Friday, August 28, 2015

A Sense of Humility...

"Piglet noticed that although he had a very tiny heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude" 

                                             ~ A.A. Milne 

A few weeks ago, I found myself traveling through New England on a training assignment with one of our newest team members, Sara. Sara is one of our three new regional sales managers at OptiFuse coming to us directly from the campus of San Diego State.

On this particular trip, my goal was to introduce Sara to many of the customers we currently work with in the region as Earthwell as having the opportunity to visit with several great industry friends that I have made over the years.

Over the course of the last several years, my duties at OptiFuse have evolved from mostly sales related functions to managerial and financial tasks.  Therefore I was excited about the prospects of getting back on the road to actually meet face-to-face with current and future clients. 

Although there have been several advancements in electronic communication over the past 30 years, I still can’t think of a better way to exchange ideas and thoughts than to sit across the desk or restaurant table conversing with someone directly.

Friendships are created by sharing experiences and creating some history between one another.  Rarely can this be done via text messaging, e-mail or even on the phone.

Although there is always the subtext of a supplier / customer relationship, more often than not, I find that many of our clients have become personal trusted friends of mine as well.

Such is the case with my friend Lou Dinkle, founder and president of Beyond Components, an electronic components distributor, based just outside of Boston.

Now I wish I could say that Beyond Components was a major customer of OptiFuse, but in reality, we still haven’t found the right formula for much success... I mention this only because it means that a customer doesn’t have to be large in order for me to respect the manner in which they do business.

Whereas many companies have a mission statement and perhaps core values that most people who work at the company can’t remember or recite, Lou has created a company credo that helps to guide all management decisions and let employees, customers and vendors know exactly where they stand.

Some of Beyond’s fundamental tenets include never hiring employees away from competitors, hiring people based on character and integrity versus being based on their degree or the college that they attended, promoting from within solely on merit, keeping each employee until retirement and never laying anyone off (even during the lean times), giving back to those less fortunate (Lou and Beyond have given to more than 100 different charitable organizations - including my favorite charity - Arthritis Foundation), and always trying to find a way to put other people first.

This isn’t just talk... this is how they operate... and it’s been wildly successful as they have grown to become the 27th largest electronics distributor in the world with 120 employees, 20 locations doing over $70M in annual sales.

As mentioned previously... OptiFuse and Beyond do not do much business together... but they have my complete admiration and respect for everything that they stand for and represent.

During my last visit to Boston, Sara and I had the opportunity to "hang out" with Lou for a short while.

As we sat there discussing business and personal philosophies, Lou confessed that although the business was continuing on the path to success... over the past few years he was beginning to feel a bit of personal stagnation and complacency.

At a relatively young age, he had met many of his personal goals and now was trying to figure out his next motivation.

He explained to Sara and me that one day it finally hit him that the one thing that was missing from his life was a sense of humility. He was fortunate enough to find his success... now it was his job to help others find their own success.

He spoke to us with a renewed passion that was driven from the idea of finding ways of putting others first.

"I flipped our entire org-chart upside-down", he went on, "Instead of our employees trying to find ways to make management happy and successful, it was now management’s job to make them happy and successful... my job is no longer sitting around trying to make more money... it’s to make our little company a better place to work and breed successful customers and employees".

I told Lou that I had a similar experience not all that long ago myself... however instead of the idea of humility... I found a certain peace in the idea of gratitude.

One of the essential reasons I founded OptiFuse was to give me a vehicle to help others who were being underserved... customers... vendors... employees... our local community... and everyone at OptiFuse continues to work hard to keep that dream alive...

What we seemed to be missing, however, was gratitude... we erroneously believed that we were succeeding based on our hard work... but in reality... it was hundreds (if not thousands) of other people and organizations that were working together to help to make us successful...

But our gratitude doesn’t stop there...

We have to give thanks to the people in our lives that selflessly prepared us for any success that we’ve found... people like our parents, extended family, educators, scout leaders, athletic coaches, mentors and clergy.

By great fortune we were born into a society that prizes security, stability, a rule of law, education, clean water and air, and health care... all things to be truly grateful for...

Most of us should be thankful of stores with a bounty of food and clothing for sale, the employment opportunities that exist for us, the freedoms and rights afforded through our constitution and corresponding laws, safe roads and bridges, and access to global communications.

We are living in a time where there is a great abundance rather than scarcity of resources... and that in and of itself is a reason to offer gratitude...

No matter what drives us... humility, gratitude, or some other factor... we are all in this world together... and by helping others we are in fact enriching ourselves... perhaps not monetarily... but by making this world a far better place for generations to come.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we are grateful that you are a part of our team..

Friday, August 21, 2015

It's Worth More Than Money...

You aren’t wealthy until you have something that money can’t buy..

                                      ~ Garth Brooks

Every so often, I am asked to participate in new business ventures by friends and acquaintances alike.

This was the case this past spring, when I was asked by a good entrepreneurfriend to help source some equipment used in marine applications. 
My  friend, who happens to live in East Europe, was having a hard time finding qualified suppliers and manufacturers who would actually take his inquiries seriously (probably due to his limited English skills) and pleaded with me to assist him.

After trying to explain that I knew nothing about this type of equipment, I finally agreed to intervene on his behalf and ultimately spent about 80 hours of my time searching for qualified suppliers, matching up specifications to the suppliers’ part numbers, and finally negotiating with the suppliers to offer a competitive quotation for this project.

My friend was extremely pleased with my efforts and offered to pay me a substantial commission if he was successful in winning the business (the commission would have amounted to well over $250K).

He also explained to me that he was planning on quoting two additional projects and that he’d like me to work with him on those projects as well.  

The budget for two projects was in the 10’s of millions of dollars which meant that the commission split would have been extremely lucrative if we were awarded the projects. Furthermore, his company, due to connections in high places, would be the only company bidding.

After a few weeks, I received the specifications for the new projects. The first project consisted of sourcing and installing a complete passenger / baggage security system at a new airport. The second project involved procuring and installing traffic signals at several new intersections.

Needless to say... I know absolutely nothing about these types of systems.

However the lure of potential riches, if successful, danced through my head.

My initial thought was that I knew lots of people who actually DID know a lot about these types of projects.  If I could only build a team of knowledgeable engineers and projects managers... we had a great chance to win this business.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I had multiple meetings and phone calls with several individuals who expressed a strong interest in becoming a part of these projects.

As of last Friday, the team was now filling out and I was feeling confident that we could actually offer up a proposal to complete the work specified.

On Sunday... I went to the office to work on several OptiFuse projects that had been long neglected during the period of time that I had been working on these new projects.

It was then, in the flash of a moment, that I had a great epiphany...


I already have a company that needs my full and undivided attention... why was I spending even two minutes considering venturing off into areas that I knew nothing about and had no passion to build?...

Then it hit me... it was simply the lure of money... there was a possibility that these projects could bring me a certain amount of wealth...

...but at what cost?...

If we actually won these contracts... then I would be taken away from my real love... OptiFuse.

Money is simply an instrument... it should never be the end... but rather a means to an end...

Over the years, I have found that while money is important... there are far more important things in life.

Here are just a few items that I believe are far more important than money:
  • Time - Someone can always make more money... but they can never manufacture more time... money is infinite whereas time is limited. Time, well-invested can bring fortunes. Always invest your time in things that will bring you the best returns... education... relationships... health.  Time wasted is time lost forever.
  • Attitude - There are people who started with nothing and have made themselves and others around them successful. They start by committing to something and then work hard and tirelessly to give it all they have... and although they might fail at first, they keep going and never ever quit. They don’t let setbacks stop them and have the discipline to overcome resistance and procrastination.
  • Experience - You can only get experience in one way... by doing. Not by talking about doing... not by thinking about doing... not by watching someone else doing... but going out and doing it yourself. 
  • Integrity and Character - Integrity is always doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Character is saying what you’ll do and doing what you say. You can’t fake integrity or character. If you always demonstrate integrity and character, others will trust in you and in your word.
  • Courage - Courage isn’t the absence of fear... rather it is moving forward despite of the fear. Humans can do most incredible things no matter what happens... courage in spite of, not because of, the circumstances. Having faith in yourself or in others takes courage because you never know in advance what the outcome will be. The courageous take initiative and always lead from the front despite the dangers that lie ahead. They understand that rewards come from risk.
  • Ingenuity - Ingenuity is the ability to look at and understand problems then create solutions to solve the problems. Rarely is life a straightforward problem but rather a complex set of variables that are constantly changing and evolving. Intelligence doesn’t come from encyclopedic knowledge but rather from creating relatively simple solutions to complex problems. Ingenuity starts with the word "why" and works outwards to present the "what" and the "how".
When you give the world your time, attitude, experience, integrity, character, courage and ingenuity... then the world gives you money in return.

And despite popular opinion, money isn’t the most important thing in the world...

I am certain that we all know at least one person who has amassed a great deal of wealth and despite their money... they are not satisfied or happy...

Whereas in contrast, I am equally certain that we know other people who have little or no wealth but are grateful and happy for what they do have.

On Monday, I wrote my friend an e-mail offering my "letter of resignation" and putting him in contact with other members of the team I assembled to hopefully complete the project proposal for him.

I thanked him for the opportunity and the faith he placed in me... but in the end, I still have a lot of work ahead of me at OptiFuse and I needed to focus my attentions there.

Maybe one day OptiFuse will bring me similar opportunities to create a great deal of wealth... but that’s not why I started OptiFuse...

I started OptiFuse because I wanted to create products that protect people and equipment... to offer employees a work place that respects and rewards their efforts... to work with customers who present us with problems that we can work together to solve... and the opportunity to give back to our community...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where each day we are living the dream. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Next Generation...

"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it"
                                          ~ George Orwell

As I was driving into work a few days ago, I listened intently to a radio program whose guest was talking about the "Millennial" generation and how they radically differ from all of the generations before them.

According to this sociologist, Millennials are Millenialstypically highly educated but can appear to be deficient in certain social skills that may make them unemployable. 

Many are void of ambition and drive and are known to still be living at home with no intentions of ever leaving the nest but yet they are still a driving force in today’s economy.

They tend to be socially aware but lack the social skills needed to hold a face-to-face conversation as their preferred means of communication is through texting.

Who exactly are the Millennial Generation and how did they develop this yin/yang existence?  

The Great Generation

In the beginning, there was the "Great Generation"; those American born from the middle 1920’s until the end of WWII. The men and women of the Great Generation lived through incredible financial hardships of the great stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression and great dust bowl of the prairies states.  They made great personal sacrifices at home and on the shores of foreign lands as they fought against Axis powers. 

Growing up, life was anything but "great" for these individuals as they struggled for their very existence.  They were products of hard work, scarcity, and uncertainty.  The members of the Great Generation were survivors, scrappers and fighters figuring out what needed to be done and just went about doing it.

Upon the end of the war, the members of the Great Generation were now ready to settle down and start living. 

The great manufacturing complex, created during the war to produce armaments, now churned out automobiles, white goods, and building supplies... while the members of the Great Generation created babies...

The Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomers, as this generation was affectionately known, were defined as being born from the end of the war through the middle ’60’s, and were not typically subjected to the hardships of the Great Generation.

The boomers saw life in abundance and convenience.  The store shelves were stocked with goods and the post-war prosperity brought disposable income to families to spend on leisure activities and non-essentials.

The Baby Boomers were doted upon by a stay-at-home mother and a father who was home each evening to have dinner with the family. Traditional family values were commonplace among boomer families who tended to think parochially and rarely concerned themselves with world issues.

The boomers wanted for very little as their parents, now much more affluent, adorned their children with attention and resources to buy goods that they themselves were deprived of in their own youth while sheltering them from the harsh realities of the world.

Boomers also had educational opportunities that were simply unavailable to their parents due to the Great Depression and WWII.

As more of the boomers came of age, they ended up on college campuses where they soon began to spurn the same traditional family values that were prevalent in their youth. Their attentions were now being directed to the inequalities of the human experience within and outside the border of America.

As boomers entered the workforce and started families of their own, they did so with an agenda to create a cultural change politically, economically, and the roles of women in the workplace and home.

Women of the boomer generation increasingly worked outside the home.  The primary reasons were to prove financial independence as well as to contribute to a household that was becoming ever more so consumer oriented.

Boomers have an unending appetite for more and more "stuff"... buying bigger houses to keep their stuff... and accumulating more and more debt.

Generation X

Generation X became the children of the boomers.

Gen Xers were essentially raised in households where few traditional rules were applied due to mostly absent parents who essentially abandoned them to pursue careers and personal endeavors.

Without much parental supervision and family structure, Gen Xers became increasingly independent often demonstrating a great deal of creative thinking. 

Although many movies of the times stereotypically cast the Gen Xer as a slacker without motivation, the data actually shows that members of Generation X are highly educated, creative, calculated, and not adverse to risk... many of the same attributes found in entrepreneurs.  And in fact, many of the greatest modern-day entrepreneurs are members of the X Generation.

Gen Xers have also returned to more traditional family values that the Baby Boomers rebuffed.  They became increasingly focused on creating a goal-oriented "full life" as they attempted to program career, family, community, spirituality, recreation and health into their lives.  They demanded more and more from their own lives as they tried to propel themselves to "success".

Unlike their parents, most Gen Xers are not great consumers but have become investors who tend to purchase appreciating assets rather than buying consumables (but also tend to create investment bubbles as they speculate in those same assets).


To a Gen-Xer, the best future investment that one could make is an investment in their children. 

The idea of achieving "success" was not limited to the Gen Xers themselves.  They saw their children as a direct extension of their own success.  It was their job as a parent to ensure the future success of their children so they began to over-program the lives of their kids providing them with pre-pre-schools and early tutoring (so they can get into the right schools), highly competitive single-sport athletics, foreign language immersion programs, computer and math camps, international travel opportunities, as well as computers and other learning tools.

This also meant that there was little room for failure even if that means the parents would do the work themselves.  It was not unusual to have Gen-Xer parents completing their children’s homework, advocating for their children’s standing in the classroom, completing scouting projects on behalf of the kids, making sure every player got a trophy (as not to damage a child’s self-esteem by labeling them a "loser") and sabotaging the work of rival children in order for their own children to stand above.

The parents of Millennials didn’t mean bad, they just wanted to give their kids the push-start that their own parents never gave to them...

...but the things that made Gen Xers drive themselves to success are now missing in the lives of Millennials...

...things like independence... creativity... social skills... risk-taking... resilience... adventure... and self-determination...

Although their social evolution has been somewhat retarded by well-meaning parents, more than likely, Millennials will eventually acquire these important life skills as they find themselves still living at home into their 20’s and 30’s without the prospects of beginning the new generation yet to come...

Looking back, it’s easy to understand where the stereotypical traits of a generation are formulated... as each future generation over-compensates for their own generation’s deficiencies.
As one generation is replaced by another, we will continue to place our trust and well-being into the capable hands of our children and grand-children who will hopefully find the skills and fortitude to lead us into the future.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that our best days still await us in the future. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Go Climb a Mountain...

"You don’t climb a mountain without a team... you don’t climb a mountain without being fit... you don’t climb a mountain without being prepared... you don’t climb a mountain without balancing the risks and rewards... and you certainly don’t climb a mountain by accident... it has to be intentional."
                                               ~Mark Udall 

As of November 2013, there have been exactly 536 people from 38 countries who have flown into what is considered "outer space".

At the same time, there have existed only 44 people who have successfully completed the Explorer’s Grand Slam.

To be admitted into this exclusive club, a member must have climbed the highest peaks on each continent (including Antarctica) as well as cross-country ski to both the north and south poles.

While at a dinner a few weeks back, I happened to meet a member 2of this exclusive fraternity, Rob Follows, who had some incredible words of wisdom as it relates to goal-setting and pushing yourself to extreme heights (no pun intended).

Today I wanted to share some of Rob’s story as well as some of the lessons he passed on to me that evening...

Rob Follows is a Canadian entrepreneur, who at the age of 29, sold his advertising company to Maritz, Inc., a large private entity firm, for an undisclosed sum, estimated at several millions of dollars.  From 1992 until 2003, Rob remained with Maritz as CEO of Canada, Latin America and Europe with responsibility of $1B in annual sales.

In addition to chairing a billion dollar enterprise, Rob created Altruvest in 1994, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping other charitable organization by providing them training and tools to create better governance and management with the idea that by helping non-profit to run better, they would be in a position to give more resources to their respective causes.

After leaving Maritz in 2003, Rob took a long vacation with his girlfriend, Katrina (later to be his wife) to Mexico to discuss their future goals and aspirations.  They now had plenty of time, money and energy to do something truly remarkable with not only their own lives, but by touching the lives of other people as well.

Rob confessed to our dinner group that although he had accomplished many things at a relatively young age, his biggest fear was one day looking at himself in the mirror and wondering if he truly lived up to his potential while he was living here on earth.  Did he stretch his limits to try and achieve something great or was he just focused on staying alive to muddle through another day creating another dollar of profit? 

He decided at that time that he wanted no regrets... no excuses... and no "what ifs" and set off to do something great.

Imagine for a moment, if you had all of the money you ever needed... all of the free time to do whatever you wanted... and all of the health and energy as to not limit you...

...what would you be... and what would you become... and what would you do?

While sitting on a beach, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, Rob and Katrina came to a decision.  The two of them would attempt to become the first male/female team to complete the Adventure Grand Slam and in doing so, raising money and awareness for Altruvest in order so that it can help more people change their lives. 

Although they had never climbed a mountain before, they took on this challenge and made a commitment to each other and the world. 

This new phase in their lives became their Dharma... their purpose... their reason for being.

The first step in their plan was to seek out expert advisers who have already done it. These people had practical experience and a wealth of knowledge that would be invaluable to Rob as he tried to complete his mission.

It was after much consultation with these experts, that he decided that they would take their first step in October of 2003, by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa (19,339’) where they learned some invaluable lessons about altitude and acclimatization (a lesson I recently learned while cycling in Colorado).

Three months later in January of 2004, the couple reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua (22,840’) in Argentina, the highest peak in the Andes range.  The great lesson learned from this climb was that in order to 1be successful, you need the right tools.  

As it so happens, this particular assent was centered around walking along a mountain ridge instead of up the face of an ice glacier.  Unfortunately, their boots were outfitted with toe spikes rather than sole spikes which were needed to complete this climb. 
Without the proper equipment, their possibility was doomed from the start.  Despite the set-back, they managed to reach the summit.

By August of 2004, they were ready for peak number three, which happened to be Mt. Elbrus (18,481’) in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Three months later, the couple scaled Mt. Vincent (16,067), the highest peak on the continent of Antarctica where nighttime temperature reached -40 degrees and 100 mile an hour winds created wind-chill of nearly -80 degrees. 

After a hard afternoon climb in a relatively wind-protected area on the mountain, Rob found himself sweating vigorously despite the chilly temperatures, and took off several layers of clothing.  It was then he climbed over a ridge where the cold gale-force winds ripped through his body creating an instant freeze effect. Before he could reapply his protective clothing, he nearly blacked out due to the numbing cold but due to his commitment and focus he was able to reach deep to find the inner strength to overcome the deadly situation and complete his mission.

By May of 2005, Rob and Katrina were ready to attempt Mt. Everest (29,209’), the highest peak in the world.  Mt. Everest is unlike any of the previous climbs due to the extreme elevation. Acclimating to the high altitudes typically meant that you must train each day going back and forth from base camp to base camp for up to 3 entire months before attempting to summit the peak.

Despite all of the training, expertise, and equipment, the final say as to whether a summit can be made is still in the hands of Mother Nature and the ever-changing weather. 

Bad weather conditions that year forced Rob to abandon their summit attempt on Mt. Everest choosing instead to return the following year with a better team and a base of knowledge that would help them to succeed.  They didn’t quit their dream... but rather re-grouped for another attempt. 

Since Rob and Katrina had spent the better part of three months acclimating on Mt. Everest, they immediately decided to attempt Denali (20,320’) in June of 2005, the highest peak in North America.  Due to their superior conditioning (just having come from slopes of Mt. Everest) and with favorable weather conditions, they were able to quickly summit Denali while the rest of their team remained back at base camp (and ultimately failed due to adverse conditions).  They made the best use of what they had been given at the time to find success.

While waiting for the following spring to again attempt an Everest summit, Rob and Katrina completed the one-day hike of Mt. Kosciuszko (7,310’) the highest peak in Australia in January of 2006. 

In the Spring of 2006, with conditions much more favorable than the previous year and a superior Sherpa team, both Rob and Katrina completed the Adventure Grand Slam by summiting Mt. Everest.

Rob Follows summarized his quest of conquering the seven peaks with seven take-away lessons that we can all learn from: 
  • Always seek the advice of experts before setting out with a goal in mind. 
  • Ask for help along the way and be persistent.  People will come to your aid.
  • Make sure that you have the right tools and equipment before you start out.
  • No matter what obstacles might be in your way, if you are focused and committed, you will find a way to reach deeper inside you to overcome whatever conditions you may encounter.
  • When opportunity knocks, be prepared to answer the call.  The knocking may not last long before it’s gone.
  • Believe that you can get there.  Keep visualizing the goal and never quit... even if it means that you sometimes need to postpone... but never give up.
  • Turn your fears into energy and sharper focus carefully watching where you are going and being vigilant to stay on course. 
Rob will be the first to tell you that ultimately his adventure was not about conquering Everest but rather it was about finding a goal and committing to it... a goal that inspires you and others to somehow make a difference...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to encourage others to set their sites on something as big as a mountain.