Listening Carefully To The Sound of Silence

Near the end of my new book, Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born, I mention Mr. Ibasfalean, a gentleman I came to know, in the early 1970s. He had built, owned and ran the Cortez Marina, the largest marina south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. I was lawyer for and part of a group that bought the marina, but it was far from a cut-and-dry acquisition.

Despite his age and difficulty walking, he changed his mind on more than one occasion. Fits and starts of seller’s remorse happen, but this was at a different level. All ended well: the deal closed. On a personal note, Mr. Ibasfalean came to ask me to refer to him as “Pop,” and most importantly, I learned some valuable lessons about both deals and life.

Early in our negotiations, Pop took me on a tour of the marina, where he had personally designed and built the dry and wet slips. Because of his difficulty walking, we toured using the marina’s golf cart. As a European immigrant from a land-locked community, he came to America totally unfamiliar with marina construction. Yet, he did a yeoman’s job.

As we dwelled a bit at the water’s edge, viewing the wet slips, I asked him how he knew how to build them. He said, he just looked out and saw how they should look and the rest was easy.

Many entrepreneurs I’ve worked and dealt with have explained their primary vision, but most were somewhat less oblique. Yet Pop’s explanation proved to be one of the most instructive. It helped me understand the need for what I refer to in the book as an “understanding quotient” (UQ). Unlike IQ (intelligence quotient) which is largely genetic, and EQ (emotional quotient), which stems from some combination of genetics and environment, your UQ is under your control.

Months later, well after the terms had been negotiated and memorialized in a draft agreement, in fact just days before the closing was scheduled to take place, Pop called and said he had decided not to move forward. I was dispatched  to Florida with instructions on how much I could enhance our offer to get the deal done.

I arrived at Pop’s home early in the morning. It was a non-assuming house on the property we were acquiring with a large bomb shelter attached, built by Pop during the Cuban missiles era. We had included a provision allowing Pop and his wife to continue living in the house for the rest of their lives.

I asked whether we could talk outside in the marina grounds. His legs bothered him, so he drove the golf cart, and I suggested we sit at the water’s edge. Settled in, I asked Pop to relate, once again, how he had his vision, how he understood what to do, and how he built, maintained and nurtured his baby, the marina. This time, his answer was longer, more detailed and much more emotional.

I responded, repeating my respect for his talent, adding that we could not proceed with the deal. Clearly a business this complex couldn’t be run by absentee owners (we were all Chicagoans). Then I stopped, allowing time for it to soak in.

Pop rejected my theory, saying he’d still be living there. I countered that he would no longer be an owner and besides, given his weakened legs, he wouldn’t be able to walk enough to get the job done. I let that soak in. Then I said, “You know, that might be possible if you had the golf cart to use.” Changing the contract to give him the golf cart did the trick, and the deal got done.

It wasn’t a brilliant idea. It was simply a matter of applying UQ. My UQ came from observing and listening to the visionary, which had made his real feelings rather obvious. Ever since then I try to enhance my UQ by listening carefully to what Simon & Garfunkel described as the “sound of silence.”