Allure of Formula 1 Racing

When news came in on the third week of February that famed F1 racers including Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg were wrapping up the first preseason test run at Circuito de Jerez in Spain I knew spring was just around the corner and the run up to the 2012 F1 season was well underway. This year’s Grand Prix will kick off in Melbourne, Australia on March 15th running until the 18th after which it will continue on the global circuit through Asia, North America, Europe and South America; one of my favourite locations of course being Montreal, Canada where I’ve had the opportunity to attend many races and will be returning again this June (F1 Gods permitting – and please no rain that’s only fun on TV!). But obviously the track location is only a small part of the draw; the cars, drivers and the fans create the spectacle that make the event (by the way Montreal does it well).  The drivers that I’m on the lookout for are McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Hamilton’s old teammate and nemesis, who on the last day of February’s first preseason testing set the fastest lap time.   However, test lap times can be deceiving according to BBC Chief F1 writer Andrew Benson who recently wrote in a sports article, “Testing times are a notoriously unreliable guide to real form.”  And it sounds like Alonso knows that too as he told reporters this February in Spain, “Where will we be in Melbourne? No idea.” I give Alonso kudos for keeping a clear head and not jumping to any conclusions.  It seems he, as all the other racers surely know, it’s not about the talk it’s what you do on the track that matters.  When it comes down to it high performance, in both the car and the driver, is essential.  Moreover how a driver treats himself, through exercise to build the necessary stamina and endurance and a strict diet to maintain hydration and energy, ( is literally the difference between life and death. To those questioning whether the sport is physically challenging.  Consider these facts: track temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Celsius causing a driver to sweat off three to five kilograms of his or her bodyweight; exhaust temperatures exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius; a driver can face up to five Gs as they break from 100 to zero  km/h in 15 meters (48 feet) with break temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius; hurling the car into turns at speeds in excess of 200 km/h; the average race is 60 laps and can last up to two hours all the while requiring intense mental focus.  All this takes a toll on the driver and car.  It is truly amazing. Racers, or pilots as they are called in La belle province, are daring people; it takes a special kind of person to risk it all in a 640 kilogram (1,411 pound) open cockpit car, strapped to a 750 horse power, 2.4 litre, V-8 engine revving to 18,000 RPM and traveling at speeds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour.  To put all that into perspective your average car has 120 to 180 HP, idles 700 to a 1,000 RPM while you get your coffee and doughnut, and while you manage your coffee and doughnut on the way to work your average cruising speed is 70 km/h at 2,500 RPM. But that is the allure of the F1, being on the edge.  All of your senses are tuned in as you watch, hear and literally smell the cars  as they accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds.  A special treat in Montreal during the practice sessions is to stand at the fence a mere 20 feet from the track just before the hair pin as the cars race by at 270 km/h!  But what makes it spectacularly amazing is the knowledge that a person is inside that machine relying on all they have trained for to not only win, but to stay alive.

While at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix I witnessed firsthand the destructive power of a 270 km/h crash as Polish F1 driver Robert Kubica experienced a mechanical failure just before the hairpin that resulted in a devastating crash.  From where I sat in the stands, a few feet away, I thought it was game over for Kubica.  He was motionless and his car was smashed to pieces.  Ultimately he walked away with a minor ankle sprain missing only one race, a testament to the engineering of an F1 car.  He came back to Montreal in 2008 and won.  However, he was not so lucky 13 months ago while participating in an off season rally race.  He experienced a crash that partially severed his forearm and fractured his leg.  Despite his accidents and having to confirm he’d not be ready for the 2012 season he still reportedly maintains he’ll be back.  I for one truly hope that happens. I will be tuned in March for the Australian Grand Prix.  Good luck to all the pilots and their crews in 2012! | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Cataloguing an Act of Meditation

This past weekend I decided to finally sit down and do something I have been thinking of doing for a while – make up a list of the books in my home library.  I know it’s not something incredibly exciting, though I did find it a lot less taxing than what I did the weekend prior which included aiding in kitchen renovations at my daughter’s home (truth be known it was more a supervisory role).  So in all honesty this job was a nice change. When I began cataloguing my modest library of hard covers I thought it would be just another simple task, something to keep me occupied for a little while on a cold dreary February afternoon while I recover from football withdrawals.  Though as I pulled one book down after the other, wrote down the title, author and so on it turned in to something else; I started to feel very accomplished.  Not accomplished in the fact that I was finally cataloging my library, but accomplished in the sense of understanding the knowledge I had acquired over the years from all of these books. Moreover the process of cataloging was rather therapeutic and meditative.  I would pull down a stack from a shelf, go through them one by one, write down the details, return the stack and do it all over again.  There was a lovely type of reminiscing that went on as well.  Some I found inscriptions in, some I found dates in which I bought or received them.  It was like looking through a family photo album. In those books are the varied stories of individual struggle against the back drop of major world, economic and political strife.  For example Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black chronicles not only the former president’s personal struggle with polio, but his many political battles for social and economic change in America, his fight against fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in the Pacific.  Richard Reeves’ President Nixon: Alone In The White House reveals the political genius of the 37th President of the United State, juxtaposed by his lack of trust and self destructive behaviour that ultimately resulted in his disgrace and resignation from the Presidency. And Buckner F. Melton, Jr.’s Sea Cobra: Admiral Halsey’s Task Force and the Great Pacific Typhoon recounts the epic struggle against natures most horrific of storms, the typhoon, and how very nearly the US Pacific Fleet came to being destroyed thus possibly changing the outcome of the Pacific War, as had been the case in 1281 when the “divine wind” or kamikaze had destroyed the Mongol invasion fleet that threatened Japan. Once finished and all the books had been set back in their place I took a look and realized a whole unassuming education lay in those pages, reminding me of the uncomplicated, age-old power and comfort of books. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Can Business and Ethics Mix?

In 1759 Scottish economist Adam Smith first introduced the concept of ‘the invisible hand’ or ‘the invisible hand of the market’ in the book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The idea that the marketplace is somehow self regulating and that ambitious individuals, even if only acting for their own benefit, will channel their resources through the marketplace and ultimately this will benefit society regardless of intent.  This theory has been hotly contested ever since. Can business and ethics mix? I would like to think so, although there are countless examples to the contrary.  I’ve recently looked over a book that appears to promote winning at any cost Hardball: Are You Playing to Play or Playing to Win? by George Stalk and Rob Lachenauer.  As the name would suggest it is rough and tumble among other things listing several strategies for crushing your competitors such as the idea that it is decent business to take a good idea, from whom ever or where ever, then assume ownership over it.  They use language like devastate, deceive and massive force to describe their business strategies.  Good idea or bad idea?  Is winning at any cost worth it? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Last week when I wrote about the future of manufacturing in North America I touched on the arctic wear company Canada Goose.  I couldn’t help notice that they devote two pages to discussing their feather and fur policies; knowing full well that their clientele are conscious and concerned about such matters.  The company’s ability to sell their product requires them to not only have a code of ethics, but strongly defend them.  I have a feeling that when that company first began 50-odd years ago this was not an issue of great concern for them or their consumers.  Times change and so do values. Take the chocolate company Hershey’s for example.  In 1909 the American chocolate magnate Milton Hershey and his wife Catherine Sweeney-Hershey founded the Hershey Industrial School for local orphans, 15 years after he founded the Hershey Chocolate Company.   The school, which is still open today and is now known as The Milton Hershey School, gained ownership of the Hershey Chocolate Company along with a mass of Hershey’s wealth in 1918.  Sounds like a great PR move but it makes me wonder, was Hershey’s grand financial gesture the work of ethics or did it benefit him in other ways besides the feelings of goodwill? Major tax benefits may have been a motivator or a productive future workforce.  If it was the former however, was Hershey concerned with any other ethical issues?  Did he concern himself with how the coca was harvested for his product or the sugar?  John Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg’s cereal fame and Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company had similar ambitions when it came to using their wealth and power for their vision of the greater good. Recently Canadian broadcaster, producer and former advertizing copy writer Terry O’Reilly spoke of something similar on his CBC radio program Under the Influence, a show that examines the advertizing industry.  O’Reilly gave examples of how large companies instead of using ads, “took a stand on social issues, they relied on superlative customer service that would generate word-of-mouth, they gave back to their communities and they stay connected to their customers.” In those cases the companies’ ethical behavior profited them greatly.  I have had situations where clients have stated that making a profit alone leaves them feeling empty.  They demand investments that offer a ‘triple bottom line’: socially responsible, good for the environment and profitable. The tension between ethics verses profits will always be a challenge.  Vigorous corporate governance, strong professional codes of ethics along with government regulation and oversight can never be a substitute for doing the right thing when no one is watching.  Just like our mothers told us. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

The Future of Manufacturing in North America

Do you remember toy soldiers?  The little green ones bought in bulk, some with plastic parachutes.  How about plastic airplane, boat or train models?  When we were younger we’d play with such toys unaware of where and how they were made. In the time that we’ve grown we have seen the trend of manufacturing such items move from Europe and North America to places like China and Taiwan.  Though the tried and tested way to manufacture, ship and sell those beloved items within Europe and North America to global buyers may be shifting back. New technology, increased social awareness and changes in labour laws in foreign countries can be attributed to the pendulum returning. A recent Globe and Mail article suggests that Canadian manufacturing is looking up with two major contributing factors, “a single-minded focus on specialized, high-value-added products, and the targeting of high-growth markets both at home and abroad,” it quotes senior economist Adrienne Warren of the Bank of Nova Scotia.  It continued, “Anecdotal evidence indicates a growing cluster of successful ‘niche’ manufacturers, even in hard-hit sectors like clothing.” The world renowned arctic wear company Canada Goose, who for more than 50 years have held a strong position in Canada’s manufacturing sector, is a perfect example of how a company can produce and export a quality product utilizing a local workforce and materials purchased from local companies.  In Canada Goose’s case their coat factory is located in Toronto, the feathers they fill their jackets with are purchased from the Canadian company Feather Industries and the coyote fur used on their hoods come from Canadian coyotes taken by Canadian trappers with a sustainability-driven trapping method. Unfortunately the decades that have passed following the industrial revolution and the birth and subsequent overuse of the assembly line has bred the more for less is the best culture.  So when places like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and India with their almost nonexistent environmental regulations, poor labour laws and undervalued currency (in China’s case at least), come along it is hard for big business to resist when it only has its bottom line to consider. As discussed in The Economist two weeks ago even the seemingly socially-conscious multi-billion dollar company Apple has their ubiquitous devices partially manufactured in China where facilities have, “230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s (company that runs the complexes where Apple products are made) work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day.” When mass production of everything from furniture to clothing to tools to toys and electronics is the norm and profit margins are measured against efficiency it is, from a capitalist perspective, an understandable, though quite obviously unsustainable practice.  But a new movement, something I like to call micro-manufacturing, is emerging. When there isn’t a million dollar budget available outsourcing assembly line jobs overseas just isn’t an option.  This is where 3-D printing technology comes in handy and in my opinion lends itself quite well to micro-manufacturing, allowing a small business to produce products in their own “backyard”.  Companies like Pennsylvania-based Industria Mechanika are utilizing the new technology to produce limited edition hobbyist models in North America, designed by collaborating artists from around the world.  Other items made with 3-D printers, which produce individual objects by printing from a digital file layer upon layer of metals or polymers, include prosthetic limbs and design prototypes for companies like Boeing. Bearing all this in mind it seems the future can be bright for the manufacturing sector in North America, as a percentage of the industry is alive and kicking.  This is said however with caution.  Manufacturers producing quality continue to be blighted with the notion that they have to keep prices down in order to compete – a challenging feat for someone that is trying to maintain socially conscious business practices. We really must remember more for less isn’t the best. This isn’t news Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4-65 CE, stated that, “It is quality rather than quantity that matters”. That’s 2000 years ago. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

The Concept of Genius

It has been said that if you spend ten thousand hours of purposeful practice at one thing you will master it. Ten thousand hours at the easel and you’ll be the next Vincent van Gogh, ten thousand hours in the lab and you’ll be the next Marie Curie, ten thousand hours on the court and you’ll be beating Roger Federer with your dominating backhand. Even if you don’t become an icon of your discipline you will be very, very good. Point is, no matter what you put your effort into, as long as you do it and do it with purpose you will find yourself in a whole new class. The idea of doing something you love and spending eighty percent of your time doing it is not a revolutionary idea, yet for many it remains a dream. The ten thousand hour theory attempts to debunk the notion that genius is innate, that we are either born with or without it. It says that if given the chance, paired with the desire to actually spend the time utilizing that chance, any one of us can become a master. UK-born, Canadian-raised, New York-dwelling writer and journalist Malcolm Gladwell has written extensively on the importance of human mental processes and the affects of practice. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell examines the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ and utilizes some very good anecdotes to illustrate how a prodigy can be made – not just born. Gladwell wrote of the Hungarian chess teacher László Polgár and his three daughters, Zsuzsa, Zsófia, and Judit, all of whom become Grandmasters at young ages (Judit became a Grandmaster at the age of 15 in 1991 and is regarded as the strongest female chess player in history). The three sisters’ interest and involvement with chess, which was fostered by their father, contributed to their subsequent genius status. Not to say that some luck doesn’t factor in when talking about famous ‘success’ stories. As one who spends ten thousand hours at one subject may never discover the cure for cancer, earn millions of dollars or be written about in history books. However, the theory lends to the idea that we become what is around us, if given the tools and proper direction. Another interesting point Gladwell makes in his book is that timing can be a critical element for success. Let’s look at two examples:

1. Hockey. Given the desire your chances for success increase greatly if you are born in January, February or March because the cutoff for age-class hockey in Canada is January 1st. Look at player’s birthdates.

2. Out of the top 75 wealthiest individuals in human history 20% of those individuals came from a single generation in a single country – between 1831 and 1840 you would have been in a position to benefit from one of the greatest economic and social transformations in US history.

In a CBC radio broadcast this very same idea is discussed, but goes further to question why genius is often related to mental instability, why we are obsessed with those who have made large achievements, if in fact genius is hard-wired from birth and where mini-genius or ‘eureka’ moments come from. It surely is a grand thing to be regarded as a genius. However, if one is not described by his or her peers as such that does not mean it is impossible to create and achieve amazing feats. As the CBC broadcast notes; our definition of genius can be skewed. Sometimes who we consider a genius today may not have been deemed one in his or her own time. Just goes to show; only time and our own sense of self is what matters when it comes to realizing great things. Keep your THINKING caps on! | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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