Thursday, March 27, 2008

An MBA Mentality

As I dive into this topic, please don’t mistake my attitude toward education. I believe an educated society is crucial to the proper operation of our government, to the advance of society, and to a civil public discourse. However, through my years in business I have found that often, there are attitudes which come with a formal education that are counterproductive to business productivity.

A large portion of my career has been spent in sales or sales related activities. My formal title has never been salesman – it has been manager. Managers should be fully engaged in the sales activities of a business or it is likely the business will fail – whether it is retail, wholesale or a service business.

Many organizations – especially large ones – believe that the best managers have MBA’s (Master of Business Administration). From a logical perspective it makes sense. Find someone who has been formally educated in how to run a business and let them run your business. The problem comes when the MBA manager has no practical experience in the day-to-day function of the business itself. They have the head knowledge, but lack the heart knowledge. They know the tools but they don’t know the business – at least not from the hands-on level. Generally their understanding is conceptual in nature – not practical.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that I often spend an inordinate amount of time educating my suppliers on the realities of agriculture.

The MBA manager mentality is often one that is focused on the numbers or benchmarks. It is focused on “objective” measurement of factors which indicate progress in the business. This can be things such as the number of sales calls made, the number of contacts at a Trade Show, the percentage of gross margin -- both average and per sales, and similar easily measurable statistical indicators. They have been taught techniques for handling particular situations that regularly occur in business – like competitive pricing issues – and respond according to the “book” answer. The problem is that they have never walked in the shoes of their sales force or of their customer.

The last item is the key. The most successful people that I know understand their customer. They have either been involved in a business similar to what their customer does, or have spent enough time with their customer to understand their business or situation. They look at their own business through the eyes of their customer. They take time to see what their customer sees and adjust their business accordingly.

Do we do this in agriculture? Do we see ourselves from our customer’s point-of-view? When was the last time you spent time examining your operation from the outside? When was the last time you walked through the grocery store and took a hard look at your product – whether it is beef or cotton or wheat – from the consumer’s perspective? How does the quality of your product compare to competing products? What about price?

We are seeing a number of fundamental shifts in our economy. Fuel prices will soon drive dramatic changes of behavior in how we conduct business and in how consumers allocate their dollars. Transportation costs will force many things to be produced locally that have historically been shipped long distances – such as produce. Are we in agriculture merely riding the tide of the ethanol boom or are we preparing for the inevitable changes that the energy economy will drive?

We are good at managing the numbers. In today’s business environment, if a farmer or rancher can’t manage the numbers he’d better have a second job to support his habit. But, are we good at seeing our industry from the perspective of non-farmers and ranchers? If we educated the public to our business and educated ourselves to what the public truly wants, could we do a better job at providing for their wants and needs? When we can do that, there will be plenty of rewards for the effort. Don’t just focus on the numbers of your business; understand your customer and adjust accordingly.

Also published on Common Sense Agriculture, Conservation and Energy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Questions on Monetary Policy

Is federal monetary policy aimed strictly at bolstering the stock market? Is the stock market a reliable indicator of the true shape of our economy? Is the inflationary impact of rising fuel prices being fully accounted for in the economic measures tracked by the government? Are wages keeping pace with the rising cost of goods and services as impacted by fuel? If fuel costs are recovered by businesses in the form of a fuel surcharge rather than through a price increase, is that "fuel tax" being accounted for in statistical measures of economic performance? Are we in fact experiencing inflation at the same time we are seeing a recessionary period? Will we see a tenuous hold on economic stability maintained until a change in administration?

A New Blog in the Blogosphere

Sometimes we wonder if the things that we write about in our blogs make a difference. Senator John Cornyn of Texas has started his own blog because he recognizes that blogs are often the only media source that provide the whole story. We are not bound by the same rules and methods of engagement that seem to control the mainstream media. Check out his blog by clicking on the button on my sidebar or following this link.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Risen Indeed

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

...And by His blood we are healed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and confused, the once-loyal followers spent the day in hiding. Leaderless and without direction they cringed in fear expecting the next knock at the door to be soldiers to take them away.

Only a few of the women ventured out to the hill to see the Teacher as He hung there. Tears streaked their dusty cheeks as they mourned and moaned in their agony at the foot of the cross.

"It is finished."

A spear in the side.

Watch where they lay Him.

What do we do? We must find Peter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Travesty of Justice

It had been a blur.

They had walked up on the Mount of Olives where He always went to pray but couldn't stay awake. Too much food and wine left them groggy.

Then the crowd. Judas. How could He go so peacefully with them? We would have fought! Instead we ran and hid like cowards.

"Weren't you with Him?"
"Oh, no! I don't know Him!"
"Surely you were with Him!"
"I was not!"
"You're a Galilean just like Him!"
"I don't know what you are talking about!"

Now the darkness enveloped; hiding the tears; the agony.

The council of elders tried Him. It was a travesty. They broke their own laws.

They took Him before Pilate and then Herod for only death would quench the flame of their hatred. They both thought, "a little punishment, a little ridicule for this rabble rouser to satisfy the mob and then we'll wash our hands of this affair."

The lash fell. The flesh tore. The blood flowed. The thorns pierced. Again and again and again and still the mob cried, "Crucify Him!"

"Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

So they hung Him with criminals on a cross at the Place of the Skull.

And in love He responded, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

No Sense At All

To them, it was only a Passover meal. They were good Jews. It was a ritual they had each learned at their homes as they grew and were taught the traditions of their people.

It was a time of feasting. It was a time of fellowship. Why did the teacher seem to be so withdrawn? He seemed preoccupied.

The merry band bantered about the time when the teacher would reveal Himself as the chosen one; the Messiah; the One who would overthrow the Romans and return the Kingdom to the Hebrew people. The chosen people. The sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who would be greatest?

What is this washing of feet? That was a task for servants not for a leader. He who would be greatest among you will be your servant? It made no sense.

His body? His blood? It is only bread and wine yet the words hammer into the minds and lodge there with all of the other things that He said that made no sense.

Now just where is Judas going?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Music and Western History in Common

This past weekend I attended the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Convention and Trade Show in Corpus Christi. During the afternoons of the two-day trade show, entertainment was provided by John Arthur Martinez and Mike Blakely. These guys are great musicians and talented writers as well. Click on their names for links to their websites. Besides performing his music Mike Blakely is an accomplished western writer.

On Saturday evening after the Trade Show was over, I discovered that the two of them and I were staying at the same motel. A good friend of mine who also has a couple of blogs (here and here) struck up a conversation with them as he was waiting for me to meet him for dinner. When I walked up and was introduced the conversation continued about music and history and kids and values and all of the things that we all seemed to have in common. Before it was time for dinner we discovered that John Arthur's wife knew the wife of one of my cousins who happens to live in the same town (Marble Falls, Texas, and the creative community of CastleRock) with them. As we talked, we discovered how small the world truly is. For great Texas flavor, both the music of John Arthur Martinez and the books and music of Mike Blakely, can't be beat. I recommend you try them out. Check out some of these links to Amazon.

Lone Starry Night - John Arthur Martinez

Stand Your Ground - John Arthur Martinez

Shortgrass Song - Mike Blakely

Moon Medicine - Mike Blakely

West of You - Mike Blakely (music)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Country Dogs

Dogs have been called man’s best friend. I’ve never really figured out why unless it is because of their devotion and loyalty – even when treated like a – well, uh, a dog.

Dogs are a part of living in the country. Rarely do you drive by a farmstead where there aren’t one or two dogs present. Sometimes they just lie on the porch or the yard and watch you drive by and at other times they chase you.

Country dogs are frequently treated very differently than city dogs. They are often left to roam about the farm with little impediment. Their city cousins are usually impounded within a yard or kennel or even more frequently, in the house. This difference in treatment must have an impact on their personality.

I have owned a number of dogs through the years. The first that I remember well was a Bassett/Beagle cross that used to accompany me as I trekked the pasture as a youngster. My father insisted that I always have the dog with me as protection against the occasional rattlesnake that I might stumble upon. She proved herself more than once in that capacity. Eventually she was bitten on the jaw by one of the snakes – although not while in my company. I was amazed at her recovery after a few weeks.

Some years later I acquired another dog while working as a Veterinary Assistant. She was a young Australian Shepherd who had been kicked in the eye by a cow. The owner gave her to me rather than “putting her down.” I removed the eye with the assistance of the Veterinarian and enjoyed her company for many years. She was a very intelligent and very gentle dog. Apparently, she also had a long memory. She never would go near cows again.

My one-eyed cow dog gave me a litter of pups one year. The father must have been a coyote – literal, not figurative. I kept one of those pups for a few years. She was one of the best hunters that I have ever seen. That hunting instinct was also a failing. She thought the neighbor’s cattle were game and had to be destroyed.

One of my favorite dogs was a Redbone Coonhound named Beauregard. He was a beautiful dog when grown, although extremely awkward as a pup. We lived near the Republican River in Nebraska and tried keeping him and our Chocolate Lab in a pen when they weren’t hunting. Beau was a master at escape though. If he got a scent in his nostrils he became obsessed with pursuit and would manage an escape. We always knew when he was out because he would start baying as he pursued the scent. I thought it was some of the most beautiful music in the world. He would take the Lab on his hunts. They made a great team. He would chase down the game and she would retrieve it. They constantly provided us with “offerings” left on the porch.

My newest dog is a tri-colored Australian Shepherd. He is extremely “intelligent” as far as his ability to learn tricks. That intelligence makes him a handful as well. He seems to have a mind of his own and requires constant vigilance to keep him out of trouble.

So, what do dogs have to do with agriculture? I think they are so deeply entrenched into the agrarian world that we overlook their usefulness. First, they keep us company. Often the lonely workday is eased by the company of a faithful companion riding along in the pickup. Second, they provide protection. Their alertness acts as a sentry for things that we often fail to notice – such as snakes or approaching strangers. The sometimes isolated nature of country life occasionally attracts individuals with malicious intent. Good watch dogs are important when you live a good distance from your nearest neighbor. Third, they work for us. If you have ever seen a good dog work cattle or sheep you know exactly what I mean. It is amazing to see the obedience as the dog responds to the commands of his handler.

I guess after reflection that it certainly is true; dogs are man’s best friend --especially out in the country.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Daylight Savings Swing Time

Each Spring with Daylight Savings time
We set our clocks ahead
Then gripe and moan of that lost hour
Of sleep we missed in bed.

We wish to leave well enough alone
And forego the seasonal fix
Until we readjust internal clocks
To 5 o'clock being six!

Once again the sun is rising
As to work we drive.
And though for a day or two it's hard
We know that we'll survive

Especially as the days grow warm
And we see the blooming of the spring.
Then we dig out that bag of clubs
And get back in the swing!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Yankee or Dixie?

I found this over on Finding Direction:

Yankee or Dixie?

It told me I was 89% Dixie and then asked if there were Confederates in my ancestry -- imagine that y'all. Try it out and comment with your scores.


Should we choose to entrench ourselves around our convictions and enter into a siege mentality or should we advance from our positions and take the war to the enemy? The question applies to Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and any other strong-hold of terrorism. It also applies to the cultural war between Christians and anti-Christians.

I originally characterized the war as between Christians and secularism. But upon reflection it is a much broader war. Secularists seem to support every cause imaginable but that of Christianity. They even support the rights of the terrorists to attack the U.S.

Why does it seem that the world is aligned against Christianity and Judaism? Why isn't the world aligned against Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Animism, or Scientology, or any of the other so-called religions? Please enlighten me in your comments.

What happens in a siege? Either the attackers give up or the bastion is felled. It is time to leave the castle and take the battle to the enemy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008