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Our Finest Hour

Over the past 23 years, I believe that I have dealt with just about every possible crisis that a small business owner could go through, but nothing that I have experienced personally or professionally even remotely compares to the challenges that all of us are currently facing. People around the world are dealing with a healthcare crisis like nothing we have ever seen before. Small businesses have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 crisis, as they often have fewer resources to draw on during a slowdown, and many have been forced to close.

The economic reality of the pandemic has landed differently on each small business. Various studies have come to generally discouraging conclusions for small businesses, with one estimating that 43 percent of small businesses will close by the end of 2020. The financial toll is no small thing to small business owners who have invested years of blood, sweat, and tears in a company that is now in jeopardy of failure through no fault of their own. Yet business worries seem irrelevant when loved ones are diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection and are fighting for their lives.

Communities across the United States have taken swift and drastic action to slow the spread of COVID-19. Schools have closed, events canceled, and businesses have changed their day-to-day operations. Colleges and universities have taken their curriculum online until this fall at least, if not longer. I am currently using Zoom to teach a University of Memphis business school class remotely from my home in Florida.

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In times like these, when the stakes are so high and everything is changing so fast, it’s hard to know what to do. That’s especially true for entrepreneurs, who have to manage their businesses and care for their employees as well as their families, and their communities. How do people deal with so much fear and uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you survive day to day?

I recently listened to a podcast by the author Simon Sineck, who was commenting about the COVID-19 crisis. He noted that everything is going to change as a result of the pandemic and that businesses will have to reinvent themselves to survive. Instead of asking questions like, “How do we do what we’ve been doing?” it should be, “How do we do what we’ve been doing in a different world?” Instead of asking, “How are we going to get through this?” it should be, “How are we going to change to get through this?”

While I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers to these complex questions, I do know that I believe in America and our ability to persevere in the most difficult times. It’s who we are! Through the years, we have proven time and time again that in the moments of crisis, we “answer the bell.” That is the beauty of the indomitable American spirit—with our natural optimism, we have a unique ability to shine our brightest when we’re in our darkest hour. As Americans, we are never helpless or hopeless, and we are never alone. Everywhere we look, we see the competitive spirit and camaraderie of Americans—whether it’s as individuals or companies—unleashing a monumental response filled with compassion, determination, and innovation.

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Adversity will always be with us. If your business has struggled with the COVID-19 fallout, know that as we go through adversity, we get stronger. In the long term, it may be a key factor in growing the value of your business. From heroic acts by doctors and nurses, and numerous acts of charity and kindness by individuals or organizations, people across the country are rising to meet the moment as patriots to defeat this invisible enemy. Many building owners across America are waiving rent for three months for the small businesses and restaurants in its properties. The Big 3 automakers are looking for ways to help build more medical equipment including ventilators, while Dow and Amway are producing hand sanitizer to meet surging demand.

Let it be known that these challenging times are inspiring American hearts and minds to do great things, rallying on all fronts. And when I think about the current crisis and how our country is responding to all the challenges and uncertainty, it makes me recall a scene from the movie Apollo 13. At a critical point in the mission, flight director Gene Kranz overhears two NASA directors discussing the low chances of survival for those on the crippled spacecraft. “This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Kranz interrupted, “I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”