Sunday, January 6, 2019

Things I learned in South Africa

I just returned from an amazing 2-week trip to the land of my birth – South Africa.  To sum it up in a single word – profound.  It was the first time I have returned since 1992.  There are many changes – some for the better, other’s not.

Since I am about ongoing improvement, there are several key learnings:

1.       Never forget your roots.   Makes no difference how much money you made along the way, how many houses you have, how much fame you acquire.  Remember where you came from – because if you forget, you’ll have no idea where you’re going.  And losing you way, is frightening on a good day, disastrous on any other.   

2.       Wake up early.  I noticed Africa starts early (perhaps it’s the early sunrise or the searing heat – makes no difference) but get up before the others do.  The first few hours of the day tend to be one’s most productive.  Just ask my friend Peter Shankman – he’s up at 4am – accomplishing stuff.   I see waking up early as an increasingly important part of my regime. 

3.       Quit wasting.  Fact: 60% of all food prepared in North America is not consumed. Whether it’s water, food, hydro, time or anything similar – use just what you need.  Show respect: don’t waste.  Much of what we waste is irreplaceable – pay attention to the environment.

4.       Keep things simple.  I work with people and money --- two of life’s most complex elements.  There’s a remarkably strong correlation between simplicity and happiness.  In Africa, things are far simpler than in North America and despite service issues in Africa, people are generally very happy.

5.      You don’t just have to blend in … aka celebrate and (more importantly) respect your differences.  I’m no politician, but there are few places I can think of that are more racially divided than South Africa.  As many races as there are in South Africa, each one seemingly respects each other’s traditions and customs and while I know there is racial tension – each race co-exists – and it kinda works.

In closing, happy 2019.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I Got Fooled - A Few Times

If you know me, you know three things.  First: I'm transparent (say it like it is and give full disclosure).  Second: I'm all about giving and getting good value.  Three: I hate getting ripped off.  So, when I am treated without transparency, get no value and get ripped off - well, it's not pretty - and it's not pretty right now.

Last week I met a friend at Cibo - a wine bar in midtown Toronto.  It's her recommendation - a nice wine bar.  Some pretty people are there.  We are seated by an attractive hostess.  Trendy music is playing (a little loud for my taste, but it's all good).  Server comes to our table and introduces herself (dammed if I can remember her name) - but I digress.

She sets drinks menus down - and comes back a few minutes later.  Neither of us open the menus.  I order my usual (Campari and Soda) and my friend orders a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (pretty pedestrian orders). So far so good.

Couple hours later, we're good to go - the check arrives. "You've charged us for the bottle", I say to the server. "Umm" she replies with a look of incredulity. "The glass of wine your friend ordered is $32".  By this time, I'm rolling on the floor.  "$32 for a glass of cab sauv that my friend ordered - not even by it's name?"

"Yup", said the server with a you-caught-me-with-my-fingers-in-the-cookie-jar look. "This is a wine bar you know." (Note to self - like I believe being in a wine bar justifies a $32 hammering for a glass of cab sauv).

My blood's starting to boil - I'm biting my tongue.  "Sure", I continue - I pay the bill, add a generous tip (like she deserved it) and my friend and I continue chatting. "Wait.  Tell you what," I add, as we run for the exit. "Here's another $20. Use it to buy someone a drink who can't afford to take a $32 pounding for a glass of the same cab sauv my friend just drank" - as I pressed a cool $20 into her soft and wanting palm.

Then we left - not even an entire boatload of bitters could come close to the bitter taste in my mouth.  

I called the manager yesterday- just to let him know.  He was non-chalant - couldn't care less.  "Yeah", he went on. "It was a great wine, wasn't it - I'll let the server know you liked it but thought is was kinda pricey".  I asked if there were perhaps cheaper options. "Many", he replied.  Begs the question (in my mind, at least) why a $32 glass was served, as opposed to a $19 glass or say a $71 glass (if there even is such a thing).  

Obviously the server gave us the proverbial "you-know-what." The manager seemed oblivious. 

"Next time you're in the area, drop in - and ask for me.  If I'm here I'll give you a glass on us," he added.  "Nothing much I can do - like I can't give you a refund or anything."

Yeah right - like I'm gonna come to mid-town to get a free glass of $12, $22, $32, $42 or even $71 glass of anything. 

Lessons learned: 
1.  Don't order a house red, house white, cab sauv, burger or anything at a restaurant without knowing the price - if you do, touch your toes and open wide 'cause you're at their mercy
2.  Deliver and expect full transparency in all your communications - the server should have told us the price tag and given us the choice
3.  As a client/ customer, ask questions
4.  Last impressions last long --- I know you know mine of Cibo

Cibo's at 2472 Yonge Street - that's if you care to touch your toes, open wide and pay $32 for a cab sauv (without opening the menu).  If not, you can buy two bottles of my favorite red wine (Altoona Cab Sauv) and make a toast to three old concepts --- transparency, disclosure and value.

You'd make me smile if you did!  Le Chaim. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The End-Of-The-Car-Story

So after our awful experience at our local Honda dealership, Michelle read my blog and kindly introduced me to  Raymond Chiu over at Richmond Hill Honda.  And as bad as our experience was at another Honda dealership, so was this experience at Richmond Hill Honda good.    Now to be fair, the car business is not an easy one.  They're high ticket items and the environment is most competitive.  Here's what I learned from Richmond Hill Honda.  Salespeople, business development pro's, realtors, other car salespeople and the like, take note.

1.  First and last impressions are the most important - what happens in the middle - less so.  When we walked into Raymond's dealership for the first time, we were greeted by smiling employees.  Raymond was paged, he showed up within seconds - smiling.  When we left the dealership, new car in hand, we we got fond farewells and thanks from Raymond and his team (Kim and Lewis)

2.  Establish rapport early and at every opportunity.  In my humble opinion, you're not merely buying a car - you're buying a car that fits your lifestyle and Raymond took the time to understand our lifestyle and what we were looking for from a car.  Raymond seemsed to understand our needs, our lives and therefore was able to make suggestions based on our needs, not his.  I call that KYC - know your client

3.  You're only as good as your team - and the team approach always trumps solo.  Raymond talked about his team - and introduced us to Kim - sales assistant.  Kim would prove invaluable in the process of closing the sale.  Oh, and when we picked up the new car - Kim talked us us about all the rust-proofing options (I don't believe in them at all).  No questions Kim's got a job to do - and I get that.  Kim listened, and when I said we were not intereted, she got it.  There is nothing wrong at all with a subtle up-sell (Kim get's a 10 out of 10 for having taken the initiative)

4.  Set expectations from the start.  The dealership clearly articulated, what they were going to do - and what we could expect - and I like that.  In other words, they removed the F.U.D (fear, uncertainly and doubt) factor early

And that, brings our car story to a lovely and appropriate closure.  Thanks to Raymond, Kim and Lewis at Richmond Hill Honda for making our car acquisition process (something I don't particularly enjoy), so easy and such a pleasure. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This would be sad if it was not so funny - or funny if it was not so sad

My wife’s looking to buy a new car – it’s something we don’t enjoy shopping for.  A necessary evil.  So last weekend, we walk into our local Honda dealership.  After a couple minutes Victor approaches us and introduces himself.  All the salespeople are busy he says and asks if we’d mind making an appointment at a convenient time at which point Victor says, a salesperson would be available.   We’re good with that – and booked our appointment for 4:30pm July 26. 
Couple hours later, I get an email.  Victor’s introduced us to Mike, (a salesperson) and the appointment is set up for 4:30pm July 26.

If I were Mike, there are two things I would have done:
1.        Found out a little more about me and my wife (Facebook/ Linked In/ Social media)
a.       It’s called relationship building – any salesperson would/ should know that

2.       Shown up for the appointment early
a.       The first rule of sales
Not sure if Mike did 1. above – but for sure he did not do 2. above.  Sadly, here’s what happened. 

We arrived at the dealership and were greeted by the hostess.  Asked for Mike.  Received a blank stare.  “He’s not here”, we were told.  “Umm, we have an appointment at 4:30”.  “One moment please”
Hostess returns a minute later.  “We’ve called him and he will be here in a few minutes.” “OK – we’ll wait.”

The clock’s ticking.  It’s 4:45pm.  Victor sees us - comes by and I tell him what’s happening.  Our mood is spoiling faster than Usain Bolt can sprint the 100m.  Victor calls Mike – Mike’s still on his way.  Victor disappears – we don’t see him again

4:56pm – we’re walking out the door of the dealership - our moods are entirely ruined.  Mike comes flying in.  Apologizes.  But the damage’s been done.  We’re out the door – on route to another dealership.

Now maybe Mike had a personal emergency – I understand and sympathize.  That being the case, there’s phone and email to let me know.

Now, my time’s worth no more than Mike’s, Victor’s – are anyone else’s for that matter.   But one thing I do respect is punctuality – especially when there’s not a single thing on Honda’s floor prices lower than $30,000. 
Again, due respect to salespeople --- it’s a hard job and it’s one that I admire and respect.  But when you don’t know with whom you’re dealing and show up late, you have more chance of making the sale than snowflake has of surviving in a furnace.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What happens when you don't return phone calls

Some things are intuitive and some things are not.  I get that, but one thing I just don’t understand is the thought process behind why so many people refuse to return calls.  Call me stupid, but I just don’t get it.

I am an investment advisor.  It’s something that I am honored and privileged to do for many families and businesses.  I take my clients’ money very seriously – as seriously as I take my own.  And my clients know it.  That I am the financial steward for so many normal people is a testament to the trust I’ve built up.  My clients know me as a natural connector, meaning I match many people up with resources they may need.  And although I only manage money, I’ve helped people in my network find soul mates, family therapists, addiction counselors, plumbers, all sorts of trades people, and a large miscellany of other resources.

I am also very generous (perhaps to a fault) or referring business to those in my network.  I do this to help others.  There’s nothing in it for me, except happiness and doing the right thing.  I create good karma. 

A good part of my job is calling people, to talk money and to offer help.  The reality is that most people who manage their own money have almost no clue as to how it works.  The result: Significant losses over prolonged periods.  It’s these very same people who continue to blame bad luck.  No – it’s not bad luck.  It’s bad decision making. Period. 

My approach is simple.  I tell – never sell.   I say things like they are (no sugar-coating) and I work with those that share the same philosophies as I do about money.  If you do – we work together.  And if we don’t – we don’t.  And I am totally not offended, either way.  Oh, and I also have a very thick skin.  Nothing ever offends me, except not returning my calls and saying a simple, honest or even dishonest - “No”

Here's what happens if you have never returned a call of mine:

  1. I am not going to support your brand. Why would I continue to support your brand, if you don’t have the courtesy to return more than 10 of my calls over a 12-month period. I call that rude (rude I get over easily) – not to mention unprofessional.  A senior VP of a nationally recognized coffee-store chain refused my calls – repeatedly.  Eighteen months later, I go out of my way to not support them. 
  2. You’re not using your time well – and your time is money.  Call me back.  Ask me to delete you from my database.  You’ll be deleted within seconds.  Promise.  Total time spent: between 30 and 60 seconds.  You’ve created valuable goodwill, and we’re all good.   Don’t call me back and I’ll call you between 6 and 8 more times.  No goodwill is created and you’ll spend between two and 3 minutes when I finally do reach you.  #awkward.  Get the picture?
  3. If you don’t take networking/ introduction calls, you’re not going to get introduction/ networking calls.    In business, it’s not necessarily what you know, but rather who you know.  I learned this from Peter Shankman, a master of networking.  And there would be no successful business person who could honestly and with conviction discount the value of their network.
  4. The worm turns.  There will come a time when you’ll need to reach out for some financial advice.  This time may be a year or two hence or maybe a decade or two hence.  Either way the worm turns.  Now, to be clear there are thousands of John Sacke’s around – but this John Sacke would rather talk to courteous people.   It’s just the way I roll. 

So, if you know some one, who habitually never returns calls, you may want to send this along to him/ her.  And if you never return calls – you may want to start.  I promise, it’s a good idea.  You can only gain.

Carpe diem

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I'm 51 today --- and here's where I am

Today, February 11, 2017 is my 51st birthday.  And birthdays (at least for me) are a time to celebrate, assess, plan, ruminate and enjoy.  Mostly, it's a time to enjoy one's freedom - something I have lots of. Ironic is that on this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela, the greatest freedom activist of this era, became free.

So, in assessing where I am today in relation to where I would want to be today, I really am a man in a million  billion  trillion.  Here's why:

1.  I have my health.  By that I mean all my health.  I don't take pills to get up, stay up or sleep.  I don't need pills.  Period. Yes, I do like a drink or two - but it's not anything excessive or that would rule my life.  I drink in social settings as much or as little as the next guy - sure.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  I watch what I eat.  I weigh 175 pounds and workout at least 4 times a week.  You get the picture.

2.  I have a blessed marriage - truly blessed.  Frightening fact: one in two marriages end in divorce.  Really.  I have clients in all stages of marriage dissolution/ divorce and more often than not - the results are simply catastrophic.  Karen and I work on our marriage, have simple understandings and enjoy life's simple pleasures together - and that's the key.  Do we always agree on everything?  Hell no - we're human.  But we are able to work out our differences by communicating.

3.  I have a sense of humor.  This is a biggie.  I am also able to laugh at myself.  Often.  And yes, sometimes I do get frustrated by my frailties.  I lose my keys daily.  And then find them.  I lose my wallet daily.  And then find it.  I lose my mind daily.  And then find it. These things are easily overcome.  The one frailty that continues to bother me is my increasing fear of flying - seriously.  I don't seem to be able to overcome it.  And that bothers me.  A lot.

4.  I have a great family.  I have an awesome brother and sister as well as parents.  We all see eye-to-eye.  I have two great teenage kids (well, OK - our son will be 20 this year) - and I even have a great mother-in-law (how many sons-in-law can say that?)  And over the years, time and time again, my family have stood by me.

5.  I have great friends.  They say you can always judge one by the company they keep.  And if that's any measure, I am the king-of-kings.  I have a wide circle of friends (both guys and girls) whom I adore - and I think the feelings are mutual.  They keep me sane, guided and energized - and when I occasionally step out of line, they slap me back to reality.

6.  I have a great career. As a financial advisor, I am so honored that over 130 families from all walks of life, allow me to serve them with grace, dignity, service excellence and results.  I would not change what I do for anything - it truly is a pleasure.

7.  I have an abundance of everything.  Everything - and for that, I am so grateful.  With that, I am going to sit back, pour myself a glass of wine, listen to some tunes and remind myself of all of my abundances and how much I have to be grateful for.

Peace.  Love, Happiness.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

It's a tale about my shoes

I guess I’m more determined than I thought.  And when that happens, the stars have a way of lining up … just right.   And today – they did.

I worked out Thursday night.  The ho-hum stuff.  Nothing special.  40 minutes elliptical and 20 minutes weights.  Came home hot and sweaty.  Showered and as usual packed my gym back for the next time.  “Umm, where are my gym shoes,” I said to myself, mildy aggravated. “I guess I left them at the club,” I said --- even more irritated.   

Put my bag in my trunk for the next time (which was this morning), and went on my way.

Saturday morning spin class is the favorite of the week.  It’s with Fern and I’ve been taking her class for 3 years now.  Fern’s excellent – best there is as far as I am concerned.  Now, a good spinner is something that I am not.  Ashley, yes.  Sharon, yes.  Neal, yes.  Sheryl, yes. Michael, yes.  Me – well not so much.  But it’s enjoyable. And I try the hardest. 

I get to the club a few minutes early – and yup, it’s just then that I realized my bag had everything except my shoes.  Duh?!?!?

I search frantically through all the lockers in the men’s room, including the locker where I most likely left them.  Empty.

I go to the lost and found.  Of course my shoes are not there, but out the corner of my eye I spot another pair of shoes, that could (in a pinch) fit me.  I hustle them on --- and they fit (almost) perfectly.   Maybe gross, but my determination to do Fern’s spin class was rewarded

It’s 9:27am.  Class starts in 3 minutes.  Run upstairs to the spin studio.  Jump on my bike and enjoy another one of Fern’s awesome classes.

So why am I blogging about this seemingly trivial story

1     Sport is a great equalizer and when you find a way to play the game, others around you find the same ways for you to play the game

      It puts the spotlight on the disgust I feel for Egyptian wrestler Islam El Shebaby who when defeated by Israeli Or Sasson, refused to shake his hand.  The Olympians of old would have had El Shebaby immediately thrown out of the games.

And in other news, this morning, I bought myself a brand new pair of sports shoes.