Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Puerto Rico: Our people, our challenges, our opportunities and the moment of truth

Puerto Rico: Our people, our challenges, our opportunities and the moment of truth

I have just returned from doing a speech in the Naval Base in San Diego, California. From there I flew to Purchase College in New York to do a speech there then flew back to San Juan. Last night I was invited to be part of a project which must remain a secret until it is unveiled within the next couple of months.

Let’s start with San Diego. I spoke to the Association of Naval Service Officers, composed of Hispanics officers in the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. There were Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Cubans, Colombians and I am sure other Latin American nationalities I didn’t get to meet.

I was impressed by their professionalism. They were well groomed, well behaved, very courteous, on time for all their meetings and activities, in fact, undistinguishable from their Anglo counterparts. Some were Generals or Admirals, very high ranking in the armed forces. Some spoke perfect English, others had an accent but their English was flawless. All were very proud of being American Citizens and they were looking forward to continue serving the country and retiring when their time came.

It is the first time in my career that I speak to an Association and after my speech; they award me a free membership in their association, so now I am officially a member of the Association of Naval Service Officers, and besides the ROTC in the University of Puerto Rico, first time that I belong to a military association.

Then I go to New York to speak to the Latinos Unidos organization in Purchase College. That college is located right across the world headquarters of Pepsi Cola in Purchase New York. I thought it was going to be a little college in a small American town, and I was surprised by its facilities,( they were excellent) and by the beauty of their campus. They have close to 4,000 students and about 8% are Hispanics. Even so, I was told that the most active student association in the college is Latinos Unidos. The day started with my keynote speech and then they broke off to attend different workshops. The whole conference was a two day event.
My speech was about leadership. Some of the other workshops were titled:
HIV/AIDS, the Real Deal, to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS among college students.
The Afro Cuban Connection, although it should have been titled the Afro Latin Connection: Their theory was that in matters of race in the US, the African American and Latino communities act as separate “racial” entities although they are grouped as minorities and this categorization connects both communities.
The Zapatistas: They talked about the struggle for land rights in Mexico.
Making Change through Community Organizing: I suspect that what they discussed was about ways of getting together and serving the community in one way or another. The program they distributed had another session description under that workshop. In other words, a mistake no one caught when they printed the program.
Market Yourself: A workshop about how to manage yourself and lead by example.
Are you a Young Lord? : A look at the history of that movement and what they wanted to accomplish

Finally, Viva Latina: A discussion of Latina Women and the Sex Industry. They focused on all aspects of the sex industry including but not limited to pornography, sex trafficking in the US and other Latino Countries, nude modeling and prostitution. What makes Latinas so susceptible to getting involved in the sex industry? What is it about Latinas that makes them desirable in such an industry?

I suspect that was a very interesting session but I had to go to the airport to catch my flight back to San Juan and I missed it. Darn!

In contrasting both organizations, ANSO and Latinos Unidos, we see a tremendous difference. One is quite disciplined, very orderly with a very well defined set of values. The other one is very college like, a little disorganized (room was not set up when I arrived, program had mistakes in it, etc.) but very friendly and very proud of their Latin roots. The ANSO group was very pro American; the Latinos Unidos had all kinds of political shades. In fact, and this is the beauty of living in a free country, one of the speakers was a Puerto Rican young man that got his masters degree in Havana so as you can imagine, his talk was very anti American even though through a slip of his tongue, he mentioned that Cuba was not a free society. He also wore a black beret, had a beard and dressed in what could be described as “unconventional” clothing.
The President of Latinos Unidos and two of the members of the board of directors were Puerto Rican and they are wonderful kids with very clear plans for their future and the willingness to sacrifice to reach their goals.

My point here is that it is the environment that is different, the nationalities are the same, and they were all Hispanics. We can conclude that provided with the right environment, Puerto Ricans and for that matter, any nationality can excel and be very productive.

Last night I attended a meeting in Hato Rey with 20 outstanding citizens of this community. There were entrepreneurs, multi millionaires, college professors, television producers, famous entertainment personalities, motivational speakers, best selling authors, heads and former heads of government departments, a whole representation of our society. Well, not a whole representation because everyone there was successful. Some had the most humble origins but through sacrifice and hard work made it to where they are now.

The whole purpose of the meeting was how to change the direction Puerto Rico is going. How to take advantage of the enormous talent in this society and put it to work for the benefit of the whole community. These people had no need to be meeting from 7pm to 10.30pm to discuss these issues, they were there because they have a strong sense of duty towards this community and they feel very proud to be part of it. One common thread is that they have faith in Puerto Rico. They think that they can totally change society and teach people how to be self reliant, how to make a good living and how to help the community. In the future you will hear more about it, at this point, I am not in liberty to disclose more details. They want to create a movement to change the culture. One of the participants said that because of welfare, we have become a lazy society where people don’t want to work and sacrifice. Most people want the easy way out without much ambition. So, the challenge is, how to reach their hearts and get them out of the comfort zone.

It is very important to understand that we have great talent and intelligence in this island. I regularly have lunch at the Bankers Club and I hear my friend MAF a guy who is a financial genius, talk about solutions to our problems that if implemented could have a tremendous effect in our society. My friend FR is a director for a big bank and was president of his company for years, he understands the psychology of Puerto Ricans and how to make people productive. JB reads a book a week and is always well informed, GB is a also a financial wizard, BB is an accomplished lawyer, RR is the oldest in the group, retired, but one of the most successful business executives in the island and he is still goes to his office every day. ER is a prominent lawyer who jumped into the fray when he had to in order to save an important Puerto Rican institution, MP is a technology genius, an expert problem solver that I have come to believe, can solve any problem he is faced with. I don’t have space to mention more buddies of mine who are exceptional individuals who could have a huge impact in our society. These people don’t care if you are blue, red, green or orange, they only care about what results you produce and how can you help the island.

All these people I have mentioned in this article are the people that need to sit in a room with our governor and politicians to brainstorm some ideas and then assign people to follow up to make sure these ideas are implemented.

We have to stop fighting over stupidities, and we need to unite in order to face the challenges we are facing right now. For goodness sake, the NPP is divided, the Popular party is divided, and there are even ideological differences among the PIP.

The world doesn’t care about our divisions and our internal fights. The world only cares about what we produce as a nation (or whatever you want to call us) what industries we attract, how we handle the pharmaceutical industry, what other industries we can attract, how we compete with other nations and how we treat our tourists.

Talent, intelligence, motivation, there is plenty in Puerto Rico. What we need to do is change the environment, maybe even change the culture. Otherwise, there will be very sad years in our future and we will lose some of the most important competitive battles in the future.

The Medical Devices Industry, a bright spot in the Puerto Rican economy

The Medical Devices Industry, a bright spot in the Puerto Rican economy.

I attended the Medical Devices Industry and FDA Leadership Forum in the Normandie Hotel in San Juan, last Thursday.

The organizers of the event were, PRTEC, PRIDCO and the FDA.

What were the highlights of this conference?

First of all, times are tough and Puerto Rico is now competing with more countries that want a bigger share of the Medical Devices and Pharmaceutical Industries.
PRTEC is a non profit organization which includes representatives of the government, the private sector and academia. There is no doubt that in order for us to be successful in attracting companies to Puerto Rico and keeping the ones we have, everyone must work together.

I was pleasantly surprised to observe a high level of cooperation and positive attitude among the speakers, in this conference which represented the government, the private industry and academia.

There is no doubt that we face challenges, huge challenges to be more precise. Competition will be much more aggressive and they will have more direct access to the FDA. In fact, the FDA is taking an interest in these markets and they will be opening offices in Costa Rica, India and China.

This shouldn’t scare us since we have a history of 65 years of tradition and experience, in words of Javier Vazquez Morales, executive director of Fomento. He said “it is very important that we understand what our value proposition is. One of the great advantages we have is 65 years of experience in manufacturing and 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and that has allowed us to develop a very effective and well trained human capital, which is very familiar with the FDA norms, quality and validity processes and that makes us much more competitive than other countries”.

He also mentioned that we have such good technicians and professionals here that we are actually exporting them to the FDA and to other countries, working in leadership positions in pharmaceutical, medical devices and manufacturing companies.

There are at present 16 new investment projects in the pipeline from pharmaceutical and medical devices companies which represent 187.4 million dollars and around 1,235 jobs. I want to be clear in saying that these projects are being negotiated at the present time and we are competing with other countries so it is not to be expected that we will win all of them, but I am sure we can get our fair share of them.

The important point is that we are in the game, we are in the map and we are competing against the best and doing it very successfully.

I told the executive director during the press conference after his speech that marketing is everything and that we may be very good at what we do, but if the world doesn’t know, it doesn’t help much how good we are. In other words, my specific question was “what king of marketing efforts are taking place in order for us to tell the world how good we are in this industry”?

He said that Law 73, an economics incentives law recently approved is a step in the right direction. He mentioned that the previous administration (I congratulate him in recognizing efforts by the previous government) did a road show selling the benefits of the new law and that this year other “road” shows will take place in international conventions and conferences in the bio scientific industry. They will be attending an important bio scientific competition in Atlanta on May 18th to the 25th with a booth, literature and what is more important, with well planned meetings and appointments with companies who are good prospects to open operations here in our island.

Norma Mejia, General Manager of Edwards Life Sciences mentioned that they are working hard in collaborating with the Association of Medical Devices member companies so that PRIDCO can participate in their October meeting in Washington D.C. in order to promote all the advantages that Puerto Rico offers those companies that are looking to open facilities outside of the United States.

Mr. Vazquez Morales also mentioned that there is a collaborative effort with John Hopkins in a bio process plant in Mayaguez, a plant that he says is unique. It is the first facility to do training and research with the collaboration of PRTEC, academia and the government. He said “I believe that the vision of inserting Puerto Rico in the knowledge economy is no longer a vision, we are already there and that is the message we have to deliver to everyone”

Right now Puerto Rico is the jurisdiction with the biggest concentration of bio scientific manufacturing industries in the world, per square mile and it generates 35,000 direct jobs. Manufacturing in general is still the main engine of the economy with over 100,000 direct jobs which represent around 40% of the Gross Domestic Product. It is also responsible for 99% of all our exports.

With so much internal fighting between political parties, the government, labor unions and everyone else, it is a breath of fresh air to see dedicated citizens looking for ways to improve our economy and help all of us beat the depression we are currently experiencing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

South Africa: A marvelous country

South Africa, a marvelous country with an uncertain future.

I am sitting in the British Airways lounge here in Johannesburg after a two hour flight from Cape Town. I have a five hour wait to board my flight to London, tack on another 11 hours, then a two hour wait in London to catch the London -Miami flight which is around 9 hours, two hours in Miami, two and half more Miami- San Juan and I am finally home.
I hope that in the future flights could be shorter and more direct, who knows.

I fell in love with Cape Town and its people. It is a vibrant city, full of life, very modern and with beautiful sights. There is so much to do, so many places to see that I will need a follow up trip to be able to do all I wanted to do.

I came here to speak at the Global Speakers Network, people from all over the world meeting here in South Africa to learn new skills, concepts, ideas and of course to network. So, my off time was limited and I only had a chance to visit a few great restaurants and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of the 27 years locked up in a prison cell. It was a very interesting experience, which I might write about in a future article.

South Africa doesn’t have a good reputation in the outside world and it is unwarranted. The people I met were very nice, very courteous; the service was excellent everywhere and they treat tourists extremely well.

I had a very interesting experience. Three friends and I went to dinner at a very African like restaurant called Marco. The restaurant had a band playing and excellent food. After spending a couple of hours there, one of the guys wanted to leave so we told him that he better wait for us because it might not be safe to walk six blocks all by himself. (This feeling is part of the negative programming I had previous to my trip here.) He listened to us and waited until finally we all left.
A couple of blocks from the hotel we heard music and we looked down the street and we saw a bunch of people milling outside a night club. W. Mitchell, a good friend and excellent public speaker who had terrible accident years ago, was left paralyzed from the waist down and his face totally burned, is absolutely fearless. It seems that after going through what he went through, nothing scares him and nothing holds him back.

Do a search in Google for W. Mitchell and you will see who this guy is. Well, he says, “Let’s go where the action is” and off we went, three of us, to that night club. We went in and we noticed that every one was looking at us. We were the only white people in the place. There was a band from Congo playing Congo music, which is different than South African music, very loud and with plenty of rhythm.
I asked for a Bacardi and rum and they didn’t know what Bacardi was. They didn’t have any rum either so I had to settle for vodka and orange juice.
We spent about an hour and nobody bothered us. When we finally stood up to leave, the lead singer thanked us for being there and said good bye.

Everyone said we were crazy going to that kind of place, late at night, all by ourselves, yet we didn’t have any fear, just a little bit of caution, and it turned out to be a great experience.

One of the other speakers I met is Roelf Meyer. He is the co author of the South African constitution and he gave an excellent speech on the transformation that South Africa has had going from an apartheid regime to a democracy. They could have gone the way of Zimbabwe, a disaster by all accounts, ruled by Mugabe, a dictator, but instead went for democracy and you can now see the difference between the two countries.
The elections in South Africa are taking place tomorrow and the leading candidate I don’t think is the type of candidate that is capable of the world leadership required of any South African President. Remember, South Africa is the only African country in the G-20, the twenty top economies in the world.

Why do I have such misgivings about the candidate that will surely win the election?

To be the leader of a country, a man or woman should have impeccable credentials, a well earned reputation for honesty and transparency, charisma, a desire to solve the problems the country faces and a willingness to include all segments of society. Who is Jacob Zuma? He has been charged with rape (was recently acquitted) claims homosexuals are an offence against God, thinks Aids can be prevented by showering after sex, and suggests that the best way to tackle crime may be for people to take the law into their own hands. He was also implicated in a financial scandal of great magnitude. He is a polygamist, yes, this means many wives, has fathered 20 children by nine women and he is still on the lookout for more wives. If he ever visits Puerto Rico, with our beautiful women, we must keep an eye on him. So, shouldn’t South Africans be concerned? Some are, but an overwhelming majority is still going to vote for him. Why? Well, he is very charismatic, he is a leader of course and Dalibunga, the most respected political figure in South Africa who could have opposed him, made a surprise appearance at the party’s final meeting and gave him his endorsement 100%. Who is Dalibunga? The African name of Nelson Mandela, the man responsible for leading South Africa into a democratic world. The other important leader, Desmond Tutu, opposed Jacob Zuma and because of it, has been severely criticized and humiliated.

If Mr. Zuma gets over 66% of the vote, he will be in a position to be able to change the South African constitution, the continent’s most advanced constitution, and try to remain in power forever. This is the danger that democracy brings to countries that don’t have a democratic culture. People like Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, once in power; they want to use democracy to keep them in power forever.


So, my question is, out of millions of South Africans, couldn’t that party have found a better candidate?
It doesn’t cease to amaze me how parties choose candidates that don’t have the qualities and characteristics needed to be able to lead a country the right way. They simply believe all their promises without an explanation on how specifically they will be able to achieve what they promise. And populist candidates know exactly what they need to promise even though they have no intention of doing what they say they are going to do.

Let’s hope that South Africa will not make the mistake of giving so much power to one individual and that he doesn’t go over 66% of the vote.

They say that politicians are like diapers, they have to be changed often and for the same reason. Often people can’t vote for the best candidate but for the one that can do the least harm. Mr. Zuma, in my opinion is not the candidate that can do the least harm; on the contrary, he is the candidate that can do the most harm.

South Africa will hold the soccer world cup in 2010. That will bring billions of dollars to the economy and will open the country to the whole world. They are building a beautiful stadium in Cape Town, very similar to the one built in Beijing for the Olympics.

That is an event that soccer fans shouldn’t miss because it is going to be magnificent. I had the pleasure of meeting Gary Bailey, the man in charge of the event and he gave a wonderful presentation on how South Africa will be ready for the greatest test in their history.

It will be very interesting to see what will happen after the election. I will try very hard to maintain an optimistic attitude in such a negative environment. As of now, I already have my next trip to South Africa planned and I hope that things will not change for the worst.

How can you write a freaking article every week of the year?

How can you write a freaking article every week of the year?

Many of my friends ask me how in the world I can write a column every week. They can’t believe that I wrote 252 consecutive weekly columns for the San Juan Star and a few months ago I started another run with the Puerto Rico Daily Sun. I hope I can surpass the San Juan Star record if the universe works in our favor.
This column is a good example of how do you find material to write about week after week. I am sitting in the British Airways Lounge in Heathrow Airport in London waiting to connect to my final flight to Cape Town, South Africa.
Since my main purpose to write a column is to inform, persuade or entertain you, my dear readers, I always have my eyes and ears open so that I can pass along the information to you. I know that I will have lots to tell you about South Africa but now in the middle of the trip, I have to write my column, so let’s see what I can tell you that could prove useful to you.
Ok, let’s start by telling you that those of you that fly American Airlines know that AA is part of what they call the One World Alliance. You know that when you fly any of the airlines in the alliance, you get credited for the miles in the airline that you use the most. Since I live in San Juan, American is the airline I use the most. I have to qualify every year to earn the status of executive platinum which means I need to fly at least 100,000 miles a year. To get a platinum designation, you need 50,000 and for a gold, just 25,000 miles. I also qualify for elite in Continental Airlines and in that airline, which has a better frequent flyer program than American, I aim to reach 25,000 miles which gives me at least a silver status, good enough to place me in first class whenever there is space. Continental will seat you in first class automatically with just a silver designation, with American, you need coupons to get to first, unless you are an executive platinum. This is a big difference in Continental’s favor, but they simply don’t have many flights out of San Juan, and they don’t fly to Miami which is a very popular destination.
So, keeping in mind that going to South Africa would get me a lot of miles, I tell the travel agent to book me either American or any of the one world alliance airlines.
My last long trip, to Korea, I booked it through Continental so now I am over the 25,000 miles in that airline.
Well, guess what? I write my contact in AA, a wonderful young woman and friend, Elizabeth Massanet about my trip and she tells me that the leg Dallas- London will not get me frequent flyer miles. Why, because since American also flies that route, if I fly it in British Airways, I don’t get credit. My travel agent was warned that I wanted to fly to South Africa in airlines that would accumulate me miles in the one world alliance, but obviously she didn’t know. Her ignorance in this matter has cost me thousands of miles. Those of you in the same position that I am in now, remember that if your main airline flies to a city, if you book with another airline, even if it is a member of the alliance, you don’t get credit for the miles. So what will I have to do now? Go through the back door. Become a member of the British Airways program, get credit for those miles and then I can use them with American Airlines in the future. Hahahaha, I feel like I beat the system, and believe me, it is very satisfying to do so.
Another lesson to share with my readers: To fly to South Africa from San Juan, there are a few routes, but the one I am in now takes me San Juan- Dallas, a five hour trip, Dallas- London, about 8 hours, a layover in London of eleven hours and a final trip London South Africa that takes 11 hours. So, do the math. It takes me 35 hours to get to South Africa from San Juan. Long, long trip my friends.
Another interesting point worth writing about: The British Airways lounge here in Heathrow airport is great. It is huge; it has all kinds of food and beverages, televisions all over the place, business center, newspapers from all over the world and a beautiful view to the runway. This layover of so many hours is not as bad with such a nice lounge.
Writing about airports, I have to tell you an interesting story about a character that works in the airport. When you walk towards the Admiral’s Club you pass a guy that yells at you “shoe shine, shoe shine, shoe shine”. I am used to seeing him and I always say hello to him and on occasions I get my shoe shine. Yesterday (Sunday) there was another young man shining shoes. So, I stop to get my shoes shined and I ask about the other guy. He tells me that he is off that day and that is why he is there. He also tells me that he works the shoe shine booth in the airport where Delta airlines is and that he pays this guy a rental fee for working the booth.
If you haven’t shined your shoes here in front of the Admiral’s lounge, you have to go through the experience. The guy has a massage chair that gives you a back massage while you are shining your shoes, he has the day’s newspaper available and a television set in case you want to watch television. Both kids are real nice and you can talk to them and they tell you what is going on in the airport.
Here is a good example of someone that is becoming an entrepreneur in a very simple business. He gives good customer service, does a great job of shining your shoes, he is thinking about how to make your experience delightful and he is making money from the other shoe shiner who rents the Delta booth from him. You all know that to really make money in life you have to find a way to earn passive income, in other words, money that you make that is not dependent on your presence. This kid has found a way to do that. Anyone can do that, you simply have to identify the opportunities and act on them.

You see, I have written a full article and I still haven’t made it to South Africa. This is how you do it. You look at life with your eyes and ears open and life will give you plenty of material for you to write about.

What Customers Really Want

What Customers Really Want

During the week I spent in Korea, the publishers of my book loved my tie which had the book in Korean printed on it. They also loved my million dollar business cards and before I left, they asked me if I could mail them 500 cards so that they could continue using them in their promotions.

I went by my office in Miami, on my way from a trip to Panama, and grabbed the cards, the tie and a couple of T-shirts with the book printed on them and headed to the central Post Office in N.W. 72nd Avenue and 24th Street.

I filled out the form they told me to fill out and mailed the package. A few days later, the package was returned to my office, with no explanation whatsoever. I returned to the Post Office with the box and asked them what had happened.

The clerk called the supervisor who instructed him to mail the package again because they didn’t know what had happened. He weighted the package and realized that I had been charged $97.00 instead of $77.00. That made me very happy because they were returning $20.00. That mitigated the anger about my package not being delivered.

However, guess what happened next?

The package was returned for the second time in a row. I go back to the post office with the package and I went to the clerk that had taken care of me. Since he didn’t know what had happened, he called the supervisor, a lady named Shirley. She looked at the paperwork and said that I needed to fill out a different form. I told her that I had been in the post office twice already and that I filled out the form they had given me in the first place. In other words, the package had been returned because her employee had made a mistake, his mistake, not mine.

Don’t you think she should have apologized? Shouldn’t she have shown some empathy with my problem? Here I was, three weeks later and my package still hadn’t been delivered in Korea.

She continued to accuse me of not filling out the right form. I said to her that her employees were the ones that had filled the form, not me. I told her that apparently, she had a training problem because her employees didn’t know what to do. She was as cold as a fish, showing absolutely no sympathy for what I was going through.

She instructed a clerk named Herb, an older fellow, to fill out the paper work. As he was filling out the paper work I commented that his boss should have at least apologized for what had happened to me. I made a couple of comments about their service being so poor and the guy didn’t even acknowledge what I was saying to him. He totally ignored me. Literally, he didn’t look at me or talk to me.

I asked for a refund and I told him that I was taking the package to UPS or Federal Express because I didn’t think the US Post office had the expertise to take a package to Korea. He didn’t try to save the order nor did he show any empathy.

He ignores my comment and hands me a $77.00 money order. I tell him to give me cash, not a money order and he tells me that he doesn’t have enough cash in his register, to stand in line again and wait for another clerk. In other words, he doesn’t even have the decency to find another clerk who has enough cash in his cash register to give me the refund. It is not my fault that he doesn’t have the cash in his drawer. He is the one that has to go to look for the cash to give it to me. I am the client, for goodness sake!

Finally, I go to another clerk and he gives me my money back. I went from there to UPS, a few blocks away, and mailed my package to Korea. It was $3.00 more expensive than the US Post Office but I am sure it will get there.

People in line that were watching what was happening, told me that the service in US Post Offices is very bad. They said that since they were government employees and very difficult to fire, they simply didn’t care about giving good service, because they would get paid anyway. It is obvious that if employees feel so secure that they know that no matter what they do or what service they provide, nothing will happen to them, the customer is the one that has to put up with lousy service.

In a private company, this doesn’t happen. Employees in private companies that don’t do their jobs get reprimanded, and if the bad behavior doesn’t improve, out the door they go. In private, profit oriented companies, the customer is king because they know that if good service is not given, the customer will cross the street and go to a competitor.

The goal of every organization, including the Post Office, should be to provide customers what they really want so as to increase the level of customer loyalty.

The US Post office just released their figures and they are losing millions of dollars. Their solution to this problem is to raise postage stamps rates. They don’t realize that the reason they are losing millions, is because their service sucks.

The post office probably will blame consumers for not being loyal, but the problem is that they don’t give consumers any reason to be loyal.

Right here in Puerto Rico, who can point to a government office and say that they give very good service? The majority of people that you ask will tell you that the service they get from government employees is very bad. People go to a government agency and it seems as if the employee is doing the customer a favor by simply taking care of him. It is the other way around; it is the customer who is doing the employee a favor by using the service.

This picture must change. Taxpayers deserve to be treated well by government employees because they are the customers that pay their salaries.

Not only do we have too many employees in government, most do not care about the consumer and what kind of service they get.

I must clarify that not all government employees give bad service. There are very good government employees, but they are clearly in the minority.

Don’t believe me. Ask around. You will be shocked with some of the horror service stories out there.

To Meet or not to Meet: That is the question

To meet or not to meet: That is the question

Being in the professional speaking business, I am in effect in the meeting industry business also and I am worried about companies cancelling their national or regional conferences not so much to save money but to save face.
Imagine what would happen to our marvelous Puerto Rico Convention Center if suddenly companies started to cancel meetings?
The comments that I am hearing is that having meetings in this recession wouldn’t look good to employees in the company, customers, and government officials or to the community in general.

The question we must ask ourselves is: Does it make sense for companies, government departments or associations to be meeting in luxurious locations or even in lower priced facilities such as airport hotels or company headquarters?

I will categorically answer: Yes, it does make a lot of sense.

I know that some so called “experts believe that these meetings are a waste of time for executives and employees.

I think they are wrong.

You can imagine that I spend lots of time in many cities and countries participating as a speaker or even attending meetings. In fact, my American Airlines account has already accumulated more than three million miles. My Continental account has also a fair amount but less because there are less flights available from Continental in Puerto Rico.

Now, more than ever in history, executives and their employees need new behaviors, new skills, more creativity and innovation, even new attitudes in order to create new relationships, intensify and heighten existing ones so as to find new opportunities and new ideas that in the short and long run, can generate sales, income and profits.

There is lots of value, in fact, a significant return on the investment when people meet with a clear purpose and objective in mind.

Margaret Mead years ago wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.

The key words in her statement are thoughtful and committed. When you have people that understand what the challenges are and they are totally committed to finding the solutions to those challenges, practically anything is possible.

The thought might cross your minds that if I am in the speaking business, it is logical that I would defend the meeting industry and the fact that organizations should use meetings as a way to bolster productivity.

I think that it is a fair thought to fly through your brain.

However, this is not about me or my business. This is about you, all of you that have organizations that need to survive and prosper in a difficult economic environment. You must continually find ways to be more productive, to make your employees more aware of what is going on, and encourage them to participate in the solutions that you need to implement in order to come out of this in a stronger position in the marketplace.

Guess what? If you don’t do it, your intelligent competitors will and you will be left far behind. When things get better, you will pay the price of not being as well positioned as your competitor.
Believe me. I see it constantly. There is nothing as powerful or as impactful as bringing your people together, in small or large gatherings to shake hands, embrace, talk eyeball to eyeball, laugh and cry together, bond, share and learn. There is simply no substitute for it.

When you get your people together, you are impacting the culture of the organization, you are telling them that you believe in them and that you are willing to invest in their education.
You are convincing them that the future is in their hands and that they must work as a team in order to make the company’s vision a reality.

It is important to understand that in a meeting, everyone will be able to share ideas with their peers and learn from each other. A problem that might have come up in Ponce, the employee from Arecibo might have the answer and that answer is worth millions to the company. What I am saying is that one idea, only one idea that comes out of that meeting, will not only pay for the meeting, it might even save the company.

To meet or not to meet? To me, the answer is obvious.

Focus and Forgive: A good recipe in critical times

Focus and Forgive. A good recipe in critical times

I am writing from Panama after having spent a few days in the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton, a beautiful resort in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
I gave the keynote speech for a Victus, a medical products and nutrition company operating in more than 30 countries.
The owners are two very hard working partners that in 17 years have built a business from scratch to a multi million dollar company.
Ten years ago I saw one of them in an airport somewhere in Central America and he said that some day they would hire me to do the keynote speech in their first global conference.
Well, their dream of having a large company with hundreds of employees and representatives and having a big conference, came true. It was a great conference, almost 7 days and they picked a very nice resort with plenty of food and great food.
It proves that persistence is definitely one of the most important factors of success.
Having a conversation with one of the partners, he asked a question that I consider very important for all of us, especially in difficult times.

He asked me: “People talk about success all the time. It means something different to everyone. What does it mean to you?”
That is a very profound question. To me success means achieving happiness. If you do not do what makes you happy, if you do not express your passion or find your mission in life, your happiness will be limited, and maybe I should say, wasted. I think that Abraham Maslow had it right when he said, “The deepest level of motivation is self-realization”. When you realize that you are making a difference and that what you are doing has meaning for yourself and for other people, you are well on your way to a happy and fulfilling life”.
Right now, living in difficult times, you must think about what success means to you and how you are going to go about reaching your goals.
Millions of people are stuck in a rut, working in a job they don’t like or don’t feel passion for. Millions more are being laid off all over the world.
The very important question you must ask yourself is:
At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
The Gallup organization asked that same question to over 1.7 million employees in 101 companies from 63 countries.
What percentage do you think said “yes”?
Twenty percent. Yes, only twenty percent. This is very sad.
If you do not love what you are doing and you don’t feel passion for it, you will not be able to differentiate yourself from the pack. You will then be fired sooner or later.
So, don’t let this happen to you.
The other very important principle I want to share with you is the need to look forward. To do this, you must forgive yourself. Forget the past and concentrate on what you have to do now to get ahead.
Years ago I participated in a book titled Share your Mission. One of the authors wrote a story that really touched my heart. It was called “The story about Father O”Malley”.
Father O’ Malley was called on a very cold winter night, actually around 1.30am in the morning. He had just finished working on his sermon for the next day and the call sort of surprised him. It said “Father, we are sorry, but we have Tom here who is got a failing liver and he’s just about ready to die. He needs for you to come in and do the last rites”
So, Father O’Malley got dressed and got out in the bitter cold night. The half hour drive actually took him over two hours. When he went inside the hospital, the nurse grabbed him and told him that the man was very sick so he must hurry.
He went into the man’s room and talked to him. The man said, “I asked for the last rites father, now give them and get out”
Surprised, Father O’Malley told the man that if he wanted to confess anything or admit anything or say anything, now was the time to do it.
The man then said that what he had done was so awful, ugly and terrible that not even God could forgive him, let alone a priest.
So, Father O’Malley sits down and starts talking to the man for over an hour. The patient was getting weaker so he asked him again if he wanted to confess anything. Much to his surprise, the man responded: “Well, nobody can do anything to me now. I guess I can tell you. It happened 24 years, two months and two hours ago. That is how heavy it is in my heart. My whole life I have been a railroad switchman, and an alcoholic. The night was cold, muggy and I went out to switch the railroad track. I was drunk and I switched the wrong track. The train went right into a car and killed a whole family, mother, father, and two daughters. Like I said before, you can’t forgive me, and God can’t forgive me”.
Father O’Malley went pale. He looked Tom in his eyes and told him that 24 years ago his whole family, his Dad, Mom, and two sisters were killed in the railroad tracks and it was such a shock to him that he decided to become a priest. Obviously, Father O’Malley was sitting face to face with the murderer of his whole family. At that moment, Father O’Malley said that he would forgive him for what he did and so would God. “We all forgive you” he said.
So my friends, in today’s world you must have a clear focus on what you want to do with your life and commit to forgive yourself and forgive others. Clean the slate and concentrate on what you are going to do in a difficult economic environment. Don’t waste time and energy thinking about what really is not important.

The Absurdity of our financial system

The absurdity of our financial system.

I think that when there is a crisis, there is opportunity. There is no doubt that we are going through the deepest and most dangerous crises in our life time and it would really be a shame if our leaders don’t extract valuable lessons out of this crises so that we can first of all come out of it and then make sure we never repeat the same mistakes.

We must accept that over the past 40 years the social norms and solid institutions that encouraged frugality and not spending more than what you earn, have suffered major setbacks. Our society has fallen victim to a mind set that encourages debt, living beyond your means and living for the moment instead of planning for the long term.
In business, we place too much emphasis on money and not enough on trusting and being trusted.
When we should be looking at our careers as a way to help society and do the most good to the most people, we behave more in materialistic ways forgetting our mission and our values and selling our souls to the devil.
We think more like managers whose main task is to do things right, than as leaders, whose most important task is to do the right thing.
In life, we allow illusions to overcome reality. We concentrate too much on things and not enough on the intangibles that make life worthwhile. Too much on making money and not enough on character, without which money is meaningless and life would be a nightmare.

It seems that throughout history human beings have wrestled with the same problems. More than 2500 years ago Socrates delivered a very interesting challenge to the citizens of Athens:
“I honor and love you: but why do you who are citizens of this great and mighty nation care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul? Are you not ashamed of this? I do nothing but go about persuading you all, not to take thought for our persons and properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man”.

This speech is more than appropriate today; it is in fact very much needed.

It has just been announced that AIG which has received billions of dollars in tax payer’s money, is paying millions of dollars in bonuses to some of their executives.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that AIG granted retention bonuses of more than a million dollars to 73 people in its Financial Products subsidiary including 11 persons who no longer work for the company. The top 10 bonus recipients combined received $42 million with the top recipient getting more than $6.4 million.

What is really funny, although I should use the word sad, is that the financial products division of AIG is the one that got AIG in trouble and brought it to her knees.

We are in reality, rewarding incompetence.

I recall the situation with Stanley O’Neal CEO of Merrill Lynch. The bad risks and decisions made during his watch in its investment portfolio exploded in late in 2007 when they had to write down more than 19 billion dollars. Yet Mr. O’Neil’s earnings of $161 million during 2002 to 2007 wasn’t affected at all and the parachute deal he had worked with the firm was paid in full by the board, $160 million more to bring the total to $321 million dollars. Can you believe this? What was that board thinking about?
Merrill Lynch never recovered and it had to be taken over by Bank of America in September 2008.
There is no doubt that on balance; the financial system has subtracted value from our society.
We are in a world that I frankly don’t understand. It seems too many of us apparently don’t make anything. We are simply trading pieces of paper, swapping stocks, bonds, securities back and forth with one another and paying the financial institutions a whole bunch of money. We have now created a monster that could very well swallow us all if we allow that to happen.
According to Jack Bogle, one of the investment’s industry “four giants of the 20th century” by Fortune magazine in 1999, the direct costs of the mutual fund system (management fees, and operating and marketing expenses) totaled $100 billion in 2007. In addition, those funds pay tens of billions of dollars in transaction fees to brokerage firms and investment bankers and indirectly to their lawyers and other “facilitators”. Fund investors are also paying another estimated $10 billion of fees each year to financial advisers. Add to that $100 billion in mutual fund costs a mere $380 billion in additional investment banking and brokerage costs, plus all those fees paid to the managers of hedge funds and pension funds, to bank trust departments and financial advisers and for legal and accounting fees, and the bill comes to around $620 billion annually, at least in the year 2007. God knows what the figure was in 2008 when everything collapsed.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that this situation was unsustainable and that the piper has to be paid sooner or later.

Let’s hope that it can be put back together with better regulations, a lot more common sense and less greed and irresponsibility.

I do worry about the amount of debt we are now as a nation incurring in and what the consequences of that will be. If this was or wasn’t the right step to take will very soon be apparent. I still believe that we are a strong and resourceful nation and that in the long run, we will come out of the crisis stronger and wiser.

The Korean Adventure and Lessons Learned

The Korean adventure and lessons learned.

I have just returned from Korea after one of the most exhilarating weeks in my whole career. We launched my latest Korean book, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet for teenagers amid great reviews by the press and reports that our first book became the most sold self help book in the history of Korea and all books combined have now sold over 2 million copies. To me it is simply incredible and it feels as if I am living a dream.

I don’t think I have worked so hard in my life. My first day started with a press conference, then television interviews and the participation in two one hour television programs.

The second day I had interviews during the day and at 7pm I spoke at Yonsei University with a turnout of 700 people. After the speech I signed at least 200 books.

The third day I opened with a breakfast speech to 150 Korean CEO’s, followed by a luncheon speech to 150 executives from Korean companies and a book signing afterwards. At 3pm I had the privilege of speaking to students of one of the most prestigious and oldest high schools in Korea, the Bosung High School, founded in 1906.

The experience of speaking to these Korean high school students was marvelous. They welcomed me with a standing ovation and during the speech you could hear a pin drop in that gigantic auditorium. They were well dressed, disciplined and well behaved, a great testimony of the excellence of that school. .

My last day in Korea was Friday and I closed with a book singing in Kyobo, Korea’s largest bookstore. I have never seen a bigger bookstore than that one. It has to be at least four or five times the size of Borders in Plaza Las Americas. And it was packed

Like every other country in Asia and in the world, Korea is going through a very critical economic period. People are very worried and they have good reason to be.

They look at the US and they understand that we are close to being in a depression. Unlike recessions, which are easy to define, there are no set rules for what makes a depression. Recessions have two definitions, both going on now, two straight quarters of economic contraction, or when the National Bureau of Economic Research makes the call.

A depression could be defined as a downturn of three years or more with a 10 percent drop in economic output and unemployment above 10 percent. I am afraid that if we use this definition, PR is in the middle of a depression right now.

Korea has no natural resources, yet with only the intelligence, values system and hard work of Koreans, they have catapulted that country to number 13th among the riches countries in the world.
It is the world’s second fastest economy for the last forty years and to give you an idea of its growth, in 1957 it was tied with Ghana in GDP and today it is 17 times bigger than Ghana without natural resources and Ghana with lots of natural resources. One of their biggest companies, if not the biggest, Samsung alone would rank as the 34th biggest economy in the world.

They certainly feel very comfortable with the Marshmallow principle since they have the second highest saving rate in the world.

They have one of the best educational systems in the world and presently rank 7th in the latest educational index.

Although in today’s turbulent world predictions have to be taken with a grain of salt, Goldman Sachs predicted that by 2050 their GDP would quadruple to 4 trillion dollars, with a per capita of $90,000 making it the second richest economy in the world.

Yet, they are extremely worried with the current situation as all of us should be.

So, in my speech I decided to give them a score card to measure how well their economy is doing This required hours of research on my part, and it was well worth it because they paid me very well to speak there, but now I can share it with you because in my opinion, our government should use those measures applicable to Puerto Rico.

So, here are the 16 factors I came up with:

1. % growth in the GDP (use 10 years)
Economic growth is usually measured by the annual change in gross domestic product.

2. Per Capita GDP.
A general measure of wealth: The gross domestic product per person

3. Unemployment Rate:
The percentage of people unemployed and looking for work

4. Ratio of Economic Inequality.
Measured by the Gini Coefficient which is a way of showing the distribution of wealth. Higher Gini coefficient numbers indicate a higher level of inequality between those that have and those that have not.

5. Federal Debt as % of GDP
A way of measuring fiscal health; how much we produce each year compared with how much debt the government has accumulated.

6. Trade balance as a % of GDP
The difference between exports and imports as a % of the gross domestic product.

7. Net National Savings as a % of GDP
The total savings, public and private compared to the GDP.

8. Average Life Expectancy.
The average life expectancy is an indicator of overall health.

9. Healthcare Resources.
Number of Doctors per 1000 of the population. A good indicator of the health resources available.

10. Research and Development
A measure of how much of the GDP is devoted to research and development both in the private and in the public sector.

11. Graduation Rates.
The percentage of the population that has graduated from high school and higher.

12. Education: Test Scores
The average % of correct answers in the National Assessment of Educational Progress Tests. (I told them to use their own assessment tests)

13. High Tech Market Share.
A measure of how much market share a country controls in high tech industries.

14. Air Quality
Emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide.

15. Municipal Waste
The annual amount of waste.

16.Defense capability
How well can your country defend itself from hostile countries. Includes having the right allies and belonging to the right organizations.

It was very surprising to me that lots of people had never heard of Puerto Rico and many thought it was one of the Latin American countries. During interviews when I mentioned that it was a US territory, they were really surprised.

Their airport is simply fabulous. They don’t charge for carts that you use to carry your luggage, (In New York and here we charge people) and they have computer centers in the airport with laptops for you to connect to the internet. It is a clean, modern gigantic airport that puts many of the airports in the US and ours to shame.

I flew Continental on this occasion because I needed to accumulate miles so as not to lose the Elite status and the service was very good. However, when picking up the luggage on carrousel 2, I saw the same big hole in the wall that I saw there a year ago. It hasn’t been fixed and those little details affect our image very negatively. I think it is the airport authorities the ones that have to fix that, not Continental, but I mentioned it here anyway to see if someone can take action.

The Koreans are very proud of their country, of their culture of their accomplishments and we should have that same sense of pride right here in our island.

I left the country but left them with a very powerful message that applies to us as well.

The destiny of Korea is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. The choices they make in the next 12 months will decide their fate. Same thing applies to us.

Success in the Sun: How to Succeed in Business and in Life

Success in the sun: How to succeed in business and in life

This was the title of a conference I attended and spoke in Tampa, Florida this past weekend.

One hundred and fifty entrepreneurs came to the beautiful Tampa Convention Center to hear Ted Nicholas, a fellow who has sold over a billion dollars in information products, Bob Bly, considered one of the world’s experts in book marketing with over 75 books written, Matt Furry who has sold $400,000 dollars worth of product in one speech and myself. Ted wanted me to share the Marshmallow story.
It was very disappointing not to have one single Hispanic in the audience.
I want to tell you what I did to sell all the books I had with me, so you can learn a very valuable marketing trick and also as background for the article.

I met Ted Nicholas years ago when he and I were on the speaking circuit in the US with a group of marketing gurus.
On a particular seminar in Key West after Hurricane Andrews, twenty of us were asked to donate our time and give a speech during a weekend seminar and all the proceeds were going to the American Red Cross to help Hurricane victims.

I was the opening speaker on that very successful conference (one million dollars were collected and given to the Red Cross) and Ted spoke on the last day.
When he ended his speech, he was asked by someone in the audience, what was the secret to his success. When Ted was going to answer, the master of ceremonies stood up and told him to shut up. He then gave him a piece of paper and an envelope and was told to write the secret in that envelope. Ted did so and the master of ceremonies proceeded to auction off the secret. It was sold for $1,500 dollars.
I of course, had great curiosity to learn what was written in that envelope. butI lost sight of the gentleman that bought it and left that seminar with that question burning in my mind: What was that secret?
A couple of years later, I was hired to work in a consulting project in a company in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I recognized the owner of the company as the gentleman that bought the secret.
At the end of the day, I met with him and before leaving for the airport I asked him for the secret. He smiled, opened his right hand drawer, took out an envelope and handed it to me.
I read that secret and in my book Don’t Gobble the Marshmallow Ever, I am telling the world the secret.
This is how I closed my speech.
As soon as I stepped off the stage, a mob went after me handing me twenty dollar bills to buy my book. I sold out of every single book and could have sold a dozen more.
I share this with you because what I did is called a “hook”. In other words, I created a need for people to learn what that secret is all about and since one guy paid $1500 for it, and by just buying the book, you can read what someone else paid that much money for, makes it a very attractive situation.

If you are in business, what kind of hook can you create that will bring clients to your company?
What can you do to make your prospects want your product or service?

Domino’s Pizza had a hook. Delivery of your pizza in less than thirty minutes or it would be free. That was their hook.

You don’t even have to be a master innovator to be able to do this. The reality is pioneers have arrows in their backs. Copying pays better than innovating. You are better off by modeling success.
Sam Walton, who build Walmart into one of the biggest companies in the world, said,

“Most everything I have done I have copied from someone else”. So true.
The secret to financial success is not being in a business with a high profit margin. A far better formula for success is to find something you love to do and then figure a way to get paid for it.

It would be far more profitable for all of you, my dear readers, to concentrate on what you can do during these difficult times instead of listening to all the negative hogwash in the radio.
Listening to negative people during this difficult period, will confuse you, inhibit you and paralyze you.
If you decide not to listen to the nay sayers, you will then figure out ways to attract clients that companies that are now cutting their advertising, firing people and reacting to this economy are losing left and right.

In difficult times, companies that know how to play their cards right, will come out smelling like a rose, stronger than they were before.

To close, smart readers might already be thinking about the secret. If I told you, I would defeat the purpose and the lesson would be lost, don’t you think?