Chris Rosica, Ahsan Kamal, Kevin Langley, Jude Olinger, Jeff Dennis, Ashley Postlewaite, Andreas Messisstuart Reich
EO New York member Chris Rosica, Rosica Strategic Public Relations, didn’t hesitate a second to recall a recent crisis, business or personal. In short order, he rattled off three: working during a blackout, giving CPR to his media director and recovering after a dishonest employee stole one-third of his business. “That is just in the past year,” he laughed. “Crises! We all have them!”
While EO members are success stories, the fact is that success comes with its share of challenges and crises. Yet, it’s often a chance to grow.
“Having traumas and crises sometimes teaches us how to avoid having more,” said Ken Curtin, a disaster response expert with the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “You can learn coping skills, but they are really skills of avoidance. The crises that get you by surprise are the ones that you don’t know how to be defensive against.”
Entrepreneurs are good at managing through crises, whether their office burned down or a business partner absconded with money.
“Entrepreneurs see the world and business differently than most people,” said David Grand, Ph.D., a New York City trauma counselor who has helped victims emotionally heal after disasters, including September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. “The number one characteristic that sets them apart is perseverance. They also have good instincts and can make wise decisions based on gut feelings.”
“Times of crisis test us in ways that we can never imagine,” said Jude Olinger, EO New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina. “It is these times that make us stronger and more determined. Do not let anything, not even a catastrophe, get in the way of reaching your goals and achieving success.”
London EO member Julia Langkraehr, who rebuilt her business from a painful bankruptcy, agreed. “I am the type of person that if you tell me I cannot do something, I will prove you wrong,” laughed the managing director of Retail Profile Europe Ltd. “Entrepreneurs see crises as opportunities and not as obstacles,” said Dr. Grand, and EO members are no different.
AHSAN KAMAL, EO PAKISTAN
“All humans should support each other. We are helpless without each other. We are pillars that must stand together to keep this building strong and standing high.”
When an earthquake rocked Pakistan on 8 October 2005, EO Pakistan members were emotionally shaken.
“We all wanted to help so badly that we collected funds and took supplies to the affected areas,” said Tanveer, EO Pakistan president. “We collected 13.5 million rupees and took 35 containers with food, tents, blankets, water and warm clothes to Bagh, Muzaffarabad and Mansehra.”
After delivering supplies, EO members stayed for days, sleeping in tents, navigating blocked roads and living without electricity, water or telephones.
“The conditions made us appreciate what we have; how blessed we are to have good friends. It strengthened the bonds between each other, and we felt special respect for all those who worked hand-in-hand with us helping those in need.”
Even if member companies were not located in affected areas, business suffered. “Most of our labor comes from the affected areas,” said Ahsan Kamal. “Our businesses suffered with production problems.” Tanveer added, “Life is slowly rebuilding in the affected areas. It will take very long to heal, but to forget is impossible.”
“No one can fight Mother Nature,” said Kamal. “The best thing is to accept this fact, keep up your strength and morale and work to help those in need.”
KEVIN LANGLEY/JUDE OLINGER, EO NEW ORLEANS
“Don’t think it can’t happen to you or your company. It can, and you never know when it might. Have a disaster recovery plan ready.”
Ironically, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit the United States on 29 August 2005, EO New Orleans met to hear a guest speaker discuss managing adversity.
“Two days later, it happened to all of us,” said Langley. “Overnight, we had to leave everything.” Langley, his wife and 3-year-old triplets fled their suburban home in four feet of water and evacuated to family in Baton Rouge, Louisianna.
Four days later, Langley was finding apartments for 45 displaced employees, buying vehicles for them and setting up temporary offices and homes in trailers in Baton Rouge. Now, six months after the storm, Langley is gradually putting his life back together and rebuilding a business. After buying a home in Baton Rouge, he is getting his New Orleans office back in shape and experiencing a newfound construction problem— helping other businesses rebuild.
“Managing through a disaster is the opportunity to run through crisis and not from it. The emotional ability to handle the situation is what sets us apart,” Langley said.
JEFF DENNIS, EO TORONTO
“Be open-minded. Don’t have tunnel vision or think about yourself as working in only one industry.”
As Jeff Dennis was being groomed for leadership in the family real estate business, the Canadian market melted down. “It was like the dot-com bubble, and the bubble burst. Not only did my family real estate business go down, but the real estate syndication business that my partners and I started ground to a halt.”
Dennis, who had acquired about CAN$1 million in personal debt in anticipation of his new leadership role, was in trouble. “No income, no business, nothing. I had to reinvent myself,” he said. Married with three kids, Dennis knew it would not be easy at a time when the economy was poor, interest rates were high and the government was not particularly friendly to business.
While he and his partners always saw themselves as real estate guys, they went through a paradigm shift. “We were successful in raising money in real estate, so we said, ‘We are finance guys. What should we raise money for next?’”
At the time, the Canadian government was giving tax breaks to companies to invest in Canadian film and TV productions. So, Dennis got involved in financing this industry. In less than a year, he was back to making money and doing well.
ASHLEY POSTLEWAITE, EO LOS ANGELES
“In a crisis, pretend you’re pregnant. Step back and be ready to take measures that you might not have normally taken.”
While having two children is not necessarily a crisis, it did cause a major work-life balance challenge for the 2004/2005 YEO president when she had two children only 15 months apart. In a few months, Ashley Postlewaite saw her family grow to four and her company explode from four people to 50. She had to take steps to better organize her soon-to-change life.
When her daughter Ann, 3, was six months old, she got pregnant with William, 19 months. At the time, she was also giving birth to a new client, a show on the U.S. Cartoon Network— “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi.”
“I knew I would be out for three months on maternity leave, so it forced me to go out and hire people I would trust to run the show,” she said.
Not only did she need coverage at work, she also had to get help at home. Her parents moved a mile and a half away from her to help with child care, and her sister left her job to become the children’s full-time nanny.
“Now, I’m more mercenary in my choices,” she said. “If I choose to take something on, it’s going to take time away from my kids, so I’m really careful about what I pick.”
ANDREAS MESSISSTUART REICH, EO NEW YORK
“The culture of a company drives the business in hard times and in good times. Employees partnered together to find solutions. Everyone worked together toward a goal.”
Sometimes, something as minor as getting to work can cause a crisis. When the New York City mass transit system went on strike days before Christmas 2005, it stranded New Yorkers. Andreas Messis and Stuart Reich managed through it by planning ahead and arranging for employees with cars to pick up those without transportation.
While companies all over the city were shutting down, TransFORM refused. “We said, ‘We are not going to let the transit strike ruin our business,’” recalled Messis. And while they lost a few days of closet installations because they couldn’t deliver in the five boroughs, Messis and Reich got all but two employees to work on the first day of the strike.
The co-founders hired taxis to transport workers at US$40–US$80 each, used company vans as car-pools and picked up employees personally. “Everyone works together toward a goal at TransFORM,” said Reich. “In this case, the goal was simple: Get to work.”
And they did.