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Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor. Previous Columns
8:30 AM Friday, March 18, 2005: Life goes through its paces. You start a business. You grow it. You sell it. Then you invest in other people's businesses you can't control. This is frustrating. Your "perfect" investment is now Valium. Eventually we accommodate to the pain of other people's stupidities, and we make the best of a bad situation.

My favorite economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, interviewed in Vanity Fair was asked "What is the trait you most deplore in others?"

He answered: "The habit of offering uncontrolled repetitive counsel and advice."

That stuck.

Worse, no one listens -- especially the entrepreneurs in whom I invest.

How to get the my aged "wisdom" into their hyperactive, but closed brains? The $64 million question!

Here's my idea. It seems to work. I explain businesses are like stools. Each business has four disciplines that makes the business stand up. Publishing (which I worked in) has circulation, editorial, production and sales. You need to have them all working in synch or the chair (the business) falls over.

You can't do everything to fix each of the four legs. You don't have that many hours in each day. But you can make a list of what you could do and rank them from most effective on down. Suddenly, you're not giving counsel and advice. You're analyzing the business. Get your entrepreneur to analyze along with you. Bingo, you have taught your entrepreneur. And he/she has listened and heard two things:

1. What will make his business successful in the long run.
2. How critical it is to focus each day on only the few critical tasks.

Analyze, set priorities and do the critical things. What could be simpler?

History of the telecommunications industry. When I first came into telecom in 1969, the industry was the Bell System, i.e. AT&T. Its managers actually believed in treating their shareholders, their customers and their community fairly and with respect. Their big problem was arrogance born of stupidity and ignorance. They lived in their own isolated world. They hired no one from outside. They listened to no one from the outside. In fact most of them didn't read. They believed they had all the answers. This arrogance made them an easy target for every crook and semi-crook from Bernie Ebbers to Joe Nacchio (who ironically came from AT&T).

The above is from me. Now read today's New York Times piece by Floyd Norris, business reporter, headed "Did Qwest Use Fraud to Arrange a Disastrous Merger With U S West?" The article reads:

"In the annals of Wall Street disasters, a special place of dishonor should be reserved for the bosses of good companies who were so gullible or foolish that they agreed to exchange their company's stock for shares in a company whose value was inflated by fraud or fad.

There were several memorable deals in the recent bubble. Time Warner agreed to surrender most of its stock to owners of America Online, which was riding high, and became AOL Time Warner. MCI, a solid company in a declining business, sold out for shares in WorldCom, which had been put together by Bernard J. Ebbers, a man who now tells us that he never knew much of anything about either finance or communications technology.

But perhaps the saddest deal was the one in which U S West, a regional Bell telephone company, was swallowed by Qwest, which had wowed investors with a plan to build a huge fiber optics network that turned out to be worth a small fraction of what it cost. Investors who cherished safety and dividends got neither.

Of those companies, Qwest is the only one not to have tried to obliterate the memory of its deal. Time Warner has dropped AOL from its name. WorldCom is now MCI. But Qwest has shown no desire to abandon a name that brings back memories of bubbles and funny accounting.

At least the Qwest people had a sense of humor. Their favored accounting tactic, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, was to arrange, with companies like Enron, offsetting sales and purchases of the right to use fiber optic cable. That produced dubious profits without anything like adequate disclosure. Many deals seem to have been shams, with side agreements that made it improper to report any profits from them.

Such arrangements, the S.E.C. said in filing a civil suit against several former Qwest officers this week, were known inside Qwest as "simultaneous legally unrelated transactions."

That S.E.C. suit was filed in federal court on the same day that a jury convicted Mr. Ebbers in the WorldCom fraud. The S.E.C. suit asks that Qwest's former chief executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, be required to give back $216 million in salary, bonus and profits from stock sales.

It is notable that Mr. Nacchio, who denies wrongdoing, does not face criminal charges. The Justice Department failed in its prosecution of some lower-level officials, and seems to have decided to abandon the Qwest quest.

In big financial frauds, it may be that juries are inclined to feel sympathy for lowly accountants who say they were following orders they did not understand to be illegal, but not to give a break to the bosses. There were no documents tying Mr. Ebbers to the WorldCom fraud, but his claim of ignorant innocence was not believed by jurors.

As it happens, Qwest is in a takeover battle now to buy MCI, whose new shares went to former creditors of the company after prebankruptcy shareholders were wiped out; yesterday Qwest raised its offer. In a sign of disrespect for the value of the Qwest stock being offered, MCI has preferred a lower offer from Verizon.

That rejection is the latest indignity for those who own Qwest because they invested in U S West. Back in mid-2000, just as Qwest bought U S West, Bell Atlantic changed its name to Verizon. A $10,000 investment in Bell Atlantic then is now worth about $7,000. That is not good, but a similar investment in U S West has shrunk to less than $800.

Qwest has restated its financial results and paid $250 million to settle an S.E.C. suit. The new S.E.C. action may cost some former Qwest managers a lot of money, but none are in danger of going to prison.

Without the fraud, the S.E.C. says, there would have been no merger. Without the merger, shares in the original Qwest would be worthless. Who says crime does not pay?"

Giving new meaning to gardening.
A California friend is having his new garden planted.
He took this picture two days ago. I don't make this stuff up. It just makes you wonder what God could do if only He had the money. I pray the tree lives.

Ending today on a sad note. Life is short. There are marvelous things to see, and wonderful things to do. We must not ignore them in our search for the perfect investment. My eyes welled and I shed tears last night when I opened my laptop and read this email from an old friend:

"When I saw you in NYC the first thing you said to me is how people need to slow down, take care, take a breath, because they are getting all kinds of diseases and maladies. You mentioned among the litany- prostate cancer.

Well, I was just about to have a biopsy for the male dreaded disease -- and did have it last week.

Bad news- I have prostate cancer -- very early stages and not life threatening.

I'm not a happy guy about this. The amount of information I am being deluged with is overwhelming and annoying- but I am talking to lots of doctors . All of the treatments have very annoying side effects. But, if Rudy, Joe Torre, Kerry , Powell and on and on can deal with - so can I.

Thank you again. I'll be in touch again soon."

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Hence, I must publish the worst Irish jokes.

Worst Irish Joke 1:
McQuillan walked into a bar and ordered martini after martini, each time removing the olives and placing them in a jar.

When the jar was filled with olives and all the drinks consumed, the Irishman started to leave.

"S'cuse me", said a customer, who was puzzled over what McQuillan had done, "what was that all about?"

"Nothin', said the Irishman, "my wife just sent me out for a jar of olives!"

Worst Irish Joke 2:
An Irish priest is driving down to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut.

The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. He says, "Sir, have you been drinking?"

"Just water," says the priest.

The trooper says, "Then why do I smell wine?"

The priest looks at the bottle and says, "Good Lord! He's done it again!"

Worst Irish Joke 3:
Two Irishmen were sitting at a pub having beer and watching the brothel across the street.

They saw a Baptist minister walk into the brothel, and one of them said, "Aye, 'tis a shame to see a man of the cloth goin' bad."

Then they saw a rabbi enter the brothel, and the other Irishman said, "Aye, 'tis a shame to see that the Jews are fallin' victim to temptation as well."

Then they see a catholic priest enter the brothel, and one of the Irishmen said, "What a terrible of the girls must be dying.

Worst Irish Joke 4:
Three Irishmen, Paddy, Sean and Seamus, were stumbling home from the pub late one night and found themselves on the road which led past the old graveyard..

"Come have a look over here," says Paddy, "It's Michael O'Grady's grave, God bless his soul. He lived to the ripe old age of 87."

"That's nothing," says Sean, "here's one named Patrick O'Toole, it says here that he was 95 when he died."!

Just then, Seamus yells out, "Good God, here's a fella that got to be 145!"

"What was his name?" asks Paddy.

Seamus stumbles around a bit, awkwardly lights a match to see what else is written on the stone marker, and exclaims,

"Miles, from Dublin."

Worst Irish Joke 5:
Drunk Ole Mulvihill (From the Northern Irish Clan) staggers into a Catholic Church, enters a confessional box, sits down but says nothing.

The Priest coughs a few times to get his attention but the Ole just sits there.

Finally, the Priest pounds three times on the wall.

The drunk mumbles, "ain't no use knockin, there's no paper on this side either."

Worst Irish Joke 6:
Mary Clancy goes up to Father O'Grady's after his Sunday morning service, and she's in tears.

He says, "So what's bothering you, Mary my dear?"

She says, "Oh, Father, I've got terrible news. My husband passed away last night."

The priest says, "Oh, Mary, that's terrible. Tell me, did he have any last requests?"

She says, "That he did, Father..."

The priest says, "What did he ask, Mary?"

She says, "He said, 'Please Mary, put down that damn gun!'

Harry Newton

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. That money will help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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