Book Review: The End of Diabetes

by Gary L. Fisher

Book Review:  The End of Diabetes, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

The End of Diabetes.jpgDiabetes is extracting an awful price on America. It is a devastating and insidious disease that is not only growing like wildfire, it’s affecting people from youngsters to oldsters, and everyone in between.  The toll it can take on families is equally destructive. Emotionally it’s impossible to put a price tag on the pain it causes, and from a purely financial perspective it’s off the charts.

The average diabetic incurs $6,649 in health care costs directly attributable to diabetes each year. (Source Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2007. Diabetes Care 2008; 31(3):596-615/)More than half of all Americans will be pre-diabetic by 2020 at a cost of $3.35 trillion to the US health system if current trends go on unabated, according to an analysis of a report released by UnitedHealth group. The medical journal, The Lancet, called it a “public health humiliation” that diabetes, a largely preventable disease, has reached such epidemic proportions.

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disease that causes serious health complications including:

Kidney failure 

Blindness 

Heart Disease and Stroke – 80% of diabetics die of heart attacks and strokes.

High Blood Pressure  

Nervous System disease including Erectile Dysfunction and loss of feeling in the feet.

Amputations 

If that list isn’t enough to make you very interested in preventing or reversing diabetes, you’re not paying attention!

Dr. Fuhrman say’s that “The majority of medications used to lower blood sugar place stress on your already failing pancreas. The probability of your diabetes getting worse under conventional medical care is especially likely since medications used to control blood sugar, such as sulfonylureas and insulin, also cause weight gain.  The dangerous combination of pushing the pancreas to produce insulin and gaining more weight with medication actually results in the need for additional medication as you become increasingly diabetic. This common and yet failed approach shortens life span and increases the risk of heart attacks.”

Instead Dr. Fuhrman suggests something he calls a “Nutritarian” approach.

This formula is expressed as (H)=Nutrients (N)/Calories (C) 

This formula say’s that your health is determined by the nutrient per calorie density of your diet. When you eat more foods that have a high nutrient density and fewer foods with a low nutrient density, your health will dramatically improve and your diabetes will melt away.” 

The primary cause of diabetes in the first place is the American diet, which promotes obesity. This, coupled with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, has exacerbated an existing problem and turned it in to the disaster we have now. In fact, as processed foods find their way around the world, the problem continues to grow globally, not just domestically.

Attacking the problem with the Nutritarian diet, and exercise have proven to be incredibly effective for Dr. Fuhrman’s thousands of patients.   In fact the results he cites in the book are nothing short of miraculous.  I suspect most Americans will not immediately embrace such sweeping lifestyle changes.  However, when compared to the nightmarish vision of what diabetes brings, the tradeoff looks like a pretty good deal.

This is a timely book that can make a huge difference in the lives and destinies of millions, and suggests enormous public health and economic benefits as well.   •

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

by Gary Fisher

I have watched every single Super Bowl. Well at least that’s what my dad tells me. I honestly don’t recall the first one since I was only a little over a year old. But dad says he and I sat in front  of our old Zenith black and white and watched it with him, so I’ll have to take his word for it. I remember snippets of games after that, but it wasn’t really until I was about 8 years old that I really remember every single thing about a Super Bowl, that being the ’73 contest between my beloved Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins. I had liked the St. Louis Cardinals up to that point, mostly because they had cool helmets, but the Fins became my team for life during the ’72 season, and that was it.

Given this rumination, and the fact that at the time, we were in the year of the 50th Super Bowl, it was particularly notable that I had the unique opportunity to  accompany my dad to his 55th high school reunion. Not only did I meet a bunch of people my dad had been talking about for literally my entire life, I also got to put real people together with the faces that I had only seen in my dad’s dusty high school albums. It was great fun from start to finish, and I was particularly impressed by the turn out. Something like 75% of all living graduates attended this event, a fact made more impressive given the age (75) of the average graduate, and the reality that Bendle High School, in the 60’s, was a small school.  Dad had always been in the minority by not attending these events. For one reason or another he always had a reason why he couldn’t make it. He certainly had no shortage of good reasons as I recall – one year I was hit by a car, another year I had serious surgery, another time our house blew up (well only the top half), and one time he was in the hospital with surgery. In any event he was one of the MIA’s from Reunionville for decades. All of this made his surprise appearance an even bigger deal in this tight knit group. Having lost my mom a year and half prior, no one thought it likely he’d be there for this one either. But there he was.

All of this brings me back to the Super Bowl theme. One of the first people to approach my dad was one of his best friend’s growing up, a fella named Paul Krause. My dad had been telling me stories about Paul since I was old enough to remember tossing a football around. Paul was my dad’s running mate in junior high and high school in sports, and fun. When I was watching the 1970 Super Bowl which featured the Kansas City Chiefs against the Minnestota Vikings, dad pointed out that his buddy was wearing #22 for the Vikings. I remember thinking that he must have been talking about the Flint Northern Vikings, the local high school team we followed at the time. He had a hard time explaining to me that the Minnesota Vikings were a different set of Vikings. In any event, I thought it was pretty cool that my dad was pals with someone on that little black and white Zenith in our living room. It was clear this was an important game too, so that added to the coolness effect.

As I got older we had a lot of opportunities to watch Paul play on the tube, as he’d appear in three more Super Bowls- ‘74 against the Dolphins, ‘75 against the Steelers, and  ‘77 against the Raiders. Sadly, for Paul, all were losses, but as Krause told me during the reunion dinner ‘If you’re going to lose four games you can do a lot worse than have them be Super Bowls’!  I had to tell him that my favorite team growing up was the Miami Dolphins. “That Larry Csonka was a handful”, Paul said. “Really hard to tackle–he was like a freight train.” I asked him who were the toughest guys he competed against in the Super Bowl, and he laid out a litany of the greatest players of my youthful past: Terry Bradshaw, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Len Dawson, Mercury Morris, Paul Warfield, Freddie Biletnikoff, and John Stallworth.

In fact Krause was in town not just for the reunion, but also to present a “Golden Football” to his alma mater, a perk of having appeared in all of those Super Bowls with the Vikings, and something being done around the country by his fellow Super Bowlers. However, Krause is more than just a former NFL football player. He is quite likely the greatest athlete to ever come out of the Flint area. That’s saying an awful lot when you consider the almost unreal quality of talent to emanate from Flint.

His feats in high school are legendary. My dad and Paul were excitedly telling me the story of the night Krause set the county high school basketball scoring mark of 57 points in a single game. A record that still stands to this day, made even more remarkable in a pre-three point play era. They spoke of football games, and baseball games and how Krause once left a baseball game to jump the fence and win track events in the 440 and pole vault, then returned to the baseball game to pitch a no-hitter.

Krause went on to national prominence at the University of Iowa, and then played in all of those Super Bowls in the NFL. Along the way he was named All Pro 9 times, and elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998. He also holds one of the NFL’s most hallowed records with 81 interceptions, making him the NFL’s all time pass theft king.  

While all of that is without question interesting,  I didn’t spend a lot of time asking NFL questions. At the time, the main topic at our table was the 85 yard pass play Krause tossed to my dad that helped them win a close game against Corunna in ’58. And that was just fine with me.•

Attitude of a Champion

by Gary Fisher

mountain-climber-899055.jpgAttitude is an intriguing concept. What exactly does it mean? Moreover what makes a good one–or a bad one for that matter? Perhaps most critically of all, what kind of an attitude is required to be a champion? I don’t particularly mean a champion in trems of athletics, although that certainly fits the bill. A champion can be a parent, coach, teacher, student, worker, business owner, entertainer, or just about anyone. The topic is broad, and deep. But let’s take a swing at it.

According to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Phd, and author of Mindset, attitudes or mental orientations come in two broad flavors. One is what she refers to as the ‘growth’ mindset, and the other is the ‘fixed’ mindset.  People with the growth mindset are characterized by personal accountability, and a willingness to fail and take risks that might lead to failure. One can be a growth mindset person in one area and fixed in another. In the main, people with the fixed mindset believe things like “I’m a certain kind of person and there isn’t much I can do to change that”. They might say things like “You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.” Conversely, growth mindset folks think “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are,” and “You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.”

In the book, Dweck cites Michael Jordan and his comment that he’s “never really failed” because every time he wasn’t successful “He learned something valuable.” Jordan had an iconic commercial in the 90’s in which his voiceover said “ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots, I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to make the game winning shot and missed.” Then he looks at the camera and winks and says “That’s why I’m so successful!”  That ad sort of sums up the growth mind set.

Next up on the list of attitude ingredients is optimism. The belief that you can be successful is paramount for winning. Optimism, like attitude is hard to pin down in terms of definition, but we know it when we see it, and when we feel it. Dr. Martin Seligman, Phd states in his seminal book Learned Optimism, that  “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” 

Seligman found that people who skewed depressive handled set backs and disappointments very differently than Michael Jordan, and other optimists, did. Depressives, and by extension pessimistic people, believe that set backs tend to be unchangeable, pervasive and general (the ‘everything sucks’ mentality), and personal.  Optimists tend to believe setbacks are a chance to learn, improve, and move forward- the growth mindset Dweck speaks of. They believe that bad things always have specific causes that can be known. They don’t take it personally, don’t presume it’s pervasive, and they used it as leverage for future success.  Seligman makes a strong case for the benefits of optimism over pessimism.

The Pessimistic Attitude
Pessimism promotes depression.Pessimism produces inertia rather than activity in the face of setback.Pessimism feels bad subjectively: blue, down, worried, anxious.

Pessimism is self-fulfilling.

Pessimists don’t persist in the face of challenges, and therefore fail more frequently and quit–even when success is attainable. (This should be separated from the Jordan form of failing where it’s used to catapult one to greater achievements).

Pessimism is associated with poor physical health.

Even when pessimists are right, and things work out badly, they still feel worse. Their explanatory style now converts the predicted setback in to a disaster, a disaster in to a catastrophe.

He goes on to say, “The optimistic moments of our lives contain the great plans, the dreams, and the hopes. Reality is benignly distorted to give the dreams room to flourish. Without these times we would never accomplish anything difficult and intimidating, we would never even attempt the just barely possible. Mt. Everst would remain unscaled, the four minute mile unrun, the jet plane and the computer would just be blueprints sitting in some financial vice presidents wastebasket.”

The plot thickens considerably when the work of professor and author Daniel Goleman, PhD is factored in. Goleman rightly suggested that there are various types of intelligence in his book Emotional Intelligence. He posits that emotional intelligence or EI, as he refers to it, is just as important, if not far more so than what we call IQ. He presents an equally  compelling case for optimism. “Consider the role of positive motivation- the marshalling of feelings of enthusiasm, zeal, and confidence- in achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world class musicians, and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines….and that doggedness depends on emotional traits – enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks above all else.”

Dweck’s research concurs with Goleman, saying that “Finding #1 about success” is that those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. And this is exactly what we find in the champions.”  Finding #2 was that those with the “growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake up call.  Finding #3 was that “People with the growth mindset in sports (and in pretty much everything else) took charge of the processes that bring success–and that maintain it.”

The science is in. And it’s good news!  Once we know how we have to begin, we can focus on precisely those processes that make or break success. And that’s exactly what we’ll tackle in the next issue of THE MENTOR!•

Hometown Lessons that Last a Lifetime

Hometown Lessons that Last a Lifetime

by Gary Fisher

The Christmas bells were jingling, and a rotund Santa manned a big, black pot. My Grandma held my hand, as I skipped across the bricks of the street. I always loved those cool, old bricks that lined the main drag of Saginaw Street. Ma and Grandma had taken me back downtown for one of our regular shopping trips. It was 1968, I was four years old, and things were hopping during the Christmas season in the town of my birth, Flint, Michigan. We headed off to Smith-Bridgman’s department store to look for a gift for my Grandpa. I hid in the racks and pretended they were tents.

Then, I wandered away…as usual. I found a clerk and told her that my Mom and Grandma “got lost”. The clerk paged them, and they scurried over to the wrap counter to pick me up. I told them to stay close so they didn’t get lost again. Next, it was over to the Kresge’s five and dime for some popcorn, and maybe something from that wonderful, old lunch counter. I loved downtown Flint growing up. As a little kid, whenever I heard the Petula Clark hit song Downtown, I was 100% positive that it was about MY downtown!

Over the years, I would spend many hours there, in the heart of Flint. I would watch it be supplanted by the fancy new suburban mall out on Miller Road, geographically the precise middle of nowhere to an Eastside kid used to everything being a bike ride away. I would watch as the downtown stores closed, one by one, and then were smashed by wrecking balls, wiping out their physical existence. Parking lots replaced Kresge’s and the venerable, old department store, Smith Bridgman’s. The Sill Building, where the 80-year-old Polish immigrant seamstress embroidered my varsity jacket (as she had done for my mom and dad when they were in high school), gave way to ‘urban renewal’. Finally, no one I knew shopped downtown for much of anything.

For a time, it was visually a sad and lonely place. But even then as a 14-year-old, I would cruise my Tomos ‘79 moped down to get a burger and fries at Maxbeef, or zip around the overgrown lots and the abandoned old Industrial Mutual Association building, where I had so many great memories of going to the Shrine Circus with my grandparents. It was like a mini-Mad Max scene. On a blazing burgundy moped, at 40 mph, in nothing more than 70’s short-shorts, an Adidas t-shirt, tall white socks pulled up to my knees, and Adidas sneaks, it was actually pretty exhilarating. The brick street all to myself! The danger! The Mystery!

By the 80’s the old girl was being revitalized with a major expansion of the University of Michigan’s downtown Flint campus, new fancy restaurants like Figlio’s, the Water Street Pavilion, and hopping night clubs, like Hot Rocks and The Copa. I had a blast downtown in the 80s! But, it got a little sad again, as those businesses succumbed to the never-ending boom and bust cycle of a purely American rust belt industrial economy.

In the 90’s, I moved away for a few years, to Kalamazoo, but I stayed in close touch with “the bricks”, always visiting for family and friend events. When I returned to live, again, things were back in motion, and the area’s future looked as bright as it had in many years. It was only to be knocked down a few rungs again by the dot com bust, 9/11, followed by a mini-recession, and then a maxi-recession. GM went bankrupt. Things looked worse than bleak, but then, once again, Flint began it’s turn, to work it’s way back.

The University of Michigan was expanding again. Another round of new restaurants and businesses were going in. Michigan State was moving downtown, and a new Farmers Market was in place. In the midst of this growth cycle another massive new challenge arose: A growing chorus of people shouting about bad water. The alarm morphed in to a cacophony of turmoil, that echoed, quite literally, around the world. Today, I am reading about my hometown’s latest woes in Time, seeing discussions about Flint during a Presidential debate–held just minutes away from the bricks at the Whiting auditorium, on the BBC, and in media as diverse as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. Actor Michael Keaton mentioned Flint while receiving his Screen Actors Guild Award for his Oscar winning film Spotlight, and celebrities Cher, Matt Damon, and Snoop Dog, and countless others, have joined in with support.

This isn’t our first rodeo, and it won’t be our last. People couldn’t see how Flint could survive the lumber boom being played out at the turn of the twentieth century. Then Flint innovated and became the world’s leading provider of carriages and surrey’s – hence the ‘Vehicle City’ moniker.

When it became clear that horseless carriages would soon supplant that industry, the city reinvented itself again. Nameplates like Buick, Chevrolet, AC Spark Plug, and General Motors were born and raised in Flint. But the needle moved again, and in 1986, Money Magazine pronounced Flint the “worst place to live in the country”, and a satirical movie called Roger and Me, was soon taken as a documentary. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a shock. Amidst the loss of 30,000 jobs, it all seemed plausible. Still, the city went on.

Today, Flint is home to the multi-billion dollar Diplomat Pharmacy, a sprawling and growing University of Michigan campus, and a world class engineering school in Kettering University. We have Michigan State University, a superb Farmers Market, and General Motors, home to the multi-billion dollar Mott Foundation, the Crim Race and Back to the Bricks festival, and the best coney islands on the planet. This doesn’t include the thousands of entrepreneurs, small business owners, artists, entertainers, athletes, and professionals who either hail from Flint or work here currently.

None of these distinctive shining stars diminishes the very real, and urgently pervasive challenges Flint faces on countless other fronts. There are enough societal challenges to fill a doctorate level curriculum in sociology, and public administration alike. But to suggest it’s a city of helpless victims would ignore reality, be an affront and disservice to the tough, smart, and innovative success stories that are here now, and will continue to be created here in the future, in both Flint and the communities that surround it.

Over the last half-century the old bricks and I have seen a lot of action. We’ve seen good times and bad times. The happiest days you can imagine, and some of the saddest. The bricks have borne silent witness to the best of times, and certainly some of the worst as well. They watched Billy Durant dart across them with an idea for new companies called General Motors, Buick, Chevrolet and Frigidaire. World-class athletes, business geniuses, and men and women who would literally rewrite the history of America trod across their length. They watched a relentless cycle of boom and bust over the years.

Along the way I have been privileged to watch, as well. My life has taken me from those happy days of holding my Mom and Grandma’s hands on Saginaw Street, to nearly a quarter of a century working with another street, Wall Street. My career, like those bricks has been diverse. Along the way I’ve helped blue-collar GM and union workers, business owners, millionaires, and aspiring millionaires. I’ve worked with young families, and retirees, couch potatoes and world-class athletes, alike.

Today, I’ve clients all over the country, but my office is back on the bricks. I can look out over those aged and small blocks of clay, laid in their orderly pattern, and envision the entirety of the American Century. The home of the American automobile industry, still so crucial to our national identity and economy, the American Arsenal of Democracy that was so critical to winning two World Wars, the birthplace of the American middle class, and the purveyor of a seemingly unending supply of athletic and artistic talent over the years.

From my phone and computer I can converse with clients in the sunny climes of South Florida and Southern California. I can talk to stock market analysts ensconced in their high rises on Wall Street in Manhattan. I can talk to international money managers in Berlin or London. But looking out my office window, I can see those bricks, and I can remember those sunny days with Mom and Grandma. I can close my eyes and recall the dark days and the bright days alike. Like the Wall Street cycle of ups and downs, I have a tangible reminder that life itself is an unending ebb and flow.

Events change, people change, and the markets vacillate. However, the bricks remind me that some things do remain. Love, kindness, optimism, courage, resilience, and the strength and power of the human will. Wall Street and Saginaw Street are for me, inextricably linked. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but the dawn always comes. For me that is a life lesson that I hope everyone can remember. Because whether it’s investing or life, in good times and bad, it’s useful to remember that ‘this too shall pass’. More importantly, perhaps, is the message that while we can’t control the wind we can always adjust our sails. Because in the end, it’s not what happens to us, but how we respond that makes all the difference. From my vantage point on the bricks it’s an easy philosophy to understand.•

The Subway Man: A Conversation with Chris Gardner

by Gary L. Fisher

gary-with-chris-gardnerI have had the privilege to coach thousands of professional and aspiring business owners in my career.  Three decades, actually, with 23 years spent as a Wealth Advisor, and time overlapping in various management and marketing positions. I’ve seen them come, and I’ve seen them go. Without question, in my experience, the most critical component of success that I have observed is persistence:  the ability to focus on a goal, and stay focused, despite roadblocks and challenges. In my opinion, it is the single most critical factor to sustaining success.

When I’ve talked about the importance of persistence, I have used both theoretical and/or true-life examples. Finding REAL stories that resonate can be the difference-maker, when coaching a business owner. So it was with great excitement that I found the autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness. The story seemed unbelievable—and those are always my favorite kind of stories!

It was in 2006 when the book was first published, that I first started talking to my team about a man who lived in a subway bathroom with his son as a single parent, while he was building his career as a stock broker. Many thought it was something that I was using as a metaphor, and it wasn’t until the book was produced that they believed it. Even then, they were skeptical; it just didn’t seem possible, but there it was in black and white.

Chris Gardner’s story is fairly well known now, and well worth a Google if you aren’t familiar with it.  His book became a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller, and was also the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Will Smith, who received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his performance. The basics are exceptional. In short Gardner found himself raising his two-year-old son, abandoned by his wife.  He was broke. So broke and alone, that he and his son lived in a filthy men’s bathroom in the San Francisco subway system, for a period of time.

Regardless of the obstacles, Gardner had a dream to become a successful stock broker, which he managed to do under the most trying circumstances imaginable. He later went on to form his own company, Gardner Rich and Company, becoming an entrepreneurial success, and multi-millionaire.  He sold his small stake in Gardner Rich, in a multi-million dollar deal in 2006, then becoming CEO and founder of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Today he focuses on his work as a motivational speaker.  Gardner’s net worth is currently estimated to be in excess of 60 million.

I had the chance to talk to Chris about his story and his advice for those looking to aspire to realize big dreams of their own.

Gary: To what do you attribute your desire to succeed at such a high level?

Chris: My mom! Without her I wouldn’t have had the vision or belief in myself to go for it. I was watching Jacksonville vs. UCLA in the NCAA championship game. The announcers were talking about the futures of two players in the game, Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows. I said aloud to no one, “Wow, one day those guys are gonna make a million dollars!” My Mom Bettye Jean  responded, “Son, if you want to, one day you could make a million dollars.” I absorbed her words.

Gary: What advice would you give to people looking to duplicate your success or find their own path?

Chris: Ask yourself where are the opportunities, and what are you passionate about? Let’s find the places where those two things cross. That’s your sweet spot. The key is to find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”

Gary: There’s a lot of focus these days on politics, government, a lot of arguing about entitlement, who’s to blame, who is responsible? How do you think about that given your journey?

Chris: That’s an interesting question Gary. I ‘d say that it’s important for you to accept that you are responsible for every bump in the road and obstacle you have faced. However, you are also responsible for every success too. It’s on you. I always say ‘I drove here’. I did it. You can’t change something unless you own it.”

Gary: What are you doing these days?

Chris: I am the CEO of my own brand:  Happyness. We left the ‘y’ in there to keep people mindful and aware that it’s your responsibility and that you are responsible for your happiness.

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advice offered through Oak Point Financial Group, a registered investment advisor.  Oak Point Financial Group and MyRetirementMentor are separate entities from LPL Financial.

That Old-Fashioned Work Ethic

Flint Journal BagI still remember the first time I earned money. I was 7 years old. My dad was working in the yard and had me come over to assist. I had always helped before, but this time I was going to be in charge of something. Namely, all of those grass clippings, and the clumps from the front yard where he was edging. He told me it was my job to rake and sweep it all up, pick it up, bag it, and take the bags out to the road. He showed me the right way to do it all, gave me some tools, and told me to ‘get after it’. And I did, with great gusto in fact. I recall it being a particularly hot day. I took my shirt off and was left with only my cool aqua 70’s pants, and a jean style floppy hat.

A few short hours later I had that yard clean and green. Next came the inspection. Dad looked everything over carefully. He asked some questions, I gave some answers. He seemed satisfied. Then he reached in to his pocket and produced two shiny quarters, and handed them to me. “Here’s your pay son.” Whoah..what? PAY? I am getting PAID for this? Yes sir. It was true. Compensation. Sweat equity. Equal pay for equal work. The righteous might of the mighty broom. Whatever. I had COLD HARD CASH in my hand! I hopped on my bike and tore off for Paul and Dotties store on the corner of Franklin and Ohio Avenues! Wacky Packages and some candy…wait….not enough money to get everything I wanted? What to do?!

I raced home with my goodies..and asked Dad if there wasn’t something else that maybe needed some sweeping up or moving around.  And so it began. This work thing really had a hold on me. But I soon learned that there was something to be said for creating something on your own when no work existed.

So I set up a kind of carnival in my backyard. Had some ‘acts’. Hired a security team, charged kids a nickel to get in. Not enough to pay the security team though, and believe me when your security team consists of 11 year olds, and you are eight, you better find a way to pay them–and with the quickness!  So we added some attractions, expanded our team. But when a parent complained after their kid raided his piggy bank to take in our evening performance of the  Osmond’s big hit One Bad Apple, Dad shut the whole thing down.

So then I started the Neighborhood News. Pretty much just me writing some stuff on paper…complete with pictures. Initially, only Ralph Lane, my next door neighbor, and my mom, subscribed. But when I broke the story about the neighborhood Peeping Tom…subscribership soared to TEN people!  But still economies of scale being what they are, the business became challenging. Then it occurred to me…if only I could line up a gig where someone else mass produced a paper, and I would just sell them. OF COURSE! A paperboy! That had to be the ticket. And when my buddy, Ernie Gilbert, offered up his route so he could move in to the lucrative ice cream sales business, I greedily accepted his paper route.  (Regrettably, ice cream sales plummeted that summer…or maybe Ernie ate all of his inventory…I can’t remember.  Either way, I got the better end of the deal.)

That began a multi-year odyssey that only a much longer story  (or a short book) could possibly do justice to. However, suffice to say that it held me over. At least until my buddy could get me in to Mcdonald’s, where I parlayed a lifetime of Big Mac eating, in to a job making them.  As a McNugget master, I learned two things 1) The food service industry would not be where I’d make a career, and 2) No one looks good in polyester bell bottoms…and I mean no one.

In truth, all of those experiences prepared me for the work I would come to do later in my life. Entreprenuerial skills, cooperation, taking orders, giving orders, dealing with clients and customers, and working when there are things you would really rather be doing (like going to the beach, hanging with my friends, or sleeping in), and what I was good at, and not so good at.  Coupled with organizing neighborhood sports  and teams, I learned far more that was applicable later from these activities than any other form of education I ever engaged in.

These seem to be skills and talents that kids today are having a harder time developing. I don’t have a paper boy or girl. Many of the low wage entry level workers seem to be adults, and the rising costs of hiring kids is undoubtedly removing lots of opportunities to get started. For me, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. However, I could have done without cleaning the toilets at TJ Maxx….but they said that would ‘build character’….that part was a lie.

 

From Brick Street to Wall Street

Flint Postcard 2

The Christmas bells were jingling, and a rotund Santa manned a big, black pot. My Grandma held my hand, as I skipped across the bricks of the street. I always loved those cool, old bricks that lined the main drag of Saginaw Street. Ma and Grandma had taken me back downtown for one of our regular shopping trips. It was 1968, I was four years old, and things were hopping during the Christmas season in the town of my birth, Flint, Michigan. We headed off to Smith-Bridgman’s department store to look for a gift for my Grandpa. I hid in the racks and pretended they were tents.

Then, I wandered away…as usual. I found a clerk and told her that my Mom and Grandma “got lost”. The clerk paged them, and they scurried over to the wrap counter to pick me up. I told them to stay close so they didn’t get lost again. Next, it was over to the Kresge’s five and dime for some popcorn, and maybe something from that wonderful, old lunch counter. I loved downtown Flint growing up. As a little kid, whenever I heard the Petula Clark hit song Downtown, I was 100% positive that it was about MY downtown!

Over the years, I would spend many hours there, in the heart of Flint. I would watch it be supplanted by the fancy new suburban mall out on Miller Road, geographically the precise middle of nowhere to an Eastside kid used to everything being a bike ride away. I would watch as the downtown stores closed, one by one, and then were smashed by wrecking balls, wiping out their physical existence. Parking lots replaced Kresge’s and Smith Bridgman’s. The Sill Building, where the 80-year-old Polish immigrant seamstress embroidered my varsity jacket (as she had done for my mom and dad when they were in high school), gave way to ‘urban renewal’. Finally, no one I knew shopped downtown for much of anything.

For a time, it was visually a sad and lonely place. But even then as a 14-year-old, I would cruise my Tomos ‘79 moped down to get a burger and fries at Maxbeef, or zip around the overgrown lots and the abandoned old Industrial Mutual Association building, where I had so many great memories of going to the Shrine Circus with my grandparents. It was like a mini-Mad Max scene. On a blazing burgundy moped, at 40 mph, in nothing more than 70’s short-shorts, an Adidas t-shirt, tall white socks pulled up to my knees, and Adidas sneaks, it was actually pretty exhilarating. The brick street all to myself! The danger! The Mystery!

By the 80’s the old girl was being revitalized with a major expansion of the University of Michigan’s downtown Flint campus, new fancy restaurants like Figlio’s, the Water Street Pavilion, and hopping night clubs, like Hot Rocks and The Copa. I had a blast downtown in the 80s! But, it got a little sad again, as those businesses succumbed to the never-ending boom and bust cycle of a purely American rust belt industrial economy.

In the 90’s, I moved away for a few years, to Kalamazoo, but I stayed in close touch with “the bricks”, always visiting for family and friend events. When I returned to live, again, things were in back in motion, and the area’s future looked as bring as it had in many years. It was only to be knocked down a few rungs again by the dot com bust, 9/11, followed by a mini-recession, and then a maxi-recession. GM went bankrupt. Things looked worse than bleak, but then, the dusk is darkest before the dawn. Once again, Flint began it’s turn, to work it’s way back.

The University of Michigan was expanding again. Another round of new restaurants and businesses were going in. Michigan State was moving downtown, and a new Farmers Market was in place. In the midst of this growth cycle another massive new challenge arose: A growing chorus of people shouting about bad water. The alarm morphed in to a cacophony of turmoil, that echoed, quite literally, around the world. Today, I am reading about my hometown’s latest woes in Time, seeing discussions about Flint during Presidential debates, on the BBC, and in media as diverse as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. Actor Michael Keaton mentioned Flint while receiving his Screen Actors Guild Award for his Oscar nominated film Spotlight, and celebrities Cher, Matt Damon, and Snoop Dog, have joined in with support.

This isn’t the first time my city was pronounced dead. People couldn’t see how Flint could survive the lumber boom being played out at the turn of the twentieth century. Then Flint innovated and became the worlds leading provider of carriages and surrey’s – hence the ‘Vehicle City’ moniker. When it became clear that horseless carriages would soon supplant that industry, the city reinvented itself again. Nameplates like Buick, Chevrolet, AC Spark Plug, and General Motors were born and raised in Flint. In 1986, Money Magazine pronounced Flint the “worst place to live in the country”, and a satirical movie called Roger and Me, was soon taken as a documentary. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a shock. Amidst the loss of 30,000 jobs it, all seemed plausible. Still, the city went on.

Today, Flint is home to the multi-billion dollar Diplomat Pharmacy, a sprawling and growing University of Michigan campus, a world class engineering school in Kettering University. We have Michigan State University, a superb Farmers Market, and General Motors, home to the multi-billion dollar Mott Foundation, nationally recognized hospitals, and the best coney islands on the planet. This doesn’t include the thousands of entrepreneurs, small business owners, artists, entertainers, athletes, and professionals who either hail from Flint or work here currently.

None of these distinctive shining stars diminishes the very real, and urgently pervasive challenges Flint faces on countless other fronts. There are enough societal challenges to fill a doctorate level curriculum in sociology, and public administration alike. But to suggest it’s a city of helpless victims would ignore reality, it would be an affront and disservice to the tough, smart, and in innovative success stories that are here now, and will continue to be created here in the future, in both Flint and the communities that surround it.

Over the last half-century the old bricks and I have seen a lot of action. We’ve seen good times and bad times. The happiest days you can imagine, and some of the saddest. The bricks have borne silent witness to the best of times, and certainly some of the worst as well. They watched Billy Durant dart across them with an idea for a new company called General Motors. World-class athletes, business geniuses, and men and women who would literally rewrite the history of America trod across their length. They watched a seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust over the years.

Along the way I have been privileged to watch, as well. My life has taken me from those happy days of holding my Mom and Grandma’s hands on Saginaw Street, to nearly a quarter of a century working with another street, Wall Street. My career, like those bricks has been diverse. Along the way I’ve helped blue-collar GM and union workers, business owners, millionaires, and aspiring millionaires. I’ve worked with young families, and retirees, couch potatoes and world-class athletes, alike.

Today, I’ve clients all over the country, but my office is back on the bricks. I can look out over those aged and small blocks of clay, laid in their orderly pattern, and envision the entirety of the American Century. The home of the American automobile industry, still so crucial to our national identity and economy, the American Arsenal of Democracy that was so critical to winning two World Wars, the birthplace of the American middle class, and the purveyor of a seemingly unending supply of athletic and artistic talent over the years.

From my phone and computer I can converse with clients in the sunny climes of South Florida and Southern California. I can talk to stock market analysts ensconced in their high rises on Wall Street in Manhattan. I can talk to international money managers who just landed in Berlin or London. But looking out my office window, I can see those bricks, and I can remember those sunny days with Mom and Grandma. I can close my eyes and recall the dark days and the bright days alike. Like the Wall Street cycle of ups and downs, I have a tangible reminder that life itself is an unending ebb and flow.

Events change, people change, and the markets vacillate. However, the bricks remind me that some things do remain. Love, kindness, optimism, courage, resilience, and the strength and power of the human will. Wall Street and Saginaw Street are for me, inextricably linked. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but the dawn always comes. For me that is a life lesson that I hope everyone can remember. Because whether it’s investing or life, in good times and bad, it’s useful to remember that ‘this too shall pass’. More importantly, the message is that while we can’t control the wind we can always adjust our sails. Because in the end, it’s not what happens to us, but how we respond that makes all the difference. From my vantage point on the bricks it’s an easy philosophy to understand.