Past Midway

Ramblings on Business & Life

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Flying Through Space on A Rock

The big picture is that we are flying through space on a large rock. And while here, as a species, we come and go, generation after generation like fruit flies in a biology lab. Individually, we are each completely unique, yet we have at least one thing in common. We all pass, having a total duration typically less than 100 summers, as defined by how our rock circles a much bigger rock that...

Making Good Decisions – Advice for My Younger Self

Adults frequently inform students there are no multiple-choice exams in real life. They are wrong. Life is in fact a series of multiple choices. It just requires creativity to ask the right questions and understand the available choices, analytical thinking to reason through potential outcomes and intuition to select the best answer (because in some cases, intuition outperforms logic). You’ll...

Middle School Boys

When I attended Central Middle School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, our principal, Mr. Stockstill, called all the boys from all three grades (6th, 7th, 8th) into the gymnasium for a special assembly. An unprecedented move. Once there, we learned, in a bit of a circuitous way, that after-hours the previous day, two boys had urinated on the side of the red brick school building outside of the shop...

Integrity in M&A

This update points to a story I wrote on my professional blog. It would have been better on this forum, which didn’t exist at the time. Years ago, a defining interaction happened around a large conference room table as we were negotiating the final points on an M&A deal. This is a story of unusual integrity and transparency in business. It was a beautiful moment and I learned from it. I...

Efficient Markets, Pricing Anomalies – Chicken Little & Donkeys

When I was completing my MBA in Finance at the Stockholm School of Economics in the late 1990’s, the rumor was that one of our professors had discovered a pricing anomaly in the Stockholm Stock Exchange and had made a sizable amount of money in a pure arbitrage play. Because the details were scarce, I wondered if this was true. And, more importantly, why can’t this happen to me? It did. Read on…...

4-Plex – Worth It

Part 5 of a 5-part series… This is the final continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth, swarming bees, grow lights, electricity theft & spy cameras, the flood and termites. But there’s more to this story because… The value of the 4-plex was hidden, as are many things in life. Even though we had all these challenges (and more) with this...

4-Plex – Flood

Part 4 of a 5-part series… This is a continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth, swarming bees, grow lights, electricity theft & spy cameras. Same property. Water Damage We also had a flood. Not the natural kind where a stream crests its bank during a heavy rain and water creeps in the front door. No. We had the toilet kind. Overflowed for...

4-Plex – Grow Lights, Electricity Theft & Spy Cameras

Part 3 of a 5-part series… This is a continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth (Part 1) and swarming bees (Part 2). Same property. A resident called to tell me his electric bill was running $350/month. That’s way too high for a small 2-bedroom apartment. I agreed. The main source of electricity consumption is the air conditioner. We figured...

4-Plex – Bees

Part 2 of a 5-part series… (read Part 1) This is a continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth. Same property. Different day. Bees I got a call from the tenant in unit A. He said there were a lot of bees outside the main entrance and I should come take care of it because it was dangerous, especially for the kids. Nice of him to...

4-Plex – Crystal Meth

Part 1 of a 5-part series… I stopped to talk to a friend I haven’t seen in a while at the grocery store the other day. As the conversation meandered, he mentioned he was considering buying rental property. I had some limited experience with this and shared a few stories with him, one of which I recount below. 4-Plex On a whim, I purchased a 4-plex apartment building in Austin, TX. This was a dumb...

My Father Knew He was Fallible

For years, my father kept a slip of paper in his wallet, torn from a small 3 x 5 spiral notebook. On it, strangely, was a simple geometric sketch and a calculation of how far a 6-foot person could see before the horizon drops off due to the curvature of the earth. This is a curious thing to keep in one’s wallet. Backstory My dad and my older brother (a teenager at the time) made this calculation...

Mistaking Noise for Signal

Throughout human history, it has been important to be able to make quick decisions, especially if the outcome of a wrong decision might lead to injury or death. Consequently, our brains are pre-wired to be incredibly adept at generating predictive algorithms and generalizations from previous inputs (experiences), even if the data is incomplete. This is a legacy issue with our brains – that we...

Learning from Failure

While visiting family over the holidays, my cousin mentioned he most enjoys my blog posts about my pain, discomfort or failure. I’ve noticed a theme here. When others tell stories about their pain, the normal reaction is sympathy, but when I experience pain or misfortune, my friends and family have a good laugh and quite enjoy it. To keep my readers happy, the stories below highlight at least...

Being the Boss & Making Mistakes

Nothing prepares you for entrepreneurship like being an entrepreneur. As the leader of your company, you are tasked with articulating the mission, setting the overall strategic direction, ensuring successful execution and establishing & shaping the corporate culture. Simple right? But few of us are excellent at leading a company, especially our first company. As leaders and managers, we fail...

Humor as a Business Tool

This is sort of cheating, but I wrote this story on my company blog this past Summer. It’s better suited for PastMidway (but PM didn’t exist at the time).

Since I already published it elsewhere, I will simply provide the link to avoid copyright issues (with myself)…

Using Humor to Help Close M&A Deals

Party Like an Investment Banker

Let’s say you’re an investment banker or work in private equity and you get invited to a cocktail party. While there, you get the dreaded question, “What do you do for a living?” (because very few people outside New York understand what investment bankers do). Although I worked as an investment banker for Bear Stearns in London (back when that was still a firm), I’m pretty sure my own...

Robustness – a Lesson from Acoustics

It’s interesting what we can learn from just playing around in the lab. The thoughts below originate from messing with the equipment in the acoustics lab at Penn State many years ago. If you generate an electronic pulse X times per second and run this signal through a speaker to hear it, so long as X is below 20 Hertz (beats per second), you hear the individual pulses. You can almost count them...

Overthinking a Solution

While working on my Master’s degree in Acoustics at Penn State, our lab professor (we’ll call him “Dr. Dave”) wrote a computer program in C to randomly place students in different teams for each lab throughout the semester. This would prevent us from working with the same people every week. A high-tech solution to completely randomize lab teams for the whole semester at the push of a button...

Productivity

Do a little bit all the time instead of a lot some of the time.

Consistently making incremental progress is the most effective method to longer-term productivity. I have heard it said that we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term. True.

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Integrity

One of the great personality traits of my son (Soren) is that he always tells the truth, even to his own detriment at times. Example: We were riding in the van (Soren was 4 years old at the time). I heard some commotion in the back. Then Soren tries to tell on his sister: “Daddy, Svea hit me after I hit her first.” Clearly, he would have benefitted from a slightly shorter sentence. But I like his...

Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

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