Friday, February 29, 2008

Forbes Mag. on Capitalism 2.0

Okay, okay, I know: Forbes Magazine doesn't even accept that Global Warming is a scientific fact; how can you take anything they say seriously? Kooky, that's how I'd have to describe Steve Forbes and his magazine. (More's the pitty: I'm a HUGE proponent of the flat tax!)

Well, that may be so. But you still may find this article on ethical companies interesting:

(The last paragraph is a big let-down, sadly.)

Neapolitans of Note Earl & Thelma Hodges (Part I)

The italicised portion of this entry was published in our e-newsletter, NSA Issue 14. Where the italics end, the unpublished portion of the story begins.

If you would like to subscribe to the NSA e-newsletter, email us at

Originally From: Earl - Tennessee / Thelma – Massachusetts
Neapolitans Since: 1955
Careers: Funeral Home Director / Nurse

The first thing you have to know about Earl and Thelma Hodges is, they’re good people.

They didn’t inherit a fortune or make it to the big time with an IPO. They don’t live in a castle in Port Royal, although their house is very nice. They drive a Dodge Caravan (Earl: “The stow-and-go seat sold me”), not a Rolls Royce. Themla works the cash registers most Thursdays in the White Elephant, NCH’s thrift shop (as do Ted’s Mom and stepfather). It’s Earl’s favorite place to shop. He loves the $1 name-brand shirts he often finds there.

Oh, and they have a university named after them: Hodges University, known as International College before their $12 million endowment last summer.

If any of this doesn’t add up, you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s a news flash: good things happen to good people. Specifically, if you spend your life giving more to your neighbors and community than you could ever get back, and if you build a business based on genuine relationships and personal integrity, then you, too, can give your fortune away some day.

Thelma and Earl met when they were introduced by Les and Betty Johnson in 1956 – Les was president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time. Earl was one of the few bachelors in the sleepy little fishing village of Naples; Thelma was one of the founding nurses at Naples Community Hospital. She had moved to Naples the year before from Massachusetts with her younger sister and a friend. They were staying right across an alley from Earl’s aunt and uncle. Thelma, no wilting flower, invited Earl to the Junior Women’s Club ball. There were plenty of single women in Naples at that time, but talking to Earl, it’s clear that wasn’t a distraction. “I was a bumpkin,” he says, still clearly grateful that Thelma took a liking to him 52 years ago. “I didn’t even own a watch.”

That bumpkin, mind you, had begun his business career at thirteen. Attending the funeral of a friend’s father, Earl was smitten by the hearse, and ended up talking to the undertaker through the entire service. He began working for that funeral director without pay until his one-year anniversary, when the owner handed him an envelope. Inside was one dollar. “It was okay that they didn’t pay me; I was getting an education. I was thrilled to get that dollar!”

Earl held numerous other jobs, served in the Maritime Service (the Merchant Marine) in World War II, joined the Army Reserve after the war, and served in grave registration for the Army in the Korean War.

Nothing Earl has ever done was simple, but nothing kept him from achieving his goals, either. For instance, he tried to sign up for military service during WWII, but he failed the physicals for the Marines, the Navy, the Army, and the Coast Guard, each time because he had too much protein in his urine. Undaunted, he befriended a nurse who advised him to drink lots of water before his physical, because that would dilute the protein in his system. He did, and passed the exam for the Maritime Service. He wanted to serve his country in the War, and he did. Earl Hodges doesn’t make excuses; he makes things happen.

Here’s another one. He moved to Naples, began work at Pitman’s Funeral Home, and married Thelma. It was supposed to take him four years to qualify for his own funeral director’s license, but Pitman didn’t have enough customers to qualify in one of those years (that’s how small Naples was back then), so it took him five years instead. During all that time, Earl built up a reputation around town as a man of honor, a good man who thought nothing of going the extra mile – or several extra miles – for his customers and his friends.

Finally, a funeral home operator from the Keys came to Naples with an eye toward opening a spot to compete with Pitman’s. Earl out-maneuvered the out-of-towner for the lot he was going to buy for his funeral home; he started his own business instead. “It was time,” he said. “The town was growing, and someone was going to enter the market anyway.”

Well, Mr. Pitman didn’t see it that way, so he badmouthed Earl around town – which blew up in his face, because everyone knew what a stand-up guy Earl was. Then, Pitman bought the lot south of the Hodges’ funeral home, and erected a mammoth billboard there to advertise his own business, blocking much of Earl’s visibility from the street. Again, it backfired.

“I would have gladly paid rent on that sign,” he laughs. “Folks in town thought that was unfair, so it helped us a lot.”

Says Earl, “I don’t believe in cut-throat business practices. Pitman did, and it hurt his business. A lot.”

Things got better from there. Naples grew, and with it, the Hodges’ fortunes. They ended up with a number of funeral homes, including some in other parts of the state, a memorial garden, and two crematoriums. A look at Earl’s resume shows he founded or served on the boards of a few local banks, and he and Thelma invested a bit in property, as well.

Things didn’t happen overnight for these two. They lived over their funeral home from 1960 to 1976, when they bought their current home for $156,000. (It’s worth a bit more today.) Thelma continued working up until their move. In other words, Thelma and Earl Hodges are the spitting image of Stanley and Danko’s Millionaire Next Door.

More than the business success, though, when you talk to the Hodges, you hear again and again about their involvement in philanthropy. Thelma has been active in thirteen area nonprofits; Earl, twenty-nine.

A very partial list for Thelma: she seems to have served in every officer position of the NCH Auxiliary. She has been president of the Junior Women’s Club and Visiting Nurse’s Council, and she was chairman of Bazaar Luncheons. She is presently Chairman of the Old Timers’ Association (yes, there really is an Old Timers’ Association in Naples). Every month, she and her friends still meet at the Women’s Club downtown.

Earl has served as Past President of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Naples Shrine Club, United Way of Collier County (where he was also Campaign Chairman), and Collier County Junior Deputies’ League, which works with forth and fifth graders – he remains a director of this organization. He also served as Chairman of the Collier County Red Cross for ten years, and spent another ten years as president of Swamp Buggy Days, where he is Chairman Emeritus.
And there’s more… and more… for each of them. The bottom line? The Hodges aren’t just people who decided to have a university named after them. More accurately, their incredibly active civic engagement over the past fifty-plus years is why the university now bears their name. The horse came before the cart, you could say.

But we had one question that really needed answering: Why the university? With all of these great causes, why donate such a large sum to one particular organization, and why that one in particular?

“Because Terry (President Terry McMahan) broke Earl down,” Thelma quips with a sparkle in her eye that reminds us of a much, much younger version of Ted’s Grandma.
She continues, “People are very impressed with the money, but I have two jobs now because Earl gave all our money away.”

…And that about sums it up for this feature. To read more about Earl and Thelma – and there is a lot more that we mean to share about these two wonderful Neapolitans – keep opening your email from Naples Social Action. We’ll be running another feature on the Hodges soon, focusing next time on their passionate interest in their namesake, Hodges University.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The Predatory Foundation"

The following is from an email I sent to an acquaintance, in reply to her sensing I'm not fond of an organization here in Naples. I feel compelled to share this, even though I should just go for a run and burn off my bad thoughts instead. Yes, I suppose I can delight in being petty, just like anyone.

I've blocked out the name of the organization and people to which I refer, because I'm not comfortable saying bad things about others.

Hi Pal,

As for the XXXXXXX Foundation.... I try to bite my tongue and not badmouth anyone - it's been a successful strategy of mine and useful in my career, even if it's not always easy. I'll tell you, though, I genuinely believe that I'm being intentionally snubbed by __________ (their executive director) and her colleagues. Jane and I met with xxxxxxx ( a pleasant guy) and _____'s #2 (whose name escapes me) when we were first starting the Coiné Foundation about 18 months ago. Our temperaments couldn't be more different, and I think this lady decided not to be engaged with us on any level at that point. We were clearly like oil and water. I act quickly and decisively, which is how I've built the Coiné Companies and NSA in such a short time: why plod when you can gallop? Some people admire that, others don't get it - or me. I don't worry too much about the latter.

Maybe part of the problem is that we don't want to accept charity from them - NSA is completely out of pocket, and we haven't even bothered completing our 501(c)3 application, because the three of us involved don't know how to ask others for donations in any event - it would just be a waste of money and a lot of rigmarole at this point, though we're open to changing our minds at a later date. All we would want from the XXXXXXX Foundation, actually, is to help them by promoting their events through our calendar and by helping the organizations they serve. As you know from your nonprofit, we try to be useful friends to have.

I have a few friends at some of the more influential foundations and nonprofits who find them arrogant and difficult to deal with. They seem to be good at attracting affluent donors, though. Perhaps that's why one such friend has dubbed them "The Predatory Foundation," although I haven't had enough experience with them to know about that myself. All I know is that I have a strong distaste in my mouth, based on, as I said, this cold-shoulder treatment. It's gotten to the point that I find _____________ unprofessional, and I'd tell her so to her face (thus I'll write it in this email) if we ever met.

Wow, what a lot of bile! I'm sorry for sharing such poison with you.

Maybe I've just insulted your friends. If so, I apologize. And to be fair, I do have other friends who regard them highly. I think my opinion is biased by my personal experience - or should I say, lack of experience? - with them.

Enough of that! I'll be pleasant now, I promise.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Every Worker a Capitalist

My friend and mentor Jim Fisher, co-Founder of The Naples Institute, shared a blog entry of his regarding Argentine workers in a balloon factory who showed up one day to discover their factory an empty shell, their jobs gone along with their bosses. Desperate for a means to feed their families, they agreed to secure funding and run the factory themselves, each an equal owner. The results, as Jim shares, are dramatic - and inspirational. (

I see what those factory workers did in Argentina as Capitalism 2.0, without doubt! I have wrestled ever since my college Psychology of Organizational Development class, maybe before that, with this one question: why on earth does everyone buy into the idea that all of the workers, up to the very top, work for pay, and only the capitalist business owner gets all of the profits? Why is that okay with everyone? Why do we all buy into the idea that the owner "owns" the business, and everyone else works to make that person rich? How can he look them in the eye, knowing that this year he will make $23 million, $80 million, $200 million of personal income, whereas the folks reporting to him are stuck at $200,000, or $50,000, or $23,000? And more importantly, how can they look at him and not resent him?

I have a friend who works for a big, privately-owned company who brags about his boss's mansion where he holds the annual employee picnic. This is not unique, by any means. Doesn't that seem weird to anyone?

Apparently, just about everyone buys into the central tenet of capitalism, which hold that the capitalist takes all the risk (yes, so true, I agree), and so for his pluck he deserves all the reward.

Now, fair is fair, and any capitalist will argue that anyone can start their own business if they like; that those who do so and do it well will get rich; others will make good money, and others - losers, tools, knuckleheads - will fail ...but even the failures can try again, and again, if they don't make it the first time, so they can eventually get it right. Fair is fair. If you want to trade the immense risk and opportunity of running your own business for the illusion of "security" as an employee, good for you. We all make choices, and every day we choose to keep at what we're doing rather than striking out on our own, we are making that choice anew.

Look at me! I've just talked myself back into being a Capitalist.

Here's the thing: As I shout from the rooftops at every occasion, I am an ardent Capitalist, a proselytizer for that best of all systems. Indeed, Jane and I own 100% of two companies! One time, a few years ago, I did some quick math in my head and realized that, where before I was making $15 an hour to teach English for someone else, and when I teach a class on my own for my own business I make about $160 an hour, I made (on that day, in that quarter) over $800 an hour not teaching, but letting our talented, well-paid and respected teachers do it for me. So yes, I'm a Capitalist and glad of it!

Given all that, why would I rock this really, really personally rewarding boat?

I'm having an existential crisis, that's why. It's what philosophers-turned-businessmen do, an indulgence we try not to share with the world; I'm sure I'm poisoning my future well with this missive. Well, I've never been one to respect caution. ...Another trait that makes me a good Capitalist.

Stories like that of the Argentine factory workers, though... If we all grew up, if all of the workers in the world got the picture - that Capitalism can work for them, too - then we'd have a world-full of privately-owned (Capitalist) companies such as the balloon factory that are owned by the workers. Why not? Everyone would be a Capitalist and everyone would win, not just a tiny, tiny minority, as is the case today.

The big thing that separates me from 98% of my peers in Capitalism is that, while I very much like making money, and the more the merrier, with me it is not for the sake of either having money or of spending it on lavish stuff. I want to make millions and millions so I can give most of it away - not through hand-outs, but through savvy teach-a-man-to-fish endeavors such as improved universal education and microloans.

Marx wanted to State to own the means of production, rather than the workers. At least, that's how Communism has played out, and why it's such a dismal failure. But what if we had companies like that example in Argentina of a closed factory taken over by the workers, who become the owners? That is one of the bright faces of Capitalism 2.0. It's coming; hopefully, it will come in strength, rather than as a series of isolated flukes.

Nobody owes us a living. Adult Capitalist workers understand that, whereas workers stuck in the arrested development of childish paternalistic Primitive Capitalism bemoan their fate, complain and protest, beg our politicians for intervention and demand their unions "do something" with their employers when those companies go out of business or move operations off shore.

Let's see how many more laid-off workers of closed business units stand up and do something for themselves, just as the balloon factory workers in Argentina have. I hope this is the start of a trend.

By the way...

To follow up regarding "Ted Sees Red" (below): Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Ken Blanchard (The One-Minute Manager) are both contributing to our book, Enlightened Leadership. So things could be worse - and my head is swimming with the caliber of people I have recently (past 2+ years) found to be my peers.

Eventually, I win. Every time. I am a fierce competitor, even when there is no specific person I am vying against.

Dad is proud, on his cloud up in Heaven.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ted sees Red

Note to my Dear Readers: I say the following tongue-half-in-cheek. That's hard to convey in writing, but that is where you will find my tongue about 1/2 of the time, just so you know. I am at once laughing at myself, and dead-cold serious.

Nothing wakes me from a stupor quite so fast as a little resistance.

Here I was, wallowing in physical and mental torpor from this SARS/Bird Flu/Plague/T.B./"90-Day Cough" that I've enjoyed now since my birthday 24 days ago. I've actually been highly productive, but only in spurts, with a lot more downtime than I'm used to.

Things are going well. All of a sudden, everybody wants in on Naples Social Action in one way or another ( The Naples Institute and NI Consulting are gathering a really, really powerful head of steam ( On the surface they're going infuriatingly slowly, but I'm operating well below that surface, and I can see clearly that it's a winning idea that is already taking off - by the time The Naples Institute is a household name (at least in NPR, News Hour, and New York Times households), we'll already be out in front of the pack.

Even the NSA-CAN Ride seems off to a good start, despite my inattention. And my family is back from Boston, so all is right in the world.

So I was feeling rather... uninspired. And sick. And sluggish. And sorry for myself, cuz I have a little bitty cough. Poor, poor Ted.

Then, a sure thing turned out to need some coaxing.

In order to put our name out there, The Naples Institute is writing a book, Enlightened Leadership. We've already got an all-star cast of business authors assembled to contribute a chapter each, giving their take on what those two words mean to them. And we have an all-star editor in Ken Shelton, editor of Executive Excellence magazine and Steven Covey's ghost writer. It's a great topic, a chapter is a night's work for most authors, and proceeds are going to charity - a really great cause, namely (my favorite) One Laptop Per Child (

So I reached out to an author who has endorsed one of my books, a friend of the family through his dad and my Dad, a bestseller whose work is right in line with this topic. And I thought, "How easy is this gonna be?"

But he hasn't said yes yet! He needs more courting!! I'm not used to this!!! People who don't matter to me don't always go along with my ideas, but when it counts, the ones I want are right there with me - proof, obviously, that great minds think alike. (ehem).

Now I feel GREAT! What cough? What general feeling of malaise? I am challenged, and my synapses are firing away at double-time.

The issue: How can we make this project more compelling? - not just to this one author; indeed, if he isn't in, that's his loss, not ours. Exactly the opposite of Groucho Marx, I would never want to join a club that wouldn't have me as a member. But how do we find each potential contributor's sweet spot, the motivator that will get them to refuse to take No (from us) as an answer? That's what has me all fired up and ready to go.

You see, that's how I work in sales; I don't actually try to "sell" at all. I like to provide something that people are dying to get for their own. When we created Coiné Language School that is exactly how we designed it: What would make companies line up to ask for our service, as opposed to (a) not having on-site language classes at all, or (b) going with another provider? We started with what they knew they wanted, and then dug deeper, looking for what they didn't even know they would want. We brought that to them, then spent years improving it. The result? A Rolls Royce for the price of a Toyota.

I can't stand to convince anyone of anything, so I crafted something that easily, really and truly effortlessly, sells itself.

I'm working on making the Enlightened Leadership project the same kind of proposition. Before we have our last author, any bestseller will be dying to get invited to participate. My compatriots and I just have to figure out what that motivation is.

Stay tuned. It's coming.

An easy "Yes" is my favorite thing in the world. But right after that, a good challenge isn't so bad, either. I feel challenged now, and I probably won't sleep much for the next few nights, till I've figured this puzzle out. But I also won't be sleepy.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Adult workers, and happy for it.

I grew up jaded by the experience of those of my father's friends who were top executives in their 50's who, one after another, found the last 5-10 years of their careers derailed by employers who laid off, fired, or downsized them. Whatever the reason in each case - and at the time, in the 80's, that reason was often age discrimination and/or replacing a six-figure executive with a kid at half that pay grade - the result was the same: these guys had lived their lives by the lie that if you work hard, take your lumps, and pay your dues, you will be rewarded and looked after by your company.

Maybe life worked that way before this era, but that is so far a thing of the past by now, it is beyond quaint - it's just hard to imagine anyone buying it these days. Yet I think we all know plenty of people who do. It's sad, actually.

That's why I see self-employment as the only mature decision. This is not to say that one cannot work for a corporation at times in his or her career, but to risk one's livelihood and (often) sense of self worth on the caprices of others higher-up... I don't want to seem mean, but that is not a wise choice.

The bad news is, we can't act like good school kids anymore, and expect the authority figures in our lives to take care of us in exchange for our autonomy. The good news is, if we manage our own lives well, there are so many companies looking for outside "consultant" and "contractor" help to augment the in-house payroll, and there are so many opportunities for professionals to work with employers as clients instead, that I think this "bad news" is actually liberating.

I was just at lunch today with a business owner who was in sales with RCA when GE bought it. Not enjoying the GE culture, he asked his boss if he could quit, start his own company, and provide the same sales service for less money as an outsourced service provider. His boss fired him, then signed up with him as requested as his first and biggest client. Why work for the man when you can work for yourself and help the man, making more money and employing others in the process?