Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Crazy Path to Get Federal Aid for Napa

 
 
I had a request from an industry friend who asked me to talk on this blog about the thought process I went through last week - agreeing to something that was crazy, and outlining my philosophy that trumped common sense. It's a little uncomfortable for me but I'll give it a try and hope you find something positive in the thoughts and updates on the process at the end.
 
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Thursday the 4th I had an interesting emergency solicitation from a colleague in the wine business. Napa County needed someone to calculate a third-party estimate of the damages to the Wine Business to be used in support of the Disaster Aid Package that was going to be sent to President Obama. 
 
The problem is there are no listings in the phonebook for Damage Estimate Analysts. That had the County looking in unorthodox places and my name - apparently, is at the top of the unorthodox page in the yellow pages so I was asked to take it on.  Already thinking through how I could possibly do this and how many weeks it was going to take, I got the really good news: The report needed to be finished the next day.

Pondering the Request

Mind you I've never done anything like that before and I work for a regulated publicly traded company so there are rules. With the exception of this blog which isn't an official bank publication, everything that I write for the Bank has to go through regulatory, legal and compliance review which takes at least a couple weeks. Furthermore, Damage estimates aren't a clearly defined part of my job description so if I did this, any personal liability coming out of this might not get coverage under the Banks D&O policy.
 
I decided before going rogue I should at least check in with my boss Bill Stevens who saw all the same risks. But in a measure of the kind of person he is, instead of saying 'no' which is what any sane person would do, he told me to use my own instincts...... then he probably said a prayer for both of us because now he was complicit and in the same uncomfortable rogue place as me.

Coming to a Decision

So put yourself in my shoes: I have my hands full professionally and personally dealing with quake related issues already. I have no experience writing damage estimates. I'm not doing the things I get paid for and this was entirely voluntary: I wasn't getting paid for this either. I am putting myself at personal financial risk because there isn't time for formal bank approval and oversight, and there isn't a methodology or any guidance whatsoever for how this should be done. What would you have done?

Just Do It & Stay Far From those Who Won't

I have a business philosophy that has worked for me but it's not something taught in Business School and it doesn't work for everyone. My belief is you avoid getting myopic about expenses and financial returns. That's not always the most important factor. You make important decisions instead of all decisions, and you help others.
 
I'm not suggesting that you ignore budgets or financial implications in making decisions nor am I suggesting that anyone should be a doormat in business and get walked over. But people too often lose focus on the magnitude of decisions and maybe because they think they are the only ones who can make decisions, major on minors losing track of the things that matter most. That negatively impacts risk-taking when in some cases, you need to just do it.
 
Then there are anti-givers ... the takers in life. Giving has its own reward and I am convinced that life and business is a team sport and success and joy are found in seeing others grow. I find all-about-me types typically vote themselves off the team and are seldom successful or happy. When I find them, the business relationship is short. I think those types get everything they will get - right then in that moment of taking. Those types don't get phone calls a second time. On the other hand, people who want to be with a team and help others - when you partner with those types things will work out more often than not.
 
So putting that philosophy to the test: This wasn't about money. It was an important decision. This was something that had to be done. There wasn't time for the County to put the request out for bid, and even the unorthodox page in the phone book has few entries. There were no other volunteers nor anyone that came to mind who who knew wine business metrics sufficiently enough to be able to forecast reasonable estimates of future losses on bulk write-offs for instance, then handle the analytics, write a report, etc. In my way of thinking, I had to do this.
 
I'll spare you the details of how I pulled it all off in two days: spreadsheets, calls to wineries, emails, requests from this blog for information from the community. With little sleep and literally doing nothing else besides eating and stopping for bio breaks ... well the happy, relieved and bleary-eyed picture above is how I looked when I was done. 

How Did it Work Out and Where does the Application for Aid stand?

 

  
The report got to the County on time. They decided to hold a press conference and release the report to the media on September 8th. On September 11th, the President approved the declaration for public assistance. I haven't been sued yet for almost certain math errors. My organization hasn't put me on probation for my actions either.

U.S. Representative Mike Thompson in a subsequent press release on Friday the 12th clarified the President didn't take action on the request for FEMA disaster funds for individual assistance. That's where most of the damage came and it's the individual assistance which helps with the losses to the Napa wine community and individuals in the county, so this is still all up in the air. Hopefully the President will take action on that this week so the retailers and those who've suffered the most in the quake can get help.
 
 
 
What are your thoughts on this post? Has any part got you thinking? Why do you think the Whitehouse agreed to assist with Government damage but hasn't yet taken action on the aid for businesses and families?
 

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