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“Adapting to the new reality as quickly as possible” With Jason Hartman & Omer Molad

I can only speak for myself about how I try to survive crises. For me, it’s about adapting to the new reality as quickly as possible. The first step is acknowledging that the world has changed and completing the grieving process about the world we lost. That’s where so many people get stuck, they spend […]

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I can only speak for myself about how I try to survive crises. For me, it’s about adapting to the new reality as quickly as possible. The first step is acknowledging that the world has changed and completing the grieving process about the world we lost. That’s where so many people get stuck, they spend a lot of time grieving about the world they don’t want to give up. But it’s gone. Accepting the new reality is enormously helpful because then we can start planning a strategy to survive, and eventually even thrive, in the new world.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Omer Molad, co-founder and CEO of Vervoe. Omer is the co-founder and CEO of Vervoe, a skills assessment platform that helps companies see which candidates can actually do the job. Omer grew up in Israel and served in the Israel Defence Forces where he was a tank platoon commander, before moving to Melbourne ad starting law school. Omer now lives in Melbourne with his wife and 4 year old son, who look forward to welcoming a new baby girl in October.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Igrew up mostly in Tel Aviv, but between the age of 4 and 12 we lived in Melbourne and then returned to Israel. After high school I served in the Israel Defense Forces for three and a half year where I was a tank platoon commander. After I completed my military service I worked at a couple of startups, and then I moved to Melbourne and went to law school.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

Today I am doing the best work of my life by changing the way companies hire people. I am the co-founder and CEO of Vervoe, a software company that helps employers make hiring decisions based on who can actually do the job.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I spent most of my military in the Armored Forces, which is a fancy way of saying tanks. At first I was a tank driver, then the commander of one tank and then, after seven months of officer school, I became an officer. I was assigned to a front-line combat unit and was given command of a platoon.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

As an officer I was only 20 years old and the soldiers I was responsible for were 18 to 20 years old. We were kids. And yet, we were in charge of an insane amount of fire power, which is kind of crazy when I think about it now.

After spending a lot of time in the West Bank and Gaza I learned that, for the most part, people are just people.

I remember being spat on by Jewish settlers, who we were supposed to protect, and buying delicious bagels at 5am from the Palestinian bakeries. Nothing made sense.

Mostly, everyone wants to live in peace, have a job, send their kids to school and eat good food. The fighting and what’s portrayed in the media is at the extremes. It’s not representative of what the majority wants.

I have been following the Black Lives Matter protests in the US following the killing of George Floyd. I remember saying to an American friend of mine that deploying a military presence to police a civilian population is bad news. It brings out the worst in us.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

As a rule, I think of a hero as someone who is prepared to risk something — it could be their pride or popularity — to help someone else. There were so many examples of that in the military. You’re probably expecting to some story of bravery in battle. But actually the story that I remember most vividly is an obstacle course we had to pass in officer school.

The trick was completing the course within a certain time limit, and we were only allowed three attempts. Anyone who didn’t pass after three attempts was expelled. One of the cadets in my class was from an elite commando unit. You would never guess it by looking at him. He was small, unassuming and extremely friendly. There was nothing about him that matched the commando stereotype. The obstacle course was nothing for him, but he made it his mission to help another cadet who found it very challenging.

After completing the course easily, himself he ran back to help his friend and drag him to the finish line. His friend finished but not quickly enough. He had two more attempts. The former commando completed the entire course two more times together with his friend, who eventually passed on the third attempt. He did what we considered an unbearable nightmare in punishing heat two more times than he needed to in order to help someone else. Someone that he only met a few weeks earlier.

It might seem like a small gesture, but it I remember it to this day. It taught us all that we can all go further than we ever thought possible if we can trust the person next to us. In that moment I learned what military service is about. It’s knowing that the person next to you has your back. That’s what keeps you going as a soldier.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero is someone who has your back even when it comes at a personal cost to them.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

Without question my military service has made me a better business leader. First, it exposed me to people I otherwise wouldn’t have met in my relatively privileged upbringing. Second, it taught me that when there’s a will there’s a way. I learned how to push myself further than I ever thought was possible and achieve things under duress. Third, I learned how to work as part of a team and, as an officer, how to influence people — who aren’t naturally motivated and are always exhausted — to achieve a common goal. It also provides perspective. When things go pear-shaped in business, I always have something to look back on that was more challenging.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

So many people have helped me and supported me. So many people have backed David and I as we’ve built Vervoe to what it is today. But for me personally the person I always come back to is my wife, Erica. She accepts me for who I am. She doesn’t judge me. She lets me be me. And that is all the help I need so that I can get the best out of myself.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

There are two types of crises, external and internal. An external crisis is something that disrupts our lives in a very negative way that is happening to many other people, like the Coronavirus pandemic, a recession or a war. An internal crisis has the same effect, but it’s only happening us, like depression, the breakdown of a marriage or cancer.

I can only speak for myself about how I try to survive crises. For me, it’s about adapting to the new reality as quickly as possible. The first step is acknowledging that the world has changed and completing the grieving process about the world we lost. That’s where so many people get stuck, they spend a lot of time grieving about the world they don’t want to give up. But it’s gone. Accepting the new reality is enormously helpful because then we can start planning a strategy to survive, and eventually even thrive, in the new world.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

As a business leader, you can’t just assume everything will always be rosy. Every few years something major tends to happen, so it’s best to plan for it. Enduring businesses survive in all markets.

It starts from the problem the business is solving. Is the product or service something people will want under any circumstances, or is it more of a trend? And then it’s important to think about how the business is capitalized. Does the business rely on external capital, and will it always be available? Can it survive lower demand without running out of money?

What we try to do is run downside scenarios to test how the business will respond to shocks. We obviously don’t exactly what those shocks will be, but at least we can see how the business will be impacted when things go really wrong.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

Don’t panic. First, it won’t help. Second, it clouds your thinking. The instinct is usually to act, but sometimes it’s good not to react straight away. Take a day or two, or maybe even weeks, to step back and assess the situation. Maybe it’s playing out differently to how it’s being portrayed in the media. Maybe the best course of action for your specific business is different to the path most other businesses are taking. Your job as a leader is to use your best judgement based on the facts available to you. Make sure you have right facts before jumping to conclusions.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

Resilience and adaptability. Resilience is the ability to cope. Without that we crumble, and if the leader crumbles it’s game over. Adaptability to the ability respond intelligently to changing circumstances. For a business leader that means charting a new course, sometimes even radically changing the company’s strategy and workforce.

Strong leaders need to be both resilient and adaptable. Resilient to survive, and adaptable to thrive.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I don’t know Brian Chesky, the CEO of AirBnB, personally but it seems they responded really well to the pandemic. They took decisive action with respect to capital and staff to protect the company, but they treated their departing employees with a great deal of respect.

Another example is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minster of New Zealand. Regardless of her political ideology, she has managed to guide her country through multiple crises — first a mass shooting and then the Coronavirus pandemic — in a decisive, yet compassionate, way. She has managed to respond strongly and bring people together. Not easy.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Right at the beginning of my military service, when I was 18 years old, was the hardest time of my life. I was completely lost. I was in a completely foreign environment and, to make matters worse, I was dumped by my high school girlfriend. I felt isolated and trapped, and there was no respite because the days were long and hard. I lost my sense of identity and I lost confidence.

This was very much an internal crisis because it applied directly to me and the rest of the world was oblivious. Eventually I realized that the world isn’t going to let up or make things easier for me. It’s me who had to change.

I stripped everything back to basics and started embracing the situation. I taught myself not to let external factors influence my state of mind so heavily. I learned how to find peace and fulfillment in any situation, no matter how foreign or uncomfortable. I learned how to enjoy my own company and build my confidence based on my opinion of myself, not what others think of me.

Once I reached the point of being comfortable in my own skin, everything else was additive. Every friendship. Every relationship. External recognition. Status. They were nice thing, but I wasn’t lost without them.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Acknowledge.
  2. Assess.
  3. Plan.
  4. Take action.
  5. Evaluate the impact and adjust.

When the Coronavirus pandemic started, we went through all these steps at Vervoe. Here’s the process we went through. First, we got the board together and discussed the situation to try to understand how it might impact us. We knew some companies might stop hiring, which would impact us because we’re a skills assessment platform. But we also knew that rising unemployment would likely drive up the number of applicants for each role. So many of our customers would be busier.

My co-founder, David, ha a high degree of conviction that, notwithstanding the challenges, the crises also presented an opportunity for us to accelerate and he didn’t want to miss that by being too defensive.

We monitored the situation for a few weeks and we quickly realized that demand for our product was in fact increasing. Once we were confident this wasn’t an aberration, we incorporated that into our thinking. We sensed that the pandemic was forcing many companies to think differently about their hiring practices, and that was generally in our favor. This played a very big role in our decision not to implement a reduction in force or lay anyone off.

So we decided not to make any drastic changes to the way we run the business, a decision that several months later has proven to be the correct one.

Separately, we suspected capital markets might shut down so, as a startup reliant on venture capital, we knew we’d need to think differently about how we manage capital. We decided to reduce costs as much as possible without impacting people’s jobs. We relinquished all our offices and implemented a range of other measures to preserve cash. The overall goal was to extend our runway and we have been able to do that with great effect.

Before implementing these changes, we communicated our entire plan — and the rationale behind it — to our team so they could all get behind it. There were some painful changes ahead of us, but everyone would keep their jobs.

I couldn’t be prouder of how we responded.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If we start judging people on how they can contribute — rather than what they look like or wat background they come from — the world will be a 10x better place. We’ll get the best out of ourselves, and each other, we’ll give people access to the right education and, yes, we’ll find the path towards fulfilling jobs and careers. Productivity will go up exponentially, mental health will improve out of sight and it will go a long way to reducing inequality.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Madeline Swegle, who just become the US Navy’s first Black female tactical jet pilot. Becoming a fighter pilot is extremely challenging for anyone, but I can only imagine some of the additional challenges for a black woman in an institution that hasn’t historically made it easy for women or people of colour to progress. I would love to hear firsthand what her personal journey was like, including all the things that aren’t usually shared publicly.

I’d also love to meet David Epstein, who wrote the book, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. His book completely changed the way I think about my career and life journey.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/omermolad/

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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