Walking the Walk

“What have you done to increase your human capital today?”

This is a phrase that my friend Mike Miller and I coined while trudging through our masters degrees at Walsh College from 2004 through 2007. Human capital is a term economists use to to describe the set of skills accumulated by an individual, specifically those skills that are in demand by the marketplace.

Mike and I were both in the I.T. profession at the time, gainfully employed and making good salaries. And yet, there we were, once a week, sometimes twice a week at Walsh studying finance of all crazy things, specifically, personal financial planning.

First and foremost in our mind, we wanted to know how to do something other than I.T. just to broaden our job prospects in the future in case it ever came down to that.

Secondly, we wanted something that could complement our current positions and certainly the core financial classes in accounting, economics, financial statement analysis, fundamentals of finance, etc, can come in handy when dealing with our corporate “users”. We can speak their language.

And finally, on a personal level, it never hurts to know how to manage your own money and the specialization in personal financial planning provided us with those skills.

For three years while much of the country was glued to the T.V. to see who was “voted off” their favorite reality T.V. shows, Mike and I were glued to our books, to our computers and to the Walsh library. Many people would consider it torture. We considered it fun. We were increasing our human capital.

Sometime after graduation, Mike observed that the large, international I.T. company he worked for was laying off more and more people. He began looking for a way to utilize his degree and move into financial planning. If you know Mike, you know that the word “prepare” is central to everything about him. Finally after many close calls, Mike received word that he too was being let go.

Fortunately the severance he received worked perfectly into his plans to study for and pass the multitude of exams required by the SEC and State of Michigan in order to become a financial planner.

Mike stopped by my house last night, invited there by me to look over some life insurance questions I had. To watch him at work you’d think he’s been a financial planner his whole life. He is not only surviving but thriving in his new career and is on track to earn more than he ever did as an I.T. professional.

The purpose of this blog post is not to boast (or whine) about hard Mike and I worked, rather it’s to illustrate the way I think we should all conduct our lives. One does not have to spend money on tuition to improve your human capital. There are innumerable ways to do it if you’re determined. Every day we should go to bed knowing more than when we woke up that morning. Yes, I’d like to come home and relax and watch T.V. for four or five hours every night. And that might even be a great plan if “T.V. watcher” becomes the next hot career, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
In life, there are those that wait around, satisfied with the status quo until they become a victim. Once they become a victim there’s plenty of blame to go around: evil corporations, a bad economy, the governor, the president, the Congress… everyone except the one who’s unemployed. And there are those who make things happen. Mike and his family could have become just another “sob story”, the kind so frequently written about these days. But he took steps while he was working to drastically reduce the odds of that happening.Look, all the preparation and education in the world is no guarantee that you won’t become jobless. That’s not my point. My point however is that if you’re doing NOTHING to improve yourself then you have nobody to blame BUT yourself if you’re out of a job. If you’ve really made a good faith effort at improving or expanding your skills while you were employed and you’re still jobless, it doesn’t suck any less, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and say “hey, I did EVERYTHING I could to prevent this; it’s certainly not due to a lack of effort and preparation.”My buddy Mike refused to become a statistic. He worked his ass off, he studied the market and compared it to his own career likes and wants, he made contacts and preparations and when the time came, he activated the plan and came out smelling like a rose.

I want the very best for everyone. I want all the people reading this to never want for anything. My only question to you is, “are you doing everything possible to increase your marketability?”.

So, what have you done to increase your human capital today?

Sparky, I Hardly Knew Ye

Like so many, today I mourn the passing of Sparky Anderson, one of the great managers in all of baseball history.

In 1984, the Tigers were a meteor that shot out of the gate with an amazing 35-5 start. I am no statistician or historian, but I wonder if any other team in MLB history ever posted such a record for their first 40 games. That meteor continued for the remainder of the year, obliterating everything it its path. The San Diego Padres were nothing more than a sacrificial lamb and a mere footnote in baseball history that year.

When a pro sports team goes through a season like that, it carries a town. Especially a baseball team. I can’t begin to imagine the number of backyard barbecues, parties and other get togethers that summer where the voices of Ernie Harwell or George Kell weren’t present.

But imagine is all I can do…Sadly, while I can admire and appreciate how much Sparky meant to the Tigers and to Detroit, I understand it with my head and not my heart. That’s because I was serving in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987. I was in North Carolina up until June or so. One day over breakfast I read in a fledgling newspaper called USA Today that my beloved Tigers were 35-5! Wow! I immediately thought “damn! I wish I was there!”. Remember, there was no web, no smart phones, no MLB “packages”, no ESPN, etc.. It is strange now to think of how disconnected everything was back then. If a game wasn’t on national TV, there was no way to enjoy it… only read about it the next day in a newspaper.

In June, we boarded a ship and sailed across the Atlantic. In a bit of an unscheduled stay, we spent the next four months or so at the U.S. Navy base in Rota, Spain. Finally as the playoffs arrived, the Tigers’ games were carried by Armed Forces Radio. Every game night me and four or five buddies from Michigan would stay up to listen to the game. With Spain being five hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S., the games didn’t START until 1:00 AM. Those were some mighty tired days following a game.

Upon my return from the Marines, back in Metro Detroit, I did get to see the Tigers (and Sparky) win the A.L pennant on the last day of the season, wrestling it away from the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, I was at the game.

In the years that have followed, I have enjoyed three Pistons world championships, four Red Wings Stanley Cups, a U of M football (co) national-championship and a lot of success for the MSU basketball program. In 2006, I was at all of the Tigers’ playoff games except for Game one of the World Series. The highlight of that stint was being present for Magglio’s walk-off homer against the A’s to send the Tigers to the World Series. I was even at the game when Justin Verlander tossed a no-hitter in 2007.

No matter how glorious the celebration… the people old enough to remember always say “this is great!, but it’s not as good as when the Tigers won in 1984”. I am forever disconnected from my fellow Detroiters in that one special experience that bonds them all together as the city’s finest hour in their lifetime.

And so, all I can do is hope against hope that somehow the Lions can win a Super Bowl because I am sure that WOULD eclipse a World Series. I can also hope that I become a billionaire. Either one has an equal chance of happening.

Sparky, thanks for the memories, old friend. I sure wish I hadn’t missed the big one, but in due time, I am sure you and I can sit down, enjoy a root beer and you can tell me all about it.