Archive for April, 2011

Rescuing the Economy – Proposal #5

April 29, 2011

The US needs a “turn-around artist” to focus on the mission of the country and to reconcile the costs of laws with the benefits those laws provide. Abolish existing laws that fail the hurdles of mission and cost-benefit, and establish those quality hurdles for new laws going forward. Start with an overhaul of our tax code.

Flashback 25 Years

When Rockwell International was selling the Network Transmissions Systems Division in the 1980’s, the Board of Directors dispatched their “turn-around artist” to “polish their apple.” This fellow immediately refocused us all on the “mission” of the company as his first lever to control costs and improve performance – he eliminated products and activities that were not close enough to the mission. Next, he looked at policies and procedures and challenged unnecessary requirements to conduct business by demanding to know the “fully accounted cost” of the policy or procedure he didn’t like so that he could justify changes and improve performance across the board. I am confident that this fellow added more than 10% to the bottom line of the company and enhanced the value of the company and  its image in the industry substantially. This fellow was pretty clever…

It was his mantra: Mission and Cost-Benefit!   Mission and Cost-Benefit!

Back to the “Here and Now”

In the April 11 Newsweek magazine, Mark Cuban is quoted:

Streamline entrepreneurial paperwork

… Today, it’s impossible to start a business without professional help. Between local, county, state, and federal filings, it can easily cost as much time and capital to deal with administrivia as the business itself. Paperwork strangles small businesses before they start—this country’s greatest inhibitor to job growth. That could be fixed with a simplified startup legal structure (understandable in a pamphlet) that would reduce the friction involved in starting a business.

I recently spent thousands of dollars on attorneys and more than one hundred hours of my time to insure that my company organization and standing documents and agreements were sound and satisfied all the legal requirements that I was exposed to. Next stop is my CPA… While I don’t hold Mr. Cuban in especially high regard, he is certainly nobody’s fool. I think he sees this all pretty clearly – his terms “administrivia” and “frictionless” surely resonate with me!

Recently, I phoned the Texas Workforce Commission to be sure I was prepared to display all the legally required signs and notices in office space I was considering.  The TWC responded, “We aren’t sure we know what all the required signs and notices are anymore. We lost track of all that a few years ago. Here is a list of websites where you can find out most of what is required. It is reasonably complete. Good luck!” Administrivia and friction galore.

What is the Mission of the United States Government?

I am no historian; nor am I an activist or subversive. Here is what I believe the core mission of the government is:

To assure our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promoted in the Declaration of Independence and provided for in the Constitution explicitly by the Bill of Rights and the other articles and amendments.

Every law passed by Congress should affirm this mission and satisfy some mission-centric need. If a law fails this test to support the mission, it should be challenged!

What is the Cost of our Laws?

Every law has a cost. It costs time and money to write a law, publish a law, communicate a law to the people, enforce a law, and punish a law breaker. Many laws demand the performance of a function or a require a deliverable, and these laws have a measurable direct cost. Many laws require that compliance is documented in some way – another direct cost. Further, every law has an opportunity cost associated with it – law beakers become less valuable in society and contribute less to further society over their lifetimes through hard work and paid taxes. Every proposed legislation has a cost that should be computed in some way and compared to the benefits that it seeks to provide for before the legislation can be passed by Congress, signed into law by the President, and considered by the Supreme Court.

The Economy is the “Game”

I generally hold the “body of law” in high regard – by that, I mean that I have respect for the law. The more laws there are, though, the less regard each law can muster in the population one-by-one. “Too many rules, and you can’t play the game. When you can no longer play the game, it’s time to tip the board off the table and start over (press the reset button),” and that generally creates an ugly confrontation… Recall my elementary school experience from an earlier post?

In this case, the “game” is participating in the US economy. Mr. Cuban is right on the money. I agree – 100%. Too many laws translate into unproductive administrivia and friction. Perhaps Mr. Cuban deserves more credit from me than he has gotten in the past…

My Proposal #5 to Rescue the Economy

  1. Our Congressional representatives should become activists and challenge established  law and abolish it if there is a misalignment with the country’s mission to assure our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and all that entails. Congress should challenge laws with costs that obviously exeed benefits.
  2. Congress should become focused on legislative quality to insure that new law is mission-centric, and that each new law’s benefits exceed its costs by a wide margin.

Where to start?  Well, most of my friction and administrivia is associated with taxes – start right there! This is “Eco-Pillar” #6 from this previous post:

Further Thoughts on the Economy – the China Playbook

I don’t object to paying my fair share of taxes. The less time I spend doing tax admisnistrivia, and the less money I spend on services to do that correctly and cover my _ss properly, the more time and money I have for the mission of my business.  Overhaul the tax code for personal and business taxes to reestablish fairness and dramatically reduce the complexity and the administrative burden – the administrivia and friction – of compliance with the law, and let me get on with the business of my small business.

And after taxes? Intellectual property law – patents, trademarks and copyrights (“Eco-Pillar” #5)…

Hewlett-Packard in need of Repair

April 15, 2011

My stomach does a flip-flop whenever a legendary American company takes a nose dive. Hewlett-Packard Company dove deep in front of my very eyes. I am dumbfounded and so disappointed. I want good things for this venerable company.

Take a step back in time with me. In the ’70’s, HP designed and manufactured sophisticated equipment that I used at Rice and at Collins Radio / Rockwell International. This equipment was exquisite, reliable – the best in the world in my “humble opinion”. I interviewed at HP for a job as a design engineer at HP’s Analyzer Products Division in Loveland, Colorado in 1979, and I almost said, “OK – I’ll take it!”  I recall being walked past the manufacturing assembly lines in the factory there, and while the HR manager and the hiring manager were trying to tell me how advanced their manufacturing facilities were pointing continuously to my left, I was looking to my right at the spectacular mountains through the panoramic floor to ceiling windows – at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about the manufacturing operation, and perhaps the HR manager knew precisely what I was thinking… I have a deeply held high regard for HP.

Now, back to the here and now.  My P3005dn LaserJet printer failed several weeks ago, and I am appalled at how HP has changed and how poorly I was treated by this company.

  • HP laser printer product reliability is poor – the lifetime in years can be counted on one hand – every HP printer my company has owned has suffered early failures or died;
  • Tech Support results can be wildly different; call #1 to Tech Support: “This is your problem at your expense – go to a a local repair center.”; call #4 to Tech Support: “There is a service bulletin about this problem and your printer. We’ll repair this at no cost to you.”
  • New repair parts could be refurbished parts – I paid for several NEW parts, not refurbs – but I received some parts that were refurbished parts;
  • Repair parts received were not always functional with a 50% DOA rate – every repair part should be tested 100% good;
  • Repair parts shipped did not match the part number ordered – the label on the board should match the label on the box should match the part number ordered EVERY TIME;
  • Tech support staff were not confident, nor were they knowledgeable or effective – save someone named Franco;
  • Static precautions were not practiced on site – I hope they are practiced elsewhere at HP;
  • Customer care organizations were silos isolated from one another;
  • No one wanted to own my customer problem except for Franco and a “mission-oriented” staff member named Paula;
  • Commitments to follow-up failed time and again – no one ever called me back regardless of the promises made;
  • Information delivery was consistently poor and inaccurate – bad case numbers, order numbers, RMA numbers, tracking numbers, etc…

I called the HP headquarters to complain, and I asked to speak to an executive relations team.  The person who answered in that group informed me that they were there to represent consumer products and not commercial products, and that my printer was a commercial product, so they could not help me. My assumption was that an executive would call HP with commercial product issues, and not consumer product issues – well, what do I know… And I guess a LaserJet printer is not a consumer product – well, like I said, what do I know…

HP’s customer service group that supports LaserJet printers is in Costa Rica. I like Costa Rica and the people there – they are happy and friendly, but they would not be my choice for front-line customer support for high-tech products. “I don’t know…” “Maybe…” “Ohhh…” “We can’t see those records…” “We are limited in our resources…” “We don’t have that authority…” “The supervisor is in a meeting…” “The supervisor will be in the office tomorrow…” “We can’t process a refund here…” “Oh dear, what is this? I don’t understand what I am seeing…” “I am unable to see your case number…” Nothing in these remarks gave me any confidence in the ability or commitment of these people.

HP made good on a no cost, on-site printer repair today – so far, so good.  But, I was appalled at how I was treated, at the lack or expertise, authority, and interest, and at the shameful slide of product quality, customer care quality and commitment to the customer. I expected much more from this legendary company. THEY are in need of repairs… I hope someone can “fix” this legendary company before it disappears from the American culture of high-tech garage start-ups and “can-do” spirit.

Japan’s Disaster in Perspective

April 12, 2011

I admire the Japanese – they are an honorable people – stoic, patient, kind, humble. Since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophes, through physical displacement of entire cities and fear of radiation affects shared by everyone in the country, the people have remained calm and tolerant of the impact to their lives. I don’t think that Americans would behave so well…

I want to put the loss from these catastrophes into some perspective according simply to population. Some assumptions:

  • Japan’s population of approximately 130 million compares to the US population of approximately 310 million or about 40%.
  • Loss of Japanese lives is estimated to be about 20,000 which translates to about 50,000 for the same proportional impact here in the US.
  • Financial loss is estimated to be $300B in Japan which translates to about $750B for the same proportional impact here in the US.

This is a terrible tragedy. I am glad to report that my Japanese friends and their families are all safe and well, but there is a muted mood – a pall I sense when I correspond that I suspect will remain for a long time to come. I feel like we need to learn something from the Japanese experience – that there is something significant and important to take away. I don’t know what it is, yet, except perhaps that the Japanese are demonstrating to the rest of the world how a civilized society behaves in the face of tragedy and adversity – with a great deal of mutual respect for one another. I hope that the rest of the world notices that, and that Americans help the Japanese in some meaningful way to recover and put this tragedy fully in the past…