Friday, January 23, 2009

Would You Have Invested?

No, it’s not The Allman Brothers Band. No, it’s not a collective mug shot of convicted pedophiles and sex offenders. No, it’s not the Kentucky State House of Representatives. This is a group photo of Microsoft Corporation taken December 1978. There were 11 members. You’ll likely recognize the squirrely kid on the bottom left. This was taken just prior to its first ever $1 million sales year. Not long before this photo was taken, the corporation was faced with a difficult dilemma…find a way to scrape together $7,000 to cover pay some outstanding notes or go belly up and close its doors. They borrowed the money. Within months after taking this photo, all 11 members moved to Washington State to launch their new office campus where they would eventually change the world, one PC at a time.

So now the question: If this misfit brigade had marched into your company’s conference room looking like Jim Henson and Charlie Manson and had given a 15-minute pitch via overhead projector about personal computers shaping the future, looking for venture capitalists, would you have invested? I think not. You’d have covered your groin with one hand and called security with the other. But can you imagine what your life would be like now if you HAD invested?

The Facts: Microsoft went public in 1986. Initial Public Offering (IPO) shares went for $21.00 per share. Since its IPO, Microsoft stock has split 9 times. If you had bought ONE share on March 13, 1986, you would now have 288 split-adjusted shares. ONE share bought in 1986 would be worth $4,976.64 today. ONE share bought in 1986 and sold in 2000 when Microsoft stock was at its peak would have been worth $17,280.00. Just imagine if you had invested $10,000 at IPO. Sold today you would have $2.4 million and sold in 2000 you would have $8.2 million. InFREAKINGsane.

How many times have we made decisions related to business, education, investments, purchases, trust, or confidence based on the messenger’s appearance? If Microsoft had entered the building in nicely pressed suits, beardless and well groomed, would they have attracted more investors? YES. The instant I have to board a plane for a food show or client meeting, you can bet your sweet ass that I’ll be clean-shaven and fauxhawkless. But is that fair? Does my hair, scruffy beard, hoodie, and flip-flops make me a less effective salesman and communicator? Two quick stories…

One early-marriage anniversary I booked a room at Little America for Sherri and myself. I’d heard it was a very nice hotel, but I quite frankly didn’t think much of it from the outside. This is not the GRAND America mind you, but the old Little America. Part of the anniversary included a dinner at the Little America restaurant. This was clearly fine dining, even if the building didn’t suggest it. The house salad was an entire, uncut wedge of lettuce with a variety of odd trimmings and foofery. I’d never had to cut a salad with a knife before. While we ate I noticed an old man going from table to table speaking with the patrons, apparently panhandling. He was wearing a bizarre combination of clothing. Blue polyester pants…the kind that has no belt loops, just the button strap across the front. Terribly battered old-man pleather shoes that neither laced nor latched. And a lime green sweater that was so thin at the elbows and shoulders you could see his yellowing white shirt underneath. Eventually he got to our table…

Transient: What a lovely couple. How are you young folks doing tonight?
Me: Fine, thanks.
Transient: Enjoying your meal?
Me: Yeah it’s pretty good
My Head: This old freaker smells like rotting flesh and mothballs.
Transient: That’s wonderful. Well, my name is Earl Holding and I own this hotel. Please enjoy your stay and your dinner and feel free to notify me should you need anything at all.
Me: Um, ok.
My Head: Impossible.

For the love of all things pure and holy in the world, that was Earl HOLDING. The man that owns ski resorts, hotels, and SINCLAIR OIL. He’s the 59th richest man in the world according to Forbes, clocking in at just over $4.2 billion in net worth. And I thought he was a homeless man begging for spare change or a bite of my lettuce wedge? Earl Holding looked like a bum but lives like a king.

I did college the hard way. Instead of hammering it out when I was young I decided to play computer games ‘til 2:00 a.m. then sleep in my car instead of going to class. After many years of anguish and regret I finally got it done at age 29 courtesy of University of Phoenix. I unfortunately needed a humanities credit and settled for a Western Religions class. “Oh great”, I thought, “another godless philosophy nut to tell me my entire belief system is a farce.” My fears were confirmed the first night of class when I walked in and saw the instructor for the first time, sprawled on one chair with his feet kicked up on another. He was wearing very old corduroy pants and an olive green/burgundy plaid shirt. He had wavy parted hair down to his shoulders and a fairly rad Jesus beard. His style was actually fine by me, but the dude was wearing a Dallas Cowboys coat…so I knew he was pure evil.

The department head visited our class that night and welcomed us all. He issued a challenge. At the end of the five-week course we were to place our bets as to what religion the instructor actually was. Early on I thought it would be some Zen like eastern religion like Baha’i or Buddhist. Maybe Sai Baba. But as the class progressed I realized he was probably Christian and my mind finally settled on “non-denominational Christian.” It’s free, it’s easy, it’s positive, and it’s Christian. Two things were certain about this guy…all faiths were fair game. He respected and poked fun at all churches equally. And he was a fabulous teacher. Besides teaching he also worked as the chaplain to hospice and the draper prison, working specifically with death row and gang unit inmates. His stories were fascinating.

When the big final night arrived we were all anxious to get through our final exam and presentations so we could finally learn the identity of our unmasked but bearded stranger. People started randomly shouting out religions, “Methodist! Lutheran! Jewish! Atheist! Christian! Buddhist!” etc. He chuckled with each one and wrote them all on the board. After about 60 seconds of wrong guesses, someone in a back corner snickered and yelled out, “LDS!” “Ahhhhhhh”, the instructor replied, and wrote the letters L – D – S in big block letters on the board and circled it. He confirmed that he is indeed LDS and gave us a quick 60-second reason, essentially a testimony, of why he belongs to this church. Several mouths were agape. Here is a man that has dedicated his entire life to the study of Theology and Ethics in Theology. He studied in the Middle East, Cambridge, and exclusive US universities. And after twelve years of academic scrutiny this man had come to the same conclusion about faith that I had…minus all the study and dissection. This bearded hippie Cowboy fan was a dedicated and loving member of one of the most conservative, strict organized religions in the world. His name is Matt Fellows and he bore a strong, educated, enlightened witness to the truth of things that fellow academics routinely tear apart and curse as false.

I learned two interesting things from those experiences:

1) Books can’t be judged by their covers. As cliché as that may sound, it is completely true. A faded sweater doth not a pauper make, nor a Cowboys Coat a villain.
2) Books are judged by their covers. Everyone does it. It’s not fair. It’s ignorant and narrow-minded. But it’s true.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and first impressions are sometimes all it takes in a professional environment to make or break you. Earl Holding can afford to look like the Fisher King. I can’t. As sad as it may be, I need to keep up pretenses. I need to look like a million bucks until I MAKE my million bucks so I can finally dress and groom how I want to.

And what of the Microsoft Misfits? Collectively they built a $279 billion empire and changed the world.


Mandy said...

I am leary of investing with even the richest of looking people now.

Anonymous said...

I know Matt Fellow´s son.

We lovingly throw down on apostate doctrine at night.