Archive for the ‘Love and Business’ Category

Robroy’s occupation

Friday, October 28th, 2011

When Robroy arrived in Baltimore about 20 years ago, I had no occupation.  No one would buy the stories I was writing.  Late nights at Funks Democratic Coffee Spot in Fells Point, I made new friends who argued passionately that the wealthy corporations were corrupting the government, wiping out the arts and oppressing the masses.

So I think I understand where Occupy Baltimore is coming from.  It made me mad when I read yesterday that our Mayor said she wanted to avoid a “violent exchange” with them.  I decided to see for myself what’s going on.

First thing I noticed, walking among the tents downtown, was how much my vantage point has changed since Fells Point. Certain aspects of the protest made me feel confronted.

For example, a guy held a sign that said: “From my corner office, everyone looks so small.”

That’s weird.  You know, I actually have a corner office now.  My writing studio is near the top of the Bromo Seltzer Tower.  I’m right where he says I should not be, yet people don’t look small to me.  As a matter of fact, they are paramount.  I want to know their stories.

I asked him why he felt that way.

“It’s ridiculous that the big corporations get huge tax breaks and pocket the money,” he said.  “The government should force them to reinvest in jobs.  Unemployed people like me need help.”

These are hard times.  The job market changed fast.  It used to be that you owed your employer 40 years and in return they owed you a rewarding career, health insurance and a pension.

Now what do we owe each other?

For me, it does no good to blame others.  I discovered I am the author of my problems.  Just as I am the author of the solution.

It keeps me occupied.

Your take?

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Spelling trouble

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Robroy was at his son’s 2nd grade parent-teacher conference this week.  The teacher said she was concerned about my little guy’s spelling.  It reminded me of my own challenges in 2nd grade, back at Oak Grove Elementary, in Libertyville, Illinois.

Our class was doing a newsletter.  I was assigned the role of interviewing Mr. Garland, the 4th grade math teacher.  It was my first foray into the world of journalism, and I took it seriously.  Sitting down with Mr. Garland, pencil ready, I asked my first question:

“Do you like teaching?”

“Certainly,” he replied.

Certainly?  Certainly?  I tried to sound out the word.  S-I-R-T …  That was part of it, but it looked wrong, so I erased it and tried again.  I knew another word for it — certainly I did.  But certainly he said and certainly it would have to be.  Head down, I worked at it, erasing and rewriting.  I don’t think I asked another question.

Years later, I still interview teachers and leaders.  (Here’s one with Baltimore’s Google Czar)  And it looks my boy is upholding the great family spelling tradition.

His teacher seemed surprised to see me smiling at a time like this.  “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Certainly,” I said.

With a C.

(Check out my column in the Baltimore Business Journal.)

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Robroy’s writing roost

Friday, November 19th, 2010

All my life, from the top bunk to the treetops to the roof of my 4-story college dorm, I’ve always tried to get as far off the ground as possible.  Not sure why.  Reaching new heights has been even more important to me as a writer.  So, when it became time for Robroy to find new headquarters, I started thinking big.

Several business friends offered to share their offices with me, but I wanted a place that was distinctly my own.  A place from which I could write my powerful, positive stories about living and working in Baltimore.  A symbolic place.  A magical place.  And most of all, a tall place.

On a whim, I decided to apply to the Bromo Seltzer Tower.

“I thought they only accepted artists,” you say.  That’s what I thought too.  And like you, I wasn’t convinced I qualified.  Sure, Robroy’s business stories borrow a few literary elements.  They have plot, character, scene and story structure.  They sell.  But are they art?

I knew of another guy in town with my problem, a visual artist, Robert McClintock.  His commercial success threatened his status as an artist.  I was on my way to interview him for the Baltimore Business Journal (here’s the column), when I received an email on my Blackberry from the manager of the Bromo Seltzer Tower.

“Congratulations!” he wrote.  “You’re exactly what we’re looking for.”

I chose a studio on an upper floor.  It’s only 330 feet high.

But it sure feels good.

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Granny on the roof

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Every time I drive by, I get a kick out of the corner drug store in my neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore City.  I love how they’ve adopted a marketing stunt from auto repair shops of the 1950s.  Not a car but a motorized wheelchair sits on the roof of Northern Pharmacy.  It’s as though some hotrod granny overshot the parking lot, climbed down, did her shopping, and forgot where she’d parked.

I recently had a chance to interview the owner, Marty Mintz, for a story in the Baltimore Business Journal.  Here’s the column.

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Zap! (a book review)

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The promoter sent Robroy a couple of advance copies of Delivering Happiness ( by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and asked me to write “an honest review.”

The request alone made me happy.  There is so much horrible writing out there, and it’s so much fun to criticize.  I was really hoping to hate this book.

Unfortunately, I liked it.  You take a shine to Tony as a kid, and come to admire the selfless, tireless leader as an adult.  Though I’ve never sold a company for $265M, as he did with LinkExchange, or gambled it all for a chance to sell another company for $1.2B, as he did with Zappos, I feel like I did.  I feel like we did it together.  His story-telling is that good.

But the real value, and the reason I’d recommend the book to business folks, is Chapter 5.  There you get 70+ pages on how to move your business forward with Zappos’ structured “Pipeline” for connecting customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.  It makes sense.  Everyone gets happier the happier they make others.

Everyone, that is, but Tony.  His happiness is temporary.  He’s thrilled at the moment of conquest, or “checking it off the list,” like the time he risked his life on Mt. Kilimanjaro, an important experience, for sure.  But he doesn’t seem to experience the other kind of happiness.  The sustainable kind.  Intimacy.

It’s a business book, not a romance; I get it.  But as a man, Tony seems to have no interest in that stuff.  No wife, no kid, no dog, no prospects.  He’s so busy working, no one really gets close, and in the end, you feel that this amazingly successful, super positive businessman is unfulfilled personally.  Which is a bummer.  You love him too much to see him to fail now.  Yet all you can do is close the book and hope it turns out that Delivering Happiness is only half the story.  Maybe the title of his next book will be Receiving Happiness.

If so, on that day, Robroy will give an honest review.  I’ll stand up with tears in my eyes and cheer.

(Read my column “Working Life” in the Baltimore Business Journal)

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Golf lesson

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The doctor had no patience for Robroy on the golf course.

“Caddy!” he shouted as I stood still, holding the pin.  We were on the first green.  This was my summer job in high school, and I took it seriously.  I knew to hold the flag so it wouldn’t wave, but it was not enough for this guy.  “Your shirt is flapping in the breeze!”

I loved caddying for entrepreneurs. You could tell who was the most successful by who was most relaxed.  It was the opposite with doctors.

He glared at me until I’d got a hold of the pin again.  Then he put his head down and tapped the ball.  It arched smoothly toward the cup.  I pulled the pin.  In she dropped, a 15-foot birdie.

“Nice shot, sir,” I said, jogging over to take the putter.

“See what a difference it makes?” he said.  “If I’m going to have a great game, I need you to have a great game.”

“Got it,” I said.  I did, too.  Over time, building my career in the service of others, I have grown to appreciate what he said even more.  Golf is life.  Life is a game.  And a game is more rewarding when you try even harder to be your best.

(Read Robroy’s column in today’s Baltimore Business Journal)

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5 quick lunch tips for starting a blog

Friday, March 5th, 2010

One of the nicest unintended consequences of writing a blog is you get so many invites to lunch.  People are hungry to know how they can start their own blog.  So, yes, let’s sit down.  Tell me what you’re passionate about.  I’ll listen.  And here’s what I may recommend:

  1. Soup – To get started in blogging, you need Web stuff.  You won’t believe how easy it is with  For 1:1 time with a Webber, Robroy trusts Dustin Pfeifer Creative.
  2. Salad – The healthy course is to have a social media strategy.  Some of the freshest ideas are coming from Right Source Marketing.  For example (I love this):
  3. Entree – The meat and potatoes, the true richness of your blog is the size of your readership.  To be successful, “be famous,” to quote my friend, Marci DeVries.  Check out her Web energy company, MDV Interactive.
  4. Coffee – Care enough to serve the very best content.  Good strong stories can be addictive and keep your audience coming back.  Write them yourself, or hire a professional copywriter.
  5. Dessert – Indulge.  Respond to all comments on your blog with feeling.  Return the favor by commenting on their blogs.  And always, as they say at Etsy, “Be sweet.  Retweet.”

That’s it.  It’s really that simple.  Follow these 5 tips and you may never pick up the check again.

Unless of course you’re out with Robroy.

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Robroy says goodbye

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The worst part of moving away at age 8 was saying goodbye to Patricia Wood.

It was a Saturday morning in Englishtown, New Jersey, about one hour before we left forever for Illinois.  Patricia was hugging me goodbye.  Her mom had errands to run; we would be gone by the time they got back.

My bike had not yet been packed.  I grabbed it as they got into their car.  Riding behind them, I could see Patricia’s round face in the back window.  I had the unbelievably painful urge to impress her one last time, so much that she’d never forget me.

Now, in our neighborhood, in the 70s, the curbs were not cut for wheelchair access.  To get from the street onto the sidewalk on your bike, you had to stop, lift your front wheel, roll forward, lift your back wheel, roll forward, and get on.  Unless you were excellent.  In that case you simply jumped the curb, and kept on going.  As for Robroy, earlier that very morning, for the very first time, I had become excellent.  Patricia did not know that yet.

Her face was getting smaller.  It was now or never.  Do or die.  At top speed, I hit the curb.


The last she ever saw of me was flying head-first over the handlebars and onto the sidewalk.  I smacked the ground and rolled over with the bike crashing down on top of me.

By the time I looked up, she was gone.

The memory comes back to me now.  Robroy is moving again.  No big deal this time.  It’s just the blog that’s moving.  We’re saying goodbye to WordPress and saying hello to our own domain,  That’s all.

But deep down, I’m nervous.  I worry.  What if I leave my readers behind?  What if I try too hard to impress them, and end up making a gigantic fool of myself?  What if they get home and find no Robroy, only a ghost town, a wasteland of words?

I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to lose another friend.  Too painful on the knees.

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Turtle king

Friday, January 15th, 2010

It’s a dark afternoon.  It’s freezing outside, and I can’t seem to sell anything.  Times like this, my mind goes back to sunnier days, when I was the turtle-catching king of the world.

At age 12, Robroy was incredibly lucky.  We had our own private pond in the back yard, and it was stocked with turtles.  My younger brother Jim and I used to chase them on hot summer days in our canoe.  As we came close, they slipped off the log and vanished into the murky gold, but that never stopped us.  The trick was to scoop about 3 feet ahead of where you thought they were going.  By the time you got your net under water, they would swim right into it.  If your timing was right.  If your aim was true.

One summer day after church, rather than go inside with the rest of the family, my dad and I walked around back to take a look at the pond, as we often did.  Now, my dad was a salesman — still is — and he could talk.  So I’m standing on the bank, listening to him explain an idea he was wrestling with, gazing at the water, when all of a sudden I see a shadow rise from below.  It was about 4 feet off shore.  A turtle pierced the surface with his snout.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I leaped.  He turned and angled for the bottom.  But my timing was perfect.  My aim was true.  I crashed onto the water with my hands clutching down onto him.

Too easy!  Skimming along the muck with him swimming in my hands, I was laughing inside.  I decided to stay down as long as I could, just to make a bigger impression on my dad.  When I could hold my breath no longer, I burst to the surface, raising the turtle in both hands.  Dad’s eyes were round as two robin’s eggs.

“You nut!” he shouted.  “I don’t believe it!”

“He put up a — hulluva — fight!” I gasped.

Dad grabbed my elbow and helped me out of the water and up the bank, laughing and clapping me on the back.  “Wait till your mother and brother see this!” he said.  “Cynthia!  Jim!  Get out here!”

As he dragged me squishing in my church clothes toward the house with the turtle swimming in my hands, I felt wet and muddy and very, very satisfied.

♥  ♥  ♥

Back then, I knew the value of training.  Anticipating.  Recognizing the opportunity.  Of diving in, giving it your all and landing the deal.  And most importantly, I knew the value of communicating, sharing success and being joyful.

And that means I can do it.  Of course I can do it!  It’s really just a matter of doing it again.

I reach out and grab the phone.

Wait til Dad hears about this one.

(read the sequel)

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Generosity on a budget

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

You know you’re cheap when, year after year, you put off buying holiday gifts or cards for your most important clients until it’s all over and everyone’s forgotten, including you.

Robroy had his frugal Scottish heritage to blame for this stingy procrastination.  I never could stand to “invest” in cups and hats and shirts with our logo splattered all over them.  With so many unique individuals on my list, I wanted to give thoughtful gifts but didn’t know how.  The holidays made me feel terrible, until …

… I heard about LinkedIn recommendations.

A LinkedIn recommendation is your personal endorsement of someone you know, posted where all of your social network and theirs can read it. Recommendations on LinkedIn are personal and yet professional.  They are brief and yet long-lasting.  The tool lets you make your contacts look great in front of their peers.  And did I mention it’s free?

The only catch is, you have to take a minute to really think about the other person.  Really ask yourself, What impresses me most about them?  What’s their strong suit?  Be generous.  A few words from the heart can be very powerful.

So what do you think?  This is a pretty big gift.  Can we afford it?

(read more posts below)

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