Sunday, May 30, 2010

how blueberry ice cream can help you get what you want in life

Sharon and I met Don and Barb Cole when we first moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1981. Although Barb could be a little hard to get along with at times (I suspect that she may have been bi-polar), Don was a genuinely good guy.

We often enjoyed a few beers together as we puffed on our pipes, and all four us got together on Saturday nights with our church group to play “500”

Even though Don has now been gone for a number of years, and is laid to rest alongside a deer path in his native state (it’s pronounced muh -zoor - uh) I learned a lot from him over the years, and one story, in particular, made a lasting impression on me.

For years, Don worked for Texaco Oil Company, and a lot of those years were spent in the complaint department. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in the 2002 film, About Schmidt, he was a creature of habit. For at least a decade, his daily lunch consisted entirely of a cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. He was a very down to earth and humble guy, so he asked to be buried in his favorite sweater rather than a suit - and he was.

One of his relatives had a bad experience with a container of Borden’s blueberry ice cream, and was all ready to fire off a rant to the Borden Company when Don suggested an alternative: he would write the letter for her.

After years in the complaint department, he knew that the people that griped the most got the least possible response, and sometimes none at all, so he composed a letter that he felt would get better results. In essence, this is what he said:



I’ve been a loyal Borden’s customer for a number of years.

I recently purchased a gallon container of Borden’s Blueberry Ice Cream. Although the picture on the container showed thick ribbons of blueberries scattered throughout the ice cream, the carton that I purchased had thin and anemic strands instead

I’m not asking for anything at all. I simply wanted to point out that your usual standards were not up to par on the gallon of blueberry ice cream that I recently purchased, and I just wanted to call the situation to your attention.


A short time after he mailed the letter off, he got a response from Borden’s. Not only did they give his relative a full refund on the ice cream that she had purchased, they also included coupons for SIX additional gallons of ice cream at no additional cost.

There’s no guarantee that polite and well-researched letters will produce the kind of results that Don got with his letter, but it’s absolutely certain that they will produce better results than angry rants.

Cindy Miller of Equine Transportation recently wrote an angry letter to AARP because she was opposed to health care reform. Although she and her husband dropped their membership, her letter caused Sharon and I to reinstate ours. Not only did Cindy’s letter fail to stop health care reform, it also caused AARP’s membership to INCREASE rather than decline.

Using Don’s approach, I was able to convince the IRS to reduce my tax burden in 1999 by $4500. A few years later, I convinced our insurance company to pay for Sharon’s $1500 Optifast program after they initially denied her claim, and it also looks like Sharon is going to get reimbursed by the State of Illinois for the damage that the pothole in the Village of Winnetka bent her expensive alloy rim on the way to work. Her picture, as well as the story about the pothole, appeared on the front page of the Business Section of the Chicago Tribune on the morning of May 28.

The Borden Company was founded by Gail Borden, Jr. in 1857 in Connecticut as "Gail Borden, Jr., and Company." Its primary product was condensed milk. Struggling financially, the company was saved when Jeremiah Milbank, a partner in the wholesale food distributor I. & R. Milbank & Co. and the son-in-law of banker Joseph Lake, agreed to invest and acquired fifty percent of the stock. The company changed its name in 1858 to the New York Condensed Milk Company. The company prospered during the Civil War by selling condensed milk to Union armies. Borden began selling processed milk to consumers in 1875, and pioneered the use of glass milk bottles in 1885. Borden began selling evaporated milk in 1892, and expanded into Canada in 1895.

At one point in its history, The Borden Company was the largest U.S. producer of dairy and pasta products, but the company suffered some severe financial losses in the early 1990’s. By 2001, the investment banking firm of KKR had shut down all food production, and the company no longer existed in 2005.

Although The Borden Company is no longer in business, and Don Cole is no longer with us, his letter of long ago is proof that a small act of kindness can influence the actions of others years, and even decades, later.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Patience is a virtue

I first met Martez on February 1, 2008, when he came into our dealership to explore the possibility of purchasing a brand new, fully loaded Murano, which has an MSRP of around $40,000.At that point in time, he had between $2000 and $3000 to put down, an average income, and a spotty credit history (due to the fact that his identity had been stolen by a close relative). Needless to say, he wasn’t successful in purchasing his dream vehicle, but he never gave up hope.

For most people that match his age and ethnic background, the dream car would remain simply that, only a dream. In his case, though, I knew (without a shadow of a doubt) that he would eventually succeed.

Martez was born into a middle class African-American family in Florida in the summer of 1988. He and his family moved to the Chicago area when he was a teenager because they wanted “a more challenging” school system. Since simply SURVIVING in some of the Chicago Public Schools is a challenge, they definitely made an appropriate choice about where to put down roots.

Martez never received a traditional high school diploma (he graduated from the Continental Academy in Coral Gables, Florida at the age of 16), and when he first came into the dealership, he was a 19 year old unmarried father of twins. It’s not a stretch to say that the odds were stacked against him. Although he attended Harold Washington College for about 18 months, he is NOT a college graduate.

What sets apart Martez from his peer group, as well as most other people, are an intense desire to success, a level of maturity far beyond people his age, a deep and resonant voice that evokes comparison with James Earl Jones, an above average level of intelligence, and a calm and forgiving temperament.

Due to the above qualities, he started his first job as a salesman for Pitney Bowes when he was only 14 years old, and in a short period of time, he was making more money than his father. At the age of 17, he was appointed a regional sales manager for a direct marketing company, but internal politics forced him out of his position before he could start work. Disillusioned, he gave his notice, and sought employment elsewhere. At the age of 18, he went through a series of rigorous interviews for a national internet marketing company, where he is currently employed as a sales manager with a staff of 11 people - a pretty heady achievement for someone who won’t be 22 years old until the summer.

Whenever he gets a chance, he reads books.

When he was 14 or 15, he read “The Success Principles”, by Jack Canfield. He’s read numerous other motivational books since that time (including “Think and Grow Rich“}, and he’s a regular subscriber to the newsletters of both Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale.

From time to time over the last couple of years, we’ve taken a few more steps towards helping him get his dream vehicle, but so far have come up short.

Recently, however, he discovered a connection at Ford Motor Credit Corporation that could help him out, and he was able to purchase a shiny red 2010 Ford Mustang. It’s not his dream car, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Like many people, he’s suffered some setbacks on his march through life. When he was 16, his best friend was killed. His friends grief-stricken parents GAVE Martez their son’s pristine 1967 Camaro, which subsequently was impounded by the Miami Police Department.

To top it off, he and his fiancé recently had a “parting of ways”, and a significant portion of the deposit on their wedding simply disappeared.

Martez is living proof that patience, and persistence, eventually produce benefits.

Another one of my customers, whom I’ll call Paul, first wandered in to the showroom in the summer of 2005. Although we’ve had frequent contact since our initial meeting, it wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that I finally sold him a car, nearly 5 years after our initial contact.

At some point in time, Martez will eventually acquire his “dream car”, even though that may turn out to be 5 or 6 years from now.

I’ve long been a believer in the fact that all of us can learn from anyone. Even though I’m older than Martez (as a matter of fact, I’m a LOT older than Martez) he’s still the kind of person that all of us can learn from.

All it takes is a little patience.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them

The 2010 U.S. Military Budget is $680 billion, larger than the GDP of Turkey, the 17th largest economy in the world. For fiscal year 2010, total defense spending will account for between 38 and 44% of our estimated tax revenue. The 2009 U.S. military budget was almost as much as the military spending of the rest of the world, and was approximately 9 times greater than the defense budget of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, defense-related expenditures outside of the Department of Defense constitute between $216 billion and $361 billion in additional spending, bringing the total for defense spending to between $880 billion and $1.03 trillion in fiscal year 2010.

The recent invasions of Irag and Afghanistan have actually been funded by supplementary funding appropriations that are OUTSIDE the Department of Defense Budget. By the end of 2008, the United States had spent $900 billion on the direct costs of both wars, and the indirect costs (VA administration expenses involved in caring for the wounded) will eventually exceed the direct costs of the wars.

In recent years, the military has relied increasingly on unmanned drones to take out insurgents in both countries, a campaign that has been generally successful. Eventually, of course, the guys who are having bombs dropped on their heads are going to take offense. Regardless of how much we beef up our security both overseas and at home, they are going to try to find ways to retaliate.

On the evening of May 1, 2010, a young man named Faisal Shahzad drove a bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder into Times Square in New York, and parked it at the curb. Fortunately, the bomb mechanism did not work as intended, and Mr. Shahzad was arrested before he could catch a flight to Dubai on Monday, May 8. Two days of intense questioning has brought out the fact that Mr. Shahzad had been trained by the Pakistani Taliban, precisely the groups that our drones have targeted.

Believe it or not, there is a MUCH better way of defeating the enemy than the course we have been following, and it’s primarily the actions of ONE man that have made it all possible.

In July 1992, Greg Mortenson's young sister, Christa Mortenson, died from a life-long struggle with severe epilepsy on the morning she had planned to visit the cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, where the iconic baseball movie Field of Dreams was filmed.

In 1993, to honor his deceased sister's memory, Mortenson went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. The time and energy devoted to this rescue prevented him from attempting to reach the summit. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Mortenson set out with one local Balti porter by the name of Mouzafer Ali to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where Mortenson was cared for by the villagers while he recovered.

To pay the community back for their compassion, Mortenson said that we would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, he eventually convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to fund the Central Asia Institute, a non profit organization that has now funded a total of 131 schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The school in Korphe was NOT the first school that Mortenson helped to establish. In fact, it took him more than 10 years before he was finally able to fulfill his promise to the people of the village.

Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality, decrease the population explosion, and improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally. Mortenson believes that "fighting terrorism" only perpetuates a cycle of violence and that there should be a global priority to "promote peace" through education and literacy, with an emphasis on girls' education. "You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won't change," is an often-quoted statement made by Mortenson. Because of community "buy-in," which involves getting villages to donate land, subsidized or free labor ("sweat equity"), wood and resources, the schools have local support and have been able to avoid retribution by the Taliban or other groups opposed to girls' education.

Mortenson’s first book, Three Cups of Tea, was published in 2006, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. It is now required reading at 100 college campuses in American, and it’s also required reading for members of the U.S. Military who are involved in counter-insurgency work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I finished reading his second book, Stones into Schools, about two days before the attempted bombing in Times Square, which really drove home the message that HIS way of doing things works a lot better than the brute force approach that failed our country so miserably in Vietnam (we dropped 864,000 tons of bombs during
Operation Rolling Thunder), and continues to be the less desirable way to resolving conflicts.

In Afghanistan, $20 will pay for a year of education for a first grader, and $340 will pay for 4 years of high school. It costs approximately $50,000 to build a school in rural Afghanistan or Pakistan, and pay for a teacher’s salary for 4 years after the schools opening. Since its founding, the Central Asia Institute has probably spent less than $10,000,000, which is approximately the cost of TWO unmanned drones.

In my opinion, education is ALWAYS a better solution than armed conflict. If we could somehow create 100 people just like Greg Mortenson, the world would never see another war, and THAT’S a thought that should bring a smile to your face!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The mouse that roared

The Mouse That Roared is a 1955 novel that became a 1959 movie starring Peter Sellers.

The premise of the story of the mouse is that a tiny country called the Duchy of Grand Fenwick invades New York City – and wins the war.

Believe it or not, there actual is a modern equivalent to the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, and it’s one that will surprise you.

For starters, if I asked you which country had the most subjects, you’d probably answer “China”, because the number of people living within its borders as of last July was 1,338,612,968 - and you’d be correct.

Second place gets to be a little fuzzier, though, because there are TWO countries that both have about 1.1 billion subjects.

India, of course, is one of them, but the other country is one that will be less familiar to you.

If I asked you what country was the smallest country in the world, you’d probably tell me that it was the Principality of Monaco, since it covers less than a square mile - but you’d be wrong.

The smallest country in the world is the Vatican, and it was established in 1929 by one of history’s most repressive dictators, Benito Mussolini. The total area of the Vatican is .17 square miles, about the size of a golf course.

The Vatican is the only country in the world that uses Latin on its ATM machines (the other official language is Italian), and it also has the world’s oldest and smallest army, which is known as the Swiss Guard.

The Vatican is also very unique because it has NO permanent citizens. In order to be a citizen of the Vatican, you must be employed there, and your citizenship ends when your employment does. In addition, it is the only non-commercial economy in the world, since it is supported entirely by contributions of Catholics around the world, the sale of postage stamps and publications, and tourism.

There WAS a time in history when “the little mouse” roared a LOT. From 1095 A.D. to 1291 A.D., the Catholic Church declared war on the most advanced civilization in the world – the Muslims.

You may agree or disagree with how the Catholic Church conducts its business, and you may agree or disagree with some of its rules, but any organization that can survive for roughly 2000 years deserves a lot of respect.