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GP9Nov: Hiring Some Tough Old Coots

Give Youth a Chance. We hear that some impudent asked Senator Strom Thurmond about the advantages of turning 100. “Well,” he drawled, “You don’t suffer much peer pressure.” Nor does he have to suffer many imitators when he knocks off 25 push-ups on the floor of his Senate office.

Obviously the old Dixiecrat is just getting plain mellow in his old age. He’s obviously decided to make way for the young fellows. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, quenching its thirst at the Fountain of Youth, has put forward pink-cheeked kids such as Frank ADP Lautenberg (78) and Fritz-the-Ambassador Mondale (74), hoping to get them off the streets. Even a lot of politicians are out of work lately and feeling useless, terribly in need of a government handout. In this one respect, they are in tune with America.

Halloween Day Surprise. Just in time for Halloween, Execunet.com, an online recruiting service, sent out a bulletin entitled “Executives Haunted by the Economy,” where we learn that the white-collar unemployed are now willing to settle for less to get back on the payroll. We ourselves are receiving a flood of resumes--to include quite an assortment of chief executives--from people seeking a new port in the storm. In October, too, the economy lost jobs for the 2nd month in a row, with unemployment edging up to 5.7%. Our scuttlebutt from economists tells us that major corporations will be shaving another 4% from their payrolls over the next year in an attempt to sustain profitability. With gas prices at the pump up markedly from this time last year (see prices in yardsticks below), we can be assured that the recession has legs and will be playing in the theaters for quite a while to come.

Time to Hire. But we would claim that this is a great time to hire some sure winners. There’s lots of wonderful people out of work, just awasting. And there are a flock of very competent, dispirited employees inside enterprises who want to leave because they feel their enterprises are going in exactly the wrong direction. Are they beached whales perhaps: Churchills between the wars? Morale is in the tank almost everywhere. This is opportunity time for business visionaries. While many fire and retire, the strategically apt will hire quality people who are ready to tear out of the starting gate again.

My Losing Season. But who should you pick to put on your team if it will take a few years for the good times to roll again? We heard the answer on National Public Radio last week when a somewhat fatuous interviewer queried Pat Conroy about his new book My Losing Season. Conroy’s book has already been panned by a few reviewers (we bought it on discount), and we must own up that it’s a little long. In fact, he got to the heart of the matter more decisively and wittily over the radio. What he needed was a good editor for his book.

Two men, it seems, had a chance of ruining Conroy’s life. His tyrannical father was memorialized in The Great Santini, a novel later made into a very entertaining movie. And then there was Coach Mel Thompson of the Citadel. This coach broke the spirit of the 1966-1967 basketball team, relentlessly using negatives and scorn to enable good players to play very badly. Oddly enough, Conroy--judged to be almost the least talented of the team’s twelve players--was voted the most sportsmanlike and most valuable player. Because he stopped listening to Coach Mel.

This all came to a head in New Orleans, inherently America’s most hopeless city and yet its second most fascinating metropolis. After all, its other name is Bon Temps Rouler. At halftime against Loyola, Thompson lambasted the team again. Then and there, Conroy escaped into manhood:

 “As we took to the court for the second half, I made a secret vow to myself that I would never listen to a single thing Mel Thompson said to me again.”
“With this strange and disloyal insight in a gym in New Orleans, I think I was born to myself in the world. That night in New Orleans a voice was born inside me, and had never heard it before in my entire life.”

That’s what we’re looking for in our next employees. Those who have discovered their own voice in the face of adversity. In business today and for the foreseeable future, employees will get knocked off their feet by imploding markets, unstable bosses, and incredible inertia throughout the political realm. If you’re hiring, you’re looking for men and women who can roll with the punches and who are sustained by an inner voice that keeps them going, keeps them aimed at some distant goal selected by their own powerful intuition.

Voice of Experience. Of course, it helps mightily if that intuition is tempered by experience. In good times, you want kids in charge because they know no limits and will outrun old codgers. They are dumb enough to try new things, fly in the face of experience, and make the impossible happen.

But in bad times, you want fifty, sixty, and seventy somethings who have seen a bad time or two. They'll deal with the tough stuff, knowing that life goes on, no matter the calamity. And there are plenty of oldsters around to advise and act, since, as we've said before, the country is aging at a rapid rate.

There’s another reason for discriminating in favor of old guys and gals who are motivated by an inner voice. Education. Education in these United States has decayed so badly and so quickly that there’s a reasonable chance that you'll be hiring a more agile brain in the over-50 crowd, even if many oldsters are a bit illiterate digitally. The seniors got their grades in school by writing grammatically, doing their arithmetic on paper, and learning that history did not begin sometime after World War II. Rampant grade inflation mingled with muddled educational thinking from sea to shining sea, from Harvard to UC-Berkeley, have given today’s students fast fingers and slow brains. In other words, now’s the time to look for very self-motivated, literate seniors who still have enough get-up-and-go to add zest to your enterprise.

Best of the Week. On Halloween, last Thursday evening, the French suffered a tremendous loss. Lionel Poilane, who built a multibillion French bread empire, crashed into the sea, the helicopter he piloted downed on the way to his second home at Ile des Rimains. His very special bread combined tremendous quality with quantity, as his factories churned out 15,000 loaves a day. In part, his success stemmed from the fact that he talked with 10,000-plus bakers in the 1980’s: this marvelous piece of market research meant that he got his bread right. Quality, and his success, came from tapping into very experienced people in his trade. As he said, “The man with the best future is the one with the longest memory.” Poilane baked together intuition and experience, very much what we need in the present day--surely the recipe which will let the good times roll again in a world which is currently running in place.  We will have more to say about this astute pilot on the Global Province in future weeks.

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