While Lehman Brothers was preparing to declare bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch was in the process of getting bailed out by Bank of America and the insurance giant A.I.G. was getting ready to lend itself $20 Billion in an attempt to stay afloat in the face of cuts to its debt rating, a legend of a house builder passed away in the little town of Reynolds, GA.
In my view, the high flying, high rolling Wall Street fat cats could have learned a lesson or two from the house builder from Reynolds.
Neil Hinton, Jr., pictured here 30 years ago, was a master carpenter who became a master building contractor. At one time all four of his carpenter brothers worked for him. Later his son would become his business partner. I never saw his motto on a sign in front of a house he was building nor did I see it on a sign at the hardware/building supply store he owned and operated. In fact I never even heard him say it.
But his reputation was known by everybody who knew him. It was fairly simple too.
“If you want your house built right, let Neil do it. If it’s the cheapest price you are looking for, go somewhere else.”
Neil certainly never overcharged for his services, but he never cut corners when it came to building a house. In fact, he refused to cut corners when it came to building a house.
Interestingly, most of us can’t tell a well built house from a shoddily built house when we ride by it. The basic appearance looks pretty much the same. But when you start comparing the foundations and the flooring and the amount of lumber used and the craftsmanship and the detail, you can quickly tell the difference.
I can’t help but think about this principle when I think of what’s going on with the Lehman Brothers' and Merrill Lynch’s of the world today. When we looked at them from our glancing perspective, they looked rather formidable. But inside their earnings were not from recurring businesses but their earnings depended on a combination of huge leverage and huge risk and ridiculously over compensated employees.
And not a lot of lumber.
Their houses are now falling along with their stock prices. It seems they chose selfishness over the long term health of the house they were building.
And if we are not careful we can follow that same path and end up not having enough lumber and craftsmanship and detail in the lives we are building.
I’m not sure how many worldly goods Neil Hinton, Jr. left my lifelong friends Kim and Kay, who are his children. But if they take his lead, and I know they already have, they have something far more valuable than worldly goods.
The lesson he left, by the way, is for all of us.