What better way to kick off summer than with some reading for pure joy? For pure fun and escape? Welcome to the summer edition of The Leyendecker View. We hope it serves as a break from the mundane, the routine, the everyday stresses of life.
Cody Johnson tells us a little about the company he founded, Core International, a rubber products manufacturing business based in Houston, with customers throughout the world. Now forty-one, Cody was only in his twenties when he launched this venture.
The Leyendecker View: How did you get into this business?
Cody Johnson: I was in college at Stephan F. Austin when I met my future wife. Her father had obtained ownership of a small rubber company through a lawsuit. Before I was even married to his daughter, he asked me to go over to this business he gained control of and make sure no one stole anything or burned the building down before he could sell it. He sold it to a public company that put it into a joint venture with a Malaysian government-controlled rubber company. The new owner asked me to move the factory to Malaysia. It seemed like as good an opportunity as any, so I took it.
TLV: Not long out of college you moved to Malaysia, is that right?
CJ: Yes, I married my girlfriend and took her to the other part of the world. The idea was to be there for six months. It turned into three years. During this period, I experienced the collapse of oil prices to $8 a barrel, as well as the Asian financial crisis. It was trial by fire for sure. By the end, I had been asked to join the Board of the Malaysian partner's company.
TLV: So how did you start Core International?
CJ: After my term with that Malaysian company was up, my wife and I decided to start a business in the same industry. We got a new MBNA credit card that allowed us to write up to a $7,000 check to use for anything. We wrote that check for $7,000 in cash and bought our first inventory. I had all of three years work experience when we started, but luckily I had learned an industry.
TLV: Wow! Gotta love those credit card venture capital stories. How did you finance and grow the business after that?
CJ: We are lucky that margins in this business are good enough to self-fund growth, but later on we got a line of credit at Bank of America. After a while, we had what you could call a very good lifestyle business, but it wasn't a business that had real enterprise value. I was kind of fat and happy, but also bored. So I went to law school to improve my overall capability. Doing so inspired me to turn a lifestyle business into a business with real enterprise value.
TLV: What's been your biggest challenge growing this business?
CJ: As you scale up, hiring ahead of the curve. People are always the biggest challenge when growing a business. You hire people that fit a certain sized business, but after growing it you need to upgrade skills. It's hard dealing with turnover, the human side of dealing with people, but it just has to happen as you grow.
Then there's developing the business systems and infrastructure that can support growth. You always have to invest upfront to be able to grow something later. Catching up with growth is expensive and hard to accomplish productively.
TLV: Looking at the competitive landscape, what do you see for Core?
CJ: The world has changed measurably over the last decade or two. Companies used to build a single large factory to supply product to a single market. Now manufacturing is moving all over the world. We've all read about it, the world is becoming flat. Now customers are all over the world and require product as close to just-in-time as possible. Supply chain now rules the production business. So instead of having one big factory, you need to move making product based upon various factors - raw material supply, transportation systems, end user locations, labor costs, regulatory costs. Many factors go into trying to determine the most productive place to make product.
TLV: This must make managing a business harder.
CJ: On the one hand, it is; but on another hand, it's actually a great benefit. Today there are factories making all kinds of things all over the world. Labor is trained for production in many places. Now we don't have to own factories. This reduces our fixed costs and reduces our risk to rapid economic and market changes. We operate what I call an "asset light model."
TLV: What are the most important things to keep in mind if you're an entrepreneur?
CJ: Cash, cash, cash and cash. You must understand cash flow. You have to be good at forecasting cash flow and cash needs.
Then there's tenacity. Things don't always turn out as you expect. You have to be able to weather those economic storms, whether that's when your customer's business is in the toilet, or a material supplier becomes challenged, or whatever. You need to stick to things when they are tough and not take too much for granted when they are going your way.
TLV: What about mentors? How important have mentors been to you?
CJ: Mentors are extremely important! I've been blessed with three. Mentor one was my parents, blue-collar folks from Louisiana who had little education. They taught me hard work. They taught me to believe in myself. Mentor two was my wife's father, himself a successful entrepreneur. He's been extremely helpful many times as we've gone through the business cycles and the growth process. Mentor three has been another successful entrepreneur a friend introduced me to. I wouldn't be here without the outstanding examples and counsel of these people.
And let me make sure I also mention my wife, Tracy. She followed me to the other side of the world. We started this business together. Tracy has been a constant and steady source of encouragement, and a great sounding board. Her emotional IQ is extremely high, so she helps me see others' points of view at critical junctures. Core wouldn't be here without her.
TLV: Now what's the goal after recapitalizing your business with a private equity firm?
CJ: I want to build the business up more, then sell it again, then build it up more and sell it again. I'm a young guy still. There's plenty of runway to keep building this business.
TLV: So, overall, what's it like being an entrepreneur?
CJ: It's crazy to think you can change the world so it takes a crazy man to do so. You have to really believe in your idea and yourself. Concepts are going to get tested.
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The Amazing Space
Houston, we have flying objects!
For all of us living in a reasonably large urban area, wouldn't it be nice to be able to look up into the sky at night and actually see...stars? One of the wonderful things about living in a city synonymous with NASA is that the future of the final frontier is literally right at our fingertips.
Take a look at the link below to see just how many objects there are in space today compared to 1957.
"Kid, the next time I say, let's go someplace like Bolivia, let's go some place like Bolivia."
- Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969
Clear your mind and open your imagination. Listen to the vast variety of regional and migrant birds competing for auditory attention. Watch turtles sun their shells on a rock, while the ibis, heron and egrets search for food in the shallows. Soaring high above is the mighty fish hawk and scavenging vulture. Catch a glimpse of deer as they glance back at you before darting into the brush, and notice the peering eyes of local alligators. Are we in Africa? Not at all. This slice of serenity is brought to you by a place not far from home.
In the 1960s, when suburbs and NASA began spreading out Houston, the 2,500 acres in the Clear Lake area that now is Armand Bayou Nature Center, then called Middle Bayou, was slated for suburban sprawl. Armand Yramategui, a Spaniard from the Basque Country cum Houston resident working at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, launched a campaign to preserve the grounds. The land is home to four different ecosystems - prairie, hardwood forest, wetlands and bayou - and Yramategui could see that this sort of wild nature was getting eaten up by suburban development.
Yramategui died in 1974, and in honor of his mission, Middle Bayou was renamed Armand Bayou Nature Center. It is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the United States, with Yramategui's vision of preservation and environmental education still alive and well today.
With all the skyscrapers, shopping centers, and concrete highways, it is easy to forget how much beauty there is in the Houston area. At Armand Bayou, visitors can hike over five miles exploring the four different ecosystems.
Walk the boardwalk through forest and marshes. Check out the live animal displays, a micro-zoo featuring snakes, alligators, hawks, even bison. If you prefer a more botanical experience, explore the butterfly gardens, organic vegetable garden, and the children's Watersmart garden. For those interested in 1890s farm life, the Martyn farm offers a glimpse into Texas' prairie past. Take a Prairie wildflower tour, even an owl prowl on Full Moon Fridays. One of the best ways to tour this bit of paradise is by water. Grab a guide and travel the waterways by pontoon boat, kayak or canoe.
There is lots of opportunity to "do" at Armand Bayou!
For more information on the Armand Bayou Nature Center visit: www.abnc.org
"Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more."
- Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) in "The Hours," 2003
A Beautiful Thing
By Buck Roy (must be someone's nom de plume...)
As much as we are bombarded with the news, the stuff they once called journalism that's devolved into sensationalism, tragedy and controversy, numbing us to drama; and as much as we feel enduring uncertainty over our economic situation, with month to month crisis that always seem to find a fix at the very last minute, long after a new round of collective anxiety has drained us yet again; and then as much as we are exposed to the horrific tragedies of Mother Nature as well as the insane acts of human violence; as much as life pulls at us, distracts us, confuses us, scars us, scares us and worries us, somewhere out there amidst all this disorder, the chaos of humanity emanating from our current version of civilization, somewhere mostly hidden within all this stuff we call life that always seems to grab our attention and emotions, dragging us around the uneven, bumpy path of our existence, producing emotional sores, scars, and afflictions, building up our fears and insecurities, somewhere within this swirling emotional cauldron one can always find tiny fragile flowers of bliss and wonder, experiences soft, smooth and silky to the touch, colored either vibrantly or subtlety, reminding us of the purity of nature's beauty. These brief moments of bliss and wonder are the beautiful things.
Each of us is exposed to these moments, not on any regular schedule of course, just from time to time, mostly when we're not paying attention, when we are riding some thought or experience so hard that it has us out of sorts, out of touch with anything that has nothing to do with the issue of the moment, which we feel desperately needs some resolution. That's when it comes, nothing planned or organized, just a little moment of "wow," maybe that we recognize, but mostly that we do not.
It should be a goal in life to become more aware.
More than twice now in the same location, the same restaurant, Thai Gourmet, have I had the pleasure of such a moment of awe and wonder. The first time happened during my initial lunch experience there, with the food and crowd bursting with flavor, and the second such experience, sort of subject for this musing, happened while waiting for my favorite take out one recent evening.
Thai Gourmet is an interesting little place, almost hidden from view in a dilapidated Richmond Avenue strip center, an area that years ago was the original Washington Avenue, the original hot spot for night revelers. That area was once the place to see and be seen, but it has now aged into a somewhat dilapidated and abandoned commercial wasteland. Save for this one little oasis that even looks like an oasis when you approach it. There in the seemingly desert of urban culture is a beautiful thing.
All the wait staff at Thai Gourmet, both the men and the women, don 1970s-thick neckties, with a wide, fat bottom, tied to sit at the upper chest. How odd the look is, but yet it feels well balanced, possibly some sort of new twist on a retro fashion. Have I seen this fashion statement anywhere else in the world? Not in my travels, just in Houston. It's a beautiful thing.
Asians take orders from patrons. Mexicans clean tables and likely do the cooking. It has always struck me interesting that in Houston we eat Thai, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Cajun, Southern, French, pub, bistro, BBQ, new American, vegetarian, country club, cafe, fast and slow food almost always cooked by Mexicans. Oh yeah, and they cook our Mexican food, too. Isn't that a beautiful thing?
There, in this authentic Thai restaurant, or at least as authentic as we get in Houston, were Asians and Mexicans all working hard together. What hybrid language have they developed? It's likely a beautiful thing.
But none of these was the most beautiful of beautiful things I noticed that evening waiting for my take out.
Here, impressed with this melting pot of workers expressing their unique fashion statement, waiting for the amazing basil beef and vegetable green curry they make at any and all spice levels, there not far from where I was standing and waiting, sat a four top table that showed me a really beautiful thing, a flower of human interaction I had not yet seen in my fifty odd years, a new experience, a new feeling.
It was clear that husband and wife had brought their daughter and her boyfriend out for dinner. Or was it the daughter and boyfriend who brought her parents to their favorite place? No matter. The father gave off all the typical signals of a concerned dad, nodding in conversation with little enthusiasm, more focused on appraising, wondering if this boyfriend was right for daddy's little girl. Just the opposite, the mother seemed totally engaged in the experience, observably supportive of the couple, happy that her young daughter seemed in love with what looked like a worthwhile, capable young man.
There, as I waited for the nectar I have come to love at Thai Gourmet, sat a stereotypical awkward situation: parents, daughter with boyfriend, out for a bite on a weekend evening. It was a standard, all-American, maybe all-world scene, typical of people in these situations, parents and their grown child, except there was something not so typical about this setting at all. Because the couple and their lovely young daughter were black, and the boyfriend was a balding redhead of obvious Irish descent.
It was a beautiful thing.
* * *
Working Like a Dog
By Marcy Holloway, Conroe, TX resident
Rather than a loving pet, some would argue dogs are just creatures that eat what we provide, poop in our yard and do little to earn their keep. Roxy certainly doesn't have a job guarding a storage lot or pulling a sled through the snow.
Roxy is 29 pounds of dependent rowdy rascal, but she's also very dependable. She is a playful prankster, an entertainer, a comforter, a defender, a greeter, a hunter, a floor cleaner, a teacher, a work of art and sometimes an oracle. Roxy does more than her fair share of giving, providing and yes, even working.
Thank heaven Roxy does not understand the concept of money because at this moment in time, I would not be able to pay the pretty little princess near what she is worth. In this moment, with this creature, I am on the receiving end of a beautiful relationship for which I am very grateful.
In gratitude I can only hope to be forgiven the debts I have incurred to those kind hearts, just like Roxy, that have pulled me out of the mud, nurtured my competence and cheered me on.
What is so beautiful about the "work" of my Roxy is that she greatly enjoys it. Dogs don't fret about their obligations.
Roxy never fails to greet anyone at the front door. She is always ready to make sure every person she encounters is enveloped in a smiling heart that magically emerges on one's face. Roxy gives her gifts freely.
In return, I try to make Roxy as comfortable as possible, keep her healthy and sometimes let her over indulge in a little table food. This is not selfless on my part. I do these things to make sure Roxy sticks around to continue her service to me. And I do believe some indulgence keeps the body healthy, as complete deprivation or the dogmatic search for perfection is unyielding; and most things that do not bend, usually break, but that is another story.
It would be a wonderful thing, if we all approached our daily duties, our obligations, and our work, without the negative connotations so many seemingly do.
"Monday, Monday" should be sung with the same exuberance as "Thank God it's Friday!" Work should not be a four-letter word. And with a little help from our friends, it does not have to be.
Not everyone is so lucky to sit at the top and make a small fortune from his or her daily contribution or even do something they enjoy. The majority is pressured into doing what they have to, just to get by and this sometimes leaves many less than perfectly happy.
My most recent fortune cookie read, "You can be as happy as you make your mind up to be," and this is the ball I would like to hit out of the park.
The human workplace is full of a lot of unnecessary crap; office politics, petty competition, outright back stabbing and let's not forget the nasty brown nosing. All of this behavior is born out of fear, which is really born of our personal insecurity.
Everyone is so very afraid of being the one taken advantage of, the one being left behind, the one that draws the short straw, that many treat the workplace like a combat zone. Others just opt out of this entire game altogether.
There really should be another way. All contributions can't be held under the same umbrella. We need a broader definition of what constitutes working, earning, providing. We need a new way to view our work lives. Maybe we need to replace the word "work" with something more positive and more emotionally acceptable.
I don't have the answer, but I believe Roxy does. I am still "working" on my telepathic communication with the little boo bear, so that maybe someday soon, you and I can indeed enjoy "working like a dog"!
"I shall seek to develop the perfection of generosity, virtue, doing without, wisdom, energy,
forbearance, truthfulness, resolution, love, and serenity."
The Ten Perfections of Buddhist spirituality
Published in 1985 and edited by George Appleton, a now deceased former Bishop in the Anglican Church, The Oxford Book of Prayer is one of the most widely known and used multi-denominational books of prayer. Although the first two-thirds of the book are dedicated to Christian prayer from all ages, the last third presents prayers from religions of the world.
Jack Amschwand is interested in purchasing almost anything, really. Too bad his price points don't generally get much above $500, though he has sprung for a couple of art pieces in the $1,800 range. Jack used to be a typical Houston art gallery customer.
It wasn't long ago that local art galleries complained when their artists were asked to donate work to all the non-profit fundraising events in town. Eventually this trend turned into a groundswell of momentum. Today there are maybe 50 non-profit fundraisers that seek giveaways from artists we gallery owners represent when selling to collectors like Jack.
One could conservatively compute up to $500,000 of revenue being siphoned off from gallery economics by the gala auctions around town. Let's not forget these galleries pay rent, employ people and spend considerable money putting on shows to support our local and regional talent.
Well, we'd all like to be back there now, with only $500,000 sailing out the window. At least that money stayed in town, recycling itself in the local economy. Not any more. Now we have "Art Fairs" coming to town from highfalutin art centers like New York and Miami, that rent convention center space to peddle their out-of-town artist wares to our in-town customer prospects.
This isn't "art tourism." Just 60 galleries come to town with about 400 artists, selling to the exact same target audience of Houstonians that have made Houston a pretty good place for artists to show in galleries for the last 30 years or so. Believe me, there is no one coming to these art fairs to buy art but Houstonians.
Anyway, the local art business changed overnight. At least one local gallery is for sale, one recently closed and one space that closed over a year ago is still vacant. Recently there's been more and more gallery scene buzz about calling it quits.
Who knows? I might make it, or I might be mixing paint at Home Depot next year and living on somebody's couch. But there is an alternative. When the destruction part of the economic cycle arrives, it's time to kick in the creative juices. More on that next go round.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
- Ferris Bueller (Mathew Brodderick) in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," 1986
Thanks to our friend Tom Hewitt for submitting the first "guess this song." Let's see which audiophiles know their stuff before asking Google. Hint: The song broke a Houston musician out into the mainstream. (See end of newsletter for answer.)
I woke up this mornin' with the sundown shinin' in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah
What condition my condition was in?
I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in
I watched myself crawlin' out as I was crawlin' in
I got up so tight I couldn't unwind
I saw so much I broke my mind
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah
What condition my condition was in
Someone painted April fool in big black letters on a dead end sign
I had my foot on the gas as I left the road and blew out my mind
Eight miles outta Memphis and I got no spare
Eight miles straight up downtown somewhere
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
I said I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
Yeah yeah oh yeah
Want to submit lyrics? Reply to this email to do so.
Chicken soup gets a lot of glory for soothing colds and flues. Turns out, the onion in the soup is the probable magic bullet. For thousands of year, Chinese and Native Americans have been using onions for their anti-viral and anti-inflammatory healing properties. Apparently merely placing onions slices around the house can have immune-boosting effects.
A certain mayor in a certain city in the northeast is on yet another crusade to save us all from ourselves. This time, the culprit: salt. After all, those who eat less salt are at greater risk of goiter, depression, anxiety, a slowed metabolism, immune disorders, hormone issues - wait, what? Turns out, iodine, found in salt, is critical to overall health. The Japanese consume 50 times the iodine than Americans do every day. The result? They live longer and have lower infant mortality. American women have a three times the incident of breast cancer than do Japanese women. Read on for the many benefits or more iodine, and the risks of less. Go ahead and salt that margarita rim.
"What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once wondered. Is it his origins? The way he comes to life?
I don't think so. It's the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them."
- Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans), "Hellboy," 2004
What we learned at the Cannes Film Festival
Okay, no one at Leyendecker went to the Cannes Film Festival. What would they do with a Houstonian in the midst of all that self-absorption and adulation?
The summer blockbuster movie season is well under way with Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" already gone from theaters, "Iron Man III," past its box office peak, and the new Star Trek film, also past its weekly box office peak. The action adventure genre, rife with tongue-in-check dialogue and comedic romps, continues to entertain, especially amongst younger audiences, to whom they naturally appeal. But these films aren't doing $500MM to $1B in box office receipts worldwide with just teenagers showing up.
One of the more astonishing changes in the film industry over the last decade is that feature films are now being opened all over the world simultaneously. And more and more, some films are opening in foreign countries before they open in the United States. We can't discount the impression films have on viewers, especially when so many around the world are consuming the same stories crafted by Hollywood. How these impressions affect global consciousness likely won't be understood for a generation, but surely anything the world shares together provides some kind of foundation to improved overall relations. Can film do what billions of dollars in diplomacy budgets struggle to accomplish?
Baby boomers were the first mass consumers of the action adventure/comic book movie genre. Now rapidly moving through their middle age, baby boomers can certainly enjoy an escape through this genre. But perched from middle rung of life, the view looks different. These movies often lack a worthwhile story, one that resonates with the complex realities of our lives, one that is relatable, not just entertainment. The action adventure genre is great cotton candy, but life is mostly meat and potatoes. Maybe knowing one is closer to the end than the beginning shifts perspectives and interests.
2012's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was quite a refreshingly fun and poignant take on the challenge of retiring "well" with limited means. See it on cable if you didn't catch it in the theater. "Marigold" rolls off the mind like a rich milk chocolate rolls off the tongue.
A recent release, "Love Is All You Need," starring former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, shares many similar qualities to "Marigold," exploring the challenges of relationships. Although "Love's" main story takes place in Italy, be prepared to read some subtitles as most primary characters are Danish. All the actors in this film seem to pull off their parts quite genuinely. Take your wife, a date, or drag the husband or boyfriend before this film leaves your local independent movie theater.
"Marigold" is set in India, "Love Is All You Need" in Italy - yet more examples of how film has a way of fostering an appreciation for other cultures, often by underscoring common human experiences that transcend localities.
Films to keep an eye out this summer blockbuster season:
Joss Whedon, writer and director of television's "Buffy The Vampire" and the cult scifi darling, "Serenity," brings to the big screen a quirky and amusing take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
UT grad Richard Linklater has found one more reason to bring characters played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy back together in the well received "Before Midnight," - rounding out the trilogy.
Recall those days of teenage rebellion, take notes if you have teenage kids, or just lose yourself in the charming coming of age story "The Kings of Summer."
Will "Man of Steel"return Clark Kent to his former glory behind "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder's experienced hand with the tormented superhero?
Following "Man of Steel" will be Brad Pitt in the latest version of an apocalyptic earth in "World War Z."
Johnny Depp teams up with "Pirates" director, Gore Verbinski for a remake of "The Lone Ranger," with Depp in the supporting role as Tonto.
Take the kids, the grandkids, or just indulge to your inner child at the newest "Despicable Me"animation.
For those of you who missed the charming shoot'em up caper "Red" with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren, you get a second chance with its sequel "Red 2."
Since every movie star needs to do an end of the world film, Matt Damon delivers his version in the sci-fi thriller "Elysium."
Summer is dominated mostly by roller coaster theme parked filmed entertainment. Come fall, we can expect more serious films as Oscar season gears up.
Movies can be a great escape, perhaps even a micro-vacation of sorts, but at a much lower cost. There's no better economic mindcation than seeing a movie that takes you some place new. That's what vacations are for, right?
The lyrics are from a song called "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."
It was written by singer-songwriter Mickey Newbury, but was a hit for The First Edition, with Kenny Rogers on lead vocals. The song, written in 1967 during the psychedelic era of music, was meant to warn against the dangers or LSD.
Kenny Rogers' rendition of the song, which juxtaposed his signature country folk sound, landed him both on the Billboard Top Ten for the first time in his career, and on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."