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In reading your article on CFOs who are planning for retirement ("Are You Ready for Retirement?" August), I am reminded of the old adage about the shoemaker's children. It is embarrassing that so many sophisticated finance people are in such a situation.
Just to let you know that not all of us are like your examples, I am 55 years old and retiring at the end of this month in a planned handoff to my controller, now CFO. I will be sending my youngest of three children to a private college, just as I did his brothers, and am in the process of interviewing for a not-for-profit CFO position. (The job will mean a major pay cut, but will provide a great deal of satisfaction.) I also plan to travel with my wife of 28 years.
It can be done, but planning is crucial.
A six-figure annual education bill? Why in blazes do parents think they owe their kids a college education? Most of them won't even graduate, and those who do don't need to spend that kind of money on education anyway.
I had a couple come in this year for their tax return. Both were high-school teachers. I noticed that they didn't have any education expenses for their son, who was in his first year of college. The kid is paying for his education, just as his parents did. If he can afford $10,000 cars and "toys," he can afford $5,000 a year for tuition and books at his state college. He lives at home, but he pays for his education and toys.
My son earns around $10,000 a year working part-time in a restaurant. He is paying for his own college education (engineering at Fresno State). He received some scholarships and has the first two years paid.
And so I conclude: Why do parents impoverish themselves to pay for their kids' education? The kids can work and pay for it themselves. I did, and so did many others.
The Toronto Space Needle?
Loved your story on U.S. firms taking their IPOs to our friendly neighbors in the north ("Going Public, Eh?" Newswatch, August). I'm guessing that the restaurant manager at Seattle's Space Needle really enjoyed getting a picture of his landmark building in the inset (as a stand-in for the CN Tower in Toronto?). It probably gave a boost to his Sunday brunch crowd as well. Maybe some friendly Vancouverites came south for some Yankee cooking!
Northwest Cosmetics Labs LLC
Editor's note: Indeed, the building pictured is the Space Needle and not the CN Tower. We regret the error, which more than one of our astute readers caught!
Of Woodpeckers and Programmers
After reading "Version Therapy" (Techwatch, June), the first thought to enter my mind was "Weinberg's Second Law: If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization."
Not a Printer's Error
I run a commercial-printing company, and take issue with the idea expressed in "A License to Print Money?" (Newswatch, April) that printing firms are greedy and out to gouge clients.
Several times the article mentions the variation between the estimated costs and invoiced costs, while downplaying key ingredients in the price variations: alterations and tight deadlines. Estimates are just that — estimates — and they are subject to final review once a project is released. Although it should not happen, it is not uncommon for the released project to vary from the estimated project.
Large printing projects are run on equipment for which press runs are scheduled well in advance. A client's production slot must be kept at the forefront of all decisions so that every effort can be made to adhere to this schedule. No business will keep machinery that costs tens of millions of dollars idle while customer-caused delays hold up a project, and it is unreasonable to expect a printing company to do this and not be compensated.
The commercial-printing industry has been battered especially hard during the recent economic downturn (more than 10 percent of commercial-printing firms have gone out of business since 2000). My advice to anyone purchasing printing is to involve the printing company as early as possible in the design and planning of a project, and stay in constant touch. Keep alterations and changes to a minimum. Adhere to the production schedule, and do not dump everything onto a printer at the last minute.
Finally, get updated estimates. If the invoice differs from what you'd expected, find out why. If you don't get adequate explanations, contest the invoice. While I would love to charge a lot more for the services I offer, the fact remains that it is all too easy for a customer to go down the street, and if I operated my business the way your article implies, I would be out of business very fast.
Michael R. Petkash
Graphic Litho Inc.
Thanks for the knowledge imparted in "A Human Inventory" (April). I understand a corporation's attempting to capture expertise, prevent knowledge loss, and ensure business continuity. But what a knowledge repository does not show is the intangible that a person may bring to the team, or the synergy that certain teams may create. Knowledge-management systems may one day assign jobs without employee feedback, or pigeonhole employees into jobs they don't want. As for hiring new employees, these systems appear to be more about hiring for a task and not for the skills. I'm a firm believer that most people should be hired for the skills and trained for the job.
I work for a defense contractor, and on more than one occasion my employer has attempted to introduce a software program that would catalog the skills of employees. On the most recent occasion, I found the Web-based program to be very awkward and time consuming. I believe that few of my co-workers participated; indeed, there was no effort to encourage participation. I have never seen anything indicating that my input was actually used. Perhaps this is a local implementation failure, but it appears that managers don't want to be saddled with workers who haven't been recommended by someone they trust.
This issue has been a concern of mine, because even though we are a small part of a very large corporation, we are a very rich source of expertise that I believe is not being leveraged. And even within our group, managers tend to tightly classify people.
Once, when I needed people to write software-acceptance tests, the individuals originally assigned were not available. I was given a list of available people, and I selected a metallurgist that I had worked with years ago. Although he didn't have a software background, I knew that he was a very bright, meticulous engineer. He did a great job and we met our schedule, but I don't believe many others would have made the same choice I did.