Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Taking the Long View

I love our country, and I love our culture.  The United States, to me, stands for a country which has always encouraged achievement, innovation, advancement, generosity and community spirit.  Reading about our history, it is always profound how our founders built this country from nothing.  We take for granted and assume that a coast-to-coast USA was manifest destiny, but it wasn't.  The early years were touch and go, and it is possible that the success or failure hinged upon a single gathering, a single battle, a single document cobbled together by a few individuals in a couple of long sub-committee sessions at a conference.  But, at the time, great thinkers didn't think in hours, days or weeks, but instead years, decades and generations.  That wasn't a choice, it was a necessity and was assumed.

But as much as I love our country, it is not unreasonable to do a bit of soul searching. What strikes me is how incredibly short-term our vision has become.  This is manifested in many, many different ways and it sometimes keeps me up at night thinking about some of the messes we are leaving our kids.  Starting with the national debt, I can't think of a way that we are more obviously and literally mortgaging the future of the generations that follow. And for the record, I am now a registered independent with the view that the political parties are the most short sited of all.  We are short-sighted in environmental protection, and if you listen, you may hear that in some ways the general public may be getting weary about 'greening-up'.  Maybe the earth isn't warming unnaturally, you may hear. It is OK if the US follows, and doesn't lead, you may imply. Players in the financial industry - some individuals and many institutions - have proven to be incredibly short-sighted - taking money out of the system for phantom investment gains,  with a devil-be-damned long term view on the welfare of the companies they foster and the economies they are entrusted to fuel and support. Imagine a major investment house like Goldman Sachs packaging and selling mortgage securities to their clients with a straight face and a pat on the back, while instantly betting against those very securities.  Long term success of their clients, and their reputation, be damned.  Success is measured in the profit taken out of the system this year. Same argument holds true for individuals who bought houses on the perceived guarantee that the value will go up, and the interest-only mortgage will be a good bet and get them more house.

We are all guilty of playing the game for short term gains.

But there are many bright spots in this world of tunnel vision, and one that guides me is the founder of Firebrand, Fran Toolan.  It is not an accident that I have been working for Fran since 1990.It is no accident that virtually all of the clients signed on to Firebrand over the years remain as clients today. It is no accident that a small technology company like Firebrand has remained viable, intact and independent for 23 years.  The conditions required to be successful for decades - not months or years -must be fostered both conciously and unconciously, always looking at the long term. Yes, we do indeed give up short term gains, sometimes for a whole year, so as to improve our longevity. 2009 was one of those years.

Fran demonstrated these values yesterday, when he suggested to the entire team that Firebrand invest in a mission that has been based in Haiti to help alleviate the incredible suffering we see following the earthquake.   He proposed that Firebrand donate a whopping 2% of our top line revenue  - not bottom line profit, but top-line revenue - for the next three months to a Newburyport based organization called Mission of Hope.  This will amount to tens of thousands of dollars.  The Mission of Hope has been running schools and orphanages in Haiti for years, has lost people and facilities in the earthquake, but remains mobilized and in position to help.  Since Fran knows the founders personally, we are confident that the bulk of this investment - and I do consider it an investment - will be used directly assisting this most impoverished of nations.  I remarked to Fran yesterday, that the it is overwhelming to me how the Caribbean which offers both of us and our families such respite and happiness, could house a country so incredibly destitute, and now so devastated. A country, which by the way is not distant, but is within boating distance from our southern beaches. I think this investment we are making in Mission of Hope will  have a real impact, especially as I shudder to think what that country will look like when it is old news and the cameras leave in a few short weeks.

Fran's decision, and the team's backing, is yet another sign that the timeline that he guides Firebrand is based on unyielding, long term principles.  I think those principles can be a guiding light for all of us in the United States of America.

You can read Fran's blog post on the Mission of Hope investment here: http://issues-in-publishing.blogspot.com/2010/01/digging-deep.html

2 comments:

Brett Eddy said...

Doug, thanks for this great post. It was excellent food for thought and makes me proud to know you all over at Firebrand. Kudos to Fran (and everyone involved) for making such a strategic and sacrificial move. Tomorrow really does start today and I hope that your company is both a blessing to the people of Haiti and in continuing measure to your customer base for believing in the vision you have set forth. Best.

Doug Lessing said...

Thanks Brett, time to double our efforts here at Firebrand to make the most of it. Hope to see you soon.