Got Feel?

Are you just going through the motions in your job?  Or do you feel it…you know, really feel it?

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Mixed Bag of Feel

Many people go to jobs each day that they outright hate or at least really don’t enjoy very much. Some people awake daily in pre-dawn hours and commute great distances for what – to basically be unhappy for eight hours plus. Each and every day. For various reasons, they do it – day after day, week after week, year after year.  Before they know it, they are locked into a seemingly unbreakable routine for their entire careers. Yes, doing jobs they don’t really like. For a lifetime. What gives?

Fortunately the opposite is also true. And quite often.  Real life people, with whom you come in contact and who seem to really enjoy what they’re doing, really do exist. Think about the guy takes your favorite deli sandwich to the next level.  What about the yoga studio owner who seems totally on this earth to be doing exactly what she’s doing? Then there’s that starving artist-type musician who effortless conveys  a sweet vibe of contentment with his or her art form.  Yes, these people are really out there.

And do you know what?  These people all have something in common. They got feel.

First Level of Feel

And what is this feel that these people got?  Well, for one thing – it is in knowing in their hearts and minds that they’ve picked the right trade, profession, or career.  Square pegs don’t fit in round holes, and when they do, we can see right through it.  As difficult as it was to say, I once counseled an exiting employee not to seek employment in another financial position.  Sometimes disconnects really are that fundamental and irreparable.  Fulfilling this first fundamental of feel requires having the natural talents or acquired learning to even get on the map of occupational or professional competency.

You won’t see this type of feel in a customer service representative who doesn’t enjoy helping people. You won’t see it in a sales person who doesn’t enjoy the challenge of overcoming objections and providing customers with solutions. You won’t see it an engineer who doesn’t have a natural inclination and facility around math and the applied sciences. And you won’t see it an accountant who isn’t good with numbers, the litigator who doesn’t enjoy persuasive debate, a veterinarian who doesn’t like animals, or the actress who shuns the camera.  You get the idea.

Second & Third Tier Feel

A second distinguishing characteristic of those who got feel is that they have a real connection to what they’re doing.  They aren’t just going through the motions.  It’s not just one size fits all, parts is parts, and doesn’t matter to me whether I’m selling refrigerators, automobiles, or timeshares kind of thing.  Ironically this lack of feel has a certain transparency about it that allows us to see right through it.

Some might refer to the feel of connection as passion, but it doesn’t even necessarily have to go that far.  That word can be a little strong at times and is often overused. The feel of connection can be as simple as a natural affinity for a particular industry or product group. For example, a high school drummer friend of mine has made what appears to be a pretty good career working for a cymbal company.  From his Facebook posts featuring outright stars of percussion and his product informational videos, you can tell he’s got feel.

Feel can also derive from cultivated interest or appreciation in what’s going on around you.  In other words, the attributes or foundational characteristics of those around you in the workplace or the business at hand can lead one to feel it.  Maybe your workplace is a non-profit that really makes a positive difference in people’s lives.  Or maybe your business provides a life-sustaining product or does research that ultimately increases our quality of life.   Perhaps you work for architectural firm that specializes in commercially unique design.  Even if your job is not directly involved in product or service delivery in one of these situations, you can still feel it. If you do, you got feel.

Do I got feel?

So, do I got feel?  Yeah, I got feel.  First off I picked one of the professions to which my natural aptitudes and abilities were well-suited.  You see, generically speaking, I am an accountant. There I’ve said it –  an accountant. You know, those folks who are routinely accused of not feeling anything let alone feeling it.  Those born without emotion, compassion, or ability to feel close to anything or anyone.  But it’s not that simple ever, is it?

Signing on to an accounting career pretty much involves agreeing that you will never be the star of the show. If you do become a star of your employer’s show, you either work in public accounting or your company has big problems.  Accordingly you agree to serve in a support role to the primary activities of your employer.  For me, it’s been a career that’s consisted of strong, relatively long runs with only three different employers.

The Wheel of Feel

So let’s spin the big wheel of feel, and we’re only going to need to spin it three times. But nonetheless, around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody knows…..

On our first wheel stop, feel came for me from the perfect corporate culture at the perfect time within which I very naturally cozied up to the company’s noble calling of digging limestone out of the ground, mixing it with specialty polymers, and creating the stunning visuals of resilient vinyl flooring.  Strange as it sounds, my feel for this particular business came from knowing that chemists, engineers, production crews, and product stylists knew how to generate market-leading floors that consumers really wanted to buy.  At least part of this theme would reprise.

Next stop for the wheel would be a marketing services fulfillment business where I never fully connected with the culture.  Because I was Controller and then CFO, there was a certain built-in professional feel for me because I was for the first time in my career able to call most of my own shots in a financial sense.  That part was a lot of fun.  So there was some feel in this respect, but the pick, pack, and ship mantra of the fulfillment industry left me less than fulfilled.  Ultimately in this case, feel and fulfillment did not go together in the final analysis.

As the third wheel stop clicks into place, my connection of feel emanates from an association with an electronics business whose stars are smart in ways that I am clearly not and never will be. To me, it’s hugely impressive (in similar fashion to the aforementioned vinyl mine) that electrical engineers, product managers, and sales/marketing folks can go from design to build to market with solutions that are truly cutting edge from a technology point of view.  To these stars, the products and their own accomplishments are not necessarily anything more than “what it is that we do”, but to me and to others in our larger corporate family, what these people do has a certain geek is chic mystique to it. And it is very impressive.

Huge non-financial dividends of feel exist for those in support positions such as mine who go beyond the sea of mind-numbing part numbers to really feel what is all around us.  On the functional side of the organization, there’s the additional feel kicker of being part of a very highly accomplished and skilled corporate finance team that keeps me on my toes and engaged.

So oh yeah baby, I got feel. Do you?


Can’t Refuse

When Don Corleone is talking to you, sometimes what follows is an offer that you just can’t refuse.  Often the smart money says to take it. Otherwise you could end up like Luca Brasi. You know, swimming with the fishes! 

Opportunity Knocks

This is true even in Corporate America.  A Godfather-like opportunity came my way about a year and a half ago.  It was truly an offer I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately it was in a corporate setting and didn’t carry with it the full and final existential impact of a mafia movie plot.  It was much more subtle, but a top company official took the time to call me several times to provide counsel and input on a job opportunity that had rather suddenly come my way within the company.

It was clear that I should take the job, but it wasn’t very clear as to why I should take it or what would happen if I didn’t.  Despite rumors, rumblings, and other innuendo on the corporate street corners, information was sketchy out there in the land of organizational ambiguity. Clearly others knew more about the situation than I did, but perhaps an organizational omerta kept them from talking.

After I had accepted the new job and after the passage of some time with little to no action to fill my prior position, I realized that I had indeed accepted one of those offers you really just can’t refuse.  Rather suddenly or so it seemed, I now had two jobs!

Two Jobs & Quick Math

When confronted with confusion, chaos, and/or crisis, most people naturally revert back to their innate strengths.  For me – a guy who has demonstrated some facility with numbers over the years – this meant that situational clarity would be attained via some quick math.  As it turned out, I didn’t really need excel to perform the arithmetic functions to yield the result that having two jobs was considerably better than having no job.

You see… sometimes out there in Corporate America, top executives see opportunities for cost savings. Often the people who get to be high-ranking corporate executives are really good at this.   It’s almost like a golfer who can hit a wedge that lends on the green and backspins to the hole not taking that club out of the bag when they need a good shot to keep pace or exceed the competition.  It’s an everyday go-to must-do can’t-pass it by kind of thing.

So by now we all should see it very clearly.  Having two jobs really was an opportunity.  The organization and its leaders had expressed considerable confidence in me or had concluded that the downside risks were manageable.  You know, how much damage could this guy with two jobs do in a year’s time?  So, it was with great enthusiasm and gusto that I moved forward with this new dual role gig.

First Responders & Roadside Assistance

Because people not positions make up organizations, boxes on an organizational chart are simply empty shapes until someone breathes life into them.  Enter the human and organizational aspects that became so much a part of what developed into a great learning experience. The dual role assignment became nothing short of a fantastic vantage point in the human behavior laboratory.  As is the case at most accident scenes, first responders are the ones who get there first. Unlike most accident scenes, first responders in Corporate America aren’t necessarily there to provide roadside assistance.

“Boy, you really got screwed.”, was the commentary vocalized by several first responders. Interestingly, several of these folks later (through no action of mine) became cost savings. Others said, “Wow, how are you going to do all that work?”… “You’re going to have to sleep here.”…  Also interrogatively whispered from the shadows on more than one occasion was, “Now, what are you going to do?”.

Get the picture? It was definitely a “good luck with that, buddy” kind of vibe.

Rugged Individualism is Human Nature

True to human nature and the rugged individualism that often governs survival in Corporate America, not offering to help is actually not about wishing ill will on a colleague.  It is also a huge difference from people who thrive on throwing others under buses.  Not offering to help is about self-interest . From a very early age, people are conditioned to take care of number one because no one else will.  This starts as children. Children eventually grow up to become coworkers.  It’s life’s natural order.

No one really ever assigned me hero status or knighted me for agreeing to take on the dual role challenge.  Nor were they willing to cut the guy with two jobs any slack. It really was at times very cold and thankless. Not to mention lonely when the building routinely cleared out at night and was otherwise empty on weekends.  Everyone still expected all of the previous deliverables from both positions even though it was now only one person fulfilling them.

I’m sure someone somewhere wanted to me fail or at least struggle mightily, but I must say indifference and/or self-absorption were the most prevalent themes. There are a lot worse parts of human nature that could have surfaced but didn’t. For this, we give thanks.

Opportunities & Rewards

The dual role situation became an excellent opportunity to improve processes.  Necessity became of the mother of invention. Financial positions offer very little latitude on meeting deadlines.  You either meet them, or you’re gone.  Controllers keep the trains running on time and get their passengers from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  To do this in dual role mode required new approaches and fresh thinking.  And not just on my part.

This again brings us back to that inescapable factor in organizations -people.  The dual role situation required that people change what they were doing if the collective was to succeed.  This may not have been initially comfortable for all. However, embracing new ways of doing things and actually doing more and different things became SOP within the work group. Moving beyond comfort zones brought with it accelerated employee development.

In the final analysis, my single biggest reward from the dual assignment was seeing an employee who knew they would be exiting the company through related organizational change get a very good next position with a new employer. Accountant II easily moves to Accounting Manager in new position – in good part the result of experience gained from….well….an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

Sometimes when you pick up the phone it just may be an offer you just can’t refuse.  You don’t ever really know, do you?


Opportunity Knocks

“Well you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.  Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s starin’ right back.”– Dawes (When My Time Comes)


Starin’ Straight Back (Photo by TWS)

Yep, so it’s starin’ straight back alright. The next move is yours.  What will it be?


The Abyss

Like any art form, song lyrics are interpretive.  And any art that evokes response must then really be art.  Laughing, crying, reminiscing, or simply experiencing art as the narrative to everyday situations are all legitimate responses to art.  Yes, even applying art to one’s business challenges and to corporate life falls well within scope.

While no doubt far from the intention of its authors, the above Dawes lyric struck a chord with me the very first time I heard it. Part of its impact is inextricably tied to the the word itself. Abyss.  Even just to say it seems cool.  This near-onomatopoeiaic word conjures imagery. The Dawes lyric’s personification of the word is irresistible to me as metaphor for corporate life.

When Your Time Comes

Sure, corporate life is about survival, but it also should be about leaving the corporate world a better place than it was when you first arrived there.  Or at least it should be. It’s just that basic, and it is hugely essential to health and vitality – both individually and corporately.  Opportunity knocks each and everyday. It’s what we do with it individually and collectively that counts.

If  your immediate field of work life vision triggers keyword =abyss, then you really do have some options. One option is to run. Move as quickly as you can in the opposite direction. Actually, this may really sometimes be the best option. Another is to blend in with your surroundings or hide. You can elect to seek cover. Wait it out.  Don’t do anything that calls attention to yourself.  Beware- as you may find crowds in these shadows feeding organizational entropy.

Or get this one.  You can make a conscious choice to add and/or otherwise transfer positive energy via collaborative interchange. Be bold, but in a good way. Build momentum toward a better tomorrow.  Do things that benefit the collective and not just yourself. Make that corporate world a better place – yes, one conference call, email, or spreadsheet a time. Can you imagine what impact this could have if everyone consistently did this?

Return to Reality

In Corporate America, idealism yields to practicality each and every day.  There can be no other way.  It must be this way in order maintain the general order of the corporate form that is required to achieve business objectives.   Like most things though, this is true only up to a point.  At some point, contemporary business realities may go too far. If so, how and when did we reach this point?

Yes, hang around long enough and you think you’ve seen just about everything.  Until you see the next thing. We all know what it looks like. On a daily basis, we may very seriously contemplate what we can do that could actually make a difference. Even the best of the idyllic lot need to pick their spots as they endeavor to fix what’s broken. One can’t fight every battle and expect to remain standing at the end of every day.  So how then should we go about making things better?

The answer is all about touch points, footholds, and easier-said-than-done….not expending too much energy in the wrong places. Building positive coalitions of competent like-minded people at the level of the work itself is a good way to go.  Employing Golden Rule behaviors and treating people at all levels of the organization in the way in which you would want to be treated is always a worthwhile investment to make.  You can then see who responds in with like-kind ROI.  And who doesn’t.

Building trust among those of the like-kind ROI persuasion encourages shared responsibility and greater safety for taking risks that promote beneficial process change.

The Abyssus Colossus

Within organizations, there often exists a critical mass, who through a combination of action and inaction, are the custodians of the abyssus colossus. They’re the ones that are “starin’ right back” – at those who seek to affect positive change.  With street level facades that more than often look appealing in especially upward organizational directions, these folks seek to maintain the status quo. Seemingly at all costs. Acting in ways that shut down change-oriented behavior.  For some, this becomes a full-time job and a career epitaph.

Of course, you’ll need to be realistic about how much change you can affect and over what period of time.  For example, large public corporations tend to be more dynamic than smaller family owned businesses but are sometimes every bit as hard to influence. Cultural change may require turnover in key positions before processes and people can flourish.  In private companies, thinking you can outlast an owner, family member, or other high ranking official who has all but surgically attached their head, nose, and/or face to the posterior of ownership is probably a fool’s bet.

Above all, it’s important to always keep in mind that ultimately an organization is the summation of its processes and people.  This is where change begins or ends, so if you’re starin’ into an abyss, well….. the next move really is yours. It really is.


noun \ə-ˈbis, a- also ˈa-(ˌ)bis\

: a hole so deep or a space so great that it cannot be measured

:  the bottomless gulf, pit, or chaos of the old cosmogonies
a :  an immeasurably deep gulf or great space


b :  intellectual or moral depths



Connecting Dots


132Urban planners, economists, and government officials – take note. Economic revitalization and making money is as easy as connecting a few dots. 

While it may come as a surprise to some, the City of Baltimore has done an excellent job of following this all too often overlooked rule of simplicity. In the Charm City, connecting the dots has been about taking some basic assets and maximizing their economic impact at an increasing rate.  A truism of economic development is that success encourages others to take the risk to invest. At a certain point, enough investment occurs to have significantly reduced perceived entrepreneurial risk. Economists probably have a term for this, but I’d call what’s happening in Baltimore just plain old common sense.

First Dot

Baltimore is blessed with an omnipresent harbor that automatically becomes the first dot. You see, people love bodies of water and are drawn to them.  The Charm City’s location on the water also gives it a strong maritime tradition. Once upon a time, the Inner Harbor itself and its contiguous areas were economically viable ports that supported major commercial activity.  As time marched on, the relatively shallow waters of the Inner Harbor became a limiting factor.  That was a problem until someone got the bright idea and chutzpah to build the National Aquarium there.  See dot number five below.

007Second Dot

Historical and cultural elements collectively become the second dot.  Examples include Fort McHenry (as in the “Star Spangled Banner”), the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, several historic port areas, Shot Tower, Babe Ruth’s birthplace, Edgar Allen Poe’s gravesite, Peabody Conservatory, Discovery Art Museum, and several locations of considerable import with respect to our country’s ongoing civil rights movements.

Third Dot

Baltimore’s landscape of contiguous and uniquely characteristic neighborhoods now enters as dot number three.   North of Inner Harbor is the downtown business/financial area and just above that is historic Mt Vernon. Sitting just to the south of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards is the resurgent and quirkily trendy Federal Hill area.   Just beyond that to the east is Locust Point. Back at the Inner Harbor, now moving east, we encounter Little Italy, Harbor East, Fell’s Point, and then Canton.111

001Fourth Dot

The people who live in these neighborhoods and those nearby are dot number four.  One defining aspect of Baltimore’s personality is a certain Southern-style charm. It’s similar to the vibe one encounters in New Orleans, Charleston, or Savannah. But it’s considerably north of these cities-although still below the Mason-Dixon line.  What results is an energetic, festive and eclectic mix. Great places to eat, to enjoy a pint or pop, eat a crab cake, and take in the groove of excellent music for next to nothing. In other words, big fun!

Dots Five and Six

The National Aquarium definitely got the ball rolling in the right direction.  That’s our fifth dot. But that was back in 1981. At the risk of missing something in between, dot number six came on board in 1992 when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened its doors as the home of the baseball Orioles. In 1998, the NFL Ravens moved into the same neighborhood, strongly establishing another Charm City destination.

Even with these very functional dots in place, Baltimore still needed more dots. And just as importantly…a way for people to safely move between them. 


Connecting the Dots

Here’s how Baltimore’s planners and developers literally connected the dots and hit a home run.  They invested in the infrastructure to make it physically possible to walk safely from Inner Harbor to the adjoining and aforementioned neighborhoods in either direction. There is now a promenade that goes along the water for several miles in each direction.  It is the chief linking mechanism for tourists, and is heavily used by locals for outdoor fitness pursuits and routine transit.  With the help of a few city streets, it’s possible to walk, run, or bicycle all the way from Locust Point to Camden.  Low fare bus service is also available via the Charm City Circulator.

004With the promenade in place and increasing number of people on it, our next wave of common sense came crashing ashore. All those people eventually need to eat and a large percentage of them need a place to stay.  OMG-  let’s build restaurants and hotels. Restaurants and hotels add jobs that are filled by local residents.  Enter some highly visible police presence, and we’ve really got some momentum going. You see, it’s really quite amazing.  If people feel safe and your city has something to offer, they will visit your city if 113you connect the dots for them. They’ll even pay to park!

Success Stories

And success begets more investment seeking a share of the rewards.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Ask Under Armour’s CEO Kevin Plank whose company is headquartered in Locust Point and plans to buy Rec Pier (featured in TV series “Homicide”) and turn it into an upscale boutique hotel that serves tourists, business travelers, and his company’s visitors. His plans include shuttling his visitors from Fell’s Point to Locus Point via water taxi.  Nice touch. (link) Still need convincing to be bullish on Baltimore? Here’s a link to 89 million more reasons.

Momentum in Baltimore isn’t all about tourism.  Highly visible condo development seeks to satisfy the lifestyle demands of those who want to call Baltimore home.  Young upwardly mobile professionals, as well as those who have already achieved some level of success, want to live there.  So, build it and they will come seems to be a natural result of connecting the dots.  Many cities across can learn from this.



























Listen Up!


Just because you didn’t listen to the speaker at your high school or college graduation doesn’t mean you can’t listen now.  This guy has something to say!


About the Speaker (from the Navy Times)

“Adm. Bill McRaven is a bad-ass — and fount of good advice. Head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, he is a 36-year SEAL who has been at the tip of the spear in the war on terror since 2001. He has commanded a squadron in the fabled Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six, and he oversaw planning and execution of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.”

 The following are the remarks by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17:

479px-ADM_William_H__McRaven_2012President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014.  Congratulations on your achievement.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT.

I remember a lot of things about that day.

I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before.  I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married—that’s important to remember by the way—and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening and I certainly don’t remember anything they said.

So…acknowledging that fact—if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable—I will at least try to make it short.

The University’s slogan is,

“What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit—I kinda like it.

“What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT.

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their life time.

That’s a lot of folks.

But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people—and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States.  Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of ten people—change their lives forever—you’re wrong.

I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the ten soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush.

In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500 pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn—were also saved.  And their children’s children—were saved.

Generations were saved by one decision—by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.

So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is…what will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.

And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform.

It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status.

Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years.  But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California.

Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.

It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships.

To me basic SEAL training was a life time of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are the ten lesson’s I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection.  It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.  It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews.  Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy.

Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in.

Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain.  Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class which started with 150 men was down to just 35.  There were now six boat crews of seven men each.

I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys—the munchkin crew we called them—no one was over about 5-foot five.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish America, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the mid-west.

They out paddled, out-ran, and out swam all the other boat crews.

The big men in the other boat crews would always make good natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim.

But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the Nation and the world, always had the last laugh— swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer.  Nothing mattered but your will to succeed.  Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection.  It was exceptionally thorough.

Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.

But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle—- it just wasn’t good enough.

The instructors would fine “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand.

The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy.

There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain.  That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right—it was unappreciated.

Those students didn’t make it through training.

Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill.  You were never going to succeed.  You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.

It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events—long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle.

Every event had standards—times you had to meet.  If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to—a “circus.”

A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics—designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus.

A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up.  A circus meant more fatigue—and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely.

But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list.  Overtime those students-—who did two hours of extra calisthenics—got stronger and stronger.

The pain of the circuses built inner strength-built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses.

You will fail.  You will likely fail often.  It will be painful.  It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course.  The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net, and a barbed wire crawl to name a few.

But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life.  It had a three level 30 foot tower at one end and a one level tower at the other.  In between was a 200-foot long rope.

You had to climb the three tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977.

The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life—head first.

Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk.  Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training.

Without hesitation—the student slid down the rope—perilously fast, instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego.

The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed.  One—is the night swim.

Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente.

They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark—at least not recently.

But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position—stand your ground.  Do not swim away.  Do not act afraid.

And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you—then summons up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world.  If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping.  We practiced this technique extensively during basic training.

The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles—underwater—using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface there is some light that comes through.  It is comforting to know that there is open water above you.

But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight—it blocks the surrounding street lamps—it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel—the centerline and the deepest part of the ship.

This is your objective.  But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship—where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission—is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.”  It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and—one special day at the Mud Flats—the Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slue’s—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads.  The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up.  It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything and then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm.

One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted.

And somehow—the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope.  The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan—Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell.  A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see.

All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell.  Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock.  Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims.

Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training.

Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating.  Moments away from beginning your journey through life.  Moments away starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.

But, YOU are the class of 2014—the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.

Start each day with a task completed.

Find someone to help you through life.

Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and—what started here will indeed have changed the world—for the better.

Thank you very much.  Hook ’em horns.”

 video link

Even HR


Short-term pressure for financial results is intense. Companies turn to outsourcing as they try even harder to hit their numbers.  All company functions and departments have fallen under increased scrutiny – even HR.

First Friend

A recent WSJ article (“Companies Say No to Having an HR Department”) highlights this point by providing a few examples of where centralized Human Resources departments have been eliminated (link). Part of the article’s appeal no doubt lies in implied irony and the fact that the mere mention of HR has broad appeal to anyone who has ever had a job.

In most cases, HR is the first line of contact for a job candidate.  In this sense, HR at least temporarily becomes the face of the company. Once a new employee is hired, HR maintains a daily presence in the employee’s life by shepherding the on boarding and orientation. Be it benefits enrollment, relocation assistance, or clarification of work rules and policies, most employees quickly come to view HR as their first friend in a new neighborhood.

Outsourcing Candidate

The varied nature of HR activities makes it a very interesting candidate for outsourcing. Under the outsourceable category, there exists a transactional piece of HR that can be serviced via self-service employee portals. Employees get used to, and may actually in many cases prefer, having their benefits and other employee data impersonally reside somewhere out “in the cloud”. So far so good, but this was the easy part. The rest of the picture is not as clear. In fact, far from it.

One of the justifications cited in the article for outsourcing HR is the concept of moving HR responsibility closer to the action by decentralizing it geographically and organizationally to become an increasingly on site activity performed by departmental managers and supervisors. In my view, this flies in the face of the primary value-adds of an effective HR organization. These are consistency and structure.  As organizations grow, consistency and structure become obvious imperatives to support operations and protect the company.

Putting functions like compensation, hiring and firing, organizational development, performance appraisals, regulatory compliance, and benefits administration into the hands of line management pretty much guarantees that things very quickly turn into amateur hour with little hope for consistency and structure.  It becomes a very hard to control free for all, Wild West-like, swashbuckling, Darwinesque and Dilbert-like compilation of HR practices that can put the company and its assets at risk when placed in the wrong hands.

So, the answer to today’s question as to whether I think companies should outsource, eliminate, or decentralize their HR departments is a resounding no.  Good HR people add value and help businesses.  I have seen it first hand, so I know it’s true!

Bread and Butter

Now here’s where employees who view HR in a certain way walk right into a good old-fashioned haymaker about to be thrown by yours truly.  While appearing to be right-handed and thrown from over the top, this punch really comes from some down and dirty, out in the streets, Golden Gloves corporate experiences with HR.

“Some workers say they feel the absence of an in-house HR staff acutely, especially when it comes to bread-and-butter HR responsibilities such as mediating employee disputes and resolving pay problems.”

Bread and butter – really? Well, no – not really. In fact, stop and get a hold of yourself if you agree with that statement.

Because HR is that first friend, many employees mistakenly believe that the primary function of an HR department is to help them.  While this may be part of the service HR provides to employees who look to HR for such support, it is not from my experience the primary reason HR exists.  What many employees fail to realize is that a large part of what HR is there to do is to protect the company, its owners, and its assets.  It is certainly not the only thing HR does; however, it is arguably one of the most important.

Protectors & Informers

A great example of HR as protector can be seen by those expecting HR to prevent bullying and legal harassment.  HR is likely to address injurious behavior targeting a member of protected class because this constitutes illegal harassment.  By addressing it, HR protects the company from lawsuits, fines, and potentially costly settlements.  Absent HR perception of a legal or regulatory threat, a lot of questionable behavior goes unaddressed. Phone it in – it’s just real life in the trenches.

Enter HR as informer. Assuming confidentiality while venting to or kibitzing with HR can be risky business because at some point your information and views may be interpreted by HR as constituting part of its protective duty.  While not necessarily recognized at the time by HR or employee to have much significance, sometimes these conversations later become increasingly relevant in HR’s view of its duty to protect.

Yes, when I finally write my first best-selling business book, all major corporate functions and their associated heroes, villains, triumphs, and tragedies will be there with us -even HR.


Supreme Courting

Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.   Even looks weird, doesn’t it?



Starting Points

Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County is known to some east coast tourists as a destination. Of sorts. Amazing as it is to some of us who live here, it’s a place where New Yorkers and other nearby Bridgegate survivors routinely flock for seasonal family oriented getaways.  It’s the place where an entire weekend’s central focus can become the Amish culture. “Look there’s one.  Quick. Get his picture while he’s not looking.”  You know, that type of thing.

Ironically, this same touristy area, defined by its Amish residents and sprawling farmland, holds some economic vitality beyond  tourism. There exists a handful of decent-sized middle market companies that thrive there. The majority of these companies are privately held. Accordingly the operations of these companies and the ways in which they go about their business tend to speak to the values of their owners.

Reflecting the cultural and political tenor of Lancaster County itself, the views of these business owners tend toward the conservative side of the spectrum. What results in the workplace could just transport those “aren’t from around here” into a twilight zone experience that yields some blurry boundaries between church and state.  Now I guess we will see how in versus out of synch with national views this local business community really is.

Atop the National Stage

Reflecting the Germanic roots of the area, it’s not surprising that some business owners are of Mennonite faith. Matching this description is Conestoga Wood Specialties and its Hahn family ownership.  Ring a bell yet?  These names may sound familiar because they are suing the United States government in the national Supreme Court case of Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius et al. (Hobby Lobby is pursuing similar action.) The Sebelius et al side of this case is none other than U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and a few other similarly perched appointees of the current Administration.

The case recently began with its opening arguments.  This showdown has been brewing for awhile, with successive appeals at the appropriate levels of jurisdiction.  The Hahn family is following the legal roadmap to what it hopes is justice regarding a “matter of conscience”.  The essence of the case is that the Hahn family is challenging the Affordable Care Act’s (aka “Obamacare’s”) universal applicability to their approximately 1000 employee for-profit business.

More specifically, the company’s suit holds that it should not be required by law to provide coverage for emergency contraceptives as part of its employer-provided medical benefits plan. The suit further holds that the company should be entitled to receive exclusions similar to what the current Administration has provided to some religious and/or non-profit organizations. “It’s really not only just for Conestoga. We’re taking a stand for other businesses as well,” said Anthony Hahn about his appeal. “This is a religious liberty issue that is concerning to us.”

Real Conviction

From reading the filed suit document and how his lawyers have framed the arguments, there is little reason to question that Mr. Hahn has real conviction around the issue. It’s clearly not about money but rather is about something that goes to his core belief system. Admirable is Mr. Hahn’s willingness to put his money where his mouth is and go after what he believes in. Among what’s good here is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and pursuit of due process all in one fell swoop. Whether he wins or loses does not erode the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in these regards.

With a noted separation versus state exception, I have no horse in this race.  I see the case very clearly as to whether or not a for-profit secular business and its owners should be allowed, for any reason,  to selectively opt out of following any of the laws of our Land. On the one hand, Hahn and his company elect to participate in a limited liability form of corporate ownership provided by law and enjoy S-Corp relief from double layer taxation provided by law. On the other hand, a few specifics of Obamacare’s health plan coverage? Not so much.

This case becomes very important for the Court, as granting such exclusions can establish a very slippery slope in business. Round and round she’d go, but where she’d stop….well who knows? And that’s a big part of the issue at hand.

Slippery Slope

While typically not regarded with as much lightning rod controversy, there are reportedly religions which do not believe in life-saving measures such as blood transfusions. Short of life-death implications, case-law also contains suits by Amish seeking social security tax exemption and Jewish business owners at one time contesting now-outdated “blue laws” requiring their businesses to close on Sunday.

What if a business owner said she didn’t believe in trash removal?   What if I owned a Pennsylvania business and sought exemption from two specific laws to which I object?  Just for the record, one is PA’s corporate stock franchise tax that taxes accumulated business equity, which I believe unfairly taxes the success and “savings” of a business.  The second is federal discrimination testing on 401K plans, which I believe hinders savings, thus increasing individual dependence on government in the long-run.

While I assure you my beliefs on these topics run very deep,  I probably wouldn’t get my day in court because it is not a religious objection and probably would not even be seen as constituting a moral dilemma. It would be seen as a financial objection, which ironically is what business should be about.

Two More Thoughts

1. There appears to be no mention of damage to the company from the Act.  It’s all about the religious views that put the company’s ownership at odds with the Act. So it seems logical that battle lines are being drawn by the suit’s language. A statement by the YWCA on local television aggressively criticized the suit as being “an assault on women’s’ reproductive rights.”  How the Court chooses to align legal principle with societal tenor will be a very interesting part of the decision which is expected in June.

2. The Act requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide the disputed coverage without an employee co-pay.  This is an interesting point because the no copay part is a pretty tough stand for the Act to have taken. Even though the Hahns’ objection is not financial in nature, perhaps this represents some room for future compromise.

Closing Arguments

Conestoga Wood Specialties clearly falls under the mandate to provide the required coverage until such time as due process yields a favorable result for the company. Absent that outcome, the company’s potential courses of action include:  full compliance, deciding not to provide health care coverage to its workforce, or electing to pay rather significant fines that would likely impose serious financial burden on the business.  Obviously this set of choices and associated implications would be problematic on many fronts.  Hopefully, there are some other more creative plan design options (see copay above) that would provide some middle ground for the Hahns if the Court decides against them.

Also mentioned in some analyses is the notion that, “what if the views of the owner do not represent the views of all employees?”. Guess what? This just in. If I learned one thing in my nine years as CFO of a privately held business in Lancaster County, it’s that there two kinds of people in a privately held family business. Those who own it and those who don’t.

Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article about owners in family owned businesses spending less time actually working than their counterparts in other business types.  Prepping for court cases, travel, and time in the courtroom has to be significantly cutting into the time Hahn can spend on his business.

Countering this closing argument is that Mr. Hahn most likely considers his Supreme Court case to be an integral part of what he’s doing for his business.  This, my friends, is the essence of owning your own business.  It’s your time. It’s your money. It’s your life.  And it’s your legacy.  It’s also your set of choices.  Choices where no one is going to stop you.  Because they really can’t.






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