Archive for November, 2008

Doctor? Lawyer? Indian Chief? Not Exactly.

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Incredibly, especially after 6 jobs in my first 17 years of employment (the half-life of software start-ups is less than half of what you hope for), I celebrate today my 10th year, consecutive that is, with my current employer.

After the Navy, I helped to build ships in Maine. Moved to North Carolina & entered a sales training program with ITT Telecom; tossed-out 7 months later with the other 2,000 employees. Began a 7 year run in the factory automation software business, including hired, fired (here we go again), re-hired, bought the company, bought-out by the Japanese partner and then hired and moved to Europe with our German distributor. Conclusion: I didn’t belong on the manufacturing floor even though I enjoyed the complex process of production.

Two more start-ups: one in user-experience design delivered on the ‘ol CD-ROM; the other developed an application server for delivering back-end data to a browser via the magic of the Internet.

10 years working from home and during most of this period I saw my direct manager once or twice per year and in a couple of years, I never saw my manager. I value the complete control of my time and the emphasis on producing results more than making appearances. Of course, video conferencing may change all of this.

When I consider how my father’s concept of work and employment changed so radically from his generation to my own, I can hardly imagine how these terms will be defined for my sons.

Destroyers, Financial Storms, Obama: a Web 2.0 Beacon

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

My latest customer e-gram. About to complete my second year of such musings. Would like to move to blog solely; not sure my adult, executive, corporate audience is in the habit to follow such a means of dialogue.

While serving in the US Navy, our destroyer miscalculated the severity, course & speed of a typhoon. Compounding our misery was the decision to seek safety in port moored outboard a cruiser. For three days the winds pounded us into that cruiser puncturing her hull at the water line. Incredible was it to witness a warship at general quarters while sinking at her own pier.

The mood, behavior and weather of the prevailing financial crisis recalls that
weekend in Subic Bay.

Here’s what we could do to take advantage of the indecision and relative inaction of others: head for open water- meaning the environment where we are constructed to perform our best. Let’s ensure that everyone across the extended organization, inside and outside of the firewall, understands what are our near-term intentions. This is not a recommendation for heroics or reckless behavior, but an opportunity for leadership and the beginning of the campaign to reinforce trustworthy relationships across our value chain of employees, shareholders, partners and customers.

While others are standing still or meandering waiting for the unpredictable market storms to pass, a 10% improvement in our performances could result in a 30% increase in relative advantage (distance from the pack).

Where’s the web 2.0 component? Although I am eager to talk about the continuing progress in the mobile space with Microsoft’s bid to be the search engine of choice in the Verizon mobile network (search, as Google knows, = advertising $$); the introduction of Blackberry (Storm); and the launch of the Google phone; let’s benefit from the victor’s example in the U.S. presidential campaign.

Senator O’Bama
maneuvered from not-yet-ready to the presidency, amassing an historic war chest in the process, by inspiring participation to build his financial network. His opponents throughout the extended contest waged a campaign of message control, the Web 1.0 publishing model.

There is a wide-range of Web 2.0 tools & principles to get us started and the first audience to engage may be within our own firewalls. Moving from Publication to Participation will help to build an extended culture of innovative and necessary change.

P.S. the USS Fox did not sink at that pier in Subic. And for the remainder of our deployment in the South China Sea, whenever there was more than the threat of a rainstorm, the USS Joseph Strauss lit-off her 4 boilers and got underway.

Say Hey! Say What? Never heard of Willie Mays!

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Dinner with younger colleagues at an Irish Pub in lower Manhattan. Uncovered common ground as high school baseball players, albeit several or even many years apart. I asked whom he considers the best baseball player that he had seen. Manney Ramirez had a great 09, he said. Best I’ve seen is Willie Mays. My comment received a blank, mildly uncomfortable look. ‘Don’t know much about the older generations, he said.’

OUCH. Reminded me of when my own father would talk about Bob Feller, the fireballer of his generation. To me Bob Feller may as well have pitched for Abner Doubleday’s team in Cooperstown, maybe during a Civil War truce.

At any rate, what a catch! Poor Vic Wertz.

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Financial crisis: role model for way forward – USAA

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Disclosure: been member since 1972. Advantage is that USAA can only sell to members with military affiliation. Knows who it is and completely committed to its membership. If you’ve had any connection to the military through your own service or that of a family member, I recommend that you research your eligibility.

“Standard & Poor’s has affirmed its Insurer Financial Strength Ratings of AAA (Extremely Strong, highest of 21 possible ratings) on United Services Automobile Association and its Property & Casualty Companies (USAA P&C Group) and Life Insurance Companies. USAA is one of a small, elite group of companies to retain the highest ratings from one of the world’s largest and well-respected rating agencies.”

The affirmed Standard & Poor’s AAA rating is recognition of USAA P&C Group’s high capitalization and financial strength, which is built on profitability, steady recent increases in net worth (more than doubled since 2000), minimal debt, and access to strong liquidity sources.

“We work very hard to keep a strong balance sheet and to meet our financial commitments to our members, and we’re gratified that Standard & Poor’s continues to recognize us for our performance, especially in today’s rugged financial environment,” said Kristi Matus, USAA’s chief financial officer. “For 86 years, through good times and bad, we’ve never wavered from that commitment. We’re extremely proud of that track record and remain squarely focused on doing all that we can to facilitate the financial security of our members and their families.”

According to Standard & Poor’s, USAA P&C Group has a conservative investment strategy and better-than-industry-average liquidity and operating results; additionally, Standard and Poor’s noted that overall USAA has demonstrated an excellent enterprise risk management framework, which is embedded into its corporate culture.

Standard and Poor’s also commented on USAA’s Life Insurance Companies, noting its industry-leading persistency, which reflects its superior customer service and military affinity, conservative investment portfolio, and strong earnings.

Obama January 20th, 2009 recalls JFK January 20, 1961

Monday, November 17th, 2008

JFK inherited a Cold War. President-elect O’Bama inherits a chaotic world that in many ways is trying to realign itself after the end of this Cold War. I admire his inaugural speech, the best one of my own lifetime. Often wonder where we lost our goal of ‘not asking what our country can do for us..’ and hope that we will now re-orient ourselves accordingly.

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Entire address.

Decorate home 4 Xmas: power plant necessary

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Amazing what people can do when convicted, meaning behaving in earnest. I find most over-the-top xmas decorations… well, over the top. This series by Mr. Richard Holdman of Utah makes one interested in visiting the 2008 exhibition.


Carol of the Bells – Computer Controlled Christmas Lights from Richard Holdman on Vimeo.

Incredible and fun. Available at this link.

Hysteria is uniform; is the financial crisis?

Friday, November 14th, 2008

I know that we’re all affected. At a customer meeting this week, the president of a large financial firm commented that his 401k has devolved into a 201k. Clever and accurate for many of us.

I visited 2 shopping malls in my area over the past 2 weeks where parking spots were difficult to locate. Clearly individual spending has frozen and I have this notion that the economic impact of the mortgage-induced crisis is not as uniformly spread has we may be led to believe. Meaning to me that the way back will be a climb, but not one requiring lots of oxygen bottles. America and Americans must modify many of our business and personal management habits – get back into fighting shape sort of program – and we should not abandon in self-pity who we are and what we’re capable of. I guess that I am confessing that after a one year hiatus, I resumed my 401k contributions this month. After the 500 point bounce yesterday, my portfolio may now be a 250k.

Let’s not waste time and energy bailing-out institutions and individuals who have foolishly wasted their opportunities to prosper in our country and its economic system.

About that $50b for Detroit automakers

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Will they promise to use the funds to make better cars? My first car was a Chevy van, circa 1973, from GM. 3 speed manual transmission would pop out of gear; undersized tires all developed eggs where inner wall protruded through outer wall (blow-out with 7 kids on camping trip is a memory); opening back door window sucked in exhaust fumes. Been driving Volvos since.

David Halberstam expressed it best in his 1986 book, The Reckoning. His contention is that the car industry began to fail its markets when the bean counters (designed to cost) took over from the car guys (post WW2 lovers of styling and power. Think fins, rockets and Road Runners). Future, failed Secretaries of Defense, Robert McNamara and Les Aspin began their careers as bean-counting Whiz Kids at Ford.

I spent 7 years selling factory automation to the auto industry, 1986 to 93. Mazda plants seemed as clean as hospitals and the Cadillac plants appeared to function like huge, chaotic garages. Final irony is that the Japanese resisted even getting into auto business in late 1940s believing that the US car industry was just too good to take on! Here’s a review DH’s book from Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
Powerfully developing his thesis that the complacency and shortsightedness of American workers and their bosses, especially the automakers of Detroit, have led to a decline of industrial know-how so critical that Asian carmakers, particularly the Japanese, have virtually taken over the market, Halberstam tells in panoramic detail a story that is alarming in its implications. Immediately ahead lies a harsh scenario that will see America’s standards of living fall appreciablyonly sacrifices will restore our “greatness.” This lengthy book with its skilled, dramatic interweaving of two little-known storiesthe inside struggles of the Ford organization (including the firing of Lee Iacocca) in the 1970s and the growth of the Japanese automotive industry, notably Nissan, since the 1950scompletes the trilogy Halberstam began with The Best and the Brightest and The Powers That Be. Here is fresh and crucially meaningful material researched with notable thoroughness, replete with graphic portraits of top American and Japanese industrialists competing blindly on the one hand and with brilliant cunning on the other. The book is among the most absorbing of recent years, every page contributing to the breathtaking picture of an America that is going to learn to retool or else. 200,000 first printing.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Four letter word for Prepare

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Today’s New York Times discussed the deserving election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by New York Jet great, Joe Klecko. JK was elected to the Pro Bowl in three separate defensive positions and joined Joe Namath and Don Maynard in having his number, 73, retired – the only 3. He got mixed-up in a minor and embarrassing insurance scam which may have prevented earlier selection to the Hall. Joe Klecko was known for his toughness (twice the NCAA heavyweight boxing champ) and his commitment to his teammates.

I’m no longer the football fan that I was once; curiously, neither of my sons shows any interest in pro football. I cracked-up over JK’s comment when addressing a group of young football players recently in Canton, Ohio: “My favorite four-letter word,” he told them, is “prepare.”

Perhaps we should all remember this as we find the bottom and then dig our way and ways out of our economic pit.

SEO Rapper on Web Design. Fun & Accurate

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Passed along by Beck at NC Museum of Life & Science. She gets around!