Monday, May 26, 2008

Aloha! Greetings from Kauai where Ruth and I have taken some days to recharge after a couple of semesters of teaching and many activities. We are hearing from all points across California that the weather turned lousy last week and has remained so....bummer!

So who do we bump into? Well it turns out the Bruce and Linda Schooling scheduled their vacation here at the same time so we have enjoyed some fun together...and also a group of freshly minted Fermanian School of Business grads happen to be here also, including the newly crowned CBS College Games Boarding Champion Chris Neubauer (you rock!) who smoked some guys from SDSU to win the event about a week ago. Watching the event on CBS TV on Sunday morning was great fun and then we took Craig, Mark, Chris H., Colin and the new champ to Duke's Beach Club for a celebratory lunch yesterday. Congratulations Chris and we will be posting some pictures and links on the FBC website soon.

So Hillary Clinton said what? Wow, that was liike watching Steve Carrel on The Office! There is a good lesson here...sometimes you can be technically correct but still really wrong...yes, she has every right to stay in the nomination race until the very end (John McCain would agree) and yes, she is correct that historically the nomination has often not been settled until June...but, wow, her comment about that Bobby Kennedy was shot in June and it really changed the race was a really bad one (can anyone say "turd in a punchbowl?") And falling on the heels of Ted Kennedy's brain tumor announcement? Sheeesh! But hang on folks...the fact that Oboma initially criticized the comment but within 24 hours let her off the hook tells us what? Hmmmm? Any takers on what may be afoot?

But on Memorial Day 2008 let's divert from the Clintons for a moment (it would take me far too long to recount Bill's combat record here...well, and Dick Cheney's as well...) and I would just ask that you find some time in the near future to thank a veteran for his or her service. I am not asking you to agree or disagree with any particular war or time of service...just to thank someone for interrupting their life to serve (voluntary or drafted). So to my buds Mike Gallagher (USA), Sean Borchardt (USMC), John Sadler (USN) (as well as all of my old USS Bainbridge buddies), I send you my best regards and appreciation and God's blessings on each of you.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ouch! I am watching CNBC and see that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 220 points for the day. (OK, I know that the S&P is really the barometer to watch, but if I said that is was down 15 points would it be nearly as dramatic?) What to do now? Run for the hills screaming the world is at an end? Put our few dollars left (after we filled the Yukon up on the way to Pizza Nova) in a mattress? Go to work for the US government? (currently the biggest source of new jobs--yippee!)

A few months ago I wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times but it was rejected and the venerable Point Weekly picked it up... and here is what I wrote:

It is a bit of “good news” and “bad news” when one has lived long enough to recall major global events spanning decades, including economic, political and social cycles. But when we are able to take a longer view of such cycles are we able to realize that things are not always what they seem. This is especially true in an election year. Consider:
· For the period from 1854-2001, the U.S economy has experienced 32 distinct economic expansion and contraction cycles. The duration of the contractions has averaged 17 months while the expansion have average 38 months; however since 1945-2001 the contractions have averaged 10 months and the expansions lasted 57 months.
· In 1983, fixed home mortgage rates averaged 13.5%; 25 years later the fixed average is 6.05% and actually heading down. The simple reality is that US home ownership rates are at a historical high of about 70%.
· As to unemployment, the 2007 average rate was 4.6% of the working population; as recent as 1982 the same rate was 9.7%.

For those of us seeking employment when we graduated from college in the early 1980’s, these three facts made it a formidable challenge to find suitable work; it made owning a home nearly impossible.

This is not to say that at any particular moment individuals are not experiencing pain, disappointment and frustration due to the current economic cycles. Modern recessions are lasting approximately 9 months, hardly the stuff our grandparents of the Great Depression.

So what to do? I went to Home Depot yesterday in San Diego and I have to tell you I was really surprised how many people were there spending significant amounts of money. I would also surmise that the den of inquity also known as "Fashion Valley Mall" was similarly situated this past weekend (I refuse to go there anymore to see the asinine spending of our youth on their credit cards burning holes in their pockets--it depresses me too much). But I think for the prudent investor or entrepreneur there is significant opportunity in the market in the investments that really matter--real estate, stocks, and other "hard assets." For those willing to put time and sweat equity into a distressed asset, you have significant potential upside.

But if I see any of you going out to buy a new car or something with a high depreciation factor I will track you down and kick your butt...with love and affection of course but it will still be stomped...don't get suckered into these purchases because it will enslave you to long term debt with zero possibility of appreciation. If you have any specific questions or opportunities you would want me to think about I will try my best to give you counsel. Do you think gas prices are high now? I think we are on our way to $200 per barrel oil and gas prices over $5 per gallon. (I would love to be wrong on this one!) And you know what? $5+ gas may end up being a good thing for us! I will address this topic in the near future. For now, don't get your undies in too big of a bunch.

But for now I am off to Hawaii with Ruth for a few days of R and R...but will blogging as we vacation...Aloha!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me."
(A U.S. Congressman to Dr. David Edwards, head of the Joint National Committee on Language, about the necessity of a modern commercial nation to be multi-lingual. Really. I am not making this up. It is just too good to make up.)


Wow, this whole "balance" thing hit a nerve...and I could write quite a bit more but for the moment just add a few comments. Honestly, when I started in business almost 30 years ago I didn't think about it much. Being broke and starting out can do that for you because you have nowhere to go but up. Balance? It just wasn't a topic of concern for me or nearly everyone else I knew. Troy Hinds, another of those inagural Bus. 382 Entrepreneur stars, pressed me some more on this topic. Troy is now doing some killer work a SPG Solar, and check out just one example of the international press PLNU garnered in working with Troy and SPG at

So what do I think years later? Now that I have "pushed the boulder up the mountain?" (I actually think that one might be an original line--I will have to check the files.) I think the following (at least on a Sunday morning before I have had any coffee):

*Find a specific day or event or moment of the week just for you. This was always Friday night for me. Dinner with friends, out with Ruth, no studies, no books, no business, just getting Chinese food or a movie or a book or a walk. Even now, years later, Friday nights are still the "sanctuary time."

*Take vacations. This is one of the things we should learn from our European friends (well, maybe bread, nice shoes and a few other things as well). I found I had to physically extract myself from the geography and business for a week or so as it just didn't work trying to sit at home and work in my woodshop. People would find me. I would find them. I had to get away and see something else with the family.

*Invest in your friends. A dear friend (wow, another one who died too early, Dave Bartel) once said "to have friends you have to be a friend." Don't know exactly who he was quoting but it is solid counsel. Are you lonely? Make a friend. Don't wait for them to knock on the door like vagrant J.W.'s or Cutco Knife salespeople.

*Money isn't it. Money does not find balance for you. it probably has the opposite effect for you. It does for me. The antidote is not being in poverty. I think you have to work to give much of it away. Sure, provide for yourself and your family but seek anonymous ways to give it away. (Don't get me started on how we honor donors these days. Live dangerously. Next time you write a check for some cause or ministry insist they keep in anonymous. Try it. You will like it.)

I hope this helps to the several of you who are asking me about this topic. Funny thing is my MBA class at PLNU just brought this same topic up a few weeks ago and we discussed it over dinner at our house (Thanks Ruth for the wisdom to the students as well!)

Hugs and kisses



So it's fruit time in Dinuba as Ruth and I have made a quick trip north this morning to take care of some family and business items, returning to San Diego on Sunday. It is 102 degrees today and the fruit harvest has begun. Do I miss it? Not today. I will elaborate another time.

But for the moment can I say something about the nonsense of organic produce? Now don't get me wrong--you or anyone else is free to buy organic anything, as it is indeed a free country. (at least until this November) Knock yourself out--spend five bucks a portion for Belgian Endive, or for your peaches or potatoes. But organic pet food? Organic beef? Organic health care products? Organic cat litter? Really? Is this what we have become?

We seem to fixated upon issues of risk without conception of balancing other interests. (Can you say "optional childhood immunizations?") I just don't see the value of hauling produce 3,000 miles from South America where it is "certified organic" and bypassing regionally grown produce that is conventional. What is the carbon footprint on such transactions? Do you have any idea what the growing practices really are in other countries? Do you have any idea of organic practices anywhere? Do you know what causes the vast majority of food illnesses?

Oh, so the answer is buying at farmers markets like at Ocean Beach, right? Let me tell you my experience with farmers markets. Ruth and I survived the first three years of our marriage selling peaches and nectarines at the local market in Fresno with an old "green" pioneer by the name of Richard Erganian, who knew and knows more about fresh produce and people and community than most. So I know a bit about the topic from the "old days" to now. And my opinion is at least half of what I have seen at the farmer's markets these days is not organic. It is conventionally grown fruit purchased from commercial producers of various sizes and then the so-called "grower" (usually with long hair, overalls, smile and a generally rural look) hand writes a cardboard sign saying "organic peaches." And so I then watch the consumers, so eager to feel a part of being "green" that they line up and rave how great the organic life is. Just paying triple what the grocery store is selling the same thing for, just without the handwritten sign. (Note to self: talk to my marketing colleagues about dropping the in-store DVD's and sampling and give them crayons and cardboard instead.)

I have seen my own fruit grown packaged in my own box then re-packaged as "organic fruit" by farmers markets. My fruit is good stuff but it is not organic. I went up and asked the "grower" (holding my own Summertime Fresh box from Reedley) where he "grew" his fruit. Without missing a beat, he told me "about an hour north of here" and I just smiled as he filled up another bag of fruit for a few college students in line. Hmmmm....I have grown fruit for over twenty years and I know that nearly every variety requires the cold winters that only the San Joaquin Valley can produce---the Southern California area is simply too tropical to get adequate "chill hours." Ruth told me to "shoosh" and withdraw from the field. My face flushed as I wanted to shout out down Newport Avenue in OB that "Bongo Billy" was a fraud.

Should I have made a scene and called "Mr. Greenjeans" a liar? Stay tuned. I will revisit this topic.
But at the end of the day my understanding of community, and the responsibility to produce food for our world, and the economic abilities of people to pay for wholesome fresh food vs. fast and processed food, makes this entire discussion for the average consumer rather silly. Most food safety problems have absolutely nothing to do with pesticides, herbicides and production practices, but rather with e-coli contamination and poor handling practices at the consumption site. There is a lot more to talk about here but I need to take my blood pressure medicine or walk down to People's Grocery and get a deep-fried Chimichanga. That will show the organic crowd!