Having Chicken for Thanksgiving Should Be Illegal (Annual Letter by Chris Lahiji)

Chris Lahiji  |

This will be the longest piece of writing you'll read from me this year, given that it is my annual letter.

I'm also writing this as a tribute to Jeanne, a close family friend of mine who had a rough set back this week. Jeanne, I hope David reads you this entire thing out and bores you to death with it! We are going to P.F. Changs on me the next time I'm in town. I don't give a damn if it is Chinese food made specifically for white people, it is delicious. I love you and shall see you shortly.

Let's get right into things.

Early Days

When I was 18, I had to make a very tough decision as college was not working out. My dream was to initially go to Deep Springs College. I could spend the entire day writing about why, but no one wants to hear me ramble about what makes this place so special.

In my eyes, it is the most distinctive college in the world. You are in the middle of nowhere. The biggest deal breaker for me wasn't the fact that the school is situated on a farm (cattle/alfalfa), students have to work on it seven days a week, no drugs or alcohol permitted, all-male (at the time), it's freezing in the winter/Phoenix in the summer, and best of all, no one can leave campus when school is in session. This was still all fine and dandy by me.

My biggest plight had to do with the fact that the closest Taco Bell was 42.6 miles away in Bishop, California. Not exactly convenient, assuming that I could even get access or was successful in bribing the one student driver on campus.

Note: The New Yorker wrote a fantastic article about the institution a few years ago.

Deep Springs is like Navy Seals training for intellectuals. My goal was to go for a couple of years, transfer out, get my degree, and become a teacher. It did not happen. My career all started by accident from a small side project.

I spent a year (my sabbatical) devoting myself to a documentary called "The Best Companies No One Has Ever Heard Of." Lewis Braham wrote an article about it in BusinessWeek, Fortune did an interview on PBS, and the rest is history. The premise was that no one in the media respects, follows, or discusses small publicly traded companies in North America. This has been my life's work to date.

What very few people know about is what happened immediately after the documentary was completed. I was essentially a "lone wolf." A 19 year kid with no job, no prospects, no willingness to go back to college, and no career plans. Every Asian parents' nightmare or 92% of millennials today (sorry, had to joke about this). Granted, some of the best investors in micro-cap today are less than 30 years of age, and they are hungry to prove themselves worthy. In due time, they will.

The first three executives I had ever met, changed the course of my life, forever. Klaus Moeller (Baby Genius), Zack Irani (BMRA), and Phil Marcum (Metretek).

Their kindness, support, and belief in my project was all the energy I needed to keep going. Klaus was my first phone call. I was blown away that the CEO of a publicly traded company read my report, enjoyed the content, and wanted to keep in touch. He had me at "hello."

Zack Irani from Biomerica ( (BMRA)) invited me to this small rustic restaurant called Wahoo's near his office in Newport Beach. I did not like it at first, but boy did those fish tacos grow on me later. :-) He was so nice and humble and intelligent and well spoken and nothing has changed. For full disclosure, I am a shareholder in BMRA and believe that surfing is hard.

Phil Marcum invited me to his hotel on Sunset Blvd. I had lived in Los Angeles for nine years at the time, and had never been to Sunset. My eyes could not comprehend all the sights and sounds, and stores (I miss Tower Records a lot) that no one had ever shown me. Phil was beyond supportive, and Metretek (later known as PowerSecure) turned out to become a huge winner.

These guys brought me "in", adopted me if you will, and taught me all sorts of things to survive. Slowly, but surely, executives were the only people I was talking to and meeting with during the day. You quickly develop the mannerisms, thoughts, and ideals of those closest around you.

Executive Branch

It is hard to comprehend, but we will connect with over 1,000+ execs this year alone.

Knowing what we know, I do not think I will ever become a public company executive (way too much work, not enough pay, access to private aircraft now has to be disclosed, ties, never ending conference calls, bankers).

One of the best execs in the game and I shared lunch together recently, and he asked a hypothetical.

"As acting CEO, what are the things that you would do for your shareholders?"

I've never said this publicly before, but the person that reminded me of "me" the most is Bryan Martin, the former CEO of EGHT, now Chairman and CTO, personality wise that is.

I'd tried to replicate everything he did.

8x8 may have been our most successful investment in the past decade (for full disclosure, we still own some shares). We wrote on it when it was trading below a buck, and they were

a mainstay at the conference until they eclipsed a billion dollars. At a billion dollar valuation, LD Micro is not the most popular destination of choice, rightfully so.

Bryan's temperament, sense of humor, listening ability, the way he communicated. He was friendly and approachable, even when he was not having a good day. Bryan taught me that good guys could and do finish first.

Now, we do have some "minor" disparities between us.

The main differences between Bryan and me is that the man is a tech God (revolutionized VoIP), holds 35 patents to his name, has a B.S. and M.S. from Stanford, and can whoop my ass in Sudoku and the New York Times Sunday crossword simultaneously.

He might not beat me in arm wrestling, a beer drinking contest, or ping pong, but who cares?! I'd rather have one meaningful patent to my name than be good at all the things I just mentioned.

Here are the top five things that I would do as "acting CEO":

  1. I'd write an annual letter to shareholders (of course).
  2. I'd buy shares in the open market when I could. When a Persian guy buys stock, one should take notice. We don't buy anything except food, BMW's, legal advice, and Rogaine.
  3. I'd surround myself with other like minded execs who believe in addressing the big issues operationally, first, and for taking responsibility when something does not go "according to plan."
  4. I'd hire an IR firm that would set up meetings, take calls from angry shareholders (EST was .34 vs -.01 ACT), and make sure that "Tom" does not get in to our annual shareholders meeting.
  5. I'd go to 5-7 conferences a year (except LD) to be active and prominent in the investor community.

As a bonus, I'd donate a portion of my salary every year to an organization that is doing great things. We would also donate as a company regardless of what the CFO tells me.

To me, St. Jude is the one we would pick because it is the only organization that makes me cry every time.

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold

The creation of the new ldmicro.com site was to provide sets of data to our community. We are often in uncharted territory because a lot of this information is not properly tracked or stored.

All I can do is go off memory from 2002 onward, and my memory can be streaky at times. In my eyes, I have never seen this level of activity when it comes to buyouts and mergers over the past few weeks.

On October 22nd, JetPay ( (JTPY)) gets acquired by cash register juggernaut, NCR ( (NCR)). A huge shout out to Evan Greenberg from Legend Capital for being bullish on this name. He was truly the only one at the "train station".

The following day, Alithya ( (ALYA)) merged with Edgewater Technology ( (EDGW)).

CoreLogic ( (CLGX)) bought out the rest of Symbility Solutions ( (SY:CA)) it did not own for a roughly 20% premium.

Later in the evening, I found out that I did not win the $1.6 billion lottery jackpot. I was only off by only six numbers.

On October 24th, Therapix Biosciences ( (TRPX)) announces that FSD Pharma ( (FSDDF)) is paying $48 million to buy the entire thing. For a second, I thought it was being purchased by flower company FTD.

The biggest announcement from the week however came from Del Taco ( (TACO)) who went all in on "premium" meat with its new "epic" triple meat burrito.

It's great to know that all this time, they have been serving millions of people (myself included) "less than premium" meat. I'm still waiting for Taco Bell to counterattack with the grilled stuffed quadruple meat nacho bell grande shortly.

IBM  (IBM) buys Red Hat, okay this may not count.

On November 1st, Intersections ( (INTX)) gets bought out by iSubscribed.

Mitek ( (MITK)) is trying hard to stay independent, rejecting ASG's $380 million dollar takeover bid.

RTI Surgical ( (RTIX)) buys Paradigm Spine for a deal that could be worth up to $300 million.

On the 5th, long time presenter and proud Razorback supporter, Inuvo ( (INUV)) was acquired by ConversionPoint Technologies. For full disclosure, we own shares and the company.

Altair Engineering ( (ALTR)) buys out our long time holding, Datawatch ( (DWCH)) for $13.10 a share. For full disclosure, we own shares in the company.

Terra Tech ( (TRTC)) and Golden Leaf Holdings (GLH.CN) merge.

BioTime ( (BTX)) and Asterias Biotherapeutics ( (AST)) are merging together to create a leading cell therapy company. We know both teams well, and have great respect for them. For full disclosure, we own shares in BTX and both companies have paid to attend our conferences in the past.

Ready Capital ( (RC)) announced it was merging with another long time holding, Owens Realty Mortgage ( (ORM)). We were blessed to have Owens participate at our Main Event a few years back. The stock was up nearly 30% on the announcement. Pat Gaynor had the assist on this one.

Finally, Parateum ( (TEUM)) enters into a definitive agreement to purchase iPass ( (IPAS)). Nothing in this world brought me as much joy as taking walks with the CEO of iPass, Mr. Gary Griffiths. We would talk about anything and everything. Looking forward to seeing you soon, Mr. Griffiths.

In spite of all this, TACO still put out the biggest news with their new burrito offering.

The Fires Within

The last two weeks have been challenging to say the least for all of us in the state of California. The fires have caused a lot of casualties up north, and the death toll could increase significantly in the coming weeks.

Homes, buildings, infrastructure, all incinerated. The smoke. The smoke is not something than can been seen well on television but has had terrible implications for everyone involved.

No one has been able to breathe in a large radius for what feels like ten days. SF has been dark the entire time.

One of my closest friends in the business was moments away from losing his home. He found a way to get back to his house and put his life on the line. The home was saved. His neighbor was not as lucky.

You won't believe how many brave and diligent people have been deployed to put these infernos down. They put their own lives at risk, have their own homes burn down to save others, and then get negative commentary from the President. They are heroes and we can't have enough of them.

We shall overcome.

The Main Event

The orange blaze swallowing the hillside, the smoke, the sirens, all these things bring me to a bad place deep in the caverns of my mind. I try to hide it as much as I can. I try not to think about it. It's there.

It was almost a year ago to the day that we canceled our conference to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance. It was by far and away, the hardest decision of my professional life but also the best decision ever made.

134 companies and 2,200 meetings never took place, but we have put 95% of them back on the "grid" this year. No one has worked harder than David and I. Not even close.

We never complained. Well, he never did.

From the road trips we set up, the largest Virtual event ever done in the space, to re- booking names for the Invitational and Summit, this entire year has been one long and fruitful journey. What happened is that it reinvigorated my love for the profession and how fortunate we are in serving all of you.

The outpouring of support, kind words, love, and physical help gave us all the strength needed to get to the goal line.

We wanted to make everyone "whole" again and we did.

For those who have known me, personally. I don't give a rat's ass how much money, possessions, influence, contacts, and floor tickets someone has access to.

I only measure respect in one way. Being present when it matters most.

As for the the most powerful words anyone has ever said to me during the event...

We were watching the hillside burn at 5:30 AM, and a gentleman stood right next to me trying to calculate the carnage: "Chris, I will be standing by your side until the fire lights the cigarette in my mouth."

At first, I thought he had stolen the line from an action film, but I saw his eyes and he was dead serious.

Respect to me is showing up for the event.

The capability has to be present and the desire has to be there.

Your presence is the only thing we will remember when all of this is over.

Chicken for Thanksgiving Dinner

Look. I am a traditionalist when it comes to food. My wife wants to discontinue turkey because no one in the house likes it. I guess I don't count anymore and that's fine (until the census comes around).

In the past decade, a new theme has emerged on having something different on the day we give thanks to all the consequential things in our lives.

Family, health, the ability to think and move freely, the ability to vote, and especially, honey mustard.

I've heard that many are substituting turkey with prime rib, a glazed ham, even a lamb meatloaf, which actually sounds pretty good right now.

But chicken!? Haven't chickens suffered enough.

Chicken is like the de facto meat that is served in the US today. It is commonplace everywhere, including Tender Greens, which I can not stand (too healthy).

Can't they get a break? The entire origin of Thanksgiving was probably due to finding a good reason to get rid of all these ugly birds they called turkeys.

We have turkeys.

They shit everywhere, move in packs, are slow, make annoying sounds, irritate pets and senior citizens alike, and won't leave even after you chase them off your property with a broom.

The colonialists were probably sick and tired of them, and figured it was a good source of protein. Let's continue with this tradition!

Do yourself a favor (much love to all vegetarians and vegans, what you do is incredible) and go with your gut.

Go with Butterball and happy Thanksgiving.


DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer



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