Tell It to Grandma

A long bunch of years ago a young, cocky, and recently rich entrepreneur had been flying so high he had begun to believe he was out of reach of ground fire. When he suddenly hit an air pocket of reality he quickly became very worried and confused and sought advice on how to navigate the turbulence.

He came in to the investment firm in which I was a partner to explain his predicament and get ideas about how to get out of his hole. His immediate problem was an upcoming annual meeting and report to his shareholders, who were not yet aware of his problems.

He began with a long, convoluted and detailed explanation about how he got blindsided by a tricky lender. Various partners who attended a lunch with him asked questions and offered some ideas.

One was to make a tender and buy in his public shares.

Another was to seek a safe haven with a merger with a big rich company that needed some new dynamism.

Still another was to let the news get out and grin, bear it and plow ahead.

The last thought was pretty original. Open the kimono, show a more normal side of him and tell the story in a way not seeking sympathy but only understanding enough to buy him time to right the ship in a less stormy sea.

That idea sparked a lot of conversation about how to do that.

Hire a super PR genius to figure it out.

Appoint a committee of his board to write a report which he could use to buy time.

Put out a press release on Friday night before the long Memorial Day weekend.

And then the oldest, wisest man in the room, who was famous for being a three dimensional genius, said, “Do not listen to any of this drivel. Go home and write a letter to your grandmother explaining what happened in terms that you are certain she will understand. Confide that you made some mistakes, ones that you are now painfully learning from. Tell her that the basic business you started is still valid and will get back on a solid basis soon, if you can get folks to sit still and give you a chance. Do not show the letter to either your lawyers or PR geniuses; they would surely mess it up. And get to work and keep your head down.”

It worked. He got his chance and things got back on track.

Sadly, just a few years later he got into another, bigger jam. Ultimately he sold out, retired and died much too young.

Moral: Do not ever get drunk on your own whiskey, but if you do your grandmother might bail you out.


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