After Real Estate Bubble, World Wide Group’s Wisdom Shines Through

Housing bubble-1“Look at what the masses are doing—and then do the opposite.”

When I first heard this comment, many years ago, at World Wide Group (WWDB) conferences like Free Enterprise Days, I thought about how this principle of success could apply to many areas of my life, not just building a business powered by Amway.

How we raised and educated our children, how we approached our health, how we handled our finances.

After our children were born 11 years ago, family and friends persistently questioned when we were going to move out of our small condo and into a bigger place. During that time, the “look at the masses/do the opposite” principle was something that my husband and I leaned on heavily.

We would run the financial numbers and for a long time it never came close to making sense to move into a house in our rather expensive community—it would simply cause far too much financial stress. Meanwhile, people with about the same (or even less) financial wherewithal were buying homes with price tags and monthly mortgage obligations that were well beyond anything we would feel comfortable purchasing.

“How are they doing it?” we would ask one another, shaking our head.

As it turns out, for more than a few it was with smoke and mirrors. Theirs was wishful or simply foolish financial thinking that they are paying a steep price for today. Foreclosures, homes “under water,” financial outlooks that are gloomy for many years to come—on a regular basis, there are so many people I run into who are still recovering from housing decisions they made, typically between 2005 and 2008.

We waited until a year ago to “move up.” The numbers added up, and we didn’t need to sell our condo to be able to buy a much bigger place within our means.

The delayed-gratification approach contrasts with the stories of people trying to bounce back from decisions made just before the real-estate bubble burst. Their stories come with individual wrinkles, but all express a certain level of shock that the housing market tanked the way it did.

That is because they were listening to people—some with a vested interest in getting people to buy—who had the mantra down cold: “You need to own, you need to own, you need to own.”

We already owned, so the issue isn’t about owning so much as the ridiculous amount of money that people are allowed to borrow, in relation to their earning ability, for a mortgage.

When I hear these stories, I don’t really say much of anything in response, since what’s the point in making people feel bad about their past decisions? But I do think about how foreign this mindset was to me during those years—and it’s because I was listening to the counsel of World Wide Group leaders. They were consistently saying how the real estate market could not sustain the rapid growth.

I particularly recall an impassioned talk by Amway Diamond David Shores one Free Enterprise Days conference, urging Independent Business Owners not to get seduced by mortgage brokers who had no interest in us, but were only interested in making a deal.

Amway Executive Diamonds Dan and Sandy Yuen and Founders Crowns Brad and Julie Duncan would talk about renting their homes for years while they built up huge cash reserves. As a result, when they did make the move to home ownership, they were so financially strong that they could buy without being strapped for cash afterwards.

With the passage of time, and having gotten a glimpse at the financial devastation so many people have suffered, I have a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of World Wide’s counter-cultural teaching and training.

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Preseason Amway Coaches Poll Kicks Off Marketing Coup for Company

Amway Coaches Poll-USA Today SportsBack in February, I wrote about Amway becoming the presenting sponsor of the American Football Coaches’ Association Poll and how it represented a very substantial marketing development for the Ada, Michigan-based corporation.

Now that the first poll is upon us, with the USA Today website counting down the seconds to the preseason poll’s announcement today at Noon, Eastern Time, the significance is starting to materialize.

Yesterday, USA Today published a story that needed only five words before mentioning Amway’s name.

Very shortly, the water cooler discussions will begin about where college teams are ranked, including debates over whether those rankings are too high or too low for any given school.

Those discussions will last for more than five months, through the first week of 2015, after the bowl games are played. That’s a clever way for Amway to remind people of its 55-year history—and that it’s still going strong. And part of its success can be traced to accomplished athletes, such as former NFL player Tracey Eaton, channeling their energy into the company’s business model.

Along with his wife, Kimberly, Tracey Eaton has been an Amway Diamond IBO for almost a decade working in the World Wide Group training organization.

Amway coaches poll snippet

One final note: alongside the story on USA Today’s website about the preseason poll coming out shortly is a link to Amway’s “start a business” page. So just as the season gets under way, people can get their own business started.

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Choppy Cuisinart Saga Vs. Customer Service Quality of Amway, Others

Excellent Customer ServiceBack in mid-June, my Cuisinart food processor had a setback—the handle of a work bowl broke.

The next day, I sent an email via the company’s website, and included a copy of my purchase receipt showing that the product was still under warranty. What followed was a 10-day e-mail odyssey.

Here’s the pattern that evolved after I left that initial message: a customer service rep would respond and within a few hours, I would send a reply as I tried to get the situation handled—i.e., get a replacement work bowl. About 24 hours would pass before I’d get a response from a different rep (hello Clint, Douglas, Staniel and Rachel!), then the cycle would start again.

Along the way, I learned:

*Cuisinart’s warranty does not include paying for “shipping and processing fees. We ask that you cover the cost of shipping the defective bowl to Cuisinart.” As I related to them in a later email, those fees make it cost-prohibitive to make use of the warranty.

*Sending an attached photograph of the defective bowl wasn’t enough—they needed the defective bowl in their possession as “proof” that it was, in fact, defective.

*Repeatedly, they encouraged me to call a toll-free number, although the customer service agent “will not have access to your e-mail information.” In other words, I got a recurring invitation to go back to Square One.

*Although I paid $70 for the entire processor, the replacement parts altogether amount to nearly $200—a tidy mark-up for sure.

*When I returned the defective bowl, I would need to include “a brief description of the issue (I was) having.” Yep, after spending so much time corresponding to secure this one part, composing yet another summary was exactly what I was hoping for.

*That I am a “valued customer.”

(Well, at least that’s how they started out each email, with no salutation. Not a “Dear.” Just simply, “Valued Customer,” rather than use my name, which I included at the end of all of my correspondence.) Does anyone actually feel valued when they are referred to in this way?

About two weeks after my initial inquiry, having persevered through this process, I finally got my part.

I should be clear that I absolutely love the Cuisinart food processor—a point I made in my initial email to the company. Three or four times a week it makes my life so much easier and helps me create healthy, well-rounded meals for my family. And, in fairness, their customer service is probably on a par, or even better, than many companies out there.

So I suppose this saga, more than anything else, highlights how much I am spoiled by the excellence of customer service at companies like Costco, Whole Foods Market and Amway.

With Whole Foods, just one of many examples of being able to return food items: I bought some protein powder that proved to be horrific-tasting. Open container—full refund—no hassle.

With Costco, I just returned two chairs that I bought last September, but did not use. Again, full refund without a hassle.

With Amway, after hearing from World Wide Group leaders that the company’s customer service was beyond just about anything else out there in the business world, their rave reviews have been confirmed time and again with one remarkable story after another of a committed Customer Service Department.

One that comes to mind is when I broke the glass top of one of my iCook pans. I called to order a replacement, and needed a SKU because I couldn’t find it online.

I was told that they weren’t for sale, and that Amway would send me one free of charge. I was insistent that I should pay, reiterating that it was my fault because I dropped it, and that it wasn’t defective or worn out. The Customer Service rep, even more insistent, sent me a new lid, free of charge.

These businesses treat customers with respect and trust. As customer service issues pop up, they don’t view the customer—the heart of why they continue to exist—as someone to be treated with suspicion and skepticism.

Instead, they go to great lengths to make sure that we come away from the experience feeling appreciated and genuinely, highly valued for our business. They don’t tell us that we are valued customers—they show us through their actions.

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Follow-Up: Amway & India’s Out-of-Touch (In)justice System

William Pinckney Amway arrestMore than a month ago, I wrote about the “arrest-now and ask-questions-later” approach by authorities in India who arrested Amway India Chairman and CEO William S. Pinckney.

It was the second such arrest in about one year as a result of authorities’ apparent interpretation that Amway had violated the nation’s Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act. This came despite Amway’s international reputation as a leader in the direct-marketing industry for more than a half-century.

Sad to say, the kangaroo-court nature of India’s laws, and how they administer them, has only grown over the past five weeks: Bill Pinckney is still in jail.

A July 13th story in the Economic Times included a statement from Amway in which the company called for a revision to the PCMCS Act “to clarify that it does not cover sales of real products and services.”

The corporation also attacked the First Information Report (FIR) system in India—the complaint that sets the process of criminal justice in motion.

“The FIR system that has resulted in this gross miscarriage of justice and deprivation of Mr. Pinckney’s human rights must be reviewed and reformed,” reads part of Amway’s statement. “…the actions (resulting in Mr. Pinckney’s arrest and incarceration) over the past two months have also shined a light on the potential for abuse in the FIR system, and when legislation such as the PCMCS Act gives investigating officers the powers to seize, seal and arrest, based on complaints that were filed by persons who cannot even be said to have been personally affected.”

To compound the injustice of the situation, the Economic Times reports that although the CEO has been granted bail, he has not been released because the company is still in the midst of “fulfilling bail formalities.”

Not sure what that refers to, but it sounds like yet another backwards link in this messed-up chain of events. At the heart of it all is a misguided application of an outdated law that did not anticipate the arrival of direct-selling companies. Amway, for example, opened in India in 1998.

As the American Chamber of Commerce in India (Amcham) stated shortly after the late-May arrest, “The PCMCS Act was enacted more than 20 years before direct selling companies like Amway, Oriflame, Avon, and Tupperware entered India.”

“The Act in its present form is unable to distinguish genuine direct selling companies from pyramid or Ponzi schemes,” Amcham India Executive Director Ajay Singha is quoted as saying. “Like other countries, India needs to amend this act and create a conducive legal environment for the Industry,”

‘Overwhelmed’, Part 3: Time Confetti

Time Confetti 1Imagine a blank piece of 8 ½-by-11 paper. Now slide it into a cross-cut shredder.

That one piece of paper turns into 300 pieces. What once could have been put to such good use is no longer useful at all.

This image represents your waking hours—and what happens when you face a steady barrage of interruptions throughout the day. Those tugs, tears, pushes and pulls on your time, energy and focus chop your day into teeny-tiny bits of time.

Individually, these minuscule slices of time are no longer nearly as useful as the big blocks of time that you had envisioned for your day.

This describes Time Confetti, the focus of this third and final post related to Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.

In my two prior posts, I wrote about two of the factors that can result in the onset of “overwhelm”: Distracted Role Overload, in which we multitask between our different roles; and Contaminated Time, or doing one thing as we think about something else.

With time confetti, we are reduced to a few minutes here or there. The notion of having 30 minutes, let alone multiple hours, to zero in on one task is a fantasy—unless everyone else in your family is asleep, which is also when you should be sleeping, too.

And yet, there is still so much to do…

I have been on this crazy cycle for many of my years as a parent. It’s hard to accomplish most of my to-do list, which stares back at me and creates this nagging feeling that I am always behind.

For example, knowing how detrimental time confetti can be on those things that are my top priorities, it helps me to be even more disciplined in the “little things” like waking up early. Doing so is not drudgery when I see the significance it plays in reducing time confetti later in the day.

Time Confetti 2

Years ago, I learned from Amway Executive Diamond Terry Felber, one of the top leaders with World Wide Dream Builders (WWG), the importance of making to-do lists for the following day, the night before. I found that preparing a to-do list the night before has two benefits. First, it clears my mind, and therefore allows me to fall asleep much easier and much quicker. Second, it allows me to start the day focused, ready to go, because I’m armed with an action plan.

Following that discipline, or failing to do so, really “makes or breaks” my day in so many ways, from the practical to the emotional. But as much as I know the good that it does, I have routinely stopped crafting those to-do lists.

Why? In the midst of my day, as stuff barged onto my plate of duties, I would grow frustrated that I wasn’t accomplishing anything—or, at least, anything on this list that I had so thoughtfully crafted. I would get overwhelmed.

Since reading Overwhelmed, I have begun a new kind of to-do list—one that is designed for my actual life, not some idealized fantasy of how I would like my life to be.

It’s more flexible, more realistic. It acknowledges that something that used to require only 15 minutes of my time now takes me 1 ½ hours because the array of potential interruptions in my life has grown exponentially. The bottom line, so often: I cannot do all that I used to do, and want to do, before having children.

It’s really about being mindful that we can’t do it all, so why not pick those things that are most important to us and bring out the best in us? That’s so much better than cluttering our lives as our time drowns in a sea of mediocrity.

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‘Overwhelmed’, Part 2: Contaminated Time

contaminated time“Send me an e-mail about that.”

Over the last few months, that has been my stock remark to my children when they come to me with a question or some other task requiring more than a moment’s thought.

“Are you serious?” my son still replies. He can’t quite believe that mom won’t stop what she’s doing to deal with something over a week away.

I hold my ground, and resume whatever I am doing, because I know this system works. Over 10 years ago, my husband and I started using voicemails and emails to communicate information with each other. It was a time-management, sanity-preserving tip we learned from the likes of Amway Diamonds Shelly Kummer and Kimberly Eaton.

They are busy moms in their own right and have talked at length about these or other techniques at events such as Free Enterprise Days for World Wide Group (WWDB).

Whether it’s a task that we need one another to do, or a meeting that needs to be put in our respective calendars, communicating in this way keeps harmony in the home and our relationship. Doing it in a way that the other person can successfully receive the request, on his or her own time, is instrumental.

It cuts down on miscommunication and missed opportunities—as well as the frustration that comes with them. And, more importantly, because I am successfully not trying to do a little bit of everything, I get so many more important things done sooner and smoother. In the language of Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, I am winning the battle against Contaminated Time.

Last week, drawing from the book, I wrote about another contributing factor to “overwhelm,” Distracted Role Overload. That occurs when we multi-task between our different roles—often to our great detriment.

I first discovered Overwhelmed in March via a humorous Washington Post blog post that compared and contrasted it with another book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.

At the time, I resolved to read both books because I value the learning that comes from taking in extreme ends of a particular topic.

I read Lean In first, and wrote a blog post about Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial book at the time, although I suspected (accurately) that I would enjoy and relate much more to Overwhelmed.

Contaminated time, as described above, is what happens when we are doing one thing and thinking about something else. For example, I am working, but not really “present” because I am thinking about what I need to do to prepare dinner. Or I am preparing dinner and thinking about that set of work-related tasks that I must do before going to sleep.

This is far from the first time I have heard of “being in the moment.” When I took improv classes and performed at Chicago’s Second City, we were trained that our success in this art form relied heavily on being able to “stay present.” That stage training benefited me offstage in my “real” life. Fast-forward 20 years, now as a wife and a mom of young children, I can verify that such a state is harder to achieve.

That distracted, divided existence shows up as the parent scanning a Smartphone while pushing an infant on a swing or the person having a business conversation in the bleachers while his or her child is on the pitcher’s mound.

Sadly, it’s usually leisure time or down time that gets the most contaminated. It’s during these moments when time is slowed down, that my mind is still at normal, if not at warp, speed. So rather than relaxing and enjoying the moment, instead I’m living in my head.

Identifying my bad habit of purposely contaminating my present moment has empowered me to combat this “overwhelmed” accomplice. It has opened me up more to enjoy the gift of the here and now.

Next: ‘Overwhelmed,’ Part 3: Time Confetti

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