Catching up with my columns from '08

January 12, 2009
Each January, I reflect on a few of the prior year's columns. I'm always curious about the topics and people I have written about over the course of the year. I hope you are, too.

On June 30, I noted that National City Bank had been placed under a memorandum of understanding by the comptroller of the currency. I emphasized that a vibrant Indiana economy requires a strong and competitive financial service industry. National City played an important role in that regard, employing almost 2,000 bankers within the state. Unfortunately, later in the year National City was forced to sell itself to the highest "low" bidder, PNC. At least PNC is a strong financial institution with a solid reputation.

My column of July 28 discussed the untimely death of Tim Russert and urged our business community to purchase external defibrillators, electrical devices that shock the heart back into normal rhythm. As many as 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrests result in death before emergency help arrives. The device is not hard to operate and is relatively inexpensive at approximately $1,300—well within the budget of most businesses. I am pleased that a number of businesses purchased external defibrillators after reading the column. Perhaps one of them will save a life.

In the Aug. 11 column, I declared that no issue in the presidential campaign was more important to the continuing viability of the United States of America than energy self-sufficiency. The price of energy has disrupted our economy, but it's not just economics. Our oil dependence has pumped up dangerous and often hostile regimes throughout the world, including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran. President-elect Obama vowed that he would free the United States of foreign oil within 10 years. Let's hope the lower cost at the pump today does not disrupt Obama's focus on this important issue.

My open letter to Sen. John McCain (Sept. 22), in which I declined to support Sarah Palin for a position that could lead to her becoming president of the United States, prompted more responses than any column in the last 10 years. The pitiful choice of Palin could very well have been the reason McCain failed to win the presidency. David Letterman, weighing in after the election, reportedly quipped, "Anybody see Sarah Palin on 'The Today Show' a couple of days ago, cooking? And people say, 'Well, can she cook?' Of course she can cook. After all, she cooked McCain's goose." Jay Leno reportedly matched Letterman with, "A political organization has filmed a new TV ad thanking Sarah Palin for all she did for the campaign. The organization is called the Democratic Party."

During the course of the year, I touted two stocks—Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP and Steak n Shake. Both stocks later posted robust market gains. Calumet (Oct. 20 column) produces specialty hydrocarbon products, including lubricating oil, solvents and waxes, in addition to processing crude oil into a variety of fuel and fuel-rated products, such as gasoline and its byproducts. The business is controlled by the local Fehsenfeld family who, along with other insiders, owns almost a third of the outstanding common stock.

Steak n Shake (July 14 column) owns and operates full-service restaurants with counter and dining room seating. It also has drive-through and carry-out service. I saw opportunity under the new management headed by Sardar Biglari from San Antonio. Both stocks maintained value in this withering market.

In the Nov. 17 issue, I addressed our teetering economy and suggested five R's for small-business survival: Rig your ship for the long haul—the government bailout is no quick fix. Reduce exposure—green-light only the projects that generate sales or save expenses. React quickly—avoid pitfalls and be prepared for opportunities. Ramp up customer service and public relations—tell your customers they are important. Remain calm. A reader suggested a sixth "R": revenge. At this writing, I am sticking by the five R's.

Thank you for reading my columns last year and for responding. I have enjoyed our dialogue.

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.
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