What To Do When Your Founder Knocks on Death’s Door

Short answer: You pull together as a team and keep the ship moving forward.

The long answer is considerably more complicated but none-the-less powerful as an invaluable lesson. It is a lesson which is now an integral part of our story, and a part of the Swiss Ocean Tech DNA. For this reason, we have chosen to share it with everyone. It is a testament to the strength of this small start-up.

On January 13th of this year, our Founder and Managing Director, Thomas Frizlen, was admitted into the hospital with acute chest pain. He was diagnosed with Aortic Dissection and had to undergo emergency open heart surgery. It was dramatic. It was frightening. It was unexpected. All at once, Swiss Ocean Tech found itself in a crisis.

The interesting thing about a crisis is, you never really know how you are going to react until the crisis is here. More importantly, it is that supreme moment of truth when the people surrounding you show their true colors and any gaps you have in the company menacingly rear their head. It is hard to hide in a crisis. What I have learned 2 months following that fateful day, is that our company colors are beautiful and bright, and it fills each one of us with incredible pride as we move forward. Maybe there is a lesson for all of us here.

Lesson 1: Don’t panic. Fight, flight or freeze? None of the above but rather a methodical analysis of the options at hand. There are always options, but you need a cool head to see them all.

Lesson 2: Communicate. Let the team be a part of the recovery phase by sharing regular updates. We can’t all stop by the hospital for a visit. It is draining for the patient and in covid times simply not possible. But certain highs and lows of the week allows the team to be a part of that recovery journey. It binds the team, it is almost a collective journey and interestingly, I believe it emboldened the team to work even harder when Thomas couldn’t.

Lesson 3: Give everyone the space they need to digest what is happening. We all react differently, and everyone needs time to find their footing. In a small team it is easier to keep the overview but still, don’t leave anyone behind in all the commotion.

Lesson 4: Share the burden. In a start-up we inherently wear a lot of different hats but during a crisis, we learn to take on even a few more. It is incredible what can be accomplished when everyone pitches in and keeps the ship moving forward. Make sure to give credit where that credit is due. We all do better with a regular pat on the shoulder.

Lesson 5: Trust in the team. My experience has been, if people know what is going on, then they are better able to double-down on their tasks at hand knowing they are contributing to the cause. My credo over the past 2 months has been, “everyone needs to keep on doing what they need to do”.  Our team did exactly that.  Which leads to lesson Nr. 6…

Lesson 6: Have clear goals before the crisis hits. Do you know where your ship is heading? Does everyone understand what needs to be done and what their job responsibility is? Does everyone believe in the process and support it? Because without your leader holding the compass, you can very well lose your direction if the sails haven’t been set properly.

Lesson 7: Show your love. You never know when it could be a last day for you or a loved one so make every day count.

Finally, for all who know Thomas, he is on the road to recovery. Following five intense weeks in the hospital and then rehab including multiple complications, a covid infection and 10kg weight loss, he is back home and rediscovering the comfort in everyday routines. He overcame the worst and is already dipping his big toe back into the business.

Welcome Back Thomas! We are so very glad to have our fearless leader return to the helm!