Tag Archives: business

New Year Resolutions

Back when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, I remember walking after school with a teammate to basketball practice; I still laugh when I think of all of us groaning as we “ran the lines.” I wasn’t a basketball all-star, but I participated.  Moving into middle school, I didn’t make the A-team for basketball, but I did play in one varsity game that we won. Read More

Why Steel Pipe Doesn’t Always Follow the Steel Market.

Steel pipe is separate from the steel market due to one major factor, steel pipe is price driven by coil versus general steel shape products such as angle, channel, and beam.  Coil must be made from a slab (vs a billet) and that coil market drives the pricing in the steel market.  Coil is used in the automotive, appliance and any other industry that uses sheet.  Since coil may be in short supply or high supply it is the availability and price of coil that drives steel pipe pricing at any given moment.    Read More

Chances to Shine

I am often asked, what can I do to get a promotion or how do I advance or how do I get a raise.  Often times the question is asked by a good associate.  That question has always been tough for me to try and explain to the would-be-great-associate so that it makes sense.  It usually isn’t that they don’t work hard, because they do.  It isn’t that they don’t think and perform their tasks well. They usually follow the rules, get their job done and go home.  So what is it that separates a good employee from a great employee?

In a recent discussion with a couple of our Divison Managers, the topic came up.  How do we explain the “thing” that “gets you noticed”?   The thing that makes the boss say,  “That is the person I want on my team.” ” That is the person I want to take to the next level.”  I was frustrated because, if I can’t explain it to myself, then how the hell do I explain it to a valued associate without insulting them?  It’s not about working longer, or staying later, it’s about your efficiencies during the day.  It’s about taking the blinders off to see what is going on around you. There is always a juncture with an associate where they have reached a point they feel they deserve a raise or a promotion, that usually results in a manager sitting down and pointing out all the small flaws in the associates game, how they need to think like a manager, act like a manager etc etc.  What the hell does that mean anyway??  There are a lot of bad managers!!! In my experience that has led to the employee feeling down, frustrated and crushed because they felt they were doing a good job. (And they were most time) Then we sometimes lose a good associate out of frustration.  They are thinking “he treated me fine yesterday and now I’m am a failure?? How did that happen??”

 (Side note: if you ask the question,  be ready for the answer as you may need to improve your own game if you cant show up on time, you may want to avoid the question of “how do I get a raise around here?”)

In our discussion it came to me…what separates the average, or the good from the great- it is taking advantage of chances to shine.  I’ll try and explain… In life, business and marriage there are chances to shine, “opportunities” , if you will, to shine.  A chance to make a difference. These always take extra effort and work, I don’t care how many people tell you otherwise.  To get noticed you have to do a very simple thing, Pay attention and work at it. Work at it all the time!  I am not talking about bringing your boss coffee in the morning, I am talking about real issues that make the business move, sales solutions, new markets, operational efficiencies, etc.

Now that being said don’t confuse a chance to shine with being a decision-maker.  It has nothing to do with making decisions. Have you ever heard “if I could make the decisions, I know exactly what I would do”.  Well, then why don’t you voice that?  The problem is; many times the new manager wants to make a decision for the sake of making a decision not an intelligent, educated decision. The first questions in any decisions are; Do I have to make the decision right now? Do I have an expert to help me? am I an expert?  Have I done my research? Many owner/executives lack the time to do the research and that is why some Ideas or suggestions just never seem to come to fruition, frustrating staff and causing inefficiencies.  This is exactly the point where you can shine.

You need to look for chances to shine. Don’t be so naive to think that if you are putting a bunch of effort into something you won’t get noticed.  It may take a day, a year or 5 years but someone will notice.   Paying attention and being a facilitator/problem solver will allow people to see you.  You need to put so much effort into something that you cannot help but be noticed.  That causes people to say, “ That’s the right person for the job for sure”   When there are ideas on the table, take them on, research them, provide the intel to allow them to be implemented.  Be early, not late.  If someone under you is struggling, learn the job together, help them through it, make them better. Take on things and own them like they were yours.  Become someone that people rely on to become an expert. (Again this has nothing to do with decision making) Your supervisor will then turn to you because they know you will do the work, do the research and provide the best options possible.  Not all of your research will be implemented, not all of your hard work will produce results and many times you may be the bearer of bad news, that something won’t work, but you will get noticed and you will be appreciated. Do these things often and accurately and that will give you the chance to be a decision-maker.  What your supervisor is looking for is people that make educated, researched, intelligent decisions, not just decisions.

 These chances to shine happen every day and people just pop by them with excuses like, “I don’t know anything about that”. “Not my Job” “I don’t have time”  “I’ll do it when they pay me to do it”  or they are so wrapped up in their social media, games or other apps that they don’t see their opportunity to shine.  If you make a difference and make everything better around you then your effort will be seen, rewarded and appreciated.  Your manager/boss needs help and if you listen, you will know exactly how to help.  That will get you a raise, that will get you a promotion, that will make you valuable to the team.  You have to find these chances to shine every day, there is no shining moment and then you are done it is an all-the-time-thing, not a some-of-the-time-thing.  Do that,  and you probably never have  to ask for a promotion or a raise again. Read More

How to Train Your Leader

If you own your company or have become a leader in your company, there will come a point where you will need grow and you will need to hire a manager/leader or you will need to train your replacement manager/leader so you can advance in your position.  Many times you are tasked with training your new leader just after you have grown your business or have just become a leader yourself.  At this point, many times, small business’s bring family in, or friends. The large business’s hire the up and coming business graduate.  One of the biggest mistakes in starting to train your leader is to avoid asking yourself if you are a leader. Look in the mirror and really try and nail down if you are a leader or are a keen business negotiator or perhaps an expert in your field or even just a great salesperson.  The issue lies in that none of these traits make you a good leader.

So, what is a leader? Google leadership and you will get thousands upon thousands of suggestions, definitions, videos, and books.  So the question begs, are you a situational leader, transactional leader, coach, commander, etc.?  The task of training leadership is often assigned to the most experienced or talented person in the company, but the question is the same again, are they a true leader? Can they train your next leader?  It is a common mistake in companies to leave the training of your future leadership to  Betty or Bob, the ones who have been with you for 25 years.  You trust them implicitly and they know the business inside and out.  Typically this results in some very technically proficient trainees. The question remains, does that make them leaders?  “Great players don’t always make great coaches”

I recently watched a Ted talk by Peter Anderton Titled “Great leadership comes down to only two rules”. It keys on some points that I believe are vital to leadership as well as the people that train leadership.

Peter discusses leadership and the studies of leadership briefly for the last Millenia. For thousands of years the experts have been in search of the secret of leadership; are you born with it, can it be trained, is it situational,  etc? In Peters opinion there are two basic rules of leadership that have been diluted and hidden as we no longer look for the keys to leadership, we search for the silver bullet.

So what is rule one? Rule one is it’s not about you.  Not in a servant mentality kind-of-way, nor is it a democracy kind-of-way but in the best interest kind-of-way.  It is not about coddling, hugging or hammering your trainee, it is about you wanting them to be better. You have to have your students best interests in mind, their personal interests, their professional interests, their psychological and economic interests.  To be a good leader it will require all kinds of leadership at different times; disciplinary, kindness, democratic, situational and the list goes on.  Rule one is the first thing you need to pass on to your future leader, in action and thought is“It’s not about you”

Rule two is the most important rule in my opinion.  It is the rule that most of us have thrown away as we gain experience and advance in position.  It is the first rule we forget as we gain confidence and expertise.  It is the rule we ignore as we proudly discuss our mistakes and our overachievements, plaques, and ribbons. It is the fastest to fade as we feel the power or of our new authority! Rule two is It’s all about you.  It’s about how you act and how you react.  It’s about how you take your experiences only to use them to make clouded judgments (That’s how we have always done it). The person that is a true leader should be working the hardest on themselves. It really boils down to how you improve yourself so you can improve those around you.

Leadership is never perfected, it is not a miracle that you suddenly discover one day.  It’s a lot of hard work, experience, and effort. So, how do you train your leader?, by remembering that “It’s not about you” and more importantly  “It’s all about you”.  The true leader looks in the mirror and says “if I want anything to be different it starts with Me”.


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Do People Care Anymore?

I recently had an associate who was struggling with their iPhone.  To rectify the situation it would take a trip to the Apple store.  The phone would not receive phone calls or text messages and we were told by the phone service that it would need to go to apple.  The associate immediately departed for the store and everyone else went back to work.

Murphy’s law kicked in and one of the associate’s most valued customers showed up to pick up an order.  Unfortunately, no one in the building knew what the order was, including the driver that was sent to pick it up. To complicate the matter, the associate that has no phone service, was the rep for the account and was probably the only person that knew what we needed to do and he was unreachable.. or so the average person would think.

 This customer needed their product for a rush job and the clock was ticking.

I said to myself, ” Well where there is a will, there is a way”. So I called Apple.  I was greeted by the auto attendant and the usual automated conversation ensued;

“What kind of product are you calling about ?”

Me- “ operator”

Automated person -“ I’m sorry that is not in our database, what product are you calling about “

 Over and over.

I figured I was toast on my search to prove it could be done, but I started pressing zero.  At every new “Sorry-you-don’t-get-to-talk-to-a-person” prompt, I pressed zero.  After many many zeros,  bam, person. “Thank you for calling the apple help desk my name is …. can I get a name and phone number in case we are disconnected”  .. I thought, oh boy here we go with the I can’t help you.

I explained my situation, the name of who I was trying to reach and that we had a small emergency and my associate was supposedly at the Apple store in Oklahoma City and I was trying to call the store to have him paged ( yep I’m that old).  To my surprise, the gal on the other end of the phone said: “ let me see what I can do”

… hold music….

Finally, she comes back  “ what was the associated name again? We are still trying “ …. hold music … then she is back “ for some reason I cannot call the location while I have you on the phone, I would like to hang up on you attempt to call the store and then call you back”  … my brain says “ yep just as I expected, the end.” But within minutes I get a callback, “It is Apple, please press 1 to discuss your recent request with apple.”  I said “hello” the reply       “ Mr. Sparks I have reached out to the apple store In Oklahoma City” ….. wait for it …… “and I have passed on the message and with any luck your associate should be calling you shortly.”

I sat there stunned, I doubtingly said “Ok,” they reply, “is there anything else we can help you with today Mr. Sparks”  with skepticism I said “ no and thank you” .. “ you have a wonderful day Mr. Sparks and thank you for calling Apple.”

Within five minutes a strange number rings  on my phone, the associate says “ Darren?” I laughed and said yep!  He said an apple guy just came running down the mall into the AT&T store and said I needed to call you, we have an emergency?   I explained the situation and we rectified the situation.  I wish I had written down every person that was involved in this experience but I didn’t because I thought it would go nowhere, so you all have my apology and a thank you to apple and all parties involved, from the operated to the store to the employee that remembered he had just sent my partner down to AT&T and ran down there to have him call me.  You saved my business situation, which in turn saved my customers business situation.  For that, I will continue to support you and my local store. Here is to the people, the people in every organization that make a difference. People like I proudly work with everyday at all of our locations! We firmly believe in people first and then business takes care of itself, that was proven by the biggest and smallest today!  It wasn’t about technology, internet speed, power bumps or circuit boards it was about people caring enough to help an old cowboy out.

Hats off to you People if apple !! Well done. Read More

Sketch Of Success

So I was asked the other day, what does success look like, that is a tough question to answer.  How do you describe it because it can be different for everybody?  I spent the evening thinking about success.  What is it? when do we reach it?  How do we know we are there?  I have a very close friend who has a Doctorate in Business management and I thought to myself. What if I asked him to draw or graph success?  What would that look like?

When you first start school, a job, karate, playing an instrument, singing- there is a learning cycle. It is always troubling to me that people cannot accept that the cycle is not just full of wins, it can be full of wins and losses over time.  As you accumulate the knowledge of those wins and losses you make better decisions, which then leads to fewer losses.  Meaning you are not all over the board, you tend to be more consistent. With more knowledge, comes better decisions and fewer highs and lows and more constancy until ultimately the losses tend to disappear and then the only thing is winning.  Then the discussions become about “how good of a win was it”. If you continue to evaluate and assess each win you become more and more successful over time. I realized, that never stops, it is just that the wins and losses are gone, the highs and lows, the feeling of success or the pain of defeat fade and life becomes well… boring… You are still successful and many folks simply stop there and idle .. but the true legends pick another skill to tackle, another team to be on, another complete graph and it starts all over.. imagine having a wall full of graphs for many different things, tackling that graph, and then throwing it in the trash and starting a new.  Some believe you are crazy because you left your comfort zone.

So what happens to people that refuse to accept the losses or they quit because they don’t want to be uncomfortable?  They get stuck in time somewhere along the chart maybe on a high or maybe on a low and like groundhog day they just repeat the same thing over and over and over never really accepting their fails or hanging on too long to a win and they stop along the line of success stuck in time for eternity.   Using the highs to make their Facebook profile just right or the lows to keep telling themselves the excuse as to why they don’t move forward in time.

Success is a series of decisions, projects, grades, boxing matches.. that exist over time.  How long that timeline is, depends on how hard you work to get to those wins and losses.  How much are you willing to apply yourself to work up the success graph …  And then what?  What do you do then?  Well if you decide to mentor or manage, the graph starts all over.  Then there are the haters that take the losses and amplify them.  Russel Westbrook shoots 40 point games and then has a run of 9 point games and the haters amplify the losses, the haters hunt for them.. yet if he has a 44 point game nobody talks about how hard it is to get 4 more points when you have already scored 40, nobody amplifies the success of shooting 10% better than a great game.   I mean who the hell wants to ride this roller coaster again and again and again?? … The successful people that’s who!

As a parting note:  Dr. Scott McCalla added, the only thing you NEVER want to do is not show up, don’t turn in the homework, don’t go to practice because that is a Zero (0) and zeros don’t even get you on the success chart.

Keep moving forward. Read More

Call of Duty Leadership Lessons

I have a confession to make.  I play Call of Duty.  I mean, I play a lot of Call of Duty.  I mean, I play way too much Call of Duty, in a competitive online environment.  Now for the confession-I rarely win.

Yes, I play this game and I am not embarrassed about it.  My favorite game is team-based, providing for a diverse experience each time I play.  Crazier yet is losing to kids that haven’t even made it through middle school.  So, you may be asking how can anything related to leadership be learned in this online game competing against youngsters with no life experience, in a game that is unrealistic or fake.  Great questions. 

Let me start with this premise.  Losing to kids not even out of middle school causes one to be humble, and yeah, maybe mad sometimes. This is my first leadership lesson.  Never assume talent, ability, or know-how based on age.  Can we please just stop with the millennial generalizations while we’re at it?  We can generalize negatives about any age group.  We can also choose to generalize positives about any age group.  I lose to talented “people”, not millennials, or baby boomers.

Next, there is a piece to this game that intrigues me far greater than the diversity.  See, this game requires a player to “rank up” with 55 levels of ranking.  Get ranked up and more tools open up, more advantage opens up.  When and if you get to level 55 the game deems you an expert.  And then, just as in life, just after you’re deemed an expert, you have a choice to make.  It’s a big one, too! You can either stay at level 55 with all the advantages and perks you’ve earned or, you can enter “Prestige Mode.”  Let’s talk about “Prestige Mode” for a minute.  Why would one choose to give up all advantage to virtually start over?  What is there to prove?

Here is the second leadership lesson.  Prestiging is like work life.  We spend an unknown amount of time becoming experts, and then, some of us are asked to start over as a manager or leaders.  Maybe we are asked to change departments and learn a new skill set, or asked to change offices or move across the country to a new team.  Or how about being asked to take on a special project, or work with employees we don’t know or care for—the list goes on.  When provided that opportunity, how do you react?  Will you press the button to Prestige or will you decline and declare expertise and comfort?

Now there are plenty of COD players who choose to not prestige, just as many employees bask in the accomplishment of expertise and hold steadfast in their refusal to reset.  This is the third leadership lesson.  Reset or not?  Reworded, risk or not? What makes a person choose one or the other?  Here’s my take away.  For some in the game, just as in life, the reset is done for self-aggrandizement.  Yet, I surmise that most reset because they are explorers, self-challengers, artisans of the game they are choosing to play.  Young and old alike, COD shows there are plenty willing to give up their status and perks to prove they can start over, and still rise to a new level of “expert.”

It took me over a month of play time, but I achieved that level 55 status and I was faced with the decision.  For me, the decision to stay status quo, versus Prestige was made in seconds—of course, I prestiged.  In fairness, COD is a game. I am not recommending life-altering decisions be made in seconds.  But I am recommending that when the chance comes, and I wish for you that chance to happen, you take a deep breath and find the courage to make the change, to take the Prestige.  This step of Prestiging is a period for immense knowledge growth.  You see, at this point, you know the basics of the job, and acquiring new skills becomes the primary focus.  And for those of you just starting a career, or school, or a project, work hard to get to the perks, or what I call the “good stuff.”

Here is a demonstrative from a work environment.  When a person starts a job, they spend time learning the culture, politics, the silos of work teams, as well as their primary job duties.  Once learned they might be offered a promotion.  If taken, this would be the Prestige.  New duties must be learned, but the culture, the politics, the silos remain the same.  You are now in a period of immense growth potential.

Hard work, persistence, and allowing experts around you to bolster you regardless of their background or age, will provide for your security, and ultimately a chance to make a decision related to your future.  Will you Prestige, or will you remain status quo.

There are other leadership lessons I have learned playing this game.  I will save those for my next blog.  As for now,  my Xbox controller is calling my name.

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Business Self Defense

I was studying a few days ago, watching videos etc and the topic of self-defense was broached.  The question was asked by a Master, what is Self defense? The answer is pretty clear, to defend yourself from others, the economy, bad employees, bad bosses etc.   To train and prepare yourself for the day when you need to protect yourself ….

This is usually done by posturing up, creating a base and protecting your turf at all costs…The Master said, “ you are mistaken, self-defense is exactly what it implies SELF-defense, to protect one from themselves.  It is preparing yourself for those tough times and how you will handle it. External forces will be what they will be.  The economy will not cooperate, your competitor will not have mercy, that a bad employee or bad boss will not have an understanding.  Posturing will only make the situation worse, just as in fighting, it indicates you are ready for battle.

It is instigating further fighting .. when one has a SELF-defense mindset they are judging their own actions in the situation at hand and how they will handle themselves.  It is continuing to do the right things and the things that are needed to be done to maintain balance.

It is keeping ones Whit’s about themselves to ensure they are thinking in the critical times and making the intelligent decisions that eliminate the worse possible outcome.  Keeping panic from happening to trigger the fight or flight reaction. In business or in a personal setting keeping your SELF in control is the key to success.  It is a much better skill and a much harder skill that must be practiced.. controlling yourself to save money when times are good, spend money when times are bad, actively managing through difficult times and communication when communicating is difficult are all SELF defense skills. As my good friend tells me if you cannot train your self then hire a counseling ninja to teach you 🙂

So protect yourself by focusing on yourself, practice SELF Defense ! Read More


Mention the word change and a collective groan is often heard in conference rooms and offices regardless of your location.  Change is painful, we too often believe. Change will be uncomfortable and may create a scenario wherein you lose control. You may not like the end product; then you have to change it back.  Change just might break your business, or a relationship, or you personally.  Change is a six letter four letter word.  Why?

We know change is necessary.  We know changing is how we stay in business or stay in the relationship.  Change is also required for an end to occur such as the end of a relationship, or the end of a business.  No wonder hesitations and anxieties increase when you announce a change process.

I feel one more demonstrative is necessary here.  Have you heard the rule which states an organization that fails to change will die?  Yeah, me too.  Simply, this analogy is wrong.  An organization which is healthy, then declines to the point of death has done what?  Yes! It has changed—likely unwillingly, but the organizational change occurred, from healthy to out of business.  I am encouraging you to take back control of change and reduce the likelihood of a change death spiral. So then, how do we lead change?

There are many change management theories.  John Kotter wrote Change Leadership wherein he presents steps to manage change.  Agile organizations pride themselves in quick changes, flexibility to change quickly with markets or trends.  Leadership theories have been developed using leadership change as a method to garner higher motivation of followers.  Everywhere we turn there seems to be a newly coined change management phrase, or trend to manage change successfully.  Lewin’s model of change was the theory or model I was most in tune with when dealing with change.

Lewin’s model suggests an organization needs to unfreeze, then make a change and wait to ensure the impact is desired, then refreeze.  Can we plan for change using a model like Lewin’s when at our core as humans, changing is what we do each day we wake up? Just start the change.  So, if we look at the Lewin model and change it around, how about working in an organization that stays in a position of unfrozen, meaning flexible and able to implement change at any time.  Once a change is made, the organizational process involved then freezes to verify desired outcomes.  If the change is effective, the organization leaves the change in place and then unfreezes the process again, ready for more input and output from all levels of associates.

Do you need to change staff positions?  Start by placing an individual in a new role, freeze the staffing process to test, verify the fix or change it again if the first move doesn’t work.  Once the fix appears satisfactory, you unfreeze the organization and are free to make the next change.  But start by making a move.

In our business, we are testing associates in new roles, examining and working with new sales and marketing tactics, modifying logistics plans, streamlining yard operations via numerous changes, and also encouraging front-line associates to question business processes and to recommend different practices all simultaneously, with short pauses to ascertain effectiveness after each change.  We have stopped the fear of making a mistake by admitting up front each change may be a mistake but letting all impacted know we can change back.  Associates not prone to change anxiety were quick to the game when we first started this; associates with anxiety were slow to embrace this method, but now trust the process and appreciate the lower key method to change.

Here is what we have found in the last two years.  Our three largest initiatives with solid outcomes started with small acts of unplanned work.  Yes, the desired outcome was defined organizational change, but no strategic change plan was put in place.  We started the changes via small acts or projects and allowed the processes to guide us, to guide the work.  We followed this through, and now we enjoy the fruition of the changed processes, and along the way we were able to recognize strength in associates we did not know existed (promotions), weaknesses in areas we did not expect (area for new change) and had fun at changing our business (reduced change anxiety).  I consider this a significant victory and one we hope to repeat continuously.

I will end with this.  Of course, there is no secret answer which fits every business scenario requiring change.  Instances will require foresight, superior planning and judgment, and change management principles to be soundly administered.  But, on a daily basis, I believe much less anxiety should be spent on change, and the processes we now define as change should be treated as simpler decisions and acts we each make and acts we empower our associates to make in good faith and for the common good of our organizations.  Remove the change stigma, unfreeze and look for the positive—take the positive directions.

Best of luck and successful leadership.

Dr. Scott Read More

Without white belts, there would be no black belts.

I was in the Dojo the other day and our Sensei was calling up the children for awards, and upon calling up the White belts he stated: “The white belts are the most important people in the Dojo.”  He went on to say, “ We all remember being a white belt, and how the feeling of being lost and uncoordinated and the thought of “I will never be a black belt,” felt,  but without white belts there would no one to hand the lineage down, no one to carry on the tradition. So you, white belt, are the most important to me”

Then it occurred to me, most of the time, as I asked folks to try and come out to the Dojo and try Karate, I am greeted by this statement,  “No, I appreciate it but I don’t want to look stupid” or “I don’t want people to laugh at me,”  “I am not coordinated enough,” etc.  My reply is usually something along the lines of, “Well then if you want a good laugh come watch me.”

Where are all the white belts that want to step in and be ok with being awkward, uncoordinated and too look the fool?  It will take that to become the master of a craft you are interested in. Is there a lack of instigators, or are we creating a culture that does not accept that? In the Dojo there is respect for anyone who bows in and trains.  Are you fostering the same respect in your Dojo?  Are you creating a culture of a learning mindset that all levels of skill are respected and appreciated?

Are we treating the next generation with the respect and dignity of the white belt so that they know that they are the most important thing in our organization?  Are we teaching our current black belts to support and encourage the next generation? Or, are we allowing the old school thought process of the “Newbie” to continue?  Are you hearing things like, “these new kids don’t know anything?” or, “ These millennials just don’t get it”

A Sensei has an open Dojo to those that want to learn, each will make their own journey in their own way. The difference is a True Master understands that and supports it.  The master continues to train and correct for creating perfection. Sure, not all white belts (new employees) stay in your Dojo (place of business). The ones that do, those are your real black belts.  Those are the ones that care and want to carry on the tradition.  A black belt is not born overnight.  You will have a tough time hiring a black belt that will be loyal to your tradition, your schools methods.  Sure you can hire a black belt but where will their loyalty be?   A true loyal black belt is trained, promoted and groomed in your school.  If a Sensei does not question everyone’s agenda, or question their loyalty, they continue to teach, train and support any student that continues to show up.  Remember, black belts are made not bought.


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