The official release date for Proving Ground is July 2, but I received my “test order” from Amazon last week. That means Proving Ground is officially “out there.” You can get it from Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, or your favorite local bookstore. And you can still order the limted edition hardcover version of the book from www.provinggroundbook.com. Enjoy the book, and don’t forget to give me your feedback–I live for that!Share
I am traveling this week, and hence am experiencing the delays, inconvenience, and frustration associated with “modern” air transportation. In the midst of my consternation, I recalled an article I wrote several years ago on the subject, when I was still living in New Jersey. I am reproducing that article here in the hope that it gives you a bit of inspiration, as it does me.
An Inspiring Performance
I recently returned from a trip to California. After arriving at Newark Airport, I got off the plane and began the long trek through the concourse back to baggage claim. Along the way, I noticed that the “moving sidewalk” wasn’t moving, and that one of the escalators wasn’t escalating. This is such a typical occurrence at Newark that I always make a mental note of it. I’m at the point where I would be surprised if I could actually get from the gate to baggage claim without witnessing some sort of major equipment malfunction. Each time something like this happens, I recall an experience I had several years ago at Narita Airport in Japan.
Narita is a huge international airport located outside of Tokyo, and it is one of the world’s busiest. I wouldn’t say that it is particularly beautiful or modern, but it operates with a cool and reassuring efficiency. I never saw a single piece of malfunctioning equipment at Narita. Every time I arrived there, my bags would get to baggage claim before I did. It’s a very impressive place.
On this occasion, I had finished my business in Tokyo and was headed back home. I checked my bags, passed through security and got on the moving sidewalk to get out to my departure gate. As I walked along the conveyor, a Japanese fellow bumped me as he ran past. He was carrying a briefcase that had metal protectors on the corners, and was wearing what looked like a blue leisure suit. I assumed he was a businessman in a big hurry to get to his plane.
I arrived at the departure gate with time to spare, so I decided to locate and use the toilet before getting on the plane. As I entered the men’s room, I noticed the fellow in the blue leisure suit standing at a urinal. His briefcase was on the cabinet next to one of the sinks, open. “That’s odd,” I thought. Then I noticed that the blue leisure suit guy wasn’t using the urinal, he was fixing it. His briefcase wasn’t a briefcase, it was a tool kit. His leisure suit wasn’t a leisure suit, it was a crisp, clean work suit. The urinal wasn’t the ordinary kind – it was the more complex type that would automatically detect when you stepped away and trigger a flush. It seemed that the detector wasn’t working properly, and the guy in the blue suit was working intently, and rapidly, to remedy the situation.
As I realized what I was witnessing, I was amazed. A few minutes earlier, this guy almost knocked me over on his way to the departure area, to repair a urinal! Then I had an “aha” moment – this was why I never saw any malfunctioning equipment at Narita Airport. The guy in the blue suit was personifying something I heard Dr. Martin Luther King said years earlier: “If you are going to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.” I was impressed, and I was inspired. If that guy could be so conscientious about fixing a urinal, I could be at least as conscientious in my own work.
I think about that guy at Narita every time I return to Newark Airport, when the moving sidewalk isn’t moving, and the escalator isn’t escalating.Share
On June 9, 2012, I was interviewed by Paul Bensman and Peter Perlman on Bensman Biz. The topic was Proving Ground and my entrepreneurship experiences. The interview was conducted by phone–the hosts were in Detroit, and I was in New Jersey, having just had a book signing party there the night before. It was a late night. That explains why I sound like I just woke up–I had!
We had a good, wide ranging discussion. Hope you enjoy listening. Click here: Bensman-Biz-2012-06-09-tarver
Audio provided courtesy of Bensman Biz.
David Tarver appeared as a guest on the Brenda Perryman Show, TV33 WHPR Detroit, on June 1, 2012. This was the morning after the Proving Ground book party in Birmingham. Ms. Perryman and David discussed Proving Ground and related topics. Duration: approximately 22 min. (Video courtesy of Michelle Wyche Watson).
Don’t have time to read the book? Here are the 60 most frequently occurring words in the text. Hmmm…what does THAT mean?Share
I posted below a photo album containing pictures from all the recent Proving Ground book events. Thank you for coming out! Enjoy the pics.
Successful book release party in Fair Haven, New Jersey last night. More about that soon. Sitting in Zebu Forno in Red Bank with web guru Allan Portera planning and scheming.Share
I have watched with amusement in recent days as politicians and media pundits have argued over whether Mitt Romney’s experience as a private equity guy at Bain Capital qualifies or disqualifies him for the Presidency. This discussion is all the more personal because Mitt and I have a few things in common. For one thing, he spent his high school years at Cranbrook Institute—where he is now famously accused of pilfering the hair from a somewhat less assertive classmate. No, I didn’t attend Cranbrook—I attended the much less exclusive Flint Central High School—but I do now live a stone’s throw from Cranbrook, and can therefore understand how a graduate of that fine institution might emerge with, shall I say, a loftier perspective than most.
The other thing Mitt and I have in common is private equity, also variously referred to as venture capital or “vulture capital.” Mitt was the impresario of a successful private equity company, Bain Capital. I was CEO of a company that entertained an offer from such a firm.
Here’s how it went down: In the mid-90s, I was ready to sell my company, Telecom Analysis Systems, which I had started with two buddies in my basement some twelve years earlier. One of the better offers we received was from a private equity firm (not Bain Capital). Their offer? Millions in cash in return for a controlling stake in the company. It was an enticing offer, but after pondering it for a day or so, I refused. Why? Because they intended to fund the purchase mostly by borrowing money against my company’s assets and earnings. That meant that if our business experienced a downturn (and we had just experienced one in the early 90s), the company might not have the resources to dig its way out. The employees who had helped us build our company might be out on the street. Our legacy, the business we had worked so hard to build, might cease to exist. My buddies and I decided to keep looking.
Ultimately, we went with a different buyer—one that paid cash for 100% of our company. The buyer also committed to using their own resources to grow the company. That acquisition took place nearly seventeen years ago. Today, my former company’s sales are more than ten times what they were when we sold. The number of employees has more than doubled, and most of the employees we were so concerned about have prospered.
So what does all of this say about Mitt, and about private equity? Not much. Had we accepted the private equity firm’s deal, we might ultimately have made much more money, or we might have gone down in flames when the tech bubble burst in 2000. Had the latter occurred, it wouldn’t necessarily have been the private equity firm’s fault, because it takes two to tango—them to offer the deal, us to accept it. I didn’t see the private equity guys as evil—they were merely pursuing their own financial interests, and those of their investors. We had to be the ones who protected our interests, and those of our employees.
So does Mitt’s experience qualify him to be president? In my opinion, no. On the other hand, it doesn’t disqualify him either. It seems that this year, we will be asked to determine who will be the best CEO-in-Chief, Community-Organizer-in-Chief, and Commander-in-Chief. The President of the United States must be all of the above.Share