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Archive for July, 2011

Here I go peering into the abyss again.  Still I say, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid, small businessman.”

The latest business warning comes from Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, who unleashed a blistering jeremiad last Tuesday on an investor conference call published by Business Insider, directed at the business climate in the U.S. and, very specifically, at the constant stream of new regulations and the anti-business rhetoric of the current federal government.

What he said was most surprising in that Steve Wynn is a big contributor to the Democratic Party and heavily bankrolled Sen. Harry Reid’s reelection in Nevada last year.  He said, “I’m saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business and progress and job creation in my lifetime.”

He says all business at all levels should fear President Obama and his bureaucrats.  Wynn feels the U.S. is becoming dangerously statist, oligarchic and authoritarian, even as China successfully embraces free enterprise and capitalism.

Though there is a huge amount of capital waiting to invest, including his own, he basically feels you’re nuts to invest in the U.S. in the increasingly suffocating bureaucratic environment.

“Until we change the tempo and the conversation from Washington, it’s not going to change.  And those of us who have business opportunities and the capital to do it are going to sit in fear of the President.  And a lot of people don’t want to say that.  They’ll say God, don’t be attacking Obama.  Well, this is Obama’s deal and it’s Obama that’s responsible for this fear in America.”

Warren Buffet (another large Democratic donor) and Bernard Marcus of Home Depot also spoke with increasing alarm about our business climate last week, and, unsurprisingly, Nouriel Roubini is quoted in Forbes Magazine as saying we have already entered a new recession.

Now, the interests of big business big shots like Wynn, Buffet, and Marcus are not always congruent with your or my interests.  However, in this case they are.  Marcus said flat out he could never have started Home Depot with all the bureaucratic  barricades set up in the last three years.  These new and multiplying regulations create a stultifying trope for small businessmen.  And we have yet to see what time-wasting paperwork awaits us in Obamacare (145 new bureaucratic entities and counting) and Dodd-Frank.  All this new regulation is well-meaning but the results are a killer for the entrepreneur.

I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if my core wasn’t that of an optimist, but reality is daunting these days.  As Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah puts it, “We have lost that which has made us great over the generations, and that is the sense…that we can come up, that we can pursue our dreams and our aspirations and that we won’t be blocked by government [from making] our dreams come true.”

Thanks, Jon.

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I attended a speech by Deepak Chopra a couple of months ago hosted by the Inc. Business Council.  The talk was pleasant enough, but I came wide awake when Mr. Chopra cited Bill Clinton telling him over lunch there are well over two million jobs now in the US that are going unfilled.  I thought, “How in God’s name can we have an official unemployment rate of 9.2% and a real unemployment rate of over 16% and have two million jobs unfilled?”

My initial reaction to Mr. Chopra’s annecdotal citation of this fact was beyond dubious.  However, it bloody well is true!  Not only is it true, but these jobs-gone-begging are generally high-paying jobs.  Yup.  I’ve seen it confirmed in multiple places, most recently in the just released report of President Obama’s Jobs and Competitiveness Council chaired by Jeff Immelt of G.E.

Mr. Immelt and Ken Chenault (CEO of American Express) co-wrote an editorial that prominently notes this employment conundrum.  They write in the Wall Street Journal (6/13/11), “There are more than two million open jobs in the U.S., in part because employers can’t find workers with the advanced manufacturing skills they need.  The private sector must quickly form partnerships with community colleges, vocational schools and others to match career training with real world hiring needs.”  (I find it amusing, if a bit hypocritical, that the politically connected CEO of G.E, which contributed millions to the election of the current President and coincidentally paid zero taxes last year, suggests that the “private sector,” meaning mostly small businessmen like you and me, should “quickly” solve the problem.)

Last Friday, July 15, Alan Greenspan also spoke to this.  He told The Globalist, “In the United States, we are in the process of seeing the baby boomers–the most productive, highly skilled educated part of our labor force–retire.  They are being replaced by groups of young workers who have regrettably scored rather poorly in educational match-ups over the last two decades.”  Indeed.

One solution I see is clearly to keep these skilled baby boomers working years longer.  (I previously posted  about this on June 29, 2010 if you want to read more.)  Employers and HR people need to get this message.  The recent Associated poll finds that most boomers consider old age to now begin at 70, and over a quarter of boomers aver you’re not old till you’re 80.  In what I see as a coming age of austerity and probable entitlement cut-backs, there will also be need for older, skilled workers to work much longer before going quietly into that good night.

As the late Andre Maurois says in The Aging American (1961),  “Growing old is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.”  Thanks, Andre.

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As with much of my business philosophy, my intuitions about sales are formed out of an autodidactic maelstrom of hit and miss, hunt and peck experiences of getting it wrong a lot, till I finally began to get it right.  In other words, I generally get good by being bad.

Essentially my approach to life and sales is one of leading from weakness.  By radically accepting my personal foibles, character flaws, wounds, emptiness, and inadequacy, I become paradoxically centered, whole, and compelling.  My presence becomes a truthful and real thing by its very brokenness.

My doctor tells me bones grow back stronger after healing from a break, and I believe that persuasive sales presence emanates from a worked-through, self-accepting weakness.  I’m not saying this approach is for everyone, but it is certainly the source of whatever success I have had as a salesman and as a useful human being.

I was reminded of this recently in a posting by my friend Rev. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church Methodist in NYC.  He tells the story of Anna Mary Robertson, who worked as a hired girl on a farm.  She met and married a hired hand on the farm named Tom Moses.  They moved to a farm of their own and raised ten children.  Ann loved to do needle work, but as she became older, her hands stiffened with arthritis.  So she decided to try painting and found she could handle the paintbrush more easily.  One day an art collector passed through her small town and saw her paintings in a drugstore.

She had been discovered-at seventy-seven years of age.  She continued to paint until several months before her death at 101.

Stephen asks, “Why do we have the wonderful paintings by Grandma Moses?”  His answer is that Grandma Moses was a crippled old woman whose hands were too stiff to embroider.

In other words, out of her human handicap and frailty came Grandma Moses greatest wholeness and greatness.  Her crippledness and arthritis resulted in her success.

Swiss physician and author Paul Tournier says, “Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle.  On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.”

Thank you, Brother Paul.

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I don’t think I’ve been bored a single day since I started my firm in 1996.  Not a day.  Not an hour.

One of the great non-monetary rewards of entrepreneurship is the frisson it brings to each day.  There is an elan vital that suffuses every breath of the entrepreneur’s day, a personalization and weight that comes with being radically responsible for your own life and for the life of the corporate entity you animate.  What you do, what you decide, really counts.

I was reminded of this reading an article in Business Week last month.  The article was entitled, “28:  Grateful to be Employed, Bored Half to Death” (Mike Dorning, 6/20-6/26, 2011).  It talks about the great sense of “stuckness” endemic in the young corporate workforce.

“From the factory floor to the boardroom, few Americans these days are willing to tell the boss shove it.  Many of those who have weathered the recession with their jobs intact are now sheltering in place, either fearful of risking a change or simply lacking the opportunity.  Since January 2009, an average 1 million fewer Americans per month have quit their jobs than in previous years. Through April, the most recent data available, that adds up to 28 million Americans stuck in jobs they would have left in ordinary times.”

I think the stagnancy and tightness of the job market since 2008 could have long-term consequences for the vocational health, esprit de corps, and creativity of traditional corporate employees, where the primary goal becomes to survive at all costs and hold tight onto what is at least a stable status quo rather than step into uncertainty, even if that uncertainty offers a potential improvement in pay or career advancement.  It creates timidity and boredom.

Stan Greenberg, a former pollster for Bill Clinton, notes people’s hesitancy to make any moves in the current economy, whether into a new life in a new place, or even to escape from a tyrannical boss.  He says, “You’ve got 28 million people whose aspirations are being contained.”

A great, if unquantifiable, benefit of entrepreneurship is the gift of freedom. Freedom to be yourself, freedom to tell the truth, freedom to grow, freedom to laugh, freedom not to be cowed or compromised, freedom to march to the beat of your own drummer.  And freedom from boredom. The price of admission to this entrepreneurial reality is courage and risk.  Even if the entrepreneur fails, the growth of innate stature, earned gravitas, personal dignity, and moral centeredness remains.  It is well worth it, whether a business succeeds or fails.  And one is guaranteed never, ever to be bored.

The late Susan Sontag says, “The life of the creative man is lead, directed, and controlled by boredom.  Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”

Thank you, Susan.


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