David Gross Gulf Coast Laundry Services Gulfport, Miss.
As told to Angus Loten
Last September, David Gross returned to his thriving commercial laundry business and found a third of the roof missing, cracks in the reinforced concrete walls, and a foot of water everywhere -- about the same shape as the local hotels and resorts that were once his key clients. Since then, most of Gulf Coast Laundry Services' 40 remaining employees have been living in trailers in the plant's parking lot while washing towels and linens from a few nearby hospitals to keep the business going.
In a few short hours, our lives were changed forever. Katrina took the house, the cars, the boat, our customers, and did major damage to our laundry plant. But most of all, Katrina took away our sense that a major catastrophe could only happen to someone else. Our internal voice always said the big ones will affect someone other than me. Boy, were we wrong. Not in my wildest imagination.
The good news is no one in our circle of friends, family, employees, or vendors lost their lives. Material things can be replaced. It is almost one year later and we have a replacement for our house, cars, and boat. Our laundry plant has been repaired, and our largest customer, the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino, will reopen in about two weeks.
During the past year I have had to rethink everything, both personally and professionally. The learning experience has been both profound and ongoing. We have survived the biggest natural disaster in history with a determination not to be beaten by anything. If I could point to the single most important element of my survival, it has been to be proactive and not wait for someone else to do anything. Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of help, but nothing happened without an unrelenting commitment to get back on our feet.
There were so many lessons learned. In general terms, we learned that it is necessary to have a Plan B and a Plan C. A good example is communications. We experienced a complete breakdown in all areas, land lines, cellular phones, and Internet. We now have wireless Internet cards, out-of-the-area voicemail boxes, and satellite phones.
On the subject of insurance, the most important lesson was to represent our own interests and manage the claims process in a very aggressive manner. By this, I mean: do not trust any insurance company. They are representing their interests, not yours. We hired a consultant with extensive insurance industry experience. Even public adjusters may not be the best approach to make sure that your interests are protected. In this critical area, there is no substitute for personal involvement and active supervision by the owner of the company.
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Slideshow: Portraits of Destruction... and Rebuilding