Published on: March 26, 2010
Sometimes you hear a story that just makes you cringe.
Like the story I heard this week about a woman, aged 58, who had been working for a major beverage company for several decades. Who was one of the top people in the sales area, a fact both quantified and qualified by the awards she’d won. Who was just recently given a highly positive review.
And who this week was asked to come to a meeting at a midwestern airport, told not to bring a suitcase, and then was summarily let go. (Sounds like a scene from Up In The Air
Now, it is not like she walks away with no money and no options. She has both, and lots of years to be as creative and productive as she wishes to be. There are plenty of people who have been harder hit by circumstance, and who are equally or more deserving of our compassion.
But there was a cold-bloodedness to this that disturbs me. The company that discharged this woman has had its issues of late, and I suppose at some level it made sense to get rid of one of the higher salaries, to make room for people who are younger and cheaper (though I suspect no such thing was said in the exit interview for fear of litigation).
Maybe it is just because I am close to her age, but it is disturbing when companies decide that they can do without the years and the mileage that come with experience. I am not naive enough to think that this is a rare occurrence, nor that my railing against it will make any difference.
I hope, a few years from now, this woman looks back on this moment and says that it was the best things that ever happened to her - that she feels creatively fulfilled, financially satisfied, and energized by the second wind that can come with such events. (Trust me on this one. I am an expert on second winds.) And I hope that it does not even take that long for the company involved to look back and realize that it needed her experience and wisdom. Maybe they’ll even ask for her advice and counsel.
If it were me, I would cheerfully respond with Woody Allen’s last line in The Front
Over the past few weeks, I have noted in this space varying calls from different parts of this nation for the elimination of the senior year of high school (built on the misplaced belief that seniors don't pay much attention anyway, so it is a wasted year) and a move to four days a week of school (which would help save money for cash-strapped school districts).
My argument has been that both proposals are misguided - that much of the rest of the world seems to understand that the path to prosperity, advancement and achievement is through an aggressive, sophisticated and comprehensive educational system.
Well, here is what a column in a recent Wall Street Journal
said about the same subject:
“ Schoolchildren in China attend school 41 days a year more than most young Americans—and receive 30% more hours of instruction. Schools in Singapore operate 40 weeks a year. Saturday classes are the norm in Korea and other Asian countries—and Japanese authorities are having second thoughts about their 1998 decision to cease Saturday-morning instruction. This additional time spent learning is one big reason that youngsters from many Asian nations routinely out-score their American counterparts on international tests of science and math ... The typical young American, upon turning 18, will have spent just 9% of his or her hours on this planet under the school roof (and that assumes full-day kindergarten and perfect attendance) versus 91% spent elsewhere. As for the rest of that time, the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that American youngsters now devote an astounding 7.5 hours per day to "using entertainment media" (including TV, Internet, cellphones and videogames). That translates to about 53 hours a week—versus 30 hours in school.”
The story notes that there are plenty of critics who object to extending the school day or school year, and that they range from upper class parents who do not want to give up their family vacations to teachers unions that worry about being exploited.
But the simple fact, it seems to me, is this. As I have said before, there is no such thing as inherited or innate American exceptionalism. Exceptionalism must be earned, every day...and to take it for granted is to make the kind of mistake that dooms cultures. (In the business world, I always think of what Norman Mayne of Dorothy Lane Markets told me...that while his company has been fortunate enough to have been labeled “legendary” by a lot of people, that is a description that has to be re-earned every day. “Legendary is what we were yesterday,” he says.”)
You don’t get to be exceptional by learning less. You do it by learning more - learning facts, learning to think for yourself, learning to prize the value of intellect and an open mind.
A big shout out to Symphony IRI Group, which invited me to speak this week at its annual Summit and arranged for the audience to receive copies of “The Big Picture: Essential Business lessons from the Movies.”
And, another shout out to Western Michigan University and its terrific Food/CPG Marketing Program, which invited Michael Sansolo and me to talk about the book in an after-dinner speech at its annual Food Marketing Conference.
Both events were a pleasure.
There was a very cool story in the Chicago Tribune
about the community of Klamath Falls, Oregon, noting that the town has tapped geothermal wells underneath the town to warm the sidewalks and keep them clear of snow, not to mention heat downtown buildings, power kettles in a brewhouse, and even keep the lights on in the local college campus.
It is green. It is economically sound. And it shows that an innovative mindset - and the right set of circumstances - can create interesting and viable solutions that make sense.
When I was in the San Antonio Airport this week, I had a few minutes to stop in a little wine bar called Vino Volo, which offers a delightful and unexpected respite from the pressures of traveling.
Not only did I enjoy a refreshing 2007 Chardonnay Carneros from Napa’s Pine Ridge Winery, but also a spicy chorizo and white bean stew as well as meaty pulled pork barbecue served on corn tortillas. Wonderful wine and excellent food - proof positive that even in an airport terminal, you don’t have to settle for lowest common denominator food.
I’ve said this before. I live a privileged life. I’m lucky to do what I do, and to have the experiences that I have.
Such a day was yesterday. My friend Marv Imus, formerly the owner of Paw Paw Shopping Center, invited me to visit his wine cellar. Which was very cool. (My wine cellar is a basement with a few wine racks. His is an actual wine cellar.) While there, we split a bottle of 1997 Chateau Lafite Rothschild - which was quite simply one of the most wonderful wines I’ve ever tasted, getting better and more open with every bit of air and every sip.
It always has been my belief that wonderful wines should not be saved for momentous moments, but rather for events like a late Thursday afternoon, spending a few hours with a good friend.
And then, when we went to dinner at a place in Kalamazoo called Zazio’s, where I enjoyed - really, really enjoyed - shrimp and prawns served on a bed of risotto made with squid ink.
It is a good life. Don’t tell my wife. She thinks I’m working.
Have a great weekend. I’ll see you Monday.