Will You Be Ready for your “Endgame Moment”?
By: Basil Karampelas, Managing Director
Unless you’re from Sweden or a fan of 1980s European pop music, odds are you’ve never heard of Karin Glenmark. However, this Scandinavian singer did something during a 1984 concert performance that can teach us a lot about going above and beyond in a crisis, the difference that it can make, and the virtuous cycle that can ensue.
First, some background. On November 1, 1984, a concert of music from the musical “Chess” was performed in Stockholm, Sweden. Barbara Dickson, one of the leads, was set to sing her part in the complicated duet “Endgame” until she fell ill backstage. The others performing, including the male lead, Tommy Korberg, had no idea she was ill.
Korberg began singing his part and right at the point where Dickson was supposed to jump in, the cue was missed. Korberg looked confused for a second, then out of nowhere, a voice from the chorus started singing what was meant to be Dickson’s solo. Karin Glenmark, who had sung the part before in rehearsals, stepped up and started singing it from memory. Verbal description doesn’t do this justice; you can find a link to the performance here.
I’ve seen this clip dozens of times, and I am always struck by the similarities of this situation with what we often find when a company faces challenges.
- The parties involved had incomplete information. Neither Korberg, Glenmark, nor anyone else on stage had any idea that Dickson fell ill and as a result, was not going to perform her solo.
- The crisis struck at an incredibly inopportune moment. The song “Endgame” is not only complicated and requires some serious “pipes” to sing, but it also takes place at the end of the performance after the audience had been built up to expect an amazing finale.
- It was a live performance, so there was no room for error or the ability to do a retake. Companies often find themselves in similar situations, where their financial state is such that they have days, rather than weeks or months, to stabilize their position.
The way Karin Glenmark heroically stepped up to the stage and sang the part from memory reminds me of many people who I’ve worked with at my firm or at my clients’ companies who go above and beyond in a time of crisis. However, simply having that desire to do so is only part of the equation; several other elements need to be present so that the act of heroism is not in vain.
- Glenmark knew the part from memory. Even though she didn’t expect to have to sing Dickson’s solo as part of the chorus, she had done her prep and was ready to step up and sing when the need arose.
- There was no hesitation in Glenmark’s part to take on the challenge. She had enough confidence in her abilities that 1) she was willing to take the risk to jump in and 2) that she had the skill to deliver a solo performance in sub-optimal conditions.
- Glenmark took on the challenge without shirking her responsibilities as a member of the chorus. You can clearly see in the video that she is still singing the chorus parts as well.
- At the end of the video, when Korberg raises a glass towards Glenmark in acknowledgment of her achievement, her response is a subdued smile and almost a sense of relief, rather than any self-congratulatory body language that would alienate her from her other peers in the chorus.
There’s another aspect of this that I want to touch upon because it is less evident. The actions of Karin Glenmark created a “virtuous cycle” in the aftermath of the performance. It became one of the defining moments of her career, and she went on to perform as the lead in “Chess” in many instances, including performing opposite her ad hoc partner, Korberg. This often happens in the world of restructuring as well. The Controller who steps up during the crisis becomes the CFO in the restructured organization, for example. Companies use crises to help them evaluate their employees and those who can demonstrate the ability to adapt and succeed can reap the benefits.
Additionally, there is often some “creative disruption” that can occur in situations like this. This performance helped ignite Glenmark’s solo career. Similarly, perhaps the controller at the company in crisis proved herself particularly effective during the company’s capital-raising process. Perhaps she ends up as a private equity investment professional as a result. We see this in sports as well. I once saw a soccer coach, faced with playing a game with no reserves, take his best offensive player, and place him on defense because he couldn’t afford his team to make any mistakes on their side of the field. At halftime, he switched the player back to his natural striker position where he scored within two minutes; the opposing team had no idea that the “defender” was a prolific scorer in disguise!
In conclusion, I want to end with a question: Will you be ready for your “Endgame Moment”? If you are, the benefits to your company could mean the difference between success and its less desirable alternative. Additionally, the memorable positive anecdotes these situations create can also have a significant and lasting benefit to your career.