CLUBS, BOARDS AND CHICKEN SOUP

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?

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

BEING THERE

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.

 

Copyright © 2012 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

REINVENTION

By G. A. Finch

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.”

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved

YOUR EXECUTIVE LIFE BLOG YEAR IN REVIEW

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.

EXECUTIVES’ EXCEPTIONALISM: AMERICA IN NEED OF SUPERHEROES

BY G. A. FINCH

 

Where Do We Go From 2011?

2011 has been a mixed year with the economy technically growing but the employment rate stubbornly ranging from eight to twelve percent depending where one lives in our great country.  We now have terms like “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, and Occupy Oakland” that now have more to do with notions of income inequality, unemployment, and financial industries’ excesses and bailouts than with any physical possession of geography.   Sovereign debt defaults keep looming making for nervous financial markets and for doomsday scenarios by pundits.  Americans are also war weary.

For too many Americans, Reality TV personalities, Dancing with the Stars winners, and American Idol contestants have more street cred than poets, philosophers, physicists, farmers or clergy, let alone business people and economists.

Congress seems incapable of reasoned compromises.  The president said, “What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.”  No, President Obama did not say that.  That quote was from President Jimmy Carter from his infamous “malaise” speech of July 15, 1979.  Sounds eerily contemporary does it not?

What Else Is New About America?

Tough times, no doubt.  Is America new to tough times? Of course not.  We endured the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights struggles and more.  Will prosperity return?  Yes, of course.

Reinvention, Re-imagination, Re-whatever

But our recovery will be uneven and America must reimagine its economic and social structures to accommodate those segments of the population that cannot be meaningfully employed as low skilled, un-automated jobs continue to disappear.   New kinds of jobs that we have not even thought of and that require unheard of skills will continue to emerge to both create and fill the demands of the marketplace.

Atypical and Exceptionalism

What does all this have to do with the typical executive, professional, or entrepreneur?   It has nothing to do with the “typical” and everything to do with the “exceptional” executive, professional, or entrepreneur.  Let’s call them the exceptional ones.  Superheroes of sorts.  I saw the movie Captain America last night.  In that fantasy story, a superhero was created with new technology to overcome the heretofore unimagined challenges of World War II.  After the movie, my little son ran upstairs, donned his Captain America costume and came back down to vanquish America’s imaginary foes, in this case his villainous stand-in was his dad.

In adversity, there is often opportunity.  The resourceful, inventive, relentless and curious executives, professionals and entrepreneurs can lead the way.  The exceptional ones must learn new skills, expand or change their networks, be comfortable with rapid and continuous change and alter their ways of thinking.  Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs personified what we must become.  The iPod changed the way we consume music as the iPhone changed the way we communicate and access information.  What changes will the exceptional ones birth and implement?

It Is About Business and More

These superheroes must also be compassionate and inclusive.  The one per centers should not be penalized for performance or their good fortune.  Neither should the 99 per centers be penalized for macro-economic forces beyond their control or for their misfortune.  The trick for the exceptional ones is to expand opportunities for the middle again so we do not have such extreme disparities in wealth.

Extraordinary executives, professionals, or entrepreneurs are not solely limited to their efforts in private enterprise, but also can serve the enterprises of government and not-for-profits.  All sectors can benefit from the know-how and grit of these kinds of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs.  Our country needs their energy, discipline and imagination to propel us through the second decade of this millennium.  We can view them not so much as captains of industry but as real captains of a reinvigorated America.

Go forth superheroes.

MANAGEMENT SUCCESSION PLANNING: BE LIKE A BOY SCOUT AND BE PREPARED

By G. A. FINCH

A client recently asked for advice concerning its creation of a management succession plan.  Given the recent tenth anniversary of 9/11, it was a timely request for assistance.

Who Is Doing Succession Planning

I wanted to update my knowledge of the best practices for management succession and started my due diligence by canvassing four Fortune 500 general counsels, a CEO of a manufacturing company and three management consultants on their management succession plan templates.    This was not a very scientific sampling, but the polling  gave me a sense of what companies were doing or not doing concerning planning for management succession.

Only one of the four Fortune 500 companies had a management succession plan. The other three and the non-Fortune 500 company did not.  Two management consultant companies did not have any templates or experience advising companies on succession plans and the third was working on developing one.

Of course everyone contacted thought it was a good idea to have one and some felt a little sheepish in admitting to not having a plan.  A few of the ones who did not have a management succession plan said that there were occasional conversations at board meetings about resident executive “talent” that could be potential candidates for CEO succession.

Risk Management

We all have heard about major companies whose CEO became seriously ill or suddenly died.  We also have heard where top layers of management have been decimated by catastrophic incidents like the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers.   Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami nuclear power plant meltdown are additional reminders of how unanticipated disasters can wreak havoc on an unprepared company and its region.

Stockholders, investors, employees and major customers certainly want to know what happens in “what if?” scenarios.

Mechanics Of Doing A Plan

In my updated research on management succession plans, I found that there are three avenues a company can take: 1) do its own plan; 2) buy software to do a plan; or 3) hire an outside consultant to help create a plan.

Basically, there are three degrees of planning: A) create a list of successors for important positions and ensure the successors have the leadership/management skills that are aligned with the mission, culture and business strategy of the organization; B) develop an ongoing spreadsheet identifying, evaluating, and training/grooming executives and employees in multiple layers for many critical positions in the company;  or C) set up an elaborate system of back-up infrastructure and contingency plans for command and control in the event of emergencies.

Any one of the above degrees of planning requires a process that ultimately results in a document to which a company can refer when there is an incident of succession.

Do What You Must Do

I suspect many executives and corporate boards feel about succession plans the way many individuals feel about estate planning:  it is an unpleasant reminder of one’s mortality that can be put off until tomorrow.  No one likes to dwell on the time when one will not be around or no longer relevant.

I would wager that when Steve Jobs stepped down from Apple, there was a succession plan in place to ensure a smooth transition.

Does your company have a succession plan?  If not, when?

Executive leadership is doing the tasks that others will not or cannot do.

P.S.: On September 21st, I was at a breakfast seminar on “evaluating board members” and it was pointed out by the panelists that boards of directors are notorious for not doing succession planning.

EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY AUTO REPAIR LADY: TRUST

Several years ago I went to an auto body shop recommended by my auto insurer to get a driver’s side mirror replaced.  The young lady who runs her family business was efficient and cheerful and gave me a reasonable estimate.  She drove me to and from my commuter rail station so I didn’t have to worry about cabbing it.  The shop finished the job quickly and expertly.

My wife’s car eventually needed some auto body repair work and she received the same treatment.  We learned that the shop also did regular auto repairs and decided to give the shop a try.  For both our cars, the auto body shop’s mechanical repairs were cheaper than our auto dealers.  In terms of our treatment, the shop was  consistently friendly, efficient, and reasonable in cost.    Now we don’t take our cars to be repaired anywhere else. My wife and I have watched the young lady get married, have two children, and continue to run the family business with the help of her husband and parents.

A Used Car?

The other day, while I was being driven home from the auto body shop, the young lady mentioned that her family business was now also selling pre-driven cars, i.e. used cars.  She told me that her criterion for selling a car was simply that she would only sell a car that she herself would buy.

Now I have never bought a used car and did not think I ever would in my life. When I have the need, I would buy a used car from this young lady.  Why is that? Trust!  I trust her and her business.  Over the years, by her consistent conduct and consistent service, she has earned my family’s business trust.  So much so, that I have altered my risk-averse policy of never buying a used car.  Our business relationship has evolved from body work to mechanical repairs and, now, to used car sales.  It reminds me of the old saw on ultimate trustworthiness: “Would you buy a used car from this guy?”

What Has Trust Got To
Do With It?

Executives, entrepreneurs and professionals are so focused on making “the sale” and delivering the good or service that they forget the  fundamental glue in a business transaction or business relationship is
establishing and maintaining trust.

Consumers trust Apple products because they know the products will be consistently fun, useful, high quality and cutting edge.  Diners trust McDonalds because they know the food and drink will be consistently cheap, filling, flavorful and served in a clean restaurant.  Coffee drinkers trust Starbucks because they can expect the baristas to know their preferences and they can linger as though they were in a European café.  These consumers know exactly what they are getting and they, in turn, become receptive to new product offerings of these companies, whether it be an iPad, a McRib sandwich, or instant coffee.  Do your customers or clients or patients know what they are getting?

Consistent good conduct and service create trust.  So, too, executives and professionals must put first and foremost their trustworthiness in the delivery of their goods and services and in their personal behavior.

Trust As A Soft Skill

I have always naturally focused on competence and reliability and I never consciously thought about the importance of the trust factor. When my clients keep coming  back to me for strategic career or corporate advice, even long after I have negotiated their employment contracts or severance packages or drafted their LLC operating agreements, I now understand it is because they trust me.

Without trust, an executive or a professional cannot do long-term business effectively.  We know trust when we feel it.

Are you trusted in business? Do your colleagues trust you?  Do your customers, clients or patients trust you? It is unfortunate that our grad schools and professional schools don’t teach a course on trust.  This soft trait/skill is our most important one.

 

Copyright © 2011 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.