Dealing With Business Upheaval — Irma and Harvey

by seanlow on September 14, 2017

Here is a post I wrote back in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy in New York City. I resisted posting this post today for fear that it might be too soon. However, talking about what to do in the wake of a massive tragedy and business upheaval caused by things like Hurricane Harvery and Irma is a theme that I think needs to discussed while the wounds are so fresh.  Hopefully, I can offer a challenge today to those who really want to help creative businesses deeply affected by Irma and Harvey chart their futures.

First, a more personal version of what I went through on 9/11. I had a business that delivered price-fixed gourmet dinners to people who worked late. Think investment bankers, lawyers, accountants. We were located downtown a few blocks from the Trade Center. I lived about ten blocks away at the time. I watched the second tower fall as I was trying to walk to the kitchen. Six of my employees were in the basement as the towers fell.

As soon as the towers fell, we were the walking dead. We had no damage to the kitchen save some spoiled food since we could not get to the kitchen for ten days. But all of our clients left for midtown. The smell of burning who knows what lingered until January.  There was no there where we were.

Oh, by the way, we had finished renovating the kitchen that August and literally just started to be busy again after Labor Day. Who knows if the business would have been successful without 9/11, but we were only at the beginning of being able to find out.

To understate the obvious, I was traumatized. My business partner and I had poured everything into the business and it was gone in a flash. Except it wasn’t when you looked at it. We were all fine physically.

This was toxic soup. Determination to rebuild, reopen, start again blinded me to the very notion that there was nothing to rebuild, reopen or start again for. So I borrowed money, took grants and did whatever it took to reopen and then to furtively search for new business.

What I would have done to have someone slow me down, allow me to endure the pain of sudden death, to breath without running to start again and to contemplate how to move on in a way that was possible. Well meaning people make this truly difficult. They want to help, provide money and encouragement to start over. You are buoyed by the largess of those who want to take away your suffering. So you fight the fight with their energy at your back.  Except some things are meant to die when the fatal blow is struck as my business was.

Despite the well intended efforts of many, the pain I ultimately did endure a year later was much more profound than the initial blow – bankruptcy, feelings of utter failure, desperation at what could ever be next. Yes, it did lead me to Preston Bailey and my journey to creative business, but, still, it was prolonged and agonizing suffering I would not wish on anyone.

While I have not walked in the shoes of those who have lost their homes and are enduring tremendous personal suffering, I have walked in the business shoes these creative business owners now find themselves in.

The energy to be a “survivor”, to show that you are unbowed by the tragedy that has befallen you is enormous. You want to start again to prove that you can and that you are not broken. Except you are and so is your creative business.

I will never diminish the spirit of those who offer money, resources, and sympathy. The world can never have enough of these people. However, the world moves on and your reality of a creative business that is no longer remains. My challenge to you: be the voice that is willing to be insensitive and to ask the question if there is a there there now.

For instance, if you are planner in Florida with a significant business in the Caribbean, you are dead. Who cares if the Four Seasons in Anguilla will reopen in nine months? Your brides have opened themselves to other options and, most often, those options do not include you. Harsh? Sure. Untrue? I am probably sugar coating it.

Will everything eventually recover? Of course. TriBeca, the area surrounding the Trade Center, is among the most expensive real estate in New York City today. The new Trade Center is a beacon for commerce of all kinds. Houston, Florida and the Caribbean will again be ultimate luxury destinations and a paragon for creative businesses. That day is not near though.

I appreciate the difficulty to truly assess the physical, emotional and, yes, business, damage your colleagues now find themselves in. Do it anyway.  Spend the time being the rational, realistic head in a sea of well meaning determination. Frame what the world looks like so that you can help creative businesses make decisions about what, if anything, can be done. Some can be saved, others will have to die. For those that can and should be saved, do all you can to help make it so. However, while others are refusing to allow death to be a possibility, if it is what should happen, be the voice that gives permission. Be the voice so that opportunity for what can come next gets a chance to live.  Today.

Hope is not the idea that you will be what you once were. Hope is the idea that a future awaits even if you cannot see it yet. Now, more than ever, we, as creative professionals, all need to start there.

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