Archive for March, 2009

Impressions of Leadership

Friday, March 27th, 2009

I read three newspapers each morning. This habit, near fetish or fix, began after serving in the Navy in the 1970s. For news aboard ship, the officers would pass-around a clipboard of news captions received in the radio room. Sometimes we received only half of the transmission.

As a consequence of my time out of the popular culture mainstream and periodically when we’re in front of the television or at a dinner, someone will mention a tv program or even song from that period. While my fellow viewers and dinner partners express related opinions and associations, I react as though I just landed here from afar. Now I’m used to saying, “that must have been in the seventies.”

One of my Navy roommates tried to enjoy investing in the stock market. During port calls in the Pacific, he’d receive a pile of Wall Street Journals. He pore through the stack exclaiming and cursing the performance of his investments as their 2 and 3 week histories were compressed into a 2 tand 3 hour interval for him. Speaking of the Journal: I’ve been a diligent reader and loyal subscriber for nearly 30 years. Under the newly formed News Corp. / Murdoch administration, I’m finding the paper predictable in its point of view and shallow in the depth of its reporting. The editors may be interested to know that my wife, a publications designer, approves of the new trim size. At this rate, I’ll drop the Journal and spend more time with the Times.

Which leads me to the topic of leadership because the unwritten news headlines are furious cries for a TARP-like program of leadership. Aren’t we all just looking for a little bit of it here and there?! What are its elements? Can it be taught? Do we only know it when we see it? Is it valued and encouraged?

I work for a technology company in a college town populated by medical professionals which offers a rewarding mixture of possibility, energy and achievement. My favorite discussions are when we compare the mechanics of our worlds. Yesterday, I spoke with a military officer about the organization of a bbq at an April sporting event. In this discussion, she exhibited the same traits of leadership skill that I attribute to others whom I admire in medicine, technology and in education: foremost, their intent is to get something done; they are unfailing polite while being candid; they work hard in the achievement of mission and are eager to acknowledge the contributions of others; they do not lay blame and do not tolerate incompetence, willful or unintended; they solicit genuine feedback about their performance.

What do leaders do? Leaders create environments where people can belong to something larger than themselves. They inspire confidence that the group will succeed in its purpose even as individual members rotate in and out. Great sports teams are the epitome of this. After all, why do some teams become programs that always play well; some never play well; and most played well so long as so&so was there.

Of course, the essence of leadership is courage. What is that and can that be taught?

Financial Bail-out plan and Tom Hanks

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Market up nearly 500 today as Treasury announced program to purchase or guarantee the purchase by others of up to $1T in toxic assets. What a phrase for financial ignorance, carelessness and fraud. Reminds me of the late night info-mercials which imply that debt consolidation will somehow relieve the pain of debt. Brother! Brings to mind the 2000 movie, Castaway, which starred Tom Hanks. Hurrah! Survived the plane crash. Followed by the miracle of drifting in the huge ocean then colliding with a small island. Now that he’s on seemingly solid ground or ‘found bottom’ in the parlance of the stock market. What’s our future plan for sustaining ourselves absent fundamental tools (capital and relevant skills)?! This is the part that requires perseverance and resourcefulness. tom_hanks_cast_away_001Not all gloomy: YouTube reveals what was in the box that Tom ultimately delivered: satellite phone, seeds….

If you can keep your head whan all about you…

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Lent: just past the 1/2way point. Hang in there.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A new friend and I discovered that we’re both Catholics. She asked, insightfully, “are you a practicing Catholic?” I smiled as I shook my head. Occassionally attended mass at Saint Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter when I was younger. My sisters and I liked to go because of the Cafe’ du Monde coffee and beignets afterwards. Pint of chocolate milk and 3 powdered sugar, deep-fried, French pasteries for twenty five cents. LeRoy was our favorite waiter. He talked about the track alot.

From the pulpit back in the 1960s, a visiting pastor classified most Catholics as coming to church on but three occasions: to be hatched, to be matched and to be dispatched. I guess that I’m now part of that club or majority. Should this be an identifier at Linked-In? Never gave-up much for Lent. We did follow the no-meat on Fridays rule. No problem, seafood was always the better dish in New Orleans anyway. 428865460_6b2be9c1edThink about NOLA (New Orleans, LA) frequently of late. Hurricane Katrina and our absence of preparation, fumbling by the government agencies that our tax dollars funded to mind such matters and the resultant expectation that somehow the same government would make it all fine after the fact has, of course, a disappointing parallel to how one might characterize the Wall Street and Banking mess that we’re in. Who woulda thought?!

If you’re a practicing and / or good Catholic and keeping score at home, Easter is but 26 days away. I just learned from WikiAnswers that Lent is a 40 day season over a 47 day period because Sundays do not count?! So, we’re about half of the distance from Mardi Gras and another 1/2 to Easter. image1
At any rate, I just wanted a reason to show you this woman’s body-paint costume. I didn’t have the courage to show it alone. Having received the Octo-mom costume photo yesterday provides a good excuse. In addition to sharing its too often self-destructive habits and behavior, maybe the rest of us can also cultivate the New Orleans sense of humor and its fondness for the human condition and its packaging.

Dutch Honkballers defeat Republic of Baseball, 2x

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I don’t care how my or your stock portfolio did this week but this is an event that gives our individual and collective weakest and dimmest hopes a jolt of optimism.Dutch HonkballersThis upset in the World Baseball Classic, the true World Series, exceeds in incredible achievement Joe Namath’s-led victory over the Baltimore Colts, the Japanese Navy’s annihilation of the Russian Navy at Tsushima in 1905 and the 1-in-120,526,770 odds of winning the 6 ball USA Powerball Lottery. One victory over the superior Dominican Republic baseball players is astounding; another victory 3 days later turns the sports world nearly upside down. Please note that the Dutch won the second game, played in Puerto Rico, in the bottom of the 11th inning and down by one run! Imagine12dutch190 if the best kid on the local high school tennis team defeated Raphael Nadel in 3 straight sets on one day and then Roger Federer in 3 straight sets a couple of days later. In a world too consumed by sports, stadiums and athletes, this is proof positive of why we watch despite ourselves. I guess it’s because we’re allowed to appreciate the accomplishments of the superior while rooting for the improbable achievement of the underdog.

And if we’d like a lesson in fortitude and stickin’ with it, check-out last night’s 6 overtime NCAA basketball victory by #20 Syracuse over #1 Connecticut. Maybe I won’t give up on my stock portfolio after all.

Ides of Finance: I come to nationalize banks, not to bury them

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

March was the 1st month of the Roman calendar. The Caesars, Julius and Augustus, were honored with the naming rights to July and August relegating October (#8), November (#9) and December (#10) to their current slots of 10, 11 and 12 in the lunar batting order. Unquenchable ego, sloppy derivatives and hapless government intervention pre-dates the year 0.

Julius Caesar sword

As I prepare for a banking conference presentation (feel free to add your own punch line), I observe the following which could be extrapolated to a variety of industries: media, telecom, retail, transportation.

Bank of the Future predicitons: let’s keep copies of these in the files along with our stash of ‘companies long-gone’ memorabilia.  IMO, banking in 5 years will be ubiquitously mobile, provided by highly trusted and broadly recommended sources (other customers) and regional in size and behavior.  

– Bank branches are models of the ‘way it used to be.’  Going someplace so that someone else can enter some data into a computer is nearly completely anachronistic anyway.  And espresso machines and elaborate video presentations won’t entice many desirable customers.  The financial disaster of today is good news for the Mint.coms, peer to peer lenders, Pay Pals and atypical financial services entities of the future.

– I still contend that the Apple Store and IKEA are examples of what a bank should be.  IKEA opened a store near Charlotte, North Carolina recently and people camped-out to be among the first through the doors. Customers want to belong to something not transact somewhere.

– When the dust and smoke of the financial crisis clears, Google and China will retain their respective dominant positions as the more creative and the lowest cost producers, sharing the title of Best Capitalized.  Now is the time to prepare for resumption of the related global competition.

– Things aren’t as foregone globally or even locally as one is stampeded into believing. 80%+ of the equivalent value of the stock market is on the sidelines, in cash, awaiting market stability.  I envision this being like the starting line of the Oklahoma Land Rush.  Every loud noise sends the ‘Sooners’ out 150 points or so.  Do you add value?  Can I trust you?  Will I be associating with people like me? are questions to which every type of Financial Institution will have to answer ‘yes’ merely to earn the right to join the customer-rush line-up.

– There are plenty of technically savvy, motivated and conscientious younger people out there (gen whatever, doesn’t matter).  They want to make a difference and are willing make to personal and professional investments 
before they reap attendant rewards (they elected a president, after all). Successful enterprises of the future will modernize the descriptions of their business challenges so that this talent generation can participate.

Some days I wonder what is in store for my teenaged sons over the next 30 years. Every day I wish that I was 30 years younger to be find out with them. Welcome to March.  In like a lamb, out like a lion?