Missed The MarkI want to comment on the article “The Story of Jim and Pete” by Randall Hilton, which appeared in the August 2005 issue of PM. The story describes two fictional characters: Jim is a struggling plumbing entrepreneur, and Pete is a vagrant who begs for change.
As a small-business owner in the construction field, it would have been useful for me (and presumably other subscribers) to read a comparison between a plumber who creates a poor business structure vs. a plumber who makes wiser choices. Likewise, the article could have described how one plumber's attitude toward challenges made them more difficult, whereas the other plumber facing the same challenges had a different attitude that showed the way to solutions. Either one of those routes would have made a pretty good article.
Instead, your columnist makes the comparison between a plumber and a vagrant. Above all, what utility does that have for your readers? How a vagrant lives his life is irrelevant (at best) to how plumbing entrepreneurs should run their businesses.
Mr. Hilton writes, “I'm not going to argue whether or not homeless people are victims of society because this is a column about business, not societal issues.” That's BS. He brought up homeless people in a business magazine, and then chickens out of dealing with the topic he chose. Then you decided to publish it.
Particularly insulting to the readers' intelligence is Mr. Hilton's assertion that the vagrant's life is “practically stress-free.” I see vagrants in downtown Chicago all the time, and they look pretty stressed out, which is consistent with the reports I read from social workers. Once I watched the police carry out the frozen corpse of a guy who didn't make it through a winter night. There's an issue of credibility and integrity that's missing from this article.
For those of us who remember that Jesus spent his time with prostitutes and was hanged with thieves, that Mr. Hilton's article mocks the poor is offensive. For those readers who just want to read about the plumbing business, both the columnist and the editorial staff missed the mark. I hope you review Mr. Hilton's writing more carefully in the future.
Thomas J. Westgard
Randall Hilton responds: Thomas, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
By chance, did you miss this paragraph in the article: “So, why am I comparing a homeless guy to a struggling plumbing contractor? The main reason is to illustrate that the homeless guy, who lives under a multimillion dollar highway bridge, has a better net worth and fewer worries than the contractor who has lost control of his business.”
I don't know how many contractors you deal with but my mission statement is to “help contractors earn the profits they deserve.” My mission has put me in touch with hundreds of plumbing and air-conditioning contractors. Sadly, in spite of being very busy, some of these contractors have a lower net worth than a homeless man. I used that powerful word picture as a wake-up call. That's my job.
I'm sure we could have an interesting discussion about who has the most stress. I could argue either side of the debate. But which side do you think Jim would argue as he struggles to make payroll while watching Pete walking his dogs? But that's not the point of the column.
Thanks for taking the time to write. I look forward to your comments on future columns.