The Business of Quality . . . The Quality of Business

Years ago my economics professor harped on the need for companies to control costs and expenses, and to maximize profits. He was adamant that any CFO worth his salt would do anything possible to reduce costs in order to produce greater profits. That seems rational on the first read, and I think most MBAs learned that lesson very well. At least those I have known over the years seem to behave as though that rule was sacrosanct, including moving overseas for cheap labor.

For instance, to get ahead in the world of commerce required no particular sense of rightness, propriety or planning, just ruthless ambition and great timing, in that the wise guy who could slash costs would be rewarded and promoted, while the poor smuck who was so unlucky to follow in his place had to clean up the mess left behind, and took a beating. The plan was to gut the operation in every possible way, then get the promotion reward and move on, leaving the dead and wounded behind. I saw that happen too many times in the company ranks, when those cuts resulted in great numbers for the first quarter reports, and into the second quarter, but the house of cards came crashing down if the game went on much longer than that, 18 months seems to be about the extent the game will last.

The fall out from that practice is easy to see, once one takes off the corporate blinders and reads the results over time. I had that opportunity in several capacities in my career, and it seemed a stupid way to run a business. The short term results were impressive, I admit, and that was the goal, so the player was in the game as it was set up by upper management. The long term results were disaster. The poor replacement guy was under the gun to fix the mess, and no matter how good a job he did, the deck was stacked against him. There was no way for him to succeed or survive.

What the problem here is that the managers swapped quality business operations for short term gains that eventually undermined the success of the operation. They ignored the number one rule of any successful business: Quality First, Quality Always. Never cut quality, no matter what. I think Ford Motors finally figured that out.

That basic rule of business came to mind a few days ago as we were eating lunch at what was a favorite burger joint in Roanoke. This place is a specialized shop which serves only burgers and hot dogs of various kinds, and has won accolades over the years for their high quality at fair prices. They are not cheap like other fast food places, but they were covered up with customers who appreciated really fresh hamburgers, ample sized servings, and a fair price. They enjoyed a great reputation for good food, so that people became regular customers. I was one.

Over the past few months, we have stopped there for lunch for a regular burger and fries. The burgers were excellent, a high quality product at a fair price. We have been going there for several years. So it was a real disappointment that the burgers yesterday were much smaller, over cooked, and much more expensive. The quality has been cut, at the same time the prices have been hiked. They once were better than “Five Guys” and about the same price. Now they are no better now than the fast food competitor burger chain across the street. And more expensive by double. The patty was tough, dry, and small. and the fires were stale, old oil taste. Not something I expected at my (once) favorite place.

The “quality” maxim came to mind as I chewed on my not-so-great meal: Never Cut Quality. If you must raise prices to keep in business, do so. Customers will understand small price increases and as long as the quality stays great, they will still be customers. Cutting quality is a short term solution for quick profits that leads to long term disaster. If you reduce quality, they will stop buying your products or services, no matter how cheap the price.

And the price was way higher than the last visit. I could tolerate the price if the quality was still high, but those two factors mean I will probably not be back there again. It is sad to see a once great product go the way of the Dodo. By the way. the customers were fewer than I have ever seen at lunch time. Sorry, pal. Lose quality, lose customers.

On The Convergence Of Days

If you were to ponder the future fifty years hence, taking into account all the possible outcomes of the many paths that offer themselves, and think deeply about where each possible choice available will lead, the chance of you actually divining the future with any degree of accuracy is remote and elusive. There are just too many variables that will intervene to make definite and precise predictions. This is called extraneous variables, events and conditions that fall outside of our control.

One choice of the several possible options offered invariably leads to further choices and options but also, by choosing, excludes many others. If we are cognizant of those possibilities, we usually make the choice of the options or paths that seem to offer the best results and outcomes. Usually, I say, because we sometimes make choices without much or any thought of the consequences. And all choices have consequences. Even not choosing has consequences.

Over the years, we have made choices that we felt offered the best possible outcomes. Some worked very well, and a few, fortunately just a few, turned out poorly. One important choice we made turned out extremely well, and I will describe that outcome below.

From time to time the dates on our calendars of life seem to meet, to converge as if ordained for a special purpose, as an omen of important and world moving events that have important impact and consequences. One of those convergences happened fifty years ago this weekend, on March 15, as St.Patrick’s Day arrived just after a boy was born in Roanoke. Who could have predicted the impact of that birth near St.Patrick’s Day. It was too early in my maturing to do so.

And yet, that baby boy grew over these fifty years into a force for good, into a father, a community leader, a loyal and supportive spouse, and a great friend to many. And into a wonderful and supporting son to his parents.

This March 15th in 2015 will be the celebration of his fifty years on this planet, and we will celebrate with gusto. Fifty years is a special milepost, a special achievement of persistence, determination, great good fortune, and blind faith in himself. And many good choices. We are so pleased with his success as a great human being, a great person, a super parent, a great force for good. And that he choose us as his parents.

Happy 50th Birthday to you Steve. Our wish is for your continued successes for another 50 years and more.


PBS Shined A Light On The KKK

PBS ran a documentary on the KKK in North and South Carolina today, which I had the good chance to view. It was revealing information about the Klan and it’s history, it’s actions, and it’s mission in the Carolinas. We see very little of the Klan today, although it still exists and is still active. There is a movement to revive the Klan in the South and it seems to be growing.

The revealing part of the PBS documentary was the recorded statements of the Klan leaders of the time. Motivations they asserted for their forming the Klan, and for their behaviors echo loudly today in the voices of the Tea Party, most Republicans, and most who identify as “conservatives”.

“Enforcing the law, family values, abiding principles of the founding fathers, white supremacy, defending freedom, returning to our glorious past”, all phrases used today to justify widespread suppression of “those” folks. It is rampant in our political and social arenas most noted in the social medias, and cable TV faux news channels, and the NRA. Revealing how much the new movement groups parallel the old Klan.

The Klan is not so visible today, it just went underground. It wears a suit and tie today. We see it draped in the robes of religion, academia, political parties, flags, badges, and uniforms. It shares the same extreme agendas as the radicals who attacked the satirical paper in Paris. It shares the same extreme agendas as those who carry out ethnic cleansing and racial bias. It shows in the rabid broadcast of fear mongering, slanted reporting, factual misstatements, actual lies.

Look around and you will see the Klan in full operation today, not in the hooded robes of yesterday, but now posing as leaders of conservative religions and political parties, of self-appointed voices of the masses, as evangelists, and proponents of “The True Faith” and respected reporters on Faux News.

And some as candidates for public office, some who were elected in the last go-round.

PBS shone a light on the Klan that needs to be broadcast throughout the nation, and seen by the people who should be alarmed by the resurgence of the far right movement toward anarchy, and the implementation of their form of Sharia Law.

Thank you, PBS, for airing the historical truth about the KKK. Now take it another step to show how the Klan is working today.

An Historic Day For Virginia

In the annals of history, ever since the founding of our Virginia Colony, our Commonwealth, up until the present time, no elected governor of our Commonwealth has ever been convicted of a felony. Some may have deserved that fate, but until now, not one Virginia governor flaunted the rules to the point that they were indicted, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to serve time for a felony. Until now.

Today the court handed down to the perpetrator a wrist slap of two years incarceration in a minimum security facility. This governor not only took money under the table, he flaunted it, then blamed his wife for his transgressions when he stooped to blame it on her. She was also convicted of several felonies, for which she will be sentenced in due time.

These two were a handsome couple sharing the limelight, upwardly mobile in the conservative political world with a shot at national office, even a shot at becoming president. Now defeated, and now laid out for all the world to see their true values of “honesty, unselfish public service, dedicated to conservative family values, conservative principles, truth, justice and the American Way”. Their dirty laundry is now hung out for all to see, an embarrassment to our Commonwealth.

How did this come to pass? How did this man and his wife manage to rise to such heights before their true identities became to light? Trace his rise from his religious education, his upbringing, his immersion in conservative politics, and his supporters and those who would be his friend for personal gain, and you might tease out a thread of meaning. It is thin, but it is revealing. It shows a rapid rise in the ultra conservative, radical religious right, among those who now dominate the conservative movement, including several well know religious leaders, not to exclude those in Virginia Beach and Lynchburg.

Were these two merely pawns in some larger plan? Pawns? Doubtful. More likely egotistical, ambitious and self-serving panderers who used their personal and religious affiliations and business connections to gain prominence and to further their desires for national prominence. Was he guilty of bad judgment, or of just poor choices of friends and associates, or was he the dupe of Johnny Williams? Only he knows for certain, but the fact that he used his office and position in ways that were blantantly illegal speak loudly.

What was once a man held in high esteem by GOP leaders and by conservative across the nation for his “Family Values”, even as their possible nominee for president, is now a convicted felon. His hubris and his unwarranted pride, his arrogance and his blind obedience to his handlers, has brought him down, crashed and burned.

Some say the two years of incarceration is much too short, that more severe punishment is warranted for the broken trust and the corruption. I agree that two years is a minimum of time locked up in a prison for the crimes committed. Perhaps more time would suit better, but with banishment forever from the boundaries of the Commonwealth, from ever serving in a position of trust or public office, from teaching or speaking in any public forum or from publishing any book or paper regarding his political career or the trial or his actions for which he has been convicted, unless all revenues arising from all such actions are contributed in total to the Treasury of the Commonwealth. More time in prison would do no more to rehabilitate him, and only cost the public more. He is ruined as far any future political career. So be it.

The Commonwealth will go forward, bearing the stench and stain of corruption wrought by this governor and his wife, and those who abetted their illegal actions. It is undeserved that the people of Virginia are saddled with this stain, but we will go forward, with a close eye on those to whom great power is given, and in whom great trust is invested.

Starting A New Year 2015

New years is a time of reflection on the past, and thoughts of the future, and a traditional time to contemplate our lives. Today I have been doing a bit of that be scoping out the pictures posted on FB of in “You know you grew up in Roanoke when . . .”.

The hundreds of old photos of Roanoke from the mid 1800’s to late 1970’s are interesting from a historical standpoint, and bring back memories from my childhood. Growing up in Roanoke was a remarkable experience, and I treasure many of those memories.

There are some which interest me in another way. A few pictures are of the old Shoney’s restaurants that were popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s as local gathering places for teens and families. They served fast food with curb servicers on roller skates at some locations, and the parking lots were roomy enough to spend time with friends. Hamburgers, fries and shakes, plus strawberry pie were favorites.

Some viewers of those old photos remarked how they missed those days, as “the best years of my life.” Maybe they were pretty good for some, but I remember working long hours for 50 cents and hour, and not making enough to buy but a few gallons of gas at 25 cents. Going to Shoney’s was a special event that could only be afforded by skimping on something else.

The Shoney’s on Apperson Drive in Salem was a favorite gathering spot for my crowd, and the DJ booth on top with “Jivin Jack Jackson” spinning tunes was fun. Meeting girls was the main event in any case.

So, I like to remember the good times, but I hate to think that those were my best days. I like to think that, at 77, my best days are still ahead. Don’t you?

Growing Up In Grandin Court, Passing Remarks

Sadly, Jean Wood Eavey passed away yesterday, Wednesday December 17, 2014. Jean was determined to pay a visit to the Reunion at the Grandin Court Rec Center in November, and she made it. But her time was short.

As one of the seniors of the Grandin Court group, Jean enjoyed her reunion with old friends, and made a number of new ones. So glad that she was able to attend.

Nancy Wood Phelan posted a memorial to her sister Jean in today’s Roanoke Times. It was a remembering of growing up as the little sister, and very touching. I still have warm memories of Nancy and the Lee Wood family next door on Montvale.

We are aging, and will follow Jean in time. Let’s remember to remember those who were so important to us, who were, and are, a part of our being. They helped us be who we are, and will always be a part of our lives.

Rest in peace Jean.


Life, The Big Bang Theory, Or An Experiment Gone Wrong ?

Scientists studying the universe tell us that the universe is growing. They can tell by the red-shift in the color spectrum. By reversing the projector of time, the universe was at one time extremely small, contained in what is called a singularity. In effect, the entire total of existence was only a spot, just a point, which exploded into the universe as we now see it. That was billions of earth years ago.

The expansion is not slowing, as the laws of physics would expect due to the loss of energy as it expands. Instead, it is growing at a faster rate, at almost the speed of light. Something is driving the expansion, some invisible force that has not been discovered as yet. Perhaps there is another reason: not a mysterious force, but by the direct action of a “creator”.

Let’s imagine. Perhaps: In an experiment exploring “singularity” far away in a laboratory beyond the limits of our imagination, a tiny bit of energy was squeezed into an infinitely small space, and allowed to evolve as it would. That bit of energy could not be contained in the singularity condition; the laws of physics would not allow that. It exploded into what is now our universe. So far we are in compliance with current science.

This new universe was pristine, sanitary, free of any infection, including any life forms. Pure physics. Observing this new condition as it emerged, the experimenter wondered what would happen it was inoculated with some form of life, a single cell creature without a brain, or of a sense of destiny, conscience, morals. It would be a grand experiment in evolution to see what would happen over time, to see what would develop. Simple gene coding along a spiral of amino acids would do. Only it must be confined to a small and isolated place so that it could not escape into the real existence.

After a long time, nothing had changed. The system was static, the same as it was when set up, and no new life forms had emerged. Drat that. Maybe a small nudge would have an effect, just a minor tweak of the genetic codes, here and there. The creator tampered, and things began to happen. Single cells divided, and those divided again. Evolution started with interesting changes reacting to the environment. Another tweak or two, and life forms began to expand.

“I’ll change the environment again and see what develops,” said the experimenter to no one. Life forms changed even faster, into what appeared to be slightly intelligent beings. It was a successful experiment. Did the experimenter get an “A” on it? No. No grade. That was not to be. No grade for this unfinished experiment. A reprimand perhaps. Would the experiment be abandoned? No. The creator went on to other projects, like black holes, and super novae, and other more interesting experiments, but returned to the first project.

Ah, said the experimenter. I’ll infuse learning, the ability to reason.” And that infection was introduced to the mix. All was well for eons, until the growth of new beings erupted from Eden, over-filled the site, and learned how to escape out of the confines.

It was a problem. This new life form had emerged into the universe and was expanding beyond the limits the experimenter had set. It was hostile, to itself and to its neighbors, its home and possibly to the rest of existence. It could not be eradicated: that was against the universal laws of life. How to protect from what had become a serious threat? The answer was to isolate that experiment gone bad from the rest of existence.

The experimenter isolated the badly infected life forms on a tiny insignificant planet, on an outer thread of a far away minor spiral galaxy. That should isolate the infection from the rest of the universe, and be protection from spreading further. Problem fixed. Only it didn’t stay fixed for long.

The spread if this gone-wrong life-form experiment as it leaked out of confinement, had the real possibility of infecting the entire peaceful universe. In pure panic, the other galaxies choose to run away as fast as possible. Ergo, the “red-shift” effect we see today.

So, life and the Earth as we know it is really an experiment that went badly wrong. The universe is trying to keep well away from possible infection.

Or not. At least this is one possible explanation of the origin of life on Earth: Mankind created by accident, isolated, and abandoned by the creator when the experiment went bad. Its just as good an explanation as any other I’ve heard so far.

Be careful what you wish for?