Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shut Up and Lead

I was having lunch today and (as usual) listening more to the conversation behind me than the one I was in. I know - it's a bad habit - I'm working on it - yada, yada ....

Anyway, there were three guys sitting behind me talking about the economy. 'The stock market has lost 2 Trillion dollars in value in the last week and a half...'No banks are ever going to lend money again. 'The recession is going to last for years,' etc. By the time they asked for the check I was ready to pay their bill for them so they could just pack up their bags and march off to doomsday.

I'm probably the dumbest guy you ever met, but I don't think that's the right way to see all of this. Yes, the market is way down and that's bad. Yes, there is going to be a worldwide economic slowdown. Yes, some fortunes have been lost. I feel especially badly for people who's retirement was all in high growth stocks. Acknowledging all that, I still think there is another way to see this.

There is little question that the financial markets worldwide have been an overly efficient value-creating engine for the last several years. So much so that the value they created clearly outran the worth of the underlying companies. What we're seeing is first the acknowledgement of that and then the decrease of the markets associated with a loss of confidence in the system. It can be described with lots more words, but that's really the essence of it all.

What this means to me is that for the people with the guts to quit complaining and lead there is a massive opportunity looming. In the last several major market adjustments, going back to the depression, leaders who saw, grasped and drove opportunity created enormous wealth by getting ahead of the crowd during rebuilding. The funny thing is, I don't think that takes all that much luck or skill. I think most of these people simply chose to look for stuff to fix instead of dwelling on what was broken.

For all of us, the timing of the current market situation creates an opportunity, if we choose to see it in a different light. It's an opportunity to shut up and lead. To step up and cast a vision and give the people around us a cause for hope and to drive that energy into organizations that shine because in a time of pain and darkness they exhibit light.

To be sure, the path isn't easy. We have to be smart about the paths we take. The good news is, we are smart! We simply have to decide that we are going to focus on solutions instead of problems; on ups instead of downs. We have to take that message to the people we lead and we have to overcome the noise by showing people a way out. While the rest of the world sits around their own old town Pasadena lunch table dithering away the days with gloom and doom we'll be gathering momentum. By the time they look up, we'll be on our way. By the time they rally, we'll be gone.

I had a call today with an investor. I'm raising $5MM to get n54 moving. The guy I was talking to was in New York, in the financial center - the center of the maelstrom. He was interested in the technologies and I could tell he was intrigued, but I could also tell that he was a little troubled. We got to the end of the call and I said, "what's on your mind?" He said, 'look, I'll be honest, I think you guys have a good idea here and I think there is an opportunity. I'm just not sure what the economy means." I said, "Hey, here's the way I see it. For the companies that get their dollars now and get moving there will be an enormous opportunity. After 9/11 there were a few companies that got going fast and those companies were all big winners because the markets got everyone else distracted while they were blazing ahead. I want to do the same thing." There was a pause. He said, "that's a good way to see it and you're right."

I'm no genius and I'm not saying this to blow my horn. I'm saying it because this was a hardened investor in the middle of the market. He had every reason not to hear what I was saying. If I'd said nothing our conversations would have been over. I just took a different view and he listened. In a way I handed him a lifeline. We can all do that and if we do, we may start to crack the iced over stratosphere of potential ... At least that's the way I see it.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Turn out the lights ... the party's over

Well, I guess, barring any major changes in direction between now and the election, I've made a decision.

It wasn't easy. As I referenced in my earlier notes I actually like both of these guys. That's a pretty major departure from the last few elections where I didn't like anyone. They're both straight shooters - or as straight as our screwed up system allows them to be. As hard as they've tried to disagree, they actually agree on more of the core issues. As different as they are, they're a lot the same. They just come at the world from two completely different places. Under different circumstances, I have a feeling they might have liked each other.

My vote won't count for much. I'm a registered republican in a democrat dominated region. When I go to the polling place on primary election days I don't have to wait in line, so there's an upside. I call myself a Lincoln republican. I guess I kind of take pride in that. In knowing what that means.

The truth though, is that I'm not sure Abe would recognize this republican party. Lincoln didn't exactly feel that the best way to ensure wealth, fairness and happiness was to leave everything up to the people. That's a misnomer. He felt that the best and most efficient way to govern was local. He wanted less power at the federal level and more power at the local level. He was neither terribly religious, nor terribly conservative. The plays he attended were usually pretty bawdy for the time. He loved to laugh and he was slow to condemn, even when he vehemently disagreed with an other's position. He freed the slaves, but he extended a free hand of reconciliation to the South. If he'd lived a lot of things would have been easier for folks below the Mason/Dixon line.

I think either John McCain or Barack Obama could make a good President. My democrat friends will sniff and look down their noses at me for that. McCain has made a career of being honorably centrist. His best friend in the senate is a democrat. He looks upon the Bush administration with real disdain. He would govern in a different way. I don't know if Obama is experienced enough to be President. Some of his statements seem very, uh, 'hopeful.' That said, he's damn smart and he's clearly a leader.

I think Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are also both good people. I hate Biden's politics. He is everything I've always opposed about the democratic party. Backed into a corner he attacks the person rather than the idea. He's done it for years and it's a part of his character. I think he was a horrible choice for Barack. Sarah Palin seems pretty straight forward. I believe her when she says she wants to work for reform. Like McCain, she's bucked the party line when she thought it was wrong. People scoff at her taking on big oil, but they shouldn't. In an oil state that took real courage.

In the end though, unless I get even more worried about a liberal landslide, I'll likely end up voting for Obama. I like his hopeful ideals. I like what his election would mean to black America and to the world. I don't vehemently disagree with most of his positions. None of these is the reason why I'd vote for him though. I'd vote for him because if John McCain dies Sarah Palin would be President, and she's not qualified. I may hate what Joe Biden stands for politically, but there is no question that he would be a capable standin in the event of a tragedy in the oval office. I admit that I worry about congress and a massive unprotected overreaction in the event of a landslide. I'm tired of being characterized as foolish by the mass of new democrats and their tide of change. I may end up voting for their man, but I do it with less enthusiasm because of the people who will also punch that ticket. That might be something to work on ...