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August 1998

In the August 3,1998 issue of the Wall Street Journal there was an article about folks making $200,000 per year who are annoyed they're not making more. ("They Know They're Well Off, But They Can't Help Coveting", By Jonathan Kaufman.)

A business executive's problem

"Sitting on his back porch, with a view of a lake, his black Mercedes parked in the driveway, John Mariotti ponders the unfairness of life. "I see people I know couldn't carry my briefcase walking away with failure packages bigger than my net worth," says Mr. Mariotti, 57 years old, a former executive and now a Knoxville, Tenn., consultant who made more than $150,000 last year."

Lawyers suffer, too

"Twenty-three years ago, fresh out of law school, Mr. Dichter considered a number of New York law firms, shunning those firms that back then operated in downtown Manhattan to serve Wall Street because he preferred to work in midtown. The Wall Street firms boomed.

"A lot of where you are today is a function of serendipity," says Mr. Dichter. "It results from choices made many years ago without a particular action plan or game plan in mind. My choices have worked out well for me. But people who are no different from me in skills and competence levels are in a very different economic position because of choice that were made 2 1/2 decades ago."

Other lawyers complain about law-firm associates who were unlikely to make partner, left to become investment bankers, and now nab seven-figure bonuses. "It's like Lisa Simpson waking up one morning and discovering that Bart is building a bigger house down the block," says Ralph Whitehead, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. "How did that happen?"

What to make of this ?

While there may still be a few idealists left in the workplace, I suspect that most people show up for work in the morning to make money, the more the better. Few people enter law school with a burning desire to "kiss up to the senior partner." To say that a neighbor getting a large "failure package" "couldn't carry my briefcase" misses the fundamental tenet of capitalism, "He with the most capital wins." The reverse is more likely to be true, our complaining executive probably isn't qualified to carry the briefcase of the guy with the big "failure package." And our guy with the "failure package" is probably happy he doesn't even need his briefcase any more.

April 1998

In the April 17,1998 issue of the Wall Street Journal there was an article about the inspiring story of George Terlizzi. "How to succeed in business and retire at 27."

Mr. Terlizzi says what makes people pause is his age. "You're too young to retire," they say. "You're too old to be working," is what he responds.

March 1998

More news from medicine!

I read a report in the newspaper with results of a study of Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY) blockbuster drug Prozac. It seems that test subjects on Prozac were more docile and agreeable than the control group on placebos.

I suspect that big companies will soon pick up on this study and start pumping their employees full of Prozac as a management strategy.

December 1997

Fortune magazine's "Investor Guide '98" had a remarkable article on Oxford Health Plans (OXHP: NASDAQ). Many of you are familiar with the company because of its 63% decline in market value on Oct. 27, 1997. Yes, that was Gray Monday, when the Dow had its largest one day decline and trading on the NYSE was halted twice. Retire Early hopes you didn't own any of this stock on the day of the big decline.

The big problem at Oxford was their computer software for billing and risk management didn't work and their young and cocky management team decided to fly this $3.0 billion a year enterprise into a thunderhead without instruments. Sensing trouble, they hired Aetna's Kevin Hickey, who ran this insurance giant's information technology empire for four years. (Editor's note: I'm currently a member of Aetna's HMO and I can tell you that Aetna's computer system is profoundly screwed up, too.)

Mr. Hickey's views on technology and the insurance business are quite revealing. "Technology is not a competitive edge in this business," says Hickey. "Customers don't come to you because you have technology that pays claims on time. They expect that. As long as your system doesn't suck any more than the next guy's, you're okay."

I think Mr. Hickey has hit the nail right on the head. Most folks that are employed by or have anything to do with any of these big companies have a hard time deciding whether the organization sucks or blows.

November 1997

The November 10, 1997 issue of Fortune magazine had a comprehensive and well researched article on GE Capital. Interesting stuff about Gary Wendt, the leader of this $32.7 billion operation that accounts for 39% of GE's earnings. It seems Mr. Wendt has a somewhat uneasy relationship with his boss, legendary GE CEO Jack Welch. I guess the success of GE Capital must be what keeps Mr. Wendt on the payroll. Fortune reports, "Even today, after more than two decades at GE, Wendt is still in many ways an outsider. Says a former GE executive: "Wendt is the only top executive at a GE function who won't be kissing Jack's ass." Since "kissing the great white corporate behind" is still the number one reason to Retire Early, we can commiserate with Mr. Wendt.

November 1997

Many people don't realize that if you Retire Early you may not get that gold watch presented to the old timers. Click here to see what you're missing.

October 1997

Very funny installment of HBO's Chris Rock show this month. Chris had a parody of one of those "get rich" infomercials common on cable TV. This was for a Lottery Millionaire training course where they teach how to pick the lotto numbers and properly scratch off the instant winner tickets. As Chris says, "Ain't but two things that can happen to you. Either you win, or you don't win. So the odds are 50/50." Later on in the testamonial portion of the infomercial, an African-American women provides her endorsement of the Lottery Millionaire course, "I don't know much about the laws of probability, but I know all about the laws of being a millionaire. Then everybody be kissin' my ass." Splendid stuff.

If your lucky enough to become a millionaire we can't guarantee that "everybody be kissin' your ass." But at least you won't be in a position where you have to kiss somebody else's.

September 1997

Nothing noteworthy to report.

August 1997

Last week MSNBC's Don Imus show had an interesting segment. Mr. Imus said that he was embarking on a "suck-free hour." For the next 60 minutes they would have only quality guests, take no calls from insipid listeners, and ensure programming excellence.

I thought this was an admirable goal. Looking back on my career with several Fortune 500 companies, I realized I could count the number of "suck-free hours" I'd experienced on the fingers of one hand.

July 1997

Back in the mid-80's when your author was employed by an international oil company, one of the old timers in the office offered this observation, "In this company, there are three kinds of horses; 1) the show horses, 2) the work horses, and 3) the horses' behinds." (As you can imagine, the management corps was routinely drawn from the ranks of the first and third cavalry.)

A new take on this phenomenon appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. Hal Lancaster's column on May 24, 1997 observed three types of people: "The first are those that don't know what to do, and do nothing. Either they get trained by someone or they don't last long. The second kind are those that don't know what to do, and do everything they can think of in the hopes of doing the right thing. These people get promoted and die early. [The third type are] those that know what they are doing, do what they need to, and go home on time. These people Retire Early and have a life."

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Copyright 1998 John P. Greaney, All rights reserved.

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