Where have all the graduates gone?

December 4th, 2013

The Washington Post recently reported that a growing number of colleges nationwide are scrambling to fill classes. This trend is driven by a declining number of high school graduates and rising concern about the price of education. While the elite universities continue to prosper, despite their nosebleed level costs, most all other institutions are feeling the pain. The number of new high school grads peaked in 2011 after 17 years of growth. That number will not reach a new high until 2024. The impacts of this are many. From people dropping out of the workforce to unfilled positions to unskilled workers these issues are real and demand new answers.

For the employers reading this we come back to the need to create a great place to work. The research on the payoff for that effort is consistent and compelling. The money invested in these sustained efforts goes to the bottom-line. Yet I regularly encounter people who don’t get it. The annual training event simply isn’t enough nor is the generic and low cost of living increase. People want real solutions. They want to be developed and they want to be recognized along the way. When is the last time you did a real pat on the back? When is the last time you offered compelling training that people look forward to? I get frustrated because the excuses are many. I get it. Times are tough but that is not an excuse. Heck, that is a reason to invest. That is why the new virtual training system from FireStarter, FireStarterVT.com, is gaining fans. It provides users an educational experience that is not painful. It gives managers a tool to track, measure and monitor employee participation and engagement. The on demand interactive platform is bringing education to people who are traditionally overlooked. The platform is cost effective and user friendly. It is not the solution but it is part of the solution for developing your workforce.

In an environment where people are not going to college but looking for a career and for development the employer who provides education and opportunity is the one who will win the war for talent. The labor shortages of the past decade will look like a minor inconvenience in the coming years as boomers retire but there are not enough qualified people to step in. The problem is not going away. What new solutions are you applying?

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Deny your past, risk your future; Share your past, insure your future

November 25th, 2013

We all have relationships in our life that run out of gas. Sometimes there is a clear break and other times we just move on to different things and the relationship atrophies and goes away. We can all think of people we used to call best friends who today we have no idea where they are in the world. I just returned from watching the Notre Dame – BYU football game with my son and it occurs to me that the same thing happened for me with Notre Dame. I talked with some folks about it and they confess to a similar atrophy. I wonder where you stand on this.

For those of you who don’t know me that well, I am a graduate of Notre Dame. In fact, I was the mascot, the Leprechaun, in my senior year. So, by some accounts, I didn’t just go to ND, I was ND, to some people for a time. It was a wonderful time and then life goes on. I did a similar thing with my Marine experience. After I got out I worked to move on from that. I was out, period, and it was history. I was all about the future and that was my past. Writing my first book, NO YELLING: The Nine Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know To Win Business (which was selected as one of the best business books of the year by Entrepreneur magazine!) got me reconnected to the Corps. It got me a column with Military.com, it got me a position as a non-resident fellow at Marine Corps University, and it started an annual tradition at our house to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday with an open house featuring the traditional cake cutting with sword. The neighborhood kids love it, the sword and the cake! The adults love the cake, the food and the beer. I don’t wear my Marine Corps experience on my sleeve but I don’t diminish it either. It has found the right place in my life in the right proportion.

What happened to Notre Dame then? I guess it was a similar thing. I was about the future and that was in the past. I didn’t want to be one of THOSE fans who live and die with every win and loss. Go the watch a game watch for any major university at the local sports bar and you will know exactly what I mean. In the past decade I had visited three times the campus. Once to speak, once to do a book signing at the book store on a football Saturday (think WalMart on black Friday) and to take my daughter to the game, and then once to take my son to a game four years ago. I have season tickets to football but those are more for clients than for me. This time was different. My son is eleven. He is old enough to learn about the place and what it means to me (I was the first in my family to go to college). I took him to the Grotto and I prayed (ND aspires to be a force for peace as a preeminent Catholic University). I lit a candle, although I am not Catholic and had to explain why I did that and why it brought tears to my eyes (for a Marine I flew with who committed suicide). As we walked across that frosty campus our conversation even touched on the three part nature of our Christian God just as we came upon the mural of touchdown Jesus!

I feel the same emotions every time I return to campus but I don’t return often enough to sustain those emotions. Those emotions matter because they help me remember the values of my parents who helped me attend, the values of the university and, ultimately,  the person I am called to be. Most of you reading this did not attend the University of Notre Dame. That is not the point. As a business consultant I started this with the end in mind of calling upon business leaders to tell the story of their firm to their people. To have those celebrations, to tell about the bad times and the successes, about the people and the characters who have made the firm what it is. I am encouraging you to give people something to connect to and commit to. Why is your place of work any different that the one down the road? If you do not tell the story and give people a reason to stay then they will surely find reasons to leave. You have to work to create a connection. You as a leader must tell the story and cast the vision. It need not be grandiose but it need BE. Employees may connect to you personally because of your effort or they may connect to the larger organization if the story is well told. Certainly my connection to the Marines and to Notre Dame are not about a person.

I know there are some of you reading this who directly relate to the loss of connection with an institution that matters to you. As I said, I started this with my business readers in mind but I recognized the message was bigger than business. This message of remaining connected with the things and people that impacted us is vital for anyone. If you have read this far you already know what you need to do, who you need to call, where you need to go. Get it on your calendar, find a way to connect.

Go Irish…Semper Fidelis…Peace…

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Time for YOUR Kick Finish

November 7th, 2013

We all know the concept of a kick start. An extra effort to get the machine going. Then again, there is the kick finish too. Although we don’t put it in those terms like we do a machine we do talk about a “kick” at the end of a running race. That extra effort to dig just a bit deeper and drive toward the finish line. NOW is a good time for YOUR kick finish.

While I’m not sure what fiscal year you follow, I do know that 12/31 is coming soon. If this is the end of your fiscal year then it makes even more sense to find your kick, now, so the results are in before 2013 ends. Even if the results of your efforts are delayed, you get out of the blocks faster in 2014.

The first thing about this effort is you want to use it to rally the team. Post a scoreboard and make the results visible to all. There are so many things you can measure depending on what part of the organization you are working in. Sales can track calls or closes. Ops can track production. Accounting can track accounts receivable. Leaders can track how many employees they meet with to share the vision. You get the idea.

This time of year is usually the time that companies send food to clients. I did that once, just once. I remember going to a client office and seeing stacks of food, nuts, candy, sweets, etc in the break room. Yes, mine was there amongst the bunch but I’m pretty sure the exec had no idea I sent it as his assistant simply took the package, opened it and put it in the break room. Far better to write a personal note, by hand, and send it as thank you for the business. In this case I wouldn’t send it as a Christmas Card, there are way too many of them, start now and send a Thanksgiving Card saying you appreciate the business OR a New Years card saying you are looking forward to a new year of business. In this day and age a sincere thank-you that is written by hand goes a long way. Forget the card and go visit clients with nothing on the agenda except to see how they are doing and to say thanks. I did that a few weeks ago. Always a positive experience when you see a customer but you don’t have your hand out for more money. If you do want to do a gift make sure it matters to the person you are sending it too. A classic vintage of wine for a oenophile would be ideal

Get 2014 started now. Annually I buy a “bottomless cup” card at Brueggers Bagels. For $180 I get a free soda or coffee every day. Considering I go a few times a week for breakfast I easily end up with a 100% ROI. But they make the deal even better. If I purchase the card now, as I just did, it kicks in right away so I get a few extra months of free soda. For the analytical readers you might be thinking that isn’t a big deal since I already have the card and get the year free anyway. The renewal is redundant at that point. True, if I always went alone but I often have a child with me so until Jan 1 I get two free drinks.

I like this idea so I offered it to clients in my last newsletter and say it again here for those that don’t get/read the newsletter. Book now for 2014!. Do you need to use money from 2013 before you use it. No problem, like Brueggers, you can pay me now and I will give you the soda, and do the work, in 2014. I am doing a similar offer with my new interactive, virtual training system, www.firestartervt.com for supervisors – like the commercial says, “who doesn’t like getting free money?” The VT system is new and I invite you to check it out, you can do free demo without even talking to me. How easy is that?

Let’s take a moment to check out the cost side of the business too. Maybe sales aren’t where they were supposed to be. What changes have you been meaning to make? And if you are hesitant to let someone go now that the holidays are here maybe you can put the plan in place now so you are ready to execute on Jan 2 rather than starting to plan on 2014 and waiting until February to make the changes. I just reviewed my recurring credit card transactions and found a couple of hundred bucks a month, A MONTH, that were redundant or simply no longer required. Do I really need the online backup for a PC that I stopped using 6 years ago and have had two new ones since then? Like the saying in Washington DC goes, a few billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you are talking a lot of money. A few hundred a month adds up too.

I can procrastinate with the best of them. We all do it. This kick finish is a great way to get over some of your procrastination and delay tendencies. It is an even better way to make a positive and measurable impact on your organization while using precious little cash to make it happen.

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13 Keys For Selecting Your Online Training Platform

August 10th, 2013

Online training has come a long way in just a few years. It doesn’t have to be the clunky, ineffective, and painful process many of us have experienced. Technology, bandwidth, user familiarity/readiness, and lower costs have all converged to make today’s online training an integral part of any credible employee development program. The savvy contractor is aggressively integrating online learning into their training curriculum. This goes far beyond the now-expected online compliance programs in safety and other mandatory subjects. Previously hard-to-teach subjects, such as supervisory skills, are finding a new home online. The payoff is having a better-trained employee while maintaining production because you don’t shut the job site down for a few hours to bring the leaders in for training. While online training doesn’t replace face-to-face, it can reduce it and augment it.

I knew that the landscape was changing, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the landscape. In the past few months I embarked on a research effort to understand what is out there from a technology perspective and what is actually being used by contractors. I did user demonstrations on nine different online delivery platforms. I interviewed over twenty contractors across disciplines. My research with contractors and my experiences with the demos led me to the following conclusions. Let them be a
guide for you as you consider bringing online training into your company:


It is Not About the Technology. I admit, that sounds contradictory to the intent of this  article. However, technology is rarely about the technology; it is about what it enables us to do. It is about the return on your investment. The technology you select to meet your needs should actually train people and improve performance. Just as you make any
purchase decision based on the value you receive, so too, you should make this decision. In other words, this is not an IT or Ops decision, nor an HR or Finance decision. It is a corporate decision based on the needs of the organization.

Full-Motion Video – Is the instructor talking to you directly? Most online learning I have been subjected to is mind-numbing voice-over-powerpoint or a bad recording of a live presentation someone delivered. That is so 2010! Best of Class today features the speaker delivering content directly to the user who is consuming the program from their laptop or tablet.

Interactive Questions– What would it be like if the presenter asked you a question during the training that required an answer for you to continue? It would certainly be interactive and engaging. Just like in a live classroom where the instructor asks questions, in the best virtual classrooms the instructor asks questions, too. The way you answer the question would then determine the response you get from the instructor. For example, the instructor might be talking about planning and then ask, “Are you a Senior Manager or a field leader?” If you select Senior Manager, the instructor then tells you about the planning tools,
such as strategic planning, used at that level. If you select Field Leader, the instructor then talks about the daily huddle, for example.

Progress Quizzes – One of the best features of online learning is the ability to quiz the student in real time and assess progress. If they don’t fully grasp a concept, a good system will immediately take them back to the content they’re not strong
in, so they can see it again and learn it. Imagine giving a quiz after every learning module in a live training session. Handing out papers, having people progress at different rates, and grading papers make this rather impractical. Not so in the best online systems. In fact, quizzes are just part of the assessment process. A good system will allow role-plays and other progress
checks as well.

Content Structured for the Adult Learner in the Online World – We now know that the way we consume data and information in the virtual world is quite different than the real world. Yet, trainers continue to ignore these truths and structure their programs just like they have always done. The resulting courses are long and boring, which results in poor user satisfaction, a high abandonment rate, and no actual learning. The platforms that simply take the old and try to “make it new” simply by putting it online without conforming to the demands of the internet are a waste of money.

LMS for Users to Track, Measure and Monitor Progress – Most systems allow the user to track their own progress in the learning management system (LMS). This is helpful when a student needs to take a series of courses as part of a larger
curriculum or certification. Seeing all your grades in one place is convenient, also.

Other Language Subtitles – In our increasingly diverse society, it is important to make training available to students who are not fluent in English. Subtitles in their native language is the logical answer but one most programs do not support. If they do offer subtitles, it may come at a premium price. The best programs feature a simple “CC” button on the screen to allow a user to toggle on training in their native language.

LMS for Managers to Track, Measure and Monitor – We talked about the importance of the LMS for the user, but what about for the manager? Just as a manager wants to know how their employee is doing in the real world, they want to know about
their success or struggles in the virtual world, too. Not all systems feature an LMS that allows managers to track, measure and monitor progress. But with this capability, the manager can insure that the employee is in a Review, Repeat, Rehearse, Retain, Remind and Reinforce mode—rather than the more traditional Watch and Forget mode.

You Run Your System, if you want to – The ideal platform lets you choose how you want to interact with it administratively. You may want the provider to enter names of your employees, run reports, etc. Or, you may want to retain that for yourself as it allows you to be more flexible and responsive, rather than waiting for it to get done. With that said, should you decide to take on the administrative tasks of entering employees into the system and running reports, it has to be user friendly. A forty-five minute tutorial with accompanying fifty-five page workbook should be a warning sign that you are using a program that is not user friendly.

Cobrand platform – Employees like knowing they are using something that was created for them. Using the generic off-the-shelf version that everyone else uses sends the subtle message that neither the training nor the employees are very important.
Does your online platform feature a welcome screen custom-designed for your company? Is your logo there, along with a greeting from the trainer that welcomes your employees? It is possible, and it sends the message that this program is going to be different.

Optimal Streaming – Okay, I know little about this but I do know when it takes forever for me to watch a video that keeps buffering. Then there are the ones that never buffer and lock up after a few seconds. I don’t know how Optimal Streaming works, but I know that it works and you want to ask about it!

API Integration – Does the system allow you to interface with the data? Perhaps you have your own LMS already, and you want the training system to share data with it. This way you won’t need to deal with two LMS’s. Not all systems allow you inside. Maybe the best you can do is an exported report which you then need to format to import into your database or, even worse, you might need to enter the data by hand. Doesn’t sound like much right now but it can create big headaches if you don’t get this

Demo Without Calling a Human – In doing my research, I found that every time I wanted to do a demo of a platform, I needed fill out an online form and then wait to be contacted by a human. I was then walked thru a 45-60 minute webinar, at some time that was convenient to them, which was actually a sales presentation. I prefer kiosks and self-service. I don’t like sales presentations when I am not ready for them or don’t want to buy. A good system will let you take a test drive. It may not give you access to the entire online library of learning, but it will give you temporary access (a day or so) to get in, “kick the tires,” and
experience the platform.

Are you wondering if your competitors are delivering training online? Of the contractors I interviewed, forty-percent are doing some compliance training, like safety. Two of twenty, only ten-percent, were doing anything beyond compliance training. And these were just beginning to create programs. This is a huge opportunity for you. While all expressed knowing they needed to do something in this arena, most hadn’t done much. Those that did were on the bleeding edge of cost and often reinventing
the wheel. You don’t need to do that. I do think you need to make the move soon. First of all, the employee of the 21st century is ready for it. New employees will view you as a progressive firm that invests in people. Second, the cost advantage gained from effective implementation of a blended employee development curriculum is compelling. You train more people for less money. You maintain production while getting them trained. You make yourself more attractive to the next generation while educating all of your leaders. We are finally at a time where new technology is creating real value in employee learning.

Your key to recognizing maximum value is to get the right system. The tips outlined herein will point you in the right direction. Ask your training provider, or the potential technology provider, if they have these features. You may decide that some of them are not important for you. Any buyer would do that. The savvy buyer recognizes the payoff delivered from these features and reaps the benefits.


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Ongoing Development or has your train left the station?

August 1st, 2013

I am just back from the annual convention for the National Speakers Assn. This is the trade association for experts who speak professionally. We have four key competencies – Ethics, Expertise, Enterprise, and Eloquence. On any day there are multiple sessions to choose from on each of these. To start the morning and at lunch we have general sessions with some of the most thought provoking people of the day in business and the arts. In short, it is a BIG booster shot for me and for the business.

I attended several sessions about online learning as I am making a big move there. As much as I love to come to your company and speak face to face with your leaders, I know that model is increasingly challenged because of tight margins and production demands. It is tough to take people off line for a day at a time and I understand that. So, not to replace face to face but to supplement it and make it more effective I am soon putting content online in an interactive virtual training system. More information on this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

The meeting was also an opportunity to reconnect with my friends in the business who live in other parts of the country. Great to share ideas and help each other get better at what we do. We cant do it alone.

It was a big investment to attend the convention and it was totally worth it. We must invest in ourselves or we will fall behind. Things are changing so much, so fast these days….You need not attend a convention but what books, or online courses.

If you don’t invest in you, who will? Don’t be left behind.

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You are born, you live, you die…

June 27th, 2013

Someone once said that your life is the hyphen. The hyphen being the small dash on your headstone that connects the date of birth to date of death. I just received two emails from clients. One heralding the birth of a son. The other communicating the untimely passing of a manager with three children under the age of 11.

I have always strived to live life with no regrets. In fact, that is the reason I applied to flight school. I had one chance in my life to make that application and I am glad I did. The impacts of that decision on my life are many. From going to Japan and meeting my wife, to surviving a helicopter crash, to learning how to do something so few people get to do, to teaching young aviators who later flew into battle in Iraq and came home to thank me for what I taught them. and the list goes on. There are other decisions I have made that have similar importance on my life.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make. Mostly mundane, certainly, and seemingly not of importance in the grand scheme of things. And it is that thought that presents the biggest risk and challenge for all of us. When faced with the mundane day-to-day things that comprise life we reduce them to unimportant and in that unimportant moment comes complacency and in complacency we miss opportunities to be grateful, to be of service, to be a good person. We miss opportunities to engage with others. We miss opportunities to be alive.

We are told that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t think so. I think it breeds complacency. It is complacency that breeds contempt. As we take relationships for granted we don’t tend to them as we should and as they wither and wane the contempt creeps in. Just as weeds creep into an unkept garden so too does contempt creep into those places we allow complacency to reign.  As we take our job and our current status for granted we get complacent and we lose gratitude. Our performance declines. We view ourselves as having arrived and worth of status rather than working to keep our edge. People look at us and wonder what happened to the fire in our belly?

Conversely, we cannot live every moment as if it were a peak experience nor can we live in overdrive but we must be alive to the wonder that life offers us. There are opportunities for wonder and engagement presented to you every day. For my leaders reading this consider it a challenge to work on those relationships that don’t get the attention they deserve. On those visits to the job site do you invest the extra few minutes to talk to the crew or do you simply wave (if that) as you get back in the car? What about that young accountant who spends her days poring over invoices and spreadsheets? Have you thanked her for her efforts or are you leaving that to her supervisor who has less people skills than you do?

Remember that those two emails to me were from clients. How rewarding and special for me that clients consider me part of the family. But that place at the table didn’t come without work. It came with sincere effort and a dedication to service and value that defines me. I aspire to be a better businessman, a better citizen, a better parent, a better father. etc etc.

When I no longer strive is when I know complacency has set in. Should you see that in me please kick me out of it. When I no longer strive the hyphen becomes merely a notch in marble.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make…How about you?

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Work is wasted on the young.

June 12th, 2013

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania’s annual survey on the state of professionalism among entry-level employees, 2012 Professionalism in the Workplace Study, suggests some startling trends. Chief among them: 1) Managers indicate that younger employees most lack professionalism. 2) Levels of professionalism have declined over the past five years, according to HR respondents (33.1 percent) and managers (21.2 percent). 3) The worst problems noted by managers: a lack of urgency in getting a job done (32.6 percent), a sense of entitlement (27.2 percent), poor performance coupled with a mediocre work ethic (23 percent) and poor attendance (22.2 percent). Perhaps tellingly, less than half of the respondents indicated that they had programs in place to orient new employees to what is considered to be professional behaviors

Rather than lament the loss of work ethic etc in our society which this survey does quite well let’s talk about the under 50% of firms that are actually doing anything to remedy the problem. Wring your hands, complain, long for the good old days…but Lead? I guess not. What we are saying here is that this generation needs leadership. Yes, being a role model and setting an example is a fundamental leader behavior but it is not enough. People don’t always learn by osmosis and observation. Some do learn that way but we all can benefit from a mentor, from training and from an engaged leader. Blame who you will for youth being the way they are but only blame yourself in they work in your firm and you have not had the conversation about the way we do things here.

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Are YOU That Person??

May 25th, 2013
Just in time for Father’s Day

I am a contributing author to the book, Am I That Man. The idea for this book grew from an article by Ron Scheidt for the book If I Knew Then: Warrior Reflections. The article was meant to honor the people in …his life who had been powerful role models and mentors. As he reflected on how they had impacted his life he asked himself the question: Am I That Man? Am I the man they wanted me to be, groomed me to be, hoped me to be and modeled for me to be? That article sparked interest in the importance of having positive role models, mentors and heroes in our life. It also brought the realization that many men today are lacking positive role models, mentors and heroes.

Ron and his co-author Brian Willis searched for diverse contributors and asked me to be part of the project. My piece is about my father and the father I am trying to be.

The chapters are thought provoking, sometimes tear jerking, and always inspiring. This would be a great Fathers Day gift either as a thanks for being that man to a mentor or as inspiration for someone starting their journey.

You can buy it direct at www.amithatman.com (or you can get it at Amazon but they don’t make as much money that way!!)

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May 15th, 2013

Henry Kravis and George Roberts are the built KKR – a top tier investment house. They have know each other since they were two! Now, almost 70, we can learn a lot from their collaboration.

A few strong quotes, “we’re not judgmental, that we can trust each other 100%, and that when we screw up we’re there to support the other person.”

In 2010, before their firm went public they held a leadership meeting to discuss those ever important company culture and values. “George and I gave two examples of where we’ve made mistakes,” says Kravis. “You could hear a pin drop. People were thinking, “IF they can (examine their errors), maybe that is a good place for us to start,” The article in Fortune magazine, March 18, 2010 is a fine lesson on the importance of trust, culture, and values.

After encouraging executive to get coaches, each got one too! Two very successful executives getting coaching as they approach age 70! A good lesson there too…

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Oldtimers Day (week, month and year)

May 4th, 2013

OK, I know that is a quaint term but I want to talk about those elder statesmen (and women).

The NY Yankees, as chronicled in Driving Mr Yogi, invite past Yankee legends to spring training to help and reinforce culture.

The Cleveland Indians are paying former long ball hitter Jason Giambi, who once made $20mm a year, $750,000 this year. What can a past his prime 42 year old do for that salary? Plenty. He is a part-time player and a full-time mentor. He contributes to the culture and atmosphere of learning and excellence. He brings experience and a winning attitude. He brings that “it” factor that not every player has but every player responds to.

In an era where stats and figures seem to rule every decision this argues for those intangibles. So hard to measure but so important to have. Geno Smith watched his stock go down in the recent NFL draft. Behind the scenes reports suggest his stock was falling before draft day as he failed to dive in and fully engage when he visited teams. Rather than show he was a roll your sleeves up leader he showed he was above the rest, which he isn’t and he paid the price. I hope he learns the importance of real leadership and that it is about more than touchdowns and and X’s and O’s.

Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays Manager, has a lifetime in baseball and he says “the way you feel when you walk in the door is as important to our success as anything we can possibly do coaching anybody on this field.”

Employees retire and you lose critical skills and expertise. I contend there is a better way. Why must the old model of retirement still hold when most all other models from the last century are outdated. The other day we toured Gettysburg Battlefield and our guide (who drove our car, talked for three hours, and was outstanding) was 85 years young. His grandfather fought in the battle! We learned so much from him. Whart

I challenge you to find a way to keep learning and to transfer knowledge from those oldtimers in ways you have never done before. I know firms who are doing it and they are reaping rewards.


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Director of Operations
RTM Arbys.