Archive for the ‘General’ Category

POWER WORD PLAY (A Term, Word, or Concept an Executive Ought to Know): UNIT APPRECIATION RIGHTS

August 19, 2015

BY G. A. FINCH

Unit Appreciation Rights (for limited liability companies and known as Stock Appreciation Rights for corporations) are a form of executive compensation tied to the performance of a set amount of units or shares within a set time period.  They could include only compensation tied to the amount of increase in the value of equity,  or compensation that comprises both such increase and the original value of the equity.

The compensation may be cash payments or equity equivalent based on the original full value of a number of units that an executive holds and/or any increase in value (the difference between the price of the units at the time of grant and the price of the units upon exercisability). When an executive exercises his right, a company’s Unit Appreciation Rights Plan may allow the company to pay in cash or real common equity of the company or a combination thereof.

The units granted under Unit Appreciation Rights are not real units of ownership in a company entity, but rather are hypothetical “Phantom Units”. The company will grant an executive a number of units, e.g. 3,000 which will have an initial price per Phantom Unit, e.g. $30.00. The units will vest after a set period, e.g. two years after the date of grant while the executive is still employed. After vesting and before any expiration date, the Unit Appreciation Right becomes exercisable by the executive either in partial amounts or in the full amount depending on the terms and conditions of the company’s Unit Appreciation Rights Plan. If not exercised during the executive’s lifetime and assuming that an expiration date has not occurred, then any person empowered under the deceased executive’s estate ordinarily could exercise the Unit Appreciation Right.

FIVE SUCCESS LESSONS FROM MOM

December 26, 2014

BY G. A. FINCH

My mother, Louise Antoinette Finch, passed away last month just two and half months shy of her 100th birthday. She is survived by all six of her sons and one daughter. As an older brother gave a eulogy and the priest gave a homily about my mother and what she represented spiritually, I ruminated about her legacy and the impact of her teachings. Although we are far from perfect as individuals and have had our own share of ups and downs, and some of the siblings may be viewed as more materially successful than other siblings, she obtained the same result from each of her children: all finished college and graduate or University_hatprofessional school. How did she do that? She had a few maxims to live by that she drilled into us. These aphorisms would benefit anyone (executive, professional, and others) seeking to get a leg up in life. I share five of the most salient ones below:

1. When you start something, whether it is a project, a task, a job, an extracurricular activity, or a degree program, you must complete it. My mother abhorred quitters and lack of follow through. She correctly knew that the lack of follow through was a serious impediment to success. So despite unfair teachers, mean camp counselors, arbitrary coaches or a tedious activity, we had to finish whatever program we started. To this day, my siblings and I talk about the little voice in our heads, when times got tough in medical, graduate or law school or in a demanding job, that repeated the mantra: “When you start something, you must finish it.”

2. When we complained of being sick, whether severely or lightly, real or imagined, my mother would say, “Get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your clothes, eat some breakfast, go to school, and, if you are still feeling lousy, then call me.” By the time we did all those things, our ailments seem to Smile Face with Colddisappear or become sufficiently mitigated that we forgot that we were physically or psychologically under the weather. This was her ways of saying a) have a strong work ethic, b) “show up” to where you are supposed to be, and c) adjust your attitude. This anti-slacker and anti-lazy approach again carried me and my siblings through many a school and work day.

3. Surround yourself with quality people and people of integrity. Your friends and peers will make or break you and you will be judged by the company you keep. I think of the hyper academic high school that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend; the super intellectual students forced me to up my game and pull myself up from the mud of mediocrity. Counterintuitively, I did not find the competitive atmosphere intimidating because it actually inspired and stimulated me. My siblings and I have never gotten into serious trouble or arrested because our friends are sensible and have a lot of impulse control.HandcuffsMany a prison inmate laments associating with the “wrong crowd” or corrupting friend that landed him in jail.  In short, choose your friends, associates and peers very carefully.

4. Don’t lie or cheat. Being an honest person meant a lot to my mother. A person of character was the benchmark by which my mother evaluated people. She had an expression, “Pretty is, is as pretty does.” A variant was “Pretty on the inside is more important than being pretty on the outside.”

5. Lastly, my mother was a big one in standing up for yourself when another is perpetrating a wrong upon you or a family member or trying to diminish you or a family member. Mom taught us not to look for fights but not to allow ourselves to be victims. She led by example and did not wait around for my father to get home to go address an injustice at any level or push us out the door to face a bully.Boxing_glovesShe made it clear that this attitude and posture must be based on our position being legitimate and righteous as well as our being without fault.

 

Often times you do not have to travel far to learn self-evident truths; they can be found within the four Home-clipartwalls of your own upbringing without ever stepping outside your own front door. I hear my mother’s voice as I counsel my young daughter and young son about how to stand up to bullies and admonish them to finish their activities.

EXECUTIVE WRITING

October 27, 2014

BY G. A. FINCH

We know that it is important that an executive have good speaking skills whether it is one-on-one conversation, small group discussions or large meetings.  An executive must know how to make small talk as well as know how to give presentations.

What about writing?  Is your writing up to snuff?  Whether it is a note, memo, letter or lengthy report, and, especially a resume, your writing cannot be filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, bad grammar, or inappropriate use of vocabulary.  It leaves a poor impression and people will judge you, even if they themselves do not know the difference between “its” and “it’s.”Business Woman with laptop

An executive need not be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but she must write effectively and in an educated manner notwithstanding the declining writing standards in texts, tweets, emails, and posts.  Her using the vernacular and improper grammar simply will not do.

Unfortunately, thorough training in writing can be missing in one’s high school, college, and graduate school training.  The level of writing skills is very uneven.  For many educated people, they must teach themselves punctuation and grammar.  As there are plenty of good books and articles available on grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, this article will focus only on providing some practical guides to have in mind when writing for business.

There are many elements of effective business and professional writing.  Here are a few to start:

  1. Generally, shorter sentences are better than longer sentences; sometimes a complex thought requires a complex sentence.
  2. Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones.
  3. The fewer pages you can make a document without omitting critical information, the better.
  4. An active voice is more powerful than a passive voice; sometimes a passive voice just sounds better.
  5. Simpler words are better than complicated words, e.g. “walk” is better than “ambulate.”
  6. The fewer adjectives in your writing, the better, as the facts should be compelling enough for both writer and reader to form conclusions and recommendations.
  7. You should make sure you know how to use a word, e.g., when something is funny, it is “hilarious” and not “hysterical.”
  8. For long documents, your using headings and sub-headings will help guide the reader and break up dense writing.
  9. It is best to state your proposition or request at the beginning and then follow with arguments and evidence to support your proposition or request.
  10. If you have compelling data, use charts and graphs to illustrate your points as many people are visual learners.
  11. Triple check your numerical calculations and data; faulty numbers and simple numerical mistakes will destroy the credibility of your piece; a lack of attention to detail could be seen as a red flag of your possible sloppy habits and thinking.
  12. You should double-check to spell correctly a person’s or organization’s name  or place-name as people are sensitive about their names, affiliations, hometowns, or countries; and, again,  inattention to detail lowers the reader’s confidence in the writer.
  13. Never totally rely on word processing spell check as it cannot tell the difference between correctly spelled but wrong words like “to” and “too” or “be” and “bee” or “of” and “or.”
  14. Whether it is a four-sentence letter or a 30-page document, read it with a ruler at least three times and have someone else proof read it too; if you have the time, set the document aside a few days before doing a final proof read.
  15. Unless you are a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or playwright writing in those respective genres, do not use profanity, crude words, or off-color references in your business or professional writing.typing
  16. In formal writing, it is better to write out words fully and not use contractions like “can’t” and “don’t,”   because it adds a certain solemnity to the communication and shows respect for your audience.

As an executive or professional you are presumed to be educated, and your bosses, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients expect that you know how to write well.  You do not want to disappoint them.

Oh, and by the way – the only way to improve your writing is by writing.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION AS GOOD BUSINESS

October 23, 2012

By G. A. FINCH

Two months ago I tweeted: “Attended Royal Automotive’s celebration picnic – it reminded me that effective organizations celebrate their employees’ contributions.”

I had written about Royal automotive in a 2011 blog post entitled “Executive Lessons from my Auto Repair Lady: Trust”.

The young woman who manages Royal Automotive, her family’s business, invited my family to attend the company’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Picnic.  My ten-year-old son, Max, and I went to the picnic in Lincolnwood, a close-in Chicago suburb.  In attendance were the company’s important customers, vendors, and employees.

There was plenty of food and free raffle prizes.   After an introduction by his daughter on the beginnings of the business, the founding father gave a short speech in Korean.  The primary focus of the remarks and the beneficiaries of certain special prizes were the employees.  Daughter and father knew that their prospects for the family business were very much dependent on their hardworking and dedicated employees.  They communicated simply and repeatedly how the employees were responsible for the success of the business.  The long tenure of the multi-ethnic employees spoke volumes on how the employees felt about their employer.

Successful business people and leaders of organizations, large or small, for-profit or non-profit or governmental, know that people want to feel valued.  Sure monetary compensation and benefits are important too, but knowing that your managers appreciate you has great psychological value.  No one likes to feel invisible or inconsequential. Too often the attitude of managers, especially in these challenging economic times, is that the employee ought to be glad she has a job and not complain.

Employers do themselves, their customers, clients, and stakeholders a huge favor when they make their employees happy. Appropriate recognition of, and earned, deserved positive feedback to employees, contribute to employees’ contentment and become fundamental to a healthy enterprise.  Investments of praise, appreciation, and recognition for genuine employee achievements reap enormous dividends for both the employee and the enterprise.

When her superiors acknowledge an executive’s achievements, then that should remind and prompt her, in turn, to recognize her subordinates’ contributions.

Continual positive feedback to employees is yet another executive lesson from my auto repair lady.

THANK YOU NOTES AND OTHER MISSIVES

July 20, 2012

By G. A. FINCH

There is a lot written about the importance of writing thank-you notes and how people do not write them often enough or do not write them at all.  The lack of writing extends to congratulatory notes, get-well notes and condolence notes.  There are countless articles written on how one must write a thank-you note after a job interview and how such an act will distinguish one from other job candidates.  Seems pretty basic doesn’t it?  The fact is that fewer and fewer people handwrite anything let alone missives that have to be sent by snail mail.

My mother brainwashed my siblings and me that basic etiquette required one to write a thank-you note for everything ranging from receiving gifts to staying as a guest in someone’s home to benefiting from a recommendation and so forth.  So I do write thank-you notes and other notes, but I feel I still do not write enough of them. I need to be more compulsive about it.

President George H.W. Bush reportedly is an inveterate note writer.  I suspect it has to do with his old-school Yankee upbringing where etiquette was part of  “proper” training.   His sending notes to folks may have given him that little extra edge that made him a Congressman, an Envoy to China,  a CIA Director, a UN Ambassador, and, ultimately, President of the United States.  I don’t aim to be president of the United States but I try to be gracious.

President George H.W. Bush

What about thank-you emails?  What about thank-you text messages?  What about thank-you voice mails or phone calls?  They are all good and vindicate the principle of expressing gratitude.  A handwritten thank-you note is more personal and makes a bigger impact on the receiver.   I know when I receive a handwritten note, I do notice.

It takes a lot of effort to be conscientious in writing and sending notes.  It is worth the effort in letting people know that you appreciate, value and acknowledge them.  Isn’t that what life is all about – making those human connections as often as we can?  Now I must go and mail my little son’s note to his godmother thanking her for his birthday present.

THE AGE OF ENTREPRENEURS – IT’S NOT WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT

July 13, 2012

By G. A. FINCH

I serve on an advisory board of a small company and the president of this company asked me to attend her inauguration as a member of the second cohort class for Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses in Chicago.  This is an initiative driven by Goldman Sachs and its local partner, City Colleges of Chicago, to generate economic growth and job creation through small businesses by facilitating their access to business education, financial capital, and business support services.

Age Is Just A Number

As I watched the recently graduated first cohort members speak about their exceptional experiences in the program and the second cohort members speak about their dreams, aspirations, and ambitions, I was struck by the ages of these eager beaver entrepreneurs.  Yes there were a few twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, but a large number of them were middle and advanced middle age.  Some had been in business for 35 years and some even had MBAs.

Judge George Leighton

What did this plurality of older entrepreneurs show me?  It shows me that enthusiasm, energy, motivation, and achievement cannot be limited by age.  It reminds me that when you stop growing and learning, then you are in decline.  You are done. Asian and African cultures put a premium on age and wisdom.   In the U.S., we have become defined and intimidated by a youth-obsessed culture.

Continuous Learning

The fact is that you do not really hit your stride until middle age in terms of competence, confidence and knowledge.  Middle age and older are the stages in life when you begin to reap the dividends of your experience and skill sets.  Most importantly, though, is to continue to broaden your experience and expand your skill sets.  You must always be in a learning mode.

My mother exemplifies the learning mindset in that she went back to college in her late fifties and she is always intellectually and socially curious.  I also saw this energetic mindset when I recently attended the dedication of a courthouse in honor of retired federal Judge George Leighton, who practiced law until he was 98, and will turn 100 in October of this year.  Judge Leighton still plays chess every day.

Maturity As An Asset

There is so much human capital in older executives, entrepreneurs and professionals that can and needs to be continuously exploited.  Our nation cannot afford not to use this older human capital to leverage and grow our economy.  I am comforted to see that older hands are helping to drive the entrepreneurial spirit in our small businesses.  I will be as delighted to see when more older, experienced hands remain in the executive and professional suites using their talents to push our economy forward.  I am glad my own law firm embraces and practices utilizing older talent – that philosophy has helped our firm thrive.

No matter how old we are, as long as we can do it, we should be in “the hunt” for business and professional development, success and achievement.

CLUBS, BOARDS AND CHICKEN SOUP

April 7, 2012

This week my eleven-year old daughter was on spring break and accompanied me to my law offices for two days. She was my new “associate.” On the second day, she went with me to a luncheon board meeting at The John Marshall Law School. The fact that there would be food and she could still read her Chicken Soup for the Girl’s Soul book made the prospect of this meeting more palatable to her.

 

On the walk there, she asked me was this one of my clubs like the Economic Club or my parish men’s club. I told her “not exactly,” and it surprised me that she was even aware of the Economic Club. She then asked me, “Why are you a member of clubs and organizations?” I explained to her that, like her club-lady paternal grandmother, I get a lot of satisfaction from joining, participating in, and contributing to organizations. I told her that it is important to connect with people and help people, that you cannot succeed and accomplish many things in life all by yourself, that no one is a self-made person and that people get help from other people along the way. It was my way of explaining the concepts of service to others and networking all rolled into one. I also pointed out that it gives one an opportunity to socialize and stay connected with other people.

 
At the meeting, she saw that there was an agenda, staff made presentations, and board members discussed various topics. She saw how to run a meeting. She noted that the woman sitting next to me was an architect.  When it was my daughter’s turn to speak during the around-the-table introductions, at my prompting, she proudly informed the group that she wanted to become a structural engineer. She saw me and others having conversations with people after the meeting and could see that I had known some of them for many years. She could observe the old and newly made connections among the meeting participants.

 

My having to explain my reasons for joining clubs and serving on boards of directors gave me clarity, in the simplest terms, as to why it is meaningful to join and serve organizations. You give help, get personal gratification, and sometimes get help. It is kind of like “Chicken Soup for the Executive’s Soul.” Are you feeding your executive or professional soul?

BEING THERE

March 30, 2012

Today I went to a funeral of the mother of a friend. I took my nine-year old son with me as he was hanging out with me this day at my law offices during his spring break. He had only been to two previous funerals, one for his cousin and one for his maternal grandfather.

“Papa,” he asked, “why are we going to this funeral so far away and who is this person?” It was only 19 miles away, but to him, it seemed to be in another state.

I explained to him that a friend’s elderly mother died and I wanted to show her and her family my support. She had always been supportive of me. I told my son that you have to be there for people and “show up for them.” It is part of being a gentleman, being compassionate, and being gracious. “That’s what we do,” I said. He understood. Although he was having fun watching videos in my office before we left for the funeral, he got it that doing the right thing always trumps self-centeredness and inconvenience.

In life as in business, small gestures of compassion and kindness count. My having to explain to my son the importance of showing up for friends and colleagues reminded me of the importance of being there for others. I aim to always be counted when it counts. I hope my son aims too.

REINVENTION

January 10, 2012

In the first few days of last year (2011), I wrote a post titled “Resilience.” The post was inspired by the life story of a masseuse at a spa that my wife and I visited. In short, the terrible challenges which she had overcome and her upbeat, “can do” perspective on life was a clarion call to me that despite the economic pain and suffering the country had endured since 2008, the trait of resilience was essential to a person’s recovery and success.

In this new year, my wife and I went to another spa and my young masseur’s story of his work trajectory revealed his reinvention and adaptability. He was from the Detroit area and had never finished college. He had picked up some IT skills and got a job working for Accenture in Chicago doing automated payroll process consulting. He felt Chicago offered cosmopolitan excitement and economic opportunity that Detroit could not. He worked crazy hours and made good money. He was a very young twenty-something who did not like the work stress and office politics. When his department functions were being moved to San Antonio, he decided not to move, took a severance package, and trained to be a massage therapist. Although he likes his job and his less pressured life style, he intends eventually to go to school to become a physical therapist. It will take him five years to get a master’s degree. He knows there is job growth in healthcare. His father, a railroad retiree, does not understand his desire to change careers every few years.

This kid represents the realities of the new economy and alternative career paths. He knows instinctively that he has to keep reinventing himself and be mobile. He does not resent this fact and this is all he has ever known in his short career.

He is not an executive or highly educated professional, but his situation is instructive. We must all reinvent ourselves and become adaptable in order to continue to be useful and relevant in the marketplace. If a person remains static, he will eventually be out of a job or lose his business.

I am glad that twenty years ago, as the result of my part-time appointment as an Illinois Human Rights Commissioner, I became involved in employment legal matters even though I had been a business, real estate and construction attorney. So as the real estate and construction industries cratered in the last recession, my long ago diversification into executive employment contracts has benefited my law practice. This “reinvention” and my longtime receptivity and relatively early adaptability to technology like laptops, the internet, and social media have kept me relevant and in the game over the years. This all, to be sure, is the result of a combination of serendipity and purposefulness.

My take away from the kid is that reinvention is constant and seems to be accelerating.This whole phenomenon reminds me of one of my father’s favorite admonitions: “Don’t rest on your laurels.”

YOUR EXECUTIVE LIFE BLOG YEAR IN REVIEW

December 30, 2011

This is the time of the year when organizations and news media love to declare the year’s best of this, the top ten of that, the trends of this, and the most of that.  Americans love lists, tips, tallies and ratings.  Below is Your Executive Life’s review of readers’ favorite posts and this blogger’s own favorites.

Your Executive Life’s Most Read Posts

The top five posts for 2011 were in descending order:

  1. NON-DISPARAGEMENT PROVISION IN SEPARATION/SEVERANCE AGREEMENT
  2. HOW EXECUTIVES CAN MAKE THE MOST OF THEIR SHARE-BASED COMPENSATION
  3. WAIVERS AND RELEASES IN SEPARATION/SEVERANCE AGREEMENTS
  4. THE SILENT EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT PROVISION: THE IMPLIED COVENANT OF GOOD FAITH AND FAIR DEALING
  5. EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY AUTO REPAIR LADY: TRUST

From the readers’ voting with the number of their clicks, it is clear that readers hungered for good, hard information on the legalities of employment contract and severance provisions as well as financial advice on how to manage the fruits of their labor.  They also liked the less technical, heartwarming business lessons from the post about my auto repair lady.   A writer always struggles with providing valuable information and insights and at the same time trying to make his writing interesting, and, he hopes, at   least a little entertaining.  I aim to keep mixing up my posts to keep the blog fresh and engaging.  I seek to keep the writing comfortable, but not predictable.

This Blogger’s Recommendations

My Five Favorite Your Executive Life’s Posts were:

  1. EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY AUTO REPAIR LADY: TRUST
  2. EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY DRY CLEANING LADY
  3. HOW EXECUTIVES CAN MAKE THE MOST OF THEIR SHARE-BASED COMPENSATION
  4. EXECUTIVE WEALTH STRATEGIES: FINCH INTERVIEWS NORTHERN TRUST’S JASON GARCIA
  5. DO YOU LOOK LIKE AN EXECUTIVE STAR?

“Executive Lessons From My Auto Repair Lady” is one of my favorite and overlaps with one of the readers’ favorite.  It tells the story of the evolution of a business relationship and reveals the essence of any strong organization, community and society, i.e. trust.  Although this value unfolds in the context of the market place, it really underpins the stability and growth of communities and nations.

“Executive Lessons From My Dry Cleaning Lady” is a topical close cousin to  “Executive Lessons From My Auto Repair Lady: Trust,”  and it speaks to a good attitude and extra effort that all executives and leaders should exhibit in their behaviors and make manifest in their organizations.  “How Executives Can  Make the Most of Their Share-Based Compensation” and “Executive Wealth Strategies: Finch Interviews Northern Trust’s Jason Garcia” both provide substantive take-aways  on protecting and maximizing executive’s hard earned wealth from two different companies that I respect.  “How Executives Can Make the Most of Their Share-Based Compensation” also overlaps with the readers’ most popular posts.   “Do You Look Like an Executive Star?” was one of my first posts and a fun fluff piece to write reminding ourselves about the importance of appearances no matter how superficial and unfair.

Social Media

The topic I most wrote about was social media, especially the use of LinkedIn.  This was in response to the many questions and conversations I had with folks who were either unsure about its utility or wanted to expand its utility for themselves.  Social media is the topic du jour for many journalists and bloggers and so there is plenty of literature from which to choose.  When people now have questions about social media, it is convenient to point them to my blog articles.  Also, this body of work makes it easy to give a presentation on it when asked.

I invite your comments and suggestions online or offline.  Let me know what topics about which you would like to learn or on which you seek clarification or amplification.  In many instances a reader will know more about a topic than I and I hope to have my readers and I learn from such knowledgeable commenters.  I wish you good reading and plenty of it in the New Year.