It’s the Rite Time for Change

written by: William Herbert “Skip” Boyer, 32°

Business as usual, especially for organizations such as ours, is not only unacceptable, it is suicidal.

At this 2002 Scottish Rite Leadership Conference, I am reminded of Bro. Mark Twain at the celebration of his 70th birthday. It was a remarkable celebration-a glittering, black-tie dinner at the legendary Delmonico’s in New York on December 5, 1905. The great writer stood up, lit a cigar, and said, “I have achieved my 70 years in the usual way – by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else. I will offer here, a sound maxim: we can’t reach old age by another man’s road. My habits protect my life but they would assassinate you.”

With that advice ringing in our ears, please allow me to offer some suggestions on time, service, and leadership. These suggestions may or may not assassinate you, so please handle with care.

When he was coaching the number-one-ranked Irish of Notre Dame, Lou Holtz once noted, “We’re not number one. We’re trying to stay number one.” There is a difference. Complacency turns number-one teams into also-rans. And it doesn’t take much to become complacent. In fact, it’s downright easy. Let me remind you of some folks who did.

    • Pan Am or TWA once were the only way to fly.
    • Your mother used to shop at Montgomery Wards.
    • Schlitz was the best-selling premium beer in America.
    • Chevrolet was the number-one car in America.
    • Railroads were once the only way to handle long-distance travel.

Of the 100 largest companies in the United States in 1900, only 16 are identifiable today. During the 1980s, a total of 230 companies-46 percent-disappeared from the Fortune 500. And that doesn’t even touch what happened to the dot.coms in the last couple of years.

Lest you think this only applies to the world of business and products, when was the last time you heard much about the Foresters of America, Patrons of Husbandry, Woodmen of the World, Ancient Order of United Workmen, and United Order of Mechanics?

What happened to them? It is simplistic to suggest there was only one cause for the erosion of great brands and powerful civic and social organizations. Clearly, there are many reasons. Let me suggest just one or two.

In part, it was an eye problem.

One of my staff was late the other morning, and I queried her about it. She told me she had an eye problem. She just couldn’t see coming to work. The eye problem facing us is a bit broader in scope and deals with the essential concept of vision.

Bill Keene’s “Family Circus” is one of the world’s most beloved newspaper comics. Each day, the artist explores the joys and challenges of family life and, on occasion, teaches a few basic lessons along the way. Recently, the cartoon featured small son Billy peering intently at a long, single-file line of ants stretching down the sidewalk. “That first ant better know where he’s going,” he observed to his sister.

How’s that for a basic lesson in leadership?

Keene comes straight to the point. Leadership, like any journey, begins with a destination. Where do you want to go? Or where do you want to be? That’s the real point. It’s not important where we are right now-it’s important where we are going.

A couple of years ago, I examined part of this concept in the Scottish Rite Journal. Perhaps you remember the article “The Leadership Secrets of the Cheshire Cat.” If you remember Alice in Wonderland, you know that her problems stemmed from a lack of visionary leadership in Wonderland.

First, she followed a white rabbit that was more interested in time management than real leadership. Managers who are like Wonderland’s white rabbit are usually so worried about the appearance of things-the ritual of it all-that they forget what it was they were trying to accomplish. Alice followed the rabbit with his large pocket watch and ended up in a deep hole, which is usually the way that sort of thing works out.

Then she met a caterpillar who may or may not have been on controlled substances and who suggested that she could solve her problems by trying a bit of the magic mushroom. It was the latest trendy thing to do. Try it! Everyone else is. So, she did, and the next thing she knew, she was too big for her shoes and frightened everyone around her. Then she tried another trendy solution, and suddenly she was too small to accomplish much of anything. And when she turned to ask the caterpillar just what the devil was going on, he-like many a good consultant or Past Master-had already left town.

The high point of her day came when she met the Cheshire Cat. She found him perched in a tree at a crossroads-right about where we of the Scottish Rite are standing today.

  • “Which road should I take?” she asked the cat.
  • “Where do you want to get to?” the cat asked helpfully.
  • “I don’t know,” admitted Alice.
  • “Then,” advised the cat, “any road will take you there.”

The cat’s message is one for us. If we don’t have the vision to see where we’re going, it doesn’t make any difference how we get there. If we don’t have the vision and the willingness to plan, it doesn’t matter what we do. And perhaps the most important point of all: if we don’t have the vision to lead, then who will?

Incidentally, being a visionary leader-looking for a better way-is no longer an option. Business as usual, especially for organizations like ours, is not only unacceptable, it is suicidal.

We must recognize that everything is changing, from the men who have yet to knock at our door to the very environment in which we compete. And make no mistake about it, we are competing, just like any other major corporation. The measure of competitive success today isn’t market share or consumer demand or even money. It’s time. Time is the currency of today’s generation, and we are most certainly in competition for it.

I wish you could meet my son. He’s a fine young man, age 28. He earned a college degree in advertising and is busily pursuing his career in Los Angeles, where he married the prettiest girl in town, and she’s even brighter than he is.

He heads west coast advertising for Tennis magazine and a couple of other publications, as well. His life, with a young bride, a career in the fast lane, good money, etc., is a whirlwind, and he loves it.

I have hopes he will knock at our door, sooner rather than later. He would be a sixth generation Master Mason, if and when he does. But what will attract him? What can we offer that will make him part with the only commodity that is really in short supply in his life and the lives of his generation-time? The emergence of time as the fundamental currency of a generation is a significant change. It was not so in the days of our fathers and grandfathers.

Relatively speaking, the days of ragtime and the great strength of organizations such as ours were much less complicated. Today, for example, nearly 100% of our frequent travelers have a cellular telephone, 85% have a personal computer, and over 50% are surfing the Internet a number of times each week. Grandpa didn’t have to reckon with AOL.

Please do not underestimate the impact of this most basic of changes. The search for time is restructuring entire industries, including my own, the travel and tourism business.

To fully understand this change and respond to it requires leaders with real vision and an intuitive understanding of what is important to men in our environment today.

There is something else inherent in the word vision. By its very definition, it means motion, a pattern of movement from one place to another, from one level to another. The greatest enemy of vision is the status quo. We talked about that a moment ago. We called it complacency. Incidentally, this is an especially sensitive point in an organizations like ours, built on a foundation of rock-solid tradition. However, if you are satisfied with where you are, you aren’t dreaming about where you can be. You’ve already reached your destination. That’s the first step to failure and oblivion.

Here’s an interesting point: as times change, established leaders are often those most blinded by their past successes. I mentioned a few companies that used to own their markets. Let’s go back a bit further and see what happens when you exchange a vision of the future for the status quo of the moment.

Did you know, for example, that none of the companies that dominated the thriving ice-harvesting market in the Nineteenth Century converted to the refrigeration business?

One of my first jobs while still in high school was working for the railroad. I worked on passenger trains, and you could go almost anywhere in America by train. Today, I live in Phoenix, the seventh largest city in the United States, and there is no rail service. And what’s left of the greatest passenger rail network in the world, Amtrak, is high-balling towards extinction.

The giant retailer Sears almost didn’t make it into this century because it didn’t pay attention to changes in who was doing the shopping in America. “Come see the softer side of Sears” was the company’s nearly last-minute answer as they sought to appeal to women shoppers. Of course, we’ve seen what happened to Montgomery Ward, and the jury is still out on K-Mart.

One of the most beloved CEOs in the country has been Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, an industry not renowned for beloved CEOs. Herb wrote a letter to his staff a few years ago. In part, here’s what he said: “We must not let success breed complacency, cockiness, greediness, laziness, indifference, preoccupation with non-essentials, bureaucracy, hierarchy, quarrelsomeness, or obliviousness to threats posed by the outside world. A company is never more vulnerable than when it’s at the height of its success.” How clear is that? The status quo is deadly, whether it’s a single Lodge or a major airline. Of course, it’s also the easy, short-term way out. Just walk away from the situation and shake your heads. After all, it’s “just the way things are.”

Earlier, I highlighted a few great company names that had, perhaps, lost their focus and vision. It’s only fair now to point out a few that did not.

Southwest Airlines: The only consistently profitable major airline in the U.S. For every one of the past 27 years (since 1973), it has employee turnover rates of 4% to 5%, in an industry where double those rates are typical. In the notoriously cyclical airline business, Southwest has never had a layoff. With the lowest ticket prices, the company still ranks at the top in customer service and safety.

Cisco Systems: Whose employee turnover runs less than 10% although it is headquartered in Silicon Valley where turnover averages 25% to 30%. Not only does every employee carry the company values embossed on an ID badge, but all bonuses are dependent on meeting customer satisfaction goals.

MBNA: The only credit card company that believes customer retention is so important that it reports the statistic in its annual report. The company retains 97% of its profitable customers. Did you catch the common thread running through those success stories? Customer service, customer retention, customer loyalty. I work for a hotel company-the biggest in the world. And we know people vote with their feet. They like you, they walk in. They don’t like you, they walk down the street. That applies to just about every human endeavor.

Now let me return to that concept of time we discussed earlier and offer one more very graphic and timely example of vision and change and impact for your consideration. Thirty-five years ago, if someone asked you what nation dominated the world watch-making industry, what would you have said? The likely answer is Switzerland. The Swiss made the best watches in the world, and they were constantly improving them. They invented the minute hand and the second hand. They discovered better ways to make the gears, the bearings, and the mainsprings. They were on the cutting edge of waterproofing. They were constant innovators.

By 1968, they had done so well that they had more than 65 percent of the world market in watch sales and more than 80 percent of the profits. By 1980, however, their market share dropped from 65% to less than 10%. Can you guess why? They ran into something new. Mechanical watches gave way to electronics. Everything they were good at-gears, bearings, springs-was suddenly irrelevant.

Between 1979 and 1981, 50,000 of the 62,000 watchmakers in Switzerland lost their jobs. For a nation as small as Switzerland, it was a catastrophe. For another nation, however, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Japan, which had less than one percent of the watch market in 1968, was in the middle of developing a world-class electronics technology. The electronic quartz watch was a natural. Seiko led the change and gained 33% percent of the market and the profits.

Seiko’s success was short-lived. The Swiss soon came up with a new idea of their own-the Swatch, a simple little thing with only 51 components and a thousand different looks. Launched in 1983, Swatch is the largest watchmaker in the world today. It owns the marketplace. If you doubt me, ask your kids-or look at their wrists.

My Brothers, listen carefully. Do you hear something ticking steadily in the background? It’s the heartbeat of a generation, a generation that knows the fastest fast-food drive-through is Wendy’s at 2:11 minutes and the slowest is Steak ‘n Shake at over five minutes and that bases its meal habits on that information.

The ticking you hear is the constant reminder that each second is important, each moment different and constantly changing. It’s a reminder that time and our environment, like my young son and the needs of his generation, are continually evolving.

If you don’t hear these things, you’re not listening with an attentive ear. And if you’re not listening, the very best time for our beloved Rite may already be ticking away forever.

Comment:
I have read this paper many times over and from my experience I am unable to identify a single mistake if we were in the BUSINESS WORLD
That World is a very busy place and, those who STOP to smell the roses are very frequently left behind.

Freemasonry to me is “A Way of Life “and as relevant today as it was at its beginnings & possibly even more so.

In my opinion, our Fraternity, the World Over, shares with its brethren a “Way of Life”
that provides each and every one of us with a GUIDE to attain acceptance to the GLA.

Have a wonderful Day & God Bless
Norm