Thursday, December 30, 2010

an odd life…

I slept until 8:30 this morning.  That never happens.

My day usually begins around 4:30.  I turn on MSNBC for “Way Too Early” and “Morning Joe”.  I usually go over emails that came in overnight, try to answer them, and get adjusted to the day.  I’m not a snooze alarm person.  When I’m awake, I’m awake.

Because most of our work is done in China, I can still get things done in real time, not the next day.  They’re 13 or 14 hours ahead of us, depending on standard or daylight time.  It sounds crazy, but we can save a ton of time just communicating on the same day.  So, I check in with them. 

Then, depending on whether I’m traveling or not, I either take a shower and get out the door between 6:30 and 7:00, or I just keep working until I run out of immediate things to do.  Some days, that goes until 10:00 or later. 

If I’m traveling, I put in some earbuds and start making calls, starting at about 7:30 on the east coast, and I make calls westward as the time goes on.  I usually get to the office by 9:00.

So, for those of you who wonder what I’m doing, and why I have so much information; this is why.

What an odd way to work and live.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

going up?…….

On the topic of gas at $3.10, we are currently at historically high prices for this time of year.  While speculators might be involved, and demand in the U.S. is down, worldwide demand for oil is at an all time high and there really is no end in sight.

Many of you know I travel to China on a frequent basis.  Demand for raw materials, including oil, is growing exponentially in China.  For calendar year 2010, they will sell 17.5 million new cars, up from around 15 million last year.  Bill Starke would like to know that one dealership in Beijing sold 15,000 cars in November.  In fact, the Chinese government is now placing higher tariffs on new vehicles to slow down sales.

As emerging markets continue to mature, more and more pressure will be put on commodities, including oil.  The middle classes of China and India are now both larger than that of the U.S.  The sheer numbers involved in Asia are stunning.

Interestingly enough, significant efforts to find alternatives for oil are not happening in the "developed" United States, but in the emerging China, with over $1 trillion earmarked for renewable energy research and development.  Silicon Valley companies are now partnering with Chinese counterparts instead of the U.S. government, or U.S. investors because they are not only willing, but demanding new energy solutions.

While $3.10 seems expensive, it is only the tip of the iceberg.  The price will only go higher.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Uff Da!

Remember that?

Or, Yada-Yada-Yada?

I don’t believe I ever used those words, at least in serious conversation.  Mrs. Kohls would have killed me.

For some reason, I’ve always felt that these kinds of words or phrases undermine the English language, that they are words of the moment, unimportant, simple, sometimes even ignorant. 

Am I being a prude?  Maybe.  But, the language, to me, is this incredible buffet of precise thoughts, an opportunity to not only convey meaning, but feeling.

I think of words being filet mignon, catfish, risotto, baguettes, champagne, beer, a complex mixture of tastes and textures.  English can be a wonderfully elegant, acerbic, direct, complex, simple language. 

The available words in our dictionary seem limitless, yet we choose to use the Cheetos of the English language.  Uff Da!

a small world….

I remember as a kid, my dad used to tell me that if I dug deep enough, I could reach China. 

Growing up in Jefferson County, where a trip to Madison was cause for us to check the oil and make sure the tires were good, things have changed a lot for me over the years.

My first trip on an airplane happened as a result of a job.  I went to Knoxville, Tennessee to go to work with The Berkline Corporation.  Never did I think it would lead to this.

Today, I travel at the drop of a pin.   Last week, I booked travel to Brussels, Belgium to attend a trade fair in Cologne, Germany, about 120 miles away.  A grand adventure?  No, a three day business trip. 

Stay in Cologne?  Not for me.  I’ll take high speed rail from Brussels to Cologne and be dropped off walking distance from the fair.  Are you kidding me?  And, I’ll be in Las Vegas three days after I get back.

I left Shanghai (the one in China) about 10 days ago at 5:00 p.m. one afternoon and arrived in Chicago at 4:00 p.m. the same day.  I got home earlier than I left?  Yup!  If I kept flying, I could have a “Back to the Future” experience.

After I got back from China, I flew to Roanoke, Virginia to visit my daughter and watch a football game.  A day later, I shipped off to Salt Lake City, Utah for business….for a day.

In 1900, a trip to Chicago from Fort Atkinson was probably more difficult and exotic than the trip to Shanghai today.

As I do all of this travel, it’s very clear to me that the world is a single place.  It’s not such a big place anymore.   We are all people of the planet, not from one country or another.  Countries are just addresses.   

All of this travel shows me that people from everywhere have wants and needs.  Everyone has hopes and dreams.  I feel a lot less them and they and a lot more we and us.  We’re all pretty much the same.

I hope, as we move forward, we begin to realize this, and we have to find a way to get along.  We have to learn how to play nice with each other.  It’s necessary for the survival of the planet. 

In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

a new day…..

Earlier this year, something happened that I never thought could happen.  People from another country bought more new cars than the people from the United States.  And, this year, that number will grow some more.  And, next year, it will grow some more.  China.

China just passed Japan as the second largest economy in the world.  A year earlier, they passed Germany.  Their growth is in double digits.  They will pass us in less than 20 years.  And with that growth, they will need resources.

A couple of years ago, we saw what it was like to have gas prices above $4 a gallon.  We haven’t begun to see where these prices will go, but I will guarantee you that the $4 number will be a bargain.

We are entering a new time, a time when the United States no longer controls the flow of all resources.  That mantle is being passed to China.  They have an economy that demands commodities at any cost.  They are beginning to control the mines in Africa for copper.  They are making deals with rogue countries for oil.  They have something we all need, excess cash, over a $1 trillion a year.  They don’t pay interest, they receive it.

While we are spend our time fiddling like Nero, they are planning.  They aren’t devious.  They just have a lot of people to feed.  They are doing what any responsible society does, take care of their own. 

And, next door, India has a billion more with the same agenda.   

So, today, we have decisions to make.  Do we continue operating like nothing is changing?  Do we continue not to heed the warning signals that oil, no matter how plentiful, will have to be shared with countries with bigger appetites than ours?  Do we not understand that conserving oil, or not getting more efficient with our resources is a national security risk?

Drill baby, drill is not an answer.  It’s a punch line.  And, it’s not funny.   It’s a new day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Holy Night…..

In the late 70’s, I used to go with friends to the Fireside Restaurant with friends and my eventual wife, Carol.  They had a place called the East Room, and then moved the entertainment to a new place called the Showplace Lounge.  There was always a group who liked to dance and just hang out.

One of the reasons we liked going there was a combo consisting of Jerry and Rick Bisbee.  Rick could play the keyboards like nobody’s business and Jerry could sing.  Oh, could he sing!

We got to be good friends with both of them.  I’d see Jerry at lunch and we’d each have a sandwich, talk a little business and go back to work.  He was upbeat, always positive.  I’d probably see him twice a week.

Rick and I played tennis together.  We also coached a baseball team, went to concerts, double dated, and just became good friends.  Rick sang at our wedding in 1980.  I’ve lost track of Rick.  The last I heard he was playing in Las Vegas.  I don’t know where.

The reason I bring all of this up, and why I’m writing this is because I just saw Josh Groban’s rendition of “O Holy Night” on the internet.  It’s beautiful.

But, more beautiful to me was going to midnight mass and hearing Jerry sing it.  I wish I could share it with you.  I wish you could hear what I heard.

Jerry died about 20 years ago from a neurological disease.  His widow, Michelle still lives in the area.  Every time I see her, I think of him, and I think of those midnight masses.

Christmas lost some luster for me since then.  The beauty of a single voice, dominant, yet gentle, filling a church, lifting the souls of many from a single note is something I still think about today. 

Merry Christmas Michelle.  Merry Christmas Rick.  Merry Christmas Jerry.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

hair today, gone tomorrow….

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with my son Alex for a talk.

He’s 21, and he’s losing his hair.  It really bothers him.  And, it bothers me because it bothers him.  He’s bought Rogaine to try and slow down it’s advance, or decline, depending on how you look at it.  He cuts it in different ways to hide its effects.  And, he looks at me and thinks about the eventual outcome.  He’s made being bald his enemy.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want an enemy I’m going to have to face the rest of my life.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

And, this is the discussion we had.  I asked him to think about what’s important, I mean really important.  Does hair really fall into that category?

I asked him to accept this part of him and to start challenging himself in areas with better probable outcomes. 

I know it bothers him; I get that.  I went through it myself.  But, for me it was easy.  I was able to accept this and make it part of what makes me who I am.

I asked him to fight the battles he can win.  I asked him to not only accept, but embrace those things he cannot change, like his loss of hair.  I told him, if he could, he would be happier. 

And really, that is what this was all about.

the best gift….

I arrived at the Salt Lake City airport very late last night.  I was in town for meetings with, our online retail partner.

When I reached the security area, I was struck by all of the people, whole families, holding signs scribbled with messages of homecoming, smiling, hugging, crying, loving each other as passengers filed into baggage claim.  It wasn’t a few, but many, and it was touching.

This is a time when  many can’t come home.  They are scattered about the globe fighting our fights, defending our way of life, and separated from the ones they love.  They also deserve these signs, these hugs and smiles and tears.

As we celebrate the holiday season, keep a good thought for those fighting for you. 

And, as Christmas time arrives, remember to hug those close to you.  Remember to say you love them.  There isn’t a better gift than that.


No great civilization has ever survived it's own prosperity" . ... destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers."

I didn’t think up this quote.  But, I think it applies to our society now, more than ever before.

As a society, we feel we are entitled to more, more than any people, more than any civilization in history.  And, when we got more, we wanted even more than that.  We are used to it. 

So, when it comes time to pay for all of this stuff, we use our credit card, because, even though we don’t have the money, we are entitled to it.  It’s our birthright.

It seems we elect our leaders because they offer to give us stuff, without any idea of how to pay for it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, or some other affiliation, our leaders have turned into sellers of magic elixirs, promising to cure all of our ailments.  We want.  They pander to our wants.

John F. Kennedy’s plea to “ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, wouldn’t get him third place in an Iowa primary, but it might be the message necessary for today.

We’ve lived a  fairytale existence on the backs of our children.  The credit card is at its limit and it’s time to pay up.

Are we up to the challenge? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

fathers and daughters….

I went to a football game yesterday in Salem, Virginia.  My daughter, Cortney, who lives near Washington, D.C., drove nearly four hours to see me before the game.

cortney and dad

We spent most of the day just talking, riding around, eating, just hanging out.  We were just together. 

I’ll visit her periodically when I’m on the east coast on business, or sometimes without business attached.   She comes home a few times a year.  But, in most of those cases, there’s always other people around.  This was just her and me.

She’s all grown up now.  She has her own life.  She has her own dreams.   She’s on her own. 

But, none of that changes the fact that she’s my daughter.  The fact she drove four hours to see me makes me proud, humbled, and incredibly emotional.  I’ll never forget it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

the truth is…..

Yesterday, I saw where a Bernie Madoff investor agreed to return $7.2 billion of the money paid to her as part of the Ponzi scheme Madoff employed over the past two decades.

While this scam has been described as a $65 billion ripoff, the actual amount invested was closer to $20 billion, with nearly half of the original investments being recovered to date.  The other $45 billion were the fictitious gains as part of the scheme.

Along with the reporting of the $65 billion, there were also reports that returns were astronomically high, implying that investors should have known something was up.  So, why do the news media continue to call the scheme $65 billion if they think the number is a lie?

The $65 billion was and is a lie.  But, that number is way more sexy than $20 billion, as if $20 billion isn’t enough to have a big story.

It seems as though the standard for reporting comes from The National Enquirer with big pictures and partial truths.  It seems as though we need to make the story fit the headline, not the other way around.

Another example of this would be the $785 billion bailout of financial institutions, as if the money is gone.  It’s not.  These were loans, with interest.  And, we will recover all but $25 billion, a big number, but a small price to pay compared to the potential cost to the economy.  We never heard that reported.

Our news media are always holding everyone’s feet to the fire, except their own.   The truth is Madoff took in $20 billion.  The truth is investors will recover at least $10 billion.  The truth is Madoff funded his lifestyle with other peoples money, but not $65 billion.  The truth is Bernie Madoff is in jail for the rest of his life, not 165 years.  The truth is the bailout will cost us $25 billion, and probably less, not $785 billion.  The truth is hard to find in the news.

Friday, December 17, 2010

a necessary trip….

I’m headed to Salem, Virginia to watch a football game.  Really, I am. 

I’m going by myself.   But, my daughter, Cortney, who lives in the Washington D.C. area, will be coming by to visit with me.  This wasn’t planned, but it certainly is a bonus, a big bonus.   

A while ago, I decided I was going to do things.  My life has revolved around work for such a long time and things were passing me by, mostly without me.  I was a spectator on the outer edges, a voyeur to life.  That isn’t going to happen anymore. 

So, why this football game?  I don’t know.  It’s the national championship of two small college football teams, teams very few people know.  I think that’s part of the appeal to me, going to an event that feels personal, not dominated by outside forces to make it an “event”, sort of “hometownish”. 

I like football, not in a rah-rah, loudmouth way.  I don’t drink.  I don’t wear the jerseys.  I don’t paint my face.  Hell, I don’t even cheer.  I just watch and think about the game.  I like the drama, the strategy, the chess part.  I guess I just like to figure out stuff.

And, while I’m watching a game, I’m not thinking about how to fit a sofa in a box, or fabric content, or why something is or isn’t selling.  I’m just a guy sitting out there in a cold place, in Michelin man clothing, solitary in my thoughts.  That feels good to me.

So, I’m going to board a plane, fly 700 miles and watch a football game.  For some, that sounds foolhardy.  For me, it’s necessary.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

a balancing act…..

Over the past few decades, America has seen it’s trade deficit and tax revenue shortfall expand exponentially.  In short, we are addicted to low cost goods and oil, and don’t have the money to pay for necessary social programs, roads, wars, education, and medical treatment.

We need to understand that all goods imported into this country have a social cost, like goods that are made here.  Goods made in the U.S. are subject to taxes, work rules, environmental rules, and so on.  Eventually, all goods need to be disposed of, or cleaned up, often at public cost. 

Imported goods don’t pay for education, medical insurance, social security, roads, wars, environmental clean up, and so on.   

We need to have tariffs that reflect that cost.  Maybe a formula would be to look at our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our total cost of government (COG), divide the  GDP/COG and come up with a percentage.  Simply stated, if the GDP is $14 trillion and the COG  $1.4 trillion, the tariff on imported goods would be 10% across the board.   Imported oil would have this tariff added to the already imposed state and federal taxes.

Approximately $2 trillion worth of goods are imported into our country on an annual basis, meaning the social cost would be $200 billion, no small piece of change.

An additional benefit would be to balance the playing field between domestic and imported goods by balancing the cost of doing business.  I don’t blame businesses going to where they can be most efficient and competitive; that is their job.  If the U.S. is the most competitive place to manufacture, producers will make their products here.  

Yes, imported goods would go up in price, and almost everything we buy has some import element to it.  But, if we’re looking at a “flat” world, our policies need to reflect the real cost of doing business, no matter where products are manufactured.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

new stuff….

Well, it’s time for another trip to China.  For me, this is my Christmas morning, my chance to develop new ideas and products to bring to market.  I really like the idea of doing things that have never been done before.

This trip, we’re going to be working on some ideas to make our products extend their function and value.  I’m not going to expose more than that.  But, suffice it to say, I love multiple function products, and this will build on that.

And, I love the idea of having people “get” what we’re doing. 

As I look at the marketplace, we live differently than we did even 10 years ago.  We, as manufacturers, need to take into consideration how people live.

If you look at a sofa, it’s pretty much the same as it was over 100 years ago.  In that time, we’ve developed the automobile, telephone, radio, television, computer, microwave, air conditioning, the remote control, cell phone, almost every item we use today.

So, it would only make sense to make products that reflect where we are as a society.  We’ll see where this goes.

it’s personal….

Bob Woodward was a panelist the other day on “Morning Joe”, the MSNBC political show.  He was asked about what was wrong with the Obama administration.

He proceeded to talk about how he had seen the play “Lombardi” the other night.  He said there is no “Lombardi” in the Obama administration.

Lombardi was tough, a  taskmaster who thought of excuses as character flaws.  He saw failure as unacceptable.  He believed in keeping things simple, but executing to perfection.  He believed in personal commitment, a 100% effort.  Anything less was failure.

He said Lombardi made things personal.  He made blocking and tackling and running the ball and passing and catching personal.  He made it about you and your responsibility.  It wasn’t your play that let the team down.  It was you.

I thought about that for a while.  What did Woodward mean?  I mean, I like President Obama.  He says the right things.  I know he’s trying the best he can.  He’s careful with his words so he doesn’t offend. 

This is what bothers me.  He doesn’t get dirty.  He won’t commit.  He won’t confront the bully on the block.  He doesn’t have that “thing” that makes you want to play for him.  I couldn’t see him being a coach of a football team.  I couldn’t see him on the battlefield.  He plays it safe. 

He reminds me of the guy who brings the acoustic guitar to a party, the person the girls feel all warm and fuzzy about.  He’s the seashells and balloons guy Al McGuire used to talk about. 

Hope and Change will only come with personal commitment, a willingness to put one’s soul on the line, a willingness to make it about him, a willingness to lose everything over something he believes.  It must be personal.

You don’t broker that.   

It’s hard to explain.  It’s a gut feeling. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

am I needed?…..

I’m 53 today.  It’s my birthday. 

I say this not to get birthday wishes, although they are nice.  I say this to tell about how I normally think about birthdays and their importance to me.

I use a birthday to take inventory of myself, sort of how other people use New Years Day.   Am I happy?  Am I relevant?  Am I needed?

Those are the things that matter to me today.  Happiness is coming much more easily than it ever has.  I think getting older, you learn not to sweat the small stuff.  The truth is easier to tell because it is what it is.  You worry about what’s really important, friends, family and health.

Relevance used to mean the size of my house, the car I drove, the size of my paycheck and my stature in the community.  Today, it means that I really must contribute to make things better.  I can be relevant by just holding a door, or helping someone to a car, or just being there at the right time.  Being relevant is not having more, but giving more.

Needed.  This is where I struggle.  It’s hard to know if you’re needed or wanted.  For me, because most of my time is spent away, most people have figured out how to live life without me.   

So, that becomes something that I need to work on.  I want people to count on me.  I want them to think of me as the first call, not the insurance call if all else fails.  It stings a little when somebody needs help and they don’t think of me.

I never knew that about myself until this particular birthday. 

So, there you have it, my inventory of 53 years.  

a friend lost….

File:Ron Santo.JPG

My dad lost a friend today.  He never met him in person.  But, he was there by his side for 162 games a year.  He’s Ron Santo, broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs.

Santo died of cancer, but that wasn’t his only health issue.  Complications from diabetes took both his legs.  He fought his disease and never complained.  He went to work everyday, even when he didn’t feel well.  He was one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever seen.  I never met him, either.  But, I knew him.  I did.

Dad has two radios, one tuned to the Brewers games and the other to the Cubs.  He just loved when Santo would groan over a misplayed ball, or a strike out.  He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he put it on yours.  He made you care.  My dad wasn’t a Cubs fan, but he loved Santo.  That’s why he listened.

There’s a special place for people like Ron Santo.  For 70 years, he gave all he had.  He loved people.  He loved life.  But, most of all, he love the Cubs.  We will miss him.

another failure….

Our house is too big.  We’ve lost our job. We’ve borrowed all we can against everything we own.  We’ve borrowed against the 401K.  We’ve put a second on the house.  We’ve run up our credit cards.  Now it’s time to sell the furniture.  Eventually, we’ll end up with a big house we don’t own, no furniture and no future.  And, we’ve made promises to everyone with no way to pay.

It might be time to get a smaller house.  But, we’ve always had a big house.  We deserve a big house.  It doesn’t matter that we can’t afford it.  And, what will the servants do?

It’s time to think of our government as a house that is too big with too many servants.  It’s too cumbersome.  It has ceased to serve us.  Instead, we have to work to serve it.

The government has the ability to make change.  In fact, they showed General Motors how to do it.  They just don’t want to do it themselves. 

Today, the debt commission report headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson failed to get enough votes to proceed to action by Congress.  This sort of failure is not acceptable.  We have to do better.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about life and death lately.  I’m going to do it again…sorry.

My dad had an “episode” over the weekend.  I got a call from my mother asking me to come out.  She thought Dad had a stroke.  He couldn’t stand up, but seemed fine otherwise.

When I got there, my mother was confused, something I’d never seen before.  She was trying to hold it together, and she was trying to help, but the obvious was staring at her.  And, she was trying to stare it back.

My dad was coherent and had strength in both hands and could do some basic things.  I asked Mom if Dad would ride in an ambulance.  The answer was clear, “absolutely not”.

So, I proceeded to bear hug carry him to my car.  He wasn’t afraid.  He was more upset that he had become a “nuisance”, something he could never foresee himself becoming.  I told him it was time he accepted help, the help he’s been giving us all of these years.

I got him to the emergency room and they began to do tests.  It wasn’t a stroke, but just a matter of being dehydrated and an infection.  He was going to be fine.

What I didn’t expect were the overwhelming emotions that came over me when I left the hospital.  I was paralyzed.

I’d never felt so helpless.  While the outcome was good, the feelings of helplessness were real.   

In my world, you fix things when they’re broken.  You work harder.  You think harder.  But, you fix them.  This was one thing I couldn’t fix. 

a vision to the future….

What is the unique selling or product proposition?  That is the question I ask myself before we get involved in any project or product we expect to advance.

What does that mean?

It means we need to be unique, a leader in some facet of the process.  It could be price.  It could be design.  It could be comfort.  It could be anything.  But, it has to be something.

That is a question I find myself asking about our country on the world’s stage.

The Germans have figured out their unique selling proposition.  It is precision.  In many cases, they are not selling products based on price.  On the contrary, their products are some of the most expensive in the world.  In most cases, they make the machines that make other things.  They have to be precise and of very high quality. 

The Chinese have figured out their unique selling proposition.  It is price.  Because of their surplus of cheap labor and low cost structure, they are able to successfully compete on the world’s stage by offering products people can afford. 

The Japanese have figured out reliability and value.  They make products that are consistently good at prices most people can afford.  They are not the cheapest, nor the most expensive, but they give value.

This leads me to the American unique selling proposition.  Over the past century, ours has been innovation, seeing the future and making products that fit future demand, creating markets where none existed, creating products we never knew we needed.  It is our vision that has created our unique selling proposition.

There seems to be a shift going on in the balance of these unique qualities.  The Chinese have figured out that they cannot continue to be the leader only in price.  It is fundamental in their future.

In the world of energy, they have figured out they cannot be a slave to foreign energy.  So, they have embarked on an ambitious plan to be the leader in renewable, green energy, the holy grail of commerce in the world.  And, they are funding it at a level never seen before, over one trillion dollars.

If they are successful, they will become the visionary, the leader of future thought.  Since their government model doesn’t leave room for the spotted owl or the lawsuit, they will move very efficiently. 

And, if China is the visionary, the leader, the innovator, what do we have to offer?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the truth about war…..


I spent two hours last night watching “Restrepo”, a real life war movie/documentary placed in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.

Everything in the movie is real, the life, the death, the fighting, the fear, the laughter and the tears.  It is uplifting and devastating at the same time.

To see a real person killed in action, not by something blowing up, but by getting hit by a silent bullet, lying on the ground in a pool of blood, buddies around inconsolable, weeping, crying out, wanting anything but what is in front of them. It is more than anyone should bear.

This movie doesn’t judge.  It reveals.  It shows you that war isn’t a video game.  It shows you that war is day to day.  It shows you the camaraderie of fellow soldiers.  It shows you the bond of brothers in action.    

These people are young.  They are not monsters.  They are our sons, fighting a fight that isn’t of their making, but doing their best nonetheless.

“Restrepo” is worth seeing.