“how one reacts to a situation or event that determines the magnitude of the crisis” — Thomas Basch
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 Thomas Basch.
Thomas is the strategic partnerships manager at Leap, a point-of-sale application digitizing every stage of the in-home sales process including estimating, financing, contracting, and real-time communication. As a combat veteran with two tours of duty in Iraq, Thomas earned a Meritorious Promotion to the rank of E-5, Sergeant, in less than three years, along with numerous medals and awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, for superior duties as supply chain manager while serving in Fallujah, Iraq. He currently resides in Rochester, NY with his wife and three children.
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 Rochester, NY, a city best known for its weather — snow, and home to companies like Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, and my favorite, Wegmans. My parents divorced early in my life and as a result, I moved around often throughout my early adolescent years.
In high school, I picked up a summer job helping a family friend with a roof replacement. Those skills, and the thrill of having cash in my pocket, led me to seek out more work with prominent roofing companies in the area. I learned the trade and worked my way up from a laborer to a mechanic. When school started back up, I remember sitting at my desk, my senior year of high school, when the events of 9/11 unfolded. Though I wasn’t compelled to serve at that moment, the desire increasingly grew over the next several years.
My father had served in the Marine Corps from 1973–78 and I’d be lying if I said I saw myself following in his footsteps. The truth is, I didn’t think I had what it took to become a Marine. I held them in such high regard that I dismissed the idea pretty quickly as a teen. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I decided I wanted to join the military. When I made that decision, I knew there was only one branch I wanted to go in. Maybe it was pride, perception, or the challenge, but I wanted to join “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.” I wanted to challenge myself both mentally and physically. I wanted to know if I had what it took. Looking back, I don’t think I could have prepared for what I experienced. I learned so much about myself. Those lessons in courage, commitment, and discipline shaped who I am today,
After I graduated high school, I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to earn my Bachelor of Science degree in Multidisciplinary Studies composed of Business Management and Logistics. It was during my time at RIT that I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. Thankfully, RIT was well equipped to allow me to complete my degree while serving my country.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
After my enlistment in the Marine Corps, I ultimately landed a job with a roofing company as a project manager and then sales rep. I had spent several summers roofing during high school and college. Years later, I was introduced to a technology that transformed images from a smartphone into fully measured and customizable 3D models. Their early market fit was with roofing companies. I joined that small tech start-up and saw it grow almost 10x over the next 3 years. I now work for Leap, a company that is transforming the home services industry as the first-ever end-to-end point of sale application.
As the strategic partnerships manager at Leap, I get to work with leaders from across our industry to provide enhanced value to our mutual customers and prospects by partnering and integrating our solutions.
One such example of this is by partnering with home improvement lenders. Enabling contractors to offer financing at the point of sale leads to more closed business for contractors and a better experience for homeowners. These partnerships are critical because financing, for example, is not a core competency of Leap, yet it adds value to the overall experience and usability of our platform.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I officially enlisted and went to bootcamp in January 2005. I deployed six months later to Al Taqaddum, Iraq — an old Iraqi airbase. There I helped catalogue and manage over 60M dollars of inventory. I re-deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in the spring of 2007 where I earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for my performance in reducing supply requisition time, maintenance cycle time, and increasing overall readiness above 92 percent. When I returned to the USA in 2008, I was sent to support troops ramping up for deployment at Mojave Viper in Twentynine Palms, CA as the supply chief. Although accepted for Officer Candidate School, I decided to separate from the military in 2009 and pursue other ventures.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
I learned so many invaluable lessons during my time in the Marine Corps. Discipline, motivation, endurance, and how to stay calm amidst a crisis — to name a few.
One of the memories that sticks out most vividly, still to this day, was a mortar attack on the chow hall that occurred within hours of deplaning in Iraq. As a young Devil Dog, I was both anxious and excited to be serving my country. After many days of traveling to Kuwait and a helicopter ride that felt like an eternity, I finally placed my boots in the sand in Al Taqaddum. A few of us headed to get something to eat, hungry for a meal. When we finally got our food and sat down inside an old airplane hangar, an unforgettable whistling sound started off quiet and grew louder before we felt the ground shake and heard the explosion. Scared, tired, and hungry, we left our tray of food and made our way out of the hangar and into bunkers. This was the first moment that I felt my life was in jeopardy. There’d be many more moments like this, with each one a little less nerve-rattling.
Thankfully, I was with a senior leader who had experienced being in a combat zone. He was remarkably calm and matter of fact. His collected demeanor paired with his instinctual actions put us at ease with the chaos surrounding us. He reminded us of all the training we had done to prepare, and to approach the situation with a clear head, focusing on the present moment, not our fear or anxiety.
Years later, when I was interviewing for a job, I fielded a question about how I would manage to work under the pressure of a tight deadline. I chuckled inadvertently and recalled this story. I assured them that I was well prepared to work under pressure.
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.
In the Marine Corps, you hear countless tales of heroism. It’s in our DNA. I don’t know that I want to single one out, but I’m constantly amazed by the heroes who sacrifice their lives for their brothers and sisters. The story of Kyle Carpenter, a Marine who intentionally threw his body over a grenade to save his friend while they stood guard on a rooftop in the Helmand province, touched me the most because it occurred shortly after my enlistment ended. You heard these heroic stories throughout bootcamp of men who had done similar feats in World War I and earlier, but to have a peer, a brother, act in such a selfless manner is just so humbling.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero, to me, is someone who performs a courageous act out of selflessness for the betterment of others. They often act without hesitation, in service to others in need.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
My military experience had the single biggest impact on my ability to lead. I was surrounded by some of the greatest leaders I’ve ever known. Men and women who were often young, ambitious and courageous, led teams of highly trained Marines into battle. Whether that was hand-to-hand combat, or on an early morning motivational run, these leaders displayed empathy, resilience, and integrity that demanded the best out of you. I hold on to many of these memories and lessons learned from my time in the Marine Corps and credit their leadership to shaping the person I am today.
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. It is true that to achieve success, one needs help along the way. For me, that help is non-stop. I’m constantly receiving support and guidance from those around me. It’d be impossible to call out one single person, but some of those that have had the most impact on me include my wife, Danielle Basch, my best friend, Steve Caamano, and my parents. I appreciate their firm resolve, their commitment to getting the most out of me, and their ability to lead by example.
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 stressful or difficult time in one’s life. I believe it’s how one reacts to a situation or event that determines the magnitude of the crisis.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Planning for a crisis is important. While it may not be top of mind to prepare for one, there are several ways that business owners and leaders can be equipped to handle a crisis.
Having a plan is the first step. This includes having a clear objective, protecting individuals most at risk, ensuring everyone is informed, and that the organization survives. You should also identify who the point of contact will be at your organization and what their message will be. It should be consistent and well prepared. Transparency and honesty along with open communication will help keep everyone informed and in the know. Often, it’s the lack of communication that causes the most anxiety.
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?
I think the first and most important thing to do is to shift your focus from the past to the present. Stay calm, alert, and focus on the current moment — not the fear, uncertainty or anxiety associated with thinking about the past or future. There is only one thing we can control and that is the now. Focusing on events that occurred in the past doesn’t allow us to be present in our thoughts and surroundings. Next, the same holds true if you think of all the possible scenarios that could occur in the future. The anxiety and fear that overcome our emotions and thoughts don’t allow us to be productive in the only thing we can control, the present.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
To survive a crisis, I believe one needs to be willing to adapt to the current situation, flexible in their thoughts and actions, and to remain calm.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
As a New Yorker, the first person that comes to mind when I think about leadership during a crisis, is Rudy Giuliani during 9/11. His calm approach and thoughtful leadership reassured us that we’d get through it together. Despite having not planned for that type of attack, his relentless preparation for other crises allowed him to have a plan and act quickly in the face of adversity.
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’ve had many setbacks, and I believe each one has allowed me to bounce back stronger. As Winston Churchill put it, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” I have started, and failed, at two separate businesses.
When I was 18, with a world of experience, I started a roofing company. I began by sub-contracting work from some of the largest names in the industry in my hometown of Rochester, NY. I quickly went from running one crew, to running three crews simultaneously. Not being content, I placed ads in the local newspaper and phonebook and took on new customers. Trying to manage this along with school proved to be too much, and the business dissolved a year and a half later.
After my time in the Marine Corps, and two years working in project management and sales at a Charlotte, NC roofing company, I ventured out on my own again. I started a second company with a ton of ambition and knowledge, yet it too faltered before ever realizing its potential.
It would have been easy to sulk in my (repeated) failure. Instead, I used the information I learned, dusted myself off, buried my pride, and went back to working for a roofing company, continuing to learn and grow. Those years I spent learning, both from my failures and from the successful companies I joined, allowed me to gain invaluable experience that helps me today when speaking with contractors from across the country about their businesses. I’m able to share best practices and lessons learned to help others achieve their business goals and dreams. I’m a firm believer that you learn much more through failure than through success.
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 five steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Remain calm — With mortars being launched at you, and snipers hiding, you have to learn to remain calm during extremely anxious times. The same holds true during a crisis. Slowing down your reactions and staying positive are a couple ways to ease the nerves. I’d also suggest staying away from stimulants like caffeine. These can often give you a quick burst of energy but are often followed by a crash marked by fatigue and irritability.
2. Focus on the present — There’s nothing about the past or future that you can change. Asking yourself, or others, “what if” will lead you to second guess yourself or worry about something that is out of your control. The only thing you have control over is what you do at this present moment. Use it to focus on solutions and plans, not hypotheticals.
3. Rely on your training — Rudy Giuliani makes mention of the fact that they had prepared for at least 25 different scenarios that could happen to the city. Everything from airplane crashes to building collapses to hostage situations and more, but they didn’t plan for airplanes being used as missiles attacking the city. However, on the morning of September 11th, they knew exactly what to do from a combination of those different plans. The same holds true during this pandemic. Though you may not have planned for this pandemic, there are steps in your personal life and professional life that have you prepared for this situation. For us at Leap, that included being equipped with software like Zoom, Slack, and the suite of Microsoft products as well as hardware like laptops and iPads that allowed us to easily pivot our operations from in-person to remote.
4. Take care of yourself — One of the most important things we did while deployed to Iraq was self-care. This included a regular workout regimen, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep. These simple steps help your body function at its highest level so that you’re better equipped to handle a crisis.
5. Plan for the comeback — In the Marine Corps, even while in a combat environment, I found time to study and complete remote learning courses. I knew that there would be a day when the mortar attacks would be a distant memory. A time when the 110-degree, sun-filled days, spent in full military gear, would be a thing of the past. I focused one day at a time on how I could better myself and my team. Focusing on the things I could control, versus those I couldn’t. Planning for the comeback.
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 I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be to focus on the Now. Stop worrying about what the future may hold, and don’t tie yourself to your past. Make the present moment the primary focus of your life.
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’ve been influenced by many people in all walks of life. One person that I’ve been drawn to recently is Tim Tebow. I didn’t follow him much as a collegiate or professional athlete, outside of the national media coverage, but I have always appreciated his empathy toward others. His message continues to resonate with me, and I’d love to ask him more about his thoughts on current events and remaining positive.
How can our readers follow you online?
I love to engage with people! I have a great group of connections on LinkedIn and a growing network on Instagram. You can find me at linkedin.com/in/thomasbasch and @thomas_basch on Instagram.