President’s Message – Inspiration from NASA In Challenging Times
It’s amazing what can change in just a few weeks! It feels like we’re in a surreal movie. I am amazed, even stunned, at the rapid dynamic change we are all experiencing both with our businesses and our families. I’d never heard of Wuhan, China and never thought I’d see a mad dash to buy toilet paper in mass quantities in the stores.
As business leaders, this time in our history will clearly be one of the biggest challenges for our companies and as leaders. When I am faced with challenging situations, I like to learn from others smarter than me (The EFBC membership) and look at other leaders who have faced big challenges.
Most people don’t know what a NASA nerd I am….I mean the cool Moon Mission days. I have bookshelf loaded with NASA history books and more on my iPad. I should get an honorary pocket protector and slide rule. NASA has had some massive challenges, especially in the early days when they were inventing technologies and creating complex systems that have never been thought of before. Clearly landing on the moon was the biggest and most famous challenge, however many would say the second most famous is Apollo 13. This was the third mission to the moon which suffered a major explosion caused by a frayed wire. It blew off the side of the service module (the rocket system that takes them to the moon and back), and destroyed/damaged mission critical systems and life support systems. Three of our Astronauts were running out of fresh air, electricity and heat 210,000 miles from earth.
The only guys who could figure out what to do were at mission control in Houston, Texas. One of the most famous leaders to face this situation was Lead Flight Director Gene Kranz, the dude with the typical NASA buzz cut, who personified the very best of NASA. He was the man in charge when this tragic event happened and his team had to make a multitude of immediate and careful decisions to stabilize the situation and begin to get the Astronauts home.
Ultimately, the entire brain trust of the Apollo program came together, solved critical problems on the fly and saved our Astronauts. Gene was a brilliant, dedicated and inspiring leader. He led one of the most important meetings with a large team of engineers to figure out what to do in that crisis. He was the guy who calmly said “When bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options and failure wasn’t one of them.” This was morphed into “Failure is not an option” in the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13. Told you I was a NASA nerd!
This is where EFBC comes in. Most of us are mission control for our companies. We have a huge responsibility to rise to the occasion and make some tough decisions in a dynamic and constantly changing environment. So far this week, I have spoken to three of my fellow Sigma Forum members and set up a call with another. A member of EFBC’s Executive Committee reached out to me to check on me and my family, which is a clear example of the very best of EFBC. Just like NASA, we also have a tremendous brain trust here at the EFBC, the very best and dedicated people who care, learn and help each other. I am sure glad we are all part of the EFBC to navigate our way through the challenges ahead together, and break on through to the other side.
I hope you didn’t think I would forget my Rock and Roll quote of the month…I snuck it into my story.
“Break on through to the other side.”
- Jim Morrison, The Doors
EFBC President 2019-2020