Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Gambler vs. The Business Man

Just about everybody, whether they like it or not, will remember Kenny Roger's best known song, "The Gambler". They will remember the song as much as anything, by the chorus;

You gotta know when to hold em,
Know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.

You never count your money,
While you're sittin at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin,
When the dealin's done.

I got to thinking about this as I read that over 80,000 more people were "let go" this week. Someone has to decide who gets to stay and who gets to go; which is the pretty much the business end of "knowin what to throw away and knowin what to keep." Kenny makes it sound easy, all you have to do is "read people's faces" and "know what their cards are by the way they held their eyes." That's pretty easy, just read their faces and decide. Some of these decisions are pretty easy others...well they can get tougher as you go.

Here's some examples of the easy decisions;
1. The guy who loads the truck and delivers product to your remaining customers. KEEPER
2. The guy or gal who makes the products for your customers. KEEPER
3. The person who takes customer orders for your products. KEEPER

I like these type of decisions for a couple of reasons; first, I like keeping people around, and these people who clearly and directly serve the customer - are the ones who nobody should ever try and do without. They are in many ways the backbone of the business, and the backbone of America. On the other hand, if business get's slow enough, even some of these will have to go.

Now let's try a tough decision;
A "continuous improvement project manager" who during the six months has improved cash flow for the business by over $1,000,000 and reduced actual expense by $150,000? Keep or Toss? Hold or Fold? Here is some additional information to help you make the decision:
  • Was saving $1 million in cash flow necessary? Not really.
  • Would the savings have occurred without the project manager? Probably not.
  • What is the annual return of this individual. Approx. 20 -1
  • Who will know if this individual is not there? No one of any import.

Your decision? If you said "toss or fold" you got it right. If you think the example I am writing about is me, you are also correct. Why does it make sense for my company to let me go? Simple, my efforts and results are reasonably hard to quantify, and no one will know that I am not there to produce these results in 2009 or thereafter.

One of the things that even I never figured out how to analyze is "the work that should be done, but is not done." More simply said, what is the cost of not doing something? Most people won't know or realize if the strategic plan is not updated, or if it the strat plan in place is not realistic. No one will ever know how much money could have, would have, or should have been saved in excess inventory was eliminated, excess warehouses closed, non-value-added activities eliminated, and customer processes streamlined. Honestly, since these things are not measured - no one knows what they are worth - not even me. This makes it easy to eliminate some positions and not others.

Am I bitter? I hope not, I consider myself a reasonably capable Poker Player, Business Man, and Entrepreneur. As such, I know that people fold the wrong hands and keep the wrong hands all the time, they hire and fire the wrong and right people all the time, and they buy and sell business at the right and wrong time. They / we do it all the time. That's part of what makes Poker such a great game. It's also part of life, which is another really great game. It's also why professional poker players, almost never show their cards when their opponent folds. It's best to keep everybody guessing.

All the best,


One more thought, I'll bet if Kenny's song had been about the Businessman instead of the gambler, it wouldn't have sold many records.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Criteria for a Dream Job

Over the last several weeks, I've been thinking about Dream Jobs and how to correctly define them. A number of my readers have sent me ideas on dream jobs, and I think it is time to lay down some criteria for defining what a dream job is.

The first company that got me thinking about a dream job, was when I saw an opening for Controller / CFO at S&S Cycle in La Crosse, Wisconsin. For those of you that do not know, S&S Cycle makes motorcycle engines and other components for custom bike builders, like Orange County Choppers, West Coast Choppers, Arlen Ness, etc. The company is 3rd generation family owned, founded by George and Marjorie Smith back in 1958. So what makes me think this a "dream job"?

1. I have been a motorcycle enthusiast since my early teens. I love just about every type of motorcycle every made. I love to look at, ride, and dream about bikes.

2. I am passionate about manufacturing; particularly U.S. manufacturing. I wish we had more products that could be made "cost effectively" in the U.S. And the situation with the U.S. automakers troubles me quite a bit.

3. Obviously, a company like S&S Cycle, will have a lot of machining going on. Machining is one of my favorite types of manufacturing. One of the best jobs I ever had was running the machining division of a major company.

4. I am certain that I have the skills to jump into a role like this and help the company grow and make more money. This is very important to me: I cannot be happy in a job unless I feel that I can make a full contribution. I have often said, that I would rather have an 80 hour a week job than a 20 hour a week job.

5. The fact that the company is privately held is also a good thing. That suggests that the company is far less bureaucratic that most corporations have to be. When I have worked with family-owned business in the past - the objective often were something like "how do we ensure that our grandchildren can come to work and make money here". That simplifies things a lot when you compare it to the thinking at many corporations which often is "what will we tell the board and stockholders this quarter?" Speaking of family owned the picture to the right here is artist Stefanie Azier-Sattler's impression of the founder George Smith. The picture was commissioned by S&S to commemorate their 50th anniversary in 2008. How cool is that? Click here to see more of her work.

6. The one last thing I would need to know to qualify this position at S&S Cycle as a dream job would be to meet the management team. With every job and every company it is important that you can feel a part of the team. Getting the "right chemistry" is critical to making a great contribution on a dream job.

So let me try and sum it up. To me a dream job needs to be
  • making products or providing services that you are passionate about,
  • in an industry that you love,
  • with processes you know and understand.
  • a position that enables you to make a significant contribution to the organization,
  • working with a team of like minded individuals to create the best company imaginable.

Will I ever work for S&S Cycle? Who knows? I am sure there are a lot of capable professionals, just like me, who would crawl on broken glass from Milwaukee to La Crosse for the opportunity. So the competition should be really tough. That is as it should be, when you have a great company like S&S - you have to be able to get great people to keep it great. Will I ever work for S&S Cycle? I don't know, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

And if I don't make the team at S&S Cycle, I am going to keep trying till I find something with all of the qualities of S&S.

All the best,


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What A Great Week for America!!!!

I never thought I would live to see this happen. This week in America has been extraordinary. This is truly a special time in our American history.

After years of being put down, ridiculed, and abused; they finally elected one of "us" to the highest office in the nation. Growing up in the south, I experienced the discrimination, I felt the pain. As a child of the sixties, I witnessed the protests and the suffering. During the seventies, I lived through the pains of de-segregation. But praise be to God, they finally elected one of "us"!

My black friends have asked me, in kind of a hesitating way.....Mike.... aren't you really a whitey? The honest answer is yes, I am a whitey and I am also prone to bad sunburn in the summer. I have asked God personally, to ensure that in my next life I am taller, and have a darker complexion so that I can go out to the beach in the summer without getting fried.

Many of my white friends have asked me, also, in a kind of hestitating way.....Mike ....are you from a "mixed family"? My answer is "yes we were pretty mixed up like most families are but No, I was born a very poor white boy child, to very "white" parents. But I was born to be "cool". And I am still cool and getting cooler." And so is our new President, Mr. Barack Obama!!!!! Cool is Cool. We finally got a "cool" president". I believe that we got a good guy up front and reppin for us now. We're gonna be alright. I believe! Please Pray for our new President, Barack Hussein Obama, his family, and his administration.
Can I please get an "AMEN"?
God Bless America.
All the best,

Help... Please Come by and Come Buy!!!

The changes around this joint are amazing. Here's a picture of our home 969 Lycomedes Cove in lovely suburban Cordova, TN.

1. You can now actually park a car in the garage!

2. There is only one bookshelf left in my office -some 1200 books have been shuttled elsewhere.

3. There is not a dirty pan in the kitchen.

4. No empty beer cans in my office.

5. No messy sink in my bathroom. I have to clean it every time I clean my face or hands.

6. Every toilet seat is down, and every toilet lid is closed. (this is very dangerous in at nite)

7. There is not a cob web in the house.

8. There are vacuum lines on the carpet everyday. (I put them there myself)

9. There are no stacks of mail or newspapers, anywhere.

10. I can't always find my shaving kit in the morning.

11. Hell, I have even washed off all the oil stains off the driveway from my old junk cars.

12. I routinely find myself in the backyard picking up Schnauzer poop.

I am living in a bubble. My term for this is the FSBO Bubble. Yep, you got it, the For Sale By Owner Bubble. We never know when someone will come by (or more hopefully when someone will come buy). So we are stuck in this perpetual cleaning, straightening mode. A good example of how extreme things have gotten is in the picture to the right. No, that is not a snap shot of a swanky blues club - that's what is left of my old office. It still works for me as a headquarters, and I did manage to keep my beer fridge; but other than that, most of good junk has been wiped out by the FSBO Bubble.

Here's a shot of our breakfast nook - Please don't get the idea that I come down in a pair of silk pajamas and have breakfast with Nancy here. We can't cook breakfast because it will mess up the kitchen and the breakfast nook. I'm going to remember this the next time I have to go and look for a new place to live. Things always look good, till you move in and have to live in a place.

We hosted an "Open House" last weekend. It was colder than a Brass Monkey. Guess what? For two days we didn't do anything, for fear of messing the house up and only one person came by - and it was our neighbor. I think I may need to do more work on my marketing efforts. Anyhow....

I need to get somebody to come by and come buy. Lettin Go of this house may be a little tougher than I thought. A big schlob like me can't last too long in a FSBO bubble.

All the best,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dream Jobs - Help from my friends

As you might recall from one of my previous posts "Dream Jobs; Can They Be Real?"

I have been suggesting that there are dream jobs out there, if we just take the time to define them and then go search them out. It's a good idea to have friends try and help you find dream jobs. Luckily for me, my friends are keeping their eyes wide open for that perfect job for "old mikey". One suggestion came in from my buddy Paul Hunter and the another one came from my buddy Big Ike Griggs in Austin, Texas. Both jobs provided lots of fresh air and offered a change of pace from my stuffy old job at International Paper.

My buddy, Paul Hunter from Australia sent me this lead.,28318,24901025-5014090,00.html

The job here is to live on Hamilton Island (just off the coast of Australia, on the barrier reef), scuba dive, clean the pool, collect the mail, live in luxury 3 bedroom house - job paid $150,000 per year. The offer went on to say that no experience was required. There really was only one catch with the job; when the Tourism Bureau of Queensland published ads for the job, there were so many responses it crashed the server. So as you can see the competition for some of these dream jobs can be pretty tough.

These days, the competition for any job seems pretty tough. Something like 3 million American's are out of work. Obama's plan is supposed to save us. That's why I think my timing is good. My job at IP officially runs out on March 2nd, which gives the Barack a few weeks on the job, before he has to come up with a plan to bail me out. But that's another story...for another time. Back to my friends helping me find dream jobs.

Now here's the other Dream Job I mentioned. So far its the only real prospect I have; working for my buddy Big Ike Griggs at Texas Slab Co. Big Ike says even though things have been a little slow in the concrete slab bidness lately; he could put me to work anyhow as a heavy equipment operator. I told Ike I didn't know how to operate heavy equipment. He assured me that it has always been the policy of the Texas Slab Company to provide every new employee with complete training and their own shovel. (See photo on right, Grandpappy Griggs demonstrating proper use of heavy equipment circa 1880.) He also, said that if I could make it through the first day; he'd furnish a pair of gloves. The only catch with this job was that the gloves had to be turned in every Friday. Seems there had been some problems with employees not coming back on Mondays - and taking the gloves. Big Ike says "its hard to get good help these days".

Obviously, not all dream jobs are created equal. Still it is good to have friends helping me to find my dream job.

All the best,

Monday, January 12, 2009

40 Acres and a Mule???

I was in the office to visit my “still current manager”, John V. Sims. Honestly, if any of you ever get a chance to meet John – you will find that he is a top-flight guy. John is an outstanding man, a graduate of the Naval Academy, and even though as he knows, I am not normally a fan of military academy grads – I am a huge fan of JVS. How many of you can say that you’re a huge fan of the guy who “let you go”? Well, in any case, I can – John is a great guy to work with or for; a great family man, a great American, and a guy that I am damn proud to know. John and I had a very productive meeting in which we talked about not only the future direction of the company; but even took time to discuss the future direction of yours truly, old Mike Roberts. John was extremely helpful in helping me gussy-up my resume – as I get ready to go into the future, “whatever it may be”.

Most of the time when we John and I meet, we share a cup of “Joe” (a cup of Joe is coffee, for those of you young sprouts). The phrase “cup of Joe” comes from Josephus Daniels, who when he was Secretary of the Navy, had all the booze taken off U.S Naval Vessels. Because of this,coffee became the strongest drink allowed aboard ship. And hence the phrase, “how bout a cup of Joe”. That would be a picture of Josephus just to right on your browser. Both John and I like coffee, and my greatgrandfather and grandfather both retired Navy. Dad kind of fouled things up by getting involved in a branch of the Navy, the United States Marine Corps. Still, John and I get along great.

Anyway, after our meeting I visited a few of my other buddies in the office, and found myself with my buddy Chris McAfee and my boss, John Sims on the elevator going down for lunch at the same time. I said to Chris looking at John, “Chris, right over there is my Abraham Lincoln. That is the man that set me free from my chains here at IP.”

We all laughed, – IP is anything but a slave driving outfit. The reality of my situation, is that I am a round peg, who was trying to fit in a square box for a long time. John and I both understand this – and that is why I feel so much better now that I am out exploring opportunities. On the other-hand;

This discussion of Abe Lincoln and emancipation kind of gave me a different perspective. Try this one out, imagine how the slaves must have felt when the “Emancipation Proclamation” was issued? I’ll bet they were not a lot different from me. The first response is “Thank God I am out of this mess.” But the second response could easily be “Oh My God, what am I going to do now?” I can’t speak for those freed in 1865, but in my case the 40 acres offered me is “the whole world to choose from” but looking at it another way, “I am the mule and the mule operator” and me and the mule have to decide which way to go and what to plow. And whatever, me and the mule come up with – we gotta "learn to live with it or live without it” as my dear old pappy used to say.

And its not just where and what to plow; but what seeds to plant, and how to get seeds and pay for them? So am I free? Yes, I am free to choose what’s next and free to achieve the rewards or accept the consequences for my choices. Honestly, I think there maybe a lot of misunderstanding of "freedom" in this country. A famous Texas Blues Singer, Janice Joplin, sang these words (but fellow Texan Kris Krisopherson wrote them) "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose", but that is a negative way to look at life. A better way to phrase it is "Freedom is just another word for lots of things to choose, and everything to gain".
Here's hoping that all of your choices lead to happy consequences and....

Thanks a lot Abraham and John; you too Kris and Janice,

All the best,

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Luck City Limits

Willie Nelson created and lives in a town called “Luck, Texas”. Basically, from Willie’s point of view it was “ either you’re in Luck, or you’re out of out of Luck.” And many times it is that way, but on the other hand the “Luck City Limits Boundaries” are subject to move at any time. I saw this happen a few weeks back.

I was in town this week for the Omaha, Texas Christmas Parade, which was held on Sunday, December 10th, 2008. Anyhow, so on the Monday following this wonderful parade, I was killing a little time and heading over to my Sister’s Flower Shop in Daingerfield. Somehow, I wound up following a real estate sign which lead me down some strange roads in Northeast Texas. These roads kept getting narrower, and narrower. From 2 lane black-top….all the way down to one lane dirt road. The area was looking very swampy….lots of mud off the road, looked like you get stuck in a bog anytime you fell off or drove off the road. The road got more and more narrow, and it was just about at its most narrow junction when I thought that I saw something out of the corner of my eye. My first thought was that it was a dead deer. My second thought was that it was a dead dog. My final guess was that it was one or the other or both.

I had to stop the truck and go back to see what I thought I had saw. As I backed the truck up the road, I saw what I thought I had seen….a dog, lying by the side of the road – shivering – starving; and honestly – waiting to die.You could see every bone in his body – you could see that he had escaped from a chain and rope around his neck, by starving himself down; until he could escape the leash. He couldn’t even run, Hell, he couldn’t even walk and didn’t even growl. I thought about the possibilities of rabies and then kind of decided “ what the heck”? I slipped my arms up under his front and back legs: he was just a bag of bones and completely weak. He had been without any food for a long while, he didn’t have many choices. So he allowed me to load him into the back of my truck. As is so often true in my case, I did not have a plan, but I knew anything I could come up with was better than dieing of starvation in cold muddy ditch. Me and this desperate mutt took the roads on down to my Sister’s Flower Shop. On the way there, I came up with a good name for him ---Outta Luck Chuck.

We got to the flowershop and I went in the back door and said "DeAnna, I have a major problem”. She said,“Mike, I have heard this shit before” – don’t joke with me. I said, “I am not joking, look in the truck. ” (One of the problems of being a joker, is even when you aren't joking - everyone still things you are) When I opened the rear door, DeAnna saw the abandoned dog; I asked her what I should do with it and with tears in her eyes, she said “Shoot it, I am not getting stuck with another dog!”

I explained that I was not asking her to take the dog, I was only asking her what should I do next with this stray dog. She said, “go get him some food, and I will make him a bed.” That just one of the many things I love about my sister, DeAnna; when sometimes things seem unclear to me about what the long term plan should be, she just knuckles down on what needs to be done right now. So me and Outta Luck Chuck – headed down to the local grocery store and got a large sack of dog food, and a couple of cans of Alpo.

On returning to the shop – I found that my sister had made a bed for Chuck in the back with a cardboard box and old towels. She had also set out a fresh bucket of water and a bowl for the food that I would get for Chuck. Speaking of food – I opened the bag of “Purina Beneful” poured it in the bowl and put a little bit of the Alpo on top. It didn’t take Chuck long to get started. Chuck, may have been weak – but he wasn’t too weak to wag his tail. I don’t think I have ever seen a dog so happy to have a bit of food.

Life was getting a little better for Chuck – in less than an hour from the time I found him – his station in life had improved from “unknown starving dog on the side of the road” to “Dog with a new name, a dry bed, a bowl of food, and a bucket of fresh water”. After he ate a bit, Chuck started roaming around in back of the shop and made his way over to the gas station next door. I was worried that he might get hit by a car – but when I thought about it – I realized that at least if he did get hit by a car he would have had one good meal before he died.

Finally, Chuck wandered back to the front of the flower shop – and I couldn’t leave him there – he was so pitiful he would scare off any potential customers. About then Linda, who works at the shop after she gets off from her regular job at the school called her husband Monte. Monte came by and took one look at Chuck – loaded him up in his truck and took him home.So that’s the story – from starving on the side of the road without much of a hope – to having a nice home, dry bed, food, and a loving family all in one day. Like Willie says, you’re either “in Luck or Outta Luck” but remember the Luck City Limits are subject to change at any time.

P.S.I got an update on Outta Luck Chuck last week, he is doing well, you can’t count all of his ribs anymore, and he has a new name, BD. BD, of course is the abbreviation for “brown dog”; by I have also changed his name – I think I'll just call him Lucky.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

To All Followers, Friends, and Whatever

If you are not a regular here, I welcome you to look at some of the random thoughts I have sent into cyber-space. For those of your who are more regular....I must say that.... I appreciate all of your comments.....I know that a lot of you take time to at least look at this journal....which is what it is...sort of a journal of random thoughts that I have...

So thanks again for just coming here....and thanks for being a friend of mine...and thanks for your comments. I wish all of you all the best...


Dream Jobs - Could they be Real???

My buddy, Paul Starks wrote me a nice note a few days ago. Paul left International Paper to join the Caterpillar group. Man, is that a great company, and Paul is a great guy. I am sure he belongs there. Paul asked me "What are you doing next?" And as most of you may have guessed, the answer is "I don't have a clue."

However......I have been thinking; and I'd like for you to think with me. Have you ever contemplated your dream job? The best job in the world for you that really "feeds ur needs?" To be honest, I have never thought about the "dream job" too much, because I was more focused on what i believed to be a more practical matter called "making a living". On the other hand, what if dream jobs do exist? And what if we fail to explore the possibilities? I say, shame on me, shame on you, and shame on all of us if we don't try and find them. Let me give you an example.

To the right of this you'll see a picture of Megan's Bay in St. Thomas. Gorgeous beach. Beautiful weather. Wonderful people. I was there this year, and pulled into the local bar to have a drink and enjoy the scenery. The bartender was a guy named John. John, was clearly from the Midwest U.S. and so I asked him, turned out he was from Nebraska. John graduated from the University of Nebraska and immediately left on vacation to St. Thomas. He had two bags with him, when he left from Lincoln. John got busy, asking around and landed a job tending bar here on Megan's beach. He's been here for almost a decade. John, has now accumulated a couple of cars, a boat, but still lives in an apartment here on the island.
And everything is not so good according to John. You see when I visited John, his girlfriend had just left and gone back to the "states". John felt sad about this. Somehow, I didn't get it. I asked John, "Can you give me your requirements?" He said, "requirements for what?". I said, for a new girlfriend, " I can start lining up new candidates for you right away, the beach is full of good candidates". Swear to God, I saw at least 100 good candidates!
Works out that John, was still recovering from some kind of "heartbreak", but I think you get my point. "How bad would it be to be a bar tender at one of the world's most beautiful beaches?" How hard would it be to find a replacement "girl friend" in St. Thomas. If I were John, I might change girl friends more often than I change shirts. Only joking, Nancy, Ouch! By the way, I am sending this blog to John, in case he wants to leave his position - I would happily suffer with its inconveniences - at least for a while.
Maybe for some of you bar tending on Megan's Bay in St. Thomas might not be your dream job - but whatever your dream job is you have to do what John did - you have to go after it; stick your neck out a little and try. As my old buddy, Kevin Hinz once told me, if we don't at least try, our chances are 100% for failure. Kevin, is right - we can't afford to take that chance - we might get lucky.
The way I see it; I've got some time to define and find my "dream job", I'll have to get pretty hungry before I settle for less. I say, "Let's go!"
All the best,

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My First Landslide

Since, my previous post was on the "landslide results from my picture poll" I was reminded of another landslide I particpated in back '75. Here ya go...

Back in 1975 the Republican Party managed to have an exciting new candidate in the race for the nomination for President his name was Ronald Reagan. After all of the problems of the Nixon Administration, including the Vietnam War and Watergate – Reagan brought a refreshing view of America. He made us believe that America was still a great country and that we could take part in making it even better.

I was a junior in college at East Texas State University, and this was my first opportunity to vote. My brother-in-law, Michael Eugene Falls, was a staunch supporter of Reagan and so was I. So when the primary election rolled into Morris County – I drove from Commerce, Texas and Mike Falls drove in from Texarkana and we cast our 2 votes for Reagan.

It was the following week when my home town paper, The Naples Texas Monitor, published the results of the election – and guess what? Reagan had carried Morris County by a landslide; four votes for Reagan and only two votes for Gerald Ford. Mike Falls and I were the swing voters!!!

Well, as you know, Gerald Ford won the Republican Nomination that year and Jimmy Carter won the Presidential Election. But in Morris County, two votes by two very young men made a small difference. Hell, it would have been a "dead heat" if we hadn't of voted.

Four years later, it would be a different story, when Ronald Reagan would go on to win the Presidential election by a real landslide. He was a great American and a great President. In fact, I believe that the World is a better place because of Ronald Reagan.

God Bless Ronald Reagan. And whatever you do – vote – especially if there are only 6 other voters.


Michael W. Roberts
Cordova, Tennessee

P.S. This story was previously printed in my home town paper, The Naples Monitor. I am pretty sure that there are records that will document this story. As all of the readers of the Naples, Texas Monitor know, the Monitor never lies and neither do I.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year ! It's a Landslide

Well, with lesss than two hours to go, it appears to be a landslide in my previous post on which guy looks happier. 80 Percent of registered voters agreed that my IP picture really looked like a guy who had a corn cob shoved up his (_l_). Scroll Up to see the IP Photo.

In many ways this is unfortunate, to find out that for the last 6 years I have been walking around, looking like I had a corn cob shoved up my (_l_); however at least now that I have discovered this, I can take corrective action. Beginning, next week - this blog will be sporting the "new old look" instead of "the corn cob up the arse" look!

Thanks for your input...and all the best and Happy New Year to all of You!