Windows on the World of Raymond Plank

Founder, Apache Corp

Vol. 2009 No. 2

 

My parents’ philosophies and values lined up with compassion.  We siblings grew self affirmed, advantaged, and leveraged by parents in unison. 

 

Mother was taken from us at my age fifteen, seven hours before she was to have been picked up by Dad and me at the hospital following a routine appendectomy which resulted in a floating embolism to her brain but not before she had written each of Dad and her three children a penny postcard on which she penciled her final message.  She was forty-seven years of age.  Respecting the personal nature of her messages, none of us shared our post cards with another.  All but myself are deceased. 

 

Mother’s card to me read:

 

My son,

 

The fifteen years of my life which you have shared have been such glorious ones.  How I have loved them.  You are so fine and unselfish.  You have given me such love and consideration.  I have known no joy which could equal that of your companionship. 

 

My pride in you will go on through the years if you keep your head up and your faith and courage high. 

 

All Love,

Mother

 

Mom had posed challenges, as did Dad.  Their values were reinforced by the lives lost in the amalgamation of the Former Soviet Union and in World War II estimated at 100,000,000 men, women, and children. 

 

Founding Apache at age 32 in 1954, I had become aware that the values of any organization, be it business for profit, non profit, or political bureaucracy, become part of its culture, defined as the sum of its values.  The analogy to me applies to show life and death, with life-time learning a core premise for happiness and fulfillment.

 

Let’s move the clock ahead, even at a less rapid pace than that of the rapid advance of technology, as personal and organizational growth is predominately incremental. 

 

“Human nature” is having a difficult time keeping up with a fraction of the pace of technological change which thrusts mankind into uncharted waters beyond assimilation to comprehend, anticipate, and make appropriate adjustments.

 

Egypt has on balance been very good to Apache Corp. where our application of advancing science has enabled our assistance to their own survival and progress.  Egypt is host to scores of pyramids which tower above the desert west of the Nile River.  They were built by the common man who labored and died in poverty to satiate the egos of the Pharaohs bent on building lasting memorials to themselves surrounded by their riches in the form of gold, small ships, precious jewels, addressing feigned immortality.

 

Their advancement speaks as much to over developed egos as to the more durable pyramids.  How do we feel about that?  The biggest house on the highest hill can be overdone also one built to impress.  There is a dividing line between ungarnished greed and avarice against which our Emancipation Proclamation, Constitution, the Bill of Rights were and are intended to counter.

 

Respect in anticipation and advancement of objectives don’t derive from show and tell or the chants of “We’re #1” on the athletic field by a team with 3 wins to 9 losses; for excessiveness of claims influence negative passions as if here by politically inspired junkets when the top elected officials precede or accompany their rhetoric with and where our power and Al-Qaeda or Taliban’s opposition exist.  Our military will engage in a reign of terror from the skies and on the ground.  Threats, including trade sanctions, the latter when justified, have alienated our country both from historical allies and those we threaten alike. 

 

The above premise applies within for profit business, with emphasis on publicly owned enterprises.  When boards of directors award senior executives and frequently themselves with large cash and stock grants, they flirt with the prospect of retribution, whether by internal disfavor, union demands, and lowered respect.

 

Warren Buffet, still the Omaha Oracle, has noted the counterproductive role of some personnel firms out to benefit their purse by moving up the compensation of top management’s take (which of course includes the Personnel officer).  This practice took on the speed of Mercury as a predictable rising compensation is an unintended consequence of Sarbanes Oxley legislation. 

 

Governance Committees, with overlapping duties of Management and Development Committees, increasingly rely upon the “Independent” Consulting firms for recommendations which would illustrate deliberation and diligence with paper trails extending to “political correctness.”

 

Examples of unfortunate consequences fall on “for profits” likened to a hail storm.  Automobile companies failed from union generated and political concessions to prevent or end targeted company attacks and head off or end strikes – as the domestic jobs fled abroad. 

 

Banks and investment bankers allowed their equity to debt ratios to fall from a range of 6 to 8% equity while debt rose from 92% to 94%, and the bubble burst.  Too late for longer term prudent policy, the crisis response of print money and sell equity to those countries with mounting dollar stacks which could meet internal requirements for capital from within and lend their surplus dollars to the U.S., the globes largest economy, took over financial currency markets.

 

The petro dollar economies of the Near East, swollen with $100 to $170 dollars per barrel oil and natural gas up to $10 and $11 per thousand cubic feet, were joined by China’s runaway dollar surpluses from exports to the U.S. exceeding U.S. imports.  The October 26, 2009 Fortune magazine headlines, “China Buys the World” with the sub-heading reading “The Chinese have $2 trillion and are going shopping.  Is your company and your country on this list?” 

 

Meanwhile Japan, which suffered a fifteen year long debacle from zero interest rates toppled despite a strong citizen’s savings ethic, appears frail again, as she struggles with spending to keep her economy rolling with the rest of the world.

 

Special economic advisor to the President and former head of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, preceding Alan Greenspan dourly notes his concern with the U.S. economy dominated by 40 percent financial profits sourcing the “upturn,” believing it unsustainable. 

 

Are we a nation of “Dunkin Donuts?”

 

Caution with media jubilation that the “recession is over.”  Granted there are encouraging signs, but should we be running caution signals or hoping we can continue to run red lights which have been flashing for twenty years? 

 

Even hurricanes have a quiet eye and a back side where the winds rise again.  I used that analogy from a personal experience in World War II as a heavy bomber combat pilot.  On our longest mission of the war of 14 flight hours, our target was China’s Hainan Island warehouse wharfs.  We took off from the Philippines with two extra tanks of gas in our bombay which space would normally have been occupied by double the bomb load.  We happily disgorged 4000 pounds of TNT on target and set splendid fires on Japan’s supply lines which had been over extended to South China.  Our one plane attack was to interrupt and demonstrate their vulnerability.    

 

Unfortunately the hurricane blew us off course, and a white faced Flight Engineer, Mack, announced “we would run out of gas approximately 45 minutes short of home.  Your choices are between leaving the plane by parachute, or ditching in what I understand, are fine shark infested waters.” 

 

Our decision was “ditch” over parachuting.  We hoped to make it back, or land wheels up in a survivable crash landing.  We leaned out the gasoline to a point where we’d risk burning up the engines by holding a high oxygen ratio, and throwing all extra weight overboard. 

 

We made it all the way back, but in our Intelligence debriefing we were chewed out for jettisoning 50-caliber machine guns, life rafts, parachutes, and threatened with being billed for “the equipment.”  We didn’t see anyone in the room above our four officers’ rank and yelled back they ought to apologize.  We’d recorded and pictured the hurricane, as ordered, salvaging the 35 millimeter films if not the camera, we’d hit the target, started nice fires, encountered only light anti aircraft fire, no fighter interception, because we were unanticipated, hostile guests.  We’d returned the airplane undamaged and ten crew members ready for the next mission after food and sleep.  So, we ended on a high note, “Shut up and go ‘f’ yourselves.”  We experienced no further hostility from Intelligence.  Instead some compliments which occasionally resonate as above the normal ritual of “kick butt.” 

 

A few days later Intelligence briefed us that U.S. Army troops had encircled a relatively small area perhaps two miles long and a mile wide where our ground troops had cut off and surrounded a number of Japanese troops.  Neither they nor our ground troops had artillery, and a half dozen B-24s were to fly over the enemy at low altitude and bomb them with relatively small fragmentation bombs which would be set to explode above ground and slaughter them.

 

U.S. Army engineers on the ground would set off smoke flares at each of the four corners within which the enemy was contained.  We would bomb from 2000 feet above the ground; we could expect rifle fire but none of the heavy anti aircraft fire which normally plagued us over major targets at higher altitudes. 

 

Now geese normally fly at speeds of around 40 miles per hour as they fly south for the winter and north in the spring to their nesting grounds.  Although no medium bombers were available, the big old B-24s, accustomed to carrying 8000 pounds of TNT in our bombays, could carry a very large number of fragmentation bombs, and from 2000 feet each of 6 out of our 8 – 50 caliber machine guns on our big birds flying 4 times the speed of honorable goose birds could contribute to our version of a “turkey shoot.”

 

We bombed and strafed the green meadows lengthwise, climbed and turned the six heavies, and repeated in the opposite direction, the navigators on our planes getting lots of 35mm pictures.  That evening in early 1944, Intelligence called the crews together and were exuberant.  Their casualty estimate was 5000 Japanese killed or seriously wounded, zero Americans lost.

 

Perhaps the Japanese would have done better had they dug in instead of kneeling or standing to fire their rifles – I think a few rifle bullets may have hit one or more planes, but even the ground mechanics were delighted; they could work on other more seriously damaged planes.

 

Moral of the story?  “Waste not, want not,” and there are times when it works to shake idiots to get their attention but it pays to have a winning hand.

 

As Warren Buffett has remarkable talents in multiple areas, including articulate prose, I attach a recent op-ed from the N.Y Times.  

 

Thank you,

R.P.

 

Attachment:      New York Times article The Greenback Effect by Warren E. Buffett                    

                                 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/opinion/19buffett.html 

                                  

 

Comments