Learning from the Tragedy of Detroit

October 12, 2009

The cover article of the Oct. 5, 2009 issue of Time is entitled, “The Tragedy of Detroit: How a great city fell—and how it can rise again.” In simple terms, protectionism engineered by a pact between the American auto makers and the United Auto Workers reduced incentives for the Big Three to innovate while foreign competitors “siphoned away their market share.”

I got the sense that foreign auto makers have out-innovated us when I drove, of all brands, a Citroen rental car while on vacation in France with my family this past June. To me, Citroens were embedded in my memory from the 1980s as those quirky-looking French cars. On this trip, we rented a Citroen Picasso, a diesel-powered four-door sedan that kind of looks like an oversized Toyota Prius. The Picasso was roomy, easy to drive and certainly more refined than any GM car I have rented in the past few years.   

On a recent flight from Chicago to San Francisco, I sat next to an architect from China who lives in Hong Kong. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, she is very familiar with American culture and visits the U.S. often. She said that each time she comes back to the U.S., it seems like there is less energy, less willingness to work hard and innovate.

We certainly don’t have as many people as China, and I would also say that we don’t have as many really smart people, so in order for us to compete against countries such as China, we need to be clever and creatively bring together various synergistic parts of our society to spur innovation. In Silicon Valley, the confluence of entrepreneurs, technologists and financiers (venture capitalists, investment bankers and investors) continues as a fairly unique business alchemy. While few would accuse this triad of altruism, their combined efforts do benefit American society by providing solutions to problems, enhancing American competitiveness, and creating jobs.


It’s Personal!

May 27, 2009

News about economics, a.k.a. “the dismal science,” can often seem academic and even theoretical. Unemployment figures and graphs, while perhaps relatively accurate statistically, do not tell the human story that every person who loses their job has to experience and may be able to tell.

It was on a Saturday evening in January at a middle school basketball game that I found out that two good friends of mine, a married couple, had both lost their jobs. Both of them are highly intelligent, well-educated and personable individuals–not the type you would expect to be laid off. And they have two children and I would imagine a sizable mortgage.

Just as most all of us know someone who has had cancer or heart disease, the current wave of unemployment is wide-ranging. Not a week goes by without me connecting with some friend who is seeking work. The economic downturn got personal on that Saturday in January.

Economic Realities

October 12, 2008

If you’ve been on our planet during the last month, you know that the U.S. economy—for a variety of reasons, most notably the credit crisis and its domino effect—is currently in bad shape. From Oct. 9, 2007 to Oct. 10, 2008, the three most common U.S. stock indexes—the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ—each had declined about 40 percent. The U.S. economy has lost 605,000 jobs since January, shedding 84,000 in August alone. U.S. unemployment now stands at 6.1 percent, a five-year high, and some economists project the unemployment rate to continue to rise through the spring of 2009, reaching 7.0 percent or more.



From Wall St. to Main St.


If you’ve grown numb to the numbers, perhaps the headlines of recent corporate casualties, including AIG, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia and Washington Mutual, have made an impression on you. I do business with two of those firms, and I keep checking online news sources to see who now owns them! You might know someone, as I do, who worked for one of those firms for many years and has lost their job.


Ah, you might say, “They’re all financial services firms and of the Wall Street ilk, so their troubles don’t really affect me. All I care about is Main Street, where I do my business.” Well, the evident demise of the economy—including Main Street—hit home the other night when my wife sadly informed me that her favorite women’s clothing store is going out of business. (Where will I go now to buy gifts for her?) Many other retailers are in trouble, and the National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales from November through January will rise just 2.2 percent. Looking back on it, the news in July that national restaurant chain Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale had gone bankrupt and that Starbucks was closing 600 stores now seem like they were a shot across the bow of our economic ship.


The truth is that Wall Street and Main Street are inextricably connected. In fact, from an even greater macro perspective, the U.S. and world economies are inextricably connected. Clearly, when the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.



The Psychology of a Downturn


As one’s attitude goes, so goes one’s day. People have been taking in the dismal economic news, processing and internalizing it. Just as there was a significant psychological element to the Great Depression, because of the almost instantaneous dissemination of information today, there is arguably a greater psychological component to the present economic downturn.


Consumer confidence indexes are used to gauge how people are feeling about the future, from an economic perspective. The Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household Index dropped 32 points in October 2008, the largest single-month drop since the index’s establishment in 2002. The index fell from 69.2 in the previous month to 37. This most recent monthly survey of 1,000 U.S. adults found that 27 percent believe their local economy will be weaker six months from October (compared to 13 percent the prior month) and 69 percent felt less comfortable making a major purchase than they were six months ago (up from 55 percent in September).


Of course, as consumers spend less, companies make less and that can impact hiring and retention of staff, as well as curtail investment, which in turn leads to less consumer spending, which leads to… It’s obviously a vicious downward spiral.


In my next post, I plan to write about how certain nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies are dealing with these economic realities.











Meaning is the New Luxury

October 7, 2008


I am neither a subscriber nor a regular reader of Vanity Fair magazine, but its July 2007 issue on Africa and the various initiatives being undertaken to ameliorate the continent’s longstanding problems caught my attention. While paging through the issue, I came across an ad for the (RED) business model designed to create awareness and a sustainable flow of money from the private sector into the Global Fund, to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. The first page of the multi-page ad presented this simple, yet provocative statement: “MEANING IS THE NEW LUXURY.”  


I would posit that the statement generally rings true for my generation, the Baby Boomers, as many of us have engaged in, at times, prolific conspicuous consumption, experiencing the benefits of material things, but also their limits in terms of satisfying our deeper needs. I remember attending (and feeling out of place at!) a highly exclusive, over-the-top party at a lavish setting in tony Atherton, Calif. around the very peak of the dot-com boom. I remarked at the event that it was like a frat party on steroids! No expense was spared in putting it on, but for all its glitter and charm, there was a sense of emptiness about it, a lack of meaning. For today’s uber-rich, in economic terms, the actual marginal utility gained from marginal consumption is virtually nil, if not negative. How many more homes or cars can Bill and Melinda Gates benefit from?


For the Millennial generation, I have gotten the sense—and some sociologists have written—that they are generally more meaning-driven. My Millennial daughter skipped an all-expense-paid trip to the Bahamas this past summer, opting instead to help (again) rebuild homes in sweltering New Orleans as part of the continuing post-Katrina relief work. Why did she make that choice? Quite simply, it was all about meaning. As she has often said to me, “Dad, I want to make a difference.”


Meaning is a core element of being human, so it’s not surprising that it is increasingly being sought. Arthur C. Brooks, professor of public administration at Syracuse University, writes in Who Really Cares: “In his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning the psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl defines meaning as the objective of human striving, and he explicitly links it to charity. Frankl believes that giving can be a source of meaning, a way to personal enlightenment: ‘Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself…self-actualization is only possible as a side-effect of self-transcendence.’”





A Stellar Return on Investment

September 28, 2008

In August of this year, I helped man the John Stott Ministries (JSM) booth at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship’s 2008 Inside-Out Conference in Long Beach, California. Our new tabletop display featured a photographic image of one of JSM’s graduated scholars, Lok Bhandari from Nepal, preaching in front of thousands of people at an open-air gathering in his home country.


Well, guess who stopped by our booth on the final day of the conference? Lok! At first, I didn’t recognize him (and he probably didn’t recognize me!)—the passage of time has changed the physical appearance of both of us. But midway through his warm greeting, I remembered his familiar, huge smile and sensed the same joy in the Lord and enthusiasm for ministry that impressed me while he was a diligent Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary several years ago.

Ken Perez with Lok Bhandari at Presbyterian Global Fellowship's 2008 Inside-Out Conference

Ken Perez with Lok Bhandari at Presbyterian Global Fellowship

Since his time at Fuller, Lok has gone on to share the Gospel with literally thousands of people and train over 1,000 pastors who are ministering throughout the Himalayas—in Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, and Tibet, often touching previously unreached people groups, planting churches and nurturing new believers toward maturity in Christ. Talk about a return on investment for the kingdom!


As I drove to the airport after the conference, I reflected on Lok’s ministry, how we in the U.S. couldn’t even envision the kind of ministry he has, much less carry it out. And that’s the beauty of the collaborative partnership between John Stott Ministries and the burgeoning church in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.




On a human level

September 25, 2008

I’ve been fortunate to have spent much of the past dozen years serving as the vice president of marketing for a number of technology companies. Mastering the messaging of an organization, committing the value proposition, key facts and figures, and the telling competitive differentiators to memory and being able to smoothly deliver the so-called “elevator pitch” are essential tasks of a marketing executive.


And so it is with nonprofit organizations as well. For John Stott Ministries (JSM) and its parent organization, Langham Partnership International, there are some 280 JSM-Langham scholars around the world, 180 of whom have graduated and about 100 who are currently working on their Ph.D.s at theological institutions in the U.S., the U.K. and the developing world. Approximately 200,000 volumes of books are distributed each year through the Langham Literature program to thousands of pastors and theological students, and Langham Preaching seminars train roughly 3,000 pastors in some 40 countries each year. Those are the numbers, but it’s good to be reminded that they ultimately represent individual humans, each loaded with to potential to teach and lead others toward greater maturity in their faith.


On a plane flight in April, a passenger across the aisle noticed that I was reading the Bible and struck up a conversation with me. It turned out that he was a pastor, and he had just been to Africa, where he saw firsthand the tremendous growth of the church, but also a lack of training and resources for pastors. He shared with me a story about a 60-year old African pastor who had never received any training at all, yet he had spent all of his adult life endeavoring to lead his congregation toward greater maturity in Christ. Although I probably will never meet that African pastor, his faith and his needs provide some of the inspirational fuel for our ministry.



What’s in a name?

September 23, 2008

Welcome! The beginning of a blog is a bit like the birth of a child. One of the first things you do with a newborn baby is give it a name. A blog’s tagline is in some sense a name. The tagline of this blog, In Two Worlds, is a variation on the title of a book written by John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today.

I chose In Two Worlds as the tagline for my blog because it describes two spheres of our society in which I work on a regular basis–the world of nonprofit ministry organizations and the world of for-profit commercial enterprises.

I am privileged to serve as the president of John Stott Ministries, the U.S. chapter of the Langham Partnership International, a network of three integrated, synergistic programs–Langham Scholars, Langham Literature and Langham Preaching–and six supporting national member movements. Having served for a long time as a high technology executive, I am also privileged to serve as a senior partner in a specialized consulting firm, Colabra, LLC, that works with corporate clients to optimize their go-to-market strategies. On a daily–sometimes even hourly–basis, I find myself bouncing back and forth between these two spheres.

So once again, welcome to my blog! I hope to provide you a window into my two worlds.