“Fear is a healthy emotion and is key to survival but panic is the most dangerous way to channel fear!” — Mike Gould
In this interview in the series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crises and how to adapt and overcome from a business owner that is building his organization with Veterans and Military Family Members. 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.
A kid from Queens by way of Brooklyn, grew up to do some incredible things in his lifetime so far. Today I am joined by founder and CEO of Hounds Town USA, Mike Gould, who has 40-plus years of dog behavior training as the Commanding Officer of the Nassau County Police Department and head of the Military Working Dog Program. In addition nearly 20 years in business operations since founding Hounds Town USA in 2001. Gould has developed a business model that is unique from other doggie daycare concepts in the franchising industry, informed by both his extensive knowledge of dog psychology as well as vast leadership experience in the military and law enforcement.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
My military career started in 1973 toward the end of the Vietnam war. I was on active duty for two years on an aircraft carrier and I’ve been in the Reserves ever since. I’ve been deployed various times over the past 30 years, but my most significant deployment was right after 9/11. I was sent to Naples, Italy, where I ran the Military Working Dog program. My specialty was physical security, and I worked extensively with military working dogs thanks to my background as a founding member of the NYPD’s K-9 Unit, which was launched in 1982. Law enforcement, the military, and dogs have all been intertwined in my life in some capacity
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
All my life experience with the police department, the military, as a first responder, an EMT, and most importantly, as a small business owner during very tumultuous times — including the events of September 11th, virus outbreaks, super storm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2006 market crash — has prepared me for my biggest takeaway: PANIC can be deadly, both physically and fiscally. Fear is a healthy emotion and is key to survival but panic is the most dangerous way to channel fear! I am fortunate to possess the ability to channel irrational fear and navigate the troubled waters of life and business with the help of all my years on the front lines of chaos in various capacities.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Leading from the front and not asking subordinates to do ANYTHING I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself is the cornerstone in war and business. A calm but assertive demeanor will develop trust and morale.
It is no secret that military service makes for highly professional, loyal and goal-oriented people; an essential set of traits sought after by employers in today’s workplace. Many veterans find themselves looking for a way to reenter the workforce when retiring from the military after years of active duty service, or are looking for opportunities that allow them to invest and generate income while remaining in the Reserves. I started franchising because, after so many years of perfecting the business model, I knew I could create something that could be adaptable to and successful for other like-minded individuals, including fellow veterans.
Working in a service-oriented position comes naturally to veterans as well, and the fulfillment or companionship fostered by some franchise models — such as pet care or companion care — can even be cathartic or therapeutic. It is proven that dog ownership contributes to the emotional wellbeing of humans, and when you invest the time and capital it takes to be successful in franchising, it is essential to do something that feels fulfilling.
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?
I think we all have mentors throughout life, some that may not be obvious. I was a high school student who was failing miserably with little or no chance of graduating when in the 10th grade a teacher who I respected took me aside and sincerely asked “why do you even come to school? You come late, goof off when you’re here, and cut out early almost every day. Why not quit?” he asked. Rather than try to convince me to work harder and pay attention (which I could not do as I have ADD) like every other adult had told me my whole life, he positioned his message as sincere and empathetic, and in that two-minute conversation, I realized I needed to quit school. From that point, since I was sixteen years old, I have forged forward with a passion and intensity for everything I CHOOSE to do! His advice led me on a path to lifelong success.
We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
In my view, a crisis can be any unexpected event that occurs in life, physical or financial, which tends to put you off balance, for which we don’t have a plan to conquer. It can be a medical diagnosis, a death, a financial recession, or something like the global health crisis we are experiencing now. They’re all very similar in many ways. Survival is the ability to take a breath; to determine and process the threat. Many of these events we have little or no control over, but our initial reaction to crises can have positive and life-changing benefits as the crisis unfolds. The ability to remain calm and focused, weigh options, and carefully plot a course with as little emotion as possible has always served me well, and I believe this strategy is critical to surviving long-term. Being nimble and able to pivot into the crisis will inevitably be less traumatic than our imagination may create.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
The simple answer is, to me, this: Whether personally or in business, never live or operate beyond your means. Having three to six months of operating funds should be small business fundamentals, but sadly, very few households (let alone businesses) are capitalized sufficiently to cover three months of operating without bankruptcy or eviction. At Hounds Town USA, we also have a very nimble business model that calls for simple changes and adjustments to operations to ensure long term survival when revenue is cut significantly overnight, like what we have unfortunately experienced in the past month with the global health crisis.
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?
Take a breath and remember that necessity is the mother of invention. Reevaluate your entire circumstance. I like to say I accomplish the most significant growth both personally and professionally when I work at the edge of my comfort zone, not in the center. In the height of this health crisis, those who think out of the box will become wildly successful! Breweries are making soap, automakers are producing ventilators, etc. If we are frozen in fear and panic, we are blinded by an opportunity that may be staring at us.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
The ability to correctly analyze data and react to facts is essential. It’s about the capability to see beyond the smoke and fog of war and react to the available information. When you are truly stuck and immobile, philanthropy is great medicine. When I’m down and seemingly out, and I don’t know what to do, I immediately put extra effort into our non-profit Hounds Town USA charities. I go to my shelter and offer to foster a dog; I ask my colleagues and friends and family how I can help them. Infecting change can be done at any time, no matter what crisis we are going through. Lean into that when times get tough.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I was a very young member of the NYPD, I remember walking a foot beat on an oppressively hot summer day in the very high crime area of Jamaica, Queens. Every time I walked by this one particular un-air-conditioned metal factory, I heard the sound of someone enthusiastically whistling. After a long day, I was curious about who this whistling worker was and how he could be so happy on such a miserable day. The man was a young laborer covered in sweat and steel dust. I asked him, “Why the hell are you so happy?!” He explained how he and his family had recently escaped from communist Russia. He assured me that if he wasn’t in the metal shop, he and his family would certainly be dead. To this day, I have never complained about the temperature because, in that moment, I realized that this man possessed gratitude and humility, and those are two essential human traits that will carry anyone through any crisis.
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?
I don’t like to consider life events as setbacks — not to sound too corny — but I really see them as challenges and opportunities to grow. After being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and after being at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, I found myself at a low. I was at a non-English speaking Italian hospital in Naples, where I was overcome with fear, loneliness, and uncertainty. Following a simple process of asking my higher power for strength and guidance, I wrote letters to my children and parents and expressed my true and genuine love for them. That process released all the fear and anxiety from my body. After having half my thyroid removed, I’m still here. I have since thrived in so many aspects of my life and am arguably more of a whole person after that experience than I was before.
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) Do not panic. Take a step back, and a few breaths.
2) Use social media as a business tool, not a source of gossip or spreading misinformation.
3) Understand what you can and cannot control.
4) Pivot into the crisis, do little (not big) things. Be fact and data-driven, not rumor driven.
5) Remove yourself from the fire, analyze from 30,000 feet. Make methodical and thoughtful decisions after carefully analyzing all aspects that may have an effect.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Be kind to one another. Lend a hand or message for support. At our Hounds Town USA locations, we have a lot of front line healthcare workers — nurses, doctors, and EMTs — who are going to work seven days a week for 70 hours a week. They are exhausted and emotionally drained. We have offered them a heavily discounted rate to help ease their burden. It’s not about the money at all; it’s our way of showing our support of them. We also reach out via text and email to all our customers and simply ask how they’re doing or if there’s anything we can do for them. This means a lot to people, and it’s at the crux of how we should be interacting as humans each and every day, crisis or not. All of our collective kindness over the 20 years we have been in business has always come back to us tenfold in one way or another.
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?
Donald Trump, the man behind the curtain.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow us on social media @HoundsTownUSA and @DishonDogsPodcast
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.