Friday, October 10, 2008

Barry's First Blog

“When Opportunity knocks, open the door post haste – unless your name is Barry Spitz,in which case, Opportunity knocks the door down.”

Financial Times

Barry's Main Blog Page

Hello. I’m Barry – blue-eyed lanky boy, born in Johannesburg, descended from the Founding Fathers of this gold mining village, educated in Paris, and adopted by Houston Texas.

Albert Einstein tells us that: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I try to live my life as if nothing is a miracle. But somehow everything that happens to me is a miracle. It was miracle that brought me to Rice University and Texas big business. How else could I have George Bush Senior as a colleague and George Bush Junior as a client?

- George Bush Junior and George Bush Senior

Why am I telling this little story that flies in the face of all the Bush stereotypes? Because famous men are also human beings – and this is a very human story of very human men. It is probable that no one would remember this tender little true story, except perhaps the two men themselves and I. My daughter went to the same school in Houston as had the son, a state school – and you don’t get more pedestrian than that. In the South you find bullet holes in the windows of the state schools.

My first American client turns up in the form of an athletic young man in jeans and running shoes. He shows me a business plan and asks me to debug it for him. Is it totally lawful? Is it totally workable? I call him the next week to assure him that his business plan is both totally lawful and totally workable.

Then a bit later, the young man in jeans and running shoes makes another appointment to see me. He asks me how much money he owes me, he pays, and he then informs me that he has decided not to proceed with his business plan.

“My father has told me that he will be running for office in the 1980 presidential. No matter how good the project, I am scrapping it – just in case the business doesn’t work out. I would hate to do anything that could embarrass my father or hurt his campaign.”

Over the years, George Bush Junior has come to play a major role on the world stage. I still see him as the dutiful son who came into my office in Houston in 1978 in jeans and running shoes. Good fortune has led me to Rice University in Houston Texas, where I take up an appointment as Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Administration. Rice University is a gem of the highest academic standards, set in a brilliantly beautiful campus. Rice calls itself “the Harvard of the South”, though I never hear anyone referring to Harvard as “the Rice of the North”. Rice is a university endowed with oil royalties; students enter only on scholarships, making us suspect that many of the students are a lot smarter than many of the professors.

Teaching at Rice Business School is an almost automatic entrée to the Houston and Dallas Petroleum Clubs and, through them, to American big business.

George Bush Senior is a colleague, also an Adjunct Professor at Rice University; for a time, we have both been staying in apartments at The Houstonian, where he is the most serious track runner, making the rest of us – and even his bodyguards, panting to keep up with him – look like lame dogs. I tell him of the loyalty that his son had shown him at the time when he was getting set to announce his presidential candidature.

– Brother, have you seen the light?

One thing about the US – you really learn about hands-on tax planning. U.S. judges have always been outspoken in their views that there is no patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Tax avoidance is arranging your affairs so that you pay less tax than you would have paid but for the arrangement.

The 236 residents of Hardenburgh found to their considerable displeasure that more and more land in their Catskill Mountain town was being bought by religious and educational organizations and thereby being removed from the tax roll. As their own taxes had thus crept up by three and four times in the preceding six years, the long-time residents at first tried to have the property law changed. But having failed to get the results they wanted, they recalled the old saying: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” And they did. The neighborhood plumber duly became a bishop of the Universal Life Church, a California-based organization that for $75 bestows degrees by mail; then called a big meeting in the Hardenburgh community hall; and “ordained” all comers. Now the residents of Hardenburgh address other residents as “Reverend” and ask one another half-jestingly: “Brother, have you seen the light?”

Barry's Main Blog Page

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