Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ford Motor Company: Another Turnaround?

     In The Nostalgia of Closed Stores, I gave a two paragraph summary of the general business challenge:
Business is business. It is cut and dry. Provide products and services that customers want, sell these same products at a high volume at a price higher than the cost of goods and production, and, voila, the business is profitable and can thrive and grow. Don’t do this and the opposite happens, the business loses money and will eventually have to cease operations, call it quits. 
Jim Hackett and Bill Ford
This is not a one-time deal. Businesses have to do this continually. To make it even more challenging, competitors would love to steal market share and act aggressively to do just that. Markets and the preferences of customers are always changing. So, businesses need to be aware of all this and adapt and innovate their product and service offerings to remain competitive and relevant to their customers. As a result, some businesses expand and grow while others shrink and even go out of business.
     Nowhere in that Business 101 synopsis did I ever say this was an easy thing to do. It is not easy. But, on the other hand, it is not impossible. It is not easy to do in rapidly changing retail marketplace, nor is it easy in the global automobile markets. These are both tough businesses where technology innovations and customer preferences are intertwined, complicated, and make for a changing landscape in which retail and auto businesses need to operate.
     There was a lengthy article in the August 15th Wall Street Journal on Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett, Ford Chief’s First Task: Explaining His Vision. The header of the article states “Hired to fix the auto maker, he has confused executives and investors.” Jim Hackett was brought to turn around the storied car maker. This storied car maker is where my grandfather Levon Merian labored in the Rouge Foundry for most of his working years.  It was my first big-boy, grown-up job. Consistent with the Detroit, Motor City culture of 1976 when I started, I fully anticipated working there for 25 to 30 years and retire with a pension… which of course did not happen.
     Ford is the storied auto manufacturer started by Henry Ford who innovated the moving assembly line. It grew wildly with the famed Model T and other great products such as the Falcon, the Galaxy 500, the F-150 light truck, the Mustang, the Escort, the Taurus, and the Explorer to name a few. Of course, Ford has had its share of missteps such as the infamous Edsel and Pinto. In the 1930s and 40s, they treated their employees brutally. In the same time period, they almost went under because their financial systems never really kept up with the growth of the company. Like the other Detroit automakers, Ford was blindsided by the rising oil prices in the 1970s and the invasion of cheaper, higher quality, more reliable, and more efficient cars coming from Japan. To make that storm perfect, Ford, GM, and Chrysler were stuck in their ways, bloated with layers of management, and rarely sought out the needs and wants of their customers.
     Yet, they weathered the storms. Ford made Quality Job 1 in the 80s which culminated with the brilliantly designed and eminently successful Ford Taurus: a car that was designed incorporating the Voice of the Customer into every detail. I would argue that the CEOs from 1979 – 1993, Bill Caldwell, Don Petersen, and Red Poling, raised the company to a new level of performance and culture that would sustain them moving into the future. But, then came Trotman, Nasser, and Ford (Henry’s great-grandson) who were not able to navigate the ship as deftly as their predecessors. Bill Ford knew he needed more help and hired Alan Mulally from Boeing to replace him as CEO. He turned the company around, weathering the Great Recession without taking any government assistance as both GM and Chrysler had to.
     Here is a quote on Toyota from Alan Mulally from circa 2006 (American Icon, page 130) which I also used in a 2015 blog piece Answering Debbie: Why I am Driving a Toyota:

They make products that people want, and they do it with less resources and less time than anybody in the world. They're a magical machine. This system of continually improving the quality, putting the variations into the product line that people want and doing it with minimum resources and minimum time is absolutely where we have to go. If you look at Ford, it's the antithesis.
     Wow… that was his assessment in 2006 not 1980. I had thought in 1990, that Ford had fixed things. Clearly, they unraveled. When Mulally left Ford in 2014, I thought they had fixed things again… but this time for sure. He was succeeded by a lifetime Ford man, Mark Fields. Fields lasted until May of 2017, when he was replaced by Jim Hackett.
      Jim Hackett, started with Steelcase in 1981 and worked there until 2014. In 1996, he was named CEO at the young age of 39. After his 18 years as the Steelcase CEO, he became interim Athletic Director at the University of Michigan where he had played football. He was best known for bringing in Jim Harbaugh as the head football coach. He joined the Ford Board of Directors in 2013.
     So, two of the last two CEOs of Ford, were outsiders i.e. they did not grow-up in the auto industry. They were not lifetime Ford guys. That is astonishing for a company that size ($156.8 Billion in sales in 2017). They have to be able to create a sustainable culture to survive in the industry. That same culture should have both a sustaining product development process to develop vehicles people want to buy and to be able nurture and grow the future leaders of the company. This is simply not happening.
     In the Wall Street Journal article noted that Hackett “has introduced new methodologies from his previous job, including a process called ‘design thinking’ that attempts to solve problems by getting into the mind of the consumer.”
     Gee, it somehow all goes back to making products customers want to buy. Will Ford ever really learn that lesson?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Et Tu Brookstone?

Brookstone Store at Northbrook Court
I just read that Brookstone, the cool store of gadgets, filed for bankruptcy for the second time in four years. As part of their restructuring, they will close all 102 of their mall-based stores. They are keeping their airport stores open… apparently the only profitable stores in the chain. 
     Last month, I posted about the demise of Toy R Us and Carson Pirie Scott in The Nostalgia of Closed Stores. Actually, I never liked Toys R Us. I found them chaotic and messy. I resisted going there unless it was an absolute necessity. As for Carson’s, I actually liked their stores because they always had a “take an Extra 60% off of the already 30% off marked price” sale. It seemed like everything was being sold below cost. So, in my view, it was only a matter of time before they went under. 
     As for Brookstone, I loved the chain the first time I stepped foot in one back in the 1980s at Fairlane Mall in Dearborn, MI. They simply had the coolest gadgets and gift ideas at every price range. I really thought they had great concept. It was like an adult toy store. In the 80s and 90s, if I was going to a birthday lunch or dinner for a work friend and I felt close enough to buy them a gift, I would usually go to Brookstone and buy them something unique there. There was always something that fit my budget. Over the years, I have also received gifts from there which have included a pair of compact binoculars and a variety of different golf gadgets. For myself, I bought a telescopic back scratcher, a dart gun to kill flies, and a slew of travel products. The travel products included a leather case to for ties, another leather case for my travel documents and passport, a money belt, and transformers for the different currents and plug configurations. 
     Over the years, I am guilty of doing the same thing every devotee of all failed stores do or don’t do… I visited their stores less and less. The last time I was in a Brookstone at a mall was in 2010. I had just bought an iPad2 at the Apple store at Northbrook Court, a very nice mall near my home. I went across the hallway to Brookstone store and bought a case with the Wi-Fi keyboard/case for it. The Apple Store had not yet realized the value of selling a full line of accessories for all their products. Even then, before their first bankruptcy, the Brookstone sales clerk said that most of their business was from folks who just bought an iPad at Apple and came over to them to buy a case.
     Other than that, I have only visited their airport store at O’Hare almost every time I fly. Not oddly, one of the articles I read on the Brookstone bankruptcy, in The Verge, referred to Brookstone as “that place you go while waiting for your airplane to board.” Most of the time I go into the airport store just to see what they might have in the spirit of what first made Brookstone a favorite of mine. But, that is not what the airport outlets are. They are travel stores for luggage and related items. I have bought ear plugs for airplanes and converters/adapters as that seems to be the one thing I forget to pack with great regularity.
     The bottom-line is this. Brookstone is going under simply because they have not been able to keep their edge that attracted customers like me in the first place. Cool gadgets of all kinds are not the exclusive domain of Brookstone anymore. The internet, and by the internet I mean, is loaded with them. Everything is available everywhere. Brookstone had things exclusive to them and was known as a place where you could touch and try every cool gadget. That is no longer the case. Like every other failed retail chain they were unable to retain their edge and make a transition to e-commerce world. Consider this, I am or was a quasi-loyal/regular Brookstone customer and the first time I ever visited their website was today while writing this post. 
     I will miss the what Brookstone once was but I understand why they are in the dire straits that forced them into this second bankruptcy. And, I will continue to look for their stores in airport when I forget to pack my charger or converter.
     Thanks for the memories Brookstone.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thank You, Oswaldo!

     There are notable days in one’s life. When you are a kid, it is your birthday, the first day of school, the last day of school each year, Christmas Day, and special moments in sports games, school concerts or plays, and family vacation. Later on, there more adult special days such ones graduations, first day of a real job, engagement day, wedding day, birth of one’s children, bonus days, special birthdays that end in zero or five, graduation of one’s children, their marriages, the days one’s grandchildren are born, every birthday of one’s children and grandchildren, one’s wedding anniversaries and those of parents and children, special birthdays of one’s parents, and the list goes on and on. 
     Then, of course, there are random special and notable days. For me an example of this would be when a professor of voice in the school of music at Wayne State University told me, in front of Ara Topouzian, that she really liked how I sang. Another was the first time that I was right about a nuance of a certain major requirement to the University and my esteemed colleague Professor Ann Hicks was not. I still have the calendar page, January 2018, on my wall with the day, the 20th, circled in red. 
     Today I had another such experience. While the Ara and Ann memories tickle the funny bone, this one tugged more at the heartstrings. My good friend Oswaldo Arias mentioned me in a comment he made to an article posted on LinkedIn.
     The article is Don’t Pick a Job. Pick a Boss. - A GOOD BOSS is better than a good companyby Brigette Hyacinth. Oswaldo posted:
Mark Gavoor this is you, a Great Mentor…
I read only the title of the article and Oswaldo’s comment, as I was on my phone. I responded as follows:
Oswaldo, thank you so much for this. I never really thought you reported to me as much as we worked together as a great team... which we were.
Oswaldo then responded:
Mark your comment reflects exactly what the article talks about...
     Well that thoughtful and memorable exchange sure made my day.
     Generally, you do not become good friends or even friends with everyone you work with or for. Usually, there are a handful of folks that we value to stay in touch with no matter what. There is a larger group were the staying in touch is much more occasional. The vast majority of folks we worked with simply are acquaintances that slowly drift towards the ends of our memory. Lastly, there are a few SOBs for which never seeing or hearing from them again is preferable.
     Oswaldo is in the first category of dear friends. For the record, I would have loved to have one-hundred more Oswaldo’s working with me. As colleagues go, he is smart, hardworking, and gets results. He is all about the assignments and almost nothing about the politics. To get an affirmation and compliment like this from a respected friend and colleague like Oswaldo, well, that not only made my day, but also my week, summer, and perhaps year. Thanks good friend.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

For Love of the Music: It is in Our Blood

Ara Dinkjian from the Smithsonian Video
     The Smithsonian Institute sponsors a Folklife Festival on the National Mall each summer. They usually feature two countries in the several day festival. This year Armenia and Catalan were the two countries featured from June 27 – July 1 and July 4 – 8. I was fortunate enough to be in DC over the 4thof July holiday and was able to attend the festival on July 4thand 5th. The festival was very well done and provided education, entertainment, and nourishment of both body and soul that only good music and delicious khorovadz can bring.
     Ara and Onnik Dinkjian were among the featured artists. It was great to see our style of Armenian Music so strongly represented at this very well done festival. While at the festival, Ara was interviewed and short video of that interview was posted on the Smithsonian website: An Introduction to the Oud with Ara Dinkjian. I became aware of it via Facebook, watched it several times, and, of course, shared it.
     Midway through this short two-minute video, Ara said something that really resonated with me. “It doesn’t matter where you are born. If you know your history, your ancestry, your identity, then you need to be who you are wherever you are. So, the sounds, the land, the smells of the land, the tastes of the food, the architecture, the modes, the instruments, the looks [of the people], these are all in my blood even if I am born in New Jersey.”
     I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I have written the same for years in my monthly letters and blogs. This being Armenian, this Armenianess, is in my blood. It is in my heart and soul. It is in my genetic code.  The primary conduit for me is what Ara calls “our music.” I am not alone. Besides, myself and Ara, I know many musicians and countless dancers and fans of the music who feel the same. Everyone has their own nuance, their own twist, and their own interpretation. But, at the core, there is a deep connection that almost everyone says is in their very blood.
     Is it really in our blood? Or was it nurtured into us? The answer to both questions is yes. I was most certainly raised to know, as Ara said, the language at the Saturday Armenian School level, history, architecture, of course the food, and most certainly the music. The music, however, is and has always been something else, something at a higher level, some much more impactful. My father often told me that when I was a baby and we lived with his parents in Watertown, MA, my grandfather would play his favorite Armenian and Turkish 78s. I would be lying on his chest and when Udi Hrant came on, especially singing Engin, I would lift my head up. I have come to believe there is something magical in modes and melodies where even the happier songs are tinged with lament and dripping with history.
     Why do I feel a greater sense of high, a greater connection, to my heritage when I hear or play Husenigin Sazeruh, Dersim Dort Dag Icinde, Bu Dere, or the Hars u Pesa (Eddie Mekjian lyrics)? When I fell in love with these tunes, I was unaware that they were from Kharpert, the region from where three-quarters of my grandparents hailed. Why is it my friend Vahan loves Neden Geldim Amerikaya (Achilles Poulos) while not knowing it was a lament for Bandirma where his grandmother was born? Yes there is some nurture. My grandfather and Vahan’s grandmother exposed us to this music and their world view from our births. I know this music surrounded Ara Dinkjian growing up. But, I am also convinced there is a strong spiritual, genetic, and blood-based component given the depth of this affinity.
     Please post your views, feelings, and experiences on this most fascinating subject. I would love to read them.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

How Stupid I Could Be

     My maternal grandmother Azniv Frankian Merian was simply known to her grandchildren as Grannie.  As I have written before, there was no doubt in any of minds that she loved us.  That love was manifested as one would expect from a grandmother, but she also used tough love when the occasion called for it. When we did something boneheaded we might hear one of two well deserved scoldings.  She might refer to us “tutum kulookh” (pumpkin head) or make the blunt observation“how stupid you could be.”  
      Even today, when I do something particularly boneheaded, I find myself muttering, “how stupid you could be” or as she would say when she did something worthy of the same, “how stupid I could be.”  
      So, what did I do to make me say this recently and, as a result, write about it? Well... it really is a big duh, actually a hug Duh.  It is a recurring, lifelong, boneheadedness.  It is about weight, my weight, and the endless inability to control it at a healthy level.  Five years ago, I put myself on a program and got to my ideal weight class.  That was great.  In the next three years, as per past cycles, I gained it all back.  How stupid I could be.  
     I knew it was happening but lacked the resolve or whatever you want to call it to do anything about it.  I got back into the habit of starting anew to be healthy each and every Monday and each and every first of the month:  all to no avail.  How stupid I could be.
     I know what to do.  I also know quite well that “knowing never equals doing.”  I know the positive effects of weight loss and management. Duh.  Weight loss and management reduces the risk of many conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.  Being at the right weight takes my self-esteem up several notches.  It is easier and cheaper to buy clothes in normal sizes that are well stocked in normal stores.  How stupid I could be.  
     A health fact I learned five years ago was the impact being overweight has on one’s knees.  
 Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So, a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees.  ~ Obesity-Arthritis Foundation
It is not a 1:1 relationship but rather a 4:1 relationship.  How stupid I could be.
     We were in Washington, DC over the 4thof July.  Going to and from the Smithsonian in the 95 degree heat with 90% humidity had me realizing just how stupid I was.  I was a hot sweaty out of breath mess with a limp, sore knees, and achy feet.  Ugh… that really reminded me of just how stupid I was.
     Since then, I have shed some pounds and guess what.  The limp, sore knees, and achy feet are much less.  Where, I had been popping Advil or Tylenol a few to several days a week, I have taken non the past two weeks.  I am even sleeping better.  Wow… just reminds me of how stupid I could be.
     So… let’s see “How smart I could be” moving forward.

For Love of the Music: Hachig and Richard

Photo from Jerry Najarian
     Need anyone say more. If you Armenian and enjoy a particular type of Armenian music, there is no need to say more. You would know that I am referring to Hachig Kazarian who plays the clarinet and Richard Hagopian who plays the oud and sings. They have been entertaining, delighting, inspiring, and electrifying listeners, dancers, and aficionados for fifty years. I am definitely a listener, I used to be a dancer, and as for being an aficionado I do believe I am.
     I heard over a year ago that Hachig and Richard would be playing on July 13, 2018 in Detroit for the Knights of Vartan Annual Convocation. As they do not play together as often as they once did, I knew that I would be there if at all possible. Thankfully, it was possible.
     They play a style of music that the first generation of Armenians, the genocide survivor generation, brought with them. It was a double mix of music and ethnicities. The first kind of mix was a mix of village folk music, troubadour songs, and even classical pieces. The second kind of mix was a mix of ethnicities. The music was mostly Armenian and Turkish especially where the two intersected. But the style included Greek, Greek/Turkish, and Arab music. Growing up, we simply referred to this style of music, our music, as Armenian Music. Of late, some refer to our music as Deghatsi, Armenians born in the US, or kef style. Kef is word used by Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and Arabs. The meaning varies from party and dancing to, the way some of us Armenian’s use it, a spiritual passion for the music.
     When I first took up playing the oud, I would put on their first two albums Kef Time Las Vegas and Kef Time Fresno and play along. I am talking about record albums played on phonographs. I would queue up a song that began with a drone in A or E on which either Richard or Hachig would play a taksim (an arrhythmic improvisation) to set the tone and spirit for the song they were about to play. I would tune to that drone, if needed, and then play along. I did that hours at a time over several years. It was like master lessons that help me learn songs, rhythms, intonations, and improvisations.
      While the albums were great, seeing these guys live was an entirely different matter because they played at an entirely different level. They seemed to love playing for an audience. They provided the energy and rhythm, the kef if you will, for the dancers. Then Hachig and Richard would feed off of the energy of the dancers. It is an amazing dynamic.
     In their prime, Hachig and Richard were off the charts. They could play melodies, hand-in-hand, note-for-note like no other oud and clarinet duo that I had ever heard. They would embellish off of each at the same level. Their improvisations? Forget about it. They were awesome and did unbelievable things with their instruments that have inspired a few generations to take up playing and work hard to try to emulate them. Most of us fell short, well short, of those aspirations.
     I recall standing by the stage when these two played. I was not alone. There was always a group of musician and fans standing there soaking in the artistry. We couldn’t believe the things they would and could do. It was amazing, emotional, and inspiring.
     There are great musicians today. A cadre of young, conservatory trained, Armenians and Turks are unbelievable players. The can articulate difficult passages with an ease that I only dream about. Yet, in comparison, their improvisations and rides are missing that emotion, that fire, and that raw energy harnessed by the talents of those like Hachig and Richard.
     In this milieu of musicians and fans, folks have always asked me who I liked better. When it came to clarinet players, there was never any discussion. Hachig from Day 1 was always the best. No questions. He set the standard. I do believe a slew of young fellows in my generation took up the clarinet for one reason: they were completely swept away by the Govand,the lead track on his album The Exciting Sounds of Hachig Kazarian. With oud players, it was a different story. While Richard was certainly exceptional, we were also blessed to have George Mgrdichian, Chick Ganimian, John Berberian, John Bilezikjian, and Harry Minassian. People would always ask who was my favorite oud player and the slate I was presented with was usually Richard Hagopian, John Berberian, and Harry Minassian. My answer was always the same, “I like them all and would only have to choose if they were all playing in town on the same night.” I have never had to make that choice. I will say this. Both Hachig and Richard are excellent but when they are together they defy mathematics in that one plus one is much greater than two.
     Did I use the words “in their prime” a few paragraphs ago?  Yes, I did. That would imply they are not in their prime now. These days the fellows are older. Richard is 81 and Hachig is in his mid or late 70s. Time passes. Have they lost something? Yes and no. Are they what they once were? No. Those blow the top of your head off rides are missing these days. I am not sure we will ever see that again even though we have very talented young players out there. Are they still excellent? Are they way better than I or the guys I play with ever hope to be? Do they nail each and every number they play? Was the dance floor full of adoring fans enjoying their music? Yes, yes, yes, and yes! They are masters of the music and they know the old village music better than anyone else I know. I do believe they could play an entire evening playing songs barely anyone in the audience has heard before. And does the one plus one being much greater than two equation still hold? Absolutely.
     Do I think that they should record again? For sure. Am I there the next time they perform together? Do you have to ask?


  • While the focus of this piece is on Hachig and Richard, there were two other
    musicians on stage with them on July 13th. One was Mal Barsamian, an unbelievely good clarinet and oud player in his own right, played guitar. The other, Vaughn Masropian is an excellent drummer and singer.  Vaughn and I played together for 20 years in the Johnite Band of Detroit. Vaughn organized the evening and assembled the band. 
  • You can read a brief bio about both Hachig and Richard, giants of our music, in the piece I wrote in February of this year: The Legacy Band.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Procrastination or JIT?

     I tend to procrastinate. I wouldn’t say I am World Class at it. But, I can be quite good at it at times and am probably ranked as one of the top amateurs. When asked why I procrastinate, I never admit to it. I simply respond that, “It is not procrastination. I am a Professor of Operations Management and I am simply practicing Just-in-Time Management which is a discipline that I teach.”
     Just-in-Time? Forecasting and Planning is part of the discipline I teach. Just-in-Time (JIT) Management is part of the planning discipline. The basic principle is to minimize inventories and cycle-times by taking all the slack out of the system. This requires large amounts of process improvement to be able to make the reductions in time and inventory and still meet the production goals. The result, shortly stated, is to have the right amount of material or components arrive to where it is need just when it is needed, just-in-time for it to be used.
     Procrastination is considered a poor habit, a negative practice, and nothing to really tout. JIT management on the hand is a best practice, an acquired skill, even an art if you will. Art or affliction? Good or bad practice? Well, it’s really easy. I would rather say that I am a JIT aficionado and practitioner than a run of the mill, plain old, same as a whole lot of other people, procrastinator.
     What is the difference? The definition of procrastination does not really clear things up. The dictionary definitions are:


to put off intentionally and habitually (transitive verb)
to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done (intransitive verb) ~

ProcrastinationThe act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention. ~
     My version of procrastination is simply that I postpone and delay doing things until the last possible minute I can start the task and work furiously to get it done on time. I believe I work better under pressure or most effectively when I am under pressure. I do it for everything that I can. So… I think I am fine with claiming I am simply a practicing JIT Management. These definitions justify it.
     Then I read the Psychology Today definition:

Everyone puts things off until the last minute sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we'll feel tomorrow, or the next day. "I don't feel like it" takes precedence over goals; however, it then begets a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort. Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that's their way of justifying putting things off.
     Those darned psychologists got me. When I am honest with myself, I do “chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions.” My claiming to be a JIT practitioner is just another way of saying that I “perform better under pressure.” And yes, it is just camouflage for avoiding things I should be doing for meaningless diversions that provide some temporal pleasure.
     OK… I am out the procrastination closet. I have confessed and admitted to my problem. This is why I am always starting the diet tomorrow while eating whatever I want today. It is why I would rather watch TV or play sudoku on my phone instead of, well, things I should be doing. It is remarkable, when I

honestly think about it, that I have achieved whatever I have given this affliction.
     There are a lot of self-help articles and books out there. There are flow charts to help you diagnose if you are a thrill-seeking, indecisive, or an avoider. There are chronic and “normal” procrastinators. One study has shown chronic procrastination to have quadrupled in mental bombardment of diversion and social media that is the result of the internet age. Again, according to Psychology Today:
Procrastination plagues our work force. Between 20 to 40 percent of adults consider themselves to be chronic procrastinators. But according to one estimate, only 18 percent of procrastination could be attributed to "task aversiveness"—i.e. just not wanting to do something. In other words, most of us aren't procrastinating out of laziness.
     For the vast majority of procrastinator’s, apparently, there are deeper reasons including fear of failure and indecisiveness. Me? There seems to be three reasons that contribute:
  • Pure and simple laziness
  • Trading off what I should be doing for some short-term more pleasurable diversion
  • Being subject to the Planning Fallacy: An underestimating of task-completion times.
     There are no shortage of advice, recipes, and processes to follow to help overcome this condition. There are three, four, five, and more step methods for dealing with procrastination. I do believe that in reading all of the advice and the various methods offered, people need to try those that resonate with them and then adopt those that actually work.
     My procrastination thrives on my work from home days i.e. days I have no classes. I have found that just starting is the most effective thing to do. Don’t delay. Get up, have breakfast, make a to-do list, and hit the first item. If I give myself a chance to think about diversions, the higher the probability that diversions will consume all my time. It really works. Even if I am not sure how to approach a task or exactly what to do, just getting started is huge. I truly believe in an old German proverb: Start to sew and God will provide the thread. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Economics and Climate Change

Cover of the Report
     In our modern times, we are blessed and cursed by 24/7 news reporting. On the blessed side, we are quickly aware of happenings anywhere in the globe. We can follow the plight of the boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave in Thailand. It was full of drama and then joy when all were saved. On the cursed side, we can be bombarded with news of things we cannot do anything about like climate change. These things can weigh on us and influence our general mood depending on the amount of reporting.
    To say the least, the notion of climate change or global warming has been controversial. There seems to be three general camps:
  1. Some people, for some reason on the liberal side of the political spectrum or environmentalists, believe that climate change is real, it is our fault, it is a serious threat to mankind and the planet, and we have to do something about it now.
  2. Others, who seem to be on the conservative and pro-business side of things, believe climate change is pseudo-science and we have to discredit those that are advocating it as charlatans.
  3. Lastly, and probably the majority of people, have heard about climate change but are ambivalent and simply trying to live their lives.
      On the morning of the 4th of July, I was listening to NPR. When the Marketplace segment came on, I heard this report.
Pricing and Climate Change form NPR’s Marketplace on July 4, 2018. 
Sabri Ben-Achour: When investors decide whether to buy a country’s bonds, they consider a lot of things inflation, interest rates, whether the country will pay them back. Bond investors are now considering something else: climate change. Countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change are paying significantly more to borrow from the financial markets as investors price in environmental risk. 
Vivian Noonan, BBC: We have known for a long time that climate change will have economic costs. But a study co-authored by Charles Donovan of the Imperial College in London finds that countries most effected by climate change have been hit with a double whammy: the increased cost caused by abnormal weather events and higher priced debt. 
Charles Donovan: So a country like Kenya which would be suffering maybe not from such dramatic things like hurricanes but something very long lived like drought which begins to effect agricultural production which then begins to effect exports and ultimately has an impact on the country’s bottom line. These are the kinds of things that we see that are deteriorating the ratings of these countries with regards to their international standing and ultimately has them having to pay higher interest costs. 
What is need is to have the international community to think about risk mitigation that can help pool these risks in a way that we can avoid some of these impacts. 
Vivian Noonan: If that doesn’t happen, Dr. Donovan says countries vulnerable to climate change could pay an extra $170B in interest rates over the next decade.
     This report impressed me. The financial world, which I can safely say is on the conservative pro-business side of things, has basically recognized some countries’ economies have been impacted by changes in climate and their bond rates, their cost of capital, has increased because of it. Financial markets react, over the long-term, on supply and demand, productivity, and other factors. They do not react to rhetoric.
     If the climate in coffee producing country has changed to the point where coffee
becomes a less productive crop or has to move to higher elevations for optimal growing temperatures, the economy of that country could suffer as they transition to other goods. Whether you believe in climate change or not, the bond rates of certain countries are reacting to something. There are studies and projections that this is indeed happening in Brazil, Colombia, and Central America to name a few coffee growing regions. The Climate Change Institute in Australia published a study in 2016 titled A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee. This study has stated that “Climate change is projected to cut the global area suitable for coffee production by as much as 50% by 2050.” 

From A Brewing Storm:  The climate change risks to coffee
     Coffee and cocoa seem particularly susceptible to climate change. Also in 2016, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the US Department of Commerce reported on Climate and Chocolate. The report that the Marketplace reported on and of which Charles Donovan is a co-author is Climate Change and the Cost of Capital in Developing Countries
From Climate and Chocolate

   All three reports are well done. All have projections to 2050 which assume that current trends will continue. That may or may not be the case. Scientists may develop coffee and cocoa varieties that are less reactive to climate change. Will they be successful? If they are successful, will the coffee and chocolate taste the same? Or will prices sky rocket as supply diminishes? We shall see.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Nostalgia of Closed Stores
     Business is business. It is cut and dry. Provide products and services that customers want, sell these same products at a high volume at a price higher than the cost of goods and production, and, voila, the business is profitable and can thrive and grow. Don’t do this and the opposite happens, the business loses money and will eventually have to cease operations, call it quits.
     This is not a one-time deal. Businesses have to do this continually. To make it even more challenging, competitors would love to steal market share and act aggressively to do just that. Markets and the preferences of customers are always changing. So, businesses need to be aware of all this and adapt and innovate their product and service offerings to remain competitive and relevant to their customers. As a result, some businesses expand and grow while others shrink and even go out of business.
     One need not look any further than the retail marketplace in the US to see these scenarios playing out in real time. Amazon is thriving and expanding in healthcare, pharmacy, and groceries while vertically integrating into transportation. The weaker, traditional brick and mortar stores are suffering. Toys R Us and Carson Pirie Scott are two chains that are closing down. Per the Wall Street Journal, mall vacancy is at a six year high at 8.6% and approaching the highs set during the depths of the Great Recession. This is simply due to the rise in online shopping which is certainly easier and often more affordable.
     While business is business, nostalgic memories of stores we loved are something different. Should we lament that Carson’s and Toys R Us have closed their doors? From one
perspective, they lacked the insight, resolve, and management acumen to adapt. It is survival of the fittest and, simply, these two entities were no longer fit. On the other hand, customers liked these stores. There has been some serious lamenting about the demise of Toys R Us. It was, after all, a toy store and several generations grew up with fond memories of these cavernous fantasy land of toys. There have been photos posted on social media and in news sites, more of Toys R Us and less of Carson’s, about empty stores and even Geoffrey’s last day on the job.
     There is a sadness about seeing a place that was once vibrant with activity lay empty and dormant. I have felt that when I walk through plant, warehouse, store, school, or civic building that has closed. The greater the time we had spent at these places, the more nostalgic we tend to be about their closings. I am nostalgic about Sears even though they have yet to close their doors. It is odd that we lament when businesses close but realize that we had not patronized them for years. Folks in my generation and older from Detroit still speak nostalgically about the Downtown Hudson’s and what a grand place it was. But, when it closed, people had to have realized that they had not been there in years. On the other hand FAO Schwartz in New York City was a place that thousands in New York City visited at Christmastime. But it closed because, while lots of folks visited during the holidays, they bought their toys at Toys R Us and Walmart because they were cheaper there.
     The heart and pocket book operate very differently.

Downtown Detroit JL Hudson's in the day 

Monday, July 2, 2018

     Poetry? Is it popular? Or is it simply an esoteric and elitist fading artform kept alive by professors of English?
     In 2015, there was an article in the Washington Post, Poetry is Going Extinct, Government Data Show. Per the graph, Americans who read poetry at least once in the past year has dropped from 17% in 1992 to 6.7% in 2012. That seems to be a huge decline. The article reported that knitting was twice as popular as reading poetry.
     The same study by the National Endowment for the Arts was updated and the following was reported in mid-June. Per the New Republic:
The National Endowment for the Arts reported Thursday the results of a survey showing that poetry reading is rising sharply among American adults. A previous survey in 2012 showed just 6.7 percent of Americans read poetry in the previous year. In the new survey, that number jumps to 11.7 percent. There were particularly strong showings among women (14.5 percent), African-Americans (15.3 percent) and those with graduate or professional degrees (19.7 percent).
     I have always thought that poetry should be more popular as our lives get busier and
more congested with the hustle, bustle, and chaos that our connected 24/7 work lives have become. While we might not have enough time to read a provoking novel or thoughtful essay, we can read a poem in considerably less time and get the same or more satisfaction. My colleague Daniel White Hodgeat North Park University, studies the poetry of rap and hip-hop. Bob Dylanwas awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his lyrics. The poetry in hip-hop, rap, and Bob Dylan songs are neither esoteric or elitist. They are clearly accessible to and actually accessed by large swaths of the population. These lyrics resonate with people, get them thinking, fill a need or void, and provide some entertainment. That is what literature is supposed to do… isn’t it?
     I have infrequently blogged about poetry e.g. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I even have a blog dedicated to my own poetry: Mark Gavoor’s Poetry. I was motivated to write this piece today because of two poems I have read, was impressed with, and wanted to share.
     My friend, Ara Topouzian, sent me a book of poems, Harvest of Memories, that his late uncle Hagop Topouzian penned. He self-published in 1968 and I can only guess how seldom these poems have been read. They are not necessarily the kinds of poems I seek to read, but I did get to understand and admire Hagop. Here is one of the poems that I liked:

To a Flower

You live and die
Without a heart,
And don’t know why
Before her sight.

You live and die
Before her sight,
And don’t know why
Without a heart.

But I knew why
In her mild sight,
I stay and sigh
With all my heart.

     It is not a deep poem, but it resonated with me. It has a playful symmetry that appeals to both the mathematician as well in the poet in me.
     The second poem is by Tatul Sonentz-Papazian. Tatul, who turned 90 in May of this year, is a man of Armenian arts and letters. He was born in Cairo. He was educated at the Mekhitarist College in Vienna and the French Acadmie Libre des Beaux Arts. He came to the United States in 1951 as Art Director, Publications, Middle East Section of the US information Agency. He got married, started a family, settled in Boston and worked in local publishing firms and advertising agencies. His membership in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) led him various positions organizations in the ARF families. He is a long-time contributor to the English language Armenian Weekly and the Armenian Language Hairenik. He is a prolific author and painter. He provided this lovely poem and Facebook yesterday when he granted me permission to use here. I am impressed by the touching quality of this poem in what has to be Tatul’s third, fourth, or fifth language. I am both in awe and inspired…


I sit alone
In the backyard
Of our past
And the memory
Of your touch comes back
With the rising wind
Caressing away
The wrinkles of time
That a red-hot longing
Etched on my skin
Since you went away
On a bright day
Of spring…