Thursday, April 29, 2010


Furniture design show

I spent my night, last night, scurrying through airports trying to get to Savannah, Georgia.  I arrived in Atlanta at 2:30 a.m. due to a variety of plane reasons and was able to get to my hotel, and fall asleep around 3:30.   I set my alarm to 6:30 and set off for Savannah.

Despite  just getting three hours of sleep, I felt refreshed and ready to go.  Why?  Because I was going to SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design, to act as a mentor in a project where their furniture design students were going to present their best ideas for me to critique.

Now, I grew up on a turkey farm and have no formal design training, except experience.  And yet, Antonio Larosa, a renowned furniture designer and chair of the department, asked me to share my ideas with his students. 

He told me he cancelled a project with Natuzzi, the great Italian leather company to work with me.  An honor?  I’m pinching myself.

But, this isn’t about me; it’s about the students.  And, he wanted me to give his students the unvarnished truth.

What a day!  These students modeled and graphed and researched and contemplated and presented.  Smart doesn’t begin to describe the quality and talent of these kids.

I felt so proud to be in this room, with this much passion and talent all around me.

Was it worth it?  Youbetcha.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

still fighting….

US President George W. Bush (C) makes a statement to the press with US Army Sergeant Neil Duncan (L) and US Army Specialist Max Ramsey (R) after jogging with them on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, 25 July 2007. Duncan lost both legs in Afghanistan in December 2005 and Ramsey lost his left leg in Iraq in March 2006. Both met the President on his visit to Walter Reed on 24 July 2006

I met the man on the left in the photo yesterday.  He’s Sergeant Neil Duncan (retired).  The man in the center is former President George W. Bush and the man on the right is Army Specialist Max Ramsey.  I didn’t meet them.

The reason I used this photograph is to show how many of us see someone who has been damaged or disfigured by war.  We don’t see their eyes and we don’t want to feel their pain.  We want them to go away, to be normal, to be like us.  We just see this.

Neil was seriously wounded in Afghanistan as a result of an explosion in December of 2005.  He lost both of his legs, shattered his jaw, broke his elbow and hand, and sustained multiple shrapnel wounds.

Today, Neil seems normal.  Wearing dress slacks, his gait is quick and determined.  You can tell there’s something different, but not that different from you and me.

What’s really different is how impressive this man is.  My focus quickly went from his legs to the entirety of him.  This is not a man who is broken, but rebuilt into something more, a person who will not be defined by his injuries, but will win you over with his character and determination.

Now, the reason for this blog.  Neil was speaking to a group of partners at as part of the Wounded Warrior Project, a group dedicated to supporting veterans who have experienced injury in war. 

Please visit the Overstock blog on the Wounded Warrior Project at the link below.  It will change you.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

the face of the lottery….

Chris Shaw is a millionaire, many times over.  This time last week, he was a clerk in a Missouri convenience store, and had $28.96 in his checking account.  Today, he’s the proud owner of  a big check written in the amount of $258,500,000.Powerball Winner Missouri

I feel good for Chris, I really do.  But, I’m going to use him to make a point.

Here’s the point.  I’ve never seen a Donald Trump type win the lottery, not Warren Buffet, not Bill Gates, not anyone really rich.  I may be wrong, but I doubt that a millionaire has ever won the lottery. 

The lottery celebrates its winners with big checks and big prizes.  Every once-in-a-while, you’ll see the guy, the rags-to-riches winner, the Cinderella story, with cameras flashing, microphones everywhere, having their life changed forever by picking a random set of numbers that match a set of ping pong balls.

But, the lottery never shows the car running outside the convenience store, kids in back, cigarettes behind the counter, somebody cashing their check, using some for food, some for cigarettes, some for lottery tickets.  It’s a scene that goes on thousands, if not more times a day.

Those cameras don’t show the losers, the people who can’t afford to lose, but want to win so badly they can’t pass on the chance.  They saw it on TV, didn’t they?  Somebody just like them just won.  Next time it will be me.

The lottery is a tax.  It’s a tax on poor and middle class people.  It’s devious.  It only shows winners.  And, it turns everyone else into losers.  It’s the American Nightmare.

a brush with Camelot…..

Earlier this week, I was on a flight from Greensboro to Chicago.  I boarded the flight, got myself settled, and then heard my name called.  I was being upgraded to first class. 

One of the perks of flying a lot is that the airlines try to reward those people who use their services on a regular basis, and in my case, a frequent basis.

Heading up to first class, I knew the guy who was going to be sitting next to me.  He was Chris Kennedy, president of Merchandise Mart Properties, and son of the late Bobby Kennedy.large_tim-hagan-chris-kennedy-medical-mart

I’m usually pretty comfortable in most situations, but this was different.  He was a Kennedy, the closest thing we have in our country to a royal family.  What could I possibly have to offer in conversation with him?

Well, it turns out, quite a lot.  Totally inquisitive, he wanted to know everything, how I grew up, where I lived, what I did, even things I engineered.  His eyes locked in, never wavering, always engaged.

After being told I grew up on a turkey farm, he wanted to know if I thought turkeys could survive on his family’s island vacation retreat.

Talk about a guy totally comfortable in his own skin, Chris Kennedy is it.  I see a lot of people who land in successful situations through inheritance, who think of themselves as entitled and privileged.  I sensed none of that in him. 

At the end of the flight, he asked for my card and promised he would stay in touch.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a hollow promise.....

Yesterday, enroute to the Raleigh Durham Airport, I passed a soldier in full gear with a cardboard sign in hand. "Need Help, anything appreciated," was scribbled on the sign in Magic Marker.

His camouflage gear was clean, neat, and even the matching boots were spotless. This man was obviously an officer, with a smartly trimmed moustache, sandy hair, maybe in his 40's or 50's.

I was devastated. "How could this be?" I thought to myself. This is America, and this man gave of himself to protect me. I owed him.

I made a promise to myself I would stop after I dropped off my passenger to give some help, and maybe get to know this soldier.

I did drop off my passenger and got a call. As I left the airport, my thoughts moved to business and I was on my way to the on ramp, and then the highway.

About 20 minutes later I remembered.....How could I have forgotten? But, I did.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

the power of now….

I spent the last few days working with a factory owner named Jorge in Mexico City, Mexico.  Jorge is a mid 40’s, contemporary man, shaved head, stylish and smart.

If you know me, you know I like things done quickly.  I want to check something off my list so I can get to the next thing.  The list never seems to get shorter, but my accomplishments do get longer.

Anticipating my requests, Jorge spent this entire trip promising “today”.  Anything I asked for, he said “today”.  He even said he was going to get a shirt that says “today”. 

This is an unusual attitude to see in Mexico, but maybe that’s why Jorge is the owner, and not working for an owner.  He understands that completing something efficiently is better than revisiting the same thing over and over.

And, he’s done very well for himself; thank you!

We got a lot of things done this trip.  We spent a lot of time thinking about how we could do things better.  We put our minds together, one speaking Spanish and the other English.  We came up with good ideas.  And the more we finished, the more we wanted to do.

So, the next time you hear the alarm ring, get up.  The next time you let the list slow you down, start.  And the next time you start something, finish. 

The way this clears your mind and sharpens your focus is incredible.  It just makes you want to do one more thing…today.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

our answers are in the form of a question…..

“One of the most important lessons I've learned in my career is that opportunities rarely come in tidy, well-defined packages. Instead, great opportunities are often found in circumstances that are hard to understand or are extremely frustrating.“   This is a quote from Ed Zore, CEO of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance that was sent to me by a close friend.

That led me to question how all of us handle problem situations.  Do we see them as monsters that ruin the day, or are they opportunities to succeed, to create something new and exciting, to develop something that helps everyone?

Going forward, in our competitive world, it is those people who see problems as opportunities that will lead the way.  It is those people who look at a disease as only a roadblock to the cure, not the final determination.  It is those people who don’t shield their eyes from the sun, but embrace the heat and harness the energy, who will carry the day.

Like the game show “Jeopardy”, our answers should be in the form of  questions of what, when, why, where, who, and how, and then figure it out.  That is the answer.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

fixing our schools….

Our school districts are in trouble.  There isn’t enough money to support the needs and wants of our districts.  The shortfalls are threatening many districts to consider cutting everything from forensics to football.

I went to great public schools.  I had great teachers and not so good teachers.  But, there was never a chance that I was going to fall through the cracks. 

It’s different today.  Economic issues, single parent homes, technology, drugs, sex, and more have put the schools in a position to deal with more than ever. 

I’ve listened to the old sages argue the old “it was good enough for me, so it should be good enough for them.”  But, you don’t hear the old sages saying that about their Medicare, Social Security, senior citizens’ discounts.

The fact is that our kids should be educated in a way that fits today, not my day, or my parents’ day. 

How do we do it? 

Just paying taxes doesn’t do it, not now, not ever.  Taxes only cover a portion.  The rest we need to do.

We need to sit down with our school boards and determine what the public can do, and what the teachers can do.  We need to sit down with the teachers’ unions and work with them to take some of the jobs out of the system and put them into a volunteer effort.  We have examples all over the place, just at on a smaller scale.

Instead of thinking of how we can cut, we need to think about how we can supplement what we have, how we can grow, how we can achieve.  We want more, not less.

An area of support could be the unemployed.  With 9.7 percent of us collecting unemployment checks, this is could be a huge windfall for education, or any public needs, for that matter.

This is not meant to shame those who do not have jobs, but to realize that tax dollars spent can be used for public good, and that there is dignity in work.  Why couldn’t an unemployment check come with the requirement of 20 hours a week of public service? 

We have Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Women’s Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, and more.  We have more retired people than ever before.  Why can’t we have local school district clubs, clubs that take on some of the labor that tax dollars currently support? 

Retirement used to be the precursor to death.  Today, for many, it’s the precursor to a great life past paid employment.  Who says a retired person couldn’t contribute to our schools?

It’s time to brainstorm.  It’s time to rise above, not cut.  It’s time to take inventory of all of our assets.  It’s time to think about real solutions. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

the drug border…

There has been a drug war going on at the border, and it seems to be escalating.  It seems like the drug cartels don’t like competition from our foreign friends.

With billions of dollars at stake, the players are using all of their power to make sure each gets their share.

In some cases, people are dying, many more are suffering.  If the numbers really came out, you might find out there are more casualties associated with this drug war than the ones going on in the Middle East.

This all can be settled, if the United States opened up the border for the importation of discounted prescription drugs from…..Canada.