Slammin’ Sandy

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As Hurricane Sandy barrels through the East Coast, I hold my breath and pray no trees fall on my property.  Every storm, big or small, leaves anything from branches to shingles, to trees left on the ground on my property.  This storm was no different.

I was working yesterday in my office yesterday when the power went out.  Generators wind up and we’re up and running in less than 20 seconds.  Winds and rain are beating the crap out of the banners and flags that hold on for dear life to the flimsy poles they’re attached too.  I don’t have a good feeling about home and decide to leave.  All is well until I turn down my street, which is blocked off half way down.  Gulp.  I knew it.  Sandy smacked a strong, tall Oak in my yard so hard it crashed down and took the power lines with it,  knocking out power in my neighborhood.  Leaving a gaping hole where the root ball used to live, the tree could have easily fallen the other way and hit my house.  As I stood in the pelting rain just looking at the disaster which could have been worse, the power company trucks start rolling in.  One of the workers came to look at the tree and the damage in my yard.  I just looked at him and said “I should have tied it down”.  He laughed and we both agreed if it had to fall, at least it fell the right way.  You got that right.

The crews worked tirelessly in whipping winds, sideways pouring rain and darkness except for the light their own trucks provided.  I watched intently from the window all night long (what else would I do without power?) and wondered if they get paid well.  They make it look easy and never flinched at the weather.  Up and down in the buckets working on the wires, chain saws going and redirecting the few people who thought the “ROAD CLOSED” signs didn’t pertain to them.  They talked and joked and seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

Lizzie was petrified and shaking with fear most of the night.  I think she was remembering a year ago when she was alone in the woods during Hurricane Irene.  She didn’t leave my side the whole night and she seemed visibly better when the power came on about four hours later.  In fact, we all felt better when the power came on. 

I’m a girl who needs power.

 

 

 

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Pain Is Temporary, Quitting Lasts Forever

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With his wholesome clean-cut good looks, seven-time Tour de France champion title wins, high-profile cancer survivor and advocate, Founder and Chairman of ($500 Million) Livestrong cancer charity, Lance Armstrong is dropped by his sponsors and steps down as Chairman of Livestrong, all because of a doping scandal.  On or before October 31st The International Cycling Union must decide whether or not to strip Armstrong of his Tour titles.  Life as he knows it, has come to a screeching halt…

Lance Armstrong stands for so many things for so many people.  He’s an athlete, a winner, a cancer survivor and motivational mentor for those with cancer.  His charity gives financial hope to those with excessive medical bills relating to cancer.  Even today, after 15 years of founding the Livestrong charity, people are wearing the ubiquitous yellow Livestrong wrist bands and apparel. 

Armstrong is now banned from professional racing and there are talks he will soon be stripped of his seven-time Tour De France titles.  The myriad of sponsors have dropped him completely, and for the good of his cancer charity, he has stepped down as Chairman.  I’m mostly surprised at Nike.  They didn’t drop Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant when they were caught cheating and scandal broke out.  Nike stuck by them.  “Armstrong is accused of running one of the most sophisticated, elaborate, professionalized and successful doping programs in sports history.”  His own teammates testified against him and he decided to stop fighting it.  It must be exhausting, and costly, guilty or not.  His name and his brand are tarnished.  His life, reduced to crumbs.  He’s been through worse, he survived cancer.

Is Livestrong bigger than Lance?  I don’t think so.  Whenever I see ‘Livestrong’ either on apparel or as a wrist band, I always think of Lance Armstrong.  Will the cancer charity continue to grow and be effective without him? That remains to be seen.  Hopefully they do continue to thrive.

As for Lance, even when all signs point to guilty, he stands tall with his not guilty plea.  At this point it really doesn’t matter if he doped or not, he’s paying the price as if guilty.  It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but he’ll be OK.  He will adapt and overcome.  Like Martha Stewart and Steve Jobs who were fired and stepped down from their empires, I  have to believe Lance Armstrong will emerge bigger and better than ever before.  He is unstoppable and immeasurable.  He is not a quitter.  The fact remains that Lance Armstrong was never found positive by the anti-doping laboratories.

“Pain Is Temporary, Quitting Lasts Forever” – Lance Armstrong

Come on Lance, get back up and get on with it.  Turn this around in true Armstrong style!

Signed, Your Boss

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By Robert Frank, CNBC Reporter & Editor

(Reprint from msnbc.com)

If Obama is re-elected, you’ll be fired, CEO tells workers

David Siegel, the owner of Westgate Resorts, sent a surprising email to his employees Monday.

It said that if President Barack Obama wins re-election and raises Siegel’s taxes, he will have to lay off workers and downsize his company — or even shut it down.

“If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company,” he wrote. “Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”

In a version of Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, Siegel added that “people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for.”

The points are ones that have often been made during this election. But what makes the letter surprising is the source.

David Siegel is the man who, together with his wife, Jackie, built the largest new house in America, known as “Versailles.” His story first appeared in my book, “The High-Beta Rich.” It then made it to the big screen with the documentary film “The Queen of Versailles.”

They became symbols of outsized spending, debt and real estate in America.

But when the company started buckling under $1 billion in debt during the crisis, the Siegels’ home went into foreclosure and was put up for sale. They cut back on the jet, took the kids out of private school and gave up some of their staff.

So why is David Siegel — a man who defined excess and debt in the 2000s — now saying that debt and spending are ruining the country?

I asked David and during a phone interview last night, and he told me that this was about his workers, not himself. He said his own finances have vastly improved. He has paid off all of his major lenders.  “I have enough money for the rest of my life and enough to leave a good inheritance for our kids.” He said the loan for Versailles is paid off and he’s resuming construction on the home.

“The elevators are going in and they’re preparing to put in the marble.”

The deal with Versailles’ lenders, he went on, worked out “better than I imagined,” since he was allowed to go nine months without making any interest payments on the loan. Jackie has several offers for a new reality TV show “which we’re in the process of ranking and evaluating,” Siegel said.

He has learned his own painful lesson from the debt crunch. “We cut back, we’re lean and mean. That’s what the rest of the country has to do.”

Siegel said he’s not acting out of self interest, but for the interest of his workers. While Westgate has never been more profitable, the company has 5,000 fewer workers than in 2007.

He said that if Obama is re-elected and imposes Obamacare and higher taxes, he may just have to let more of his remaining 7,000 workers go. He said he might even shut down the company.

“The combination of Obamacare and taxes would be a disaster,” he said.” I would probably just call it a day and that would be a disaster.”

Siegel stressed that he wasn’t out to intimidate his workers into voting for Romney. “I can’t tell anyone to vote,” he said. But he wants to make sure his workers made an informed choice. “I want my employees to be educated on what could happen to their future if the wrong person is elected.”

Below is the full email that Siegel sent to his employees Monday. (Siegel admitted to me that he used a similar email circulating on the web as “the basis” of his own email).

Subject: Message from David Siegel

Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 13:58:05 -0400 (EDT)

From: [David Siegel]

To: [All employees]

To All My Valued Employees,

As most of you know our company, Westgate Resorts, has continued to succeed in spite of a very dismal economy. There is no question that the economy has changed for the worse and we have not seen any improvement over the past four years. In spite of all of the challenges we have faced, the good news is this: The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. Of course, as your employer, I can’t tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn’t interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose. In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best.

However, let me share a few facts that might help you decide what is in your best interest.The current administration and members of the press have perpetuated an environment that casts employers against employees. They want you to believe that we live in a class system where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. They label us the “1%” and imply that we are somehow immune to the challenges that face our country. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, you may have heard about the big home that I’m building. I’m sure many people think that I live a privileged life. However, what you don’t see or hear is the true story behind any success that I have achieved.

I started this company over 42 years ago. At that time, I lived in a very modest home. I converted my garage into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you. We didn’t eat in fancy restaurants or take expensive vacations because every dollar I made went back into this company. I drove an old used car, and often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business — hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. Meanwhile, many of my friends got regular jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a nice income, and they spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into this business —-with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford to buy whatever I wanted. Even to this day, every dime I earn goes back into this company. Over the past four years I have had to stop building my dream house, cut back on all of my expenses, and take my kids out of private schools simply to keep this company strong and to keep you employed.

Just think about this – most of you arrive at work in the morning and leave that afternoon and the rest of your time is yours to do as you please. But not me- there is no “off” button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and you have a weekend all to yourself. I unfortunately do not have that freedom. I eat, live, and breathe this company every minute of the day, every day of the week. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. I know many of you work hard and do a great job, but I’m the one who has to sign every check, pay every expense, and make sure that this company continues to succeed. Unfortunately, what most people see is the nice house and the lavish lifestyle. What the press certainly does not want you to see, is the true story of the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made.

Now, the economy is falling apart and people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for. Yes, business ownership has its benefits, but the price I’ve paid is steep and not without wounds. Unfortunately, the costs of running a business have gotten out of control, and let me tell you why: We are being taxed to death and the government thinks we don’t pay enough. We pay state taxes, federal taxes, property taxes, sales and use taxes, payroll taxes, workers compensation taxes and unemployment taxes. I even have to hire an entire department to manage all these taxes. The question I have is this: Who is really stimulating the economy? Is it the Government that wants to take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who have not, or is it people like me who built a company out of his garage and directly employs over 7000 people and hosts over 3 million people per year with a great vacation?

Obviously, our present government believes that taking my money is the right economic stimulus for this country. The fact is, if I deducted 50 percent of your paycheck you’d quit and you wouldn’t work here. I mean, why should you? Who wants to get rewarded only 50 percent of their hard work? Well, that’s what happens to me.

Here is what most people don’t understand and the press and our Government has chosen to ignore — to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Instead of raising my taxes and depositing that money into the Washington black-hole, let me spend it on growing the company, hire more employees, and generate substantial economic growth. My employees will enjoy the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But that is not what our current Government wants you to believe. They want you to believe that it somehow makes sense to take more from those who create wealth and give it to those who do not, and somehow our economy will improve. They don’t want you to know that the “1%”, as they like to label us, pay more than 31% of all the taxes in this country. Thomas Jefferson, the author of our great Constitution, once said, “democracy” will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate business, not kill it. However, the power brokers in Washington believe redistributing wealth is the essential driver of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the type of change they want.

So where am I going with all this? It’s quite simple. If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.

So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn’t? Whose policies will endanger your job? Answer those questions and you should know who might be the one capable of protecting and saving your job. While the media wants to tell you to believe the “1 percenters” are bad, I’m telling you they are not. They create most of the jobs. If you lose your job, it won’t be at the hands of the “1%”; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country.

You see, I can no longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities. If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.

Signed, your boss,

David Siegel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by David Manning / Reuters

Pay It Forward

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With the seasons changing, I decided to take a vacation day last Friday to get some things done, especially since it was supposed to be a gorgeous day, followed by rain on the weekend. 

I started my day by taking the vehicles for an oil change and tire rotation.  This is something I despise doing because it takes an ungodly amount of time, but is necessary.  I go, I wait and wait and wait.  As I sat fumbling through an old magazine, I noticed a woman on the other side of the waiting room, clearly upset.  It all unfolded when she answered her cell phone and began spilling the whole car repair expense tale to her caller.  She began to cry, saying she had just bought this car a year ago and was assured “everything was fine”.  Yeah.  I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help but overhear the entire conversation, and the cost involved to get the car fixed.  I would have cried too.  Whatever her caller said to her took her from sad to mad in an instant.  She got red in the face, pursed her lips, grabbed a smoke and went outside.  I couldn’t hear her but I could see her smoking hand waving all over the place as she seemed to be yelling into the phone.  I looked around… is my truck ready yet?  No, of course not.  The manager was handed a clipboard from one of the mechanics and goes outside to speak to the woman.  She composes herself while he goes over the detailed costs of the new proposed scaled down version of fixes to fit her wallet.  He retreats back inside as she dismisses him with yet another cigarette in her hand.  She is pissed and about ready to blow.  I go outside, she ignores me and turns away.  She’s sobbing as I approach her.  She just looks at me looking at her.  I hand her the kleenex I grabbed from the waiting room and she starts to vent about the car, the kids, the boyfriend, and the bill.  I just listen and let her rant.  When she finally calms down, and lights yet another cigarette (geez), we start talking about life in general and the perils of being a single parent and car owner.  I could relate.  After about 15 minutes, my truck is ready and we both go inside.  While I wait to pay my bill I overhear the manager tell the woman she could get by with just repairing her brakes today and the rest could be worked out over the next month or so.  She seemed a bit relieved but was still squirming for $69.99 as she pulled out a $20 dollar bill and asked if he would take a check for the rest.  He motioned he’d be right with her and went to cash me out.  I added $50 to my payment and told the manager to put it towards her bill.  I knew she could use it and she was overwhelmed with surprise and delight.  She thanked me a hundred times and I just told her to Pay It Forward.  Help someone who’s helped you… it will come back to you, threefold.

As I got in my truck to leave a car pulled in and she went dashing out of the office towards the car.  She stopped me and handed me $50 dollars from the man driving the car.  I assumed it was her boyfriend coming to pay the bill, but I didn’t ask.  I told her it wasn’t necessary to pay me back but she insisted.  She seemed proud to pay it back.

As I went about my chores for the day, my mind wandered back to the woman I’d met that morning.  I couldn’t help but think of the irony of an incident earlier in the week where I was shot down, ridiculed even for “creating stress” looking for help with a family emergency.  You may not get the help you need from people you think will help you, but creating positive energy for those in need, at the very least, makes you feel good that you’ve done something to help someone along the way.  You just never know when a stranger is going to step in and surprise you with a random act of kindness.  You get what you give. 

Pay It Forward… It’s just good Karma to give back.

 

The Romney Factor

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I have never made it through watching an entire presidential debate on TV in the past because of the childlike street-clawing behavior that seems to emerge when each candidate is desperately trying to put down their opponent.  Last night was different.  The entire debate stayed above bar, on point and, although each candidate got facts about the other candidate across, it never got ugly or immature.  I attribute this to Mitt Romney and his characteristic code of ethics.  It could be that he is a devout Mormon, or it could be that he upholds a higher degree of integrity and respect.  Either way, I was impressed with the outcome of the debate.  I did notice that Obama didn’t look at Romney when he spoke, instead he looked at the audience.  Romney looked Obama square in the eye when he spoke, and it appeared Obama got uncomfortable and either looked away or looked down.  Weakness under pressure, never a good sign.  I did see one bauble with Romney, he called the Title One kids “poor”.  Ouch.  He quickly corrected his mistake with “low-income kids”.  If I were a parent of a Title One child, I would have been stung by that.  So far, I haven’t really heard any blabber about it with the media, so perhaps it will slide through unnoticed. 

This campaign is especially personal to me as I fall directly in the age group where I could be negatively affected if Obama wins.

Romney single-handedly diffused the entire debate by rising to the occasion.  Let’s face it, Obama came out salty in the beginning.  Romney didn’t take the bait, he cast a new line.   Hopefully he gets a chance to cast a new line in the Oval Office.

You have the right to vote people, take it.  If you don’t vote, you will have to live with the rules someone else puts in place for your future, and your family’s future.