Protecting Your Home From Wildfires and Floods – A Public Service Announcement

Growing up in Southern California, my family has experienced its fair share of floods and fires.  My grandfather and great-grandfather first build their beach-side summer home in the 1920’s.  During WWII this home burned down, and when my grandfather moved back in the 70’s to rebuild a retirement home, he did so with the intent that this property would be protected from natural disasters.   HIs efforts were tested several times over the 30+ years when we owned the property, the home surviving numerous floods and wildfires – one of which literally went over the house.   You can read an LA Times article about his successful efforts here.

As the article suggests, much of my grandfather’s knowledge came from Dr. Klaus Radtke.  He met Dr. Radtke at a wildfire seminar in 1978, and they would become lifelong friends.

Dr. Radtke has written an informative e-book entitled “A Homeowner’s Guide to Fire and Watershed Management At the Chaparral / Urban Interface“.   A shorter title might be: “Protect Your Home From Floods and Wildfires.”

I know first handle the value of the knowledge in this book – and if you live in any area susceptible to natural disasters I highly encourage you to download it and read it.

 

Building the Right Team and Ensuring Their Success

I’ve had the pleasure of being in management roles ever since a young age. Thinking back, my first role in managing people was in the Boy Scouts. We were a small irreverent troop in a rural beach town in Southern California. When the time came to select a senior troop leader, I found my peers all recommending me. My recollection was everyone quietly whispering my name when they were asked who should be patrol leader; an alternative version might be that everyone took one step backwards leaving me standing alone to take the role. Optimists favor fond memories, so we’ll stick with the former version.

It was more of a ceremonial role; no one saluted me or called me sir. I didn’t lead the troop on hikes, nor decide where we would camp. They didn’t do push-ups upon my command. We were all equals – I was simply responsible for a few additional administration functions. Each person had a clear specialty: one was gifted with a sense of direction, another had an early growth spurt so he took on more physical responsibilities, … my specialty was starting fires – a skill I learned from grandfather as we built fires in our fireplace each night. You could best define our group as a collective, connected yet autonomous … and as a result we made major decisions as a group.

Since then I’ve gone on to manage numerous teams in career. I’ve inherited teams, I’ve restructured teams, and I’ve built them “from scratch”. And through each opportunity, I find myself striving to get back to the organic simplicity we had in the Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, the perfect team structure doesn’t usually happen organically; it must be manufactured to some extent. It starts with hiring the right person. There is a lot that goes into this decision, but some key things I look for in a team member are:

Energy

You can’t fake energy for any duration. My teams work hard, and play hard – and they need an energetic personality to accomplish this goal. Debbie Downer need not apply.

Smarts

By smart, I mean every definition. Street smart and book smart. Left brain and right brain. Whiteboard flowcharts on the fly, mentally calculate complicated math, and all while geniunely winning over the client and making them your next best friend.

Adaptable

I look for someone who learns quickly, and adapts well to change. They don’t need to be an expert. They need to be capable of being an expert.

Fearless
I tell new hires that they have a six month pass to make every mistake that they can. It’s important to encourage employees to push the limits, and not be afraid of breaking a few (little) things in the process. I’ve worked with teams where the fear of making mistakes stifled ambition and innovation.

A Leader

I’ve learned that you need to empower employees, in stages. At first, I openly micromanage everything that they do. Most businesses where I’ve worked have had extremely complicated products and processes, and new hires benefit from the extra attention. But it isn’t sustainable, and over the course of a few months I slowly take off the training wheels and let them ride on their own. And then I make them responsible for teaching someone else.

A Listener
Most of the time clients will tell you exactly what they want, if you just stop to listen. It’s just as simple as that.

It may sound obvious, but “hiring right” is arguably the single most important thing a manager can do. If you hire the right people, your job as a manager is only that much easier. But, of course, your work isn’t done! Their success, and ultimately yours, largely depends on how you work with them.

Several years ago a friend of mine (who works at Google) mentioned that Google’s managers are measured on how successful their reports are. Success is measured not only by how reports achieve their goals, but also how reports advance within the organization. This concept has had a tremendously positive impact on how I view management and work with my team. My primary goal is to ensure their success. Such an obvious statement whose impact is really determined by the metrics of success (hint: it isn’t just revenue).

Since then I’ve made it a point to meet with my team at least twice a year to discuss their career planning. Where do they want to go within the organization (or beyond), and how do we actually make that a reality? Calculating the return on this is quite simple …. I’ve found that by investing in their future, they invest more in mine.

“I wouldn’t have signed it either”

Some of my friends have some pretty cool jobs.  Stuntwoman.  Actor.  Rocket Scientist.  Entrepreneur.

And there’s Dan.

Dan is in charge of advance work for key members of the Democratic party visiting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  He travels with these Democratic VIPs, coordinating all of the important aspects of their trips such as where they go, with whom they meet, etc.

One afternoon years ago, Dan called me said that he was in Las Vegas and asked if I would like to meet President Bill Clinton the next day.  At this time, President Clinton had left office and Dan was accompanying him throughout the West coast on a series of speaking events. I immediately said “Yes” and “Thank You!” , then he asked me for my full name and social security number so that I could be vetted by the Secret Service.  Dan told me he’d call me back with more details.

Even though by this point in my life I’d become politically indifferent (I’d seen up close the ugly underbelly of politics, and didn’t care for it; I’d learned to care more about people and policies, rather than political parties), I was very excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity.   I called a few friends who were extreme Clinton fanatics – a few of whom had actually met the President themselves – and the message was consistent … “He’s going to impress you”.  I had no idea how true that statement would be.

That night I received word from Dan that I’d passed the background check, and was given instructions on where to meet him at the Bellagio the next afternoon.  Before I knew it, I was waiting in line with 20 other people to meet the President.

The process was rather sterile, and impersonal.  One person would walk up, Clinton would shake their hand, say a few words, turn to the camera, FLASH, thank them – and then greet the next person.  By the time I got to the front of the line, my heart was racing, I was sweating profusely, and all of the blood had run out of my face.  I wiped my hand on my suit pants, stepped up and introduced myself with a handshake that would have made my grandfather proud, said something unoriginal and unmemorable.  We both turned to the camera, FLASH, and then I was ushered out.

It was arguably the worst photo I’ve ever taken.

Dazed and relieved, I made my way to the main hall to get a seat to watch Clinton’s speech.  I found a seat in the back of a dark room, behind 500 or so of Clinton’s biggest Las Vegas supporters.  Clinton spoke from a well lit raised stage for about 45 minutes on a myriad of topics, all of which had nothing to do with politics except for stating several times that now that he was no longer in politics, he could speak freely and tell people how he really felt.  He was personable, humorous, and real.  And when he concluded, he gestured to two microphones set in between the three sections of seats, and invited the audience to ask him questions.

The second question came from an older man.  In a thick accent, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) :

“President Clinton, I’m so excited to be speaking with you.  I feel like I’m making love to a young woman for the first time.”

There’s an awkward silence from both the President, and the crowd.

“I want to thank you for all that you did to help my war torn country of Bosnia  *  ”

Clinton steps forward to the edge of the stage, and raises his hand to block the spot light on him so that he can better see the man who is speaking.  The house lights suddenly come up.  Clinton is locked on the man – as if he’s engaged in a private conversation.  The whole scene seems very contrived to me, and I’m immediately reminded of the movie Wag The Dog.

“Recently President [George W] Bush decided not to sign the international anti-land mine treaty, which would have banned the land mines that ravaged my country.  What do you think about that?”

The entire audience is silent, as President Clinton pauses for a minute to think.  Then he responds:

“I wouldn’t have signed it either”.

The air leaves the room. The crowd gasps, the old man is deflated standing in front of the microphone, and Clinton continues:

“Now that I’m not running for office, I can tell you how I really feel.  That treaty had loopholes, and it allowed certain countries to continue to produce land mines.  It didn’t solve the problem, and I wouldn’t have signed it either.”

Clinton then went on to talk about how he and then President Bush communicated often, and that they agree on some things and not on others.  Most importantly, they kept a respectful, open dialogue.

And isn’t that how everyone should be – whether they’re in politics, or not?

Several months later I received an envelope in the mail, with an 8 1/2″ x 11″ glossy color photo of a tanned former president with brilliant white teeth, standing next an extremely pale man with one eye that looks slightly larger than the other.  I look slightly better in the black and white version of the photo.

 

*President Clinton was instrumental is bringing military assistance to Bosnia, through “Lift and Strike

I’ll Have What Ray’s Having …

It was a cold night at JFK and the terminal was eerily (yet understandably) quiet.  Just a few weeks prior two planes had flown into the World Trade Center, and most people were avoiding air travel.  The mood was somber, to say the least.

I was “listed non-rev” on the last flight back to LA for the night, which is airline lingo for waiting on the stand-by list as a non-revenue passenger, thanks to my friends and family benefits with the airline.  This was long before the airlines automated this system with online check-in and in-app status notifications.  The protocol back then was to wait patiently by the gate for your named to be called, just minutes before the gate closed.

This was an art form in and of itself; you wanted to be close enough to hear your name if the gate agent chose to just yell for you rather than use the PA system, but not so close that you annoyed the gate agent.  Just like today, gate agents have a tremendous amount of discretion in seat assignments and lurking over the podium for your name to be called was the fastest way to be seated in the back next to the restroom … or not get a seat at all.

So there I was quietly standing off to the side, listening for my name, when the phone rang at the gate.   The exchange went like this:

Gate Agent: Hello?

[The Gate Agent pauses while listening]

Gate Agent: Hold on, let me check.

[The Gate Agent picks up another phone and dials]

Gate Agent:  Do we have any Bailey’s on the plane?

[The Gate Agent pauses again while listening]

Gate Agent: Thanks.

[The Gate Agent hangs up the second phone, and goes back to the first call]

Gate Agent:  No, we don’t.  [short pause] Ok, thanks.

 

About five minutes later, an airline employee comes up from tarmac with a large bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream.  He hands it to the Gate Agent, who rushes it down the jetway to the plane.

Before I continue I feel that I have to level set that everyone, including myself, was on edge.  Just a few weeks prior terrorists had hijacked three planes and used them to kill thousands of people.  The FAA had only recently allowed planes to fly again.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but personally I was being (perhaps overly) vigilant.

And in my hyper vigilant state, I started to ask myself questions about that bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. What was so important about the bottle?  Did it go through security?  It was much larger than 3 ounces, …. could it be disguising something else? Could someone have put an explosive in a fake bottle, and thrown it over the tarmac fence to avoid security?

You hear stories about people who have an intuition and get off a plane, only to find that it crashes on that flight … I quietly wondered to myself if that bottle of Bailey’s was a sign that I shouldn’t be on this plane.

Did I mention that it was late?

After some internal debate – which I’d like to be able to say was short but in truth likely took longer than I’d like to admit – I realized that my concerns were irrational and resolved myself to get on the plane, Bailey’s or not.  This decision was eased by the fact that the Gate Agent had called my name and assigned me a seat in first class.

The seating configuration of the first class cabin was (facing forward) two seats on the left / aisle / two seats in the middle / aisle / and two seats on the right.  My seat was 6B, on the left side of the plane just a few seats down from where we boarded.

I quickly got on board, and settled into my comfortable leather seat for the flight home – the bottle of Bailey’s now only a faint memory.

Just as the flight attendant made the final pre-flight announcements, I noticed Ray Charles and his assistant getting on the plane.  His assistant helped Ray into seat 6E, across the plane from me in the same row, then quickly ran behind the first class section to speak to the flight attendant taking the pre-flight drink order from the passenger behind me.

Ray Charles’ assistant:  excuse me, did you get the bailey’s?

flight attendant:  Yes sir, we have the bailey’s.

ray charles’ assistant:  great, ray won’t fly without his bailey’s.  He’ll have a bailey’s on the rocks.

I quietly breathed a sigh of relief as I now understood the importance of that bottle of Bailey’s.  And when the flight attendant asked me “Mr. Gordon, would you care for a drink before flight?”, I confidently said … “I’ll have what Ray’s having”.