Friday, December 21, 2012

Home For the Holidays!

Sorry for being missing in action for the past few months.  We've been working on many exciting things that are going to bear fruit for GWC in early 2013, so I'll fill you all in in them as soon as I can.  However, I do want to note that the company is having a truly outstanding year:  Outstanding revenue growth, a big uptick in earnings and an ever-more-engaged employee population.  I'm truly fortunate to work with the best people in the business and I am thankful for that every day.

And, as we head into the holidays, I know it's a particularly poignant season for many of us after the heartbreaking events of last week in Connecticut.  This season, please take some time to reflect on those who are hurting, reach out to help someone in need, and hug your family a little tighter.  We're all in this together, after all.  Cheers to a blessed Christmas and joyous New Year to everyone. 

What Am I Reading?

My long absence from blogging means I've gone through quite a few books; I'll try to recap a few in a future post.  In the meantime, I'm currently devouring "Sutton" by J. R. Moehringer, a re-imagining of the days following bank robber Willie Sutton's release from a NY penitentiary on Christmas Eve 1969.   Sutton was a romanticized criminal who never fired a shot in his various robberies.  This book follows his trail as he tries to find his long-lost first love before ending his days on earth.  It's not a typical Christmas story but it does say something about the power of enduring love, memories and redemption, all nice themes around the holidays.  Of course, I haven't reached the end yet, so let's hope it doesn't destroy that hopeful note I just sounded!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Changing Conditions

Just a quick post about the weather in Las Vegas.  One night, it's beastly hot and dry, with crystal clear visibility from my terrace at the Cosmopolitan Hotel:
Twelve hours later, the same view in the midst of a driving rainstorm:
I didn't know it EVER rained like that in Vegas. I need to keep the possibility of confounded expectations and uncertainty in mind.  And an umbrella in my backpack!
What Am I Reading?
"Dear Sugar" is an advice column on that is like no other.  For several years, the until-recently-anonymous Sugar has responded to questions from people who are struggling, lost, even in anguish, with answers that are honest, compassionate and hopeful.  "Tiny Beautiful Things", a compilation of those Q&A's, reveals Sugar to be acclaimed writer Cheryl Strayed. Make no mistake, this is not an easy read; Sugar pulls no punches and is unflinchingly honest while revealing many of the struggles she has dealt with in her own life.  However, through all the pain and tumult, she offers a sunbeam of hope that may be just what her questioners (and readers) need to make sense of life's challenges. 

I was so touched by this book that I passed it on to my 20-year-old daughter, who, like most twenty-somethings, is doing her best to navigate college, relationships and the future, all while trying to define herself.  Hopefully "Tiny Beautiful Things" can help her do just that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stumbling Upon A Hidden Gem In South Carolina

It's not often that I find something that is so mind-blowing, so amazing, so unique that I'm speechless, but that's exactly what happened during a recent trip to Myrtle Beach.  A scant 20-mile jaunt down US-17 South (strip mall, chain restaurant and beach shop heaven) is Murrells Inlet.  And a mile off the main drag stands Brookgreen Gardens, an 80-year-old, 9000 acre sanctuary that houses a small zoo (nice), finely manicured gardens (impressive) and nearly 1,500 sculptures by a variety of American artists (astounding).  The works, mostly bronze and marble, are labors of love by artists, many of whom are long-deceased, that are tenderly cared for by the passionate caretakers of Brookgreen Gardens. 
In a way, it's like a trip to a mysterious garden village in France, as well as a journey back in time to an era when wealthy Americans bestowed their communities with parks, museums, libraries and other aesthetic gifts designed to uplift the spirits of visitors.  And in 2012, I'm thrilled to have been the beneficiary of the creators of Brookgreen Gardens.  I only had half-a-day there, but could easily go back again and again just to take it all in.  What a treasure.


What Am I Reading?

"If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples." - Japanese proverb

So begins one of the introductory quotes in this fantastic adventure/love story by Stephen King.  And so, somehow, continues my Stephen King summer!  Desperately in search of a great beach read, I took a shot at "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter, but instead gravitated toward "11/22/63", King's 849 page time traveling opus that came out last year and, despite the difficulties its weight caused me as I trudged through airports, I couldn't put it down.  He is simply an amazing storyteller and this book, where the hero attempts to go back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963 (among other more personal missions).  I was surprised to have two different people working poolside ask me about the book, so I guess Stephen King really is a perennial summer read.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jeanette Meets Jim

When GWC Warranty moved into a new office last year, we had a contest to name the 4 common rooms.  After fielding a lot of ideas that were clever but didn't quite capture the spirit we were aiming for, Joe Brennan, our VP of Operations, had a "lightbulb" moment:   He suggested we name the rooms after business thinkers that had been transformational to us as we charted a new course for GWC.  We had photos of each of the business thinkers printed and mounted on the doors to memorialize them and inspire us.

There was one obvious candidate for our Board Room:  Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great" and other insightful books and articles that lay out a manifest for companies that strive to be great.  So, it was obviously a thrill for Jeanette Bogdon, our VP of Human Resources, to learn that Jim would be a featured speaker at the national Society for Human Resource Management annual conference in Atlanta last month.  She dutifully peeled down the photo off the Board Room door and proudly presented it to Jim for his signature.

Based on Jim's reaction to Jeanette's telling him that he'd beaten out other business luminaries to end up on the door to our Board Room ("I love that!"), I think Jim may have been even more thrilled than Jeanette!  But we're honored to have his signature up in our office and proud to be a company trying every day to be great.

What Am I Reading?

It's beach reading season so I picked up a book that's been on my "to read" list for about two years, Stephen King's "Full Dark, No Stars."  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of peeking into it one night at home and ended up zipping through all four novellas in just a few days!  I'm not a regular Stephen King reader, but he is a fascinating storyteller.  The tales in "Full Dark" all feature people in varying states of distress, forced to make the most with impossible situations (sometimes of their own doing).  It's a compelling read, perfect for the beach (or the couch, in my case), preferably in the light of day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Top Talent Breeds Top Talent (Literally!)

I travel a lot and am often asked by strangers on planes what I do for a living.  When I tell someone that I lead a company offering vehicle service contracts, I often see the arched eyebrow and skeptical look of a person who is all-too-aware of the unsavory reputation of some of the "bottom feeders" in this industry.   When I sense that reaction, I quickly follow up with "But GWC is a GREAT company; we're the best at what we do."

When they ask me what makes us the best, I have a ready two-word answer:  "Top Talent."  Yes, we care about our customers, pay our claims and are incredibly strong financially.  But the key that sets us apart is the talent in the field and in our home office in Wilkes-Barre.  Specifically, we are the only nationwide vehicle service contract company that employs an all-employee sales team to service our Independent dealers.  Our Claims adjusters, contract processors, financial experts and marketing geniuses are all highly trained and committed professionals.  And I'm particularly proud of my leadership team, which is the best I've encountered in 25 years in business.

We held our company picnic (a blast of a clambake at Konefal's Grove organized by the ever-energetic Jenn K.)  a few weeks ago and had a great day filled with music, games, pony rides and casual fun with our work friends and families.  As the day wound down, the food servers at Konefal's made a point of letting Jenn know that the children were the best-mannered they had ever encountered at any of the many events they've hosted over the years.

I'm not surprised.  At GWC, we're really choosy about the people on our team.  And it's clear that Top Talent breeds even more Top Talent (literally!) 

What Am I Reading?
A confession:  Paul Krugman is one of my heroes.  The Nobel Prize-winning economist from Princeton has been consistently right over the years on what is going on in the economies of the U.S. and the rest of the world.  Despite an increasingly shrill chorus of deniers, Krugman has patiently reminded people that Keynes was correct, macro economics is a science that has been proven out repeatedly by the data and that we have the knowledge to do the right things when it comes to avoiding economic meltdowns.  Unfortunately, since the crash of 2008, attention has been wrongly diverted to the supposed future catastrophe being wrought by deficit spending.  Instead, we should be focusing on the current catastrophe being visited on the millions of people who are un- or under-employed due to misguided austerity programs in Europe and the U.S. 

Krugman is a reality-based economist in a world that has been overtaken by political shills who would rather win elections than help us out of what is truly a Depression for so many people.  The data is there and in "End This Depression Now" Krugman offers us a pathway out of the current economic mess that is dampening demand and destroying lives.  Ignore him at your peril. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Catering to Your Customers

The Wilkes-Barre area is home to many fine locally-owned restaurants, most of which have been open for years (and suitable candidates for a visit from Robert Irvine and the "Restaurant: Impossible" crew!)  So, when a new specialty diner opened not far from our house, we dropped by and were excited to discover a tiny treasure of delicious, fresh home cooking (albeit in a plain vanilla box!)

With the upcoming celebration of the 1st anniversary of GWC's relocation into our new building, we decided it would be a nice gesture to order a luncheon for the office from the new restaurant.  Even better, when we called them, we discovered they catered and were more than happy to deliver.

The owner visited a few days before the event to scope out the logistics and seemed genuinely excited about being part of the fun.  On the appointed day, he and his manager arrived on time, set up the trays and served us a delicious meal.

Unfortunately, as the event wound down, things went awry.  As is often the case, we had over-estimated our needs and there was a lot of food left over.  And when nobody was looking, the caterer began packing up the food in his truck.  Kim caught them and demanded that, since we'd paid for the food, they should leave it so our employees could take it home.  He sheepishly agreed and brought back one tray before heading back to his truck and hitting the road with the rest of our food.

This is wrong on so many levels:  First, it was OUR food.  Second, he deliberately took it after being asked to leave it behind.  Third, and worst of all, he most likely planned to serve that food back in his restaurant, hours after it had been cooked and left out in our conference room unrefrigerated.  (Can you say "salmonella"?)

Needless to say, despite amazing service in delivering the product and wonderful tasting food, we will not be using them again.  And if each of the 60 or so people in our office tells 10 other people about this, it's likely that the new restaurant just lost a substantial amount of future business.

The lesson:  Customers generally start out wanting to do business with you.  They want to like you and may even be predisposed to help you out.  However, you can destroy that goodwill in an instant if you do something stupid to destroy a customer relationship, even if it's after you've delivered the product. 

What Am I Reading?
"If the Ramones had never existed and came out right now, we would still blow people away.  The Ramones were never supplanted by anyone."
-Johnny Ramone

I thought of this quote when I heard the young man seated next to me at the Penguins game last week singing along with me and a number of other people at the game as "I Wanna Be Sedated" blasted through the arena loudspeakers.  Johnny Ramone loved the idea of his punk rock band being played at sporting events.

The Ramones exemplified authenticity:  They really WERE four working class kids from Queens/Long Island who put on leather jackets, to the subway down to CBGB's in the Bowery and played 2-minute power punk songs for about 20 years.  Like most pioneers, they were under-appreciated in their lifetime, but the Ramones' musical legacy has only bloomed since they split up in the mid-90's. 

Unfortunately, three of the four founding members have since died young, which makes Johnny Ramone's autobiography (which came out last month, 7-1/2 years after his death in 2004) such an unexpected thrill to read.  It's definitely Johnny in his own stream of consciousness words; no fancy prose or apologies, just a firsthand account of a fascinating life on the inside of an amazing, sometimes misunderstood, band of societal misfits.  I had to smile when I read this line, written by the outwardly dour Johnny:  "People would think I was unfriendly, but I wasn't.  I just didn't like the people I was around."

Thursday, March 15, 2012


“I've been living through changes,
It's not the same thing every day.
I hope it's not my age,
But I wouldn't like to say.”
-Julian Cope, “Treason”

Lately I’ve found myself regaling people with tales of my first positions in business with General Motors.  Needless to say, the world looks a lot different today:
  • People could smoke at their desks.  And if you were unfortunate enough to share an office with a smoker, the company solution was to deposit a portable electric air freshener on your desk to inhale the fumes.  (At about the same time, Orbit, a long-defunct humor magazine in Detroit likened compared designating a “No Smoking” section in a closed room to setting aside a “No Urinating” section in a public pool, but I digress…)
  • My parking lot abutted that of Burroughs Corporation which, at the time, was over one hundred years old and one of the largest computer companies in the world.  Does anyone remember them today?
  • We drafted our documents in longhand and passed them over to secretaries (sometimes in a secretarial pool) who typed them using a Wang system which saved the documents for future editing.
 I didn’t even mention that at the time General Motors had 40+% of the U.S. market share for new vehicle sales.

In the mid-1990’s GWC Warranty Corp. was founded as Guardian Warranty Corporation.  I’m proud to say that our company has evolved a lot in the 17 years since its founding.  In fact, the pace of change over the past few years has been staggering, as we’ve expanded our talent, products, technology, even our office space.  Consequently, we are rapidly growing and thriving in an ever more competitive market.

However, we will NEVER rest on our laurels and stop changing.  So buckle up and join us for an unpredictable but rewarding ride.

What Am I Reading?
Thanks to our friend and neighbor Natalie B., I recently devoured Child 44, the debut novel by Tom Rob Smith that came out a few years ago.  It’s a riveting murder mystery that unfolds in the shadows of the Stalinist Soviet Union of the 1950’s.  In that terrifying, totalitarian world, a child murderer simply could not be acknowledged, lest it be seen as an indictment of the perfect order of the State.  One fearless investigator, a seemingly broken man, risks the shreds of life he and his wife are clinging to in order to bring a killer to justice while racing against a state bureaucracy out to crush him.  Simply spellbinding storytelling.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Annual Battery Pack Rejuvenation

For the past four years, the folks at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina have been kind enough to invite me to speak at their Sophomore Experience event (  Scott Cochran, the Dean of Wofford’s Center for Professional Excellence, is a dear friend of mine and someone I will write about in more detail in a future blog.

The important thing today is the sense of rejuvenation I am feeling after my visit to Wofford.  NEVER let someone use broad generalizations to tear down today’s youth.  The liberal arts students I meet every year at Wofford inspire me to no end and this year’s crop was particularly intriguing.  They included future businesspeople, doctors, entrepreneurs, attorneys, poets, activists, psychologists, accountants, musicians, car traders…the list is as varied as you might expect.

The engagement, passion and enthusiasm these students shared with me, however, was somewhat unexpected.  These young people are cautiously idealistic:  They want to change the world for the better but they know it will take smarts, hard work and commitment, all of which they have in abundance.

When I returned to work after my visit, I was already pretty pumped up.  Then a box containing the Steve Jobs biography arrived.  Even better, the students had taken the time to write personalized notes thanking me for MY inspiring them.  They had it backwards:  As gratifying as it was to be appreciated for my time, THEY are the ones who inspired me and gave my batteries an annual mid-winter re-charge.  Thanks Wofford.  Keep emailing me updates as you chase down those dreams.
HEY are the ones who inspired me and have given my internal batteries their annual mid-winter charge.  Thanks, Woff
HEY are the ones who inspired me and have given my internal batteries their annual mid-winter charge.  Thanks, Wofford!

What Am I Reading?
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill came out in 2008 and somehow completely escaped my attention (despite apparently being widely publicized as the first novel that Barack Obama read on his summer vacation in 2009!) 

Netherland is told by Hans, a banker transplanted from the Netherlands, who is struggling to find his way in New York after his wife and son head to the U.K. in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Hans stumbles upon a varied cast of immigrants who bond over cricket matches played in the shadows of New York overpasses and other odd places they’ve conquested to play the world’s most popular stick-and-ball game.

This story about strangers in the margins who struggle to make it in a city where they are often anonymous is both intimate and wide scale.