Overcoming ‘white coat anxiety’ for a life-enhancing experience at Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program

White Coat Hypertension: A condition occurring when blood pressure readings at a health care provider’s office are higher than they are in other settings, such as at home. It’s called white coat hypertension because people who measure blood pressure sometimes wear white coats.

From the time I nearly passed out (did pass out?) getting my kindergarten vaccinations, White Coat Hypertension (Syndrome) has been a part of my life, and a basis upon which I make many medical decisions for myself. Whether it be sports physicals or flu shots, eye doctor exams or dental check-ups (sorry Susan Widick, DDS), my fear of going to the doctor – any doctor – has kept me from taking proper care of myself.

Imagine my utter dismay, then, when the aforementioned Dr. Widick (“the cobbler’s son has no shoes” comes to mind) informed me that she had scheduled a three-day program for us both at the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program in Rochester, Minn.

I immediately looked up info on the program. Patients spend an intense three days in a comprehensive, streamlined, integrated, multi-disciplinary process aimed at evaluating their health and assessing the next steps for their wellbeing. That meant I’d have a physical and evaluation, blood and urine tests, an ECG and cardiac calcium exam, hearing and vision appointments, a colonoscopy and more. And there would be needles.

Our Executive Health Program Mission: To provide individualized, comprehensive care to meet the unique needs of working executives in the demanding stages of their careers. We focus on preventive health and wellness with timely, coordinated access to multidisciplinary care, including advanced diagnostics, state-of-the-art prevention strategies and therapeutics when needed.

“I’m not going,” I proclaimed. “I’m too busy, I don’t have enough time to prepare. This won’t work.”

The truth? They might discover something wrong. And then what? I might die. Or, worse, have to get a bunch of shots.

White Coat Hypertension (Syndrome)

As mentioned, I’ve known about my Syndrome (it’s not really Hypertension, in my mind; it’s full blown, pass-out-at-the-sight-of-a-needle-anxiety) since I was five years old. Walking out of the doctor’s office with my mother after those early vaccinations, my ears started ringing. My vision grew blurry. And my legs got wobbly. I was going down.

My mom quickly dragged me back inside, notifying staff that I was having an allergic reaction to the shots. They rushed me into an exam room, laid me down, and if I remember correctly administered smelling salts to revive me.

“Oh, he’s having a reaction all right,” the doctor said. (I think it was Dr. Walker, my longtime pediatrician, at his office in the Englewood Shopping District in Independence, MO, not too far from the Harry S. Truman home). I remember the event – vividly – to this day. “He’s having a nervous reaction to the needles.”

Thus, a lifelong fear was born. Remember the simple TB tests in grade school? They were terrorizing to me. Dreaded them for days. Felt woozy waiting in line. Health screenings in junior high with a blood draw? I’d rather get a swat from PE teacher Clyde Kubli (and he had a helluva swing). Getting my eyes dilated for an eye exam or a filling at the dentist were excruciating as well.

Surely you grow out of this, right? Not me. It has continued to this day. I have found occasional relief from utilizing relaxing techniques, first introduced to me by our family dentist. Close your eyes, he’d say, and think about sports or the beach or anything to get your mind off the white coat … and the needle.

And, on some occasions, that worked. I was able to keep my mind at ease and make it through an appointment without a need for a timeout to keep from fainting. More often than not, however, the syndrome struck.

Now, how in the world was I going to make it through 13 doctor appointments and numerous tests in a three-day period at Mayo? At the time I finally agreed to go, I had no idea how I would make it. But I knew I had to.

Overcoming Anxiety

An old boss introduced me to motivational tapes early in my career. Napolean Hill, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy … all became fixtures in my car’s cassette player (remember those?). And they really struck a chord. To me, they all boiled down to these related quotes: “You become what you think about” and “Whether you think you can – or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Our mindset, our attitude, our inner thoughts …. these all drive our actions and results. If you think negatively, you greatly increase the likelihood of having negative results. Conversely, if you tell yourself that you are successful – even before you are (especially before you are) – you greatly increase your chances of success.

When it came to doctor’s visits, I became what I thought about. I thought I would get woozy, so I did. I knew I would fail to make it through the visit. So I did.

If I was going to make it through Mayo’s Executive Health Program, I needed a positive inner dialogue and to visualize myself successfully completing the program. And I needed just a little additional mental boost …

… which came in the form of a book I had heard about many years before: Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Their cause and cure, by Robert Handly. Its five basic principles, and positive thinking script, were just what I needed.

  1. Harness the creative powers of your mind to change your thinking
  2. Visualize and affirm to change your mindset, replacing fear with confidence
  3. Utilize rational, positive thinking to visualize the outcomes you desire
  4. Act as if that desired outcome is already reality
  5. Set goals to becoming a positive person

I took the learnings from those old motivational tapes, and the scripts in Anxiety, to visualize myself successfully completing the Executive Health Program and achieving the healthy outcomes I desired. I would have to use those techniques throughout the days at Mayo, as well. The mind is powerful … whether in a positive manner, or negative. I set my mind to a successful visit.

And off to Rochester we went.

We chose to drive from Kansas City to Minnesota as opposed to flying, saving on transportation costs and allowing us the convenience of having our own car packed with our own stuff in Rochester. And by the time you drive to the airport in KC, park, get through TSA, wait for your flight, de-plane, get a rental car or Uber, etc., the six-hour drive and a one-stop flight are about the same time commitment.

We stayed at Marriott’s TownPlace Suites in Rochester, which is affordable and allows an easy walk to the Mayo campus. Almost all our appointments would be in the Gonda or Mayo buildings at the Clinic, so no driving, parking or valet, etc. would be necessary.

The Executive Health Program at Mayo Clinic

For more than 50 years, the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program has been leveraging the best and brightest minds in medicine to help CEOs, founders, presidents, business owners, and executives maintain good health. The unique, effective, and evidence-based program is designed to help you receive world-lass preventative care and ultimately enjoy many healthy years doing what you love in your personal and professional lives.

These phrases are commonly used in Mayo’s literature for the Executive Health Program:

  • World class
  • Integrated
  • Streamlined
  • Standard setting
  • Customized
  • Comprehensive
  • Dedicated

All of which are true. And so much more.

The program is streamlined to meet the needs of professionals and business executives. Moreso, I think it also navigates the increasingly complex maze of today’s healthcare environment. It’s not a medical concierge service, and you are encouraged to maintain your local primary care provider. The program is laser-focused on providing comprehensive, dedicated and customized care in a condensed timeframe … without compromising quality in the process. In fact, I strongly argue that the care is unmatched, especially with its integration to departments throughout the facility, allowing your coordinating physician to make changes and additions to your schedule as your visit progresses.

Mayo’s Executive Health Program began in the 1970s. In 2013, the program received a boost with a $10 million donation from W. Hall Wendel Jr. Wendel has been a long-time supporter and patient of the Clinic, having undergone two full shoulder replacements and two full knee replacements after a lifetime of marathons and mountain climbing.

“There’s just no feeling like going to the Mayo Clinic,” says Wendel, former president of Polaris who led a management group that purchased the company in 1981. Polaris is a manufacturer of on road, off road, snow and marine vehicles. “The thing that attracts me to the Executive Health Program is that it is geared to executives. It’s very efficient. They have the best in the world, right there. That’s a very reassuring, calming feeling. It’s like coming home.”

The program is available in Rochester, Mn., Scottsdale, Az, Jacksonville, Fl., and London. It takes advanced planning to get everything scheduled and lined up, so prepare in advance.

My Itinerary

Overall, I had 15 reviews, visits, assessments, tests, evaluations, consultations and exams during my three days in Rochester. I want to share what those are to show you the thoroughness of the program, and to see what you can accomplish in this unique opportunity.

  1. Telephone medical information review before leaving KC
  2. Electrocardiogram testing
  3. Blood test
  4. Urine container visit
  5. Medical information review
  6. Evaluation with Internist
  7. Consultation with Ophthalmology
  8. Nurse visit hearing screen assessment
  9. Exercise testing
  10. CT cardiac calcium scoring exam
  11. Consultation with cardiovascular medicine
  12. Consultation with nutritionist
  13. Uroflow procedure
  14. Colonoscopy
  15. Telephone follow-up with Internist

Perhaps I could have scheduled most of those 15 encounters on my own in my hometown. Perhaps. But I certainly would not have taken the initiative myself to do so. And it would have been a 12-month ordeal, not a three-day experience (plus pre- and post-visit consultations via phone). I’ve come away with a newfound interest in my health, and a game plan to enjoy that health for many years going forward.

My Takeaways

What a phenomenal experience! Here are my thoughts:

  • From Lilly greeting us at the entry of the Executive Lounges, to the impressive follow-up afterward – and every scheduled and added appointment, screening, test and consultation in between – the treatment by the Mayo team and attention to detail by the staff were world class.
  • Lilly and the Executive Lounge are truly the front porch of the program. She was there to greet us each morning (the lounge is open 6 am to 6 pm), introduce us to the program, and show us around the lounges. Available are secure lockers for personal items, light breakfast and lunch, healthy snacks, and a comfortable place between appointments. More private areas are available to conduct business as needed.
  • Dr. Scott Collins was my Internist, serving the role of “your dedicated coordinating physician who will take the time to understand any concerns or issues you may have, then act as a guide throughout the entire evaluation process.” Dr. Collins is in the Urology and General Internal Medicine departments, with specialties in the Executive Health Program and the Men’s Health Center. Dr. Collins, who earned his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma, was an outstanding advocate during my visit, and even had empathy for my “white coat” issues.
  • On our last day in Rochester, Lilly provided a selection of books from which to choose as a lasting reminder of our visit. I chose “Live Younger Longer: Steps to Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and More” by Mayo Cardiologist and cancer survivor Stephen Kopecky, M.D. What a book! Dr. Kopecky communicates in a conversational manner that makes complex cardiovascular issues understandable to the layman. Once I finish reading it, I’m going to read it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And I’ve enjoyed listening to Dr. Kopecky and other Mayo specialists on Mayo Clinic Radio.
  • I am on my way to being a reformed, non-healthy-living person. So, I don’t want to be “that guy,” but I’ll be on my soapbox about this program for the foreseeable future. I’m exercising every day, eating right, avoiding sweet tea and sodas, reading all the material, downloading all the apps, and watching the scale reflect a 10-pound loss from last month.
  • Insurance surprisingly covered more than I anticipated it would. The initial program fee isn’t covered, though it may be eligible for your HSA. Your company may even cover that cost. The rest of the medical expenses have mostly been covered by our high deductible plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.

Most importantly, thank you, Susan. You made me do this. You shamed me into going. As a result, you enhanced my life (which you have been doing for 30+ years already.) Now, you’re supporting my changes and cooking all the right foods to make this last. I remain forever grateful to you.

You Were a Good Girl, Rosie!

I should have known better, wouldn’t you think? I was already outnumbered. Why would I willfully and intentionally let my opponents (my wife and two daughters) run up the score when daughter Abbey asked to get a puppy?

Beginning in August 1992, Susan had me outnumbered 1-1. Then Abbey made it 2-1 in February 1997. And Allie trebled the damage in November 1999. (Note: We do have Chief, and he is a male. But he’s a cat, with a mind of his own. He doesn’t count in this equation.) Surely, I knew better than to add one more against me.

That’s it. I would put my foot down: No puppy (or at least can it be a male?)!


A Golden Retriever

So in July 2007 we were driving all over the Greater Kansas City area looking at female Golden Retriever puppies. Abbey had always wanted a dog, so when she turned ten Susan and I gave her a list of tasks and told her if she accomplished them, she could have a dog. Up to that point in her life she had never completed those chores (and I don’t think she has since) but she wanted a dog, so she buckled down and succeeded.

Abbey read all that she could about breeds. She studied how to train them. And she and I together researched area breeders. Abbey set her sights on getting a Golden Retriever, and we found a few places in Missouri and Kansas to visit.

Rosie was born in June 2007. We met her shortly thereafter, on one of our scouting trips. Jennifer, a trainer who was a patient of Susan’s, gave us some great tips in helping select the right puppy from the litter. At the wonderful breeder’s home in Peculiar, MO, the pup with light cream collar passed all the tests. Peaches, on the other hand, did not, and liked to bark. Abbey liked Cream, but she also liked Peaches (because, of course, Peaches barked). For some reason, I won out on this, and Cream was the choice. We had a few more weeks before we could bring her home, but our search was over.


Rosebud Cream

Rosie officially made it 4-1 in our household on August 15, 2007 (the 15th wedding anniversary for Susan and me). And she had me wrapped around her little tail immediately. Theoretically she was Abbey’s dog. Abbey had wanted her. She had done all of her chores for her. She had researched her. She had proven she was responsible enough for a puppy. But I’ll be darned if Rosie wasn’t a little daddy’s girl.

Nonetheless, Abbey continued on with the façade that Rosie was her dog. The two of them spent hours and hours and hours together, learning to sit and high five, to obey commands, to not run off, etc. Uncle Max built some agility course devises, and Rosie weaved through poles, and jumped through hoops, and went up and down the seesaw, and through the tunnel. The goal was to eventually become the Kansas City area agility course champion, and to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Alas, that portion of the tests that would require Rosie’s full attention to the task at hand would lead her astray, but she and Abbey had a blast working toward the goal.


Life of the Party

Rosie loved family get-togethers. She loved her aunts, and her uncles, and her cousins, and her grandparents. Though usually well mannered, she would kind of stray during such events, especially around the dinner table. She loved to steal food when big dinners were held, though truth-be-told, I don’t think she had to work too hard to “steal” from the grandmas.

Rosie loved the water. Swimming pools were fun, but the lake was the best. She loved to chase Abbey down the Lakewood docks, jumping in after a ball or toy or Abbey or a friend. She’d paddle back to land, climb up the bank, then roll around in the grass and dirt. Then she’d do it all again until she was worn out.

Rosie disliked the heat. In the summer, she’d find shade to protect her big, furry body from the sun. She especially liked the tall grasses and landscaping off the backyard patio. In the winter, when the furnace would cycle on, she’d head for the doggy-door off the kitchen onto the deck. I often reminded our neighbors that the sight of Rosie laying in the snow on our deck was not the sign of cruelty. It was the sign of love, as she had a door she could re-enter at any time. She simply preferred the cold.

Rosie loved our neighborhood walks. And the neighborhood walkers, who she was sure were all walking by to come visit her. We put in an expensive underground fence, put up all the little flags to mark its existence, and went through all the training to teach her the boundaries. The true test came when a neighbor couple walked up the street with their dog. Rosie saw them approach, cycled the training through her mind about how close to get to the barrier … then sprinted to the other side of the street to greet the neighbors. Rosie 1, Fence 0. And that was the end of that expensive investment.

Rosie loved chasing rabbits and squirrels and ducks and geese. Later in life, all of that activity earned her a Canine Cruciate Ligament Surgery on her left knee. The cone of shame … the rehab … the cost … she loved it all so much, she was on her way to needing another one on her right knee. But for the most part, she could still get around well. She still loved to swim. She rode paddleboards this summer with Abbey. She loved to play with her new neighbor dog friend Lance. And she still ran to the door when the bell rang, seeing who the lucky one to pet her was going to be this time.


She Saw a Lot of Changes

As Rosie grew, so did the life experiences of our family. That first ride home to our house came on our 15th wedding anniversary in an SUV that would be mine, then Abbey’s, then Allie’s, and now mine again. I think I reverted to the 270,000-mile hand-me-down in no small part so I could drive Rosie and her fur around without having to worry about messing up a newer car.

Rosie saw Abbey grow from a 10-year-old first-time dog-owner to a teenager with a boyfriend to a car driver to a high school graduate to a college student body president. But the love between dog and girl never wavered. This winter break, they picked right back up where they left off at Thanksgiving. They played in the snow. Rosie sneaked up to Abbey’s room at night, sore knee and all. They visited family and friends and Starbucks drive-thrus. They were a great team as always.


The Daily Routine

Rosie and Susan and I had our routine. When folks asked us about being empty nesters — with Abbey and Allie both off to college, and Chief off in his own cat land – weren’t we having trouble adjusting? And the answer was an emphatic, “No!” We visited the girls in Fort Worth and Columbia often. But most of all, we always add someone at home to talk to, and that was Rosie.

I spend most nights in my home office, where I am now. Rosie would spend time drifting from her bed in here to her bed in the kitchen to the outside deck to the living room with Susan. Sometimes she’d come to my chair for an ear scratch or to let me know it was time to go out, but usually I knew when it was time. For bedtime, I used to close the door to my office so Rosie could sleep in here without waking me up in the night. But during one of my business trips, Rosie convinced Susan that she shouldn’t have to sleep in the office, so that ended that.

I’d get up each morning at 5 am to let Rosie outside. She’d come back quickly for breakfast. At the food container in the laundry room, Rosie would get two kibbles as an appetizer, then I’d place two “Easter eggs” on the floor for her to find later. We’d then run some water over the food, microwave it for 8 seconds, and breakfast was served. I’d head back to bed to watch the news and dose off, then get back up at 6:30 am for work after our morning walk. Sometimes on weekends, Susan would do the 6:30 walk, after which Rosie would run in to greet me in bed, then steal my socks laying by the bed and run off to my faux, “Bring back my socks” exclamation.

On Saturdays, we’d drive the old SUV to the “biscuit banks.” We’d make a deposit or two from our businesses in one bank, then head to our personal bank for a deposit or maybe a little cash. At each stop, we’d also withdraw a biscuit – though, come to think of it, Rosie never, ever made a deposit … only withdrawals. Some of the tellers knew Rosie well, so we’d do an overdraft that day and get a couple biscuits. Rosie wasn’t worried about her credit, though, or her girlish figure, so the overdrafts didn’t bother her.

For years, Susan and my days were divided in increments. If Aunt Kathy or the Grandmas or Abbey or Allie weren’t letting Rosie out at lunch, Susan or I would come home to do so. In the evenings, we were either home with Rosie and/or planning with Abbey and Allie to let her out, or making sure we were home in time to take care of Rose. And when we were home, we were always talking to Rosie like the family member she was … or petting her or scratching her ear or rubbing her belly. Though quiet, her presence filled our home, and nobody was ever alone here.


Her Terms

Rosie came into our lives on her terms. She announced her presence and stole her way into our hearts. She was a great companion for Abbey for over half of Abbey’s life. They were a great team. For Allie, Rosie learned to defer to the cat, Chief. Early on, he let Rosie know who was boss, and Rosie obeyed, and that pleased Allie. Rosie loved Susan, and Susan loved her. Susan couldn’t make a meal without sharing a strawberry or apple or some other healthy item with Rosie. Many hours were spent with Susan preparing food at the counter, and Rosie close by, respectfully offering to clean up any crumbs.

And for me, Rosie was a steady companion, a good listener, a good ‘acceptor’ of ear scratches and belly rubs, a good stealer of socks, my walking partner and my car-riding companion. She was a good girl.

Rosie made sure Abbey had a good winter break at home. She made sure that she and I had fun last Saturday, enjoying the outdoors and talking to the neighbor and playing with her friend Lance. Then she let Grandma and Grandpa and Susan and me visit Allie in Columbia on Sunday, while the Grandma Lea had a good visit and brought a few snacks. And on Monday, she and I and Susan had one more routine day of 5 am wakeup and breakfast, 6:30 am walk, seeing us off to work, greeting me for lunch, and giving me a hearty welcome home. We then had our usual walk around the yard, a run into the house when I said, “Let’s eat,” an impromptu game of “hide the kibbles in the Kong toy,” a visit to the cool deck, and a nap on her bed.

After all of that was done – after everything was just right — Rosie succumbed to the cancers that we didn’t even know she had. On Monday, January 28, 2019, as she was nearing her 12th birthday, Rosie left and our nest became emptier.

We miss her dearly. While she was quiet and gentle, her presence filled our home, and her absence is deafening.

All those years ago, you would have thought that I would have known better, wouldn’t you? But I’m so glad I didn’t. Rest easy, Good Girl.


Dancing with Allie

Dear Allie,

Allie and Darrin at the 2015 World Series Parade.

“Do You Believe in Magic?” I do. (What I cannot believe is that you are 16 today. Where has the time gone?)

Also, I cannot believe that I am one of those people who always wonders where the time has gone. When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I promised myself that when I grew older I wouldn’t say “back when I was a kid” and “I remember when” and “where has the time gone.” But I do say those things. And I am saying them now to you. And as our youngest child with a sister off at college, you get to hear it all the time now.

But yes, I do believe in magic. For one thing, “Do You Believe in Magic” was the song played during our first Father/Daughter dance routine. I know you were petrified about how I was going to act — and how I was going to dance – in front of all those people in the Lee’s Summit High School auditorium.  (And you were right to be worried about my dancing!)

Allie, who can dance, with her dad, who can’t.

And I believe in magic because it is magic – a miracle – that you have any ability to dance at all. For though I am a proud Dance Dad (not as hard of work as being a Dance Mom … but still hard work) I. Cannot. Dance. Period. But miracles happen, and you have worked so hard at it, and you are able to dance, and I love that you can do something that you love so much.

I believe that, as my Darling Dance Daughter celebrates her birthday, I can reflect back on your 16 years (where in the hell did the time go?) as a wonderful daughter.

I believe I know exactly the moment that it became clear that dancing was your future. One year, you decided to give soccer a chance. You were pretty good at it, too. But I remember the moment when a boy on the other team blasted a shot off your leg. And I remember the look on your face that said, “That will be the last time I am standing on some goat pasture getting kicked by a ball on one of the legs I dance with.” With that kick, that first soccer season was also your last and you became a former soccer player and a full-time dancer.

The “Wannabe” sign worked in getting Ms. Andrews’s attention.

I remember your early interest in Mizzou sports. Early on, a lot of it had to do with watching the cheerleaders and Golden Girls. But you also knew a lot about the football and basketball teams, and we have always enjoyed great trips to games and Homecoming and GameDay and parades and House Decs and Bowl games.

I remember your interest in ESPN College GameDay, especially the segments with Erin Andrews. When Game Day came to Columbia in 2010, you made a sign for Erin: “Mizzou J-School and Erin Andrews Wannabe.” I was hoping beyond hope that you would get to meet her, but it looked grim for most of the morning.

Allie, Abbey and Erin Andrews

I could not believe when we finally positioned ourselves in the perfect spot after GameDay was off the air and I heard Ms. Andrews, as she was meeting-and-greeting sponsors, read your sign aloud and head straight to you to chat for a moment, autograph your sign, and pause for a photo. I was so happy for you.

I don’t know when it was, exactly, but you kind of became a Daddy’s Girl. Mom spent a lot of time with you, helping with backstage dance stuff and hair and makeup and all the things dads can’t do. And I was often running your sister around to soccer fields all over the Midwest. And you are more liberal, while I am more conservative. And you can dance, and I can’t. And I like barbecue ribs and spicy food and you don’t. And you like high school boys, and I don’t like high school boys. But you somehow became a Daddy’s Girl. And I love that about you.

I believe you have a great high school career ahead of you. Your grades are awesome. Your teachers spoke so highly of you during our recent parent/teacher conferences. You do a great job on the Touch of Silver Dance Team and Heart of America Youth Ballet. I can’t wait to see where you go from here. I am proud of you.

I believe you will do great in journalism school, or whichever major you choose at Mizzou or Arizona State or some other warm place (hey, we better get some visits planned!). Whether you become a sideline reporter or writer — or whatever field you choose — you’ll do great. And I’ll be proud of you, just like I have been for your first 16 years.

So, yes, I believe in magic. And I believe in Daddy’s girls. And I believe in dance, and sideline reporting, and Instagramming, and attending college at your parents’ alma mater, or maybe going someplace warm for school. And I believe in you.

Happy 16th Birthday!



Driving with Abbey

Dear Abbey,

“How Do You Like Me Now?”

The author and daughter, driving.

You know, that Toby Keith tune really has nothing to do with anything. But that song means everything to me. It represents 17 years of some really great times that you and I have spent together in the car. More on that later, but let’s start at the beginning …

I remember the first ride with you, leaving North Kansas City Hospital with you and Mom in the back seat. And I remember being in the left lane, and needing to be in the right lane, and not changing lanes for a mile because I didn’t want to risk it. (In my previous 30 years on this Earth, I would have made that lane change without hesitation. But not this time.) We missed the turn we needed to make, and had to turn around in a parking lot. But you were safe. And that was important to me.

I remember sitting at a stoplight not far from our first home in Independence. Listening (and singing out loud) to Wee Sing Silly Songs. And for no reason whatsoever you said, “You know what, Dad? I love you.” It touched me. I wrote a letter to you about it, to give to you when you were older. Which I will give to you. When I find it again. I will find it.

I remember driving you around to get you to fall asleep. At all hours of the day. And night. And morning. And afternoon. And evening. I could get you to sleep no other way. It made me happy when you fell asleep.

I remember driving you to weeknight Mizzou basketball games in Columbia. You’d let me watch the game while you watched some of it, but mostly you’d watch and mimic the Golden Girls and cheerleaders, then go down after the game to get your picture taken with them. Then we’d put on your jammies and drive home late at night. I loved it.

I remember driving to Father/Daughter dance practices at Steppin’ Out, worried that I would embarrass you (and myself) with my (lack of) dancing ability. But you didn’t care about how poorly I danced. You just cared that you got to perform with your Dad. That meant a lot to me.

I remember driving you to middle school every morning, listening to National Public Radio, talking about the events of the day. I liked that.

I remember checking you out of that middle school to drive you to an interview. You had entered an essay into a contest for a $1000 scholarship as part of The Federal Reserve’s Money Smart Week. At the conclusion of the interview, one of the judges asked you how you knew so much about current events and financial issues. You turned to me and said, “My Dad and I talk and listen to NPR every morning in the car on the way to school.” I was very proud.

I remember driving you to a fancy breakfast at the Federal Reserve Bank downtown, where you picked up an over-sized $1000 scholarship check from Dr. Thomas Hoenig, then the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and now a director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Washington, D.C. Those in attendance included school district officials, and mayors, and congressmen, and other dignitaries. I told Dr. Hoenig that I had read his recent essay, titled “Too Big Has Failed,” about the then-ongoing financial crisis. He said he was going to read your essay on his flight to Washington later that day. I was a proud Dad.

I remember driving to soccer practices in Blue Springs, and Lee’s Summit and Overland Park. I remember driving to local soccer matches, and to matches in Topeka and St. Louis and Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and Little Rock and Tulsa. And often those drives, as we neared the soccer field, ended with a blaring rendition of that Toby Keith song, “How Do You Like Me Now.” I have no idea why that was the song. But it was. And I’m glad for that song.

I remember you driving me during preparation for your driving test. We practiced parallel parking, and turns and stops, and driving the actual course. You passed. And Mom and I gave you my favorite car ever. That 200,000+ mile car had a lot of memories of a father and daughter driving around, talking about stuff, going to places, listening to NPR and Toby Keith. I love that car. And I love you. And I love you and that car.

And I remember driving you yesterday, in that 200,000+ mile car, to your ACT test. So you could relax, and eat your breakfast, and put on your makeup, and Instagram your friends. Driving you home from that test, listening to NPR (for a little while anyway), brought back a lot of memories from the past 17 years. Thanks for the drive down memory lane.

How do you like me now, you ask? I like you a lot. I love you. I’m proud of you, and all that you’ve accomplished. I’m excited for your future. And for wherever our drives take us down the road.

Happy 17th Birthday!


What if they treated us like Disney ‘guests’ at the grocery store?

My family recently had the good fortune to cruise on the *Disney Fantasy for a relaxing family vacation.

The Disney Fantasy

* As a marketing professional, I’ve long been fascinated with the Disney Way. In fact, when Disney came to talk to my college communication class, I pretty much decided I wanted to go to work at Disney World. Having experience as a furry character, I figured Goofy at Disney World was a realistic entry level job as I joined the work force. But I digress.

Anyway, it was back from Fantasy to reality after the cruise. Late on Saturday night after arriving home that day, my wife wanted me to pick up a couple things at the store. (Actually, she was asleep on the couch after the exhausting vacation, but had she been awake she would have asked me to pick up some milk and bread, so I did as I would have been told if she were awake to tell me.)

So I walk into the store, late at night on the weekend, and there were as many people working as there were customers in the store. I walked past the customer service counter where four or five employees were standing around talking to each other. After I got by them, I almost stopped in my tracks. Something was amiss, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then I realized that no one said a word to me as I entered the store and walked by the employees. (Granted, I didn’t say anything either, so there is blame to go around.) But I had just spent a week on a Disney cruise where you don’t walk by any employee without their acknowledging you with a “hello” or “good morning” or “how are you, sir?” Wouldn’t I feel more welcomed if I were greeted politely?

I understand that Disney is getting a lot more for the cruise than the grocery store is getting for a couple gallons of milk and a loaf of bread. So Disney can afford to treat their ‘guests’ a little better. But do we really have to be invisible when we walk into the home town grocery? Worse yet, I passed one employee no less than three times as I wondered aimlessly around the store trying to find where they hid the breakfast bars or ramen noodles or pickles or something. Each time, the employee was chatting away on her phone in an obvious personal conversation (she wasn’t trying to hide it). Wouldn’t it have been nice if she had asked if she could help me find something?

To top it off, I took my mini-cart of 10-or-less items to the register to wait with about 10 other folks. Only one register was open. I literally got behind one extended family that had — amongst a cruise-ship-load of other items — three cases of those ramen noodles I was searching for. And the cashier had to count every last one of them, and scan all the other items in their cart, and personally bag every item because no one was there to help him. About the time I got to the front, one of the four or five employees I encountered on the way in broke away from the conversation (not the one on the phone … she was still walking in circles around the store on the phone) to open another register.

“I can help someone over here,” she said. And the guy who was tenth in my line rushed over to be the first in the new line.  Wouldn’t it have been great if she had said, “I can help the guest who has been waiting the longest”?

And, in general, wouldn’t it be great if we could be treated as ‘guests’ in the hometown grocery store like we are on vacation thousands of miles away? A “welcome to our store” or “may I help you find anything” goes a long way toward earning our loyalty, and perhaps making us feel a little better about spending our money in the same place on a weekly basis.

Do your customers or clients feel like ‘guests’ when they do business with you?

Colorado Buffalo Stampede

JUNE 10, 2010 — Came across an article today about the University of Colorado leaving the Big 12 Conference. The article, titled “Buffaloes Start College Realignment Stampede” (article by Greg Hall at KC Confidential is no longer online) reminded us of a more literal stampede by a singular Colorado Buffalo many moons ago. (Can one buffalo stampede? Ralphie can!)

While a sophomore in college in 1987, I saw an ad in Mizzou’s student newspaper for Truman the Tiger mascot tryouts. Because I didn’t have a test or anything else important until the next day, I decided to give it the ol’ college tryout. Lo and behold, the childish antics practiced to perfection in high school (which teachers so wrongly predicted would get me nowhere in life) actually paid off and I was selected to the Spirit Squad as one of the Trumans. My parents, I’m quite sure, had to be so proud that their tuition money was going to such good use. Actually, though, I did get awarded class credit for it each semester. And, I needed every “A” I could get.

Someday, I’ll write a book (working title: “Tails of a College Mascot”) about the whole experience, so I’ll save some details and skip forward to my first road football game as Truman. It was Nov. 7, 1987 in Boulder, CO. Though it was a long, long bus ride from Columbia, MO, it was worth it. Boulder was a great town, and the Spirit Squad had a lot of spirited fun (more on that in “Tails”).

So on to the game.

I’m not tough guy, mind you, or I would have put on the pads and been a football player, not put on big feet, a tail and a large head as an animated tiger. But when you put on that Truman suit, it kind of changes you. You’re on stage. You’re tough. You won’t back down from Cornhuskers or Wildcats or jayhawks or Nittany Lions … nothing. So in the pre-game festivities at Colorado that cool fall day, Truman marched around Folsom Field like he owned the place, messing with Chip (his Colorado costumed counterpart) and haranguing a university police officer enough to where he peered out over his cool mirrored sunglasses and grumbled, “Better get away from me, Tigger.” But I (I mean Truman) was tough. The cop didn’t scare me.

Shortly after I harassed the cop, a gentleman in cowboy boots, chaps and a Stetson come over to tell me to get off the field. “Say what?” … did he know to whom he was speaking? Truman had already spent considerable time pestering Colorado’s cheerleaders, Chip the mascot, police officers, etc. … he wasn’t vacating the field for some urban cowboy.

“Move,” the cowboy told me again. Playing to anyone in the crowd who may have been watching, Truman didn’t budge. He’s tough. So the cowboy came over real close and proceeded to tell me: “Look, we’re fixin’ to unleash a 1000 lb. real, live buffalo here in a moment. Six of us are going to lead her around the field and several of us will help try to keep her headed in the right direction. And, if we can keep control, we’ll bring her right by this spot and into her trailer down yonder.

“Now, if we can’t control her, she’s liable to go after the biggest, brightest thing she sees, and with that goofy head on you’re about 6’5” and a very bright yellow. I suggest you move.”

Did I mention that, underneath that costume, I’m not very tough?

Truman got off the field right quick and bravely hid behind one of the cheerleaders. Sure enough, shortly thereafter a big ruckus broke out and here comes Ralphie III leading the Colorado Buffaloes football team onto the field, six guys hanging on to her for dear life (including my new-found cowboy friend). Right by us she ran down the visitors sideline and headed for her awaiting trailer.

I should add that Ralphie III is no name for a lady. Apparently Ralphie I started out as Ralph, but a smart Colorado undergrad discovered that he was a she, so Ralph became Ralphie. As of this writing, they are up to Ralphie V now. Our game actually marked the debut of Ralphie III, as II had just passed. If you are so inclined, you can read all about it on the Ralphie the Buffalo page.

But I digress …

Anyway, Ralphie runs by and, back to full tough guy mode, Truman pushed the cheerleader who was protecting him aside and ran in hot pursuit of the buffalo. Her handlers ran her into the trailer and, as soon as the gate slammed shut, Truman jumped on the side rails and “gave Ralphie the business,” flexing his tiger muscles and thumbing his nose at her.

Truman was having a grand time, playing to the Tiger fans in the crowd and getting a few good laughs. Then the cowboy dudes intervened. “Oh, a tough guy, huh. Well how about you go in there with her.” They sounded very, very serious. My heart sank. Remembering that the cowboy had said she’ll go after the biggest, brightest thing she can find, I thought I was dead. Buffalo food. And no one would probably help, thinking it was some sort of funny mascot routine.

“Look, Mommy. The buffalo is eating Truman.”

“Don’t worry, honey, it’s just pretend. Isn’t Truman funny?”

The cowboys took Truman to the trailer gate, opened it a little, swung him by his hands and feet like you do a little kid, and counted like they were going to let him go on three. 1 … 2 … 3 …

And they didn’t throw Truman in. Of course not. They wouldn’t throw a big yellow tiger in with a real live buffalo. But the thing is, I wasn’t so sure at the time. They were talking a lot of smack and seemed intent on the guy in the tiger suit taking on the buffalo in the trailer. And I was very convinced that my first road football game as Truman was going to be my last appearance ever.

But, as mentioned, they didn’t throw me in and Truman survived to fight another day, spending the rest of that day being my tough guy self. Except around the cowboys. We shined their boots and made nice. You just never know.

Looking Back at the 2004 Google IPO

When it comes to search engines, we’ve had a lot of experience. Having implemented online optimization and marketing campaigns for our clients for a decade now, we’ve been around since the early days of the industry. And it was clear from the beginning that Google was — and is — ahead of the field.

That’s why it is hard to look back and realize we didn’t follow our gut instincts and buy into the Google IPO nearly six years ago. Here’s a look at what GOOG has done in that time:

So what brings this up now? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Google CEO Eric Schmidt offered his first-person account of the “quirky IPO,” from the Founders letter by Larry Page and Sergey Brin to the Google Guys interview in Playboy (we hate to link it; just Google it!) that almost derailed the process to the unique Dutch auction concept that aimed to help allow the little guy to get in on initial shares.

And we were in on every step of the auction bidding process. Until we were out.

So we thought it might be a little fun to take our own look back at that process, which started in January 2003 when we first contacted our Morgan Stanley broker to inquire about Google going public. We followed up in November of that year when we heard the company was getting closer to going public and that Morgan Stanley had been tapped to lead the way. Keep us in the loop, we said, as we’ll be buying shares.

By January 2004, we were really all over it. News was out that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs would indeed be managing the Google IPO. We’re in. Our only concern was: How many shares would we be allotted? We knew we couldn’t afford much, but it would be fun to participate.

In April 2004, Google filed for the offering. By July, things were moving along and Google had outlined a “Dutch auction” process that prospective investors would have to navigate to purchase shares of the company. First, we had to go online to the Google site and register to get a bidder number for the IPO. We did. Number 0126-6035-3855-2803-4600. That gave us the right to participate in the auction process, in which each investor could tell Google how much he or she was willing to pay per share and how many shares he was willing to buy at that price.

Mr. Schmidt said this process would allow his company to “do a better job than the traditional approach of setting a price for our shares – and would allow our share price to remain stable after we went public.” In other words, the large institutions couldn’t hoard all the shares, then flip them at a huge profit at the opening bell as the stock started trading and the small investors got their first chance to buy. Theoretically, the little guy would have as much of a chance as the big boys, and Google would not leave any money on the table at the offering.

So now that we had our bidder number, it was time to bid. The company initially came out with a suggested bid range that went up to about $140. The Dutch auction process is complicated, but the general concept is that the company takes bids on what investors are willing to pay and the amount of shares they would buy at that price. Each bidder can even offer a range of prices they will pay and shares they will buy. Mr. Schmidt says the company could then “move down from the top bid until it reached the highest price at which it could sell all the shares it wanted to offer.” So if it had enough orders, it could sell all shares at $140. If not, it would move down the list until it reached a price where all the shares would be purchased. Everyone who bid that price or higher would get the shares at that price.

So here was the chance we had waited for. We’d already been working in Search Engine Optimization for some time and had dabbled in the AdWords bidding process for our clients, an online auction if you well that somewhat resembled the Dutch auction. As a result, we (like so many others) were convinced that Google was the best positioned search engine in the market place. We wanted to have a little bit of equity in the company. Make no mistake, we didn’t have a lot of money, and what we did have for retirement and our young children’s college funds we didn’t usually “gamble” on stocks. Instead, we mainly invested in mutual funds and hoped to watch those investments grow slowly over time.

But in this case, we decided to make up to a – gulp — $10,000 investment. So we bid on 25 shares if the price at which Google went public was $140. If it ranged down to $125, we’d buy 25 more shares (50 total). At $110, we’d buy 25 more (75 total). And if it went to the low end of the estimate at $100, we’d go with a round lot (100 shares) and invest the full $10,000.

We put in our bid and waited to see what happened. Which was nothing. Instead, the range for the offering was lowered to a top end of $135. That’s okay, we’re still in. But clearly Google had to lower the bids because not enough folks bid high enough to cover all 20 million or so shares being offered in the initial range. What did the savvy investors know that we didn’t?

Anyway, we put in our bid again in the lowered range. Starting with 25 shares at $135, down to 100 shares at the lowest end. And once again, they didn’t end the auction. Meaning that, even at the lowered price, Google and its investment bankers couldn’t get enough bidders. So, the range was lowered. We were still in – we love Google, remember? – but we were getting very jittery. Why were we willing to pay up to $140, but not enough folks were even willing to pay the previous low end of $108 to buy up all the shares? We put in our bids again, down to $90, but we weren’t near as confident in our decision.

Then it happened. They lowered the pricing again. To a range of $85-$95 per share, or 60% of the initial price we were willing to pay. So if we liked the company at $140, we must really love it at $85, correct? What we should do now is double down, put in $20,000 and enjoy a good investment over the coming years. Sure, the stock price might go down initially. But Google is such a good company, the investment will pay off in the long run. And we’re long-term investors, so let’s go for it, right?


We called our broker and dripped out of the auction. We’re not in for any shares of Google. Not 25 shares at $140, nor 50 shares at $115 or 75 shares at $100 … not even 100 shares at $90, which had been our final offering on the low end. Nope, we don’t want any shares at $85. Though in our gut we just knew that Google was the major player in the ever-expanding field of search, we worried that all the smart money folks had driven the price down, so there must be a reason. Surely the stock was going to go down, not up, when it started trading.

The rest, of course, is history. Initial investors received their shares at $85 in the IPO. The first public trade of GOOG on that first day (August 19, 2004) was $100, which is about where the stock closed that day. So a 100-share investment at $85 ($8,500) was already worth over $10,000, a gain of 18%. As you know, it gets worse from there (worse, that is, if you didn’t buy any shares). At its highest point in late 2007, the stock reached $714.87 per share, meaning that initial $8,500 investment would have been worth $71,487, about 8.5 times the original investment.

Of course, we probably would have sold long before the $700+ peak. But you get the point. We really wanted to be a part of the unique IPO. We were willing to invest at $140 per share. But we couldn’t pull the trigger at $85 per.

We often wonder how many small investors there were who, like us, wanted to be involved but got skittish and backed out as the big money drove the price down. Did Google accomplish its stated goal of letting everyone participate? In the end, the answer is probably yes, at least to a degree, though the company didn’t accomplish its goal of not leaving money on the table. With the IPO priced at $85, remember, but the first bids coming in at $100, Google could have made 18% more for the company. Just like we look back with a little regret, we guess Mr. Schmidt and Company may as well. But with the stock currently hovering around $500 per share, that regret likely passes pretty quickly. Ours lingers.