The Sunscreen Song

The Sunscreen Song

by Gary Fisher

It was known as ‘The Sunscreen Song’. A hit song in 1999. by Baz Luhrman , it offered sage advice to the ‘Class of 1999’. The tune went to #10 in the states, and was #1 in the UK. To this day it stands as one of the most unusually catchy songs of a generation. The lyrics are the key, and they present a dramatic, yet understated line of thinking for the last class of the 20th century.

As I move through my 50th year on earth, and work with clients yet to know the joys of hitting the half century mark, and many who have long since passed that point, I am reminded of the song and it’s advice, and how spot on it was. In fact, I recently ran across a similarly conceived set of instructions purportedly written by 60 year olds. The comments essentially dovetail with the Sunscreen song which I found to be rather intriguing.

Quality advice can be particularly valuable when it comes to envisioning a life that includes business and personal success, raising a family, taking care of ailing parents, fluffy kitties, happy dogs, yourself, your spouse, and then planning for something called ‘retirement’ which might span 20, 30, and even 40 years.

So if you are near a computer, or you have the song on your ipod load it up and take a listen. You may find it moving, or fun, but its hard to imagine it won’t resonate.

Among the gems of advice are:

  • Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worry is as effective as trying to solve an algebra problem by chewing gum.
  • Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
  • Don’t waste time on jealously. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.
  • Floss.
  • Stretch.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t’ know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know, didn’t know what they wanted to do at 22, and some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
  • Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss those when they’re gone.
  • Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.
  • Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.
  • The older you get the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
  • Travel.
  • Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund or a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either will run out.
  • And of course….wear sunscreen!

And…in my opinion…here are some recommendations from the ‘Over 60’ crowd:

  • Eat and exercise like a diabetic heart patient with a stroke, and you’ll never actually become one.
  • Pay your bills and ‘stay the hell’ out of debt.
  • The joints you damage today will get their revenge later.
  • Stuff is just stuff. Don’t hold on to material objects. Hold on to time and relationships.
  • The most important person in your life is the one who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them as such.
  • No matter how long or how short you live, you’ll wish you took better care of your body when you were young.
  • A true friend will come running at 2am. Everyone else are just acquaintances.
  • Don’t take life so seriously. Even if things seem dark and hopeless, try to laugh at how ridiculous life is.

When it comes time for you to wrap up one phase of your life, and move in to the retirement phase you’ll find that this advice will be particularly resonant.

The formula for my Happy Retirement “Sunscreen” is based on countless studies, personal observation of nearly a quarter of a century in practice working with clients, and the words of those same clients it seems clear that your happiness in this phase of life will include four critical components:

  1. How healthy you are physically and mentally.
  2. The fun you have with your hobbies and most importantly, your passions.
  3. The depth and quality of your personal relationships.
  4. The level of contribution to others you are able and willing to make.
  5. The monthly income you have that facilitates the previous four points.

Interestingly the advice to the graduating class of ‘99, the wisdom of the 60 + crowd, all blend in to one neat package that serves as a nifty guide to what we should all focus on as we make our plans for the BEST of our life. Heed it well!



Finding Your Beach

The Journey Starts with That Important First Step

by Gary L. Fisher


‘Find Your Beach’ is a metaphor that I use liberally to define both the journey and the destination to what we call ‘retirement’. It’s not about stopping your life and remaining in stasis. Rather, it’s about transitioning your life from one state of mind and being, to another. It’s about new beginnings, not endings. It’s about new challenges, not the ending of all challenges. It’s about conquering new goals, exploring new frontiers, and seeking adventure and fulfillment.

The destination can be an actual beach, or whatever you picture yourself doing in retirement, whether it’s spending all of your time with your grandchildren, fishing off a dock in Northern Michigan, or seeing the world. So the first step is setting a goal: getting clear about what you want to achieve. Most important of all is knowing about why you want it. Then you need a path that is designed to lead you there.

Think about it: No ship sets sail without a plotted course, no jet takes off without filing a flight plan, no football team takes the field without a game plan, and no family or business should contemplate a successful journey without some sort of focused, holistic, and comprehensive strategy. My role is to help people create such a plan and then help guide them through the realization of that plan, year after year, until you find YOUR beach. I approach all of my client relationships with the idea that we are in it together…and we’re in it for the long haul.

People can be confused, intimidated, or even annoyed by trying to figure out just what exactly it means to work with a Financial Advisor and address such a broad topic as ‘your financial life’. After all…it sounds like a big job…and it is, but that shouldn’t scare you. In fact, I hope it inspires you! Conceptually, it’s pretty easy to visualize, and in the end, the results can be orders of magnitude more valuable than the effort and energy that went in to it’s creation.

Creating a road map for your financial game plan can be one of the most exciting, and empowering things you’ll ever do. Some of our clients say it provides them with a sense of accomplishment second to none. It’s no wonder…how would you feel if you no longer were alone in planning for your retirement, long term care, or managing your investments on a day-to-day basis?

The process starts with a simple and complimentary consultation where we determine if you need help, if we should work together, and if so, at which level of service. Then, we start plotting your course. At subsequent meetings, we formally implement your plan, and thereafter, we meet to review and make course corrections as needed.

It’s simple, and it’s easy to get started. Ancient wisdom says that ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step’. When you, or someone you care about are ready to take that first step I’ll be ready to lend a hand.

If you are ready to take that important first step, please give me a call! 810.603.9100

Billy Durant

The Man Who Invented the Future

by Gary L. Fisher

Billy Durant.pngWhen I was a freshman in college, I was given the assignment to write about the most famous person from my hometown. I etched out a profile of a man, who, ultimately, really didn’t fit the bill. In fact, he wasn’t famous—at least not any longer—and certainly not in 1983, when I was writing my essay. In truth he hadn’t been famous for a very long time. Indeed, he has been largely forgotten, even in his own hometown of Flint, Michigan.

However, to me he was famous. Or, at least he should have been famous, by all normal laws of fame and glory. This particular individual had had a massive impact on my life, and on the lives of millions of people around the world. Yet, few knew his name. He was a super salesman—maybe the best that ever lived. He was a marketer extraordinaire, perhaps the most prolific in industrial history. He was a genius with organizational development, a master talent scout, and most of all, he was a brilliant alchemist, turning wood and steel into dollars and cents, and neighborhoods, and roads, and largely creating the 21st century in a myriad of ways.

He was responsible in full, or in part, for inventing, developing, or creating from whole cloth: Buick, Chevrolet, Frigidaire, GMAC, GMC , Pontiac, Cadillac , DELCO, AC Spark Plug, and other companies too numerous to name. He mentored Charles Stewart Mott, Walter Chrysler, Charles Nash, Charles Kettering, Albert Champion, David Buick, Louis Chevrolet, among many others.

This man, known in fact as “THE MAN” in his day, envisioned a world that was largely science fiction back then. Iconic industrialist J.P. Morgan called him an ‘unstable visionary’, others called him ‘crazy’, but all who knew him well, eventually called him a genius.

The Man” was William C. “Billy” Durant. The most famous man no one has ever heard of. In fairness, many more today have heard of him than in 1983. My Freshman Comp teacher responded to my essay with a ‘Billy Who?’ notation, when I told him of my planned work.

How he wound up so anonymous is an enduring mystery, as his achievements are prolific. Durant was the first to use vertical integration in manufacturing, invented North America’s first franchise dealer network for automobile sales, and built the world’s largest sales team in recorded history. Moreover, (and contrary to popular belief), he was the first to use the assembly line for mass production in his carriage business (Henry Ford’s hired consultants put the assembly line into motion first in Ford plants).

According to the legendary management guru, Peter Drucker, the company Billy Durant crafted out of thin air, General Motors, imposed a productivity might that was the primary reason that the allies were able to crush both Hitler, and Hirohito. The union movement, white collar management, automobile sales, and the plethora of automobile-related engineering and design careers—their histories and growth are linked to his entrepreneurial machine (Durant referred to GM always as ‘his baby’). General Motors was created with a deft blend of labor, management, bureaucracy and entrepreneurialism, and in many ways, helped to sculpt the vaunted American middle class.

His creations fueled the American Century, transforming our lives in ways we scarcely appreciate today. He was strong enough to stare down J.P. Morgan (the actual man, not just the company), and Henry Ford, provide guidance to Pierre DuPont, counsel President Hoover about how to avoid a Great Depression (Hoover didn’t listen), rub shoulders with kings and queens, princes and presidents, while still being humble enough to play checkers with elevator operators.

He saw things that didn’t exist and brought them into reality. He once told an interviewer during a time when horses and buggies were still being used:

“Most of us will live to see this whole country covered with a network of motor highways built from point to point as the bird flies, the hills cut down, the dales bridged over, the obstacles removed. Highway intersections will be built over or under the through lanes and the present dangers of motor travel, one after another will be eliminated.”

He was loved by his workers (labor strife was rare in his plants), his colleagues, and his friends (thousands of which he made wealthy beyond their wildest dreams). Despite his mercurial and sometimes self –focused behavior, no one doubted that he ultimately had their best interests at heart in the end. And so he did, having been ousted not once, but twice, from the helm at GM by a cabal of bankers and backstabbers. He went bankrupt during the Great Depression trying to guarantee investments made in his companies, and while legions of his friends were rich, he died broke.

In the end, despite his massive economic set backs, he had new goals and new dreams, and in his 80’s was planning a chain of bowling alleys, thinking that families would flock to them (he was right), and years before Ray Kroc got the smart idea to team with a couple of brothers named McDonald, Billy envisioned a chain of fast food restaurants with ‘good food served fast through a window” to accommodate the legions of automobile shoppers he had helped to create. When asked by his wife Catherine why he couldn’t ‘just rest’, he replied “We are not given enough time, Mama.”

His spirit can be embodied in his own words, words of advice given to others in the face of difficult circumstances. It’s sage counsel for anyone chasing a dream, building a business, or trying to save a city.

“My advice to you and all others is to keep working…Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re trying to do now-and do it.”  –Billy Durant

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.•