Sold my parents’ house

It took a while, but my parents’ retirement home in Florida finally sold. I hope it gives the next owner a peaceful and happy stay, as it most certainly did for my parents. I hope it is as much a true “home” (versus house) for them as it was for my parents. I’m sad to see it go, and will miss the area they lived in – quite charming quiet little golf community near a charming quiet little beach with a more upscale charming town of Venice nearby. Charm like that is hard to find in big buckets like that.

My realtor was nice enough to clean out the rest of the house for me – what was left after I cleaned it over the summer (see post: and what the new owners didn’t want (they kept some of the furniture). And the closing documents were signed remotely, so that means the last time I will see that house was quietly taking a moment during the trip to clean it, and reflecting on 17 years of my parents in the house (plus three more years in Florida before that renting an apartment).

There was actually quite a lot of stuff left: knick-knacks, house supplies, tools, small furniture. My parents weren’t pack rats necessarily, but I reflect on how much I took out and how much I recall being left, and I’m thankful for my realtor handling it! It took me an entire day to do what I did last summer. They were definitely prepared, so my dad had a seemingly endless supply of light bulbs and they had their annual food store for a hurricane – canned foods and jugs of water!

One thing I’m glad my mom kept and we moved with her were a bunch of photo albums which included their time in Vegas but also their time in Florida. So we still have to fun photos of them on the beach, enjoying the sun, and golfing, and hanging out on their patio. We haven’t flipped through those albums with mom in a couple of months, will be good to do that again with her.

Memories are powerful, and in this case I reflect on my parents and their house pretty regularly if not daily. It is comforting to know they had so much quality time together and in retirement to enjoy each other. We can only hope to be so lucky in our lives.


business, leadership

Lessons from Dan Cathy

I had the privilege of attending the College Football Playoff Championship game in Atlanta. It was an amazing game, for the third straight year. I went as part of the NACDA (National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors) leadership event, where we pair the game with meetings and presentations from outside speakers, as well as for us catching up with other key stakeholders in college athletics.

One of the presentations was an interview of Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, by their Vice president of Community Affairs, Rodney Bullard. It was an engaging session, with Mr. Cathy providing lessons he has learned in life and business, tacking them directly and frankly, and being very open. Here are some takeaways I noted:

• Favorite quote: “I love competing against companies that know more about their financial statements than their recipes.” This reminded me that we must stay focused on what matters to our customers, which is our product. This was followed by…
• “Hospitality is the most important thing in business. Service is the differentiation point.” So in two simple sentences, I was pretty convinced I understood fully what Chick-fil;-A’s strategy is. I aspire to articulate my group’s strategy that simply.
• As you may know, Chick-fil-A is a family-controlled business and their culture is very spiritual (closed on Sundays, for example). It was interesting to hear Mr. Cathy’s take on that, and how it has led to their strategy and driven decisions they have made. For example, he referenced that they learned their service culture from scripture, in the book of Matthew chapter 5, verse 41. Most people (companies) will walk the first mile, and provide what others basically expect. But those who stand out go the second mile (Jesus walked the second mile with people). Mr. Cathy believes people of all ages and affiliations are hungry for hospitality, and that allows companies willing to invest more in service to excel. He mentioned his belief that service is the most profitable element of their business, because it doesn’t really cost the company any more for a staff member to go the extra mile, but the value in loyalty and return business is massive.
• Restaurant comes from a French word, restoration. Calories yes, but emotional/experience.
• Leaders lead – so wen there is a big problem (he referenced restoring the west side of Atlanta). Two lessons – don’t let things happen “on your watch” when you are big enough and powerful enough to do something about it. Also, build a team to tackle big projects, you can’t do it alone.
• He discussed vision and strategy, saying that vision needs to come from you as the leader. The leader should be captivated by the vision, it should have a sense of calling, the leader must be passionate about it, an inspired sense of where we need to go as a group. He also mentioned that he believes visions should be big, huge. “The bigger the vision the easier to sell to your team. Small dreams don’t inspire others.”
• Mr. Cathy mentioned that every year during the holiday period he travels to somewhere distant, and exotic, where he can have his senses engaged and reflect on the past year and plan for the next year. This year, he traveled to Tokyo, to think about how he could improve personally in 2018. I thought it was a great lesson for all leaders – if someone with as much on his plate as he must have still takes the time each year for this sort of personal reflection and development, then surely we should as well.
• Finally, Mr. Cathy spoke about finding common ground with others, instead of fighting over the things we disagree on. He gave the example of the LGBTQ protests several years ago, and how he invited the leaders in to discuss and find common ground, knowing there were differences in philosophy and beliefs.

leadership, personal

Checking in on affirmations for 2018

I feel like having a daily affirmation really helped me last year with my leadership and interactions with others. I dealt with a lot last year, but also realize that “stuff” won’t stop coming at me so I need to be sure to be disciplined about my leadership, to be ready for the inevitable challenges. Therefore, daily affirmations will remain a part of my routine for 2018.

But it is a new year, with a new one word and some new resolutions. So I want to be sure my resolutions have the maximum impact, and see if any need to be revised or new ones created.

2017 Affirmations 2018 Affirmations
Today is the day that matters. Today I will treat others w/ kindness, respond w/ patience and mercy, and above all clothe myself w/ love. I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others.
I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others. I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable.
I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable. Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them.
Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them. I will be disciplined. I will focus only on what is important, and help those around me succeed by allowing them to focus and execute.
I will ask, not tell: I will ask questions so others learn; I will not give them the answers or do the work myself.

I have tried to focus on relationships, given it’s my one word and a big part of my focus for 2018. The “positive leader” affirmation remains my most used affirmation, and the one I resonate most with, the one I reflect on when I get stressed in an effort to calm myself down, and the one I get the most response from others on. Finally, a new one around discipline around priorities and focusing on the important versus responding to the urgent.

The first affirmation does not continue, so I will have to change my pinned tweet. It was purposeful for the start of this journey, and made it possible for me to start in the right direction. But the other affirmations are more important now to keep me going and growing.

I’m contemplating adding one around my diet, but will wait to see how the first months of the year go.

business, education, leadership

Attending a conference

Attending a conference is a great privilege. A chance to learn valuable information about your field of study, industry, or specialized topic. A chance to meet a diverse group of new network contacts, and build further relationships with colleagues from your company or folks you may have worked with in the past. A chance to learn, hearing how others think, how others are tackling issues.

But attending a conference is not a right. You don’t have the right to party all night with the same crew you always hang out with. You don’t have the right to skip sessions with relevant info because you’re tired or you’d rather clear your inbox sitting in your room. You don’t have the right to attend without the responsibility of bringing the information back to your workplace and sharing with your teammates.

Here are a few simple tips to maximizing the benefit of attending a conference:

  • Sit with others. Assuming you go to a conference with one or more colleagues from your company, split up at all opportunities. Sit with people you don’t know at the opening dinner, or mingle around the room at the opening cocktail reception. Attend different breakout sessions than your colleagues so you get more educational information out of the conference.
  • Meet others. Bring lots of business cards. Trade them relentlessly. And follow up with the people you met where the relationship can benefit either party in the future. Make sure your business card is backed up by your story – an easy way to think about the conversations (especially if you are more introverted) is to focus them around the conference itself. So talk about why you are attending the conference, ask others what they want to get out of the conference, and generate conversations around speeches or topics you saw at the conference.
  • Share with others. Take lots of notes at the sessions. Make notes of the people you met. Make notes of the interesting products at the trade show. Whatever was interesting and informative needs to be captured. And more importantly, when you return back to work, arrange a brief session with your teammates to discuss what you’ve learned. And don’t just regurgitate all your notes, frame a discussion around key topics to get their input. Some of the things you heard could be game-changers for your company, get them talking about them, set some follow up action items to do more research.

Maximizing the value of attending conferences can benefit you and your team and your company. I hope 2018 is full of learning opportunities for you, including attending a conference.


business, leadership

Stop doing tasks

Have you ever noticed that when you take a vacation, or get pulled into a big project unrelated to your normal work, that the work still seems to get done? Did you ever switch departments in the company or even leave a company and stay in touch with folks, and magically that department or company is still doing fine?

 I noticed it again this holiday season, when I took some time off. I noticed I received and sent a lot less emails. Yet when I came back, we still had events, we still got marketing plans done, we still booked new programming, we still accounted for our operations, we still moved projects forward.

There are a few lessons in this, like humility, and recognizing that this works best when you are developing a succession plan and bench strength, to fill in for you during temporary or permanent absences.

The biggest lesson is not one I will spend time on here, which is to ensure the team understands the objectives and goals of the group at the highest level. There are plenty of writings on this you can check out, but it is critical to long-term success of any group that the team hears clear, concise and consistent messages around what we are trying to accomplish.

The lesson I want to spend time on here, is to stop doing tasks. What I really mean, of course, is to shift our time allocations from the tactical to the strategic. But what I noticed during my short time off is that tasks always seem to get done. Directionally, they get done on time and efficiently when the team has that clear direction I mentioned above. But even without that, any group that cares about their work will get tasks done.

Many leaders, including myself, have a hard time letting go of tasks. We still do too much work ourselves. We know we can do it better and faster, so we do it ourselves and miss the opportunity to teach and train and coach. This is a mindset issue, and is difficult to change without high levels of discipline. This is a great area to seek mentors and ask those around you to be truthtellers and hold you accountable – basically call you out for doing work yourself.

Many leaders aren’t great at reviewing others’ work. I was blessed to work in public accounting where you are trained to review others’ work, and there is a disciplined approach to work product review. This is an area where leaders can get training to build those skills.

Finally, we have to ensure that incentives and expectations are consistent and reinforced – that the strategic work we need to do takes priority over tasks. We have to be willing to sacrifice some near-term “success” (finishing a task) for the bigger picture and stay on track to move forward strategically.

Randomly, as I was writing this, I got to the chapter in the book “Winning Well” that discussed this very topic. The authors noted that the inability to delegate might be driven by control issues, belief the team can’t do the work, you get frustrated quickly when things aren’t on plan, or you feel like you are chasing the work when the team doesn’t follow up.  They then identify three possible root cause for bad delegation – you delegate process, not outcome; you don’t define the finish line; you don’t hold people accountable. I recommend this book for a variety of insights, but this one fit the theme for sure, so I will let you check it out and see their recommendations for overcoming these issues.

Please don’t’ take my post title too literally, but if you try to move your time and your team’s time from the tasks to the projects and strategic thinking, I believe you will have more success as a team.

business, training

Teaching finance to non-finance professionals

I have been in my career 23 years now. 21 of those years were spent in finance, and for the last two years I have been trying to apply my finance background to help grow our entertainment division and help us make better decisions.

During my first 7 years, I was in public accounting and did quite a bit of teaching, at new staff school and around the office. That teaching was to professionals who understand accounting and finance basics, and in most cases had recently finished their schooling where they learned these concepts.

When I joined MGM, we did a lot of training of our staff in my various roles, again mostly to folks who had a finance viewpoint. During that time, we started to realize there was a need to teach finance to the rest of the organization. So we built a training class discussing the basics of finance. It is about 3-4 hours, and has worked really well in many situations from HR teams to operating personnel to new hires into our management associate program. I am now looking to do a similar training (and maybe series of training) to my entertainment team.

I believe the key to teaching finance to non-finance professionals is a top-down approach. I start by discussing industry trends, not discussing finance at all. I want them to understand the business, of which finance is merely the scorekeeper and storyteller. I then spend a decent amount of time on corporate finance concepts, like capital, debt, valuations, analyzing industry and company financial statements. This gives them the linkage to how their individual/department/operating unit results roll up and contribute to the overall company. I feel like this linkage, and the attitudes and skills it should foster, are critical element to energizing operating units to make decisions that are best for the overall company.

I spend some time on key accounting principles or issues that affect them directly. And I like to discuss the structure of finance within our company, so they know the players and who fills which roles. Who can they reach out to when they have a question?

Finally, we work through two exercises to help them with their day-to-day financial acumen. We review an operating department’s financial statements and do variance analysis, ratio analysis, and analyze statistics. We also do some ROI calculations, so they can be aware of and participate in those workings when finance is helping them evaluate capital improvements.

We’ve gotten good feedback on these classes, the shared services center I used to manage still teaches these classes, including an all-day version for our management associates from all divisions, where they add in a CFO roundtable, and deeper exercises to understand departmental financial statements and financial decisions.

I feel like teaching finance to non-finance professionals is beneficial for both sides, and can help bridge gaps in communication and expectations as those two groups interact throughout their recurring financial reviews as well as during projects.

family, personal

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t at least take a shot at some commitments for the coming year. So here goes. Given my “one word” is relationships this year, we will start with two within that realm.

Hold Joyce more. My love language is acts of service (if you don’t know what a love language is, or want to know yours, see here:; so I don’t use physical touch and other physical signs of affection often since it’s not how I like to be loved. Joyce’s love language is touch, however, so this year I want to do more to regularly show her affection. That means ore holding – hugs in the morning, arms around her when sitting, arms around her when walking from the car to the store, she likes it all. So this year I will work to do more holding.

Be consistent with important relationships. I want to be intentional about regular interactions with my best friends, my closest colleagues, and my family. Much of this is time management – not letting other people’s fire drills become my mission, the urgent taking me away from the important. That will free me up to make regular calls, texts and time together with my friends and colleagues, and give me more time to spend with my mom or calling my brother.

Time management leads to the first of a few for personal growth, make time for fun. I think this year it would be great to read more, play poker once in a while, and travel with friends.

Finally, two for personal health. First one will sound perfunctory, but I need to lose 12 pounds (picked it just so I could say one pound per month). I’ve needed to lose 12 pounds for several years now, but every year that goes by without doing it I’m putting myself at more risk of something stupid happening with my health. So I’m going to get serious about my eating this year, and train for the half marathon again. I’m also going to take better care of my teeth – I’ve spent two years doing Invisalign (including one start over) to get my teeth straight, so now time to brush and floss better, as well as take care of my gums which have had some loss in health over the years.

I will be happy if I get 2-3 of these done really well. My hope for you is to execute on your most important resolutions and make 2018 a great year.