Happy birthday, Pop! Today my dad would have turned 97, and we would have had a grand time going to Geno's, the fabulous steak-sandwich shop on 9th and Passyunk in Philadelphia, putting on way too much hot sauce as we sat in the fabled inner-sanctum of the best restaurant on Earth.
Pop loved going there, because as he got older -- he passed away when he was 92, five years ago -- he loved that they let us eat inside, instead of out in the stifling heat that ultimately became too much for him.
Pop was a fixture on the show for many of the early years. It got tougher to come on as he got older, but he was a faithful watcher. I would always look at my cellphone on the way home from work, and it would go off like clockwork at 7 p.m. It would be Pop saying "Jamesy, that was the best show ever."
It's funny, I got so used to it that sometimes I would say, "Here it comes," and then roll my eyes to myself.
I sure don't do that now. I wish I heard it every night, as I used to.
I think of Pop a lot, of course, and I am blessed that he lived a long life -- long enough to mention it's OK when someone says, "Sorry for your loss," because he really did have a fabulous run.
This is not a reminiscent show, though. It's a show about trying to make Mad Money, so let me reflect for a moment about what Pop taught me about business.
First, he said, be honest. Now, he almost always followed up by saying that the business people who were dishonest tended to do well -- unless they were caught -- but it didn't matter, because honesty was the best policy. He liked that, even as he was often angry that the cheaters did so well. It's a fact that's not acknowledged enough. He did acknowledge it, and then some.
He talked to me about hard work and how important it was to work hard, but, again, Pop was a realist. Lots of times he would tell you it simply didn't matter how hard you worked, things go wrong all of the time.
What would be examples of how things went wrong?
Let me give you two incredibly relevant examples at this time.
First, Pop was known as a jobber, a middleman, who represented paper mills to customers who were too small to deal directly with these manufacturers.
He used to have a thriving business representing small stores owned by what we call "mom and pop" operators. One by one, though, they were wiped out by Walmart (WMT) .
Walmart could offer merchandise for less than what these small stores paid for the merchandise they sold.
He had stacks of invoices of customers who had gone under and would go on and on about how Walmart just couldn't be competed against, but there was nothing he could do about it because they offered a good product at a great price. Sound familiar? Now the Walmart of today is Amazon (AMZN) .
Second? The mills themselves one-by-one went under. Why? Because the Chinese targeted the gift wrap industry, deciding that they could make paper cheaper than we could. It's something that I learned all too well, as these were the real bosses in pop's life, and one after another they folded because the Chinese subsidized their manufacturers.
I never forgot that, either. Neither have many of the other people in this country who worked for mills that were crushed by the Chinese.
This view infuses my thoughts about China and has for ages and ages.
Now, ultimately, my father took a can't beat 'em, join 'em attitude and ended up repping a Chinese mill. He started selling doggie bags to restaurants, because he figured out, correctly, that Walmart couldn't crush them. He also sold paper bags because he knew that plastic would one day be a big loser. Sure is. I could go on and on about Pop, war hero, fabulous grandfather, great Eagles fan.
But for today, I just wanted to let you know that the more things change -- Walmart destroying the little guy, the Chinese destroying the factories and their towns with subsidized goods -- the more things stay the same.
So Happy Birthday, Pop. I will be waiting for your call at 7 p.m. tonight.
I won't get it, but I'll remember it sweetly nonetheless.
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