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Bouncing Back From Setbacks

HOW
DO YOU
FROM A
PROFESSIONAL
SETBACK?
Some setbacks can cripple a company. We spoke to two Vistage members who faced potentially business-altering challenges and how they rebounded.

Mark Marmo is CEO of Deep Well Services, an oilfield service company in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. His company has navigated industry downturns, the Great Recession and a double “black swan” event. No setback weighed as heavily, however, as an on-the-job fatality, a situation tackled with empathy, honesty and a well-rehearsed crisis response plan.

Josh Lesser is the President of Vision Matrix Productions in Agoura Hills, California. With Tami Lesser, the CEO, the husband-and-wife duo creates live and hybrid corporate event experiences worldwide. They turned the loss of their biggest vendor into a major gain — expanding their staff, creating company-wide processes and procedures, and rebranding their firm.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR SETBACK. HOW DID YOU RESPOND AT THE MOMENT?
MM: We had a fatality on the site of a world-renowned customer in Pennsylvania in 2018. He was an extremely experienced guy and was beloved by the crews he worked with. On the day of the accident, our senior leaders kept everybody calm. I notified the family and flew out to be with them and help. We visited the site to speak with our colleagues too. We did not hide it from the company or our customers. From the moment that it happened, we were figuring out how to make sure that this never happens again.
JTL: In February 2022, we learned that one of our largest vendors would be ceasing operations by end of day. This vendor was doing a number of projects for us, including an audio-visual installation in a complex we were building in Washington, D.C., as well as a complicated global conference that we were producing. On a personal level, the owner had been a mentor and somebody we modeled our business after. So it was really a hard blow. We needed to figure out quickly what to do next.
HOW DID THIS SETBACK AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS STRATEGY?
MM: As a result of being part of a Vistage group, we had prepared a crisis response plan a few years earlier. We would practice it once a year and run through scenarios. A lot can happen in our business. You work over a live well, and it’s the most dangerous job out there on the well pad. Anything can happen at any time. You just always have to be prepared. We approached this situation with empathy and honesty in addressing employees and proactively contacting customers.
JTL: Vistage Chair Tim Gallagher happened to be coming in that day for one-to-one coaching, and he saw something was really wrong. He sat down with us, and we were able to discuss whether this was a problem or a growth opportunity that we could leverage. We built a plan right then as to how we were going to tackle the immediate challenges and capitalize on the opportunity. That included hiring our top account executive away from our vendor.
IN TERMS OF LEADERSHIP, WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS?
MM: This situation reinforced how important it is to have the right people in the right positions. We weren’t an old company. We hadn’t been through a crisis like this. It went a long way to have employees who were prepared, engaged and willing to step up in difficult situations. Communication and transparency were key, too. We kept everybody informed as we worked through it. We continued to operate this way and a few months after the loss, we flew the family out and dedicated our training center in our former employee’s name.
JTL: Now we’re building something bigger than just a production or a project. We’re building a company. We pretty much turned everything on its head, restructuring, clarifying employee roles with new processes and procedures, and focusing on our culture to get us through 2022. We’ve delegated a lot of our work, so we’re acting now as true execs, coming out of the weeds and allowing our teams to do their jobs — and do them well. It was a very successful year. We were able to give bonuses to all of our staff for the first time.
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