The Wisdom and Wealth Podcast

John McConnell: Intangible Balance Sheet Episode 53

November 04, 2023 Joshua Klooz
The Wisdom and Wealth Podcast
John McConnell: Intangible Balance Sheet Episode 53
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to another great Intangible Balance Sheet Episode from the Wisdome and Wealth Podcast. This week John McConnell joins us to share more from his intangible balance sheet. John's career is an interesting one to be sure and his family story fascinating as well.  See below for more of topics we cover! 

  • Growing up in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
  • The influence of John's grandmother, who overcame the challenges of the Great Depression to establish her own beauty shop. 
  • The importance of initiative and how it's a defining characteristic of Americans.
  • John shares that he was surrounded by encouragers in his early life, including his parents and teachers, which instilled in him a sense of possibility and purpose.
  • An early interest in history and biography, including books about presidents, which shaped his love for reading.
  • The significance of strong friendships in life and how each one can be a pivotal point in a person's journey.
  • The qualities of encouragement and reliability as important aspects he hopes to be remembered for.
  • Two influential individuals in his career, Mike Metcalf and Judge J. Daniel Mahoney, who exemplified integrity through their actions rather than words.
  • He expresses his gratitude for their influence and integrity in his life and career.


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JOSH KLOOZ, CFP®, MBA
WEALTH ADVISOR

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Josh Klooz:

Welcome in again to another of our Intangible Balance Sheet conversations for the Wisdom and Wealth podcast. As always, I'm Josh Klooz, the moderator of the discussion, and today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing John McConnell to you. For those of you that may be newer to our conversations, the Intangible Balance Sheet is titled such because I believe that everyone has a list and a compilation of first principles by which they've lived their life. In some cases, these are passed on to us by our parents or grandparents, but the reason they're intangible is because we can't quite put them into words, but we live our lives by them. They don't find their way onto a financial balance sheet in any way, shape or form, but they definitely have financial value, even though they can't be quantified. I believe that these, as I said before, these principles are passed on to us, but they come to life via stories, and so those are the things that bring them to life and make them most accessible, and we want to capture them through these conversations, and so John has agreed to come on and share a little bit more about his story and his Intangible Balance Sheet. John, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the podcast.

John McConnell:

Thank you, Josh. Good to see you. I'm glad to be part of it.

Josh Klooz:

The pleasure is ours, as always, and so, john, briefly, could you just introduce yourself to our listeners at a high level, before we dive into your personal story.

John McConnell:

Sure, my name is John McConnell. I have known the host of this podcast for, I think, something like 15 years. I am an executive speechwriter, mainly for executives in the private sector, but much of my background is in politics and for eight years I was on the White House staff as a senior speechwriter to President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Prior to that, I worked for a number of different people who were in public life, including Vice President Dan Quayle during and after his vice presidency, and also Senator Bob Dole the year he was the Republican nominee for president. I am a lawyer by training and I grew up in a town called Bayfield, wisconsin, which is an old fishing village of about 500 people on the south shore of Lake Superior.

Josh Klooz:

That's got to be pretty. Is winter your favorite time of year, or is spring or summer your favorite time of year up there?

John McConnell:

Spring and fall.

Josh Klooz:

OK.

John McConnell:

For my favorite times of year up there. Winter is where a character is formed. Ok, summer is a very nice couple of days, and so we really enjoy it up there.

Josh Klooz:

OK, and thank you so much for that introduction, john. So one of the ways that I've found is most helpful to start off these conversations is tying in our background and our upbringing. Are there any stories that come to you from your grandparents that are pivotal to your family?

John McConnell:

Well, you know, my grandmother, my mother's mother, didn't talk much about herself, but over time you could draw her out, and when she was 17 years old, in the depths of the Great Depression the deepest part of the Great Depression she went through a 600-hour course in an institution called the Minneapolis School of Beauty Culture and she came out of that knowing how to do hair and nails. And she heard about a job in a place called Ashland, wisconsin. And so she got on a bus and went to this town called Ashland a place she'd heard of, maybe, but certainly had never been to in her life and stepped off this bus in the dark, carrying in a bag all she owned, and from there she started her life and lived out her years with her own little beauty shop that she owned, raised her family and made her own way in the world and lived on her own terms. And that is an influence on me because, if you think about it, most people in the United States have stories like that in their background. We have. We come from immigrants. I'm a fourth generation American and so I don't have any kind of a of a real immigrant story. But and grandmother, of course, wasn't an immigrant either, but she was a person who Really didn't have any advantages in life other than her own determination to go on, and and that was pretty much all she needed was that determination. And in that town course, my grandfather, who she met in that town and started a family with he was the grandson of an immigrant builder who had come from England. This would be my great great grandfather, who lived a long time, died a few years before I was born, but my first five siblings got to meet her. Four of my first four of my five siblings got to got to meet him. He had taken a train from the Twin Cities to northern Wisconsin and there was a stop at one point along the way and he got out of the train and he missed the train when it left for the next stop and so he stayed where he was and that started his, and that's where he started his life. None of us is a nobody. We all come from people who had less than we had, who lived their lives Doing what they felt they had to do and, in most cases, giving their best to their family and most cases, whether or not they were materials, materially successful, they at least did that and that's why we're here and, as I say, I don't have any famous or notable people in my background, but everyone I've met, including I, got to know my great grandparents. I looked up to them and I admire them and respected the lives that they led in times that were very different from ours and and at certain points, were extremely difficult for them.

Josh Klooz:

The word that keeps coming to mind as you describe your grandparents as initiative. Right, I remember being an infantry officer and one of our instructors said if you want to see what separates Americans from every other culture across the world, it's initiative. He said we can give you a little bit of guidance and you'll do the best, you know how, with what you've got.

John McConnell:

Right? No, I remember my dad was born in 1927 and he was a soldier in the army. When he was just out of high school and he he told about Christmas during the Great Depression. His Christmas present was a pair of shoe strings and an orange. He was a little boy and they were on a farm in central Michigan and that's a very good point you made. My dad didn't look at that and think, well, this is what life is. He probably looked at that and thought this is what life is now. But my parents are doing their best and someday I'm gonna do more and I'll do more for my children. And it's a great story. And that that personal element of initiative and a knowing that if you give it your best, there will be good results, isn't a very American concept. You know it's, it's. There's that old show, the honeymooners, that was on TV back in the fifties and you can still see it Online and the guy is Ralph Cramden. He needs the bus driver and they don't have much. They don't even have curtains in their apartment, but he's convinced that he's gonna hit it big one of these days and big success in the big house there just around the corner. And it never quite happens for him, but he never gives up and there's a, there's a lot of that in the, in the American bloodline, I think, yes, well, not a lot of course. So much of this country, so much of the country is descended from people who made very difficult journeys, just out of the story.

Josh Klooz:

Yep, and we're so grateful for that too. Now, john, as you think about your life personally, even the paths that led you to law school and so on and so forth, what were some of the influences on you at an early age that started that you look back on and say, hey, those were formative experiences, formative ideas, formative culture shapers that you look back on, are thankful for.

John McConnell:

You know, I always felt, without even realizing it, I understood, that I was surrounded by encouragers. That was just built into me. There were adults around me who were encouraging my interests. I think about my mother, my father, my stepfather. Of course, teachers in the school. They were in a small town, but I remember every teacher I ever had and I remember a lot about them. I was just fortunate to have very good teachers who encouraged me along the way and I always had this sense of possibility and purpose and I always felt driven forward by teachers. Growing up in a small town, that's a great thing too, because it's kind of a cliche when people talk about small town values, but there's a lot of truth in it. When everybody knows everybody, there is sort of built into you these notions of respecting other people, regardless of whether they agree with you on one thing or another. You are a community and there's nothing about differences that should really divide you from others. Not just respect, also helping out others. I could go on and on about how some terrible thing would befall a family in our community. It would be everybody's concern and it would be what people are talking about. So when I hear the phrase small town values. If I hear it from someone who I think really knows what they're talking about, I also know that it's true. It was a great place to be a kid. It's not necessarily the real world. Back then we didn't lock the front door. I don't know if it's that way anymore or anywhere, but that was the way it was then. So times change, but I'll bet anything that it's still a really terrific place to live.

Josh Klooz:

This is a little bit of a detour, but I would imagine, given the field that you're in, there are certain books that you look back on and you're like man, I'm so glad I read that. Are there any books that stand out to you when you were growing up that influenced the writer that you are today? I'm just curious.

John McConnell:

Well, that's a good question. I've always been a reader of history and biography and I started on that early. My mom gave me a book about the presidents of the United States when I was little. She did that because she noticed that I had been looking at a book about Abraham Lincoln that she had in the house. I grew up in a house with books, books and music. My folks are both big readers. She noticed that I was responding to this book about Lincoln and so she got me a book about the presidents. When she saw it in a bookstore that really was like putting a match to a pile of dry leaves. That really sparked my imagination and my interest. There was a librarian in our public school named Marie Bushy and she was one of the great teachers that I think back on. Mrs Bushy was so patient with me. I remember I would tell her about the things I was interested in and she would take me in. I still remember 921 was the Dewey Decimal System number for biography To this day. Just the other day I was over at the public library here in Arlington, virginia, wandering around in the biography section. I would go through phases where I would be reading about this person or that person. Harry Truman was an early favorite. Lincoln, of course, was always an early favorite. Franklin Roosevelt. Then, of course, when I'm getting my education, then I go to college and I start reading Shakespeare. I guess we read some Shakespeare in high school and that kind of awakened in me just a real love for his work. And then Charles Dickens is another favorite of mine. As a matter of fact, I'm reading Great Expectations right now, and so I kind of toggle back and forth between my enthusiasm for history and biography and then trying to read. Someone gave me good advice once. I said you know you, a book that's been in print for 150 years is probably a good book. And so leave yourself some time to read the classics. They're classic for a reason, and if you haven't read them, you should read them. And and so also another piece of good advice I got was from Bill Curstall, who was Vice President Quayle's chief of staff, hired me as a speechwriter. He said there's so much transitory material nowadays. He said you really need to make sure you allow plenty of time to read people's best work. That is a book, something between hard covers, something that's been edited, something that's been really gone over and thoroughly and carefully put together, because you could spend all of your reading time, just you know, reading people's instant reactions to the daily news and whatever, and sometimes you learn something and other times you're just getting thin, but you're still considered visceral reactions. So I'm veering off to the question about that. That book about Lincoln was the first and really still is, a defining book in my life. It was called the Prairie Years and the War Years, by Carl Sandberg.

Josh Klooz:

I'm glad I asked, though Sorry for the diversion, but I figured there had a man of words would remember and have memories of such a thing. Now, John, I want you to think three or four generations from now. You know, to start out, we zoomed backwards three or four generations. I want you to zoom three or four generations forward. What are some of those pivotal events of your life and some of the principles that guided you through those events that you feel would be most helpful for people Two, three, maybe even four generations from now?

John McConnell:

Well, that's a good question. I think you know, if you look at life in terms of pivotal events, the death of my father was a pivotal event. That was 13 years old and he was diagnosed with a very late stage, a very fast moving esophageal cancer, and he was gone within five or six weeks, so that very fast he was in his late 40s. And you know I didn't have some I didn't have a Dickensian childhood or anything like that after my father dies. You know I have a great mom and stepfather and our family is. We've been very, very fortunate in our lives. But that you know when that happens, when you're 13,. In my case it was just a tough early lesson that life can be short and you're not the one in charge of it. And if this happens to you at least in my case again, you never take for granted your family ever again. So that I count as a turning point. I counted as a turning point when I became a follower of Jesus Christ. I not that I'm some anyone's exemplar of the saintly life or anything like that, but just that moment when you come to the understanding that your relationship with God is a personal one and that your life has a purpose and you're here for a reason and you were purchased for a price. I mentioned the book that my mother got for me about the president's definitely a turning point in my life, just because a perceptive parent help continue me in on in a direction that she could see would probably be a good one. You know another point I'd like to make, josh, and I know you agree with this Every good friendship you make is a pivotal point in your life. It really is. I mentioned that I'm reading great expectations. At the end of one of the early chapters the character is talking about a very important day in his life, and here's the last paragraph of the chapter. I saved it because I knew you and I were gonna be talking. Here's how it concludes the chapter. That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. And we all have great friends in our lives, people who've been a lot to us, and I could tell you about a couple special mentors, but each one of those people that meeting. Just think about if you hadn't met that person, how different it might have been, maybe dramatically different, maybe different in a small way, but I really count the formation of a strong friendship to be a blessing and definitely a turning point.

Josh Klooz:

Very apt admonition for our community at large today. Just the more desegregated we become, as far as from a community or I guess segregated we come, there's not as much community, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. And so the friendships that spontaneously come from going to work, going to church, going to school, all of those different structures and institutions that just naturally cause us to interact, and I think we even may think that friendship can be something that has to be brought up over a period of years. It could even just be spontaneous. Yeah, that's right. The next piece that I'd like to look at, john, also, is what some people call your ethical will, but also your eulogy. I'm a firm believer that, whether we've written our eulogy or not, in our heads we kind of have an idea of what we hope is included in our eulogy. So I'm curious what some of the things that you would want included in your eulogy as it stands today. Obviously, lord willing, there's much to be written going forward.

John McConnell:

Right, right, other than he lived longer than anybody we know. No, that's a good question, but as a speech writer, I've written a lot of eulogies for public figures and for people aren't necessarily public figures but who were asked to speak, and I have spoken at a number of funerals and memorial services over the years. And one thing I notice is when you're remembering someone in a eulogy we've all heard plenty of them the ones that list titles really don't do much. A real remembrance talks about qualities, the qualities of the person, and the titles might have been impressive, they might have been very impressive, they might have been unique and they have their place, but that's not what people would talk about. In the last analysis, it's not the titles, it's the qualities and in my own case, you know I would obviously leave it to others and you hope you were remembered for doing right by people. I, because I've in my life encountered so much encouragement, I would hope to be remembered myself as an encourager. I try to do that from my own experience. Encouragement counts for a lot. A friend of mine, reverend Randall O'Brien one of the wisest men I know he said you know everybody you know has a story, so why not be the good guy in their story. You talk about aspiration. That's a pretty good aspiration, and if that's your general mindset to be an encourager of others that's going to count for a lot. I also would like to be remembered as a person who could be relied on. Well, if he told you he was going to do it, guess what? He did it, and I think that it's very simple. But there's something in me that wants to be the person people can count on.

Josh Klooz:

John, thank you so much for your insights and just for sharing your gleaned wisdom with us. Is there anything else that we should cover before we sign off today?

John McConnell:

Well, you know, when we were talking before going on the air, when we look at life as it's lived and the people we encounter along the way and the lessons we learn, I think about two very important people who I was fortunate to encounter early in my career, and the one was I had a job in college. I worked two summers in a savings and loan and did all kinds of different jobs in the savings and loan, and I worked for a branch manager. His name was Mike Metcalf and he became a very close friend, and his whole family. You know just this lifelong friends. And the second person I want to mention is a federal judge named J Daniel Mahoney, who was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, and right after graduating from Yale Law School, right after I went to Judge Mahoney's chambers as a law clerk. He was in a one-year position and what you do in that job is you write memos for the judge on upcoming cases, you help him in the drafting of opinions, you travel with him to New York City for the oral arguments and you just do a perform a variety of tasks that assist the judge in his work, and I mentioned the two of them and I tie them together with this one overarching memory that applies to both, and that is I never heard Mike Metcalf or Dan Mahoney talk about how to do the right thing, or talk about what integrity means, or try to hold forth on how to be a good person. They just did it, they showed it in how they conducted themselves and, like I said, I got to know them both very well and, sorry to say, judge Mahoney is no longer living, but Mike, of course, is still around Got to know them both very well in the professional and the personal context, and each of them is to me a model, a perfect model of integrity Again, not holding forth, not listing lessons, just showing how it's done, and I'm very grateful to have had influences like that so early in my career, and they are definitely standouts. Even as the years go by, my appreciation only grows.

Josh Klooz:

John, thank you again for cheering and thank you for the experiences that we can now learn from. We wish you and your family nothing but truth, beauty and goodness and the road ahead, and look forward to having our paths cross again soon.

John McConnell:

Thank you, josh, really enjoyed talking to you.

Josh Klooz:

You as well.

Intangible Balance Sheets
Pivotal Life Events and Reflections
Models of Integrity