On Nevada Business: Into 2024—and into the unknown 

Ladies and gentlemen, we are entering a new year—which means it’s time for a renewed focus on our respective businesses.  

We need to be certain we do things better and more efficiently than we did last year. This is true even if we did well. There is always room to tighten our belts and prepare for anything that’s ahead. Whether it’s a recession, an economic comeback or something in between, we know anything can happen—and that doesn’t even consider the upcoming political “silly season” leading to the election next fall.  

It never seems to abate anymore, as one “silly season” tends to blend right into the next. Put your seatbelts on. A year from now, we’ll know a lot more about the economic horizon than we do now, and the cycle will turn all over again for another unrelenting four years of divisiveness and debate. And so it goes. 

I have friends and close family all along the political spectrum. Just today, my brother and I were debating the latest silly political updates. Our conversation inevitably came back around to the fact that, as a business owner, I need to side with my fiscal business values. It made me recall a true story. 

I was in the tiny African country of Guinea-Bissau on the Atlantic Ocean in 2017 with my buddy Dr. Dave. We were sent by the U.S. State Department, in part to judge a hackathon, but primarily to assess the cashew industry and learn how it is being influenced by Chinese and Indian interests. We were to report back on what the U.S. may be able to learn from the industry, or perhaps how we might affect it.  

The country was on alert for a pending military coup. We were sent to the embassy in Dakar, Senegal, to be briefed, and then to the consulate in Bissau to meet with our security contact. He was to monitor our whereabouts during the week’s visit. Bissau is a small city by African standards, with dirt streets, block and palm huts, and horse carriages rolling wares to market. There are few tourists and no conservation parks—just a poor country with the people trying to find their way day to day. 

Military vehicles were everywhere in Bissau—along with Mercedes 300 sedans from the 1980s and ’90s. Thousands had been imported, and they’re incredibly reliable, so the taxi drivers, police, citizens and military all drive them. It seems like there’s an old Mercedes being repaired in every driveway. 

As we drove to meetings with the minister of agriculture, I was in the back seat of the prerequisite 300D with my translator. Our host, Rudi, was driving with Dr. Dave in the front seat; I was in the back with Brahma, our translator, and the windows open. As we went around a roundabout, I saw a car pulled over to the side by a police cruiser, and I took a picture with my phone.  

Within 10 seconds of exiting the circle, we were cut off by a dark-green, four-door Mercedes. A huge soldier with an AK-47 blocked our car. Another came over, reached through the window and grabbed me to pull me out. Brahma grabbed my right arm. The soldier played tug-of-war with my left arm as they both yelled in Creole. After what seemed a small eternity, the soldier let me go. He and the other soldier jumped back into their old Mercedes and sped off. I asked Brahma, “What did you tell him?” 

“I told him you are a U.S. diplomat here to help our country, and taking pictures is not illegal,” he said.  

One evening in Bissau, we wanted to take our translators and our local contacts out for dinner, so we went to a little hut near the hotel for a famous grilled-chicken dinner. In the restaurant, an older gent approached us and asked about our meal. He was the owner, a Belgian dude who looked like Jacques Cousteau, with the long, gray beard and 70-something years of wrinkles. We asked him to sit with our party of nine, so he did.  

“What the hell compelled you to leave Belgium and come here?” I asked him.  

He had come to Bissau 40 years prior, in 1974, when independence was declared, and realized he could live a pretty rich life there, despite the rampant poverty and lack of a stable government. I was fairly dumbfounded, wondering if maybe he had run away from something in Belgium. But that wasn’t the most interesting part to me. 

What I will take with me for the rest of my life was his answer to my question: “How do you live and run a business when the threat of a military coup constantly hangs over the people, the land and the businesses, as it has in Guinea-Bissau for the last 30 years?” 

He grabbed his Belgian beer and said in English with a heavy Belgian accent: “Every morning, I get up and come over to open up my restaurant. I cook my chickens, pressure up the kegs and serve great friends like you every night. Then I go wash up, close and lock the doors to go home, and go to bed. In the morning, (even if) we had a coup overnight, I get up, I come over to open up my restaurant. I cook my chickens, pressure up the kegs and serve great friends like you every night. Then I go wash up, close and lock the doors to go home, and go to bed.” Life for most people in Bissau, just goes on—and on. 

We need to have the same attitude as business owners here in the United States. Next year’s election will have impact on everyone—to the extent you let it. I can’t be wrapped up in the shitstorm beyond trying to vote for the least evil among the actors. I have to focus on my businesses and the value we purvey. Yes, my taxes may go up or down. Employment may go up or down—along with the price of gas, food and everything else. We may have another pandemic. We may be involved in more than two wars, like we are now. Who knows? 

As business owners, we will always work among this this noise and these challenges. We need to focus on the value we purvey to our customers and make sure they are receiving all of the stellar service they deserve. We need to maximize our ability to embrace repeat customers. They are our gold in business. They get us through pandemics, elections, recessions and depressions. If your business is built on the one-time sale, how do you get the second sale? By getting the best friend, business associate or family member to buy. Referral is the best and cheapest way to get customer acquisition. It makes negotiations easier and building trust easier—more than dancing with a cold customer. 

In 2024, we need to look at every aspect of our businesses and keep our eyes on the prize, regardless of all the noise, the geopolitical instabilities, our political polarization and the other headwinds we face. It could be worse—it could be a military coup, false imprisonment or any number of other problems.  

God bless America. Happy New Year, Nevada!