Volume 46, Issue 11 - December2011

theBusiness

How Much Longer???
by Lyle R. Hill

I had breakfast with an old friend of mine a few days ago and by old, I am referring primarily to the length of our friendship, although we are only a couple of months apart in age so perhaps the term old has a dual meaning. He’s a banker and, while we have had some business dealings over the years, he is first and foremost a good and trusted friend.

We get together frequently and most of our conversations have little to do with business. A lot of talk is about the kids, now grandkids, with a little bit of sports talk thrown in as well. He was a standout high school basketball player but follows football and baseball closely. I don’t hold it against him that he is a Green Bay Packers fan.

During our meeting of a few days ago, I asked him how things were going at the bank and he told me that on a personal basis he was okay, but that he was starting to hurt for some of his customers. He told me that in his 40 years in banking he never thought he would see the kinds of things that have now become all too common. For example, he told me of a small-business owner who had recently closed his shop and came to see him to ask how long he could stay in his home once he stopped making mortgage payments. This gentleman promised to leave the house clean and in good repair but asked if he could have 90 days to figure out what to do and where to move his family. He also told me of another 20-year customer of his who had walked into his office, given him the keys to his house and simply said, “It’s yours, I can’t afford it anymore.”

He further said that this was not the first, nor most likely would it be the last, time that someone simply walked into his office and handed him the keys. I could tell by the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes that this was all quite troubling to him.

This friend is a person who epitomizes the term community banker. This is also a man I respect a great deal and have turned to for advice over the years. So naturally, at a certain point in the conversation, I asked the question that we all seem to ask each other with a fair amount of regularity these days … that question being … “How much longer is this going to last?”

Now I’m not sure why he would have any better of an answer than anyone else, but he follows the financial industry and the markets closely. In the past he has always seemed to have better insight and a firmer grasp of these things than anyone else I know, so it seemed to be an appropriate question. He said that he is asked this question almost daily and that, like a lot of others, he has made a number of predictions that turned out to be wrong. So he gave me no relief when he replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

This column is being written on the 28th of November 2011 and is scheduled to appear in the December issue of this fine magazine. I usually have some kind of a Christmas poem or New Year’s theme for each December column and, while I certainly wanted to be upbeat and cutesy as we start this New Year, I just couldn’t do it.

So what do I say? What can be said in times like these when unemployment is so high, times are so brutal and the entire world seems to be in a precarious if not downright dangerous position?

I am neither a pack rat nor a hoarder but I have kept certain things … mostly documents, articles, letters and memos … for about 40 years now. Most of it is well organized, labeled and easily accessed. Some makes for interesting reading. So in an effort to come up with a year-end article, I went back through old articles and memos and, in some cases, even letters that I had either received or sent through the years. In doing so, I had what some people might refer to as an epiphany. (For our purposes here, we will go with one of Webster’s definitions which defines the word epiphany as an intuitive grasp of reality through something (an event) that is simple and yet striking). And here is the epiphany … IT DOES NOT MATTER!

The things that matter, or at least should, cannot be taken away from you by a bad economy, a lousy job, no job or even a misguided and power-grabbing bunch of politicians.

I know all that hurts. I’ve seen the corrupt win, and I’ve seen the honest lose when they shouldn’t have. But it doesn’t matter, not in the end. I don’t want to be naïve, but as a sappy optimist, I am going to say that good will always prevail whether we recognize it or not. Our job is to do the best we can with what we have, to be honest to ourselves and others, fight the good fight, run the good race and hold closely to us those people and things that should be of importance. The rest will take care of itself. It always has.

Happy New Year, One and All!

Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog at http://lyleblog.usglassmag.com.


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