Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Should Obama Be Reading On Vacation?

The Huffinton Post is running the following article where people can vote on what the President should be reading on vacation.

In addition to golf, tennis, and catching up with his family, Obama will be setting aside a substantial amount of reading time, according to Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.

The White House has released Obama's reading list for the week, which at 2,300 pages is a large amount for anyone to get through in a week, even the former editor of the Harvard Law Review. On the reading list:

--Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded

--David McCullough's John Adams

--Richard Price's Lush Life

--Kent Haruf's Plain Song

--George Pelecanos's The Way Home

A book can open our minds to different perspectives and transform the way we think, which is why putting just one book atop Obama's reading pile could have far reaching effects -- something Hugo Chavez was keenly aware of when he shoved Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent into Obama's hands in April. The book is noticeably absent from the list above.

Given the impact that the right book can have, HuffPost wants to hear what you would pick for Obama to read on the Vineyard this week. Just click on the "Participate" button below, upload a picture of the book you think Obama needs to read, and give us the rationale for your choice in the description section

There article is showing the top 80 books that people have added/voted for. What I want to know is how Atlas Shrugged DID NOT make the list!! Come on. Besides being the best book of all time it eerily serves as a prophet-esque roadmap of what we have been going through as a nation. Hat tip to The Daily Dish for directing me to this article.

Money Tips - Roth IRA Edition

It has been a while since I have added to the Money Tips library here at BadskiBlog and I really need to get better at keeping it updated. Not only could some of the advice or links help some people, but it also serves as my own little reference library to keep me down the right path financially. Back when I was playing Jr and eventually college hockey we always hit the summers hard for off season training. However, it wasn't complex drills and systems. It was always "back to basics" time. Its the little things that matter and make you better, and I think it is a great lesson to live in your financial life as well. Do the basics, like living the BadskiBlog definition of being rich, better day in and day out and you will attain your goals. In this post I wanted to take the opportunity to provide some guidance on one of the best retirement investing vehicles out there (especially if you are young); the Roth IRA. I keep the difference between the Roth and the Traditional IRA straight by saying the Roth is taxed in and free out. Which basically means that you contribute with after tax income on the way in, but the gains you build over the years are not taxed when you begin to withdraw the money (meeting all the prescribed criteria). If you have time on your side and don't have a dire need to lower your current tax bracket, which is probably most people under 35, then you should max this out every year. Here are two articles that not only give great insight into the benefits of the Roth IRA, but some special circumstances that you can use to make the most out of the investment vehicle.

The first article that I found on CNN Money can be read in its entirety here. This article starts out talking about specifics of the IRA and the general guidelines and stipulations surrounding it as an investing option. However, the article goes on to say that with retirement planning the wild card has always been the changing tax laws. But there is hope.

The uncertain tax outlook can be paralyzing. "The whole idea of not knowing how much money you really have saved because you don't know how much you're going to have to pay in taxes makes it impossible to plan," says Keith Maliniak, a 60-year-old physician in Harrisburg, Pa.

But even if you don't know how high your rates will be, there are steps you can take to insulate your retirement stake from the vagaries of the tax code. Luckily, you have a weapon in the war on taxes: the Roth IRA.

The author then goes on to say that we are at near historic low tax rates and that they will likely rise in years to come. This makes it one of the prime times in history to do a Roth IRA conversion.

If your income is below the IRS limits, you can contribute up to $5,000 a year to a Roth ($6,000 if you are over 50). Some companies have begun to offer Roth 401(k)s, which have no income limits. But for the most part, high earners have to settle for converting existing IRAs and paying the tax bill. As part of the deal, if you convert in 2010 you can stretch the tax payments out over three years, easing the pain.

The questions of whether — and how much — to convert are complicated and there's no one-size-fits-all answer. When you convert, the money in the IRA is added to your taxable income. This could bump you up into a higher tax bracket: "If you earn $120,000 a year and want to convert $200,000 of IRA money, that will throw you from the 28% tax bracket to the 36% bracket for that particular year," says Leonard.

That said, advisers suggest that the combination of the stock market slump and the likelihood of future tax increases makes today an ideal moment to convert traditional IRAs to Roths. "First, we're at historic low income tax rates," says James Lange, a CPA and lawyer and the author of Retire Secure. "Second, if you believe stocks go up over time, and that we're at a low point, this is probably one of the best times in history to convert."

In general, conversion may make most sense for younger people who are in lower tax brackets and have smaller IRA balances. That's because their tax hit will be lighter and they'll have a long time for the assets to grow tax-free before they need to make withdrawals.

But there are situations in which even high earners and older people may want to convert. Lange offers this example. "Let's say you used to have income of $150,000, and you got laid off and you're only going to have income of $60,000 this year," he says. "You're hoping to get a job and be back where you were next year. Then you should make the conversion this year because you'll be in a much lower tax bracket."

For some folks, the appeal of leaving tax-free accounts to heirs may be reason enough to move to a Roth. That's what persuaded Carroll Harris, a 68-year-old Southport, N.C., resident, to begin converting his traditional IRAs in 2008; he plans to do more conversions in 2009, 2010, and 2011 to spread out his tax payments. "I'd rather bite the bullet and pay the tax now," says Harris, who worked for 30 years in the international transportation business. "It's going to be a tremendous asset for my children and their children down the road because it will sit there and build for 30 or 40 years for them tax-free!"

One thing the experts agree on: Don't convert unless you can pay your taxes out of other cash — using assets from your IRA to pay the taxes is a losing proposition. "If you're paying the tax from the account itself, you're lengthening the break-even period because you have a lesser amount of money in the account growing tax-free," says Fisher.

There is some really good stuff in there to think about no matter what age you are or what your current financial situation is. Retirement planning applies to all of us and the Roth is one of your better options to reach your retirement goals in my opinion.

The next article is a bit more somber, but being in the military I thought I should share it with others to spread the word. I found this article on Jeff Rose's Good Financial Cents blog, which is a kickass financial planner blog out of Illinois. It can get a little bit more technical than I tend to get but it has awesome advice and it very detailed. His post is on the "Hero IRA" or the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act other wise called the Heroes or Heart Act. You can read the full post here. In essence it is a law where you take the SGLI life insurance benefit from a service member who has passed away in combat, and place it into a Roth tax free. This is similar to the conversion above, however you would not be responsible to pay taxes on the entire amount. That is an unbelievable tax break. Obviously I hope that NO ONE ever has to use this option, however we are at war and maybe this information will help someone who is already suffering from the loss of a loved one.
Having served overseas in Iraq, this should have caught my attention earlier. It wasn’t until I recently lost a brother in arms that I happened on a little blurb in the IRS publication 590 on the SGLI. If you are not in the military or have a family member in the military, it probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. SGLI stands for Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance. It’s the life insurance that the government provides to all our military members. When I first got in the military the most you were allowed to get insured for was $250,000. Right about the time I was deployed, the government increased that amount to $400,000. The cost is minimal; $0.65 per $1000 of life insurance. While serving overseas, it’s a no-brainer.

Basically, the surviving beneficiary of a lost soldier soldier serving overseas is allowed to rollover the full amount into a Roth IRA. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the Roth IRA and this provides a tremendous opportunity to put an enormous chunk into for tax free growth. Remember, the full SGLI amount is $400,000 and that amount could be completely rolled into the Roth. To illustrate how that might impact someone, look at this calculation:

Let’s assume a 25 year old widow were to invest the full $400,000 and average 8% return over a 25 year period, she will have accumulated $2,739,390.08. She won’t be able to get it all yet. (She’ll have to wait until 59 1/2 for that). But she will have access to the original $400,000 since it’s treated as a “rollover contribution” and as you know or may not know, you always have access to your contributions in a Roth IRA. Another aspect is that if there are surviving children, they will inherit the money tax free. Another great aspect of the Roth that often goes overlooked.

If there are any other topics you want to hear more about on Money Tips just leave a comment. If I don't know about it (which is very possible) I will find someone who does to do a guest post.

Lessons Learned From A Small Biz Startup

The cliche that you don't live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself so learn from other people's mistakes, is a cliche for a reason. Because its true! Keeping that in mind I try and learn as much as I can from other people either through personal connections or through the immortalized lessons they leave behind in the form of text. I found an article on CNN Money about Viking Range, an innovative small business that merged two different market segments to create their own little niche. Founder Fred Carl Jr. was interviewed in the article published here. He had some interesting advice to give in the relatively short article, but there was one lesson that really stuck out to me. See below.

What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?

The line between stubbornness and perseverance is thin. If you're emotionally and professionally convinced that your idea is sound, then be very stubborn. And don't be afraid to tell Khrushchev to take a hike.

I have heard this advice in numerous different forms and I think it is great advice. If I had to put it into my own quote as to help me embody it in my everyday practice I would say that "you need to be stupid and naive enough to just go for it, while being smart and persistent enough to keep going once you've started!" Great advice for anyone who wants to start their own business or non-profit or whatever the case may be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Experience vs. Experiences

Recently my wife and I moved to Boston. Being in the Air Force I just show up and start my new job. Yeah I have to learn new things and get settled into a new routine, but I don’t have to actually go out and find a new job. My wife on the other hand had to start completely over. She was teaching in New Jersey, but with our move we thought it would be a great time to pursue one of her passions as a career. She has always been a fitness enthusiast so the thought of getting into the fitness industry was a natural transition. She decided to get her personal training license and begin interviewing for those type jobs. Despite having a degree from the University of Arizona in Physical Education, two years teaching experience, experience as a spinning instructor, a personal training certification, a life’s worth fitness activity all she heard throughout the majority of the interview’s was how they were hesitant due to her lack of experience. Besides being frustrating as hell, it really got me thinking about experience versus experiences and how people look at the two concepts.

Part of me can kind of understand where some of the people she interviewed with are coming from. I mean she had never had a personal training job before. She didn’t have experience doing that profession. What if she wasn’t any good at it and that person had hired her. They would have invested time, money and effort into an individual that just wasn’t cut out for that position. And most importantly, they would have delayed fulfilling their original goal; to fill a vacant position with a person who is the most qualified and competent for the job.

However, the other part of me can’t get over how blatantly off center this line of thinking is. Experience and experiences are different animals, and typically employers pay much more attention to the latter which, in my opinion, is the wrong approach. What does experience mean? Well it means that the applicant has familiarity with the position and it can be safely assumed that the individual has some basic knowledge of the duties to be carried out. Placing value on experience may well indeed save you time, effort, and money in the short run but is it the best strategy in the long run? I would argue no.

Think of it this way for a minute. By placing the emphasis on experience you are In essence blinding yourself to many other evaluation factors that are much more important and will have a much larger impact on your business’ bottom line. I can hire a person that has worked at McDonalds for 30 years and has only cooked fries the entire time (This is nothing against McDonalds. In fact I just read an article the other day that listed how many people had worked their way from cooking fries at Mickey D’s up to become CEO’s, late night talk show hosts, etc.). If I want a fry cooker tomorrow then placing emphasis on experience may be the way to go. However, if I want to hire the best employees to give my business the best chance of succeeding in a highly competitive environment then experience emphasis is obviously flawed. It’s kind of like the buggy whip analogy. The best buggy whip maker was probably making buggy whips (for horse and carriages) well into the mass production of model T’s. He probably did his craft better than anyone in the world at that time. But the automobile eventually put him out of business. He had a ton of experience that made him extremely competent at his specialized job, but that doesn’t mean I want to be him!

Maybe it’s because I have never officially hired anyone in my life. Maybe it’s because I am a naive “Gen Y’er” that is completely delusional. Or maybe, and this is a big maybe, I am not completely full of shit and once in a blue moon a decent original thought comes out of my head. I propose that weighting experienceS (emphasis) more than experience is a more effective way to surround yourself with people that will help you and your company succeed.

Let’s use my lovely wife as an example again. Personal training experience…none. But what experiences has she gone through that have shaped her to become a successful personal trainer and valuable team member to a company?

1. A proven ability to learn. She has a degree in a related field from a respected university. Just because you have experience as a trainer does not necessarily mean that you are educated in the science of the body. Do you want a trainer that tells you incorrect information?

2. Breadth. She has demonstrated success and results in multiple related fields. Whether it was teaching PE, instructing spinning, classroom teaching of health, or anything else on her resume there was a theme ever-present that she could succeed in different roles.

3. An ability to lead. Could you control 50 screaming pubescent middle school punks while they run around with hockey sticks in their hands? I would much rather go back to my Jr. hockey days and fight angry 6 foot 5 guys with hockey stick than try to control a bunch of kids with hockey sticks. She has taught spinning for numerous fitness levels.

4. Innovation and dedication. She created work out clubs before school for kids struggling with their weight. She did multiple after hours intramurals.

5. Personality. This may be the most overlooked and painful (in the long run) part of focusing primarily on experience instead of experiences. At the end of the day you need someone who you can work with. You need someone your customers will love and enjoy working with, especially in a service industry like the fitness industry. There are plenty of experienced assholes out there, and sadly their experience is probably enough to keep them gainfully employed in their niche until they finish out their days. You probably meet these experienced assholes on a daily basis whether it be at Kinkos, your local auto body shop, or even a large fitness center. Does the person you are interviewing have the personality, the aura about them, the 'it' factor that makes you think they will be a valued asset to the company in the position they are applying for? Or more importantly for a future position that isn’t available or even created yet?

I am sure there are numerous other traits that I haven't listed that are overlooked when you focus primarily on experience. However you get the point that there are a lot of benefits to looking beyond experience and on to someone’s experiences. Just continue to ask yourself "how has this person’s life and life experiences shaped them to be the perfect member of our team?" If you aren't asking yourself that question you are surely missing out on talent that could be the missing piece of your organization's puzzle.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twitter For Entrepreneurs

I have been using Twitter for a few months and since I have started I have run into so many people who are talking about it and then they ask the same question. They always ask "what is the point of Twitter? I don't get it." Then I jump in like a huge computer nerd and try to explain what I think its all about, and from there its almost a perfect split. People either get it and think its brilliant or they still think its stupid. I don't think Twitter is about tweeting (140 character micro blog posts). I think Twitter capitalizes and makes visual our natural tendency as humans to group with other like-minded people. However, Twitter enhances this by allowing people who have never and would never have met to become linked. By allowing you to see who someone is following and all the people who are following them you can see how the cliche'd six degrees of separation begins to manifest itself online through this amazing social networking vehicle.

Well if you are searching for like minded people or mentors that are entrepreneurs then I have found the list for you. I found this slide show on BusinessWeek the other day that lists the top 20 entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. You can check it out here. I followed the majority of these folks tonight and already have had more than a few followers pick me up. Could be some potential BadskiBlog readers, could be bloggers that I want to read, could be future Checking For Charity donors, could be future employers, could be potential business partners. Who knows. Worst case is I will be exposed to some new information to digest via the web. Below is a sample of the kinds of people on the top 20 list.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Boost Your Business Small Biz Plan Competition

I have been in an entrepreneurial mood lately and have stumbled across some different sources of inspiration. The Boost Your Business competition is one of those sources of inspiration. Basically various small businesses are competing with your help for the chance to win $100,000 to help launch their businesses and/or take their businesses to the next level.

On the line: $50,000 in cash, and $50,000 in advertising on Twenty semi-finalists remain. Now our discerning readers will choose who will survive to compete in the final round. To make your choices, peruse the contestants' 500-word write-ups (by clicking the "Read more" link) and watch their 30-second "elevator pitch" videos. Your goal: to choose the companies with the most promising growth prospects, if they were given a bit of nourishing investment capital. You may vote for a maximum of five finalists. A leader board will track the top five names in real time. The polls close September 30, 2009. In the meantime, stay tuned to to track your candidates' progress.

You can read all the business plans on Forbes and vote for your top five plans by clicking here. There are definitely some cool ideas. I am always amazed at the power of entrepreneurship. Every time I read a good business idea I get the same feeling. It is that feeling that I should have thought of that. The ideas seem so simple and so obvious. However, it is often not the idea but the ability to bring it to fruition. That is one of the things I am most proud about Checking For Charity is the fact that we actually made it happen. I have been getting the entrepreneurial itch again lately and am looking to venture into the profit world this time. I have a few ideas, none that are absolutely mind blowing in my opinion, however I think I will just take the same approach as I did with Checking For Charity.

1. Come up with a good idea
2. Think it through by yourself
3. After you have developed it and fanned the flames of desire to bring it to life, tell some people about it and see what they say. Often their initial reactions will bring to light different barriers or opportunities that you never thought of.
4. Find a team. Working by yourself sucks. At least it does for me. I can't seem to accomplish anything by myself, and if I could I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much.
5. Jump. That's right. Just jump. You are never going to be truly ready. You are never going to have the answers. You are never going to (nor should you want to) stick to the original idea. It will grow as you grow through the process.

Here is a sample of the short 500 word business plan pitch of one of my favorites from the contest. I might start writing my business ideas in this format. A large business plan is great to work out ideas, but I am a believer in the Warren Buffett-esque approach to business. He only invests in businesses he can understand. I plan to only create businesses I can understand. Keeping it simple:

Healthy Life Screening performs preventive cardiovascular screens at corporate work sites. We detect early problems in seemingly healthy workers and their families to prevent both chronic health problems and corporate medical claims. Companies of all sizes can participate at no cost, or by subsidizing. One constant in reducing health care costs is in prevention. There are 75 million working people in geographies that can be reached with mobile screenings. At a $200 price point, the total market is $15 billion.

Business Model

Cardiovascular Screens fall into the voluntary, self-pay sector of health care. Heart disease is the No.1 killer in America--and together with cardiovascular conditions causes a disproportionate amount of health insurance claims. Historically, people have not had early screenings because they were not-accessible, not covered by insurance, not-convenient and/or not safe. Healthy Life Screening has addressed all these barriers. Individuals pay directly, but can use tax-favored plans (FSA, HSA) to pay for screens. Corporations have experienced at least 3-to-1 return on investment in health care cost savings when they subsidize. We are working to get insurance companies to recognize and reward early detection.


The business has been funded by the founders and with an early-stage venture capital contribution. It is anticipated to be cash-flow positive by 12/31/09.


Healthy Life is currently the only known company to go to the work site with a dedicated staff for marketing and education of workers, as well as conducting the medical tests. When average people are exposed to the on-site workshops (giving the complete picture), an average of 35% of them will choose to be screened.

Other key differentiators

Fast: Workers can be back on the job within 35 minutes; Inexpensive:$200 vs. $2,000 for the same tests in hospitals; Safe: Ultrasound technology has no known side effects; Confidential: HIPAA compliant reports sent direct to the workers; Turn key: All marketing, registration, processing and reporting--no work for companies; Automated: Proprietary systems for uploading and reading tests; Efficient: Proprietary medical staffing models and protocols.

Years of Relevant Experience

President/CFO--Managing medical screenings for 11 years. Financial/entrepreneurial experience spans 30 years. CEO--Medical industry sales/marketing 15 years. Serial entrepreneur sold last medical services company to Fortune 1000 company. VP Operations--Managing mobile medical operations 10 years.

Plan for $100,000

Cash would be used to create an interactive Web site to permit online scheduling and a password-protected FTP site to allow people to access their results and access condition-specific education. Advertising would be specifically targeted to educate corporate decision makers that this service is available, and to drive them to the Web site for more information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Checking For Charity Corporation - First Event Was Huge Success!

The first event hosted by Checking For Charity was a huge success. Not only did the event exceed all expectations with regard to professionalism, level of competition, and money raised for charity, it was extremely fulfilling on a personal level to be a part of something so special. I plan on writing a more detailed post when all the funds are totaled from the weekend's event but for now I wanted to share some of the positive press that we got from the weekend's event. See what the Courier Post had to say about our tourney here. Thanks again to all participants, volunteers, charity representatives, and most importantly the world class guys who stepped up to do the dirty work; you know who you are!

"We love what we do but we wanted to take it to the next level and give back," said Paul Caruso, who helped organize the first annual tournament dubbed "Checking for Charity."

Caruso, of Marlton, said the idea for the tournament was born through a group of local hockey enthusiasts who meet at the Voorhees rink on Sundays for a morning hockey game.

When the idea was brought up the men, many who are business professionals, put their connections together to organize sponsors and charities for the tournament.

Caruso said the plan is to begin holding the charity event annually and to even expand it out to other cities.

Donation totals weren't tallied after the match Sunday but Caruso estimated the weekend, which included an auction and donations from area businesses, would tally between $6,000 and $10,000. Charities included the Philadelphia Children's Hospital and the American Heart Association.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cool Quotes Update

I haven't done any cool quotes on BadskiBlog in quite some time and I came across a few beauties the other day. Nothing like a daily dose of wisdom. Enjoy and post any additions in the comments section if you feel so inclined.

"Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82, American poet and essayist)

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent." - John Donne (1328-1384, English reformer)

"A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week." - George S. Patton (1885-1945, General, USA)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CEO Causes Stir...For Making Sense!

We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

Does this sound like a crazed lunatic that is on a evil right winged agenda to destroy President Obama's health care reform campaign? I didn't really think that it did, but apparently there are many out there who do. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal that has many people vowing never to shop at Whole Foods again. I found out about the public outrage surrounding his piece through this article on ABC News which you can read here.

"I will never shop there again," vowed Joshua, a 45-year-old blogger, who asked that his last name not be published.

Like many of his fellow health food fanatics, Joshua said he will no longer patronize the store after learning about Whole Foods Market Inc.'s CEO John Mackey's views on health care reform, which were made public this week in an op-ed piece he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Michael Lent, another Whole Foods enthusiast in Long Beach, Calif., told that he, too, will turn to other organic groceries for his weekly shopping list.

"I'm boycotting [Whole Foods] because all Americans need health care," said Lent, 33, who used to visit his local Whole Foods "several times a week."

"While Mackey is worried about health care and stimulus spending, he doesn't seem too worried about expensive wars and tax breaks for the wealthy and big businesses such as his own that contribute to the deficit," said Lent.

I read Mackey's full op-ed here, and not only did I not find the article off color, I thought he wrote a very well written article with actual solutions and recommendations. I have been fairly absent from the health care debate and will be the first to admit my knowledge of the issues is fairly limited. However, that is not the point. The point is that many people blast anyone who has an "opposing view" without really knowing what is going on. Blogger Ben Casnocha recently wrote an interesting little blurb on opting out of the health care debate, you can read it here.

I think that with the massive amounts of information available today through phones, internet, ect most people are settling on headline deep knowledge of the issues at hand. We are all guilty of this. However, it is the most ignorant people who yell the loudest who often get the most attention. Unfortunately I feel that their theatrics come at the expense of the masses who, in an effort to run their daily dose of information through a sieve, end up recycling the same half truths and partisan bullet points. Check out what Seth Godin had to say in a similar topic on being willfully ignorant vs. aggressively skeptical.

If you still don’t understand what I am getting at then read the following from the original ABC news article.

The op-ed piece, which begins with a Margaret Thatcher quote, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," has left some Whole Foods loyalists enraged. Many say Mackey was out of line to opine against the liberal base that has made his fortune possible.

Christine Taylor, a 34-year-old New Jersey shopper, vowed never to step foot in another Whole Foods again.

"I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods," Taylor told "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Apparently Christine thinks that in order to shop for organic fruits and vegetables you must be "liberal." And furthermore, if you are a CEO of a company you should adopt the political views of your customers. Now can you see how out of whack the line of reasoning of some of these people is?

Now I am not going to go into whether or not Mackey's eight proposed solutions make sense or not because as I said before I am fairly ignorant on the topic at large. However there was one suggestion that I haven’t heard yet that I thought was a pretty cool idea.

Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Obviously I have been pretty involved in my non-profit Checking For Charity Corporation as of late and it has shown me to never underestimate the will of mankind to help a cause that they believe in. I think this recommendation rests on this very belief.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Checking For Charity Corporation - A Journey In The Formation Of A Movement

Well it has been a crazy few weeks for me. With the move up to Boston, bumming around between a hotel and friends houses, our stuff in storage for weeks, and a new job to boot I really haven't had enough time to keep up on BadskiBlog. However, I wanted to write about Checking For Charity a bit since our inaugural hockey tournament and event is less than a week away. Obviously I have been stressed about a lot of things lately during our life transition, but Checking For Charity is honestly one of the things that has stressed me out the most.

I am a type A personality. I like to be in control. I am not one of those people who needs to be in charge of every group or team, but I like to feel like I am in control of my life and anything that I decide to undertake. I think that stems more from my belief that with enough perseverance, hard work and dedication you can accomplish most things you set out to do in this world than from a hunger for power.

With CFC's tournament taking place in Voorhees New Jersey, I am obviously not co-located with my team of buddies who have stepped up to build this corporation and make this first event happen. And believe me it has been very difficult for me. I like to be in the trenches so to speak. When I lead I typically shut my mouth, put my head down and skate, and lead by example. I have always gotten along quite in a team environment, so that coupled with trying to lead by example has always made leadership roles a fairly comfortable place for me. In fact most times I don't even really feel like THE leader. I feel like someone who is respected amongst friends and teammates seeking a common goal. Well that is still the case with CFC, however being a few states away I really have had to place a lot of trust in other people to come through where I would typically be fairly close to the action. As I said it has been difficult, but I could not be more proud of the people who have stepped up to help. Their creativity and initiative is truly going to make our first event a memorable one.

As stressful as it has been it has also been a huge learning experience for me in the art of leadership. This tournament is a living example that if you surround yourself with good people, lay out a vision, and give them the means to contribute and improve upon that vision they will astonish you. Taking nothing away from myself or any of the guys who have become part of this creative smorgasbord, but we aren't top level executives or Rhodes scholars. For the most part we are just everyday average guys who came together and have created something that is, in my opinion, pretty damn cool.

Here are some bullet point updates for you to digest. If you are unfamiliar with what the Checking For Charity movement is all about you can check it out in the upper right corner of this blog or click here. If you are at all inspired and would like to contribute please do. There are many opportunities to help other than just monetarily (although that is good too). Simply spreading the word to others who may want to be part of our movement is a great and relatively simple way to contribute. Join us on Facebook. If you are in the NJ/Philly/NY area and would like to participate as a player, spectator, volunteer, or even beer consumer please visit the site and contact us.

- There are now 8 teams competing in the tournament representing a wide variety of charities which are listed on the website.

- There will be T-shirts, Polo's, and hoodies available for sale at the tournament and eventually on the website. All proceeds will go towards charity. BIG THANKS to Mikey at Quality Concepts for their generous donation.

- There will be food and frosty beverages available outside the arena for all to enjoy.

- On Sunday a formal presentation will be made by the tournament committee to a representative of each charity and the team captain of the team who represented them. Media will be present to witness the trophy presentations as well as the giant check presentation to each team detailing how much was raised for their cause.

- The trophy presentation will consist of one trophy to the winning team as well as a travelling trophy with the winning team's name and charity engraved on it which will be maintained by the corporation.

- Be on the look out for some prominent individuals from the professional sporting world. More details to come.

- If you are interested in having an event in your area let us know. Checking For Charity 2.0 is seeking to serve as a vehicle and mentor for those who are looking to change the world through competitive hockey events. "Our Goal Is To Assist!"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Landlord Chronicles - Lessons in Real Estate Investing

It has been a while since I updated you all on my first rental property progress. Part of the reason is that I have been busy with the move and whatnot, but another part of it is that I really didn't have much good news to report until now. In my last post on my landlording journey I spoke a bit about how networking helped me, and in my initial post I spoke about how my primary concern was marketing. Well it is safe to say that since those posts I have gone through a lot of experiences and have learned quite a few lessons along the way.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was about negotiation. I spoke previously about how when I got the news that I was moving and I realized that I was going to become a landlord my primary concern wasn't laws and leases, but marketing. Well I think that was the right strategy; to an extent. In fact I think my wife and I did an awesome job marketing. Over the past two months we showed our place over a dozen times and got calls about it almost daily. This was with an entirely free marketing campaign. We used a military housing site, craigslist,, and a few signs and flyers. The problem was that I wasn't thinking ahead. I wasn't thinking of step two. I was only thinking of getting as many people in the door as possible and hoping that one would seal the deal. When I was taking a professional development class for Air Force Contracting we watched a cheesy movie about a couple of brothers and their quest to buy a minor league baseball team. The movie was hilariously bad as far as acting goes, however it had amazing lessons on negotiation. It talked about setting anchors and having BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and a reservation price or the lowest amount you would settle for.

Well obviously I didn't turn my education into action after watching this movie, because I would have saved myself a hell of a lot of stress and trouble had I discussed these things with my wife at the outset. At the beginning we had time on our side and a pretty nice condo to offer. As time went on we had more and more people walk away and we had to lower our price more and more. I set my anchor fairly high asking for $1700 a month in rent. We had a nice young couple come on day two who were extremely interested in the place. They wanted to negotiate rent and me being the rookie that I am, told them that the property had just been put on the market and I wasn't going to budge on the price yet. Well multiple showings later and a few years of my life lost to stress and we eventually ended up getting $1575 a month in rent. As time dwindled away the BATNA that I never set was becoming more apparent. My BATNA was me floating a mortgage in New Jersey while paying rent in Boston. Not a very good BATNA. I did the right thing by setting my initial anchor high at $1700 a month, however my wife and I had never discussed a reservation price. If we had, we likely could have gotten the first couple in back in May instead of showing the place to multiple other people for the next few months. In fact, there is a chance that I could have gotten more in rent had I been willing to budge and give a little while we were asking $1700, or even $1650.

This brings me to my next lesson learned which is the the power of the market. The market will bear only what the market will bear. Because I listed my condo at $1700, does that mean I am going to get $1700? Obviously not. With the rental market as soft as it is, many renters were willing to sacrifice what my condo had to offer, quality, in order to seek out a cheaper rental. Even though I was a little disappointed with the amount of rent I ended up getting, I really do have to say that it is reasonable given the size and location of my condo and the other condos available out there. Although this lesson is not entirely new to me, it certainly is different when your monthly cash flow is on the line. Easier said than done.

In order to avoid writing a real estate investing novel I will break up some of these lessons learned and add to them at a later date.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Innovation In The Music Biz

It's no secret that the music industry is jacked up. Not too many people are making money in that industry right now and although this innovation is by no means changing the way the industry works, I think it is a creative way to leverage those who buy music to find new talent. is a new tool that Roadrunner Records is testing out that allows fans to be both scouts of new talent and submitters of new bands. Its a pretty cool idea. The bands with the best and most reviews naturally rise to the top, as well as the scouts with the most comments/reviews. This little free market if you will, naturally funnels the best bands and the best (or at least most dedicated) scouts right into the hands of the label. When I think about this system I think about Seth Godin's Tribes. He says to create an effective tribe you need to give a unified message or reason for being and give a means for members to communicate around that message. Well here is a tribe in action. Let the fans tell you who is the best unsigned band. Let the fans seek out the best unsigned music. Let the fans communicate what they think is cool. And most importantly, leverage the fans to present you with a band you can capitalize on and present to a greater audience. Pretty cool stuff. I need to mess around with the site some more to see really how effective it is, but the concept is a great one. I think being a metal label they are forced to think a little more creatively since metal doesn't translate too well into the Britney Spears pop model of selling records. Whether by choice or necessity, this is the kind of thinking that will 'save' the music industry down the road.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Lean Manager - Developing a Lean Mindset

I subscribe to a Lean Enterprise Institute newsletter and about once a month the man who coined to the term lean, Jim Womack, writes a letter to subscribers. I have included the letter below in full. He shares a valuable but frustrating lesson. One of my mentors in my continuous process improvement journey used to say to me it's about 20% tools and about 80% culture. I think what he meant by that was very much in line with what Womack says here. Anyone can learn lean tools. It has become somewhat of a fad in corporate America and obviously, since I am constantly writing about it, has become instituted in the Department of Defense as well. The tools are the easy part. Maybe it is because they are more tangible, or that they seem more like a step by step guide. However, it is the leadership support and culture change that is truly difficult and will require the most effort. It is never easy to steer the ship when everyone else wants to keep going straight, when everyone else wants to keep things comfortable. Sometimes it just takes showing them that you can go against the status quo and the world is not going to end.

Dear Matt,

Several years ago I started to talk about the need to move beyond lean tools - including the very powerful concept of Value-Stream Mapping - to lean management. At the same time we at LEI began to publish a set of volumes on lean management techniques. These consist of strategy deployment to set priorities from the top of the organization, A3 analysis to deploy new initiatives and solve problems in the middle of the organization, and standardized work with kaizen to create stability and sustainability at the bottom of the organization where value is actually created.

Recently I've been walking through a range of organizations to see how these lean management techniques are being used. Let me cite several illustrative cases:

In one organization I found a remarkably elaborate strategy deployment matrix posted throughout the headquarters and in the plants. It was the familiar x-shaped diagram with important business objectives on the left side, the initiatives needed to achieve the objectives along the top, and the specific results to be achieved in the current year on the right side. In addition there was an array to the right side showing who in which part of the organization was taking responsibility for each initiative and which parts of the organization were affected by each initiative.

And I also found very little success in achieving the goals. Instead, the organizational focus at the end of the budget year was on explaining why progress had not been what had been anticipated. It was a new form of the variance analysis I caricatured in last month's e-letter!

In a second organization I found that the COO had decreed that all problems were henceforth to be tackled using A3 analysis employing a standard eight box format. At the review meeting I attended, every manager showed up with a completely filled out A3 to prove they were on top of their jobs. And, because this organization was transitioning from a decades-long tradition of preparing lengthy reports on every problem (with pages of documentation), the A3s used one point type to crowd in all of the details that would have been included in a traditional report. When these were projected as PowerPoints it turned out that
no one in the room could actually read them. But every manager had done his job.

In a third organization I found all of the elements of standardized work - work standards, work combination tables, kaizen opportunity lists - clearly posted in work areas and ... no standardized work. A few minutes observation showed that the work was not actually being done in the way the work standards required and that kaizen activities were not based on clear problem definition. Yet the management took pains to show me how much progress they had made with this splendid technique as part of their new visual management system.

As I walked through these and other organizations I was sobered to realize that these new lean management techniques had become more tools, in this case lean management tools. They were being followed as corporate ritual without thinking about their actual purpose. As so often happens in organizational life, means had become ends.

I was not surprised. Tools -- for process analysis and for management -- are wonderful things. And they are absolutely necessary. And managers love them because they seem to provide short cuts to doing a better job. But they can't achieve their potential results, and often can't achieve any results, without managers with a lean state of mind to wield them.

What do I mean by a lean state of mind?

First, the lean manager eagerly embraces the role of problem solver. This means going to see the actual situation, asking about the performance issue, seeking the root cause, and showing respect for lower-level managers and for colleagues at the same organizational level by asking hard questions until good answers emerge. It's this critical, probing state of mind that permits lean tools to be put to good use as the lean manager applies the right tool for the specific problem and does this in context on the gemba rather than in the abstract in some conference room. Empty ritual is replaced with a rigorous thought process that engages employees and pulls forward their best abilities.

Second, the lean manager realizes that no manager at a higher level can or should solve a problem at a lower level. (And one of the worst abuses of lean tools lies in trying to do just this.) Instead, the higher-level manager can assign responsibility to a manager at a lower level to tackle the problem through a continuing dialogue, both with the higher-level manager and with
everyone actually touching the process causing the problem. The lean law of organizational life is that problems can only be solved where they live, in conversation with the people whose current actions are contributing to the problem. But this requires support, encouragement, and, yes, relentless pressure, from the higher-level lean manager.

Third, the lean manager believes that all problem solving is about experimentation by means of Plan Do Check Act. No one can know the answer before experiments are conducted and the many experiments that fail will yield valuable learning that can be applied to the next round of experiments.

Finally, the lean manager knows that no problem is ever solved forever. Indeed, the introduction of a promising countermeasure is sure to create new problems at some other point in the organization. This is not bad. It is good, provided the critical, probing mind of the lean manager keeps on the case in pursuit of perfection.

In short the traditional manager is usually passive, going through rituals and applying standard remedies to unique problems. By contrast, inside the mind of the lean manager lies a restless desire to continually rethink the organization's problems, probe their root causes, and lead experiments to find the best currently known countermeasures. When this lean mindset is coupled with the proper lean tools amazing things are continually possible.

Best regards,

James P. Womack
Founder and Chairman
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

Manvational Posters - George Patton

I found this on The Art of Manliness and thought it needed to be posted here. I did a similar post on Teddy Roosevelt here on BadskiBlog a few months back. Basically they replicate those cheesy motivational posters that are found in offices across the nation, only instead of some picture of a waterfall and a quote on persistence they are filled with quotes from real leaders and examples of manliness. Pretty cool. Here is an excerpt from the post and a sample of a few of my favorites from General Patton.

George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton was a four star generally who ably led American troops during World War II. In his 36 years of distinguished service to the military, he earned the Purple Heart, 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 3 Distinguished Service Medals, 2 Silver Stars, and several other decorations as well. Patton was as famous for his efficiency on the battlefield as his colorful personality off of it. He was a sight to behold, with his medals emblazoned on his chest, a shiny helmet upon his head, and two ivory-handled pistols around his waist. The men who served under him groused about his demand for absolute discipline, yet they knew that his strict leadership upped their chances for survival.

Patton, like every single man from history, was far from perfect. His love of war bordered on the crazy, and his behavior and outspoken nature often got him in trouble. His most famous controversial incident occurred when he slapped a man suffering from “battle fatigue” in a hospital and called him a coward.

But he was decidedly good at his job. He was born to lead men in battle. And while one can certainly disagree with his philosophy, he was undeniably a compelling leader and master motivator of men. His words will give any man a needed kick in the pants.

Death Metal Update - The Black Dahlia Murder

Just thought I would add this tasty nugget to my blog to satisfy all those death metal heads out there. This is a new song they have been playing live that will be featured on their next album. For those who have not seen the light, or the darkness for that matter, on The Black Dahlia Murder you got to check them out here. They are one of the best bands going right now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Competition vs. Synergy: Is Global Competition A Zero Sum Game?

Great post by Ben Casnocha. In my last post on China/US relations I, as well as the author of that article, fell into this very mindset. It is fairly easy to do and if you critically examine your way of thinking in your daily life you will see that you carry out this way of thinking more often than not. Competitive nature is very American, however it is not always the best outlook as it often ignores the principle of synergy. I listened to the audiobook The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman and it has a myriad of case studies embracing outsourcing and globalization, and how it is actually beneficial to the world at large. Yet it also often makes little comments about how we should be worried about the Indian and Chinese youth taking over the world due to their extraordinary desire and advanced skills. Although I think Friedman's comments were made more to illustrate the need to change the current state of our nation's education system than the benefits of global standards of living increase, it is an interesting contradiction nonetheless. I really need to check out some of these discussions on TED. I have included Ben's full post below which is very insightful.

Rising Tide Lifts All (Nation-State) Boats

Americans, in their (our) obsession with “national competitiveness,” too often frame the discussion in a zero-sum manner: if China rises, we fall; if India wins, we lose.

The United States over the next 50 years will experience a relative decline in material living. But in absolute terms, we will not suffer at all. To the contrary, the rise of other countries improves our material well-being.

Alex Tabarrok, in his must-watch econo-optimist TED talk, makes this point well by describing the market for cancer drugs. Suppose you were diagnosed with cancer. Would you rather have a common form of the cancer or a rare one? Common, because common cancers have a larger potential customer market, which means there's greater incentive for companies to invest in research to find a cure. This is what is happening in all sorts of markets when hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians become middle-class consumers. If China and India were as rich as the U.S., Tabarrok says, the market for cancer drugs would be eight times larger!

More rich countries means more innovation, because of increased demand (larger target market for products like cancer drugs) and increased supply (rich countries have more educated people who can create the new ideas and innovation in the first place). More innovation in country X means more innovation for the world -- everyone in the world benefits from new ideas and products, no matter where they originate.

Why, then, do Americans fear the rise of other nations? Isn't it obviously in our self-interest to cheer on poor countries becoming rich?

In the case of China, critics may denounce its anti-democratic values and human rights violations and say to support the economic growth of China is to endorse these values and make their spread more likely. For example, China, in pursuit of oil, has used its economic might to support corrupt African dictatorships while America and Europe have withheld aid in pursuit of regime change. This is a fair critique.

Unfortunately, most reasons have nothing to do with enlightened values (yes - some values are more enlightened than others) and everything to do with a mis-understanding of economics, misguided notions of nationalism, and good ole’ xenophobia. Watch Bill O'Reilly or Lou Dobbs for more on how these concepts hang together in the minds of the stupid.

By the way, it's not just Americans who ought to remember "a rising tide lifts all boats."

When the financial crisis hit, Europeans seemed almost gleeful at American economic woes: Finally the U.S. pays the price for its gluttonous ways and rampant free market culture! Finally their arrogance comes back to hurt the! Yet they soon discovered that in an interconnected world, when one (big) country hurts, all countries hurt. Same thing went down in China: Finally U.S. consumers pay the price for not saving and reckless spending! Followed quickly by, Shit! U.S. consumers - can you binge anew on our exports?

Bottom Line: Other countries are growing richer. Rejoice! Other countries are growing more powerful. Big deal. Americans should support the economic growth of other countries, even if that growth means our political sway and material standard of living are lower in relative terms.

Monday, August 3, 2009

CEO's & Execs Rate Obama

Check out this slideshow and what some corporate leaders have to say about President Barack Obama's performance thus far. Like any other segment of people in the United States, their responses and beliefs span the entire spectrum of possible outlooks. That is what is so interesting about politics and our outlook on politics as human beings. All of these leaders play under very similar rules, yet through their life experiences, their industry, their personality, etc. they all have differing views on how our leader in chief is doing. Interesting stuff that is definitely worth a glance.

To some top executives, President Barack Obama is "rapidly socializing the United States." Others see his initiatives on everything from healthcare reform to the saving of GM as crucial for sparing the U.S. from even deeper economic trouble. We quizzed numerous leaders of small, medium, and large companies on how they think the President has done in his first six months in office. Some give him a failing grade; others, top marks. Read on to see what these business leaders think of the CEO-in-chief.

BadskiBlog Officially Moves To Beantown!

That's right. Heidi, Otis and I have arrived in Boston and are currently living in an extended stay hotel until we can move into our new place. Things have been in whirlwind mode the last few weeks and the last few days have been absolutely crazy, but we have finally arrived. We will definitely miss the dirty Jerz but are excited to settle in here in Boston for the next couple years. I apologize for the lack of posts but between the move and becoming a landlord it has been really tough to carve out some time to blog.

One quick thought though. Showing up to work today and moving up here really put into perspective how much we take for granted on a day to day basis and how much of what we do is formed around habit. When you move, everything is a struggle. Whether it is finding your new office or finding gas, everything is unfamiliar and takes a concerted effort. I have been feeling that way with my rental property for the last month or two and although it is challenging and uncomfortable it is a great learning opportunity nonetheless. Shoot me an email or give me a call if you are in Boston.