Most have heard me say “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” It’s great advice whether you’re changing the way you run your business, learning to use and appreciate new technology or trying to understand someone else’s point of view. But sometimes things happen, and the discomfort is overwhelming. Sometimes you’re looking for answers that are not readily available. These are the times that it helps to find comfort in the counsel of a friend.
Friendships form for many reasons and my friendship with Daymond John has been a natural progression over the years. We first met eight years ago at a Starkey Hearing Foundation mission for holocaust survivors. When he mentioned a possible hearing loss and being interested in a test, we followed up and fit him with Starkey’s best technology. Now, in 2020, he sports Livio Edge AI hearing aids—in bright red. Blending in has never been his thing.
Daymond has been a long-time supporter of Starkey and our products; speaking at numerous events for us over the years. His success as an entrepreneur, author, investor, and now, Emmy-nominated TV personality has made him a captivating speaker for some of our largest customer events. I’ve enjoyed every opportunity to spend time and chat with him over the years. But it wasn’t his success in these arenas that led me to seek his counsel several weeks back. I called Daymond for a very different reason this time; I called to talk to him about his experience and his perspective as a black man in America.
The tragic death of George Floyd right here in Minneapolis and the weeks of social unrest that followed had me asking myself questions I’ve never asked before. As a leader, people were looking to me to say something, to comment on what was transpiring around us. I wanted to but also wasn’t quite sure where to start, and I wanted to do it right. And that’s when I picked up the phone.
My call with Daymond that day was eye-opening. He shared several experiences with me, things he’d faced both as a child and as an adult, that were not things I could relate to. But he assured me that it wasn’t about being able to relate; the important part was listening and trying to understand. I knew this was the starting point I’d been looking for. I want to encourage a culture of openness where employees feel safe to ask questions, share ideas and embrace diversity and inclusion. My conversation with Daymond made it clear to me that the most important thing I could do was start the conversation and talk with employees about how we can be better, listen to their thoughts and keep the dialogue open.
I was honored when Daymond accepted my invitation to join us for an employee town hall to discuss the topics of diversity, inclusion and systemic racism. He shared personal stories with our employees as well as advice of what we can do to affect change. He offered both small- and large-scale examples of ways to continue the forward momentum, and just as he did to me in our phone call, he recommended educational materials to our employees including the New York Times Bestseller “The New Jim Crow” and the thought-provoking documentary “13th”.
As President and CEO of Starkey, I am committed to continuous improvement in these areas and keeping the dialogue with employees open. This is just our starting point to positive progress toward a stronger company and a more just community. I am grateful to Daymond for his friendship and his counsel in an area that made me uncomfortable. From discomfort comes growth, and, as expected, his advice was thoughtful and wise.