Friday, March 30, 2012

A Clean Beginning...

The secret of getting ahead is getting started...the secret of getting started is getting organized by breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
~Mark Twain

The spring equinox occurs each year on March 20th. 

It’s a time when the sun is equidistant from the north and south poles. 

In March, we set our clocks to leap ahead so we can enjoy a bit more sunlight after a long day at work as the days grow longer.  The wild flowers will soon be in full-bloom as the snows and frigid days of winter melt away.  The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, the gray whales head north to the waters of Alaska with their pups, and the bears awaken from their winter slumber.

Spring is a time for the renewal of life after the dead of winter.  It’s a time to plant.  It’s a time to make repairs to the house, to the garden, and to the pool.  Time to remove the snow tires, flush the radiator and change the wiper blades...

Over the course of the last two weekends, I have spent endless days cleaning.  Spring cleaning to be exact...both at my home and my office...

A spring cleaning is different from the "normal" everyday cleaning. 

A spring cleaning is for doing those things that you may only do once a year.  It might include chores such as cleaning out the rain gutters, shampooing the carpets, bleaching the tile in the bathroom, sponging off the baseboards, cleaning the refrigerator, freezer, oven and/or perhaps even taking down the Christmas lights still on the house.

It is a deep clean that requires fresh air through open windows and doors, a warm sun, and loud soulful music playing in the background...

Spring cleaning is also a good time to rid ourselves of unwanted and unneeded accumulated stuff.

Last spring we bought and assembled shelving for our garage so our stuff would have their own the floor and onto the shelves.  A year later...all of our old stuff remains on the shelving but now our garage floor has new stuff piled high. 

Where did it all come from? 

Why were we compelled to buy it, or perhaps accept it as a gift?

As I rummaged through this new stuff I realized that much of it was exactly like our old stuff still on the shelves.  Could it be that our old stuff was so organized that we were unable to find anything when we actually needed it and so ended up buying more?

Many of the items in our garage and in our closets in the house are "keepsakes".  These articles do not appear to have any real practical purposes but seem to have some sentimental or nostalgic value to us. 

While going through boxes I found my grandmother’s old dishes, drinking glasses and kitchen utensils, chipped, mixed and matched, I found my old high school lettermen’s jacket, I found a non-working old manual typewriter and three miniature rocking chairs just big enough to seat a three-year-old child.  I found a lot of already-read books, old magazines, art supplies, jigsaw puzzles and games with pieces unaccounted for.  Boxes upon boxes of stuff...

Who made the decision to keep these things the last time we did a spring cleaning? 

I could easily cast the blame upon my better half for being the pack-rat.  I don’t remember buying and keeping all instruments of clutter.  Of course it must be couldn’t be me!

Unfortunately it doesn’t then explain why I found a similar pile of useless junk when I subsequently performed a needed spring cleaning of the warehouse at OptiFuse. 

Boxes of Christmas ornaments, tin cans of shelving hardware, old broken furniture and chairs, and stacks upon stacks of unused wooden pallets all littered the dark secluded areas of our warehouse.  Boxes of old computer equipment still remained in our care...just in case we might one day need an old CRT monitor and copy of Windows XP.

No...the problem of clutter doesn’t lie with my girlfriend, our children, or my employees...the problem is me...I just can’t seem to be able to rid myself of old junk...

I suppose it is the same reason I currently have some 30,000 old email messages filed on my server.  I can’t seem to find a way to actually part with them because who knows, maybe someday I might just actually need one of in my mind it’s better that I have them and not need them then it is to not have them and need them. 

The truly sad part is that I really have no idea what I have and what I don’t have so even if I did need an old e-mail, piece of software or book...I don’t think that I would even know where to look to find it.

This spring however is different...I’ve made a commitment to really rid myself of the clutter and useless junk that I’ve accumulated both at home and at the office. 

I began by first amassing all of the things that had some utility but I simply couldn’t find a good reason to keep.  This was my "Goodwill" pile. 

Next was the pile of things that were broken and/or worthless (even to a charity) but were constructed of recyclable materials.  This was my "recycle" pile.

Last were the things that had no basic value to anyone.   This was the trash pile.

There were at least 4 separate truckloads of items to be taken to the local Goodwill collection point and be donated.

A few calls were made to salvage companies to come and haul away the recyclables.

Lastly, arrangements were made with the local trash company to make extra pick-ups each week to haul away the piles of trash.

It was a lot of hard work and heart-wrenching decisions but the great purge of 2012 is now almost complete...

I feel as though a great burden has been lifted.  I no longer feel as though I am being held prisoner by my belongings.  The shelving and floor space that were once encumbered with unimportant "stuff" are now organized.  I now know where things are and how to get to them, should I ever need to.  I am ready to begin whatever tasks lie ahead of me knowing that I am ready for action...

If the New Year is a time for planning and goal-setting...then spring is a time for action, to organize and to sow the seeds for future growth...

Spring time brings us a new beginning, eternal hope and great prospects for the bright future that lies ahead...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to create new beginnings that will lead to a prosperous future for our customers, our vendors and ourselves.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Management 101: Leading People...

Last weekend I found myself on a long bike ride with a group of friends. I hadn’t seen some of the other riders in a while so during the course of our ride, we had some time to "catch-up" with each other’s lives.
One of the other riders was Steve. Steve is a casual friend whom I rarely socialize with outside of our periodic rides. He works as a supervisor at a local bank, who after exchanging some pleasantries, proceeded to tell me about all the shortcomings of his management. Steve undoubtedly had a bad week at work and wanted to take the opportunity to vent a little with someone who could do little but listen.
Later that evening, I had the chance to think a little bit more about Steve and his situation at work. It was quite obvious to me that there seemed to be a strong disconnect between the bank’s management and the employees who work there. If they didn’t address these glaring problems soon, there would be a fair amount of trouble ahead.

After years of working with a variety of people, I’ve developed a few thoughts about management. My ideas are neither ground-breaking nor earth-shattering concepts but they do contain some practical and common sense thoughts regarding leading people.

Over the years, I have found that there is no magic formula when it comes to leadership and/or motivation but there are some really good proven techniques that I’ve found helpful in my life.

I’d like to share a few of them with you today and are offered in no particular order.
Put square pegs into square holes

I’ve worked with many capable people who were simply square-pegs trying to fit into round holes. It rarely works.

A good leader should understand and recognize the needs and responsibilities of each position within the company and be able to find the proper people to meet those needs.

It’s not that they are bad just that they don’t necessarily fit into that particular position.

Additional training will only work if that person already possesses the right aptitude, attitude and/or skills needed to be successful in a particular position in the first place. No matter how much you try, you cannot train a chicken to give milk or a cow to lay eggs.
Make objectives clear and specific
Clear and specific objective must be defined by the leader. Whether that goal is to create high quality and/or innovative products, providing outstanding customer service, reducing costs, or upgrading quality, everyone at the company needs to be made a part of the team and work together to achieve the goals. 

Vague or fuzzy goals will create vague or fuzzy results.

Highly specific objectives will create clear results - good or bad. At the end of the day, there should be no ambiguity as to whether or not the results clearly met the intended objectives.
Allow the entire team to share in the spoils
We read in the newspaper every day where the CEO and upper management are receiving astronomical salaries and bonuses while the rank and file employees are outsourced, laid-off, over-worked and under-paid.

The reason the management is getting these bonuses is because the company is doing something right (most likely earning profits). The management alone didn’t do all the work to earn these profits...everyone at the company to bottom (and if there are slackers...then those individuals shouldn’t still be employed). A certain portion of the rewards should be shared among all of the employees.
This will keep everyone working hard towards the goal. 
Learn to stop talking and start listening
Owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors aren’t born with all the answers. Even if they do hold advanced degrees, they still don’t know everything there is to know. Many times the answers to problems are right in front of us but no one bothered to ask anyone.

Sometimes management will solicit input, but then continued down a predetermined path as if asking for input is just a box that needs to be checked before proceeding.

Management needs constructive input from employees, customers, vendors and other experts. Most of the time, these groups of people feel honored just to be asked their opinion, especially if some of their recommendations are implemented and celebrated.

Many times, it’s the person on the front-line who has the best first-hand knowledge of potential problems and solutions so management needs to stop for a moment and listen to what people have to say. 
Get out of the way
Why is it that so many managers "over manage" (sometimes known as micro-managing)?

I believe that it’s a control issue.   The micro-manager feels as though they need to be able to control everyone’s behavior and every situation but unfortunately this is an impossible task.

This was taught at an early age where a teacher sat in the front of the room. There was a distinct set of rules governing classroom behavior. Students were rewarded for staying with the boundaries of the rules and punished for deviating from the norms.

Micro-managers tend to focus on processes (rules) rather than the results. While this might work on jobs focusing on processing (such as an assembly line or a government worker), it completely stifles the creativity needed to solve complex problems faced by most workers today.

Many people are intelligent and creative. Allow them to use these skills to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Encourage them to try new things and take on new responsibilities.  

Management should be a sail not an anchor. 
Allow others to take risks and fail
One of the best ways we learned how to innovate at OptiFuse is by trying a lot of new things. Sometimes they failed...and sometimes they succeeded.

We make dozens of small decisions each day: credit lines for customers, new product additions, what pricing level should we bid for this contract, should we stock this part or not, where should I be spending my time to be most effective?

Many times these decisions have no real serious consequences but there are times when they do.

A certain amount of decision making should be encouraged by management. Too often employees are afraid to make decisions or take calculated risks because of the ramifications placed on them if they are wrong. Trying new things is how people and companies grow and get better at what they do.
It’s important to reiterate that there is no magic formula to leading a great team. The above six items are only a few in a much longer list but due to space and time considerations we are limited today to these.

Lastly, you might notice that I never used the term "managing people".

No one can "manage" can only manage tasks, time, and numbers.

Business owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors, educators, and parents can only lead people...

Lead people...manage tasks...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we continue on of path of learning and leading. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friends with Benefits...

This past week our company received a relatively large order from a customer that had never done business with us before. 

As I thought about the work still ahead of us in fulfilling the new order, I pondered for a moment as to how it was that this new business came to us.

The story of how this new business materialized actually had started some ten years ago when I received a phone call from a sales manager of an electronic distribution company in the Midwest. 

The person on the phone introduced himself as Dan and that he was the sales manager for a small distributor.  He went on to tell me that he had been searching the Internet when he came across our company and that he wanted to sell our products.

The company he worked for was small and did not have much experience selling fuses but he believed that there were some potential opportunities if we were willing to set his company up as an OptiFuse distributor.

I decided to take a gamble and agreed to franchise his company to sell our products.

I sent them catalogs, price sheets and promotional material. A few times each year, I would travel to see Dan and his staff to give them some product and application training. I sent them sales leads, when I had the opportunity, knowing that he would diligently follow up with these potential new customers.

Dan and his staff worked hard at promoting our products at their customers, but even with the strong sales efforts, we only could manage to convert a few smaller accounts to OptiFuse.

Over time, Dan and I became good friends and spent time talking about business and life issues.  Knowing about his growing unhappiness with his company’s management, it didn’t come as much surprise to me when one day, Dan confided in me that he was thinking about leaving his company.

I told him that I didn’t know of any available sales positions but that I’d keep my ear to the ground and let him know if I heard of anything promising.  I also mentioned to him that I was open to him becoming an independent rep for OptiFuse should the opportunity arise with his career path.

Eventually Dan did leave his company to become a sales person for a small industrial connector company. Even though Dan and I no longer had any mutual business interests, we continued to keep in contact over the years.

It was during one of our "catch-up" phone calls when I learned that he and I would be attending the same trade show in Las Vegas. He told me that his company would be hosting a party for their customers and he invited me to attend.

The cocktail party was held in a large hotel suite with several people in attendance. Although Dan was busy with his customers, he spent some of his valuable time introducing me to many of the people in the room, both colleagues and customers.

One of the people Dan introduced me to, was another salesman who covered the West Coast region for his company, named Bill.

Bill told me that he was planning to come to San Diego with his family in a few weeks and asked could I recommend any places to eat or see. I gave him several recommendations as well as offering him free passes to the San Diego Zoo and Sea World (I had won these in a recent charity raffle...but since I had an annual pass to both parks, I could offer them to Bill so he could enjoy these attractions with his family).

I spent the next several minutes conversing with Bill, learning more about his history, family, interests, and personal philosophies.  

A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to see Bill again when he stopped by my office to pick up the tickets I promised him. Bill was interested in learning a little more about our company, so during the visit, I had the opportunity to show Bill our facilities and give him a brief overview of OptiFuse and how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

Bill seemed to be impressed by our operations and told me that he might have some business opportunities for us when he returned home. I wished him a great vacation and asked him to call me when he got home.

It was a few weeks later when Bill called me at my office. He explained that his largest customer was currently buying fuses and fuse holders from an OptiFuse competitor but that he had talked with them about some of our new products. He told me that if I would send him some samples and data sheets, that he would share them with his customer.

A few days later he called to tell me that his customer loved the features of the new parts and more importantly they loved the cost savings that we could offer them over their incumbent supplier.  He told me that they would soon be placing a large order with us for these parts.

I asked Bill if I could compensate him for his efforts and he told me that I had already compensated him with the free passes. We both knew that the passes were merely a fraction of the commission I was willing to pay for this large order but he was happy knowing that he had repaid the favor to a new friend.

A short time later, while discussing this new order with our sales team, one of our members commented that it only took us a few weeks from the time we sent the samples and a quote to the customer to actually receiving the big order.

I countered the employee’s causal observation by telling him that this new order actually took over ten years to book.

The relationships and the transfer of trust needed to bring in the new business actually started when I received the first phone call from Dan some ten years ago.

I initially gave Dan the benefit of the doubt and set up his company as a franchised distributor for our products, I spent time personally training his people and providing him with sales leads, samples and materials.

Dan and I continued to maintain our relationship long after he left his company with no real monetary benefit apparent for either of us.

Dan trusted me enough to invite me to his company party while taking the time to personally introduce me to his colleagues, customers, and friends.

While at the party, I had the good fortune to meet Bill and offered to help him during his visit to San Diego with no foreseeable benefit to me.

We were given the opportunity to earn this new business because Bill cashed in some of his "trust capital" with his customer and presented OptiFuse as a viable new source to his customer.

This piece of business didn’t come to OptiFuse after only a few came to us after many years of continued relationship building...

...with no known future benefit in mind...

...friendship for friendship’s sake

What relationships are you currently working on starting and/or improving?

Thank you very for your support as we continue to foster our relationships with each and every person... not just customers (and potential customers).

Friday, March 9, 2012

Madness of March...

"The race is not always to the swift nor the contest to the strong...but I always bet that way" ~ Damon Runyon
"Johnson passes the ball to Wilson at the top of the key...Wilson dribbles around a screen but is double teamed...he passes the ball to Robinson...3 seconds...2...1...he shoots...HE SCORES!!!"...
Ah...March Madness...
A nationwide 344-team basketball tournament  where Cinderella teams abound and dreams are shattered.  No one is left out and every team has a shot at winning it all...

It’s a time when small schools from no-name conferences share the same stage with the powerhouse giants of the game. Universities with rich basketball traditions with names like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio State playing together with teams like Belmont, Montana, Stony Brook, Mississippi Valley State and UNC Ashford.

After the individual conference tournaments are completed, 68 teams will either automatically qualify or be invited as an at-large participant in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. There will be some unknown teams from small schools who will earn a ticket to the tournament by virtue of winning their conference tournament while others will be invited based on their resume of work throughout the season.
The tournament is single-elimination - lose one game...go home - win six games...and be crowned champion.
During a 40-minute game, anything can happen. A good team could get cold and a mediocre team can get hot. Every year, low ranking teams beat high ranking teams.  It’s a forgone conclusion.
There is an interesting maxim in the life insurance industry. Actuaries can very accurately predict how many people will die in any given year...they just can’t specify exactly who...
Every year a few select seemingly inferior teams will somehow find a way to win a game or two that they would ordinarily have little or no chance in winning. They are too small...too slow...and/or untested to compete with the likes of better competition in the tournament.

These Cinderella teams come to the dance looking to wear the glass slipper...
America is captivated by the excitement of the games.

The first round of 32 games (64 teams) is played on a Thursday and Friday in early March. It’s been determined that over 7.5 million people will stream live games over the Internet these first two days...mostly while at work. The lost productivity by American workers, as calculated by the experts, is over $2 billion for these two days.

So what is the obsession with March Madness?

The first answer is the obvious one. The primary interest in such a tournament is in the gambling.

Approximately $75 million dollars will be wagered legally at casinos. Only the Super Bowl and the World Cup rivals the betting pool of the NCAA tournament.  In addition to the money wagered at casinos, tens of millions more will be bet in private office pools where CEOs, managers, assemblers, and secretaries attempt to chose the winners of each round.

The key to winning these pools is selecting those teams who may defy the odds and win games unexpectedly. The task is daunting and is akin to "finding a needle in a haystack".

In 2011, over 100,000 basketball fans participated in the free CBS Sportsline March Madness Challenge. At the end of the tournament, not a single person had correctly selected all the winners.

Just as in life insurance...we know that there will definitely be upsets...we just don’t know who it’ll be.

The second reason we like to watch the NCAA is because we like to root for the underdog. Ever since David slew Goliath, people have a natural tendency to want to pull for the little guy...the guy who is expected to lose...the guy who has to try a little harder...

I believe that the reason for this phenomenon is that, at one time or another, we were David. We were the little guy trying to defeat the giant. We were the guy who needed to work harder to win.

I know people who refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Costco, McDonald’s, large grocery store chains. They would much rather try and support the small local business, the organic farmer, or a neighborhood restaurant.

For their own reasons they want to promote, support and foster entrepreneurial enterprises. They are rooting for David to overcome the odds and succeed.

If the underdog loses...then it’s expected, however if the underdog wins...then it’s legendary.

In 2010, Butler University, a small school located in Indianapolis, Indiana, with a total enrollment of only 4,000 students, overcame all odds by advancing all the way to the tournament finals losing by only two points to perennial powerhouse, Duke, in the final game.

This was an incredible feat...

...only to be bettered the following year, when the same Butler University, a number 8 seed, once again advanced to the tournament finals, this time losing to the University of Connecticut.

Butler Bulldogs epitomize the scrappy underdog... playing above their heads against more formidable competition...winning against all odds.

Every day there are people, companies and organizations from all over the world who find a way to overcome adversity.  They find a way to survive.  They never stop trying.  They persevere.  They find a way to win.

I always root for the underdog...because maybe in the end...we are all underdogs in one way or another...

Thank you for your support as we too try to defy the odds each and every day. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kids These Days...

Once or twice a week I have the opportunity to spend a little time with my father.  He’s now 75 years old which still places him on the young side of the average age for a male (78.6) but due to a debilitating sciatic nerve condition he has lost most of his mobility.

It saddens me to see him in such constant physical pain instead of enjoying the retirement that he worked for decades to prepare for.

During our weekly visit, he expressed a certain amount of guilt for not having the resources back then to do for us what parents of today do for their children.

"I wish your mom and I could have done more for you and our family", he confessed, "but it was all that we could do at the time".

I told him that I thought he was crazy and that I would not trade all the gold in the world for those rich experiences.

We reminisced nostalgically about the days when our entire family was still living under the same roof.  Money in those days was always tight.  Our family of seven lived in a small 1,200 square-foot, post-war tract home in a working-class neighborhood on the single salary of a local delivery driver (what would be a present day UPS or FedEx driver).

The other families in our neighborhood were not unlike ours. There were a few college educated professionals but mostly tradespeople, mechanics, secretaries, and grocery store clerks trying to raise young families.

The kids of the neighborhood attended public school and played semi-organized sports via the sponsorship of the Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, VFW, community churches and local merchants. We spent our long summer days building forts, exploring the canyons and gullies, and doing odd jobs for elderly neighbors in order to earn "movie money".

We were mostly unsupervised and relied on our good (or not so good) judgment, ethics and morals to do the right things in the absence of parental oversight.

Our parents and teachers taught us at an early age never to get into a unknown vehicle, never talk with strangers, that drugs and smoking were bad, save your money, don’t take things that didn’t belong to you, do your homework so one day you can go to college, and stick together.

The boys played "army" with little green soldiers, "invented" things with Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Legos, and Erector sets, or went to the park to play touch football, two-on-two basketball, or Nerf football (depending on the current sports season).

The girls had tea parties with their dolls, made cakes in their "Easy-bake-ovens", did crafts and home arts with their stay-at-home moms, and played hopscotch and four-square in their driveways.

On days when the weather didn’t allow us to go outside, we all stayed indoor playing board games like Parcheesi, Monopoly, Risk, Life, Clue, and Battleship.  We made puzzles and played various card games.  We learned about strategy, how to make change when we were the banker, and how to count, add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly.  We discovered that when we compete there were sometimes winners and sometimes losers, and where playing for second place still made us keep going long after the winner was decided and every player didn’t get a trophy at the end of the season.  Losing was simply a part of the game that caused us to work harder in order to win the next time.

Fighting and wrestling matches were common amongst my friends, siblings and neighbors.  We fought our own battles and stood up for what we believed was right.  Eventually this also taught us that fighting produced no real winners and that it just might be best to leave the fighting to someone else.

We took a city bus to the public library to borrow books to read, watched cartoons on TV on Saturday mornings, ate breakfast cereal made with high sugar content, learned to use the stove so we could cook (things like scrambled eggs - so we can make mom breakfast-in-bed on mother’s day and her birthday), how to peel potatoes, mow the lawn, make a bed with "hospital corners", and wash a car.

We didn’t know that we were considered "poor" by most standards of the day.  All we knew was that we were mostly happy, that we had friends and neighbors that had about the same as we had, and that our parents worked hard to put a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on the table.

We never felt sorry for ourselves thinking about what we didn’t have.  We didn’t sit around pining for someone to give us money, entertain us, drive us to our after-school and weekend activities, sell our fund-raising candy for us, and/or do our homework. If we needed or wanted something we took the initiative to make it happen.  We found our own ways to make these things happen.

Today I had lunch with a colleague who was originally raised in Guangdong, China.  He talked about the indirect result of China’s "one-child" policy.  As he described it, the one child is coddled by six different adults - two parents and four grandparents (plus associated great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles).  

According to him, today in China, the children are given anything they ask for, are growing increasingly lazy and have developed a full entitlement attitude.  Whereas the parents and grandparents have worked extremely hard to provide a better life and living condition, their children have never known need.  They are content to play Xbox video games, surf the Internet on their new model iPad, and shop at upscale department stores and malls.

He confided that one day, the Chinese people will one day be dependent upon these same children who have been given everything but have earned nothing.  They have shown no aptitude, desire, and/or work ethic to continue the great economic progress that China has seen over the past two generations.

He is deeply worried.

Closer to home, we too need to be worried a bit.

We too have parents who are trying too hard to smooth out the bumpy road ahead for our children.  We hire nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, personal trainers and coaches, and tutors.  We seldom allow our kids to fail, fight, or play in the’s simply just too dangerous. We place them into private schools with strict rules and high standards.  Every participant gets a trophy at the end of the season so their fragile self-esteem is not broken.  We buy them things to appease or bribe them (we call it motivating incentives...but it’s really a bribe).

We program them into organized year-round sports, dance lessons, music lessons, acting lessons, scouting, science camp, and travel abroad.  We push them to learn math, science and computers before they can tie their own shoes. 

These are our kids and we can’t possibly let them fail...the success or failure of our children is a direct reflection of us as parents. 

The parents rationalize their behavior by saying that It’s a competitive world.  Our children can’t possibly do it without our help and supervision.  We’re just being the parents our parents weren’t.

That afternoon I thanked my father (and my mother in absentia) for raising me and my siblings to be independent doers and thinkers... for allowing us to learn the survival skills needed to somehow forge our own learn how to fight our own fights... to stick up for take be be do our own work and earn our own create our own ideas...and to be self-reliant individuals.

I wonder sometimes if we are really helping our children with all that we give them today or are we really hurting them in the long run.

Our future is depending of those same children to one day lead us...I truly hope that they are up to the challenge.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we understand that our children are truly our future.