The Cockroach Beatitudes: The Legend of How IRC Came to Be

A true story (so far as we know) of how IRC came to be. 

The extended family of cockroaches lived in an abandoned house in the decrepit area north of downtown Columbus in the year 1987 -- an area that has since become famous as the Short North Arts District.  The cockroaches' only local friend was Zoe Johnstone, who, with her husband Jack, wanted to buy their house for a small upscale hotel with a bed-and-breakfast feel to it.

Jack and Zoe approached the cockroach tribe as a group and told them that they would have to move out of the Italianate brick house before its renovation, and that they should find another home. In unison, the cockroaches cheerily said, "That's a problem!"

Jack groaned when he heard this, but Zoe, being more familiar with cockroach culture, responded, "Great, then we have a deal?"

"Of course!" the cockroaches said at once, laughing.

Jack was puzzled, and a bit irritated, "What just went on in that conversation? Did I miss something?"

"No," Zoe answered, "They just agreed to move out. Whenever we are ready for them to go, we just have to use the trash dumpster to transport them, I suppose."

Jack was vexed, and seeing this, Zoe continued, "You see, cockroaches have been on earth for billions of years and around human culture for hundreds of centuries.  It is a cockroach cliché to say that they knew us humans before we knew ourselves.  I came to know a great many of them over the years in my work, both as an interior designer and as an organist-choirmaster.  I know how much cockroaches love old houses and churches.  Anyway, I thought I had told you all of this. . . ."

"I think I would have remembered a conversation about cockroaches", said Jack dryly. And Zoe observed he was not calming down very much.

"Never mind", continued Zoe, "You only have to know a few things about cockroach culture to get along with them. First, they believe they are favored by the gods they worship because they have survived so long.  Second, they love problems.  Third, they love to eat.  Fourth, they'll eat anything at all. Fifth, they love change. Sixth, they love human beings and take care of us as much as possible.  Seventh, they work together in groups extremely well.  Eighth. . . ."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" interrupted Jack irritably.  "How do you know all of this?  What does it have to do with their willingness to move and, if they are willing to move, why did they say it was a problem?"

Zoe paused, looked at Jack, and exhaled.  "Well, the main thing is that moving is a problem for the cockroaches so, of course, they will move because they like problems even more than they like humans.  A key issue, which I realized during my discussion with them, is that we must move their food out also.  We can do that when we start demolition on the building.”

“You do not survive long as a cockroach if you do not learn to love having problems”, Zoe continued.  “Cockroaches view problems as a sign of life, and they have many proverbs in their culture that intertwine problems and food as sacred symbols, holding them always in favor with their gods. The theory is that only dead cockroaches do not have problems. I have a feeling that you and I are going to rely heavily on the lessons we can learn from cockroaches if our hotel is going to be successful."

Several months passed and Zoe continued to chat with Jack about cockroach culture, and Jack, for his part, studied the subject like the medieval scholar he is. They both applied insights gleaned from cockroaches to the operation of their hotel.  50 Lincoln--A Very Small Hotel flourished and became known as the best, cleanest, friendliest small hotel in Central Ohio.  The surrounding Short North Arts District also blossomed and grew with Jack's and Zoe's leadership.  In early 1987, Jack felt confident enough of his future as a full-time hotelier to quit his job with the State of Ohio.

Rob and Jakki Downey were friends of the Johnstones.  Rob had worked with Jack at the Ohio Department of Development for three years.  Jack had recently learned that this friend also understood cockroach thinking.  Rob's happenstance empathy, Jack found, came from personal and varied experiences with cockroaches -- before he met Jakki of course -- as a hitchhiker, construction worker and slob. 

Jack and Rob had lengthy discussions about "consulting" in the field of international trade, and began to wonder if it would be possible to use the 50 Lincoln laundry room for an office.  One evening in August, 1987, Rob and Jack broached the subject with their wives over post-prandial Merlot and cigars.

Zoe said, "What a stupid idea.... go for it!" as she was puffing on her presidente.

"Great!  . . . and you guys are both dumb enough to do it."  Jakki agreed, watching the ambient blue smoke rise from the tip of her panatela.

"We will always be there for you too." chattered the cockroaches from the patio, as they chewed on the wet cigar stubs they brought from their new home across the alley.

"Do you two think you can support us for the next six years, even if we don't make a penny?"  Jack and Rob carefully asked Zoe and Jakki through the maduro haze of their unlabeled Cubans.

"I do." said Zoe. "I do." said Jakki.  Then each reflected separately about how expensive,  exhausting and troublesome those two words could be in life.

The cockroaches chimed in, again in unison but more pensively, realizing how responsible they were for this new endeavor.  "We wish you many, many problems over a long, long time. . . ."

Then they reverently continued through the cockroach beatitudes. . . .

"If you tell us your problems, we will tell you what you want."

"Want something, even though it causes problems."

"Do what you want, even though that causes more problems."

"Learn to love your problems."

"Train yourself to move toward problems."

"Learn to eat your problems."

"There will never be a shortage of problems, so do not hoard problems."

"It is rude to eat too much of somebody else's problems, but upon invitation, a Good Cockroach may use discretion in regard to the problems of others."

"Fat cockroaches get hungry, too, y'know."

This last tenet, seemingly offhand and anomalous, is in actuality a shorthand expression of advanced cockroach philosophy, meaning that everyone has problems always.  The uniqueness of a given problem is due first and foremost to the perspective of the one in possession of it.

…Then the crystal emptied of wine that evening in the same way a well-prepared mind empties of expectation in the face of large challenges; the room filled up with smoke like the well-prepared heart fills with hopelessness when in pursuit of destiny.  International Risk Consultants, nee’ Johnstone Downey Finance International, was underway, without presumption or despair, and following the advice of six hundred cockroaches.

wellness bingo

IRC like most companies have been hit hard with the increase in Health Insurance cost. While there is no sure fire way to reduce cost by offering incentives it can be fun to try and promote a healthier lifestyle within an organization. Beginning in February this year for 11 weeks approximately 15 people from IRC participated in "Wellness Bingo". The program promotes a sense of total wellness by participation in a such things as: read a book instead of watching TV, get at least 8-9 hours of sleep on a week night, participate in a charity or community event, try a new exercise or activity and so on. We offered prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners that were selected by using a random calculation based on number of Bingo cards completed. Meet our winners below: 

1st- Marie Hill

2nd- Shirley Gerald

3rd- Amy McLoughlin

"take care of the children"

This phrase is from Richard Adams 1970's novel Shardik, the story of a mystical bear and its shambling, fortuitous interactions -- some beneficial, some not -- with an ancient tribal people who worshipped it. Kelderek Take-Care-Of-The-Children, protagonist of the story, is a shaman-like holy fool who understands the bear and interprets its signs and omens for his people. In time -- through the events of war, plague, betrayal, love, loss, endurance and redemption that carry the story forward -- the reader comes to understand, along with the surviving tribal members, that most of the messages offered by Shardik the Bear may be reduced to the directive contained within Kelderek's full name. The theme of the book and Kelderek's full name is our company's first business commandment. 

One meaning of this commandment obviously derives from the fact that IRC is a collection of 22 partners, 15 associates, 2 contractors, 10 employees and 48 other dependents, including sixteen children under the age of ten. As a partner-owned company, we have the long view on behalf of our children and -- for them, the best of reasons -- we take our work seriously, far more seriously than we do ourselves. The other meaning is a reminder that in our business, like Kelderek in his time, we must build a team that is complicated, linked, durable and withy like the tribe, create an organization that adapts to changing reality like the mystical eternal bear fit his rugged, upland forest, and follow our vision like the holy fool with the wisdom, courage, persistence and energy to penetrate the half-seen signs and unexplained omens that reveal opportunity to our clients. For the sake of the children we intend to become our clients' tribe, mystical protective bear and holy fools.

"ask a few more questions"

This prescription could have come from Detective Lieutenant Columbo as played by Peter Falk in the eponymous 1980's television series. Questions are mother's milk to us at JDK/IRC; as essential to what we do as they are to the work of the seemingly befuddled, offhanded, disheveled -- but always successful -- fictional police hero. 

We ask questions because we are curious about our clients. Curious about what they do and what they used to do. Curious about what they want to change and what they feel they must protect from change. Curious about what they want to do differently, what they feel they must avoid doing at all costs, and what they feel they must do at a minimum in order to survive. 

We ask even more questions of our clients because we are sceptical. Sceptical about our clients' and our prospects' abilities to describe themselves well. Sceptical of our own ability to gain true and useful perceptions of our clients and prospects merely from their spoken and written word. Sceptical of any understanding of events as being true or even useful. Sceptical because we see the truth only, as it were, "...through a glass darkly," and never, "...the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth." 

We frequently have various people within our company ask questions (usually the same sort of questions) of various people within the companies we identify as potential clients. Oblique repetition and overlapping emphasis is the warp-and-woof of a style developed by us because we fully respect the misfit between individuals and the words they use to express their ambitions, desires, fears, and perspectives. 

Our business is not complicated, it is merely difficult. It is always difficult for our clients -- if they incorrectly believe themselves to be judged -- to account for their motivations in any meaningful depth when we ask questions that start, "Why...?" It is difficult at other times for clients -- especially if vanity intrudes -- to answer questions that begin, "Who in your company decides...?" It may even be difficult for some -- who believe that it is beyond their job description -- to speculate with us in respose to a query beginning, "So what if...?" 

We move in human traffic when we are doing our job well. Not knowing for sure is never an excuse we use; not caring is never excused by our clients. Different and difficult questions serve as the steering wheel, clutch, engine, fuel, or transmission of our vehicle as we navigate congestion on the highway. So, when your trade credit or trade finance situation seems to be stuck in the inevitable oxymoronic "rush hour standstill," indulge us, please, while we ask just a few more questions. It is the essential beginning of what we do. 

"Never give in"

On 29 October 1941, Winston Churchill told the students at Harrow, his old public school: "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'' 

What does it mean, never to give in? It means to follow our own light steadfastly. It means to take our own counsel, and not turn away from our commitments. It means trusting ourselves, and not giving in to the demands of others. It means that we value Resolution and Independence, as The Leech Gatherer, through "employment hazardous and wearisome" (Wordsworth). It means that we laugh ourselves to scorn, "to find/In that decrepit man, so firm a mind." It means that we do not yield to outside influence. It means that we do not draw easy conclusions, and do not take the words of others as truth. It means that we follow our own muse, as did Emily Dickinson (Poem 316), and resist a world that asks: 

Who'd be the fool to stay? 
Would you -- Say -- 
Would you be the fool to stay? 

"Traveler, There is No Way. The Way is Made by Going"


Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada mas; 
caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. 
Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atras, 
se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. 
Caminante, no hay camino, Sino estelas en la mar. 

- Antonio Machado 

English translation: 

Traveler, your footprint is your path and nothing else; 
Traveler, there is no way, the way is made by going. 
By walking you make the path, and when you look back, 
You see the track where you should never walk again. 
Traveler, there is no way, only the wake in the sea. 

A broker's life is a little bit like a poet's life at times. The difference is that we, as brokers, carve our words and lay down our stanzas in search of Understanding and Agreement, not in pursuit of Truth. One may write poetry or own an international brokerage firm with two dozen other people as a vocation, " walking you make the path". 

For the love of the process and the team, we work from the heart, without a map. In our daily battle against ignorance and indecisiveness, we aim to create the clarity that will temporarily stay confusion and give us -- and our clients -- a brief refuge from the impending tyranny of entropy. Our hope, with Antonio Machado, is that Trust and Devotion will outlast Rust and Corrosion. 

Antonio Machado was a rebel who did not conform with his society's rules. When he wrote this poem in 1917, he was teaching school in a small Spanish city named Soriato. He witnessed war, lived through the period of extreme social and political discontent that brought the Spanish Civil War to his homeland, and experienced the personal trauma of his young wife's death. It is the relentlessness of these struggles that enhanced and elevated his poetry to a new level. 

We each create a path by the steps we take toward our goals . In his poem, Machado the existentialist utilizes an image of the sea to represent his view of our path through life's length. That is, no one leaves a true path for another to follow; each path taken evanesces like a ship's wake in the water. We don't need to follow anyone's path but our own. In fact, no other path exists, but the one of our own active creation. 

At IRC we strive to create an individual path for each client by moving forward with an original view of each situation. We know that only by being authentic can we achieve our personal goals, help our clients reach their goals, and go where we have never been before, whether through new personal discoveries or through creative insurance and finance solutions.

"the ball is always in our court"

Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird probably never actually uttered the words of this IRC Commandment, but they certainly expressed it in their work on the basketball court. We try to bring the same enthusiasm, the same sense of creative possibility, and the same well-rounded excellence to our work on behalf of clients. 

We believe in what we do and what we can do in every situation. Action, even when failure is the end result, is better than reaction or inaction. Client satisfaction and client retention is based on what we do and there is always something we can do. How we react to what the world offers us is far more important than dwelling on past circumstances (positive or negative). It is important to maintain a positive attitude, and a feeling that no matter the situation there is always a next step that assists our client. 

"Always Know the Rules You Are Asking Others to Break"

When faced with a challenge or opportunity, success will come to those who visualize the possibilities. At IRC, we know we cannot improve on a situation without understanding the existing conditions and history which impact it. The old saying that "rules are made to be broken" may sometimes be true, but only if we understand why the rules exist, and accept responsibility for the consequences of not following them. It is advisable to remain flexible in our approach to client problems and to keep an open mind for flaws, whether in the status quo or in a new way of thinking. If change is required, we take responsibility for making change occur; implement it quickly, and make only those changes we are willing to see through to the end, no matter what barriers and resistance intervene. 

philosophy archive

January 2013
Our Article of the Month for January is from Sports Illustrated.  "The World's Team" written by Grant Wahl focuses on FC Barcelona's growth from a well know Spanish football club into one of the most popular and successful sports teams in the world.  Enjoy!        

Sports Illustrated - The World's Team

December 2012
This month IRC chose an article written by William Hudson of CNN entitled "Sitting for hours can shave years off life."  This article looks at the dangers of sitting too much in our everyday lives.  In response to the growing body of scientific data on the dangers of sitting all day at the office IRC will begin testing out adjustable height desks in Columbus, OH with the opening of our new office in February 2013.

CNN - Sitting for Hours Can Shave Years Off Life

November 2012
This Presidential season IRC has chosen a piece for our Article of the Month that looks past the election towards the future of the American economy.  Written by Clayton Christensen, "A Capitalist's Dilemma, Whoever Wins on Tuesday" was published in the New York Times last week.  We hope you enjoy reading this interesting point of view.

New York Times -  A Capitalist's Dilemma, Whoever Wins on Tuesday

August 2012
This month we would like to share a spotlight article that was written recently by the New York Times.  This article focuses on the Short North Arts District in Columbus, Ohio which also is the location of the headquarters of International Risk Consultants.  In fact Rigsby's which is mentioned in the article shares the same building as IRC.  Enjoy!

New York Times - In Columbus, Ohio, an Arts Belt is Thriving  

February 2012
In this the second iteration of IRC's "Article of the Month" feature we have chosen a recent New York Times article written by Robert Lipsyte.  Spring of 62' a Look Back at the Dawn of the Mets is a look at the early Mets just as current day baseball players report for a new season.  Some of the stories and quotes from and about Casey Stengal are particularly fun.  You can read the article by clicking on link below.  Enjoy!

New York Times - Spring of 62' 

January 2012
In this the first iteration of IRC's new "Article of the Month" feature we have chosen a 2010 New Yorker article written by Malcom Gladwell.  Small Change is an opinion piece that discussed the merits of social media as a tool for revolution.  We find it as relevant today as it was sixteen months ago when it was written.  You can read the article by clicking on link below.  Enjoy!

The New Yorker - A Small Change