Friday Five April 20

I think that most people who read this blog know that I’m a person committed to Jesus Christ. I thought, for this week’s post, I thought I’d start with a post that outlines the four core Christian blogs that I read. For the record, there is much in Evangelical Christianity that is not really worth taking the time to consume. But these blogs and resources are helpful to me and I hope they are helpful to you:

Ligonier Ministries


Ravi Zacharius

Westminister Chapel

On another note, men’s clothing is not the business to be in, apparently, with revenues down over 80% over the last decade. My take: you can thank Joseph A. Bank for this, who is known for selling everything at incredible discounts – discounts that are based, IMHO, on false pricing levels.

Why is it that the greatest amount of entrepreneurism occurs in those older than 50? This article doesn’t fully explain it, but my take on it is that by the time you’ve hit 50, you’ve seen a number of things that didn’t work or only partially worked and you have the wisdom coupled with the energy to innovate and try something new. I’d also like to think that the best entrepreneurs are those who combine innovation and energy with the wisdom of a past failure. If you haven’t failed, then I suspect you’ll not appreciate the depth and strength of certain risks that will present themselves. Knowing how to handle risk is a huge part to successfully running a company.

This article on how to work a room of people you don’t know reminded me of the importance of being able to make small talk for sustained periods of time. I’m not, by nature, an extrovert, though if you’ve seen me teach, you might think otherwise. I’m usually not all that comfortable around a lot of people and I don’t do small talk very well. People who don’t do small talk well can be thought of as aloof, arrogant, distant or just plain rude. The ability to create small talk is more than just passing time discussing jibberish – it’s also the way people who don’t have a close association build a relationship. For many, like me, this can be tough to do at times, but it is a helpful skill to have in business.

This article that outlines basic things you shouldn’t do in an interview process reminded me of a person I interviewed once who didn’t land a job with Mindsharp. I had 15 minutes to spend with this candidate and let that be known at the outset of our brief time together. My schedule was packed that day and my time with this candidate was just a quick “meet-n-greet”. I asked a question and for nearly 10 minutes I sat there and listened to this individual talk and talk and talk. When there was (finally) a break, I decided not to ask another question right away and see how this person would handle the silence. As I suspected, this individual swiftly filled the silence with more talk. After 15 minutes, I had asked two questions and knew that I wouldn’t be giving this individual a positive recommendation.

Bill English, CEO

The Ironies of Life

I’m taking a few minutes out of my morning to post my thoughts about two men in my life: my uncle and my father-in-law. For the latter, today is his 80th birthday and we’re hosting my wife’s entire family here (she is the oldest of five sisters, so you can do the math on the number of folks coming today). My uncle is very, very close to passing away in Indianapolis, if he didn’t pass away during the night.

I was in Indianapolis last weekend to say goodbye to my uncle. I think he knew I was there, but he didn’t respond when I prayed with him. Nearly 3 years ago, I watched my mom go through the same process – the slow, labored breathing, the lack of kidney function and the increasingly extended times between breath.

While I celebrate the birthday of one family member, another may very well pass on. I find this ironic.

They say there’s only two certain things in life: taxes and death. While that’s a bit dark, I’d suggest that what happens after this life is of more importance than what we do in this life. My uncle is a rather rich man. He’s worth millions. But he’s dying the same way my mom did, who had nearly zero net worth. Whatever accomplishments, profit, fame or fortune we might amass on this earth is worthless in eternity. It simply doesn’t matter. All that matters in those final few days of one’s life is what you did with Jesus Christ. Both my father-in-law and my uncle have professed Christ as their savior, so I’m confident that I’ll see them again in the next life.

I find it interesting that death can present us with both clarity on what is really important as well as surface ironies of life. One person celebrates while another faces death. One person laughs while another cries. Ecclesiastes said as much: There is a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to live and a time to die.

While we live on this earth, much of what we do seems so important. An athlete carries a ball past a line and millions cheer. A teacher imparts truth to a young mind and the world is changed. But please don’t be fooled – what we do on this earth isn’t the end game. There is a reality more real than our lives on this earth. Live for God to inherit that reality or spend eternity in a reality that is more undesirable than you can possibly imagine. That really is one of life’s greatest ironies: live for another (God) to save your life or live for yourself to lose it.

Bill English, CEO

A Review of the Financial Crisis

The Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) has a good article on Getting up to Speed on the Financial Crisis. In this article – which you’ll have to purchase if you want to see the table – is a good timeline of the major events of the financial crisis from 2007 – 2009. In reading this, bear in mind they are referencing 16 papers as their source – which it appears they have selected judiciously. The St. Louis Federal Reserve has an entire list of books and articles that address this crisis and it should be noted that more books and papers are forthcoming. This will likely be written about endlessly for the foreseeable future.

Bill English, CEO

Friday Five April 13

I like how the writer of this article focuses the first principle on building your career on more than just income and the accumulation of money.

Over the last five years, over half of the new jobs created in the United States were created in the State of Texas. This is supported here and here.

Under which party does the economy tend to grow? Well, much to the chagrin of my conservative friends, the data shows that our economy grows best when we have a Democrat President. This fact – not fiction – is highlighted in a sidebar article today. For an extended discussion of this, please look at Stocks for the Long Run, authored by Jeremy Siegel. In it, he writes:

“It is well known that the stock market prefers Republicans to Democrats. Most corporate executives and stock traders are Republicans, and many Republican policies are perceived to be favorable to stock prices and capital formation. Democrats are perceived to be less amenable to favorable tax treatment of capital gains and dividends and more in favor of regulation and income redistribution. Yet the stock market has actually done better under Democrats than Republicans. The performance of the Dow Jones Industrials during every administration since Grover Cleveland was elected in 1888 is shown in Figure 13-2 [not shown in this post]. The greatest bear market in history occurred during Herbert Hoover’s Republican administration, while stocks did quite well under Franklin Roosevelt, despite the fact that the Democrat was frequently reviled in boardrooms and brokerage houses around the country. The immediate reaction of the market—the day before the election to the day after—does indeed conform to the fact that investors like Republicans better than Democrats. Since 1888, the market fell an average of 0.5 percent on the day following a Democratic victory, but it rose by 0.7 percent on the day following a Republican victory. But the market’s reaction to the Republicans’ success in presidential elections has been muted since World War II. There have been occasions, like Clinton’s second-term election victory, when the market soared because the Republicans kept control of Congress, not because Clinton was reelected. It is also instructive to examine the returns in the first, second, third, and fourth years of a presidential term, which are displayed in Table 13-2 [not shown in this post]. The returns in the third year of a presidential term are clearly the best, especially since 1948. It is striking that this is true since the third year includes the disastrous 43.3 percent drop that occurred in 1931, during the third year of Hoover’s ill-fated administration and the worst 1-year performance in more than 120 years. Why the third year stands out is not clear. One would think that the fourth year of a presidential term, when the administration might increase spending or put pressure on the Fed to stimulate the economy for the upcoming election, would be the best year for stocks. But the fourth year, although good, is clearly not the best. Perhaps the market anticipates favorable economic policies in the election year, causing stock prices to rise the year before. The superior performance under the Democrats in recent years is documented in Table 13-3 [not shown in this post]. This table records the total real and nominal returns in the stock market, as well as the rate of inflation, under Democratic and Republican administrations. Since 1888, the market has fared better in nominal terms under Democrats than under Republicans, but since inflation has been lower when the Republicans have held office, real stock returns have been slightly higher under Republicans than under Democrats. But this has not been true over the past 60 years, when the market performed far better under the Democrats whether or not inflation is taken into account. Perhaps this is why the market’s reaction to a Democratic presidential victory has not been as negative in recent years as it was in the past.”

Siegel, Jeremy J. (2007-11-27). Stocks for the Long Run, 4th Edition (pp. 227-230). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

The market is reacting negatively to the lower-than-expected jobs numbers for March, 2012. Last month, our economy created 120,000 new jobs – which is pretty bad, considering that we need to create 150,000 new jobs a month just to account for college graduates and new adults entering the job market. The buzz is that there is a growing fear we will have a stagnate latter half to 2012, which could be exacerbated by the growing recession in Europe.

I should start a page on all of the stupid things people do that legislators feel they must regulate. This story not only illustrates the sheer lack of common sense among the populous, but it also confirms that no good idea goes unlegislated. People – please – don’t we have better things to do that worry about this?

Bill English, CEO

Wisdom I Learned Today

As a CEO, I drive action, not details.

As a CEO, I use email to disseminate details, but use face-to-face conversations to discuss those details

As a CEO, I ask for a plan and review the progress on the plan.

Remember, if it’s not…

  • Generating revenue
  • Reducing expenses
  • Regulatory necessary
  • Best for the long-term

…then why are we doing it?

Bill English, CEO

Friday Five April 6

On this Easter weekend, I’m reminded again of the sacrifice that Christ endured for every person on this earth to satisfy a Holy God’s requirement that sin be punished. Cruxifiction is a particularly painful and slow process of death. The process is so painful that a word had to be created to describe the pain – excruciating – meaning “out of cruxifiction” or “out of torment”. The focus on Good Friday is the pain and death of Christ – the substitutionary atonement for us all who deserve to be separated from God for eternity. The point is that because of His deep love for each of us individually, Christ voluntarily took on Himself the wrath of God and God’s full punishment so that we would not need to endure it. Instead, we could accept His forgiveness because He is the only one who can give such forgiveness to us and then become regenerated, or “alive”, in Christ. He literally adopts us into His family and seals us for eternity in a relationship with God that cannot be broken. In the cross, not only do we see God’s full wrath against sin, we also see God’s full love for us. And here’s the deal: it is both free to you and me and yet it will cost us our lives. Will you accept this free gift today?

As a nation, we’re experiencing a long-term decline in interstate migration. The paper from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve proposes that the decline is due to two elements: 1) the growing lack of geographical specificity to jobs and the ability of people to research a geographical area into which they might move for a new job before taking that job. Both make sense to me – especially in light of the fact that the younger generations have an equal appetite for quality of life as well as career advancement.

On another note, Narayana Kocherlakota, President of the Minneapolis Fed, offers a model on why there are limits to what monetary policy can achieve in the Fed’s quest to fulfill their mandate of ensuring there is “full employment” in the market. It’s an interesting read and I agree with Geithner that we need to keep the Fed from being politicized.

This coming week, I’m taking a few days off to attend the NRA Convention in St. Louis. Since I’m in process to become an NRA Pistol Instructor (along with other courses, such as Home Defense and Personal Protection Outside the Home), it’s good to get around the crew for a few days. I’m looking forward to hearing the speeches and seeing what’s new in hardware in the firearms and accessories exhibits. Many think that the NRA is an arm of the Republican party – but this is not true. If you ever look at their election guide, you’ll find that Democrats are well endorsed by the NRA – mainly due to the fact that the pro-gun issue crosses party lines, especially in rural areas.

Finally, the Washington Post asserts that you can’t cut spending without cutting spending. What is amazing is that we have to state the obvious as if it’s important.

Bill English, CEO

The Affordable Health Care Act and Euthanasia

Well, the title alone probably tells you what I’m thinking in this article, but I’ll embellish anyways. I sense the confluence of several strong forces coming together that will significantly challenge how Christians manage their businesses in the coming years. There will be significant tradeoff choices that will reveal who we are as individuals and what we really value. The Affordable Health Care Act – more commonly known as ObamaCare – is a symptom of a larger problem in our culture, but will be the vehicle through which Christian business owners may be forced to make difficult choices.

In this post, I’ll discuss a long-forgotten work by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, then connect their thinking and predictions to what is probably (in my estimation) in Obamacare and then end with an outline of the key challenges that those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ will likely face. In all honesty, I hope that I’m wrong in the predictive points in this post. But I posit this information as a way for our society to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if this is what we seriously want our country to be like.

In the revised copy of Schaeffer’s book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Koop joins Schaeffer in discussing critical beliefs in America in the early 80’s. Nearly 30 years later, we are dangerously close to reaping the fruits of seeds sown back in the 60’s and 70’s. I’ll quote at length from several sections of their book:

The human life issues will define our own time. For far from being only single issues, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia strike at the heart of our most basic beliefs about God and man. The way in which we ultimately decide them will determine the future for all of us. As Mother Teresa has said, “If a mother can kill her own children, then what can be next?” Indeed, what can be next for all of us? If we can take one life because it does not measure up to our standards of perfection, what is to stop us from taking any life-simply for our own convenience? Abortion and infanticide are only the beginning steps on a slippery slope that will lead to death for all but the planned and perfect members of our society.

Francis A. Schaeffer;C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Revised Edition) (Kindle Locations 40-45). Kindle Edition.

Abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are not only questions for women and other relatives directly involved-nor are they the prerogatives of a few people who have thought through the wider ramifications. They are life-and-death issues that concern the whole human race and should be addressed as such. Putting pressure on the public and on legislators to accept a lower view of human beings, small groups of people often argue their case by using a few extreme examples to gain sympathy for ideas and practices that later are not limited to extreme cases. These then become the common practice of the day. Abortion, for example, has moved from something once considered unusual and now in many cases is an accepted form of “birth control.” Infanticide is following the same pattern. The argument begins with people who have a so-called vegetative existence. There then follows a tendency to expand the indications and eliminate almost any child who is unwanted for some reason. The same movement can be seen with euthanasia. The arguments now being put forward center on the “miserable” person in old age-one dying of cancer, for instance. But once the doors are open, there is no reason why the aged, weak, and infirm will not find that as they become economic burdens they will be eliminated under one pretext or another.

Francis A. Schaeffer;C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Revised Edition) (Kindle Locations 542-549). Kindle Edition.

The concern about euthanasia and the use of that term in our common vocabulary lead to a degradation of the elderly and, ultimately, to inferior health care for the elderly-as well as encouraging the thought that those who do not want to “shuffle off” quickly are somehow failing in their contribution to society. Economic considerations then creep in, and old folks are made to feel-in this crazy, schizophrenic society of ours-that they are in some way depriving younger and more deserving people of the medical care that is now being provided them at the same cost. For example, one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare suggested in 1977 that the various states that did not enact living-will legislation be penalized by having withdrawn or curtailed the federal funds that would ordinarily supplement state funds allocated for certain major programs.”

Francis A. Schaeffer;C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Revised Edition) (Kindle Locations 829-834). Kindle Edition.

Now, consider the reporting that questioned whether or not Vice President Dick Cheney should have received his heart transplant, given how old he is. Because ObamaCare will ultimately ration health care based on political factors that try to answer the question about who should receive care relative to age and/or habit, we can be confident that these decisionswill be life and death decisions that are based on political considerations.

I’m telling you now: ObamaCare coupled with our lack of commitment to following God, will lead to euthanasia because old people will be deemed “not worthy” of expensive care because of their diminished utility and value to society. Just like babies are killed in the womb for the convenience of the mother, elderly people who need expensive care to keep living will be cast aside – perhaps nicely – but still cast aside and denied the care they need because it will be deemed too expensive and/or an impairment on the care of someone else who is more useful to society. And God forbid that the care of the elderly inconvenience anyone in this “it’s all about me” age. As costs (predictably) skyrocket for health care once the government is in full control, we’ll find that the concepts of euthanasia will become more and more acceptable to society. It might take another 30 – 50 years, but it will become acceptable.

Add to this the coming wars between the generations as the older folks demand the goodies and benefits from the government that they believe they are entitled to and the younger generation fighting tooth and nail to not have their taxes raised anymore to pay for programs that are obviously going bankrupt.

Folks, I’m not usually a pessimist, but I see significant class, generational and health care warfare
emerging in the county in the coming 30 years. It will not surprise me at all if many in their 40’s and 50’s – including myself – will find ourselves in the middle of a storm as politicians continue to pit groups against each other based on class, income, health care, generational issues and so forth. And the timing and method of the ending of our lives may rest in the hands of a bureaucrat whose job it is to figure out who should and should not receive immediate care due to scarce resources and government mandates.

What does the Bible have to say about all of this? Briefly, in the Scriptures we find that:

  • The younger members of a family should look after the elderly in their family and the church should look after widows who are unable to provide for themselves. The church has allowed itself to neglect clear teaching from the Bible because they have forfeited their responsibility to the government.
  • Retirement is not a Biblical concept. American Christians have bought into the lie that they deserve to spend their final years in the lap of convenience and leisure. Neither is commanded or advocated in the Bible.
  • Personal responsibility is an assumed value and principle behind nearly every command in Scripture. For example, “let him who stole steal no more, but rather, let him work with his hands, so that he will have something to give”. Think about it. You can’t move from being a thief to being a giver without taking personal responsibility both for stealing and for giving. However, if my stealing is classified as a compulsion or is explained by a life of poverty or abuse during my childhood, then I’m no longer responsible for my actions. To the extent that our government and/or society diminishes our responsibility to own our words and actions and the results from our words and actions, to that extent, the Scriptures are being supplanted with human foolishness. Our society is filled with people who honestly believe that the government is responsible to make them happy, to provide for them, to ameliorate their pain and to give them what they lack. We won’t survive as a country if we continue to allow ourselves to grow a dependency class who lack a sense of personal responsibility

What is incredibly frightening is that some of this future rests literally in the hands of one man – one justice of the Supreme Court – who will probably be the deciding vote on whether Obamacare lives or dies. One vote. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that the quality of our future rests literally in the hands of a few unelected people who may make a legal judgment based primarily on their own political views. AS our country moves farther and farther from the Lord, our views of God and man continue to deteriorate. The logical conclusion of a society that has jettisoned God is one where government assumes the role of God.

Interestingly enough, Christians alone can change this future – without taking political sides. 2 Chronicles tells us that if we simply forsake our sin, call on God’s name, humble ourselves and pray, He will hear our prayers and will heal our land. This is such a strong promise that I wonder if we honestly believe it can happen. The future that Schaeffer, Koop and I have outlined need not become reality if Christians will simply forsake our sin and call on the Lord in humility.

I’m speaking to Christians now – the rest of you can eavesdrop – are you willing to get on your knees and cry out to God for your sin and the sin of this nation? Are you willing to be inconvenienced in order to help drive healing in this nation? Do you take 2 Chronicles 7.14 seriously?

I’m sure some who have read this will think that my post is over the top – it may be hard to pull your eyes out from under your forehead. I get it. But in the absence of our nation returning to God, I believe it is predictable that we will end up not only killing our unborn for the sake of convenience, but we’ll also (effectively) kill our elderly to save on costs and to not inconvenience ourselves too much should they consume too much health care resources.

Bill English, CEO

Vistage CEO Confidence Index

I’m one of the ~15,000 members of the Vistage network. The results have been released.

Below are some key highlights from the Q1 Vistage CEO Confidence Index:

  • 75% of CEOs say their sales revenue will increase in the next 12 months.
  • 60% of CEOs expect their firm’s profitability to improve during the next 12 months.
  • 59% of CEOs believe recent data showing economic improvement signals a longer-term trend toward economic growth.
  • 60% of CEOs believe that overall economic conditions in the U.S. have improved compared to a year ago.
  • 84% of CEOs have learned to make their business more productive with fewer employees.
  • 57% of CEOs expect their total number of employees will increase in the next 12 months.
  • 30% of CEOs said that if they could start their business over again, they would chose to open it in another state.

Click here to see the full results of the Q1 Confidence Index.

Bill English, CEO