Trade or Profession

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the Chicago Quantitative Alliance (www.cqa.org) where one speaker made a convincing case that the brokerage and banking systems are bankrupt and another made the case that so is the Federal Government.

The world is going to hell, and we don’t even have a hand basket.[1]

At the lunch break I asked the fellow sitting next to me what advice he had for my children in college.

He said, “Drop out of college and learn a trade; they can always go to college later.”

That reminded me of a joke. A lawyer has a leaky faucet. He calls the plumber who fixes the faucet and presents a bill for $100.25.

The lawyer is livid, “How do you justify such an expense?”

“Twenty-five cents for the washer and $100 an hour for my time – one hour minimum.”

The lawyer says, “I’m a lawyer and even I don’t get $100 an hour.”

The plumber says, “That’s funny – when I was a lawyer, I didn’t get $100 an hour either.”

The joke reminded me of the advice my father passed on from his dad, “Develop both a trade and a profession.” Even as he rose through the ranks of management at United Press International, granddad maintained his skill as one of the world’s top telegraphers.

In 1990 we moved to Japan to advance my career as a securities trader, but in 1993 I was laid off and returned to the United States to find the nation in a recession. There was a dearth jobs that offered career prospects. Luckily, throughout my rise in management, I’d kept up my skills as a Pretty Good Programmer and quickly found that there was plenty of work for those who were willing to trade an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

 

Don’t trade a chance at a trade for a profession – get both.


[1] For those of you who have not heard the expression, “Going to hell in a hand basket,” now you have.

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Money

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

My parents and the silver Jaguar they were about to sell because my mother was pregnant with me and they needed the money
My parents and the silver Jaguar they were about to sell because my mother was pregnant with me and they needed the money

My father told me two things about money that had a profound effect on my life. They were:

“Money should buy freedom, not chains.”

and,

“It is easier to make money doing what makes you happy than to buy happiness with the money you are paid for doing what makes you miserable.”

Even though I can remember my father’s explanations, at the time (age 17) I thought he was off his rocker.

He explained that if you had a certain amount of money, and then someone gave you more money, you should have more options open to you.

This seemed self-evident, but I didn’t buy the part about chains.

Imagine someone who always wanted to be a school teacher who, in order to make more money, became a principal, then moved to the private sector as a salesman, manager, and finally a senior vice-president earning ten times his potential salary as a school teacher.

Since our hypothetical teacher had given up teaching for more money, you would expect that finally, as a highly paid executive, she (or he) should have plenty of money to finally fulfill an ambition of being a teacher without the money worries that plague most teachers.

But for nearly all, such a person sees their options dwindle rather than expand. They measure their success in how much money they make and the prestige that comes with position. From Senior Vice President, they only want to become President.

Worse yet, this person often borrows against an expectation of a rosier future and finds themselves a slave to home payments, credit card debt, private school bills, college tuition, and the economic cycle.

I recently had lunch with a friend who has started a financial consulting firm. His distinguishing feature is that he will tell his clients the truth rather than what they want to hear.

He said, “Ninety-percent of Americans live beyond their means — no matter what their means.” He gave an example of a client in mid-life who was worth $15 million from which he earns $650,000 a year. However, he spends $1.2 million a year and he wants my friend to find him a safe investment to support his lifestyle. This is a mathematical impossibility. My friend could calculate how quickly the client will find himself on welfare.

I wonder how much misery must this client need to overcome when $650,000 a year doesn’t do the trick.

I like to end these pieces with succinct words of wisdom. I can do no better than to repeat what my dad said to me during my Senior year in High School, just before he gave up a career in the business world to return to sculpture full-time.

 

Money should buy freedom, not chains.

 

It is easier to make money doing what makes you happy than to buy happiness with the money you are paid for doing what makes you miserable.

When Pigs Fly

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In 1977, American Airlines offered me a job in Manhattan in their Operations Research group and I took it.

One of our projects was to build a mathematical model to determine how much we should overbook each flight so as to maximize profit. You could generate happy clients when there isn’t enough room in coach by bumping them up to first class. But if you throw them off the plane entirely you might lose them forever.

On the other hand, since a full-fare customer could use their ticket on any airline at any time without penalty, if you kept a seat open for everyone who said they would fly with you then your planes would fly half-empty. It was an economic necessity to overbook, and every airline did it, but I was not about to tell my friends about this part of my job. Nobody really thought an airline should promise something and then not deliver. Nobody. Including me.

Fifteen years later, we found ourselves living in Tokyo and planning a visit to relatives in England. I made a reservation on Japan Airlines but, after we realized that the flight landed at a very inconvenient time, we made a second booking on British Airways.

Upon return, as we walked through the door to our home in Tokyo, the phone was ringing.

“Hello, is this Mister Allen?”

“Speaking.”

“Are you OK?”

“I’m fine.”

“And your family; is everyone all right?”

“Sure. Who is this?”

“This is Japan Airlines. A week ago you had a reservation on our flight from Tokyo bound for London’s Heathrow airport. You didn’t show up. We held the plane for 15 minutes and you still didn’t come so we took off without you. We can make up fifteen minutes in the air but eventually we had to go because it would be inconsiderate of our other passengers to wait any longer. We just want to make sure you are all well.”

“We’re fine. We flew on British Airways instead.”

“You flew on British Airways?”

“That’s right. We had full-fare tickets and they are good on any airline.”

“That’s true. But you didn’t tell us.”

“We don’t need to tell you. We can use our tickets on any airline at any time.”

“That’s true too. But, by not telling us, you were being inconsiderate.

 

Just because you are a customer does not make you always right.

——————

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Sally Would be Proud of Me

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In 1993 I lost a job in Tokyo and returned to the States with a wife and two young children but no work.

Most of my contacts were no longer at the phone numbers in my book and many were unemployed. It appeared our economy was in a recession. A friend arranged for a courtesy interview at a brokerage firm I’d worked at years earlier.

Let’s call the interviewer “Bob”.

Bob began, “I hope we aren’t wasting your time but we have no jobs; there is a hiring freeze.”

“You have no work?”

“We have plenty of work, just no jobs. We can’t hire anyone except consultants on short-term contracts.”

“I would work as a consultant.”

“Are you incorporated?”

“No.”

Bob smiled, “Well then, I’m sorry but we can’t do anything. We only hire people who are incorporated. Thanks for coming in, but I have another meeting to attend to.”

“OK. How long will the meeting take?”

“About half an hour.”

“Well, I have nothing else to do today so perhaps we could talk some more when you get back. I’d be happy to help you if I can… no charge. In the meantime, may I use your phone?”

After he left, I called The Company Corporation, a firm that specializes in incorporating people in Delaware: Cost: $240 on a credit card.

When Bob returned I gave him a piece paper with my Federal Tax ID, “I am now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.”

“What? I thought you said you weren’t incorporated.”

“That was then. This is now.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because you said I needed to be incorporated.”

Bob smiled again, “Now I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time and your money. We won’t hire someone unless they are on our approved vendor list and that process takes months.”

I borrowed his phone again and called my friend at Galaxy Systems, an approved vendor. In a few minutes I was his sub-contractor.

Bob began to look worried, “We’re really backed up with work, but how do I know you can do it?”

I said, “That’s easy. I begin doing the work and you decide if I’m doing it as you want it done. At the end of the month, if you don’t think I am worth what I’ve billed, simply cross off my number and write in your own which can be any number including zero.”

Bob seemed shocked, “You would work for free?”

“Not exactly. If it turns out that what I am doing is not worth anything to you then I will ask you what I’m doing wrong. Learning what I am doing wrong is worth a month of my time.”

“How much do you want to make?”

“One hundred dollars per hour.”

Bob sighed, “That’s too bad because we are only allowed to pay a maximum of $87.50 per hour.”

“I would accept that.”

“But I thought you wanted to make $100 per hour.”

“I do. But I would accept $87.50. I would even accept $25 because I would rather work than not.”

Bob was incredulous, “OK, I guess I don’t see a reason not to hire you immediately except that it will take us weeks to get a contract written and approval isn’t certain.”

“No problem. I’m happy to start right away and bear the risk that you are never able pay me.”

I began work immediately. It sure felt better than being unemployed. The contract was approved and I was paid in full.

If someone says they want to do something, remove all their reasons for not doing it and they will see no other choice.

If you know you are worth something but an employer isn’t sure, then work on approval.

When you are stuck, think “What Would My Mentor Do?”

Learning How to Land a Job

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

A mentor is someone who stands out in your mind as a model for your own behavior. If you find yourself thinking “What Would Sally Do?” then Sally is a mentor. Here is the story of my Sally.

In 1979, my boss asked for my help in replacing a secretary. Rather than pay a fee to an agency, Ted hired a temp and then advertised in the New York Times. We were flooded with resumes and some of these candidates had amazing credentials. He asked for my help in organizing the interviews so that he could make sure of hiring the best person.

One could type 130 words per minute. Another couldn’t type quite that fast but took dictation. Many had Bachelors degrees and a few had their Masters. I created a standardized form on which to record each candidate’s skills.

One day Sally rang our bell. She told our temp she wanted to drop off her resume in person.

“While I’m here, may I introduce myself to the hiring manager?”

Ted agreed to see her and asked me to attend. I’m glad he did.

“Tell me about your education.”

“I graduated from high school last year and I’ve had six months at secretarial school.”

Ted was unimpressed. “How fast can you type?”

“I’m not sure; perhaps 40 words per minute.”

“Hmmm. We have candidates with graduate degrees in English who can type over 100 words per minute.”

“Do you need me to have a degree and type that fast?”

“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt. Can you take dictation?”

“No. Do you give dictation?”

Ted stroked his chin. “Not yet, but some of these women can take dictation so I’m thinking about learning how to do it.”

“OK. If you want to learn how to give dictation, I’ll learn how to take it.”

Ted rose to say goodbye. I could tell that since he had not bothered to write anything in the skills survey he had no interest in her.

Sally stood, shook his hand and said, “May I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

“That girl who let me in; is she the one who is leaving or is she a temp?”

“She’s a temp. My previous secretary has already left.”

Sally looked directly at Ted, “I can do what she is doing and that is the kind of work I want to do. Tell her not to come in tomorrow and I will do her job for free while we both continue our search.”

Ted pulled me aside, “Can you think of a reason I should not take her up on this?”

Sally arrived the next day. She helped organize all the candidates and found typing and dictation tests for Ted to administer. Perhaps a dozen candidates made it into Ted’s final round and every one of them was better educated with stronger skills than Sally. Even with so many choices, Ted still couldn’t decide.

In the meantime Sally did everything that Ted wanted done. She couldn’t type very fast but fast enough. She made plenty of mistakes but she recognized them herself and corrected them. If asked for something at quitting time she didn’t do it first thing in the morning; she stayed late and did it.

After Sally had been working for two weeks, Ted pulled me into his office. “Can you think of a reason I should not give this job to Sally. After all, she’s already doing it.”

Ted hired her and gave her back pay from the day she first walked through our door.

I think that young woman taught me more about how to find work than anyone else.

Things I learned from Sally:

 

Don’t do the interview; do the job.

 

If you don’t like rejection, make offers that are hard to refuse.

 

Attitude trumps skill.

 

The best person for a job is the appropriate person for the job.

 

Work first and you shall receive.