Just 5 average people

A sailor, a landlord, a CEO, an ex-CEO, and a guy with no pants. Plus, 7 other things worth your time.

The late motivational speaker Jim Rohn used to say that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

I’d like to try something a bit different today: illustrate a theme, or even just a moment in time, through the experiences of five people.

Yes, it’s a bit of an experiment. I’m excited because it goes back to my original vision for Understandably.com:

  • things worth understanding…

  • explained well and interestingly…

  • by people you can trust to know what they’re talking about.

Enough preamble. Let’s give it a try. I think today’s theme is modern technology and the pandemic.

(Feedback welcome, as always.) Here are five people worth knowing something about.

Matt Noland: Control in crisis

Commander Matt Noland is executive officer of the destroyer USS Kidd, which is the second U.S. Navy ship with a full-fledged Covid-19 outbreak. It arrived in San Diego yesterday with 50 sailors testing positive—a full month after the ship’s last port visit.

What do you do as a leader in that situation? It’s not wartime, but the families are watching the news like everyone else. How do you reassure everyone that you’ve got things under control?

As the XO, that’s part of Noland’s job. And there are no easy answers.

“I am an optimist,” Noland wrote in a public post on the ship's Facebook page a few days ago. “But make no mistake. KIDD is in a fight right now.”

Cheryl Dopp: When the bottom falls out

Cheryl Dopp used to call it “magic money” when she’d hear the beep on her phone, meaning someone had rented one of her Airbnb listings.

Now, the beeps are for cancelations. She lost $10,000 in March, part of $1.5 billion that Airbnb hosts saw disappear. She’s not sure how she’ll cover the $22,000 in monthly expenses she runs for her Airbnb portfolio, according to to the Wall Street Journal.

But, unlike a lot of other small business people, it doesn’t seem like there’s much sympathy for people like her, who tried to build businesses on the back of Airbnb’s business.

  • From a company that runs credit-risk analysis on real estate loans: “Hosts should’ve always been prepared for this income to go away. Instead, they built an expensive lifestyle feeding off of it.”

  • From an Airbnb spokesperson: “Travel will bounce back and Airbnb hosts—the vast majority of whom have just one listing—will continue to welcome guests and generate income.”

Dopp, and others in similar situations, feel left out in the cold: “I made a bargain with the devil.”

Mike Nemeth: A ridiculous photoshoot

I’ve written about Mike Nemeth before, on Inc.com, when he wrote a book that became a bestseller in one day. (It’s called Discipline: The Annapolis Way, and it’s full of blank pages. West Point alumni, of which Mike is one, bought a lot of copies.)

Now, Mike runs a custom athletic shop in Ohio with a dozen or so employees. The entire manufacturing world seems like it’s shifting to medical supplies, and Emblem Athletic is no different. They’re making custom face masks. Upload your company’s logo, and you get nearly instant Covid-19 era swag.

Only problem: their usual models weren’t available for a marketing shoot, what with the global pandemic and all. So Mike stepped in himself, including the shirtless photos.

“How can we break through the sad trombone of Coronavirus marketing?” he wrote on Medium, announcing the shift to masks. “With a ridiculous photoshoot.”

Gerald Storch: no more malls

Once upon a time, in 1948, a 25-year-old army veteran named Charles Lazarus opened a store called Children's Bargain Town, at 2461 18th St. NW in Washington, DC. (Today there’s a bar there called Madam’s Organ; I used to visit when I lived nearby.)

Children’s Bargain Town eventually became Toys R Us, and Lazarus eventually gave way to successors, including Gerald Storch, who was the CEO from about 2006 to 2013.

Now, Toys R Us has been through bankruptcy and liquidation. And Storch was on Fox Business Channel, talking about the future of brick-and-mortar retail exactly like the brand he used to lead.

Bottom line, he ain’t bullish.

“The old solution to this problem was to make malls more of a destination. Somewhere that you would go for impulse shopping, to spend the day, to dine, to hang out with other people as a special experience,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen for a long tme.”

Will Reeve

We end this experiment with the man who was caught with his pants down. Literally.

Will Reeve is a correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America. Like many of us, he’s mostly working from home; like many of us, his working attire might be a bit more casual than the norm.

Unlike many of us, he was caught on TV without trousers.

I’ve heard this quiet joke many times of course—the idea that people are on Zoom conference calls for work in various states of undress. But I’d never seen it in person until now.

7 other things worth your time

  • Employees at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, and FedEx will reportedly call out sick or walk off the job Friday, to protest their working conditions during a time of record profits. Just how many employees are involved isn't yet known. (The Intercept)

  • Next concern: family pets. The pet pug of a Duke University pediatrician and her family tested positive for Covid-19. “(The dog) licks all of our dinner plates and sleeps in my mom’s bed, and we’re the ones who put our faces into his face. So, it makes sense that he got (coronavirus),” said the doctor's son. (The CDC is now advising social distancing for pets.) (WRAL; The Hill)

  • New York State plans to reopen -- but with a "circuit breaker" in case statistics start rising again, according to the governor. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • Meet the really rich guy paying $7,000 so he can still swim in Singapore. (Gulf News)

  • Now coming to The Villages retirement community in Florida: UPS drones, delivering medicines in a time of social distancing. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • How to cut your hair at home, part 37. (NPR)

  • Here's what it would have looked like to fly over my house yesterday, if you were a member of the Blue Angels.

Comments welcome.

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