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Maxim Behar: "COVID-19 brought new normal and leaders must adjust their behavior"

18.10.2020

Maxim Behar was a guest on Darik Radio with Raina Damiana to comment on how COVID-19 brought new normal and leaders must adjust their behavior. This is the main theme in his new book "The Morning After" , which reflects on current pandemic difficulties, faced by business leaders.

Host: I have an unwritten tradition - since it has been printed, I like to smell the paper, not only the newspaper, but also when I receive a newly printed book… let's see what I will come across:
"March 2020, two thirds of the companies in Bulgaria do not have an anti-crisis plan," according to a study by BIA, conducted among more than 630 companies from all regions of the country and from almost all economic sectors.” That's what I came across, and "In the Hour of the Blue Fog" Maxim Behar is live in Darik's studio. Welcome.

Maxim Behar: Good afternoon to all listeners of this wonderful show, and to you Raina. You came across the most economical part of this book, which is a big exception, because the book we are going to talk about now is rather psychological, communicative. It addresses, of course, business, based on this circus, called the coronavirus - the affected businesses, purely pragmatically, but mostly focuses on all of us humans, purely psychologically.

Host: When you were little, from whom did you receive your most valuable and good lesson about money, about investments, about whether one should save, how to spend and how to treat money in general, which is the basis of the economy?

Maxim Behar: Three years ago, at one of my TEDX presentations, I told a story that I will now tell very briefly. In 1929, when the great crisis began, my grandfather Moshe, one of the largest importers of eggs in Bulgaria, was looking for loans from several banks in order to be able to import eggs in Bulgaria, sell them, pay off the banks and in general this is how this system had worked for years. He had offices in several European cities, but the crisis began and all the banks refused him money, denied him loans, the eggs were left on the border in wagons. Then he went to the Central Hotel, wrote a letter and ended his life with one shot. I have this letter, this is his death letter. Everyone was  paniced - his wife, my grandmother Matilda, whom I remember very well, because I was 10 years old when she left us. However, all relatives gathered, collected money, imported the eggs, sold them, and covered the loans.

And I’m returning to your question. When I was little, my grandmother Matilda used to say, "Anything that can be managed with money is not meaningful.” This is my first lesson, and I was six or seven years old. Of course, I learned this story when I was around 40 year old. My uncle David from Shumen, who went to Israel two years ago, at the age of 96, brought me this letter, which he found in a cupboard in Israel. This lesson referring the idea that anything that can be managed with money is not worth worrying about has been guiding me since now, because we all know that there are far more important things, and we can always find,  borrow, or make money, but relationships, humanity, morality, ethics - these qualities they cannot be bought - as Coco Chanel says, "the best things in life are free…"

Host: Who bought you the first watch?

Maxim Behar: Probably my father. The book you are holding in your hands, it actually begins with a story about my father in the far 1969 year. For as long as I can remember, maybe since first – second grade, I've been wearing a watch. I am not used  to buy expensive watches or things like that, I don't like luxury at all.

Host: It doesn’t seem this way. I say it in a friendly way.

Maxim Behar: I try to dress with taste, to buy things that are useful and fit my style - this is very important for each person. You will see, here in this book, among other things, there are some atypical rules for atypical leaders, and they are mainly and solely from my 25-26 years of experience in business. And one of those rules is that leaders should pay more attention to their clothes, because they have contact with people, they should have that charisma, and part of it is based on how you dress. I'm not saying you have to wear any super expensive clothes, moreover, there is a whole chapter in this book that is focused on how the luxury business and the expensive goods business are failing.

I was in Switzerland last week and my phone is full of pictures of window displays with expensive jewelry and watches - all 50% off, on total sale, and most of them even closed. At airports, all shops are, of course, shut down. I've photographed a lot of shops closed with bars, but that is normal for now. Dressing well comes from within us, it has nothing to do with the crisis, or the pandemic, or whether you have a lot of money or not. I know many people who just know how to dress well and how to behave with proper manners, and I know most of them can't afford high expenses, especially now.

Going back to the book, in those few months of being locked up and not knowing exactly what was going on and how to run our business from home, I thought that we might be experiencing a lot of interesting and unusual moments that I can share in a book, and just like that I literally wrote it in a week - 10 days at most. I happened to find a good publisher, Neiko Genchev from "Faber" in Veliko Tarnovo, who just heard this story and said, " I’ll put some 92 books, which I am currently printing, on the wait list, so we can make your book in a week, do you like that?". And so in one month a book was born.

Host: You just shared with us, in my opinion, one of the rules of success. Whether it's a crisis, recessions and COVID, in my opinion, Maxim, one of the rules is to make quick decisions.

Maxim Behar: This was the first rule in that distant 2009, when I published my book "111 Rules’ How to make it", which we have discussed with you in this studio. The first rule, which I confirm even more confidently now, after 11 years, is "And the worst decision is better than not making any.”

Host: “Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock company, when I first sat down to write this letter, I was in the office thinking about how to describe the 2019 event and the achievements of BlackRock last year. Not all of this seems like something from the distant past. Our offices around the world are almost empty, and instead I am writing to you isolated at my own home, in a state in which millions of other people also are. Since January, the coronavirus has taken over our lives and transformed our world, confronting us with unprecedented health, economic, and purely human challenges. The consequences of the pandemic for each country and each of our customers, employees and shareholders are profound and will reverberate for many years. Each of us has to act quickly to adapt to the changes of the unusual times in which we live in. CEOs who manage to bring their companies out of the crisis will be remembered for a long time. Therefore, they should not be limited to the messages they would like to send. You need to focus on what the audience wants to hear.” What does the audience want to hear?

Maxim Behar: The audience wants to see charismatic leaders who know how to make the right decisions and who have a vision, at least a year and a half ahead. I have always had a vision between 5 and 7 years ahead. Now, if I know what to expect in six or seven months in terms of what I would like to do in my company, it would be a success for me.

I have always thought during these 25 years that running a business is a big responsibility - colleagues, working with people, contacting clients, watching global trends. You always want to be the best in the world and that has always been my goal and every morning I read something that one of the greatest experts in my field says, and I also take notes. However, now in 2020 I realize that this responsibility is many times greater, because the conditions are completely different, the business is becoming different. Of course, it changed completely seven or eight years ago, when social media began to dominate over traditional media, and when each of these five or six billion people in the world got media in their hands - some can manage it, others can't , some write in normal understandable language, others are haters or just dissatisfied with something, or write poetry and so on.

We all have media in our hands, and that increases the responsibility of managing a business through the difficulties of a crisis that the world does not remember. There was the so-called Spanish flu in 1815-1816, which we all wrote about a century ago, but then there was no media, and people could not get information and did not know what was happening exactly, while now all this diversity of information even astonishes us even more. We get up in the morning, turn on the TV, watch things on the Internet, on Google, everywhere and you need to have a professional, and even personal attitude to your business, to the people around you, in order to succeed. I describe all this in detail in my book, the way I see it, I quote here and there another great leader, and you just quoted one of them. However, for me the most important thing is what we have done in Bulgaria. It's coming out next week on Amazon in English, and I'm sure it's going to be a huge success, because my whole research conducted in those two or three weeks, while I was writing it, in order to see if anyone has written a similar book about how to manage your business during COVID, whether there are any rules or recipes.

Host: I think such books will be published very soon.

Maxim Behar: Yes, but I couldn't find it until now and that motivated me even more to write these 200 pages so that someone – something I said at the book’s premiere two days ago, in Greenwich book center - if someone finds a sentence in this book that can inspire him/her to change his business, life, views, then it means a great success for the book. And I claim that the book is full of such sentences that everyone will be able to find one and say to themselves, "Yes, I think so now, but let me also do it."

Host: Here's what I came across. Now this thing really suits me - management in the past. This is literature just for me. Otherwise, you have a tradition of presenting your views and books just like that with a comparative critique or support from people who are within your reach - intellectual, spiritual and professional. In our case are the journalist Georgi Milkov, the financier Levon Hampartsumyan, Professor Lyubomir Stoykov - media expert, IT entrepreneur Plamen Rusev, entrepreneur Svetlin Nakov, the visionary and a friend of Solomon Passy, but what I like the most is what Stefan Valdobrev wrote, "A fascinating text for people who want to be heard."

Maxim Behar: These are seven people, friends of mine, to whom I sent the book in some format, a week before it went into print, in order to ask them if the book is worth reading, if it is interesting, if anyone would read it, their thoughts, and these seven people sent me one sentence. Even Georgi Milkov was in my office when I was finishing the book and told him, "Take a look, please, I hope you like it."

Host: And he did because he's a great professional.

Maxim Behar: He read it in an hour, probably diagonally or in another faster way, and sent me his opinion, and this has already given me confidence that this book, after being liked by Stefcho Valdobrev or Levon Hampartzoumian, people who are with completely different way of doing business and living, I decided it could really help many other people.

Host: Is it true that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and that globally the middle classes, respectively the clients of PR agencies, are disappearing?

Maxim Behar: I read statistics that people like Bill Gates or Elon Musk have become richer and I find this quite normal, because especially in such situations or times, of course, people will buy more and more online goods.

Host: And such goods will become more expensive.

Maxim Behar: Whether they will rise in price depends on the market, on supply and demand. Once we all saw the hysteria about toilet paper in Australia, how they were buying whole packages.

Host: Because it can't be virtual, like other things yet.

Maxim Behar: Yes, not yet. But it's normal to have both businesses that make more money or the opposite – less, especially industries that require people to be present at production factories or need to be quarantined and wear masks. Personally, I think that politics is another topic. Politics is already dead. This type of governing, which for some reason we still call democracy, is dead. We can see what is happening in Washington, London, Moscow, and Sofia. However, it seems to me that the model, by which the middle class will bring out social prosperity and build a good lifestyle that satisfies people, it could be the main carrier of economic relations. I do not think that the middle class can disappear, because the very rich and very poor were in Bulgaria in the 90s. That's how we lived - 5% middle class. However, now it's 25%.

Host: Looking at one of my big shortcomings, Maxim, that I am an exceptional masochist in terms of the media and especially television - I watch everything, but I do not accept everything, and not only Bulgarian media. And I tell myself that all this is a projection of culture, and those people who can't manage their own image have to look for PRs, not telling them what to do, but showing them how to keep up with current issues and inform people clearly. When values are unclear and one does not know what is beautiful or ugly, whether it is good or bad, useful or not. What does PR do in this case when such a business service is in demand.  

Maxim Behar: Ten years ago, what you are telling me now may have been mandatory. Now in 2020, the people you are talking about have full media access. That is why our profession seems suspicious for people. If someone asks me for advice or a favor, let say a famous TV presenter or a public figure, whatever I say to him, at one point he thinks, "Well, I have Facebook." There are many cases where they tell me, "Mr. Behar, can you work with us, but my secretary does a great job with Facebook, and I post on Instagram myself, and if you can help me with something else." Access to the media has given many people the confidence that they can handle their image. However, most of them are a total failure, because when a person has negative qualities, social media exposes them like a magnifying glass, because he writes nonsense and he cannot write competently, he does not know his readers. There are a lot of details that are known to professionals like us and in my company, and many others probably in Bulgaria. Therefore, when someone asks for our world, our help, I firmly insist on doing exactly what we tell them and nothing else. And I always make a comparison with the dentist. You go to the dentist, you open your mouth and you don't care what he does because he is a professional. This is a problem of trust. In the UK and America, which are the mother and father of the PR business, when the PR consultant stands in front of his client, he looks him in the eyes and takes notes, and this happens very often in Bulgaria, when we present our authority, knowledge, professionalism, perseverance in order to defend our business. I will never allow anyone to tell me how to do it, because he thinks it’s correct.

Host: Trust is the key to all relationships.

Maxim Behar: As I say many times, we sell trust. The moment when your client or partner starts to trust you, from then on he has solved all his problems.

Host: All of us who have connection or any information about your life, books, views, your media and human presence, we know how dynamic, disciplined, punctual you are - these are not complimentary techniques, but just a school.

Maxim Behar: I do not accept them as compliments.

Host: I say it for our wide audience. With this verbal pret-a-porter, I actually want to ask you if your trips, your meetings, these dynamic meetings around the world, which are very important for you and your business in general, physical meetings, have decreased?

Maxim Behar: Definitely, all of them has decreased. For these seven or eight months I have only travelled to Switzerland last week - I had to sign some documents, because I manage the World Communication Forum in Davos and the bank there required my personal presence. Otherwise I don't have any other trips. Look, that's not that important right now. Of course, it's important to meet people. Now there is a new magazine BGLOBAL, in which I start a column that will probably last for years, if this magazine gets published for these years. The column is called "Lessons from the Top", I think it will be published next week, and there I tell some of my stories – the first one is with Hillary Clinton, then I have stories with Prince Charles, and with many other people I have met. However, this is the difference in life, and I insist from the first to the last page of my book that our lives will never be the same again. I'm not saying we won't travel, that we won't meet with prime ministers, presidents, kings, and whatever I've done before, but it will never be the same for one reason only - we are much more pragmatic now. Now we think about every minute, every penny, every word we say, and all this comes of particular importance, especially the way you behave, the way you manage.

You will find out in the book two main things that I stand for and I think are interesting - one is the definition of leadership. It is constantly changing, but now what I see as a leader and the only definition for its evaluation is whether one leader creates other leaders. You can't be a leader and walk around with your hands in your pockets and command. If you create other leaders behind you who become even better than you, and that's the goal a really good leader achieves. This is a major theme in this book, "The Morning After," and my other very small discovery I found in the process of writing is that the difference between a leader and a manager is super simple. The manager manages - he makes decisions, he manages, he monitors the business. The leader guides and it's that simple. The moment the leader realizes that he is not the one who monitors every activity or corrects everything related to the office, he just has to have the vision to guide them, to help them, to advise them. The whole team meets online every day at 16:00 and my colleagues know that each meeting starts with my words, "What can I help?" I don't want to control, to guide, but I want to help and that's very important difference. There are colleagues who somehow can't tell the difference between a manager and a leader, this applies not only to large companies, but also to small business. Very often the leader can intercede with the manager, but then he must understand very well the difference between the two functions and try to be a manager when he has to manage and to be a leader when he has to direct.

Host: For serious people - businessmen, visionaries who are on the side of the barricade, as a metaphor, who claim that covid-19 is the result of conspiratorial configurations, do their chances of success decrease, precisely because they are running from reality?

Maxim Behar: I do not believe in this conspiracy. If it wasn't in the whole world, maybe yes, but I don't believe that there is such a conspiracy in the world and that all politicians manipulate societies. Rather, it seems to me that managers, leaders, people who run large and small businesses, need to clearly and precisely realize what they want to achieve, focus, make pragmatic decisions, and when they need to get rid of people to do it in a humane and intelligent way, when they have to shrink the business, to know how to do it. Such a great responsibility cannot be taken frivolously, just because there are a pandemic and extraordinary circumstances. We all have to act very responsibly and whether there is a conspiracy or not should not worry us at all, because we run a business that not only contributes to our colleagues, give salaries and jobs, contribute to society. Every one of us who earns money, who pays taxes, and I leave aside the purely political questions of who steals and who does not - this should not worry us at all in a time of crisis. Our businesses need to survive, to get even better, and no matter if we are in the PR business, customers need to understand that they need us. This is actually the focus on running your business.

Host: In which country or where did you try the most delicious bread on earth?

Maxim Behar: Maybe France, but let me tell you, because my wife is into bread - she runs a French company that produces yeast for bread and very often we have at home here in Bulgaria the best bread. I think in France, but I don't like gastronomy and bread so much. Of course, I also like good food, but I'm not very focused on it. Rather, people who know me know that I prefer the so-called gadgets or men's toys. It doesn't matter to me what car I drive, but it does matter what computer I have, because this is my business, this is my means of labor.

Host: This is the special pragmatism of Maxim Behar.

Maxim Behar: Yes, but it's been this way for years, not for now. Before, I always thought that my typewriter, which my father gave me on my 25th birthday, Maritsa 22 - I keep it in my office. By the way, I have a vise in my office from the factory I’ve worked in as a locksmith before I started studying. The current owner called me 10 years ago and gave me a vise that stands in my office - the smallest room in the whole place. There's my vise, my typewriter Maritsa 22, there's my first Blackbury, my first Nokia, my first laptop. And these are the important things in life, because these are the means of labor, the most essential things for a person who seriously wants to do business and work hard.

Host: I can't imagine you standing still and doing nothing, and I don't think you have a moment like that even when you're sleeping.

Maxim Behar: Here in my book I tell a Jewish joke, or rather a proverb, that on the inside of Moshe's toilet there is an inscription "Don't stand like that, think something." There are interesting things in this book.

Host: Give me advice on how not to burn out, because three phones, laptops, commitments and I have the feeling that time is not enough, claustrophobia… How to prevent myself from burning out, because I do a lot of things. Even while bathing I think about many things. So how not to burn out?

Maxim Behar: We all have that. In fact, I don't have a recipe for preventing stress, because we all have different things on our minds. I also think a lot in the morning in the shower, but I'll tell you what I do. In the morning in the shower I think about what happens during the day, what will have to happen during the day and nothing else. You have to focus on something. We can't solve 20 things at once, we're just not productive and it's not possible. However, if we have priorities - one or two or three things, it’s possible. You know, in my previous book I wrote about this principle of the "Triple S", which I and many of my colleagues in the office accept, and these are three S that one has to follow in modern times, it's written in English - "Speed, Simplicity, Self-confidence". "Speed" - it is very important to make quick decisions, to know quickly what you want, not to procrastinate. "Simplicity" - to have priorities, to be very clear about what you want to do. One or two, and for others to say that they are not so important, they can wait, and not to finish them is not a big drama. "Self-confidence" - I do not know a successful person in the world without self-confidence, or a person who is happy with himself and is aware of his nature. You have to have self-confidence.

Host: Maxim, don't you think that self-confidence is largely the result of clarifying you feelings, of what you want in life. If you don't know what you want, what confidence do you have?

Maxim Behar: You should have priorities and know what is important and what is not important. If a person does not know it in life, he is totally lost. He will burn out, get entangled, crash from one wall to another, and never understand what he wants. There are important things, there are things we can't do without, there are things we have to do, but not now, and then that help us to organise our life and make it better. Sometimes 100 people call me on the phone, or 20 people stand around me in the office, we have to make quick decisions. Yes, these things happen, but again, if something can wait, it will wait. There is no quick work, but there are important things, especially clients related, that need to be done. In my business, the client is the most important. Of course, the team is more important than the client - that's for sure, but having a team, having a business, knowing how to manage and manage it, when a client calls you, you have to be available 24/7 – there can be a crisis, problem or issue. From there, everything can be done another time.

Host: The book can be found on the Internet, right?

Maxim Behar: It can also be found electronically as audio in Storytell. It is available in digital format everywhere. It will also be on Amazon in English - it has already been translated and edited.

Host: I saw her for the first time after the online invitation for your premiere, maybe two or three weeks ago. You made it very interesting as photo sessions and I will tell you quite frankly what impressed me as I read "The Morning After", but in the way it sounded as - five minutes to success, five minutes to be better, five minutes to the light.

Maxim Behar: Five minutes until the decision is more accurate. You have very little time to understand that you have to change your business, that we live in a completely different environment and in completely different relationships - and not only in business, but also in friendly, psychological, and all kinds of relations. In these five minutes, we must all realize that we need change. We can't help but change, the whole world has changed for years - social media, communications. Suddenly, the pandemic now appears.

Host: And whoever fails will be like in the boats, or off the boats, from the Titanic movie.

Maxim Behar: No, I don't want to think that way so apocalyptically. Unfortunately, whoever fails will find it very difficult. If he is out of the boat, he will have to row for a very long time until he reaches it, if we operate with this metaphor. Or who does not understand that the world must be different, and he is different because the environment is different, may lag behind and will not be able to run his business anymore. But this is not a big issue, because tens of thousands of companies go bankrupt and are created every minute in the world. What matters is to be aware of yourself, personally and professionally, and since the environment is different, you also have to be different. You have to get the best out of it to feel better, not to succeed, but to be happy, because there is nothing more important than a person's happiness. When you are happy, many things open up to you and you can do better in the world, and we all want to do better in the world every day, every minute, because it is more and more incomprehensible.

Host: My beloved Eric Emmanuel Schmidt, about whom I often write and speak, told me personally at the Tear and Laughter Theatre, "Raina, the world is a big empty house and there is always someone to hear you."

Maxim Behar: Yes, but you have to tidy up this house.

Host: The pragmatist Maxim Behar said. And in the book "The Morning After" I am convinced, and I say it not because you are here in the studio, that each of us will find the sentence, the message, the word, the meaning. Thank you for writing it.

Maxim Behar: This is my fifth book, and for the first time I am convinced of what you are saying, because I also said it at the premiere two days ago. I am sure that there are many sentences and many words that one will learn, one will understand that there is another way of thinking.
 
Host: And something else that we may continue to comment on, and not only with you, that it's wonderful to have the opportunity to change and not be the same, and that there's nothing wrong with that.

Maxim Behar: This is the great advantage in the modern world, because technologies are changing, environment is changing. Who thought 15 years ago that we could find out at this moment what is happening in America? And the fact that we can get a lot of information, and information is knowledge, and that knowledge make us different, help us to develop, make us better, and that's priceless, Raina.

Listen to the whole interview.

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