An Entrepreneurial “Downshift”

At the end of last month I stepped down from my position of CEO with the company and took up my new position of Director of Business Development. This move, long planned, by my partner and I finally came around where the intent is for me to move closer to “retirement”. It’s not a word that comes easy to me far less the actual event itself. I’ve been searching around for another word to describe the situation and one of my customers suggested “downshifting”. That’s probably what I’m going to go with in the meantime – “downshifting”. Not that I expect to be exactly taking it easy. The company continues to grow and I intend to play my part in contributing to that in a very meaningful way. As with all transitions, it’s a time for reflection (at least for me) and I thought about what an exciting 12 years it’s been since Dave Roger and I founded this company. I also thought about the highs and lows that come with being entrepreneurs. Unless you’ve tried it no-one can possibly understand what it’s like.- sleepless nights, 7 day work weeks, the angst of making payroll, hiring and firing, planning, fighting, arguing, laughing and complaining, exciting, joyful, depressing …. It goes on and on. There really is nothing like it since you are operating with no safety net and relying on yourselves and the expertise that you have gained through experience, or through hiring really fine staff (which we have). With that said, I am really, really fed up with our politicians who continually tell us that “small businesses are the backbone of our economy” etc. etc. and yet do virtually nothing for us. Frankly, I wish they would just shut up. The exception for us has been at the local level where the State of Connecticut helped us with a grant, conditional upon creating jobs…. and create jobs we did! So, hats off to this bi-partisan program which realizes that if you give assistance to aggressive highly motivated, talented individuals you’ll get results. Seems like a no brainer.

Being an entrepreneur is not for everybody, it’s not even for most people, and unfortunately the odds are stacked against one. In the last few years the statistics are that there are dramatically fewer entrepreneurial ventures being started each year and that the failure rate is high, ….and this in a country which prided itself on being the shining example in this area. With our political system crippled by the corrupting influence of more and more money and the power of special interest groups, plus a Congress whose behavior resembles a kindergarten, there is little room for optimism on my part that anything will change anytime soon. So, in conclusion I salute all of my fellow entrepreneurs in whatever endeavor they are engaged and wish them well. May they reach the time when they too can enjoy “downshifting” as the well-deserved fruits of their labor.


Bob Stevenson in downshifting mode

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Remembering Pete Seeger

pete seeger

(Photo: Bruce Davidson/Magnum)

Pete Seeger died today. Pete Seeger was an individual who seemed almost immortal to me. I started playing folk guitar when I was about 14 years old and later sang in a folk group. A lot of the songs I sang were written by Pete. A few years ago I acquired a 1964 long neck “Pete Seeger” banjo, the real article made by Vega of Boston with a handwritten yellow label inside saying “Pete Seeger”. Pete lived not too far from here so I sent a letter to him asking if he would sign my banjo, never really expecting any reply. I did get a reply from Pete’s wife, Toshi. The letter was addressed and handwritten by Toshi and there was also a “form letter” from Pete saying that he found it hard to answer the thousands of letters he received on an individual basis. Toshi suggested I come to the Clearwater coffee house and Pete might find time to sign the banjo. I never did make it to concerts that he attended there but I still have the letter (and of course the banjo). Apart from the foregoing personal memories, I also wanted to stress in this blog that Pete Seeger was a staunch supporter of unions and wrote many songs in that vein. In that respect he was following another great folk singer – Woody Guthrie.

Pete Seeger was politically a controversial personality and whether you agreed with him or not he was a man of great principles and was unafraid to voice his opinions – usually in a peaceful way through his songs. In a day and age where our politicians’ principles seem to be in ever decline and even blatantly up for sale in some cases, we should pause and consider that this country has lost a great American, and a great friend to unions.

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Labor Day Celebrations Not for Retail

As I drove home from work – my choice – this past Labor Day holiday in the U.S., the one thing that struck me was how many stores full of low-paid workers were open, while most corporate offices were closed. Some of those working today did it for the extra money, but for the majority, it was just another scheduled day, on a holiday that celebrates all the labor movement has done for this country. It clearly has a long way to go.

I used to love it when people said to me, “Quit complaining about your minimum wage salary! You should get another job if you don’t like it!” Really? Then I guess those folks thought I worked a physically demanding job behind the counter of a nationally known retail store four years ago because I could get another job, and was just too lazy to find one. Seriously? It was that job or nothing. Before I was hired there, I got turned down by several other large retailers who are not well known for generous pay rates. So many in fact, that I lost count. Forget the better paying and corporate jobs I applied for. 99% of them didn’t even bother to tell me that they weren’t interested. Incidentally, I’m a college graduate and IT professional.

My employer was not a union shop, so they could do wonderful things like never give you two days off in a row, schedule you for a late PM shift one day and an early AM shift the next (no sleep?), schedule you to work holidays, not even tell you your next week’s schedule until a few days before it was supposed to begin (great for planning personal life and doctor’s appointments), and fire you when you got a herniated disk – oh yes, that too.

I was left alone to do two people’s work one morning and had to lift something that was more than a third of my body weight, and snap! There went my back and my job.

I couldn’t even get another minimum wage job. No one was interested in someone with a back problem. Then, by a stroke of luck, I found the job I have now at JayStar. It wasn’t skill, determination, or persistence. It was pure luck, and about as likely as winning the lottery.

I now work for a company where the owners are intelligent enough to realize that their employees are their major asset, and they treat them accordingly.  In fact, as of the date of this posting, no employee has ever voluntary left JayStar since its inception eleven years ago. My co-workers are productive, hard-working, and downright fun, and our company is growing as a result. It’s because we are all being valued both financially and personally.

Sadly, for one person like me with a happy ending, there are hundreds of thousands out there that will never be so lucky.

So, I thought, Happy Labor Day, America. Don’t get too excited about how much you saved in a sale today or how little your meal cost. Think about some of the folks who served you, and understand that they could have higher pay and benefits, and better lives, without impacting the cost of your purchase. Remember that our unions keep fighting for better wages and working conditions for us all. It is, after all, good business sense to appreciate and reward your employees. Just look at JayStar to see the proof of that.

Posted in: General, Labor Unions

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The World of “Crisis Driven Systems Decisions”

I use this phrase to describe what a great many unions (and other organizations) use as their systems development “strategy”.  In this paradigm there is little thought given to pro-active planning of upgrading software or hardware. Staff skills are rarely considered either.

I am reminded of an old “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry is describing the average man’s attitude to buying underwear. “Men will wear their underwear until the last molecule of underwear is gone before even thinking of a replacement.”  Maybe a bit extreme but you get the point.  Below are some actual examples of this phenomenon in calls we have received.

1. “Our bookkeeper is retiring and we are thinking of a PC based system”.  Current system? – “Books.”

2. “Our printer broke and we can’t find another one that prints “green bar” computer stock for our reports.”

3. “Our COBOL programmer just walked out, can you help us?” 

4. “Do you have anybody there who can upgrade our Lotus 123 system? We have had it since 1983 and we love it.”

I often think if the same attitude was adopted towards systems as we take towards automobiles, we would probably see this disappear. If you did drive a 30 year- old car you would probably be envied as the owner of a “collectible”.   Try finding buyers for a 30 year – old computer system. No “classics” there!

Here’s what’s REALLY bad about this state of affairs. If this is how your union is operating, things are going to get much worse! We now operate in a world where major software companies “manufacture” these crises by continual “upgrades.” (That’s the one where they move things around the screen and tell you it’s a new version.) More drastically, these major software developers will “kill” development platforms to continually promote the sales of newer products.  

Some of this is pure marketing, but much of it is genuinely driven by the pace of technology change. Gone are the days of developing software and installing it on a particular operating system / hardware configuration and then letting it chug away for 15-20 or even 30 years! The longevity of ANY systems in terms of supportability is now much less than that and demands almost constant review and pro-active action.  Failure to stay on top of the latest in software development invites continual crises in your union.

If you have such a “crisis” – give us a call.  BETTER STILL – contact us to avoid a crisis. 

Posted in: Accounting Systems, Dues Software, Membership Systems

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Social Media and Unions, What’s Going On?

In one of our recent blog posts titled In Praise of Diversity, our CEO Bob Stevenson asserts, “Unions by and large do a lousy job of public relations. They let their enemies mold the public perception of unions which are so stereotypical it would be redundant for me to even address it.” If so, I ask how that can be when there are many widely used established and emerging communication channels that are alternatives to the traditional media (TV, radio, press). Of course, I’m referring to the plethora of “social media” outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr, etc.

Surely, unions are in a perfect position to take advantage of these vehicles. After all, they have compelling messages, an established following (i.e., membership), and no excuses that it costs too much or is controlled by some opposing organization. At first glance, it’s a perfect match – unions and social media! However, an unscientific survey of several unions with over 1 million members reveals that social media may not be delivering much bang for the buck.

                                                          Facebook                            Twitter
AFL-CIO                                                78K Likes                           37K Followers
SEIU                                                    17K Likes                           40K Followers
IBT                                                      120K Likes                         11K Followers
UFW                                                     3K Likes                            4.5K Followers
UFCW                                                   44K Likes                           7.5K Followers

Compare these statistics to a few different social media heavy hitters:

Red Bull Energy Drink                                38 million Likes                    930K Followers
National Public Radio                                 2.7 million Likes                   174K Followers
Rush Limbaugh                                        1.2 million Likes                   369K Followers
Rachel Maddow                                        827K Likes                         2.6 million Followers
US Chamber of Commerce                           328K Likes                         103K Followers

So what’s going on here? Why doesn’t a union with a million plus members have Likes and Followers in numbers of the same magnitude? It could be the quality of the content, though unions have plenty to say that their members should be interested in. Or it could be that members just don’t know the unions are participating in social media, though most of the unions have their social media participation prominently displayed on their websites (and I hope in any direct communications that go to members). Maybe it’s the demographic or technical competency of the average union member, though over 80% of Facebook’s 100 million plus active users are between 18 – 54 years of age and 72% of US households reported accessing the internet in 2011. (Most recently Facebook has provided statistics that the average age of its members is now 41 years old.) So, if the general union member demographics are adequately represented via these social outlets, is it only a matter of time that until we see a jump in the number of Likes and Followers?

There are some bright spots. The AFL-CIO ( has seemingly embraced social media in a big way; not only displaying it prominently on their website, encouraging visitors to share what they read and think, but also hosting online conversations about high interest topics.

JayStar is embarking on its own use of Social Media as a way to keep our customers, prospects, and the general public better informed. We’d love to know about your use of Social Media – what’s working and what’s not and whether Social Media is a key component of your organizing strategy – so please comment on this post! And be sure to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for the latest union news and company updates.

Posted in: Labor Unions, News

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In Praise of Diversity

In recent news we have seen various headlines on immigration reform, women’s rights, and numerous forms of discrimination that occur in the workplace.  Our business is in providing solutions to labor unions and I thought about how our customers, who represent the working people of America (or at least those that are still organized), stack up when it comes to these issues.  In particular I remember being at a meeting with one of our first customers where there were photographs in the room of their conventions from the 1920’s and 1930’s.  As a student of American history I noticed that the audience was completely integrated with Caucasian and African American delegates sitting side by side.  This surprised me knowing that this photograph was taken in the era of “Jim Crow.”  It turned out that for this union, equality, regardless of race or ethnicity had been a cornerstone of their constitution almost from their inception.  Why didn’t I know this?  I guarantee that 99% of the American public wouldn’t know this either.   Unions by and large do a lousy job of public relations. They let their enemies mold the public perception of unions which are so stereotypical it would be redundant for me to even address it.  But from my point of view, the truth is the union world is streets ahead of the corporate world in diversity of all kinds, ethnic, gender, and age.  Unions have been in the forefront of leading social change for most of their existence.   If we put aside the economic arguments for organized labor (which are powerful in themselves) and consider the metrics by which we value a fairer, more just society, why isn’t this being highlighted in a more aggressive fashion by union leaders?

Taking the issue of diversity a step further I looked at our own companies’ staff.

We have the following ethnicities/countries of origin: Anglo, Hispanic, Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepali & Chinese.

Our gender mix is almost exactly 50-50 male and female.

40% of our staff (including me and my partner) is over 50 years of age.

Bear in mind we outsource NOTHING, so I’m talking about around 20 individuals under the same roof here in Connecticut. Also when I investigated further I noted that we can converse (to a greater or lesser degree) in the following languages:









-Chinese – Mandarin

-Chinese – Cantonese

In other words this is an American company, proof positive that diversity in all areas is our strength.

This is not some abstract “politically correct” idea but a working practical example of a successful business which has grown in a few years to be a major provider of software and related services to the union world.  We try to follow the example of our customers when it comes to regarding the differences in ethnicity, gender, and age as a strength.   If you would like additional information on any of our products or services please call us (in any of the above languages) or contact us and we will be glad to help.

Posted in: General, News

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Embezzlement – It Involves the Nicest People

They were the last people you would ever imagine would steal $____________ (fill in the dollars).

My professional background was originally in accounting.  I held various positions ranging from a NATO budget analyst to the Financial Controllership of a major corporation.

In the course of this wide-ranging career it was my dubious privilege to become acquainted with various individuals who had committed fraud.  Recently I was once again confronted by the news that a past customer of ours had committed embezzlement and was now facing jail time. This was the second time in the last year that I had heard this kind of news about people I knew.  My reaction has always been the same. It’s the one that is classically recorded in the media to these events……. “I can’t believe it; he/she seemed like the last person who would do that!”  After a 40 year professional career nothing has changed in this respect. I remember having dinner with a customer many years ago and in the course of that evening I mentioned the sophisticated auditing capabilities that were in our software (which he was using) but which were hidden from the user.

Almost immediately large beads of perspiration broke out on my customers face accompanied by the words “WHAT!!! YOU DIDN’T TELL ME THAT!” You can guess the rest.  The amount stolen was in the millions.  The message here of course is that we MUST implement best practices in our accounting processes and software when it comes to discouraging embezzlement and trust NOT in our judgment of somebody’s “niceness.”

It is actually almost impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of fraud when it comes to a determined embezzler. Embezzlers I have spoken with have in many cases started out with the promise (to themselves), that they were “borrowing” the money and would put it back when in a position to do so. When they subsequently were unable to pay it back, there then was a rationalization process whereby they convinced themselves that they somehow had “earned” it on just this occasion, so no problem. Needless to say, that rationalization progresses to the point where it becomes a “right” to steal on a frequent basis.

Good prevention practices are a combination of processes like division of responsibilities so that no one person controls the finances, and taking advantage of security features found in your Accounting software. Some software packages are of course much more capable in this area than others, and by and large you get what you pay for.

To learn more about the security features of our software and fraud prevention please contact us or our accounting software partners CriticalEdge Group.

Posted in: Accounting Systems, General

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