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The Power of People: Lessons Learned.


If anything, these past four months have taught us an incredible lesson. 

In the face of significant challenge the human spirit is resilient.

For the first time in world history the entire planet was under attack by an unknown and invisible threat. It’s during these uncertain times when we witness first hand true leadership. I wonder how challenging it was for FDR as he tried to remain isolated during the start of World War II up until Pearl Harbor. It would be worthwhile to reflect for a moment or two on the individuals who you personally have witnessed step up to the challenges at hand and see how you can too.

Regardless of your political view, I’m certain that President Trump did not walk into his presidency thinking he was going to be part of the largest pandemic since the Spanish Flu in 1918. Back then, 1/3 of the entire world's population (about 500 million people) were infected by the flu that killed about 675,000 U.S. citizens and about 50 million people worldwide. We’ve come a very long way in medical science since then and perhaps this current event will have us all prepared for, or if there is, another. Unfortunately time dulls the mind and the memory; let’s hope we can learn from this historic event and keep it present in our minds.

 As an avid news junkie I find it a little curious that the major media is talking about a spike in cases but is somehow diminishing the death rate now. With the original potential death forecast of more than 2.5 million Americans or more it’s still of little comfort to know that our total number of deaths is 129,000. We should all continue to keep those who have lost loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. The loss of any single life is traumatic, especially to those closest. If you’ve been through such an event you know. A little something is always missing.

Looking over the past four months, some incredible things happened with extreme efficiency and effectiveness.  The FFCRA was passed to protect all employees whose jobs were being affected by the virus. This happened within weeks of the virus surge, being passed on March 18th and remember, almost everyone was still going to work in their jobs and offices on March 13th! Most laws, even those with great support from both political parties take years to get enacted. On its heels the CARES Act was enacted, again by both houses, specifically to support the US economy and act as a safety net in the face of an unknown – that is – how long is this going to last? And then, in quick succession the Payroll Protection Program, a section of the CARES Act was instituted to shore up payroll protection due to the necessity to close almost everything except for ‘essential businesses’ and ‘essential roles’ to support companies and organizations.

As previously mentioned, this avowed ‘news junkie’ used to wonder why most media concentrates on the negative. I guess it’s because as humans we are drawn to those stories, especially the sensationalized. Apparently it’s a human psychological thing, like product placement in stores. If you want it to move, put it on the middle shelves, the middle shelves out sell the products on the top and bottom shelves by more than 50%. The same with negative news – it sells. Newspapers, television news, cable news, they know it; negative news draws viewers and it sells. And if it sells, advertisers, are going to buy the space for their commercials. Ever try to buy media space? There’s a reason you can buy space on over night television for advertising at a mere fraction of the cost of the morning, evening or late night news. People are watching – they’re tuned in. Pay close attention to the stock market reports. Did you know that there is much more selling and buying activity when the market is down, even a little, than when it is up? No coincidence – stock brokers get paid when they trade, and a buy or sell action is a trade. Curious isn’t it? Unlikely.

So what positives have we learned so far.  True leaders are best when things are at their worst.  I’ve been fortunate to have witnessed it in the CEO’s of almost all of our portfolio companies. Their responsiveness, care, integrity, and grit, some who were potentially facing the loss of their entire businesses, those individuals showed what it truly means to be a leader while navigating through not troubled but turbulent waters. You’ve heard it said, the cream always rises to the top. If you’ve seen it these past few months this is an opportunity to encourage those that did. That simple act will reinforce those positive and impactful actions to continue.

We also watched as thousands of people stepped up and helped others.  

Whether it was in food distribution and food pantries, looking out for neighbors, caring for the elderly, and protecting the little ones who all of a sudden had some new combination of their parents at home – ALL THE TIME! How cool is that. Listening to participants who have kids in the background, and pets, including dogs and birds, sounding off. The best I've witnessed so far: the little boy who interrupted his mom on a Zoom call with his declaration of emergency – ‘mommy – I have to poop!’ Nothing can get a parent moving quicker than that request (if you know, you know)!

We found ways to work (don’t say it!) from home. The blasphemy! Technology was capitalized more in the past three months to keep our companies running from the comfort of our homes. Although, that dining room wooden chair has got-to-go! Zoom, WEBEX, Microsoft Teams, Facetime. Portals, and video cameras are more common in our daily communication now than ever. And we like it. It’s easy to make and schedule the call. It's not the same a buying someone a cup of coffee, but at least I get to see you and have a face to face conversation with you. We’ve learned how to present, to split into chat rooms, and to poll live using these tools. And we’re just getting started. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  

More technology and applications to capitalize on this shift will be developed in the next 12 months than in the past 12 years. It’s exciting! I’m sure my friends in venture capital are a buzz with new opportunities.

We started to worry about the fact that maybe, if I’m not careful, I might carry this invisible threat to someone I love. Walking into that grocery store the first time with a face mask on was very, very awkward. Now we do it to make sure that we aren't the person responsible for passing it on to someone who is most vulnerable. Some people have cried bull – it’s all fake. Tell that to the little child who just lost a papa or nana to this virus. It sure feels very real to them. You may not care, but until a vaccine has been developed, YOU CAN make this one little sacrifice for just a short while longer. The CDC is chock full of medical experts and their advice is simple. And, if you could do it for a couple of months, you could certainly do it for a few more. 

And we even found a way to go to school, finish classes, complete papers, and graduate. I feel bad for the high school and college graduates this year. They missed some exceptional experiences but witnessed amazing ingenuity and kindness in forms of graduation parades, personal recognitions, and extra efforts to make up for those missed opportunities. Most parents went to incredible lengths to try and make this seem as normal as they could.  One thing is for sure, these kids have a leg up on everyone, they were forced to adapt, and they did it with grace and class. 

Our Priorities have changed a little. Most seem to care a little more, reach out a little more, and listen a little more. We were all thrust into this unwanted state of affairs. Funny isn’t it, how resilient you are. 

We’re not done with this yet. But, as Jim Valvano said, ‘ Don’t give up, don’t ever give up’. 

There’s so much more we can do.

I wish you well,

Dave Baker

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