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My decision on the project is a resounding, “No.”

12 Feb

I was asked to give my advice and opinion on a new business venture a project. The project deals with something that is a hobby of mine – Aviation.

But there’s two things of mine that can never be bought – my integrity and my moral compass.

I read everything and then I researched it and I found that one of the parties had been barred by the FAA and the SEC from every holding a position in an aviation company. They had been convicted of Security and Exchange Fraud and served time for it.

For me, that’s an automatic “No.”

Listen, I take this stuff so seriously that when I went to New Orleans to build a theme park, I had investors lined up to pay for the whole project. As Chef Executive Office and Chief Creative Officer, I had an employment contract that paid me $100,000 for the first year of planning the project (for which I collected part) and $2 million dollars when it broke ground.

But 3 months into the Verve Theme Park project, it came to light that the City of New Orleans had lied to me in a major, major way. Before the project started, I specifically asked the city officials if they had fixed the drainage system after Hurricane Katrina. I was told, “Yes.” Three months into the project, we got a hard rain in New Orleans and there was 3.5 feet of water from a rain, not a hurricane.

I immediately shut down everything that we were working on. Did my investors foot the bill for this? Absolutely not. As much as I hated to do it, I ate the money for the project because that door to investment would never be open again if I asked them to pay for this. I left my good name and reputation in tact. I considered it an expensive lesson. But it was far better for the problem to appear 3 months into the project vs. 2 or 3 years when everything would be built and we would be stuck with a problem we can’t solve.

I had people I know ask me, “Did you ever consider just riding it out to get the money?”

Never.

I can tell you that I despise the City of New Orleans for their lack of integrity especially considering the lives that were lost during Katrina. I had to stand there at the end of my personal tour of the old Jazzland property and tell them, “You absolutely need to tear this down. To even consider letting someone try to rehab this equipment will end up costing someone their life. And there’s no question that you can’t keep the water off this land and the equipment.” I never considered that piece of land after I saw it. I immediately found higher and drier land, but even that wouldn’t be good enough if the drainage system wasn’t fixed. I did what I could do which was be honest, and I can tell you they will ignore it. They don’t care.

There’s a responsibility that comes with a CEO title that is like no other. And you cannot shrug your responsibility to your investors. Your integrity must be 100% if someone has entrusted you with their money and if people are entrusting you with their lives.

In terms of my evaluation of the recent project, those standards are still the same.

This gets a resounding, “No” from me. I do not let money define who and what I am. I do not pursue projects because I am after money. I pursue things for the accomplishment and the sense of self satisfaction. My advice would be that you do the same. If you pursue something that you are really passionate about and you do it honestly there’s always the chance that you might actually make some money at doing it. Money however, does not buy happiness. I can actually buy a lot of problems.

But my experience is that if money is the primary motivation, then there’s a lot that can go wrong with big projects.

A project can be a good idea but be executed by the wrong people in the wrong place. And then it will never be a successful project.

Sometimes, it never ceases to amaze me how people would think that I wouldn’t discover important information. I know the Internet like few other people do. I can find things that most people cannot.

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