How do you feel about Obamacare? Have you actually read what it will do? Or is your opinion based on what you’ve read on Facebook and heard on talk radio?
Like you, my opinions are largely based on my life’s experiences. It’s difficult to separate what’s happened to me from my opinions because my experiences are real and I can’t deny them.
So here’s my experience about one aspect of Obamacare: establishment of health exchanges. These exchanges would be designed allow small businesses to join large groups that negotiate for better terms from health care providers.
There’s a lot of chatter, particularly here in southern states, that health exchanges represent government intrusion into the free market. Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal is proudly proclaiming he will not offer exchanges in his state no matter what the Supreme Court says.
“We have the greatest health care system in the world,” the GOP argument goes, “and we don’t need to change it!” Well, that’s not my experience.
Let’s go back to April 2002. The dot.com bubble had burst, taking hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs with it. I had managed to buy my firm back from the public company we had sold it to (and signed the papers just days before that public company filed Chapter 11).
Victory! Now I could re-launch my company and have more control over my destiny. One of my first steps: secure health insurance for my employees, as I had done in the past. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it’s an employer’s role to offer group health insurance.
My feeling is that I ask employees to commit to me. Providing health insurance, paid partly by the company, is one way I reciprocate on that commitment.
So I called my insurance agent and said, “I’m back! We need health coverage! Let’s go!” He was happy to oblige.
Step #1: He collected an employee census, the confidential survey where every employee provides information to the insurance company about their health. I never see these surveys — nor should I — and the insurer uses the data they collect to determine their exposure to health costs.
Just one day before coverage was to begin, I got the bill for our new insurance coverage. It was more than double what we’d paid two years earlier because it turned out one of my employees — unbeknownst to me — was seriously ill.
That made coverage prohibitively expensive for everyone else. (In 2002 dollars, a family of four at my company would have paid nearly $15,000 a year and that rate would increase by 18% a year, the highest allowed by law.)
We had been “max rated,” essentially priced out of the market because we had a sick employee, we were small and we lacked the employee base of a large company to negotiate for better rates.
As our agent said, “no one wants you.” And there was no recourse. There was no such thing as a health exchange that would allow our risk and rates to be spread over many companies, as exchanges are designed to do.
Everyone in our company had to opt for individual health insurance coverage, which was woefully inadequate. If you had a pre-existing condition, you couldn’t buy it. If you got sick, your policy could be cancelled.
My seriously ill employee had to leave our employ and take a job with a company where the headcount was large enough to absorb his risk.
Today, a decade later, we offer health care because none of our employees is seriously ill. But is that how it should be? Should companies with seriously ill employees be priced out of the market? How would I even know this is going to be a factor until I get the bill?
Should I be barred from banding together with other companies to negotiate with insurers? Doesn’t that represent a free market? In an industry as complex and capital intensive as health care, do we really enjoy healthy competition?
There’s fierce debate in this country about Obamacare and last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding much of it.
My experience tells me that for all of our amazing technology and treatments, our health care system is broken in many ways. Obamacare will help in some ways by establishing insurance exchanges. Other issues, such as our attitude toward health insurance as a vehicle to pay all our medical bills, remain unaddressed.
In my opinion, GOP arguments and many of the dire posts I’ve seen on Facebook, claiming that Obamacare is a threat to free markets and the greatest health care system in the world, aren’t accurate. What I read is often purely political and based on allegiance to a political party or a shallow understanding of an important issue that effects all of us.
Regarding Kodak’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a quote that should resonate for every company:
“If you’re not willing to cannibalize yourself, others will do it for you.”
- Mark Zupan, dean of the University of Rochester’s business school
Any University of Georgia football fan since the late ‘60s knows Larry Munson. His gravel-voiced style of calling Bulldog football games on the radio was passionate and partisan. From the moment he took the job in 1966, Munson referred to the teams as “us” and “them.”
Bulldog fans can hear his call of the Auburn game in 1982: “Hunker down, you guys! If you didn’t hear me, you guys, hunker down! I know I’m asking a lot, you guys, but hunker it down one more time!” Play-by-play like that earned him the endearment of UGA football fans all the way through his final broadcast in 2008.
I first crossed paths with Larry early in my career at WRFC Athens, then the flagship station of UGA sports. He referred to my crowd jokingly as “you and your hippie friends.” By the mid 1980s, he did daily sports commentaries for the radio network I managed.
In person, Larry spoke in play-by-playisms… short, staccato sentences that oozed storytelling. “Ahh, Richard, I tell you it was COLD this morning. I got out of bed, made my way to the kitchen and it was all I could DO to keep from freezing.”
He loved to tell dirty stories (sorry all you politically-correct Bulldog fans) and was always baffled by sports money. He couldn’t understand how an athlete could possibly be worth a multi-million dollar contract. Sky-high rights fees commanded by sports teams were equally perplexing. That attitude about compensation spilled over into his career.
A radio station in a large Georgia city called me one day, asking if I would help get Larry to record commercials for a local car dealer. You know the kind…“Hi, this is Larry Munson…” I said I would. Larry, of course, was happy to help because the radio station carried UGA sports.
He asked me, “How much do you think I should get for doing the spot? Fifty bucks?”
Now, Larry could have gotten use of a car as compensation, but he was much too uncomfortable to ask for that much. The station got its Larry Munson commercials, and Larry got his $50.
Where Athletic Director Vince Dooley had the polished and well-connected Loran Smith doing such bidding for him, Larry had only himself. He wasn’t interested in hiring an agent and always had the best interests of the Bulldogs at heart.
So much so that when I asked him to record something for my telephone answering machine (“My God, do you realize Richard and Lenka aren’t here? Leave a message when you hear that tone thing!”), it never occurred to me that I should pay him.
I should have. As the old saying goes, “Don’t be sad it’s over. Be happy it happened.”
I’m happy we had Larry and that I had the experience of knowing him.
I can’t ever remember tearing up over the death of a CEO I didn’t know. Learning of Steve Jobs’ death last night (an instant message from my daughter appeared on my iPhone) was a shock but not a surprise.
Like learning about the passing of a relative who has been seriously ill, the jolt of Jobs’ death was cause to ponder the larger questions in life. Here’s a reminder: this is going to happen to me someday. As Jobs once said, “live your life like today will be your last and someday you’ll be right.”
Like thousands of others now expressing their sadness at his death, Jobs had an impact on my life in a big way.
Many years ago at my former job in radio, I earned a $6,000 bonus for exceeding my quota of signing radio stations to carry Atlanta Hawks radio broadcasts. What to do with all that money?
Personal computers were new and I knew little about them except that small businesses were beginning to use them. I asked my WGST radio colleague Mike Lawing, an engineer at the station, what to buy and he said, “Oh, you want a Mac.”
So I took my checkbook to a computer store in Cobb County called BusinessLand and bought a Mac SE and an Apple dot matrix printer. It took almost all of my $6,000. When I got home, my wife was on the phone, which allowed me to sneak the boxes in without her seeing them until she hung up.
I grinned and said, “Look what we got!” She responded, “Alright, and what are we going to do with that?” “I don’t know.”
The machine sat in our home office for almost a year before the idea for a business of my own kicked in. That Mac SE, the one with a 20 meg hard drive and 1 meg of RAM helped launch the business that fed and clothed our family and dozens of others.
Steve Jobs’ design of that late-‘80s Mac, its intuitive black and white bitmap desktop and software like HyperCard and the Font/DA mover helped What’s Up Interactive get off the ground.
We stayed with the Mac platform in those early years — never a Windows machine even though they were a lot cheaper — moving to a Mac LC, then an SI, then PowerPCs even through the dark times when Jobs wasn’t at Apple. This was the era when Apple was doing so poorly, Michael Dell suggested that Apple be liquidated and cash paid out to stockholders.
At one point in the late ‘90s I was the only one here on a Mac and my IT guy said it was time to standardize on Windows. (“Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.”)
Because I respected Steve Jobs, I went back to BusinessLand and looked over his NeXT computers, but they were way too expensive for what we needed. And when Jobs returned to Apple, things began to hum. We went from System 6 to System 7 to System 8. (Was there ever a 9? I just remember OS X.)
There has always been enough material out there about Jobs and Apple to get a sense of the man. His design brilliance and attention to detail, his disdain for consensus, his arrogance (parking his car diagonally across handicapped parking spaces) and how hard he was to work for, sometimes calling employees “dumb” and creating such tension during development of the first iPhone, an Apple executive slammed her office door so hard it fused shut. They had to use an axe to get her out.
Then, following his illness, his brilliant Stanford University commencement speech addressed his thoughts about the larger questions of faith, career, family and death.
His influence in multiple industries is well documented. Jobs up-ended the music business, disrupting the comfortable lifestyle of wealthy record execs and re-setting the playing field for musicians who had been paid a fraction of their worth. He reinvented movie animation. He re-set the relationship between mobile device manufacturers and major telecom carriers. He reinvented tablet computers, given up for dead, and ignited the product category.
Steve Jobs’ legacy is certainly felt at our house and in our company.
Today we use Final Cut, Adobe’s Mac products and Apple’s awesome Keynote presentation software that puts PowerPoint to shame.
When my daughter Cameron texted me last night that “Steve Jobs died,” I had to stop what I was doing and for the next while, take it in.
Never met the man. But Steve Jobs’ influence helped define the course I’ve taken.
What’s Up Interactive has always been a Mac shop. We started on an SE in 1989 — 1 MB of RAM and a 20 MB hard drive. We stuck through Apple’s dark times when the company almost folded and watched it grow and prosper after Steve Jobs returned.
While I understand he was particularly difficult to work for, the results speak for themselves. And so does his message to entrepreneurs and to college students.
Here are those comments. The first is an MP3 file — Jobs’ answer to a question from the audience during the D3 conference in 2007. The questioner asked for Jobs’ advice in building a company with value. His answer is wise for everyone who is trying to grow a business.
The second is Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. His advice is so universally true.
“I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
“The first story is about connecting the dots.
“I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
“It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: ‘We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?’ They said: ‘Of course.’ My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
“And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
“It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
“Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
“My second story is about love and loss.
“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
“I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
“During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
“My third story is about death.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
“About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
“I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
“This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
“When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
“Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
“Thank you all very much.”
What's Up Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing and website design agency in Atlanta. What’s Up specializes in a variety of multimedia marketing solutions including: web development, social media marketing, search engine optimization, paid search marketing, and email marketing strategies. Find out more about us at www.whatsupinteractive.com.
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