Letters from the Chairman:
10 April 13
Meryl Streep, Senator Kennedy, Situational Awareness, Mobile Banking Applications and Aluminum Foil Hats
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients
The United States Senate is a strange place to work. Unlike most competitive situations, both Republican and Democratic Senators office together with intermingled offices up and down the marbled corridors. The Senate Staffers, regardless of party, all use the same hallways, elevators, cafeterias, restrooms and parking lots. During the ten years I worked for United States Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts officed across the Hall. As one can imagine, this had both benefits and detriments.
Frequently, Senator Kennedy’s visitors would confuse the two office entrances and vice- versa. Occasionally, someone seeking to visit Senator Kennedy mistakenly opened my office door and entered the bull-pen office I shared with several of Senator Kassebaum’s Senate Staffers.
I vividly remember the day when shortly after filming Out of Africa, Meryl Streep, made the fateful mistake of opening the Senate hallway door on the right instead of the door on the left. Thinking she was about to meet Edward Kennedy, instead Ms. Streep walked-in on Dan Bolen, feet on desk, head buried in his hands cradling a land phone painfully explaining to an irate Kansas real estate developer the Tax Reform Bill’s ramifications. It took perhaps a nanosecond, but I abruptly hung up on the real estate developer, jumped up from desk, adjusted my loosened tie and introduced myself.
That split second enabled me to understand her mistake. I realized Ms. Streep had not walked off the African Plains to see me. Clearly, she made a wrong turn into my office. Ever the enterprising young lawyer, I personally accompanied Ms. Streep across the hall to Senator Kennedy’s office. I introduced Ms. Steep to Senator Kennedy’s receptionists (who vaguely recognized me from the hallways and elevator sharing.)
My gracious manners insisted I remain with Ms. Streep in Senator Kennedy’s anteroom (lest she become lost again). With as much aplomb as I could manage standing next to Ms. Streep, I personally introduced her to Senator Kennedy when he came out to greet her. Gratefully, and to my undying devotion, Ms. Streep played along with my charade, and made a point in front of Senator Kennedy of thanking me “for everything I’ve done for her recently.”
Ever after that experience, Senator Kennedy always nodded to me in the hallway and said “Hello” in the elevators. After that I also enjoyed a new found respect with Senator Kennedy’s receptionists who somehow thought Senator Kennedy and I shared a common acquaintance with Ms. Streep.
More often that not, and much to my chagrin, the visitors mistakenly taking the “door on the right” to my office bullpen as opposed to Senator Kennedy’s office door on the left were what I would refer to as the “Aluminum Foil Hat” crowd. These visitors looked normal enough to pass through security. However, within range of Senator Kennedy’s office, they became maniacal. In their agitated state, frequently they confused right from left and came crashing through my door. One memorable visitor insisted he needed an immediate visit with the Pope-- which he knew Senator Kennedy could arrange. Another claimed that through transcendentalism she was standing on a Martha’s Vineyard bridge the summer night of a tragic accident.
For the “Aluminum Foil Hat” crowd, I politely explained “I was not exactly sure where Senator Kennedy’s office was located” - but cheerfully offered to help. “If they would be so good as to follow me,” I happily took them to my buddy, the very nice Security Officer (who was also very large and well armed). I assured the misguided visitor my large buddy could provide clear and concise directions as to how to quickly and swiftly locate Senator Kennedy’s office.
The upshot of my officing across from Senator Kennedy’s private door was that I developed a “situational awareness” every time my bullpen office door opened. Whether I was on the phone, writing a letter, drafting a speech or analyzing a complex bill, instantaneously I knew when and who was walking through that office door. One could call it a sixth sense, a survival skill, (or the forlorn hope of a young Kansas boy Ms. Streep might seek a return visit.)
It has been said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics”. However, for a Senate Staffer working for a very honest, moderate Republican Senator who did not need monetary contributions to be reelected, the “real currency in trade” was accurate information regarding the timing and nature of pending legislation.
My time on Capitol Hill was prior to the Internet, email and Twitter. Good information was hard to discern. Rumors and misdirection were rampant. With allies and competitors for various pieces of legislation constantly sharing the same office complex, I instinctively developed, cultivated, and then repeatedly sharpened “my situational awareness senses.” Before long, I rightly (or wrongly) developed the habit of being able to read upside down and then being able to so from further and further distances. One would be stunned how much competitive intelligence may be gained by surreptitiously reading an opposing briefing paper haphazardly clutched by a competitor Senate Staffer during a short elevator ride.
In the era before computer notebooks, when everyone took notes on yellow pads, it became as natural as breathing air for me to quickly scan, read, and comprehend all the notes taken by Democratic Staffers seating across the table. Standing in the Senate staff cafeteria line I developed, regrettably, the instinct to hone in and listen to conversations between rival Senate Staffers standing a dozen spots ahead or behind me--while at the same time making sure I appeared to the rest of the world as very bored and disinterested.
I was always “the friendly guy who offered to personally deliver” legislative drafts to rival staffers. When walking into the rival’s office, I never failed to survey exactly what was being typed on his or her computer screen and the computers screens of all his or her officemates. I made mental notes of what legislation was lying open on their desks, and of course memorized the number and caller on each ubiquitous pink phone message slip.
In the parking lots, whether I wanted to or not, I felt compelled to take the long way around to see who was working late, who had left early, the make and model of my rivals’ cars, informative bumper stickers, college decals, and of course any CD tapes, athletic gear (golf, tennis, jogging) or other assorted accoutrements left visibly strewn in front and back seats.
Cumulatively, all these little intelligence morsels enabled an ambitious (although skewed) - Senate Staffer to anticipate, maneuver and preempt the legislatively thrusts and parries from rival Democratic or Republican Senate Staffers. This sixth sense of situational awareness is not something of which I was or am proud. I tended to think of it as a once needed occupational survival skill.
The problem of consciously sharpening and honing one’s situational awareness skills over a turbulent decade is that it is not something one can easily switch off. Combat veterans have a tendency to hit the floor at the sound of sudden noise years after they have left combat.
Away from the unique nature of the United States Senate hallways and Committee Rooms, I now find myself purposefully trying to ignore my unceasing situational “radar screens.” For years, Mrs. Bolen has pointed out that unless I force myself to pay attention, I will find myself zeroing in to listen and analyzing restaurant conversations four to five tables removed.
I still have the problem of walking into someone’s office and instantly scanning every desk item, open correspondence, personal memento and wall hanging. It is like having a keenly acute sense of smell—once and a while it can be useful –but most of the time it’s a horrendous curse. More often than not, one wishes they did not have this heightened sixth sense and could be blissfully normal, just like anyone else.
Like any addiction, it is better just to acknowledge one has it, and try “as best as possible” to keep it under control --if for no other reason than a sense of social probity.
This past month, I must admit I had a major relapse. I found myself at the Sprint Center watching a preceding basketball game of which I had little interest. To compound my problem, I was sitting in a team section for which I did not care, surrounded by their most rabid fans.
My cell phone had died (a rookie mistake for any Big XII Tourney veteran). I thus had no distractions but watching a mind-numbing game.
During the boredom, my addiction took over. Unable to avail myself of my dead cell phone, I decided I would just zero in on the CNN Headline news streaming off the cell phone of a rabid fan sitting four rows in front. At first it was a bit awkward gleaming bits and pieces of CNN Headline news in the small font of his cell phone from that distance-- particularly with the guy jumping up and down every few minutes to scream at his team, the opposing team, his coach, the opposing coach, each referee, and, of course, his various gods of basketball, of which I counted he was conversant with no less than six.
Eventually long dormant skills took over and I deduced the pattern of his hyper kinetic rhythm. In various snatches I managed to read from his ever jerking cell phone the latest national stories on political corruption, North Korea aggression, global warming and the difficulties of passing gun control. Near Half-Time, I was relatively content that I’d brought myself abreast of the World’s latest news.
To my anguish, the surrounding fans did not leave their seats during Half-Time. I found myself trapped in the row middle exactly 24 seats “in” on both sides to the aisle. I soon theorized the reason everyone stayed was related to the extremely numerous and highly- talented Oklahoma State University dance team’s Half-Time performance.
After the OSU cowgirls completed their routine, I went back to monitoring the rabid gentleman’s cell phone.
To my surprise, I watched as he began making airline reservations for the following week. I was more shocked when I realized his destination was Thailand. Mesmerized by his furious flurry of finger-tapping and price comparisons, I watched the entire sequence as my rabid guy booked his flight to Thailand, picked an aisle seat, selected the vegetarian dinner, and checked into a 3.5 star downtown hotel, with a coupon he had earned from a credit card. By the time Half-Time was over he had finished booking his return trip.
Through the game’s second half I dwelt on the new phenomenon I had just witnessed. Yes, I have seen TV commercials where people use their cell phone to heat cars from airplanes, and open/close garage doors to let their cats in and out at predetermined time through “the use of an app”. Frankly, I assumed those things just never happened in real life. Nevertheless, during the course of this dreadful post-cowgirl performance Half-Time, I had just witnessed this young rabid man planning an entire international trip from his Sprint Center seat—all while consuming two hot dogs, a 32 oz soft drink and 3/4ths of a large popcorn bowl.
At that moment, I decided the Bank of Prairie Village must offer a “mobile banking application”. Surely, we have clients similar to my new rabid anonymous “friend.” Clearly, they likewise must desire to conduct their personal banking while ranting to various basketball gods and consuming vast quantities of cholesterol.
Accordingly, I am pleased to say that Yes!-- the Bank of Prairie Village now offers a free secured mobile banking app for both iPhones, iPads and Androids. Those who purchase apps like cartons of eggs will know just where to go and how to add our mobile banking app to their phones. For those needing human directions just call our bank and our technology savvy young bankers will happily walk you through the process.
No proper Bank of Prairie Village client, or for that matter, any banking consumer should consider their smart phone properly accessorized without prominently sporting the handsome Bank of Prairie Village “Blue Lion logo” on the app section of their screen listings.
Like my intrepid Thailand bound new Sprint Center anonymous friend, think of the unlimited places and circumstances during which you can check and analyze your Bank of Prairie Village banking account. The possibilities are astonishing.
Speaking of astonishment, you should have seen the look on my new anonymous friend’s face when I wished him good luck with his Thailand business trip as we exited the game.
It was almost as if he felt some sort of secret government agent tapped into his private computer and could read his thoughts. Hopefully, this incident will not result in his starting to wear an “Aluminum Foil Hat” and heading off to Capitol Hill claiming to his Senator some blue- suited, cigar- chomping, short-haired rouge government spook was tracking his every move.Yours in the surprise delight of an unplanned visit by Meryl Streep, and the curses of having to daily live with an over heightened sense of situational awareness. Thank you for letting us be your bank and bankers. Please let me know how you like our free new Mobile Banking application.
4 March 13
Bear Bryant, Julius Caser, and Key Questions to Ask Grandfather
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients~
Recently I had a conversation with an old college friend. He stated that the college men of today are “different” than when we went to school.
Normally, I let such comments go unchallenged. I have attended many social events where parents justify their children’s actions flippantly, citing “these kids are different today” cliché. Painfully, I’ve learned to politely hold my tongue. It is as if an urban legend has become a suburban reality.
Let me be clear and brutally honest. College men today are no different than when I was in school. In fact, young 20 year old men are fundamentally no different than the young men who marched with Caesar in his Roman Legions 2000 years ago. Young men then and young men now are driven by the same basic instincts, survival desires, motivations, fears, jealousies, aspirations, prides, and pleasures.
Since this may be disconcerting to contemplate, let me explain. If you pulled 15 young men from Caesar’s Roman Legions, and 15 young men from a college dorm and placed them together in common clothes and with a common language- you will quickly find their jokes are the same, mannerisms the same, comments on girls and authority the same, and even their horse play the same. Put together, these 30 young men would be capable of the most brutal atrocities performed by the Roman Legion, and the most generous community service performed by today’s civic minded students.
You see, it is not the young men of who have changed over the millennium, but it is their culture and the discipline demanded by their culture that determines their behaviors. Whether you dress the young men in Roman helmets, Legion shields, and marching sandals, or in blue blazers, J. Crew Nantucket red paints, and Vineyard Vines ties they will quickly look and act the same. Their collective emotions and instinctual drives will be virtually the same.
Behavior and actions by young men acceptable in one culture or society in one point of time may not be acceptable in another culture at another time point. When speaking of today’s college men as being different from 30 years ago, or even 2,000 years ago, what is really being said, is that the culture in which they operate and the behavior expected from them is different.
I have no doubt if Julius Caesar were alive today he’d be a great football coach. Vise Versa, if Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, or General Patton were to have lived in ancient Rome, they likewise would have successfully commanded their own legions.
Regardless of age, culture, or time, Caesar, Bryant, Lombardi, and Patton understood and could positively channel through discipline and leadership the collective hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations of 20 year old males. They could speak, connect, and motivate 20 year old males at a visceral level. They knew what made them “tick”, and how to harness their young men’s raw energy, talents, and emotions to achieve a common goal.
Accepting this controversial point is critical if one wants to best understand how to study and prepare for a business career. If one accepts that basic human nature has not fundamentally changed in Western Culture since the Greeks and Romans, then one can be confident that a great deal can be learned by studying the lives and careers of past businessmen and business women who have preceded us. As I have stated before, “Past is Prologue”. Civilizations failing to study history are doomed to repeat past failures.
This all may sound very academic but I want to drive this academic point home to a personal level. Yes it is fine to read history books, but unless one is a Prime Minister, Cabinet Member, President, or Politburo big wig, one is generally precluded from stopping governmental follies, even with encyclopedia knowledge and intellect.
However, if one believes human nature remains unchanged as to the motivations of love, hope, fear, and greed, then one can examine the one’s predecessors for lessons to be learned in coping with today’s personal daily trials and tribulations. Let me be blunt. Every business school student embarking on a career should ask his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and anyone else with requisite “grey hair and life experience” about their personal histories, mistakes, victories, skills, and advice. Talking to someone who has gained the scars, wrinkles, frown lines, and grey hair from a business career is far more important than studying a Harvard Business Review article.
I once had an intern who asked me about the mortgage business. I pointed out that his still-living grandfather had been perhaps the most respected mortgage banker in Kansas City. I told him his grandfather had forgotten more about the mortgage business than I would ever know.
My intern’s response was that he never visited with his “Papo” about business let alone the mortgage industry.
I quickly calculated this intern’s parents were spending about $40,000 a year for this young man to learn business from professors, at a very prestigious private college, who probably had no real world experience or success. His grandfather, by contrast, had fundamentally changed the way mortgages were made in Kansas City. The Grandfather’s company had provided mortgages for what I calculate, at one time or another, to be about 20 percent of the homes in Kansas City proper over the decades.
My instruction to this erstwhile intern was to invite his grandfather to lunch and talk to him about the mortgage business. I pointed out that my intern would learn more from his grandfather in a two hour lunch than he would learn in a whole semester at business school.
Seeing my intern’s hesitancy, I gave him some “training wheels” to ease the awkwardness of a business lunch with “Papo”. I directed the intern not only to take his grandfather to lunch, but to include two fellow interns at the lunch as well.
The day before the lunch I asked the interns to search the internet to learn what they could about “Grandfather’s” business career and the companies with whom he worked.
The day of the lunch, I drafted a set of generic business questions to ask Grandfather. I made clear that when they returned from the lunch I expected at least a two page typed “after action report.” Specifically, I wanted a memorandum from each intern regarding “Grandfather’s” answers to the generic questions and business lessons learned from the lunch.
As one would expect, the interns went into the lunch thinking they were humoring an eccentric summer boss (me), and codling a doddering old man (Grandfather.) However, like all college interns with ravenous appetites they were happy to grab a nice lunch on the bank’s credit card.
Upon returning to the bank, I could see they were humbled. As I had anticipated, they learned “Past is Prologue”. Grandfather’s comments regarding business issues he encountered over his career centered on organization, efficiency, creating networks, business plans, corporate values, the threat of new technology, the adaptation of different technology, the use and dangers of debt, successful and unsuccessful advertising campaigns, and the key importance of creating repeat customers to enhance the business’s franchise values. He had side comments about balancing family commitments and work, the fears of being able to pay his bills when starting out, how he developed his own lucky breaks, and how he created his own “book of business” through friendships, introductions, and contacts enabling him to gain a toe hold in the industry. Grandfather was frank about both his failures and successes and the need to constantly have optimism and persistence.
In short, I think each intern realized the anxieties and fears “Grandfather” confronted when starting out in 1947 were exactly the same issues they must confront on graduation. They learned how Grandfather confronted those issues, the mistakes he made, what to avoid, what to concentrate on, and the key business skill requirements of perseverance, measured optimism, and the need to take careful, considered, and calculated risks.
Nothing is really new in business. The terms change but the issues and challenges remain the same. My guess is that if a successful Whale Oil merchant in Colonial Boston circa 1771 were to sit down with the interns and discuss his formula for business success, the lessons, comments, and suggestions, would be the same.
As I said, the terms may change, but the issues motivating someone to tackle those issues remain the same. A Knute Rockne half time pep talk from 1938, or a Bear Bryant chew out from 1963, would still resonate with today’s college football players. General Patton’s famous WWII speech would have motivated the young Roman Legionnaires marching into the Rhine Valley, and still motivates combat bound divisions today.
My advice for college business students is to spend less time reading about what academics think will be necessary to be successful in the new iPhone & Google technology age, and more time asking retired businessmen and women about their careers-starting with their own family members.
Mark Twain commented, “I left home at age 18 thinking my father one of the most ignorant men on the face of the earth. After traveling the country and working in a variety of labors and places, I returned home at 23 and was simply amazed at how much my father had learned in those 5 years.”
Thank you for letting us be your Bank and Bankers.
1 Feb 13
The National Archives, The Gordian Knot, Alexander the Great, Legal Aid of Western Missouri and Greg Lombardi.
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients~
For tens years I commuted from Old Town Alexandria, Virginia to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The commute took me from our 16 foot wide row house built in 1802 situated on a cobble stone street over looking the Potomac River, through the heart of the Nation’s monuments and to the Capitol Dome. Each day in bumper to bumper traffic, I drove past the National Mall, the White House, the Smithsonian Museum, the Treasury Building and the J. Edgar Hover FBI Building. Frequently, I found myself stuck in front of the National Archives statue looking at its inscription “What is Past is Prologue.”
Perhaps, I could have found a “faster” commute route, but the work on Capitol Hill was stressful. Like any “game day” ritual, going by our Nation’s great institutions and symbols calmed my nerves. It helped prepare me for another day in the political trenches. For whatever reason, being reminded daily “Past is Prologue” gave comfort that regardless of the most complex and controversial issues evolving from the Senate investigation and debates ~ the basic underlying society issues of greed, poverty, profit, suffrage, conspiracy, idealism, imperialism, and influence are neither new nor unique to our age.
Contrary to pop culture “wisdom”, human nature and its desires and instincts over the past couple of thousand years have basically not changed. It may surprise, and probably annoy political junkies, that virtually all of today’s great democratic controversies have almost identical parallels that can be found in Greek, Roman, Vatican, Hapsburg, Napoleonic or Imperial British literature and history. (The same is true in the business world.)
Past is Prologue. Although I find comfort in this admonishment~ I also find it brings consternation. It reminds me each civilization, society, and generation that fails to respect historical precedents needlessly dooms itself to repeating past follies ~albeit with the greatest of intentions.
Afghanistan is a classic example. Alexander the Great marched his Army into what is now Afghanistan and quickly “took” within a matter of weeks modern-day Kabul. Alexander then spent the next 4 years “attempting” to conquer the rest of the Afghan countryside. In the end, Alexander concluded, “A civilized army could not conquer this country”. In Alexander’s mind the barbarism necessary to conquer and subrogate the Afghan country people would destroy his Army’s discipline and cohesion. Having reached this conclusion, Alexander abruptly marched his army from Afghanistan to India~ where in a matter of just 4 months he completely conquered and ruled a far larger land mass.
I would have thought the British Parliament & Imperial Army would have read Alexander’s conclusions, ~as would have the Soviet Politburo & Red Army ~ as would have our American Presidents & Congress. Again “Past is Prologue”.
Alexander the Great is a fascinating individual to study. Alexander was educated by Aristotle who in turn was educated by Plato. Whereas Plato instructed on the way man and society should be, Aristotle revised Plato’s utopian vision to be more consistent with ordinary experience. I like to think of Aristotle as the “Father of Common Sense.” I view Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great, as a “Common Sense” leader.
This Common Sense manner to complicated problems is highlighted by Alexander the Great’s approach to the Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a most elaborate and intricately tied rope. According to local myth, whoever managed to untie the knot would be viewed as the leader of that area of Persia. On arriving to the region and hearing the story, Alexander asked to see “The Impossible Knot”. After inspecting its mangled complexity before the Persian Court, Alexander swiftly withdrew his sword sliced it in half –declared the knot untied—and pronounced himself the region’s leader. No one dare challenge Alexander as to his swift and conclusive solution to a challenge vexing Persia for centuries. Today’s business consultants would smugly call Alexander’s action as thinking “outside the box”.
Kansas City has its own Gordian Knots. We need to have a strong Urban Core. The issues are many and varied. Among many intractable problems confronting Kansas City and every “NFL” metropolitan size community, are urban cores abandoned houses. Surprisingly this is not a new problem. The Romans confronted the same problem. Yes, the Roman Senate had to deal with greedy and politically well-connected real estate speculators who swindled homes from the proletariat and then acted as ancient slum lords for various sections of Old Rome milking the properties for all the profits possible.
Fortunately, we have many dedicated groups in Kansas City working to address the issue. I recently visited with Greg Lombardi, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society for Western Missouri. The son of one of Kansas City’s oldest families, and a Yale University and Michigan Law School graduate, Greg Lombardi could have pursued a lucrative law career anywhere in the Country from New York to Chicago to LA. Greg chose to return to his home town. After having great success in the private practice—and making clear to everyone in the Kansas City Bar Association he had no problem living up to the legendary KC legal reputation of his father, Neil Lombardi,-Greg left private practice to join Legal Aid.
Like many social workers, I assumed Greg would be overwhelmed with the job’s insurmountable challenges. Instead I found Greg incredibly upbeat and most positive of his mission. Part of his positive outlook was a willingness to bring fresh, straight forward ideas to complicated problem.
According to Greg, the reason for many urban core abandon houses surprisingly was poor estate planning. Greg explained that over the years many blue collar hard working families had purchased their homes and actually paid off the mortgages. However, these same hardworking homeowners never thought about Wills and Estates. Many such homeowners die without a Will. Without a Will their homes go into the probate court system to establish clear legal ownership.
It takes years for the probate courts to straighten out the situation. In the interim the home’s legal ownership is in limbo. This legal limbo prevents the children from taking out home equity loans to fix the inevitable house repair problems and keep the home livable. After a while the roof goes bad, the furnace gives out. The kids give up and leave the home abandoned. An abandoned home ruins the entire block, hurting everyone living on that block.
Greg pointed out that Legal Aid came up with a good solution –a two page document called a “Beneficiary Deed” for a home owner to pass legal ownership of their homes directly to their children at death. The cost of getting an inner city home owner to sign the deed is small—but the benefits to the community preventing new abandoned homes is enormous.
I view Greg Lombardi and Legal Aid of Western Missouri as taking a sword and slicing through a least part of the Urban Core’s Gordian Knot. Again, the issues are complex and to sever the knot- it will take several sword whacks. Nevertheless we are lucky to have such dedication and out of the box thinking in Kansas City
Yours in “slicing through” life’s complexities with “out of the box” ancient thinking.
10 Jan 13
Goals, Collin Klein, Kasey Kasem, Wiley Wright Reaching for the Stars –and Lassoing the Moon.
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients~
I watched with this year’s Heisman Trophy awards with great interest. Although born into a KU family and thus generically predisposed to love and bleed Crimson and Blue, Collin Klein stood (even to my hardened Snob Hill heart) as a most worthy recipient.
If I understand correctly, Collin was recruited to K-State as a quarterback but then made to switch to another position. Collin did not pout and transfer. He committed himself to the K-State team and the new position. Coach Snyder corrected the situation and switched Collin back to quarterback.
Interviewed prior to the award, the announcer asked Collin about his “goal process”. This really caught my attention. Collin explained when he was a high school freshman, his football coach introduced him to a “consultant” to clarify his personal football goals. According to Collin, the goal consultant offered a unique perspective. He asked each player to list his most minimal level acceptable football goal and --then his next level goal-- and then next level goal -- and then next level goal-- all the way up the goal ladder until listing his “dream star” football goal.
Collin wrote down playing varsity high school football as his minimal goal and next worked up to playing Division I, then starting in a college bowl and ended with his “dream star” of earning the Heisman Trophy.
Although to my disappointment, Collin did not win in attempting to reach his “dream star” Heisman goal, Collin and his teammates rose to the pinnacle of college football. You can say they reached for the stars and ended up lassoing the moon. (Remember the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”~ where Jimmy Stewart offers to “lasso the moon” for his sweetheart?)
This phenomenon of attempting to achieve “dream star” goals enables one to accomplish much~ even if the goal is not entirely fulfilled. It puzzles me this “goal achievement phenomenon” is rarely discussed in University academic classrooms and lecture halls. By contrast, in the “real business world”, positive goal setting literature by such accomplished people as Napoleon Hill, Andrew Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Clement Stone, and Harvey Mackay is continually reviewed, referenced, re-read, analyzed and underscored.
I cannot understand this disconnect between the academic classroom and the “real business world.” Funny, I know of many successful business leaders who have academic buildings named for them, only to have their positive goal-oriented business philosophies impugned and ignored by the professors inside.
Goal setting philosophers and philosophies come in all sizes and shapes. In most of suburban America in the 1970’s high school students spent their Sunday afternoons listening to “Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 Count Down Show.”
If you recall Kasey Kasem weekly ended every show (his show sometimes seemed interminable) with the “Number Song of the Week” –and with the closing tag line “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the Stars.”
Every Sunday--week after week, month after month, year after year, I listened to Kasey’s commandment to keep after that dream star.
For me during those high school years, my dream star was clearly focused: I wanted to varsity letter on the KU Swimming Team. KU Swimming during this era, led by team captain Tom Bowsers, started a tradition of winning 10 straight Big 8 Championships. Like Bowser, the KU teams back then were chock full of All Americans. (Bowser went on to become the Blue Cross and Blue Shield CEO and Chamber of Commerce President of Kansas City)
My grandfather lettered at KU and I wanted to wear the same “K” he wore in 1924. It might not have been the world’s most perfect dream star—but it was my dream star. There was just one problem. Although I was a good high school swimmer, in college the event distances doubled. My high school times did not cut it at the college level. This problem aside, I did have a preceding role model. This “role model” was a very dedicated “walk on” who managed a KU Swimming letter. His name was Wiley Wright. In high school he swam for Wyandotte High. He was 4 years ahead of me academically. In high school I closely tracked the KU swimming team and Wiley Wright’s KU swimming career. We were both breaststrokers and my times were virtually the same as his in high school. I convinced myself if Wiley Wright could walk on and letter at KU in swimming so could I.
That summer after high school graduation I selected and joined a fraternity based primarily on the number of swimmers living in the House. Once at KU and showing up to the first KU practice as a walk on- I learned the ever dedicated Wiley Wright had been named as the Graduate Assistant Swimming Coach. Although I had tracked Wiley’s career, until that first practice we had never met. I silently prayed Assistant Coach Wiley would see how much I wanted to follow his “walk on” to “letterman” precedent.
As many high school athletes have found-college is an entirely different level. Everything seemed to double all at once. Times were faster, practices were longer, distances were farther and rest breaks were far fewer. If possible “pain just seemed to hurt more”. I went from being the lead swimmer at all the high school practices to being “last man Charlie” at the KU workouts.
In combat it is said a soldier’s life desires and thought sphere shrinks to the smallest possible demission. Life’s goals are reduced to “just staying alive” for the next minute. I experienced this life goal shrinkage.
Being overwhelmed at practices, my life goal of lettering at KU shrunk to just being able to say, I had completed a Division I workout. After barely lasting through what I considered a “brutal” first few days, I dared expanded my goal to being able to say I completed a week’s worth of workouts. The weeks turned to months, and finally I wanted to be able to say I made it to the time trial cuts.
My time trials were a disaster. Gasping for air having finishing my time trial event, I made a mental note I had probably just taken my last stroke as a competitive swimmer.
The trails were on a Saturday and I was to report to the Coach at the pool that Sunday afternoon. Coach asked me to sit down and talk awhile. I pretty well knew the drill. This is the scene where the coach tells “the walk on” he had better not jeopardize his bright student academic future wasting time on varsity athletics. My problem was my academic future was not that bright. Even though I had taken every easy class the university offered, my interim grades were barely above 3.0.
Coach was leaning on the pool railing staring at clip board reviewing the time trials results. Assistant coach Wiley Wright was pacing the deck a few yards away. As on queue Coach asked me about my grades. I figured I would make the “bright academic future without swimming” speech easier on Coach by telling him I was pulling a 3.65. At least at 3.65 he would be able to stick to script and tell me my academic future was bright with a straight face.
As expected, Coach nodded looked down and said 3.65 was pretty good. My stomach clenched. I awaited the inevitable “Thank you son for trying out and good luck with your bright academic future without swimming” dismissal.
Instead, Coach looked over to Assistant Coach Wiley Wright. Wright gave a barely perceptible nod. Coach then turned back, looked me in the eye and stated “Bolen we are now going into the really hard part of training. What this team needs is a dedicated 4.0 breaststroke letterman—I will see you tomorrow morning at 5:30 am.”
Stunned, I more or less meandered from the Natatorium back to the fraternity House. I kept wondering if my team role was to keep swimming these maniacal pre dawn practices -- or pull my GPA to a 4.0. I was not sure how I was going to do either –let alone both. That being said I was thankful for I had not been formally cut.
At the fraternity house there were plenty of 4.0 really smart guys. I asked one if he could tell me the secret to good grades. He suggested I learn to drink coffee and lock myself in the study hall. No one could offer me any short cuts.
I had one advantage in the grade department- I had enrolled my first semester in every athletic department recommended “easy course”. I knew these “milk toast” classes had a low threshold for doing well—assuming one really study and tried. My fraternity brothers basically got me through. At one time or another everyone in the House tutored, corrected my grammar, and tried to increase my vocabulary skills-all to help me achieve mastery of my seemingly insurmountable “milk toast” academic challenge.
At semester end I managed the 4.0. At that point a very funny thing happened. Not many guys at the training table in those years had seen a 4.0. The whole thing snowballed over our winter break workout sessions.
The team expectation as to my intellectual abilities was held in high regard. Suddenly my teammates thought I was naturally smart and a born scholar. I had just one problem. As we went into the Spring Semester and Conference Championships I’d exhausted the University’s “milk toast” curriculum. I found myself at Spring enrollment having to take real college courses. I was now confronted with and required to study serious subject matter.
Because my teammates expected me to pull another 4.0 in the Spring—thus improving the team’s overall GPA, I convinced myself I could earn “A”s --even taking real college courses. In the end, I received the athletic letter, academic recognition, and placement in the University Honors program. Once in the Honors Program, I found new life goals.
As Kasey Kasem instructed- I reached for the “Star”. In the reaching process I discovered what for me was a whole new galaxy.
Life is full of delicious ironies. Wiley Wright-who gave “the nod” to Coach that kept me from being cut- went on to be Shawnee Mission East High School’s longest serving swimming coach and most victorious. His program has produced numerous state championships, college swimmers and All-Americans. His philosophy remains never cut a dedicated swimmer. The SME Pool is named in Wiley’s honor. Daily I pass the Wiley Wright Natatorium. It reminds me that even with dedication and goals—one should also hope for a “guardian angel to look over one’s shoulder.
Sitting behind Collin Klein at the Heisman Awards looking over his shoulder was Bill Snyder. Collin did not get the Heisman Trophy. Collin did have the honor of watching the trophy being given to “Johnny Football” from the front row finalist seat. Had Collin Klein not set his “star” back in high school as winning that trophy, I doubt his seat for the show would have been nearly as close to the podium.
Even if you don’t catch a star –as long as you “are up there and working hard”—you’ll find yourself well positioned to “lasso the moon.”
3 Dec 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients~
“Chili, a Ghost Skeleton, George and the Future Bank Client”
This year, Wednesday 31 October was a late night at the bank.
Hurricane/Tropical Storm “Sandy” had just left the East Coast. The storm wreaked havoc on some East Coast banking ATM Networks. This resulted in various national banking networks sending pulsating signals.
Throughout Wednesday we were vigilant against debit card transactions being double posted. Many of us stayed late at the bank that evening. We manually compared client settlement accounts to the ATM wires. We wanted to ensure none of our clients were doubled posted. Call it “Old School” banking-complete with loosen ties, rolled up sleeves, and hand calculators.
Pulling out of our bank’s parking lot around 7:45pm I was rushing home to what I figured would be a late, probably cold dinner, with Mrs. Bolen.
It was not until driving down Belinder Street’s tree lined residential sidewalks, I noticed all the scampering little people and their buoyant enthusiasm. I realized with a giant guilt twinge by working late, I had missed the Halloween trick or treaters. (Moreover, Halloween is a big deal in our Bolen Home. It marks not only giving the wee people candy but also the official start of “The Chili Season” at the Bolens.)
My guilt intensified reflecting I had left Mrs. Bolen home alone on Halloween Night having both to cook the season’s first chili batch and to answer the unceasing door bells.
No sooner had I gotten though the front door than I found myself standing over the kitchen table neatly arrayed with a large variety of the chili condiments. As I lamely attempted an apology, the doorbell thankfully rang.
Relieved to have an interruption from an apology going askew, I quickly grabbed the candy basket and raced to the door.
Opening it, I saw a gaggle of costumed little kids standing expectantly. Although clearly not from the neighborhood, I had to chuckle at their boisterous trick or treat greetings and accompanying giggles.
I stepped through the door still clad in my business dress suit and clenching a well chomped cigar. I could see confusion immediately passing over their faces. I hesitated as I sensed their curiosity.
An animated little girl (she must have been all of 8), dressed as “Wonder Woman” bravely spoke for the group yelling out “Mister who are you dressed up as?” I started to answer I was a banker just getting home from work—but realized the futility trying to explain.
In a flash of inspiration I grandly announced “I am famous movie star of course. Don’t you recognize me?” I was greeted by skeptical looks and more giggles. I overheard one say to the other, “That man is crazy”.
Despite my intimidating size and the chewed cigar dangling from my teeth, each little trickster boldly stepped forward taking a single piece of candy. I was impressed each very politely thanked me before running off.
I stepped forward a few paces further on the front stoop, watching them merrily scampering down the brick footpath and on to the next House.
Standing on the brick steps I could not help but smile. I hadn’t completely missed Halloween after all.
As I turned around to go back in, I stopped frozen. I realized with a mild panic I was not alone on the front porch. Wedged between me and the front door was a skeleton figure. Except for the white skeleton bones, he was clad entirely in black.
Staring from behind the skeleton’s skull, were two wide moving eyes. The skeleton must have maneuvered and slipped around me undetected as I bent over handing candy to the rest of the group. At least that was the only rational explanation I could tell myself.
Adding to my apprehension the skeleton clutched a bulging pillow sack. Some primordial sense told me that his pillow sack budge was roughly the same circumference as a human head. Heightening our eye ball~to~eye ball stare down, a chilly wind picked up gusting swirling dead autumn leaves in its wake. Tingles registered down my spine.
Contrary to academic studies describing “The Fight or Flight Syndrome” I stood stock still. I sensed new empathy to a pre-season trophy buck caught in a poacher’s spotlight.
I continued to stand motionless, eyes locked with the skeleton. My feet felt glued to the patio bricks. Methodically the skeleton looked me up and down. I could sense he was taking the measure of my head, neck and shoulder. As to the skeleton’s measuring purpose I involuntarily shuddered. To say I was disconcerted is an understatement. (Remember the first time you saw “Darth Vader” in Star Wars and slunk deeper into the theater chair cushion?)
I did the quick survival odds calculation. In my favor, is that I am 6’2” and roughly 230 beefy pounds. I towered over the 4 foot high rail- thin skeleton. Nevertheless, going against me was the irrefutable fact my muscular system remained unresponsive.
That is when it happened.
In one swift motion the skeleton whipped off his skull mask. His little 8 year old face revealed big white teeth and a huge impish grin. His bright shinning eyes twinkled.
Knowing I was not confronting a nebulous poltergeist but a little boy enabled me to immediately relax.
In an enthused, slightly high shrill voice, skeleton boy announced “Mister I know who you are.”
I responded somewhat defensively and with new found confidence, “Really Mr. Skeleton boy? Just exactly who do you think I am?”
“Mister” skeleton boy said doubling over laughing and slapping his knee, “You sir are Mr. George Clooney—but with really, really short short hair.”
With that he straightened up, and popped open his pillow case with a theatrical snap.
As you can imagine, a vanity inspired adrenaline rush coursed through my veins. The adrenaline went straight to my brain’s amygdale. (Specifically, to the gray cell mass comprising my rather extensive ego.) I again lost muscle control. Involuntary I stepped toward skeleton boy~ and then promptly poured all the remaining basket candy into his outstretched pillow bag.
The little skeleton broke into an ear- to-ear nodding grin. Again in that high pitched voice he said, “Thank you George. Good doing business with you. By the way, George, good luck in your next movie.” He then snapped his skull mask back in place, maneuvered around me and gaily skipped down our brick footpath.
I starred as skeleton boy skip running to catch his now distance group.
When I reentered the house, Mrs. Bolen greeted me in the hallway hands on hips. She zeroed in on the empty candy bowl. “Don’t tell me you gave those kids all the remaining candy?” Lamely I answered, “Technically I didn’t give all those kids all the candy. Mrs. Bolen looked at the empty candy bowl and then at me. Clearly she wondered how I dared deny my actions while still holding the incriminating empty bowl. As I met her knowing eyes, I blurted out “OK I did not give all the candy to the whole group. I gave it all to the very last kid.” Incredulous Mrs. Bolen asked “You mean to tell me you gave all that candy to just one kid? Clearly I stood guilty as charged. Summing all the confidence I could muster I stammered “Trust me —that kid deserved it!”
Later that evening, like any vain middle age alpha male, I stood before the hall mirror squinting to see the “George” connection. Staring back at me was nothing but fleshly jowls and double chins.
I conceded not only was skeleton boy a great salesman,--but he also had a most creative and vivid imagination. Clearly the only physical characteristics he had in making the “George” connection were graying dark hair, parted right of center—and a big cigar.
As I dozed off that night I tried to remember little skeleton boy’s facial features. Specifically, that big ear-to-ear Hollywood grin. I wanted his profile seared into my brain. I thought it important. Someday in twenty years I will find myself looking over the magazine racks while waiting at Bruce Smith Drug. While doing so I anticipate seeing that same smiling face flashing across the Fortune or People magazine covers.
Someone like skeleton boy, with his innate sales ability and creative imagination, is certain to rocket to the top. I just hope I can be skeleton kid’s banker for his inevitable rocket ride. I probably should have chased him down and gotten his name. By the time I see him on the magazine covers there will be a long line of investment bankers from New York to San Francisco standing in his ante-office waiting to talk to his business agent. At least I can say, I knew him when.Yours in Chili, George, and little skeleton boys I hope to someday have as banking clients.
8 Nov 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Shareholders and Clients~
“Lunch Ladies and other Hidden Angels”
Every Autumn, I think of an incident from my wayward youth that made a big impact.
Back in Salina, Kansas, at least in the 1970s, public grade schoolers went home for lunch. It was not until Junior High public students ate lunch in a cafeteria.
Junior High was also about the time boys started noticing girls (and vice versa.) The challenge with the boy/ girl scenario was small talk. Junior High boys and girls had little in common. There was only one issue on which both boys and girls publically agreed— Junior High cafeteria food was horrible.
The vividly more awful a boy could disparage cafeteria food the more points he scored with the girls. The girls were just as bad. I never really knew girls used four letter words until I listened to them describing cafeteria food.
In the bond of cafeteria food misery, 13 year old boys and girls found common ground~ and the courage to talk to each other. More than a couple puppy loves were formed over the discourse of whether the cafeteria lunch ladies were attempting to poison the 7th grade.
There was just one problem. Secretly most of guys really loved the Junior High cafeteria food.
At that time the hair netted lunch ladies working the cafeteria all were of German descent. English appeared their second language.
The upshot of their German ancestry was that these lunch ladies could really cook and bake. They had three incredible specialties: 1) Cinnamon Rolls, 2) Goulash and 3) a unique meat-filled pocket pastry called a Bierock.
Even as much as the Junior High boys secretly loved their three specialties, none could publically acknowledge it. Doing so would violate the Junior High code that cafeteria food was terrible. Admitting one loved cafeteria Bierocks, Goulash or craved their freshly baked Cinnamon Rolls would result in a social stigma of unfathomed portions~ and the nerd label.
To avoid appearing as a nerd there was extreme social pressure at all times to be as surly and rude to all cafeteria ladies as possible. The more shocking expletives used in speaking to the cafeteria ladies the more one’s social standing increased.
It was against this paradoxical back drop, that on one fine Fall day the alpha male of our little Junior High buddy group sat down at our lunch table. “Guys we have a problem. Dad knows one of the lunch ladies. She’s the floor walker~the one we call ‘Old Bag.’ Dad learned ‘Old Bag’s’ house burned down last Sunday when she was at Church. Dad bought a Hallmark sympathy card and said we all gotta sign and give it to her to cheer her up.”
The group response was immediate. “There’s no way we’re signing and giving ‘Old Bag’ a card in front of everyone in the cafeteria. Are you nuts? After many threats and pleas about “being grounded” we all agreed to sign the damn card and just leave it on the table as we walked out. A sneaky compromise we thought.
The card said something to the effect, “Angel we feel your loss.” As we signed the card one of the buddies sneered –“Are you kidding me ~do you really think ‘Old Bag’s’ name is “Angel”?
Sensing a conspiracy a foot ‘Old Bag’ stealthily approached our table, snatched, opened and read the card. When she realized it was in fact a sympathy card for her, she broke into tears and mumbled “Angel Thanks You Dear Dear Boys.”
She made us all stand up and gave each of us one of those giant Old World Babushka bear hugs. Not knowing her name, one of the guys lamely responded to her repeated thank yous, “Hey You’re Welcome Angel.”
As students in the cafeteria saw what was happening, the room grew silent in shock. We’d cross an invisible line. Publically and visibly we were being nice to ‘Old Bag’ lunch lady. Our transgression was so stupendous that our little buddy group realized we had to be friends for life. (We surely had to stick together as hence forth no other students would ever talk to us.)
The next morning as anticipated we were alienated. Kids did not jeer as much as ignore us. In the lunch line, I went through the motions of getting a tray and mechanically starting the cafeteria procession.
As I stuck out my tray out, one “hair netted” lunch lady serving Bierocks looked up, winked and put two Bierocks on my tray. In shock, I mumbled the same words from yesterday~ “Thank You Angel.”
The rest of the lunch ladies giggled and all nodded approvingly.
A notorious Tough Kid following me in line bellowed, “You just gave Bolen two Bierocks you old bag, I want two.”
With surprisingly crisp English and in a tone brooking no back talk, the lunch lady snapped to Tough Kid. “I must have made a terrible mistake. Perhaps I should skip giving you one to make up for it?”
Swallowing hard, Tough Kid backed down, and asked if he could please have a Bierock.
As I took my seat in the cafeteria, Tough Kid made a bee line to sit directly across from me. I judged the odds~ignoring Tough Kid would surely result in a malicious after school beating. I decided to go on the offense. I sputtered, “Tell you what. I can’t eat two whole Bierocks. How about I cut the extra one in half and we just share it.” Before Tough Kid could answer I severed the extra Bierock and placed half on his tray.
After a painful minute of glaring and with the whole cafeteria watching, Tough Kid loudly responded, “Bolen, you’re alright.” He grabbed his half, took a bite and nodded.
In the weird social protocol of Junior High, the only thing compensating for being nice to a lunch lady was having the school’s toughest kid giving you approval. The other students started talking to me and my buddies again.
From that day on, I always greeted every lunch lady as “Angel”. Moreover from that day forward I always received double helpings of Bierocks, Goulash and Cinnamon Rolls.
I never failed to share half of my extra helpings with tough kid. Tough kid, in turn, kept an eye on me and my buddies. I know his evil eye warded off more than a couple parking lot beatings I probably deserved.
On graduation day the lunch ladies gave me and my buddy little cards “Wishing us the Very Best” collectively signing it “Your lunch Angels.”
The life lesson is clear. The smallest kind gesture to the least expectant person can result in generous and unanticipated blessings. Everyday I try to find new hidden angels in my life. Without fail, I find them where I least expect.
Thank you for letting us be your bank and bankers~
4 September 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Shareholders and Clients
“The $350 Whataburger”
A year ago we had a SM East High School graduate as a summer intern between his college freshman and sophomore year.
During the summer he told us his “$350 Hamburger Debit card Horror Story”. It is a good lesson about the dangers of overdraft protection fees to college students. It is also a good lesson in how many large banks and large credit unions exploit students.
Our intern went to college and during the admissions process opened a new checking account. He opened it with a large national bank located in the Student Union building. The bank had set up a new account table right next to the new student admissions table.
For opening the account the bank gave our freshman a water bottle emblazoned with the college’s logo. It also gave him a student debit card tied to his new checking account.
The bank encouraged the freshman to use his debit card in lieu of checks or cash.
Buried in the account’s fine print was a little blurb about opting in to “overdraft protection” charges. Our young student did not fully comprehend this provision. The banker who helped him open the account of course did not walk him through it. She said something to the effect, “Of course you want to ‘opt-in’ for overdraft protection~ and let me give you your water bottle."
After a night studying at the library during his first week of classes, our freshman went out with some new friends. They met at a college hangout, called “Whataburger” near the campus for late night sustenance.
Being nice, and having his trusty new debit card, our young man paid for the coke refills, extra hamburgers and fries his friends ordered. As additional friends joined the table he bought more burgers and fries for everyone to share.
What our college freshman did not realize was that the bank had placed a three day hold on the deposit his parents made into his account. I guess the bank wanted to confirm his parents’ check was good for the money. (My experience has been few parents write “hot checks” to their kids.)
Thus his first debit card purchase for a coke overdrew his checking account by .51 cents. This .51 cent overdraft triggered an immediate $35 overdraft protection charge.
Unaware he had overdrawn his account, our naïve collegian kept going back for additional cokes and fries for his friends. What he also did not realized was the bank charged a $35 “overdraft protection fee” for each additional overdraft swipe of his card.
Hence, having overdrawn his account with the first swipe, ten debit card swipes later, our young man racked up $350 in “overdraft protection fees”.
Can you think of such a racquet? Think of the profit margin the bank was making tacking on a $35 overdraft protection fee for each additional debit card overdraft charge?
No wonder the bank was so excited to be in the Student Union and signing up new freshman for debit cards. It further explains why they were so happy to give him a water bottle~ which naturally was made in China.
With all the naïve freshmen signing up for overdraft protected debit cards, it must have been like setting up a duck hunting blind next to a state wildlife refugee. “As the old duck hunters would say-“a target rich environment.”
As a banker and father of college students, I cringed at the story. It is all too easy visualizing my son getting caught in the same situation.
Accordingly, the next day, I limited my son’s debit card so he could not overdraft his account. My thought was that if my son’s account was empty he should not be able to overdraw his account by simply using his debit card.
I told my son if he wanted to avoid embarrassing situations he had better know how much was in his checking account. I figured it would be better for him to turn back in the fries, than to mindlessly and ignorantly spend money he did not have.
A couple parents heard about my son’s “special debit card” prohibiting overdrafts. They asked if they could get one for their college bound kids. I told them it was really simple. Just ask their bank to limit their student’s debit card so as not to permit overdrafts.
This may be a simple fix. However, I kept thinking about the issue of exploiting college students. Instead of trying to protect kids from overdraft fees, many large banks and credit unions almost encourage it.
If the student requests “overdraft protection” the bank should carefully counsel students—and the parents, about the “$350 Whataburger” trap.
Even then, I think the assumption should be that most college kids will not fully understand the dangers of “overdraft protection.” There are just too many other unique aspects about college with which to contend —i.e. new courses, tough professors, impossible roommates, and intimidating dinning halls, than to spend time worrying about the chicanery of nebulous overdraft protection fees.
Banking is, or should be based on trust. A bank that exploits students as part of its culture will soon attempt to carry that mindset to the rest of its client base. I have friends telling me about new fees showing up on their big bank and big credit union accounts for “printing statements, maintenance and my new favorite “bundling”. (Not even the local bank manager could explain what in the world a “bundling fee” might be or why it might be charged.)
Such bank fees violate a basic trust with the bank or credit union handling your money. This is kind of like going to a restaurant and not being sure whether the cook washed his hands or sneezed on your food. At some point you must trust the noble nature and reasonableness of the person handling your food to wash his hands—and the banker handling your money not to make up goofy fees. Customers must use common sense as to whether they can entrust an institution to properly handle things in their best interest.
There once was a retail store that had a big sign saying “An educated consumer is our best customer.” I always loved that sign. Somewhere in the back of my mind there is a little voice whispering that message into my brain every day when we open the doors at Bank of Prairie Village.
As a banker and college parent, I suggest you ensure your high school and college bound students request a debit card that does not permit overdrafts. If your current bank will not offer you such a product~ (believe me they can if they want), ~call us and we’ll do it.
Yours in the joys of preparing your student for college~ and being an educated consumer.
21 June 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
“Everyone is an expert”
There is a popular saying among business owners, that everyone is a “self proclaimed expert” at running someone else’s business.
How many times have you been out to dinner with guests who comment how they can run the restaurant better? They explain how the waiter or waitress can be more attentive, how they would better prepare the sauces or how they would change the décor.
In bars these self proclaimed experts will complain how the bar owner was stupid in designing the layout, how the mixed drinks are not correct or how they would change the glassware and promotions.
Most of the time these “experts” have never worked as a waiter, cook or even mixed a drink under the pressure of a howling bar line. The key fact they’ve never been on the other side of the kitchen, bussed a table or worked for tips never occurs to them as perhaps compromising their “expert status.”
Bankers, by definition are usually the worst “self proclaimed” experts.
I have seen so many smudge young (and old) bankers newly minted from “credit training” or having served years in nice tidy bank offices, go out to someone’s shop or factory floor and explain to the business owner what they are doing all wrong.
Its always intrigued me how big bank loan officers-whose biggest personal business decision has been deciding the allocation of their 401(k) retirement funds and vacation days-can look a frazzled small business owner in the eye and calmly explain, “I know all about what it takes to run a small business and can tell you how to improve yours.”
Most, if not all, small business owners have had the unique and unenviable experience of waking up in the middle of the night drenched in cold sweat worrying how they were going to make payroll.
I call it the “cold sweat” phenomenon. If you have never experienced it, you will never appreciate what it is like to run a small business. If you have, then you will feel a commonality with everyone who’s had to make a payroll, live on tips or relied solely on commissions to make their mortgage payment.
Recently I had the unique experience of running a small retail operation. Unlike most parents I do not have the nerves to calmly watch my sons competing on the high school athletic fields. I used to get too stressed watching opposing players attempting to tackle, slash, check and steal the ball from the Bolen Boys to sit politely in the stands.
To compensate, I volunteered to work repeatedly in the high school concession stand. I could still see the playing field, but helping with concessions provided enough distraction to enable me to think about something other than whether my son was going to get a crushing blow and concussion on the next possession.
Being a Banker of course, I was determined to bring “banking expertise” to the concession stand operation. I made sure that on cold days the coffee was hot and ready to go, and on hot days the soft drinks were properly iced and chilled. I tried incrementally to add little efficiencies. Inventory control consisted of anticipating sacking and bagging just the right popcorn proportions for the half time crowd~ and not cooking so many hot dogs as be stuck with a couple extra dozen as post game leftovers.
Between the two boys’ playing years, I hid out (and supposedly worked) the high school concession stand for six seasons. By the 6th year, I firmly believed with my banker’s expertise, I’d improved concession operations to the point they were humming at top perfection. I silently viewed the concession stand efficiencies as my private and personal legacy to the high school.
On one very hot spring afternoon I realized I was watching my last son’s final home game. It was a bittersweet feeling. I consoled myself with the reality that at least over “my tenure” I had made every improvement possible to the high school concession stand business.
On that scorching hot day, I stood in the concession stand shade, gazing out to the field, praying my son could out maneuver the opposing gorilla sized defenseman whose sole life’s mission appeared to be removing my son’s head from his shoulders with the neat slash of a Brine lacrosse stick.
It was at that point a little grade schooler who had volunteered to help me while her brother was out playing said, “Mr. Bolen~ would it not make sense that we put the chocolate candy bars in the refrigerator so they won’t melt—and beside cold candy bars are really good on hot days.”
I stared at my little helper in wonderment and disbelief. For six years I had spent some boiling afternoons in that concession stand, and it never once occurred to me to put the chocolate bars in the refrigerator.
How in the world had this little helper who had been working 30 minutes, come up with such a good idea? I kept asking myself why I hadn’t thought of this years ago.
She made a big hand drawn sign offering “Cold Milky Way and Snicker Bars.” As you can imagine~ we sold out of all our cold candy bars before half time.
As I closed up the concession stand for the last time, I realized, just as soon as someone decides they are an “expert” in any business, they should immediately start looking around to see what they can do better. They should not hesitate always to be open to any and all advice and new ideas –regardless of from whom they may come.
Yours in the joys of small business ownership ~ and cold candy bars on hot days.
19 April 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
“Merciful and Forgiving”
One of the benefits of growing up in Salina, Kansas as a young boy is constantly seeing the wide spaces of the open prairie. From one giant elevated mound in Salina, known as Indian Rock Hill, one can see the horizon for 20 miles in all directions.
Indian Rock Hill was the site of a great battle. Salina, on the Smoky Hill River rests on a very fertile grass plain and once was very rich buffalo country. The open plains and grazing buffalo herds congregating there each Spring resulted in constant disputes between marauding Indian tribes over hunting.
By the 1850s, the warring tribes divided into two groups. Coming from Eastern Kansas were the reservation tribes of Pottawatomie, Kaw and Delaware. Coming from the West were the nomadic tribes of Cheyenne and Kiowa. In the Spring of 1857 two different large hunting parties from the warring factions converged for their annual spring buffalo hunts.
What ensured was the largest recorded Indian Battle of the West. Nearly routed, the reservation tribes retreated to an encircled firing line at the defensive crest of the area’s only elevated mound -now known as Indian Rock. With their government issued rifles, the reservation tribes fended off the more primitive Kiowa and Cheyenne horsemen. War clubs are disadvantaged against Springfield Armory muskets.
You can envision me as a young boy, peddling my Schwinn bike (Stingray Model, grape purple color) to the rocky outcrop of Indian Rock Hill and hiding out on hot summer afternoons. From that high elevation I could spend hours gazing out to the surrounding plains (and avoiding having to mow my parents’ seemingly massive yard). On the hillside gently rolling out below, I could always imagine Cheyenne and Kiowa warriors in full glory advancing on me with war clubs and buffalo gut strung bows.
Even after the Battle of Indian Rock, Salina remained contested.
Ten years following the Indian Rock Battle (actually Autumn, 1866), a young US cavalry officer, patrolling alone toward dusk was intercepted by Comanche warriors in a spot just to the west of Salina. His cavalry mount was stuck by several arrows in the skirmish, but still managed to out run the pursing warriors and their smaller ponies.
That evening, having survived the incident, the officer watched in relief and awe as a large Orange colored full moon rose over the waving grass plains. For saving his life, the officer named his horse “Comanche”. (Growing up I remember a few of the very grizzled old timer Salina farmers referring to full lunar autumn evenings as Comanche Moons.)
The wounded mount, “Comanche” and the officer, Captain Miles Keogh, went on to gain recognition ten years later serving under Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Comanche survived Custer’s Last Stand. Captain Keogh did not. Comanche, proved the sole Cavalry “Last Stand” survivor. He lived another 20 years pastured at Fort Riley. The Cavalry never again saddled Comanche treating him with the greatest respect. When Comanche died in the 1890s the Cavalry mounted and gave him to the Kansas University Museum. In giving him over, the Cavalry said “We just can’t bury Comanche –he’s the last of the old troopers”. Today, properly saddled with Captain Keogh’s 7th Cav markings, Comanche still stands in the old KU Museum~to the fascination of generations of Kansas school children.
From my perch on Indian Rock Hill, I’d scan to the West~ just barely able to see the spot in the far distance where the Comanche’s skirmish occurred. In my mind I could see Captain Keogh in his yellow trimmed blue campaign trooper’s uniform racing his mount for his life (and scalp) across the plains with screaming warriors in hot pursuit.
Salina was once again in the news for recent tornadoes. If you grew up on the central plains tornadoes went with the territory. I’m sure I suffer a fatalistic life outlook, but, in my warped sense of propriety, I believe if you live in California you should not complain about the number of earthquakes. If you live on the Gulf you should not complain of Hurricanes. And if you live in Central Kansas you should not complain about the number of tornadoes.
Perhaps it is just me, but my propriety sense always feels violated and the tragedy all the more greater when I learn of disasters occurring outside of my mentally assigned geographic territories. Earthquakes in Virginia and tornadoes in New York always seem to violate the world’s quirky order. Dangers in my world should occur in prescribed sectors. I assume the Prairie Rattlesnakes are to be found coiled near rocks in the wild grasses and Water Moccasins are to be found slithering in Southern swamps. One danger should not intrude on another’s parameters. Nature must structure the vagaries of her dangers.
If one constantly lived in fear of tornadoes in Central Kansas, you would spend most of the Spring Season in the basement.
I was in remote Virginia this past weekend when my friends the “Storm Chasers” called to announce their sophisticated storm tracking equipment had determined Salina as ground zero for the coming evening. They wanted to know the best vantage point to scout the storm. My reflexes were automatic. I told them “If you want to see the entire horizon- just go to the top of Indian Rock Hill.” Having directed them to my childhood “Window on the World” I felt compelled to do something more.
As the oldest son I felt I should make the obligatory call to my parents telling them that the storm chasers viewed Salina as the epicenter for that evening’s storms.
As the phone rang, I felt more than silly. I wasn’t sure what I was doing calling from Central Virginia telling my Dad who has lived in Tornado Alley for 76 years about the local Kansas weather. Feeling foolish, I was about to hang up when Dad answered.
I told Dad the storm chasers’ conclusions. Dad laughed and said he and Mom were scheduled to go to Saturday evening Mass at the Cathedral. Dad assured me he would not be changing their plans, “Just to spend the evening sitting in the basement staring at each other.”
In usual Pat Bolen fashion (my father makes me look like an introvert) Dad announced, “If I was hit by a tornado while in Mass it’d sure look good in my obituary-- and surprise a lot of people. Hell Dan, getting hit in Mass would probably make me eligible for a free pass from Saint Peter at his damn gate”.
Apparently my folks were in indeed in Mass when the local sirens sounded. According to my Salina buddies, the Priest from the pulpit directed the congregation to the parish basement—with the exception of Pat Bolen—whom the Priest suggested go stand out in the storm—“To determine if in fact the Almighty was merciful and forgiving.”
My friends said as the parishioners started following the Priest, Dad virtually chased him down. From what they told me, Dad announced to the Priest, “Isn’t there something in the Bible about not tempting or testing ~ besides, I think I’ve probably used up all His mercy for me during KU’s run to the Final Four—Father, I think I will follow you down.”
I immediately concluded that –yes-- in Nature’s wrath there can be miracles-- Dad is finally listened to a Priest’s instructions.
The tornadoes did hit the surrounding Salina vicinity that evening, but at least in our area the damage was limited to farm ground. I called home later to get Dad’s version of what happened. Dad of course said “It was no big deal –we went down the to basement—That probably the longest time I’ve spent in the Cathedral since parochial school ~ The good news Dan is we got full credit for the Mass --and I didn’t even have to sit all the way through for the final processional hymn.”
It was if he was saying the KU basketball season this year was no big deal—that he half expected what would happen.
As I faded off in that evening’s sleep, I dreamed once again of Kiowa braves dodging bullets in the their enduring assault up Indian Rock, of Cheyenne warriors forever racing ponies across the Kansas Prairie under a rising Full Autumn Moon, of the mount Comanche standing resolute for the return of his Captain Keogh, of the Old Sacred Heart Cathedral back dropped against a whipped sky of gray-green swirling clouds, of Dad safely tucked in bed ~dreaming the dreams of the innocent~and of the satisfying knowledge that for at least one evening in Salina Kansas, the Almighty was indeed merciful and forgiving.
2 Mar 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
“I will have to see how they turn out before I answer that”
One of the great athletic statements which always fascinates and intrigues me was uttered 60 years ago this month.
After his University of Kansas Basketball team defeated St. John’s University, to win the 1952 NCAA National Championship, a reporter asked Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen “If this was the greatest team he had ever coached”.
Usually the coach’s answer is some mindless, four word sentence, about what a great kid, tremendous athlete, or great effort the team just displayed. The reporter nods affirmatively as if just receiving a brilliant insight from the ancient Greek Oracle of Delphi, turns back to the camera, forces a giant fake smile and signs with off “with back to you George.”
(The whole routine is so standardized, that it is only when a Coach like Bobby Knight or the Yankee’s Billy Martin violates protocol by saying what he really thinks- does anybody really notice. )
The format today has become so pat and predictable, it makes Coach Allen’s 1952 response all the more remarkable.
Coach Allen responded to the reporter’s question of “Whether the ’52 Jayhawk team was the greatest he ever coached” with the unique and sincere reply, “I can’t answer that question right now. I will have to see how these young men turn out. It maul take 30 years or more to see what kind of men they become, what type of husbands and fathers they will be and what kind of careers and community service in which they engage. Ask me in 30 years or so and maybe I will be able to tell you then. You see, only after seeing what becomes of these boys can I tell you whether they are the greatest team I have ever coached”.
Coach Allen’s response is so rich in wisdom, understanding of human nature, motivation and leadership, I reflect on it often.
It has many hidden meanings and directives. Moreover, from a leadership standpoint, it is brilliant because it contained a constant challenge and continuing measuring rod.
For his players, Coach Allen’s response drilled into them that winning a national title was not the only achievement he wanted for them in life. He wanted them to succeed in all phases of the life game. By not really setting a deadline, Coach Allen made clear, their measure of worth did not end at the championship game’s final buzzer, nor would their great victory automatically qualify them as measuring to the very high potential he envisioned for each of them.
Coach Allen’s statement made clear he would be constantly judging them for years and even generations to come.
The Coach’s word choice is more brilliant. Like telling a player he must play offense, defense and shoot free throws, Coach Allen conveyed he did not accept simple career success as a substitute for being a poor father or husband or not being active in the community. He wanted them to excel in all three.
A second point, equally ingenious, is Coach Allen’s implication that in measuring the team, he would do so both individually and collectively. This is a subtle implication, but very important.
If I understand Coach Allen’s statement correctly, he makes clear one individual’s post collegiate family and career success would not compensate for another teammates’ failure.
Coach Allen’s leadership insight is amazing. It carries the implicit challenge that he wanted his players to go through life as a team. To look out for each other and to be there for each other. To realize one teammate’s individual success could not simply substitute for another’s lapse and failure. Their collective accomplishments had to be a team performance.
When I first heard Coach Allen’s quote, I wrote it down in my journal. I thought it perhaps the finest included in my numerous entries.
Rarely in life is one enabled to actually witness the presence of a great figure like a famous general, titan of business, academic, or coach materialize from the history books. But on the Saturday before Valentines Day this past February —I had such an experience.
After KU struggled to beat Oklahoma State in a late afternoon game Dad wanted to take Mom, Ellen and me to the Lawrence Country Club for a post game victory drink and quiet dinner. (As I have implied before, Dad becomes very stressed during the KU games. It as if each possession is an epic struggle between God and the Fallen Angels for the future salvation of mankind. After close games Dad must relax and tap down the adrenaline before driving back to Salina. He figured the quiet Country Club would be the perfect place to avoid a crowd.)
We were sitting in the Club listening to Dad analyze the team’s dismal free throw percentage when en masse, many members to 1952 Kansas Championship team enter for a post game reunion and family reception.
The names of the ’52 team are legend to any KU man. Clyde Lovellette, Bob “Trigger” Kenney, Bill Leinhard, Bill Houghland, Dean Smith, Bill Heitholt, Al Kelley, Charlie Hoag and graduate assistant/player Jerry Waugh.
Dad was a high school sophomore in 1952 –an age when sport heroes become permanently enshrined in a high school players’ mind. Most of the old players knew Dad and stopped over to say shake hands and say hello. Dad was like a kid in a candy store. I sat beside Dad even more wide eyed. I gawked as if they were the legendary Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart and Robert E. Lee collectively rising from the hallow depths actually shaking my hand.
Not only were the players there, but their wives children, grandchildren and even great-grand children.
As I looked the old players over, I noticed they all appeared trim and fit. They still carried themselves as athletes. Their shoulders were still broader than their waist lines. Their manners were excellent - - the definition of gentlemen leapt to mind.
It did not take long to figure out which kids and grandchildren belonged to whom. The physical characteristics, particularly the one of height, passed from one generation to the next were patent. Players spoke to their teammates’ wives, and grandchildren as if they were extended family.
They maneuvered around the room as if still a team. Each conversed, seeming to have an innate sense of where the other player was, what he was doing and to whom he was talking-even as they gave Dad and me their full attention.
From my Capitol Hill years, I have attended endless Congressional receptions where Senators, Four Star Generals, Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justices all worked a room. I am not easily impressed with accomplished people assembled in a single location.
However, I could not help but think there was something most special about this group of aging grandfather/athletes. They were accomplished individuals but some how they moved around their room as if they were still an organized team.
From a career standpoint they are had been successful. One had been a banker, another an oil executive and third a county sheriff/NBA Champion. The best known of the group, North Carolina’s old Coach, Dean Smith, was not able to attend.
Later that evening when driving back in the dark on K-10 home I tried to analyze why I thought seeing these old players all together seemed so unique.
As I replayed the conversations and handshakes, somewhere past the DeSoto exit it hit me. Not one player used the word Phog. Each player referred to Coach Allen as “Doc.”
Maybe it was the way they said his name, but whenever they mentioned Coach Allen you could almost see a manifest positive physical reaction in the old players. Some blinked. Others squared their shoulders and stood a little straighter and higher. It was as if just mentioning his name they knew from “On High” their old coach still measured their deportment, manner, performance and representation- even at this impromptu post game reception.
As I thought back the ’52 players I visited that afternoon, how they carried themselves, their adoring families, their business success, mutual respect and admiration, I could not help but admiring in amazement how much Coach Allen had influenced his players’ lives in so many different positive ways.
Yes with 60 years behind their post collegiate days, one can safely say the ’52 Boys have measured to even the highest standards Coach Allen envisioned for them. They have well accounted for themselves not only in their careers, but as fathers, husbands, grandfathers and community members.
The ’52 Boys have set the gold standard for not only KU athletes, but all college athletes as to how to live ones’ life after their college conclusion.
For many people, Coach Allen will always live on as a legendary coach with a Field House named in his honor. Coach Allen, however, was much more. A visionary with an innate sense of motivation that drives and inspires his players to constantly and continually perform to the highest standards in life’s game long after he is gone. I can only hope all college coaches and business leaders emulate Coach Allen’s standards.
1 Feb 12
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
“Does Locally Owned Matter?”
When working on Capitol Hill, we dealt with the various corporate headquarters threatening to leave Kansas. The classic scenario included the CEO or corporate lobbyist announcing if their corporation did not get this or that legislation they would simply move their corporate headquarters to another state in retaliation.
After awhile I realized this was a red herring. If the CEO of a publically traded company wanted to move his or her operation to Dallas, there was nothing that could be done to satisfy their corporate demands. Eventually they would find something, regardless of how insignificant, to justify their move.
I concluded the biggest determining factor as to whether a corporation would stay or go was not necessarily what we did or did not do for the company legislatively, but where the corporate owners were located.
At one time, Kansas had several large corporations that were locally owned. As long as the ownership was local, the corporation would never leave. If there was an issue with the schools, public services, health care etc, the local ownership would work with the community to improve and address shortfalls. (Think of the Kansas City Star when it was owned by local shareholders or TWA when it was headquartered in Kansas City. Think of Hallmark Cards or Russell Stovers Candies today. Can you think of anyone better to headquarter in our community?)
Countless communities throughout the state of Kansas enjoy incredible parks, YMCAs, community centers, art theaters and fountains~ due to its local corporations –and the local shareholders that owned those corporations. If you look at donor plaques in any small community you inevitably find the names of the community’s old local banks and past locally owned businesses.
Beginning in the 1960s with the implementation of franchising, branching and corporate owned large box stores, locally owned companies began selling to Conglomerates. Almost all the major locally owned manufacturing and industrial companies throughout the state ended up subsidiaries or branches of larger corporations. Business owners were replaced with out of town branch managers. Corporate decisions were not made locally, but at the Conglomerate’s headquarters often in Chicago, New York or Dallas.
Banks were different-and for a time escaped Wall Street’s “Pac-Man
Merge or Purge mentality”. Under the old regulatory scheme, banks were prohibited from operating branches outside the community in which they were headquartered. They could not be gobbled up by Conglomerates.
Even as locally owned businesses faded away, the local Bank stood resolute as the community’s corporate sentinel—in many situations as the community’s only local corporation. A local bank headquarters usually ensured the presence of a local accounting firms, printer, law firm and office supply store. In short the local bank was the nucleus to the local economy.
Beginning in 1990 this changed. The old bank branching rules were taken away, and local banks were swiftly consumed by banking Conglomerates. They were first made subsidiaries, and then mere branches. Local bank boards were made “advisory” at best and “area bank presidents” were permitted decision making responsibilities slightly less than what a very junior Vice President use to make under the old local bank structure. Major decisions were made “out of town.” The out of town banking executives had no use for the local accounting firm, the local printer, the local law firm and certainly no interest in buying from the local office supply store. These entities faded away.
Unlike the best national retailers, however, the Banking Conglomerates’ “local” branches did not offer its customer lower pricing as a tradeoff benefit to decimating the ancillary businesses the local bank helped support. In fact, the customers usually were stuck with increased prices for their banking services in the form of hidden fees----fees an old fashion local banker would have been aghast to contemplate and more ashamed to implement.
The result has been a decline in banking service, and a loss of community identity and robustness—not to mention more federal assistance to the banking Conglomerates to prop up and subsidize their over extended and ill-conceived business models.
To the chagrin of the national banking Conglomerates, they have not been able to kill off all the local banks. (Just as mass merchandisers have not been able to kill off every local retailer. Think of the local breweries that have been started in response to the beer industry’s consolidations—our own Kansas City Boulevard Brewery is a shining example of this “Reverse Pac Man” phenomenon.)
To strike back at the PAC Man Conglomerate banks, local business owners often banded together to start new locally owned banks to replace the loss of the old community stalwarts. These small local banks “figured out” how to offer better service at lower prices.
The advertising campaigns of the banking Conglomerates often try to convince consumers “a cat is a duck.” They believe saying something over and over—will make it become a reality in consumers’ minds. Think of the millions Conglomerates spent on Madison Avenue advertising trying to convince consumers “cigarettes were not harmful” – and their current insistent TV pitches suggesting 1lb fried cheeseburgers with extra large fries and a 32 oz soft drink” should be considered a standard weekday lunch for a normal person.
Likewise banking Conglomerates spend millions on TV, Radio and Internet ads trying to convince people their tiny pop up 3 person staff branches are really “old fashion full service community oriented banks.” The reality is that there is not enough advertising that “can make a cat swim like a duck.” It is simply a different animal.
Banking is different from retail. The cost of providing banking services does not diminish with size. In fact, the larger the bank, the greater the fixed costs. In banking-- bigger is not better. This leads the big question—if someone could get better service and pricing from a small bank why would they pay more to stay with a Conglomerate?
Does being locally owned make a difference? Lets take a look at the facts. When you spend $100 at an independent business, $68 returns to your local community versus $43 when spent with a national chain. (Think of that local accounting firm, printer, law firm and office supply store that depend on that local independent business.)
If every American family spent just $10 a month with a locally-owned, independent business instead of a national chain store or restaurant, over $9.3 billion would be directly returned to their own local economies.
This would mean better schools, better roads, more support for police and fire departments without having to constantly raise local property or sales taxes Add this to the fact your local bank offers better rates than the national Conglomerates and avoids their nefarious hidden fees - why would you patronize anywhere else?
The national banking Conglomerates and their Madison Avenue advertising lackeys are betting the average American isn’t smart enough to figure this out-- or too lazy to bother switching banks. I believe they are grossly under-estimating the average consumers’ business savvy when it comes to their money and community loyalty.
As a Bank of Prairie Village client, you should feel good in proving them wrong.
Yours in striking back at the Conglomerates and their lackeys. Isn’t fun to strike back for a change? (It’s kind of like making a statement supporting the little guy without having to go stand in an “Occupy” park.)
Our best for what we know is going to be a great year for you and your family~
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
Recently, I attended a business leaders’ roundtable. The beginning question was “please review the key performance measurements you review daily.”
The answers were disappointing~ but not surprising. Most business leaders could state not a single performance measurement they daily reviewed.
The majority said they measured performance on a monthly basis.
I equate running a business to driving a car. When driving you must continuous scan out the front and back~ while at the same time keeping an eye on your speed.
You can be assured that if you disengage for very the briefest period --bad things will~ and eventually do, happen.
I urged each of my fellow business peers to pick at least one performance measurement for daily review.
Their reactions to my “daily measurement” suggestion were less than enthusiastic. I received no thanks for giving them what I “humbly” considered a “very brilliant” suggestion.
Rather than embracing my “self perceived” key insight, they politely demurred. They pointed out that their businesses were much more complex than mine and that daily measurement was neither practical nor useful.
I am sure they rightly believed this cigar chewing, parochial, and very small time banker failed to grasp the vast complexities of their business operations and attendant profitability models.
In a moment of unguarded frankness, and somewhere deep in my brain’s amygdala, I had to admit I knew they were right. I could not possibly know or understand their intrinsic business models.
When clearly beaten, and realizing I was far out of their intellectual depth, I took the course any self respecting banker would take.
I scowled and then glared at them with unabashed scorn and mock piety. (This is a standard move which all good bankers practice in mirrors late at night~ Never, ever, formally acknowledge you are clearly wrong. Make the other guy think he just did not correctly understanding you, and that it was he~ not you responsible for this failure.)
I leaned back in my chair, chomped on my cigar and realized I had gotten myself into a real pickle.
It was then I remembered the advice of Mr. S. R. Levermore, my favorite University of Virginia law professor.
Professor Levermore’s began the first day of his contract class, with the admonishment, “If you say something with enough conviction and passion, and conduct yourself as if the Almighty stands behind and agrees with every word you’re saying—then regardless of whether you are right or wrong, people will at least take what you say seriously.”
In Professor Levermore’s honor, I scrunched my graying eyebrows, leaned forward in my chair and started gesticulating with my cigar as if it were a British general’s swagger stick. Having their attention, I snarled my misguided position with renewed force and passion.
“Here’s the deal” I grumbled, “You’re all right. I don’t know anything about your businesses and can’t pretend to so know. However, I do know that your businesses will perform to what ever you repeatedly and systematically measure.
If you measure your income on a daily basis, you can be assured you will find ways to produce more income. If you measure your expenses on a daily basis you will find ways to cut expense. If you measure sales calls and sales closings on a daily basis you will have more sales. I am sure there is some scientific principle behind this~ which I can’t currently explain. All I know is that this is a very real fact of business life.”
Seeing my manic behavior had clearly captured their attention, I then went for the coup de grâce.
“How many of you get on a scale every morning and measure your weight?
The shock, outrage and hostility in their faces became vividly palatable. Before they could even respond to my deeply personal and inappropriate question, I cut their answers off. “Don’t tell me –I don’t want to know. However, tell me if I am wrong.
Is it not true that when you measure your weight every day~ you are far more conscious about what you eat and how much you exercise? Is it not true that when you’re trying to lose weight~ you make a point of getting on that scale every morning? And when you know you’ve been splurging~ don’t you avoid that scale for that very same reason?
Don’t give me that excuse about the old family scale not being very accurate.
Let me give you a reality check. It really does not matter how expensive or sophisticated your scale is –as long as you consistently use it. So what if the old family scale always adds 5 extra pounds or takes two off?
They key is to understand the trend lines. The only way to you can establish a trend line is to measure consistently and often. The more consistently and more often you measure something, the more accurately you will understand the trend line.
Just like measuring your weight, if you are a business owner and really understanding your trend line you’ll know what activities add or distract from your profitability.
One fellow business leader countered my soliloquy by responding he needed to analyze about 12 different items to really understand his business. He pointed out there was simply no way he could look at all 12 items on a daily basis.
I dismissed his remark as if was he was the boy in Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. I retorted, “Rank your performance measurements in terms of priority. 1)Pick the most important measurement to review daily. 2) Pick the next performance measurement to review weekly, and 3) the third to review monthly.”
Again, I inappropriately put the business lesson into personal terms. “If you want to be healthy, check your weight daily, check you blood pressure monthly, check your cholesterol twice a year and have your heart scanned yearly. You don’t have to do everything all at once---some trend lines are more important than others.
By the end of my outburst the other roundtable leaders were looking at me as if I’d become completely unhinged.
However and perhaps more importantly, in terms of philosophical persuasion, I could see the other business leaders were each trying to mentally identify at least one performance measurement that they could review daily.
It was almost as if they were willing to set aside my arrogance, inappropriate comments, and overly aggressive behavior~ just to see if there was the possibly of even a kernel of truth in what I said.
Yes Professor Levermore, your advice was sage. Like any good banker or lawyer, I may not always be right—but never in doubt.
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
Every July, one notices a seemingly unexplainable Prairie Village area phenomenon. At the brink of a summer dawn, one sees white covered trees throughout the community.
It appears as a freak summer snowfall. Closer inspection reveals, however, these apparent snow dustings are actually highly synchronized and most comprehensive “TP” jobs.
Traditionally “TP”ing occurs when a grade school girl or boy has finally “been noticed” by at least one or two of their gender opposites. I am not sure when the “TP” fad started. I know it was a standard nocturnal activity-and source of endless parental disciplinary action-during my formative Salina, Kansas “Brady Bunch”, Partridge Family and “Gilligan’s Island” years.
Our society’s increased prosperity~ and Costco’s influence can be directly measured by “TP”ing’s significant evolution since the days of my beloved Marcia Brady.
Back during the “Brady Bunch” years, a strong “TP” job involved at best a half dozen rolls, usually nefariously pilfered from the family closet in 1 or 2 roll increments. These secreted rolls were then communally contributed to a neighborhood supply maintained in strict secrecy by fellow classmates. These pre-delinquent grade school warriors inevitably banded together to form roaming “rat packs” for weekend “TP” excursions.
Our best “TP” jobs were haphazard affairs, frequently prematurely disrupted by the abrupt arrival of the seemingly ubiquitous Salina police patrols. (At the time, I was firmly convinced our consistent ill-timing was the result of someone in our rat pack operating as a paid police snitch.)
In sharp contrast to the Brady Bunch years, today a proper Prairie Village area “TP” job utilizes at least a 36 roll “TP” case. The sheer magnitude of such “TP” firepower must render poor Mr. Whipple (“Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin) shocked and awed. One has to suspect today’s seemingly endless “TP” munitions’ were acquired with at least some passive parental support—and a credit card.
The “Snows of July” jobs appear to be well organized, comprehensive “TP” carpet bombing efforts-sparing few driveways containing minivans, large SUVs, basketball goals, long boards, lax nets or any other indication of young children in the household demographics. Often hand made signs in vibrant colors are tapped to front doors. Car windows are “soaped” with encouraging admonishments regarding “Moose, Monkeys, Penguins, Hurricanes, and Piranhas.”
My first summer as a naïve resident, I nearly wrecked my car trying to interpret the cultural anthropological significance of what was clearly some sort of native Prairie Village area summer tribal tradition.
With residency experience comes clarity. July is actually championship month for many area swimmers.
In the best competitive spirit, fellow teammates and coaches “TP” the homes of young swimmers as encouragement for them to achieve their best championship performances. The exotic names such as Moose, Monkeys, Hurricanes, Penguins and Piranhas are all local team mascots.
Yes, the snows of July may very well be a native Prairie Village area tribal tradition, but like the flowering blooms of spring, it is a tradition even those with grown children anticipate.
One imagines a grade schooler’s adrenaline rush awaking to a “TP” covered yard. The various championship meets bring the thrill of broken records, “personal bests”, celebratory rituals, and of course traditional team cheers and chants. These snows of July and their corresponding championship meets are all part of the Prairie Village area communal fabric~ a much anticipated event during these often sweltering Dog Days of Summer~ and yet another reason why our community is so special.
That being said, there is still enough purist (some might say juvenile delinquent) in me that doesn’t want to give the “TP”ing kids a completely free pass with their July missions. There has to be an at least a mild risk element when performing a “TP”ing job or the thrill of giving~ and reception in receiving~ will be diminished precipitously.
Over the years I’ve found myself surreptitiously waiting on likely July nights~ peering out our dark dining room window with car alarm remotes in hand. I allow the miscreants to enter our yard and start throwing the rolls before simultaneously hitting all the outside car alarms at once. Alternatively, I’ve done the same with the yard sprinklers. Both have the same effect. I’m sure if the kids move as fast in the pool as they do running from the yard, they will break all the meet records at Championships.
As a side note, I recommend the car alarm tactic to anyone living alone. You know~ those situations where you think you’ve heard a noise in the middle of the night? (If you’re like me I immediately seize up, paralyzed trying to decide whether to get up and investigate or call 911). With age, I’ve learned to simply rollover to the bedside table and hit the car alarm remote on the key chain. Any right minded miscreant will not stick around with a car alarm blaring in front. For parents, I’ve learned this trick also works when teenagers are trying to sneak out after bedtime—on their own pre-delinquent “TP”ing adventures.
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
Over the recent Memorial Day Weekend, I read Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That. Long on my “to read” list, the book is widely recognized as one of the most powerful insights into the trauma of war.
Robert Graves provides an emotional autobiographical account of his life in the World War I trench battles. As the book jacket cover states, “Graves paints a devastating portrait of the war: of a young man’s hell, of meaningless sacrifice and everyday heroism.”
Graves was a nineteen year old, Oxford University, English literature major when commissioned as a lieutenant into a famous infantry regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers. By age 21, Graves became a company captain responsible for a 200 man unit who fought in some the war’s most bloody campaigns. At one point Graves was shelled, riddled with shrapnel, left on the field, presumed dead, and his family officially notified of his being “killed in action.”
Graves ultimately survived the war, and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most prolific writers, famous for his poetry and prose.
As I read Graves’ autobiography, I was surprised and intrigued with his innate sense of common leadership, management, and organization. (I found this all the more surprising by his unlikely upbringing in elite British prep and boarding schools and his pre-war student reputation for poetry, literature and ancient languages.)
Graves had a knack for understanding the common soldier and knowing how to motivate men even in the most adverse circumstances. Equally important, Graves adroitly handled, with fastidious attention to trite military courtesies and skillful diplomacy, even the most idiotic of his superior officers.
Having finished the book, I found myself taking several “lesson learned” notes in my journal.
One passage particularly caught my attention. Recovering from shrapnel wounds, Captain Graves was drilling a new volunteer company on the intricacies of parade march. An enthusiastic private challenged Graves as to why they were drilling for parade when all the men just wanted to “go over the top, rush the enemy trenches~ and kill Germans.”
Graves called the men together and gave the following explanation:
“Men, I have seen companies that drilled but who lacked the fighting spirit. I have seen companies that did not drill but who had the fighting spirit. Lastly, I have seen companies that drilled and who also had the fighting spirit. I can not explain it, but I know of the three, those who both drill and who have the fighting spirit are without question the most effective in battle.”
I contemplated Captain Graves’ statement throughout the weekend. The more I contemplated the more I realized its relevancy to sports, academics and business. Graves’ admonishment on the purpose of drill succinctly captured “the talent and work ethic” paradox which has forever baffled me.
Growing up, I was always jealous of the natural athletes—particularly the sprint swimmers. It seemed like some guys could practice once a week, show up at a swim meet and still out pace everyone. They had natural ability.
Likewise, I saw guys who practiced twice a day for three hours at a time. By sheer will and dedication they made themselves into championship swimmers.
However, I also witnessed those swimmers who combined their natural athleticism with a championship caliber work ethic. These were the athletes who became NCAA All-Americans and Olympic participants. As you can imagine, these guys were a very small and elite group. By combining their talent with determined drill and dedication, they moved themselves to the pinnacle of their sport.
This “drill and fight” phenomenon is not limited to swimming. Think of the recent NCAA basketball tournaments. In recent years, two lesser known schools have played for the National Title.
In both cases, these schools had less talent—at least in terms of high school All-Americans. What they did have was the experience of senior players who had “drilled together” for four years.
This “four years” of drilling together gave the “underdog” teams a perceptible mental edge in the March Madness tournament pressure over the traditional power houses and their McDonald’s All-Americans. Under “tournament pressure” the underdogs’ four years of practicing and playing together exceeded the raw talent of tradition bound teams consisting of short-term NBA focused individual stars.
In college, I saw a great many guys who were naturally smart. They would barely crack a book and still pull good grades. I also saw guys who had to study morning, noon and night just to make the same grades as the naturals. Of course there was the third group—those who were naturally smart, but who also studied morning, noon and night—many of those have the initials MD beside their names today.
In the world of business, I see guys who are born salesmen. Some call them “people persons.” They have a gift of creating energy around them. They seem to be the positive center of every party. Many were rush chairmen of their fraternities and sororities They gravitate into sales where they enjoy success.
Likewise, I know successful salesmen who are almost painfully shy, but through grit and determination have made themselves successful.
However, the most successful –the super stars of their profession- often have the natural talent, but add to that talent drive, determination, organization and dedication. They are the ones constantly practicing—i.e. “drilling” to make themselves better. These champions are forever trying to improve their skills, regardless of how much talent they may possess. (Think of the great professional golfers—they collectively take more lessons per capita than even the best country club champions.)
Today a corporate “buzz word” popular with college counselors and career coaches is “passion”. I am forever hearing young people talk about wanting to “follow their passion”. Somehow their counselors have convinced them if they “just follow their passion” they will never have to deal with the drudgery of work and drill.
I am well aware of the old adage “find something you love and you never have to work again.” I love banking, but I know that as part of that love I must do the “thousand and one” dreary tasks that are not much fun. This is the part of my job that constitutes “the drill’. One cannot have success without being willing to drill.
In many ways those young people who think the secret to success is simply following their passion are like the young Welch infantry private who wanted to stop drilling and just go “over the top” to fight the enemy. The cemeteries of Flanders are full of such brave, passionate ~but undrilled young men.
In short, Captain Graves well captures a point lost on the “natural” but undrilled athletes, salesmen or professionals. Regardless of your talent, passion or desire ---to succeed at the highest levels you must constantly drill your talents if you want to be effective.
I looked up the history of Captain Graves’ Royal Welch Fusilier Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was known not only for its excellent marching, shiny brass button and strict military discipline, but also their tenacity and effectiveness in controlling the trenches and driving back the enemy. As Captain Graves stated, not only did they have the spirit to fight, they channeled and positively organized this fighting spirit by constant drill and attention to detail. It is a legacy for which we should all strive.
April 4, 2011
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
“The Length of the Journey and Pebble in the Shoe”
Our family canine, “Riva,” is a Wayside Waif dog shelter alum. She appears a cross between a Black Lab and what must have been a wild fox. Riva spends languid days reclined. Her energy level reminiscent of a Sunday morning fraternity house.
Riva’s sloth like behavior instantaneously changes at sunset. With the moon’s rising, our normally docile dog suddenly becomes a “possessed beast.” Riva literally starts bouncing off walls and madly sprinting figure eights throughout the house. I’ve wondered if she’s secretly stashed amphetamine pills with her bones.
Riva does not return to normal until completion of her nightly walk. Our walking ritual is a virtual cartoon. Riva strains on the leash manically dashing to and fro. Her constant (but never captured) quarry includes numerous rabbits, wary foxes, oblivious possums, and fat raccoons. Trailing and tethered behind the leash, I’m jerked and yanked with each new hot pursuit.
Last week, a quarter mile into the walk I felt a stabbing pain in my foot. Being an alpha male, I tried to just ignore the pain and continue our walking charade. I managed just another 200 yards before convincing myself further steps would result in my toe surely being severed by whatever sharp foreign object was inflecting such pain. I managed to limp to the curb, tie the bounding and somewhat incoherent Riva to a fire hydrant and sat down to properly attend to my throbbing foot.
Feeling ridiculous, sitting on the curb in Fedora hat, blue cashmere overcoat, white silk scarf, and pinstriped dress suit- a chomped cigar dangling from my very clinched lips, I most urgently prayed no passing car or neighbor would witness my compromised position.
Given the pain, I mentally prepared to discover a giant railroad spike protruding through my foot. I anticipated a blood river gushing from an open wound as soon as I removed my shoe.
After taking off both shoe and sock, I was at once further humiliated. The source of my misery being no more than a tiny pin. It had worked itself into a toe nerve ending. No blood and barely a microscopic skin punctured. The official medical term would be “a pin prick.” Physical damage was nonexistent. Corresponding damage to male psychic and ego- massive and irreversible.
I shuddered to think what Mrs. Bolen would’ve said about my pain tolerance if she saw me sitting one shoed on the curb-- her 6’2” 220 pound husband brought to his knees by a wayward pin prick. I hung on to that damn pin throughout the rest of our walk. Once home and in my study, I stuck the pin into my leather desk blotter.
I thought the miscreant pin could serve both as a constant ego check and a reminder of the Chinese proverb ~“Failure results not from the length of the journey or the height of the mountain but the pebble in one’s shoe.”
The following evening’s serendipity made this confounded pin even more symbolic. It included a young local author, her grandmother’s story and a very unique book reading experience.
Phoebe Unterman is a recent Shawnee Mission East graduate, neighbor and friend of the bank. Phoebe wrote and personally illustrated a children’s book entitled, Through Eva’s Eyes. It tells her grandmother’s first person account of being sentenced as a child to Auschwitz, preserving through the nightmare and ultimately surviving the Holocaust.
Still recovering from my prior night’s imagined pin prick, I learned Phoebe and her grandmother, Eva, were scheduled that evening to discuss the book together at the library.
It proved to be one of the most singularly inspiring events I’ve experienced since returning to Kansas City. There on the library auditorium stage was Phoebe willing herself not to portray stage fright. Sitting beside Phoebe and exuding calming confidence was her adoring Grandmother Eva, the real life little girl character in the book.
On the stage, situated next to each other in big easy chairs, granddaughter and grandmother were clearly content in the visible delight of being in each other’s company.
This content grandparent/grandchild scene is one I often see at Winstead’s on the Plaza -particularly around the holidays. It is a scene I always love. Typically an out of town grandparent or grandchild reunite in a Winstead’s booth. They share “steakburgers” and memories. The unspoken bond being that each is simply glad to be reunited and in each other’s company -even if their visit may be ever so brief (I’ve often wondered if it is not the steakburgers but the memories that go with the burgers that makes Winstead’s such a unique craving).
My Winstead’s day dreaming abruptly ended when Grandmother Eva began telling her story. Her stage presence and story could not have been more incongruent. On stage sat this almost picture perfect grandmother. She could’ve been easily pictured in a Ladies Home Journal pie baking advertisement. Yet, her story is one of unimaginable cruelty and unfathomable evil.
In many ways Eva’s childhood experience is typical of all Holocaust survivors. Nevertheless, hers is unique. Eva is but one of only a handful of sentenced children actually to have survived the Poland concentration camps. As Eva explained, the Nazis could find no use for children. Almost immediately on arrival, children were separated from parents, marched away and terminated.
Somehow, Eva’s mother convinced the Nazi camp commandant Eva should be spared to work as slave laborer. She argued Eva’s small hands could prove useful in the delicate task of bullet sorting. What appeared to be an uncommon stroke of concentration camp survival luck nearly proved fatal when Eva found herself being fire bombed in a German munitions plant the night of the now infamous Dresden British bomber raid.
A young person in the audience asked Eva about her physical pain, wretched accommodations, malnourishment and shaved head. Eva explained her most painful physical experience occurred when she and her mother were force marched 20 miles one snowy night to another camp. Like all prisoners Eva had nothing but shoddy wooden shoes. During the forced march, a nail pushed through Eva’s shoe and into her foot. Eva said the pain was unbearable. Eva’s mother, however, would not let her stop. She warned that if Eva even so much as hesitated their Nazi guards would bayonet her immediately. You could almost see Eva twitching in suppressed pain recounting how she clung to her mother’s hand marching miles with a nail protruding into her foot.
As you can imagine, Eva’s story intensely resonated against my prior evening’s experience. Less than 24 hours earlier, I was straddled on a Mission Hill’s curb languishing in my self-perceived pin prick agony.
By contrast here sat this demure grandmother calmly relating how she marched miles half starved through the Polish snow with a nail in her foot.
Following the presentation I gave Grandmother Eva a hug. I noted Grandmother Eva’s head barely came to the middle of my chest. I could have wrapped my arms around her twice with room to spare. To an outsider, it must have appeared as if a grizzly was holding a lamb. The opposite was true. In terms of character strength the lamb was holding the grizzly.
As I looked into her smiling face and twinkling eyes I saw in those eyes an iron will radiating both strength and courage. Eva had beaten the Nazis and escaped the Dresden fire bombing. Now she stoically and yet serenely sat with her granddaughter telling her story to honor and remember those who did not.
That evening I sat in my study. I once again stared at the nefarious pin. Yes it still represented the Chinese proverb that even the smallest reoccurring irritant can fester in one’s shoe. Yielding to such festering can prematurely end one’s loftiest goals. But now this tiny pin also symbolizes Eva’s story. Eva’s lesson being that even a nail in one’s foot can be conquered with an iron will and faith to complete the journey.
As we enjoy this Spring Season and our outdoor walks in the warm weather, let’s recognize pebbles from the nails. Both can be overcome with determined persistence. The ultimately victory over Nazis, fire bombs or whatever evils society spews forth-is to persevere. Our goal should be to someday sit contentedly with grandchildren, sharing memories --and perhaps eating Winstead’s steakburgers.
If you call or write, we’ll see if we can’t send you a complimentary copy of Phoebe’s book. All our best --and thank you for letting us be your bankers. ~
January 20, 2011
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
I received a call from a very bright and recent KU graduate returning to Kansas City.
Since he had just started his new Kansas City employment, I told him to stop by after work. I marked the appointment book ~ but made a mental note not to hold my breath.
For good or bad, I’ve found appointments scheduled by recent graduates often are no shows. As every college coach or military leader will tell you, if you base your life assuming teenagers and 20 year olds will always do what is expected - you will find yourself frequently frustrated. Perhaps this is why so many college coaches are prematurely grey.
To my pleasant surprise the young man was most prompt. Clearly this is someone going to be successful.
As he sat down in front of my bankers’ desk, I told him how pleased I was he was now careering in Kansas City. I knew he had opportunities in much larger cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Washington DC and New York. Nevertheless, I saw him having the biggest impact here.
While talking I realized he was in sharp contrast to many Kansas City area graduates leaving en masse to start careering in Chicago and New York. I understand their innate desire to “get away for awhile and experience a different metropolitan area.” Most Kansas City area graduates leave with the anticipation they will return, permanently settle and continue their careers in Kansas City so as to be near to their folks and families once they finally decide to have children.”
Unfortunately, this “get away for a while” impulse is generally pursued without forethought or contemplation as to long term consequences or probabilities. Many find themselves permanently living in distant lobster traps.
Let me explain. A lobster trap is easily entered. However, as the lobster crawls forward, it moves ever further into a narrowing funnel. Eventually the lobster becomes entrapped. Too late, the lobster realizes it is unable to maneuver enough to turn around.
Leaving Kansas City after graduation to start a Chicago or New York career often proves a similar “lobster trap like” one way experience. Young graduates leave intending to be gone “just a couple of years” before returning home.
Frequently these young professionals are encouraged by their Kansas City parents who envision a couple of years visiting and shopping with their children in exciting new metropolises. Once away, our graduates meet people, start dating, get involved with work and suddenly realize returning home and continuing their careers in Kansas City proves problematic. Often East and West Coast industries, professional practices and salary structures are not easily transferred back to Kansas City.
Those parents who encouraged their graduates to start their careers elsewhere frequently find their holidays spent traveling across the country to see their grandchildren. (Perhaps web cameras will someday substitute for regular grandparent hugs ~ but I doubt it.)
My point is not to suggest starting a Chicago or New York career as necessarily a bad thing. Nor is it an inevitable mistake for graduates to want to leave Kansas City and permanently make their careers elsewhere.
Rather, my observation is that far too often graduates find it fashionable “just to get away for awhile because a new city might be fun.” They do not consider whether they really want to leave Kansas City permanently. They awake in 10 years and realize returning is simply not economically or socially feasible.
Today, our business leaders do not significantly encourage graduates to stay and career in Kansas City. The importance of retaining local graduating talent is rarely discussed in business circles or universities. When have you heard the Chamber of Commerce President or University Chancellor discuss keeping our graduating talent in Kansas City? More often they boast about attracting professionals from out of state or placing their top graduates on Wall Street. Likewise in many circles it is far more debonair to smugly encourage graduates to “get away for awhile.”
In constantly suggesting our brightest graduates “go away to start your career” we decapitate our community’s intellectual base. We must continually attract and retain the best and brightest of our young graduates if our economy is to remain robust.
Telling young graduates we want them to career in Kansas City might not immediately resonate. Nevertheless, like recruiting a nationally ranked local prep basketball player to stay and play for KU, Mizzou or KSU, telling our graduates we really want them to make their careers in our community should be consistently encouraged.
If nothing else, such encouragement should correctly stimulate our graduates’ ultimate career and relocation contemplations. Without such contemplations, many will become inadvertently and permanently entangled in the “bright lights and glitter” of distant sky scraper laden lobster traps.
My very best for what I know will be a great year for you and your family in 2011. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be your bank and bankers~
December 1, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Shareholders and Clients ~
During one of the recent extended family dinners leading into this Holiday season, my 8th grade niece, Marie Claire, leaned over the table and asked “Uncle Dan, what do you have on your bucket list?”
Having Irish genes, I’m rarely left speechless. However, the incongruity of seeing my smiling young niece looking at me over the soup bowl with wide-eyed curiosity as to my remaining life goals more than knocked me for a loop.
My racing mind’s first thought was, “What in the world is a teenager doing thinking about ‘bucket lists’~ and why would she think I had the foresight to make one?”
The earnest look on her face conveyed that I couldn’t simply say “I haven’t a clue.” Uncles are supposed to be wiser and more knowing than parents.
In my quick mental calculations, I knew I’d be knocked down a peg in the uncle department admitting I lacked a personal bucket list~ particularly if her parents had already revealed theirs.
As I mentally ran through all the various safe, standard, chic and even suave answers guys my age normally give, I instinctively realized she knew me too well to accept a trite response. Adding to my chagrin, the entire table overheard her question and all were staring at me in anticipation.
I’ve learned the hard way that when the old family dinner table pressure is really on~ it is best to just be truthful.
Trying hard to convey the impression it was something I had long contemplated, I leaned back across the table and said,
“Marie Claire, the one and only thing on my bucket list is to be as smart as I thought I was at age 28 on Capitol Hill.”
She nodded assent appearing pleased I had given a real, if not obtuse, answer. For a moment I relaxed thinking I had dodged a potentially awkward bullet.
Unfortunately, an instant later, Marie Claire scrunched her eyebrows and asked, “Does that mean Uncle Dan that you are not as smart now as you used to be?"
There is a reason inquisitive teenagers consistently give me headaches. In a moment of candor that generally happens only at family gatherings, I had to admit,
“No, Marie Claire, it means I figured out I am not as smart as I once thought I was. Somewhere along the line, I realized there is a great deal more I need to learn.”
In this statement, I know I’m not alone. I remember Mark Twain once commented that he left home at 18 thinking his father an utter fool~ returning home at 21 only to be amazed at how much his father had learned in three short years.
My personal contemplation when driving home that night centered on why I spontaneously and randomly picked age 28 and Capitol Hill as being the high water peak of my perceived worldly knowledge.
A week later the answer came with clarity. It was at age 28 that I changed my first diaper. It was also that year I reluctantly accepted the cold fact senatorial legislation alone can not precipitously eliminate societal ills.
It is amazing how just changing your own children’s’ diapers, (as Mrs. Bolen would say, “you only changed a very, very few”) and suffering through one too many US Senate investigations can deflate one’s perception of worldly knowledge.
The same is true in business and banking. Everyday, it seems we learn just a little bit more about how much we do not know.
If you ever meet someone that confidently claims to have vanquished life’s vagaries~ assume you are talking to a fool. Banking is the business of people. People (like life itself) are generally too individually unique to be understood en mass or assigned to categorized generalities.
It’s like the kids’ video games. Just when you think you’ve mastered one level, the game always moves you to a higher and slightly more difficult playing field.
It seems like every “life lesson learned,” in turn, generates only more unanswered questions ~which can only be answered through yet another series of life experiences.
Each emerging new question teasingly implies that just solving its riddle will be the last necessary hurdle in completing life’s never ending knowledge puzzle.
As we go into this great festive Season and the New Year, let’s mutually pursue this endless quest of discovering how much we do not yet know. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be your bank and partner~
September 1, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Clients and Shareholders~
The youthful exuberance and kinetic energy of a warm Spring evening on a college campus is something to behold. It was well past midnight one such Thursday evening of my junior year that I managed to find my way back to my room.
Thrown on top of laundry piled on what served as my study desk was a hastily scribbled note stating, “Your KC grandfather wants you to go fishing at the Hunting Club tomorrow at 8 am”.
In a fraternity house Spring semester after the pledges have been initiated and before cell phones, someone actually taking and delivering a telephone message was a bit miraculous.
My first reaction was that fishing on Friday morning meant 4 hours sleep and missing my final economics class.
I did a quick mental calculation. My econ professor was an aging hippie and leftwing ideologue. (Today he’d be considered “politically correct.”). Such ideologues are easily placated. I knew, even missing class, by adding trite verbiage on his Final decrying “the bourgeois’ exploitation of the proletariat” he’d give me an A ~mistakenly thinking he had a new convert to his misguided cause.
On the other hand, my Kansas City grandfather, actually he was my great grandfather, was a bear like force of nature. A former turn of the century prize weight lifter in Bavaria he came over in 1912 after serving in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Artillery Corps. In America he founded what was then considered a substantial meatpacking company. At age 91 he remained intimidating. He retained his full Bavarian mustache, broad shoulders, massive chest and meat hook hands. His bulldog carriage and formal mannerisms gave the impression of a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Prussian Field Marshall von Hindenburg.
I decided I’d better go fishing.
Friday morning found me bleary eyed waiting on the club’s fishing dock bench contemplating the dragon flies’ crazy asymmetrical flight patterns.
I was jolted from these mindless contemplations by the distinct staccato of his stomping footsteps on the long dock. (Apparently the unique marching cadence drilled by Prussian officers into young Bavarian recruits is retained for life.) “Oh Danny…Guten Tag…I am so pleased you can make it…This will give us a chance to talk.”
Settling down he pulled a submerged tackle line from the cold water with a Hamms’ Beer six pack attached. (Clearly this seemingly impromptu fishing meeting had been carefully planned.)
I silently moaned at the sight of the beer. My moan almost became audible when he then pulled two cigars from his front pocket.
Even in my best collegiate prime, 8 am beers and cigars were a bit aggressive. This intergenerational fishing was going to be a hard day’s work.
Having fired his cigar and popped the flip top, he saluted me with, “Die alten Deutschen getranken immer ein anderes” (The old German always drinks another.)
I watched as he drained his can in four smooth gulps, clinched the cigar firmly in his lips and opened another.
Now situated he turned, took my measure and asked, “Danny you are what… twenty… I want to know what you plan on doing with yourself?”
To this, I mentioned law school.
Shaking his head, he said, “Danny you don’t have the calmness to fish and you can’t sit still in a duck blind. Moreover, Danny, you have that stubborn Irish streak.” (I wanted to tell him my Irish grandfather repeatedly attributed Germanic genes to my obstinate nature- but figured the point moot.)
After reflecting he said, “I’m sure Danny law school won’t do you any harm…but I can’t see you having the patience to build a law practice.”
After another pause, he groused, “Son, eventually you’re going to end up a businessman just like me—and that is what I want to talk you about.”
Before continuing he leaned back and blew a heavy, long smoke plume calculated to ensure my full attention.
“In Germany there is an old saying. Shirttails to Shirttails in three generations. Danny, do you know what that means?”
Of course I hadn’t a clue.
My absent response was apparently the moment for which he had so meticulously planned. Snapping forward and squaring his shoulders, he leaned round looking me fully and squarely in the face. Cigar jabs punctuate his comments.
“We’ll Danny, the short version is that the first generation makes the money, the second generation enjoys it and the third generation often loses it.
Now let me explain. In Germany the workmen did back breaking labor always ending the day with their shirttails out from all the lifting, pulling, digging and stacking.
Among every couple hundred workers one person with uncommon drive starts as a laborer, gains some useful skills, saves his money and eventually starts his own business—hiring, and organizing associates to do the hard labor. At day’s end that business owner’s shirttail remains tucked.
The second generation sees the hard work and sacrifice endured to build and run the business. They usually keep the business going.
The problem is that between the second and third generation, the business gets taken for granted. The family starts thinking about ownership, inheritance rights, and other pursuits rather than the daily focus, work and commitment to really run the business.
Focus and commitment lost, the company is sold. The third generation tries to maintain a leisurely lifestyle off idle investments from the sale proceeds.”
Here the Old Bavarian shook his head in resignation and filled the air with another jettison of cigar smoke.
“Now I’ve watched the markets both in Europe and here. I can tell you Danny unless your are born of Old World nobility there are no idle investments that can keep a young family in leisure when the next business panic comes- and it always does.
The investments are lost in the panic, so somewhere between the third and fourth generation the family must give up the leisure and go back to really working—meaning their shirttails will be hanging out at days’ end.
Danny, you are my fourth generation. If you are without a work ethic and commitment, I am telling you, there is no amount of idle investments that will keep your leisurely shirttail tucked.
I suggest you find something you like- or at least learn to like, be glad for the work, and make sure you focus on the sacrifice and commitment to really run it. If you do…then maybe someday you too can take your great grandson fishing and explain to him the meaning of shirttails.”
With that, he finished his fourth beer, and handed me my second. He stood, gave me a crushing bear hug, and a formal “auf wiedersehen”.
Turning he marched from the dock ~leaving me in a swirl of cigar smoke, empty Hamms beer cans, dancing dragon flies -and a very great deal to think about.
Since returning from Washington and the Capitol Hill nonsense, I annually return for an early Spring morning on the old fishing dock.
There in the warming sunshine, I chew on a cigar and stare at the still crazed dragon flies.
Inevitably, I end up thinking of work, commitment, focus, that old Bavarian -- and the meaning of shirttails.
July 2, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Clients and Shareholders~
As we feel the first hot breezes of what will undoubtedly be the coming dog days of summer, we wanted to check in. It hardly seems like six months since we were sending our New Year’s Greetings.
In trying to remember the time flash since that cold New Year’s Eve, one conjures recollections and quickly identifies memories of a long grey winter punctuated by a tumultuous basketball season, Valentine’s Day, Spring Break, an abbreviated spring season (which included a healthy dose of rain), a beautiful blossoming of flowering trees, graduations, a long Memorial Day weekend, and the opening of the pool season.
The apparent blur and speed of these past months makes the July half year mark a good time to recalibrate and reflect.
Although optimistic the recent financial reform legislation will address the greed and malfeasance perpetuated by the Wall Street oligarchies, my gut says that the miscreants have insinuated themselves too deep into the Capitol Hill campaign coffers to risk meaningful oversight.
Commercial banking should be a ground-up, community based and locally-driven enterprise ~closely supervised for safety and soundness. Unfortunately, under bi-partisan deregulation, many operated the banking industry from a top down pyramid to harvest almost predatory short-term profits and unsustainable growth.
One would have hoped that banking regulators would have held the industry to higher standards and that banking consumers would have been more conscientious in selecting their banking relationships.
Many banking customers simply allowed their accounts and banks to be bought and sold like prized cattle at the regional stockyard, blindly staying with the successive institutions like lemmings lock stepping into the Arctic Ocean. For many such lock stepping lemmings the presumed “distraction” of switching automatic debits from the big bank is perceived as too great of hassle. Like any abusive relationship victim, they stay trapped in the malignant jaws of their big bank rather than taking the liberating action necessary to seek consumer appreciation.
Given all the bank consolidation, assets today continue to concentrate further into the cadre ownership of politically connected Wall Street and foreign investment houses~ i.e. the parochially myopic New York types who recognize small businesses and visit Main Street Middle America only by watching their Madison Avenue created bank television commercials.
Whether the financial reform bill accomplishes its purpose is open to doubt and suspicion. In the end, our capitalistic economic system will survive only if anti-trust laws are enforced, regulations equally applied and the Wall Street monopoly on capital allocation and cronyism neutralized.
Accordingly, we think of our community bank and our beloved clients as doing just that. Specifically, we think of ourselves as serving as a small but critical bulwark against a Wall Street monopoly that concentrates capital with impunity and allocates it with disastrous consequences—often at the taxpayers’ expense.
In this fashion you should feel that as our client you are taking back your economic power from the Wall Street oligarchies and returning it to Main Street-where common sense and honesty are far more prevalent.
My best~ and as always~ thank you for giving us the opportunity to be your bank and bankers.
June 2, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Clients and Shareholders~
Thirty some years ago I remember a beautiful late Autumn Sunday morning, sitting on the front porch of my fraternity house nursing a rather large cup of coffee. I vaguely recollect thinking that if I stared at the coffee cup long enough it would reveal the mystery of where I had left my car the night before.
Up the fraternity circular driveway came one of those enormously long luxury cars of the late 1970’s. It was of the old Detroit variety –the type that had both a hood and trunk roughly equal to the size of a formal dinning room table. I can’t remember if it was a Cadillac El Dorado or a Lincoln Continental —but I did know it was not the type of car a college student could afford.
I was surprised as the driver stepped out. Instead of the expected sports coat or business suit, the 50s something hard looking man was wearing a cowboy hat, western cut coat, and boots. The face was wind burned and weather lined. Even with a pounding brain, I summoned the manners (reinforced by the prior year’s pledge training) to stand up and welcome him.
The visitor looked at me and my coffee cup. Nodding in my direction, he simultaneously pulled a cigarette and Zippo flip-top lighter from his pockets, lit up and repocketed the lighter in one swift, practiced motion.
He took a long drag and while exhaling said, “Son, you can sit there all day staring at the coffee cup. I suggest you find some of the dog that bit you, take a long slug and start doing something useful.” With that he turned, looked at the front door of the fraternity and requested I “go rouse up” his son and “bring him out to daylight.”
I found his son buried deep under the covers of his third floor rack. With much shaking and cajoling, I managed to convey that his dad was on the front porch.
It was then that I witnessed one of the fastest adrenaline fused sobriety recoveries of my collegiate career. In an instant the previously prone young man jumped from the bunk bed, grabbed his clothes and managed to completely dress himself while rushing down three flights of stairs.
By the time I stumbled back down to the front porch for my coffee, the cowboy dad and his son had more or less finished their conversation. Placing his arm on his boy’s shoulder and in a deep tobacco cured voice, the cowboy dad commented loud enough for me to hear, “Now remember son, don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education.”
I spent the rest of the morning sipping my coffee, contemplating the cowboy dad’s remark, (and still trying to remember where I left my car). I later learned the cowboy dad was one of the largest ranchers and among the most astute businessmen in the state of Kansas.
Thirty years later I can not tell you what classes I took that Fall semester or whether I have ever utilized anything from them in my professional career. However, I do know the rancher’s admonishment to recognize the difference between schooling and education has both stuck to and served me well.
Through college, law school and beyond, I realized one can learn as much in the hallways as in the classroom. Although I had many fine professors at the University of Kansas, the University of Virginia and Georgetown—I have benefited equally, if not more, from the common sense observations and insights of various barbers, shoe shinemen, doormen, cabbies, and others of all trades and backgrounds which serendipity has brought into my parochial orbit. Each has passed on their nuggets of wisdom and life perceptions.
As a banker, one of the great job benefits is to interact with various business owners, busy parents, entrepreneurs, professionals and retirees- all who share their insights, experiences and advice~ which I try to record in my nightly journal. Collectively, it is as if I am experiencing the opportunity to take a daily ongoing continuing education course.
It is with this in mind that we came across a terrific book, Lunchmeat and Life Lessons, by Mary Lucas, the sister of one of our clients. Mary details the philosophies and hard earned observations of her father, John Bichelmeyer –the butcher who founded the famous Bichelmeyer meat market in Kansas City, Kansas. Rarely have I found so much “education” complied into one small book. If you are interest in the book, write me and we’ll see if we can’t send you a copy.
Now that we are in the Summer Season, we wish for cool, but sunny days. My best and as always, thank you for giving us the opportunity to be your bank and Bankers.
March 1, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Clients and Shareholders~
One of the reasons I love being a community banker is the fact that you live and work within your community. The other reason is that you do not have some distant corporate “planning” officer dictating how your bank lobby is going to look and how it must be decorated.
Since I spend more time in our bank lobby than waking hours in my own home, I want for our bank lobby to have the same feel as my home study. Both of these points came alive last Fall during a most unusual course of events.
Driving to the bank one morning and cutting through a Mission Hills side street, I noticed an unadvertised estate sale.
The estate sale had a great large gilded antique mirror, which I thought would look good in the bank lobby.
Unfortunately, I had no cash. My only negotiable asset was an old, well-worn blank check that I’d kept tucked in my wallet for emergencies (Yes, it is true ~ the cobbler’s children never have shoes).
I approached the guy running the estate sale and offered him full price for the mirror if he would only take my check. Dubiously, the gentleman looked down at my proffered but crinkled blank check. With a wary smile he said, “I have lived in this area for a long time. How come I’ve never heard of your bank?” I promptly responded, “Clearly all of our bank advertising must be of questionable effectiveness.”
I then gave him my business card and assured him the bank on which the check was drawn would honor it.
During our conversation, I realized that the gentleman running the estate sale was the son of the recently deceased homeowner. I remembered her obituary from the paper. I told him his mother was a most accomplished woman to be admired.
In visiting with him I learned that he was equally accomplished. He served as a United States Air Force pilot flying Special Forces drops into Laos and piloting an AC-130 Spectre Gunship on the Ho Chi Minh trail. I thanked him for his service to our country. I then took the antique mirror to the bank lobby. Yes, we do shop at estate sales for our bank lobby’s furnishings. Being frugal is part of being a good banker.
I had forgotten the incident until later that next week when my new friend came to the lobby wanting to open an account. I was thrilled at the serendipity of meeting someone at a local estate sale and then having him as a new bank client. This is exactly why community banking is so much fun.
Only months later when my friend wrote a book and obliquely referenced the incident did I learn, as Paul Harvey made famous, “the rest of the story.”
Apparently, my friend took the proceeds of his mother’s estate sale to the Prairie Village branch of what used to be a real local community bank. Now, alas, it is only the scrubbed corporate front for a faceless national banking organization.
They accepted his big bills which he carried in an old cigar box. However, with regard to the cigar box coins, they told him he would have to take his coinage to another location.
Incredulous, he sputtered, “Are you telling me as a bank client you will not accept my coins?” In typical big bank Orwellian fashion, the teller mindlessly referenced a new corporate-wide “coinage policy” (Undoubtedly, some newly-minted MBA genius in the big bank’s corporate headquarters must have suffered a flash of inspiration in mandating that loose coins are a bad thing for their local branches to accept - hence their new national “coinage policy”).
Incensed, my friend found my business card in the bottom of his cigar box and came to our bank. In his book (yes, he is an author too), he noted the contrast between his previous banking experience and his Bank of Prairie Village experience – my jumping up from my desk when he entered our lobby, shaking his hand, and following through with a handwritten note telling him how much I looked forward to being his new bank and banker.
He contrasted our community bank experience with his attempt to get the Big Bank teller to pull herself away from her internet surfing for just long enough to robotically recite their “new coinage” policy.
My friend and author ended his book with the admonishment to his readers that cute national television ads repeatedly aired to the point of nausea throughout the Winter Olympics coverage (probably paid for with TARP money) do not overcome robotic tellers, coinage policies, and “human free” client “assistance” numbers.
Among the lessons learned from this story that I relate to our young bankers are that ~ 1) a warm firm handshake, 2) the good manners to stand when someone approaches your bank desk, and 3) the use of actual people to answer telephone customer service inquires ~ should be mandatory in your habits and thought processes.
These simple lessons are no more than common business sense and good social practices. However, they seem to have been eliminated from today’s business school and MBA curriculums.
I can assure you that the day our bank says that we are not interested in taking your coins is the day we will have a management change and I start looking for an alternative career.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be your bank and bankers.
January 20, 2010
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Clients and Shareholders,
Just prior to this past Thanksgiving Day, I made the comment to my mother that I was going to have to get up early and return to Kansas City the Friday after Thanksgiving because the bank would be short staffed without me.
Assuming I would receive motherly consolation and a compliment on my work ethic, I was surprised when Mom immediately replied, “Dan, do you know how many unemployed bankers would like to get up and have a bank where they can go to work this Friday?”
Mom’s comment struck like a battering ram’s blow. Suddenly just having a bank to which I could return generated a new sense of meaning and purpose. Every bank client I thought of during the three hour early morning drive became that much more cherished.
Often with continued success, one forgets and starts viewing as “dreary” those daily tasks which are in fact hard-earned blessings. As someone said, if you don’t think everyday is a “great” day to be alive, try skipping one.
This insight brings to mind a conversation I had with my grandfather and namesake, Dan Bolen, in Salina, Kansas during my last year in law school. I was visiting him for what we both knew would be the last time. My grandfather was in bed and I was leaned over him, doing most of the talking.
Suddenly my grandfather reached up and grabbed my overcoat lapel, pulling me down close to his face.
There was a spark in his eyes and his recently slurred diction became very clear. In a low whisper, he said he wanted me “every day to wear a suit and tie to the office.” Without hesitating, he then whispered, “This family worked for generations on railroad gangs so you can wear a suit and tie. Don’t screw it up and don’t ever forget it.”
From that perspective, wearing a suit and tie becomes not a burden, but rather a privilege. As you can imagine, our young officers are swiftly instructed as to why suit and ties are both expected and required for our profession-- at least as it is practiced at the Bank of Prairie Village.
We could not continue achieving our performance without your support. I have attached a client letter that I enclosed with our year end clients’ statements that underscores this point. We are most pleased to be your Bank and Bankers. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.
October 5, 2009
Recently while watching television I noticed an advertisement by a large bank showing the announcer dressed for a golf trip, suggesting that their bank made home equity loans so “easy” that borrowers can enjoy the “more important things in life.” This “cute” advertisement essentially encourages borrowers to take the equity from their homes and spend it on vacations and golf.
This humorous advertisement shot a surge of anger through me. I wasn’t sure why it invoked such a strong negative reaction. To “get in touch with my feelings,” I followed my tried and true routine of putting the dog on her leash and heading out for a long evening walk.
The more I thought about the home equity ad, the more I understood why it infuriated me. First and foremost, we have all spent the last year listening to Congressional debates- and paying for federal bailouts associated with the housing debacle. Every week—today was no exception - the newspapers carry front page stories about home foreclosures and the attendant heartbreaks.
Given this backdrop of foreclosures and bailouts, my first thought was of the poor taste and ill timing of a media campaign suggesting that one’s home equity be used for vacation spending money.
Every real banker understands that providing credit is a serious business. In many respects, a banker is like a doctor prescribing pain medication after a surgery. Yes, the patient loves you when you “prescribe the medication” (or make the loan), but when it comes time to take the patient off of the medication, or in our case, request that the credit be paid down, the patient’s good will immediately turns to animosity.
Like doctors, we learn not to take such animosity personally. In such cases, the doctor and the banker knows their directive to end the pain medication to avoid addiction or request credit reduction to avoid overwhelming debt is for the patient’s well being. Nevertheless, it does not make the job any easier.
I remember well my freshman year in college. I was on the swimming team. The team doctor prescribed some pain medication for an inflamed shoulder. I could have hugged the man when I received my little bottle of pain pills. I found that on the pain mediation, the long winter workouts went much better. The heavy arms and cramped muscles during the distant swims no longer bothered me. In fact, I almost enjoyed the workouts for one blissful week.
Unfortunately, at week’s end I found my precious medication bottle empty. I went back to my favorite doctor to ask for just one more refill. The doctor smiled but firmly refused my request. Being eighteen, somewhat exhausted, and naturally belligerent, I promptly inflicted on the once friendly doctor some choice collegiate discord, slamming the door on my way out. Workouts went back to being pain-filled ordeals. I directed all of my resentment against that once likable team doctor. Only with age and reflection do I realize that the doctor had my best interests at heart. He was not the Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde I had conjured –he was a professional with my best interests at heart.
We all love witty and memorable advertisements. Who can forget those great Benson and Hedges cigarette ads “just a silly millimeter longer,” the Camels “I’d Walk a Mile,” and of course the legendary “Marlboro” man with the guitar music always strumming in the background as he rode that never ending prairie. Nevertheless, purveying cigarettes with humor and wit is no longer socially acceptable –or for that matter legal. This is probably for good measure. Serious products such as cigarettes, pain medication and yes consumer credit should not be marketed in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
One has to begin to wonder if the time has not come to end credit card advertisements highlighting crazy looking Vikings and home equity loans being championed by gaudily dressed golfers (I won’t even begin to comment about insurance products peddled by green lizards).
Pain medication and credit—particularly home equity credit- if used appropriately, can be most useful for very limited and specific purposes. However, like everything else, if taken or given without forethought of purpose –these useful tools can become most corrupting resulting inevitability in abuse and ruin.
The banker or banking institution that trivializes the extension of home equity credit through funny media campaigns does a disservice to society and insults a thinking person’s intelligence. In the long run, such banking institutions will reap what they sow—and most likely find themselves at the federal bailout window asking for taxpayer assistance. They are like the cigarette executives of old, pushing a potentially dangerous product with catchy jingles and seductive wit, only to eventually suffer the subsequent backlash when the butcher’s bill comes due.
Prudence was once a word associated with commercial bankers. Unfortunately, in the rush for short term profits and fast growth, many fellow bankers shed their prudent temperament (along with their suit jackets in the lobby and white handkerchiefs in the breast pockets). Sound lending principles were replaced by catchy media campaigns and easy credit extensions directed toward the uninformed and desperate.
Our bank maintains our 5 Star Safety and Soundness Rating from the Bauer Rating service. In addition to the 5 Star rating, we received the two highest designations for Kansas City banks by two other rating agencies Bankrate.com and TheStreet.com. We could not continue achieving our performance without your support. We are most pleased to be your Bank and Bankers.
September 9, 2009
Recently, I noticed several newspaper and television ads by larger banks offering cash checking rewards for opening new accounts. As I read the fine print I am struck that the cash value “rewards” are really points toward banking services that most banks used to give for free.
My reaction is that making a big deal giving client checking “rewards” for what used to be complimentary services is kind of like asking guy to remove his hat in church—you are glad that he does it—but kind of makes you wonder why you had to ask him in the first place.
We are pleased to welcome new private banker, Brooke Myers, a KU Business School graduate, former KU cheerleader and member of the Pi Beta Phi Sorority. When away from the bank Brooke is also the assistant varsity cheerleading coach at Shawnee Mission East. In addition to Brooke, we would also like to welcome our new SME after school intern, Mary Kate McCandless. Mary Kate carries a strong GPA at East, is interested in business and when not studying or working at the bank is a SME varsity cheerleader.
It is also with great pleasure that we would like to recognize our client, Mady and Me located in the Prairie Village Shopping Center for being named best Children’s Boutique by Kansas City Magazine.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that 1) we now offer Safety Deposit Boxes, 2) we have updated our Website, 3) we are looking forward to Amanda’s Dog Festival on Sunday September 13th in Prairie Village’s Porter Park and 4) we miss all our student clients and summer interns who have headed back to college.
August 16, 2009
Re: Our Summer Interns, Facebook, and "Old Dogs"
Having sharp college interns reminds me of how I inevitably feel after speaking to MBA classes. To the surprise of both students and lecturer, we tend to learn something from each other.
You can imagine one intern’s surprise when we told him to cut his hair and raise his sideburns. Likewise, we detected bewilderment when explaining to another intern that suit jackets with white handkerchief were always to be worn in our bank lobby.
That being said, you can visualize my agitation when the interns came en masse to my desk suggesting the bank create its own “FaceBook Webpage.” Just as I was about to cut off this nonsense --they shot an arrow straight to my heart. One commented, “Mr. Bolen you are always stressing the importance of staying in touch with clients. Why don’t you view this as one more way of staying in touch?”
At that moment—I realized both interns and Chairman had learned something from each other. They grasped the concept of always staying in touch ~and I grasped that there are always new ways to do so.
Accordingly, the second surprise of this Summer Season, besides the cool weather, is that we now have a Bank Facebook page. Yes, I guess you can teach an old dog new ways to chew a bone.
July 9, 2009
I recently noticed that the nation’s largest retail bank carried ads at two ballparks, calling itself the “Official Bank” of both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
I am not sure how much the bank paid for what must have been these incredibly expensive advertisements, but I could not help but think of such advertising as a giant waste.
Even the most obtuse politician knows that one cannot legitimately claim support for both the Yankees and the Red Sox, given the animosity between these two teams and their respective fan bases. Such waste of advertising money is probably why their “Official Bank” totters and lives on government bailout assistance.
Such grandiose expenditures were silly and sad when the money came from the bank’s shareholder base. They become disheartening now that they come from the American taxpayer and small banks such as us that must pay higher FDIC assessments for such folly.
Our bank maintains our 5 Star Safety and Soundness Rating from the Bauer Rating service. We could not continue achieving our performance without your support. We are most pleased to be your Bank and Bankers.
June 1, 2009
Dear Bank of Prairie Village Friends,
Recently my sister sent me an email she received “Detailing 8 Safety Points for Women to Remember” shortly after learning of the tragic disappearance of the Overland Park coed, Kelsey Smith.
I took the time to read it. It made several good points. Many of these points have been conveyed to our staff during our required bank security training sessions.
It struck me that we often include various “stuffers” in our bank statements regarding new bank products and events. I am never sure what is and is not appropriate to include in statements regarding non-bank information. Nevertheless, in light of the recent tragedy here in Kansas City, I thought it would be appropriate to include this information to our clients. Again, several of the points have been made to our bank staff during security training so I believe these 8 simple points are both of value and demonstrate common sense.
These points aside, remember buckling your seatbelt everyday is the single most important action you can take to keep yourself safe from what is the highest risk you constantly and daily confront.
All my best for a terrific summer
February 3, 2009
With our current manic/depressant stock and mutual fund markets~ we have encouraged our clients to think of our Bank as a “Giant Safety Box” for protecting their money.
To follow through on this mindset, and accommodate several client requests that we “liberate” them from the last vestiges of their big banks~ we added Safety Deposit Boxes. Yes~ you can rent your own Safety Deposit Box here at the Bank of Prairie Village. Simply call Leibie or Denise at 913~713~0300 and they will arrange your own Safety Deposit Box.
Speaking of Big Banks—one of our clients commented he wanted his Bank President to know more clients than lobbyists. I agreed most heartily. Perhaps if Bank Presidents knew more clients than lobbyists –they would not have to prevail on their lobbyists to secure government bailout assistance—or as many now call the program~ bank welfare.
Our Best to you and your family for this Valentines Day Season
January 14, 2009
During the past year, Bank of Prairie Village was one of three Kansas City banks rated 5 Stars for “Safety and Soundness” by both Bankrate.com and the Bauer Financial Report.
As we focus on 2009, we must remember that the poison of success is hubris. As Cicero bemoaned, “Vanity my old foe, in the end you defeat me.”
It would be easy to simply rely on the success we achieved in 2008 as a harbinger of 2009. Unfortunately, the financial markets dictate that we will have to work twice as hard in 2009 to even remotely emulate our 2008 performance.
During the last quarter of 2008, a number of non- banking institutions successfully applied for and received Bank Holding Company status. Many did so to qualify for a draw from the taxpayer bailout. Many found they needed this government assistance because of ill- advised leverage and strategic miscalculations.
It can be disheartening to a banker to watch entities be given bank charters after engaging in less than prudent lending activities. Overnight, the number of banking competitors seems to have doubled.
That being said, I am reminded of the Battle of Waterloo. At the battle’s climax, Napoleons’ Old Guard Brigade marched up the hill through fire and cannon to break what they believed to be the thin red line of British resistance. Upon reaching the crest, the Old Guard realized that British resistance, although still thin, was greater than expected. This unexpected variable caused the Old Guard to panic and then flee down the very hill from which they valiantly marched. The battle and Napoleon were forever lost.
The irony was that had the Old Guard simply kept their heads down and continued marching forward, they would have easily crushed the Duke of Wellington’s last defenses.
The lesson of Waterloo to today’s banking environment is that rather than fretting over unexpected competitive variables, it is probably better to keep one’s head down and continue marching to the tune that has repeatedly brought us success. As Rudyard Kipling observed, the key is to “Keep one’s head when everyone around you is losing theirs.”
The tune that has brought us competitive success is remaining close and in contact with our client base. On a daily basis, we are asked about plans to build another branch location. Our response has been that we prefer to have our competitors reviewing carpet samples for their new branches while we review our client lists. As my mother repeatedly reminded me—“one should make new friends—but keep the old—one is silver the other gold.”
My father and grandfather owned a successful real estate and insurance agency in Salina, Kansas for over 50 years. Having read a best selling marketing book, I asked my dad about his thoughts on “Cold Calling.” Dad replied that over the 50 years he and my grandfather owned the agency, they were so busy taking care of clients and friends that they never had time to get around to “Cold Calling.” At that instant I realized their success formula.
My father-in-law ran the Griffith Family bank in Manhattan, Kansas. I asked one of the former bank employees about working for my father-in-law. He told the story of my father-in-law walking into the office of a business development officer and telling him the phone repairman would be coming in that afternoon. When the bank officer replied that his phone was not broken, my father-in-law responded that it must be broken since the officer was sitting in the office and not using it to talk with his clients.
Like a cold beer on a hot summer afternoon—our client-focused approach may be simple—but it sure is effective.
Being simple should not be confused with being easy. Every business person knows that staying in touch with clients is critical, just like every basketball coach knows that making free throws will often determine a close game. The problem is that practicing free throws requires persistent repetition and consistent focus well before, during, and after the scrimmages and organized workouts. As college basketball coach Rick Pitino observed, the championships in March are determined in sweaty gyms and rank weight rooms the preceding summer.
Andrew Carnegie once commented that “you can take or destroy all my plants, inventory, and real estate –but so long as you leave my associates and client lists I can rebuild it all in five years.”
Too often bankers focus exclusively on hard assets. They talk in terms of buildings, technology, franchises, trademarks, branches, business lines –almost everything but clients and associates. Let us not make that mistake. We have two successful attributes—our clients and our associates.