Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

Service of What Were They Thinking?

Monday, April 30th, 2012

hell

I’ve written many posts that illustrate business behavior or decisions that deserve this reaction. Recently I’ve noticed a rash of examples that inspired me to revisit the question.

Humor Doesn’t Always Translate

I saw a scarf manufactured by a well known Italian fashion brand. Prominently printed along an edge in fancy script were the words “cheap & chic.” European or rich person’s humor, perhaps? At $80, the scarf represented the couture brand’s bargain basement price point. In spite of the pretty pattern and colors, the words translated to “what were they thinking?” Can you imagine the reaction of the recipient of such a gift?

My Stars

Another well known apparel brand, this one with retail stores of the same name, sells a tee-shirt with a yellow star reminiscent of the symbol Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. Wonder what the stylist-and his/her boss-had in mind? One of the hosts of the WABC radio program “Religion on the Line” was not amused.

You Can’t Have That

magazinesLeafing through the pages of a once-favorite decorating magazine, I stopped at the image of a bright red and white bedroom ensemble. Most of the photo captions on the page were obscured by the dropout type on dark background. Centrally placed in the largest type on a white background I read: “____[name of store] no longer stocks this toile headboard, but the company still sells the matching dust ruffle.”

I couldn’t see the dust ruffle in the photo [though a friend said he could see a little bit of it]. The coordinating floral comforter took up most of the image but there was no mention of it.

Pay Your Debts

And then there was the Secret Service person who didn’t pay his Columbian prostitute. Now was that the time to be cheap?

Race to Play

sportscarsOn NJ.com, Christopher Baxter wrote “N.J. state troopers face probe for ‘Death Race 2012′ down Parkway to AC.” According to Baxter, two troopers “escorted a caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City last month.” Baxter quoted one of two witnesses, Wayne Gantt, who complained to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority: “I had the great pleasure today of nearly being killed by, not one, but two, Lamborghinis traveling in excess of 110 mph in a (New Jersey State Police) escorted ‘caravan’ of approximately 30 exotic vehicles all traveling well over 100 mph.” What a precedent for the next time a state trooper tries to ticket a driver for going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Guess the police and the sports car drivers don’t remember how former NJ Governor Corzine was almost killed when he urged his chauffeur to travel at 90+ mph down a turnpike and the car smashed into something. Speed must be in the air in that state.

Can you explain what these people were thinking or add other examples to the list?

 head-scratcher

Service of What’s the Question?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

question-what-is

With $67 billion of student loans in default it appears that some of the borrowers aren’t asking the right questions. Janet Lorin wrote: “Almost two-thirds of U.S. student-loan borrowers misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their loans or the student-loan process, a study shows.”

She continued, in “Student Borrowers Lack Understanding of Loan Terms,” on Bloomberg.com: “About 20 percent of the respondents in an online survey said the amount of their monthly payments was unexpected, according to the study released today by Young Invicibles, a nonprofit group in Washington that represents the interests of 18-to-34 year-olds. The respondents had an average of $76,000 in student debt.”

college-studentsIn addition, borrowers probably didn’t calculate what their potential salary might be in their chosen field, what the job opportunities are and what the added value would be to attend a private school with its $60,000/year tuition, room and board–taking Georgetown as an example–vs. a state or community college where they can live with relatives. Undergraduate tuition at the City University of New York is $5,130.

How do you Feel?

fever-thermometerMeanwhile, the Justices of the Supreme Court are looking at the legality of Obamacare. What they are considering is if there are limits to Congressional intervention in people’s lives. Talk show pundits refer to this question as “Can Congress make you eat your broccoli?” Wonder what the answer will be.

Hot Topic

I heard an articulate spokesperson make her case about tanning beds in a radio interview. She wanted the legislation in her state to follow California where it’s against the law for teens under 18 to use them. Emma Jones on Limelife.com reported on these findings by the Skin Cancer Foundation: “…indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. What’s more, across the US each year, 2.3 million of tanning bed users are teens.”

tanning-bedJones also reported:  “California had previously banned minors under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, but allowed those between 14 and 18 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. Texas has also banned the use of tanning beds for children under 16, but California’s new bill has made them the first state to set a higher age limit.”

When the MC asked this spokesperson: “How many tanning bed businesses are there in the US and how big a business is it?” she had no clue. Within a minute of hanging up, his producer had the answers. The takeaway: When you are a spokesperson, think of the obvious questions you’ll be asked about the topic you’re covering and keep the answers at hand. It’s so easy to do these days!

How Taxing

On his radio show about money, Ric Edelman was trying to make losers feel better about the outcome of the Mega Millions lottery. He told the audience about a winner of $10 million who divided her winnings: 49 percent for herself, 51 percent for her mother and siblings.

tax-2She lost a court case in which she fought the tax man, ending up paying 90 percent of her winnings to gift taxes.

Before picking up her winnings, she should have asked a whole bunch of questions. She’d have learned that the maximum amount of money she can gift someone without paying a gift tax is $13 thousand a year. She’d have been better off to have picked up the winnings with family members as a group. Ric was being funny when he said she should have hired an accountant and lawyer even before buying the winning ticket.

Have you landed in a spot because you didn’t ask the right question or weren’t prepared with the answers?

 unprepared

Service of Two + Minds…

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

group-of-people-talking1

It can take a second for a person seeing something for the first time and with fresh eyes to notice/suggest a critical fix to a designer, writer, merchandiser, chef or inventor who has been working on a project for hours if not years.

This happened just the other day at Hedström & Judd. Every time I go to Warren Street in Hudson, NY I visit this Swedish-inspired boutique with its memorable decorative pillows, china, glassware, furniture, stationery, soap, plants, cachepots, birdhouses, books-carefully chosen and placed. On my latest visit I saw a handsome black tray with a display of cotton socks in great colors and patterns. Also on the tray with the socks was a Hedström & Judd card marked $275.

decorative-socksKnowing it referred to the tray I nevertheless mumbled to my husband, “Socks at that price? And you thought inflation was bad?” I decided to mention my reaction to the proprietor as in truth, when the great socks caught my eye, I wondered how much they cost and $275 was all I saw. He’s as nice to customers if they buy one note card, an entire tray of socks, 24 bowls with polka dots-or nothing. He thanked me profusely and rushed over and grabbed the tag to modify it.

two-on-computerIn our shared office space, an assistant had tried to fix the template of her boss’s email for two days when she asked others for help. The boss was using an ancient program so it didn’t have the options we had on ours. With tidbits of experience from a few, she finally  replaced the missing element, a signature, that had disappeared mysteriously one day. The irony: One inadvertent tap of a key and a template that takes a minute [or in this case, two days] to set up takes a second to delete.

A craftsperson was defensive and snippy when I suggested she mark her wooden toys “Made in Pennsylvania,” to distinguish them from those made in countries with lax regulations about child-safe paints and finishes.

What personality most welcomes suggested fixes? Can a person learn how not to resent help? Do you wait for ages to ask for help?

man-scratching-hed

Service of Board Service

Monday, May 16th, 2011

board-of-directors

My friend Erica Martell urged me to read about the City University of New York’s board of trustees and its reversal about giving playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree. First the board voted no. Subsequently the executive committee voted yes.

I read the coverage in The New York Times that Erica sent and The Wall Street Journal and finally a New York Sun editorial. The short story: Kushner was being proposed for a doctor of letters at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Right before the vote, a member of the 17-member board, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to his receiving the honor based on what he described as Kushner’s attacks on Israel.

counterpunchAfter the 6-member executive committee reversed the board’s decision, Winnie Hu in The New York Times wrote: “After the vote to approve the degree, Dr. [Matthew] Goldstein, CUNY’s chancellor, said ‘the basic misstep was there wasn’t a counterpunch’ to Mr. Wiesenfeld’s remarks.

“I’m not sure why the appropriate people didn’t chime in at that time,” he said. Dr. Goldstein, who was present at that meeting, said the presidents of the various colleges are generally expected to address specific questions.”

Translation: Somebody put Kushner on the list. Why didn’t he/she speak up?

Hu noted: “Mr. Kushner later disputed Mr. Wiesenfeld’s characterization of his views and said he is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist.”

In The Wall Street Journal Ruth King quoted Benno Schmidt, the president of the board of trustees: “‘I would not ordinarily ask for reconsideration of a decision so recently taken,’ said Mr. Schmidt, who was once president of Yale. ‘But when the board has made a mistake of principle and not merely of policy, review is appropriate and, indeed, mandatory. As it happens, Chairperson Schmidt was on hand when this ‘mistake of principle’ was made but didn’t raise a voice at the time.”

An excerpt from a New York Sun editorial: “But if principles are the issue here, what is the logic of the decision of a full board of trustees being overturned a few days later by a subset of the trustees?

“So far it looks as if the only person who has acted on principle in the CUNY affair is Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the trustee who first objected to the idea of giving an honorary degree to Mr. Kushner. He came to a meeting, and he stated his objection forthrightly. It had to do with Mr. Kushner’s views in respect of Israel. Mr. Kushner is entitled to his views and Mr. Wiesenfeld is entitled to dissent from a proposal to give him an honorary degree. The whole thing was filmed and is available at a CUNY Web site. Mr. Wiesenfeld comprehended he was making a dissident statement. Our guess is that he was as surprised as anyone when the trustees acted on his objection.”

decisionmakingI think that what happened is not as much about whether a person accused of speaking out against a foreign country should be given or denied an award by a New York City university as it is about how boards work. It’s typical of what I’ve observed as a board member. I’ve been on many–industry, charity and co-op apartment boards. Many board members sit like lumps. Are they afraid to speak out? I have not always been popular as a result but feel that my job is to point out hurdles or issues for the board’s consideration. For that reason, I commend Mr. Wiesenfeld for stating his view and wonder about the other board members. Not all of them agreed with him, as it turns out. They didn’t want to face him with their argument.

Who are the villains here? Did anyone do anything right?  Why do people take the time to sit on boards if they don’t plan to participate? Do those who bring up touchy subjects risk being treated like whistleblowers? What is it about a board that seems to stifle discussion?

 speak-out

Service of Lessons Learned

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

lessonslearned

As we hurdle towards the new year, thought I’d address lessons learned inspired by Michael Kubin’s opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Ponzi Scheme that Changed My Life.” He’d lost the money he invested with Bernie Madoff and concluded that he’s better off for it because “Bernie Madoff opened my eyes. I now understand that life is a game of Minesweeper where the mines are real-and that letting someone else play for me is a losing strategy. For that I am, I dare to say, grateful.”

Kubin is obviously young enough to pick up the pieces and recuperate financially and he says he didn’t invest all his savings with Madoff and he still has money to invest.

About his conclusion to go it alone in future, we’ve covered before, in “Service of Specialists,” what can go wrong when you opt for a do-it-yourself approach. Usually it’s because you think you’re saving money not paying an expert-accountant, real estate agent, graphic designer, writer, marketing, advertising or PR executive. In most cases, such specialists will save time and trouble and generate far better results than you can.

moneyundermattressGiven that Kubin wrote that he has an “MBA from a well known Eastern business school,” he has more qualifications than most to make prudent and effective investment decisions. But he’s busy being a writer and media executive, according to the bio in the paper. Can he really do the best job by spreading himself so thin?  It doesn’t mean he should toss his money or a project at anyone and walk away. Supervision is imperative. Extremes usually never work.

If one doctor gives you an incorrect diagnosis or solution, do you eschew all medical help? If one hair stylist makes you look foolish or ugly, do you let your hair grow wild? If a gardener pulls out your flowers and waters the weeds, do you pour cement where a garden once grew?

I’ve been burned, not always by crooks, but at times by people who have made the wrong investment decision or medical diagnosis based on how they interpreted the facts they had. As I put my whole heart and brains into what I do and have not always achieved the results I’d hoped for, I like to give others some slack.  When I’ve had truck with a bum, I try not to paint all people in the profession or industry with that bum’s brush.

Please share some lessons you have learned. How do you bounce back from a reversal?

timetorrecover

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