Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Putting first things first

I heard a man say once upon a time that there is only one job wherein you start at the top. That is 'digging a hole.' It is hard to argue with such logic. On any project we first have to lay some plans and then put all the elements in place one by one.

The third habit of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is putting first things first. There are building blocks to life. Some of us come by them naturally. If you are a great mother or father, then chances are that you were raised by a great mother or father.

My son at this very moment is the criminal investigations lead on a tragic murder this morning in a neighboring county. He got the call at 4:00 AM to go to investigate this murder scene. It was a double homicide wherein a 62 year old man was killed along with the boyfriend of his daughter who was also attacked. This all according to WCTV reports. There was a little one year old child present. The presumed perpetrator has been arrested and imprisoned. One has to wonder how in the world something like this occurs. This action is duplicated many times over, every day across this land of ours. Something has gone terribly wrong in the setting of priorities in the lives of these people. It pains me that my son has to wade in to try and find patterns in a crime of this nature. He did, however, go through an immense amount of preparation to be in a position to do this sort of work. He had to attend a law enforcement academy and seek statewide certification and then put in many hours of his life in climbing the ladder of experience to become a detective.

There are building blocks with every occupational pathway. I have always found that one of the most effective ways to get along in life with others is to place others first. I used to be a disciple of Zig Ziglar the famous pitch man, positive thinking guru. He said that in order for you to get what you want, predominately in sales, was to help other people get what they want.

The Master said " The first shall be last and the last shall be first." When I think of that scriptural declaration I cannot help but think of a man whose name I do not even know. It goes back to the air crash of an Air Florida jet flying out of Washington that went into the Potomac river in the dead of winter. There were many boats and helicopters quickly to the aid of the victims. There was one man who when he was handed the end of a rope to save himself, quickly handed it to a lady who was in the water with him. He did not even know her name. As she was being hauled to safety he slipped under the water to his death.

I can agree that this particular habit is a tough one. It entails overcoming our inherent selfish nature. I cannot think of anything more difficult to do. However to master this habit surely sets us apart from the rest of the herd.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Begin with the end in mind

The second habit of highly effective people as presented in Steven Covey's book the Seven Habits is " begin with the end in mind." Now just how does that apply? I remember when I worked as a lowly clerk in the dairy industry we had office memo pads that said " Plan your work and work your plan. "

How much time do you spend planning? For thirty years I was required by my management to submit goals and objectives to my manager at the start of every new business year. There were check points along the way that were called sub-objectives. I still do that at the beginning of each year. Only now they stop with me the CEO of my own little company. It does help to set some stepping stones along the way. Education, certification, social mixing.

I wonder if people ever set as a goal: " I want to be an abject failure in life." I suppose that is a pretty silly thought. I think that people simply fail to plan. You know the old saw. " Fail to plan and plan to fail."

Somtimes people are just destined to fall short from their birth. As in the case of 3rd and 4th generation welfare recipients. My wife is a former social worker. She worked for the old HRS division Aid to Families With Dependent Children. There were and are people who criticize welfare recipients as sorry, lazy, low-down, trash. That always made my wife a little miffed because she actually went into the homes of these people and saw the conditions of their lives. There were little children who literally would go hungry were it not for the State of Florida's monthly check.

There is a story told about two brothers. One of them was a very successful businessman who rose to weighty responsibility with the Fortune 400 company he worked for thirty years. He lived well and had a lovely and successful family. The other brother was a drug addicted former convict. His family lived in poverty. His children became either drug addicts or alcoholics and a couple of them went to prison like their Father. A reporter became interested in the contrast between these brothers. He interviewed both of them independently. The successful brother started the interview by saying, " My Father was an alcoholic and I wanted to do better......................." The other brother started by saying, " My Father was an alcoholic and that paved the way for my failure.................."

Isn't that interesting? I believe that the primary difference between those two brothers was that one of them set goals and the other just got up every day and putzed about willy nilly.

Goals must be realistic. How many people do you know that never got married because their goal was to marry Miss America? or Kirk Douglas or the actor du jour? You may want to be president of the United States. Might you settle for being the president of the Little League or your neighborhood association?

The bottom line on all this is that you must visualize yourself accomplishing some specific goal. I want to get married. Perhaps it would be a good idea to start to date people. I want to be a surgeon. Perhaps it would be a good idea to get into medical school. You get the general idea. No revelations in this post. Just a recant of a very solid and specific management approach. Begin with the end of mind.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Be Proactive

I BLOG today about the first habit of Steven Covey's blockbuster book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book lies on the little table at the head of my bed and has for years. In my opinion it is one of the most effective books ever written on managing yourself as well as managing a team or running a corporation.

It was precisely nine years ago that I sat at my desk at home and had a nice conversation with a lady with Human Resources of Bristol-Myers-Squibb telling me that I no longer had a job there. They had purchased our division from DuPont and had decided that they did not need any of the managers in my sector any longer. It is an oft repeated scenario in corporate America. They treated me kindly with severance pay, health care and outplacement counseling. I had worked for them for thirty years. They had helped me raise my family, kept a roof over their heads and educate them.

Now what? I was 55 years of age, male and a non-minority. I learned a lesson very quickly. No one and I do mean NO ONE wanted to help me. Most of the people that I had helped to get jobs, get hired as consultants, mentored, advised and otherwise forwarded their careers, would not even return my phone calls and e-mails. Some few did and I actually had a handful of interviews. The lesson hit home impactfully. No one wanted to hire someone who knew more than they did and had accomplished more than they had in their own careers. My resume' was killer. I had done a lot of impressive things. I could not dampen it and misrepresent who I was.

I quickly learned that " If it was to be, then it was up to me." I decided that I would become a Realtor. Hah, what a revelation. There were almost 3,000 realtors in the Tallahassee area in that day and time. If you do the math you make the following conclusion: Tallahassee had a population of approximately 300,000 in those days. If they lived 4 to a home then that would make 75,000 homes in our town. Let's assume that 50% of them owned homes. So that makes 37,500 homes that could possibly be marketed. So the conclusion is that there was already one realtor for every 13 homes in Tallahassee. Now those are some tough odds. Currently there are about 1200 agents covering Tallahassee.

Last year I was in the top 13 percentile of realtors by volume of sales in the Tallahassee market. That is to say that 87% of those licensed as realtors in our town sold less than I did. My brokerage sole proprietorship stood at #99 in sales volume. There are 367 brokerages. I have been successful in this gig. How did I do it? Simply stated I was proactive.

Major premise: No one gives a damn about you in the employment world. Minor premise: You have to be your own advocate. You have to re-invent yourself. You must take the skills and knowledge you have accumulated over the years and find a way to ply them to your advantage. That is just what I did.

I would say that one of the most important aspects of being proactive is to promote your self at every opportunity. As you can tell by the timber of this BLOG I have no problem doing that. You cannot accomplish this self promotion in a vacuum. You have to get amongst the people. Join a club, take up a hobby involving others, if nothing else go to the mall and just speak to people. Take some classes, volunteer at the hospital, etc.

As you meet people don't be shy about telling them about yourself. Develop a little "Me in 30 seconds" speel. Ask people about their jobs. Get their cards. Ask if they would mind if you send them a resume'? As you do all this you are building a network. That network will work for you.

Get up to speed on any phase of technology that you are weak in. Smart phones, computers, internet, and so forth. Post up on Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, My Space, etc. Post onto them often. BLOG. Create yourself a website. You can do this for free. Link all your social networks onto your website. If you Google "Tallahassee+realtor" you will get 513,000 hits. I will come up in the top 30. Why? Because of all that I just described to you. All that stuff combines to give you a better web presence.

How do you become successful in your campaign? The same way a dark horse wins a political office. Constant promotion. Staying on message and never giving up.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Peace that surpasseth understanding

This is Maggie. She came to live with us Christmas of 2005. She was a catharsis for my wife, Nancy, whose only two grandchildren were moving 200 miles away from us as their Dad was beginning a medical residency. She was the cutest little 8 week old puppy ever. She won her way into all of our lives. She was playful and frisky and loved everyone who came within her reach, instantly. She was my walking partner and constant shadow. She saw me through a very hard time almost exactly a year ago when my wife was in a health crisis. I would leave and be at the hospital all day long and then return home sometimes late at night. She was always deliriously happy to see me and anxious to hear all about how her mama was doing and when was she coming home.

She was a lazy sort, like myself. She loved to roll over on her back and put her feet up on the entertainment cabinet/bookshelf whilst I was in my recliner and soon we would both be snoring. Often I would awaken to find that she had matriculated to lie by the side of my recliner so that when I would awaken I would have easy access to her ears or belly both of which she loved to have scratched and rubbed.

To be with her brought a sense of peace and contentment that is hard to describe. The love of a dog is like listenting to music that you love. It strikes some sort of harmony within your soul. Dogs never speak to us but they communicate in a way that must be very much like how spirits communicate to one another. It is like how you can look at your wife and know exactly what she is thinking. How you can hold a baby and feel like there is no other physical connection on earth more important than that one at that particular moment.

Maggie left us yesterday through a pool accident that caused her to drown. I had carelessly left the kiddie gate unlatched to the pool and she got in and must have walked out on the pool cover and slipped underneath it. My poor wife called me while I was golfing with my son Drew and told me that she could not find Maggie. She drove the neighborhood as I connected the dots as to what happened. I left the course and my son followed me home and I found her right where I thought she would be. I will carry the image of her right there for the rest of my life. When she needed me most I was off playing. Because of my negligence her life ended. Had I only had that gate locked she would still be here with us.

I know that she harbors no malice towards me. She is incapable of such. I just came from taking her remains to our veterinarian. She will be cremated and we will bury her remains in our back yard along with Pokey and Cleo. My soul is in turmoil. I cannot stop weeping. However, I know that there will come a time quickly when my mind will rest and my soul will be soothed. I will experience that peace that surpasseth understanding. It is provided for us by an all loving Saviour who accounts for all living emotion and experience. He provides us the ability to live within our relative scope of inadequacy. His grace will spill out and wash over me and I will return to vitality and wholeness.

I will miss my little Maggie. I did love her so,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leaving out the trial lawyers

I read today in the Tallahassee Democrat an article with the headline: Drug company increases cost of a drug to prevent premature birth from $10 to $1500. Now that sort of headline gets your attention.

The article is about a drug called progesterone which is used to slow down a woman's potential for premature labor during pregnancy. The drug has apparently a history of efficacy and use. It seems that no one in the US manufactured this drug until recently. Prior use has been off label and compounding pharmacists have been making the product for use by physicians by orders from physicians.

Now enters the pharmaceutical company Ther-Rx Corp. They are the blokes who have taken on the manufacture of this obscure drug to benefit a handful of patients in a specific condition only relating to high risk pregnancies.

It is interesting to me that no mention is made in the complete article about the mill costs, start up costs, cost of studies and the big one LIABILITY. It always seems that our friends the trial attorneys are never made mention of. I am here to tell you that the fear of getting sued by the local attorney du jour on the occassion of tragic side effects or outcomes looms large in this scenario. Any company entering into the manufacture of anything that is to be ingested by a tort minded citizen is taking on a huge risk of liability.

I remember back in my lobbying days, and yes I did lobby for the pharmaceutical industry, that the Florida legislature circa 1995 tried to do something about the high cost of malpractice insurance in our state. FACOG ( Florida Academy of College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ) spent many thousands of dollars in a grass roots effort to make the public aware that malpractice premiums were driving practitioners to other states where reforms and caps on liability had been implemented. Back then it was not unusual for OBG's to pay $125,000 per year in malpractice insurance premiums. The same applies today.

FMA ( Florida Medical Association ) carried the water for the states physicians and The Florida Academy of Trial Attorneys took the opposite side. Both sides represented deep pockets. You want to know who won? The trial attorneys. The people voting on the legislation were largely from amongst the trial attorney pool. Malpractice still looms as the single biggest cost in practicing medicine. It also casts a long shadow over the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.

Yet no one ever hears anything about this cost in all the print and electronic media. The threat of law suits lies below the surface in all things that touch the practice of medicine.

All during the debate on nationalizing health care did you hear a peep from anyone about why don't we limit the amount of damages in malpractice cases? You remember John Edwards. This guy ran for Veep with John Kerry. He made his millions from suing physicians almost exclusively. All the press that we have had concerning national health care over the last couple of years and I challenge you to find much written about tort reform. Fingers point in all directions but it never seems to point in the direction of the trial attorneys. Why is that, do you suppose? Do you think they pour any money at all into the pockets of the people who make our laws and carry the debate?

I once attended a meeting of a group called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). It was held in Nashville at Opryland. This was an amalgamation of legislators from states all over the country and private enterprise. Lots of lofty principles were bandied about. I remember one of the exhibitors offered me a free tee shirt if I would give them my e-mail address so they could hit me up often for a donation. I needed a free tee shirt to jog in so I signed up. Upon arrival home back here in Tallahassee my wife read it and told me that someone was going to beat me up if they read the message. It was on the back of the shirt in pretty large print. I told her that I would only wear it in the dark when I ran early in the AM's. The message said: " Do trial attorneys make any of the products you use? No, they only make them more expensive."

One day a man and a woman came up to my rear as I was puttering along on the sidewalk. The lady asked the man, " Are you reading his tee shirt?" He responded, "Yes, I see it." He then addressed me introducing himself as a trial attorney. However, he said I am not one of those. I happen to agree with the message. Now how weird is that?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Honor code, what's that?

I live in a world, as a real estate broker, in which you hear a lot of chatter about ethics. I lived for 30 years in the realm of pharmaceutical manufacturing and marketing. The Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) made a lot of noise about their code of honor.

Back in the 60's there was a senate investigation into the way the pharmaceutical industry marketed their products. A Senator Keefover chaired the investigation. Seems that the various companies in the business were plying their customers with incentives that bordered on shady. If a physician wrote so many Rx's for a certain antibiotic, for instance, they could get a Rolex watch or a TV from their friendly pharmaceutical representative.

The impropriety of this arrangement was obvious. Who paid for those gifts? Why the little grandmama or papa in the midwest living on a fixed income paid for them in higher prices. The Senate was chaffed about this arrangement and threatened to put price controls on the industry's products. The industry declared a big " Holy crap !" and created the trade association PMA, which later became PhRMA. The industry did not want government oversight on pricing and they swore to surveillence their own members. The R (research) was added later to keep generic, copy-cat, manufacturers out of the club.

Snap forward about twenty years and after things had relaxed for a while the same old incentives crept back into the promotion of drugs. Pharm companies would grant prescribers trips and honoraria in return for wink, wink prescribing of their products. Hold on said the Senate, what about your honor code? Did you not tell us that you would surveillence yourselves a few years ago? Another senate investigation ensued now chaired by none other than Senator Ted Kennedy, the very epitome of the honor code.

PhRMA then began an extensive dialogue with congress about their role in helping physicians to attain continuing medical education credits. To do that they had to assemble them in resort hotels in various places, provide airfare and even honorarium and expense money. This was not promotion of their products this was education. You use our products and we will educate you and your spouse in far off exotic places at our expense. Congress rattled the price control sabre and the industry did another big " GULLLLP !!". They begged and pleaded that they be allowed to clean up their own workplace, once again. Congress relented. Do not forget dear reader that this same industry is handing out millions of dollars to members of congress, simultaneously. So congress backed off. Nowadays pharm companies will not even provide prescribers with pens and note pads. That is a resolution by PhRMA to stay on the good side of legislators and regulators. All the while they extend the noble chin and point to PhRMA's Honor Code .

The same happens in real estate. National Association of Realtors with all of the state affiliates and regional affiliates paste the smug grin on their faces and point to their Code of Ethics. Why we are so squeaky clean we have a code of ethics. I would love to have a dime for every breach of the code of ethics that I have observed in my brief 8 years in this business. There are some slimy practitioners in this world. When you choose a realtor do so with measured care.

I cannot help but note the sports headlines of this morning. Brigham Young University just suspended their power forward, Davies, for the remainder of the season. BYU just rose to #3 in the polls this past week. They were being spoken of as a possible #1 seed in one of the NCAA regionals. Now we note that they have suspended a seriously big element of that team. Not because the NCAA told them to. They did it internally. Here was a student who violated the honor code. Ergo he is out. No fuss no muss.

Now what do you suppose he did? My wife is a BYU alumnus. I have many friends who are alums, due to my church affiliation. That honor code is serious business. You violate it if you do not live the standards of the church that owns that institution. Violations include premarital sex, drugs or alcohol usage, cheating on a test, not attending church, improper dress, etc. They can get away with that because they are a private institution. Live the honor code or go to State U in your own home town.

Please if you would, go back in your mind's eye to late in the football season. Auburn University's, Cam Newton, looked pretty likely to have violated NCAA sanctions. If Cam had been a BYU player, he would have been long gone at the first hint of impropriety. Instead he went on to win the Heisman and then a national championship.

There are honor codes and then there are HONOR CODES.