All posts by Keith Thompson

17th floor – Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff perpetrated the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time. He stole 65 billion dollars from investors. The definition of “Ponzi” is basically taking money from party to pay another party. He ran this scheme for 30+ years. Investors would place their money with Bernie to invest for them in stocks and bonds. He quoted a return that was roughly double what everyone else was quoting. The problem is he never bought or sold one stock or one bond. He would take the money from new investors to pay previous investors. This went on for 30 years.

He started out running an honest business but along around 1970, he started his “hedge” fund where the Ponzi started. The SEC regulators never questioned it over all those years because he was so well known, he had to be honest, right? Madoff would create fake portfolio and stock accounts and send a report to every investor every month that showed how much money they had and how much return they received that month. The investors were ecstatic because they were making so much money. Madoff was giving the best returns on Wall Street and new investors wanted to put piles of new money with Madoff. No one ever though to double check.

His offices were in one of the ritziest buildings in New York and it was posh with people everywhere working in beautiful offices and a fake trading floor with the stock ticker tape running across the wall. To say the least. It was very impressive. So impressive, no one, not even the SEC regulators thought to question him.

Two floors below the ritz and glamor was the 17th floor. This was where wealth went to vanish. On the 17th floor there were no computers hooked to the internet and they had dot matrix printers where they would print out the fake account ledgers that were sent to the investors. Internally, all the money was tracked with handwritten notes that no one could trace.

It was late 2008 after Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns went bankrupt and here was old Bernie still making money for his investors. A guy by the name of Harry Markopolos said, “hey, wait a minute.” And that was what started the investigation into Bernie Madoff that ended everything.

Every swindler, liar and crook has a 17th floor in their life. Most are smarter than to have it in the same building, but not ole Bernie. He spent as much time on the dark 17th floor as he did in the main offices.

Bernie lost everything and thousands of families and investors also lost everything. His oldest son committed suicide, his younger son died in 2014, his sister and her husband who invested everything with Bernie also committed suicide. His wife today is 81 and in a senior living home with no friends, no family and waiting to die disgracefully. Bernie Madoff true to his name, “made-off” with the money.

My point – crime does not pay long term. It may for a period, but it doesn’t last long. Do what is right. You may not have wealth, but you will have a life full of joy and peace in your heart when you lay your head down at night. KT

It is the sails, not the gales that determine the destination

The way the wind blows does not determine the direction the boat goes. Think of when Columbus discovered America, if he could only go the way the wind was blowing, he would have never made it to land on either side.

Explaining how a boat can go in the opposite direction of the wind will take too many words but suffice it to say, even when the wind is against you, it is the adjustment of the sails, not the gales that allow the boat to still stay on course.

It is like that in life also. Many people just go the way the wind (the events around them) is blowing when they can adjust their sails (attitude and determination) to stay on course going forward. There are times when the wind (the events) wants to blow us in a different direction, so we must man the sails and the rudder, so we still go where we are headed. It is a decision. KT

Christmas

We have all read Christmas articles and reminders of what the season means but I want to tell you a short story that may help you choose, yes choose, joy in this hectic time.

I have a friend in his 40’s that was doing perfectly well at Thanksgiving. I saw him and talked to him, and all seemed well. He started feeling bad and called for an appointment with his doctor. They found cancer all over his internal organs and today, he probably has a few weeks to live. All of this in four weeks.

Everyone of us is one bad diagnosis or one middle of the night knock at the door away from life crushing down on us. Take this season and choose to be with your family and look them all in the eyes and tell them you love them. Hug them and kiss them and make sure they have no doubt of your love. Sit in your chair, start a fire in your fireplace and really have a conversation with God thanking him for the joys of this season. Merry Christmas. KT

Pealing the Formica back

When you peal the Formica back on a kitchen counter you can see if it is really wood or just particle board. This is what it means to peal the Formica back. In terms of real life, it is knowing what is underneath the surface.

One of the toughest roles we play in hotel brokerage is knowing who is real and who is not. We get many calls from investors looking for this type of deal or that type deal and in some of the cases, the person is either not real or not serious.

In a commercial transaction, you may get a second try, but usually you get one shot to pick the right buyer who will follow through and consummate the transaction. The larger the deal the easier this is because we know most all the institutional grade buyers. We run into this “validation” more with smaller deals. Buyers will tell you anything you want to hear so they can get awarded the deal. The problem is once they get awarded the deal, we must tell the other interested buyers the hotel is under agreement. This means they go away and turn their attention to other deals. So, you want to make the best decision you can when you pick a buyer. Every now and then you can get the backup buyer interested again, but it doesn’t happen often. Hence, the need to pick the right buyer the first time.

I could tell you funny story after funny story where buyers turned out to be boneheads. In the movie Jerry Maguire, there is famous line/ scene called “show me the money.” This is the fastest way to separate the wheat from the chaff or in other words, see if they are real. I have a philosophy on the subject. It is simple. If the buyer won’t show you the money, they don’t have the money. Isn’t that easy? Buyers who have the money have zero problems showing proof of funds, whereas the other buyers will have all kind of reasons they can’t show you the money, but the main reason is, they don’t have the money.

So, there is my nugget of real estate wisdom for the day. KT

Want to be good at big things? Focus on the little things

If you want to be ready when the big things and big decisions come along, focus on the little things first. Being competent in the small things builds confidence in your heart to better handle the big things. Many small tasks are not seen by other people, but you still know in your heart if you did it right. It is that knowing that builds your self-esteem and self-confidence so when the big things come along, you are better prepared to handle them.

Years ago, I was the chairman of deacons at my church and one of the responsibilities was to cover the notes and minutes from one meeting to the next. I asked this retired State Trooper friend to handle the minutes for the deacons. The next deacon meeting rolled around and I asked this gentleman to give a report on the minutes and it was so well written and well prepared I was stunned. The level of detail in his report was impressive. I thought to myself, here is a man that gives great attention to every detail, and he probably handles everything in his life the same way. It made an impression on me and taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten. If there was ever a big assignment that was needed, he would be the guy I would go to.

Think of your job/business and how you handle the small things. If you are dismissive on the little things there is probably a chance you are the same way with the big things. When you do well on the little things, even when no one is watching, it simply changes how you approach all decisions, all tasks, and all assignments. Therefore, if you want to handle the important decisions well, be thorough in the little things and you would be surprised how many people ask you to handle larger things, including God. KT