American football is a game of strategy and confidence tricks that would make a flimflam man rosy. Commanders, sandbaggers and their minions spend the autumn evenings in tenebrous war rooms where game plans are fiendishly devised to out maneuver the enemy in every possible way. From strategic advantage to tactical matchups no scenario is left untried. The sanctum sanctorum of coaching is the “film” room where weaknesses discovered are to be exploited and unheralded strengths found to be capitalized upon. The duty bound code of honor among the initiated coaching staff is to never bare false witness for the film never lies. Run it again. Great leaders watch both teams in the skirmish with the cool balance of Janus the Roman god of the doorway who has two faces looking in opposite directions – outside towards the unaccustomed and inside to where we dwell. (more…)
By Guest Author James Adams
As evidenced by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and European debt debacles, the pervasive sense of economic malaise that began more than three years ago isn’t fading anytime soon. The apparent ineffectiveness of stimulus packages and a zero interest rate policy have left Americans understandably skeptical of their government’s ability to return their living standards to pre-recession levels. Stagnant economic conditions have generated at least one positive development, however: spurring a long-overdue interest in financial education.
After my layoff from a money management firm in early 2009, I decided that I needed an extended hiatus from financial services. Two years spent apologizing to banks, pension funds, and insurance companies for imploding mortgage securities that my firm had purchased for them had drained my zeal for the profession. As my growing sense of guilt for my small role in the financial crisis deterred me from pursuing unemployment benefits, I decided to instead work at McDonald’s. There was just one problem: despite repeated application efforts, they wouldn’t hire me. Eventually, I was hired as a Waffle House server and assigned to work on the weekend graveyard shift.
No sooner did I land at the diner than I found myself under the tutelage of Edward, one of the restaurant’s only two “master grill operators.” The mustachioed veteran barely showed thirty-five of his nearly fifty years of age. An otherwise average build was accentuated by broad shoulders and sinewy forearms. In addition to cooking, Edward provided trenchant (and usually ribald) commentary on all customer and employee activity. Beyond entertaining the wait staff with colorful innuendos and euphemisms, he imparted a few career lessons I’ll never forget.
During many of my early days at the store, I found myself frequently apologizing to Edward for my incompetence. My career in finance, I explained, had depended on my ability to think abstractly. While developing that talent had once helped me to thrive in the bond market, it hadn’t prepared me for the realities of restaurant life.
“If you’re so good at abstract thinkin’,” he said, “Did you see the big crash coming?”
“I expected a slowdown, but not necessarily a crash,” I responded.
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“No, I guess not, Edward.”
He directed me to follow him to a booth that had recently been vacated.
“Can you see all these syrup stains?” he asked, pointing to the table.
“Outstanding. Even though you can’t find anything else in the store, you’re still more valuable in here than you were at your last job. Now grab a wet towel and get to it.”
I wiped down the table, trying to recall an occasion in high school or college when I had seen the Socratic Method employed so brilliantly.
For as much time as he spent upbraiding me, Edward appeared to genuinely enjoy guiding my transformation (however gradual) from hapless financier to server extraordinaire. Several months after taking me under his wing, he was boasting of my newly-acquired skill set to two customers at the counter. After cataloguing my abilities, Edward segued into an economics lecture. “There’s always work to be done, somewhere,” he said, gesturing towards me. “The only question is what kind of job it is, where the job is, and if you’re willing to accept the wage. As long as you’re willing to adapt yourself to different kinds of work, then there really ain’t no such thing as a recession,” he posited.
I began writing Waffle Street: The Confession and Rehabilitation of a Financier with the thought that readers jaded by the financial crisis would enjoy a fish-out-of-water narrative chronicling a financier’s attempt to work at an “honest job” for a change. And indeed, serving customers after last call provided one humorous story after another. Given the venue and my assigned shift, I anticipated as much. What I didn’t expect, however, was the number of lessons about money and banking that Edward and my customers would teach me.
Seen through the lens of 3 a.m. table waiting anecdotes, economics is far from a “dismal science”. In Waffle Street, readers receive a one-of-a-kind education in the world of money. More importantly, they get a lot of laughs at a financier’s expense along their journey of discovery.
James Adams began his career with Protective Life Insurance Co. and Jefferson-Pilot Financial, serving as a corporate bond analyst at both companies. Subsequently, he was a vice president at a $30 billion money management firm. Although he earned the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and an MBA in Finance, most of the author’s financial knowledge has been gleaned from his recent foray into foodservice and the writings of forgotten 19th-century economists. He prefers his eggs over easy and his hashbrowns “all the way.”
Excerpts and video trailer available at www.wafflestreetbook.com.
Most school children know the story of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus though its interpretation now ranges anywhere from the triumph of the spirit to persevere in the Age of Discovery to some corrupt form of economic plundering in the Age of Imperialism. History is seldom clean. It is full of flawed characters and mixed motives where the good and bad of actions are bound up in the ideals of the age. Just like today and tomorrow.
Columbus had it all wrong but that is what makes him such a heroic figure. His scheme was farfetched. Convince Isabella of Castile, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, that a westward route from Iberia, modern Spain, to the Indies, Southeast Asia, would be a shorter trek to the lucrative spice trade than going overland through Arabia which was full of pirates and even worse high tariffs. The prevailing wisdom of the day was to give most voyages of such high risk a single vessel to minimize losses in the face of probable failure. But, the Queen gave Columbus three ships. The Santa Maria was a large carrack used for transporting cargo. The Pinta and the Niña were caravels, small highly maneuverable boats. They left from a common port, Palos, but each ship had a different keel, rudder and riggings. They were stocked with diverse provisions and took contrasting courses. Columbus’ estimations of the circumference of the earth were so far off that it made dead reckoning, navigating by calculating the position of the craft from its speed and its relative place on a map, impossible. Nothing was where it was supposed to be, including the other ships. When he did “accidently” arrive in the Caribbean after six weeks at sea, he believed he had found the Indonesian archipelago and therefore called the locals “Indios”; hence the common term for Native Americans – Indians.
Though the voyage encountered the normal intrigues of local insurrection, attempted mutiny and the occasional bit of foul weather, upon his return to his monarch, Columbus was named the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and Governor of the Indies. On the hopes of finding riches and new lands, Isabella promptly raised a fleet of seventeen vessels and ordered Columbus to make a Second Voyage the next season. He established an encampment and trading port at Hispaniola, the present-day Dominican Republic, from which he governed the region. Though the enslavement of the indigenous peoples and the transmission of European borne diseases like small pox are reprehensible lessons of history, it was his tyrannical treatment of Spanish settlers and his insistence that the Crown give him the agreed upon ten percent of all profits made from his found lands that brought about his undoing.
Ultimately, he would make four voyages, and though he established the reliable trading routes, it was his contemporary, Amerigo Vespucci, chief of navigation of Spain, for whom the content is named – America. Lest we feel sorry, there are over three dozen cities named after the explorer as well as national holidays throughout the Americas. Over the following three hundred years, the Spanish ruled, or plundered, depending on the angle of view, the “New World” for the glory of the empire. More importantly, Columbus discovered hidden rules about ocean currents, trade winds and climate that would become invaluable for future explorers. Less than a century later, standards and systems would be introduced into map making prompting a revolution in world trade still underway.
We remember Columbus as much for how he “discovered” America as for the fact that he found it at all. To the end, he believed that he had followed a westward passage and arrived in Asia. Whether intentional or not, he diversified his approach when faced with insufficient information about his destination. In possession of new and emergent knowledge that comes only through experimentation, he quickly streamlined his approach to minimize the risk and maximize the reward. Columbus left us a route and a map to follow not only to the places he found but also to the way in which he found them.