Advice from Warren Rustand: Put Your Head Down and Walk Into the Storm

Written for EO by Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles. Yap is a thriving serial entrepreneur whose businesses include Citrus Studios, Luxe Link, and the Orange & Bergamot.

She recently attended a Facebook Live stream interview between EO Global Board Director Winnie Hart and Warren Rustand, co-founder of EO’s Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C. The conversation addressed the global pandemic, with EO members asking questions and Rustand providing insights on clarity of vision and certainty of intent. 

Kalika Yap shares highlights from the presentation.

You’ve got this.

That’s the message about COVID-19 from Warren Rustand. Rustand has run more than a dozen companies during this career, most recently Providence Service Corp., a publicly-traded social service and transportation firm. He’s taken at least one through bankruptcy, and he’s lived through every crisis in the past 70 years.

In his office in Tucson, Arizona, he has a bronze sculpture of a cowboy in a long rain coat, head down, that Rustand looks to for inspiration. He bought it during that bankruptcy.

“Regardless of the weather, we still have to put our hat down, our rain slicker on, our face into the wind, and stride into the storm,” Rustand says.

Rustand says he’s had calls from more than 300 business leaders at small and medium-sized companies looking for advice. About a third of them have already closed their businesses, or will do so soon. Another third will have tough decisions in about 90 days, when cash starts to run out. The last third seems like they will make it.

Rustand admits that this pandemic probably feels different from anything a young entrepreneur has had to deal with, because the whole world has been asked to shelter in place and put the economy into a coma. That’s unprecedented in Rustand’s life, too.

“You’ve probably never felt anything like this,” Rustand says. But we’ve all dealt with things that felt new and terrible at the time. Some of us remember the 2000 dot-com crash. Others recall the 2008 financial crisis. In terms of pandemics, we remember avian flu (1997), SARS (2003) and MERS (2012).

“Think of the challenges you’ve already faced,” Rustand says.

In a recent Q&A with EO members on Facebook Live, Rustand recommends compassion, both for ourselves and for others. It makes perfect sense to be fearful at a time like this, he says. The challenge is to manage that fear so we can plan for the future because, ever the optimist, Rustand is certain that we will get through this.

“It’s going to be an unbelievably challenging time, but we will rebuild,” he says.

Rustand recommends an essay, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen (it was written in 1903, hence the male-oriented title). The message, Rustand says, is: “We are what we think. If we think only about our emotions, if we think only about our trials, that’s where we’ll be.”

So, by changing our thinking, we gain control. As humans, we tend to think less about the moment and more about the past or future. We think upstream and downstream, Rustand says. “If we look upstream, we see what is coming, and right now, it’s a torrent, and it looks hard, and it’s going to be like this for a while,” he says.

For entrepreneurs, the job now is to look past that daunting torrent and to the opportunity beyond it. Because there is opportunity. There always is in a crisis.

“It’s how we respond that makes us different,” Rustand says.

Some recommendations:
• Reach out to people you haven’t talked to a while. Everyone needs contact right now. If your company is surviving, be the “voice of strength for others.”
• “Be the face of joy and positivity. Be the sunshine in other people’s lives.”
• Get exercise, every day!
• Don’t eat junk, as tempting as the junk may be.
• Get sleep. If you’re having trouble, try meditating before you go to bed. Put on relaxing music, and avoid electronics at night. “Get away from the blue light and the dopamine.”

There are upsides to COVID-19, Rustand says. After years of political discord, the pandemic has brought out some of our better angels.

“We’ve been living through a decade of controversy and contention,” Rustand says. “Now, there is a coming together, a spirit of taking care of your neighbor.”

Kalika Yapkalikayap, is founder and CEO of both Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders, and Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency. She’s also an author and the host of EO Wonder podcast.



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