For a lot of people, 2020 has been rough. But for others? It’s truly been a banner year.
If you’re in the right business, or you happened to make the right moves, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Some business leaders I’ve interviewed recently have been almost embarrassed by how well they’ve done, given others’ misfortunes.
Michael Esmond, who owns a pool and spa business in Florida, seems like he might be in that category.
Talk about being in the right place at a bad time. This isn’t Jeff Bezos’s levels of gains, of course, but it’s been a very good year for Esmond’s business.
With the pandemic raging at the start of summer, and Americans turning to staycations, pool businesses couldn’t keep up with demand.
Heck, I’ve written before about how I bought three above-ground pools at the start of the summer — something frankly I never thought I’d do — confident that I’d be able to unload the extras. (I was right.)
But, as Esmond explains, he’s also had hard times in his life — 37 years ago, for example, when he was so poor that he couldn’t pay the utility bill, and his gas and water service were shut off.
“I had three young girls at home at the time, and the temperature got down to 6 degrees, with ice and frost on the inside of the house,” Esmond told the New York Times this week. “I’ve lived that where I didn’t have a dollar in my pocket to care for my family.”
He never forgot that feeling, and so when he decided to share some of his wealth recently, he did it in a smart, microtargeted way.
Specifically, Esmond, 74, contacted the city of Gulf Breeze, Florida and arranged to pay $7,600 to cover the past-due utility bills of 114 of his neighbors who were risking having the power cut off.
Esmond did something similar last year, albeit on a smaller scale: $4,300 for 36 families. In some cases this year, the amount due was less than $100, but it may as well have been $1 million.
“That really impacted me — that people can’t even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad,” Esmond told CNN. “That’s why I was able to pay for 114 families.”
A Vietnam veteran, Esmond worked in pool construction in Pennsylvania when he came home from the war starting in 1968. Eventually, he moved to Florida, since pools were a year-round industry there.
He told the Times that his fortunes really took off in 2010, when he started his own company. Now, he builds 50 swimming pools each year.
In other words, he’s the kind of small but successful entrepreneur who provides a lot of the jobs and a lot of the economic growth in the United States. I think that’s part of why people are so enthralled by his targeted acts of kindness.
We celebrate the big acts of charity that wealthy entrepreneurs commit: the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffetts of the world (and the MacKenzie Scotts and the Chuck Feeneyes, too).
But targeted acts of kindness that can make a huge difference in an individual family’s life? That’s worth celebrating, too — and sometimes, more effective.
In Esmond’s case, it’s gotten a lot of attention. I’m not sure we should say things “go viral” anymore, as we’ve all lived through a viral pandemic together. But a lot of pepole read, watched, commented, and shared his story.
“When people ask me what kind of year I had, I’m almost ashamed to tell them because it was such a good year when so many other people are suffering,” Esmond told the Times. “And that’s why I want to share my prosperity with those who are less fortunate.”