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Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Legacy Is Like Legos

It's the last weekend in April, which for me is always a special time, I make the pilgrimage back to Lincoln, Nebraska every year so I can re-acquaint myself with the men of my college fraternity. It sounds a little juvenile and "animal housish" I know, but trust me it's not like that at all.

As a member of the board and a founding father of Omega Alpha Chi, I hold a very fond place in my heart for this group of men.
My children aren't quite old enough for me to say I've left a legacy in them. I know I've obviously shaped their lives, but I'm not quite sure that a 9 and 5 year old have the mental ability to grasp the concept of legacy from the receiving end yet. So this organization, in its 13th year, is the first legacy I've been able to leave. While it hasn't been left technically since I'm still alive, I at least have a good foundation built and am very proud of it.

The whole leaving a legacy thing has kind of come and gone in the buzz words of leadership category, but I hope that you each have the opportunity to experience leaving a legacy of your own in some way.

One thing I find funny is all the talk about how to leave your legacy. From my experience you don't set out to do it intentionally. Even in the middle you don't say to yourself "Hey this could be my legacy". Rather, you follow the passion you have for something and that passion guiding you turns into what you are remembered for.

This article from Entrepreneur.com explains it in different words.
"Making a lasting impression on the people who mean the most to me is what I
really care about, and I want to be remembered for the right reasons: for being
kind, warm, sincere, generous, unique, special, funny and fun. Being remembered
as an entrepreneur or leader matters less to me than being remembered as someone who was a good listener, gave great advice, showed good judgment, and really
cared about what I did and who I did it with every day."
I think what the author and I have both failed to say until now is that you don't leave a legacy intentionally. Rather, you live your life adding one Lego brick on top of another, one brick at a time. Sometimes your actions tear down a section of bricks, other times the bricks are added quickly. Your legacy isn't the Lego, but rather the interpretation of how others see the bricks you've assembled when you're gone.
Like kids watching clouds in the sky one may see a rabbit and another may see a car. You can't change what they've seen so don't be concerned with it. The only thing you can do is try to assemble the bricks in the best formation possible from your view point at the time you stack it, and not worry about how others interpret them.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Some Photo Blogging

I've been collecting pictures as I go, but have never taken the time to post them, so I thought I'd get it all done in one efficient post.

Today, like most April days across the county, school is closed because it is snowing. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Most school districts shut down because of the snow. I didn't even know it was supposed to snow last night, but this is what it looked like on the way to work.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a student employee appreciation reception here to show our gratitude to the college students who work so hard to make our lives easier. Since I have two student employees and I never pass up free food, I went. They had this cake there to eat. I could have turned it into its own post about positive reinforcement or employee motivation, but a picture says a thousand words.

The USPS has launched some kind of new campaign where they have turned mailboxes into R2-D2 replicas. Perhaps they realized that it's going to take the force to pull them out of the tailspin they have put themselves into. This one is located downtown Colorado Springs on Tejon St.

My "anonymous" friend is now receiving treatment on his wart infested foot and let me take this picture. This is after 3 or 4 treatments of putting acid on the warts, waiting 2 weeks, letting it burn the skin off, cutting the skin off and reapplying more acid. Later that day he slipped on his crutches, put his weight on his foot and burst the huge, nasty blood blister. 3 days later it was still oozing blood. No joking, the sight of this actually caused a couple of his co-workers to gag a few hours before I snapped this picture.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?

I just started getting my subscription to the Harvard Business Review at work. It's been since grad school that I habitually read it, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to see what the world's greatest minds have to contribute to business.

With my subscription came "Leadership Insights: 15 Unique Perspectives on Effective Leadership", which is a collection of previous articles on leadership. The first article I read was "Why Should Anyone Be Led by You" by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones. A catchy, but challenging title, so as I flipped to the article, I wondered if I would be disappointed in myself after reading it realizing I'm not worth following.

The essence of the article is that inspirational leaders share four qualities.
1. They selectively show their weaknesses - By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.

2. They rely heavily on intuition to guage the appropriate timing and course of their actions - Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them know just when and how to act.

3. They manage employees with tough empathy - Inspirational leaders empathize passionately and realistically with people, and they care intensely about the work employees do.

4. They reveal their differences - They capatalize on what's unique about themselves.

Immdiately I was glad I saw myself in 3 out of four of these. Not seeing myself revealing my differences did stick out as something I don't do very well. So I made the conscious effort to begin separating myself from the heard a little. I'm not exactly sure what that means or how that is going to take form, so perhaps it is better said that I am going to begin consciously looking for things that are positively unique about myself first, and then begin to bring that trait to the forefront of who I am.

One interesting point that I got out of the article was in regard to empathy. Contrary to the long-held statement that leaders are made, not born which implies we can each become an effective leader, this article states that "Real leaders don't need a training program [interpersonal-skills training program with 'concern' for others] to convince their employees that they care. Real leaders empathize fiercely with the people they lead." The authors imply that if you're not born with it, you can't learn it.

I'm not sure I buy it totally, but it makes me think and wonder if it's true.

If nothing else, it's a good, quick and simple evaluation of yourself to answer a tough, hard and challenging question. Why should anyone be led by you?


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Big Stress - Insignificant Product

3 years ago I fought to avoid getting a cell phone. I didn't need one and thought they were a vain display of how important people thought they were by insisting people needed instant access to them at any given time. Today, I carry two cell phones at all times. One of which has my calendar and email on it. I guess I'm a little hypocritical.

Increasing my vanity, I suddenly felt the urge to get a custom ring tone. Why? Well my brother in law got a new one which inspired my wife to get a new one, which made me feel like I should get one. Again with the vanity, I know.

Deciding on a ring tone has got to be one of the most difficult things to do in the world. The pressure and stress of identifying your life with a song that plays for maybe 10 seconds for the whole world to hear is just too much. It's that same feeling that you get when you are trying to come up with a good user name for an email account.

I finally decided to find a song that I would use only when my wife calls me. It had to be something good, so I settled on Hall & Oates' "Kiss on my list", but it wasn't available for download. So, I thought I'd get real funny and go with George Michael's "I want your sex", but better judgement stopped that pretty quick. Nothing seemed to do justice to what I wanted, so I sat up until 1:00 this morning stressing and searching Google for the right song. AAHHHH!!!

My conclusion is this, buying a stupid $1.99 ring tone should not be this involved and the company behind it all should come up with some way to make the process easier to help the victims like me maintain a certain level of vanity while lowering my stress. So, if anyone comes across a great tool, like an Internet quiz that helps associate the most appropriate ring tone for people, please pass it on. PLEASE!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buy It Later: A Short Story - Part 3

Here it is, the third and final installment of "Buy It Later", where you'll hear me say "My moral compass doesn't swing that far."

I decided that the chances of this complete stranger living in New York knowing anything about my situation was pretty remote, so I decided on the good Samaritan approach and told her someone was using her eBay account to run a scam. Her shocked stutter confirmed that I played the odds correctly.

I hung up and within 30 minutes our phone rang and caller ID showed it was Meri from New York calling me back. This made me a little suspicious about how she was able to get my number, but I later found out that despite using a calling card in an attempt to mask our caller ID, it didn’t work and the result of my ignorance was Mia’s husband calling back to let me know that a few months ago someone hi-jacked his eBay account and he’d just gotten control of it again last month. I believed him as much as I could.

The next morning the bank called to let us know that they were working on it and the first good news was my 10% litmus test was passed. She felt we had better than a 10% chance of getting our money back.

My wife then called the Heinz County Sherriff’s department to file a report with them and as the story was retold to the Sergeant he answered in his Mississippi accent by sighing “Awww Sh&%”. It wasn’t exactly the words I might have chosen, but it definitely conveyed my feelings.

He instantly became our greatest asset in Mississippi as he got subpoenas for the email account, the bank account and about anything else he could think to subpoena. He then told us that one of the managers of the fraud department over at Trustmark National Bank used to work at the Sherriff’s department and he would go over there and make sure things were being handled properly for us.

Following his instructions, my wife called the bank and asked for the deputy turned banker. She was instantly assured that Sergeant Lofton had already called and was on his way over at that moment.

Whatever impressions I might have had about Mississippi being a bunch of backwoods, lazy and slow, rednecks just got thrown out the window and sunk in the delta. This Sergeant Lofton was on the ball and the ball was rolling fast.

Not much else transpired for a few days. Well, unless you count the 4 additional emails from the scammer assuring us that our car would be on a truck shortly and we’d have the tracking number as soon as he had it, but he’d gotten caught up at work and wasn’t able to take care of it. Then it was parked at the shipping company’s garage, but it wasn’t loaded on a truck so no tracking number was available. Last we heard was, “It’s a beautiful vehicle and you need to take good care of it when it arrives.”

My wife had a hard time keeping him on the hook with the hopes that it would somehow help the Sherriff’s department with the investigation. It made her feel weird communicating with a criminal. My moral compass doesn’t swing that far so I fed her lines to type in response. I even set up a bogus hotmail account to try to lure the criminal back in to trying to sell my newly established hotmail alias the van with hopes of being able to then turn it over to the Sheriff’s department and letting them reel him in.

Shortly after, the email stopped coming, hope diminished and thoughts of losing $8,000 began to shrink. Saturday came and we knew it would be Monday before we would hear anything from anyone about it as we served our weekend prison sentence without knowledge one way or the other.

We never did get a nibble on our fake hotmail account.

Monday morning came and we told and retold the story a dozen times to friends, family and anyone who would listen. It was a kind of therapy going over and over our story, so when we heard from the Sergeant that things were wrapping up, we were delighted.

Arriving home Monday, listening to the machine I returned the call to US Bank and heard the sweet words that “there was a problem with our wire transfer and for some reason the money had been returned to our account.” Thinking there had been some kind of glitch in their system; the poor banker must have been quite confused at my joyful response.

“That’s great!”

“It is?”

“Yeah, thanks for letting us know, we’ve been working on getting the money back in our account.”

“Oh, uh… okay.”

What we eventually learned is that the seller / slimy criminal is somewhere outside the United States, most likely in Asia somewhere. He went phishing for eBay account information and caught Mia’s account in New York. He used that information to set up a fraudulent auction. He then took out an ad to hire a “Transfer Manager” who would be responsible for opening a bank account and then monitor account information. When money was transferred into their account they would follow instructions provided via email and wire money to an off-shores account, retaining a 7% commission for their efforts.

Mr. Cathy, the “Transfer Manager” who had our money was very quick and willing to transfer our money back to our bank account after Sergeant Lofton had a kind and gentle conversation with him about his obligation as a good citizen who wants to avoid a night in jail.

Mr. Cathy, come to find out, was also a previous employee at Trustmark National Bank, had been fired or laid off or something and was not flat broke. Making another good decision he decided to break into his ex-girlfriends place, steal the computer and toss it in a ditch while she was in the shower. I’m sure it had something to do with wanting to make sure his Spider Solitaire record wouldn’t ever be beaten. Or maybe it was because he had some evidence on his computer that he didn’t want subpoenaed by my new hero, Sergeant Lofton. I’m going to go with my gut and stick with his Spider Solitaire record.

Where do we go from here? Well, we could press charges against Mr. Cathy, but we’d have to go to Mississippi and then return for court, which his attorney would most likely file a continuance 3 times meaning we’d have to travel a total of 5 times to Mississippi to make it all happen.

Probably not going to happen. Summer in Mississippi doesn’t sound like that great of a proposition.

The moral of the story is this: If you’re going to get scammed and then get your money back and want to press charges, make sure the criminal is in Hawaii or Southern California or some other great place worth visiting five times.

So with our money back, the criminal in some other country and the pawn in the scheme visiting every Best Buy and Circuit City in Mississippi to hone his Spider Solitaire skills, we headed back to our computer to find a suitable vehicle to buy; A little wiser and a lot more cautious this time, but still on the look. This time, I think we’ll wait on the Buy It Now method and look in person. There’s nothing wrong with buying it later.

There you have it folks, my true life story of being scammed and getting our money back. Hope you enjoyed this short story more than I enjoyed living it. To my mom and dad, you can quit worrying, start sleeping and quit calling to get all the details.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Buy It Later: A Short Story - Part 2

Here's the much anticipated part two of our adventures. Enjoy!
5 short minutes after she sent her inquiry to eBay, they replied to my wife confirming her “women’s intuition” by saying this message had not come from them and we should not follow the instructions to wire the money into an account.

She contacted US Bank, but they said that they couldn’t do anything for us because once the money was wired, it was gone. They gave us the information for the bank where the money had been sent and wished us good luck. If we had that kind of luck, we'd be in Vegas, not stressing about this.

A call to Trustmark National Bank in Jackson, Mississippi led us to the manager of the fraud department, who after hearing my wife’s explanation and near panicked tone, said if the money was still in that account she could freeze it until things got sorted out. However, she couldn’t confirm for us if the money was there or not. She also couldn’t tell us if she was able to freeze the account because that would indicate that the money was there and she couldn’t divulge that information. She suggested we file a police report.

My phone vibrated again and I flipped it open waiting to hear what was going on. I said I’d file the police report and got the number for the police. I left a voice mail with a detective in the financial fraud department of the CSPD but wasn’t satisfied so I called back. After speaking with the lady who answered the phone, she agreed to send an officer out to take the report. I called home and said I was on my way. I wanted to be there. I had to be there.

The drive home might have taken forever, but was made bearable by the detective calling me back. I reviewed what we knew so far in hopes of triggering a response that might lead to an easy solution, but all he could tell me was to file the police report and if the officer taking the report was at all hesitant, let him know that I spoke with the detective and he said a report should be filed. I asked what he thought our chances were of getting our money back. After rewording the question a couple of times so I wouldn’t be able pin him with liability if we didn’t get the money back he thought our chances were less than 10%.

I got home and found my wife stressed to the point of fracture. I hugged her and the stress broke as she cried in my arms. I reassured her that money can be saved again and we still had our family so everything would be fine no matter what happened. I'm not sure it helped much, but it got me a few brownie points for being a sensative husband. Expensive points if we lost the money, so I made a mental note not to screw something up later and burn them before I could spend them.

The officer arrived shortly after, and we retold the story again and provided him with copies of the email correspondence we’d had with the seller / con artist. Thankfully he didn’t give any resistance to filing a report, but he didn’t give us any better chances than the detective did. “About 10%.”

Later that evening, we put our heads together and started tracing down leads since we weren’t sure the police would be much help beyond filing a report. We started by calling the bank in Mississippi again to see if by chance they were working late. They weren’t, so after hearing “Leave a Message” I gave my best victim voice to the machine and began hoping she would get in early.

Next we looked up the seller’s account that came with the spoofed eBay email, and did a quick search to find previous auctions they’d been involved in.

I still find it amazing that someone would put their phone number on eBay.

The anxiety was building as I was contemplating what I was going to say to the person who answered the phone. How would I get them to divulge that they were a con artist, or that they knew nothing about what had happened and doing all of this without tipping my hand that I suspected them to be a criminal?

I dialed the phone, still unsure about what I would say.

A lady’s voice, “Hello”

“Is Williaim there?”


Was the game of deceit on, or was her question honest?
Come back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of "Buy It Later".


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Buy It Later: A Short Story - Part 1

The following several posts are my attempt to cross the last several weeks of our life with a shor story format. I'll write a section each day and post it like a normal blog, but will try to keep your attention with clif hanger style endings. I hope you enjoy my story I've titled "Buy It Later".

I got home from work last night later than normal. It was about 6:00 and I rushed to preheat the oven to 450 so I could put the frozen french fries in and the grill started before my family got home. I spoke to my wife on the way home and she was having a rough day with a headache and two boys who always seem to find ways of annoying her. I was glad to hear that they found a bicycle for my oldest son Jake. Though he was getting close to outgrowing his previous bike, we weren't replacing it because of a sudden growth spurt, instead we were replacing it because with the garage door left open for a couple of hours one evening, someone walked in our garage and walked out with the bike.

There were certainly better things in the garage to steal than a kids bike, but it still made us feel a little unsafe for a few days. I was just glad to get dinner going and was looking forward to watching a movie with the family. I was so preoccupied with everything that I forgot to check the 2 messages flashing on the machine. When everyone got home I remembered the flashing number two and hit play while my wife and I leaned over the counter listening for the message we hoped would be there.

"Hi this is (someone) from US Bank. I need you to call me right away. I'll be in the office until 7:30 tonight so please call. This is kind of an emergency, so please call."

I half grinned at my wife as I dialed because I could somehow tell by the confusion and urgency in her voice that the emergency wasn't as bad as she thought it was.

It was a couple of weeks ago that we began talking about selling our 4Runner and buying a newer vehicle. True, the Toyota only had 70,000 miles on it, a mere teenager as far as Toyotas go, but a 1990 Toyota was pretty old regardless of low mileage, so we agreed we'd try to sell it privately, take the money we got and look for a steal of a deal on a low mileage, 2-3 year old vehicle.

We'd talked at length about a Chevy Uplander, and my wife had been tracking several eBay auctions hoping to catch one that didn't sell in the auction so she could negotiate a good deal afterward, so I was surprised when she showed me a Toyota Sienna she liked. Regardless, the price was incredible so I said follow it and see if you can get it for that price.

Buy It Now said $12,500 for a 2006 with 30,000 miles and absolutely loaded, but when she went back to find the auction a message appeared that said the auction had been removed by either the seller or eBay. But then she got an email from the seller answering a few of the questions she had earlier asked and a note saying that the auction was pulled because someone was going to Buy It Now, but then was unable to put together the money, so he was still interested in selling it. The vehicle was in Texas, but he would ship it to us if we didn't want to drive to get it.

Tuesday, a few more questions and answers were exchanged and phone numbers and a phone call to solidify the deal. We would run the sale through eBay so we could both be protected.

Later that evening, we got an email confirming from eBay that we won the auction from the seller and it gave us instructions on how to proceed. We were to wire money into an account that eBay would hold in escrow for us for 30 days. We would have 15 days from when we received the car to evaluate it and make sure it was what we thought we were buying, then we would wire the balance of the money into the account to complete the transaction and the seller could then withdraw the money.

Wednesday morning came with some excitement as we were anticipating getting a great deal on a great vehicle. We both agreed the price seemed almost unbelievable, but the seller confided in us that he was selling it because he needed the cash bad to help a serious cash flow problem with a restaurant he owned that was failing and he was about to lose. “Sounds like a lot of my clients”, I thought. Maybe after business was done, I’d refer him to his local SBDC office, but first, I want his car.

My wife went down to US Bank to wire the money off to this account with eBay’s corporate address on it. It seemed a little odd that it had some guy’s name attached to it, so she asked the banker if it was normal for a business account to have an individual’s name on it and she was assured it was.

“I’d hate to be the guy with my name on the account for eBay” she remarked as the details of wiring the money were settled.

My wife returned home and started going about the rest of her day when she had a strange feeling that something wasn’t right. She went upstairs to our office and started poking around eBay’s site. She saw mention of an email address that you could send an email you believed to have come from eBay, but weren’t sure and they would verify it for you. She forwarded the “you won the auction” email and waited for the reply.

At the same time, I was down town shaking hands and passing out business cards at the Small Business Outreach. Shifting my weight back and forth as my legs were starting to hurt from standing on the hard floors all day, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and excused myself from the conversation I was in to answer it. It was my wife. She sounded like she was about to cry.

“I think I lost $8,000” she said as her voice quivered.


“I’m trying to get a hold of the bank, but I think our money is gone. The email didn’t come from eBay. It’s a fraud. I’ll call you when I know something.”

Come back tomorrow for more of "Buy It Later"


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

I'll admit that I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Call it years of watching the X-Files in college, call it my somewhat deviant personality with solid morals, but I always suspect there is something more significant at work than what is evident on the surface.

My latest conspiracy is American Idol. Honestly, last night was the first time this season I've watched it, but I've kept up on the whole Sanjea scenario. On the very surface, the American public believes that this kid is a good singer and physically good looking. Scratch the surface a little and you reveal that it is more likely that people are pulling the typical high school prank of, "let's vote for the nerd to win the homecoming king".

But, and here comes the real conspiracy theory, I think that Sanjea himself entered this competiion knowing full well that he couldn't win. He heard the others sing and knew he wasn't going to win, so he contacts his friends back home, one or two of whom are a genius computer hacker and they write a program that war dials the American Idol voting giving Sanjea a winning vote every week.

Whether or not we'll ever find out that is the truth, I don't know. Probably not, because then the fortunes generated by American Idol will be ruined and how will anyone ever trust the system again, but maybe John Stossel will run a report 4 years from now exposing the conspiracy.


Monday, April 02, 2007

This Little Piggy Was A Virus

***WARNING - images in this post may be disturbing and actually cause you to throw up a little in the back of your mouth. Having been warned, read at your own discretion.***

A dear friend of mine developed warts on his foot. We've all seen warts before. Little calloused looking things that are usually the size of the end of a pencil at most. However, this particular case is an exception to the norm.

In less than 2 years it went from one small pesky bump to this.

Now that you've swallowed your own vomit in the back of your throat, let me continue. I received special permission to post these pictures as long as I adhered to the following request. "You can blog it as long as you keep 'The Foot' anonymous and make it clear that it is a viral infection and not lack of care."

So, I will give no clues as to the owner of the foot, but I will tell you that how this case formed. According to the doctor, was a small cut on the bottom of the foot came into contact with the virus and the virus has spread. When the doctor saw this, he left the room, called his nurse and told her that it was really bad and he'd only seen one other case this bad.

The nurse came back in and began treatment, which consists of rubbing acid over the warts, covering them with gauze and then in two weeks when the acid has caused huge blisters to form all over the foot, come back and cut the dead skin off the foot and reapply a stronger acid. This process will repeat for 3 months and at that time it will be determined if surgery is required to finish removing the remaining warts. Surgery done now would leave my friend unable to walk for 3 weeks. But as the first round of treatment is concluding, he has had to spend his time on crutches and limping in his house slippers because the pain is too great to put his full weight on his foot.

Everyone shiver and let your stomache tighten a bit as you get that out of your system.

I know you didn't think that I was just going to show disgusting pictures and not relate it to something business, so here is my analogy.

One thing that small business owners must be continually aware of is do they have any employees who act like a virus in their operation. Virus employees are those who come in and spread their negative attitude to other employees and eventually to customers too. They start out as an annoying little bump on the bottom of your foot, but if time goes on and if left unattended, their viral attitude infests the whole company making it hard for your company to walk and requiring severe and painful treatment to get rid of. Along the way, the morale of your other, helathy employees will deteriorate. You will begin to lose customers too as they are either disgusted by what they see from this viral employee or they begin to believe what the employee says. Either way, you lose.

So keep a close eye on any problem within your organization. Something as innocent as a small cut can result in a major problem. This is why it is important to continually clean your company and remove problems. Sometimes it hurts to rub a little alcohol on the cut, but the pain of prevention will be much quicker and far less than they agonizing cure.

So, if you have any employees in your company that are causing a cut or are potentially bringing a virus into a cut, don't let them end up turning your beloved company into this.