Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Review- Good To Great


So I just finished reading Jim Collins’ widely revered book about business, Good To Great (which I will hereby refer to as G2 in the name of succinctness) and I must say it is worthy of all praise. This book for me was about a six month journey to get through, not for any one reason, but a combination of hitting a slow spot, reading other books and just general ADD-type behavior, making this a drawn-out endeavor. Now, that doesn't mean it was a boring book, I just happen to have the mind of an otter.

One of the stand-out features of this book is Collins’ dedication to research and empirical evidence. It is one thing to write a book based on your own experiences or hearsay, but it is an entirely different feel when you can go to the appendices and see where every piece of information came from.  As you can see below, the appendices make up a significant portion of the total content, which should be clue #1 that you will get your money’s worth with this book.



The companies that were finally featured in G2 were narrowed down to 11. Collins and his CU Boulder research team of grad students used somewhat simple, but ingenious methods to identify these “Good To Great” companies. The master list of companies they started with were US publicly traded companies. Publicly traded companies have a “widely agreed upon definition of results” and a “plethora of easily accessible data.” Private companies are under no obligation to disclose their financial results (as they shouldn't) so Collins used companies you could buy stock in yourself. The selection process of the companies was the 15 year period between 1985 and 2000. Collins says “Many companies show a sharp rise for five or ten years with a hit product or charismatic leader, but few companies manage to achieve fifteen years.” Additionally, these companies showed average or below-average results prior to their transition point, as to level the playing field and provide a more apples-to-apples comparison. The transition point was in 1985, where the 11 companies beat the general market (still trying to figure out if the general market means all common stocks available, S&P 500, or Dow 30) by at least 3x for a fifteen year period. Not only did the company have to show great results, it had to do so of its own accord, not just because that particular industry was doing well (think tech companies in the 90s; they all did well because the industry was hot business at the time.) Collins and the research time also provided a list of “comparison companies” to each of the 11, who were in the same industry, had the same resources, but never quite made the leap from good to great. The companies are:
Good to Great
Comparison
Abbott
Upjohn
Circuit City
Silo
Fannie Mae
Great Western
Gillette
Warner-Lambert
Kimberly-Clark
Scott Paper
Kroger
A&P
Nucor
Bethlehem Steel
Phillip Morris
R.J. Reynolds
Pitney Bowes
Addressograph
Walgreens
Eckerd
Wells Fargo
Bank of America

It is interesting to note that some of the good to great companies are no longer in existence today. For me, Circuit City is the most notable as it was a store I used to remember going to on the weekends with my dad, and just dreaming about buying all their computer games. This doesn’t take away from what the company did under the period studied despite their current condition.

G2 is divided into 8 sections, the first one called “Level 5 Leadership.” A Level 5 Executive “Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” One notable quote from this section is from Darwin E. Smith, a CEO for Kimberly-Clark. He says, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

The next section is called “First Who…Then What.” The main takeaways are that you need to get the right people on the bus before you start driving it, and a great company can only grow as fast as it can attract the right people for the company. Wells Fargo had fewer layoffs than Bank of America during the comparison years, and a greater percentage of management lost their job than the people on the bottom when there were layoffs.

Third, we have the section called “Confront The Brutal Facts.” In this section we learn that a great company is one who asks questions and gives people an opportunity to be heard.

Moving on, we come to the section titled “Hedgehog Concept.” The gist of this section is making sure your organization passes this three-part litmus test: What can you make money at, what do you want to be the best at, and what can you be the best at?

Section five is called “A Culture Of Discipline.” Collins writes this section not so much to speak on disciplining individuals, as he does on the organization itself. Playing off the “Hedgehog Concept,” we learn about failed acquisitions that had little or nothing to do with the business or core competency (R.J. Reynolds buying a company that makes shipping containers and an oil company.) This is a violation of the part of the hedgehog concept “what can you be the best at.”

Next we get into a section about technology called “Technology Accelerators.” “The good to great companies used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it.” Instead of creating a mediocre website during the initial phase of the dot com boom, Walgreens kicked back like a boss and deliberated instead of heading head first into the internet world. What came out the other side was an inventory and distribution system, and a way to fill your prescription online, and then either pick it up or have it shipped to you. Their online competitor at the time was drugstore.com, who ended up getting acquired by Walgreens in 2011.

The seventh and last section I will talk about (because the eighth section is a dovetail from one of Collins’ books I haven’t read) is called “The Flywheel And The Doom Loop.” The big question that this section asks is what ignites the change of a company from good to great? Is it some big program launched internally?


 (Image courtesy of http://rtigger.com/blog/2013/04/16/developer-math)

Turns out, a lot of the insiders in the companies that turned from good to great had no idea any major breakthrough was happening until it happened. The companies did not have to have big program launch events to motivate the employees because the companies already had the right employees to begin with who were already motivated! George Cain, the CEO of Abbott Laboratories during the good to great period, said, “It wasn’t a blinding flash or sudden revelation from above.” “Our change was a major change, and yet in many respects simply a series of incremental changes- this is what made that change successful.”

G2 is suitable for anyone, from an entrepreneur to a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It turns out, a lot of the business lessons in this book can be applied to life. For example, getting the right people on the bus (your friends circle) or getting the wrong people off the bus can be very important to surround yourself with people of the same cloth, who have similar goals and aspirations, and will hold you accountable to those. The presence of empirical evidence makes it hard for any reader to debate the facts laid out in this book, which leads me to believe that this book itself is not good, but great.  


Sources

Collins, Jim. Good To Great. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. N. pag. Print

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

LLC is as easy as 1,2,3,........4


If you are a nerd of the business world, then the history of the Limited Liability Company (LLC) is quite interesting. The first occurrence of this business entity worldwide was seen in Germany in 1892, back when Germany was under the rule of its last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Interestingly enough, the first time we see a US LLC pop up was in 1977, in Wyoming of all places!?!?  Wyoming wanted to stimulate growth in its economy, so it created the LLC specifically for a Texas oil company. And the rest is history….

But screw Wyoming, let’s talk about Colorado. Many of the specifics of the LLC are shared by multiple states but there are intricacies and fine print stuff that set Colorado apart from other states. The rules of LLCs are governed by states, not the federal government, just FYI. In Colorado, the Secretary of State (SOS) administers and oversees LLCs. They are the department that you will file all paperwork to initially and through the life of the business. (And I just found out filing the paperwork is literally all they will do. If you have questions about the Colorado Revised Statutes regarding LLCs, you will have to talk to a lawyer as the people answering the phones are basically robots with no souls.)

Oops, I said it, that dreaded paperwork word that usually paralyzes most people, and keeps lawyers driving Ferraris. But after reading this post, you will no longer feel daunted by the process of protecting and legitimizing your business as an LLC. Let’s get started…

Investopedia defines an LLC as “essentially a hybrid entity that combines the characteristics of a corporation and a partnership or sole proprietorship. While the limited liability feature is similar to that of a corporation, the availability of flow-through taxation to the members of a LLC is a feature of partnerships.” I have identified four main steps you need to take to create an LLC, and then there is a small fifth step you need to take annually to keep the company going.

The first step is pretty intuitive; you need to have a name. In your name you must contain the words or abbreviations LLC, ““ltd. liability company,” “limited liability co.,” “ltd. liability co.,” “limited,” “l.l.c.,” “llc” or “ltd.,”Limited Liability Company," "Limited Company," or the abbreviation "L.L.C.," "L.C.," "LLC," or "LC." The word "Limited" may be abbreviated as "Ltd.," and "Company" may be abbreviated as "Co."” So there’s that. Your name must be distinguishable from other businesses on file. In Fort Collins I remember there was a whole debacle about a business that currently is in operations called The Buttercream Cupcakery who was suing another business for a very similar name. Also, there is a jeweler called Pandora, which would be interesting to see if the music streaming service had any beef with. For $25, you can reserve a name with the SOS for 120 days if it is available and you are not ready to file your articles of organization.

Moving on, the second step is to file your articles of organization with the SOS. Your articles of organization will include the name and address of the principle business. It will also include the name(s) and address(es) of those involved in forming the LLC, and whether it will be run by a manager or members. Lastly, you must give the name and address of your registered agent. A registered agent is a place where the state can deliver notice of lawsuits or other legal matters should the need arise. In Colorado, your registered agent can be you and you can put your house or your place of business as the address. However, I have read that it can be advisable to not go that route and instead pay a registered agent company to handle that stuff for you. The reasons are that registered agents are public info, so do you want your home address on the SOS database? Additionally, if you operate a retail environment, do you want your employees and customers see you get served a lawsuit? Some things to ponder….

The next step is to create an operating agreement. This is the most paramount part of forming an LLC as it can make or break you throughout the life of your business. In Colorado, an operating agreement is not mandatory, nor do you have to file it with the SOS. In some states, you do. Colorado and many other states have default operating agreements the courts and arbitrators will use if you do not have one. That’s great and all, but it may not be what you want and you could be legally bound to it. For examples, the state default is that profits and losses will be divided up by the number of members. If not all members worked the same amount or invested the same then that is total BS.  It is advisable to hire a lawyer or accountant with this part. This is because the operating agreement protects your liability an LLC. A court may rule that you as a single member or multi-member LLC are not operating as an LLC if you do not have all the aspects of an LLC, and you may lose your personal liability protection and be classified as a sole proprietor or a general partnership, respectively.  Here are some commonly defined terms that make up an operating agreement, although you can customize yours to say exactly what you want:
·         % interests
·         Rights and duties
·         Voting
·         Allocation of profits and losses
·         Management
·         Holding meetings
·         Buy-sell provisions

The final step in creating an LLC is to learn about your tax requirements. If you are a single member LLC, your Social Security Number will be enough to identify you to the IRS. If you are a multi-member LLC, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS. No filing fee for the EIN. Yay!!!!! When it comes to be tax time, as a single member LLC, you will go ahead and report your business incomes and expenses on a Schedule C form which is pretty simple honestly. If in a multi-member LLC, you will file one IRS Form 1065, and then distribute a Schedule K-1 to all members which shows their share of the profits or losses to be used on their own tax return. 

And that my friends, is how you create an LLC! The fifth step is very simple. Every year, you update the name and address of your business, as well as your registered agent. That’s it. You don’t have to have annual meetings and take minutes or any of that corporate BS. But make sure you do file the annual requirements because you want to keep that liability protection!!! This is meant as a guide, please don’t take it as gospel. I have neither a JD nor a CPA, I just happen to know a thing or two about this stuff.



 Sources




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bitcoin....WTF?

(Image courtesy of: http://www.123rf.com/photo_24569472_bitcoin-word-cloud-with-white-wordings-on-black-background.html)

I often find myself to be overwhelmed by the news some days. There is stuff going on that I have trouble grasping the concepts because it is truly just insane (Stephen Hawking’s new findings may qualify in that category,) or it is just so expansive/intertwined/systemic that it is hard to know where to begin. Bitcoin falls into the later category for me. When I first started digging into Bitcoin, I was all, “F*** this, I’m out!” Crypto currency, mining, currency exchange, networks…..let me just go ahead and not mess with this. But then Bitcoin started popping up in the news more and more, and these days it is to business news what Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are to entertainment news, √† la Bitcoin crashing and burning miserably. Although Bitcoin is trading at a low point lately ($273.98/BTC according to Mt. Gox, and $628.02 according to Bitstamp, as of the date of publication,) I believe we haven’t seen the end of it, nor Ms. Cyrus, or even Mr. Bieber.

So here’s the abridged version of what you need to know about Bitcoin…Bitcoin is called a crypto currency because according to Wikipedia, it “it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money.” There are these nerds called miners who perform the cryptography necessary to verify and initiate the transaction between the seller and buyer. This is the beauty of Bitcoin right here, the miners act as the intermediaries of the transaction, and see to it that the bitcoins are not double-spent or counterfeit. Mining is become increasingly more complex as the number of transactions increases. Additionally, miners need to have increasingly more computer power to keep up. Miners can receive newly minted bitcoins as well as transaction fees for the work they perform. Once miners have mined 21 million bitcoins, there ends the period where new bitcoins come into the market. The miners will make money on just transaction fees at that point.  Mining is not for everyone though. Obviously, you need to be somewhat computer or IT savvy, but these days you also need ridiculously fast computers to keep up with other miners you are trying just as hard or harder than you to correctly “hash” the next block in the Bitcoin “blockchain,” which is the public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions. The transaction is public, but the identities of the buyer and seller are hidden, which made Bitcoin the choice currency for the now defunct Silk Road marketplace.  

Bitcoin is a deflationary currency, meaning only a finite amount will ever be put into play. You can buy bitcoins through a mobile device, web application or through wallet software. And soon you will be able to buy and sell bitcoins through ATMs, like, end of this month soon (for Americans that is.) You can store your Bitcoins in the cloud (hot storage) or offline on a piece of paper (cold storage.) Each bitcoin has an address that is made up of around 33 letters and numbers which is used as its primary key or unique identifier.

There are multitudes of online merchants who will take your bitcoins just as fast as those Federal Notes: WordPress, The Sacramento Kings, Overstock.com, Zoo York Snowboards, OKCupid, ETSY and others, just to name some of the big names, and the list is only growing bigger. One thing I read about was that Bitcoin is a great thing for micropayments, which are payments that are less than a dollar. Many businesses are cash-only, or they have some kind of credit card minimum purchase (which I hate so much BTW….like dude, “I just want to buy 1 beer. I don’t want to have to take 2 extra shots just to get my 1 beer cause of your stupid credit card minimum./rant) I don’t know when we will see Bitcoin as a legitimate point of sale currency option, but it will probably be here sooner than later, whether it is Bitcoin or the new hotness in cyber-currencies.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, aka the Winklevii Twins from “The Social Network” are some of Bitcoins most noteworthy investors, who dumped $1.5 million into a place where you can buy and sell Bitcoins, called Bitinstant. Don’t try to go there though, I’m pretty sure the Feds shut it down less than a month ago pending an investigation into money laundering involving Bitcoin by the CEO.


Bitcoin has its fair share of problems, some of which are pretty rough. Recently, there has been trouble with withdrawals from exchange sites, much like the issues customers faced with the online poker sites years ago. There is also the problem of theft by hackers, which prompts some people to use “cold storage.” If your credit card or debit card gets stolen, most financial institutions will attempt to investigate, or at least credit you the funds you are out, but lost or stolen bitcoins are unrecoverable. Regardless of the pros and cons, Bitcoin and its copycat currencies are here to stay, at least for now.

Sources:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I'll take one Double Irish, and better throw a Dutch sandwich in there

(Image Courtesy of http://www.crwwgroup.net/en/node/94)

If you never thought that accountants could architect great works just like Gaud√≠ or some other famous architects who I can’t possibly name, you need to think again. Today we are going to talk about a tax avoidance (not evasion) system that when you first hear it, may be somewhat complex, but I’ll do my best to dumb it down to our simpleton level. This is the infamous “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich (DIWDS).” Yes I know it sounds like some crazy sexual act, or something you might purchase at Starbucks, but in fact it is a strategy that has prolonged the payment of US corporate tax for many of the behemoth tech companies we know and love today. I suggest you pay attention because this is currently an issue that is being debated, guaranteed a company you love is using it, involves a lot of countries, and involves a LOT of money. After reading this, you will be able to debate your position on the issue more effectively.

Let us use my favorite “example company” from college business classes as our protagonist in this explanation. XYZ Corp, headquartered in the US, is a company who sells “widgets.” This company happens to be very successful, and thus faces a large bill from Uncle Sam on their revenues.  What they can do is set up the first of the “double Irish” companies in Ireland, sell the intellectual property to it for royalty fees and make it a tax resident of a “tax haven” by transferring central management and control to that “tax haven,” usually in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands (tax rate 0%.) They then set up a second Irish shell company as a wholly owned subsidiary of the first with tax residence in Ireland, and license the rights to that intellectual  for royalties or fees. The second Irish company who is the one that takes in the profits at the applicable competitive Irish tax corporate tax rate of 12.5%.

To take this a step further, lets add the Dutch Sandwich. So we have our US headquarters and our two Irish subsidiaries. Now XYZ corp sets up another subsidiary in the Netherlands (who have very competitive tax laws) and sends all the profits to that company. This is because “Ireland does not levy withholding tax on certain receipts from European Union member states.” Money that is needed for regular expenses is sent back to the Irish subsidiary with Irish tax residence, and the rest of the money is sent to Bermuda, by way of the other subsidiary. Because why pay Ireland’s 12.5%, when you can pay Bermuda’s 0%.

Some things to keep in mind here are that the money sent through this system is from the sales of the goods or services OUTSIDE THE US. This is not possible if the income can be shown to be booked within the United States. Also, if the company wishes to bring the cash back into the US, it must pay repatriation tax. So basically, XYZ corp is just delaying its tax bill, not really avoiding it.

The US has about a 40% corporate tax rate (35% for federal + ~5% weighted average for the different states. When you look at the rest of the world, this is dog shit, or at least not competitive. But on the contrary, we probably have greater infrastructure needs that require capital higher than other countries. So this is kind of where the debate starts; should we make companies pay more or less. Either way, companies see these tax rates too, and try their hardest to avoid them (not evasion like I said before, but avoid. The DIWDS is completely legal btw. ) A corporation’s first responsibility is to provide a positive return to their shareholders, and reducing their tax liability helps do just that.

The DIWDS is pretty much reserved for tech companies from my research. This is because tech companies’ business units can be purely intangible goods, where they can make money from intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc,) licensing their software, or downloads from the cloud as a few examples. A grocery store simply cannot set up a shell corporation in Bermuda, and honestly say that that shell corporation had anything to do with the sale of the goods in BFE, USA. But a tech company can…….

My research yielded little in the way of the history behind the DIWDS, but I did learn that Apple was one of the pioneers of the strategy way back in the 1980’s. And not only was Apple one of the pioneers of the strategy, they are one of the biggest defenders today of the strategy. 

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has testified before Congress in favor of lowering the corporate tax rate, or giving corporations a repatriation tax holiday, where the companies who have income overseas that they want to bring back to US soil can, for a limited amount of time, pay a discounted tax rate or no tax rate at all. In fact, Apple last year took out a loan (even though they have more than enough cash to foot the bill) to pay for the dividends to the shareholders of their stock. The repatriation taxes they would have paid to Uncle Sam would have been more than the interest they would have paid on the loan. So, they basically enriched the banks, instead of the coffers of our country because it made sense financially to do that.  And that is where the debate comes from, should we have incentives for companies to look after their shareholders, or the country?


I hope this got you thinking at least a little bit. I first learned about this topic back in college when some of my peers and I were doing a competition called xTax . We BS’ed our way through a PowerPoint presentation for some PricewaterhouseCoopers partners, and we used the DIWDS as one of our contentions. It is tough to understand just the basics of the movement of money, let alone the global impact. But it is something that we will surely see again in the news, sooner than later.

Sources:

http://blogs.marketwatch.com/capitolreport/2013/05/20/apples-cook-to-press-congress-for-tax-changes-in-debut-on-the-hill/

http://www.kpmg.com/global/en/services/tax/tax-tools-and-resources/pages/corporate-tax-rates-table.aspx




Friday, January 31, 2014

How to Lose Less Money at the Casino


If there is one thing in life that I have come to know very well, it’s that nobody has any freaking clue how slot machines actually work.  Or, no one has had a confident enough answer to sway me. Either way, I have a feeling this may be true of others, which is why I’m writing this (and cause im feeling a bit nerdish and just want to research something.) If you asked me three days ago when the next time I thought I was going to be in a casino, I would have told you “Probably not anytime soon.” But when you are visiting friends in Lake Tahoe and have a couple drinks, you might find yourself at say, Montbleu Casino and Resort later that night, because life can just kinda happen like that. It’s the impromptu times like these where I hope my little guide can make you some money (but more realistically, help you lose LESS money.) In just a few minutes, you will at least know the basics of how slot machines work, and can hopefully gain some advantage if/when you play them. I hope you guys are excited as I am.

Background
It is not only notable but also very interesting that 70% of the average US casino’s income comes from slot machines. I guess it kinda makes sense when you think about all those old, decrepit people wasting away in front of these things. Anyways, the first mechanized gambling machine was released in New York in 1891 by these two dudes. It contained 5 drums that spun and revealed one playing card for each drum after each spin. So basically it was like a super ghetto version of video poker, with the objective being to get the best hand. The slot machine as we know it today was released by this other dude named Charles Fey in San Francisco. Gambling historians say Fey’s was released in 1895 but there is some disagreement on that date. Either way, Fey’s machine eventually won the test of time because it reduced the complexity of payouts. The original gambling machine had too many different ways to win to have a completely automatic payout system. Feys machine used three reels with five symbols (you know, the ones with bells and cherries and sh*t) so it was much easier to pay out.

You are most likely to come across a hybrid machine these days when you play slots. They have elements of the old “one-armed bandits” (such as the arm you pull on the side of the machine to actuate it) but usually feature a video screen you manipulate with buttons or a touchscreen.  Why pull the arm when you can lose your money faster with a button?  These electronic slots also feature multiple pay lines as opposed to the single pay line of the old school machines…..which also makes it seem a hell of a lot more confusing.

Modern slot machines are designed to pay out a certain percentage of the money that is wagered by the gamblers. The payout percentage is either established by law or regulation, and varies by state. In Nevada, the minimum payout is 75%. In New Jersey, it is 83%. So there is some difference there. But, hold up a sec, these payout percentages are for the LIFE of the machine, not for every wager. Im not exactly sure how they determine the life of the machines, but that’s cool because even if you knew the life, you wouldn’t know how far along the “payout percentage schedule” it is, and wouldn’t be helpful at all in determining a strategy.

Strategy
Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but it is founded in mathematics that you will have a negative expected return when you play slots and table games in the long run. These games are also known as “unbeatable.” Unless you are the MIT blackjack team or the dude who marked cards with radioactive isotopes and wore a Geiger counter, there is no edge you can employ when you enter the casino. The slots use a PRNG (or pseudo-random number generator) which can be defined as the thing that protects the house from people figuring out the outcome of spins before they spin. Here are a few basic tips you can use to help mitigate losses:
·         Play the lowest denomination- Yes they have worse odds, but since you are destined to lose, it’s actually advantageous if you want to save money while playing
·         Choose the smaller jackpot machines-apparently you will win more in the short-term
·         Avoid video machines- you end up paying for all those flashy animations in the form of reduced odds
·         Use a player’s club card- “Free” meals and rooms? Hell yeah!


But really, the best strategy is to have a set limit that you can lose, check out the paytable at your machine, drink as much top shelf as possible and just enjoy yourself. Casinos closely guard their PARS (Paytable and Reel Strip Sheets,) which means unless leaked, the public will never know the proprietary probabilities for the various brands of machines.  Something else to consider: learn table games! They are much more fun (see: less depressing,) you are interacting with humans, the odds are generally better if you know basic strategy, and they take longer so you can make your money last longer. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Profile of a Whistleblower


Originally, I was going to write this blog about something completely different. When I was doing preliminary research on the topic (South Sea Company,) I realized I had opened up a can worms I did not want to tackle on a beautiful Saturday in Hermosa Beach. So screw that. But as I was reading the news this morning at the local coffee watering hole, the new topic came to me.

I studied accounting in college, and as any post-Enron business student knows, business ethics are hit very hard in every class, even in CIS courses, but accounting especially. We learned about some of the great business whistleblowers, and about what moral courage is (eliminating the disconnect between awareness of fraud, and taking action against fraud.)  There is extreme pressure to be a whistleblower, but there is also extreme pressure to not be a whistleblower. Even with whistleblower protection laws, I have heard stories of people not being able to work in the industry they blew the whistle on ever again because who wants to hire a potential liability?

So when I was reading these articles about data collection and the NSA, I started thinking about why Edward Snowden was the only one who blew the whistle? Like, don’t a bunch of other fools work at the NSA too? Don’t they care about the same types of liberties you and I do? Or are they some elite class of people who live a life of sinister grandiose, that the devil in my head sometimes wants me to believe? This interest led me to want to write a short biography of Snowden, to see if we can mine some data about what qualities he possessed that made him speak up, when certainly some of his other colleagues could have as well. So here goes:  

Edward Snowden was born in North Carolina on June 21, 1983 to what I imagine are some wonderful, loving parents. Blah blah blah. I’m not here to tell you what you can easily find on Wikipedia, I’d rather spend our time analyzing Snowden’s specific actions and his thoughts.
Ed’s father described him in a post-leak interview as "a sensitive, caring young man", and "a deep thinker." Of course his dad would say that about him you say, but let me take you to an example from Snowden himself, that I believe really exemplifies the “sensitive, caring young man” part.

When asked by Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian during the Hong Kong interview, "Have you given thought to what it is that the US government's response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict you, what they might try to do to you?" Snowden replied with this gem of pure selflessness and compassion:

"…But if you realize that that's the world you helped create and it's gonna get worse with the next generation and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn't matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that's applied."

That blew my socks off watching him say that in the interview. Like, goodbye friends and family, goodbye USA, goodbye six figure salary, and goodbye normal life as you knew it. He could have sold the information to any agency in the world, anonymously and would have been rewarded handsomely. Instead, he did what he believed was most democratic and gave US the option to decide how we felt about it, at the expense of HIS life. Not only did he choose to leak the information openly because he felt he had nothing to hide, he also wanted to protect his co-workers from a witch hunt and accept full responsibility from the get-go.  What a stud.

In conclusion, it appears Snowden was able to do what he did because he possessed a supreme combination of “having a heart” and having the focus to become exceptional at computer science. Pretty basic isn’t it? Maybe he was born with it, or was it the Maybelline?






"You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries. No one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time. But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that's important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you're willing to accept, and I think it many of us are it's the human nature; you can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows."
-Edward Snowden, 2013

Sources: