Get some perspective, there is always something worse that can happen. You can lose your job, go bankrupt, or even die, so what you’re facing now probably isn’t the end of the 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 David Horesh.
David Horesh is the founder of ‘The Unit’, a business development firm that carries out strategic assignments for decision makers. After almost a decade in a military environment, he now implements his soldier skillset in the business world. Currently working with tech companies, startups, universities, PE investors, and leaders, as their execution arm on strategic matters.
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”?
I grew up in Israel, a first child out of three, my mum’s originally from Australia and my dad’s originally from England.
My childhood was pretty much about having fun. I wasn’t a bad kid, but school was definitely not a priority, or as I would say to my parents “I can study all my life, but I can only be young once”. Still, there were two things they did everything they could to ingrain in me:
Number one — no excuses, they never let me off the hook, I was always held accountable for my mistakes. I remember the parent — teacher meetings, where unlike my friends’ parents, they would always take the teacher’s side. I did not make me happy at the time, but today I am really grateful.
Number two — ‘always do your best’. It didn’t matter what I was involved in, whether I was first or last, the most important thing for them was that I gave it my all.
In hindsight, I think the combination of the two has made me who I am today.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
In a nutshell I manage a business development firm that serves as a strategic arm for decision makers, mainly in tech but not only. Sometimes that’s opening up doors in multinational conglomerates, sometimes it’s validating ‘out of the box’ business ideas, and sometimes it’s just scouting for cutting edge technologies. We’re business operators, not consultants, we love doing the leg work. One of our clients put it very nicely:
“You guys are ‘Business special forces’ — I give you a mission and you get it done”. I love that analogy; that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I started out my military service in the Rimon Unit, an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) counter terrorism unit that specializes in desert environments. A unit of small teams taking on complex missions. The tryouts getting into the unit were extremely difficult, but once in, the real challenge had only just begun — sixteen month of training amongst the best of the best. Besides learning how to be an operator — running and gunning, urban warfare, and navigation exercises, I was taught what it meant to be a team player, how to face the unknown, and what it feels like taking on the impossible. Life lessons that are still with me today. After graduating the Unit’s training, I took on a leadership role, becoming my team’s Sergeant, which for months actually meant I was the team’s officer without going through officer’s training. After Rimon I continued my service in a number of other counter terrorism units, doing similar work.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
The most interesting stories I’ll have to keep between me and my teammates, but even if I could share them, they don’t capture the real essence of the military experience. The truth is that most of the time you aren’t in immediate harm’s way, you’re preparing for it. Most missions, whether they were one-nighters or days at a time, included a preparation period that could be days or even weeks. And even during the missions themselves, most of the time you’re driving, walking, watching, listening or waiting. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some dangerous moments, I’m just saying that the real world isn’t a Rambo movie — it’s what happens before and after.
That’s one of my biggest takes from my military experience. Most of our lives we prepare, train, and work towards our mission, that goal we’re pursuing. The thing is, achieving it only lasts a second, which is why it is so important to enjoy the journey towards it.
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.
This isn’t a regular ‘hero saves the day’ story, it’s one about the quiet but heroic actions that are never talked about. In 2012, as a result of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli civilians by the Hamas terrorist organization, Israel was forced into ‘Operation Pillar of cloud’. Being the type of unit that we were, we started preparing for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, we needed to stop those rockets.
My team was called into the command tent to receive our objectives. Quite quickly we realized we were in for a longer and more dangerous mission than what we initially prepared for, meaning we needed to carry more food, energy, and fire power. As the team’s Sergeant, it was my job to assign these additional necessities, but I had no Idea who I was going to assign them to. Every additional ounce of weight makes it difficult to run, exit the armored vehicles, or just function. And as I knew we were already carrying 70% of our bodyweight, I did not know who I was going to assign this additional weight to. So, I made a list. A list of the extra items we needed, and I gave it to the team. “We need this stuff with us, if you can’t take it I’ll find another solution”. Knowing that meant a different team would be carrying our gear, possibly endangering themselves for us, each one of my teammates put his name next to an item on that list.
The ground invasion didn’t take place, but those type of actions showed me what type of people my brothers were — heroes.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is a person that puts others needs before his own. Sometimes that happens in times of crisis and real danger, and sometimes it’s simply giving your seat to an old lady on the bus. Being a hero isn’t about that one unique moment when you did something extraordinary, it’s about all the regular, simple, ‘not such a big deal’ moments that led up to that.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Nothing has ever been clearer to me than this: My parents instilled in me the values that helped me get to where I got to in the military, and the military and units I served gave me the skillsets to pursue anything I ever wanted. Not just in business, but in marriage, university, important relationships, and just life. I learned how to overcome tough situations, what it’s like to handle the unknown, how to lead and definitely how not to lead, and how to put together plans and make them happen.
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?
There is one person who deeply impacted my life, and that is Major Bnaya Sarel (RIP), who was my company commander during unit training. Picture this:
It was a winter night of 2011. My platoon and I were exercising our navigation skills up and down the Galilee hills. It’s cold and wet, we’re confusing hunger with tiredness, our muscles are aching, and the night had only just begun.
A night of walking alone in an unfamiliar environment, enduring all these never-ending discomforts. So many times, I climbed the wrong mountain or crossed a running river. We all did. But eventually, near sunrise we would make our way towards the final point, where we could finally climb into our sleeping bags.
Unfortunately for us, Major Sarel always made sure that what we thought was the final point was never it. Although he greeted us with a smile, the following sentence was always: “Do you see that hilltop 3 clicks north of here? I’ll see you there in one hour”. We called this an ‘unplanned mission’ (which became pretty routine). Every time Major Sarel saw us grumbling about this ‘unplanned mission’, he said the following: ‘you have two choices, you can moan and complain about how unfair life is, or you can smile and make a decision to overcome your new reality’.
This attitude to life has stuck with me ever since, and needless to say has been extremely rewarding during Covid.
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 challenging situations in life; ones that you can control and ones that you can’t. The ones you can control, well it isn’t necessarily easy, you might need to make some difficult decisions, but if you do your best you can create a positive outcome. The other type of situations are ones that you have no control over, where you are living through complete uncertainty — AKA a crisis.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Just like in the military, we need to be constantly preparing for the tough times, and the best way to do that is by getting ourself and our team comfortable with the uncomfortable. Getting our teammates to take on tasks that are not part of their job description, adding surprise laps to our workouts, and creating unusual scenarios for our team to handle. Think of all those companies that just before Covid hit, had already started working from home, just so they could see if it’s possible to hire remote employees. How amazingly smart was that in retrospect? Incredibly smart. They did something that was way out of their comfort zone, and it completely paid off in the long term.
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?
There’s a saying in the military ‘The battlefield is the kingdom of uncertainty’. So is business, the only difference being you don’t lose lives in business, only companies, jobs, and deals. Now that I that I have some perspective in mind, I like reminding myself of another military saying — ‘Improvise, adapt and overcome’. Just like Major Sarel used to tell us, we only have to options; we can moan and complain about how unfair life is, or we can smile and choose to overcome our new reality.
Ever since Covid hit I have witnessed two types of business leaders, those who pray everything is going to go back to the way it was, and those who have made some difficult decisions and have adapted to the new reality. All of us should be constantly asking ourselves what type of business leaders are we.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
When times are rough, you don’t need to be special, you just need to look around, to see other people going through the exact same crisis you are going through. Now look for the ones who are having it really rough, more than others, more than you. How do you feel now?
I’ll tell you how I feel when I do this, I feel like I need to help them, and that gives me strength that I didn’t know I had in me. We’re like that us humans, even when we think we’ve had it, and we can’t take it anymore, there’s always more in us to make it through.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of my teammates from my military service. I think of all those times when one was under the stretcher and the other tapped his back to switch places, when one was out of water and another offered him his, when one offered to take the ‘first watch’ so I could get some sleep, and all those other times when each of us could ponder on how rough we’re having it but chose to put our brothers first.
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?
January 2020. Two business ventures I was involved in had crashed and failed. I was not in a good place, it felt like my life just broke up with who I wanted to be. But I wasn’t prepared to sit around and ponder about how life is rough. Then I started thinking, what is it that I wanted to do?
I knew I wanted to build a company, and I also knew that to find the perfect idea to commit to would take time. Not being the guy who sits around and waits for life to happen, I started reaching out to business leaders I knew, asking them if there’s anything I can do to help them. It made sense that until I figure out what I want, I’ll spend my time learning from the best.
Then I started working with one client, then two, then three, and now I’m expanding my operation, hiring employees. All in less than a year. I still haven’t found that business idea I want to commit to, but I do know that when I find it, I’ll have already put together the best team to make it happen.
Sometimes when your fears come true, it leads you to amazing things you never thought could happen. Life has a funny way of doing things.
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.
Number one — get some perspective, there is always something worse that can happen. You can lose your job, go bankrupt, or even die, so what you’re facing now probably isn’t the end of the world.
Number two — improvise, adapt, and overcome. Regarding Covid19; If you’re a retail store — start selling online, if you’re a restaurant — start doing deliveries, if you’re a performer — find a new business model.
Number three — move fast and break things. Better to make some mistakes whilst moving towards something, than staying put whilst the ship sinks.
Number four — Mission and team are the two most important things you have, not just in times of crisis, but in anytime. The team is there to get the mission done, and if you take care of them, they will do their best to make that happen.
Number five — smile. It’s much more fun going through hell with a positive attitude.
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. 🙂
Accountability. I would love for as many people possible to see themselves accountable for everything that happens in their lives — good or bad. We need to understand that when we blame the boss, the market, the government, we are giving up our responsibility for personal happiness. We are basically saying — ‘you, not me, are responsible for what my life is going to look like’. But the moment we point our fingers back to ourselves, we immediately become the ones in charge of making our life the best it can be. And this is something I wish for everyone.
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’d be delighted to sit down with any person making a positive impact on our lives.
How can our readers follow you online?
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to meet new people, learn new things, and help wherever I can. Check me out here:
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.