Category Archive: “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum”

 “young man….I have a question for you…

The story began when a friend who had met me at a coffee shop shared a dream that seemed so real to him that he wondered if it had anything to do with Thanksgiving and gratitude; or, better yet, the lack of gratitude.  He was puzzled.  He remembered a sweet, older lady standing in front of him at a craft shop saying, “young man, I have a question for you.”

The backdrop to the dream was my friend was driving around trying to find out how to get rid of a picture of a one stem flower in a picture frame.  The flower was like a long stem blue bonnet (do they exist?).  He  had been to several expensive gift shops, they smiled and said, “no, I have not seen anything like that.  It’s pretty isn’t it?”

His thoughts were: this does not go anywhere in my home, I want to exchange it for something, even for something I can give to a friend.  And, no, in the dream, he did not know who gave it to him.

He ended up in a craft shop, perhaps a Michaels or a Jo-Anns or a small shop in Snider Plaza.  He really didn’t know.  He just remembered this sweet, older lady looking at the one stem flower, smiling and then saying:  “young man, I have a question for you.  Do you really want to give it away?  Someone gave it to you from their heart, didn’t they?”

May we always remember when someone gives us something from their heart.  That is what really matters, isn’t it?

Happy Thanksgiving….

 Burning up my sailboat motor…there has to be a parable in this story, doesn’t there?

I have a sailboat and on the back of it is, I mean, was, a 9.9 Yamaha outboard motor.  It appeared to be more than my boat needed but the original owner was at Lake Texoma and to me, compared to the lakes around Dallas, that is an Ocean!  I bought the boat with the Yamaha motor on it….it probably was worth more than my boat.  It weighs almost 100 pounds.  It requires maintenance from time to time.  And, when you don’t go out very often, you have to be careful about water or whatever getting into your gas tank (or snakes in your cockpit, which happened!).  You also have to worry about water circulating through your propeller into the engine to keep the engine cooled (I didn’t know that).

Several months ago, the motor was stalling and I went to the marine shop (they had tuned the engine three months before) and they said that I had not used the motor enough and should let it “blow out” for about 30 minutes….that varnish from the gas clogs up the carburetor.   So, I went back and tried to “blow it out.”  After a few minutes, it started smoking, shaking and died.  It would not start again.

I went back the following weekend and it still wouldn’t start.  Now, I’m irritated at the marina and I go to a marine retail outlet and ask them if they know anyone who can work on motors.  Ah, there is a new kid who just started his own shop, he’s good and cheap.  I got his address and after about 15 voice mails (that should have been a tell-tell), he called me back.  He said it would be a lot cheaper and easier if I would bring him the motor.  So, I went to my boat, and (by myself) lifted the motor out of the boat and almost dropped it into the lake…almost a 100 pounds, remember?  I somehow carried it up the dock and then up the pier and loaded it into my trunk.  I took it to the “kid.”  I then would call periodically and only get voice mail….and, then the call came:  the motor is burned up….water was not circulating from the propeller to the motor….would be better to just buy a new motor (that’s almost $3,000!).  No way!

I went into hibernation….and, then I finally went back to pick up my motor and it was in three pieces and had been raised with a fork truck into his attic.  He no longer had the fork truck.  So, each piece of my motor was lowered with a rope.  We put the pieces into my trunk and I asked if I could pay something for the trouble….he said sure, how about $75. 

I drove around and found another marine shop, went in and they said, “oh, no, we don’t work on foreign engines but the guy across the street does.”  I went over there and sitting in a cage, smoking a cigarette was a canterkerous, older man.  I told him my story (or is it stories) and he started laughing.   He started ranting about “sailors.”  You all are alike.  You go out and buy expensive motors and boats and you take them out, what?  four or five times a year?  And you let the gas get old and it breaks down and corrodes your engine…and you don’t change the oil…and you don’t change the filter in the propeller so that the water won’t clog and burn out your engine.  I protested and said that I always put STP in my gas and he started lauging again.   He said STP only helps if the gas is less than 60 days old.  He said I should keep about one to two gallons of gas in the gas tank (I always keep about five gallons) and then I should replenish it every 30 days (I didn’t know that).  He also said that even if I wasn’t going to sail very often, I should go out every week and simply run the engine (I didn’t know that).   And, during the winter, the motor should be drained and stored…..(what a pain!).  But he thanked me for coming by and said if it wasn’t for “sailors,” he wouldn’t survive (financially).  He laughed about all the sailboats at the lake that never went out and how many came to him and didn’t understand why “their motor burned up.”   

He now has my motor and (right now) thinks he can repair if for $350….we’ll see.  But, it’s been two weeks and all I’m getting is voice mail.  I wonder if he is still sitting there in that cage, smoking a cigarette and laughing.

As I thought about the cantankerous, older man, I started laughing.  How many times have I wanted to counsel someone, not in regards to a sailboat motor, but on how to do the the 10% to 20% of their business that they don’t know to do………

 “My most embarrassing moment with a new client and his banker…but it wasn’t my fault!”

I was really proud of myself!  I had just started my consulting career after years with General Electric, Frito-Lay, Hunt Electronics, Northern Telecom, G.D. Searle and Regal Cookware and had a new client.  My client was taking me to meet his banker in hopes of acquiring a line of credit. I met him at his office, was handed his Financials (prepared by his CPA) and we rode together to his banker’s office about five blocks away….

Upon arriving at the Bank, the Bank President escorted us into a small conference room and my client started bragging on me and how I was going to make a difference in his business management.  He went “on and on” and I was kind of elevated, if you know what I mean.   And, then….the Banker asked me a question:  “Tom, I was looking at the Net Earnings on the Balance Sheet and they are not the same number as the Net Earnings on the Income Statement…how can that be?”  (well, we know that those numbers are always the same….).  Never again did I simply pick up a set of Financials and hand them over to someone before I checked the net earnings on the Income Statement and Balance Sheet!

So much for being the White Knight!

Sometime in the future, I’ll share what I call “the bankers eyes” and once you work with a lot of bankers, you “just know” how their eyes go down a Balance Sheet and Income Statement; and, within thirty seconds, they know your financial situation and whether they want to work with you or just humor or patronize you.  The only thing is:  I already know.

If you need help preparing for a fateful meeting with a banker (or a financier), let’s talk.  I have some more stories to share with you….

 “Tom…the Internal Revenue has frozen our payroll account.”

I was consulting a sales organization in Fairfield, New Jersey and the phone call came that my client’s payroll account had been frozen.  It was Friday morning and all the payroll checks would bounce by the following Monday.

I called the Internal Revenue agent and we talked for a while; and, I could not get a release.  I even begged!  I then got into a Ford Pinto (a hatchback, no less) and drove to New Haven, Connecticut where my client’s receivables were financed (I hoped to talk him into releasing some of his reserve so that I could wire it to the IRS).  It was a lonely drive, full of anxiety and “if you don’t get a release, their employees’ payroll checks will bounce….”  It’s funny sometimes when you are a consultant; even though it is not your fault, you feel like it’s your fault!

The Financier’s name was also “Tom” and I tried to use that to my advantage…no luck.  But we did like each other and he respected what I was trying to do (help my client stay in business!).  I could not get him to advance any funds to satisfy the IRS; and, so I got on the phone with the IRS agent and we talked “a while longer”. …to no avail.  And, then, I lost it…I started crying.

And, then…. the strangest thing happened.  “Tom,” the Financier took the phone out of my hand and started yelling at the IRS agent:  “you’ve done it now…you’ve done it now….you’ve made a grown man cry.”

There is an end to the story and it is a good one:  “the IRS agent released the hold on the payroll account and the company lived happily ever after!”  But, frankly, I don’t remember why the IRS agent released the funds…whether because the Financier sent him money or he gave my client another day to solve its problems.  I do remember “Tom” patting me on the head and saying, “it’s going to be ok….he’s going to release the hold on the payroll account.” 

Have a good weekend. 


 He called me… “Mr. Tom”

Many years ago, I was employed as Controller of Hunt Electronics, owned by Bunker, Herbert and Lamar Hunt. The company included an assembly plant in Matamoros, Mexico (the Drive Inn was one of the great restaurants, even played Glenn Miller music).

I would take trips (and eat at the Drive Inn) to review the assemly plant’s work performance and audit the “into/out of Mexico cost-of-goods” so we would be in compliance with United States Customs Office filings.

I became friends with the Assembly Foreman at the plant.  One day, he drove me to the Brownsville, Texas, airport….

As I retrieved my bags, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mr. Tom, I love you and your passion…but please don’t forget to enjoy the moment.”

In today’s business world and social settings, it is easy to forget about the moment. We often prefer to look back to a better time or hope for a better time in the future. 

This reminds me of a concept I learned once, perhaps it was from Wayne Dwyer or Scott Peck, in their early years, who said, “we often go through life solving a problem, only to look for another problem to take its place.”

I would like to recommend a book that I have by my bed, “No Ordinary Moments” by Dan Millman. His premise is:  “in every moment, the quality of your life is on the line.  Life is a series of moments.  In each, you are either awake or asleep-fully alive or relatively dead… by treating every action with respect and every moment as sacred… (one will) find a new relationship with life, filled with passion and purpose.”

Here’s to you on a Friday afternoon…enjoy the moment!

Tom Irwin 

 Humming “Nearer My God to Thee…”

They may have sung “Nearer My God to Thee” when the Titanic was sinking but I hummed it when I left a client’s office at midnight and had to walk through an unlit three-story parking lot to get to my car and kept hearing “sounds”…

I was working with an ad agency, Larkin, Meeder & Schweidel, a spin off from GSD&M, in the late ’80’s and one night I left their office around midnight.  I walked over to a dilapidated parking lot where I had parked on the top floor (three stories).  What I had not thought of that morning (didn’t even realize) was there were no lights and no elevator to get to the third floor.  I started walking up the stairs until I heard sounds and saw lights that comes from lit cigarettes; and, then…coughing.  I backed up and walked up the car ramps to the third floor, giving myself room to run, if I needed to.  Yes, that song came to mind; and I did not realize how terrified I was until I got to my car.  I then said to myself:  “dumb…I should have taken a taxi!”