Tag Archives: tough times

You Didn’t Need Me then; I Don’t Need You Now


Jobs GraphA national building supply firm decided to no longer solicit business from custom homebuilders. After the collapse of the housing market, when a salesman solicited a former customer’s business he was told, “You didn’t need me during good times and I don’t need you now.”

When I told my father our sheet metal shop was too busy to take walk-in business, he invited me to join him for a cup of coffee.

Over coffee he told of the difficulties involved in opening a business in the midst of the Great Depression: the phone not ringing; no customers coming through the door. He related how he drove around the county, looking for a job to quote; how he worried about making payroll.

He commented on the loyalty of once small, walk-in customers. How a smile and a thank you for a two-dollar order can result in thousands of dollars of business. He declared, “Every customer is precious; you never know where a relationship may lead.” Needless to say, we continued to accept walk-in customers.

During the housing boom, many building material suppliers erected signs discouraging walk-in customers: “Contractors Only,” “No Cash Customers,” “Customers Must Have a Trade Account.” The advent of the “Great Recession” resulted in many of those signs being removed, but the message, “We don’t need your business.” had been delivered. Gone was the opportunity to develop new relationships; lost was the opportunity to grow with customers; and lingering was the bitterness of rejection.

As with my father and the Great Depression, the lessons of the “Great Recession” are deeply ingrained within many business leaders. They have come to understand the relationships made during the good times, will be needed when the bad times come; and, today’s small customer, may be tomorrow’s prime account.

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Memories Of Wine


The colors of the differing layers of its walls reflect the eons the Colorado River has flowed through the Grand Canyon.  Similarly, the wine corks Terri and I store in a five-gallon water bottle reflect our times together.  Viewing the layers of corks, you realize they reflect the ebb and flow of our prosperity: a layer from bottles of Robert Mondavi and Silver Oak wines on top of one consisting of those from Ernest and Julio.

In the course of one of the Ernest and Julio periods—a time of worry about money and jobs—I was celebrating the New Year with friends in Charleston, South Carolina.  One early morning, I noticed a newspaper headline announcing the CEO of a large corporation had passed away leaving a considerable fortune.  It struck me: I was spending time and energy worrying about money, when this titan of industry would have given everything he had for what I had acquired for no cost…my good health.

I don’t have millions of dollars but I possess wealth of which men of substantial means would be envious: good health, friends and a loving family.  I am blessed with the God given ability to work and surrounded by wonderful people and friends who inspire me by refusing to give in to adversity.  I have learned, I am the most productive, successful and satisfied when I grasp just how fortunate I am.

A long-time friend informed me that he is suffering from a degenerative disease.  Always the picture of health, he never let on to a problem that makes it difficult for him to stand and walk.  When the doctors told him in a relatively short time he would be confined to a wheel chair and eventually bedridden, he informed them they were wrong; he wasn’t going to let that happen and that he no longer needed them.  He never went back to those doctors and he’s still walking.  Listening to his story, I was taken back by the courage it took for him to face each day and shameful of how I let incidents of little importance drive me to distraction.

The market, oil spills, Greece, the economic trials we are facing—there is no profit in fretting about what you cannot control.  I try to cast negative thoughts out by focusing on what I can do.  To brood about “what I can’t do” is negative, debilitating and destructive.  Conversely, concentrating on “what I can do” is positive, invigorating and constructive.

Gazing upon different layers in the bottle of corks, I don’t dwell on the good and bad times.  Instead, I linger over memories of the wine: even the least of which was better than none at all.

Waste Not and Want Not


My maternal grandmother came from a family that belonged to the Protestant Reformed Church of France and my grandfather was raised in the Presbyterian tradition; together they taught my mother to practice Calvinistic thrift.  Notwithstanding her fun loving ways—she loved a good joke and a sip of Scottish nectar—my mother was very careful with money.

My mother’s thrifty nature was deepened by the Great Depression.  Raising two young children , she learned to pinch every penny.  When something broke, it was repaired—with a toolkit consisting of a kitchen knife, a hammer and a pair of pliers, she could fix anything.

Sue Tucker’s mantra was “Waste not; want not.”  Christmas gift-wrappings and greeting cards were saved for the following year.  A meal would last for days.  After Thanksgiving, for weeks we would eat turkey: sandwiches, hash, tetrazini, salad and finally, soup.  Believe me, if she had found a way to do so, paper napkins would have been washed and reused.

I came along when times were easier.  My parents wanted to spare me from the worry of  depression and war; so like many in my generation, I was spoiled.

“Waste not; want not” is a principle almost forgotten by the “Boomer” generation.  My cohorts and I  spawned a disposable world: a new computer comes out, get rid of the old one; something breaks, buy another; cook too much, throw the leftovers away.

I recall my parents’ reminiscing how they made do.  My mother never forgot the lessons she learned during her upbringing and the Great Depression—similarly, the lessons learned during the Great Recession will shape behaviors for years to come.

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Waste not; want not.”  Thomas Hardy as quoted by Sue Tucker

The Best Of Human Nature


Early in the morning, I listened to Today Show host Bryant Gumble’s report that Miami had suffered little damage from Hurricane Andrew. When I was unable to complete a telephone call to South Miami, I discovered that areas south of downtown Miami had been destroyed.

That evening an acquaintance called and asked if I would serve on an administrative team to assist in reopening damaged Dade County schools. He explained that many of the school administrators, having to deal with destroyed homes, were unable to work and the magnitude of the project required a team with experience in administration and construction. I agreed and early the following morning we left for Miami.

FEMA arranged for us to be comfortably housed in a luxury hotel located in downtown Miami. Arriving at the hotel and observing little evidence of a disaster, I thought I would be headed home in a couple of days. Later, as we traveled to the school administration’s temporary operations center southwest of downtown, I discovered how wrong I was.

Viewing  the devastation wrought by a storm such as Andrew on television, your perspective is limited and it is difficult to comprehend the true scope of the disaster. I realized this as we drove by miles of destroyed homes; past deserted businesses; through intersection after intersection without traffic signals and past acres of broken and fallen trees.

At the command center, a school board engineer and I were assigned to assess the damages suffered by schools. It appeared to be an easy task—the engineer was familiar with and we had ID’s that granted access to all areas. In reality, with blocked streets and street signs destroyed,it was difficult to find the schools, and when we did, they were occupied by people left homeless by the storm.

One of the first schools we inspected was  located in a lower income neighborhood. As we walked through the school, we passed peopled huddled in the rain-soaked, hot, humid hallways. From one side of the roof we saw vehicles overturned and tossed on top of each other. From the other we saw volunteers feeding hungry people from trailers, marked “Baptist Relief.” It was a contrast I witnessed over and over—devastation and the best of human nature.

We spent six weeks in South Florida. During that time, we executed contracts allowing schools to reopen—providing havens for children, and allowing their parents to begin to put their lives back together.

As I view on television the destruction wrought storms, I think of lessons I learned from Hurricane Andrew: the awe and terror inspired by the power of nature; the resiliency of humans and the willingness of people to help one another.

The World Is Not A Mere Bog

I am convinced that the world is not a mere bog in which men and women trample themselves and die. Something magnificent is taking place here amidst the cruelties and tragedies, and the supreme challenge to intelligence is that of making the noblest and best in our curious heritage prevail.” – Charles Austin Beard

Every Season Has Its Blessings


Do you remember the Charles Russell painting, “Waiting for a Chinook?” For those who don’t, it is a painting of an emaciated steer, standing in snow, waiting for a warm wind, with a nearby wolf staring hungrily at him.

At the end of a long hot summer, I have often thought of myself as the antithesis of Russell’s steer. I picture myself in a bathing suit, with sweat dripping off of my face, a drink in hand, gazing to the north waiting for a cold front.

I have always had a thing about winter. I love the cool, crisp days, the smell of the dry air, forest green pine needles against a deep blue sky and a glass of wine in front of a blazing fire. When I first met my sweet Ohio wife, I would tell her how much I cared for winter and as I grumbled about the cold Dayton, Ohio weather, she would remind me that I loved not winter but Florida winters.

During the eight months that Terri and I dated long distance, she in Ohio and I in Florida, I would tell her about the perfect Florida winters: when the days were cool, nights made for sleeping and weather not being a factor in planning your activities. She believed me and when she moved to Florida, she left her warmest clothes behind. Her first Christmas she learned that sometimes Florida weather can be brutal.

The temperature in the upper 50’s, Terri wore a dress with a light jacket to the Christmas Eve service. When we exited the church, there was a howling northwest wind and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. The following morning the thermometer registered 9 degrees and never climbed out of the 20’s. I swore to her it was an unusual—if not historic—freeze that would seldom be repeated. She believed me, until her sister Karen and her family came to visit the next Thanksgiving.

When Karen asked what clothes they should bring, confident of good weather, I told her we would spend time at our house on the river in Crystal River and on our boat and to bring warm weather clothes. Thanksgiving day was rainy and cold: in fact, 10 degrees colder than in Dayton. I was frantically looking for jackets and sweatshirts that would fit pre-teen children; Terri’s sister was dressed in a pair of Terri’s jeans and sweater and her husband Don was wearing a flannel shirt and jacket that belonged to me. Don pointedly told me that he couldn’t wait to get back to Ohio where it was warm. The next year I learned about real winter.

We arrived at Terri’s sister’s home with the sun setting and the thermometer hovering just above zero. Terri didn’t want to leave our dog at home, so Foxy, our Fox Terrier,  made the drive with us. As we opened the car door, intent on finding the nearest tree, Foxy jumped out onto the snow-covered driveway and immediately refused to move. When I tried to coax him to follow me he gave me that “I belong to the dumbest humans in the world” look and resolutely sat down in the snow. We solved the problem by carrying him into the dirt floor barn that would become his private privy for the duration of our stay.

That night Foxy, Terri and I slept in a cabin located about 100 yards from Terri’s family home. With heat only from a small electric heater, we fixed a “nest” on the floor for the dog and wearing sweat suits, socks and knit hats, Terri and I crawled into bed.

We were awakened from a sound sleep by a dog desperate to visit the dirt floor barn. I rolled out of the warm bed, put on my shoes and with Foxy in my arms trudged to the barn and then back to the cabin. It was an experience that deepened my antipathy for northern and increased my appreciation of Florida winters. That middle of the night journey also provided me with an insight into how smart a dog can be.

After a fitful, frigid night’s sleep, when I awoke the next morning I felt something cold and wet pressed against my neck. Anxious to find out what it could be, I turned and ended up with my and Foxy’s noses pressed tightly together. Obviously, he had concluded that it made no sense to sleep on the floor when you could jump into a warm bed and snuggle between your two people.

Every season has its blessings: the warmth of summer, the brilliant colors of fall, the crisp cold days of winter, the flowers of spring, the impetuosity of youth, the ambition of the middle years and the wisdom of age. Every time is different; every time is good and every time is bad; every time is what it is. Beyond our ability to change or forecast, the seasons roll by: frustrating in their harshness; sobering in their reality; delightful in their differences and fulfilling in their changes.

The Fifth Season                                                                                                          By C.A. Schlea

In the spring of life,
In the flower of youth,
Everything is bright and new.

In the summer of life,
Time of growth and change,
Each day brings new dreams to pursue.

In the autumn of life,
There’s a settling down —
Contentment and sureness in what we do.

In the winter of life,
Comes peace and wisdom,
Time to relax and reminisce, too.
” –

Business Is Terrible But Life Is Good: Isn’t That Better Than The Other Way Around?


I was driving four of my friends to the Isle of Palms—a beach community located just north of Charleston, SC—to spend a long New Year’s weekend. We left Ocala at 7:00 in the morning and now, nearly noon, my buddies decided it was time for them to get into the bourbon—after all, we were celebrating the new year.

So there I was, the designated driver for four semi-inebriated, would be philosophers, political prognosticators and rock stars. After hours of discussing the meaning of life; arguing about the presidential election eleven months away—Bill Clinton was running and promising to do something about the cost of health care: sound familiar?—playing air guitars and singing along with the radio, I was relieved when we arrived at our destination.

We had rented a three story, six bedroom home directly on the beach. After unloading suitcases, groceries, and coolers I wandered down to the beach to take a long walk. Upon returning, I learned my buddies had made a tee-time for the following day; not yet having taken up golf, I made plans to spend the day with my friend Anne Dozier and David, another friend who also did not play golf.

The following morning Anne, David and I were watching television trying to decide what to do, when an ad came on for a nearby restaurant promising all the oysters you could eat. An oyster, lover, David insisted, we go there for lunch.

The restaurant steamed and served the oysters in galvanized buckets, with a spare bucket for the shells. We hadn’t finished the first bucket, when David ordered a second; during the third bucket, Anne informed him that we were leaving to do some shopping and would return later.

After spending an hour and a half shopping for groceries and other supplies, Anne and I returned to the restaurant to find it closed. I knew David must be nearby, so I knocked on the door to find out if someone knew his whereabouts. The waitress, who had served us, answered the door exclaiming, “Thank goodness you’re here. Your friend is still eating, the restaurant is closed and we want to go home. Can you get him to leave?”

I can only guess how many buckets of oysters he had consumed; yet, we still had to threaten to make him walk to get him to leave. When he did, he indignantly stomped out of the restaurant, leaving me to make apologies and pay the bill. After that experience and the drive up, I knew the next three days were going to be interesting; I didn’t know I was going to have a life-changing revelation.

Everyone was still asleep the next morning when I decided to go out to purchase a newspaper and a cup of coffee. A warm morning for January, I was sitting outside drinking my coffee, when I read in the paper that, after a long illness, the head of a major corporation had died.

As I read about the passing of the man who had built a large conglomerate and amassed great wealth, I realized that I had been freely given blessings—wealth that could not be purchased—that he would have forfeited his entire fortune for: good health and a wife, family and friends who love and looked after me. This past month, I was reminded of that revelation by a comment from a friend.

We were discussing the current economic nightmare, when my friend said, “Life is good; business is terrible.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth, thinking about the CEO who left behind the great fortune, I responded, “Isn’t that better than the other way around: life is terrible and business is good?”

It is important to put our difficulties into perspective. When I have worries, fret about opportunities missed and my stomach turns at the fear of an economic downturn lasting into the future; it’s then I remind myself that if I lost every penny I had, I would be wealthier than many of those  on the Forbes list of the world’s 400 richest people.

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The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.”  -Anon.

We Didn’t Miss The Bus, We Were Left Behind


We had convinced the governor to speak by promising to keep a very tight schedule. We started the luncheon at 12:00 p.m. sharp and the governor was to begin his speech at 12:30 p.m.  We were right on schedule when the banquet hall doors burst open and a man entered with two, two-foot tall, fully grown, male, identical twin, motivational speakers. Before I knew what was happening, they were standing on top of the head table, doing a stand up routine. By the time order was restored, the governor only had time to say hello before rushing to his waiting limo. I was irritated until I realized the small guys were far more entertaining than the governor.

Several years later we hired Louise Mandrell to entertain. It was a big expense, around $30,000 plus expenses for a 60-minute show. When the doors opened, there was a crowd waiting to get in. The room was packed and Louise was giving a dynamite performance when I noticed someone running towards the stage. There are witnesses who will swear that when I dove to catch him my body was four foot off of and completely parallel to the floor. My hand touched his shirttail but I was too late to stop him from leaping up on the stage.

It was his birthday and through his drunken stupor he let it be known that he wanted Louise Mandrell to sing happy birthday to him. So at $500 per minute, one of country music’s most noted performers spent nearly ten minutes serenading a drooling but happy drunk.

I have first-hand knowledge of the kind of disaster that can occur when you bus people to an event. I was the Executive Director of an organization that rented the Wet and Wild water park for an evening event. We bussed over 500 people from the convention hotel for an evening of food, drink, swimming and water sliding.

At the end of the evening, I was in my hotel room and congratulating myself on a successful event when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard, “Where’s the bus?” I played along and responded “What bus?” “The bus that is suppose to take us back to the hotel.” At that point I realized there was a problem and I asked, “Did you miss the bus from the water park back to the hotel?” I held the phone away from my ear as the caller screamed, “You moron! There are 30 of us; we didn’t miss the bus, we were left behind!” I told him to stay where he was and transportation would be there shortly. Fortunately, the hotel had a couple of vans and there were town cars waiting for a fare, so I organized a rescue cavalcade and we got everyone back to the hotel.

I later learned, that, after drinking too much beer, the staff person charged with making sure no one was left behind miscounted the number of people boarded and sent a bus back empty.

In over 25 years of managing conventions, I have many memories and stories: some sad, some funny; some that still make me angry, some that amaze me and some I can’t share in mixed company.  Every year I listen to friends greeting each other, stories being shared and dinner plans being made and I am aware that new memories are about to be made.

I have decided to turn off the news: when riding in the car I listen to music or classic radio—Fibber McGee and Molly are hilarious and more sophisticated than you would believe—at home I eschew Katie Couric and the talking heads and turn to the cooking channel.  I do so, because listening to doom and gloom occasions within me an almost overwhelming desire to hunker down; to not go anywhere or spend money on anything.

Here’s the deal: I don’t want to live my life fearful of tomorrow.  There is little I can do about the economy, terrorists, salmonella tainted eggs, gas pedals that stick, global warming, swine flu, hurricanes or any of the other constant litany of disasters waiting to befall me.  Bad, good or sad, I am going to continue making memories.

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What good’ permitting some prophet of doom

to wipe every smile away?

Life is a cabaret, old chum!

So come to the cabaret!” – John Kander and Fred Ebb