Dear $anta

Santa

Dear Santa,

Your performance in prior years has always met the relevant tests of audit, so we know we can count on you again this year.  Not even inquiries by the I.R.S. and S.E.C. can slow the speed of your sleigh as you gear up for another chimney-dropping trip.

As you know all too well, some kids have significant capital gains in their portfolios due to this year’s stock market recovery.  Please bring these kids some offsetting losses to help with their potentially hefty tax bills.

Other kids still need to meet ambitious sales goals for the year.  Bring these kids tons of new customer orders that can be shipped by year-end. If the elves could staff 3rd shift at some warehouses in Mexico between Christmas and New Year’s Day, that would be huge.

Another group of tots has already crushed their 2013 operating profit goals and maxed incentive potential. Help these kids pull some expenses into 2013 by putting some invoices with 2013 dates under the tree this year.

Some little boys and girls are S-Corp owners whose businesses have prospered this year.  These kids get really nasty when they have to pay the taxes, so PLEASE bring these kids some tax deductions.  Not to be too greedy, Santa, but tax credits would be even better.  As you know from prior years, they make great stocking stuffers.

Rather tragically, some kids find themselves at a “use it or lose it” point with their expense budgets.  Please supply these kids with invoices for your services.  Invoices should be dated 12/25/13 with 5%, net 120 day terms in order to make their Controllers and CFOs feel good. Because you are the ever-benevolent St. Nick, they are confident that you will issue credit memos in full during 2014.

As you know, the laments of children pull hard at the heartstrings, as less fortunate kids struggle to meet profit targets.  Please help them meet minimum incentive plan thresholds by re-routing legitimate 2013 vendor invoices to an obscure North Pole P.O. Box address of your choosing.  Hang on to these bills and deliver them sometime in February if you think of it.

And I know this one is an awful lot to ask, Santa, but there are some good little children who receive greater compensation if their balance sheets are clean at year-end.  Please help their cause, Mr. Claus, by ensuring that inbound vendor shipments are in-transit FOB destination at year-end. Providing sufficient offsite storage would make this Christmas the best ever.

Finally, and I know you can relate to this one, some of the little cherubs who so revere you have stock options that have been underwater for years. Please deliver a year-end spike in value that makes their dreams come true.  It would be especially excellent if you could time it for about noon on 12-29-13 with reminder emails and trade confirmations.

Oops, I lied.  There really is just one more thing. Kids have been working really hard all year and are very tired.  Please put some bags of sand in your sleigh as you head out on Christmas Eve.  It will help kids everywhere set goals they know they can beat next year.

May all of the joys and blessings of the Season be with you and Mrs. Claus as you help others to achieve their year-end goals…and remember always that Bruce Springsteen & the Big Man know that Santa Claus is Coming to Town!

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Brand It

“All the world’s indeed a stage. And we are merely players. Performers and portrayers. Each another’s audience. Outside the gilded cage.”

Business posts do not typically start out by quoting rock lyrics. But maybe that’s just part of what I do and how I do it. In and of itself, this is an illustration of personal branding in action. Long before I ever heard or read about this term, the above Rush lyrics conveyed to me a message that someone is always watching and that we all have a choice as to how we wish to be perceived by others.

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Cultivating Image vs. Personal Branding

There are numerous examples of high-profile celebrities who cultivate their personal brands by performing and portraying in a way that creates an imagery that facilitates “the sale”.  One favorite example is Rolling Stone Keith Richards, who would certainly be dead by now if his on-brand and legendary self-destructive behaviors were a continued reality. Throw in an occasional tidbit like falling out of a palm tree in the Fijis to maintain the mystique, and you’re all set in his biz. Yes, that’s right. Falling out of a palm tree.

Cultivating image and personal branding do at some point intersect.  However, personal branding is its more earnest self when it comes naturally and manifests as a relatively effortless synergy of one’s genuine personality traits.  It’s where the various aspects of what makes us who we are become evident in our work and how we do it.  When we have an approach that’s just a little bit different from the norm, and it creates a niche.  When the feedback we get from others tells us that we are effective but that we may be doing our typically mundane jobs in a way that sets us ever-so-slightly apart from our peers.

Do you know yours?

It is important to know and understand your personal brand. Do you know yours?  I know mine. My personal brand is about being the finance guy who understands the business and can explain financial things to non-financial people in a way that strengthens their ability to create value for the business.  It’s about displaying situational leadership, being the approachable accountant with as much personality as the job enables me to have, and mentoring others to build stronger organizational capability.

Throw in my amateur writing, semi-competitive running, and musician wannabe pursuits, and it becomes a broadened brand comprised of quite a few things for people to grab onto and by which to remember me.  A reasonable level of performance in these areas comes somewhat naturally for me.  Personal branding at its best is about doing what comes naturally and doing it in a way that has impact.

Personal branding involves differentiation. Sometimes differentiation takes on oxymoronic character and can be quite refreshing.  Just the other day, someone was telling me that their son may want to become an actuary.  The immediate connotation is that this would be one very boring career choice. I suggested to the parent that there would be a real niche for a “flamboyant” actuary.  While I could have picked any number of adjectives in juxtaposition, my main point was that there would be a real niche for someone who added non-stereotypical value to this heavy-stat role that helps insurance companies weigh present and future values of things like premiums and death benefits.

“America’s Team”

I very recently heard part of a fascinating Philly sport talk station interview with former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.  At the height of his career, clean-cut USNA grad Staubach was an obvious poster-boy for the wholesome values that were seen as what was still good about this country during and immediately after our country’s protest era.  He was an essential component of the NFL’s and Dallas Cowboys’ launch of their “America’s Team” marketing campaign.

The “America’s Team” tag line ultimately became a classic example of successful branding and marketing.  To some extent, it still endures today in the Jerry Jones-Tony Romo era.  Not even they can fully dilute the brand they inherited. What Roger had to say about all this was very interesting. He said that the players hated the “America’s Team” label because it put targets on their backs during games.  The players didn’t understand and embrace the brand.  However, they rolled with it because that’s how their employer was selling the product.

Does Personal Brand Trump All?

Eventually, the image of the Cowboys team, as widely documented (eg. “North Dallas Forty”), migrated more toward celebrity trappings hubris and away from the wholesome aspects of the previously cultivated all-American image.  It was just as widely known that Stabauch didn’t fit that mold.  The key is that the brand Staubach had established for himself was too strong to be devalued by the dysfunctional behavior of co-workers.

By way of testimonial to the strength of the Staubach personal brand, Philadelphia Eagles’ fans who meet a certain age threshold grew up hating “America’s Team”.  We really did.  After the recent radio interview concluded, the primary theme of the Philadelphians who called the show was how much they hated the Cowboys but actually liked and respected Roger Staubach and the way he did what he did.  Repeatedly heralded as being a “class act” and someone “who played the game the right way”, it was all about personal branding.

From rock lyrics to business to sports and back again, it’s all here and part of the brand.  Personal branding in action.  By the way, read Dennis Nishi’s article (link) on personal branding too – it’s also a good read!

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