Saturday, May 12, 2018

Business Bio by Alexis Ohanian

I think our children can benefit from the biographies of businessmen.  Alexis Ohanian is an internet millionaire who wrote a book describing how he got rich:  Without Their Permission.  I read it and shared the highlights with my son, which I share now with you so you can share them with your children.

He chose to go to school out of state, going to the University of Virginia instead of going to school in Maryland.  He started a business, Reddit, with his room mate Steve.

Here are the key points: (1)  His room mate Steve had the technical skills to code the website and Ohanian did not have those skills.  (2) Steve did not throw Ohanian over-board like Mark Zuckerberg disposed of so many people.  (3)  Ohanian made the contributions he could, like drawing the spaceman logo for Reddit. (4) Ohanian's biggest contributions were in sales.  He pitched the business to a company called Y Combinator, which provided funding.  (5) Eventually Ohanian pitched the business to the Condé Nast publishing company, making Steve and Alexis Ohanian rich.

And if you are a technical wizard, like Steve Wozniak of Apple, you still need a salesman to make money from your invention.  Sales is a challenging business.  Inventions only make money with sales.  No sales, no money.  You can take that to the bank, or the poor house as circumstances dictate.

Finally, I like to describe to my son the stories of businessmen when their lives appear in the Wall Street Journal Obituaries.

Here is an example from today's newspaper:  Robert Klein Set Up Firm to Help Lenders Protect Homes Going Through Foreclosure by James R. Hagerty, Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2018 (May 12 in the hard copy edition).  The online article has much more detail than the hard copy.

Here are highlights from the obit:

Robert Klein’s father once told him: “God blessed you with a brain and cursed you with a mouth.” Working for a boss would be difficult.

So Mr. Klein, a high-school dropout, was always his own boss, starting as a New York taxi driver and later running his own fruit-and-vegetable wholesaling business in Cleveland. In 1990, he founded Safeguard Properties in the obscure business of mortgage field services. Such firms do foreclosure-related chores for lenders, including changing locks on abandoned homes, sealing broken windows and handling basic repairs so houses can be resold

He started with one employee and grew to around 1,000 as Safeguard expanded nationwide and became one of the largest companies of its type.

Notice he was a high school drop out, yet he provided jobs for thousands of people.  There are more details in the article, such as the business becoming a legacy for the family.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Protect Your Children from Income Share Agreements

Loans are Understood and Predictable

Many children have been hurt by large student loans.  I remember an article about a medical doctor who borrowed so much money to become a doctor that she would be paying on her loans to the day she died and would never be able to own a home.

Many young people do not understand loans.  Their parents need to guide them through the process of borrowing money for college.  There have been many night-mare stories of huge debt and meager incomes.  But there are formulas and on-line calculators that allow you to calculate the monthly bill for a loan given the loan amount, interest, and the length of the loan payoff.  With a tool like this you can analyze your potential debt before you commit to the debt. If you google "Loan Repayment Calculator, " then you can see something like this:
(Click on the image to see it expanded.)  You can see that a 6% loan of $20,000 will take $491.05 monthly to pay off, meaning you pay back $29,463, which is $9,463 more than you borrowed.  Many kids graduate with more than $20,000 of debt and many young people will find paying 4491.05 a steep cost.

A $40,000 yearly income, and 28% taxes means a young person will have (40000 * (1 - 0.28))/12 = $2400 per month income and $491.05 is 20% of the monthly income.  Try living in an urban area for less than $1200/month for rent and utilities.  Now you can picture $491.05 as 41% of the remaining $1200 a month after rent and utilities.  A student loan is a serious commitment, but mathematics and planning can lead one to project the economic consequences, including the total cost of the loan.

Income Share Agreements are New and Poorly Understood

Some universities started debt instrument called a Income Share Agreement (ISA)as an alternative to student loans.  Investors wanting to make money off of your children have turned to Congress to pass laws making it easier and safer for them to loan money to your children.

After reading the details of these bills, here are my concerns.
  1. The congressional bills strip away state laws that protect your children from excessive interest rates or claims against their income.
  2. Your children cannot escape a bad ISA through bankruptcy.
  3. These ISAs have an equivalent interest rate and the interest your children pay on ISAs is not tax deductible like a regular loan.
  4. Senate bill S.268 amends the Investment Company Act of 1940 to strip away protections we might have from this law. 
Details from the bills (and web links to them) are at the bottom of this blog posting.

Banks can already loan money to our children, but banks are regulated.  Now a new batch of investors want to own our children's debt without the regulations currently in place to protect our children.  No one can imagine at this time how bad this could be for our children.  We can write our congressmen to protest these bills, but we must surely warn our children to avoid these debt instruments until the dangers are understood.

Your friend and neighbor,

Senate Bill S.268 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)

Introduced in Senate (02/01/2017)

Investing in Student Success Act of 2017

This bill authorizes an individual (i.e., a student) and another person (i.e., an investor) to enter an income-share agreement (ISA) in which the student agrees to pay a percentage of future income, for a specified period of time, in exchange for funds to pay for postsecondary education, workforce development, or other purposes.

An ISA that complies with specified terms and conditions and meets certain disclosure requirements is a valid, binding, and enforceable contract and is not subject to state laws that limit interest rates or regulate assignments of future income.

The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to include an ISA as a qualified education loan (a qualified education loan is not dischargeable in bankruptcy), but it prohibits a tax deduction for interest paid on an ISA (interest paid on a qualified education loan is tax deductible).

The bill amends the Investment Company Act of 1940 to exclude as an investment company any person whose business substantially consists of making ISAs.

House Bill H.R.3145 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)

SECTION 1. Short title; table of contents.

(a) Short title.—This Act may be cited as the “Investing in Student Achievement Act of 2017” or the “ISA Act of 2017”.

SEC. 201. Lawfulness of contracts; preemption of State law.

Any income-share agreement that complies with the requirements of section 102 shall be a valid, binding, and enforceable contract notwithstanding any State law limiting or otherwise regulating assignments of future wages or other income.

SEC. 202. Preemption of State law with respect to usury.

A Qualified ISA shall not be subject to State law with respect to usury, unless such State law was issued after the date of the enactment of this Act and such State law expressly states that it is intended to apply to income-share agreements.

SEC. 203. Preemption pre-existing State laws with respect to ability-to-repay and licensing laws.

A Qualified ISA shall not be subject to a State law with respect to “ability-to-repay” requirements, and an ISA funder issuing a Qualified ISA shall not be subject to any State law with respect to licensing or registration, unless such State law was issued after the date of the enactment of this Act and such State law expressly states that it is intended to apply to income-share agreements.

Money from a Humble Business

We should tell our children not to turn their backs on a humble business.  Educated middle class parents want their children to go to a good college in order to be hired by a good company.  But sometimes the people who start businesses do not graduate from college.  The most famous college drop outs are Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell Computer), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Larry Ellison (Oracle).

We can add Wayne Huizenga to the list of successful businessmen who dropped out of college.  His obituary is "Wayne Huizenga, Entrepreneur Behind Blockbuster and AutoNation, Dies at 80" by James R. Hagerty, Wall Street Journal, 3-24-2018 pages B1 - B2 in the print edition.

Mr. Hagerty (1937 to 2018) dropped out of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His grandfather ran a garbage hauling business in Chicago.  Mr. Hagerty joined the Army reserves and after that he got a job managing a trash-hauling business in Florida.  Soon, he started his own trash-hauling business, expanding to 40 trucks by 1968.  Eventually he merged his trash-hauling business with his grandfather's business and went public as Waste Management.

To cut to the chase, Mr. Hagerty started Blockbuster, selling it for $8.4 Billion to Viacom. Then he started AutoNation and Extended Stay America.  He had other businesses and you can read about them in his obituary.

Wayne Huizenga became a wealthy man because he was willing to work in the humble business of hauling trash.

I think everyone should experience some college, but graduating from college is not necessary for success.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Leadership: The West Point Lecture by William Deresiewicz

William Deresiewicz was a professor at Yale.  He quit and wrote a book called Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life .  I am finding it an interesting book, although I do not agree with his views on the Liberal Arts education.  Dr. Deresiewicz was invited to speak at West Point.  Here are two copies of his speech.  This one is in PDF so you can download it.  This copy is at the American Scholar website, March 1, 2010.

Here is the major thrust of his concerns.  He is talking about students at Yale.

So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.

That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.

But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea

He raises excellent objections to elitist education, but I do not agree with his solutions.  He cannot offer a good solution because, as an English professor, he is too much a part of the problem to see a solution.

Because he spoke at West  Point, Dr. Deresiewicz mentioned General David Petraeus in his talk, but his references to the general struck me as shallow, just rehashing commonly available facts from newspaper articles. 

This article gives you the flavor of his Excellent Sheep book.  The most important take-away from Deresiewicz is that elitist education is deeply flawed.  We must remember that Vietnam was an elitist war.  It was run by elitist Harvard and Yale graduates like Robert McNamara (Harvard MBA), General William Westmoreland (Harvard MBA), McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Paul Warnke.

Many parents in Plano would like their children to go to Harvard or Yale, but it is important to recognize that there are serious problems with the education offered at Harvard and Yale.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Arrival: Chinese Influence on American Culture

I just finished watching the film Arrival for a second time. It is a very thoughtful and imaginative film.  A friend said it was slow, but that slowness is really a French influence.  I looked up the director, Denis Villeneaue, and found that he is French Canadian.  The author of the science fiction novella upon which the film is based, Ted Chiang, is Chinese American.  His parents were born in China , he was born in New York state, and he made a nice contribution to our American culture with his story, Story of Your Life, upon which the movie was based.

Story of Your Life received  the Best Novella of 1999 Nebula Award.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Teaching the Holocaust

I have noticed a rise in antisemitism.  I am wondering if we are doing an adequate job of teaching our children about the Holocaust.  When I was in high school we watched the film Night and Fog.  That film left a life-long impression on me.  One has to see the images to begin to understand the Holocaust.  Reading statistics does not make an impression, does not make an impact.

I looked to see what my son learned about the Holocaust.  I looked at the AP World History Exam prep book from Princeton Review.  The copy I had saved (2014) gave 5 cm. length of text to the Holocaust.  This same book gave 9 cm length of text to the Rwanda massacre.  The statistics were 800,000 dead in Rwanda compared to 6 million Jews and 6 million non-Jews dead in the Holocaust.  The obvious impression is that the Holocaust is less important because it is farther in the past.  The newer atrocity had twice as much coverage as the Holocaust.

I purchased a copy of Night and Fog recently from Amazon.  The documentary is only 40 minutes long.  Neither my wife nor my college-age son were willing to watch it.  Some of the scenes are ghastly, but the most jarring scenes were probably only 15 minutes at the end of the film.  Because the film is only 40 minutes long, it can fit into a school class.  I think I saw the film in my freshman or sophomore year of high school.  Just based on my experience, you might consider purchasing a copy of the Night and Fog film and sitting with your child during his freshman or sophomore year of high school to watch the film together.  Images are the only way to begin to comprehend the horror of the Holocaust.

To understand the Holocaust as an adult, I watched a 6 part documentary from the BBC on Netflix, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution'.  This film is hard to watch.  I did not cry when I watched Night and Fog, but I cried a number of times while watching this BBC documentary on Auschwitz.  We cannot let all this suffering be forgotten.  We dishonor the dead if we do not remember them.

Even with almost 5 hours of film in the Auschwitz documentary, I still did not pick up on the difference between Auschwitz and Treblinka.  Also on Netflix is the documentary Death Camp Treblinka, Survivor Stories.  It is 58 minutes long and I surprised to learn how very different Treblinka was from Auschwitz.  From my perspective, as an adult, I found this film worth watching.

How could this horror have happened?  Were the masterminds of death madmen?  No.  They were highly educated Germans, many of them lawyers.  A small segment within the documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution', portrayed the meeting organized by the SS to plan the Holocaust.  This meeting has been portrayed in a full length film, Conspiracy starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci.  There was a scene where the SS general leading the meeting asked the lawyers to raise their hands.  More than half of those planning the Holocaust were lawyers.  The Germans were probably the most educated people in Europe, but university education does not impart morality or conscience.

Could this happen again?  I can imagine Marxists rounding up both Christians and Jews for execution.  Martin Luther King said, "... the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  If that were so, then Marxism would have dried up and blown away, but it has not.  Every year, more Americans are drawn towards Marxism.  Remember Joseph Stalin killed more people than Adolph Hitler.  Remember what George Orwell said in his novel, 1984:  "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

I believe everyone should understand the horror of the Holocaust, perhaps by watching Night and Fog around the age of 14 or 15.  I have mentioned other films that adults can watch to try to understand the Holocaust.  Films must be used because it is the imagery that makes the emotional connection.  If people do not understand the Holocaust, they cannot understand the need for a Jewish state, the importance of Israel.