Lessons From Ireland

We have just about made it all the way around the island of Ireland. We went into Northern Ireland yesterday, another country, and wow just when I thought Ireland was expensive, Northern Ireland is even more expensive. By the way, the history of Ireland is very interesting, especially the fact that Northern Ireland, which is predominately protestant decided to stay connected with England. However, no matter how much money I have spent here, I have to say it has been a wonderful experience. The people have been great, and the country is lovely.

The sayings of the people are lovely. Thanks a million is great! Lovely! How you doing! And I have heard top of the morning to you, once in Dubln. But the one thing that I have seen in the people is a passion for living and relationships.

The editorials in the newspaper are very passionate. They care about their opinions and beliefs. They care about each other, and are very family oriented. It is quite refreshing. I saw that in Thomas a gentleman I played golf with in Ballinrobe. We were discussing Irish entitlements and why Ireland is going broke and he was quite passionate with his response.

The fact is Ireland has an entitlement system that is incredible. According to Thomas, and later Kevin who I met at Rosses Point in a restaurant, the Irish receive a child allowance. Depending on how many children they have a family could receive a monthly check from the government of 600 Euros. This equates to about $10,800 US. This amount is not based on how much one makes. A person making six figures would get the same amount. On top of this it is tax free. Thomas told me about housing allowances, energy allowances, etc. There are some Irish who are receiving about 30,000 Euros in entitlements. This works out to be about $45,000 US, tax free. A few days ago there were protests in Dublin about the government’s desire to eliminate the child benefit. But the fact is the Irish, who’s GDP is much smaller than ours, has a huge deficit when it comes to revenue coming into the country and entitlements going out to the people.

Another issue in Ireland is the lack of productivity. Many of the stores open at 10am. This is not a bad thing per se, but they also close around 5pm. They are only open for 7 hours. The only things open longer than that are the pubs. But why would any one have to work more, they get 30,000 per year in entitlements?

Another lesson from Ireland came from a gentlemen named Kevin. I was sitting in a restaurant having a cup of coffee when he and I started talking. He was a doctor and had just fired an employee. The employee worked well for 10 years, but for some reason started missing time and not doing her work. He tried for several months to find out why but she would not talk, etc. He finally had to come to an agreement with her about a termination price. He said it cost him 13,500 Euro’s to dismiss her for poor performance. He had to pay her off so he could fire her for not doing her job.

As much as I get irritated about the US and our problems, I still think we are the greatest country in the world. We do need to find an equilibrium with entitlements. We can’t have 46 million people without healthcare. We also need to provide opportunities for people to move out of low income jobs, if they want to. As much as I hate the thought of paying more taxes, I think we need to. And I hate the fact that an employer can fire someone for just being old, obviously they do it in a manner that would not be considered illegal in the courts.

We need to deal with these issues now, not in August when our credit rating goes down. We need to be proactive and creative. We are not Greece or Ireland, we are the richest nation in the world that leads the world in innovation. Why don’t we start acting like it and solve our problems creatively. Lets show these Europeans what it means to be great!

And that is my thought for the day from Ireland!

Nation Building

Here I am sitting in a bed and breakfast in Limerick, Ireland. My wife and I are wondering why we agreed to 2 1/2 weeks of traveling in Ireland. This has been a tough trip. Lots of rain today, and very narrow roads. On the other hand, we have met so many wonderful people, both from Ireland and the USA. There is a woman staying at the same B&B from Miami. We met some folk in Adare today from Colorado. We met Joseph who was an accountant in Cork, Ireland now retired and helping his wife run a B&B, and we have met Thomas who is running our current B&B while his wife is in England helping their daughter. Traveling is good and bad. As you get older, travel gets tougher on your body. You need to be in shape to travel. Enough of the whining about travel, this is a blog about business.

I have a growing fondness for the Irish Times, the main paper here. It tells it like it is. I love the passion that is displayed in the editorials, especially about the Irish government. But I also like what I can learn from the Times about us, the good old US of A. My favorite editorialist is Lara Marlowe. She has an article in today’s paper entitled “Obama turns focus to nation-building . . . at home.” In this article she refers to the recent announcement by President Obama to remove 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan. She pointed out that the body language of the President gave the indication that he would have rather been upstairs having a pillow fight with his daughters than making the announcement.

Obama is walking a very thin tightrope between the needs of the Afghans and whether we can trust Karzi, and all of us who want the US out of there as quickly as possible. So this decision to start with 10,000 by the end of this year, and then 23,000 by the end of next summer is huge. Obama is attempting to manage the situation the best that he can. He has a plan, and is attempting to organize the people involved to save lives and meet the plan. He is moving to a more centrist position to better hear both sides of the issue, and subsequently lead the parties involved to higher levels of performance. And lastly, he is trying to find those measurements, controlling mechanisms, to determine how fast to move.

This is what management is all about. Plan, organize, lead and control are the four functions of management. They are all critical for the success of any endeavor. Jeff Immelt is attempting to run GE. McNerney is trying to run Boeing, and Mullaly is attempting to direct Ford. They are all using the same tools to some extent as Obama is trying to use in Afghanistan. In this case I hope Obama is extremely successful due to the high level of risk in the death of our soldiers.

And that is my thought for the day from Ireland!

European Opinion

It has been interesting to read the news from a European perspective. An example of this would be the US Open Golf Tournament. Steve Sticker who and Rory walks on water. It is actually nice to get the cultural flavor of Ireland while staying up on what is happening in the world. Today two articles stood out, and gave me a sense of our diminishing reputation in the world.

The first article discussed the US obsession with addiction. I drew an accurate conclusion that this pastime has created a huge rehab industry. I am probably making a generalization about Europeans, but they like to generalize about us by what happens to our politicians, such as Weiner, and celebrities, such as Sheen. Lara Marlowe in her editorial stated, ‘that in the old days, it was called sin. Today it is addiction. Americans are addicted to alcohol, food, the internet, gambling, sex. . . America is addicted to addiction.’

Marlowe goes on to say that Americans believe that no matter how many times we fall we can start over. On the one hand I think redemption is a wonderful thing, we can start over, but I also hope we learn from what others are saying about us. Instead of eating too much, texting too much, or having too much sex, why don’t we develop some slef-discipline? Rather than make a mistake why don’t we prepare so we don’t give in to the temptation? What novel idea.

The second article discussed US need to redefine its foreign policy. Patrick Smith pontificated on the waning days of outright US hegemony, and proposes that America needs to reappraise its global role. It really was an interesting article, and I can’t say I disagree with him. In 1946 we were the only game in town, but that has changed. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) is now becoming prominent, while Germany is an economic powerhouse, and the EU collectively has a larger GDP than the US. So we are not the global leaders we once were.

Another interesting comment was how Smith felt about the Obama entourage. He felt that they were ‘cut off the same cloth as the neo-conservatives who surrounded Bush. The fact is that after many years of US global leadership we can no longer afford to police the world. Europe recognizes this, but I think they may need to be weened off of our presence.

As an individual you can learn a lot about yourself by listening to others. I am not saying that one’s self-esteem should rely on what people think about you, but I think one needs to be self-aware and situationally sensitive. What do others say about us and do we need to adjust our behavior accordingly.

I really think that Americans need to be more self-disciplined. That, as some would say, is a given. America is struggling with obesity because we can’t push ourselves away from the table. We are addicted to food and other things. It may be beneficial to listen to the critics.

Also, we are no longer the world’s policemen. This is not to say that we should not be a world leader, we do have the world’s largest individual GDP, at least until China overtakes us in a decade, and deserve to be at the table. However, we are just one country among many in this world, and can learn from what others are saying about us. Or maybe we are a bunch of Jersey Shore individuals. I would like to have the Situation’s abs.

And that is my thought for the day from Ireland!

Our Leaders Can Learn From the Irish

Just to let you know I am in Dublin, Ireland. We arrived today  and look forward to spending two weeks here enjoying the country. In order to stay conencted with what is going on in the rest of the word I picked up an Irish Times to see what I am missing. The news over here is similar, but with an EU slant. However, the management issues seem to be the same. What gave me the clue was the editorials dealing with Ireland’s austerity plans and the need for the EU to step up to help deal with the financial problems that Ireland is having.

But what was refreshing to me is the Irish leaders aren’t looking for just a bailout. They are attempting to do the right thing to get back on their feet. Taoiseach, a government leader in Ireland, stated in today’s paper that European leaders must step up to the mark, put aside their domestic agendas and support countries like Ireland which were working toward economic recovery. But he also goes on to say that Ireland is being responsible.

Taoiseach goes on to recognize that no other Irish government has dealt with the complex problems that are currently occuring. But what I like about this guy he states, ‘This is a financial crisis. It is not a sociopolitical experiment to see how far the Irish people can be pushed.’ The financial decisions are not just business they are personal. People are affected.

Another thing I like about the Irish government is the fact that it has restored the minimum wage, ‘because there is a threshold of decency which we will honour.’ Maybe managers in the US should think about this? Has basic decency and human care been eliminated from how we do business? I hope not!

And that is my thought for the day from Ireland!

You Gotta Love Those Managers

I remember a few years ago when Circuit City got rid of their top performing sales personnel. I guess they wanted to reduce expenses, but the problem was they lost sales too, and now are out of business. I have always viewed that as one of the all time managerial decision mistakes. However, I have found a new one. It just happened Sunday, and it involves Marie Callender.

Marie Callender used to have a restaurant in Hazel Dell, Washington. However, many years ago it sold out and is now the Peach Tree. The only Marie Callender still in the area would be in Gresham. Their pies are fantastic, but their business decisions leave a little to be desired.

It appears that employees at Marie Callender restaurants across Washington State have lost their jobs without warning. It also appears that all customers in these restaurants were told to leave. The Columbian tells the story of a Kathy Labay and her family that were in a Marie Callender’s in Northgate. They had 25 family members in the banquet hall celebrating a family event. Upper management called the store manager and told them that at 3pm they were to tell all customers to leave and then tell the employees they no longer had a job. Many of who were with the chain for 11 years.

There is more to the story. The company had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday. Key creditors had agreed to a reduction of the huge debt load the company held, as well as the new streamlined operation. The leadership blamed the economy for their problems.

Alright, I can see blaming the economy, we are in a tough time. But, not allowing your customers to finish their meal? I wonder if they charged them for the meal? Not giving your employees any prior notification? That is heartless. The employees will receive a paycheck on Wednesday. Again, a business decision that incompetent managers made without recognizing the personal nature of the decision. Employees and customers, who are people, were impacted by this decision.

I think we need another popular movie that managers are the antagonist, because they certainly are in real life.

And that is my thought for the day!

Job Creation

Everybody is talking about job creation. Unemployment is currently at 9.8%. I have been saying for months that we will need to live with a higher level of normal unemployment due to the structural change of work in the United States. The entry level work that used to be accomplished by low skill workers and summer help have transferred to other areas of the world. What economists call the natural level of unemployment may be closer to 7 to 8% now, rather than the 4-6% discussed in the past.

In support of this argument, there are two million open jobs that require advanced manufacturing skills. Companies have not been able to hire anyone for these jobs because of the lack of the appropriate skills. These companies need to partner with school systems to ensure there is a work force available for the type of work needed to be done.

The fact is we need a flexible workforce that can adapt to a changing environment. Great words, but what do they mean? Jeff Immelt and Jim McNerney have been tasked by President Obama to figure out how to compete in this new environment. The Jobs and Competitiveness Council include leaders from 26 private-sector companies, who are supposed to develop a strategy, quickly. Today, Monday June 13th, these leaders are presenting a progress report to President Obama.

What I like about this council is they are taking a holistic approach to the problem. They recognize that the world has changed and we cannot go back to the way it used to be. We will never make tennis shoes in the US again. However, we will make airplane parts, Boeing found that out the hard way. But the question is, what are the recommendations? I already told you the first one, train workers for today’s open jobs. But what are the rest?

The administrative policies of the Federal government and many individual states need to change. An example of this involves construction projects. Immelt states, “Cut red tape so job-creating construction and infrastructure projects can move forward.” Makes sense to me. The administrators are only concerned about their fiefdoms, whereas if people are put back to work tax revenue will increase.

With the weakening of the dollar the ability to get a good deal in the US is excellent. It is less expensive for Europeans to visit here than it is for us to go there. Therefore, more tourists could be visiting us. However, governmental policy has an impact on this. Visas can be hard to get, so the recommendation is to streamline the tourist visa process. This could lead to an opposing initiative with homeland security.

The last area I think is interesting is the facilitation of small business loans. Although many small businesses fail, the fact is 67% of all first time jobs are provided by small businesses. Years ago small businesses employed about 52% of the workforce, I am not too sure what that is now, but small businesses are critical to the growth needed to put the US back on its feet.

We all have an opinion about what needs to be done about our situation. We need to put people back to work. I hope these smart people do their job and come up with some solutions. But I also home our politicians decide to leave Twitter and do something about the problems instead creating more.

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons from Crazy Horse

The last two years I have had the opportunity to travel to the PineRidge Reservation in South Dakota. I have met many wonderful people there, saw some beautiful country, and served the community. I usually buy a book or two back there to learn about the Lakota people. This year I bought two, the first looked at the person Sitting Bull, one of the most famous Lakota chiefs in history. The second explores the person of Crazy Horse, another famous chief.

Crazy Horse had a nick name as a child, he was called Light Hair, due to the fact that his hair was lighter than the other Lakota males. As the son of a medicine man he had many opportunities to learn the lessons of life from mentors. One in particular is appropriate for managers.

Crazy horse was told this by one of these mentors, “The family of a good hunter looks well fed. . . They wear fine clothes because he takes deer and elk so the women can tan the hides and sew them into shirts and dresses and make moccasins. The family of a poor hunter is thin, with worn clothes because there are no hides to sew. What do you want everyone to say about how you provide for your family.”

I read this in the book The Journey of Crazy Horse, and I was amazed. There is an application to the modern Lakota. Many of the men cannot find work, and therefore cannot provide for their families. Is there any wonder why alcoholism and drug abuse is so rampant on the Rez?

But there is also an application to the modern manager. What do you want everyone to say about your company? Is it an ethically sound company? Are your employees happy? What about your customers? Community? Are you providing a return to your investors? As a manager are you a good hunter or a poor hunter? It will show.

Many companies are run by poor hunters. The return is weak, costs are out of control, and employees are exploited. Because the manager  is selfish and only wants to provide for his(her) self, they decide to lower costs by moving operations overseas where labor cost are cheaper. As soon as they have exploited the current host country they move to the next. These poor hunters rape the land and kill all the buffalo, resulting in a company that is thin, one that is wearing worn clothes that provide little protection for the winter.

However, there are other companies that are run by good hunters. They manage their resources well, they find new product or service lines, and they take care of their employees, which means they take care of their customers too. The clothes are new, and the company has enough to eat.

I really want to be a good hunter. I want to provide so that everyone sees a well cared for family or company. How about you?

And that is my thought for the day!