“It is tempting to choose the easy wrong in a crisis, when the harder right feels an impossible choice.” — Peter Ricci
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 Peter Ricci.
Peter is co-founder and CEO of MANTL, bringing over 17 years of experience and expertise in sales, sales operations, strategy, and leadership development to the business.
Peter’s career started in field sales and sales operations with Google. Over the next 10 years, he would hold the positions of CEO, COO, VP of Sales, Global GM across a start-up, public company, and most recently, The Honest Company. Prior to his business career, Peter served as an officer in the US Army and served two tours of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning a Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal.
Peter is passionate about leading a brand that owns the category of grooming and self-care for bald and balding men. Beginning his personal struggle with balding as an undergraduate at West Point, Peter is on a mission to smash outdated stigmas about balding and ideas of desirability.
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 was born and raised in San Diego, CA.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I am the CEO of MANTL a men’s champion brand for bald people. MANTL was formed out of my own emotional experience with losing my hair starting in my late 20s. By the time I embraced the bald look and lifestyle, I realized that this was something I should have done a long time ago. I created MANTL to support people along their hair loss journey by building a community and a simple set of high-quality products to protect and empower.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I started my Army career as a cadet at West Point. With 9/11 being my senior year and America moving into its longest period of continuous war, I quickly realized that I was most likely going to be a part of this fight. After graduation and commission as an Armor Officer, I found myself with the lead attacking unit on the Western side of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, and eventually operating as a Platoon Leader for a number of months in Baghdad once under allied control. I found myself back in Iraq in 2005, serving as an executive officer and company commander within a tank battalion in the city of Samarra. After my second tour in Iraq, I served as the Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Maryland, College Park. I left the Army with a Combat Action Badge, meritorious service medal, bronze star, and 2 Army commendation medals.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
While my combat experience may be interesting to some, I actually think the most interesting story is about an Iraqi man named, Mustafa. I think of him because he inspires me even in my own work as a CEO today. I don’t have contact with him and lost it shortly after I left Iraq. But, he was guy that got shit done. He showed up at our gate in Baghdad offering to help. At first, we were apprehensive, but once we gave him a task to get 400 coolers for the soldiers in vehicles going out on missions in the middle of summer. Within 2 hours, he had 4 trucks with 100 coolers each show up at our security gate. I was amazed by him because no matter how tall the order, he made it happen. There is massive value in someone like that, more so, in my mind, than a subject matter expert.
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.
I wasn’t involved directly in this operation in 2005, but an Army medic was attached to a scout unit and Iraqi army unit that was patrolling outside of Samarra. The unit was ambushed by insurgent forces and the Iraqi army unit took severe casualties. The medic immediately went into action giving tracheotomies, tourniquets, and general first aid while under heavy fire and outnumbered. He worked on over 10 casualties moving from position to position and saving numerous lives.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
In my mind a hero is someone that puts service and their fellow man or woman before themselves without regard for their safety or health. The greatest act is laying down your life for the life of someone else. That is a hero. This medic did his job, saved lives, all without regard for himself.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Yes and no. My experience in the military gave me the expertise to lead people and organizations. By the time I was 23, I had more responsibility and resources under my management than I did when I started my business career at Google. The military, especially in a time of war, provides an experience that has very little room for incompetence or failure, as the consequences are literally life and death. I was 100% prepared to lead in business after my time in the military. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that, and this going to sound naïve, the business’ sole goal is to make money. The military is about the mission and taking care of your people that will accomplish that mission to defeat our enemies on the battlefield. Business is focused on the business result, sometimes whether the leader is strong or weak, if they get the result — they are deemed successful. That was hard for me to reconcile early on in my business career. I came to realize that I can still be a strong leader and get a great business result — that is what I want to be known for.
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?
This is a great question, because there is no way I am where I am without the help of others. There is no one particular person, I am grateful for. My parents gave me my moral compass, which is really the way I lead — treat others as you want to be treated — the golden rule. I am grateful for my brother — who gave me unwavering friendship through my life. For my wife — she sees the ups and downs and has experienced my time in the Army and business. She has seen and experienced it all and is a steady rock of common sense and calm. I couldn’t have done anything without her. In business, my first mentor was Dan Greene who gave me my shot at Google from right out of the Army. I reach out to him regularly to discuss everything and his wisdom gives me an incredible perspective on life. As a Naval Aviator, he understood the difficulty of the transition from military to business life and was a great example for me as I made the transition. I think have mentors is so key to having a great career and vital to your success.
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?
I define a crisis as a threat either internal or existential that can disrupt or potentially destroy your nation, organization, family, or business.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
It is important to understand and be clear about how you communicate as a business in a crisis. As a trained military leader, I think in worst-case scenarios. However, you realize that on the battlefield or in business you can’t predict every possible scenario. But, you need to know how you will communicate with your team and team leaders, how you will make decisions, who will make those decisions — are some decisions distributed, or are they top down. A crisis creates chaos, but if you have a plan to understand, communicate, and decide — you have a better chance of mitigating additional chaos and adapting to the situation.
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?
Seek to understand as quickly as possible. You want as much information about the situation as possible. Gather your team to discuss what they know, what we need to know, and what the next step is. During a crisis, I would create a rhythm of meetings (morning-evening, daily) to ensure communication was flowing all the time, I stopped all unessential business in order to be 100% focused on taking in information and making decisions.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Clarity of mind, resilience, adaptability, decisiveness, and most importantly a strong moral compass. It is tempting to choose the easy wrong in a crisis when the harder right feels an impossible choice.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Abraham Lincoln. He had all the characteristics that makes a successful leader in a crisis. He more often than not chose the morally right path over the easy wrong. He was constantly in a crisis both personally and professionally. He lost his son, while he was in charge of a war, ending slavery, and working toward re-election. I can’t think of many people in this world that could do all of that and not have a break down every night.
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 wouldn’t call it a setback, but an opportunity to lead. It was the Fall of 2003 and our unit was deploying back to the United States. We safely maneuvered back to Kuwait and we were awaiting our flight home. A few days before our flight, our battalion XO came into the lieutenants (LT) living area and let us know that two LTs were going back to Baghdad to take over a platoon for an undetermined amount of time. That evening I was notified that I was one of those LTs. It was not what I wanted to hear, given I had shared with my family and friends, I was going home safe after a harrowing invasion of Iraq. My parents were devastated, especially as things in Iraq were heating up again and the IED was a new development. I was devastated, because my mind was already home. I knew that was dangerous thinking and I needed to snap out of it quickly. My 2.0 experience in Baghdad shaped my career in the Army from then on and showed me that I have the emotional capacity, stamina, and resiliency to get through a situation that changed from good to what I perceived as worse. It also gave me a sense of focusing on the present and things within my control not outside my control. I go back to that experience many times in my life to remind myself that I can get through this — whatever issue or crisis it is.
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.
- Seek to Understand — understand what is going on, in this COVID environment you saw how leaders weren’t able to think clearly and made poor decisions that ultimately got people killed. It is because they didn’t seek to understand. Don’t be arrogant, be curious, humble, and inquisitive. As soon as you understand the threat — COVID — you will know how to mitigate the risk to yourself and your loved ones.
- Communicate — make sure you are sharing what is going on with people around you. Get their take on the situation and the information they have received. While communication is key in a crisis to make decisions, it is also key to ensure that you are safe and sane! Communicate with people to keep your relationships strong and positive.
- Decide — decide to continue to be healthy, to communicate, to keep your purpose. Decide to keep yourself safe. Decide to keep your hygiene, exercise, and good eating habits. COVID is a lockdown that will drive people to depression, alcohol, drugs, and complacency. Make sure you decide to do something positive each and every day.
- Know your Purpose — If you haven’t read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, you must. While COVID can’t be compared to his experience in Auschwitz or the Holocaust, Frankl does an excellent job in his book of laying out the importance of having a purpose for life or a will for meaning. Know your purpose and focus on that to drive you forward each day.
- Maintain Good Habits — this is massively important. Keep your routine, down to every detail of our normal life. For instance, I am still wearing cologne most days to maintain that semblance of normalcy. But, at a minimum, maintain your hygiene. That is the first thing that goes in situations like these or crisis in general. A general lack of care for yourself, because you are consumed with the crisis. It is imperative that you care for yourself, so you can ensure you are ready to tackle what comes each and every day in a crisis.
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. 🙂
Well, I would love to say, inspire a movement that empowers bald and balding people all over the world to live their best lives, but I don’t think that would bring the most good to the most people. So, it would be the ability to inspire a movement to find a cure for the COVID virus that opens up the economies of all countries around the world to get everyone back to work for the long haul
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 🙂
Barrack Obama would be someone I would like to have breakfast or lunch with. I think the Presidency is the toughest and most demanding job in the world. I want to understand how he managed the pressure, scrutiny, and decision making, all while being the first African American President in history and what comes with that.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.