It was 2001, February.
Our newly shrunken executive team called management from around the world to our San Francisco headquarters. The situation was bad, and everyone there knew it. The smell of the new office only added to the irony.
Mis-stated earnings, thanks to some mistakes made and lies told. Fraud. Dept of Justice, SEC and other investigations on their way. A class action forming. Men pinned, soon to be dismissed and charged.
A two dollar stock, down from over one hundred, and room to fall further. Quarterly revenues were 40M+ in Q4, and on track to ramp to 80M until this. We would hit just shy of 20M that Q1.
The situation was bad, and everyone there knew it. Nervously waiting for things to get going, I'm sure they wondered whether the big cardboard boxes contained their packages. I am sure they rationalized one hundred times how that didn't make sense - that we flew them in only to package them out. It didn't matter, most wouldn't last the year anyway. Those that did, eventually made their way out but it was painful.
The story is one I almost never tell, and the rest of it isn't that important...at least to all of you. But one part is, and that's what brings me to write for the first time in awhile.
I still have the shirt. That came from the cardboard boxes. It's blue with gold stitching, a Chinese character and some words. Crisis = Danger + Opportunity. We handed those shirts out that day, to anyone who wanted to be in the boat.
The last 3 months? 6 months? 12 months?...I've lost track...have been tough. Very tough for anyone working in the markets, and my heart goes out to all of the hardworking people who have been enduring it day to day. The global markets have been crazy - a fast unfolding thriller. A roller coaster. You've heard all of the metaphors. The losses have been staggering. Currencies. Market Capitalization. Market Indices. Sales. Housing Prices. Debt. Jobs. Lives. The situation is bad, very bad.
And it's not over.
I am young, and by no means a wise man. But part of me feels like I've seen some of this before. Maybe not to this extent, but still there are many similarities.
I am not Chinese, nor do i think Crisis actually = Danger + Opportunity (http://www.pinyin.info/chinese/crisis.html), but I do remember that many companies and people were ruined in 2000-2. I also remember that many new companies, and new people came out of the ashes to gives us valuable new ideas, products and services, jobs, and... hope.
Life is about choices. You can choose to look for the silver lining, the opportunities that will come out of all this, or you can choose the latter. I for one, believe that 2009 is going to be a year of continued turbulence but more importantly, a year of big opportunities.
I remember that day in February 2001, and I still have the shirt. My biggest learning is that in a time of change, there are *big* opportunities, that in normal times, would not be possible to exploit. They may not be in your house or in your work place. They may not even look like opportunities. They probably look like distractions. They may look small and uninteresting to the masses. They probably look undoable, or even unthinkable, by conventional wisdom.
The big opportunities are out there. A new American President is being ushered in to the worst economy in decades. The topology of the global financial markets is changing, and other industries will follow. We've finally woken up to the global energy crisis, and the fact that economy, energy and security are all intertwined.
See through the noise, fear and pain and seize the new opportunities 2008 has given us in 2009. I hope you end up with more than a lousy t-shirt :)
Good Luck, Happy New Year, and Best Wishes for 2009!