Friday, July 18, 2014


Paul Theroux, the celebrated travel writer and author, wrote this about islands: “My love for traveling to ISLANDS amounts to a pathological condition…This craze seems reasonable to me, because islands are small self-contained worlds that can help us understand larger ones.”

I have that same fascination with islands and have been wondering if that is a universally human condition.
In my case it has definitely been stimulated by Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, but it predates the time of that reading. Growing up in the utmost Northern part of the Netherlands, I was frequently visiting on foot and by bike the Waddenzee, the body of water that separates the Dutch Northern coast from a series of buffer islands, protecting the coast from the fierce onslaught by the North Sea. These buffer islands, called Wadden Islands or Frisian Islands, extend across the German border. On the Dutch side of the border there are five inhabited and two uninhabited islands and all of them are wondrous worlds of tranquility, dunes, surf and mud-flats. They are sanctuaries for all kinds of seals and sea birds. One of these islands, Ameland, is situated no more than 6-7 miles off shore and can (for aficionado of mud-flats) be reached, on low tide, by foot. Islands like these are a boy’s dream of unexplored shores and inland mysteries. Beach combing in these places is fun and full of surprises.

Islands that can be reached by a bridge or a causeway don’t have the same intrigue that attracts me to islands that can only be reached by boat or by plane and small islands are much more appealing than large islands. There is something to finding the high spot of an island, a hill, a dune or a light tower, from where you can see the whole expanse of the island.

Islands attract tourism. In our own backyard we see that in the popularity of the Lake Erie islands with boaters and weekend revelers. Top global tourist attractions include the Caribbean Islands, the Seychelles, the Maldives, Hawaii, Tahiti and the Greek Isles. Not to forget about the isle of Manhattan.

Islands, because of their isolation, have the capacity to develop their unique biosphere. This is why Darwin went all the way to the Galapagos Islands to find confirmation of his theories about evolution. It is no coincidence that the first thing I did upon my retirement was flying to New Zealand to get the island experience there. The country is far removed from other land masses and has numerous species of plant and animal life that are unique to New Zealand. There is something to Island countries, because they are so naturally contained and you can see the whole contour of them by following the coastline. No doubt this makes New Zealand, Ireland and the Hawaiian Island such popular travel destinations.

On our Atlantic coast, we have jewels of island getaways like Isle au Haut, ME; Nantucket, MA; Assateague Island, MD; Tangier Island, VA; Bald Head Island, NC; Daufuskie Island, SC; and Cumberland Island, GA. I am particularly fond of Daufuskie Island, SC where we have spent numerous family vacations in splendid isolation from the hustle and bustle of the daily working life. While living in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, we enjoyed weekend time on Anna Maria Island, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island.

There is something special about being on an island as opposed to being on the main land. It creates the feeling of “being away from it all”. It is like arriving on foreign shores even if the destination is safely state side. It has the connotation of adventure like in Gulliver’s Island or in Robinson Crusoe’s Island of Despair.

Thank God for islands. I wish I had spent more time in my life exploring more islands. The more remote the better. I don’t know how many I will still get too. But I can dream of the Aleutians, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, the Hebrides, the Svalbard Archipelago, Nova Zembla or the uninhabited parts of Iceland and Greenland. I’m never more at peace than when I’m in my own insular paradise, surrounded by nature, where I can oversee my world. I agree with Paul Theroux that to understand the world at large you may have to start looking at the small self-contained world of an island.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I am an occasional viewer of the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss”, because I like the concept of the owner of a business genuinely interested in verifying if, in the trenches, his/her vision for the business lives, if the culture he/she wants to espouse pervades the organization and if the employees are all engaged in fulfilling the mission of the enterprise.

CBS has not made me a fan of this series, for several reasons. First, I do not think that you can honestly and successfully do this investigative work with the cameras on the scene. In real life, there are no professional cameras and camera-men around to record what’s going on. Or, if there are, a completely different and interfering element comes into play. Second, I believe that singling out a few employees, addressing their issues and concerns and then lavishly throwing money at their hardships, in public and with the cameras rolling, is the wrong way of dealing with the findings of the investigation. It is unfair to the many others in the company who did not get singled out for the cameras and are likely dealing with similar hardships and unfulfilled ambitions.

But the concept is laudable. If you have a vision for your business, that is, if you can visualize and articulate where you want to go with your business and what you would like to achieve with it, you want to have metrics established that tell you if your operations are on track, on target to get you to your desired state, your destination. Your employees, their performance, their attitude and behavior should provide you with some of these metrics, but to your face and in your presence will they tell you like it is, or simply play lip-service to what they think you want to hear?

If you are an owner of a business that has a vision for its future, you want to be building and maintaining a purpose driven organization of people who chase a dream, all aligned behind a clearly articulated mission, who are competent and accountable for their function within the business and are thriving in the corporate culture established for the business by its owner. Following in the footsteps of Aileron (, I call a company that meets all of these criteria, a professionally managed business.

A professionally managed business would not have to have its leader go undercover to verify if the business is on track to achieve its mission and if it operates in a manner that is true to the culture it wants to exude. The metrics that the leader of a professionally managed business has at his/her disposal are tangible and easily discovered: They include high customer satisfaction, low employee turnover, public recognition, predictable financial performance, above average growth, high employee engagement and a palpable “esprit de corps”.

I will admit that not a lot of businesses operate as the professionally managed business described here. The reality, for the owner of the business and for the employees is, more often than not, a lot less glamorous and Utopian than professed in mission statements, value statements and public announcements about the business. But the remedy for this is not for the leader of the pack to go under cover and—one time— find a few culprits and victims, but to start from scratch and organize and manage the business in accordance with the tenets of professional management.

Too often do I hear that “my business is not sexy enough to live by these lofty ideals expressed in visions, missions and values.” But, to that I say: “Every business has customers and has a product or service to sell and what is sexier, or more satisfying, than solving customers’ problems, all the time and every time and meeting or exceeding customers’ expectations?” How few businesses truly succeed in doing just that? You don’t have to be a Dreamworks, Patagonia or Tesla to have high ambitions for your business and to offer your employees an outlook on a participative and fulfilling career.

“Serving the customer” is often propagated but only rarely accomplished. Any business that is totally dedicated to getting that simple mission right has a good outlook on being around for a while and being profitable. Your customers will let you know unambiguously if in your business you say one thing and do another. You don’t have to go undercover to find out if your business is running on all cylinders. Just ask the people who interact with your business on a daily basis, your customers, your suppliers and your stakeholders and they will tell you quickly if your self-promotion is all bogus or the confirmation of a business that is professionally managed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


For the last two years I have been working on writing a book about my experience as a first generation (Dutch) immigrant to the United States. After multiple edits, with the help of some of the best minds I have encountered during my journey through life, I have sent my manuscript off to CreateSpace, an Amazon company, to do the formatting and publishing. I expect the book to be released late July, early August of 2014.

The book is titled NEITHER HERE NOR THERE and sub-titled A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism.

I wrote the book, because I like to write and I had freed up my time by retiring from the corporate world where I had spent all of my professional career. But there is more to this story. For the more than 30 years that I have been working and living in the United States, I have kept wondering if I had made the right decision when, in 1983, I turned from being a Dutch expatriate living in the U.S. to an immigrant. I never quit looking for a validation of that decision. And, because of that mind-set, I became a keen observer of American lifestyles and politics.

I knew that America had been exceptional at the time of the creation of the Republic, in the struggle to hold the Republic together through the War Between the States, and in the conquering of fascism first and then communism. I was looking for evidence that America had the capacity and vitality to remain exceptional at times that it was not seriously challenged by contenders.

In my book, I lean upon not only my own observations, but substantially also on the writings of other analysts of the great American experiment. The book is different from other social and political commentary in that it deals not just with specific individual shortcomings but, comprehensively, with all the major flaws in the American system as it operates today and in that it actually offers solutions for the many predicaments the nation is facing. It is also different in that it is written from the perspective of someone, not born in this country, but who made a conscious choice to make America his country and now wants to validate that decision.

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE delivers five key messages:

  1. I made a deliberate decision, in the early eighties, to transplant my family from the Netherlands to the USA, based on my evaluation—at the time—of the future of America versus the future of Western Europe. It seemed an easy choice. But the world has changed dramatically in the intervening 30 years and it seems appropriate to revalidate that choice.

  1. There is a broad consensus that the generation now growing up in America may be the first since the Second World War to be worse off than their parents and grandparents. If that is indeed the case, then we need to get at the cause of that decline. And come up with ways to turn it around.

  1. A huge gap exists in America between the performances of the public sector versus the private sector. The private sector embraces change and accelerates the pace of change by constant innovation, driven by competition and a passion for continuous improvement and breakthrough technology. None of this exists in the public domain.

  1. America has too many people standing at the sidelines rather than playing the field. Nations are successful when they engage the whole population—with hardly anybody left out—behind a clearly articulated vision for the future place of the nation in the global environment.

  1. A vision is merely that—a fata morgana—if it is not accompanied by a solid strategy outlining how to reach the desired outcome. America is lacking a national strategy. American governance has no tradition or statute for the creation of a binding strategic plan that is built on broad consensus and transcends the succession of White House occupants and the shifting balance of power between the Republican and Democratic parties. That may have to change.
My intent with the book is to create a badly needed discourse about what’s ailing America and what cures should be considered to bring it back to optimum health.

Follow me on Twitter @FransJager1 for updates on the publication of NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.