You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2012.

I began my blog, Applewoody, in November 2009. From 2010 to 2011, my annual and daily blog hits almost doubled.

Why? Am I getting more creative and interesting, or just more accustomed to this format of expression?

Stay tuned…

In his interview with Bob Schaefer of Face the Nation this am, Trump commented on Romney, saying ” Mitt has a great Presidential look, and whether we like it or not, that’s important.”

That’s not only a good demonstration  of Schaefer’s closing observation that the Republican primary debates have been increasingly about the candidates themselves, and not about the issues, but it also says why Donald would make such an appealing candidate himself, if he should run as part of a third-party ticket after the season close of Celebrity Apprentice in May — it’s the hair!

Back in the early 90s, when Warren Buffet owned a $1.5 billion position in McDonald’s stock, he called my office and asked for a little help. It seemed that he and his friend Bill Gates and their families were planning a vacation trip to China, and had chartered a Chinese train to carry them across the country. Buffet was a McDonald’s fan, and asked if we could guide him to our restaurants along his route. We helped make it easy for he and his party to drop in at a McDonald’s whenever their hunger for hamburgers and fries arose. He talked about that trip for years.

By 2008, Buffet had invested $200 million in Chinese transportation, in a major Chinese car company, BYD, which was developing technology and production capability to build electric cars. By the way, BYD means Build Your Dreams. Really. BYD is slow getting off the mark, but they may yet become a factor in the electric car revolution.

Now, in 2012, Buffet appears on Chinese State Television, wishing the country well in their Year of the Dragon Chinese New Years celebration.   And then he appears, in the same broadcast, playing his ukulele ( in front of a model railroad, singing “I’ve been working on the railroad.” With the background that we know Buffet likes trains, including trains in China, and that Berkshire Hathaway not long back invested $20 billion in the Burlington Northern railroad over here, I wonder if he’s sending a signal that he may now be interested in getting financially involved somehow in the rails in China?

Stay tuned.

If you live in one of the approximately 40 fly-over states where Presidential candidates won’t campaign or spend money on advertising this fall, you will be one of the 200 million Americans who won’t decide who gets elected the next American President. How so?

Because unless you live in one of the 7 to 14 states where the number of Republicans and Democrats is so close that the election could “swing” to either party, your vote won’t count when the obsolete and dangerous real election takes place in the Electoral College, a hold-over process from the Colonial days when the Congress didn’t trust the average citizen to know enough about the candidates for President to make an informed decision.

There is a better way, a way to assure that one-person/one-vote will determine our next President. I delivered an essay explaining this issue on election-eve 2008, which you can read at: For the latest information o the movement to change the electoral process and make it fair, go to

Make every vote for President this fall, including you own, count.

It’s not just the captain of that Italian cruise liner who should be held responsible, but the cruise line itself, and every other passenger cruise line, and the governments who regulate them. The reputations of all have been besmirched.  After all, it’s not just a cruise; it’s a mission for the captain and crew to ply potentially dangerous waters in ships the size of skyscrapers, and protect the safety of all aboard. Crisis prevention and crisis response are more important than the mere entertainment of those aboard.

I call for the review and re-certification of every captain of every cruise ship afloat, along with new, higher standards in training, supervision and discipline for professional navigation staff. This captain abandoned his ship, while there were still hundreds of panicked passengers aboard, and then refused the coast guard’s demands that he go back aboard to direct the evacuation. And I understand he joined the line as a safety officer! What a bad joke. And I hear that it’s not unusual for liner captains to take their craft illegally and inappropriately close to shore to give passengers good views. And I understand the passenger safety drills were not conducted at the beginning of the cruise, as required.

All this points not just to a bad captain, but to bad selection, training, enforcement of regulations and supervision by the cruise lines. These are not just floating hotels, these are vessels on a mission, and their mission is safety first.  There needs to be tighter regulations, better training and supervision and enforcement, or these cruise lines are going out of business. The reputation of the cruise industry has been severely damaged by this and related incidents, and the fight to restore it will be a long and difficult one. And it should be.

A remarkably clear,  quiet day on the January shore of Geneva Lake, WI, at the village of Fontana.

I met George Romney not long after the 1987 President’s Volunteer Action Award went to McDonald’s Ronald McDonald House program, a network of homes away from home near children’s hospitals,  to assist families of seriously ill children, and staffed and supported by teams of volunteers. McDonald’s president went to the White House to receive the award from President Reagan and George Romney, founder and chairman of Volunteer, the nation’s leading volunteerism organization, later merged in the Bush’s Points of Light Foundation.

Romney senior scheduled a trip out to McDonald’s headquarters in the fall of 1987, to meet with our president, Ed Rensi, with my boss Dick Starmann and myself to “discuss possible volunteer programs you could build onto your Ronald McDonald presidential award-winning program.” Before Romney’s arrival, and he drove his own car from Detroit to Oak Brook, IL, for the meeting, I briefed Ed on his visitor. Romney was a long-standing McDonald’s fan, and company founder Ray Kroc had personally presented him with “a gold McDonald’s pass for free product” many years before. In the interim, Romney had become chairman of American Motors, Governor of Michigan, and then Secretary of Housing and urban Development under Nixon.

Over lunch at the McDonald’s Lodge, Romney assured Rensi, ” when you build a corporate public image, you help build sales.” McDonald’s discussed creating special restaurant tray liners for National Volunteer Week, the following April, as well as other supporting activities.

Romney, once a Presidential contender himself, had lost momentum to Nixon when after a briefing trip to Vietnam, he alluded to the “brainwashing” he’d received from the generals, and disavowed the war. Romney had been one of the first to resign the Nixon cabinet and distance himself from the emerging Watergate scandal.

When we met him, he was 80 years old, “but walks 8 to 12 miles a day and looks 25 years younger,” I reflected in my briefing memo. Few alive remember that in World War II, Romney was the chief spokesperson for the U.S. auto industry. Just yesterday, Mitt Romney‘s older brother recalled that Mitt was known as a boy for his amazing ability to make realistic auto sounds. With his  automotive history, no wonder George was a fan of McDonald’s drive-in restaurants.

With Manchester, NH, constantly in the news, and tomorrow’s Presidential primary in the media bullseye, I’m reminded of my frequent trips there in the 80s and 90s to meet with a local resident whose name was and is better known than any of the current political candidates, yet the man himself was known to too few.

He was Dick McDonald, co-founder with his brother Mac of the ubiquitous global restaurant chain. He would often meet me at the airport, and I remember arriving one day shortly after a modern McDonald’s had opened inside the terminal. And there was Dick, wandering through in his trench coat and hat, bedazzled by the bright neon, as if he had just landed on the moon.  I was head of corporate communications for the company, and our chairman had given me the job of rebuilding our relationship with the man who started fast food in America. His house was on a cul-de-sac of a little street, with a tiny sign above his mailbox with the word “McDonald” on it — surely the smallest McDonald’s sign in the world.

Below is a segment from my essay, “Breakfast With Mr. McDonald” that can be read on the website of the Chicago Literary Club at Just click on the “Roster of members” and then on my name, Charles Ebeling, and you can read that and other essays I’ve written for the club.

Here’s the excerpt from my essay about a great man of modest ambitions:

Dick McDonald, who lived on until 1998, was first and foremost a kindly man, a gentleman. He was tall and solidly built, with thin gray hair combed back. He was always well dressed, seemingly always wearing a crisp suit or sport coat and tie, with a neat checked pocket square, and a McDonald’s logo pin on his tie or lapel. In retirement, he was a quiet, friendly New Englander, direct and unpretentious, enjoying a slow predictable pace into his twilight years. He was married in 1965 after his retirement and returned to his hometown, with the love of his life, his old high school sweetheart, Dorothy, whom he called Dot.

Dick and Dot lived in a neat, modest tri-level house that must have been new when he moved to Bedford, New Hampshire, a suburb of Manchester, near where they both grew up. He loved to drive and always had one or more new Cadillacs, a luxury he’d acquired when his San Bernardino restaurant became successful. He had moved back to Bedford from California after he retired in 1961. He was to spend much of his time managing his portfolio of stocks and real estate, and actively corresponding with old friends, and with those few who had discovered his pioneering innovations in restaurant service. He was quoted then as saying, “We keep a low profile. We like it that way. We value our privacy.”

They traveled a lot, driving to Arizona and the west coast, to Florida and Canada many times. He and Dot had both been married before. Dick had no children, but Dot had a son, who had two sons of his own whom Dick thought of as his grandchildren. The grandsons would come to stir old pride and determination in their grandfather’s aging bones, and bring back both tensions and gratifications that enlivened the elder’s hours.

Yes, Dick McDonald had experienced a life full of energy and experiment, failures and successes, before that retired life, at the other end of the country, in another time, which we will revisit. But now, in the autumn of his life, he was again beginning to have some fun and was reaping a second round of well-deserved recognition for the spark of entrepreneurship that he and his brother had lit, in the 1940s and 50s, and which had been fanned into an enormous flame of global consumerism by Ray Kroc, founder of the modern McDonald’s Corporation.

This then is the largely untold, eye-witness story of the reemergence, recriminations, reconciliations and the ultimate reverie of Dick McDonald. He was a man, who with his brother Mac played a pivotal pioneering role in the continuing evolution of food service for the mobile lifestyles of our modern civilization. I was given the chance to help bring his story back to life.

All the debate and calls for term limits in Congress prompts me to tell my story about the successful application of term limits to organizational health.

Last night, I attended a reception for myself and a fellow retiring board member of an environmental not-for-profit, the Geneva Lake Conservancy. When I chaired the group, six years ago, I urged the board to adopt term limits, in order to promote refreshing and diversifying the board on a regular basis. We phased in term limits. Over the past three months, knowing these “retirements” wee pending, we were stimulated to identify new board members, and now six have been voted in — our largest freshman class of new board members since the founding of the organization. I’ll continue to volunteer on a couple of committees and be available to help on an ad hoc basis, as will my fellow retiring board member. Now the organization will go forward, refreshed and I hope stronger than ever.

That’s what we need in Congress, too!

January 2012

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