Honoring My Father Part 1: How I Learned Business

Diane Freaney - DadReyna Badillo, Space Planner/Interior Designer for the Emerson Street House, recently asked me how I learned about business. I told Reyna the story below and she asked me if I would be her mentor.

I realized that the most important part of my business education took place with my father at our kitchen table, not at Harvard or Wharton or even BGI/Pinchot/Presidio. The business world has changed and few children today are privileged to have the experience I had. This is the first in a series sharing the stories and the wisdom that I learned from my father.

My father “did the payroll” every Wednesday night after dinner on the kitchen table. I felt privileged when he asked me to help. I was 10 years old. At first I was allowed to write in the names of the men on the checks. Yes, they were all men. My father was in garbage and sewers, not considered woman’s work at the time.

Gradually I was allowed to calculate the men’s pay (number of hours worked multiplied by the rate), the taxes due from the tax booklet and enter the net amount on the check. My father impressed on me the importance of the work I was doing. These men worked hard. Their paycheck supported their families – paid the rent, put food on the table, clothing, medicine – necessities that kept their families safe and secure.

My father felt responsible for his employees and their families. If his company had no work, his employees and their families would go hungry. Sometimes he bid work with no profit margin to make sure his employees took home a paycheck. For example, every winter my father “did snow removal work” for the John Hancock Insurance Company in downtown Boston. His employees who worked underground (sewers) often had no work in the dead of winter because the ground was frozen.

John Hancock wanted the sidewalks and streets around their buildings completely clear of snow as quickly as possible after a snow storm. John Hancock wanted everyone who came near their buildings to have safe passage to keep insurance claims low. My father’s employees could make a months earnings in one blizzard. Employees earned regular hourly rates for the first 8 hours, time and a half after 8 hours, double times after 16 hours and all day Sunday. Employees cat napped in the trucks; my father cat napped in his car. The entire crew, including my father, worked pretty much round the clock until the blizzard was over. John Hancock had the cleanest sidewalks and streets in the City of Boston and my father’s employees had fat paychecks to provide for their families.

My father would be sad to see where John Hancock has evolved to today. John Hancock is now a “financial services company”, selling, administering and managing Retirement Plans at Work.

John Hancock sold a plan to John Oliver, the Last Week with John Oliver (HBO), for his 35 employees. John Oliver’s June 12, 2016 session on Retirement Plans (see above) sheds light to exactly why financial services companies today aren’t about supporting community but rather supporting their wallets. In the episode, John Oliver’s staff asks questions about the confusing plans and associated costs, and of course, they receive all the stock, self-serving and misleading answers – the advertising spin taught at Business Schools. John Oliver cuts through the bullshit and “accidentally (intentionally) eviscerates” John Hancock. It was glorious.

My recent John Hancock experience was also filled with dread. The employees at the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation asked me to analyze their John Hancock Retirement Plan. The fees to John Hancock were 3.39%, which rose to over 5.04% when the fee to an unnecessary Third Party Administrator is included. The Oregon Lions voted to terminate the plan and move to index funds at Vanguard on November 2014. The John Hancock representative make every effort to prevent the Lions from moving their own retirement funds to Vanguard. John Hancock is now owned by a Canadian company and Canadian public companies are required to have an Ombudsman. We called and asked to speak to the Ombudsman. The John Hancock employee told us she would help us terminate the plan. She made all the right connections and the plan was terminated by December 31st as we requested.

Perhaps John Hancock’s Canadian parent can help John Hancock reclaim its proud history so they once again put people before profits, just like my dad put his staff before his pockets.

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