By, Stuart R. Levine
The hurricane has had a profound impact on the five boroughs of New York City, particularly Staten Island, as well as much of New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. As I write this article on Saturday, November 3, I have been told that our home will not have power restored until after Election Day as they are focused on getting the polling venues up and running as a major priority.
I predict that both the short and long-term economic impact of Hurricane Sandy will be greater than 9/11 and have implications that are far-reaching in terms of human suffering, future deficits and our thoughts and hopes for the United States of America.
Hurricane Sandy lays bare both the best and most mediocre behavior. The first responders still slog through muck to help families whose lives have been changed forever — defining the best in humanity. Individual heroes reaching out to wade through chest high water to save a sole taxi driver trapped in his taxi or a blind woman bringing food and hope to ravaged Staten Island communities on her own, with no organizational support behind her.
I was struck watching a press conference at the mouth of a flooded Battery Park tunnel. A gaggle of elected officials engaged in a series of self congratulatory speeches and mugged for the cameras. At completion, they all dashed into the safety of their respective security details to the next photo opportunity. I guess they would explain that they were trying to reassure the masses.
However, this time let’s remember the true leaders and acts of kindness. The images of a distraught woman grabbing a television reporter expressing incredible frustration that she had not seen a Red Cross person or governmental official since the whole event unfolded. She had no home, clothing or food and no idea where to go or what to do. She was not as fortunate as my family who were welcomed unconditionally into the home of our dear friends.
Counter balance that scene with President Obama’s comments to Governor Christie that he instructed his entire Cabinet to respond in fifteen minutes to any call for help. We have no gasoline, so workers cannot get to work. Tankers can’t get into the ports and have been diverted south. I am told that this will delay not only energy shipments, but retail and household goods and technology items for the holiday season. As one friend of mine astutely noted, Hurricane Sandy just destroyed the holiday shopping season. These unexpected expenses are the Grinch that stole Christmas.
The Mayor’s initial decision to run the marathon in the City was both interesting and extremely callous. The New York Post photo featuring the generators for the race in Central Park which had the potential to warm four hundred homes was incredibly maddening. These are stark reminders of the priorities we have established as a community. It was not until the Mayor heard the outrage coming from social media and cries of despair from people in need, that he reversed his decision to hold the marathon. Governor Cuomo’s attribution that there is no need to panic, shows a lack of connectivity to the reality to the many people who have been without power, energy and heat.
The reality in business and in life requires being there. This evening, I had dinner with a family friend who volunteered her time to help Staten Island victims to clean out their homes. They expressed incredible frustration at being forgotten by the government, Red Cross and other people in authority. Our friend said it was one thing to see it on television and another completely different thing to be there in person. In leadership, whether it’s a member experience or a member problem, it’s important to feel it on the ground. A good lesson for us all.
Here are some things to watch for. The economic impact of this hurricane has the potential to be more costly in economic terms than 9/11. Remember close to 70% of our country’s GDP is driven by consumer spending. Watch Christmas sales. We are now in November. This month can determine the sustainability and continuity of many organizations. Confidence will drop driven by our mediocre leaders and their decisions. A close friend who runs a terrific manufacturing firm is under incredible stress based on retail buying patterns. His firm is responsible for providing fifteen hundred jobs. Heads up people. The winter is fast approaching. Mediocrity should not be acceptable or tolerated in a crisis. I am in the process of pulling together more data dots for you. Stand by.