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Three Tips to Keep Your Wits About You

by Gary Bonner on October 02, 2008

This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

We all are confronted with doubts about the future that we have all been working so hard to ensure. Suddenly many forward looking people are caught in the reality of today and are both frustrated and depressed by the crisis in the financial markets. Everyone is buzzing “what are we going to do?” and “this is the way I want it.” We will learn that everyone will have to walk away less than satisfied to realistically find our way through.

We have an avalanche of information to absorb. Some leads to clarity, more often it leads to confusion. Over the next few days and weeks I offer 3 simple points to keep in mind as we ride through the storm:

On the Present Crisis

From Rod Dreher,a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist, printed at Real Clear Politics:

“We’ve come to prefer comforting lies to hard truths born of observation and experience, thinking that in our brilliance we had somehow escaped the iron law of necessity. Rudyard Kipling satirized this arrogance nearly a century ago in his poem, ‘The Gods of the Copybook Headings’ (a copybook was a primer in which British schoolchildren learned handwriting by copying familiar proverbs).

Here’s a verse rather relevant to the current moment:

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more

On politics and elections

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can exist only until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.”

… Attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, Professor of History, College of Edinburgh, Scotland (but that’s been disputed).

On how to conduct our daily lives:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer


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Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part Two

by Gary Bonner on August 20, 2008

This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

This is the conclusion of Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy article, an article by regular BFP contributor Gary Bonner. Part one is available here.

It was during those 5 hours that I reflected on how I got myself into this health mess. The company was relentless in demanding results on the very visible, very important project that I was providing a considerable amount of shoulder to lift off the ground. This project was a transition and I had to continue doing my former duties as I developed a new project. The requirements consumed me. Even when I was home I didn’t rest because I was planning for the next day’s work in my head.

Laying there listening to the beeping monitors, in between interruptions for x-rays taken by a portable machine and the nurses checking in on me, I started thinking about my family and my loved ones. I thought about how I hadn’t paid any attention to them and had let life events pass me by in the name of “getting the job done.” Then it dawned on me. I remembered a moment twelve years ago, when I had sat on the side of my father’s bed (he was a victim of cancer) as he peacefully took his last breath. My mother, his wife of 50 years, his older son and daughter-in law, his only brother plus his nephew and wife stood next to him.

Then the thought just crystallized from somewhere deep inside: “No one lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.” And here I was. I had crossed the Rubicon with Caesar back into Roman territory. I would never look at corporate life the same. I would do what I had to do but I wouldn’t, couldn’t, bite off more than I could chew ever again.

Over the next several months I underwent a series of stress tests, special echo cardiograms, and finally an angiogram. This procedure runs a tube, with a camera at the end, through your groin muscle through your body cavity to look at the arteries of your heart. You are awake but your body is “knocked down” by a Valium I-V. If there had been blockage, the doctor would have inserted a stent to insure good blood flow. Fortunately the cardiologist, a doctor of world wide respect in his field, announced that there was no blockage and that I had one of the strongest heart muscles he had ever seen.

I wish that was the end of the story.

That was in November 2004.

When I returned to work nothing had changed, the attitude of management had become more unrelenting. I withdrew from the new project to return to my old job. I steadily refused to put in extra effort and felt the heat turn up on me. Timid to fight back because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to get fired and lose my medical benefits, I operated in a world of conflict between my personal health needs and, from my viewpoint, the demands of a high pressure job. My health broke again. I wound up back in the Emergency Room 3 times between 2005 and 2007.

The last time I said to my doctor who had wheeled me to the ER, “You know, my ticket book from the ambulance company doesn’t only contain round trip tickets. There is a black one that says ‘one way’. I am tired of playing Russian Roulette with my health.”

He agreed.

I needed a lot of rest to stabilize and restore my health. While out on disability the company terminated my employment. (As of this writing I am exploring to see if I have any legal remedies for their action)

I lost out on an opportunity for a lump sum retirement payment and will have to accept a monthly annuity that will be modest at best. Why? Because I demonstrated to the company that I had the capacity and ability to accomplish results with a good work ethic. I gained a reputation as a “go to guy” if you were faced with a hard problem.

One of the rules of business is “if you find someone who can get something done right the first time, give him more to do.” In the 20th century, management took care of their workhorses by grooming, feeding and taking care of productive people. Now, in the 21st century, things are done differently. If a company rides a workhorse until it breaks down, managers just pull their pistol and shoot the horse. They’ll get another one.

Our world runs at lighting speed and is faster than the one I joined thirty-five years ago as a “go-getter.” People now hitting their stride in the work world are quicker, better informed and very energetic. The same was said of my generation by my parents. It is important to know that the fastest and best workhorse today will one day be eclipsed by a younger and faster one. How you use your resources now will determine how long you will stay “in the harness” and how much you will enjoy life. At some point “overtime” will mean something much different than it does today. I found out the hard way.

There are much easier ways: stay focused, stay balanced, stay healthy.

This afternoon, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had when Gary first emailed me this story (we had never intended for this to become a post, it was just a conversation between two people that I felt told a powerful story) and why I asked him to share it with everyone.


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Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part One

by Gary Bonner on August 20, 2008

This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

I came up with “no one ever laid on their death bed and wished they had spent more time at the office” out of personal experience. After putting in a marathon 21 days straight of 12-14 grueling hours at my desk, my health broke. I was in a meeting with 2 people who both questioned me “are you alright?” Not wanting to take a break I said I was okay. They both gave me skeptical looks and even asked again. Reassuring them I was okay we finished the meeting. That night I didn’t sleep very well and woke up exhausted.

The next morning I got to work early and worked on my “to do” list. A “floor meeting” was called where people stand around aisles of cubicles because you can’t get everyone into one room to listen to a manager speak. I felt a sharp sting down my left side. I waved off my manager and walked down three flights of stairs to the parking garage and drove five miles in freeway traffic to my doctor’s office.

The receptionist took one look at me, crinkled her forehead and said “You need to see the doctor right now don’t you Gary” … I nodded and walked past a waiting room of patients who had appointments. The nurse took my blood pressure and left the room. The doctor came in and took my blood pressure again. I had been a patient of his for a few years. He is a great doctor and we have a very warm friendship.

He said, “Hang on, I need to make a phone call.”

I was feeling pretty woozy and after a few moments the door opened. The doctor unfolded a wheelchair and said “Come on and sit down, I’m going to take you over to the Emergency Room and get some tests done”.

I looked at him and asked, “Why the chair?”

He replied, “It’s okay, I do this a few times a month for patients. And besides, they have the equipment over there that I need to run the tests”.

I sat down, he wheeled me through his bulging room of patients with appointments and pushed me to the elevator and went down to street level. The Emergency Room was about four city blocks from the doctor’s building in a large medical complex covering acres of ground. Visualize a slightly built man about 5′ 7″ and 165 pounds pushing a 5′ 10″ guy weighing about 215 pounds down an open street that distance. If it hadn’t been serious, the image would have been laughable.

It was about 10:30 in the morning when we entered the Emergency Room. It was absolutely quiet, as if everyone was on a coffee break. The doctor said “Mr. Bonner needs to have some tests run.” The whole Emergency Room staff jumped like bunch of scared cats. They put me into an emergency bay where I laid on a gurney after stripping off my clothes and donning a hospital gown. Then, they brought in every conceivable instrument of modern science like the machines were coming off an assembly line.

Four registered nurses (RN) and a doctor started sticking needles in me, setting up an I-V drip and strapping on monitoring equipment. I craned my head around and saw the blood pressure reading: 233 over 130. Not good. Normal is 120 over 70. They pumped me full of drugs and even put an external heart rhythm equalizer on my chest. It emits electronic impulses directly to my heart. I couldn’t figure out why they were using it since the monitor showed I was in sinus rhythm but the RN said it was for “precaution”. Then they left me alone to let the drugs do their work.

I stared up at the ceiling and muttered “Well Lord, is this it?”

There is an old saying there is a “sting” at death. Although I didn’t feel that big a sting, I definitely was stung really hard.

The nurses checked on me every 15 minutes. At one point I asked one, “Where are we in the process here?”.

She answered, “We are about halfway between determining if we can release you or if we will admit you overnight for observation.” At roughly 3 pm, five hours after the doctor had wheeled me into the Emergency Room, I was released to go home. A friend picked me up and the doctor signed me out on disability for a month. I didn’t have a heart attack or a stroke, but I came as close as one can without sliding over the edge.

This is only part one of this poignant saga, continue to part two.


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Elements of A Promotion: Overcoming Obstacles

by Gary Bonner on August 11, 2008

The following is an article by Gary Bonner.

Banner headlines sensationalize every twist and turn in the current economic turbulence we face in 2008. We face some fundamental problems in the financial markets and geo-political/economic oil supply production, how does this apply to your job, your ambitions and your career growth? Clear ideas and resolute determination result in leadership. You can have the right talents, have the right team and be at the right time, but discover you are not at the right place. You may find your efforts blocked by a management that isn’t keen with fresh new ideas or one that is simply resistant to change.

To illustrate, let’s look back at the last period of economic turbulence, one that occurred in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, and a leader who emerged to make a significant impact in our economy.

Mr. Lee Iacocca

Lee IacoccaLee Iacocca was a talented man who put together a team that revolutionized the auto industry with the introduction of the Mustang in 1964. He was at the right place, the right time, with the right group, and dazzled the market with the right talents. The group developed the “K” cars that would transform Ford’s product line from the big gas guzzling “land yachts” of the 70′s to the more fuel efficient and smaller styles we see today. Iacocca laid the ground work for generations of autos that now include hybrid fuel and alternative fuel solutions.

But Iacocca ran into one roadblock: Henry Ford II. Ford was very self-centered top-down executive who saw Iaccoca and his ideas as a threat to Ford’s position as CEO of the company his grandfather founded. Ford didn’t want “K” cars. He liked “land yachts”. Iacocca had the right motivation. Ford did not accept it.

Iacocca’s motivation was to bring an alternative American solution to the fast rising competition from the Japanese, who were making terrific inroads into the American car market. So, when Chrysler, as it faced bankruptcy and liquidation because of its unappealing fleet and stodgy approach to the market, recruited Iacocca, he left. They welcomed Iacocca as its new CEO and embraced his ideas wholeheartedly.

Not only did Iacocca have to transform a failing giant, he had to convince bankers to keep Chrysler afloat while he could accomplish his vision. Iacocca had to go to Congress to get government loan guarantees. He had to jawbone, the then powerful, auto unions for concessions. Finally, he raided Ford and recruited his former teams to assist in quickly re-tool Chrysler’s product line. Finally, he had to sell his new ideas to a doubtful market that was in the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Iacocca was successful and was hailed as a tremendous leader and business icon.

The bottom line and the take-away for us today is that if your motivation is correct and all the other elements of a promotion are at hand, you may still be blocked from achieving your goal. By objectively analyzing the situation at your job, you can still overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. Lee Iacocca could have sat back and accepted a lesser role and enjoyed a very rich lifestyle at Ford. He chose to “risk” his security and comfort to achieve what he confidently believed was best for his market even in hard times.

The world has changed significantly since Iaccoca made his mark in the early 1980′s. Chrysler was “too big to fail” because it would have had a terrible impact on the American economy. While still a large company today, Chrysler is not a major company that would warrant special consideration by the Federal government for a “bail out”. If fact, there is discussion that General Motors may seek bankruptcy and possible dissolution because of outstanding labor contracted retiree and employee benefits that it can no longer afford. Ford and even the formerly impregnable Toyota reported plunging sales and profits for the first half of 2008.

Even as we see unemployment rising from historic lows and rumors of lay-offs, there is still opportunity in our careers. The longed for promotion at your present company may not occur, but the talents, the motivation and the determination to meet your goals will find the right place at the right time. We may not fully recognize it until we view it in 20-20 hindsight, but opportunity is always available for the industrious person.

Gary Bonner has spent the last 35 years in commercial & consumer finance, equipment leasing and factoring for 4 of the largest financial organizations world-wide. He served as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 manufacturer and also started and operated a successful small business. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in San Diego, CA.


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Elements of a Job Promotion

by Gary Bonner on July 01, 2008

The following is a guest post by Gary Bonner.

A commenter from my last post “Making a Living, Or Making a Life” had a slight disagreement with my quote that “no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time in the office.” In the balancing life of modern America the commenter expressed that “there are plenty of people working past the age of 62 and even those who are retired that say to themselves ‘if I had only gotten that promotion.”

62

His mention of age 62 or even those retired who may have regret for not getting a promotion appears to be a concern about the higher earning power that comes with higher positions in corporations. Retirement planning and savings are a central focus in everyone’s career in today’s workplace. The objective is to maximize return on investment while increasing savings contributions when salaries and bonuses are rising.

There are other reasons beyond financial concerns for people regretting the missed opportunity for promotion. People in corporations value promotions because it indicates achievement, responsibility, trust and confidence expressed by the corporate manager/owner that the person can tackle the challenges of their new roles. The new promotion more readily “defines” the person in the group and often grants them higher privilege that others in the organization must accept. And at the bottom line, it is a boost to the ego that “these guys are finally seeing the light”.

While we don’t have to dig too deep into our thoughts to find the desire for a promotion, what are the elements of how a promotion occurs and what drives the individual to achieve it? The elements that provide the highest probability of success are familiar and can be extended further: the right place, the right time, the right group, the right set of talents and the right motivation. Let’s look at an illustration that identify these elements.

General Patton & General Eisenhower

General George S Patton was without question the most talented and feared warrior in the Allied effort in World War II. Patton had a natural knack for leading men into battle. Nazi Germany assumed he would lead the total war effort to defeat Hitler in Europe. Patton, with all his skill and achievement, was at the right place at the right time. However, Patton’s West Point schoolmate, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. Patton was assigned a lesser post and commanded the 3rd Army Tank Group.

Eisenhower had immense organizational and planning skills to assemble the vast armada necessary to invade the French coast. Most importantly, Eisenhower had the diplomatic skills and ability to deal with difficult people and conflicting egos to overcome obstacles, reach consensus and lead a multi-national force in unison. Everyone “liked Ike”. Eisenhower was at the right place with the right group and had the right set of talents.

Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of Caesars and ancient heroes of battles. He was argumentative, uncooperative, driven and determined to have everything done his way. He believed he had the greatest vision to defeat the Germans and should be the Supreme Commander. His motivation was not only victory, but personal triumph that would lead to glorify Patton.

Patton not only didn’t lead the invasion, he was left cooling his heels and didn’t participate in leading anyone anywhere on D-Day. Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy to delay the Germans from reinforcing Normandy. The fake worked and allowed the invasion forces to gain a strong foothold to begin operations. Eisenhower’s motivation was to achieve the mission objective regardless of who gained glory or received credit. Eisenhower, not Patton, had the right motivation. Personal ambition has its place, but it is not the primary reason to grant a promotion.

Be Honest With Yourself

You can avoid regret if you honestly objectify yourself and assign your correct identity into your workplace circumstances. You need to evaluate the work situation correctly and not project your own hopes or aspirations into the group dynamic. Then the questions can be asked: “are you/were you at the right place, at the right time, with the right group and did you possess the right set of talents?

Then you must sort out motivation to properly evaluate your gain or loss of promotion. You have to examine your own motivations. You also must judge the motivations of higher management and other group members as you perceive them. This is difficult as the motives of others may prove to be elusive. All play a key factor whether you obtain the promotion or not.

We all have a better chance of getting to retirement without looking back with regret if we periodically step back and evaluate our current situation. We may see ourselves blocked into our jobs because the situation lacks one or more of the elements needed for promotion. If so, we need to decide whether we should seek opportunities elsewhere or satisfy ourselves that our present circumstances are acceptable. Either decision is rational, it is up to the individual to decide if it is desirable.

We’ll explore this a little further by looking at the career of automobile giant Lee Iacocca next time.

Gary Bonner has spent the last 35 years in commercial & consumer finance, equipment leasing and factoring for 4 of the largest financial organizations world-wide. He served as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 manufacturer and also started and operated a successful small business. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in San Diego, CA.


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Making a Living? Or, Making a Life?

by Gary Bonner on June 02, 2008

The following is a guest post by Gary Bonner. I email Gary after he left a poignant comment on my Devil’s Advocate post “Don’t Pay Your Dues,” and I asked that he elaborate on it – thankfully, he agreed. What follows is the first in what I hope is a well-received series of retrospective posts where Gary shares with us some hard earned lessons.

‘We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”. – Sir Winston Churchill

It is so easy in today’s mad rush of activity and millions of information bytes speeding by demanding attention from our brains for us to lose sight of why we are chasing so hard. We are programmed by our schools and advertising to value certain things, demand certain expectations not only of ourselves, but of those around us; whether they be a life partner, a co-worker, employer, employee, parent, or sibling. Hollywood and Wall Street stream at us 24/7 with unrelenting goading to rise to the challenge of success and hitting it big. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are set before us. Will it happen to you?

Chances are they won’t. That is why the rich and famous stand out. There aren’t that many of them. If we step back and examine our lives can we see our inner motivations? Do we know why we do the things we do? What is our reference point? How do we define it?

There are really only 2 kinds of people in the world: those who work to live, and those who live to work. Let me explain.

Many people see their occupation as something they enjoy doing but it is not their preoccupation. They may have family responsibilities, hobbies, activity groups or goals that extend beyond the workplace. They may have wanted to achieve more material well being in their lives, or perhaps they already are achieving what they want. Either way, they have come to terms with whatever limitations or successes they achieve in life.

Other people are more focused on their profession or their goals. They have a thirst and a drive that motivates them to work hard and very long hours to meet their deadlines or standards. These individuals desire the progress, achievement, and/or recognition that their work develops. They may be creators, builders, healers, mission-oriented individuals who give their life to their end purpose. These people may be more incentive and material motivated. Or, they may be guided by a desire to persuade or to discover. They draw strength from and have come to terms with their focus in life.

Obviously, these are examples of both sides of an equation. We all seem to be playing on a teeter totter of “keeping things in balance” to meet the needs of our families and also our responsibilities to the working world. We want to work hard so we will have security when we are old. We want to have fun while we are young enough to physically and mentally enjoy life. But at the end, what do we really have?

I said in a posting to a Devil’s Advocate column on “Paying Your Dues” that “no one has ever laid on their death bed saying “I wish I had spent more time at the office”. We all have tasks to achieve each day. They can be as big as our capacity allows us, within our capability or tasks that stretch us to be bigger. At least half of our years are spent learning how far we can stretch and how willing we are to stretch. How far is based on on our abilities, how willing is based on our priorities. Sometimes we are not aware if ability to learn or willingness to learn is the driving force behind our actions.

Don’t buy into vague promises, winks and nods from employers that only bait you so they can see if you will take the hook. Make sure that the choices you make today are based on solid ground. Don’t “bet on the come” on a promise that doesn’t exist. If you work for an employer, think of yourself as a contract consultant providing goods and services to your customer. The only difference is that the employer withholds your taxes and provides benefits. If you are supplying value above expectations and the customer doesn’t give you more business (money or benefits), then find another customer.

The important achievements of life are what we accomplish with other people. Those that we love, those that we work and cooperate with, those we compete with, and those we learn to co-exist with. At the end of life there are only people, and our lives are extended in this world by other people’s memories of us. What you do today will form the memories of what you mean to others. Make each day count.

Gary Bonner has spent the last 35 years in commercial & consumer finance, equipment leasing and factoring for 4 of the largest financial organizations world-wide. He served as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 manufacturer and also started and operated a successful small business. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in San Diego, CA.


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