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Giorgio Vasari, The Collector of Lives

September 25, 2018

It is pretty impossible to remember all the details and facts about the people and their times that are described when reading a biography of someone like Girogio Vasari. Vasari wrote the Lives of the Artists originally in 1550 and an expanded edition in 1568 providing a great deal of what we know about many of the artists of his generation and those before him.

Vasari lived from 1511 – 1574 and knew all of the contemporary Italian artists he wrote about – such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian and Bronzino and heard second hand from those who knew the likes of Raphael, Botticelli and Perugino. We also learn about his Tuscan “idols” from an earlier period – Giotto and Brunelleschi. He was friends with almost all of the major patrons of his time including many of the Popes and key members of the Medici family.

This book also contains a pretty thorough history of Italy and the Italian States and brings the infancy of these modern day wonders to life with Vasari’s many travels back and forth from Venice, Milan, Padua, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Arezzo, Perugia, Orvieto, Rome and Naples. Actually Italy as we know it wasn’t organized as such until 1861. Prior to that and particularly in Vasari’s day it was comprised of independent city-states, the Kingdom of Naples, and Rome controlled by the Popes, with each having their own special language. The book is ripe with history and personality traits as background to Vasari’s many and varied daily activities.

The book gives an “insider’s” view of the times, intrigue, living conditions, difficulties in traveling and communications, surviving and choosing political sides or not, and techniques of his craft. Vasari was not only an entrepreneur but a keen student and observer of management techniques and teaching and a consummate networker. Like any successful businessperson he was not without the need to constantly juggle his cash flow and awareness of work/life balance with his domestic responsibilities. Further, he was quite an accomplished artist, designer and architect as well as an excellent writer; and through his personal interests of collecting the drawings of the artists he knew, he bequeathed prosperity with an added field of interest. Vasari also describes the artistic style, work practices and studios of many of those he wrote about; and the reasons why many of the great paintings and architecture of that age were commissioned and topics chosen. The book also has many cameo mentions including Machiavelli, Henry VIII, Cesare Borgia, Caravaggio, Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor), various kings of France and Spain, Dante, Albrecht Dürer, Piero della Francesca, Jan van Eyck and even Vitruvius.

Vasari wasn’t the inventor of biography, but because of his two books he literally was the inventor of art. Until Vasari, art was a decorative trade, after Vasari art represented the respected outcomes of talented creative artists.

The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art by Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney is highly recommended to everyone that has any interest in anything I wrote about here. It is an interesting and remarkably quick read considering all the facts woven into the story of Vasari in his milieu.

Pay Less Tax Man Blog

September 20, 2018

For over a year I have been posting a tax blog every four weeks on www.bottomlineinc.com. So as of this past Monday, there have been 16 blogs. I was assisted in these blogs by my partners Brain Lovett and Peter Weitsen and many others that I got ideas from or ran ideas by. While my name is shown on the top it has been a collaborative effort and shows the versatility of the tax department at Withum. I also received some behind the scenes help where they preferred not to be mentioned. Additionally, there are many others here at Withum whose efforts serve clients very well every day of the year.

I have been associated with Bottom Line Inc since I met Marty Edelston in 1976 when he published what I believe was the best newsletter for business managers and leaders – Boardroom Reports. At some point it evolved into Bottom Line Personal and while they still have an excellent print newsletter, they also have an outstanding web site and I urge all of my readers to check it out at the above URL.

My blog can be accessed at https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man. To provide a glimpse of the previous blogs here is a listing of the links for some of them with the titles. Use the titles to select what you are interested in and I am sure you will get some valuable information you could use.

https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/if-you-owe-back-taxes-do-this
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/make-qualified-charitable-distribution-from-ira
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/tax-breaks-for-small-business-corp-shares
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/how-trusts-are-taxed
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/estate-income-tax-planning-even-if-no-taxable-estate
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/10-tax-smart-ways-to-give-charitable-donations
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/a-dozen-tax-breaks-for-education-expenses
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/new-tax-planning-opportunities-for-2018
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/choose-self-employed-retirement-plan-starting-right
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/its-last-call-for-these-tax-deductions
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/make-10-tax-moves-in-november-december
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/substantiate-your-deductionsor-kiss-them-goodbye
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/second-marriage-tax-considerations
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/inherited-ira-what-you-need-to-know
https://bottomlineinc.com/blogs/pay-less-tax-man/the-worst-investments-you-can-make-from-a-tax-standpoint

Enjoy the above.

If you would like some information about Martin Edelston here is a link to a blog I posted soon after he passed away. https://partners-network.com/2013/10/08/martin-edelston.

The Most Momentous Four Months in History

September 18, 2018

The following is a quote from a book referenced at the end of this blog:

The president died. The man forced to fill his shoes, the vice president, was the prototypical ordinary man, in contrast to the president. He had no college degree. He had never had enough money to own his own home. He had never governed a state or served as mayor of a city. He became president “by accident” (his words ). His ascendancy to the most powerful office in existence was the result of a confluence of almost bizarre events, and his obscurity confounded the world.

Here was a man who came into the White House almost as though he had been picked at random off the street, recalled a White House correspondent, with absolutely no useable background and no useable information. Here was a guy like you, or your next door neighbor, one of the Vice President’s closest friends said, and he got into a job that was too big for him. When the Vice President took office, a Chicago Tribune columnist spoke for all of civilized humanity when he wrote: “All the world is asking two questions. What sort of man is now the president? and What kind of president will he make?

The first four months of the new presidency saw the collapse of Nazi Germany, the founding of the United Nations, fire bombings of Japanese cities that killed many thousands of civilians, the liberation of Nazi death camps, the suicide of Adolf Hitler, the execution of Benito Mussolini, and the capture of arch war criminals from Hitler’s number two, Hermann Göring, to the Nazi “chief werewolf” Ernst Kaltenbrunner . There was the fall of Berlin, victory at Okinawa (which the historian Bill Sloan has called the deadliest campaign of conquest ever undertaken by American arms), and the Potsdam Conference during which the new president sat at the negotiating table with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in Soviet-occupied Germany in an attempt to map out a new world. Humanity saw the first atomic explosions, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dawn of the Cold War, and the beginning of the nuclear arms race.

Never had fate shoehorned so much history into such a short period. “The four months that have elapsed since the death of President Roosevelt on April 12 have been one of the most momentous periods in man’s history” wrote a New York Times columnist at the time.

This has been copied from The Accidental President / Harry S Truman and the four months that changed the world by A.J. Baime. This is a book I recommend to those interested in history, the American presidency or world affairs.

Selfish Neighbors

September 13, 2018

I am and have been on some fund raising committees and had the unpleasant experience of soliciting local businesses for contributions and being turned down flatly by many branches of chains. This includes rehab centers, dental, medical and urgent care offices, drug stores, supermarkets, pizza parlors and game centers.

The reasons are similar: “the advertising is handled by ‘marketing’ in our main office.” And “marketing” never responds. This is a cop out. These businesses make their livings from the local residents and they should support the local charities to some extent. They all have petty cash funds or local budgets this money could come out of, yet they decline to support the core organizations in the communities they earn money from. And they use a spurious excuse – it is handled by “marketing.”

Small contributions, sponsorships or ads in fund raising journals for a dozen or two charities cannot break any budget and it will not only support the local charities but will garner substantial good will when they are recognized by their customers and neighbors as a supporter of the local charities.

These are ungrateful businesses and I am continually amazed by their blatant lack of support evidenced by their ignoring our requests. It shows a lack of recognition of where their income is generated. These are selfish neighbors.

The Good Earth

September 6, 2018

The last words of Pearl Buck’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth could have been written in any generation for any generation of family business owners:

And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered,
“If you sell the land, it is the end.”
And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son,
“Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”
But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Children’s values often are not the same as their parent’s, and this is especially so when a child works in the family business. Some children crave working with their mother or father and bring the business to new heights. However, some do not but they eventually find themselves doing so anyway. The reasons are not that important, what is important is the lack of shared values. To the parent, the business is like another child; to those children it is what they do because they lacked the drive or ambition to do something else, or because their compensation needs are far greater than they could earn elsewhere.

Whatever, the parents who are exceptionally bright, as evidenced by their ability to build a business that was the means of the family’s support, turn blind eyes to the child’s shortcomings hoping they will have a sudden transformation and take the business to levels the parent wasn’t able to or just didn’t. As long as the parent is involved or is living, any thoughts of selling or liquidating the business is anathema though it is usually a silent desire of the child.

As a consultant in many business’ succession plans I usually can recognize early on how the children feel. The issue is to help establish a plan that will work. What I do is to try to offer a plan acceptable to parent and child while also suggesting an alternative using supporting people that could be part of a team that could run the company. Then I suggest a method of implementing the alternative without being intrusive or seeming to supersede the client’s primary (though unsaid) wishes which becomes an exercise balancing finesse with tactics.

The Good Earth’s closing words express the convergence of conflicting desires as clear as it can be said.

This blog was precipitated by a discussion with a very bright 12 year old cousin who was reading the book and I mentioned that I loved the last page and her follow up note when she finished the book asking for my perspective on how I interpreted the ending. The book and its ending are still as fresh as when I first read it eons ago. Check it out!

This is not about John McCain’s memorial tributes

September 4, 2018

It is about yours. Listening and reading about the memorial tributes to John McCain got me wondering how my obituary would read. What do I consider important for a lasting memory and what is hubris?

It cannot be such a bad idea to write your obituary. For one thing, it will be what you want. For another it might be cause for reflection about your priorities and whether your actions coincided with your values. There is always time to change until the obit is published somewhere.

For my young readers, writing your obit now could provide a path for you to follow which might also be different than the one you are on now. For my older readers, this might be a good way to impart your values, dreams realized and your sage advice for those that are younger that would be reading your obituary. The regrets that cannot be righted, can serve as a lesson for others, or an opportunity to try to move them to actions erasing them from your regrets’ listing.

I know many people personally and professionally and realize that everyone has a story to tell. And many will provide great interest and valuable messages. Starting is quite easy. Just start writing. I suggest not trying to start at the beginning or worrying about good style, grammar or even spelling. Just start writing. The ideas are what is important. Editing can be done at a later time or even by others, but not your experiences and ideas.

How to Avoid Being Ripped Off by Your Financial Advisor

August 30, 2018

Two similar things happened this past Saturday. The NY Times had an article about a rip off by a brokerage firm and a friend mentioned that she suspected she was being ripped off by her investment advisor. It’s funny how coincidences crop up.

Most financial professionals are decent honest people. Regrettably some do not act in their clients’ best interest. This is evidenced by proposals to legislate that they do so and which is being fought by some trade organizations in the financial services industry.

I do not want to get into the myriad ways you can get ripped off or have funds stolen from you by the advisors you trust. What I will do here is discuss how to protect yourself from dishonest or unprofessional advisors. Regardless of your lack of knowledge and education you must take responsibility for how your investments are managed and what you invest in. The fault starts with your inattention, so here are some ways to be aware of what is going on.

  1. Make sure you receive monthly reports clearly showing how your investments did that month
  2. Look at the reports and see whether the value of your account increased or decreased taking into account deposits into the account or withdrawals from it
  3. If there was a decrease call your advisor to ask why
  4. If there was an increase, was the percentage increase consistent with last year’s percentage increase of your entire portfolio. If it wasn’t, call your advisor to ask why
  5. Look to see what was sold during the month and whether the sales were authorized by you, or logical based on your understanding of what the investment advisor is supposed to be doing for you
  6. If there are new investments, make sure you understand what they are, and how you can make money from them, and how losses, should they occur, will affect you; and whether the new investments can easily be liquidated without penalty if they need to be sold
  7. Ask yourself if the sales and purchases fall into your investment plan as previously determined between you and your investment advisor

These seven steps are that not onerous or time consuming and while you might think investing is “too complex” for you, I believe you must take these seven steps each month as a minimum in your oversight actions. Do them as soon as the statement arrives if mailed to you, or is available on line if that is how you get your account information. Abdicating responsibility can leave you open to theft, irreversible mistakes by the advisor and diminution of your investments that could adversely affect your lifestyle at a time in your life when you would be the most vulnerable to losses.

There is more to do; always more you can do; but the above represents seven pretty easy to do things than can be done after a brief instruction if you need that, from your investment advisor. After all, you are their customer and their job is to serve you. I truly believe an informed client is the best type of client to have.

Here are links to related blogs I suggest you read:
https://partners-network.com/2017/01/24/last-years-performance-how-did-you-do/
https://partners-network.com/2017/07/13/snow-jobs-or-meaningful-data/
https://partners-network.com/2018/01/04/how-did-your-investments-do-last-year/