Friday, December 27, 2019

Thomas W. Jones on From Willard Straight to Wallstreet and What Happened at Citigroup

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir.

“Give yourself a personal gift of 100% effort to achieve your highest potential.” ~Thomas W. Jones

Citigroup had entered a contract related to mutual funds, and the Securities and Exchange Commission had claimed that the contract concerned wasn’t fully properly disclosed to the mutual fund board. The Citigroup legal department had vetted the contract in all details, and while Citigroup settled the complaint, they didn’t include the otherwise usual provision that the senior management group concerned was also included in the terms of settlement. The SEC took this to mean that Citigroup had investigated the matter and concluded that the senior managers were at fault, hence the lack of inclusion of the senior managers in the terms of settlement - something which Tom remarked was “cynical” of then-CEO Charles Prince. This resulted in the full force of the federal government, through the SEC bringing charges against him, being brought on Thomas, and Thomas, rather than settle, spent eight years clearing his name. This process cost “millions” of dollars, and Thomas pointed out that the cost of his defense will not be recovered. He noted that, while the case against him was ongoing, he wouldn’t be able to hold a senior job in a regulated industry if one was in a fight against the regulating body, and that he chose to fight the charges because he was right and because he didn’t want those whom he worked with to think that there was anything shady about him. As he wasn’t employable, he thus needed to find a way to generate the funds needed for his legal defense as well as to support his family.

Thomas has noted that the way corporate America has changed since the 1970s, when he began working. As an example of this, Thomas notes that the CEO of General Electric, in the 1970s, retired with a package worth $10 million (around $50 million in today’s money); today, that CEO will retire with a retirement package worth $1 billion, and this cascades down the line, with the second in line getting a half billion dollar retirement package, the third in line getting a quarter billion dollar retirement package, and so on. He notes that this means that most of a company’s wealth is tied up with the top executives, and recalls that, in the 1970s, people viewed joining a major company to be a lifetime career move, with generous retirement and medical benefits. Thomas remarks that, in the 1970s, during a time which he called a period of “benevolent capitalism,” companies structured their guaranteed retirement packages so that retirees got around 65% of their working salary. All this changed, he notes, in the 1980s, when corporate raiders would buy and then control companies and then increase the companies’ cash flow by stripping out the costs (which included medical and retirement benefits and jobs) and then reselling those companies at a higher value, thanks to the apparent increased profitability of the company due to its increased cash flow. This led to later CEOs getting a mentality of wanting to cut costs wherever possible, and this shows itself in today’s environment, where retirement benefits are no longer fully funded by a company and medical benefits are greatly reduced. According to Thomas, this has resulted in a fear of people are able to keep up, and is a source for millennial thinking that capitalism isn’t the way to go, and perhaps socialism is. (In some comments made after the interview, Thomas remarked that the era of benevolent capitalism began after the Great Depression, when those in power realized that the common people had lost faith in the capitalist system and were likely to turn to socialism and communism.) He also notes that this has led to the transactional nature of work at present, which then breeds insecurity and which creates to tone of politics and the angry discourse that is prevalent today.

Where racism is concerned, Thomas notes that, at the present, the amount of progress that has been made isn’t front and center, whereas the issues that still need to be addressed are. He notes that there is still discrimination and believes that racist crimes, while these still do occur, are far less frequent now compared to fifty or a hundred years ago, as well as notes that the police back then weren’t punished for their actions. “It’s not perfect,” he notes, “but it’s moved in the right direction,” pointing out that people from non-white groups are now members of the middle class, thanks to this progress. Thomas also adds that the quality of education also plays a role in opportunities for everybody, but that, under the present system, as education is funded by local property taxes, those communities which collect a lesser amount of property tax will have fewer resources available for education that those which can collect more from their property taxes. This would explain why wealthier people, who cluster into higher-income communities, can afford good public education systems for their children, while those from lower-income communities cannot; and this means that children from the latter communities aren’t as prepared as those who come from the former communities.

Thomas has an investment fund which invests in startup businesses, and he enjoys being involved in this because of the energy and creativity of the people who are starting up new businesses. “This entrepreneurial energy is the secret sauce that makes America more successful than any other country around the world,” he notes. His fund identifies if a would-be business has a product that can solve a particular problem, as well as any added value when this product is applied and the size of the market. The revenue that can be generated is also considered, and the startup company is thus set up in a way where it can make the most impact.

Thomas emphasizes that the United States has come so far, as a country, from where it used to be, and while it should recognize that there is still some issues that need to be resolved, all should be proud of what has come out. On a personal level, he notes that the discipline of doing one’s best, of giving 100% every day, enables self-actualization, where one achieves one’s full potential. “You’re the only person who can do that,” he remarks.

Purchase from Amazon: 
From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir by Thomas W. Jones

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Marni Jameson on Downsizing the Blended Home (for when two households become one)

In this interview, Marni Jameson talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Donwsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One.

“I don’t write because I know all the answers; I write because I want to find out.” ~Marni Jameson

Marni began writing about home design around twenty years ago. In addition to writing a blog about what was going on in her life, she is also a syndicated home and lifestyle columnist. She was always interested in doing home design, but originally didn’t know how to approach doing so. As a journalist, she then began asking people how to do various things related to home design, and this came in handy after she and her first husband broke up, when she became a home stager, which is someone who lives in, and dresses up, a house which would be put on sale. According to Marni, a well-presented house, which is what a home stager works to create, sells faster and for more money. She staged six houses in four years, and the experience helped her out when setting up her own household after her second marriage.

Marni’s parents were moved to an assisted living facility some years back and she blogged about how “heartbreaking” it was to clear out the family home, working to be respectful while, at the same time, deciding on what to throw or give away. It was also around this time when she likewise downsized her own home, as her marriage at that time was unwinding. And after she married her present husband the two needed to blend their households, and this experience led her to writing Downsizing the Blended Home.

A blended household is a household where both partners come from previously established households. (Marni, after the interview, mentioned that: more than 60% of homes in the United States have stepchildren; in one out of five marriages in the United States, both partners have been married before; and in two out of five marriages in the United States, one partner has been married before.) Marni referred to some of her clients who created blended homes, and while most of these did work, some did not, because of the issues related to creating a blended home. She also remarks that she talks to such people as psychologists and designers to make her work stick.  Marni admits that she had her own challenges when creating a blended home with her present husband, as she needed to create a house that represented the both of them, rather than just herself.

Marni remarks that people get attached to the things they have collected over their lives, and when creating a blended home, both partners can get “contentious” about what to keep and what to release; as she notes, “The fight about the coffee table isn’t about the coffee table.” The goal, Marni notes, is for both people, and their pasts, to be respected in the new house, so that the house doesn’t become a shrine to the past and has space for the future. One partner capitulating to the other doesn’t work, as the capitulating partner will come to a home where he or she feels that something is missing. This means that both partners have to agree on what they are trying to create, together, particularly when it comes to listening to each other.

“Something’s got to give when two people move in together,” Marni notes, and the concern is for people to give up half a house each, and this requires a lot of bending and giving, rather than digging in, which can damage the relationship. She remarks that, for newly-blended newlyweds, it’s best to start by looking for neutral territory where design is concerned, as well as identify one’s own personal style. Marni then gave an example of a design style which would speak to both partners, after which she stressed the importance of sticking to that new style. Both partners should then pick around five items of their own which are non-negotiable, which are that person’s anchor pieces which would represent the person in their new home. Everything else then becomes neutral, and anything then purchased should support the new style.

Marni notes that she has never had “giver-up” remorse over anything, thanks to her experiences, and has learned that, if one hangs on to the past, one leaves no room for the future. She notes that adults being attached to things is the very same thing as children being attached to transitional objects - items which serve as intermediaries for the love and security of their parents or caregivers. Items become endowed with meaning and stories, and it is actually the stories that people have trouble giving up, rather than the item associated with the story. Identifying the story and creating ways to keep the story alive without the actual item itself, such as taking a picture of the item, helps people move on and release things. “If everything’s important, nothing is important,” Marni notes, adding that this kind of attachment is what has created the “epidemic” of storage lockers in the United States.

Marni surveyed bookstores to discover that there wasn’t much by way on the topic of creating a blended household, although there were several which covered the topic of blended families, and this was the reason behind her writing Downsizing the Blended Home. She contacted experts to make sure her work was as accurate as possible, and from these has gotten advice which she has applied to her own life. She admits to undershooting her own expectations when she and her husband set up their first blended home, as it didn’t allow her to be able to invite their offspring for gatherings, so she can create relationships which can cover future generations.

For those setting up a blended household, Marni recommends agreeing on a style, then communicating honestly with each other about what will go into that space they will create. “There’s a lot of security in the smaller items,” she adds, noting that everyday items which are touched daily are just as important as the large, obvious pieces. She also notes that people should remember that the relationship comes first, and that the blended household is what the couple is becoming, rather than being who they once were. Marni also remarks that couples actually need to give up more than half a house, as space needs to be created for the future, and recommends getting rid of any beds.

Purchase from Amazon:
Downsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One by Marni Jameson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. on their Book, Four Days with Kenny (who is partly deaf and blind)

In this interview, Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about their book, Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body.

“Look at the mirror. You are the greatest hero you could ever meet. You are. Not those around you.” ~Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.

(Explanatory Note: Kenny Tedford, Jr., while in utero, experienced oxygen deprivation, which has resulted in him being deaf in both ears, legally blind in one eye and being cognitively impaired. The reason that Paul repeated questions to Kenny throughout the interview was because Kenny was more familiar with reading Paul’s lips than those of the interviewer’s.)

Kenny Tedford (left) with Paul Smith (right).
Kenny’s parents had nine children, and Kenny was the only one with issues, as he was born two months premature, as he was taken out once his doctors realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. His parents died when he was eight, when he then lived with his uncle and aunt. Just about everyone around him - his uncle, his teachers, the school principal, his childhood psychiatrist - said that he wouldn’t amount to anything. As he was deaf, it was easy for other kids to jump him, and he became the target of bullies due to his conditions. As a teenager, Kenny wrestled, did gymnastics and played football. He learned sign language only at the age of 21, and he remarks that who he is now is essentially his “inner child,” as being a grown up man “doesn’t seem to work.”

Kenny mentioned a story of being called “retarded” when he was in high school, and he didn’t know what the word meant. Two of his friends took exception to that and held down the boy who called Kenny retarded so Kenny could beat him up. Kenny was somewhat puzzled by that, as the boy had insulted him, rather than his two friends, and Kenny figured that, if he was insulted, he should be the one to act on his own. “If I don’t understand what you say or do to me, why should I get mad, ‘cause I don’t know what you’re doing,” Kenny sums up.

Kenny related that one of the incidents that got him started on the road to becoming a storyteller took place in second grade, when he and his classmates were given crayons and told to draw something. Kenny was only given two or three colors of crayons, while his classmates were given twenty-four colored crayons. Kenny’s pictures with the three crayons weren’t that good, but when he was finally given twenty-four crayons to work with, Kenny was able to draw better pictures. One of these was a picture of a butterfly with a woman on it, and when the psychologist asked him who the woman was, Kenny told him that the woman was his mother who would fly around and tell the teacher to give him an A instead of a D. This story was one of the first Kenny began telling, and he’s been telling stories ever since.

Where Paul is concerned, what he got from Kenny’s crayon experience was that, given the proper tools, anyone can create work that would amaze others.

As a child, members of his family would tell him how funny he was, and it took Kenny some time to realize that, instead of laughing at him, people were laughing with him, and his becoming a storyteller grew from there. Kenny also ventured deeper into storytelling by getting a master’s degree in it at the age of 55, and is presently only one of two deaf people to hold such a degree. He got interested in getting a master’s degree in storytelling after getting a bachelor’s degree in theater, when he heard about it from acquaintances, and he had a lot of fun going through the program. Kenny admits that he doesn’t have a particular process for creating his stories, which led to challenges while he was taking up his master’s degree. Instead, Kenny remarks that all he essentially needs to do is to read a story once, after which he can perform that story, with all its characters which, he notes, is different from the way a lot of people approach storytelling as, with the latter, research can be involved.

Although Kenny is deaf, he does get feedback for what he does and what he says from the way the audience reacts, as it does whenever he tells a story. Paul then remarked that Kenny is so good at touching the audience that he, Paul, is professionally jealous. “People like me, but they love him,” Paul jokingly remarks.

Kenny also points out that people aren’t what they have, giving an example from his own personal experience: “I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t have me.” “It’s not what happened to me, but how I respond to that,” he adds.

For Paul, the elements that make a story worth telling or listening to are: a hero to care about, a villain to be afraid of and an epic battle between them - in more business-friendly language, a relatable main character; a relevant challenge that someone listening might find himself facing someday; and and honest struggle. For Kenny, it’s all about sharing himself, “opening up my heart,” as he calls it, as well as telling the story with love and compassion.

Paul and Kenny got together when they were speaking at the National Storytelling Conference in Covington, Kentucky, in June 2012. They had been speaking in different rooms, and one time, after they had presented, Paul and Kenny wound up sitting right next to each other, with Kenny’s sign language interpreter telling the latter what was going on. Paul was intrigued by the thought of a deaf person coming to a storytelling festival, and it was after lunch that same day that their relationship started.

Kenny admits that he included a lot of trauma and secrets in the book, so much so that he hopes that he’ll “still have family for Christmas.” He also remarks that, with the book, he and Paul are giving the readers the tools they need to be able to live their lives with the same kind of cheer that he does. “I am like I am because of my father,” Kenny further explains. “He loved me as his son, not a disabled son or a handicapped son.”

Paul remarks that Kenny is one of the most unique individuals that he’s met, particularly given how positive Kenny is after experiencing things that Paul admits would have made him bitter. His curiosity about how Kenny could maintain his optimistic outlook was one of the reasons he co-authored the book. Paul also notes that Kenny was agreeable to writing a book, as the latter had always wanted to get his story told, but didn’t know how to write (which Paul knew how to do), so the collaboration worked out well for both of them. Paul also acknowledged that, at the start of the project, he had a mindset which a scientist studying a subject so he can write Kenny’s life story. He quickly discarded that mindset when, after two or three interviews, he realized that he was learning a lot from the disabled Kenny, rather than the latter learning from the able-bodied Paul, during the process.

The title of the book came from the four days that Kenny and Paul spent together, writing it out, during which time the two sat and traded stories “from eight in the morning until six at night.” The idea was Paul’s, and Kenny admits that he thought the idea “insane.” That said, the process worked, and Kenny got another good story out of it when Paul’s son gave Kenny some insight into how a child would see him. Paul’s then-nine-year-old son had to read a book and write a report on it, then create a cereal box, complete with pictures and stories from the book all around it. The boy chose the book Paul and Kenny were writing (the first draft had been finished by then), and after presenting it in class the boy then kept it in his room until he gave it to Kenny.

Kenny hopes the book will help people learn to love themselves, admitting that it’s not easy to do that. “But if I can do that, there’s hope,” he remarks. Kenny also notes that 98% of all parents with deaf children do not know sign language, which results in the deaf children growing up lonely, as they exist in a silent world. Where Paul is concerned, he points to the 27 different life lessons which are listed at the end of the book, with half of these being for people with disabilities and the other half being for the members of the families of such people.

Kenny gave an example of how he views people by telling a story about a wheelchair-bound friend named Marty. Kenny told of a time when he through a door ahead of Marty and wound up closing the door in front of him, as Marty being wheelchair-bound isn’t in the forefront of his thoughts. Kenny only then realized that Marty was left outside in the rain and hurriedly opened the door so Marty could get in. Once inside, Marty then turned his head and began talking to the people around them. Kenny then noticed the people around them laughing, and when he asked what was going on, he was given the reply: “Marty’s making fun of you.”

“I can’t read your lips!” Kenny then complained to Marty.

“That’s because you slammed the door in my face,” Marty then replied.

“Don’t look at someone as if they have a disability,” Kenny then emphasizes, adding that, if a disabled child does something wrong, then he or she should be corrected just like any other child.

“Love yourself,” Kenny gives as advice to those who might be in the same situation as himself. “Just be you.” He also adds for people to be around positive people and get away from the naysayers. “Believe in yourself,” he adds. “Every time you look in a mirror, you’re somebody.”

Purchase from Amazon: 
Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body by Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.