Paul Fenn, Take a Shot Media

Rush Towards the Ball, Rush Towards Life

DSC01068So last night, my son Will had a baseball game, he turns 11 next Monday, April 29th. This year he moved up from the Minors to the Majors and is now playing with 11 and 12 year olds. Most, if not all of these kids, have been playing baseball for several years and at this point are pretty good. In fact, I was surprised at just how much more intense the level of play was with this older group compared to last year’s younger group. Gone are the days of teaching the kids how to throw, catch and bat and teaching them the love of the game. Now it’s all about how to play well and win games. If a kid isn’t qualified to play first base then he plays some other position, like left field or maybe third base. Will is not a first basemen but he has a decent arm and is fairly good at getting his glove on the ball so he often plays second or third base or sometimes shortstop, occasionally he’ll also play in the outfield.

Will is also a decent batter. He doesn’t have a lot of power but his accuracy is pretty good and when he connects, he usually manages to get the ball over the heads of the infielders and out to the outfield. His real talent however is as a base-runner. Will is fast and willing to take risks which makes him the ideal player when it comes to stealing bases. And, since Will loves to be on stage and the center of attention, stealing bases to great applause is right down his alley!

DSC01064A team is only as good as the coach and this year the coach is especially good. For one thing, he’s especially good at being in charge and giving the boys clear direction of how to do things or how to do things better the next time around. He has a knack for using just the right amount of sarcasm to make his point without going so far as to embarrass the kids. For example, “Billy, don’t you think you would have a better chance of stopping that ground ball if you put your glove down?” “Yea” says Billy in a not-so-sure voice. “Well get it down then, glove in the dirt, glove in the dirt” he’ll shout. Or, “You know, we’d have a much better chance of winning if you guys would actually catch the ball instead of letting it hit the ground!” My favorite however was directed at Will on the first day of practice when he said, “Hey Will, is that a batting stance you have there or are you planning to take a dump on home plate?” All of us parents standing along the baselines that day got a real kick out of that one, especially me!

So the game is underway and our team, the Philly’s, are playing pretty well. Will’s first time to bat results in a walk,  From there he goes on to steal second and third base and then steals home. As I said, Will loves to be the center of attention and there simply is no better way to do this in baseball than hitting a home run or stealing home plate so Will is now in his glory with lots of yelling and screaming and back slapping from his teammates.

Sometime in the 5th inning, a kid from the opposing team knocked the ball out of the infield but well in front of the guys playing in the outfield. The coach was immediately on his feet shouting “don’t just stand there, rush towards the ball, rush towards the ball.” I started thinking about this statement, which was really more of a command, and it struck a chord with me. “Rush towards the ball” I repeated to myself “rush towards the ball.” 

As a marketing guy trying to push high-priced yachts in a tough economy, this concept of rushing towards the ball or in my world, rushing towards the customer or the market, makes complete sense. In a tough market such as we have had for the past few years, the only effective way I could see to possibly win the game was to tune up my advertising, marketing and sales program and run full steam ahead towards the market with the enthusiasm and the attitude that screams, “we’re your guys, buy from us.”

Rushing towards the market, especially a slow one, is not always easy or instinctive. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. One reason for this is that it’s not always clear how to reach the market or more difficult still, what it will take to capture the market. Another reason is that to capture the market and catch the customer, means spending precious resources which you either don’t have in the first place or are unwilling to spend in the second place, especially when there’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful. And lastly, it’s always easier and safer to stay put and let the market come back to you rather than for you to venture out into the field to get it. Unfortunately, the problem with playing it safe is that by doing nothing, you run the risk that your competition might be going with a more aggressive game plan and taking your customers and the market.

It’s not always clear what course to take but history has shown time and time again that those companies that turn up the heat during slow times always come out ahead when better times return. In other words, those companies that rush towards the ball do better than those companies that don’t. For me, the time to rush forward and discover what lies ahead is now.

By the way, during the last inning of the game, Will managed to get a solid hit that was good enough for a stand-up double. One of his teammates got on base with a single and while he was doing that, Will stole third. Another teammate hit a nice fly ball that went deep into center field but unfortunately was picked off by a tall lanky kid on the opposing team. The kid knew what he was doing and immediately threw the ball to the second baseman who managed to tag out the runner coming from first. While the opposing team was busy dealing with the runner at second, Will, who had been leading off third, ran back, tagged the bag and made a beeline for home. All of a sudden there were lots of cries of “he’s going, he’s going, throw it home!” Will dug hard as the second baseman wound up and fired the ball towards home plate. “Slide” the coach yelled, “slide!!” Will did slide, in fact it was pure textbook. That catcher did a fine job and he almost got him but just as the ball was about to hit his glove, Will slid neatly under the catchers arm and got his toe on home plate. “SAFE” the umpire said as he waved his arms over the plate. Again there was lots of screaming and back slapping and “way-to-go” being yelled. The coach just smiled and shook his head. It was a fun moment for sure.

SliderAfter the game, one of the other fathers came up to me with a big smile on his face and said, “Wow, Will sure does like to take risks.”  “Yes he does” I replied; then added, “He always has and I hope he always will.” “Rush towards the ball,” I thought. “Rush towards life.”

On we go…

Sailing with Murphy

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Murphy’s Law

I didn’t even see him slip aboard but then again, when it comes to Murphy, you seldom do. He’s tricky and just when you think all is well, he sneaks by you and quickly tosses a wrench into the works. He’s been around since the beginning of time and he rarely misses an opportunity to create havoc whenever and wherever he can. I am convinced he does his finest work while on a boat but I am sure he is a credit to his namesake on land as well.

The air was fresh and strong when we threw off our lines and headed out for an afternoon of sailing, aboard the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 469. Sailing with us was John Kretschmer of Sailing Magazine and John Armstrong of Canadian Yachting who had come aboard to assess how this new model of ours would perform. The waves were steep and the current strong as we made our way out of Miami’s Government Cut Channel under power.

Miami’s Government Cut Channel – Photo by Ross Cobb

I knew that we were seriously low on fuel but I didn’t expect to completely run out; unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Damn I thought, Murphy is here. I don’t mind saying, it’s an awkward feeling to lose power while in the middle of a busy shipping channel with lots of wind and tide. Fortunately, we didn’t totally lose our heads and much like Harold with his purple crayon, we came up thinking fast and quickly set sail. We turned on our heel and with the wind behind us, we began sailing back into Miami Harbor. We knew the fuel dock was just in front of us and while sailing to the dock is something more commonly done in smaller boats in calmer conditions on say a lake or cove, we decided to give it a shot.

We approached the entrance to the marina under mainsail alone and at a pretty good clip. As we got closer, I said to my friend and colleague Erik Stromberg, “let’s lose the main, we’ve got plenty of speed.” Erik quickly furled the mainsail just as I made the final turn and headed for the end of the fuel dock which was thankfully unoccupied. Docklines and fenders were rigged and in the final few yards just before we made our landing, Erik gave the engine one last shot to see if there was any life left in it. To our surprise it started and I was able to quickly shift into reverse and make a perfect landing right on the end of the dock just like we had done it a hundred times before. “Well done someone cried, great boat handing!” I smiled to myself and thought… ha, take that Murphy!

John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy
John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy

With our fuel tank now filled, we headed back out the channel, leaning hard on the throttle in order to make up for lost time. The sea was still steep and the wind still piped hard but all was going well untill Murphy appeared on deck and unexpectedly dumped our anchor and chain over the bow. “Crap” I said under my breath, “this is not good.” John Kretschmer, our fellow crew member, accomplished sailor and the author of several books, rushed forward and begin to deal with the problem. Erik joined him on the bow and together they began the task of wrestling the anchor back on deck and regaining control of the situation. After several minutes, and with the help of a good sharp knife to remove some unwanted fishing line, the anchor and chain were once again back in their designated places. Again we powered forward and once we cleared the last buoy, the sails were hoisted, the engine shut down and the boat took to the sea as she was meant to. It was, in the end, a great day to be on the water and under sail.

In my mind, sailors are a great bunch, they expect the unexpected, remain unflustered when the boat does cartwheels across the waves and while they wouldn’t deliberately invite Murphy to take the wheel, they know that he is always on board and as long as he doesn’t completely sink the ship he is a welcome crew member.

Jeanneau-5797
Jeanneau 469 sailing off the Florida coast. Photo by Billy Black

I have to say that I have had smoother test sails in my life. But, if I have learned anything at all, it’s that Murphy’s Law always holds true, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  It’s just the way life is and in my book, it’s not such a terrible thing. Not everybody can hit a curve ball and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can, it means that you’re just that much further ahead than the next guy.

I’ve always taken the approach that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. This way, when the music suddenly changes, you can quickly change tempo and dance away to the new beat.

On We Go…

Great Companies are like Great Adventures, both take Optimism, Spirit and Teamwork to be Successful

Several years ago some friends took  me into Washington, DC to watch the best of the Banff Mountain Film festival, a series of award-winning short films created by outdoor thrill seekers.The actual festival takes place in Banff, Canada where the world’s best mountain films, books, and speakers take the spotlight for nine days bringing to life the adventure of climbing, mountain expeditions, remote cultures, and the world’s last great wild places. I have never been to the actual festival but each year they take the very best of the show on the road, and each year I make it a point not to miss it when it comes to Washington. It is quite frankly, amazing and I always look forward to seeing it.

This year one of the films featured two young guys from Australia (Cas and Jonsey) who were determined to be the first to make the trek from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back; 1,400 miles unassisted, on skies, pulling 300 pound sleds across the frozen ice. The first half of the trip would take them sixty days, some days marching thirteen hours at a clip in complete white-out conditions against fierce winds and frigid temperatures. The entire trip would end up taking them 90 days. At times, the film was difficult to watch; I could almost feel the pain and agony these two guys were going through.

An additional twist of the adventure came before they even started when they learned that an experienced Norwegian adventurer, Aleksander Gamme, would also be attempting to make it to the Pole and back at the same time. In other words, now it was not only a trek but also a race. Traveling alone and with considerably more experience traversing ice and snow, Gamme quickly out paced the Australians and was well on his way to upsetting their plans. Strangely however, the three adventurers, via the sat. phone, became friends, kindred spirits really, as they each battled the elements day after day.

In the end, as Cas and Jonsey were only two miles or so from the finish, they spied in front of them their fellow adventurer and now soul mate, Alexander Gamme. He had camped for two days, waiting for them so they could all cross the finish line together.

As I left the theater and made the drive home to Annapolis, a host of thoughts raced through my mind; not just about this particular film about two guys pulling a sled across the ice but about all the films. They all shared a common thread, specific elements that were clearly at the core of these outdoor adventurers. Values such as vision, success, focus, hard work, personal relationships, trust, unselfishness, goal oriented, shared expectations, shared common objectives, risk takers, teamwork and spirit were the elements that were clearly evident. The more I thought about it the more I saw the commonalities between those companies that we love to do business with and those adventurers that go off to blaze new trails, setting new records and discovering the unknown.

At Jeanneau America, we do our best to approach our business with much the same optimism, spirit, and teamwork that enabled Cas and Jonesy to complete their journey across the ice. Being in the luxury yacht business, times have not exactly been easy these past few years but despite this, we have experienced solid growth, introduced several new models, found our way into a few new markets and managed to have fun along the way. Our success is largely due first and foremost to the fact that we like what we do, we have fun doing it, we believe in the boats that we build and we believe that as a team, we offer something real and meaningful to our customers. In short, we share the idea that we want to be a company that people like to do business with and we enjoy doing what it takes to earn that privilege.

Finally, a few last words about Alexander Gamme. When asked why he waited for Cas and Jonsey to reach him before crossing the finish line, he replied

“Waiting for them in the end it felt very natural. I liked them from the very first moment. I saw myself in them. I enjoy going solo, but to finish and to celebrate alone, it’s not fun.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. While winning is a great thing, it’s not the only thing (Lance Armstrong, note to self). And, I think for a company or an individual to be truly successful, they need to respect and appreciate their competition and recognize that part of their own success is due to the success of those that are behind them, pushing them to be faster and better. Humility is an attractive personality trait. Practicing humility is not always easy but it’s a good thing to do.

On we go….

P.S. Join Cas and Jonsey for a quick preview of their award winning film Crossing the Ice