Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Thanks a Million"

Did you ever say to anyone who did you a favor “Thanks a million...”? I know that I have, many times. I have not “Googled it” lately, but I think the average life expectancy in the USA is 72, which is much higher than the world average. If we use this number and then multiply by 365 days in a year, this produces a mere 26,280 days. If we factor out the “Diaper Years”, the exuberant years of adolescence, and also factor out our final years of twilight, this leaves us we far less than 26,280 days where we are fully responsible for our own thoughts and actions.

Yesterday, our family took the bus from Northern New Jersey to NYC to see the Macy’s Balloons. Taking the bus, we avoided the gas, tolls and parking expenses of “the Big Apple” which can be insane during the holidays. My youngest son Robert said that this was the first time that he ever rode a public bus. How was this possible? How could he have lived for 19 years in the New York Tri-State area, and have never ridden on a bus? Time flew by, as our family discussed this paradox.

When we arrived in NYC, we took a taxi cab to Columbus and 79th to see the Macy’s balloons. I think the night before the parade is more fun than the parade itself. Because there were four of us, I sat in front with the driver, my family sat in the back. All of us (including the driver) started talking about the city and the holidays. We learned that our driver was driving taxi cabs for five years. At a red light, next to our cab was one of those bicycle taxi cabs (Rickshaw) where the cab driver “peddles” you around NYC via nothing but human-power. These tricycle Rickshaws charge $15 to start, and $1 per minute for the trip. Add an extra $10 for more than one passenger. We saw hundreds of these three-wheeled taxis, and they were all occupied. New York City really is quite amazing.

When we arrived at Columbus and 79th, we got out of the cab and we all said thank you to the driver, and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving. I wondered if he was being extra nice during our ride (to earn an extra good holiday tip) or if he was this friendly every day, with every passenger. We asked a local police officer where the balloons were being set up, he gave us excellent directions, and he gave us a few secret tips on how to best see the balloons. We said thank you and we wished him a Happy Thanksgiving. At the end of the evening, we took another taxi cab (no Rickshaws for us) back to the Port Authority, and another bus ride back home.

It is estimated that over one million people see the balloons the night before the parade, and over three million people watch the parade live on the streets of NYC. There are no fees to see the balloons inflated the night before, and there is no charge to watch the parade in the morning. I cannot even imagine the true financial costs and expense to set up the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, to organize it, or clean up after it - for the past 83 years. As I write this blog, I am in my living room watching in HDTV the same balloons that I saw live and in person, just a few hours ago.

Other than our costs of transportation, our family “fun day” excursion into NYC yesterday was completely free. And yet, by my best calculation, we only said “thank you” to two bus drivers, two cab drivers, and one police officer. It would appear that we missed a few people, who made our holiday outing possible.

Today will be a day in our household that we spend eating (too much) wonderful food, watching no less than three professional football games on a big screen HDTV, and enjoying our numerous blessings. I had an epiphany on the bus ride home. It was this: if I spend the rest of my life, saying a proper and sincere “thank you” for all of my blessings – if I were to truly give thanks to everyone who is responsible for everything that is good and important in my life, I would need to live a very, very long life indeed – and I would be saying “thank you” non-stop. I think of all the time wasted in diapers and my years as an (occasionally) thankless teenager – I need to make up for lost time.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2010, I am thankful for my wonderful family, and my dear friends and co-workers. But I am also thankful for New York City cab drivers, bus drivers, and police officers. I am thankful for the armed forces of the US that are allowing all of us to watch the Macy’s Day Parade (for free) and to enjoy all of the freedoms that we enjoy, and to live the rewarding lives that we wish to create for our families. We are all so blessed, and the blessings are so diverse and numerous, that we can easily forget how much we have already enjoyed, and what the future still holds for all of us.

Black Friday will be tomorrow, and the malls will be full of people spending money, buying gifts for friends and family, while getting ready to enjoy the holiday season. The next thirty days are the most amazing of the entire year – especially in such places as New York City. I hope that we take the time to be thankful for the abililty to enjoy the holiday season - and what it means - as many in the world will not be as fortunate.

Since it is mathematically impossible to thank everyone who is responsible for all that we enjoy and cherish, and since it is impossible to go back in time and properly thank all who have made the sacrifices that created the lives that we enjoy, there is only one thing that I can say, and that is “Thanks a million”.

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You did that on purpose!

I bought a car phone in 1983, when they were very (very) expensive. At the time, I was a college student, with aspirations of going to medical school. I had no real job, but I had a fancy sports car (very spoiled – the only son of a very Italian family). And I just had to have a car phone. Did I mention that I was spoiled? I never did go to medical school, but I have since sold many a “car phone” in my career – and many of those sales were to Doctors.

Inside each and every one of us is a passion, a particular trait or talent which bears our name. There are those who have had the good fortune of turning their aptitude and strengths into a livelihood, transforming their hobby into a business. Is this on purpose, or by accident?

In recent years, due to abysmal economic circumstances, many people have found themselves without traditional jobs to support their families. So they began to dabble in less traditional occupations, discovering unexplored, unfulfilled niches and opportunities. The is full of such opportunities. Unfortunately, 80% or more of all new business ventures fail within the first 24 months. Alas, there are no short cuts to success, no matter how good the opportunity might appear.

Over the past few years, many new businesses were indeed created. And in some cases, many of these new businesses grew and flourished. But as demands came pouring in, many accidental entrepreneurs found themselves overwhelmed, unprepared, having never realized that their passion could take hold. Orders had to be turned down, the pace of production inevitably slowed, and the level of success stalled.

An accidental entrepreneur is a wonderful thing- as these daring individuals stumble across pockets of innovation and potential. But how does one maintain momentum and ensure that the growth of a new business isn't slowed or even killed before maturity?

An accidental entrepreneur begins their business without a plan, never dreaming that their hobby or passion could make it in the marketplace. But now that it has, without a plan, without vision, valuable goods and services become buried in tidal waves of growth. When this occurs, it is important to step back, slow down, and re-focus. What is the true nature of the business? What might have started out as an emergency “paycheck replacement” strategy is now a living, adolescent “entity” that needs good parenting. It is never too late to develop a strategy, to learn proper business procedures and processes, and evaluate points of profit and loss in order to allow a business to truly grow and prosper in healthy, sustainable way.

Accidental entrepreneurs should never lose heart or give up. Many successful businesses began accidentally. Hobbies can be transformed into corporations, but at some point in time, the creators stopped, stepped back, and formulated a proper business plan. True vision, purposeful strategies, and concrete guidelines steered them to their level of success.

So, I never did get my MD license plates, and I never did get to park next to fire hydrants legally. But I did get to say “I’ll call you from the car” long before anyone else thought it was possible. And that was no accident.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Freedom Isn't Free

Today, November 11th, we observe Veterans Day. There are nearly 24 million Veterans living among us, in every state and territory and from every walk of life. Many of the folks here at MTP are veterans or have loved ones who are veterans.

We'd like to take this time to honor those who chose to serve our country, work to keep us as well as our loved ones safe day and night. Please thank a veteran and share these facts with your friends & family, courtesy of the Veterans Administration:

(1917 - 1918)
Total Servicemembers (Worldwide): 4,734,991
Battle Deaths: 53,402
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 63,114
Non-mortal Woundings: 204,002
Living Veterans: 1

(1941 - 1945)
Total Servicemembers (Worldwide): 16,112,566
Battle Deaths: 291,557
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 113,842
Non-mortal Woundings: 670,846
Living Veterans: 2,079,000

(1950 - 1953)
Total Servicemembers (Worldwide): 5,720,000
Battle Deaths: 33,739
Other Deaths (in Theater): 2,835
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 17,672
Non-mortal Woundings: 103,284
Living Veterans: 2,507,000

(1964 - 1975)
Total Servicemembers (Worldwide): 8,744,000
Battle Deaths: 47,434
Other Deaths (in Theater): 10,786
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 32,000
Non-mortal Woundings: 153,303
Living Veterans: 7,569,000

(1990 - 1991)
Total Servicemembers (Worldwide): 2,322,000
Battle Deaths: 148
Other Deaths (in Theater): 235
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 1,565
Non-mortal Woundings: 467
Living Veterans: 2,254,000

(2001 - PRESENT)
The War on Terror, including Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom are ongoing conflicts. For the most recent statistics, please visit the following Department of Defense Web site:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daddy, what's a library?

The USA became a “Super Power” for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons came from Mother Nature. Our ability to mine coal, drill for oil, produce steel and manufacture “hard goods” was something that other countries simply could not duplicate. Much of our success and blessings as a nation came from our winning the Mother Nature lottery.

General Motors was founded in 1908 in Flint, Michigan and grew to be the largest corporation in the world. Its market capitalization reached $50 billion in 2000. The story of General Motors is the story of America. “As goes GM, so goes the Nation” is the old adage. Plentiful access to coal, iron ore, and other natural resources allowed GM to be born – here - in the USA. Anyone ever hear of a football team called the “Pittsburgh Steelers”? How about the Houston Oilers? The “Beverly Hillbillies” would have never moved out west had it not been for Jed stumbling upon “Texas Tea” (Californy is the place you ought to be… as the theme song goes). But I digress.

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Very few towns that requested a grant (and agreed to his terms) were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

The collections of the Library of Congress in Washington DC include more than 32 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 61 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible (one of only four perfect vellum copies known to exist); over 1 million US government publications; 1 million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries; 33,000 bound newspaper volumes; 500,000 microfilm reels; over 6,000 comic book titles; films; 4.8 million maps; sheet music; 2.7 million sound recordings; more than 13.7 million prints and photographic images including fine and popular art pieces and architectural drawings. Ah yes, a library indeed worthy of a Global Super Power.

So, a “library” became the coal, the iron ore and other natural resource of the modern age. Just as you needed to physically “mine” these resources from the ground, back then you could only “mine” knowledge and education from books. Or, you needed to physically enter the buildings located on college campuses, universities and visit the libraries located in fortunate towns and cities. Major Colleges and Universities were judged by the size and depth of their libraries. Today, schools are judged by how “wired” they are – and high speed wireless broadband access is a must. “Professor, do we have an App for that?” Can I get that $75 biology or chemistry textbook on my Kindle or my iPad (for $3.95) via a 45 second wireless download? Can I listen to my Professor’s morning lecture on my iPod later, since I want to (gasp) sleep late today? *Parents, don’t kid yourself – it happens.

The “natural resources” of today can be found on the Internet. The affordable laptop or tablet PC, access to High Definition audio, web and videoconferencing have all replaced the librarian and the cards stacks. Move over Dewey Decimal System - can you say Google? Today, you don’t need to physically be located in the USA to enjoy the resources of the Library of Congress, or to access the resources of any library or museum. The world has truly become flat, and the playing field is more level today that at any other time in history.

I wonder what the USA would be like today if our precious coal mines and steel mills of the past 150 years were located in India, or in the Philippines or elsewhere? I wonder which countries will emerge as the new “Super Powers” over the next ten years? I don’t think that future global success will have much to do with the natural resources that Mother Nature blessed us with beneath the ground. The shift in power will be due to the wonderfully talented, hard working people living all over the globe. Those who truly care to learn – those individuals who truly have the will to grow and succeed will mine their “natural resources” from a totally new type of library. How will you engage and succeed in this new borderless world?

In closing, I am writing this blog on a Sunday morning from my local library. It is called Starbucks®. If Andrew Carnegie only thought of selling coffee for $4 a cup, the USA would now have as many libraries as coffee shops.