A Man You’d Recognize: Act II
They say bad things happen in threes, and for those of you who have read my columns, you know that 2021 was rough on a number of fronts. I lost my father nearly a year ago in March, right around the same time Jill and I were going through some sh*t with my son, Sumner.
Happily, the waters calmed in June for Sumner. I thought we were in the clear, until I got the news on December 20th that my dear friend and financial planner, Mike Fields, was in the intensive care unit on a ventilator with pneumonia. He died 5 days later, on Christmas day.
The news of his death rocked my world, in all the obvious ways, and several I didn’t expect. Mike was only 50 years old, and to lose someone with so much life left to live, with a wife and two children, was jarring. It also made me confront my own mortality, because if it could happen to Mike, it certainly could to me as well.
Mike and I met in 2006 at a blackjack table. Did you catch that? Yes, I met my financial planner at a blackjack table! Mike and his wife, Tifney, sidled up next to me on a $5 blackjack table in Southern Indiana. And because Mike never met a stranger, we struck up a conversation. This included the discovery that I had called on Mike’s father, a physician, when I was a pharmaceutical salesman back in Jackson, MI where Mike grew up.
Small world, indeed, or was it the hand of God? I believe coincidences are nudges from “the other side,” and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve trained myself to be receptive, and perceptive, to “chance” encounters. This chance encounter was a jackpot (pun totally intended) on many levels.
I didn’t sign-up with Mike right away. In fact, I made Mike prove himself for two long years before I gave him a dime of our money to manage. That’s not too dissimilar to how our industry operates.
I’ve been told that the parking industry is a discerning bunch and that we make people “show up” for at least two years before we’ll buy from them. It speaks to our industry’s experience with flashes in the pan. We’ve been burned by the “johnny come latelies” that appear from nowhere and think they’re going to conquer the parking world because “it’s just parking, how hard can it be?” We learned long ago that to be in parking, you must be smart, resilient, and gritty, with an enormous sense of humor. Mike was all those things.
He won my business two years after we met, and thus began a 15-year friendship that transcended building my nest egg into more than a hill of beans. I told Mike when I turned over my fortune that he was the expert and I expected him to make that pot of gold grow. I took my hands off the wheel and allowed him to work his magic. It was a lot like the way the owners of properties turn over their parking structures to parking operators and give them full reign.
Like Mike, parking operators possess a specialized skill that is nearly always overlooked as “nothing special.” But to those who know, running a parking facility, like managing a portfolio, efficiently and effectively, requires a steady hand that only time and experience can deliver. I took Mike’s skill and experience for granted much the same way the general population takes the general availability of parking, and the skill necessary to manage parking, for granted.
Mike made it look easy. That’s what ultimately led me to trust him. I could go on about my days and not worry about the stock market gyrations, because I knew that Mike was at the helm. Mike did his thing, and the downs weren’t so down, and the gains were steady and reliable.
What convinced me to sign up with Mike was my belief that he would maximize the upside and minimize the downside, which is exactly what he did for 15 years. I can’t help but think that’s exactly why the owners of parking facilities hire experts to run their facilities. They know that the parking operator will deliver the green when times are good and protect their asses when times get tough.
We’ve just been through a period when times were particularly challenging for the parking world, which reminds me of the saying: “It’s easy to run a business when times are good, but true operators show their mettle when sh*t hits the fan.”
When times get tough, I want someone who has been there and done that. I counted on Mike to be that for me, much the same way the asset owners rely on the parking operators to use their experience to weather the storm and keep the ship afloat.
Now that my portfolio is rudderless without Mike, I appreciate more than ever the tremendous feeling of calm that I felt when I knew Mike was in charge. I can’t help but think these incredibly challenging times, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, have crystalized the value our parking operator partners bring to their asset owners.
At one time, I was managing my own assets, and it pains me to think about all the money I flushed down the toilet chasing the latest trend or a “hot stock.” Mike always listened to my harebrained ideas. He was a GREAT listener and even allowed me to dabble a bit, but he was there for a reason – to keep my ignorance and attention deficit out of my retirement cookie jar. Once again, the parallels to our industry come to mind immediately.
We have owners who think they can manage their facilities with technology and little else. There is no question the technological transformation of our industry is going to make our owners’ and operator’s lives easier and more profitable. It already has.
But you cannot eliminate the human element, and you cannot eliminate the human’s judgement from the equation when exceptions and anomalies occur. That’s why I had Mike, and that’s why owners need experienced operators to manage their assets with new technology.
Good operators know technology is an enabler, but it is not the end all, be all. The tools for delivering the service are improving, but you still cannot remove the human element. And that’s what Mike was for me, a professional leveraging technology tools and infusing it with human judgement and skill.
I’ll leave you this month with a note of gratitude. I’m grateful to JVH for allowing me to write this column every month from the heart. I’ve burdened you, dear reader, several times attempting to make people who are important to me, famous. First my dad and now Mike. Thank you for that!
I’m going to miss Mike, not just because he held the keys to my kingdom and did a great job. Mike was an expert at managing other people’s assets, and he brought a passion and dedication to his craft that I had never seen before.. Doesn’t it sound like Mike would have fit right in with us here in parking? I think he would have. Thank you, Mike and Godspeed, my friend!