Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
You people have a lot of questions this week, so about half of them need to wait until at least next week before I get to them. I’ve been at an indoor water park for the last couple of days for the girls’ birthday, and therefore don’t have time to work through all of your issues. An yikes do you guys have a lot of issues!!!
Both Daryl and Jenny have some marathon questions, which is going to cause me to go back into the vault and pull out some stuff I wrote several years ago. John Phipps is concerned with my personnel management methods, which is pretty fair. Prop Op wants to talk about counterintuitive wisdom, and then TJWFW has some questions about Quarterbacks who may or may not have threatened Stormy Daniels between Super Bowls. Which of course means I need to give you a little NFL draft preview, duh. After that, Musket reveals his true Bourgeoisie colors and threatens to literally charge poor people to pee...
Submitted by: Daryl
Did you attend the Boston Marathon this year?
Submitted by: Jennifer
Did you attend any marathon festivities this year and what do you think about the Boston marathon in general?
Usually, I try to take the kids over to Copley Square to try and catch some of the finishers. I have a couple of friends who are avid runners and run most years, and I normally try and go over to meet them at the finish. The finish of a marathon like that is such an amazing time for a person, and I feel like it always helps them to see a familiar face in the crowd.
And it is such a great event. In another forum, in the days after the bombing, I wrote this, which I think captures my feelings pretty well:
So, with all of that, no, I didn’t watch any this year, cuz it was diabolically miserable outside! 38 degrees, pouring rain, with a steady 25mph wind from the East (i.e. a headwind). The racing conditions were brutal and I almost can’t believe that there weren’t more serious medical issues. The main sponsor, John Hancock Insurance, invited 25 male runners (they pay appearance fees and expenses for the really elite runners) and only 11 of them finished the race! More than 50% of the most well-conditioned athletes in the world dropped out with symptoms of hypothermia and other related issues.
In a race normally dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, ONE east African male runner finished the race. Only four men finished in under two hours and twenty minutes...a tortoise-like pace for an elite marathon. In 2017, Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya won the race in a time of 2:09:37, slowed by non-ideal weather in the low 70’s. This year he finished second in 2:18:23...nearly NINE MINUTES slower. Women’s winner Desi Linden ran away from the field and won by over four minutes, despite running a time that was over 17 minutes slower than her 2011 second place finish.
So, kudos to anyone who ran, and I am sorry that I wasn’t there to cheer you one. But, like, I’m not crazy...
Submitted by: John Phipps
Fired anyone lately?
I haven’t, and I am starting to get the shakes because of it...so everyone at any of our portfolio companies should probably be on their best behavior. The ax swingeth soon!
To be perfectly honest, all of the investments that I have significant involvement in are going pretty well. No major performance issues, and the management teams are all pretty solid. I had to work through something of a crisis over the last few months related to a sudden health issue of a CEO that we had hired earlier last year after a VERY long search. Thankfully, the search this time around was easier and the new person is settling in pretty well and the retired CEO was able to come back and serve as the interim for a bit. That had me really busy for a while, but is pretty much over at this point. Also, we got an unanticipated and aggressive offer for another portfolio company last month that has alleviated the need to do a whole lot there…
So, my time lately has been spent on some different things that don’t involve firing people. And, you know what? It’s not so bad! But, I do have a couple of stories...one from last year, and one from last week.
First, we almost hired a new person last year at a pretty senior level. Everybody else who mattered had met him and absolutely loved him, and were ready to bring him on board. But, I still had to meet him before we would make him an offer (that’s how we hire people...any one of about 15 people has veto power). I had been out of town dealing with the aforementioned CEO crisis and everyone was waiting on me, so we carved out some time to have lunch for what I expected to kind of be a formality.
Now, if I have never mentioned, I am a tough interviewer (for people in senior roles). I try to make candidates uncomfortable and force them to answer awkward, sometimes unfair questions. I make my best judgements about people when they are off guard. My co-workers are fully aware of this, and had playfully warned this candidate that I was kind of a bitch.
So, there we were at lunch, past the basic niceties of Who are you? and Why are you here? and into the meatier part of the discussion, where I ask about failures that I am likely to intentionally exaggerate or misrepresent. And where he tried to buy some time by uttering “Wow, they weren’t kidding. I didn’t think someone this cute would be so tough.”
Obviously, I am pretty adorable, we all know that. So, it’s not that his analysis was wrong…but, to be kind, I have seen people handle tough questions with slightly more grace than that. It was pretty obvious, once the words were out of his mouth, that he knew he was in trouble, and I feel like I could honestly see him mentally trying to hash out “Do I apologize? Or do I just go on and hope she didn’t notice?” A nicer person might have tried to help him out, but I am not that nice a person...I don’t throw flotation to devices to people who are only figuratively drowning like that.
To be perfectly honest, if the rest of the team had really still wanted to hire him, I might have been OK with chalking it up to a momentary slip. Like I said, I intentionally challenge people and try to make them sweat a bit...making one ill-advised comment is not an automatic disqualifier of an otherwise strong candidate. I am the youngest, tiniest and (along with two other guys) the most junior person he met with, so it would have made sense for him to try and stall for time by noting that rumors of my interview style were accurate. So, maybe “cute” was just a bad choice of words.
Regardless, the partners weren’t interested after that, so his candidacy died right there...just like the hopes and dreams of so many other boys who thought I was cute…
Second story, much more fun! A different CEO from one of our portfolio companies sent me a proposal that he got for an official corporate volunteer program this week. I have spoken with him about things like this in the past (community outreach programs that serve team-building, marketing and employee benefit purposes), so he forwarded it along thinking I might be interested. He also wanted to note that it was written by a girl in their marketing department that they hired fresh out of college last year.
And it is...amazing. Like “Would be outstanding work for a team of MBA candidates at HBS” amazing. Like, including projected ROI’s for specific projects with specific organizations based on brand exposure, potential media coverage, etc., using some models and assumption they use for advertising and other marketing activities. And staggered schedules to accommodate departments that require coverage everyday and can’t have more than a certain number of people out at a time.
My second thought, after “Wow!” was “they are dramatically underutilizing their marketing associate”, which is a thought that the CEO had obviously already reached. Long and short, next time I am in their office (probably two weeks) the CEO and I are taking this unsuspecting girl to lunch (seriously...just because I have a flair for the dramatic, she is getting no heads up beyond “You are having lunch with the CEO and a representative of the Board tomorrow”...hee hee). He wants to rewrite her job description with the Director of Marketing to take a large part in rolling this program out, almost exactly as written, to the firm, and I want to shuffle her off to like half a dozen other companies that do or would like to do similar things.
And this will be one of the most fun things I do this year, because, even for a heartless bitch like me, giving people good news and telling them they have done great work is much more fun than firing them!
Submitted by: Prop Op
What's the most counterintuitive thing you've ever learned? (Or one of them, I'm not your supervisor.)
That chipping and putting is easier uphill. Seriously, almost everything in life is easier going downhill, except the short game.
The counter-intuitive feeling that most needs to be fought regularly by regular people in their everyday life, business and other pursuits is the idea of sunk costs. It permeates everywhere and leads to repeatedly terrible judgements in all walks of life. It is just so hard to emotionally admit that your efforts thus far (or investment or whatever) has negative value and that the appropriate decision is to declare your losses and move on.
This is true in business, where companies and individuals continually throw good money after bad money just because they are invested and don’t want to admit a mistake. They are hoping that their new investment will dramatically outperform their rational expectations in hopes that it cancels out a bad prior investment. And it rarely works.
It is true in public policy, often with disastrous ramifications. It can be expensive, like in massive Federal bureaucracies that react to failure by simply increasing the budget for the failed activities. And in decisions to send more troops and materiel into war zones because we have already sent a lot and it hasn't gone well. When Lincoln says “...that these dead shall not have died in vain”, he is in fact getting tenuously close to extremely dangerous ground. It is, on its own, the wrong analytical framework through which to send more people into a war and makes it entirely too easy to perpetuate a war that is unwinnable.
It is really, really true in investing, where most investors develop an emotional attachment to their purchases. Heck, I can sit here and write this while still holding the shares in Scorpio Tankers that I bought only because Hank Scorpio is a personal hero and I assume he founded the company. I know, rationally, that they made huge capital investments right before a collapse in shipping rates, and that they are carrying a debt load that will be very hard for them to service because of it...I mean, if you read the balance sheet and income statements of the last five years, you can’t miss it! But I am still not going to sell it...you know, out of loyalty to Hank.
Point is, it’s an extraordinarily difficult emotion to conquer, even for people who are fully aware of the phenomenon. Just think about how often you have heard someone lament paying as much to fix a car as the car is worth when it is fixed...
Submitted by: TJWFW
Why did Tom Brady confront Stormy Daniels?
You shut your whore mouth trying to besmirch Touchdown Tommy!!! He is a great American, a role model and very likely to lead us into an avocado ice cream laden promised land!!!
I think the sketch looks a lot more like Willem Dafoe, to be honest. It has Brady’s hair (or, one of his hairstyles, which his wife has noted change WAY more than hers) but the whole lower half of the face looks nothing like TB12 and a whole lot like Dafoe. Or, in my new favorite conspiracy theory, Daniels’ (ex?) husband!
In much more important news, we had a scare around here this week with the sudden news that the GOAT hasn’t actually committed to playing next year. With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo (you're welcome, @mrskimcam), there is no backup plan, so this is like a DefCon 11 event. THREAT LEVEL DOUBLE MAGENTA!!! Throw in questions about Rob Gronkowski’s future, and we may as well just give up and finally admit that no one likes going to Foxboro anyway, so we should just focus on the teams that really play in Boston.
Like the league-best Red Sox, for example!!!
Complicating the Quarterback succession issues here: the whole league is mortgaging its collective future to line up for shitty Quarterbacks in the draft next week. A really weak crop is going to dominate the top of the draft, and hopeless franchises like the Jets and Browns are going to hitch they’re wagons to questionable prospects like Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold.
And, let’s all just say what we know to be true...Baker Mayfield is far and away the best QB in this draft, and it is only NFL scouts’ irrational belief that being one inch taller would make him a whole different player that is making him drop to the mid-single digits of the first round. If there is a less creative group of people than NFL player personnel decision makers, I don’t know who it is. Rajneeshee fashion consultants, maybe?
Speaking of (and we are way off topic here)...I have some thoughts on Wild, Wild Country. Mostly, while Sheela is clearly a sociopath, Bhagwan sort of got railroaded, and the government officials come off as petty, inept, politically-motivated and really, really wasteful of time and money. Their willingness to bend the constitution to pander to popular demand is much more dangerous than anything Bhagwan preached. They spent years, millions of dollars and thousands and thousands of man hours to break up this “cult” that, when it really came down to it, were just materialistic hippies in maroon clothes that a bunch of old ranchers didn’t like.
The former assistant US Attorney that they interviewed a lot opens the series by calling Bhagwan an evil criminal mastermind, promises all sorts of evidence that he did all of these unconscionable things and then...they got him to plead guilty to encouraging immigration fraud. They state as fact that he knew of and coordinated Sheela’s crimes, and yet on the 10,000 hours of taped private conversations of his, they couldn’t actually find a moment when he did that? I’m calling BS on that. A couple rich, connected Oregonians (Bill Bowerman, mostly) had their friends in the AG’s office harass people that he didn’t like, continually escalate tensions and then nitpick a couple of minor charges to kick a guy out of the country who, when you get down to it, was kind weird and off-putting, but not all that harmful.
And then, here’s the real kicker, when he tried to leave the country ahead of an indictment, they chased him across the country, involved the FBI, FAA and local police in like five states, arrested him, unconstitutionally dragged him across the country for three weeks before putting him in front of a judge, and then threw themselves a party when they got him to...agree to leave the country. WHICH IS WHAT HE WAS ALREADY DOING!!!
They had one woman and couple of her close circle that tried to kill a couple people, trafficked in illegal weapons and committed a bioterror attack. They clearly had no evidence tying it to anyone outside that group, or else they would have presented that evidence. But, they were interested in making it look like a Jonestown-style mass brainwashing for the purpose of running a whole town full of people out of the state, so they spoke of a conspiracy by the larger group as if it was fact. Usually, in America, we don’t hold an entire town legally responsible for the actions of its worst residents.
Submitted by: Federalist Musket
How expensive are the bathroom tokens at your house?
I don’t charge people to use the bathrooms...that would be super rude! Is this how you greedy 1%ers get so rich? By leeching off of the activities of the working class, including the literal necessities of expelling bodily waste? This is the most heartless cash grab I have heard of since Brownskin Dave evicted a pregnant crippled single mother for being two days late with her rent right before Christmas.
For shame. FOR SHAME!
No, I am a woman of the people. More or less a resource re-allocating Bernie Sanders supporter and I let people use the bathroom for free* because I am not one to withhold basic human necessities in the name of evil profiteering. Using the bathroom is a human right, Musket, and charging people to do so makes you basically the same as a whites-only lunch counter operator.
*Free for anyone who I have let past the three locked doors between the street and any of my bathrooms.
Alex’s random old song of the week
The gross lack of Kendrick Lamar knowledge among my followers this week was really alarming. Even more alarming was the unintentional self-owning of all the people who think that “That guys is lame, I don’t even know who he is!” is somehow not an admission that they are pop-culture illiterate…
But, I have already given you Kendrick Lamar once, and I try to not repeat artists. What I can do, though is give you one of Kendrick Lamar’s friends, and if he happens to show up to hang out with her, then so be it!
So here you go, Swifties...T-Swizzle and Bad Blood.
In May, my wife and I will travel to Delaware to see our adopted son graduate college. He's not really our adopted son, in the legal sense. In 2012, my wife and I were living in Philadelphia. She finished her Masters Degree in Education, I was working at a large beer distributor. The path as an educator in a city like Philly is tough. It's not the cushy union job that we hear so much about. It's a thankless, endless grind where teachers are disadvantaged against students with no support. Teaching there nearly broke my wife. So she got out. She floated a while, doing different jobs in and around teaching, but not actually teaching. She tutored kids and worked in day care.
One day she got offered a job as a long term substitute teacher of high school science in a county outside of Philly. Her teaching experience in Philly burned her pretty bad. This school was still in a rough neighborhood, a poor one, and one that struggled with drugs and addiction. It was a long commute. An hour and half on the train. But she loves to teach. So she took it.
That's where she met our adopted son, Louis. Louis was in and out of foster homes. His parents were drug addicts. He struggled with anxiety and learning challenges, like dyslexia, and he wound up in my wife's class. It was lucky for both of them. Because my wife is a devoted educator, she spent hours after school helping Louis, and everyday he would ask my wife if she would adopt him. So we did, kind of.
My wife helped Lewis through his junior and senior year. She tutored him for his ACTs, worked with the school to make him a football highlight tape. Suddenly Louis is calling me on my cell, checking directions for his road trip to visit colleges.
He got several offers with financial aid and picked one that would let him play ball. At his high school graduation party we talked about college schedules. That year my wife and I moved out of Philly and back home. Louis went to the same college as his high school girlfriend. He lived with their family and they supported him. His girlfriend’s mom would send my wife notes and emails on how he was doing. Sometimes the anxiety was tough on him.
One day Louis sent us a pic of an old sports car he bought. He was working as a gym trainer, while focusing on his own physical and mental health. He earned it.
“Tell him I said to make sure he changes the oil in it,” I said.
“He says ‘Yes Sir.’” my wife said.
He's a good kid. Sometimes we wouldn't hear much. My wife would worry about him struggling or falling on the wrong path. Then she'd see a Snapchat video of him doing something dumb or rebellious and get nervous.
“Tell him I said to cut the shit,” I told her. She would.
“He says he was just joking around.”
“He better have been.”
In May he gets his degree. He's already been hired as an occupational therapist. He wanted us to be there, at the graduation. They grow up fast. Everyday I hear the whining of privileged brats telling us how tough the world is. Yet with every disadvantage, this kid finds a way. He earned every bit of it, and let us be a part of it. As for my wife, her obligation as a teacher was done when he graduated, yet here we are, four years later. It's just who she is.
A month ago, my wife showed me a video and it was of Louis giving an inspirational speech at his old high school. The same high school where my wife taught him. He says something like “Just because I have bad days doesn't mean I have a bad life.” He's so God damn smart. He already knows everything.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.