Viewing entries in
Good Advice

Removing the Cataracts from Your Life

Removing the Cataracts from Your Life

As I get older, I find myself having to contend with health issues never dreamed of before.  
Since I didn’t anticipate living much past 40, I certainly didn’t think about problems of old age—getting to old age was too big of an obstacle itself! Then, the miracle of a triple transplant and #DonateLife reset the clock for me, and now…now I see that aging has its own bumps and bruises.

As a Type 1 diabetic, I developed retinopathy, or problems with the small blood vessels in the eye.  I was able to undergo a laser surgery that helped with the retinopathy previously, but I was told that a byproduct of this procedure was that cataracts can occur later in life.

Later in life! Ah, what a concept for a transplant recipient to ponder. What a blessed turn of phrase. Now I am in that “later” in life, and cataracts were mine to deal with.  

My vision was worsening to the point where cataract surgery was required. After dialysis and three transplants, I thought this would barely register an effect. I had received a new heartbeat, for goodness sake! What could a new little lens really do for me?

The surgery took all of 15 minutes.

I walked out into the light, blinked and no longer blinkered, and felt I was experiencing the world anew.

I can see clearly for the first time in years.

Think about that—I can see clearly for the first time in YEARS. What power one little lens had over my life.

As I reflected on this medical miracle (another one), I thought—wouldn’t it be nice if we could remove all the “cataracts” in our lives so that we could see life clearly once again?  

We could remove our insecurities.

Expunge our assumptions.

Clear the fears that bind us.

Shed the people who bring negativity into our lives.

What a huge step that would be!  So many people live with metaphorical cataracts and are not even aware of them—kind of like the blurry vision that I just accepted. 

One day, I said “enough” and sought a remedy.  The ophthalmologist looked into my eye and said he couldn’t even see in, so surely I could not see out of it.  Sometimes we can be blind to ourselves, particularly when it involves our health, our assumptions, our mindset.

The cataract can be symbolic for many of the problems that keep us from seeing our lives clearly.  My advice?  Detach, extract, remove, erase them and you will be much happier for it.
 

Skeletons

Skeletons

Jim talks skeletons, closets, diabetes, and acceptance.

A Few Words on Worrying

A Few Words on Worrying

Worrying has always been something that I’ve had an aversion towards. An endemic annoyance that keeps you awake at night, worrying prevents you from enjoying the better parts of life itself. Yet, it is interesting because everyone has their own threshold when it comes to this act. For some, they can worry over just about everything – whether it will rain, or about how bad traffic will be. While others it seems never worry about anything, letting each day unfold as it may. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum.

I’ve always tried not to be fearful of the future and as a result have had somewhat of a less worrisome existence. Even though I’ve had great cause to worry, I’m just not wired that way.

My wife is a child of concentration camp survivors and she grew up believing that even though their life was good, you never knew who--or what--would knock at your door. I, on the other hand, grew up with the challenges of type 1 ‪diabetes‬ and knew that my life expectancy was going to be much shorter. I had a mental outlook that was founded in a belief that every year I lived past forty would be a gift – so no reason to worry, right? The framework of worrying is a product of your orientation towards life and how you learn to frame your expectations. If you expect less, you will worry less. Expect more and well, you get the idea.

My kids, on the other hand, who have had blessed lives seemingly worry about everything. I suppose it’s how we view the uncertainty of our futures, based on our view of the past. What I find is that ultimately I’m worrying about the wrong stuff anyway. I’ll be worrying about where to go on vacation and then out of nowhere comes an earthquake. I’ll be worrying about my business and then global warming comes to light. You see, since you never know exactly what to worry about, it’s far simpler just not to worry at all. Dealing with challenges and calamities as they occur (rather than anticipating and fearing every possible catastrophe, major or minor) is a much preferred approach.

I believe that as a society, we truly need to worry less. We would be a far happier generation and probably complain less, too (bonus!). After all, we really are the luckiest generation ever, who probably worries the most. Go figure…

Finding Your Wave

Finding Your Wave

I always used to be searching for calm waters, yet it seemed that my life was a series of waves on top of waves. Some waves are the kind you can swim through, while others can literally overwhelm you. I remember one time when I was a teenager my friends and I wanted to experience "The Wedge" in Newport Beach, a body surfing Mecca. We were young, full of energy with a a void of fear and common sense. The Wedge had no lifeguards, just warnings telling swimmers to swim at their own risk. This sounded perfect to us and into the surf we went.

I soon knew why it was so perilous as wave upon wave pounded over us.

I could hardly catch my breath. The water roared in my ears and my mouth and nose filled with water.

Gulp---push--gulp--swim!--gulp----keep going! Pretty soon I knew it was time to get the heck out before I had no more strength. Another swimmer helped me to shore. The Wedge had proved what real rough surf was all about.

Whenever I would encounter tough times, I would reflect on my time in Newport. Though I longed for calmer seas, unfortunately I've found many waves during my lifetime - some bigger than others. I've learned that you need to ride the waves you confront as best you can, all-the-while keeping your head above the water. Calm seas? They may never come - so be a good swimmer and most importantly avoid The Wedge!

Character Matters on National Manufacturing Day

Character Matters on National Manufacturing Day

On National Manufacturing Day, Jim reflects on the importance of character in the success of companies and manufacturing. Manufacturing is particularly sensitive to issues of reputation and character--if you can't trust what's being made, why would you buy it?

Finding Your "Source of Hope" (Dec. 2007)

Finding Your "Source of Hope" (Dec. 2007)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Finding Your “Source of Hope” (December 2007)

A little over two years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed contemplating my life. I was on the verge of having a triple organ transplant (heart, kidney and pancreas to hopefully cure my lifelong battle with diabetes and save my life. Remarkably, this procedure had only been attempted in the world a handful of times. And, here it was was happening to me. As I lay there awaiting my fate, I said a little prayer, not exactly sure if anyone was listening. All the while, I knew, as if someone had told me a secret, that it was all going to be okay. The question I have since been asked is, how did I know?

Before you can become a transplant candidate, you have to be pre-qualified both physically and mentally to be sure you are up to the task. It is not an easy process. And once you have been selected, you have to be prepared to wait and wait and then be ready whenever your name is called to have the biggest surgery of your life.

This surgery is one that had never been performed by the hospital before. There would be three surgeons who would perform their specialties and the surgery would take more than 20 hours to complete. How do you mentally prepare for such an operation?

I had previously been interviewed by a social worker who had asked me a series of endless questions to qualify my mental state. I answered them one by one and then was struck by a single questions. It was, “What is your source of hope?” I thought about this carefully. For many, their source of hope might be their belief in God, or perhaps it is their family who gives them the strength to persevere. For me, it is an enduring belief - somewhat of a fatalistic confidence that “everything that is meant to happen, will happen.” That because things had worked out for me in the past, there was no reason to believe that they would not work out for me again. This is my personal philosophy, my belief system that allows me to overcome any challenge, no matter how difficult it may be. It is my “Source of Hope.”

I tell this story in part because everyone needs to find their individual Source of Hope. I think it is worthy of some thought. What gives you the motivation to get out of bed each day, fight the traffic, go to work and perhaps struggle to make ends meet? Life is not easy and some days are really tough. But as we all celebrate the holidays, know that better days lie ahead and be thankful for all the wonder in your life. There is hope.

 

Overcoming Adversity (Feb. 2011)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Overcoming Adversity (February 2011)

If there is one subject I feel fully qualified to write on, it is overcoming adversity. As someone who has survived a myriad of health issues my entire life, and yet managed to live a successful and productive one, I have a true understanding of adversity. I am a triple organ transplant recipient who last year had to endure a partial amputation of my right foot. I am constantly meeting people who ask me how I deal with all that I have. My response is simple: “What option to I have?” The truth is we are not really prepared to life’s adversity - even knowing that we may eventually have to deal with it. In fact, we are perpetually groomed for success rather than how to deal with failure. We now give all our kids trophies just for being a member of the team. This way, there are no winners and no losers. Unfortunately, as we later find out in life, there is success and failure, and losing is a vital part of the equation.

Society punishes us for failure. It tells us that failure (and risk overall) is bad and undesired. Schools teach us that failure is unacceptable. Socially, for the past century, particularly in the post-war era as we’ve moved from an agrarian society to a manufacturing society, we’ve been taught to adhere to the status quo, keep our heads down, fall in line, minimize all risk, seek safety and pursue a steady job/income, and we’ve been strongly admonished not to pursue anything that might be considered different or entrepreneurial, as “it’s too risky.” The financial system, especially combined with any court action, puts you on a deadly spiral should you happen to stumble or wholly fail (i.e., bad credit, medical issue, divorce, child support). People who do experience failure are ostracized from their communities and rarely forgiven - and strangely enough, even fellow entrepreneurs have been known to ostracize a person’s failures like he/she has a sickness that they don’t want to catch.

On the flip side, there are others who embrace failure, understanding it can be a precursor to future success. These are people who are able to accept their failures, extract lessons from them and move on in hopes of something brighter. We see it all the time in sports where the underdog comes from behind, overcomes the odds and prevails. We admire and respect the athletes who overcome previous failures to achieve success. As much as the entrepreneurial community says it embraces failure, when it really comes down to it in practice, it’s often untrue. Companies that fail or file bankruptcy are stigmatized for years - as are the individuals who ran them. Why do we not treat them like our athletic teams and believe next year will be better?

In my opinion, it is critical to understand that failure happens. It is how we respond to it that separates us from the rest. You should not be afraid to fail, realizing that lessons can be learned. Trust the process and be confident in yourself. Failing at something does not make you a failure of a person. Get back up again and don’t stop trying. Surround yourself with positive people who can help you overcome adversity and who gladly share in your success. Lastly, believe in the positive and then get ready for your next opportunity.

Dancing with Bulls (Apr. 2010)

Dancing with Bulls (Apr. 2010)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Dancing With Bulls (April 2010)

More than 30 years ago, a friend and I had the lifetime experience of backpacking through Europe. At that time, we had no idea how many adventures we’d have that would help shape our lives today. There was one day in particular that I will never forget and a lesson I will always refer to.

The year was 1972. Back then, it was advertised that you could travel Europe on $5 a day. Today, that will only get you a foot-long sub. We were visiting a small village at the base of the Swiss Alps name Grindelwald. Like so many of these tiny towns, it seemed as if it were created in a fairy tale - almost too perfect to imagine. The mountains were right out of the “Sound of Music...if I could only sing. My friend, John, and I felt this was the perfect place to follow a trail up the mountain to see the beauty firsthand. And so we went. The air was so crisp and the view unlike anything I had ever seen. We realized as we made our hike that we had not run into anyone else the entire day. But the higher we went, the more beautiful the view became. Finally as afternoon was passing, we decided we better return back down the hill. My friend had spotted a signpost in an empty field and we headed over to confirm our directions. We were perplexed, as it appeared that the way we were taking was the wrong way. As we debated, we suddenly heard the clanging of bells in the distance. We knew we were too high to be near a church, but the sound of bells was growing louder and closer. And then we saw a sight I will never forget: six bulls in full gallop heading directly towards us. With no time to think, John hoisted himself up atop the sign post as it seemed like a safe idea. I turned and sprinted towards the rocky hillside for safety. Two of the bulls followed me, but quickly realized they couldn’t reach me. Then all six bulls surrounded John atop the signpost, snorting with displeasure. John and I were still close enough to communicate with one another. He wanted me to run and divert the bulls away from him, but I was unconvinced of that plan. John knew that it would not take much for the bulls to knock over the sign and have him for dinner. Being young and somewhat oblivious to the gravity of the situation, we somehow found humor in it all. I actually took photographs of John surrounded by the bulls as if we were on “National Geographic.” After several harrowing moments, the bulls eventually lost interest and made their way across the field and down the mountain. John and I could not believe what had just occurred and scurried down the hill and breakneck speed. Once down, we had a great story to share and I had the photographs to prove it.

The lesson of the story is this: You never really know what adversity you may find yourself in. Things can be going along smoothly, when suddenly confusion may occur, followed by danger and possibly even harm. You never really know. But oftentimes, if you are not fearful and even laughing at the predicament, you may find that it is not as dire as you had feared - meaning attitude and behaviour are half the battle. Remember that as we muddle through this difficult financial time. And as my friend John and I celebrated our story with a beer and a smile, this too shall pass.

Keeping Morale High (Aug. 2009)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Keeping Morale High When Business is Down (August 2009)

We recognize one simple fact of business life these days: Business stinks. We have to work harder for less; face challenges we never faced before; and even people like me who see their glass as half full are having a hard time keeping it that way.

I’m neither the first nor the last to say this about today’s business environment. But saying it is the easy part - doing something about it is another thing all together. And whether or not you discuss it with your employees, they know it stinks too - and many of them are scared about it.

The one thing we try and do in this newsletter is to keep it real. The most important action managers or owners can take during these economic times is to be real with their employees. They must be expert communicators of the facts and expectations for the company’s future There is no benefit in trying to candy coat the situation, because employees can see what is going on for themselves.

Secondly, it is important for management to be optimistic and think positive. No one wants to work for a doom and gloomer. And even if the business environment is presently slow, there is good reason to believe that better times will return again as they always have. Work on your attitude first and then convince those around you to come onboard.

Thirdly, it is necessary for management to be creative with positive reinforcement. Good work still needs to be recognized even if overall performance is lagging. Employees still need to know that their work and efforts are appreciated. There are perks other than monetary rewards. You can recognize them as employee of the month, mention them in the company newsletter or take them out for lunch. Studies show that the majority of people work because they like the work and the company versus just earning a paycheck. Continue to make your work environment fun and invigorating versus nine-to-five drudgery.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is to develop a dialog with your employees. Get their feedback on how they believe the company can get better. This is a great time to make improvements within the organization. Take advantage of it to change for the better. We recently sat down with our key employees and talked about what they thought we could do to spice up our marketing program. We were surprised by some of their creative ideas. In fact, one of our salespeople, David Ohlberg, came up with the smart idea of a randomly distributed coupon for customers, which we have incorporated into this issue of the newsletter. Thanks, David!

Morale is a very strange phenomenon. Like momentum, it feeds upon itself. Fueled by emotion, it can quickly spread from kindling into a raging fire. Before you know it, the entire company is inflamed - and if it’s on fire with negativity, you’re looking for the hose. Take the necessary steps today to keep your employees focused in the right direction. Sure, business may stink, but your attitude doesn’t have to.

Loyalty (June 2009)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Loyalty: The Lost Concept in Business (June 2009)

These are clearly challenging times. Companies find themselves forced to take any number of draconian actions in an effort to simply survive. Unfortunately, many companies find the challenges even more difficult to surmount because in the past, they failed to employ an important management ingredient that would prepare them for the worst of times. That missing ingredient is developing loyal employees and customers to help weather the storm.

Have you noticed that the concept of corporate loyalty is seldom mentioned anymore? Often lumped in with typewriters and carbon paper, corporate managers view notions of loyalty as obsolete. Because in a business world turned upside down with mergers, globalization and the need to enhance stock valuations, loyalty is no longer relevant.

I could not disagree more. From my perspective, offering and generating loyalty is the single most important element we can implant in our organization. Without it, we have nothing. Creating a corporate/employee/customer alliance gives our company the best opportunity to achieve and maintain success - and is utterly indispensable during these periods of slow business.

Loyalty in Banking

When Paragon Steel started in business 21 years ago, we assembled our “Brain Trust.” This Brain Trust consisted of our two owners, our CPA, our attorney and our banker. We had our own vision for building our little steel company, but felt we needed added expertise and experience in these specific areas. Today, we still have the same CPA, attorney and banker. Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to switch players, but we have remained loyal to those who stood by us.

The banker in this Brain Trust is the focus of this story. We used to compare being a steel service provider to being in the banking business. The only difference was we marketed and sold steel while banks marketed themselves and provided money. Our original banker, Dallas Haun, was a relationship banker. He knew us, understood what we were attempting to accomplish and was willing to help us achieve our goals. By today’s standards, this would be considered “old school” banking. As the years have gone by, we have remained loyal to Dallas as he has remained loyal to us. Even though other banks offered better rates, even more services - we still remained loyal to Dallas. Dallas eventually moved up the corporate ladder as his bank was purchased by a larger one. We then became the proverbial small fish in a much bigger pond. We soon were shuffled from one loan officer to another. We were moved from Long Beach to Los Angeles - told that they had more horsepower there to service our needs. Since we sent our deposits through a courier, we no longer knew anyone at the bank branch. Even the inside staff became anonymous to us. For us, banking reached a new level of de-personalization. And yet we blindly stayed loyal to Dallas, our original banker.

Two years ago, Dallas decided it was finally time for him to move on. He was offered a CEO position with an out-of-state bank, a great opportunity for him. We were suddenly left at our old bank without an advocate or significant contact. As the recession unfolded last year, it became apparent that our bank wanted to sever ties with accounts that could be adversely affected by residential or commercial real estate. Paragon Steel fell into that category as we sold to steel fabricators. Even though we were within compliance of all our bank covenants, we were now on thin ice. Finally, we were told after 21 years of loyal business, that our credit line would not be renewed in 2009. And unfortunately, with the incredible banking meltdown of 2009, banks were not lining up for our business. We learned a valuable lesson about loyalty, which was that loyalty must be a two-way affair; it must cut both ways. As important as it was that we remained loyal to our bank, it was equally essential that the bank was loyal to Paragon Steel.


But there is a happy ending to this story. We contacted Dallas at the out-of-state bank, told him our predicament and his bank offered us a new line of credit. So in the end, loyalty did matter. Banks complain that customer loyalty no longer exists today - that customers switch banks when rates are lowered a quarter of a point. Banks try to market themselves as high services providers, offering help and care for their customers. True or false? After our experience, I would simply say, “Beware of the big, bad bank” and always have a back-up plan, just in case.

When the Going Gets Tough...(Nov. 2008)

When The Going Gets Tough...The Tough Get Going! (November 2008)

There are difficult times for many. With the mortgage meltdown, banking crisis stock market devaluation, declining job market, etc., many people and business are hurting. You can see it everywhere. But have you noticed that some people confront hard times head on and continue to pursue their goals? They simply won’t quit, because quitting is not an option for them. We certainly can learn from these tough thinkers in times like these. I have identified seven characteristics of tough thinkers that I believe we can all learn from:

Controlled Perception - Tough thinkers view adversity from a position of control. They understand life in terms of what they can control and what they cannot. They view tough circumstances and ask themselves, “What can I control in this situation?” They may discover that the only thing they can control is their own reaction to the situation.

Courage - Winston Churchill said it best, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all other qualities.” Everything else emanates from your willingness to face adversity head on. Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.”

Limited Focus - When tough thinkers face adversity, they limit the reach and scope of the problem. They understand that to eat an elephant, it can only be done one bite at a time. Compartmentalizing the problem helps focus your energy by creating workable solutions.

Creativity - Tough thinkers always think their way out of problems. To become more creative you must be able to be think out of the box. Approaching the problem differently will help to create solutions.

Optimism - Tough thinkers are fundamentally positive in their thinking, but their optimism is more than just happy thoughts. They draw from an experience of confidence and hope. They have a core belief that it is their right to live a positive life. They know there is no amount of adversity that will keep them from achieving their goals.

Perseverance - Tough thinker know they will keep trying until they succeed. They understand that quitting is not an option. Every challenge in the economy will lead to future opportunities. They also understand that adversity does not last forever and when it passes, they will  be ready to take advantage.

Humor - Finally, you can’t take life too seriously. Sometimes this may seem difficult but finding a humorous side to all that besets you is sometimes the best anecdote. Plato wrote, “Even the gods love jokes.”


We are living in a time where it seems we are being tested at every turn. Yet during this Thanksgiving season, perhaps we should take note and give thanks for all the blessings we have received. Life is a miracle - be thankful for each and every day.

The Stuff I’ve Learned (Sept. 2008)

The Stuff I’ve Learned (Sept. 2008)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

The Stuff I’ve Learned: 10 Business Lessons to Always Remember (September 2008)

In the 20-plus years of Paragon Steel, I have learned many business and personal lessons along the way. My views on business have changed dramatically in many ways so I have compiled the top 10 things that I see in business that has changed since we began. I’m sure there are others, but here goes:

  1. Don’t get hung up on the past - Life is not a rearview mirror. It is important to learn from our mistakes, but not to become obsessed by them. Tomorrow will always provide new opportunities for success. It is better to keep your focus there.

  2. Be willing to take a chance - Taking risks comes with the territory. Playing it safe is not necessarily the right course of action. Stepping out into the great unknown may fall out of your comfort zone, but it can produce the most rewarding dividends.

  3. Avoid going with the flow - Be willing to think outside the box. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that conventionality will not separate you from the pack. You must rethink your enterprise again and again. It is what separates you from the ordinary.

  4. Do stuff - We used to plan and talk, plan and talk, plan and talk. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this, but eventually action has to occur. Now, we try to discuss less and take action more. Of course doing is a lot harder, but in the end it is a lot more productive.

  5. Failure doesn’t really matter - We all wish we could string together a bunch of wins, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I know now that failures are only temporary and if you don’t let them demoralize you, they can sometimes be turned into wins. And if you are smart, you can learn valuable lessons from your biggest failures.

  6. Creating a fun workplace can be over-rated - When we started the company we wanted to create a unique place to work where employees could have freedoms and enjoy working. What we didn’t realize was that as the enterprise grew, this culture created chaos and was impossible to manage. Fun in the workplace is nice but so is efficiency and organization.

  7. Luck matters - Certainly it helps if you are the smartest person in the room, but they are not necessarily the most successful. Sometimes it takes an element of luck, talent and hard work to be successful. I have learned that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

  8. Find your supporters - Spend time finding employees who believe in what you are doing rather than convincing people why they should come work for you. Also, spend time searching for customers who need what you have to offer instead of trying to convince them that they should want it.

  9. Help others realize their goals - It is important to align your employees’ goals and your customers’ goals with the company’s. If customers or employees outgrow you or need another place of employment, don’t be angry at them. It is part of business - things change. It only works if it is in everyone’s best interest.

  10. Take care of your customers - Probably the biggest lesson I have learned is that at the end of the day, the relationships that you develop in business are your biggest asset. It is important to never let your customers feel neglected. It can be very difficult to find new loyal customers, so take the very best care of the ones you’ve got.

Building a High-Performance Team

Building a High-Performance Team

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

One of the things I’ve learned in business is that getting people to work naturally together as a team is difficult.  As owners we always want a cohesive team of people who come to our organization with a host of previous backgrounds and experiences.  Getting those individuals to mesh together can be complicated.  Ask any head coach of a professional sports team.  Getting all the egos to work together for a common goal can be problematic.  And yet, we expect a lot from our teams and as the foundation of organizational life – we should.

Changing team behavior, once ingrained is no small feat.  There are a lot of social nuances that goes into creating the culture of any group, and once established can be impossible to change.  Cultures rest on spoken and unspoken norms.  Think of a team culture like a spider web.  You can take out one piece of it, and then it will re-form to its original shape.  Changing it sometimes requires you to break apart the entire web!

We just experienced such a situation.  We had one member of our sales team who had his own independent agenda.  As much as we wanted him to gel with others, he always would go along his own path.  We had several members of his team complain to me, but we allowed him to continue because of his personal performance, not realizing that his behavior had a large impact on the rest of the team.  Why was it acceptable for him to break policies and procedures, while the others had to toe the line?  Ultimately, we had to acknowledge that it was not acceptable and we had to let him go.

I think it’s important to define the kind of team we are discussing here.  A team is a group of people who are interdependent in order to accomplish their goals.  Teams basically have four elements – common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills and mutual accountability.  Groups that may work together but don’t share those attributes, such as independent sales reps are a work group rather than a team.  Many companies can waste time and resources trying to make a team out of independent workers who pretty much operate on their own.  That may work in many situations.  But, true teams do rely upon each other and they need to fully understand the boundaries which govern their behavior.  In many instances these boundaries are not communicated consistently.  That is why operating principles work so well - they create a shared agreement for behavior and create mutual accountability. Consider operating principles like the guardrails that keep you from steering off the road.

As for the employee that we had to let go, he kept driving past the guardrails and off the road.  Eventually we had to put the guardrails back up so the team could function as a unit.  So what do the operating principles look like?  They really can be whatever you want them to be.  Principles can be similar to core values, but with one important distinction – they are behavioral, tactical guides.  Principles provide direction.  For example, a core value might be to provide a high level of customer service and a team operating principle would be to report back on customer issues within 24 hours. 

What I have found in my years of business is that in order to get buy-in from the employees it is best when they help establish the guidelines.  Rather than extoll the principles from the mountaintop, I have found that creating the guidelines along with the employees is the best approach.  First, bring up the idea and then facilitate a brainstorm meeting.  Next have the team rank their top half dozen operating principles and once there is a consensus, make the principles visible.  Finally, reinforce them and make them a part of the daily culture. 

Unfortunately, much of what I’ve learned is via the hard way – by our mistakes.  It takes time and sometimes courage to make it right.  But in the end, it is worth it!

Lessons from My Grandpa Max - June 2007

Lessons from My Grandpa Max - June 2007

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

My grandfather was born at the the turn of the 20th century and emigrated from Germany into this county. He settled into a small town on the Arizona frontier called Jerome. Andy of Mayberry, meet Max of Jerome. In the 1920s, Max started his family (raising my mother) and opened a general store named Popular. It was in his words, “the most ‘popular’ place in Jerome.” Popular was located on Main Street close to the saloon and the courthouse.

Jerome was at that time the fourth largest town in all of Arizona. It was built on Cleopatra Hill above a vast deposit of copper. The mines, the workers and those who sought its wealth formed Jerome’s rich history. They were a brave and raucous mix. Miners, smelter workers, firefighters, gamblers, bootleggers, saloon keepers, storekeepers, prostitutes and preachers all made Jerome what it was. And this was where Max chose to raise his family. Jerome’s modern history began in 1876, when three anglo prospectors staked the first claim on rich copper deposits in the area. They sold out to a group which formed the United Verde Copper Company in 1883. By the early 20th century, the United Verde was the largest producing copper mine in the Arizona Territory. Jerome grew rapidly from a tent city to a prosperous company town with frame and brick buildings.

Jerome was the talk of the territory, boom town of its time, darling of promoters and investors. The changing times in the territory saw pack burros, mule drawn freight wagons and horses replaced by steam engines, autos and trucks. Open pit mining brought about dynamiting which rattled the hills and cracked the buildings. The land surface began to shift and sections of the business district slid downward. The sliding jail moved 225 feet and now rests across the from its original spot. Phelps-Dodge took over the United Verde in 1935, but the loss of profits dependant on the swings in copper prices, labor unrest, the Depression and war brought the end to Jerome’s mining days in 1953. Almost overnight, the town had vanished with the copper trade. During its lifetime, United Verde produced about $500 million worth of copper ore. My grandfather, Max, retreated to Flagstaff, another growing town, and had to close his famed Popular general store. The population of Jerome which peaked at 15,000 in 1929 only had about 50 people left in the 1950s. A few hardy souls remained, reluctant to leave a lifetime of memories.

I visited Jerome in 1989 with my parents to see where my mother was raised. We visited Main Street, saw the boarded up Popular store, the jailhouse and the school that my mother attended. It was remarkable to see a town that literally “shut down.” Roads that connected neighborhoods would decay and be left in disrepair therefore shutting off a section of homes. We had tried to navigate our way to my mother’s home, but it was closed off. It literally was as if time had stood still for all those years.

Jerome now defines itself as “Ghost Town USA,” the nation’s largest. That sounds rather spooky to me. But what can we learn from this boom to bust story of a town? I asked my grandpa why everyone had left. He said, “It was cuz of the people - when their dreams left, they went off and followed them elsewhere.” And so it was.

What does that say about our lives today? When we watch business leave the area because they can’t be competitive in California. When we watch products made in foreign countries because they can’t be made as cheaply here in the U.S. When we watch companies close their doors because they can’t compete against Internet based businesses. And so it goes. Progress does not come without a price.


My grandpa Max lived until the ripe old age of 92. His memories of Jerome will forever live on within me and my family. And if, by chance, you ever have the chance on your way up to the Grand Canyon, take a stop at the little town on the map called Jerome. And think to yourself what once stood there…

A holiday of particular note

A holiday of particular note

Wishing the wonderful mothers out there a beautiful weekend!

As always, thinking of the mothers who give care to those waiting for the gift of transplant, and those who suffer great loss--and help their child save lives through donation. Our hearts are with you all this holiday. Happy Mother's Day!

Slide Rock - April 2015

Slide Rock - April 2015

When I was a kid we used to visit my grandparents who lived in Scottsdale, Arizona.  On the way to Scottsdale we would stop in Sedona which if you have never been, should be a “must see” on your places to visit list.  Anyway, as a young boy I was always amazed by the beauty of the Red Rocks and their exotic formations.  In my mind it always deserved more praise than the Grand Canyon which is still deemed one of the Wonders of the World.  In particular there was this natural water slide located about seven miles from Sedona formed on a slippery bed of Oak Creek aptly called “Slide Rock”.  Back then it was kind of local knowledge about this little spot tucked in the Coconino National Forest.  It was built on a homestead from 1912 and basically you would slide down the mossy rocks into a gathering pool located at the bottom.  It was a water slide, before there were water slides as we have today.  But, there were no lifeguards and signs that warned “slide at your own risk”.  My sister and I and my cousins couldn’t get enough of this place. Now remember this was back in the sixties and the times they do a change.

So fast forward to my adult life and when I have children that were about the same age as I was back then.  My wife and I had planned a family trip to Sedona where I would show them the places I went as a young boy.  We went to Inspiration Rock, which was inspiring, took a Jeep tour, visited an Indian reservation and of course planned a trip to Slide Rock.  I couldn’t wait to share the wonderment and beauty of this national treasure.  So first thing in the morning, when they opened we pacedk up the kids and headed over to Slide Rock.  Now when I was a kid, I had remembered having to “find” Slide Rock because it was off the main highway.  Now years later, there were signs and arrows directing us to the site right along the highway (no more off the beaten path).  The family gets out and we head over to the entrance.  Unlike the days I had gone when the price of admission was zero, now there was an admission charge.  I guess a sign of the times.  Disneyland probably cost $10 when they opened 60 years ago too!  No problem – we charge in.  Now I had two daughters aged 10 and 8 and a son aged 5, who brought his water wings.  The plan was for me to go down with the kids to the slide while my wife armed with the video camera (the size of a Buick) would be up top capturing the moments.  We were ready to make some lifetime memories.  And memories they would become.

My oldest daughter, Jessica, wanted to go down first.  She had more body weight than the others and was probably the best swimmer – so she would test the slide.  What you really can’t prepare enough for in this adventure is how frigid the water would be.  Since it is the run-off water from mountain snow, the temperature is freezing cold.  You want out as soon as you get in.  Anyhow, Jessica made her way down without too much of a problem, as her body slid down the slide with ease.  My second daughter, Ashley, was next up.  Unlike Jessica, she was a spindly little girl who could blow away with the wind.  When she hit the water, she immediately wailed about the freezing cold water but managed to slide down crying all the way.  Then once safe, I held my five year old son, Brian on my lap, water wings and all and we headed down.  Well, when Brian felt the water hit him, he wanted out and literally tried climbing on top of my head.  I hit the bottomless waiting pool below and tried getting to a point where I could extract Brian from the slide.  I tried holding on to the mossy rock, but it was too slippery to grab on to. Meanwhile Brian is literally dragging me underwater as he tried to stay above water.  I had no footing and no rock to grab.  I was treading water with Brian on my head and finally yelled for help.  This is when my wife realized that this was serious.  The video which was capturing the event became a jumble of images as she was stricken with fear.  Out of nowhere a man who must have witnessed this scene jumped into the pool where I was stranded and helped me get Brian out of the water safely.  I managed to slide down the rest of the way and I was shaking from the thought of what might have been.  We dried off, trudged back to the car and our one run down the slide was it for the day.

The lesson for me was this: Life changes as time changes.  What we remember from our childhood doesn’t mean it will always remain the same as we get older.  Sometimes memories are best kept as memories – never to be relived.  There are times in business when I believe that what may have worked in the past can work again in future.  But invariably conditions change and most importantly, we change.  Life is a dynamic process and change is ongoing.  Remembering the past is a good reference point- but you always have to move forward.  This we can never forget.

Thoughts on Life - October 2005

Thoughts on Life - October 2005

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

After our August newsletter (two months ago) we received some incredible responses and warm wishes in support of my health odyssey. Thank you to all of you who took the time to respond to me via e-mail. I have promised to provide updates to our readers through this newsletter. As of this writing, which is in late September, I am still awaiting the organs for my transplant trifecta. I have been on an “any day now” status for over three weeks. I feel like the sprinter who is firmly in the blocks and the starter says, “On your mark, get set” - and then there is no gun shot. I wait suspended on the blocks. I must subscribe to the adage of whatever is of value is worth waiting for. Hopefully by the time you receive this newsletter, I will have had my big day.


When I think about all the devastation that has recently occurred in the Gulf Coast, it should give us pause to think about our own life situations. In a matter of a few days, like can dramatically turn. For some it can be in just a moment. We work so hard to bring order and a plan into our daily lives and then something so unplanned can turn our lives into a state of chaos. It is refreshing to see how people react in these times of despair. I continue to be impressed with the human spirit and the generous mind. I’ve learned through this newsletter that our steel audience is composed not just of “steel users,” but of people with wonderful intentions that happen to use steel. Thank you for that.

Death of a Salesman - October 2005

Death of a Salesman - October 2005

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Recently I was having dinner with a friend who is in sales. He was lamenting to me how everything has changed in the business world and how customers had become so difficult to deal with. So I asked him why this was so--and all he could attribute this to was that buyers were increasingly more difficult and that margins of profit were thinner than ever. But, what bothered him the most was the conduct of the buyers from the “way it used to be.” “Now everyone wants their bid E-mailed or faxed to them. There is no more human contact, no interactions with the customer.”

He explained, “In the old days we used to have lunch to discuss quotes or we might catch a ballgame together. Today, I’m dealing with a buyer that I hardly know, let alone can spend any time with. As a result, all anybody cares about is price.”

I was thinking about what my friend said. I thought about the play Death of a Salesman when Willy Loman says that unlike his colleague Charley, he intends to be “well-liked.” He tells his sons that in business as in life, character, personality and human connections are more important than smarts. Says  Willy: “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”

Unfortunately in the current world, this belief is really outdated. With e-mail, faxes and the Internet, buyers are equipped with weaponry like never before. So what is a salesman to do? Change careers?

Perhaps the answer lies in their approach. The one thing my friend really did not consider in the “new equation” was what his role should be in this changing environment. How could he add value to the companies he was soliciting in spite of losing contact with his buyers? It takes a creative sales/person to understand the needs of his customers and to find a way to fulfill those needs. It may not be the old way of taking them to a ballgame or the three martini lunch, but there still is a place for good sales/people.

The reality is that we all want to pay Wal-Mart prices and yet get Nordstrom levels of quality and service. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work that way. The performance of a good salesperson is usually rewarded with the business. But providing value is the key, not just being Willy Loman’s likable guy with the best tickets.