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Author: Richard Lannon

14 Financial Analysis Approaches the Business Analysis Professional Should Know

It is not often that I write about numbers. Why, because some professionals find it boring and want to nod off at the mention of numbers, while others simply say, well my numbers are giving to me by someone else.

Here’s the thing, you may not create the numbers, but you need to know how to read them and understand what they mean. 

Recently I have been working on three separate strategic business analysis projects. We are following standard business analysis best practices. That is to say, current state, future state, risk analysis and communications as outlined in the BABOK. As part of these initiatives, we have had to gather the numbers, which essentially means ask for them and use them to help assess the current state environment financially for eventually doing some future state projections and budgeting. I am a big believer in the adages, the numbers don’t lie, and you need to know where you are to determine where you need to go. Numbers help in making better business decisions.

So I thought I would provide some of the more common financial analysis options within business analysis we use to help organizations, leaders, and professionals make better business decisions. The type of financials you require will be driven, in part, by the type of initiative. You can use the following as a checklist for the types of financial you may need to understand.

Vertical Analysis is used on financial statements where each entry of the major accounts, assets, liabilities, and equities in the balance sheet are represented as a proportion of the account totals. It shows the relative sizes of different accounts on a financial statement. When done on an income statement the top line of sales (100%) is broken down by percentage of product or service sold. It can be used on a project to understand top line spend (100%) against a category of spend. For example, labor, hardware, software, etc. However, if you are looking at a company’s financials overall, you may want to understand the financial breakdown of sales vs. expenses regarding percentages.

Horizontal Analysis is sometimes called trend analysis. Something within business analysis which we need to be concerned. You compare ratios or line items in financial statements over a certain period. This makes it a useful tool evaluate trend situations. You can use this analysis against a balance sheet, income statement (something BAs should know how to read), industry data or a multi-period project budget to understand what is going on.

Forecast to Budget: The use of historical data to determine the direction of future trends. Forecasting is used by companies to determine how to allocate their budgets for an upcoming period. It is also used to budget for projects.

Run-Rates: If a company has revenues of $100 million in its latest quarter, the CEO might say: “Our latest quarter puts us at a $400 million run rate.” All this is saying is that if the company were to perform at the same level for the next year, they’d have annual revenues of $400 million.

Productivity: Productivity is the relationship between the quantity of output and the quantity of input used to generate that output. It is a measure of the effectiveness and efficiency of your organization in generating output with the resources available. Productivity = output/input.

Return on Assets: Investors and managers base the market value of the business on the profit it generates. The return on assets, or ROA, of business, is a ratio commonly used to calculate profitability.

Inventory Turnover: Companies that are based on the sale of a product depend on regular sales to generate a profit. In these cases, the financial health of a business depends on its inventory turnover, or in other words, how many times a year it sells its average inventory.

Cost-Benefit Analysis is a systematic approach to estimating the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives that satisfy transactions, activities or functional requirements for business. It is a technique that is used to determine options that provide the best approach for the adoption and practice regarding benefits in labor, time and cost savings.


Breakeven Analysis: An analysis to determine the point at which revenue received equals the costs associated with receiving the revenue.

Sensitivity Analysis: A technique used to determine how different values of an independent variable will impact a particular dependent variable under a given set of assumptions.

Profitability Analysis: A component of enterprise resource planning (ERP) that allows administrators to forecast the profitability of a proposal or optimize the profitability of an existing project.

Net Present Value (NPV): Defined as the sum of the present values (PVs) of incoming and outgoing cash flows over a period. Incoming and outgoing cash flows can also be described as benefit and cost cash flows, respectively.

Internal Rate of Return (IRR): Also called the discounted cash flow rate of return. It’s a rate of return used in capital budgeting to measure and compare the profitability of investments. ‘Internal’ refers to the fact that does not calculate environmental factors like interest rates or inflation.

Return on Investment: A performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiency of some different investments. To calculate, ROI, the benefit (return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment; the result is expressed as a percentage or a ratio.

Final Thoughts

So, did I just bore you? Are your eyeballs rolling back into your forehead? Sorry about that. I know I didn’t provide you a lot of case examples. These are the financial analysis basics that anyone in the business analysis should know. When I am working on an initiative, I find myself working with a team. Most recently that team has included a combination of stakeholders all working to serve the client’s needs. It has included a senior consultant, project lead, a researcher, financial department and of course the client we are serving. As the management consultant wearing the hat of a strategic business analyst and business advisor I get to work with a team of people who provide the information needed and packaged in a way that it can be analyzed. All I have to do is ask. I guess for you, working in business analysis, you need to be able to do the same thing. You may not have to create the numbers, but you do need to know what to request, how to read them and determine what they mean. Good luck!

Remember, do your best, invest in the success of others and make your journey count.


Staff, Investopedia. “Forecasting.” Investopedia. June 05, 2015. Accessed October 27, 2017.
“Run Rate.” WordReference Forums. Accessed October 27, 2017.
Phillips, Jack J., and Patricia Pulliam Phillips. Handbook of Training Evaluation and Measurement Methods. London: Routledge, 2016.
Marshall, Alfred. Principles of Economics. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Smith, Charisma. “An Analysis to Determine the Point at Which Revenue Received.” April 18, 2014. Accessed October 27, 2017.
Staff, Investopedia. “Sensitivity Analysis.” Investopedia. December 03, 2015. Accessed October 27, 2017.
“What Is Profitability Analysis? – Definition from” SearchERP. Accessed October 27, 2017.
“Net Present Value.” SpringerReference. doi:10.1007/springerreference_2028.
Boundless. “Internal Rate of Return.” Internal Rate of Return | Boundless Finance. Accessed October 27, 2017.
Staff, Investopedia. “Return On Investment – ROI.” Investopedia. September 01, 2017. Accessed October 27, 2017.

11 Considerations to Help in Make Better Business Decisions

Recently I had the opportunity to present Making Better Business Decisions at a Project Management and Business Analysis World Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

A topic close to my heart, since I focus on helping business leaders and professionals build business brainpower, make better business decisions and establish a common direction using strategic planning and business analysis best practices.

The interesting thing about this topic is that there are so many endless possibilities when talking and writing about making better business decisions since there is so much information available on the topic. Here are 11 points from that presentation.

Beliefs get in our way.

We tend to think we are better at making decisions than what we are and time and time again demonstrated as fact. We now know that decision making is more of a cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Often our decision is influenced by a set of beliefs, values, and attitude. Research shows that we can be really bad decision makers.

That’s illogical Spock.

Sometimes when we look at all the facts and the right decision is an only common sense we tend to make poor decisions. For example, a cab driver will drive their cab less on poor weather days when they have more fares and more on warm weather days when they have fewer fares. The logical choice, drive more on bad weather days to make more money. The reason, a decision ceiling, and culture. We all have one. Know yours.

Factors affect decision-making.

Many factors that impact decision-making. They generally can be listed as workplace trends, technology, and culture. We have all seen the squeeze on in workplace trends; smaller business units, flexible work organizations, shared service and gig economy. Technology always changes; business intelligence, artificial intelligence, and expert systems are altering our approach to decision-making. Culture is always a factor yet sometimes left out of the equation. Depending on the part of the world you live in; decisions are based on speed, decisiveness, individualism or groupthink, organic and an all-for-one approach.

Thinking fast and slow.

I wish I came up with that phrase. But I didn’t. It is from a book by Daniel Kahneman, a 2012 Economic Nobel Prize Winner. It states that the decision brain has a system one and a system two. System one is intuitive, fast, automatic and instantaneous. This system has a lot of influence, guides and steers our lives. System two is slower, rational, logical and analytical. Deliberation and reasoning are its hallmarks. Traditional economists modeled saw people as rational, selfish, with tastes that don’t change much. Kahneman discovered is that we are neither fully rational nor completely selfish and that peoples tastes are anything but stable. System one and two are at odds with one another. Often taking a risk when we shouldn’t. It is worth reading his book, Thinking Fast and Slow to understand the brain in the decision-making process. Especially since in business analysis we often use decision-making models, approaches, and tools to help make decisions.


Models help in the process.

Anyone who knows me, know I use the setability model for planning, analysis, and decision-making across impact zones (see S.E.T. for Success, pp 17). I think models are an important factor in making decisions. Every organization or client I have ever worked with either have models they use in decision-making or they need them. As a professional, who uses business analysis, your job is to provide a model or find out what should be used in the business environment you are in and apply it. Having a standardized decision-making model is a positive benefit to the organization as it provides consistency. It is important to be able to adapt and change your model as things change in the business climate.

It’s all in the approach.

Related to models, your approach to providing solutions. In my presentation I mentioned that are many approaches to use (from 5, 7, 10, 12 step processes) that can be summarized in four steps; define, choose, implement and measure. Defining has to do with framing a problem or opportunity. Framing often has to be done well as it is the difference between seeing the glass as half full or half empty. To choose is to have a choice. With business analysis, the three option choice applies (do nothing, do something or do something else). Implementation comes down to your planning approach (predictive or adaptive). Finally, measure gets down to key performance indicator. It is about knowing whether you will or if you did achieve the result based on all the decisions made.

Critical thinking tools.

We all need tools in our toolbox and decision-making has a lot to do with having the best tool to apply in making key decisions. Most websites provide the same tools when you are seeking something to use to make decisions. They include; swot, pest, pros, and cons, and cost-benefit analysis.

If you do not know how to use these tools you should work on leaning them. They are the standards no different than having a hammer, a saw, measuring tape, level, and pencil; They are tools of the trade.

Confidence gets in our way.

Back to the brain and the way we think. It is thought people fail to take into account complexity and that their understanding of the world consists of a small and necessarily un-representative set of observations. Furthermore, the mind does not account for the role of chance and therefore falsely assumes that a future event will mirror a past event. For example, to use a phrase, my Dad would say, “they are just throwing good money after bad.” In other words, when we have sunk costs we tend to put more into a bad situation, we take higher risks, and we gamble more. When what you see is truly all there is, there is nothing more. We will hope for different results. We become overconfident. The only way to guard against this is by doing your due diligence.

It is an Illusion of control with a planning fallacy.

We all have optimism and loss aversion bias where we think we have greater control over our lives than we do. Something called the illusion of control. The examples cited include people believing that they are less at risk of being a crime victim yet live in a high crime area, smokers believing that they are less likely to contract lung cancer or disease than other smokers, and traders who think they are less exposed to losses in the markets. In this case, we overestimate the benefits and underestimate the costs. The key is to be more mindful of the decision-making process.

Overcoming positives and negatives.

Decision-making is tough because we have the deck stacked against us for making better decisions. There are some things we can do to solve the decision-making challenges. We can be more mindful of our choices. In our organizations, we can embrace the diversity of decision makers and create decision committees. We can have designated decision driver with someone who has no impaired judgment since the decision is irrelevant to them. Finally, we can create control limits on decision-making and obey the decision-making rules.

Final Thoughts.

This article is just a summation of a presentation I did on making better business decisions and outlines the challenges I see in organizations and people in business today. Given some constraints we have today (time, money and resources) there are things we need to do so we are making better business decisions. We could design organizations for decision-making, create decision-making rules and guiding principles, establish flexible decision makes and a common decision-making language, seek to guard against over-confidence and optimism bias and maybe get a coach, a mentor or a decision group for those more difficult choices. Good luck.

Remember, do your best, invest in the success of others and make your journey count. Richard.

9 Keen Focus Areas in Strategic Business Analysis

Recently I was having breakfast with a CEO of a ½ billion dollar annual revenue resource company.

He was telling me how they had a strategic planning session with a former executive where they mapped out their plans for the next five years. As with most companies, the plan is to grow, to expand and explore new worlds and go where they have never gone before. Does that sound familiar?

So being the strategic planner and business analyst that I am, I asked if they had defined, scoped and prioritized their initiatives yet. There was an awkward moment of silence. Sixty seconds when you are not sure if you should begin to pray, cry or buy a lotto ticket. The response was they had not gotten that far yet because they were busy operating the business. But their people will do that, get right on it, right?

Business leaders and professionals often do not take strategic planning to the next level, a situation I know only too well. Companies create great plans and ideas from their initial strategic planning and mapping sessions only to front load everything and not take the time to understand where they should focus, why and what should be the priorities.

This is where strategic business analysis (enterprise analysis) comes in. As in the question, I asked above; strategic business analysis is used to define, scope and prioritize initiatives, a step in the strategic planning process that gets missed. In the real world of business, strategic business analysis is an essential component of every project or change initiative to ensure outcomes align with the goals and objectives the entire organization and its departments.

In a review of the IIBA Body of Knowledge, several books on strategic analysis, my book, SET for Success, and from the work I have done with small to large corporations, strategic business analysis requires a keen focus on the following:

  1. Understanding the business structure, architectures, and people and culture
  2. Conducting capability analysis to ensure the organization can do what it says it plans to do
  3. Ensuring proper strengths and weaknesses are recognized, and opportunity and threats are identified and defined
  4. Business problems and opportunities are analyzed, and solutions are brainstormed beyond the norm of improving processes, increased sales and cut costs
  5. Performing feasibility and risk analysis on the potential solutions and compare the solutions alternatives through success and failure analysis, pros and cons discussions, and cost, ease, benefit analysis and developing decision grids to prioritize solutions
  6. Determining the proper scope change initiatives based on business, structure and organizational parameters and capabilities
  7. Developing the business case to drive out the investments and expected returns externally or internally for the key initiatives. 
  8. Creating a communication plan that helps guide the organization through the changes that will take place as initiatives become implemented, and 
  9. building a roadmap focused on using project management best practices of implementation with business champions, key initiatives, tactical focus, time and dates and a reporting structure to ensure initiatives are moving forward as originally planned.


There is a lot going on here, and it would be a mistake to think that this is the private domain of business analysts identified on an organizational chart. It is not. Business analysis and strategic business analysis is a set of skills that bridge a position. In today’s business world the CEO, COO, VPs, various Managers, and Professionals must be able to perform these critical tasks at the strategic, tactical and operational levels. Granted there is a difference in the tools and techniques employed, and the expected outcomes and deliverables that exist in the details. The key is that there is a shared vision of success connected to the goals and objectives of the organization. Something many business leaders and professionals miss with a negative impact on the organization.

Effectively implementing strategic plans means using proper strategic analysis and strategic business analysis to ensure you make the best strategic decisions, that you are actually strategic through proper strategic management considerations and that you are focused on the best initiatives and projects for your organization at this point and time. Strategic analysis and therefore, strategic business analysis focuses on factual support of business decisions. Hopefully, in the end, the business has made better business decisions.

Final Thoughts

I have always enjoyed the topic of strategic planning, management, and analysis because it is incredibly interesting to help shape an organization’s future and because learning strategic business analysis is for everyone in business, from the executive to the professional. Granted you may not be working at the strategic level in your career, but you have a business impact at the tactical and operational levels. If strategic business analysis helps scope out the initiatives and projects delivered by mid-level and project managers, then other professionals have to flush out the details to ensure that prioritized initiatives and projects deliver.

The best part is that strategic business analysis is connected to strategic management which is concerned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization, includes multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process, has to incorporate short and long term specifics of initiatives and projects and knows that there is a trade-off between effectiveness and efficiency. If you are going to envision it and plan it, you better make sure you are addressing the right problem, leveraging the best opportunities and you get your priorities straight; strategic business analysis will help. Good luck.
Do your best, invest in the success of others, and make your journey count. Richard

7 Body Language Cues from a Group of Business Analysts

I was out having coffee with a group of business analysts; we were just chatting about our careers and the various projects we’d worked on over the years.

Then someone said, “Hey, what do you do to read people’s body language?” The statement made me recall a time when I taught Business Analysis Facilitation skills and the great dialogue that would erupt in the class, on the topic of body language. This group of professionals was no different than the people I have taught and coached. We all laughed and started picking out obvious body language choices and commenting on each choice’s interpretation. It was funny watching my business associates adjust their body to change what they were projecting as we discussed this topic.

Crossed Arms

We all know crossed arms is interpreted as a physical barrier that says you are closed off and not interested in what someone is saying. It is also somewhat of a power move. In essence, you are shutting the other person out with crossed arms. I see this one all the time. I sometimes think that people just don’t know what to do with their arms, they could be cold, resting their arms in a stance or maybe they are showing off their biceps. Either way, if you are working with a group of people, you need to know what crossed arms means and how to deal with it.

Avoiding Eye Contact

Guilty as charged. We all do it, even when we know better. When you avoid eye contact is as if you are trying to hide something. That is the general interpretation. It is also possible that you lack confidence or lack interest in the topic you are hearing. I know some people whose culture interprets directly looking into someone’s eyes as inappropriate and disrespectful. Through understanding the situation and circumstance, you need to provide a safe space and permission for someone to look into your eyes. Part of this is to understand the workplace rules of when to look into someone’s eyes. The easy answer is for introductions and when addressing someone. Ensure you consider culture.

Looking Down When You Talk

The interpretation is you are self-conscious and lack confidence. Your words fade, are hard to hear and lose their impact. Focus on keeping your eyes level when making important points or when addressing someone. I am into fitness and workout intensely with various partners. Recently, one of my female peers joined me. She wanted to do more weights for her biceps, so I agreed to spot her. As she was lifting, she turned her head slightly and looked down. Two things were happening: First, she wasn’t confident in lifting the added weight, and second, she was uncomfortable looking towards me. So that she wouldn’t injure herself, I stopped her and told her to pretend that she was in front of an audience and look straight ahead. Interestingly, it looked like she was looking at me, but she was focusing on projecting, using a simple technique to keep her head up and in line.


Playing with Hands, Hair or Whatever

For me, this one is not an issue since I left my hair in the 1990s somewhere. But maybe you play with your rings, or you are always fixing your shirt, pants or skirt. This interpretation varies depending on what you read. You could be nervous, or maybe you had too much coffee that day and the shakes kicked in, or you are anxious and distracted. The interpretation here is that you might be a little vain; concerned about appearance and not enough about your career or the stakeholder. I guess you just have to learn not to fidget.

Eye-Rolling When Someone Contributes

This one drives me nuts as the action states you do not respect the person around you. I have watched this in meetings. People disrespecting someone else, even making faces afterward. It is time for you to grow up and leave your teenage years behind you. A professional knows that eye-rolling is a choice you make, and it is an immature one at that. You can learn to control this action, and it would be worth your while. When you roll your eyes, your peers might smirk, but what they are thinking is “Get a life and grow up.” It is inappropriate behavior.

Providing the Right Handshake

The right handshake is for both men and women. You have to get it right. If your handshake is too weak, you lack confidence and authority, and if it is too strong you come across as aggressive and controlling, or you are over compensating for something. I learned as a child how to shake another person’s hand professionally and personally. Yes, these can be different things depending on the situation. The key word is situational. When you shake a person’s hand, it should be firm but not overpowering, and you should look them in the eyes when you greet them. As you repeat their name or say it’s a pleasure to meet you, acknowledge that person with a slight head nod. If you do it right, you will always make the best impression. If you have a weak or strong handshake, practice doing it right and don’t over-compensate no matter your gender.

Physical Distance Between People

For most people in western society, we know that this is about one and a half to two feet. This rule goes out the door if you have a relationship, are siblings or are on a bus. But professionally, one and a half to two feet is about the right distance to stand away from someone. If you get too close, people get uncomfortable. You need to learn to respect that. Now there are times you need to step into a person’s space, and the rule is to ask permission for that short time. For example, showing someone how to do something may require you to get closer, or maybe you are working on something, and you both need to lean in a bit. Those are understandable situations. But what you don’t do is get into someone’s space and in their face for no particular reason. If you do, the interpretation is you are rude, annoying, aggressive and disrespectful to say the least.

Final Thoughts

These are just some of the body language items that came up during my discussion with my friends during the coffee meeting. Interestingly, each gender and culture has their own perspective on these body language items. Nevertheless, we all agreed that we lived in a western culture where we had to try to factor in a lot of different variables to make an appropriate response to someone’s body language. Now if that doesn’t sound like a bunch of business analysts talking, I don’t know what is.

We are talking profiling here. There is lots of research that suggests that people who are more balanced and have a stronger awareness of themselves tend to be better at reading and responding to people’s body language. They tend to make fewer people mistakes. For years, I have been a strong supporter of emotional intelligence: something I suggest all professionals in the business analysis industry learn about. It will help you to navigate relationships and read body language better. Good luck.

Remember, do you best, invest in the success of others and make your journey count. Richard.

5 Reasons Why Developing Your Coaching Skills is so Important for Your Career

The ability to coach has become a requisite for all professionals. I have delivered this message many times when working with business leaders and professionals.

Recently, I was speaking with a group of professionals. One of them asked what skill-set was required within business analysis. My response was, many skills are required. Business analysis requires one of the most rounded, professional skill-sets. Being a business analyst is not just about knowing business analysis, project management, and process modeling; it’s about developing your leadership skills. One of the leadership skills that will work in your favor is coaching. Here are five reasons why developing your coaching skills is so important.

Employees Expect It

I can hear what you are saying right now: “No one reports to me; I have no employees.” As a business analyst, you have to think beyond the employee/manager relationship of the traditional business environment. We have shifted to a professional world where employees expect to be coached and mentored. People are looking for partners that understand that part of relationship-building is to focus on the growth and development of others. Therefore the professional needs to embrace that and work with others as if they are their employees.

New Employees Need It

When someone new joins your team or the team of the stakeholder you serve, you have an opportunity to coach and mentor them. So, you establish a positive relationship fast. Besides, new employees don’t have some of the basic skills that are needed to survive in the workplace. Some years ago, I worked for a company that expected me to use a specific system to monitor escalated events. I went to a meeting one day, and someone asked me about how I had been handling the issues within the event system. I had no idea what they were talking about. They explained that there was a system that should be monitored every day. This conversation occurred three months after I had started working in the company. It would have been useful if the person responsible for the system had coached and mentored me on the system use and protocols. Maybe you use a system or support a system that someone new has to use. It might be a good idea to help them out.


More Seasoned Employees Require It

These people might think they know it all. In reality, these people often need help to adapt to changing conditions in their workplace. In this case, coaching is focused on mastering increasingly complex and diverse tasks, and activities often brought on by the rapid changes in technology. There also might be an aspect of coaching to increase responsibility and autonomy in the professional environment. I recall a time when there were many staff changeovers in a client organization. Mostly the middle and senior management lost their administrative assistant. At the time, it was no big deal to me as I was tech savvy, but for the all thumbs professional for whom other people did stuff, it was a real challenge. Losing resources was a change that shocked a lot of people. Suddenly, autonomy and self-directed teams became important. Today you are expected to be self-reliant, independent and able to handle autonomy. But within business analysis, you have to coach and mentor the more mature workers in adapting to change and developing these skills sets.

Organizations Use It

Everyone wants better results, a return on their investment. Added value can be defined beyond the monetary. As a business analyst, you need to think beyond the “me” and “us.” It is part of the alignment between individuals, teams and the organization. I once was having a coffee with two of my peers, and one of them said, “The three of us; we know more about what was going on in the organization than anybody.” He was correct. Not because we were special. As senior strategic business analysts, we had a combined stakeholder portfolio that cut across the organization and penetrated every aspect of the business.

Our initiatives and the decisions we made, created ripples throughout the organization. We all understood that we needed to forge a more cohesive and effective stakeholder engagement to ensure the organization achieved its objectives. That meant coaching and mentoring our leaders, and assisting people in bettering their performance; in making better, more informed decisions.

Leaders Benefit from It

I often think that I am a better man because I had kids. Not because I ruled with an iron fist but because I had to learn a set of skills that are not innate. I learned as much from my kids as they learned from me. In other words, sometimes my kids were the coach and mentor. This situation is similar to the practice of business analysis. Your manager, team leader, director, and executive do not know it all. Sometimes it is all about reverse coaching – where you end up coaching the person you are reporting too. I have worked with a lot of executives, and there have been many occasions when I applied simple coaching models when working with executives to build their skills, capabilities and decision-making abilities. There are times, through coaching, when leaders learn more from their employees than employees learn from their leaders. And that is all right.

Final Thoughts

It is a mistake to think that as a business analyst or project manager you are not a coach or mentor. Coaching and mentorship are not some private domain of management and the executive. Organizations and professionals who think that way will struggle to survive the next wave of changes that are going to hit the economy. Especially organizations that exist in traditional thinking economic and community sections. They are in for a huge shock. The professional who is balanced between the hard and soft skills, tech-savvy and wired will reign in the next economy. They will use their coaching and mentorship abilities to develop other people, their stakeholders around them. Good luck.

Remember, do your best, invest in the success of others and make your journey count.