Archives for posts with tag: Crisis management

My second book, The People Zoo, is now available on Amazon as both a paperback and an ebook. Like my first one, this book is full of short, often humorous tales about Life and Business. It features stories back to my time in public accounting and through my work career at Donn Corporation, USG Corporation and IMC Global. And although I was a Chief Financial Officer for much of my career, in various stories I am a junior or senior auditor, a business President or a member of a charity Board.

A new aspect of this book is that I have incorporated some of the wisdom and values of our Native American First People. Their words and beliefs help introduce or close some chapters and add a unique viewpoint to other stories along the way. For example many First People believed we each have two wolves-one good and one evil-fighting inside of us. Which one survives? The one you feed!

The book’s major topics include:

-Mentoring both to me at critical times and others who I mentored including unlikely but successful relationships

-Dealing with Larger than Life Leaders whom I have encountered including Donn’s founder and USG’s Chairman

-Facing both personal and career crises along the way that ranged from liquidating my father’s business, to growing up after my divorce to being in NYC on 9/11.

-Working through major transitions and exits like Senior Executives good and bad exits to my own early retirement

-And using Circles and Bridges to both bring people together and to help create a philosophy for your work and personal life

-As in my first book, each chapter ends with Lessons you should Learn.

So take a look and hopefully you will enjoy, The People Zoo!


The Wall Street Journal editorial a while back,  made an interesting observation about our President and his style of leadership and negotiating. The article was primarily focused  on how Mr. Trump is approaching trade issues with China, and the rest of the world and specifically his emphasis on protecting domestic car production. But, I believe this can be applied to much of how our President approaches issues from foreign policy to healthcare etc. The article, by Holman Jenkins, Jr., states that President Trump is playing checkers while the rest of the world is playing chess. He relies on his gut and ignores briefing materials, etc..

Long time readers may guess that I have my own story about this type of game theory.  I learned about chess vs. checkers during my work on USG Corporation’s financial restructuring.

It was early in USG’s three year financial crisis, I was alone in New York having lunch with our newest financial advisor, Lazard. I was with David Supino, one of Lazard’s senior Partners and the head of their debt/bankruptcy advisory practice. An appropriate title as USG Corporation had accumulated massive debt in fighting a hostile takeover and was struggling to stay out of bankruptcy!   

We were at the famous Sea Grill restaurant in Lazard’s office building at 30 Rock (called that before the Tina Fey TV show). As USG’s newly named CFO, I was trying to understand this bizarre restructuring process from David who had done this for decades. USG, you see, had all these multiple groups and levels of creditors we had to satisfy to avoid a forced in-court bankruptcy. I was explaining, to David, my thoughts about how to negotiate with all these parties at the same time. 

My approach was this. On Star Trek’s Enterprise they had a three dimensional Chess set; when you moved a piece at one level it affected pieces at the other two levels. I asked David if this was a good way to look at our situation, like a Three D Chess game.

David stopped eating, spit out a piece of food, and started to shake, laugh and cry all at once. At first I thought it might be a heart attack until David screamed at me, “James, This is your problem! You think you are playing Chess! It’s more like Checkers but half the pieces are missing or broken! There is no Board and no Rules! Now do you understand what it means to be in Financial Restructuring!”

And, as our three year journey continued, I realized that my friendly advisor, David, was exactly correct. As detailed in the Crisis Management chapter of my book, The Business Zoo, any major crisis brings its own terminology, its own rules (or lack of them) and an often unclear path and timetable to ever get out of the crisis. This can apply not only to a financial or business crisis but a personal one as well.

So, what I learned then, and perhaps what leaders around the world need to learn about dealing with President Trump, is that you really need to understand what game you and your opponent think you are playing. And maybe the condition of the pieces and the shape of the board!

Usually business, life and even politics can be pretty straight forward. So, I would choose a really good checker player over a weak chess player any day!


A lot has been written about Crisis management. In my now published book on Amazon, The Business Zoo, I have a major chapter on how to deal with and survive a business crisis. But I also point out that a Crisis can and will occur to everyone, sooner or later, be it a financial, personal or even an ethical one.

I also discuss the necessary steps to confront and try to manage a Crisis, along with some helpful Rules and Tools to consider. One of the most important Rules to focus on is getting to the other side, that is through the Crisis. I use an analogy based on the circus act, The Flying Wallendas, that you must put all your energy into getting across the high wire and not think about falling or you will.

But there are other things that can help you accept and deal with a Crisis. During USG Corporation’s three year financial structuring, we resorted to a wide range of mental stress reducers from marking up cartoons with deal participants names to listening to music. I was reminded about a music one this week.

One of the young women I mentor has been trying to get a new business to turn a profit for the last couple years. We will call her J. She has worked endless hours and lived a very frugal, simple life in order to give the business the most chance of success. Still, as often occurs, a number of unforeseen events are pushing her and the business to the edge in the next couple months. It is stressful and exhausting to her on all levels.

In searching for something different to tell J., I recalled a song that helped me in the midst of the USG Corporation restructuring. We had been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with very reluctant bankers and bondholders for over a year plus of our Crisis. We were exhausted and our Board of Directors was increasingly upset with our lack of success. Just before another major meeting with our adversaries I typed up and thought of handing out the words to The Alan Parsons Project song, “Nothing Left to Lose”. Some of the key lines go like this:

nothing’s good, the news is bad, the heat goes on and it drives you mad

you gave the best you had to give, you only have one life to live

you fought so hard you were a slave, after all you gave there was nothing left to save

you read the book, you turned the page, you changed your life in a thousand ways

you’ve got nothing left to lose

My young friend J. played the song on YouTube five times and went from sad to inspired!

So regardless of your type of Crisis, it is critical that you find things to relieve some tension and to get you through it and to the other side!