5150 Business Strategy

Life in the Corporate Fast Lane and Still Remaining Intelligent

Archive for the category “Lessons in Being Dysfunctional”

Hear that Flush….

5CA06FC8-B9DE-4F16-9ED4-59F3E181C8DCSound of a million dollars going down the drain……

Management at one firm was so detached from reality that they could not wrap their brain around why anyone would get upset about getting a million dollar plus free to the bottomline boost and have it disappear due to poor management. More frustrating was their continued refusal to acknowledge that losses had piled up due to poor project management and poor estimating.

“We paid for these items in prior periods so this settlement means nothing”, WHAT? I would expect that type of an answer from a three year old, not the senior manager and leader of a firm. Duh, really – you think because items were expensed in prior periods that recovering that money in a current period means nothing?? Mental midget time. The entire justification for why losing a million dollars was OK was this logic? Surely there must be more to it I thought. Man and the UniverseWaiting for the stars to align would be more fruitful than getting a logical answer from senior management. One cannot speak intelligently when the mental capacity to do so is lacking and where the entire justification boils down to, “because I can”. At this point one should resign themselves to the situation being unsalvageable. It is DUHHHH time.

Of course senior management at this firm came up with elaborate excuses for why it was not their fault for these losses. Thank God we caught the finance guys before they took the entire firm down the toilet, LOL. Idiotic on the very face of it given that the finance and accounting department had nothing to do with projects that racked up million dollar losses. Plays well, however, to those not in tune with the inner workings of the company and the fact that management had been warned multiple times about the need to clean up their estimating and project management.

'Here's the plan. We acknowledge a minor management problem or two, then get busy on a major cover-up.'

Years of warnings went unheeded while all along the project losses piled up one after another. Poor estimating and poor strategy on where the firm should be heading all contributed to the quagmire the firm found itself in.

Jane, Moe. Larry and Curly strike again…………Stooges

Lesson learned: shares in a company that cannot form a cohesive strategy and remedy their shortcomings are worthless. Fifty-one percent of zero = zero. By extension, you could conclude that the majority shareholders of firms such as this are worthless, both managerially and monetarily.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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Wiggling Toes in the Sand Update

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What happens when you make the data fit a predefined conclusion. We will make a profit if we bid projects at 8% gross margin even though our overhead rate is 280%. What drugs are you on? No drugs, senior management was just not equipped to understand the difference between gross and net margin. Stupidity knows no bounds.

On the highway to hell…………….

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

No More Wire Hangers

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As things started to spiral out of control at one firm the powers to be became increasingly unhinged. The typical reaction was completely expected, lowering “business” decisions down to a personal vindictive level.

No more snack boxes for staff, let’s discontinue employee benefits, and meetings with all key outside relationships will involve the unhinged senior management. The refrain was in line with No More Wire Hangers – it was No Lunches without senior management involved. “You will involve me in all meetings, in all discussions, and in all your potty breaks, LOL”. It became a comedy of epic proportions starring senior management.

Devious management will many times concurrently have secret discussions with outside counsel to lay traps or to circumvent legally established agreements with staff and business partners. None of this should be unexpected and every move that this type of management takes can be anticipated. No more wire hangers, indeed.

These types of moves are completely vindictive for this type of management as they do not like continual questioning of large losses being incurred by the firm or questioning their inability to formulate a cohesive logical strategy. The outcome of years of bad decisions finally coming to a head eventually leads to erosion of support for  a senior management group which continually teeters on the brink of failure.  Dysfunctional behavior common for this type company becomes too great to be ignored and competent staff leave before the ship sinks. What is left behind are the “C” level players who have risen to their highest level of incompetence and have no other place to go. They stay with a mother ship which protects the incompetent as the bar used to measure competency is so low they are seen as superstars. As the song goes, “I have been down so long it looks like up to me”. Without a doubt Moe, Larry and Curly are not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Let’s look a little closer at some of the actions these types of companies take:

  • Snack boxes delivered on a monthly basis get cut as an employee perk. All is well until senior management decides to halt the deliveries under the guise of cost cutting. The cost cutting is asinine in the context of the larger issues that should be addressed. Ignore million dollar losses due to failed strategies but let’s cut a $75/month benefit to staff. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS.
  • Likewise,  low cost term life insurance for employees is not seen as a benefit. It is the lowest cost benefit that can be included in a comprehensive benefit package. Senior management, for some ill conceived notion, believes these costs are unnecessary. Of course, when things become vindictive this is an area that senior management cuts. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS.
  • The finance department is pivotal in the formation of banking and bonding relationships. Of course, senior management is always involved in discussions and meetings with key institutions. In what can only be described as selective memory, senior management becomes delusional regarding these meetings. Paranoia sets in, “You must include us in all meetings and communications”. Not a big deal as they always are. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS.

Imagine a road trip with the bonding agents and this type of dysfunctional senior management. It would not be uncommon for things not to be disclosed to the financial or bonding agents regarding key projects and financial metrics heading in the wrong direction. The bonding agent might try to corner the finance guy repeatedly during these types of trips to get updates. The finance guy has to play the equivalent of hide and seek to avoid having a definitive conversation on the projects in question. The natural course of things transpire and with any luck the new bonding request will be rejected.  Not without justification, as firms like this that are not being forthright about bonded projects should not be allowed to continue with this bad behavior. Finance and Accounting should not be complicit in spinning a positive tale on projects that are being so poorly managed. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS

Recall from above that this type of senior management undertakes legal discussions and this necessitates radio silence over some period of time before they spring their trap.  This radio silence works against them in so many ways but is completely inline with the juvenile and vindictive manner in which this type of management acts.

Let’s say that the marketing person comes into your office wanting a signature for a new bid bond for a proposal in a far corner of the world. Would you not expect to ask the usual questions for these types of proposal bonds?  One, in particular, is whether the bonding agent is aware that the bond might be needed in this remote area by a certain date to meet a bid deadline. Let’s also say that the marketing person, being relatively new, is not able to answer the questions, and given radio silence by dysfunctional senior management,  up to date info on what was going on with the proposal is not available. Would it not make sense to go to the bonding broker and ask a question that is simple enough – are you aware of the need for this bond and could it be delivered on time? Second, are you up to date on the issues regarding the currently bonded projects? Let’s suppose the replies are Yes and No  – informing them that there were problems on projects that were being resolved is the proper thing to do, don’t you think? Not a big deal, or so one would think, but not when senior management has become completely unhinged.

Imagine the reaction of Joan Crawford to NO MORE WIRE HANGERS, LOL. Senior management can become so detached from reality that they regress even further into illogical and self defeating behavior. Cut off internet access, remove access to all company servers, there will be NO MORE WIRE HANGERS. Insanity can be unleashed and there is nothing to counterbalance the insanity. Senior management spun out of control. Paranoia reigns and what you might hear is – They are trying to get our bonding revoked, they are trying to destroy us, blah, blah, blah. Really? A simple call to make sure a bond will be delivered on time and clarify project status turns into collusion with the Russians, LOL. NO MORE WIRE HANGERS.

Needless to say, you should avoid getting to a last day at firms like this as they could be very eventful with the NO MORE WIRE HANGERS management – you could be taken out and shot. The repercussions could last over several months as further shenanigans by senior management takes place to prove Russian collusion, LOL. There must be NO MORE WIRE HANGERS – it is the height of groupthink and example of senior management not being in touch with reality.Stooges

Something learned over the years at these types of firms is that there is no such thing as transparency and, worse yet, honesty in how senior management deals with situations. Whatever you are told needs to be dissected to make sure there are no ulterior motive that are intended to serve only the select few at the expense of everyone else. This experience and knowledge will serve you well when leaving a firm like this. Being two steps ahead of your opponent and questioning their every move by not taking things at face value is the secret to success when dealing with these types.

Lesson learned: stay two steps ahead of those who are not transparent with their motives, it will serve you well in the final analysis. When management becomes unhinged you need to protect your ASSets by not taking anything at face value.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Wiggling Toes in the Sand Update

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'Here's the plan. We acknowledge a minor management problem or two, then get busy on a major cover-up.'

‘Here’s the plan. We acknowledge a minor management problem or two, then get busy on a major cover-up.’

A story of flashlights, batteries and secret rendezvous. Tropical islands and the smell of ocean spray. Ahhh, love is in the air. How do I love thee, let me count the ways – LOL.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

Is That WIP or WHIP Part 2 – Manage Projects, not WIP

Too many hours of my life have been wasted in meetings with senior level management who were clueless about the nature of WIP. One such manager truly believed that managing WIP would insure that the project was managed profitability. They would grill the project manager for explanations on why the WIP on a project, and their office, was being managed so poorly, from a previous post – dumbass. Everyone understood the futility of the exercise except for this completely clueless senior manager. Of course no one wanted to tell this senior manager the futility of the exercise since they would then be subjected to a string of personal invectives intended to stifle questioning.

When this manager was asked about the concept and mechanism of how WIP worked in various circumstances they could not answer. Yet they were comfortable in speaking authoritatively on what WIP should be and how to insure that it was accurately calculated. Call them clueless……321C6CEB-DD6D-48A6-9EA3-6137542A06C7

Really, you mean to tell me that reversing the prior month WIP and then entering the current month WIP is the way you record the effect of WIP in the current month?? WOW, I did not know that. Really? You are expounding on the importance of WIP and how you need to manage it which is, first, incorrect as you should “manage projects, not WIP” and you don’t even know how it is calculated. You don’t even understand that it is the incremental difference month over month which affects the income statement!!!! Puhleez, why are you wasting everyone’s time?? I can imagine this same exercise in futility continues to this day with this senior manager, clueless.

StoogesCombine this with the other senior managers who were incapable of independent thought and you have the making of an epic comedy. Moe falls all over himself trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. Duh, whatever they said I agree with, please don’t yell at me. Someone get this guy a new hairdo, LOL. Curly, scratches his balls and continues to stare down at the table so he doesn’t have to contribute anything intelligent to the analysis, which he is incabable of doing. Larry makes some cute remark which is how he starts every conversation to ingratiate himself with the senior manager. Something witty and ass kissing that keeps his nose firmly planted up the senior managers ass, LOL. No need to change this process, just humor the senior manager and let them think something is being accomplished, LOL. Another two hours of my life that I will never get back……….

Here is what a typical Q&A session might be like with the likes of Moe, Larry, Curly and Jane…

812BF21B-8D9D-4414-8922-8ED9AA1E6494– OK guys how many of you know the difference between positive and negative WIP?
Jane: Oh, Oh, me, me, me Jane stammers expressively jumping up and down with arms flailing in the air.
– Yes Jane, you go ahead and tell us the difference.
Jane: Easy peezy, positive WIP is when the positive ions outnumber the negative ions and negative WIP is when negative ions outnumber the positive ions!! She does the superstar cheerleader stance with smug satisfaction.
– Are you shitting me, this is your answer after I have explained it a million times before. You are truly clueless. Moe, what is the correct answer?
Moe: I agree with Jane on the positive negative thing. Is that OK?
– Again, are you shitting me, are you totally spineless? Wait, I already know the answer to that, LOL. Curly, what is the correct answer?
Curly: Mumbling, grumbling, and gurgling sound…. Uh, scratching his balls and rearranging things in the nether region and then he states, “I am opposed”.
– WTF, what the hell are you opposed to? That was not the question.
Curly: I don’t care, I am opposed.
– Jesus, this is great. Larry, what is the correct answer?
Larry: Well Jane you are looking very chipper for so early in the morning, did you smoke some meth before you came in this morning? Yuk, Yuk, Yuk….. Maybe the coffee has some extra caffeine in it, Yuk, Yuk, Yuk. Anyway the answer is whatever Jane says it is!
– Great, all of you are totally worthless.

E2C93CCA-761A-4050-9AE1-E079E59B5904This is a journey to the dark side of the moon where there exists a vacuum between the ears. A black hole from which no intelligent thought escapes. A time warp in which meetings repeat themselves month after month, week after week and the same non-results are celebrated as progress!!! Yet, the profit fade and poor project management never change. There is consistency in the fact that nothing changes – poor estimating and project management are the rule, not the exception.

Managing your project effectively means monitoring and changing the following as things change over the life of the project: Contract value, Change Orders, Original estimate, and Estimate to complete. If you maintain realism of these items the beneficiary is the WIP. The WIP does not drive project profitability, your actions on the project do. Those who say they don’t know how their project is doing because the WIP is incorrect are simply wrong. They don’t know where their project is because they have not managed their project. The following statement will never ring true, “if it wasn’t for my WIP I would have made my margins on this project.”. WIP does not drive project profitability, it is a byproduct of good project management. MANAGE PROJECTS, DO NOT MANAGE WIP.

Lesson learned:  Oh clueless ones, Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Pedigree Can’t Cure Ignorance

 

I used to make the assumption that if someone had a first class school on their resume that it meant the person was an extraordinary talent. Unfortunately, some of the most ignorant senior managers, many in the “C” Suite, I have met in my career have had “A” list educations – Berkeley, Cornell, Stanford, MIT, etc. Continually amazes me that what I was told early in my career consistently plays out as true – all an education tells you about an individual is that they know how to jump through hoops. They are able to navigate through course requirements to get the degree. It says nothing about their abilities or capabilities in managing a company.

For instance, let’s bid jobs at 7% when our overhead is 21% and then can’t figure out why there is no profit, dumbass. Better yet, let’s underbid jobs in regions while concurrently ramping up overhead costs and then not perform on those jobs to the underestimated margin, dumbass. Simple math eludes even those at the top levels of management, otherwise known as dumbass.

Whacky math that you would have thought an education would make a difference in. These same dumbass managers, however, belittle those who possess greater knowledge as if to justify their ill conceived ideas. One of the better business minds I have met was an engineer who started a business and ran it very successfully. I will never forget the asinine behavior of one senior manager towards this successful business owner. Not only was it embarrassing but it exposed the insecurities this other manager had regarding their very own lack of business acumen, dumbass. Of course, this same manager was responsible for multi-million dollar losses, it was their only claim to fame, dumbass. Actually they had a bigger claim to fame but it was not something to brag about……

Imagine a company where the entire upper management is composed of such dumbasses!!! They are rocketing on the road to nowhere. A cover band masquerading as the real thing – capable and enlightened management. Unfortunately, this is much more common than one would believe. Spans all industries and all size companies.

Stooges

Lesson learned: ignorance knows no bounds and exists at the highest level of some organizations. A dumbass is a dumbass regardless of education or title.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Wiggling Toes in the Sand Update

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Reminds me of a Rick Springfield song….  Jessie’s Girl

Since 2012, Sky Research has been under federal investigation related to corruption and bribery of a federal official.  From Wikipedia.

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

It’s in the Delivery – Published August 2012

From the archives

Jim, it is not your message we don’t like but it is in the delivery. Usually this is said after the umpteenth time I have tried to deliver the message in the most politically correct way possible. This usually is followed by, “You just don’t understand the circumstances”. As if I had not delivered the same message, about the same situation, a million times before. No, maybe it is not me, but you, that needs to wake up and smell the roses, or usually manure by the time we get to this point.

Here is how it typically goes:

First time: Hey everybody, we better watch out for the cliff coming up – don’t you think? No one listens, over the cliff we go.

Second time: Hey everybody, remember last time we went over the cliff, wasn’t much fun was it? Let’s watch out for that cliff, OK? No one listens, over the cliff we go.

Third time: Hey everybody, I am really tired of warning about the cliff, think we can listen up this time and avoid going over? No one listens, over the cliff we go.

Fourth time: OK, YOU FUCKING MORONS I HAVE WARNED YOU ABOUT THE FUCKING CLIFF SEVERAL TIMES, NOW STOP FUCKING AROUND AND STOP!! Response: Geez Jim, no need to get upset about this and we really don’t appreciate how you delivered the message. Plus, you don’t seem to understand the circumstances that precipitated us going over the cliff previously. We would appreciate it if you would not speak to us that way.

No, I think I understand what the circumstances are – a complete lackadaisical attitude of management to address known problems in a proactive and assertive way. Therefore, the problem continues to cause havoc amongst the staff until someone has the wherewithal to question why we don’t change things. Of course, then you get the “you just don’t understand and we don’t like your delivery” speech. It is always flipped over on to the person raising the obvious as if they should just shut up and go along for the ride over the cliff – over and over and over.

I was asked once by a senior manager why I had to address a situation in such harsh terms. My response, because when I have raised the issue in subtle, but less direct, terms you don’t get it. These are the same people, however, who have adopted the attitude that the person raising the obvious is the problem versus the fact that nothing is done to address the real problem.

A classic moment was at the architecture firm that was trying to implement the new ERP system but did not have a clue they were headed towards the cliff. After several months trying to get upper management to see the impending cliff they hired a new IT manager who was charged with getting the mess organized. He delivered the “your delivery is a problem” speech which set me off on my usual response. It did not matter how the message was delivered – nice, slow, articulate, spelled out, in English, in French, with sugar on top, or laced with invective. Of course, the new guy coming in sees the delivery as the problem when the real problem was the inability of management to listen to the input they were receiving in an intelligent manner. Plus, they had succumbed to groupthink which immediately belittled opposing viewpoints.

Isn’t it funny that the delivery of the message is a sufficient enough excuse for people to ignore the obvious problem multiple times? It becomes the standard excuse for why managers continue to make bad decisions. Well, had he delivered the message to me better I would not have made the same mistakes over and over again – does that really make sense to anyone? Mediocre management relies upon this excuse as a crutch to justify their poor practices.

Lesson Learned: question management that uses delivery of the message as a sufficient excuse for bad practice, it never is. It is the ultimate straw man argument.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Wiggling Toes in the Sand

Seems appropriate for Valentines Day – how contractors run afoul of Federal investigators when they get caught wiggling their toes in the sand with procurement officers.

More to come………………………

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

Is that Whip or WIP

A wise and sage person once said, “manage your project, don’t manage WIP”. For years the idea of Work in Progress (WIP) has eluded the understanding of senior management at many companies. Senior management labors under the impression that there is a WIP God that is all seeing and all knowing and will swoop down upon the company if anything is awry. What senior management in many companies fail to understand is that the way the company estimates projects makes the calculation of WIP immediately suspect. Many projects are already upside down before they even get out of the gate. Pointing this out is to no avail when senior management is convinced that WIP is the problem, not poor estimating or project management. Of course, the problem of profit fade and poor performing projects never goes away when management remains convinced that WIP, or is that WHIP, caused the project to lose money.

A short primer on the critical elements of WIP for the uninitiated. There are three key elements that are needed to insure that the process of WIP operates as accurately as possible:

  1. You need an estimate that is in the ballpark. This was the beginning of the problem at one firm. Estimates were so far out in left field that the math to calculate percent complete was immediately whacked.
  2. This part most firms cannot screw up too much – contract value. Although firms never stop trying to screw this up by not updating the contract value throughout the contract, both up and down. At this point this becomes just one other piece of the calculation that goes wrong.
  3. Competent project managers who can actually manage projects. SURPRISE! What a concept, there must be capable project managers who know where they are in the project and can accurately forecast an estimate to complete (ETC).

Simple enough, don’t you think?? Yet those at many companies cannot wrap their brain around the concept and continually come up with processes and procedures to manage WIP, versus manage the projects or change clearly deficient estimating procedures and project management.

A case of dumb and dumber, the blind leading the blind, etc… We know that if we manage the WIP that the projects will make money, you MUST be calculating it incorrectly. Bwaa Haa Haa, such ignorance. Folks, WIP is just a timing mechanism that matches revenue to expense and has no impact upon a projects profitability. That is the main purpose of WIP – match revenue to expense was what I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs after sitting through the 100th meeting where the same pronouncement regarding how WIP needed to be managed. The usual Jim Carrey look came when they would make these statements – “we know the truth, you can’t fool us”, LOL. I am convinced this was done to WHIP me into submission. As if telling me over and over  would make me a convert to the insanity. To this day the senior management at many companies is clueless to the concept of WIP.

Being able to effectively estimate projects is where many companies have real issues that doom projects to profit fade from the beginning and/or during the project when an estimate to complete is needed. I recall asking for an estimate to complete from a senior manager at one company for a project in Southern California. He sticks his finger up in the air, gauges the direction of airflow, and says “we only have another $150,000 worth of work left on this project”. This was at yearend when preparing for audit so I asked “are you sure?”. Yes, absolutely was the reply by not only this senior manager but others as well. The first quarter of the new year the firm immediately proceeded to spend $1.5 million to complete the project – whoops, a little off. WTF. You got it – the WIP was wrong, we lost money because of the WIP, LOL. Unfortunately, this is not the exception but the rule at many companies. Estimates and estimates to complete are many times about as accurate as a Tarot card reading. Actually Tarot card readings are probably more accurate. My apologies to all Tarot card readers.

Trying to get accurate estimate to complete in some companies on any project is like whack a mole. They keep guessing until the end of the project when it is  impossible to get it wrong anymore!! Consistently profit fade on projects follows a pattern of 35%, 30%, 15%, to 9% once the project is done. There are always estimates given to substantiate the profit percentage of the month. You got it – the WIP was the culprit. Gotta manage that WIP better. Senior management actually many times increases focus on WIP everytime a project loses money and then cannot understand why the same profit fade continually occurs. DUH, the root cause was poor estimating and project management.

Many companies are populated with “C” players at the senior management level. From the Harvard Business Review (I have added emphasis), “There are three main types of C players, and what you should do depends on which you’re working with. The first are those who have been promoted beyond their level of competence (a concept popularly known as the Peter Principle). They simply don’t possess the capability to perform in their current job. These are the individuals you need to manage out of your team. Perhaps they can flourish in less-demanding roles or in other parts of the organization, or perhaps they simply need to leave entirely.“. Unfortunately, the senior management of many firms aren’t going anywhere even though they clearly lacked the competence to perform at the level required. They truly have risen to their highest level of incompetence.

As in many companies, staff can see senior management for what they are. Only management themselves are blind to the issues that originated with their lack of competence in key areas. I suppose it is the only way this type of senior management survives in many companies. The feeble minded band together and validate each others bad decisions. In that way they survive in the only environment they can, one in which they can control and elude performance measurements which would doom them in any other company. I have a recurring nightmare where Moe, Larry, Curly and Jane show up and we are working together. No, this can’t be real – and then I wake up and am overcome with a feeling of relief. It was just a dream.

Lesson learned: manage your projects, not WIP. Beware of those who speak authoritatively on a subject and attempt to lead when they have no inkling of what they speak of.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

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