John Tenney

Professional and Personal Blog of John Will Tenney

Archives January 2017

Washington Odyssey

What an adventure. On January 3rd, 2017, my family was invited to attend the swearing in ceremony of my sister Claudia, as the NY 22 member of the House of Representatives. Yes this is a family first. No other family member that I can recall has made it to the federal level in politics. My political efforts have always been on a county or city level. Our dad was a State Supreme Court Judge in NY but never got appointed to a Federal court. I wish he (and mom) could have been alive to witness this. I’m sure both would be incredibly proud.

When Claudia announced her candidacy last year I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited. This was her second try. However, as the campaign progressed, we became aware that she had the lead in most of the polls, and her chances were excellent.

The enormity of it however, didn’t really hit me until I was sitting in her office, (yes her congressional office) in the Cannon building, looking out the window at the Capitol dome. “Wow. My little sister is now one of the country’s decision makers, and in a big way.”

L to R: Claudia, Betsy, Will, “Alex” (from the Hyatt) and me. Sunday night at the Park Hyatt for a family reunion of sorts.

We came up a few days early, to sort of a family reunion. The winter flu had attacked several of us but we fought valiantly to join the family party, of course.

Will, Betsy and Jack had flown in from Vail, CO. Bob, Rose, Kyle, Marianne and Laura had come down from Sherburne, NY and Stasia joined us later. Julia came down from Boston. Cousins Debbie and Dory arrived with family in tow. Cousin on my mom’s side, Andy Cooley, was there with Claudia and kids.

Throw in many of the key workers in the campaign that were invited and you have a big party.

If you are familiar with my family you can probably guess that this was a noisy, rowdy group that pretty much took over the lobby of the Hyatt. I think Kathleen is getting used to them finally, although Sophie and Grace retreated to their phones, unable to keep up with all the conversation.

Sophie made quite a hit later in the week, but we’ll come to that in order.

Even though I was also fighting that nasty sinus flu, I managed to stay up past 11 (which is now late for me) to talk with my sisters. I did however, sneak away for an hour to do the stationary bike in the Hyatt exercise room. I could see that Washington was going to be a trip with lots of food, and I didn’t want to start off the new year with an extra five pounds.

Sophie coping with the noisy Tenneys

Monday was an unscheduled day for us, intended to be used to sight see in Washington. Uncooperative weather forced us to seek indoor venues, as it was mid 40s and a cold drizzle all day long. We chose to walk over to the Air and Space Museum. This was our last long walk. We chose to learn how to “Uber” later. That was also an adventure.

Air and Space was not what I remembered from 17 years ago. Yes some new exhibits but when did they start charging for everything? In 2000, when I last visited, everything was free. Kind of disappointing.

We ended the day with a family dinner at Carmine’s Italian, with a reservation for 33 (yes 33) people. Good thing Carmine’s serves family style! The food was fair to good (We Uticans are very picky about Italian food of course), but it certainly came in large quantities. Glad I had hit the exercise bike for another hour that morning.

Most of us went to bed rather early, as we knew tomorrow was a busy day on The Hill for us.

I got up at 6:30am and hit the bike again for another hour. Then over to the Hyatt free breakfast, which is phenomenal by the way.

Later that morning, the gang assembled at 512 Cannon, Claudia’s new office:

The door to her office. L to R: Dave Townsend, Kathleen, Sophie, Grace, Me, Trey Cleary (Claudia’s son)

Lots of pictures were taken next to the sign, and of course we couldn’t be the exception. Claudia was off doing “congress stuff” so we were entertained by Margaux, Hannah, Teri and some very young looking interns. I was impressed with how well they dealt with us, as the “mob of Tenneys” is not known to be easy to manage.

We took over the office. Grace is talking to her cousin Stasia. Shannon is Trey’s friend on the right, and Mike Friedel(?) on the left.

Bob, Trey and Kyle enjoying the office. Hannah is in red, one of Claudia’s super competent staff. She and the others did a great job of making us feel like VIPs

Laura takes the congressional desk with help from Kathleen and Sophie

We entertained ourselves by watching the re-election of Paul Ryan as speaker on C-SPAN in the office. Something tells me I will be watching this channel more now. Biggest thrill: When they finally got to the T’s, Claudia stood up and spoke very loud and clear, “Paul Ryan!” The office erupted in applause.

Claudia is upper right, just left of the “LIVE” graphic. It isn’t him, but I thought the guy in front of her was Chris Chistie.

We were taken to another, larger “waiting room” with larger monitors, to watch the official swearing in on the congress floor. There were several motions going through, and a lot of screen hogging by the Democrats. You could tell they were not too excited about their prospects in the next two years.

We were not allowed to witness the official swearing in live, as the congress hall was too crowded already. It was still pretty nice in the waiting room, with still MORE food. I don’t have any pictures of it, but it was right next to the Statuary Hall, which is the foyer for the Congressional Hall.

Following that, we were taken on a guided tour of the capitol building, which I highly recommend. The history was stunning and a bit overwhelming. You can check my Facebook album “Capitol Pics” for more on that.

Next it was time for “the picture.” This is a ceremonial swearing in picture with Ryan Paul. She was already sworn in that morning, but this is the chance for the family to get involved. Here is where Sophie gets her 15 minutes of fame. At some time during the day, one of the Congressmen’s sons decided to “DAB” for the camera and was stopped by Ryan. It got a lot of press on all the news networks. However, a few of them left the story with a shot of the photo below, referencing Sophie as “the girl with her arms crossed”, wondering what she was protesting? For the record, she was cold. If anything, she is protesting the fact that the air conditioning was on in the capitol when it was 42 degrees outside. Yeah I didn’t like it either!

This is a different angle than the one being shown on the networks. I don’t know why I was making that goofy face

We retired to The Capitol Hill Club for an excellent reception, with even more food, and even some beer and wine (no craft beer though. Points off!) We stayed a couple of hours. We finished off the night with a hot chocolate in the Hyatt restaurant, which was my favorite place to eat by the way. Quiet, comfortable and excellent service.

Sophie and her new best friend, her cousin Alex, in front of a statue of George Washington – this was on the Capitol tour

On Wednesday we had some time before our flight, so we visited Claudia in her office. I managed to get about a half hour of her time to do some quick video interviews, which I will hopefully be able to show here as soon as they are cleared. Stay tuned.

The flight home on jetBlue was great. My favorite airline for sure. Many thinks to our neighbor Judy for picking us up, and brother in law Patrick for taking care of the mail and the cats. It was a great trip, but as it is with all trips, it was also great to be home.

Failing My Way to Success

How many times do you need to fail at business before you succeed? I decided to review my own attempts at starting businesses and see how many it took in my life:

Failure 1: Sailing Business in Upstate NY

1981: I started a partnership called “Racer’s Edge Sailing Accessories” with a girl friend, while living in Rome, NY. Fairly quickly, I learned the negative aspects of seasonal businesses, maintaining inventory and partnerships. It lasted about 3 years before I just stopped doing it, with a garage full of sails, blocks, tackle, other sailing accessories and not to mention an extra boat or two. I think one of the boats is still sitting in the weeds behind the old Pennysaver business in Clinton.

Failure 2: Computer Consultant Business

1983: John W. Tenney and Associates actually had a couple of successful contracts, working as a subcontractor for RADC at Griffis AFB, but it didn’t last. I learned quite a bit about the gov’t contractor business though, as well as the perils of media advertising. I placed a discount ad in the family paper, the Pennysaver, and was immediately deluged by sales people from other media. I got suckered a few times too, by a local AM radio DJ, a pen salesman, and a computer supply company. I learned a lot about the politics of contracting though, and it has stuck with me to this day.

Failure #3: Various MLMs

1989 thru 2012 (sadly): This included Amway, NetTel, Amway again, Advocare and even a weird one called Zeek Rewards. While I learned a lot about sales techniques, positive thinking and interacting with people, I also learned three key negative but firm reasons to stay out of MLM:

      1: There is no room for creativity in MLM. You MUST duplicate exactly what your upline is doing. If you try something new, so will everybody below you, and things get out of control quickly. Doesn’t work for me.
      2: Relationships are vertical, never horizontal, in MLM. You only talk to people above you or below you. “Crosslining” is a recipe for disaster. Also didn’t work for me.
      3: The government will never allow you to make money without working. That is reserved for government employees only.

Failure #4: Website Design Company #1

1994: OK to be fair, this wasn’t a full time thing. I was doing this for friends in the airlines, who had sideline businesses but it never generated a livable wage. It was educational though. In addition to learning a lot of website design basics I also learned what the market will bear. Everyone wants a “flashy” (pun intended) looking website but they only want to pay about $100 for it. True to this day.

Failure #5: Aircraft Charter Company

1992 until 1998: Although this business didn’t “fail”, it certainly didn’t meet my expectations or financial needs. It was tons of hard work, schmoozing, and waiting around for people. Hard to insure, too. Absolutely no residual income either. It did lead to a brief airline career which was fun, but also not financially successful.

Failure #6: Website Design Company #2

2001-2004: Tenncom was our attempt to recover after 9/11. Back in to the website business, my wife Kathleen and I got a lot of clients, but all at a discount, so we never made any money. To make matters worse, we took the advice of a college student (big mistake) and started selling hardware. Didn’t I learn about the negative side of inventory years ago? I still have a big bag of 3.5 inch floppy drives in the garage.

Success: PEO Pros/EmployerNomics

2005: Although we started the corporation in 2003 we didn’t start the PEO brokering business until early 2005. It has what we have learned are necessary elements to a successful startup. Here are just some of those points:

  • Low overhead
  • Residual income
  • No inventory
  • Not seasonal or location dependent
  • Possible to build your own niche
  • Duplicatable, repeatable business model
  • Teachable

So I had six failures before finding the right place. I learned from each one. The business landscape we have today was formed by what I/we learned from those failures. It hurts that we failed, but it is very reassuring to know that without those failures, we never would have gotten here today.

I’m very glad I decided to fail my way to success.

Three Steps of Leadership

(edit: updated 31 Jan 2018)

MeDadUnknownLocationI am the oldest of five children, who grew up in central NY. Our father John R. Tenney was a successful public servant. He retired as the senior judge in the New York State Supreme Court in 2003.

He taught us a lot about leadership. He had a lot of experience at it. He was the person in the group that everyone turned to when things got tough. I admired him for it and aspired to be like him. I’ve attempted to follow his footsteps ever since. “Those are big shoes to fill” people would tell me. “Don’t be disappointed if you aren’t as successful as your father.” Really annoying, isn’t it?

In my early 60s now, I can look back and have a much better perspective of what my dad went through. He wasn’t “born” a leader. Who is, really? Once the covering is peeled back and a leader’s life is studied, three steps emerge. Before we cover the three steps however, there are some rules to lead by that must be discussed.

Preamble: Rules to Lead By

Norman Schwarzkopf was a great leader. As a decorated 4 star general who led our armed forces in Desert Shield and later in Desert Storm, his record speaks for itself. I was fortunate to be there when he related some points of leadership to a large group in the Atlanta “Georgia Dome” in the early 1990s, and the last two are very pertinent here:

Rule 13: When in Command, Take Charge
As a colonel in the 1970s, he had been left in command of the US Forces in Viet Nam. As the general he replaced left, Norm asked him, “How do I command?” The general told him “Easy. Rule 13. When in Command Take Charge.” It sounds simple but does history record any examples of great leaders who talked to everyone to “get the feel of the group” before making every decision? Norm said you still have to delegate responsibility and listen to the troops but you have to be in charge.

The next question he asked the general was, “but that involves making decisions. How do I make good decisions?” So the general gave him rule 14:

Rule 14: Do What’s Right
Seems obvious doesn’t it but how do you know what’s right? Norm didn’t have to ask that question, because he knew, and related to us, “You know what’s right. You always know. Inside, you know. Sometimes the right thing is not what the public wants you to do. Sometimes it’s not the popular thing to do. Do it anyway.”

Sometimes Doing the Right Thing is different than Doing the Popular Thing

Sometimes Doing the Right Thing is different than Doing the Popular Thing

This struck a chord with me because I had heard it before. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was nearly an exact quote of our father’s lesson to our family: “You can never go wrong by doing the right thing. Just because a decision is popular, does not automatically make it right.”

Okay, with these rules in our quiver, now it’s time for three steps of Leadership

Step 1: First Be a Follower

This step is the one people try to skip the most. 95% of business start-ups fail and this is certainly a contributing factor. There is no substitute for experience in the field. Before you can lead, you have to know what it feels like being led. This can prevent poor leadership decisions in the future. It’s also a great place to learn from others’ mistakes, as you don’t have enough time to make them all yourself.

Dad had some good people to follow. One which comes to mind is his father in law, Robert C. Roberts. Bob Roberts was a powerful figure in NY politics, although he never held an office. He was the owner of the Mid-York Press and editor of the Mid-York Weekly. His business and journalism brought him in to contact with many other powerful people in NY. He took Dad under his wing, so to speak, and introduced him to other leaders from Albany to Buffalo. Dad’s first act of leadership was following Bob Roberts.

My personal lesson in this came as a new airline pilot. I started as a “First Officer” – or Second in Command. For the first time since my training was completed I was not the boss of the aircraft. It was a learning experience. I had assumed that being a small plane pilot would transition automatically to handling a passenger filled airliner. Huh, bad assumption. Captains quickly took steps to straighten me out. It was an uncomfortable learning season for me!

Step 2: Blaze a Trail

At some point, it is time to stop following and to go off in a different direction. This is that “moment of truth” where the risk becomes a reality. It takes a “leap of faith” to go off in a new direction, without the safety and security of the known.

Many new business owners skip to this step or at least go a little early. This may lead to failure, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as most lessons are best learned from failure. However, success rates are higher when the appropriate amount of time is spent in step 1.

This step can be lonely. When you are off doing something no one else is doing, it stands to reason that you will have fewer people around you. Hence the term, trailblazing.

Sometimes this step is very discouraging. A few years back my pastor identified me as a “church leader” and I was shocked. I approached him later and said “How can you call me a leader? Who am I leading? Look behind me, there’s nobody there.” His answer encouraged me, “But you go places no one else will go. That’s part of being a leader. Give it time, once people see you going where no one else goes, they will eventually follow you.”

I worked for an insurance company for a while before starting my current company. The experience was very helpful in getting started.

Step 3: Encourage and Develop Other Leaders

This step sounds like the directions on shampoo: “Help others with steps 1 and 2, rinse and repeat”. A leader teaches others how to be leaders and doesn’t worry if they get ahead of them. Many leaders frequently fall back to step one when the mission and goal is better led by someone else.

The purpose of leading is to beget leaders. The world needs more leaders. Without leaders in all walks of life we would be no where, advancing to no place. All leaders, past, present and future, are at one of these three steps.

We sell franchises now. Obviously, developing leaders is an integral part of our business.

Necessary Talent: Patience
It takes time. Leaders are like a fine wine, better when aged and seasoned. Experience counts. Sometimes you make it to the front just by outlasting your opponents. I remember when my dad was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1968, they gave him a license plate for his car that said “JSC-272”, indicating that he was #272. I asked him “so Dad, there must be like 500 judges right?” He said “No Will, there are 272. I’m last!”

We would get excited each year to see his new plate arrive to see how far he had moved up in seniority. First year it was 259, then 237 and so on. Each year, he became more and more a leader in his field. At his retirement party in 2003, I took this picture in the parking lot of the Yahnundasis Country Club:

It was upgraded from JSC to "Supreme Court" but as you can see, our dad retired at #1.

It was upgraded from JSC to “Supreme Court” but as you can see, our dad retired at #1.

Conclusion

From a personal view, I can see this happening with my brother and sisters. In our family, our dad taught us to be leaders. He learned it from his mentors. If you take a look at us five kids, you can see that the leadership either paid off or it’s starting to happen.

John W Tenney (me): Owner and lead agent for EmployerNomics, national franchise and PEO Pros, a P&C agency in Orlando, FL
Robert W Tenney: CEO and Chairman of the Board for The Mid-York Press and Mid-York Digital
Claudia L Tenney: US Congressional Representative for NY22 district
Jane E Lewis: Independent Business Owner in Vail, CO
Julia C Tenney: Self marketed graphic artist in Boston, MA

Our dad died in 2004, but I think he would be proud of his teachings if he could see how we are all doing now.