As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Clark Twiddy. Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a family firm based along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Specializing in the vacation rental market, Twiddy & Company manages more than 1,000 privately owned vacation homes and employs more than 125 full-time staff. A combat veteran of the U.S. Navy, Clark’s leadership experience also includes service on the boards of public, private, non-profit, and government organizations.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Growing up along the Outer Banks, I’ve always loved being around the water and joining the Navy after college seemed like a great way to see the world and yet stick close to the water. It was a fair deal; I got to live in many places and loved what I did. After graduate school, I got a chance to fulfill a dream and work to further what I believe are the good values of my parents as manifested in the family business they built. I am the luckiest person I know and get to work alongside some remarkable people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have made more mistakes than anyone I know. I’ve made expensive business mistakes and have a near-inexhaustible supply of moments where I could have done better. Broadly, I think my mistakes would usually either be the result of me hurrying to try to do too much, me trying to do something on my own without the help of others, or my own personality in being so kind to people that I really didn’t share enough candor with them in regards to expectations. On a funny note, one of my earliest experiences with senior leadership was driving a group of Navy Admirals to a speaking engagement. I was in such a hurry that I forgot the address and we all arrived about 30 minutes late. They led by example — there were no tongue lashings or temper tantrums but when we got out of the car the senior leader simply said “Mr. Twiddy, you will find over what I hope is a long career in the Navy that diligence will be a virtue.” What a great leader.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There have been several, although I gravitate to profiles of courageous leadership. I’m a big fan of US Grant’s writing in his memoir — clean and clear prose in what I think is the finest autobiography in the language. I’m a big history buff as well and look for context — whether that’s Churchill, Lincoln, or even Robert Caro’s studies in leadership. Anything about Eisenhower.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We wanted people to have a chance to have one of the best weeks of their lives with their families and the chance to have an investment really work for them in a way they understood for a long period of time. We also wanted to work alongside the brightest people we could find and through this success to be able to control our own destiny. Numbers are of course important, but if we deliver a great experience for our customers and our staff the numbers will take care of themselves.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
When thinking about principles that guide me, a few come to mind; serve others first, lead by example, and take care of your team. Do the right thing, do the best you can, and believe in your people. Think big, get great people, get out of the way. On a personal note, I believe leaders have a responsibility to share what they have learned.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
There is never a good time for a crisis like this to be sure. My wife and I just welcomed the arrival of our second daughter and that date fell right around the time we were ready to open again for business. I’m fortunate to have a strong team around me to help with that. I’ve also been deliberate in creating some buffer time — with so much coming at you on any given day, it’s easy to be consumed by fire fighting almost entirely and forget that, as with any house fire, plans for rebuilding should move quickly. I’ve learned the hard way that you can deal with stress on the way in or the way out and it’s always easier at the front. I am a firm believer in what Harry Kramer up at the Kellogg School calls the “Law of 168” meaning hours in the week — each of us, no matter who or where we are, have 168 hours a week and how we choose to spend them becomes the story of our lives.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
It’s no surprise to hear that travel and tourism commerce simply evaporated; add to that our business model which is historically rooted in personal interactions and simply put without the PPP loans we would have to shut down in some way. One of the toughest parts of this challenge has been that it’s created a lot of situations where people have suffered through no fault of their own and that’s an exceedingly difficult pill to swallow. In responding to the challenges, we let our team know that we would be totally candid with them in sharing what we know, what we don’t, what we’re doing, and what to expect from us. We’ve made our business priorities two-fold; reservation preservation (keep our summer vacations intact) and keep a lean-but-loyal approach to our staff. We’ve worked to plant flags in the future, even if that flag is only two weeks out. We have also, organizationally, made sure we understood that agility for us meant that both problems and their solutions were both best identified not in the ivory tower but on the front line and we’ve worked to support that front line — where the messy edge of human engagement occurs — constantly.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Eisenhower once said that what is urgent is seldom important and that what was important is seldom urgent. I think it’s important to normalize the emotions and make sure that before we chart paths to the solution that we pause, whether it’s personally or professionally, to take a deep breath and admit that to feel vulnerable or even scared just makes us normal. Compassion counts as much as the solution. I think it’s also key to make sure we’re building trust interpersonally and that means being honest and also accessible. In a crisis, it’s tempting to solve for speed (if a crisis is in some sense defined by a lack of time) but if we move too quickly we don’t bring anyone with us and, should you get to this new destination alone, resentment will be the portion of those departed and those remaining. Make some time for the most important things in life and remember — do the things that make you credible first.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think how we’ve handled this crisis has built new bridges of trust with many of our clients and customers and we’ll continue to reach out to them in new ways and new communication channels to make it easy for them to interact with us. We’ve also been more candid with our customers than we have ever been — even, in some cases, giving hospitality a back seat to candor and transparency.
Trust remains the most important asset in a world where travel confidence is fleeting.
I am optimistic that as we work through adversity we’re also unlocking new opportunities — I think locally-minded destinations will be attractive across the slippery slopes of travel and that personal engagement, while it may look a little bit differently, will never go out of style.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
That’s a great question and candidly this thing is still tough for me to get my head around. I think we’ve all seen that things like this tend to bring out both the best and worst in many of us. I think it will be some time until we’re comfortable in big crowds and I also think we’ve learned a lot about the fragility of our supply chain. We’ve learned that good leadership is critical in leading good responses and I hope we see a voter turnout in the fall that is off the charts. There are definitely parts of this world that we simply won’t be able to put back in the bottle.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Our business has always been a direct reflection of our understanding of exactly what our customers want today and expect from us in the future. We’re going to stick close to our customers, listen relentlessly, and design the future of our Company around what works for them and what works for our team in a way that’s sustainable, efficient, and impactful to our purpose. We certainly can’t avoid change but we’re working hard to influence it positively across our stakeholder community. One thing I know for certain — whether it’s 1980 or 2020, it’ll never be the same again.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Being too keenly aware of my own faults to give much advice for others, here’s what I’d ask of my young daughter. Have faith and lead by example as situations like this will reveal your character. Remember the sacrifices of those who came before you. Take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, remember courage, and find joy in our duties to others. Mind your mother.
Churchill assessed courage as the most important of human qualities because it was the only one that could guarantee all the others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Serve others first. I think that’s how our lives are the most fully revealed to us and where we find the most happiness. Also — think big and act fast.
On a funny note, I ran for political office once and I heard some priceless advice on the campaign trail. One of my favorites came from an overall-wearing farmer after listening to me dance around a tough question. He said “Son, I don’t know where you’re from, but around here we can’t ride two horses with one behind.” That’s great advice.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m on LInkedIN and we have a website as well…www.twiddy.com. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.