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February 2015 Newsletter

February 2015
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Kurt's Corner

We’re working on a promise!
XIKAR recently engaged in some very effective management training, which included the elements of a request and a commitment (promise).  According to the Coach’s wisdom, our whole social fabric revolves around communication. Organizations, or networks of communications made up of requests and promises, will perform best when they effectively achieve a high standard in each.
A good request includes a committed speaker, who verbally or in writing states a request that contains a timeframe (delivery date), the future actions, and the expected conditions of satisfaction.  Appropriate mood and context assist in getting to yes – (the right request at the wrong time is the wrong request).
The request becomes a promise or a commitment only once the listener declares, “Yes” (I will do it by then).  If that promise is broken, the relationship diminishes.  And not dealing with broken commitments almost always leads to resentment and a drop-off in effectiveness in organizational accomplishment.  Yet we cannot keep 100% of the promises we keep. Thus, managing commitments becomes key in a world where our commitments take most of our time. 
How then do we manage our commitments and our time?  First, by learning to say “yes”, and “no”, and then with two more detailed tools. One might reasonably “Commit to commit” when further information is needed. (“I need to check my calendar, then I’ll let you know.”)  Or perhaps one might counter offer (“I can’t get it done by tomorrow, but I could by Friday”).  Finally worth noting is the broken promise: sometimes we have to break a promise.  We should always endeavor to do it up-front, to give advance notice and a chance for a renegotiation.
You may wonder why I spent this space on something so simple!  Simply put: we thought we had it right until we brand the formal request / promise approach. It has really helped.  Secondly, it has really helped in other areas outside of business.  I’m sure you can imagine your own examples!

Kurt Van Keppel
President, XIKAR, Inc.

January 2015 Newsletter

January 2015
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Kurt's Corner

On Cuba
On December 17, 2014, USA - Cuba detente negotiations suddenly appeared, with much speculation and questions since, surrounding Cuba’s primary exports, tourism and cigars.  “Will you go?”  “Will this be a new boom to cigars and your business?” are two questions I’ve heard every week since the President’s announcement.  My answers are in short: I don’t know. 
The big question among consumers, retailers and manufacturers in our trade is of course, “the new boom”. And the answer, once the legalities are worked out, lies in execution of the production, distribution and marketing of that product.  Brands and production quality from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua (among others) are already so well established, that Cuban cigars will hardly receive a red carpet with a free pass to the front of the line.  In short, we’ll see.
Will I go?  That depends.  I’d like to go visit a beautiful island paradise that makes great cigars, and more importantly respects and celebrates its citizens’ human, natural and political rights. Unfortunately, the President’s address on this topic is vague and ill-defined.  Perhaps they have it all worked out – but in absence of that information, I’m hereby taking the liberty of making some suggestions.
Among the rights I like to observe and enjoy on my visit are the right to due process, including probable cause, and a trial by a jury of one’s peers, under the law.  I’d like to know that I and my hosts are not potential subjects of cruel and unusual punishment, including long incarceration for political speech.  And I’d like that speech to be free to make, whether individually or assembled in a group.
And when the government errs, I’d like to see the opportunity for a redress of grievances, without risk of further violations to life and property.  I’d like to visit, perhaps even buy a condo, a place that respects the right to private property, without having the fear of unreasonable search and seizure.  And finally, I’d like my citizen hosts to have the right to keep and bear arms, so that when the government does err, does violate inalienable human, natural, and political freedoms, they may stand firm in protection and preservation of their rights.
In return for our consumption, tourism and investment capital, I sincerely hope the current administration secures these rights.  Immediate release of political prisoners, and the restoration of private property confiscated from Cuban citizens under the Agrarian Reform Law of May, 1959 would be a good start.
Under these conditions, I’d love to go to Cuba. And after that, I’d love to go to Venezuela.

Kurt Van Keppel
President, XIKAR, Inc.

July 2012 Newsletter


July 20, 2012
Kurt's Corner
Sacrifice and Freedom: Independence Day Message

Several reporters have suggested to me that entrepreneurs are risk takers.  In my experience

 and observation, I must disagree.  Entrepreneurs are risk assessors, not risk takers. We are very good at assessing whether the potential reward of a decision outweighs the risk inherent in it.  In order to achieve this, the "risk taker" must have a sober and thorough understanding of the risk - and be willing to accept that as a potential outcome.  Thus, I say to start a business from scratch, you don't have to give everything up; you have to be ready and willing to do so.

"Giving everything up" is better stated as sacrifice. Sacrifice requires faith that the outcome is worth the "risk".  In fact, only in faith that our choice is good, can sacrifice happen (unwilling sacrifice is called "loss" which carries the burden of regret).  Sacrifice frees us from those bonds.

American Exceptionalism
I believe that sacrifice is part of the American ethos. When we speak of our "rugged individualism" I envision the sacrifices made to achieve a greater good - in most cases freedom (either individual or collective).  Our Founding Fathers risked their lives in signing the Declaration of Independence, a document of treason against the king of England.  The civil war was fought over freedom - racial and economic. World Wars I and II were fought for freedom over totalitarianism.  In fact, throughout our history, we Americans have been willing to make this ultimate sacrifice, at home and abroad. This makes us exceptional.
In man's history, no other nation has been as willing as ours to make individual and collective sacrifices, and that willingness continues. Just last week I had the honor of meeting Nikki Altmann, widow of SSG Joseph Altmann, who was killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2011 just weeks after reenlisting. Nikki and her friends (and XIKAR fans) Todd and Jill Pistor approached me in Cleveland airport to say hello.  They were on their way to the New Hamphsire NASCAR race on July 15th to witness Kurt Busch driving with Joseph Altmann's name on the side of his car. This was made possible by the Armed Forces Foundation. The AFF provides healing for families who have lost loved ones due to military service, as well as helping wounded warriors with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including events such as bringing troops to the NASCAR track. If you wish to get involved and help out families like Nikki, please donate to AFF

Our Changing Culture
In the past three and a half years, much has been discussed about the end of American exceptionalism, as if this is a worthy goal - to become equal citizens of the world. Yet I believe this is a cultural decline, for the loss of our exceptional nature is the loss of our freedom, and the hope it represents to the world.
 I see evidence of this decline in small and large choices we make.  Individuals, companies and our government are now burdened with insurmountable debt for our unwillingness to sacrifice today's reward for tomorrow's freedom. Entitlement creates debts which limit freedom.

Examples of moral decay abound.  Perhaps the most visible is the recent Sandusky affair at Penn State, where none involved was willing to risk his job or the university reputation to protect those children from a known predator.  The tragedy is in the crime. But sad additional damage to our society will result from new laws and regulations written to substitute where men and women fail to take a risk for what we all know to be right, to protect those children, and each others' freedom.

This new form of equality leads us to a national character that will lose its willingness to sacrifice or risk anything.   "Those willing to give up their freedom for security deserve neither and will lose both." Heed Ben Franklin's warning, and understand his indictment.  We have a responsibility to ourselves and one another to take a risk and make a sacrifice.  Men and women of honor must be ready to sacrifice material possession for the thing that most matters: freedom. The outcome is worth the risk!

Kurt Van Keppel
President & Founder
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