Friday
Aug122011

Success … Thy Name is PASSION!

~Find Your Passion and NEVER Look Back~

 

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” …Confucius. 


When I read this quote, I immediately knew I had found the words to explain exactly how I wanted to live my life. These words have been my personal mantra and I have literally designed my life to follow this advice. Candidly, I can’t imagine that anyone would choose not to do so as well. When one has a passion for what they are doing, the excitement and fanaticism for the mission at hand is contagious. And, as every successful business leader knows, this type of contagion is what success is all about.

I was very fortunate in that I found my passion early – as a college student while I was studying in upstate New York to be a Mathematician. On advice from my father, I attended a tax preparation class and I found myself thoroughly enthralled with the tax system. I found that my interest in mathematics and its focus on the importance of understanding the “right path” to the solution rather than simply arriving at the actual answer, fit in very nicely with the economics and processes of the tax industry. It was this epiphany that allowed me to understand exactly what “passion” was all about. Through this realization, I was able to begin crafting the formula that would become the foundation for both Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax Service as companies that would reflect this passion, and instill the opportunity for other like-minded entrepreneurs, i.e. family, employees and franchisees alike, to also benefit from a business and a working environment that they could love.

But, it’s not just about making money. When you have passion for your business, you are creating a world in which you and others can continue to be fulfilled emotionally, as well as monetarily. Doesn’t it make sense to simultaneously increase your quality of life while in tandem positively affecting your standard of living? After all, without passion, your endeavors become nothing more than a mechanical repetition of formula, a robotic approach to each day that will ultimately leave you empty inside even though your bank statement might reflect otherwise.

An unfortunate statistic is that fewer than 50% of new businesses make it to their fourth year. But these numbers shouldn't discourage you if your business is also your passion. One of the biggest mistakes business leaders and new business owners make is trying to live someone else’s dream. For instance, simply because you know someone who became successful in the real estate business or the stock market, does not mean that either of these business opportunities will serve you equally as well. There is so much more to success than just the medium. You must have the joy that keeps you involved and interested in being a life-long student as one can never stop learning from their own experiences and those of others in their mutual field. And finally, you must have the joy that keeps you innovative so that your world is always fresh and exiting with new ideas and influences, all of which you most definitely need in order to not only achieve success, but to keep it. Only those entrepreneurs who are doing daily what they truly love will make it through the hurdles that all business leaders must face in order to ensure success.

I was asked an interesting question recently that frankly, took me by surprise. I was asked if it took courage to be passionate. After mulling over the question, my response was that it takes “passion in order to be courageous”. But it also requires “courage to choose to follow your passion”. That said, in my opinion, one must be able to incorporate both passion and courage in order to ultimately rise above the “ordinary” and reach the realm of the fanatical if one truly wants to be an extraordinary success story.

There seems to be a matter of opinion by many that there is a definite gap between passion and profits. I, personally, am not of this school of thought. There are so many examples of profitable leaders, besides my own, who had passion and started companies that also incorporated social responsibility [an upcoming article I hope to share soon] that are among the top of the top of profitable companies. As an obvious example, let’s reflect on Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google. With a motto of “Don’t Be Evil”, Google started as a passion to share free information through the Internet and quickly grew to be one of the most innovative players in the high tech environment with an application that is, well, ubiquitous without question. But did you know that they recently defied the Chinese government by refusing to continue censoring its Chinese search engine, ultimately placing conscience ahead of profits? This is a fairly obvious example of the power of passion and courage, working in synch!
As an entrepreneur, passion is simply part of the DNA one must incorporate if one is to be successful. However, this does not mean that decisions, innovations or just plain “what-if ideas” are deployed with reckless abandon…on the contrary. When Tim Berns-Lee invented the World Wide Web in the 1980s and followed this extraordinary achievement in 1990 by developing the facility for the “average person” to utilize this resource, do you really think he accomplished this feat haphazardly or as simply a serendipitous technological snafu? Absolutely not. This was a man with passion for a goal – a passion to provide unlimited world-wide access to communication and information through technology that the average person did not even know existed. He had to find a way to get this past the “idea stage” and into a reality. This took passion and courage, which ultimately drove him to the all-important stages of planning and deployment – obvious “next steps” if any idea is ever to become more than just a dream or a good intention.
Today, Berns-Lee has continued his passion and incorporation of social responsibility with the formation of The World Wide Web Foundation that was created to empower people worldwide and bring about positive socio-economic change utilizing technology to help develop socially responsible web services that will ultimately support valuable global improvements such as innovative farming practices, regreening environments, etc.  (World Wide Web Foundation).
So now I ask you, is it courage or is it passion that makes one a great leader? Or is it both?

I try very hard not to proselytize to be the guru of all business success, although as an avid reader, I read many of the books written by lots of professionals who share their strategic success, and yes, sometimes they do indeed claim to have all of the answers. But, while I may not walk away from each reading experience believing that I have read “THE message from THE anointed strategic business Messiah”, I can affirm that there is always at least a kernel of knowledge, or a thought that has driven a direction of thinking that perhaps was actualized because I had some level of new input from having shared in their messages. That is to say, I firmly believe that there is always knowledge to be gained from everyone and every experience, and one would be foolish not to embrace this reality. [But this is a whole new discussion altogether.]

What I do try to accomplish through my seminars and articles is to share only the strategies and experiences that have worked for me, and the advice that I may have to offer to anyone who might need just “that kernel of knowledge” to spark some thought or action that would help to guide them in the direction of their own success.

So as I share my experience with passion and, yes, courage, I want to ensure that I did not fail to impress on you the importance of basic business acumen. Make sure your thinking is not abstract and that you fully realize that ultimately, your success will always be based on your ability to successfully deploy knowledge-thinking processes. Nonetheless, without passion and courage, you are not likely to ever leave the post and enter the race to success. Il sont parti – and may you have a strong finish!

Thursday
Aug112011

Financial literacy for politicians

ANNAMARIA LUSARDI WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATESI have argued in my blog postings that individuals need financial literacy because we are increasingly asked to make financial decisions that have important consequences. But there is a group for whom financial literacy is even more important, since their decisions are going to affect the whole population. These are our politicians. 

As a case in point, the consequences of the standoff about the debt ceiling are severe. For the first time in history, the US debt has been downgraded from AAA to AA. This could mean higher interest rates, for example, on mortgages or car loans, and thus higher costs for many consumers. The stock market gyrated last week, dropping sharply, and it dropped more than 600 points on Monday, destroying in less than a week most of the gains that had been made slowly over many months. These are serious problems that affect real people! 

When politicians make decisions with such consequential economic implications, they must be financially literate. Consumers learned about the costs of financial illiteracy during the financial crisis; politicians will likely get their lessons soon, if what they want to see is what happens to an economy in which basic economic principles are ignored. 

There have been a number of statements by politicians that reveal their financial illiteracy. One example: the argument that it does not matter (or we should not care) if the world is watching or what the world thinks of how the US handles the debt ceiling. This is unfortunately wrong. A large portion of US debt is held by the Chinese, and so it does matter what other countries think of the discussion about the debt ceiling, and politicians should care—in fact, they should care a lot. Another example: the suggestion that we should let the government default to demonstrate how important it is to reign in the deficit. This is strange financial decision-making. It is the equivalent of a household wanting to burn down the house to discipline its members. I would recommend trying that strategy on a desert island but not in a country inhabited by 300 million people. 

I doubt financial illiteracy is concentrated in one political party only. We have witnessed poor economic decisions a lot in the past few years. Having public debt on an unsustainable path is not only problematic, but it provides a bad example to citizens as well. Not just the federal government but also state and local governments have done a poor job in keeping their finances in order. 

The decisions that politicians make have enormous implications for the economy and for all of us. We are the ones paying the cost of the decisions that are made. We should demand that the politicians we sent to represent us and who are bound to make these important decisions be financially literate and explain their decisions to us in economic terms. A fragile economy that has survived a very severe crisis and is trying to recover from a great recession needs politicians who understand basic economic principles, now more than ever.

Thursday
Aug042011

The NFL is Back

ANNAMARIA LUSARDI WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATESI was very happy to hear that the NFL lockout was over and I have been avidly reading the sport section of the newspapers. I normally read the business section, but this week I could not bear any longer to read the discussion about the debt ceiling and it was good to go straight to the sport pages. While attending the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) Summer Institute last week, I have startled a few economists with my conversations about football; I enjoyed that!

There are four things I like about the agreement that was reached last week:

1) Players’ safety and health. The agreement limits on-field practice time and contact. Importantly, it limits full-contact practice in the preseason and regular season. Who needs head concussions? I was appalled at the statistics about injuries among football players when I read them. These are serious issues and I frankly wonder why it took so long to worry about players’ safety. This discussion has already trickled down to college football and I was very happy to see that the Ivy League colleges have also adopted a limit to football practices to reduce head injuries. Importantly, the new agreement provides enhanced injury-protection benefits and an opportunity for current players to remain in the player medical plan for life. It also set up a fund for medical research, health care programs and NFL Charities. These are smart features; a big thumb up.

2) Benefits for retired players. The agreement provides additional funding for retiree benefits and sets up a fund to increase the pensions of pre-1993 retirees. This is also a good and needed program. The career of players is often very short (and cut short by injuries as well) and it is hard to accumulate a good pension on a short career (let alone think about pension when one is 22!). We have read too many stories of players running out of money after the stop playing and it is important to find ways to provide for the players’ future. Another thumb up.

3) Improvements to career transition and degree-completion programs. Because, as already mentioned above, the career of players is short, it is important to provide help in their career transition. Players have very specific skills that can be used well in sport but also in other fields, but they need help in translating those skills or simply in being connected to other fields. Some players have not completed their college education and, given the returns to higher education, it is beneficial to facilitate and help players finish their degrees. A thumb up here as well.

4) Sharing among players. To those who believe players are greedy and want absurdly high wages, I would like to point out there is absurdly high amounts of money on the table and the projections are for high growth in that money in the future as well. In fact, players have agreed not only to a stricter salary cap bu a new fund will also be created to redistribute savings from the new rookie pay system to current and retired-player benefits and a veteran-player performance pool. And we have now heard news about Peyton Manning staying with the Colts but passing up being the highest paid player in NFL history. This will allow the Colts more flexibility to sign other players. This is the statement Manning made: “Whether I deserve to be the highest-paid player over the next five years is irrelevant. I would rather them use the money and keep the players they want to keep and get other players.” One thumb up to Peyton Manning. Another thing I want to remind readers is that players donate generously. Many have their own charities and are very sensitive to social issues related, for example, to poverty, education, and discrimination. Because of that spillover, I would have preferred to see more rather less money going to the players.

But the best news is that we will be able to go see the games. I am getting ready to not only watch them in TV but to go to the stadium. As for the other lockout (about the debt ceiling) I think politicians could learn a thing or two from the NFL.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Liberty Tax Service Helps Create Awareness for Federal Financial Aid for Postsecondary Education in Underserved Communities

Liberty Tax Service provides FREE forms completion assistance in English and Spanish to families and students interested in applying for Federal Student Aid.

 

    (Virginia Beach, VA) – Liberty Tax Service, the fastest-growing retail tax preparation company in the industry, is helping students and families in underserved communities throughout the United States realize their dream of advanced education by creating awareness of the Financial Student Aid program and offering FREE assistance with completing these applications through their offices nationwide.
     In early 2010, Liberty’s Hispanic Programs Team met with the White House team leading the Initiative for Educational Excellence among Hispanic Americans and learned that there is a wide gap in awareness of the availability of Federal Student Aid for postsecondary education among households in minority communities throughout the United States. Additionally, completing these forms can be a daunting task for many in these communities. In meetings with the U.S. Department of Education, it was further established that creating awareness of federal student aid and assisting families to successfully navigate the application process has been identified as a key opportunity to realistically increase the postsecondary school attendance rate in the Hispanic community, as well as in other minority communities in the United States.
     Over the span of three decades, the real, inflation-adjusted cost of tuition for private four-year colleges has more than doubled; tuition at public four-year institutions has nearly tripled. Consequently, making college affordable for all students is a top priority for the Obama Administration.
Inspired by the White House Initiative meetings and conversations, the Diversity Program’s Team at Liberty Tax Service realized that their local offices could help close the gap in awareness of and applications for Student Financial Aid in minority communities, and could do so in both Spanish and English across the nation. Since some of the information needed for applications comes from the applicants’ or their family’s tax returns, Liberty Tax Service embarked on a mission to become a trusted resource for encouragement and assistance in applying for financial aid.
In December, 2010, Liberty Tax Service offices across the U.S. received training and materials explaining the benefits, process, documents and information needed for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms completion services. Liberty’s offices became a bilingual resource for English and Spanish materials provided by the Department of Education as well as created in-house, offering FREE forms completion assistance. Potentially qualified clients were encouraged to submit applications for their children and/or for themselves. Educational information was posted on the Liberty Tax Service websites (English and Spanish) with links to the Department of Education resources and websites; and seminars were created that are currently being presented at high schools, community colleges and various educational outreach programs across the nation in English and Spanish.
     Supporting the White House Initiative’s objective of closing the gap in the Hispanic community also became a major focus of the 2011 outreach program for Liberty Tax Service’s Una Familia Sin Fronteras initiative, a unique educational outreach program that brings financial and fiscal education seminars and courses to Hispanic communities across the nation, at no cost. In early January, the Hispanic Programs Team deployed a comprehensive Spanish-language communications program to create awareness of Federal Student Aid and its benefits, explaining the process and basis for qualification, and encouraged consumers to benefit from its bilingual services for assistance in navigating the FAFSA process, provided by HISPANIC SERVICES SEAL OF EXCELLENCE CERTIFIED offices.
In weekly, 30-minute, Spanish-language educational radio shows in 29 markets across the U.S. sponsored and hosted by Liberty Tax Service’s Una Familia Sin Fronteras initiative and Foundation, the availability of Federal Student Aid for postsecondary education was a frequent topic, with numerous call-ins from listeners with questions about qualification, as well as the application process. In March, Liberty also hosted Spanish-speaking representatives from the Department of Education as guests on many of these shows, allowing the voice of the FAFSA program to be shared with our educational alliances within the government.
     According to Juan Sepulveda, Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, “The simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), now available in Spanish, allows applicants to retrieve tax records electronically from the Internal Revenue Service, making it easier to complete—as the 35% increase in applicants now shows. In addition, the amount of federal funding available for college-going students has doubled; Administration investments in Pell Grants have grown the award from $4,730 in 2008 to $5,550 today, enabling more low-income students—particularly Latinos—to receive assistance in paying for college. These improvements to the FAFSA and federal funding will help this nation lead the world in education and have the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.”
     “Education is a key component to the growth and economic strength of our Latino communities in the United States,” explains Martee Saldaña Pierson, Director of Diversity Programs for Liberty Tax Service. “For this reason, we created our Una Familia Sin Fronteras educational initiative and Foundation so we can bring FREE education to our Hispanic communities and do so in their own language. Our alliance with the White House Initiative Team has been instrumental in bringing vital education resources to our Hispanic neighbors, and we plan to continue pushing forward with this important program as we work together for the betterment of this ‘emerging majority’ that is our Hispanic population.”
     Liberty Tax Service is also partnering with school districts and community colleges in many areas to offer bilingual seminars and consultation sessions students and families who wish to learn more about Federal Student Aid and the application process. Organizations or schools that are interested in holding open houses or meetings to discuss Federal Student Aid with presentations and/or consultation by qualified Liberty Tax Service professionals in both languages should contact Martee Pierson at Liberty Tax Service, 757.301.8111.