in the industry and they also knew the story. Within 6 months, he was recruited and hired into the top job with another firm. He resigned from his current post, helped ease the succession, wished everyone well, and left for a more important and remunerative position like the classy guy that he was.

7.3  Leo and I were once discussing an individual known to us both who had really made a botched job of an important assignment that he should have been able to accomplish with ease. I commented, “I expected more of him. After all, he has 20 years of experience in that kind of work.”

Leo replied, “No one has 20 years of experience at anything. After some point, we all stop learning and start to coast. The most you can hope for is 10 years of experience twice. The majority of managers have 5 years of experience 4 times. Some have 2 years of experience 10 times, and, at the bottom of the heap, you find the people who have 1 year of experience 20 times.”

I often think of that when I have to put someone’s years of experience into perspective.

7.4 Leo dealt with a number of family businesses that had some unique problems. One of these was dealing with a family member in an important company job, that he just could not handle. In the case of a family concern, this is both a business and a personal problem.

One day, Leo spoke with the patriarch of a successful family manufacturing firm who told him this story: “My oldest son came to me recently, and said that he should be announced now as my successor as president and CEO of the business. I asked him why he felt that was appropriate and he responded: “Because I am the senior son.”

“I told him this story I heard years ago: When the turkey farmer dies, the farm owners recruit a new turkey farmer. They do not promote the oldest turkey.”

7.5 Talking about different things together: Leo was working a project with the CEO of a large, multi-divisional company, with branches all over the United States. He said his biggest concern was in the communications area, where people might misunderstand, and misimplement, some corporate communication.

He told Leo about the time he had his secretary call the manager of one of his small mid-western plants, and ask what their summer hiring policy was. She told the plant manager there was no rush, it was Friday, and if he could get it to her the following Monday, that would be fine.

The plant manager hung up. He called in the HR manager and asked about their summer hiring policy. The HR manager said they didn’t have one. They  just hired people if they needed them.

The plant manager said, “We’ll have one by Monday!”

The entire HR staff was called in for the weekend job. The found out what the competition was doing, locally and around the country, what the appropriate laws were concerning the matter, and established pay scales and a review procedure. By Monday morning it was written, bound, and off to the the CEO’s office via same day freight.

That afternoon, the CEO watched his secretary haul in this heavy loose leaf binder and place it on his desk. “What is that?” he asked.

“That’s the summer hiring policy manual from the plant manager I called for you last Friday.”

The president said, “I don’t want that. Call him back and tell him my sister’s kid lives near his plant and I was just wondering if they were hiring for the summer.”

Leo is still out there and keeping his hand in with the new generation of business leaders and business hopefuls. And, I hope, he is working on “The Book.”

8. Artie D, the Logical Lawyer:

My colleague, attorney Stan Driban, once characterized Artie D as “A logical man in an illogical world.” That is a perfect description of my long time friend.

Artie and I met at 3C in 1964 and immediately hit it off despite our many apparent differences. Artie was a Brown University contracts lawyer, I was a UMass English Major working in sales support. Artie was an athlete, football player, weight lifter, and a bad man to cross on any level, intellectual or physical. I wasn’t. Artie had a grand sense of humor and enjoyed telling stories. Me too.

One of the first Artie D tales was when he told me how he kept up his reading pace while he was in the Army. He read only paperbacks because, at the end of each day, he would rip out the pages he had read and throw them away. The problem, of course, was that he’d occasionally recommend a book he had just finished to a buddy and, if the chap asked to borrow it, Artie would have to reply: “I threw it away.”

“Why did you rip out the pages and essentially throw the book away?” I asked.

Artie replied, “Every day, my pack grew lighter.”

We started lunching together in 1964 and basically kept up the tradition, with only minor interruptions, through 4 different companies, until 1999. I once told him, “I’ve heard every damn story you know in the past 35 years. Why do you keep retelling them?”

Artie replied, “They are the only stories I know.”

I guess he could have said the same thing about mine.

In our positions working with sales people, and clients, and co-workers who enjoyed the occasional (and frequent) drink, Artie once told Bill and I we had to be careful not to overdue it.

Bill said, “Artie, don’t worry. You’ll never be an alcoholic.”

Artie liked that. He said, “Because of my character and resolve?”

Bill said, “No, because you’re too cheap to pick up the tab.”

In fairness, Artie and wife Bev did enjoy the occasional weekend dinner at some nice, local restaurant. Artie told us one time how he even saved money on those dinners out: “Bev and I get dressed up, then we sit at the kitchen table with a soft light and perhaps put some music on, and we have one or two cocktails. Then, when we get to the restaurant, we don’t have to pay for drinks.”

Bill smiled and said, “Artie, why don’t you both just stay there in the kitchen, have your dinner there, and save the entire restaurant bill?”

Artie went into his think mode. It was such an obvious solution to the expense of eating out. I gather the concept, as frugal as it was, did not fly with his wife.

Like me, Artie is retired now. We still do the occasional lunches. Artie is still the Renaissance Man he always was. He consults, raises dogs, has a garden, can fix anything wrong with any car, and any house, built a pond in his backyard (“Lake Artie”) to stock fish and attract wildlife for the grandchildren, reads, and can juggle at least 3 weekend football games at the same time (twin TV’s and a radio – all at the same time).

He’s always good for some seasoned, informed, and – of course – logical advice.Artie is a good friend.

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Lists: Why Companies Outsource

When a company outsources a function or operation (e.g. eliminates that function or operation from its corporate hierarchy and relies on outside vendors to perform the task), they often have 1 or more of the following considerations in mind:

10. Whatever it is, someone in the Third World can always build it cheaper.

9. The company ends up with fewer employees to worry about, negotiate with, and pay benefits for.

8. Any cost containment activity is view positively by the market.

7. It keeps employees on their toes. Employees often willingly train their outside successors in the hopes of going with the function or at least securing a few months more of paydays.

6. The company hopes that if the headcount goes away, the expense will go away too.

5. Even if the expense does not go away, it will show up on some other part of the operating statement under more ambiguous terminology, such as “Outside Services,” and won’t be as noticeable.

4. Any term that includes “out,” as in “out the back door,” must be a good idea.

3. They know it can be done. Their sister-in-law runs a wedding planning service from her home.

2. Having an outsider around is a good idea in case the whole program goes down the chute and a responsible culprit must be identified and dealt with firmly.

1. They want to believe that “outsource” is a Latin word meaning “at no cost.”

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Fighting a Nuclear Iran

I’ve read about the ever increasing tensions between Israel and Iran over the latter’s developing nuclear capability. The Israelis believe that Iran will fire a missile at them the first chance they get. They back this up with the many quotations from Iranian leaders, and clerics, to the effect that Israel has no right to exist and should be obliterated.

The Iranian defenders make a different point: If Iran were to fire a missile into Israel, they would also kill many innocent Palestinians, the very people they support. They would also destroy sacred mosques which could turn the ire of the entire Muslim world against them. They would never do such a thing.

I fear that’s Western thinking applied to a Middle Eastern problem.

Most Americans do not understand how differently the Muslim world feels about war, life and death than we do. In our paradigm, we want to live. It was our own Gen. Patton who famously said: The secret of military success is not to die for your country. The secret of military success is to make the  other poor bastard die for his country.”

Muslims, shaped by fundamentalist religious beliefs since birth, think of death as a great honor, to be welcomed and even sought after, for the glory of their faith, and the promise of eternal happiness in Paradise. In all the wars we’ve ever fought, the closest we have come to this mentality was the Japanese suicide pilots, or Kamikaze, who rained terror on our naval forces during the latter stages of World War II. If the Japanese had more of these “martyrs,” or used them more extensively earlier on, who knows what the outcome might have been.

In the Eighties, when President Carter was trying to bring peace to the Middle East, a friend told me this grim tale that he had heard in the Middle East:

“The scene is somewhere in the Middle East. A scorpion and a beaver came to a swift stream which they had to cross. The scorpion was powerful, but he could not swim. The beaver could swim, but he was defenseless against the large vultures that circled overhead waiting for a chance to attack.

“Finally, the scorpion said: ‘I have an idea. Let’s declare a truce for the day. I will hop on your back and you will swim us both across the stream, while I protect us from attack with my deadly stinger. Then, on the other side, we’ll both go our separate ways.’

“”The beaver thought for a moment, and then said “How do I know you won’t attack me anyway?’

“The scorpion said: “Don’t be foolish. If I did that, we’d both drown. When we get to the other side, you  stop a few feet offshore, and I will jump to land while you swim safely in alone.’

“The beaver thought that sounded fair. He swam out a foot or two and the scorpion jumped on his back, his stinger at the ready. The beaver swam and the scorpion watched the skies.

“Midstream, without warning, the scorpion plunged his deadly stinger into the beaver’s neck. The beaver, feeling himself slipping away, said: ‘Now we shall both drown. Why did you do that?’

“Just before the scorpion went under, he replied: ‘Because this is the Middle East.'”

I thought about that story recently while discussing the Middle East with my brother Leo. He shared his views on the dangers of a nuclear Iran. I told him about my experience in 1959 as a 2d lieutenant in basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.

We had two Iranian lieutenants from the Shah’s personal guard in training with us. They were crazy. Once, we were on the pistol range and they arrived late, to find no firing tables available. So, they stood behind us and fired at our targets, over our heads. The range safety officer went berserk and threw them off the range. There was not too much more he could do beyond filing a report. The Iranians thought it was a joke.

Another day, we were on the tank range, firing the M-48A2 medium tank’s 90 mm. cannon. We were loading the tank ammo very carefully. Each round weighed about 90 pounds and only required 14 pounds of pressure on the primer to set it off. If a round dropped, and hit a sharp stone for example, mostly everything for 50 yards around would be ashes.

One of our guys noticed the two Iranians. They were tossing a 90 mm round back and forth between them, laughing as they played “chicken.” Once again, the range officer stepped in and threw them off the range. Once again, not much could be done but file another report. The Iranians said, “We are men.”

The program ended with each of us making a short presentation on training and tactics. When the Iranians spoke, they said if their army went out on a live fire training mission (no enemy, just their own troops pretending to be aggressors), they counted the session a success if they only incurred a 10% casualty rate. We were horrified. That’s a number you might expect in combat. I later quipped to an old World War II master sergeant that: “If we ever go to war with the Iranians, we should just avoid them for the first 15 minutes, and they’ll wipe each other out.”

The sergeant laughed and said: “Let’s hope that never happens. Those crazy bastards don’t think like we do, nor like the Germans or the Italians we just fought. Westerners want to live. These guys don’t care. They welcome death as long as it’s honorable and glorious. It’s tough to fight a guy who doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he gets to Heaven.”

Do I think the Iranians would fire a nuclear missile first at Israel, even if it meant killing innocent Palestinians and destroying sacred mosques? You bet I do. I think that in their eyes, killing innocent Palestinians and destroying sacred buildings is a small price to pay for ridding the Middle East of the State of Israel. It is their version of “The Final Solution.”

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