Category Archives: Politics

Modern World “Sharing”

While it was a lifetime or two ago, I learned a ton while doing my MBA.  With all the noise around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I am reminded of one of the “ah-ha moments” from marketing classes.  In short, marketing was all about gaining and using information to get customers to buy your product or service.  Focus Groups.  Surveys.  Rewards Programs.  That was the one that threw this naive 20 something and had me paying attention…Rewards Programs?  Yes, rewards programs were created to track the customers buying patterns.  They were not created to “reward” me with rebates and coupons, they were there to get me to give them information – what I bought, how much, how often, etc.  In 1996 this was amazing news to me.  It opened an entirely new world of data and behavior, tracking and positioning.  I have never forgotten what I learned and it changed how I viewed the world.

Today we see Mark Zuckerberg being publicly “questioned” by members of Congress.  Optically it is clumsy at best, and often looks like a parent or grandparent feebly grasping at a generation and a world that has left them behind.  It is just bad.  It is bad for Facebook, it has to be wildly frustrating and trying for Mark Zuckerberg, it is certainly bad for Congress (heaven knows they do not need any help looking inept) and in the end it is bad for us as taxpayers.  How much money is being spent on this bit of theater?  And then the money that will be spent to enact laws and regulations, for studies and reports, hearings and findings.  However, what I find myself thinking as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga unfolds is another of those clichés I so love, “live by the sword, die by the sword”.

Professionally and personally I am indifferent when it comes to social media.  It is simply another “thing” that is part of the world.  It has a purpose and a place, but I view it much as I view a hammer, a phone, a wrench or a vehicle.  It is a tool.  I use it as I need it, but am neither emotionally nor financially attached.  And much like anything and everything in this world, it can be used for good and for bad.  It is a tool.  The tool does nothing.  The user does everything.

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been open from the beginning about what they do and how they make money.  Facebook created a platform to share information.  Simple.  Note the word share; Facebook never took anything, it received everything.  Much like “rewards programs”, “rebate offers” or the “first one is free”, Facebook was about gathering information and then using said information to drive revenue.  Users give, Facebook takes.  Facebook then sells what users gave.  Plain, simple, and direct.

People wanted a platform to share their stories, their lives, their photos, their likes, their dislikes, their frustrations, their loves, and yes their secrets.  Social media has brought families closer, it has made the world smaller, it has enhanced cross cultural understanding, it has bridged the generational gap, it has opened minds.  It has also served as an echo chamber, a source of vindication and reinforcement for troubled souls the world over and been used to intimidate, bully and harm.  Above all, social media is a tool.  An unimaginably powerful tool that is used to shape and manipulate behavior, for both good and ill.  Sharing information of any sort is a choice.  And with all choices come consequences, and there in lies the cliché.  People want an open, sharing world, they will live in an open and sharing world.  The information you share can and will be used.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.

In the spirit of irony, that cliché, like many, has its roots in The Bible. Matthew 26:52 if anyone is interested. The Bible and the Ancient Greeks are almost always the original source. Funny how that works.

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Supreme Friends- Scalia and Ginsburg

There is a wonderful Looney Tunes cartoon with a sheep dog and a coyote, walking to “work”, being friends, having a chat, and then being polar opposites at work.  Yet, at the end of the day, when the whistle sounds, they head home as friends.  Civility, in the context of a cartoon.  Mutual Respect.  Admiration.  Professional Colleagues.  Friends.

 

Things were never quite as good as they are remembered, but it does seem the earlier generations were a bit more adapt at maintaining a balance.  Of keeping “work at work”, of “being friends after 6”, or simply just knowing a difference of opinion does not preclude friendship.  It was a different time, but the stories of the friendship, the mutual respect of Tip O’Neal and Ted Kennedy for Ronald Reagan, after 6 p.m., were legendary.  They were able to communicate, to work together, to learn from each other, to find common ground, and maybe along the way learn a bit about themselves and others.  You know, that stuff that makes everyone just a little bit better of a person.

It is refreshing to hear the stories of the Supreme Court’s most outspoken liberal and staunchly conservative member being friends.  Sharing a love of opera, vacationing together, sharing family time, meals, and respecting and admiring the other’s legal and professional acumen.  Who knows, maybe they learned a bit more about other people, another person’s point of view, the life experiences of others.  To call someone “your best buddy” is pretty darn special.

The entire “campaign season” seems to be highlighting how resolute, absolutely righteous and completely uncompromising our potential political “leaders” are.  It is all so terribly sad, but we know at least two people still understood and believed, practiced and abided by the timeless lesson – relationships matter.  Your friends do not have to be like you.  Actually we are all probably better off if they are not just like us, if we have a whole world of relationships full of different people, with different thoughts and beliefs.

Ralph and Sam, Ruth and Antonin.  Thanks for the example.

 

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February 17, 2016 · 10:04 pm

Nelson Mandela and Leadership

The Greater Good. There are countless lessons to be learned from the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. As with most great men, saying he was a “complex person” is an understatement. What strikes me, and always has since he was released from prison and ultimately was elected President of South Africa, is how he truly was a leader for all people. His leadership was alway focused on the Greater Good.

It is a story well-known to even the most casual observer of world history – the prisoner of the apartheid regime is released after 27 years, becomes the first elected president of a post apartheid South Africa. In what could have been, and at the time was widely feared to be a potential disastrous transition of power, Mandela was the right man, at the right place, at the right time. His leadership ensured a smooth transition and truly positioned South Africa for its ongoing success well into the 21st Century.

It is sadly ironic that whenever I reflect on Mandela and all that he did for South Africa, and the entire world, I also find myself thinking of the Palestinians and of course Yasser Arafat. Again, there is way too much to the story, but they are both of a certain era and were forged in a crucible of struggle.  As great as Mandela was, it is generous to say Arafat was certainly less so. If Mandela never missed an opportunity, it is safe to say Arafat never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Mandela led for the Greater Good for all the people of South Africa, black and white. He was very aware of his country, its history, its people, its place in the region and the world. He realized revenge and bitterness were the enemies of progress. He believed in truth AND reconciliation. He forgave and moved forward.  He held himself to a very high ethical standard.  He truly set the example.  Arafat’s record speaks volumes…we can just leave it at that. When Mandela walked out of prison, he left behind the prisoners mindset. He became a true leader and statesman. It was not about him, it was about the Greater Good.

Thankfully most of us will never have to face a fraction of the challenges Nelson Mandela faced.  What we can all do is remember what he learned and ultimately taught us, both in how to lead and how to be a person.  Our mind is our own.  We control how we respond.  And above all, in leadership, keeping an eye on the Greater Good will never steer us wrong.

On a personal note…I was a Stephen Biko guy myself.  One of the best live songs ever.

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Leadership, Goodwill…Good Grief

As the steady drone of “budget crisis” and “federal government shutdown” continues to pound every sensory receptor, I find myself thinking of that great accounting term “goodwill”.  By nature I abhor the entire idea of politics, and to even slightly touch on the topic makes me feel, well dirty, but at the moment it is the topic de jour.  And as is often the case when things are not going “well”, a quick look at things reveals some classic, fundamental truths.

It was one of the more interesting parts of accounting, and that is saying something. It is easy to take a shot at accounting classes.  To my rather unsophisticated business mind during those early MBA years, the idea of goodwill made a great deal of sense.  If the customers, industry and society believe in the firm, the product, the service, the team, the leadership, etc., well that is worth something.  Name brand, product recognition, the benefit of the doubt, whatever it might be, it all falls under that umbrella of “goodwill”.  It all has value and it is quantified, listed and quite literally accounted for on an annual basis.  It was one of those things I knew intuitively, but to see it recognized and quantified, well that lesson stuck with me.

The concept of goodwill became one of those things that was never far from the surface.  When in a direct leadership role, maintaining the goodwill of the team was always important.  Caring about your people, helping them advance their careers, find work-life balance, grow professionally and personally, they were all deposits in the “goodwill account”.  When times were tough, when the team needed to really dig deep, we had that “goodwill account” to draw upon.  Same concept has applied to business in general – treat the clients well, go the extra mile, under promise over deliver, treat vendors and competitors well, and just generally do the right thing…it has paid dividends.

Good governance.  Good leadership.  Goodwill.  It all goes hand-in-hand yet no one in our collective “ruling elite” seems to get it.  The very idea that a business would act in its own self-interest with complete disregard for its customers, stakeholders, suppliers and shareholders is absurd.  Every successful business realizes the value of goodwill.  They have to list it and quantify it in their Annual Reports.  It might be wise for “our leaders”, regardless of party, branch, or level, to take a moment and think about the idea of goodwill.  Dare I say it would change their behavior…maybe.

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Early July, John Adams and Celebrations

As the saying goes, “we all become our parents”, at least to some degree.  Not sure who said it first, but it is one of those phrases that we all scoff at in youth, yet with time come to recognize as accurate.  For me, it is the watching of 60 Minutes on a fair number of Sunday evenings.  This week the interview of David McCullough, the author and narrator of so many great historical moments of American history, is what struck a chord.  Granted, I am a huge history geek and have most of McCullough’s books sitting a few feet away from me as I type, but his discussion of the significance of the 4th of July was timely indeed.

As mentioned in the interview, it is the prophetic lines of a letter John Adams sent to his wife Abigail that has truly survived the test of time:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Granted he was off by a couple of days, the final copy of the Declaration of Independence was dated on the 4th, the vote was on the 2nd, but the spirit holds.

Adams, and all the Founders, took the ultimate risk: they committed high treason.  They had everything to lose, for they were the “top 1%” of the era.   Their lives, their families, their wealth.  It was all on the line.  Though we often hear the term “Founding Fathers” or “Founding Brothers”, make no mistake, their wifes and families were just as much involved and at risk.  It is impossible to imagine Abigail Adams or Martha Washington not knowing what their husbands were up to during all those meetings in Philadelphia in 1776.  Yet, in spite of the odds, they did it, they  declared our independence. It was neither asked for nor granted. It was taken. No one had ever done such a thing…not to the British Empire.

Independence declared and ultimately won, the significance of early July does not end there.  A true, unified  nation was finally forged in the crucible of the American Civil War. Gettysburg is the one battle almost everyone has heard of, mostly thanks to Lincoln’s Address.  It is a staple of the American educational journey…memorize it, recite it, study it, or at least endure it.  Almost every child encounters it in school.  The battle was fought from 1-3 July 1863…150 years ago.  Never before or since has America suffered such loses in such a short period of time. It should not be forgotten amongst the celebrations of 4th of July. Not necessarily celebrated, but certainly not forgotten.

History is one of those things that some people love, some hate, and most tolerate.  One can debate the relative “value” of history as a subject, an academic major, a course of study or a hobby, but it is something we need to be aware of, respect and appreciate. It shapes us and our world.  These first few days of July are as good a time as any to take a moment and just reflect on what happened years ago.  We owe it to them and ourselves to not forget where we came from and what gift we have truly been given.

It is pretty cool…200+ years on and we still celebrate our independence with parades, pomp, fireworks, games, solemn pageantry, from one end of the continent to the other.  It has not been the smoothest journey realizing the vision, but we are getting there.

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Margret Thatcher is Leadership

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end.  It is not a day when you lounged around doing nothing.  It’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.”

Margaret Thatcher

No question, she had a lot of supremely satisfied days.  That quote has sat on my desk for years, and I  only wish I lived up to it more often.  Margaret Thatcher was an absolutely amazing leader.  While I will never say anyone was “the best ever”, I will say she sits squarely in any Top Ten List.

If there is one trait above all others Lady Thatcher had, it was conviction.  She had a vision, a plan, a mission, and she was absolutely committed.  Leadership means a great many things, but in the end it is the ability to inspire people to reach new heights, to take them beyond where they are and take them to a level previously unattained.  As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher knew exactly the direction she wanted to go, she had a very specific vision of the world and her country, and she was without question committed to that vision.  She was The Iron Lady; it was a fitting moniker.

However, with that conviction went a very pragmatic side.  To her critics she was cold, unwilling to compromise, uncaring.  While she never wavered in her convictions, she was very pragmatic in meeting her goals.  She knew that relationships, working with others, bargaining and shared visions were the key to real, long-lasting change.  For all of her rhetoric and staunch committment as a “cold warrior”, when Gorbachev came onto the scene she realized she had a partner with whom she could work to truly bring about change.  Though her goals never changed, she was pragmatic in working with the Soviet leader to help bring an end to the Cold War.  Commitment without pragmatism is just being stubborn.  Not sacrificing the vision while working with others is real leadership.

Clear, concise and compelling.  Leaders are by nature great communicators, they are able to relate to an audience, to convey a message.  There is no question, Lady Thatcher was all that…just google some of her quotes…amazing.

Though there are many, many things I have always admired about Lady Thatcher, one of the most treasured leadership, and quite frankly life lessons, I have gleaned is that she never took things personally.  It seems so simple really, yet it is so terribly important.  The Falklands War put the “special” relationship with the United States and especially her friendship with President Reagan under extreme pressure.  She accepted that the United States, and even her personal friend, would not support her and the UK in their mission.  It was a bitter pill, yet she understood that it was not personal.  The Falklands War passed and the US/UK and Reagan/Thatcher relationship returned to normal.  There were no hurt feelings, no grudges, no recriminations.  It was just business.  It was not personal.  A leader has to put aside their own needs and even at times their own feelings, hurt or otherwise, and remain focused on the bigger picture.

Lastly, Lady Thatcher was just that, a lady.  She carried herself with a poise, a confidence, a grace; she had a presence that a great leader must posses.  She was clearly bright, witty and by many accounts warm.   She was able to utilize humor and direct language in such a way that made one see her as a leader first.  Obviously she was a woman in a male dominated profession, yet she never saw that as an issue.  The Lady had class…you could just tell.

In the final analysis, when you are compared to Winston Churchill, you must have done something right.  Take away the political, social, and economic policies and just look at the person, their accomplishments and their legacy; Margaret Thatcher certainly is in that category of great leaders.  She was ahead of her time in many ways, yet she was also the absolute right person, in the right place, at absolutely the right moment.  However, what made her such a great leader is truly timeless.  Her conviction, her vision, her ability to relate that vision, to give and take without ever sacrificing her convictions.  Those are the benchmarks of great leadership.

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Resolutionites and the Fiscal Cliff

The start of a new year, a time when we are encouraged to look both forward and back.  To reflect on what was and to embrace what could be, to wipe the slate clean and start anew.  Or, for those of us who find ourselves going to a gym occasionally, to wade through the herd of “resolutionites”.  It is that timeless January story – the locker room overrun, the fitness classes packed, lines for the cardio machines, and the weight room echoing with the sound of crashing plates and stacks.  Yep, it is a new year at the gym.  As hectic and frenzied as it is now, by early March it will be back to normal.

Not to get all political, but it was impossible to escape the “Fiscal Cliff” news over the holidays.  And with the start of the new year came the message that the crisis had been averted, an agreement reached, and action taken.  Yet, less than a week later, we hear more chatter of how politicians “kicked the can down the road”, that while a crisis was averted, massive issues remain.  As hectic and frenzied as things were, for all the drama and tension, we find ourselves right back where we were.  Nothing has really changed.

What the resolutionites at the gym and our political “leaders” have done is remind us that nothing really changes unless fundamental, underlying, core issues are truly addressed.  Going to a gym or working out are great behaviours, yet the real goal of fitness, weight loss or improved mental and physical health will not be achieved unless the underlying reasons behind an unhealthy lifestyle are addressed.  Similarly, the underlying reasons for the “Fiscal Cliff” were not addressed.  Some of the immediate symptoms were sort of addressed, but the reasons and behaviours that lead to this crisis remain.  In the end, the majority of New Year’s Resolutions fail because they target behaviours, not causes.

Thanks to the drone of the news and the lines in the gym, we are reminded that lasting change only comes when foundational causes are addressed.  It is true for the resolutionites in the gym, for political leaders, and for all of us.  A new year is a convenient, but an entirely arbitrary moment in time, but it is as good a time as any to really make a change…if you really want to.

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Marketing and the Public – NFL and the DNC

Call it curiosity of an odd sort, but I find myself wondering today what will have more viewers this evening…the Democratic National Convention and specifically President Clinton’s speech, or the NFL’s season opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys.

Frankly, my money is on the football game.  Just a hunch, but will really be curious to see the numbers tomorrow.  By the way, where does one find such numbers?  It is interesting to notice the similarities in the marketing, the packaging, the general spectacle of both “events”.  It is all about hype, media coverage, messaging and creating a sense of excitement for the coming campaign.  The Super Bowl Champion Giants vs America’s Team the Cowboys;  former President Bill Clinton – both organizations are rolling out the marquee names!

Not sure what it says about society, but I will say that there is a bit of a degree of unknown about both events…a bit.  The Giants should play well and handle the Cowboys, and President Clinton should be on message, but one never knows.  Strange things do happen from time-to-time.

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Incentivizing Behavior and Changing Outcomes

Incentivize the desired behavior. It is a classic piece of compensation modeling – pay your people to do what it is you want them to do. You want sales numbers to go up, pay your sales people for new business. You want higher quality controls, more widgets produced, incentivize your people accordingly. So simple really, yet the corollary to that is rarely, if ever discussed – do not reward people for doing what you do not want done.  And the part which is never discussed openly, is risk versus reward – what are the temptations to cutting corners to meet the incentives?

Sunday’s New York Times Opinion Page included a piece by Johnathan Vaughters, a former professional cyclist and now the executive director of Slipstream Sports.  The column was much more than an opinion piece, rather it was a confessional under the title How to Get Doping Out of Sports . In the course of the column, he shares a great deal of insight into why one would decide to dope.  But one point above all others stayed with me, and he is dead on correct, no one should ever be put in a position to have to decide to cheat. In sport, business, or just life in general – it is not a dilemma anyone should face. However, there also seems to be more there that he is not mentioning; specifically that the reward for doping far outweighed the risk of being caught.  And that issue, which seems to go far beyond cycling and sports, is the real issue that is not being addressed.

Yes, I am a total outsider.  The extra 2% advantage that he mentions doping might provide, well that still would leave me a solid 40% short of the ability needed to compete at a professional level.  Yet, I find myself understanding the choices he faced and choices he made.  While I might be as honest and ethical as most, I am also no naive fool.  Look at the choice – cheat, in an environment where it is for all intents and purposes accepted, and make literally millions – provide a life for you, your family, your extended family, generate revenues to support others on the teams, and their family, or simply walk away from your dream, your career and frankly the only real opportunity you might ever have for a profession. Yea, I get it.

And to me there in lies the real issue.  The risk-reward paradigm was completely out of whack in cycling, and to a degree it still is.  It was massive upside for limited downside.  And why that lingered with me is that so much of our society seems to now be tilted in that very same way.  Let’s face it, all of the issues with “Wall Street Bankers” – how many have went to jail or lost real money?  There is Bernie Madoff, and then…?  That is the point, there is no real risk to balance out the rewards.  We have incentivized winning at all costs in sports and business.  Well, sports is business, so it is all the same.  It was the reality of the “housing crisis” and is still a reality in our society – there is no real risk to getting yourself over levered.  We allow folks the ability to walk away from debt by filing some form of bankruptcy.    It might sting a little, but it is not that big of a deal, nothing tangible is really lost.  Just look around – people are literally doing it all the time.

Balancing risk and reward lies far beyond testing, regulations and controls. The real answer lies both in how you incentivize and the level of risk associated with “doing whatever it takes” to reach the goal.  It is something every leader and manager, coach, business owner and frankly political leader really needs to consider – is the incentive to achieve outweighing everything else?

The real answer to cleaning up sports, business, and yes even behavior in general, is not to punish forward.  The answer lies in punishing backwards.  The risk has to outweigh the reward, and that is only possible when the very reward itself that spawned the behavior in question is put at risk.  And let’s be very clear, we are not talking titles and jerseys, promotions or corner offices, we are talking dollars.  If we want to keep rewards high, which is fine with me, I am a big supporter of everyone making a ton of dough, then make the risks to breaking the rules just as high if not higher.  Make the risk the very thing that they earned by cheating.  Congressman trades on insider information and makes money – they lose the office AND the money they made.  Cyclist cheats to win – they lose the salary, the winnings, the sponsorship and endorsement money, all of it that was earned by cheating.  Clawback.  That is a risk that will trump a reward.

It is not about banning someone from sport for a game, the post season, or even a year or two – clearly that has helped, but it has not solved the problem.  Peer pressure and cultural changes in sport, that has also helped.  However, the pain threshold is not high enough yet.  Even when an athlete is caught doping, they have already reaped the benefits of cheating!  You want to stop doping in professional sports – hit the incentive – take back what was earned through cheating.  Going forward, make salary, prize money, and above all, sponsorship and endorsement money all subject to a “clawback” clause.  It is outlined in the contract and then enforced.  That will stop doping.  The risk then truly outweighs the reward.

There it is, the real answer – clawback.  It is a form of risk that is real to everyone for it attacks the very incentive that spawned the behavior you are trying to correct.  Maybe a bit harsh, but the decision Johnathan Vaughters was faced with, and made, at that time in place seems to surround a good many of us in every walk of life.  No one should be placed in a situation where the wrong path is the more rewarding and easier path.  Putting that temptation out there to begin with is wrong.  Look around you, the fallout is literally everywhere.

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How Things Change…Sometimes Quickly

Paradigm.  It is something we tend to revisit often.  Know the lens you see things through, appreciate how and why others see things the way they do.  Timeless really.  We think about it with generational communications, in interviewer/interviewee scenarios, client relationships, professional and personal relationships, even in how one frames a picture.  Yet it was a conversation with a recent college graduate that is starting his first “real job” that really drove home the lesson of how things change depending on one’s paradigm.

It has been one of the things I have enjoyed most over the years, working with college students and/or recent graduates as they embark on their professional journey. Fortunately it is something I have gotten the chance to do for close to 20 years now, both formally when teaching, and now on a volunteer and professional basis. We do seminars and one-on-one coaching, resume writing, interview training, and just general professional counseling and guidance for various campus organizations and individuals. Fun stuff really – helps keep us sharp and timely – generations change – we have to keep up.

So what did we learn – well the fact that the “smarter” or “savvier” recent graduates were aware enough to stop smoking pot back in February or March to ensure they were ready for company drug testing was reassuring…relatively speaking.  An eye opener, but at least made us realize that some folks are, well somewhat aware of the “real world”.   Also, it is a theme we have seen for years, and it does not seem to be getting any better, the lack of “financial education” in our society is staggering. Most, not all, but certainly the vast majority of youth have no idea how things like 401(k)’s, IRA’s, interest, dividends, debt, credit, or all of the other myriad of things work in the real world.  We as a society continue to produce woefully unprepared sheep for financial slaughter.  It is amazing anyone survives…financially speaking.

And it was midway through the conversation when he asked what a 401(k) was and how it worked.  While discussing 401(k) enrollment and before tax and after tax earnings that it happened…someone’s entire value system as a voter changed.  They asked, so we went down the political road for a few minutes, nothing ideological, just a very rational chat on a very general level, but the reality dawned on a 22-year-old – he was now a producer and he wanted to hang onto what he will be earning.  It was not the idea that anyone was going to be taking from him, we all get it, there is a degree of reality – taxes serve a purpose.  What struck him was the amount.  The starting salary was not nearly as impressive as it seemed, and that the amount very possibly will be more as his earnings grow, left him a bit perturbed.

I asked him what he did his freshman year, back in November 2008 on election day – “we all voted then got some beer and watched the speech, we thought it was pretty cool”.  I totally agreed – it was one of those where were you when historical moments – pretty cool indeed – really was.  I think I was even having a cocktail that night.  I then asked him how he saw things for this coming November  – “a lot different than I did then”.  I welcomed him to the start of his professional career; he is now a producer.  Paradigm is everything.

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