Decisions with consequences

By Brian Ochsner Perception, vision and whom you listen to -- I’ve recently thought about these three things, all of which came together in Al Lewis’ Denver Post column on Dec. 9. It tells how otherwise smart people got fooled because they listened to bad advice from the wrong people.

Lewis gives two prominent examples of wealthy and well-known Denverites. Donald Sturm is a billionaire whom the University of Denver named its law school after. In the late '90s, he took the advice of a supposed Wall Street ‘tech stock guru’ named Jack Grubman. Grubman told him he should hang on to (instead of sell) his 21 million shares of a company called MCI WorldCom.

MCI WorldCom eventually went bankrupt, Don Sturm lost a lot of money, and WorldCom’s former CEO, Bernie Ebbers, was convicted of financial fraud. Obviously, this was terrible advice to heed. Anyone who could accurately read a financial statement should have known that WorldCom was in serious trouble – no matter how good a story Grubman told.

Donald Sturm wasn’t the only guy that got fooled. Mr. Grubman told Phil Anschutz – founder of Qwest Communications - about a great guy he should hire as Qwest’s new CEO. An aggressive, high-flying AT&T executive named Joe Nacchio. The same Joe Nacchio who’s currently being tried on insider trading charges.

I’ll concede that hiring decisions are more difficult and subjective than analyzing the financial health of a company. I believe that if Mr. Anschutz didn’t fully rely on Jack Grubman’s endorsement (and asked the advice of other, wiser folks), I doubt that Joe Nacchio would have become Qwest’s CEO. He should have relied on the advice of Ronald Reagan when it came to dealing with the Soviets and nuclear arms treaties: “Trust, but verify.”

If someone other than Nacchio had been hired, there may not have been any charges filed against Qwest employees for wrongdoing. Qwest’s financial health may have also been better.

The lesson these stories provide is that it’s good to get advice from two or more wise, ethical and competent people when making an important decision. And not to rely on any one person by himself or herself – no matter how popular or smart he or she appears to be. A verse in Proverbs says it another way: “There is safety in a multitude of counselors.”

Today’s world can be complex and confusing – especially when it comes to financial issues. If you wanted to know what the next few years held for the real estate market (the ‘Ghost of Real Estate Future,’ if you will), would you ask your local realtor… your mortgage broker… or one of the best real estate investors in the world?

Here’s the story about a billionaire real estate investor, and his visions of the future for American real estate markets.

You may not agree with him, or like what he says. Given his track record in this area, it appears that he knows his business and the market well. It probably wouldn’t be wise to ignore his takes. Having said that, my opinion of this investor and the real estate market could be totally wrong – and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Nobody is perfect in making decisions about investments or people. Whether its business or personal relationships, you’ll probably have some bad experiences mixed in with the good ones. The only way you get good at this skill is with your own time and experience – and learning from the experience of others.

At the beginning of this year, one of my goals was to associate with more wise and competent people with similar values to mine. I did a pretty good job of sticking to this goal in 2005. Unfortunately, I worked several months on a contract assignment for a company that was 0 for 3 on my checklist.

The salary was OK, but the hassle of dealing with these folks wasn’t worth more than the money. However, it was a good learning experience. My first impression of the company wasn’t a very good one, and later experience proved my first impression to be correct. I learned that you should trust your instincts, and be prepared to part ways if necessary.

I’ve kept up with this company’s financials, news and Yahoo message board, and it looks like they’re heading towards bankruptcy in 2006. This is proof that even your humble blogger makes mistakes.

One positive note from 2005 is my association with John Andrews and Backbone America. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to post my thoughts and opinions on this site. I’ve also been fortunate to get acquainted with fellow bloggers Sean Duffy and Jessica Corry, plus the leader of Colorado FreedomWorks, Beth Skinner.

It’s refreshing to be around smart, savvy, like-minded people with similar values. It’s like an oasis of common sense and sanity in a less-than-sane world.

The reason I chose this topic is because your decisions are the foundation and building blocks of your life. A decision can have consequences for many years to come. Your happiness, success and peace of mind have a lot to do with the people you choose to associate with, and the decisions you make.

My closing thought is a quote from the wise sage in the Indiana Jones movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It’s great advice to heed whether you’re 18 or 80. You should remember this when you’re making a major – or seemingly minor – decision: "Choose…. but choose wisely."