Sunday, June 28, 2009

Inside the Mind of the Turtles

"Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out." - James Bryant Conant

I usually do not read books about the stock market/trading etc. but I figure a change never hurts. It is apt that I would read it since I am staying in the Hamptons this weekend courtesy of my Oppenheimer broker - Kyle Wool (thanks Kyle)

Inside the Minds of the Turtles by Curtis Faith is a book about risk, markets and trading. The Turtles are a group of traders who studied under Rich Dennis in the mid eighties. They were rampantly successful.

The book emphasizes the need for risk taking (and as an entrepreneur, I always do take calculated risks). It also emphasized the need to moderate those risks. I have always said "fail often, fail fast, fail cheap". Turtles focuses mostly on the fail often and fail cheap. And not to let fear paralyse.

Faith says "Fear is a mind killer", "Fear can paralyse" and "adapt or die - survival of the fittest is not survival of the strongest but survival of the most adaptable". So true.

In reading, I was worried the "systems" practised got results only through luck. Or perhaps I missed the logic underlying the decision. Perhaps I do not believe in trading systems and believe more in fundamentals.

Not sure I will take any action as a result of reading but it was an interesting and fun read. Almost like a good fiction book. He shared stories of skydiving, sailing accidents and adventures. Good book for a diversion.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Second 30 Day Plan - The 5 Why's

I am officially done 4 weeks as Nu Horizons President and CEO today.

I had a 90 day plan when I started. The first 30 days were "Listen and Learn". I found it very hard to sit back and not take action (and I admit, I did take action on a few things). The plan was to learn. The industry, although similar to my previous experience, was different. And even if the industry was identical, there would be clear cultural differences between any two companies that I needed to learn.

So what is the second 30 day plan? The 5 Why's. We need to drill into why we do everything. The 5 Why's program is a formal method at solving problems and determining is the "old" way is still the right way.

I modify the 5 Why program by asking the "how question" at the end. I find that asking why too often can entrench rather than open up thinking. Ask How and people will come up with the answer.

When I ask the How question, I often like to ask for a big change as that creates different thinking. If we ask how can ship 5% more shipments per hour, the answer will come back, we will work a bit harder and more diligently and speed up the line a bit. If we ask, how can we ship double, it forces us to completely change our thinking and be more creative.

And of course, even though we move into the second 30 days, I still plan to listen and learn a lot still. For example, I only know 75 of my 750 staff by name (I counted on an org chart). So lots more to do.

Notice that my 30 day plans are actually 4 weeks so I manage to get them done in 28 days. Another trick or perhaps I only fool myself.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keeping the Millennials

I read a great book by Dr. Joanne Sujansky and Dr Jan Ferri-Reed called "Keeping the Millennials - Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to the Generation and What to do about it"

My knee jerk reaction when I first got the book was to reject it. I thought "in this economy (even though I do see it improving), who would need to worry about recruiting and keeping staff." I thought "poor timing to release a book like this". I also tend to dislike books the categorize people and say all millennials do this or that. I know I am not typical of any group and I think most people are also unique.

But then I got into the book.

I agree that turnover is very expensive for companies. This is often an under rated expense.

I am also a believer that the key to running a successful business is getting people fully engaged so understanding what creates engagement in a generation (and no they are not all the same) is important.

I also see that the current turbulence will actually create a situation where some people will work later in their life so we will now have 4 generations that need to work smoothly together.

And I am energized to think of using the unique characteristics that each generation can offer to build a great company. This diversity will be health if properly harnessed.

Millennials (or generation Y) are an interesting generation (born 1980 to 1999). They suffer from overprotective parents and having things too easy (read The Millionaire Next Door for a prospective on that). They are highly techno savvy. They will embrace multiple jobs and careers in their lifetime. They seek balance in life. They want fast advancement.

I liked the section that compared the Boomers (that would be me) to the Millennials. Even though I reject being categorized, I certainly saw myself with many Boomer qualities. Boomer focus on work ethic and Millennials focus on getting the job done - perhaps I can learn something. Work less, accomplish more. After all, effectiveness is really the goal.

I really liked the section on how to onboard millennials and how they learn. These were good concrete ideas that are actionable.

And of course I liked the view on how Millennials use and interact with technology and the Internet.

Good book. Interesting and well written.

And for those following the home saga - I have a kitchen (just no stove but a microwave and ovens work just fine). So I consider myself officially moved in. That brings me peace.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Be content or should you be? Lao Tzu

"Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize nothing's lacking, the whole world belongs to you" ~ Lao Tzu

Unfortunately I tend towards the discontented (not to be confused with malcontent). At one point in my life I thought "Why am I never happy with what is". After a few weeks, I realized this discontent is a source of power and success for me so I no longer fight it. It helps drive me.

And at some level, the modest success I have does cause me to be content. I lead a charmed life and I know it.

Week 3 at Nu Horizons draws to a close. It feels like longer. I do not yet feel settled in my now home. Perhaps having a kitchen would help. I am weighing my contribution. I need to add value in all that I do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How the Mighty Fall Book Review

I am at the end of week 2 as President and CEO of Nu Horizons Electronics. This puts me at halfway through my first month which I called the "Listen and Learn stage". (Of course that does not mean that I will know it all at the end of the month or that I will stop learning).

I have learned a lot. I do notice that I have a propensity to take action though and find it hard to "hold back" and just listen. I particularly have difficulty when I have an idea that I think can truly add value (my quest is always to add value). But what I need to consider is do I really know the real situation and is my idea really a good one?

I have a high propensity to action and a very high sense of urgency. I think that is one characteristics that helps companies and people succeed.

I have long believed in tracking how I use my time. I do not do it all the time but I do it enough that I know how I spend it.

I read about business author Jim Collins and I feel like I am an amateur. See how he tracks his time in this NY Times article. Also notice though that he not only tracks his time, he knows how he wants to spend it. I think that is the key.

Jim Collin's latest book "How the Mighty fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In" differs from his earlier ones (Good to Great and Built to Last) in that it mostly focuses on companies that fail. I suspect Collins had quite a bit of egg on his face from his previous books where he chose winner and made conclusions why they were great and then many of them went on to fail. So now writing about companies that fail; he cannot be wrong.

I like the title - it suggests persistence pays. Good message in turbulent times.

I like learning from failures. True wisdom is being able to learn from the mistakes of others. Not sure I am truly wise yet as often I need to fail myself in order to learn. And sometimes I am even a slow learner at that and need to fail more than once to get it.

How the Mighty Fall is well researched (as all of Collins books are), well written and thought provoking with actionable ideas.

From an Amazon review of the 5 stages of failure in How the Mighty Fall by Mark MacDonald:

Stage 1: Hubris born of success - describing the cultural tipping point when hard work and focus to earn the business turns into a sense of entitlement to future success.

Stage 2: Undisciplined pursuit of more - building from stage one is people chasing goals that take them away from their core, their competitive advantage all in the name of growth, or the grand strategy. This leads to thinking what before you think about who and abandoning the hedgehog concept in favor the rabbit's pursuit of quick gains.

Stage 3: Denial of risk and peril - now that you are chasing things that are not part of your core, you fail to see the problems or blame the problems on the outside world. In this stage you are blind to the brutal facts.

Stage 4: Grasping for salvation - often in the form of the silver bullet, visionary leader all of which keep your attention away from the core (Flywheel) and lead you into further decline. I lose a culture of discipline, abandoning the flywheel and chase things outside the core.

Stage 5: Capitulation to irrelevance or death - the final demise when people throw in the towel and the cause is lost. This is the terminus of the lifecycle and the one place you cannot recover from.

Good book. Worth reading.

Monday, June 08, 2009

CEO Leadership quotes and random thoughts

My first week at Nu Horizons is done. Great week. Busy (as expected). Met a lot of people. Just starting to scratch the surface. Feeling my knowledge of the business is just beginning.

The first 30 days of my 90 day plan is "Listen and Learn" which I am doing. But a part of me understands that urgency is critical to business success. I am itching to start contributing. For me, it takes discipline to sit back and listen and learn only.

We already had 2 meaningful releases (in the works well before my arrival). We won "most Preferred distributor in China" by ESMC Magazine for the 4th year in a row. What an honor. We also appointed Steve Bilodeau to the Nu Horizons board. Bilodeau is the past president of Standard Microsystems (SMSC). I have met him. He seems like a great addition to the already strong board.

I am frustrated that my house is not yet done. I feel disorganized which was not the plan. Perhaps I will learn that having a kitchen and being able to shower at home is over rated.

The NY Times did an interview with Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen.

I was impressed with what he said about Leadership:

Q.There are also, of course, intangibles in leadership. Could you talk about those?

A. Great leaders have something that when you see it, you know what it is, but it's hard ahead of time to describe exactly what it is. But the first thing I'd say is that leadership is not about charisma and it's not about style. It's something about authenticity. It's something about integrity. It's something about willingness to take risks. It's something about the ability to make others feel part of a larger thing. It's part of being able to articulate the social architecture in a way that others can understand, believe in and follow.

I came across another Blog on Time Management. The author is Bradley F. Friedman. He seems sincere and has good ideas. Click here to get to it. So when you read my blog and don't think any of the ideas are particularly insightful, read his.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How to learn names quickly and easily

"Taking time is a thief's trade; making time is a strategist's. An effective manager must be both a strategist and a thief, stealing time from less compelling and more leisurely pursuits to get the job done"

Lewis Kelly

This was one of the first quotes in the book "Time Tactics of Very Successful People" by B. Eugene Griessman.

I am through my third day at Nu Horizons. Learning at this point is like drinking through a fire hose. There is so much for me to learn. There are so many people I need to reach out to. I am swamped. Almost back to back meetings. Many of which present me with more information and further action.

But it is fun.

Of course it would be more fun if I had a kitchen, furniture and a shower that worked. But all that well come together. Just as my understanding and learning will.

My "learning names" tip for today. I sent an email to all 700+ staff asking them to email me a photo of themselves. I then attach those photos to their Outlook contacts. It is much easier to learn peoples' names with a picture. And Outlook has a function to easily do this.

The only challenge it presented to me is just dealing with the email volume (even with assistance) was quite onerous. But I do think this is a great way to get peoples' names right.

Perhaps ask me in a month how it worked.