Call the Nurse – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “Call the Nurse” by Mary J. MacLeod, published in 2012. This is the career memoir of a nurse in The Hebrides, off of Scotland.

The author, her husband and two youngest kids moved from England to the island of “Papavray” (a pseudonym), about 20 miles long, on a lark in the early 1970’s. She describes the kinds of patients she treated, and the lives of the area’s inhabitants in detail.

She writes that people rarely grew gardens in the islands because difficulties such as bad weather, bad soil and hungry wildlife threatened the gardens’ existence. Potatoes were about the only crop worth growing. Tea and alcohol were drunk in large quantities.

Items of everyday living were scarce, so every few months, when she and her husband drove their Land Rover to the mainland, they had to shop on behalf of members of their community, which was like a small town. They were asked to pick up all kinds of household goods, chicken wire, appliances, a ladder, a puppy, etc.

Among other social events throughout the year, every summer, the people had a day-long sheep-shearing gathering. The culture was such that most of the men were “… sailors, fishermen, crofters, or working at the pier or the harbour.”

Enjoying the remoteness from civilization was an acquired taste. The weather was often wet and dangerous, and an airlift was necessary when MacLeod’s patients were suffering life-threatening conditions. Read the book to learn more about her experiences, good and bad.

Work is My Play

The Book of the Week is “Work Is My Play” by Wallace E. Johnson, published in 1973.  This is the career memoir of a lifelong workaholic.

The author discusses his passion for doing business. In the 1950’s, he co-founded Holiday Inn on the concept of offering an affordable place for families to stay while they were on a road trip, with accommodations and dining that were superior to those of Howard Johnson’s (no relation to the author), the only other option at the time.

The author fondly describes the opportunistic personality of one of his business partners with a memorable anecdote. The partner grabbed his wife before she had finished her lunchtime pie (she was used to that) in order to punctually attend a government auction of land parcels in an undeveloped area. He then proceeded to win the bid on every single parcel because he knew real estate prices would rise in the long term.

Read the book to learn how the author had fun working nonstop and making lots of money.

Four Seasons

The Book of the Week is “Four Seasons, The Story of a Business Philosophy” by Isadore Sharp, published in 2009. In the early 1950’s, in his early 20’s, the author worked with his father, a construction contractor. He served as construction manager, rental agent, salesman, and financier. He parlayed his experience into building hotels in later decades.

The first Four Seasons opened in Toronto in 1961. It was a motel. Because the location of the second Four Seasons (actually called “Inn on the Park”) was less than ideal– the Toronto section of North York– it had to offer a few unusual features and amenities, such as smoking and nonsmoking floors, a restaurant and a fitness center, in March 1963. The property manager got a famous sports trainer to run the fitness center. In 1966, the trainer was accused of pushing performance-enhancing drugs. “He later died of lung cancer, from smoking.”

In the late 1960’s, London already had five five-star hotels. But Sharp wanted to build another one anyway. He and his business partners “…signed an 84-year lease at 210,000 Pounds Sterling a year, to be renegotiated every 21 years. He insisted on having air conditioning, unlike the competition. The hotel, opened in January 1970, ended up costing 700,000 Pounds. The lease was modified to allow a renegotiation every fourteen years.

Over the course of four years prior to the building of the hotel, the author’s London contact engaged him in social interaction to make sure he was trustworthy. The foundation of business is trustworthy relationships. The author said of certain of his major investors and his brother-in-law, “There was complete trust. Once we shook hands on a deal, there was no need for lawyers and signed documents.”

The author established an investing policy due to skyrocketing inflation in the mid 1970’s: putting a ceiling on his share of ownership at a small percentage of equity. No more than $3-5 million per property. This was based on a simple calculation of the maximum hotel fees he would collect over the first five years; Four Seasons became a property manager, rather than a real estate developer.

The Four Seasons hotels offer high-end luxury, targeting exclusively wealthy Americans and business executives. As its culture has evolved, it has identified a set of values to which its employees adhere and by which it does business: respect, fairness, honesty and trust. Sharp sought to make it a companywide habit.

Sharp knew that employees whose jobs include direct guest interaction are the ones who directly generate most of the hotel’s revenue, and the experienced ones are “… storehouses of customer knowledge, role models for new hires and advisers for system improvement…”

The author claimed that hotels other than Four Seasons face the major competitive challenge of easily accessible reservations data due to technological advances. The Web “…put every week’s best hotel deal at every traveler’s fingertips, raising the specter of unusually lethal periodic price wars… We didn’t compete on price… we were the one hotel company that could take full advantage of the new [economy] without any problems.” Right.

The last quarter of the book was a brag-fest. Nevertheless, read the book to learn of Sharp’s unpleasant episodes with regard to: Sheraton in Vancouver, attempts to open hotels in Italy, India and Venezuela; political unrest in Indonesia, ownership of The Pierre Hotel, and much more.

Heads in Beds – Bonus Post

“Heads in Beds” by Jacob Tomsky (pen name), published in 2012. This ebook is the career memoir of a hotel employee.

The author provides tips and tricks for gaming situations in the jobs of valet, housekeeping manager and front desk manager. He writes that entry-level workers start on the overnight shift, laboring on weekends and holidays. The managerial positions are stressful with long hours and no overtime pay.

The dead-end position of bellman pays well, but never offers advancement, just better shifts. The reason is that hauling luggage allows for frequent collection of cash tips which might be shared with fellow employees, but not with the IRS. Some workers singularly collect considerable tips on the sly by developing one-on-one relationships with guests– reserving the best rooms for them, “… supervising the bill, and essentially being a private concierge…”

Union membership offers lots of paid time off and job security. However, if a private equity firm purchases a hotel but the hotel-property-manager-seller continues to manage the hotel, there might be extensive replacement of non-union personnel with inexperienced, lower-paid incompetents.

Furthermore, top management might impose petty, draconian supervision that makes life difficult and emotionally tiring for the workers– as happened with Tomsky’s employer. The quality of customer service declines forthwith. Nevertheless, Tomsky and his colleagues were under pressure to keep guests coming to the hotel, so when management turned penny-pincher and minimized one freebie, workers continued to grant others, like room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, reduced minibar charges, etc.

Tomsky also relates that immediate causes for termination include “stealing and sleeping on the job.” Movie and minibar are the charges that guests most often challenge. Both guests and hotel employees have money-saving or money-making schemes. The author writes, “… beware of any employees not wearing name tags. They are up to something and don’t wish to be identified.” Some guests make odd requests. One time, eight female guests rumored to be partying, requested a Bible. The author writes, as it turned out, “They just wanted to roll a joint, simple as that.”

Read the book to learn the phrases hotel employees and guests should use to get desired results, the kinds of punishments the hotel agents mete out to difficult guests, and how guests can get the most out of their stay.

How to Castrate A Bull

The Book of the Week is “How to Castrate A Bull” by Dave Hitz with Pat Walsh, published in 2009. This ebook chronicles Hitz’s career, describes the ups and downs of the tech company he co-founded– NetApp, and imparts wisdom on management, leadership and interesting trivia. A flash drive can store a small amount of personal data of everyone on earth, a hard copy of which would represent 20 million pounds of paper.

NetApp was a start-up in the early 1990’s that built and sold business-to business, a “…network storage system in eighteen months with eight people and $1.5 million.” It went public in November 1995. A start-up has to sell something people are willing to pay for, such as a physical product, or advertising.

During the year 2000, NetApp’s share price tanked– as did that of many other tech stocks– plummeting from $150 to $6. The company delayed laying people off, and did not speak of it, as long as possible. “We announced layoffs one day and did them the next.” Hitz thinks taking care of such unpleasantness quickly is the best policy. Prolonged “palace intrigue” is bad for the work environment. Employees who know their last day is in the future are going to have less than optimal productivity, loyalty and a stable emotional state, to say the least.

When it came time to write the section on the NetApp’s philosophy in the company manual, Hitz says, “Company values only work if the leaders say, ‘These are things I really do believe. If I violate them, please call me on it… Values should remain constant, but appropriate behavior will change as a company grows.” When an employer provides “fun stuff” or free food to its employees, “that’s a symptom of good culture, not a cause of it.”

Read the book to learn Hitz’s explanation of how NetApp became a tremendously successful company, and how it fared after the dot-com crash.

The Waxman Report

The Book of the Week is “The Waxman Report” by Henry Waxman with Joshua Green, published in 2009. This is a political memoir that discusses the major issues the U.S. Congress faced during the four decades of Waxman’s career.

The author, a liberal Democrat, was first elected a Representative in the fall of 1974. He talks about the steps required for making laws with regard to containing an epidemic, such as AIDS in the 1980’s:  generate publicity, raise funds for studies on the subject, and, further along the learning curve– implement measures on prevention and treatment. Waxman remarks that involvement of celebrities generated publicity for not just AIDS issues, but also for getting the big pharmaceutical companies to research and manufacture drugs to treat ailments whose sufferers are too few in number for profitability. Waxman participated in helping pass a Congressional bill that contained a creative compromise for both the medical business and patients.

The author dealt with a slew of other political issues to which the aforementioned steps can be applied, too. However, he wrote that the government must be careful not to grant too many allowances to the entities it is regulating in order to pass legislation, because once a bill becomes law, those allowances will not be lessened.

Another point Waxman makes is that politicians sometimes need to partner with their ideological enemies if they want to pass a law. This is where “pork barrel” legislation can be advantageous for both sides. If the opponent’s district is horribly polluted and in danger of being fined, for instance, he might want to help draft an amendment to an anti-pollution law, as was the case with the 1977 Clean Air Act in the early 1980’s.

Read the book to learn the details of how Waxman paints Republicans as evil– their deregulation of various industries has harmed Americans’ health and financial well-being. Nevertheless, the author is optimistic because American politics, although a dirty business, is cyclical. Government and the people work together to adapt to the changing times.

A Funny Thing Happened… – Bonus Post

The short ebook “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future” by Michael J. Fox, published in 2010 is an inspiring commencement speech.  The author answers the question, “What constitutes an education?”

As a teenager, Fox himself sacrificed his formal education for his career. It was an alternate route that was not necessarily inferior to his staying in school. He had found his passion early in life and circumstances allowed him to pursue it. He does not necessarily recommend the method he fell into, but tells the reader to be on the lookout for and respect mentors, opportunities and lessons in life. Read the book to learn the details of the education Fox did receive.

Double or Nothing

The Book of the Week is “Double or Nothing” by Tom Breitling with Cal Fussman, published in 2008. This short ebook describes the business partnerships between the author and Tim Poster.

Poster had a passion for gambling. In high school he and a friend acted as a bookie and made bets on professional sports, from which they won a lot of money, except for one particular boxing match. In the late 1980’s, while still in college, Poster started a hotel telephone reservation service called Travelscape. Breitling joined the business, and it kept growing in leaps and bounds. Travelscape was an early adopter of internet technology, launching an online reservation system in 1998, during which it made $20 million in sales. In 1997, it had made $12 million in sales.

Their partnership was based on trust symbolized by a handshake, rather than on legal documents. Their synergistic personalities made the business successful. Nevertheless, in 1999 when a competitor offered to buy their business, they were at a grave disadvantage due to their inexperience in multi-million dollar deal-making. The situation was extremely stressful for them.

The author describes what eventually happened, the mistakes they made and what they learned from the experience, and goes on to discuss their successes and failures in connection with another business venture– a casino.

About a year later, the partners were negotiating sale of the casino. The potential buyers consisted of two different suitors– a pair of humble, trustworthy brothers who were their close friends, and a narcissistic, petty owner of a collection of properties then worth $700 million (not Donald Trump).

The author relates that at that time, Fortune magazine had ranked the brothers’ company in the top twenty of its list of “Best Companies to Work For in America.” Job satisfaction among employees at the casino owned by the brothers was apparently so high, the employees saw no reason to unionize. That would actually be a problem if the casino was to merge with Poster’s and Breitling’s casino, as the latter was unionized.

Read the book to learn how Poster and Breitling fared with a reality TV show in their casino; how relaxing betting limits, and cheating or lucky gamblers can put a casino out of business; and the details of what transpired when they allowed their businesses to be bought.