The term whistle-blower, especially in the last decade, comes rife with negative connotations and feelings of chaos. It’s only in the past year that we’ve seen some sympathy towards Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, and NSA ‘rat,’ Edward Snowden, yet there remains a stigma attached, as the expression most definitely still equates to being a snitch.
The most recent horn tooter of note is Patricia Williams, a time share saleswoman who was just awarded $20 million after years of torment at the behest of former employers and wayward salesmen Wyndham Vacation Ownership.
Williams is the latest in a long string of workers who divulged nefarious working practices within their companies to the world and has — at least for a few years — suffered the considerable consequences of doing so. While Snowden resides in Russia avoiding the glare of the American government, Ms. Williams was pushed to the very margins of her society at home after ‘snitching’ on her firm. Her co-workers and former friends turned on her both in court and in her private life, and she was veritably living in poverty until the court finally granted her damages in the case.
Back in 2002 FBI agent Coleen Rowley came under very serious internal and external criticism for coming out against the agency’s inaction pre 9/11 when they had credible intelligence about one of the hijackers but didn’t pursue it. Rowley’s brave decision to call out her supervisors and top-level intelligence executives jeopardized her position within the agency until her allegations were proven and she was ultimately praised for her honesty and pursuit of the truth. Like Williams, she believed she would lose her job on account of the reveal. Unlike Williams, her investigation led to policy change and an in-depth analysis of counter-terrorism methods in the FBI which she would go on to help conduct and improve agency standards.
Another major corporate belly was pierced in 2003 when Cheryl Eckard came out against pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, where she was employed. After uncovering a series of medicinal miscalculations at one of their pill-producing plants in South America, she decided to speak up. She released her findings only to find herself, like Williams, out of a job and out in the cold.
After a long fought and invariably difficult court case, Eckard was awarded the significant sum of $96 million in damages and GSK were fined $750 million for its mismanagement of the Cidra plant. Pharmaceutical practices have been monitored more closely and consistently since the court’s findings procedure has tightened at the discretion of the FDA.
All whistle-blowing stories cannot, however, be expected to end in a fairy-tale-esque manner and such is the case of Karen Silkwood, who died mysteriously trying to expose malpractice within the oil industry, now 42 years ago. Meryl Streep famously played her character in a movie portrayal of Karen’s story and while the case was never officially solved, one can assume with a degree of authority that Karen’s devotion to exposing her bosses was the cause of her untimely death. Going up against major corporations is a dangerous and massively risky move.
Pharmaceuticals, oil, and intelligence sectors have decidedly shady pasts when it comes to how they deal with those people opposed to their practices. Indeed the most famous example of this is Edward Snowden, who awaits his uncertain fate in Russia, which is no doubt complicated by the incoming president's friendly relationship with Mr. Putin.
Only today was there a call from 15 intelligence experts to Obama asking again for Snowden’s presidential pardon before he leaves the oval office. Were this to come, Snowden’s return to the U.S would become a landmark in whistleblowing history and would indeed finally dash the stigma and snitch connotations attached to the word.
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.