Friday, November 30, 2012


Several years ago, I found myself at a global entrepreneur conference held in Hong Kong. There were nearly a 1,000 people from all over the globe at this week-long event.

Our Chinese hosts were incredibly gracious and did all they could to make the foreign guests feel welcome.

While the overall purpose of the conference was expansion of global business, many of the attendees were introduced for the first time to the diverse culture and rich history of Hong Kong through excursions and learning events outside of the conference center.

The week-long conference culminated Saturday night at a festive traditional Chinese banquet. At each table, there was a mix of local Chinese business people, local ex-pats, young students, and foreign visitors.

At my own table, there sat a total of 12 people; including two Hong Kong businessmen, three Chinese business students; two businessmen each from India and Germany and three business people from the U.S. (including myself).

While trying to make some polite conversation, one of the businessmen from the United States announced to the others at the table that he had gone to the local open-air market that morning.

He proudly told us that he found some great bargains there including this... (he stretched his hand in the air as the sleeve of his suit jacket recoiled back... revealing a shiny new watch).

"It’s a Rolex... and I only paid 18 dollars for it!!", he said boasting.

The Asian members of our table began to snicker... softly at first... and then a little louder. They began speaking in Cantonese among themselves... in between giggles.

After a moment, one of the students (who seemed to have been elected by the other four) spoke up.

"Dear sir, I believe that you might have been taken advantage of by the merchant at the local market."

To which the man defended his intelligence.

"I wasn’t born yesterday", he exclaimed, "I know that the watch isn’t a real Rolex watch... "

The young lady then countered, "yes... we understand... we are only laughing because this copy watch typically sells in the local market for only $2 NOT $18!!"

The apparent great deal turned out to be not so great (well, I suppose it was great for the merchant who sold the watch).

There are several valuable lessons I took away from dinner that evening.

Lesson #1 - Information is power

The first rule of successful negotiating is doing your homework first. Information is the key to getting the better part of any deal. The party with the better information is more likely to understand the true value of the product and/or service and therefore can negotiate the pricing to meet (or exceed) that true value.

The Internet has given us a great tool to quickly research markets and pricing (unfortunately for my friend... smart phones were not yet available when he made his purchase). Still... there are various methods that he could have employed to determine the true value of the watch.

Had my fellow countryman done a little research before venturing out into the marketplace, he could have saved himself some cash and more importantly some embarrassment.

Lesson #2 - Get an expert to show you the "lay of the land".

It was plainly obvious to me that our hosts had local knowledge that could have helped my friend navigate through the rocky shores of the "open air market". Had he been accompanied by one of our hosts, he would have most-likely found the best possible deal (or close to it).

The guy didn’t ask for help... he wanted to go at it alone...

This phenomenon happens every day, both professionally and personally (especially with us alpha males types). We think that we’re experts in everything this world throws our way (perhaps this explains why we never stop to ask for directions).

We somehow believe that we are actually saving money by doing it on our own... be it plumbing, electrical work, auto repairs, computer upgrades, room remodeling, and/or carpet cleaning.

Even after we go out and purchase all the necessary equipment and tools, the books and manuals, and the raw materials, we typically end up with a job that is at best described as "amateurish".

And even if we happen to do a good looking professional job, the project has cost us several times more due to our financial investment in tools and equipment as well as the time invested in learning how to do the job that most likely we will only do a few times in our lifetime.

Be it at the office or at home, becoming an expert will most likely cost several times more than just hiring a proven professional to do the job in the first place.

The experts already have the experience it takes to do the job correctly... the first time... saving us both time and money in the end.

Lesson #3 - In the eye of the beholder

The watch buyer was perfectly happy with his purchase. The timepiece looked good and he was proud to show it off.

To this guy, $18 was a fair price to pay for a replica Rolex watch and for the story he now gets to tell about buying it in an open-air market in Hong Kong. It was a fair exchange...

It wasn’t until the others at the table told him that he overpaid that he became unhappy. He let the opinion of the others effect his own happiness.

In the end, he wasn’t merely buying a cheap timepiece... he was buying an experience...

This is the true ideal of traveling to different places, making new friends, and/or trying something that you’ve never done before.

Ultimately you end up with a new experience, a story to tell, or a great insight into the nature of people...

The true value lies not in what you pay for something... but rather in the value that you receive...

Travel expenses to Hong Kong: $3,000
Conference cost: $1,000
Price of Rolex knock-off: $18

Experiences to last a lifetime: Priceless

Monday, November 26, 2012


So it’s the day after Thanksgiving... and we feel a bit hung over...

Who could blame us?

Did we really need that third helping?... the entire bottle of brandy, really?... why did we have another piece of pumpkin pie before we went to bed?...

We know better than to behave like we did...

...but we tell ourselves that it’s our one and only day to overindulge... our one day to gorge on great food prepared by loving people... the one day of the year where we meet together with family to break bread... it’s okay to overdo it just a bit...

We deserve to overindulge one day a year...

We rationalize that we have three days to work off those extra calories... we’ll work hard around the house doing chores...or go on that hike in the mountains... perhaps we’ll plan to wake up early and go to the gym...

Ah, but Friday morning rolls around... and guess what... it’s Black Friday... time to go to the mall and see about all those bargains that we’ve heard and read about...

So we venture out to play parking lot roulette at the local malls. We run around to the various department and discount stores looking for that incredible deal on big screen televisions, newest fad toys and cashmere sweaters. We fill our carts and empty our bank accounts...

We know that we really don’t need all that extra stuff...

...but we tell ourselves that we’re getting some incredible bargains... we’ve now got all of our Christmas shopping knocked out in only one day... that we’re expecting a big year-end bonus so it’s okay if we spend the money today...

After fighting crowds all day, we finally get home... our feet are sore and our patience is worn thin... we ate some lunch at the food court at the mall... but now it’s time to make a dent into all those Thanksgiving left-overs. We pile our plates high with leftover turkey, potatoes, stuffing, yams and buttered rolls... all smothered in hot gravy...

We didn’t make it to the gym or on that long hike today... but it’s okay... but we got a workout at the mall... plus there are still two more days left in our long weekend...

We deserve to overindulge just one day a year...

Saturday arrives and as we go outside to retrieve the morning newspaper we notice that the house across the street now has new colorful outdoor lights and a giant Santa and candy canes on their lawn. Christmas has arrived in our neighborhood.

So after our morning cup of coffee, we venture into the garage to find where we stored last year’s Christmas decorations. We know that we still have them... we just need to find them.

After about an hour of searching the garage, attic and basement without success, we head back to the mall to purchase enough lights and decorations that our house can be seen by planes at 35,000 feet.

It’s costly to purchase Christmas decorations in November...

...but we tell ourselves it’s worth it because it helps to build memories for the kids and shows the neighbors that we have Christmas spirit and civic pride... at least more than them...

We’ve spent all day and a small fortune hanging all the lights and decorations. At the end of the day we’re exhausted and hungry... so it’s round three of Thanksgiving leftovers...

As we start to nod off on the sofa due to our turkey / tryptophan sleep inducement... we tell ourselves that we will definitely hit the gym on Sunday...

We deserve to overindulge just one day a year...

We awake to grey skies Sunday morning... rain in the foreseeable future. We intend to go to the gym right after we go to church...

...but our football team is vying for a wildcard berth in the playoffs and our fantasy football is only a few points out of first place... so we sit down in front of our new big-screen television to watch football... plus it’s pouring rain reason to go out on a hike today...

As we finish off the Thanksgiving leftovers and a 12-pack of beer, we spend the rest of the afternoon and evening watching a triple-header of football...’s only one day of watching TV... we deserve to overindulge just one day a year...

The following day as we dress for work... we wonder where our long 4-day weekend went.

Our head is a bit sore from all of the alcohol that we consumed in front of the TV yesterday.

Later that morning the boss announces that the year-end bonuses won’t be as big as expected due to some unforeseen inventory and equipment write-offs... but we’ve already spent the money buying things... things that we really didn’t need...

...and to top it all off... our team lost yesterday in overtime!

We sit at our desk ruefully thinking about our overindulgence of the past four days. Eating too much food... drinking too much... spending too much money... watching too much TV...
...all for what purpose?

...did it make us feel any better in the end?... did it help us to enrich our lives?... did it help us to improve the lives of others in our community?

We all need time off to relax and unwind... to forget about work and to refresh our bodies and our minds... but did we need to engage in so much over-eating?... drinking to an excess?... spending what we did not have?

The holidays are a time to feel better... not worse!

The holidays are not about decorations, gifts, cookies, trees and/or a bounty of food...

The holiday season is a time to spread joy and good tidings to others... a time to spend with friends, family and loved ones... a time to give of ourselves to those less fortunate than us...a time to reflect on this past year and find ways to improve upon the next...

The season has just begun... let us give thanks in abundance... but consume in moderation...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we continually give thanks for all that we have... and hope for a better tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Brain Training...

I feel horrible for Mike... I feel even worse for his wife Ann...
Mike is an elderly gentleman in his mid-seventies and I’ve known Mike now for about 25 years.

We were once neighbors, back when he owned a wholesale florist business and I was running an electronic distributor business in the mid-1980’s.

Mike eventually sold his business to a couple of young guys. He really enjoyed working at the business but the cash offer was just too good to pass up.

So Mike retired to a life of leisure... he had time... he had financial resources... life was good...

Ann, his wife of some 25 years, was much younger than Mike and wanted to keep working at her job at the bank... so she did.

After six months of retirement... Mike was miserable... nothing to do all day except to be alone in his thoughts.

We had lunch one day and Mike confessed that he was going stir-crazy sitting home alone... he needed something to do each day... so I asked him if he would consider working with me down at my office perhaps a few days a week...

"Let’s give it a try for a few weeks and see what happens", I suggested.

A few days a week... soon turned into a full-time position... as he was generally the first person in the door and one of the last to leave.

The opportunity to work together was good for both Mike and me. He did whatever he could to help... accounting... filing... answering phones... customer service... counting and sorting in the warehouse...

He also provided me with some well-meaning mentoring... never in an intrusive way... but rather only when he saw that I was having a difficult time with a particular issue. His business guidance proved to be incredibly helpful to me during some very stressful times... in almost a "fatherly" way, he provided me with some sound advice that seemed to calm the waters in raging storms that surrounded me.

Shortly after his 70th birthday, I began to notice a change in Mike. He was no longer able to accomplish simple tasks in a timely manner. Sorting a stack of invoices or creating mailing labels was now seemingly an all-day affair.

I also became more aware of his forgetfulness. He would accidentally leave a customer on hold or would forget the password to log onto the computer system... even though it hadn’t been changed in several years.

I also began to worry about his safety... driving to and from the office each day... 
Our initial trial period of a few weeks had turned into seven years... but now it was time to end the business relationship that we had formed...

We discussed the situation as grown men and decided that it was best if he retired for good...

I felt horrible about "sending him off to pasture" that day... but I also had to remember that there was a business to run and that it was probably best for the both of us... but in the end we both felt as though we had let the other down.

The fear of forgetting

This summer marked the five-year anniversary of Mike’s retirement.

I thought that it might be a great idea if we had a "reunion" of present and former employees (those former employees who left on good terms that is... those who didn’t leave on their own terms are probably still sticking pins in Jim Kalb voodoo dolls).

There were about 25 people who met at a local Mexican restaurant on that Sunday afternoon in July.  We were all so happy to see one another again... it was great catching up with everyone’s lives and laughing about the "good-old times" that we once shared.

Ann brought Mike to the restaurant that afternoon. He didn’t recognize any of us and often called us by names other than our own. Mike spoke to me in Spanish thinking perhaps I was one of the workers from his original flower business.

I talked briefly to Ann. She had left her position at the bank to take care of Mike on a full-time basis. I could hear in her voice and see in her face that she was physically exhausted and mentally drained. It must be incredibly painful to watch a loved one ever so slowly slipping away from you.

Ann told me that there are good days and not so good days for Mike. She seems so patient with him.  He often feels remorseful that she needs to do so much to help him.

Growing old and dying has never bothered me too much... it’s the way nature intended it to be... one of the great truths of life.

... but outliving my mind terrifies me.

To place a great burden on others by having their lasting memories be that of a bumbling idiot... unable to remember the ones that I love and the ones who love me... is a terrible way to erode life.

Exercises for the body and mind

They say that 50 is the new 40...

This isn’t just a clever bumper sticker... there appears to be some semblance of truth in the statement.

Unlike our forefathers, today we have a much better understanding of the relationship between health, exercise, and nutrition and the way our bodies grow old with age. Our quality of life is becoming ever more important to us as we prepare ourselves for the winter of our lives.

Golf has given way to cycling as I regularly see septuagenarians and octogenarians (70 and 80 year olds) peddling bicycles around town on a Saturday or Sunday morning trying to remain healthy.

Yoga and aerobics classes are filled with retirees looking to keep themselves fit and limber.

However, in addition to exercising our bodies, we should be working equally as hard to keep our brains fit.

Scientists in a new discipline called Neuroplasticity have discovered that the brain can actually grow stronger, regardless of age, through a rigorous mental training process.

Research scientists from respected universities such as Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkley, Columbia, and the University of Michigan have come together to form the Human Cognitive Project (HCP) to study the effects of "brain training".

The scientists of the HCP have discovered that some simple training in five areas of brain functions could significantly increase the effectiveness and longevity of the brain.
These five areas include: Attention, Flexibility, Memory, Problem Solving and Speed.

The objective of HCP was to create a series of training exercises that increase brain function in these five areas. The result was an easy to use web-based program that effectively trains the brain to perform better.

The result is a website that is called Lumosity and it provides fun tools for brain-training.  

I encourage the readers to follow the link to check out what Lumosity has to offer. It may very well change the trajectory of your life.

At the end of our "reunion" lunch, I gave Ann a big bear hug and offered my assistance in any way I could help. She agreed to call me soon... but she still hasn’t...

I think that I’ll call her this weekend just to let her know that I was thinking about her and Mike this weekend...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope that we can help each other to find ways to live fuller and more productive lives.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Perceived Value...

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."
~Albert Einstein

This morning I was invited to attend a seminar about maximizing the value of a company prior to selling it. Now I’m really not interested in selling OptiFuse, but I thought it might be a good use of my time to investigate how others might value the company or more likely how I might value a company that I am looking to acquire.

The speaker began his talk by asking the audience a simple question.

"What is the best method to place a valuation on a company"?

Several seemingly intelligent people shouted out logical answers to his question...

...EBITDA times four... one times revenue... current free cash flow plus equity...

All of these might be considered rational answers... but then he gave us the one true correct answer...

"A company is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it... sure there are many different ways to try and justify an "asking price" to a potential buyer... but in the end it’s only worth what someone is willing to write a check for".

I’ve really never given his answer much thought before this morning... but he was right on the mark with his answer.

I must confess that after listening to the speaker’s opening question and answer, I really wasn’t focused too much on the rest of his lecture about maximizing profits by cutting expenses and unprofitable customers while creating sustainable processes and systems that will continue long after the founders have exited the company...

I suspect that all those things he was talking about were important... if one is selling their company... but I’m not a seller so his material fell somewhat upon deaf ears.

What kept ruminating with me during the rest of the morning was the idea about value being created based on how others value the commodity that you’re selling.

This idea can be extended to selling and buying all products and services throughout the world. Products and/or services are only valuable if you find someone who agrees to purchase them at the price that you have set.

Sometimes products cost more because there is a perception the products are much better than they really are. They also might offer features that are included but, in practical terms, are essentially useless.

This phenomenon often happens in automobiles where the main basic purpose of a car is to safely transport a person from one place to another. Yet with this understanding, there are cars available in the market that could cost more than a modest home, but also have a top speed in excess of 240 miles per hour... even though the top speed limit found anywhere in the United States is only 85 miles per hour (albeit there is currently only 41 miles of just one highway in Texas with this speed limit).

They continue to make these cars because there are willing buyers for them.

Clothing is another great example of style over functionality. There is no logical reason to purchase a pair of $300 denim jeans but people do every day. There are willing buyers... so there are willing sellers...

The same fashion reasoning can be found in watches, handbags, shoes, and other apparel items. People who purchase these items are not looking for a bargain and are willing to pay a great premium to be the owner of such goods. There is inherently some perceived value that far exceeds the functional value of the product.

The ultimate in perceived value might be artwork or other types of collectibles where there is no real functionality at all. People value these items merely on the uniqueness or rarity of the item. There are tens of thousands of artists but only one Van Gogh or Jackson Pollack and each one of their works is unique and different.

Perception and personal biases play a big role as to why people value luxury goods or art but these same perceptions and biases play a large role when companies make hiring decisions as well.

A good friend of mine is an HR director for a large company who has hired thousands of people over the past 25 years. At first she was overly impressed by job candidates with diplomas from top universities. She ended up hiring many of these candidates at premium salaries because she thought she was getting a higher quality person but in the end, she found that these employees offer no better work overall than those from lesser known colleges. She paid more for the perception of the degree... not necessarily the reality of the person doing the work.

The idea that I’d like to leave you with today is that we all have certain qualities and traits that can be considered unique and different. Not everyone will value these characteristics the same as there is a great degree of subjectivity and bias involved. However there will be forever, a select group of individuals who value what it is that you have to offer even though it is not always readily apparent.

This principle applies whether you’re trying to find a mate, a job, or like-minded friends. The key point is to continue to be your true self and you will eventually find people that value you.

There will always be a willing "buyer" for the individual uniqueness that you offer... never lower your "asking price"... but rather maximize the value that you offer.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we continue to bring our customers valuable products and outstanding customer service.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dinner for Six...

Last Monday night I found myself at a reunion with five old friends. 

Our group initially had come together as a part of our membership in an entrepreneurial organization some 15 years ago. After a few years, our collective membership in the organization came to an end, however the six of us all decided that we would continue to meet for dinner each month to share ideas and offer support to one another. 

After about 10 years, our monthly meetings started becoming stale. We began talking about the same old topics each month...same old problems...same philosophies...same ideas.

Soon the members began to miss meetings on a regular basis as the meetings no longer took precedent over other multiple demands for our time.

After meeting each month for over 10 years, the group disbanded.

Every so often, I'd have lunch with one of the former members, just to stay in touch. It was during one of these recent "get-togethers" that the two of us decided that it had just been too long since the entire group had gotten together and that a "reunion" should be planned.

After contacting the other four members, we all agreed to meet for dinner on the last Monday of October.

For several hours, we each took turns presenting the group with a short autobiographical synopsis spanning the last 5 years. We talked about our families, our health issues, and the state of our businesses.

Although the economy over the last 5 years has been difficult (to say the least), each of our 6 businesses had grown significantly over this same time period. 

This fact fascinated me.

I then began to query each of the group's members as to why they believed their businesses had actually grown during the "great recession". 

Here is a sampling of their responses to the question...


The first person to respond was Danny. Danny's company is involved in providing financial services to high net-worth individuals. The financial services segment of the market has seen a great shakeout over the last 5 years but Danny's business has grown significantly.

"We deal with clients who are accustomed to receiving personalized service. Our business model has changed significantly in that we no longer are trying to sell investments or stocks to clients. They can do that on their own on the Internet." 

"Today we help them to design a complete financial plan that includes tax planning, estate planning, capital preservation and diversity. Because of the level of service that we perform for our clients, we needed to limit our overall client base."

The ones we have kept with us appreciate the level of service and expertise that we offer and have in turn given us more and more assets to manage."

"Today we continue to grow by focusing on a select client base and eliminating the other distractions that prevented us from providing our existing customers with unmatched customer service."


The next person to offer an opinion was Craig. Craig's business is supplying gadgets and equipment to the golf industry. The golf industry has been hammered with the latest economic downturn but despite this gloomy environment, Craig's business has prospered handsomely.

"The golf industry is a people business. Our growth and continued success starts from hiring the right people. Our sales representatives are seasoned professionals who have long-term relationships with our customers and our fulfillment team is trained to eliminate shipping and billing errors. Our customers trust us to do the right things right. This, in turn, helps them to build their businesses and become successful."

In addition to growing our base of customers, our product offerings have also increased. Our customers now can come to us for 90% of what they need instead of parceling out their requirements to several different vendors." 

"As we've helped our customers to grow...we've continued to grow." 


Mark was our next speaker. Mark's company is a retail and wholesale distributor of professional fitness equipment. Large Internet retailers and "big-box" stores have significantly changed the fitness equipment market. Additionally, with disposable incomes for most people down over the last several years, the overall market size for personal fitness equipment has diminished also.

After listening to Danny and Craig, Mark offered his explanation as to why his business is thriving in hard times.

"In the past, we used to try and compete on price, selection and inventory, but online retailers have all but closed that window of opportunity. They have centralized warehouses, no showroom space costs, and agreements with most if not all of the major manufacturers."

"We knew that we needed to do something differently if we were to survive. We looked at market segments where the e-tailers and big box stores can't (or chose not to) compete. We found that many customers were coming into our "brick and mortar" stores to look at the equipment but then decided to make their purchase online."

"At first we tried to stop this practice from occurring but now we embrace it. Now when a customer comes into our store, we help them to check the Internet to make sure that they are getting the best deal. Once we can demonstrate to the customer that our prices are truly in line with the other retailers then a whole new level of trust is established. As trust is established, we can point out quality and warranty differences between several pieces of equipment and manufactures." 

"We become a part of the customer's buying decision. We also establish a communication channel to provide the customer after-sale support to the customer in terms of delivery, set-up, and repair. 

"The online retailers and big box stores just can't offer these services."

Each person who spoke that evening gave several unique examples of how they managed to grow their businesses despite the worst economic environment in more than 80 years. 

The underlying theme of the evening was that companies can survive (and thrive) if they are determined to build continued trust between them and their customers. 

Trust can be built by employing transparency, outstanding customer service and creating value for their customers, even if it means that they are serving less customers in the process.

Trust is is hard earned and should never be taken for granted. Once it is established, it should never be compromised.

Trust is basis for all strong it professional or personal.

Never break the trust!

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that actions are stronger than words in matters of trust.