Monday, December 13, 2010

Check Out My Weekly Posts on US News and World Report

I am now writing weekly for the US News and World Report.

Please check out my latest posts here: http://money.usnews.com/topics/author/rusty_rueff

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Other Shoe is a EEE Size for President Obama

A first shoe dropped tonight in America on President Obama with the sea change in the political environment as the House of Representatives majority moved to the GOP. Now the question is how to fill the other shoe so that is does not drop again in 2012. If I was the President I would be staring at the EEE shoe in front of me and ensure that I do nothing else over the next two years but focus on just that one shoe. The EEE size shoe is:

E = Economy
E = Education
E = Energy.

If the President could focus his staff, his party and those across the aisle on just ensuring that he can fill this large shoe over the next two years then I believe he has a chance to be reelected. If he and the administration waiver and confuse the topical and noisy for important, then we may watch in November of 2012 as to what happens with the other shoe. No one will argue about any of the EEE initiatives and certainly if the EEE's improve and then get better and better, then the President will be known as one who can fill a big shoe and that will allow Americans to give him four more years to show that yes, he can.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Incentives Need To Be Aligned To Work

An article on Friday, October 22nd in the New York Times on page A14 described a number of Governors who are running for office, or are already incumbents, who are recommending or providing tax breaks to create jobs. Frank Caprio in Rhode Island (yes, the guy who told the President yesterday to "go shove it") is recommending a Business Finder Tax Credit that would provide $1000 for a company who brings a new business to Rhode Island and both companies would share a $10,000 reward if the new business hires 20 or more people. He also wants to waive the filing fees for any new corporation that creates a new job.

The Iowa Republican candidate wants to waive state income taxes for start-ups for their first three years (this is great, but I'm not sure there is a realization that most start-ups don't make a profit in their early years so there aren't any taxes due). the recommendation also wants to waive start-ups paying sales taxes up to $50K in their first three years. That could be good on their capital purchases. but, $50K in sales tax breaks would mean that the company would have to spend a lot to get the full benefit. Costco tables and chairs, a few PCs with a 5% sales tax takes a long way to get to $50K of savings.

Other candidates in Illinois, Florida and Maryland are trying to come up with their own ideas.

In 2006, in our book; Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business (can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0131855239/qid=1136138630/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-1629927-8463150?s=books&v=glance&n=2 ) Hank Stringer and I called for "Free Talent Zones". This is where states could attract talent and therefore would want to relocate to these states. The incentives we recommended would not be about tax breaks to companies (which one side or another seems to have a problem), but instead provide incentives to workers directly. Give them a break on state income taxes, real-estate taxes, education fees, etc. Allow a company so many of these incentives for new hiring and believe me, the talent will come and the companies will will have incentives to hire. Imagine being able to recruit telling candidates about these types of incentives.

Rather than postulate on things that don't seem to make a difference or are so small in impact, I sure wish our politicians would be bold enough to think outside of the box and focus on those things that would really make behaviors and actions change. "Cash for Clunkers" was a success because the incentives went to the buyer, not the seller. Sellers finally picked up on it and then made it into an advertising bonanza and all parties got the benefit.

Let's try and think like this for talent, employment and rhe real creation of jobs!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Update - Why Does Someone Steal My Newspaper...And Who Is It?



10/18/10 Update:

Since originally writing this post, I have done some more investigating and this week we had a breakthrough. The neighbor across the street cleared out and trimmed their bushes and these filled blue bags were found thrown deep into the bushes. As we can see, these are the quickly identifiable blue bags of the New York Times, the same paper that goes missing on any given day from my front gate. This morning's paper was stolen. It could be that any one of the bags from this picture could have been filled this morning. A better detective might have felt for the warmest of the bags, but I thought better of it. This update is to just let the culprit know that I am on to your M.O.. You steal my paper, give the dog the signal, he/she fills in close range to the house and then you walk home with Tom Friedman and All the News Fit To Print without a bag. We are circling in on you and one day, when you least expect it, you will be exposed!


Originally posted: 1/11/10


My wife and I live in an affluent neighborhood in the Bay Area of California. By virtue of this, we live in one of the more affluent neighborhoods in the country. We have a gate on our house. It's a nice place to live and one of those areas where crime is not something that is top of mind. Which makes it even more curious to me why and who steals my New York Times in the mornings? This has been occurring now for over a year and it has necessitated having the paper carrier (who has been a delight through this) to make sure the the paper gets slid under or thrown over the gate. I am befuddled as to who and why someone wants to steal my paper. So, this has me working to profile who the culprit might be:

-I think it is a man. I have no reason to know why I think this, other than I have always had a hard time seeing a woman committing crimes. I shouldn't really be so naive as I was recently conned by a woman outside of a hotel in Rochester, NY on a snowy night who needed money to buy gas to drive 50 miles. It was New Years Eve and snowing and blowing at 10 degrees. What was I supposed to do? The hotel receptionist said it is a common scam in their area. So, women do commit crimes, but would a woman really steal my newspaper? I don't think so, so for that thin reasoning, I think it is a man.

-He is either an insomniac or he goes to bed early at night. I know this because the New York Times is delivered to us between 4:30AM and 5:00AM. I go out and retrieve the paper around 5:30AM and it is already gone by then. To be out on the streets before 5AM, he must go to bed by 8:30AM to get his eight hours of sleep.

-He knows axioms and may repeat these to others. I know this because he is an early riser and he must be following the axiom that the early bird gets the worm...or in this case the stolen paper.

-He's at least a little if not well overweight. I think I know this because it doesn't happen every day. There is no rhyme or reason to the days, which tells me that he doesn't work out every day and is not consistent in his exercise routine.

-He's a walker, not a runner. Runners don't like to carry things while they are running, so unless he lives within a few hundred yards, carrying the New York Times any further is a pain.

-He's not an early technology adopter. If he was, he would already have a Kindle or some type of e-reader and be downloading the New York Times Daily.

-He's a political liberal or left-leaning moderate. I know this because, why else would he want the New York Times? Otherwise, he would be seeking out someone where he could steal the Wall Street Journal.

-He's literate. I know that because he never steals our San Francisco Chronicle that is lying right next to the New York Times.

-He doesn't do crossword puzzles. If he did, he would steal the paper everyday and he would for sure take the Sunday paper, which he never does.

-Finally, he has a clean lawn. I know this because everything we are told is that people don't read newsprint anymore and that it is a dying medium. So, if that is the case, then he must have a dog and he has a poop-free lawn. You know, those blue bags are the best!

These are the clues I have so far. If you have any ideas for us on who it might be, please pass them along to me. They don't think this is an important enough crime for that COPS or that America's Most Wanted Show, but we all watch enough CSI, NCIS, Law and Order, and Cold Case that we ought to be able to figure out this very, very serious crime.

Thank You for your help.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is President Obama A Three Envelope Leader?

There is a story about the CEO who loses his job. On the way out of the office as the new CEO is moving in, the new CEO asks, "Do you have any advice for me?"

The departing CEO says to him, "I left you three sealed and numbered envelopes in the upper left hand corner of the desk. Use them only when you need them and use them wisely. That is the only advice I have for you".

The terminated CEO then leaves. The new CEO registers the comment and goes about settling into his new job. All is going well for him for the first few weeks but in a few short months he finds himself all alone at his desk on a Friday night at midnight staring at his management reports and realizing that things are not going well at all. All the numbers are down and the Board is starting to ask questions and customers and employees are losing faith in him. He is at wits end and doesn't know where to turn. It is then that he remembers the words of the departing CEO and he opens up the top left hand drawer of his desk and there in in the back are the three envelopes, just as he had been told they would be. Not knowing what else to do with the business, he decides to open envelope number one and he reads inside this statement, "Blame your predecessor."

The sitting CEO takes the advice and begins pointing out all of the failings of the prior CEO and claims that the mess the business is in is really all because of the prior leader and administration. This sentiment resonates with customers, employees and his Board and for a few more months the heat comes off of him and all looks good. But, again on a late Friday night a number of months later, he finds himself once again under fire and he has now been in the job long enough that he just can't blame anyone else now but himself. The business is tanking and everyone is now pointing at him. Not knowing what else to do, he reaches for envelope number two and inside he reads, "Reorganize".

This seems like a brilliant suggestion so starting the next morning the CEO begins removing his team of managers and replacing them with new people. This seems to be a terrific piece of advice as for almost the next year there is lots of energy and activity with people changing jobs and bringing in new ideas and as the CEO he spends a lot of time introducing new people to the team and explaining how the new people will be the ones to lead the company to new levels of success, etc. But, just as before, now a year after the reorganization has settled in and he doesn't have anyone left to replace, the business begins to fail again and all eyes are on him to either improve the business results or he will be the next one to be replaced. As he comes out of his most contentious Board meeting, he rushes to his office to do the only thing he knows to do and he grabs the third and final envelope and rips it open looking for the advice to save him and he reads inside, "Make three envelopes".

We are nearing the midterm of President Obama's first term and these past few weeks I have not been able to think of much else other than the story of the three envelopes. For the first year plus, the President spent much of his political time and capital blaming the Bush Administration for the mess of the country and the mess he was inheriting. There was some truth in it, but after a while it began to tire and we looked to him to not tell us the problems of the past, but give us solutions for the future. We did get some of those but not without bitter partisanship that has left a sour taste in everyone's mouth and a feeling that our government is working more poorly than before. The press began to call for the changes at the top of the President's administration to try and recover the hope of Washington working differently. There was not much movement until the announcement that Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief of Staff would step down, then Lawrence Summers, his senior economic advisor quickly followed suit, and then last week General James Jones, his head of National Security resigned. Leaks were coming from the White House that even a change with Vice-President Biden might be in the works to make room for Hillary Clinton to move out of the Secretary of State role to be Vice President. From the outside looking in, it looks like a concerted and deliberate reorganization is taking place.

Could it be that the President has reached for the first two envelopes and he is still only half way through his first term?

I am one American who certainly hopes not, but it is hard to not think that this might be the case. Soon we will know how the American people are responding to the agenda that has been set forth for us over the last two years. Much will ride on the November elections. Whether or not the President will need to reach for the third envelope, still resides with his ability to focus and deliver on the hopes, dreams and agenda that he laid out to the American people in 2008.

I still can still be optimistic and more than anything hope that he is not a three envelope leader.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Yes, We Might!"

I am hopeful, optimistic and sometimes too forgiving. My wife, Patti, says I have too short of a memory and that because of that, I probably am too trusting and that once bitten I allow myself to get bitten again and sometimes, again. I believe, in the long run, that a positive attitude causes less stress and consternation. So, as I write this, I remain hopeful for America, for our government to work and for our President to bring about the change on which he campaigned and won. But, I may be na├»ve, overly optimistic and not in touch with political reality. Only time will tell, but what I feel could work would be a new approach that starts with a plain honest and non-political assessment of what is reality and then a real plan to move us from where we are now to a defined point that can be measured. From there we need a consistent message that does not drift but instead enlists each of us to the cause and makes requests of each of us that, while we may not like them, we each can contribute and feel as though we are making a difference. If we can begin to see positive changes at the granular level where we live, then we will be able to begin to feel the momentum shift and some wind at our backs. The President is out on the road now trying to bring forward the message of hope to disillusioned constituents. The message of “Yes, We Can” is falling flat because it has started to sound like hyperbole. What we need now is the honest assessment of, “Yes, We Might”, but it is going to take more than what we are doing now, and more importantly that we each get better as fellow Americans who are open, positive and willing to engage to make America work again. This starts at the top and if it does, then “Yes, We Might”, can!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Bigger Responsibility

I am troubled by those who accept and step into leadership roles, like CEO positions, who don't feel or understand the larger responsibility they are taking. While no person is enslaved to a job in America, the role of a CEO is one where if you are going to take it, you have to understand that you have to subordinate your own desires and wants and make a sacrifice for the team and your company. When you accept the role of a leader, you take on the livelihoods, morale and to some extent, the self esteem of the employees of your company. To not recognize this is to be naive and at the worst, selfish and not suited for the position. CEO's can't just decide on Monday that they want to resign in two weeks. Of course, they can, but they really can't. They have a larger responsibility and accountability than that. That accountability is to the employees in their company who have entrusted their own jobs and family stability in the CEO's hands and are counting on her/him to be there for the company and for them. This is why the decision of Mark Hurd to take the Oracle role is so bothersome for me. Mr. Hurd may have proven in his hurried move that he is actually better as a number 2 in a company than as a CEO. After his abrupt departure at HP he could have let the emotions cool down and resurfaced a few months later and done whatever he wanted without much judgment or evaluation. Well, sure there would be evaluation, but in a few months the emotion would have been taken out of his decision. Instead, he chose to bolt up 101 to join up with Oracle and put a stick in the eye of HP's Board. The stick in the eye of the Board is damaging, but what is most hurtful is the conversation that is left around the water-coolers all over the HP world. The conversation about whether or not Hurd was ever loyal to the company or not and why would he join the competition if he ever really believed the things he said for the past five years to rally the troops and fight vigorously against Oracle and others, this is the conversation that has people wondering who really is Mark Hurd? CEO's have a bigger responsibility in that they are influencing and shaping the decisions, the values and the perceptions of corporate America and executives for the next generation. Their actions speak louder than their words and they shoulder that accountability just by virtue of the job title. Those who don't understand this and who watch out for themselves first and their company (collectively) second should think long and hard before they take the job as the ramifications of their actions are just too important to miss.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who Jacked My Baseball Team?

I am a Cincinnati Reds fan. I have always been a Reds fan since I grew up in Southern Indiana. For the past year, I have been astounded at the number of new Reds fans all over the country. Everywhere I turn it seems someone has on a Cincinnati Reds hat. Well, not everyone, actually it is mostly kids who have the 59Fifty flat brimmed hats, are wearing tee shirts with writing on them that are too big for them or over-sized flannel shirts, with blue jeans that are falling off their hips and a foot longer than they should be, and are wearing Timberland boots that are untied. I was recently on the subway in NYC coming out of the city and heading to the Bronx. On the train with me were three guys in their teens or early twenties. One was white, the other two were African-American. All three had on their "uniform" topped off with the Cincinnati Reds hat. My first inclination was to slide down the subway car to them and start talking about the good old days of the "Big Red Machine" and wax on about Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Sparky Anderson. Or maybe they wouldn't know much of 1973, but surely they would know something about the 1990 World Series Sweep and how exciting it was to win the big one that way and hear Marty Brennaman say, "And this one belongs to the Reds...". Or I wondered how they thought Dusty Baker was doing as a Manager and could they pull out a post season appearance this year? But, I hesitated because they just didn't look like they were in the mood to talk baseball. Yesterday in San Francisco, on Market Street I saw a few Reds fans too. It seems like we are all over and we are taking over from where the Yankees once were America's Team! Truth be told, sadly, none of these guys are really Reds fans, but somewhere there are some marketing people who are trying to capitalize on the fashion that the Reds have become. I had to laugh because in Olympia Sports in Westerly, Rhode Island, in the clearance bin are a bunch of gray colored Cincinnati Reds hats that never sold. That marketing person clearly doesn't understand and thinks like, the naive person I would like to be, that everyone has become a Reds fan! I will tell you that I will be glad when the fad fades, so I can get back to wearing my own Reds hats and not worry about someone thinking I am treading on their turf.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Most Un-American Statement...

Warning, this post is a bit of a rant but because the topic has bothered me deeply since I read about it yesterday morning in the New York Times, woke me in the middle of the night and has had me tied up inside all morning, I felt I needed to get it out of me.

First of all, I don't want or need to get into why anyone wants to build a mosque in the area of the former World Trade Center. I actually don't care about that any more than if a shopping mall or a condo complex was being built there. It has been confirmed that the mosque meets all zoning and legal requirements of the city of New York and that is all that matters to me.

What I am troubled by are the statements that came specifically from former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. There was a time when I was a Newt Gingrich supporter and while my political views have moved one way, while his have moved in a different direction, I always felt that Mr. Gingrich has the best for the country in his heart and that his opinions were rooted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But yesterday, Mr. Gingrich crossed a line that has me befuddled, bothered and made me a little afraid for what is happening to our country. These were Mr. Ginrich's statements as reported by the New York times and not refuted by Mr. Gingrich:

"Mr. Gingrich said the proposed mosque would be a symbol of Muslim “triumphalism” and that building the mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.”

“It’s profoundly and terribly wrong,” he said."

What I am appalled by is the small minded thinking that would cause Mr. Gingrich to associate a world-wide religion with the political Nazi party and think that it okay, under our Constitution to limit the rights for Americans to worship in whatever law-abiding way they choose. I have to ask, does Mr. Gingrich really think that all people who practice Islam were involved and support the terrorist acts of 9/11? Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should we also restrict the building of a Catholic Church in Oklahoma City?

The only appropriate reference and comparison to Nazi Germany that I can think of in this situation is that it was this type of segregationist, closed-minded thinking that Mr. Gingrich espouses that gave Adolph Hitler the platform to single out and eradicate the Jewish population of Germany and Eastern Europe. We are also not innocent as a country as this same type of thinking put Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

We have vowed as a country to never allow ourselves to return to that type of thinking, so please Mr. Gingrich, do not try and use your platform to sway people to return to a place where any American's religious beliefs, color of their skin or national origin, in any way restricts their American rights and their pursuit of happiness.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Values 2.0?

This past seven days have been intriguing if you are interested or follow how CEOs are acting as they face challenges where values and principles are put in dialogue and consideration. A week ago today the news broke that Mark Hurd was resigning from his position as CEO of HP for issues relating to a sexual harassment charge and expense reporting violations. Since we learned that he resigned, or was asked to leave, over the expense report irregularities that totaled no more, by reports, of $20,000. Later in the week, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, came out with his own statement that the HP Board had made the wrong decision in firing Hurd over this infraction. I was quite curious when I read his statements, as I wondered where he was coming from. The best I could garner was that in his mind, that the results and performance of HP, which have been stellar over Hurd's five year CEO tenure, outweighed the infraction and that HP was putting the wrong emphasis on values and integrity over performance. As I read this, I wondered if anyone at Oracle has ever been fired for falsifying expense reports and if they have, then maybe they should reapply for a job as the CEO doesn't see anything wrong with irregularities, at least up to $20,000. The two of them, Ellison and Hurd are titans of technology and this would have been enough, but then to see the news regarding Michael Dell and how apparently, Dell and his team knew of the 11.8 millions bad PCS that were sold to businesses and decided to not make their customers aware of the problems. Bundle these three examples together and it makes me wonder about what happened to the models left behind by Andy Groves, David Packard and Bill Hewlett's of the technology world? There are still many great leaders in the Tech world and more coming, but let's hope that we aren't entering an age of Values 2.0 where we turn our head to what is right and what is wrong.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seeing and Describing the Bigger Picture with a Moonshot

As part of being a voter for the Emmy's, this past week I watched the movie Moonshot about Apollo 11's historic landing and Neil Armstrong's first walk on the moon. It is a story that any of us over 40 years old know well but what gets lost in the story of man going to the moon is the ability of our country, in that generation, to see and describe a bigger picture. As the movie depicts at the beginning, we see President Kennedy stating in the start of the 1960's that before the end of the decade we will put a man on the moon and we do so "Not because we choose to do what is easy, but because we choose to do what is hard". Those are inspiring words (and I must say that I long for the same inspiration from our current leaders). President Kennedy didn't launch the Apollo efforts just to put a man on the moon, he led this as a bigger picture response to both the nation's psyche of the cold war with the Soviet Union and the lagging of our countries ability to educate and produce students in science, technology, engineering and mathmatics. With one bold description of what the future could hold with a measurable outcome such as putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade, President Kennedy solved two bigger picture challenges for our country. BTW, we shouldn't forget that even after he was dead and an opposing party President was in office that President Kennedy's goal was still achieved. The bigger picture can transcend political barriers and divides if only that bigger picture can be seen and described. After 9/11, our past President may have had the moment to truly unite our country around service to others and to the country. For a fleeting moment it was there and then it flickered because of the lack of a tangible and compelling goal or "moonshot" type of vision. The same, I believe can be said about what could have been, or still could be, about how we have handled the Great Recession and the BP Gulf oil spill. One could argue that these both are rallying points crying out for the bigger picture and each with their distinct opportunities to reshape our country into something better and stronger. I am still optimistic that with the right bigger picture that there is a another "moonshot" of improvement and political unity in our future, but it will take a boldness that comes from being able to see and describe the bigger picture.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Inspirational Words After A Loss From Allen Alley

Earlier this month, Allen Alley, a Republican candidate for Governor of Oregon, lost in the primary. Allen and I sit on the Purdue Foundation Board together. He ran what appeared from afar a superb grassroots campaign as he covered the state meeting people face to face. After he lost he sent a note out and what struck me was the closing statement that is inspirational and applicable to all of us.

"My final message is to dream big. Think not about where we are but where we can be. Embrace our wonderful state and our assets. Don’t just think outside the box, shatter it. Lead. Remember that our lives will be spent turning dreams into memories and, in the end, we will audit our lives based on the memories we make. We’ve already made some great ones in 2010. Go make some more."

I suspect we will be hearing more from Allen in the future.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kristen Madsen from The GRAMMY Foundation delivered...

...a most beautiful and eloquent speech about the importance of the arts, creativity and the wholeness that comes from digging and seeking for the full human experience.

From The GRAMMY Foundation's "CUE THE MUSIC" Event in LA on January 28, 2010:

At the 1939 Worlds Fair, when David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC introduced television, he clearly recognized the impact this new technology was poised to leverage. He said, “It is an art which shines like a torch of hope in a troubled world. It is a creative force which we must learn to utilize for the benefit of all mankind.”

In its public debut, this fledgling medium was introduced as an art form, a creative force. In that moment, it was bound together with its sister arts – endowed with a power that we in this room inherently understand, but to which so many others remain stubbornly tone-deaf.

The first people who truly understood the power of the arts were the ancient Greeks. They believed that the arts and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was the tool to understand the relationships between observable, external objects. The arts, on the other hand, could decipher the relationships between invisible, interior forces.

The arts can burrow into our hearts and unlock the puzzles they find there – in our interior selves. That exploration of what is life-sustaining inside all of us, while incredibly rewarding, requires great discipline and patience.

Today, we are surrounded by evidence that we are maddeningly willing to surrender to the seduction of sound bites and headlines.

Our capacity to dig deep is at risk of atrophying in a world where finding an opinion that matches our own is as simple as the click of a mouse.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become so mesmerized by the shiny penny of the mass quantities of everything available at any time, that we’ve forgotten that the volume itself is of no consequence – it’s merely a distraction.

Consider the very stark contrast between a carefully curated collection vs. the accumulations of a compulsive hoarder.

A single day spent diving deep is worth a lifetime skimming the surface.

And the velocity of change in our external environment – more relentless now than ever previously – also seem to be having an impact on our memories. Our ability to recall even our most immediate history – particularly if it is inconvenient or boring -- is itself becoming a thing of the past.

But of course, change will be our constant, if sometimes unwelcome, companion. In the words of my favorite tv character of the past decade, the philosopher/saloon owner Al Swearengen on HBO’s Deadwood, “Change aint’ lookin’ for friends. Change calls the tune we dance to.”

As we are being propelled along this journey, where the need to speed-communicate is apparently so urgent that we can’t even take time to type complete words much less sentences, remember that the arts are our best antidote to a “path of least resistance” life.

We may not be able to call our own tune. We can choose our favorite choreography. We should recalibrate our values to champion depth over breadth. We must celebrate the arts’ ability to give anchor to our memories and flight to our imaginations. Let’s all drink deep from that rich and nourishing well.

-Kristen Madsen
January 28, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Defense of Liberal Arts...A Must Read

Jon Meacham's latest article in Newsweek.

In Defense of the Liberal Arts
Published Jan 9, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Jan 18, 2010

At noon last Wednesday in Sewanee, Tenn., in a 19th-century Gothic hall dominated by a sandstone fireplace and decorated with portraits of somber bishops, the University of the South—my alma mater—elected a new leader, John M. McCardell Jr., the former president of Middlebury College. (We refer to our president as vice chancellor, in the English tradition. If the fates had ever brought Anthony Trollope and Tennessee Williams together to collaborate, Sewanee might have been the result.) Those of you who share an affinity for small institutions know the power of sentiment at such moments—how the old rooftops remind us of when we were young, and all of that. Arguing the interests of Dartmouth before the Supreme Court, Daniel Webster captured this feeling well: "It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it."

I love Sewanee, an Episcopal university tucked away on 13,000 rural acres of the Cumberland Plateau. It is a place where students and faculty wear academic gowns to class, where the vice chancellor also serves as mayor, and where I spent four years without having a key to my room, much less locking it. Modernity intrudes with a single full-time traffic light on campus, but for years that incursion was ameliorated by the sight of a professor of religion's cat taking a daily nap on the street directly beneath the light. People knew to steer clear.

Belief in liberal-arts colleges like Sewanee, however, is about more than sentiment. As I sat listening to McCardell accept his election, I thought, not for the first time, about the difficulty of making the case for something so expensive and so seemingly archaic—an undergraduate liberal education—in an economic and cultural climate that favors efficiency and tangibility. It is inarguably hard to monetize a familiarity with Homer or an intimacy with Shakespeare.

It is just possible, though, that the traditional understanding of the liberal arts may help us in our search for new innovation and new competitiveness. The next chapter of the nation's economic life could well be written not only by engineers but by entrepreneurs who, as products of an apparently disparate education, have formed a habit of mind that enables them to connect ideas that might otherwise have gone unconnected. As Alan Brinkley, the historian and former provost of Columbia, has argued in our pages, liberal education is a crucial element in the creation of wealth, jobs, and, one hopes, a fairer and more just nation.

Barack Obama started out at such a school (Occidental in Los Angeles) before moving to Columbia, where the core curriculum requires undergraduates to be grounded in canonical literature, philosophy, and history. Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Oregon's Reed College, nevertheless credits a calligraphy class he attended there with providing part of the inspiration for the Macintosh. Employers say all the time that they value clarity of writing and verbal expression, and that they often find liberal-arts graduates expert in both.

We need to make sure that the liberal arts prepare people for a good life, not just the good life. For too long private colleges like mine have been seen, with more than a little justice, as provinces of the already affluent. Such institutions devote a lot of resources to remedying this, but educations at the more elite private schools are prohibitively expensive, and always will be.

Which is why the state universities that underwrite liberal-arts programs, including newish public honors colleges within large research institutions (Michigan and Georgia are two examples), should continue that good work. There is never enough money—or at least it seems as though there is never enough—but cutting the liberal arts is a false economy.

The other emerging market is the world of online education, which is one of the great democratizing stories of recent years. Like NEWSWEEK, Kaplan Inc. is a part of The Washington Post Company, so I am unapologetically prejudiced. Yet the fact remains that digital educational enterprises are to the 21st century what public universities were in previous generations: accessible and more affordable means for people to better their minds and their lives.

For some the future will be shaped by a Sewanee, for others by a business course taught online. The unifying theme that connected my own musings among the bishops (living and dead) was straightforward: if the country is to prosper—economically, culturally, morally—we have to trust in the institutions, old and new, that nurture creativity, and then hope for the best.

Jon Meacham is editor of NEWSWEEK and author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.

Friday, January 8, 2010

He's Just What I Expected...A First-Time CEO

It must be because I was, and continue to be, open about my political views and the switch I made from being a person who always voted with the Republicans, to becoming a person who votes for who I believe will be the best at the job at the time and that being now a Democratic President, that I get asked a lot openly, and privately; "What do you think of the job President Obama is doing?" From my Republican friends they are looking for ways for me to defend what they disagree with and trying to get a few, "I told you so's in". I am cool with that and I totally get where they are coming from. From the staunch Democrats, they don't ask the question. But, mostly,the question comes from people like me who made the switch and are now wondering if they made the right decision. They see the popular opinion moving away from the President, they see an aggressive and overwhelming agenda, they see worse than ever partisanship and arrogance from those on the winning and losing side of an argument, they see retiring Senators and Congressmen switching parties causing a loss in the power seats necessary to make change, they see unprecedented levels of spending and debt. And, they wonder, did I make the right choice? Let me be honest and open about it, "I wonder too".

However, I also believe that we are seeing the results of exactly what I expected President Obama to be. We are seeing the actions and results of a first time CEO. Long ago I wrote that a Senator becoming President is like asking the General Counsel to be CEO. They have a sense of what the job could be and they have been around CEOs a long time, but they have never sat in the chair and when they do, as a first time CEO, they will make first time CEO mistakes. That doesn't make them bad and it doesn't mean that they won't become great CEOs, but they need time to learn. The same is true of President Obama. The man I voted for to be President I knew did not have the experience to do the job. Instead I voted for him because I believed he had the vision, the conviction, the work-ethic and the potential to be great and I still believe that. However, the rookie CEO moves are evident:

Taking on to many things at once: The hardest thing to do as a CEO is to say no to an idea or an objective. You have to be willing to let somethings go to focus on the most important. The President said his agenda would be the economy, education, alternative energy and the war. He needs to get back to doing one significant thing in each area and let the rest go by the wayside.

Not knowing who the right people are on your team: This happens to first time CEO's...every time. The people you put on your team the first go around are not as good as they need to be and you default into what you know and don't know how to hire those who can do things that you don't know. There are different people for different stages of a company and the people who got your there are seldom the people who can get you to the next level. That is why first time CEOs need a great board or venture capitalist who can fill in around them. It feels like the President has not surrounded himself with the right people for the job and he is depending on the people who got him there, not the people who can take him to the next level.

Getting ahead of yourself: A little success and momentum is a dangerous things for a first-time CEO because you tend to get up on that wave and ride it like there is no tomorrow and if there are some accolades that come with it, you lean into that wave to try and go even faster. Unfortunately, waves ridden too long end up on the beach. Using the 60 vote power in the Senate as the leverage versus finding real consensus among the parties is not a good thing and I think the President may be riding that wave too long because the wave is going to go away next year and he will need then to have a different way of getting things done. If he doesn't start that now, then nothing will get done after the 60 votes are gone. This goes back to needing change in leadership around him. He needs to think long and hard about whether the speaker of the house and the Senate leader can lead in a way that gets things done without having all the leverage.

Hanging on to the wrong people too long: If you were the one that hired 'em, it's really hard to get rid of them and first time CEOs hang on too long to people who need to go. We can see this in the President's cabinet. It's time for some to go. Mistakes are mistakes but lack of results can't be ignored and in his case with only four years to govern, he can't afford to hesitate. Great CEOs are always upgrading their teams. I have ideas on who should be replaced, if anyone is interested.

You spend too much money: It's predictable like the sun coming up; first time CEOs when given a pot of money, spend it and because it is there, it gets gobbled up quickly. I like to tell first time CEOs who are raising money that the smartest thing they can do is only take the money they need, not the money they want. I remind them that we are Americans. We eat all the food that is put on the plate in front of us. First time, and lots of other CEOs, do the same with their budgets. The President is eating all of the food and more right now and needs to show that he can also enforce fiscal discipline. If he doesn't do this, I think this will be the Achilles heel for him in 2012.

All this said, I believe we have a leader who is doing the good things that you want a first-time CEO to do as well;

He is visionary.

He is working extremely hard.

He is great with externals...in his case other leaders around the world.

He takes accountability.

He is learning.

He is smart. I am impressed by the way that he allows things to start to the left and then through time and conversation they come back more to the middle. I'm not sure how he does this, or if it is really him, but this continues to happen and that is good for him and the country.

So, we have three more years to find out just how good of a CEO he can be. For all of the people who would throw him out now, I only ask you to think about the first time you were in a new job that was above you and you were learning your way...aren't you glad that someone else helped you along and saw your potential, versus just getting rid of you immediately?

My hope and daily prayer for our President is that he matures, learns and wises faster than humanly possible to become the great leader and CEO of our country that we need. And by the way, that will be my same hope and prayer for the next President, whoever he/she may be.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Decade of Reading

Keeping a list of what you read (I have been doing it since 1993) and then being able to go back and review it is very interesting. Here is what I learned from my 10 year review of the 206 books I read in one decade:

*Most read Authors:

1. James Patterson (16)
2. John Grisham (11)
3. Nelson DeMille (10)
4. Michael Crichton (8)
5. Ken Follett (7)
6. JK Rowling (7)
7. Ann Rice (7)
8. Patricia Cornwall (6)
9. Tom Clancy (5)

*Book that I have no clue today what it was about: Winter’s Tale (Helprin)

*Book that I read twice but didn’t realize it until now: 1776

*Book that I told more people about than any other: Celestine Prophecy

*Book that stayed with me more than any other other than The Bible: Chasing Daylight

*Author that I fell in love with in the 2000’s: Michael Chabon

*Book that was the most wasted time: Charlotte Simmons (Tom Wolfe)

*Best Running Book: Once a Runner (John Parker)

*Heath Book that made a difference: The Antioxident Revolution (Kenneth Cooper)

*Page Turner of the Decade: The Day After Tomorrow (Hammer)

*Best New Authors for me: (tie) Jonathan Krakauer and Jodi Piccoult

*Best Business Book: (tie) The Living Company (De Geus) and The Tipping Point (Gladwell)

*Most eye opening Book: The World is Flat (Freidman)

*Book that had the least measurable impact for me: Triathlon Swimming Made Easy (Laughlin)

Top Books of the decade for me:

* Bridges of Madison County (Waller)
* Celestine Prophecy (Redfield)
* A World Lit Only By Fire (Mancehster)
* The Horse Whisperer (Evans)
* All the Pretty Horses (McCarthy)
* Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Berendt)
* Into Thin Air (Krakauer)
* Cold Mountain (Frazier)
* God of Small Things (Roy)
* She’s Come Undone (Lamb)
* A Perfect Storm (Jager)
* Snowcrash (Stephenson)
* House of Sand and Fog (Dubus)
* Seabiscuit (Hillenbrand)
* The Pact (Piccoult)
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Chabon)
* John Adams (McCullogh)
* The Corrections (Franzen)
* Summerland (Chabon)
* Life of Pi (Martel)
* The Kite Runner (Hosseini)
* Devin in the White City (Larson)
* The World is Flat (Friedman)
* Chasing Daylight (O’Kelley)
* Audacity of Hope (Obama)
* Talk Talk (Boyle)
* Team of Rivals (Goodwin)
* Water for Elephants (Gruen)
* The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz)
* Old Men at Midnight (Potok)
* Once a Runner (Parker)
* People of the Book (Brooks)
* Change by Design (Brown)

Here is what I read over the first decade of the ‘oo’s:

2000 (24):

Black Notice: Cornwall

Saving Faith: Baldacci

Harry Potter and the Scorcer’s Stone: Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets: Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azbakan: Rowling

Above Black: Sherman

Timeline: Crichton

The Lion’s Game: Demille

Pop Goes the Weasel: Patterson

When the Wind Blows: Patterson

The Brethren: Grisham

Horse Heavenv Smiley

The Barbarians are Coming: Louie

Cradle and All: Patterson

Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire: Rowling

Memoirs of a Geisha: Golden

October Sky: Hickam, Jr.

It’s Not About the Bike: Armstrong

Beowulf: Harvey

The Bear and the Dragon: Clancy

Ender’s Game: Card

Snowcrash: Stephenson

On Ice: Ramus

2001 (22):

The Invisible Continent: Ohmae

King of the World: Remnick

Roses Are Red: Patterson

Code to Zero: Follett

Net Gain: Hagel

Orvis Guide to Saltwater Fishing: Curcione

House of Sand and Fog: Dubus

Waiting: Jin

Tuscan Childhood: Beevor

The Tipping Point: Gladwell

1st to Die: Patterson

Seabiscuit: Hillenbrand

The Pact: Picoult

Race Horse Training: Collins

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: Chabon

Derby Dreams: Bolus

The Hobbit: Tolkien

Fade: Cormier

P is for Peril: Grafton

The Fellowship of the Ring: Tolkien

Proof: Francis

John Adams:McCullough

2002 (27)

Indiana Gothic: Brock

Violets are Blue: Patterson

The Prometheus Deception: Ludlum

Half Time: Buford

The Fourth Hand: Irving

Investing in Thoroughbreds: Kirkpatrick

Last Man Standing: Baldacci

Stud: Conley

Good to Great: Collins

The Summons: Grisham

2nd Chance: Patterson

The Holy Grail: The Derby: Haskins

The Corrections: Franzen

Whistle While You Work: Leider/Shapiro

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: Chabon

Connecting: Crabb

Mabel Dodge Luhan: Rudnick

Red Rabbit: Clancy

Runner’s Blood: Fischer

Clear Body…Clear Mind: Hubbard

Carter Beats the Devil: Gold

Difficult Conversations: Stone, Patton, Heen

Nights in Rodanthe: Sparks

A New Brand World: Bedbury

Summerland: Chabon

The Lovely Bones: Seybold

Doing Well when Doing Good: Guinness

2003 (16)

Up Country: DeMille

Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Twain

The Key to Rebecca: Follett

How Firm a Foundation: Grodi

Four Blind Mice: Patterson

Life of Pi: Martel

Prey: Crichton

Catch Me If You Can: Abergnale

The Greatest Generation: Brokaw

Harry Potter,Order of the Phoenix: Rowling

King of Torts: Grisham

The DaVinci Code: Brown

Dark Horse: Hoag

The Bible: Inspired by God

Oracle Night: Austere

Mere Christianity: Lewis

Moneyball: Lewis

2004 (8)

Ruthless Trust: Manning

Purpose Driven Life: Warren

Under the Banner of Heaven: Krakauer

Big Bad Wolf: Patterson

Endurance: Alexander

Prayer: Foster

Ordering Your Private World: MacDonald

Kite Runner: Hosseini

2005 (13)

Angels & Demons: Brown

Night Fall: DeMille

The White City: Larson

Chi Running: Dreyer

Wild at Heart: Eldridge

Life Together: Bonhoeffer

Trace: Cornwell

Heaven: Alcorn

The World is Flat: Friedman

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe: Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew: Lewis

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Willard

Code to Zero: Follett

2006 (9)

Our Endangered Values: Carter

Freakonomics: Levitt/Dubner

Ultramarathon Man: Karnarez

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Rowling

1776: McCollough

Adventure Capitalist: Rogers

Search: Battelle

Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles: Brickner

The Bible:

2007 (19)

The Kitchen Boy: Alexander

Pope Joan: Cross

Chasing Daylight: O’Kelley

Growing Wise Slowly: Roper

The Tenth Circle: Piccoult

Making Your Childrens Ministry The Best Hour Of The Week: Miller/Stahl

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy: Laughlin

The Gospel According To John: Campbell

Audacity of Hope: Obama

A Year at the Races: Smiley

Winter’s Tale: Helprin

Harry Potter: Rowling

The Soul of Money: Twist

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Hosseini

The Bourne Betrayal: Van Bluster

The Life God Blesses: MacDonald

A World Without End: Follett

Cat's Cradle: Vonnegut

The Lost: Mendelsohn

2008 (30)

Talk Talk: Boyle

Cane River: Tademy

Red River: Tademy

Why Pray?: Wilhite

Thunderstruck: Larson

Thirteen Moons: Frazier

1776: McCullough

Ship of Gold: Kinder

Jesus, CEO: Jones

What is the What?: Egger

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: Chabon

The Dante Club: Pearl

I am Charlotte Simmons: Wolfe

Pioneers: Cooper

Christian Spirituality: McGrath

Team of Rivals: Goodwin

Twilight: Meyer

The Shack: Young

New Moon: Meyer

Water for Elephants: Gruen

Eclipse: Meyer

New Dawn: Meyer

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Diaz

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Wroblewski

Stone Cold: Baldacci

House of Mondavi: Siler

The Hour That Changes The World: Eastman

The Bible: (New Living Testament)

Experiencing God: Blackaby

The Historian: Kostova

2009 (38)

Three Cups of Tea: Mortenson

All Things Are Possible Through Prayer: Allen

American Lion: Andrew Jackson In the White House Meachem

The Power of Positive Praying: Bisagno

Not For Sale: Batstone

Revolution: Barna

The Screwtape Letters: Lewis

Run for your life: Patterson/Ledwidge

The subtle power of spiritual Abuse: Johnson/Vonderen

Old Men at Midnight: Potok

Celebration of the Disciplines: Foster

The Art of the Turnaround: Kaiser

Wild Fire: DeMille

Slaughterhouse 5: Vonnegut

Once A Runner: Parker

Searching for Dad: Ricks

American Pastoral: Roth

Born to Run: McDougall

The Janson Directive: Ludlum

People of the Book: Brooks

Olive Kittredge: Stout

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling: Crouch

The Machievelli Covenant: Follsom

The Help: Stockett

Master and Commander: O’Brian

Artemis Fowl: Golfer

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident: Colfer

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code: Colfer

The Way: Escriva

Change By Design: Brown

A Gate At The Stairs: Moore

Brave New World: Huxley

Thomas Jefferson: Hitchens

Outliers: Gladwell

Underworld DeDillo

Gilead: Robinson

The Lost Symbol: Brown

The Power of Half: Salwen

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fast Forgiveness For Failure...

David Brook's article on New Year's Day titled "The God That Fails" felt like one of the more "practical" ways of looking at our government's successes and failures. The gist of the article was that our government does a lot of good things, but it is not a perfect system and it is filled with human beings so there will be times where the system fails. But, then most importantly is that Brooks says that when this happens we, as the citizens of the government, should not expect perfection each time, but instead, go with the flow and understand that it is impossible for government to be infallible. Those of you who know me, know that I fervently believe that there is only One that is infallible so I carry with me maybe a more tolerant attitude towards failures of others than I should. My wife Patti has always said that I forget and forgive too quickly. She considers it constructive criticism. I consider it a compliment. I know too many people who look for the hole in the doughnut. These are the same people who don't think the glass is half-empty, they think the glass is out to kill them. They take hard stances to the left or the right when it comes to the government and they are quick to criticize when something doesn't go perfectly. This happened this last week with the Nigerian who tried to blow up the flight in Detroit. When I read about what happened, I didn't like it either. I could see why someone should be held accountable and I don't have any issue with someone losing their job over not doing their job to the standards set for them. But, what I can't accept is those that say the whole system is wrong and failing because of one mistake. As I have pointed out before, the TSA has lots and lots of problems and Janet Napiltano has not done anything that I can see to make any improvements, but the entire system is not a failure and nor would it be right to think that we won't have other issues in the future. Government can't be perfect. As long as there are people involved, it is impossible for it to be perfect. Let's try this year to be a little more forgiving and understanding as a country. Maybe if we did, we would find common solutions versus staying so opposed to each other.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Where Does The Buck Stop in California?

I read with great interest the ruling of Judge Frank Roesch regarding Governor Schwarzenegger's decision to furlough state employees to try and get control of the states over running expenses. Judge Roesch's decision overruled the Governor on multiple grounds including that the Governor "overstepped his authority by claiming the furloughs were necessary to deal with the budget emergency". As I read this, the newsprint nearly slipped from my hands, which as we all know is hard to have happen. Here is what I don't understand; there is no place in California for the buck to stop. When I elect a Governor, I do so on the basis of who I believe will be the best chief executive officer. I look at the skill set to establish a vision, determine how to establish, maintain and where necessary to raise revenue, and most importantly how to manage the business of the state so that our expenses don't outstrip our revenue. I vote for the person who I believe is the best at having the buck stop with them. But, in California it seems that the buck doesn't stop anywhere. Each time a decision is made that others don't agree with we get a judge to rule on it, we get proposition on the next ballet, or we get a special election to more quickly overturn the decision. And then we wonder why this state doesn't work. What California is missing is a lack of practical thinking. If there was practical thinking then there wouldn't be a lawsuit filed on the behalf of the service employee unions that they should be treated differently from all other employees. If the Governor has decided that furloughs are the best way to deal with our issues, then everyone needs to participate. It is not right for one group to be treated differently than others. I fear that if California doesn't reshape how it governs so that the buck has someplace to stop, there won't be any bucks to be stopped.

Friday, January 1, 2010

TSA - Please Rethink or Think!

I flew through the new T5 terminal at JFK this morning and as we started a new decade I was quickly reminded at how little distance we have covered in our ability to manage the security lines in our airports. Yes, the government is up in arms this day because of the Nigerian flier who made it to Detroit and nearly set off his explosives on that Northwestern flight, but the TSA that we experienced today was no different, or any better than they were when established in 2001. In fact, I would say because there has not been any systemic learning or standardization across airports and we have not shared and gotten better collectively, it proves that that in fact we have not gotten any better at all. Long airport security lines are a constant reminder that our government fails to figure out how to become more productive and more efficient. Why is it that this so visible symbol of a government administration isn’t given the attention necessary to improve? What holds this back? Our airports are unfriendly and have added hours to inefficiencies to our business community. The wasted productivity alone should be enough to warrant the attention of other arms of the administration. Maybe the Secretary of Commerce should weigh in and get involved! We should be embarrassed that we have minimum wage employees, who act and work like they have been salvaged from the streets, standing around, doing nothing and not adding anything to the security of the airports. Had you been with me this morning, you would have seen x-ray screeners who weren’t looking at the screens, employees standing around chatting and filing their nails while the lines were backed up for nearly an hour wait. Department of Homeland Security, please start improving something so that we can understand the value of you as overhead expense to our country, who doesn't need more expenses!