Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Crease of Dawn Redux: a Vermont Christmas Morning

It has now been almost eight years and more than 150 essays since I started writing this blog.  One of the earliest essays was
also titled “The Crease of Dawn”, commenting on an amazing sunrise on a Florida beach.
 (See more at:  Today I share a story and a wonderful picture from another dawn, in a much chillier setting, from the snowy mountains of Vermont.

I have had the pleasure to come up to Vermont with my dear wife Jennie and her family since we first started dating in the early 80’s.  My father-in-law went to grad school and began his teaching career at Yale, and many years ago bought property in a small village in northeastern Vermont.  Over the years our extended family has built a home on the land and we have enjoyed it across all seasons.  While summer and fall visits are uniquely delightful, our tradition of gathering here to celebrate Christmas is one that I cherish.

This holiday, after a year of particular discord domestically combined with war, terrorism and tragedy across the globe, this Vermont Christmas visit seems uniquely peaceful and lovely.  My holiday wish is that we can all use this time of year to connect or re-connect with family and friends and find ways to remind us of the things that actually bind us all together.  Last night’s Christmas eve service at the village church was one such example.  My father-in-law lead the music at the service that included numerous traditional carols, a magnificent rendition of “Oh Holy Night” by Jennie’s sister Elizabeth, and a touching performance of “Peace Child” that brought tears to my eyes.  It was a poignant experience for me, remembering family and friends now passed, and literally cherishing the moment of sitting in a little pew with my two beautiful children, my wonderful wife, her family and our entire village church “community.” 

Rather than focusing on the ideas or ideologies that divide one group from another, I hope that we can stay centered on the fact that families and communities matter. That as parents we care for our children and work to make the world a better place for them, as children we care for our parents as they age, respectful and thankful for their roles in our upbringing, as neighbors that we are available for those who live close by, ready to be helpful in moments of their need regardless of race, background, or nationality, and the list goes on!

I wish you, your families and friends a very merry Christmas and I am reminded as I see this amazing “Crease of Dawn,” of the angels’ song from a Christmas night thousands of years ago…

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace goodwill toward mankind”  (Luke 2:14)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bubbie's "Mensch"

As we get a little closer to the holiday season, after a year filled with elections, dissonance, work and travel, I have found myself thinking about memories of family and friends from years gone by.  This sweet story is from a wonderful and memorable holiday dinner with the most charming of women, “Bubbie” Stone.

I got to know “Bubbie” a few years ago when she was living with her granddaughter Andrea.  Pete and Andrea, along with their kids, are close friends with our family and our kids have gone to school together for years.  “Bubbie” at that time was a great grandmother who was in her late 90’s, less than five feet tall, and filled with a wonderful outgoing spirit.  We had the pleasure of being invited over for dinner a few times when “Bubbie” was still alive, each time it was an evening of love, laughter, great food and wonderful stories.  It was on one of those evenings that I received “Bubbie’s” ultimate compliment.

Somehow that evening we got on the topic of work/careers and “Bubbie” asked me a number of questions about what I did for a living.  After fumbling through a clumsy description of a 20+ year corporate career in marketing and sales and how I had recently gone to work for a private equity owned produce company in California, she turned her questions and attention to another person at the table and the flow of conversation continued on.  I did not think much about that part of the night until we were getting ready to leave and I was bending down to give “Bubbie” a hug good night.  Without hesitation she looked straight up at me (remember that I am 6’ 2’’ and she was about 4’10’’) and said, you know what you are young man, you are a “Mensch!”

Having grown up in a Lutheran family from a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I didn't have any “cultural competency” to know if “Bubbie’s” pronouncement was positive or negative.  I paused and asked if that was a good thing or bad, and quickly “Bubbie” said that it was a very good thing!  She asked me three questions to solidify her point of view:

1) Do you work?
2) Do you make money?
3) Do you take car of your family?

That was it, “Bubbie’s” three requirements to being a “mensch.”  Well I answered each question with a solid “yes”, this time skipping any of the 20+ year corporate/private equity details.  It was a simple set of questions, my answers were true, and in the wise eyes of this tiny, charming woman I had passed an important test.  I was a “mensch!”  What an unexpected compliment, a holiday gift, from such an unexpected source; but here I am years later literally cherishing that moment and that memory. 

I share this sweet story from a holiday now years in the past to be a reminder of the touching memories that come from surprising places. Additionally I share it as a point of reference of what does success “look like” from a voice of wisdom near the end of her life. We live in a society that seems to value so many fleeting ego-driven, money centric examples of notoriety and success that “Bubbie’s” three questions seem cute or maybe old fashioned.  I for one am proud to have been called a “mensch” by “Bubbie,” maybe now more than ever!

 I hope that you can find some time this holiday season, away from the work demands/pressures, for family and friends.  Take the time to enjoy a meal with others and you never know, you might just meet your own “Bubbie” and receive a holiday gift/blessing that will warm you heart for years to come!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An aerial view of hope, opportunity, and thanksgiving

Last week I had the chance to fly up to NY for a quick business meeting.  While a bit of a last second trip, I did indeed have a great exit row, window seat on Delta on the flight up to La Guardia.  As we boarded the flight, I dove into the pre-work for my meeting the next day and didn't pay much attention to the view until we were nearing New York City.  It was a crystal clear fall afternoon as we started to get close to NY, with the late afternoon sun shining through the autumn clouds and the view below was stunning; none more beautiful and inspirational than the view of the Statue of Liberty that you can see above.

With the very divisive election still very present in our national dialogue, I was immediately “floored” by how everyone on “my” side of the plane were glued to their windows, working to get a glimpse of  “Lady Liberty.”  Men and Women, young and old, black, brown and white, tall and short, probably republican and democrat all had a shared urge and a “pull” to get a glimpse of a shared American icon.  The view outside of the plane was stunning, and the view inside the plane stopped me in my tracks.

I was reminded that in the midst of all the divisive rhetoric, we did have a shared “American” past.  We all connected to the statue in one way or another, searching for a better way forward, a better future for our communities and our families.  In a time where we seem to focus on ALL the things that divide us, it was a bit heart warming to have that shared moment, all of us like kids glued to a “school bus window” in the sky.

From a personal vantage point, the view reminded me that one side of my family, my mom’s family, had immigrated to the United States from Germany and Luxembourg in the late 1800’s.  They came into that same harbor, seeing that same statue, well before Ellis Island had been built, and were “processed” as immigrants through an immigration facility at the tip of Manhattan called Castle Clinton. They didn't speak English, but had come to this county to seek a better life for themselves, their families and the future generations of their families. I am from a family of immigrants, and candidly we are all from families of immigrants regardless of what route, what port or what time period was your or our family’s emigration, we all share that in common.  Its tough to remember that we all have a lot in common, in so many ways, coming out of a landscape of divisive language that pervaded the campaign trail.

I share this story a few days before thanksgiving with intent.  The view of that lovely statue was a great reminder of how much we have to be thankful for and how much work lies ahead in our journey as a country.  We have so much work to do to insure “justice for all,” so much work to do to have EVERY voice heard across our land, so much work to do to reduce the needless violence and hatred across our communities, and the list literally goes on and on and on….  Equally true, we must hold onto and be thankful for the progress that we have made, and be energized by the statue in NY harbor, or other images across our country, to continue that work and be thankful for the generations that have brought us this far, and renew our commitment for the work of “hope, opportunity and thankfulness” ahead.  I wish you and your families a very happy thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The "Work" of Hope

Like so many individuals across the world I was stunned by the election results of Tuesday night.  It is probably true that regardless of which side of this campaign you might have been on, the results of the 2016 Presidential election are stunning and historic.  For some, their candidate surprisingly won the electoral vote and is somewhat unexpectedly heading to the White House in January.  For others, the “shock and awe” of the results, to the absolute consternation and disbelief of pundits, pollsters, editors and a broad swath of journalists, seems impossible to fathom or accept.  I find myself in that second group personally.

As I woke early Wednesday morning, after grabbing a few hours of sleep, to confirm my worst fears of an electoral college swinging the “wrong way,” I struggled to make sense of the implications of the results.  How could this individual have been elected, after THE video, the tirades, the hate language, etc., etc., etc.?  Equally how did “we” all get it so wrong?  How were “we” so out of touch with this clear, angry, mostly rural, mostly white voice rising across the electoral map?  How did this happen, and how can this possibly be part of “our” future??

Trying to stay off of social medial and away from CNN and other news outlets, instead focusing on a work project at hand, I found myself going through (and am still going through) the “five stages of grief,   “Denial=> Anger=> Bargaining=> Depression=> Acceptance.”  While I think that I may be stuck for a while in the  “Anger=>Denial” loop, I have come to realize that simple “acceptance” will not be the last stage of my process, nor will I let our president-elect drive me into a mindset and personal orientation of anger/depression/pessimism and cynicism!

It’s in this context that I found myself making a pilgrimage this morning to a sight I keep returning to as a touchstone for inspiration and hope; the sight of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize in Concourse E at the Atlanta airport.  Pictured above, this specific sight, the display case with the Peace Prize medal in a busy airport walkway means a lot to me and has for years.   Additionally his acceptance speech, which I have quoted often across the essays on this blog, is a document that I revere and constantly return to in moments of challenge and trial.  Specifically, I find myself turning again to a specific paragraph that is once again timely and poignant.

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

On this Thursday morning after the election I realize that I need to “work for hope” in this historic moment.  I am working hard to have “an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.”  I am working hard not to “accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.”  Finally I am working hard NOT to believe that “the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”  In this moment consumed in the “Denial=>Anger” loop, I need to work hard to hold on to hope and these words from over fifty years ago which ring deeply true again today.

I am certain that there will be difficult times ahead as our very divided country attempts to move forward after this divisive election.  I am certain that we will struggle as the new administration takes office and a new day with new policies, priorities and agendas emerges early next year.  This is going to be hard!  Equally I am certain that the president-elect, this one individual, with all of the hate, racism, bigotry and misogyny that was seen on the campaign trail WILL NOT divert me from the ideals of Dr. King.  I WILL NOT give him that much power!  Focusing on the “work of hope” will be my center, staying aligned to Dr. King’s ideals and optimism will be my guardrails.  This indeed is going to be hard, but on to the work at hand, ‘the work of hope!”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

“A voice of calm, with a bias for action”

First and foremost this is an essay about listening.  Listening to associates, friends, and colleagues who have known you for a while and whose council we should learn to trust more and more over time.  I have the pleasure/honor to have a number of colleagues and friends whom I have worked with over the past 20+ years.  One such friend/colleague (named Cathy) that I have worked closely with over the past 20+ years shared the advice which makes up the title of this essay.

Since the start of 2016, I have been busy with an expanding consulting business.  All in all, I have worked with and eleven different clients this year ranging from small start-up food companies, to a global pharmaceutical company, to private equity firms and venture funds.  As an operating executive with over 30 years of experience, I have been a bit surprised, challenged and inspired by the range of work and the dynamic client situations.  I guess that’s one way of saying that it’s been a great year at Levisay Consulting LLC. (See more at

Now with all that said, I am currently busy with a number of clients who are facing significant moment s of change.  Situations include dramatic changes in mgmt., strategic challenges with acquisitions, funding challenges and on-coming cash flow issues, predatory actions by competitors, and the list goes on.  Everywhere I turn, I have clients who are dealing with organizations that seem literally on the edge of “coming apart,” and the stress/challenges that they are facing are significant and immediate.   It is in this context that Cathy shared her “words of wisdom” last week.

It was in one of our daily calls; Cathy is active with me in the consulting business, that I shared the latest “craziness” in a certain client’s organization.  As I was venting about the situation, trying to figure our MY best role and plan for attack, Cathy share that “you should be a voice of calm, with a bias for action.”  Twelve simple words, spoken over an early morning phone call, so filled with wisdom and perspective!    Immediately the words rang true and while they were certainly applicable to the situation I was dealing with that day, they were words of advice that are applicable in EVERY situation where I am working today.  Lets dig into each element of her advice:

“Voice of Calm:” Her suggestion was not only for me to remain calm, but also to work on communicating that attitude to the clients and organizations where I am working today.  Just as I have share the notion in a previous essay that leaders need to have a “teachable point of view,” not just a silent/quiet understanding of the work at hand, so Cathy is nudging me to be an active agent of “calm.”

“Bias for action:” So often in moments of challenge/change and stress, organizations get focused on and “scared” of all the change occurring, and literally become “immobilized” in their fear/concern.  Leaders need to understand and acknowledge the issues at hand regardless of the situation, sympathizing and not ignoring the issues/problems of the current reality.  It is equally true that leaders need to guide a path ahead, being action oriented in times of challenge, and focused on how to achieve a “better tomorrow.”

Well Cathy’s advice has really hit home, and I am working to bring those words to life across my client interactions today.  She knows me well, and has a clear sense of what I can and should be doing to be more effective in my assignment of the moment.  I hope that you all have people in you life like Cathy whom you can go to for advice, friends/colleagues that know you deeply and whose advice not only can help you, but all whom you touch!