Who am I?
How has my compassion for the plight of poor and middle class Americans altered my life’s journey, even as my professional experiences and leadership roles were honed in the business world?
Here is my story…
I was a child during World War II and watched for my Dad’s letters daily when looking for our postman through the letter slot. The stories of survival, bartering, and caring for his troops, and especially the people he liberated from a German concentration camp, remain with me to this day.
He spoke about being hungry and going to the Abbeys to barter for food. He was a “mess Sargent” and prepared food for the troops in Patton’s Army. When they liberated a concentration camp, my dad started to feed the starving Jews and was ordered by his Captain to stop feeding them or be shot. My dad told his superior officer to shoot him, because there was no way he was going to stop feeding his people. He wasn’t shot nor did he stop providing food to those in need. He remembered one man coming back to say thanks three months later . The man was dressed in a suit and tie and dad barely recognized him.
That’s how I was brought up. You helped others in need. You’re not asked. It’s part of my DNA.
Three generations of Silvers have served their country, my dad, my son, and now my grandson. I am very proud of their patriotic commitment to America and Americans. When I owned my family’s flooring business, I hired Vets from the Iraq and Afghani Wars and offered deep discounts to Vets seeking to refurbish their homes.
As a small family business owner for nearly 25 years, I managed fairly and viewed my job as support for 25 employees. They depended upon me for their living and together we achieved a close working relationship. My rules were simple: Do it right the first time. We rarely had call backs and provided a high level of customer service. As the President of Merit Carpets, Inc. I provided health care to my employees, 10 days of sick time, vacation time and personal days. While I strove to make 30% profit, it was elusive. My office staff and mechanics were my partners in business. Labor comprised approximately 44% of my product costs. We were a team. If the Recession had not occurred, wiping out our lucrative customer base, I had planned to transfer the running of my business to my employees when I retired. That never occurred. Instead I fought to stay in business post 2008, knowing by 2010, our world had changed and the lucrative jobs would no longer be ours. Profit margins were slashed, revenues collapsed and customer service was no longer a priority. Only cheap labor was valued. My mechanics held onto jobs taking a 57% cut in salary. I stopped taking a salary and finally closed the business in 2013.
Only now, are my former employees able to provide a diminished living for themselves. 10 yrs after the Recession hit. Many have not returned to their homes or their old way of life. I understand the plight of the Middle Class. I am you. I witnessed first hand the struggles of friends and colleagues who have fought to provide for their families in uncertain economic times.
Who became our competition, you may ask? Big Business did. National Labor shops took over our territories providing inexpensive labor. To stay in business, I sought repetitive work at large Real Estate firms. Pricing was competitive and dictated by our customer base, the old win-win negotiations of the past was replaced by customers telling me what they were willing to pay. If I wanted the work, my only negotiation was with my mechanics, discussing how low we could go in wages and still make money. We were no longer in a win-win situation.
I resented our loss of dignity and bargaining power! By 2013 I was more than ready to retire and continue to use my pen as my sword.
Early History/My Journey
As a single mom, I raised two children, Edward and Lisa, with the help of my parents. In 1971, I attended graduate school on a full government grant plus stipend, attaining a Master’s in Biochemistry from Long Island University. My thesis on ” The Effects of Dexamethasone Sodium Phosphate on Spontaneous Locomotor Activity and Norepinephrine Release ” was published. I was then accepted by Cornell University Medical School to pursue a PhD degree in Neuropharmacology. My education and teaching stipend were funded by an NIH grant.
It was not easy to pursue a degree in Science in the 1970’s. In fact, as a woman, I had been often told, if I wanted to get out of the house, I could garden or play golf! I persevered. I vigorously pursued a schedule of study which enabled me to be with my kids as much as possible. It was difficult! I didn’t finish my PhD, because the school’s interest was in barbiturates and heroin metabolites. My interests were in basic research, and I decided it was time to go to work.
I sent out my resume to chemical manufactures, scientific journals, and Ford Motor Co. Ford was impressed and flew me to Detroit for 8 hours of interviews. I had a job offer at the end of the day beginning my most exciting job experience ever. Working in the assembly plants was “awesome”. Was I the only woman, yes, but my experiences were more humorous then onerous. Great storytelling for another time. I moved with my two kids to Detroit in May, 1976.
I was hired to be a supervising chemical engineer/consultant in the Paint Dept. I headed many quality improvement projects including one I’m very proud of.
I redesigned all sheet metal parts for cars and trucks, making a lighter more aerodynamic fuel efficient car, saving Ford $1.9 million in paint. I received a commendation from Henry Ford II and the Ford Operating Committee as the Head of this project. Based upon my recommendation, Ford upgraded the paint departments in two assembly plants, costing between $100-180 million.
When Ford refused to advance my requests for an upper management path, I decided to move on. Did this setback stop me? Never. If Ford wouldn’t provide the earned opportunity for growth in my career, then I would look elsewhere. I was offered a job with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals at their Brooklyn Manufacturing Plant. I moved the family back to New York and we settled on Long Island. I was hired as a Senior Manufacturing Supervisor in Diagnostics. I managed a staff of 44 with budget responsibility of $1.2 Million. I used my problem-solving, scientific and managerial skills to make my Department profitable for spin off to Warner Lambert.
Not only did I achieve significant cost-cutting and product quality by training and counseling of personnel, our department accident rate was reduced to zero! Staff morale and well-being were always of the highest priority to me. It was never an obligation. I was brought up to believe we were all equal and that in the end, a good team that worked well together made money for its company. That being true, it was right and proper to care about their well-being. When someone is appreciated, they will go out of their way to work harder on your behalf. This management style was easy for me since treating people well was part of my DNA. My parents were good role models. So when I became a boss, my behavior in and out of the office was the same.
I remained at Pfizer for three years. Then, I was recruited for and accepted a VP position at Bankers Trust on Wall Street. The year 1982 was memorable for both my new job at Bankers and my new marital status. After 13 years as a single parent, I remarried. Taking on the responsibility of three more teenage girls while putting in 12 hour days at work wasn’t easy. Work and home life were challenging.
I soon learned that costs and accountability were alien concepts when dealing with money. Ford knew to the penny how much it cost to build a car. Pfizer was almost as precise. Banker’s had no idea how to quantify or price their service. Accountability and fiduciary responsibility were concepts that I imposed on senior management with the Chairman of the Board’s blessing.
I was hired at Bankers to find a loss they reported on their books. I was the VP in charge of three diverse Departments, overnight investment of funds, bank policy, and the computerized monthly customer banking statements. I found our losses, automated the Wholesale Information System, uncovered 5 instances of fraud and repriced our account services to generate over $2 million in revenue. In addition, I installed processes for Senior Management accountability and insisted on fiduciary responsibility toward our customers. My Department found the same incident of fraud, “dead accounts”, with $20 million in cash, that Mary Jo White found 15 years later. At this point, it was time to make a change.
Full Circle/Moving Forward with more Chapters in my Life
After almost 15 years, I finally came home to the family business. The business my Dad had said I couldn’t handle because it was “too chauvinistic”. I became CEO and 100% shareholder of all flooring and rental corporations in 1992. As I previously stated, I remained at Merit for almost 30 years until the Recession hit us. Even in the worst of times, the family made a good living, but not anymore.
If anyone had told me in advance this would be my journey, I would have stared in disbelief! My journey continues and you, my fellow Americans, are a huge part of it. Politics affects us all!
Science and my diverse business background have prepared me to teach and to lead. I write macro policy solutions for Economic and Environmental sustainability. I recently received a certificate for expertise in Renewable Energy Finance & Market Trends, sponsored by the EEC, UNEP in partnership with West Monroe Partners. Together we can move forward and build our Country for the 22nd Century.
God bless you all and God bless our Country!
Denali National Park, Alaska