About the Book



I find there are an infinite number of possibilities in our individual and collective lives.  Some are tangible—events, occurrences, projects, acquisition of material things.  Some are intangible—attitudes, ideas, plans, philosophies.  There are three potential outcomes for each possibility—positive, negative, and nothing.

We each have a list of tangible and intangible items that we care about and can influence.  For me, the top priority is the well-being of and my relationships with my family and friend.  My list also includes my job, selected community and social issues, civility, and writing my blog among others. My possessions and my tennis game might be on the list except they are not important enough to me to muddy the water of my priorities.  I will deal with those as I have time, but more important issues that are worthy of listing come first.

I also care about some other things—the Cincinnati Bengals, the Indiana Hoosiers, Woody Allen movies, the incompetence of our government, the decaying state of the world, and a list too long to bore you with.  But those are matters that I cannot influence beyond attending, voting, and advocating.  I believe time spent attempting to influence their outcomes is pretty much time wasted.

If you take the time to think about it, you will come up with your own lists.  We will probably have some items in common and some of an entirely different nature from one another.

I really buy into the serenity prayer used by all the compulsive anonymous groups.  “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

From my first list, I identify my short- and long-term priorities.  Which few are urgent or for which my passion is at a peak?  I should address those today and this month.  Which ones are not urgent but ones I need to keep my eye on and bring them to my short-term list at some point in the future?

Now I have a relatively short list of subjects that have these characteristics:

  • They can be tangible or intangible.
  • They are urgent and/or particularly important to me now.
  • I can see a way that the energy and thinking I invest in a given item can influence the outcome.

There are virtually no subjects of the importance required to be on the list that I can accomplish on my own.  Almost all need the participation of other people or organizations.  I may contribute by leading, following, or advising, but virtually never will I be acting alone.  There are some accomplishments of which I am most proud in my life.  The biggest ones are as follows.

  • Helping to guide my children to grow to be happy, productive, self-supporting citizens possessing the highest moral and ethical values each with great families of their own
  • My love-filled marriage of fifty years
  • Leading turnarounds of manufacturing and human service organizations and my own life
  • Directing the recovery from community crises including a $5,000,000 fire and a hundred-year flood
  • Community leadership in the areas of early child development including child care and dealing with domestic violence
  • Managing the acquisition and creation of a co-location of approximately fifty human service agencies and programs on one campus to enable clients with multiple needs to access all of the services they require on a single campus.

These achievements and others are detailed in other blogs at this site and in my book Machete Moments: A Turnaround Manager–Burned Out at 54 and Turned On for the Next Eighteen Years.  (Available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com)

Not one of these projects could have been completed successfully without significant participation by others.  The personal ones required the direct involvement of a relative few.  For the ones related to my career, large numbers of colleagues, sometimes hundreds, were necessary to complete the mission.

Thirty years ago, I gave a talk at the local Rotary Club where I listed the priorities for my life: family, job, community, friends.  Those four general interests drive my life.  Since 1984, I have not changed my mind; the list is still intact.  If I go to a ball game, it is always with family and/or friends.  If I write, it’s to crystalize my thinking in one of these areas or to share my thoughts with others in the hope of enlightening them.  If I go to a movie, it is always with my wife and/or grandchildren and is usually followed by dinner at a restaurant where we can bond.

Let me get to the title of the piece.  When I have an opportunity to influence the progress or the outcome of one of my priorities, I nudge.  As I explained above, I can’t succeed without the involvement of others.  Remember my observation in the first paragraph.  The potential outcomes of any action or non-action are positive, negative, and nothing.  The nudge gets the ball rolling in a positive direction.  The nudge might consist of engaging some like-minded partners, shining a light on a problem, or describing the goal line.  If the nudge is executed properly, the work will gain momentum.  From there, the detailed planning including input from associates*, individual assignments, and hard work begin.  If you have a committed team, you have an excellent chance for success.

With nudging, your potential for success is much better than with heavy-handed dictating.  Without the nudge, you risk that the outcome will be negative if someone else nudges, or nothing if there is no nudge al all.

*  Please see my article The Smartest Thing We Can Do as Leaders is to Realize We Don’t Know More than Our People https://authordougotto.com/2014/05/18/the-smartest-t…han-our-people/








I get lessons in life from some unusual places.  Throughout my career, I have observed the wisdom of the 1955 film, The Seven-Year Itch which starred Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell.  The premise was that Ewell’s character, after seven years of a rather routine marriage, was tempted to stray to Marilyn’s character when his wife took the kids to visit her mother for the summer.  This left him in the city with Marilyn living in the next apartment.  Even the most faithful of husbands might have had difficulty in resisting the charms of Ms. Monroe, but don’t tell wife I said that.  The lesson I took from the movie was that anything can become humdrum after seven years and that it would not be unusual to feel the need for a major change.  Later, I amended my theory to include a clause that the change can be either a total divorce from your current situation or a radical restructuring of your existing life.  This theory fits me to a tee.

It’s funny.  I have never experienced the problem in my marriage, which has just completed its forty-eighth very happy year.  However, I have seen the itch very clearly in other parts of my life, especially in my career.  Of course, seven years on the nose is not magic, but it’s a good average of the amount of time it takes until some extreme action is needed.  There comes a point when evolutionary change isn’t enough.

In my case, I spent six years in the sixties drifting through four different jobs before realizing I needed to settle down and find something for the long haul.  Once at Kane, I was in the accounting department for seven years before getting myself transferred to manufacturing operations.  I was plant manager for eight years, but most of the final year I was committed to leaving and was looking for a place to land.

My next job lasted seven years almost to the day.  The first three were as plant manager leading the startup and establishing a culture of excellence at the new Indiana plant.  In the final four, I was COO driving the turnaround of both the Massachusetts plant and the other functions there.

Although I was at United Way for seventeen years, I was presented with periodic opportunities that enabled me reinvent myself.  I started as president in 1995.  In 2001, we received the donation of the campus and buildings that became the United Way Center and, eventually, the Doug Otto Center, a co-location of about fifty human service agencies and programs at one site.

In 2008, our county was hit by a destructive 500-year flood for which I took on the task as director of the long term recovery while continuing my United Way duties.  I had managed to property as one of my United Way duties, but when I retired as president in 2012, we spun off the management of the buildings as a separate job and I stayed to do that job on a part time basis.

It’s been a fulfilling and gratifying career that has been broken into unofficial but clearly visible seven year segments.  Travel in your mind back through your own career.  Do you find a similar pattern?


AN OMINOUS BEGINNING TO A NEW ASSIGNMENT (Step 3 in My Career as a Crisis Manager)

After becoming plant manager and leading the turnaround of an all-but-dead gear manufacturing plant at home in Indiana, I was hired to manage a startup of a plastics plant in the same area. The results were outstanding (a blog for another time), and after a year I was asked to go to the company’s home plant and headquarters in Western Massachusetts.  That plant was losing money faster than w the Indiana plant could make it, and the company was struggling with the bank, customers, and suppliers.  My job was simply to fix it.

I had flown in the night before I was to start and arrived at the plant at 6:30 Monday morning.  The time was chosen deliberately to coincide with the start of first-shift.  At that time, the only door that was open was the factory entrance.  I wore jeans and a sweatshirt, which would become my regular attire on days that I didn’t meet with customers or bankers.

It had been announced that a hired gun from the Midwest was coming, but no one in the factory knew me.  Several were quick to notice that there was a stranger in their midst, but they had never seen a management person in that early.  Within five minutes, one of the Lubinsky brothers, Wojtek, approached me and asked if I was Doug Otto.  Wojtek and his brother Wladimir were rotocast machine operators.  Both were about 6-5 and 280.  They threw those big cases around as if they were softballs.  It turned out they were proud basketball season ticket holders at the nearby University of Massachusetts.  They wanted to take me to a Atlantic-Ten Conference basketball game against West Virginia on Thursday evening. Since I had grown up a Mountaineer, I had a particular interest in seeing this game.   West Virginia was a perpetual power and UMass fans were excited in the midst of the John Calipari era.  I told them that I would be honored.  I didn’t know if they wanted to make the new guy welcome or if they were just suck-ups, but I took the offer at face value.  Eventually, I found the former to be true.

The Lubinskys, who were both within a year or two of 40, were the first members of their family born in America.  They were life-long farmers, who still lived with their widowed mother.  They raised farmed their several-hundred acre family property.  They didn’t need the income they earned at the plant, but they worked for the benefits.

I asked them to point me to the maintenance supervisor, Tom Archer.  After tracking him down, we proceeded to set up my office in what had once been a store room in the center of the factory.  I wanted to be near the action and wanted no part of the executive area of the office building across the courtyard.

In the ensuing four days, I got around to meet everyone on all three shifts, observed processes in both the factory and offices, and held a few information gathering meetings.   Then it came time for me to accompany the Lubinskys to the basketball game.  It was an early game, so we planned to go to dinner afterwards.  Their season tickets were four seats in the front row of the small gym, across from the teams’ benches.  The gym, affectionately called “the cage” seated about 3800 which had been adequate until UMass began to experience remarkable success.  Now it packed for every game while a new arena was being constructed to open the next year.  I don’t know how big the Lubinsky’s check to the university athletic program was, but it had to be significant.  Our fourth was Carl Udo, the purchasing manager.  These seats were so close to the action that I felt as if someone might pass me the ball to drive in for a layup.

It was an exciting game, and at half-time the score was tied.  The action had been pretty rough, and the Lubinskys had not been shy about letting their feelings about the other team and the officiating be known in their bullhorn level voices.  Early in the second half, Wojtek was particularly offended by a call against the home team and was extremely vociferous in his protest.  The referee was Tim Higgins, who you can still see on ESPN officiating games six or seven nights a week during the season.  Higgins rushed toward us to the edge of the court.  That put him about eight feet from us.  He called a police officer over and would not let the game resume until we were gone.  The cops realized that Carl and I were innocent parties to the crime and allowed us to stay.  I think they had caught the Lubinsky boys’ act at previous games, but they had never been called upon to administer the equivalent of a fan’s death penalty.  When last seen, Wojtek was in handcuffs and Wladimir, who was not cuffed, was giving the finger to the television camera that was following the incident to its conclusion.  In today’s world, that would surely have been Sports Center Top-10 highlight as well as a You Tube favorite.  Fortunately, Carl had driven separately and was able to take me back to the hotel.  I never did get any dinner that evening.

When I arrived at work at 6:30 the next morning, Tom Archer was waiting for me at the factory entrance.  He was laughing his ass off.  “Have the Lubinskys offered to take you to all the games on their season tickets?”  It seemed that everyone in the shop had either seen the incident on television or heard about it.  The camera had taken the opportunity of the timeout to follow the procession to its end.  It gave me a great story to share with my friends over a beer when I got home.  I think my finding humor in that bizarre incident without seeking retribution helped with my acceptance by the work force.  You need to grasp those moments that help you to be accepted whenever they come up.

This anecdote was used as the basis for a section of my book, Machete Moments–A Turnaround Manager: Burned Out at 54 and Turned On for the Next 18 Years.  The book is available at Amazon.com.  http://www.amazon.com/Machete-Moments-Turnaround-Fifty-Four-Eighteen/dp/1475996306/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401755818&sr=1-1&keywords=machete+moments





The following is an edited excerpt from my book, Machete Moments: A Turnaround Manager–Burned out at 54 and Turned On for the Next 18 Years.  The book is a fictionalized account of my 34-year career as a turnaround and crisis manager in both manufacturing and nonprofit organizations. This tells of my first venture into such a situation.  The names of people, places, and organizations have been changed to protect the privacy of those who have been a part of my life, but the incidents are true. 

I had been at the plant I was to manage for eight years, including the seven spent in accounting. The plant had just come off a violent 5-month strike. During the strike, one of my responsibilities as manufacturing manager was to lead a skeleton crew to be on the inside when we knew there was going to be violence on the picket line. Our group became known among the non-striking employees as Joe’s G. I.’s. There were those among us who had a good enough relationship with a few of the less militant strikers that we were warned when those times were coming. At least, we could answer urgent calls from customers, protect the computer, document the picket line activities on video tape, and communicate with the police. On days when the picket line was less threatening, salaried and non-exempt employees were invited to come in and work in the factory to produce emergency orders.

As the strike grew longer, the inside crew had been shot at, replacement workers had been followed to their homes and beaten, and cars of non-union employees trying to get onto the property had been rolled over with the drivers inside. When the strike was over, everyone on both sides of labor and management was angry.

Joe’s G. I.’s spent much of our time in the front lobby of the office area. This was our war room. Here was where we made videotapes of the picket line activities. One of my most vivid memories occurred when the strike was about three months old. The front wall of the lobby was made up of three large glass windows from floor to ceiling. The G. I.’s were eating dinner one night shortly after dark. One of the more enthusiastic strikers climbed the chain link fence surrounding the property, performed a low crawl across fifty yards of lawn, and bashed out one of the windows out with a baseball bat. Glass flew through the lobby like shrapnel from a land mine. Two of our guys were cut—one needing emergency room treatment.

One of the concessions in the settlement was that the company would drop the charges against fourteen union members who had been arrested for violence during the strike. In addition, they would be reinstated as employees, and no disciplinary action would be imposed. I was furious at the decision by top management and didn’t much care who knew it. I and others had literally risked our lives to save the plant, and we felt betrayed with what we saw as a management cave-in. That was when I got my first lesson in the concept of the greater good. I got a call from the Kane CEO in Philadelphia. He told me that he understood my feelings and that he was personally very appreciative of what our team on site had done. He also let me know that if the strike had run two more weeks, top management had already decided that the plant would be closed. Even when the strike ended, the opinions of senior management had been split as to whether to close it or give it one more chance with a new guy as plant manager. The next day, I got word that I was promoted to that position.

I thought long and hard about “the greater good.” For decades, when left alone in the night with my thoughts, I have agonized over whether I had sold out in not only accepting management’s decision but also in gaining personally from it? Those of us who had been through the battles all wanted to see those fourteen men punished. They had committed criminal acts and had endangered our personal well-being and our jobs. However, had I sulked away, the plant probably would have been closed, and my job and 400 others would have been lost. The ripple effect would have been felt throughout the community because Vienna would have lost one of its largest employers. Vengeance can be a great motivator, but it rarely leads to productive decisions. Fortunately, I learned quickly to swallow that desire in favor of the greater good. Should I be ashamed of that rationalization? Late at night, I’m still not quite certain.

About two months into the new job, I was called to corporate headquarters in Philadelphia to meet with Kane’s executive vice-president/chief operating officer. He was a good old boy named Robert E Rutledge, who was so entrenched in southern living that he commuted every week from Savannah to Philadelphia. He proudly went by Robert E to all who knew him. Like Harry S Truman, E was his middle name. It was not an initial, and it stood for nothing.

I was ushered into Robert E’s huge office. It had all the trappings one might expect of the egomaniac he was reputed to be. It covered about 2,000 square feet and contained what I estimated to be upwards of $100,000 worth of furniture and carpet. There were shelves full of trophies. On the walls were framed diplomas, both earned and honorary, patents, and a half-dozen wild animal heads, which I suspected he had killed with his bare hands.

Robert E arrived after he was certain that I was seated so that I could get the full effect of the grandeur of his entrance. No handshake was offered. Instead, he slowly went to his desk chair, seated himself, and stared at me without blinking for what seemed like ten minutes. Actually, it was probably twenty seconds, but it was long enough to make me extremely uncomfortable as I tried to return his gaze without looking away. I was hopeful that if I could succeed in that effort, I might earn some modicum of respect.

Without ever calling me by name, Robert E, in his extreme southern drawl, opened with, “What are you gonna do about that fuckin’ mess out there in Indiana?” I started to answer that I was going to make some changes in the assembly line and shift some personnel. Robert E interrupted. “Yoou don’t understaand. Yoou’re tryin’ to op-err-ate with a scalpel, and I’m tellin’ you to use a Goddamn machete.” That was the end of the meeting. Again without a handshake, a good luck, a good bye, or a go to hell, Robert E left the room. After the shock had started to wear off, I went to the outer office and asked his secretary if she knew if the meeting was over. She answered matter-of-factly, “Oh yes. In fact, your meeting lasted longer than many of Robert E’s one-on-one meetings.”

To this day, I can’t stress strongly enough what a tremendous effect that meeting, especially Robert E’s machete metaphor, had on the rest of my career. In order to embrace his term as my mantra, I had to first give it a clear definition. What did it mean to me? I decided that a machete moment would be the successful implementation of an idea that those with less vision would see as too radical to consider—an action that I was convinced was the right path and would push forward in the face of opposition. I don’t mean that I would not listen to well thought out logical arguments, but the knee-jerk reactions of naysayers and the cowardice of fools would not destroy my resolve.

The rest of the book describes the success of our team in turning around this plant.  It goes on to recount turnarounds and startups in other manufacturing and nonprofit organizations and the leading of my community’s long term recovery from a 500-year flood and a $5million dollar fire.



A Talent for Turnarounds: How to Overcome Personal, Professional Crisis and Come Out On Top

By Doug Otto

Article first appeared on PRWeb

In today’s fast-paced environment, executives and managers often find themselves in crises that require immediate and sometimes revolutionary action. The days of having time to allow situations to evolve to acceptable conditions are, in many cases, gone. It is necessary to turn those negatives into positives in a short time.

As a former manufacturing and nonprofit executive, I provide readers with insight in a world of uncertainty and change in my new book, “Machete Moments: A Turnaround Manager: Burned Out at Fifty-Four—Turned On for the Next Eighteen Years”.

“Machete Moments” is a story about turnarounds – in business and non-profit management, and in life itself. For those facing the difficult professional and personal transitions in life (or those unsure as to whether embark on such a transition), this uplifting story based on Otto’s experiences will inspire a true sense of courage and conviction.

I wrote this book as a way to reach out to those facing ‘turnaround moments’ in their lives and careers. Machete Moments’ is all about seizing those critical situations and moving forward in the best way possible.


The following is an excerpt from my book, Machete Moments.

Words and Beliefs That I Just Don’t Understand

I would never want to insult anyone because of the terminology I use.  However, in America, we have diluted the English language, in the name of political correctness, to such an extent that often I don’t know what the speaker is talking about.  Many of the changes are totally artificial.  I think the primary reasons to change a traditionally understood term would be to avoid hurt feelings or to be more accurate.  Many of the changes we have had thrust upon our population do neither. Here are a few examples of changes to which I see no point.

  • Drink to hydrate
  • Secretary to administrative assistant
  • Husband/wife to spouse
  • Angry to upset
  • Arguing to being defensive
  • Die to pass
  • Religious to faith-based

The ones I’ve mentioned so far are pretty harmless, driven by pretentiousness or by the much overpopulated advertising world.  Other than to be irritating, they don’t affect my life one way or another.  Although relatively benign, they provide the slippery slope from which the language is diluted where it matters.

Here are some changes that do make a difference because I face them in day-to-day life.  They are examples of political correctness gone berserk.

  •  Mexican to Hispanic (This is a term that was invented by the U.S. government for the 1980 census.  It is a convenient term that Americans created to make it easier to complete forms.  There is not total agreement among those to whom we apply this label as to whether Hispanic or Latino is better.  Or would they rather be attached to their country of origin?  There is nothing wrong with referring to a person as a Mexican or a Cuban.  If I am in another country, I prefer to be called an American—not a Caucasian from the Western Hemisphere.)
  • Poor to socially marginalized or vulnerable
  • Mentally ill to emotionally impaired

And then there are some that have gone through so many changes that you need a scorecard so that you use the right term.

  • Retarded to slow to intellectually disabled (I agree that we needed to find an alternative to the word retarded because it has been misused so frequently as an insult.  What I don’t understand is that the national advocacy organization, which used to be called the Association of Retarded Citizens, is now called ARC.  If they want to do away with the term, how can it still be part of their acronym?)
  • Shell shock (WWII) to battle fatigue (Korea) to operational exhaustion (Viet Nam) to post-traumatic stress disorder (today)Illegal aliens to undocumented to unauthorized (I was in a meeting with 30 people the first time I heard that last term.  Not one of us knew the meaning.  Everyone wondered “authorized to do what?”)
  • Slum to ghetto to inner city

There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in human services and education—more than we can complete if we work 24 hours a day for life.  Time spent in making irrelevant changes to terminology is wasted and absurd.  We should simplify our speech and writing so that it can be understood by those who don’t work with the subject in their day-to-day lives.  Does anyone actually believe that a poor person feels any better being called socially marginalized or vulnerable?  She’s poor—not stupid.  All of the original terms on the list bring a clear picture immediately to mind.  That is what good words do; they have impact.  The reason we have words is to communicate a clear picture of the subject, thought, or action.  Why do we want to dilute any emotional or logical impact by making up words that don’t describe the subject in a simple way that is understandable to all?  The new words bring absolutely no emotional reaction to me and do not stir me to action.

While I’m ranting over the use of our language, when did the polite people start calling everything they disagree with inappropriate?  If you disagree with someone’s comment, have the balls to own your disagreement.  Then you and the speaker can fight about it.  To say that someone is inappropriate disarms the speaker.  You have made a unilateral judgment to which there is no reply.  Appropriate and inappropriate don’t mean the same to everyone and have different connotations depending on the crowd and setting.  I’ve been in places with people who had no objection to my saying to someone, “What the f… are you talking about?”  This is most likely to happen when they are prattling on with no real point to make and with no end of the prattling in sight.  In fact, it happens on a fairly regular basis.  On the other hand, even I would not stand up in a town meeting and say that.  (Usually not—there could be exceptions.)  If you grew up in a church atmosphere, different things are inappropriate to you than if you grew up in a locker room environment.  I will close on this subject with the summary comment that it is inappropriate for us to judge one another as inappropriate just because we disagree.

Machete Moments

By Doug Otto

By Doug Otto

My alter ego, Joseph Paul Camarte spent thirty-four years as a successful leader of turnarounds, startups, and other business and community crises. The first half of his career was in manufacturing as a plant manager and a COO. Toward the end of Joe’s manufacturing career he became severely depressed. Then he made the transition to become CEO of a non-profit organization. Here he also led turnarounds and recoveries from other crises. But rather than becoming depressed, Joe found that he was working for half the money and getting ten times the fulfillment as before. Joe is exuberant as he proclaims, “It was a great trade” There is a chance that this book could be a catalyst to helping you to a life of creating your own Machete Moments.