A challenge in business is like light turbulence on an airplane - you have to buckle your seatbelt. It's an annoyance but you get through after a few tense moments. A crisis in business is more like dropping 3,000 feet and having to reach for the oxygen mask. It's very scary but recoverable. Terrifying, for sure, but, statistically, nearly always survivable.
And then there is catastrophe. The impending feeling of doom. On planes, they're frequently fatal, unless the pilot and crew are highly skilled and practiced at responding properly when disaster strikes. For companies, catastrophes can mean the potential end of your company, usually due to circumstances that seemingly come out of nowhere, expose your company's weaknesses, and could relegate it to the dustbin of history.
My company and I recently faced just such a scenario. Twisted Sister has a summer tour on the schedule, and contracts are signed for various projects all over the world. Then our drummer and friend, AJ Pero, died in March from undiagnosed and untreated heart disease. Suddenly, we faced just such a catastrophe.
Twisted Sister as a company has been in business for nearly 40 years, and we have gone through our fair share of catastrophic moments. But nothing could have prepared us for this.
The best managers of catastrophes have an ability to calmly process effective responses through the haze of confusion sooner rather then later. But, they give themselves some moments of breathing room to collect their thoughts before they act.
The first thing we did was have our agent contact the promoters of the festivals that we are headlining this summer and tell them about AJ's death before it hit the social media hurricane. The reason for this is to protect them from being blindsided by press and the fans and so they have some kind of response when asked how the show will go on.
We also needed to established how much time we had to decide what we were going to do. When a member of a world famous band dies suddenly, there is a grace period that is generally extended out of courtesy from the promoters so that the band can get its affairs in order. We knew that we needed time to think and regroup but we had to do it quickly -- there were several huge festivals that we were already set to headline this summer and the promoters needed to calm down the ticket buyers.
Furthermore, we also decided to formally announce that 2016 (the 40th anniversary of me, Dee and Eddie as the core members of Twisted sister) would mark the end of our touring lives. Not a small decision but one that ironically had been decided just days before AJ's death. My last conversation with AJ, 12 hours before he died, was partly to inform him of the band vote to make 2016 the final year.
Now, despite that eerie coincidence, the worst thing you can do after a catastrophic event is to interpret the event as a "sign." Everything happens for a reason -- but that reason is not preordained. With a strong enough grasp on reality and an unwavering will to survive, one can take the catastrophe, extract its lessons and put the resulting coincidences, signs and omens in their place.
We decided within hours of AJ's death, over conference call, that we would play all the shows booked this year. The next major challenge, of course, was finding AJ's replacement. We received calls almost immediately from some of the greatest rock drummers in the world, many of whom were friends of AJ. Most of them called to express their condolences and many offered their services. As it happened, the legendary drummer Mike Portnoy (coincidentally, AJ was filling in for him when he died) and I were both asked to perform a tribute song for AJ at a show at the Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ. Mike looked at me and said, "Hey, if you want me, I can play all the Twisted Sister shows". Once I related that news to the rest of TS, we knew that that issue was put to bed.
We are now in rehearsals and Mike is truly amazing. Our fans trust us to make the right decisions and commitments. The shows will go on with renewed energy as AJ would have wanted it to. Our work will be dedicated to the memory of our friend, partner and great drummer AJ Pero.
I am confident that the decisions we made will turn out to be the correct ones and that we will take this experience, survive this potential business catastrophe, and learn from it to make us a better band and better people.