Pittsburgh (2550)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Boiler room blues

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I went to see “Boiler Room” and was troubled by comments from my colleagues about salespeople after the movie. One woman said she would discourage her kids from pursuing a career in sales. As a salesperson, I was hoping you might have some ammunition that I could use to defend our trade.

There is no more important role in the business world today than that of salespeople. Salespeople are more important than doctors, scientists, engineers, CEOs and lawyers. A scientist or a doctor may discover the cure for cancer, but nobody is saved until the cure is sold to the patients who need it and the physicians who treat them.

Personal computers have revolutionized the way we do business, but they sat in a research center until Steve Jobs and his contemporaries took the technology developed by engineers at Xerox and sold it to the American public. While Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers crafted our nation’s Constitution, the real work was done by Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and others who “sold” it to the colonies and obtained their ratification.

Unfortunately, “sales” often is a dirty word in our culture that conjures up images of con artists in plaid jackets. Although nothing could be further from the truth, this is how we are portrayed in movies, plays and songs. This winter, while fighting the flu, I went to the video store to load up on videos. I chose movies about salespeople: “Death of a Salesman”; “Glengarry, Glen Ross”; “Tin Men”; and “Cadillac Man”. After “Glengarry, Glen Ross”, I had to turn off the VCR. No wonder people think of salespeople the way they do.

Sure, there have been and will continue to be a few bad apples that stain the image of the professional salesperson, but name a profession that doesn’t have its share of miscreants.

To set the record straight and to support the countless salespeople who daily help turn the wheels of commerce, I am setting forth the Salesperson’s Bill of Rights. You have the right:

1. to your dreams, desires and expectations;

2. to like yourself as you are;

3. to change that which you don’t like;

4. to fail;

5. to decide how you use your time and energy;

6. to ask questions;

7. to disqualify prospects before they disqualify you;

8. to ask for a decision;

9. to get a decision, as long as one option is no;

10. to be successful — once you have paid the price.

Along with these rights come responsibilities. It is your responsibility to our profession to hold yourself to the highest standards. I measure this by whether the salesperson who follows you had an easier time with the prospect because of you. Here are your responsibilities to your brethren in sales. You are responsible for:

1. avoiding excuses;

2. not wasting a prospect’s time;

3. being polite;

4. how prospects feel when they are around you;

5. telling prospects what to expect from you;

6. making your questions meaningful;

7. helping prospects “discover” for themselves how you can help them without beating them up with features and benefits;

8. guiding the prospect to make a decision;

9. accepting “no” from a prospect;

10. keeping your mindset and skills at the highest level possible through a commitment to ongoing learning and training.

I hope that, armed with these rights and responsibilities, we can overcome the negative stereotypes and elevate the concept of being a salesperson to the level that an entrepreneur holds in today’s public eye. After all, isn’t that what an entrepreneur really is?

Find me an entrepreneur who isn’t a salesperson and I will show you a business owner who failed.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Reach him at (724) 933-9110 or by e-mail at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Your desktop resort

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A deadline is fast approaching; the pressure is mounting and the walls seem to be closing in. Maybe it’s a good time to take a vacation.

“That’s months away!” you scoff to yourself.

Not so. You may not realize it, but you have an opportunity to regroup and refresh right at your fingertips.

In an instant, you can be in the mountains, or at the shore, or at your favorite golf course. You can close your eyes for a few minutes and clear away the mental clutter. Then you can face the day, and any problems you may have, with a clear head and a fresh new approach.

“Garbage!” you say. “I’ve got an important job here. I can’t get swept up in the euphoria of some New-Age mumbo jumbo.”

Hold on a second. When your mind is tied in knots — when it’s cluttered with a lot of “stuff,” related to business or otherwise — you’re not at your peak efficiency. Too many random and unrelated thoughts have a tendency to slip into your decision-making process. You won’t process information effectively and you won’t make the best possible decisions, because you are short-circuiting one of your greatest resources: your intuition.

Intuition is the flow of insights, hunches, and premonitions that make up your internal guidance system. One writer refers to intuition as “the urgings of the spirit.”

Regardless of how you think of it, your intuition is a powerful resource. It acts as a filter to screen out trivia and give greater emphasis to the information that is of greater importance to you. Think about all of the times you’ve faced problems and your first thoughts turned out to be the best answer. In all probability, that was your intuition at work.

According to author Gary Zukav, intuition serves several purposes:

Intuition serves survival. It signals when danger is near. It tells you when you are facing abnormal risk and when you’re about to make a mistake. It could have been your intuition that told you not to buy that stock. Your intuition and your spouse were both right.

Intuition serves creativity. It provides new ideas and insights. It provides the suggestion that an idea which has never been tried before might work.

Intuition provides inspiration. It’s the sudden illumination that shines through the confusion — the sudden answer to a perplexing question.

So, rather than chase your tail around a problem until the last possible moment — and then make a slap-dash decision — visit your desktop resort. Take a minute or two to refresh yourself. Take several deep breaths. Let some fresh air in.

Recall a particularly enjoyable experience. Savor it. Gain a new perspective about the problem, your life, your family and your job.

Ah, yes — your job. OK, now is the time to go back and tackle that problem — with a fresh mind and a new approach. Put your intuition to work. Let your mind do its job. Allow it to recognize and consider all the options and present to you the best possible solution. Chances are, that problem won’t seem quite so insurmountable now.

And whatever you do, please don’t tell your travel agent about all the money that I saved you. Let’s keep the desktop resort as our little secret. William Armstrong, a management consultant for 31 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Think global, but ...

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William Goodlin will be the first to tell you — taking your product or service overseas can prove difficult at best.

He should know. As the long-time president of Bricmont Enterprises, a local engineering firm that designs furnaces for the steel, glass and brick industries, he has taken 12 trips to China in the past two years, 10 days each trip. And he still doesn’t have any contracts there.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Goodlin knows that exporting takes patience, not to mention persistence and some level of fortitude. And the result? Since Bricmont, a Southpointe, Washington County-based firm that employs about 100 people, started targeting overseas projects in 1992, it has increased its annual revenue to more than $50 million. Today, 37 percent of its revenue comes from export sales.

So why aren’t more Pittsburgh-area companies doing it? Wayne DiBartola, a senior technical consultant working with the World Trade Center Pittsburgh, puts it simply: “Business in the U.S. is too good, so they’re reluctant to go international. But I would think twice about that because the future is in the global markets.”

For those willing to try, he offers this advice: “Persistence, persistence, persistence, persistence. And patience, patience, patience, patience.”

Both he and Goodlin, along with World Trade Center director Mame Bradley, are on a mission to increase export activity in the region. They recently took their message to a gathering of CEOs at a CEO Club program.

“We are way behind in terms of export employment,” Bradley told the audience, adding that only one job in 20 in the region is the result of export activity here, far behind the statistics of other metropolitan areas. “But for every billion dollars in exports, 15,000 jobs are created and supported. That’s one job for every $66,000.

“If we could catch up to the rest of the country, we could add 60,000 new jobs immediately,” she says. “The impact of $3 billion on local business is very direct and very powerful.”

The impact on a company’s bottom line isn’t so bad either, Goodlin says. Bricmont earns a profit margin of between 4 and 8 percent on domestic sales. But overseas, it can earn a margin in the neighborhood of 12 to 17 percent. That got Goodlin’s attention.

So where does a company begin? Goodlin offers a laundry list of advice, beginning with a willingness to work with the U.S. government.

“We avoided the government like the plague for 35 years,” he says, before finally realizing that it could help Bricmont immensely in breaking into new markets. Today, the company works actively with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. embassies and the U.S. Department of Commerce in both Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., among others.

Goodlin says he even relies on the government for cultural information, so that he’s aware of appropriate and inappropriate goodwill gestures and other behaviors before entering a market.

Time is the other significant barrier to entry, Goodlin stresses. As with his Chinese adventure, overseas relationships require a much longer-term view of things.

“When you get into the international market, they don’t know you from Adam,” he says.

That means you have to take the time to get to know the people and how they do business. Overseas, relationships come long before actual sales, in most cases.

Here’s the rest of Goodlin’s checklist for export success:

  • Your senior executives must make a huge commitment to doing business overseas because they will be doing most of the relationship building.

  • Expect to make a large number of trips to those overseas destinations. “They want to see you more and more,” Goodlin says.

  • Be prepared to share three to four times the information you typically provide to prospective customers. “Customers desire education on your products,” he says.

  • Expect your first sale or contract to take as long as three to four years to close, which may be how long it takes to develop a comfortable relationship with the customer.

  • Expect some language barriers. But, Goodlin says, most prospective customers want to speak English in the meetings, even if their English is substandard. “They’ll use you as the English teacher,” he quips.

  • Transportation within some countries can prove difficult, so leave lots of time to get to your business destination.

  • You need a local agent within your target country, which you can locate through U.S. government officials.

Overall, Goodlin says, entering the export arena as a senior executive “does change the way your life is, and your husband or wife won’t see you much ... but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

That’s the plan ...

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Most successful business owners routinely use a business plan to stay on track, seek financing, re-energize their companies, or arrange strategic alliances.

The purpose of the business plan is to make a commitment on paper to a plan of attack, which will determine the direction the business is moving. It should also determine the exact strategy and tactics, the risks and rewards. Here’s where you should begin:

The basics

A business plan should be set up with a cover page and a table of contents. Each section should be tabbed and neatly labeled.

Executive summary

This is the whole business concept in a nutshell —- a complete summary of the rest of the plan. Starting with when and how the business began and ending with projections, this section briefly describes the product/service, what separates the business from the competition, what makes the business successful and what it needs to do to become even more successful.

This should be two pages at most. If it is not well written to compel the reader to continue, it will not get read and ultimately will end up in the round file.

Mission statement

The mission statement is the rudder of the business. It briefly states what the business is about — what its mission is — and is often used in marketing materials.

Background and business concept

Also know as “the company,” this section picks up where the executive summary left off. Basic information about the company, its past, present and future, should be provided here.

The market

What customer groups are targeted? Who is the competition? What is the market? Why would it be interested in that service or product?

Your product or service

What is it? What makes it special or attractive? What does it cost? Are there warranties? How will the product or service be produced and/or distributed? How will the business be promoted? How will the business attract new customers? Is there an in-house sales force? Will the company sell through manufacturers’ representatives, telemarketers, direct mail or the Internet?

Management team and objectives

Who’s running the business and what goals are they required to meet? Is the management team deep or thin? What is its previous experience?

Financial considerations

Financial statements should be done on a cash basis. What are the business’s expenses and revenue sources? The more detail the better. This section should include the exit strategy.

The summary

Summarize the rest of the plan and key issues.

Appendices

Assets and liabilities must be included in this section. Personal financial statements and biographies of the principals also should be included here. Louis P. Stanasolovich, named one of the best financial advisers in America the last four years by Worth magazine, is founder and president of Legend Financial Advisors Inc., a fee-only financial advisory firm located in the North Hills. Legend provides asset management and comprehensive financial planning services to individuals and businesses. Reach him at (412) 635-9210 or via his firm’s Web site at www.legend-financial.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

On knowing yourself

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“If you know yourself and you know the enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” — Sun Tzu

More than 2,000 years ago, the wise general Sun Tzu admonished his compatriots to constantly gather information to know themselves and their enemies (read: competition).

Unless you understand both — your organization and your competition — you cannot predict, with any degree of confidence, your success.

What does it mean in a business to know yourself? The simple answer is a SWOT analysis, an analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strengths. Every organization has strengths that provided the impetus for it to enter the market in the first place. Some are unique; most are relative. Strengths range from technology or patents to distribution channels and logistics, to human resource capabilities and motivation and reward systems. The most powerful ones are those which are unique and cannot be copied.

However, the toughest trick is to get an accurate assessment of your relative strengths. Picture this: You have assembled your top management team to gather input about your firm’s strengths. It’s easy to imagine that each manager will be inclined, perhaps just a little, to exaggerate his strengths or those of his function. Cumulatively, these creeping exaggerations build into a very skewed picture.

The problem is that the firm will implement its strategy based on the assumption that these strengths are accurate. Your firm may fail because of misperceptions.

Weaknesses. Every organization has weaknesses. Some may be common to firms in your industry and some may be unique.

Back to our scenario: This time, some of your top managers duck acknowledging their responsibility for weaknesses in their area. This is easy to understand. Their boss and his or her supervisor are present, and the lowly managers are supposed to say something terminally career damaging such as, “Our distribution channels are not working out; our last ad campaign flopped; we had a failed new product introduction; and our sales costs are out of control.”

Even if true, no one in his or her right mind will be so honest. Because of fear, these facts will be veiled in hyperbole and disguised. Unfortunately, without an accurate analysis, your organization may proceed and be undermined by its false perceptions.

Opportunities. In contrast to internal organizational strengths, opportunities are positive options that exist outside of the company. Unfortunately, opportunities are common to all participants in the industry who have identified them. The competitive advantage goes to the firm that identified them first.

The availability of the opportunity for you is contingent upon your unique strengths. Many people think organizations should simply respond to opportunities as they arise. But companies that actively survey their environments for opportunities are best poised to capture them.

Imagine top management conducting a SWOT analysis. Collectively, they not only anticipate many obvious opportunities, but because of their interaction, they brainstorm and discover others that were less obvious and remain unknown to their competition. These opportunities position the firm to outcompete the competition and gain market share.

The final caveat is not to believe you have found all your opportunities. They are endless.

Threats. Anticipating and systematically identifying threats lets you create ways to prepare and prevail. Taking a proactive stance is always more efficient.

By continually monitoring your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, you will uncover the information you need to prepare effectively, operate efficiently, gain competitive advantage, constantly make you aware of new opportunities, keep from making serious mistakes and prevail in your industry.

Lance Kurke, Ph.D, is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University and is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

It’s not what you deliver ...

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The other day, I was reminded of one of the fundamental elements of success in any business, whether a for-profit or nonprofit, large or small. It’s called meeting the customer’s expectations.

One of our associates was discussing a new project with a number of people in the conference room at a client’s office. At one point, he asked a simple question. He wanted to know their expectations of us. A couple of people answered immediately; the others had to stop and think.

As it turned out, they all gave different answers. Each person in that room had a different perception of exactly what we would do for them. Needless to say, we stayed on the subject until everyone was in agreement as to just what the client expectations were.

“Exactly what is it that you are expecting us to accomplish for you?”

This is a basic question, and an important one. It’s something we ask clients, in one form or another, before we begin work on any project. As a service agency, we know that we’re going to be evaluated in a number of areas, such as creativity, content, cost, delivery schedules, etc. But we also know that most clients already have a picture — some clearer than others — in mind that defines for them what they think we’re going to be able to provide.

Their expectations of our work will probably be high, as they should be. We need to be able to grasp their vision, to understand exactly what they want.

The most important thing to remember, though, is this: Expectations are determined by the customer. It doesn’t really matter what you deliver unless it meets or exceeds those expectations. If you delivered a certain number of products or a certain amount of service, but your customer was expecting more from you, no matter how hard you worked, no matter how heroic your efforts were, regardless of what you did, the fact is that you failed to meet your customer’s expectations.

You may have met, or even exceeded, your own expectations. But the reality is that your expectations don’t count.

In the process of failing to deliver what your customer was expecting, you probably did some harm to your reputation. The time and money you’ve invested in advertising and/or public relations activities that describe who you are, what you do and how you do it better than your competition may have been wasted on the aforementioned customer. And as word gets around that you failed to deliver for this customer, others will hear about it.

None of this has to happen. You can eliminate many potential problems and misunderstandings as the meeting is progressing, or as part of its conclusion. Here’s how:

Ask the question. At some point, sooner as opposed to later, ask the customer what he or she expects from you. Ask directly.

Listen carefully to the answer. Be sure you understand the answer. Your success — or failure — with the project could be determined by what your customer says and how you respond. If the customer’s expectations go way beyond what you normally would deliver, this is where the discussion takes place to make their expectations more realistic.

Summarize aloud. At the conclusion of the meeting, summarize and read aloud the list of action items discussed — who’s responsible for doing what, when it’s due, and so forth, to make sure everyone understands what is expected.

Write a meeting report. As soon as possible, put together a meeting report with all of the action items briefly described, and send a copy to each participant.

If this sounds a bit routine, like something you do all the time, that’s excellent. Encourage others to do it, including your customers.

If it isn’t something you’ve been doing on a regular basis, consider incorporating the regimen into your meeting format from now on.

The results may be better than expected by you ... and your customers. Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or by e-mail at jkrakoff@krakoff.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Cybersquatters beware

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New federal laws are finally putting a serious crimp on those who register Web domain names using the names of companies with big bucks, then try to sell the domains back to the companies. Here’s what you can do legally to stop them. By James R. Carlisle, II

Relief finally has arrived for those besieged by so-called cybersquatters or cyberpirates who seek to make a quick profit by registering and selling Internet domain names that are the same as or similar to famous trademarks or individual names.

On Nov. 29, 1999, President Clinton signed into law the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act. The Act amends the Trademark Act of 1946 and contains cyberpiracy protections for businesses and individuals. Although the act has been criticized as heavy-handed and providing undue emphasis (and power) to trademark rights, most welcome it as a development in promoting online business.

Business protections

Under the act, a person is liable if he or she, with bad-faith intent to profit from another’s mark, registers, “traffics” or uses a domain name that is:

  • Identical to or confusingly similar to a distinctive mark at the time of registration of the domain name;

  • Confusingly similar to or dilutive of a famous mark at the time of registration of the domain name; or

  • A protected trademark, word or name under the United States Code.

Traffics includes sales, purchases, loans, pledges, licenses, exchanges of currency and any other transfer or receipt in exchange for consideration. A key change to prior trademark law is that mere registration (including “parking” or “warehousing”) of a domain name without use on a Web site can be actionable.

Bad faith

While bad faith is not defined in the act, it provides that, in determining bad faith, a court may consider other intellectual properties in the domain name, including trademark or other intellectual property rights, using another person’s legal name, intent to divert consumers, transferring the domain name for financial gain without having used it in the bona fide offering of goods or services, using false information to obtain the registration, and registering multiple domain names identical or confusingly similar to others.

However, bad faith should not be determined to exist where it was reasonably believed by the alleged cybersquatter that using the domain name was a fair use or was otherwise legal.

Remedies for businesses

Trademark holders can force cybersquatters to relinquish, forfeit, cancel or transfer domain names and can collect civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 per domain name. Domain name registries are immune from such penalties. Alleged cybersquatters’ defenses are preserved if using the domain name was a “fair use” or was protected by the First Amendment.

The act applies to all future and existing domain name registrations, but cybersquatting victims may not recover monetary damages for wrongful acts that occurred prior to enactment.

Individual protection

Anyone will be liable who registers, without consent and with the intent of financial gain, a domain name that consists of or is substantially or confusingly similar to another living person’s name. There is an exclusion, however. The registrant, except as otherwise prohibited by law, isn’t liable if the name is registered in good faith and related to a work of authorship under the United States Code and if the registrant is the work’s copyright owner or licensee and intends to sell the name in conjunction with the work.

Individual cyberpiracy protections apply to domain names registered on or after Nov. 29, 1999.

As for remedies for individuals, they may include forfeiting, canceling or transferring the domain name to the individual, in addition to costs and attorneys’ fees.

Post-enactment activity

While the full extent of the effectiveness of the act remains to be seen, several lawsuits have been filed since its passage. One of the main benefits for businesses is the ability to take legal action against a domain name instead of only against individuals or parties who may have limited assets or may be judgment-proof. Lawsuits by the National Football League, Lucent Technologies and Teen magazine were filed shortly after passage of the act.

Individual cyberpiracy protections have had a significant impact. Pirated names for numerous celebrities, including Sharon Stone and Brad Pitt, ceased functioning shortly after the act was passed, and John Tesh and Kenny Rogers each recently filed suit against online firms that had registered their names as domain names. James R. Carlisle, II, is an attorney with Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby. Reach him at jcarlisle@cohenlaw.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Business Notes

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Desbrow & Associates has been selected to provide public relations and promotional services for Covenant at South Hills, a nonprofit life care retirement community planned for construction in Mount Lebanon.

Nauticom Interactive has completed a Web site for Seniors Living, a source of information about retirement, assisted living and nursing care facilities.

Dick Corp. has been awarded a $42 million contract by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for construction of a bridge over the Lehigh River in Allentown. The bridge is the final link of a $105 million project to create a three-mile link from Route 22 to Interstate 78.

Scozio’s Market Place has acquired Valley Brook Market in McMurray and the former Food Gallery in Mount Lebanon.

Labwerks Interactive has been chosen to design and develop Web sites for the Art Institutes International’s 21 schools in the United States.

Sheetz Inc. has opened a new convenience store on Perry Highway in Pine Township. The location employs approximately 40 people and offers brand-name grocery products, as well as made-to-order products and gasoline.

The Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund has closed its second round of fund-raising at $3 million, and doubled its number of shareholders to 175.

Adonix has acquired Computron France, a producer of accounting software.

Hefren-Tillotson Inc. has formed H-T Capital Markets, a wholly owned public finance division with headquarters in Pittsburgh and with an additional office in Philadelphia. H-T Capital Markets provides complete structuring and underwriting services for tax-exempt and taxable debt, as well as comprehensive financial advisory services for government and 501(c) (3) entities.

In addition to its specialization in educational and municipal authority finance, HT Capital Markets will work with Hefren-Tillotson Inc. to provide asset management services to a wide range of clients, including municipalities.

Carlow Hill College has re-established the Carlow Hill College Entrepreneurial Center. The program offers participants classroom training by experienced instructors, hands-on business plan development assistance from experts and seminars conducted by financial and marketing professionals.

Temporary Employees Most Preferred Inc. has changed its name to Preferred Staffing Inc. Additionally, the company is offering human resources seminars at client sites. The training targets those with little formal human resources training, small organizations with no human resources departments and those with limited resources which are unable to afford the investment in time or resources required of more lengthy programs.

Compuvisions Inc. has been selected by STORM LLC to increase content and introduce e-commerce functionality to its Web site. STORM will gain the capability to sell its performance management software directly from its site.

Coyne Advertising has added three clients, the Fragasso Group, a registered investment adviser, the Observer-Reporter, a Washington County daily newspaper, and Cobweb Internet Service Provider, a division of Observer Publishing.

The board of directors of GA Financial Inc., the parent of Great American Federal Savings & Loan, has approved a stock repurchase plan authorizing the acquisition of 5 percent of the company’s outstanding shares.

Respironics Inc. has been awarded a two-year contract to provide positive airway pressure, bi-level and noninvasive ventilation products to American Homepatient. Respironics also was awarded dual vendor status for oximetry, infant apnea monitors, ventilators, nebulizers and related accessories.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Who do you trust?

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In God We Trust — All Others Pay Cash.” The amusing sign in the delicatessen caught my eye and started me thinking — What place does God have in the marketplace today?

Ohio is the most recent state to come under attack for references to God. A challenge to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to remove the phrase “With God all things are possible” as the official state motto for Ohio, suggests just one more step in the process of removing any mention of deity in our lives.

The first step is removing God from our government and schools. Will the next step be to remove God from our businesses? Will faith be outlawed as a guiding principle in our daily affairs as religious references are erased from public view?

In our rapidly changing, high-tech culture, we are so crowded with our own inventions that we have no need for dependence on, nor accountability to, a Supreme Being. But can success, material wealth and power give ultimate meaning to our lives? In our shift from the spiritual to a more secular world view, our appeal to higher standards of love, virtue, compassion and positive traits in general have lost their point of reference.

There is a growing sense of frustration that achieving The American Dream does not fulfill our deeper longings. We spend years building businesses, growing market share and watching the bottom line. After years of struggling to climb a mountain of obstacles, we get to the top, only to realize that success can be an empty feeling.

We have it all, but we are not satisfied.

Peggy Noonen, former speech writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, spoke about our national spiritual crisis in the Sept. 14, 1992, issue of Forbes magazine: “ ... We are beginning to lose God — banishing Him from the scene, from our consciousness, losing the assumption He was part of the deity drama or its Maker.

“And it is a terrible thing when people lose God. Life is difficult and people are afraid, and to be without God is to lose man’s great source of consolation and coherence.”

From Moses to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have come dire warnings of the consequences of a nation that forgets God. Without God, our business endeavors have no reason or meaning. It becomes a game of wealth accumulation and power struggles.

Some will demand evidence before allowing God to guide their daily affairs, but there are compelling reasons that a belief in a Supreme Being is not so farfetched. Consider:

  • The “outer” evidence. Look at the order, beauty and intricate design of nature. Could all of this happen by chance or accident? I think not, any more than an explosion in a print shop could result in a book of poetry!

    Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I see teaches me to believe in a God that I do not see.”

  • The “inner” evidence: The inner longing of every human being to be loved and to express love, to know truth and the desire for peace — where do these come from? A higher being? To come to the realization that we are created for a purpose will influence our personal, family and business worlds. The more we seek to be in a right relationship with God, the more we come into right relationships with our fellow human beings.

It will pervade every area of our lives as we remember that in all matters — however, great or small — it is “In God We Trust.”

Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.