14 June 2006

Book Two Opener

Shortly, I'll be disappearing from the net for a couple of weeks. I won't be writing any Epic Camp updates this time (you've heard enough from me recently). Monica and I have been apart for two weeks and I'd rather hang out with her than write.

I'm sure that I'll come back from my third cyber-retreat recharged and full of ideas that I kicked around while getting crushed by Molina at Epic Camp. Frankly, I've been online too much these days. It all started when I broke my _routine_ in Brazil race week. Should have known that my discipline was limited!

In the meantime, here's my concept for my second book. Part Two is going to be a talk that I give at our Ironman Training Seminar, November 2nd to 4th in Colorado Springs.

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I’m sitting at my desk on a summer’s morning and asking myself the question, “Why should you read this book?”

Thirteen years ago, a journey of personal transformation started when I decided to go for a walk. I was living in England at the time, working as an executive in a successful investment business. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Hong Kong and tried to start running. That didn’t start out so well for me; I often found myself walking back home after only a few minutes. As my body adapted, running moved to hiking; hiking became trekking; trekking led me to mountaineering; mountaineering led to expeditions; and expeditions eventually led to ironman-distance triathlon.

This book isn’t about how I moved from the couch to elite athletics. While that might make an interesting read, athletic success is the least important aspect of our journey through sport. So what does matter?

Success is a process which can be replicated across many areas of our lives. This book lays out different approaches and considerations on the path towards breakthrough performance. As a coach, the technical knowledge that I offer is a small part of my role. Rather, the area where I am able to effect lasting change is helping my athletes create the structure and habits that lead towards personal excellence.

As a writer, I love books and have read a tremendous amount about all levels of athletics. My favorite titles are sorted by topic and listed at the end of this book. For my own athletics, the titles that have been most helpful are the ones that explain the process of achievement. These books document how an individual took themselves to a level far beyond what they thought possible.

Aside from the field of Sports Psychology, I’ve found a gap in the literature surrounding athletic performance. Many authors write about the skills, workouts and structure of their sports. This work is essential to provide a strong foundation for athletes and coaches. However, there are very few titles that discuss how the very best create an environment for success. Communicating the framework and approach necessary to take ourselves far beyond self-imposed limits is my goal for Breakthrough Endurance.

The story of Lance Armstrong is well-known. After reading this book, I’d encourage you to go back to Lance’s books. Consider the differentiating factors in his domination of the Tour de France over seven years. Consider the team, the support, the money, the experts and the time that goes into one man’s performance. Imagine what you could achieve by building a small business centered completely on your sporting achievement.

You might view Lance’s approach as impractical for yourself and, generally, you’d be right. However, in your athletic career you are competing against athletes with superior: funding, support, talent, skills, experience and/or training. Against that background, if you want to achieve your very best, can you afford not to do everything possible to succeed?

This book is split into four main sections. In Part One, we will review the fundamental aspects of performance that apply across all endurance sports. Our minds constantly seek short-cuts and we are often tempted to follow the easy way to athletic success. To counter these tendencies, it is worthwhile reviewing the basics. Part One focuses on key concepts rather than the fine details. I would encourage you to review your sport-specific approach in light of the concepts.

The heart of this book is explained in Part Two. In this section, the Elements of Breakthrough Performance will be presented and explained in detail. There is no magic formula for success. Daily, you will find yourself seeking to “guess wisely” on the back of imperfect and changing information. Incorporating the elements into your life will help you build a routine and support structure around yourself. If you are successful then you will find yourself in a virtuous circle where your training “lives” in an environment than sustains your efforts. This section will help you learn how to “work smart” over a long period of time.

Ensuring that our efforts are not derailed by common pitfalls is what we will consider in Part Three. In all areas, we have blind spots that can hinder, or end, our quest for performance. By discussing the most common road blocks, I hope to improve your odds for navigating around, and out of, these obstacles.

In the last section of the book, we will discuss concepts that may seem contrary to the theme of relentless dedication that runs through much of what you’ve just read. This is because there is a performance paradox that runs through every area of our lives. The paradox lies in the fact that we need to balance total commitment with low personal attachment. Meaningful achievement flows most easily from individuals that define themselves in light of what they do, rather than what they accomplish. Our ultimate performance flows from freeing our body to do what we’ve spent thousands of hours preparing it for. There comes a point when we must get out of our own way.

Above all else, persist.

Edinburgh, 10 June 2006

07 June 2006

Who Owns an Ownership Society?

Earlier this week, I was reading a WSJ article about how US Corporate Profits were at an all-time high. I think the article noted that the record high was achieved in nominal terms and as a percentage of GDP.

Anyhow, that got me thinking... Who are the main beneficiaries of these record profits? Where’s all this cash going? Who is it benefiting?

Top Management – Perhaps I am only reading about the most extreme cases of management pay but it seems to have totally broken from the realm of sanity. It’s not a case of folks aspiring to get out of flying Economy Class – rather I read of people justifying packages set at a multiple 100s of times what is paid to the folks that are working underneath them. I sit and listen to some of my peers talking about the simple convenience of personal jets. The quantum of the wealth creation for the elites in the financial services area is far beyond what you can imagine. Like drafting in elite male ironman races... it's a topic that "those that know" are often reluctant to discuss.

It appears like there is collusion between directors, managers, institutions and the media. Even “activist” shareholders appear to be part of the skim. Heck, I’ve made a career sitting in the middle.

Somewhere the obligation to all stakeholders in many organizations appears to have been lost. I sense a relentless drive to increase productivity per head and keep a lid on wage costs. Many of us accept this as a requirement of a capitalist society. But is it really? My preference is to work within a corporate culture that works for the benefit of all stakeholders in society.

Perhaps I am over-reacting, I think to myself. Perhaps it is best, it is most efficient, to have the sole goal of industry to maximize near term profitability?

But then I think to myself... who really benefits if this is the case?

At this stage, some might say that the shareholders benefit. Others might point out that with the growth of institutional investors and mutual funds; we've become an ownership society.

We are told that as an ownership society, we all benefit and in a long bull market you will actually believe this. However, I know the difference between Net and Gross IRRs.

Something bothers me about the “society is wealthier” argument. Even if it is, are the "owners" actually calling the shots? Not a chance, they have been difused, then pooled into collective investment schemes managed by the Persuaders.

You see, I've worked in a few businesses that exist between "your" ownership and “you”. In some cases, the businesses added material value to the value of your investments -- so you might argue that these situations made society more efficient. However, in other instances, once you adjusted for transactions costs, fees and financial "friction"... well, you'd have been better investing in US Treasuries. While you might have been better, somewhere a Financial Persuader's NAV would have been impaired.

Across a wide portfolio, over a long time horizon -- I am confident that there is far more value extraction than value addition. I'll leave it to other to make the case in numbers.

When you look at the value of your investments, don’t confuse asset appreciation with value addition. Many people make this error.

There is (and has been) a massive wealth transfer towards a new stakeholder in our society, The Financial Persuaders. More than half of the brightest and hardest working people that I've come across in my life fall into this category, including me! My most marketable skill is being able to speak, write and sell the language of financial persuasion. I had excellent teachers and was a quick study. My mentors have been more broad than simply Ironman triathlon!


Easy for me to say, right? I've used my skills to enrich myself. Well, there is a great speech that one of the Founders of Vanguard gave at West Point (Bogle West Point Vanguard will google you there). It's worth a read – his enrichment was a wee bit more than mine…

When you start thinking about kids, you start thinking about their standard of living. What struck me was not the comparison to the way I chose to live my life. What struck me was the comparison to the way kids grew up in the 50s. To match that quality of life requires a massive move up the socio-economic ladder (or a move to Christchurch or Tasmania – societies that have a history of simplicity, low envy and moderate consumption expectations – they are changing, just changing slower).

Despite…

** all the wealth creation,

** all the growth in real GDP per head,

** all the increases in consumption by the West,

** the massive run up in personal debts


In the most "advanced" areas of America, it appears to me that only the children of the elites will match the quality of their grandparent's childhood.

That wasn't the way it was presented in finance class.

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04 June 2006

Educators, Mentors & Entrepreneurs -- Part 2

Part One is Below.

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I spent the second half of the nineties working in Asia, about six years. While in Asia, I did quite a bit of business in India and worked closely with a company called Blue Dart Express. Blue Dart was founded by three men. One of these men, Clyde Cooper, is the driving force behind the company as well as being an entertaining and unique guy. I was fortunate to follow the founders for many years and have a lot of respect for what they had achieved. Express Delivery is a tough business in any field, imagine trying to make it work in a place like India. The entire team at Blue Dart are experts at making things happen on-time consistently.

I think it was during a drive from the Blue Dart offices to a shareholders meeting when Clyde looked at a beggar on the street (then looked at me) and commented that, “we all do what we can for the poor, but, really, what can one do?”. I think that the comment was for me as Indians sense that many Westerners have trouble wrapping their heads around the nature of poverty inside India.

Clyde’s comment might leave one with a feeling of futility. To me, it struck at the heart of the issue of charity. Because for all of the people that I met while working in Asia, Clyde did the most to reduce poverty. Through his leadership, he created a business that gave education, employment and satisfaction to thousands of people. He held his people to the highest standards. He even banned himself from smoking in his own office because he felt that was best for the business’ standards.

The point of the story is that, for me, contributing to the community has very little to do with giving money to “worthy” causes – money is the easiest thing to give. Giving time, effort and thought to a community on a consistent basis is far more valuable. Creating organizations that facility the transfer of time, effort and though -- also highly valuable.

Teachers, Mentors & Entrepreneurs – these are the people that drive a civil society.

How’s this related to affirmative action? To me, it seems that it is in all of our interests to ensure that we provide the TME skills base to as wide a portion of our society (and the societies of our “enemies”) as possible.

Within our societies, I also think that we should provide the infrastructure (legal, physical, financial…) to support people in these fields.

How best to do that? I haven’t quite thought that through for you – nor do I have to. What I’ve been doing is considering what all this means to me.

For me, I’m spending time putting together a feasibility study for an indoor 50m pool in Boulder, Colorado. The community has a need for a quality swim venue and, I believe, that it will become a catalyst for a lot of positive events in people’s lives. Having seen the impact of Christchurch NZ's indoor swim facility over the last five years -- it is a practical way to have a long term positive impact on the lives of many people.

My grand vision is a world-class multisport training centre – something similar to what’s being created down in Christchurch. Match the two hemispheres up for the elite athletes/coaches; build a local adult and kids program around them; and create a venue for coaching/retailing/massage/medical/other business.

It’s a big project and won't be easy. I figure that I am looking at $5-25 million depending on how far one takes it. Key things that I need at this stage:

** Site – 2-10 acres;
** Development Partner – to assist with build cost projections; and
** Planning Liaison – to work with the city.

I expect that the commercial, retail and residential development around/inside the sports complex would be very profitable, especially if one was able to tie up surplus land and do a high density residential build out. It’s exactly the sort of facility where young professionals and families want to live -- the facility in New Zealand is a large part of why I moved there in 2000.

From the city's point of view, I think that it works because, done right, you provide affordable housing along with a high quality sports complex – privately funded and managed. Responsible development that creates a community of desirable citizens.

I’m also looking at a straight-up pool (re)development. That’s simpler than the training center but doesn’t have quite the same “community of excellence” angle.

Anyhow, if you have any ideas (or a site!) then drop me a line. I want to hear from you.