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Putting ‘The Beast’ To Bed

'end' key on a laptop keyboard.
photo by Flickr user alex.ch, licensed under CC BY

If I had thought about how hard it would be to maintain a daily blog of commentary on current events, without missing a single business day for more than 11 years, would I have started it in the first place?

Yes, I probably would have. Writing most of these columns (with occasional much-appreciated contributions from my colleagues) has brought me new friends and professional contacts, as well as some new clients for our firm. There were also tangible rewards, such as when I blogged about a long-lost childhood treat and a product manager at Sara Lee responded by shipping us 60 chocolate swirl pound cakes.

I would not have wanted to miss the thoughtful or humorous interactions with readers who commented, not always in agreement and not always publicly, about things I wrote. I was especially pleased when a young administrative associate in our office wrote that I happened to be correct “this time.” Sometimes co-workers took exception to my views, and I was glad they felt comfortable enough to challenge their boss in public. Their perspectives helped better inform mine.

Perhaps most of all, I would not have sacrificed the pleasure of my collaboration with Amy Laburda, who began editing this blog as an administrative associate and has gone on to become our firm’s editorial manager. Amy polishes, fact-checks and enforces Associated Press style on everything we write for publication. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her knowledge of literature and culture is far superior to mine, while her command of finance and business topics is solid after a decade of drafting and editing our firm’s work.

Amy is about the same age as my own daughters, so there are generational differences between us, as you might expect. She makes my work better even when I take positions with which she disagrees. I like to say that Amy knows what I think before I think it. Working with someone like that, under daily pressure to write something worth reading (we call it “feeding the beast”), is both a luxury and a necessity.

But everything must end sooner or later. On a September night in 1998, Cal Ripken Jr. kept himself out of the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup after appearing in 2,632 consecutive games. He could have played that night. In fact, he went on to play three more seasons before he retired. But Ripken wanted to end the streak for which he is best remembered on his own terms.

It is time for this daily commentary column to end. It was going to happen sooner or later, although possibly not before I got run over by the beer truck. That’s a favorite phrase around our office, borrowed from one of our longest-tenured clients (and a great friend), who hails from Alabama.

We started the blog in June 2009, shortly after the stock market hit its lowest point during the financial crisis and its aftermath. My colleagues and I had spent months talking to clients nearly every day, affirming our view that they would only hurt themselves by abandoning long-term financial plans and selling out. The Obama administration was just getting underway, with a new Congress intent on sweeping reform.

The blog allowed us to highlight and share perspectives about all sorts of news and policy issues. The goal was not necessarily to change minds, and certainly not to sway votes. Our mission is to help people articulate and achieve their own goals, not to substitute ours for theirs. But this requires trust – the kind of trust that keeps clients from abandoning their plans during a financial panic. I believe trust comes from openness about who you are and what you think. And so the blog began. I was in my early 50s at the time; none of our employees except my wife, who is our marketing and human resources director, were past their mid-30s. Most were in their 20s.

Today my goals for the blog are unchanged, but they are increasingly at cross purposes with an equally important goal of giving the firm its own identity and structure, separate from its founder, so it can carry on someday when I am no longer involved. This was my plan from the firm’s beginning. It is why I took my name off the door nearly 20 years ago, when what had been Larry M. Elkin & Co. became Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC.

As our staff has grown and matured, the blog increasingly speaks for me and not for them. When I write something people enjoy, I get the credit; when I offend or anger someone (unintentionally but unavoidably given the temper of our times), it is usually someone who works for me who hears the complaints. That colleague may not even agree with what I wrote.

Ending the blog will leave Amy more time to help our staff research and develop the in-depth, analytical articles we feature in our Sentinel newsletter, which moved to an online-only format not long ago. I will write some of that additional content, while helping our marketing group bring all of it to a wider audience. Our firm also has published two books that may need updates now that Washington, D.C. is, once again, under new management. And we can devote more attention to professional activity that is specific to certain regions and industries, such as our involvement with Film Florida.

Thank you to everyone who has made a habit of reading this column, especially those who have thoughtfully commented, in agreement or otherwise. We will still have plenty to say in the Sentinel feature at palisadeshudson.com and in the other venues where our work appears. If you’d like to keep up with us, you can sign up to have full-length Sentinel articles delivered to your inbox whenever we publish them or to receive a single monthly email which will highlight the best of our writing.

As for myself, I observe that Ripken posted the highest batting average of his career in 1999 – the season after his legendary streak ended. This blog will end today, but I have no intention of leaving Palisades Hudson anytime soon. I think I still have some hits left to get. Time will tell, if the beer truck doesn’t find me first.

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